Sunday, December 22, 2019

Light Christmas

The whole thing started about a month or so ago when a notice popped up on the Park Place Historic Neighborhood site on Facebook. It came from the Lexington Parks and Recreation Department promoting its inaugural "Light Up the Block" Christmas contest, in which individual houses – or even entire city blocks – would be judged by their decorating skills.

It sounded like it could be fun, and it was all voluntary. All you had to do was register with Parks and Recreation.

The original Facebook post that I saw included some prompting by my neighbor, Kristi Thornhill, who wrote "Let's do this!"

But the days ticked by. No more thought was given to the project. I didn't hear anything more about this and, as the registration deadline approached, I thought the whole idea would die on the vine.

This is nice. I never saw this coming...
"Well, what the heck," I thought, and went to the Rec department to find out more about this project. I ran into Tammy Curry, the contact person behind the contest, who told me if I wanted to register our block, I had to get the name, phone number and email address of each participating resident. She gave me some flyers with the contest particulars and suggested I slip them into mailboxes or door frames.

This was already becoming more work than I wanted to do.

Tammy told me our block could register by email, but I'm old school and went the extra step: I went to all eight houses on our block, flyer in hand, knocked on doors and explained to each neighbor what I was doing. My pitch was that we were going to decorate our houses anyway, what could it hurt?

Fortunately, I'm on pretty good terms with my neighbors. I return all the tools that I borrow from them, we keep their mail for them when they go on vacation, or we roll out their trash containers, water their gardens or even cut their grass when they can't. Stuff like that.

So they all agreed to do this. We were registered as a block.

I really didn't think anything would come of this. I mean, there are any number of wonderful neighborhoods within the city limits, so I really didn't give us much of a chance.

But the other day, I happened to look out my front window. A white van pulled up and two people got out. They started hammering signs into a couple of the yards. I went out to look.

Oh my gosh. We were designated as the Best Block in the Light Up the Block contest. It also featured a house that was deemed as most unique (two awards!). One of the people hammering those signs into the ground was Tammy herself. She thanked me for registering our block and asked me if we'd driven around town at all to look at the other lights.

"Not really," I said.

"Well, you were the best block, by far," said Tammy. "It's great to drive down the street. Thanks for participating."

That night, I took another look at our neighborhood. We're not exactly McAdenville, but we're not bad, either. Lighted Christmas balls decorate several trees; a couple of Moravian stars hang from porch ceilings; candles are in almost every window, and strings of lights outline eaves and walkways on a couple of houses. It's a feast for the eyes.

We might have to step up our game next year.






Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sounds of the season

"Oh, for crying out loud," I thought, grumbling as I pulled myself away from the television, not wanting to be interrupted from James Madison's tight football game with Northern Illinois. "Who's ringing my doorbell at this hour, in this weather?"

Grumble, grumble, grumble.

So I reluctantly got off my sofa, padded into the living room and opened the door.

There stood my across-the-street neighbors, TJ Strickland and his wife, Christie, and their two precious – or is it precocious? – young children, Ellie and Jackson. Ellie might be 5 years old. Jackson might be 3.

The Stricklands bring the neighborhood some holiday cheer.*
They started singing to me. They were singing "Silent Night."

I melted like butter for a sugar cake. It's not often you get Christmas carolers at your front door.

I smiled as the Stricklands were singing, and they smiled back. When they were done, Kim came to the door. She had been on the phone with a neighbor, but when she heard the singing on our front porch, she came to see what it was all about.

"Oh, there's Kim," said Christie, and the next thing we knew, they were singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

And they were pretty good, too. Even their kids knew all the words, which to me was impressive. And maybe precocious (Jackson added to the effect by wearing an oversized Santa hat). They all sang on key. Wow.

When they were done, we had a brief, happy chat with them, and told them how good they were and thanked them for coming to our house. Kim hugged everybody in sight because that's what she does, while I pretty much stood flatfooted with a silly grin on my face because that's pretty much what I do. Too bad we didn't have any eggnog or wassail to share with them. That would have made it perfect.

We did suggest they go to a neighbor's house – the one Kim had been on the telephone with – and off they went to spread the spirit on an otherwise cold, damp night.

As it turns out, the Stricklands did show up on a few more porches that night, singing the songs of the season and spreading their good cheer.

Every once in a while I might remark and write about what a special neighborhood we live in, of how the sidewalks and alleys bring us closer together, of how we socialize, commune and commiserate with one another, openly sharing our joys and sorrows. I've never seen anything quite like this in a neighborhood before and the experience can be humbling.

And fortunate.

Yes, I think I see it now: Our neighborhood is our Christmas gift to each other.

Merry Christmas, Stricklands. And Merry Christmas to all.

*Photo by Amy (or Jim) Horn.




Sunday, December 8, 2019

Getting carded

One of the things I really enjoy about the holiday season (other than sugar cakes and Christmas cookies) is getting Christmas cards.

One of the things I really try to avoid during the holiday season is addressing and mailing Christmas cards.

I guess I just don't have the patience it takes to sign, address and stamp the 50 or so cards we send to our friends, family, co-workers and, in some instances, annual acquaintances.

There's still plenty of Christmas cards that need to be signed...
 (I use the royal "We" here. Because Christmas carding has become such a torturous obligation for me, Kim is the one who really does all the work. When the first week of December rolls around, she makes sure we have Christmas stamps on hand. The cards were already purchased months earlier so we're not caught off guard when the season rolls around. She has a handy check list nearby to make sure we haven't forgotten anybody, or that we don't send one family two or more cards. Kim is my hero).

The one assignment Kim has given to me is to write short notes to my brothers and my two oldest and dearest friends inside the Christmas cards we send them. I don't mind doing this, although I have noticed that my handwriting has really deteriorated over the years. I used to have beautiful penmanship, especially for a lefty, since my words didn't slant in the wrong direction and I mostly was able to avoid lefthander smudge.

But now, it seems, all that is a distant memory. I find myself leaving out letters. Each line of my personal note usually tracks uphill or downhill, and I don't know why. I dot not only i's and j's, but occasionally e's, y's and c's. It's like I can't help myself. Maybe there's some medication for that.

Anyway, I feel bad about my lousy handwriting. It's embarrassing.

In the old days, when I was younger (How is it we were "younger" in the "old" days? I'm approaching septuagenarinism – shouldn't these be my "old" days now?), I not only enjoyed getting cards, but sending them off, too. There was a time when I would Scotch tape each card we got to a door frame in the living room, where the tree was. It was a unique and colorful way to decorate the room.

I know I'm sounding Scrooge-like, but I'm going to bet I'm not the only one who feels this way. I'm going to bet that if you're a boomer, and because time seems to fly by faster the older we get, it seems like we just finished addressing all those 2018 cards. What, it's here again? I just sent you a card.

I'm not sure when Christmas carding began. Some suggest it's the invention of Hallmark, but it seems it's actually a Victorian custom that began in England around the 1840s (see here).

I know, I know. You're thinking, "Well, if that's how he feels about it, I'm not sending him one next year."

Please, don't feel that way. I still enjoy getting cards. It's tradition, and I love tradition.

There, I just solved my own problem. Next year, Christmas carding will be a labor of love.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The eatin' season

It's here.

Thursday's turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie have hardly been digested and yet Kim already is making plans to bake up some Moravian sugar cakes as Christmas rapidly approaches. She's right on time – today is the first Sunday in Advent, which means that the Eating Season has arrived.

Can Christmas cookies be far behind?

I love Kim's sugar cakes. Although she herself is not a born-and-raised Moravian, she married one. And ever since I can remember, sugar cakes have been the staple treat for the holidays. Nana Kessler used to make them as if on an assembly line, and her daughter – my mom – occasionally made them, too, although she was really the Tollhouse Cookie Queen.

Yummmmmm....
But I cannot remember a Christmas without sugar cakes, even if it meant getting one or two from Dewey's Bakery back in my bachelor days.

Early in our marriage, Kim got hold of an actual Moravian sugar cake recipe from an actual Moravian, and life has been good ever since. Well, good for me, anyway.

The recipe was the old, traditional one (probably dating back to the mid-1700's) that required mashed potatoes and yeast, which meant you had to wait hours for the yeast to rise before baking actually happened. It was a time consuming process that meant she had to be on a high-priority mission to make these things, usually six to eight of them. Making and baking them pretty much wore her out.

But last year, while on an errand, we unwittingly stumbled into the Old Salem Bake Shop at the Marketplace Mall in Winston-Salem, where they offered packages of Moravian sugar cake mix. A mix! And it's the real deal. The Bake Shop features a high-end commercial bakery in the back room, which mass produces its confections for the historic Winkler Bakery in Old Salem, just a couple of miles down the road.

We had hit the Moravian bakery mother lode.

So we bought a package and Kim was able to bang out four sugar cakes from the mix. And they tasted great. It was like a Godsend (and just in time for Christmas. Imagine that) for Kim.

And like an unexpected gift, our kitchen smelled just like a bakery during this very efficient process.

So this year, we bought two packages of sugar cake mix.

Which now begs the question: What am I going to do with eight sugar cakes? (Hint: I actually have a pretty good idea...).

•   •   •

The eating season isn't just about sugar cakes.

There will be neighborhood parties to attend. And parties with co-workers. And family gatherings. We already attended a Friendsgiving foodfest last night, which I guess is another excuse to eat more stuff just hours after Thanksgiving. We've already bought our Mrs. Hanes cookies, so...

The eatin' season, indeed.


Sunday, November 24, 2019

Mr. Rogers

If the truth be told, I never really got Fred Rogers.

I guess I was simply too old. When Mister Rogers' Neighborhood first appeared on television in 1968 (and continued on for an astounding 33 years), I was already 17 years old. I wasn't part of his target audience. To me, Mister Rogers was just another hokey, talking-down-to-children TV personality on public television primarily geared to the Tinkertoy and Raggedy Ann crowd, and I could have cared less.

I was more into Sergeant Saunders and Adam West's Batman, if you really want to know.

And yet...

Oddly enough, I didn't come to appreciate what Fred Rogers' career was about until after his death in 2003. My respect for him skyrocketed when I saw a now-famous clip of him testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, where he changed minds and virtually single-handedly saved funding for public television in an era when Congress was inches away from cutting the funding in half.

And Rogers did this in 1969, when he was still relatively unknown outside of Pittsburgh.

Wow.

So you know I just had to see the new movie, It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers (it turns out that just before the movie was released, it was discovered through Ancestry that Hanks and Rogers are actually sixth cousins. Can you say Karma?)

Be forewarned. The movie is not a biopic about Fred Rogers. Rather, the story actually outlines the relationship that develops between cynical Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod (played by Matthew Rhys) and Rogers. In the end, Rogers made a sincere impact on Junod's life, which he detailed in an Esquire cover story titled "Can You Say...Hero?" (Here is the piece. It's 10,000 words long and peppered with F-bombs, but it might help to illustrate the essence of the movie for you. See here.)

I don't know what else we can say about Tom Hanks as an actor. I consider him to be the Jimmy Stewart of our era who can play just about any character. Witness Philadelphia. Or Forrest Gump. Or Saving Private Ryan. Or Big. Or Apollo 13. Or so many more. His talent is wide and encompassing, dedicated and sincere, and apparently limitless.

In this flick, he gives an appropriately understated performance, perhaps because the storyline really centers around Junod (whose name is changed to Lloyd Vogel in the movie). Hanks is really in a supporting role, and to my mind, it's worthy enough for his third Oscar. But that remains to be seen in what is turning out to be an incredibly worthy movie season.

My one complaint about the flick is technical. Most of it is filmed in muted lighting. I don't know if it was done that way to set mood (most likely), but the effect is to make the viewer work a little bit harder. It's already a thinking man's movie, layered as it is with ponderings and observations. So be it.

Two spoiler alerts, but I don't think they'll reveal too much:

There's a scene in the movie where Fred Rogers takes the subway home. The train is filled with a diversity of children coming home from school, and when they recognize Mister Rogers is a passenger in their midst, they spontaneously break out singing the Neighborhood theme song. I thought it was a little much.

But then I read Junod's Esquire piece, and guess what? It actually happened. Goose bumps.

Then there's the scene in the movie where Rogers and Vogel are in a restaurant, and Rogers asks the writer for a moment of silence to reflect on the people who loved him into being. Uh huh. But Rogers actually did that in accepting his Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997.

Watch. And weep.



That's Fred Rogers for you. I think I get him now.



Friday, November 22, 2019

Ford v Ferrari

The names are certainly familiar, even if you're not particularly into endurance road racing: Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca, Carroll Shelby. And maybe even Ken Miles.

All four names pop up prominently in the highly entertaining movie Ford v Ferrari, which follows Henry Ford II's (irreverently known as "Deuce" in the movie) desire to knock off perennial champion Ferrari in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans road race during  the early to mid-1960s. If successful, it's a way to make the otherwise staid Ford Motor Company into something sexy for the post-war Baby Boomers who are about to buy, umm, sexy cars like Mustangs and Thunderbirds. It's all about the bottom line, you know.

The real Ken Miles (left) and Carroll Shelby at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
So the obnoxiously controlling Ford (played by Tracy Letts) hires confident whiz kid Shelby (played by Academy Award winner Matt Damon) as his car builder, who in turn hires the maverick Miles (played by Academy award winner Christian Bale) as driver extraordinaire and head technician.

That's pretty much the plot gist of what is actually a mostly true story.

But the flick is more than a movie about auto racing. It's a story that explores, in turns, friendship, corporate interference, family, failure and success.

Consequently, the performances of Damon and Bale are especially deep, rich and character-building. Nuances are noteworthy, right down to the gum chewing. You feel like you get to know these guys as they get to know – and trust – each other. You are drawn into their world and you don't necessarily want to get out.

A Ford Mark II GT40 looks fast even while sitting still.
 And their world is remarkable. The early 1960s portrayed here coincides with the space race of NASA's heyday. The car builders, trying to find a way to eek out an extra RPM or two from their 4.7 liter Mark II GT40s, use slide rules and Scotch tape more than they do computer gigabytes. It's a remarkable era of car engineering coupled with the need for speed.

And because the movie is a period piece, you're going to enjoy seeing all those what are now classic cars tooling around in the background. Trust me. I once owned a 1966 Wimbledon white convertible Mustang and this movie got me misty-eyed – and more than once.

Although the running time approaches two-and-a-half hours, time flies by, which might not be the case if you're watching Frozen II or Arctic Dogs for 152 minutes. And while it's not all about auto racing, as I've already explained, the last half hour or so takes you to the 1966 Le Mans, virtually putting you in the cockpit with Miles, downshifting and accelerating through S-turns, hairpins and straightaways.

The movie can be exhilarating and breathtaking all at once. You might find yourself cheering, if not actually gripping the arms of your theater seat, just to hold on. Blame the compelling cinematography.

You might even find yourself downshifting.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Not bad for gov'mint work

Well, I guess it could have been worse.

With less than a year to go, Kim and I decided to put the wheels in motion to get our Real IDs. You know, the little star that goes in the upper right hand corner of your driver's license that, by the October 2020 deadline, will officially allow you to fly domestically, enter federal buildings, nuclear power plants and God knows what else – ABC stores and college football games, maybe. You never know any more in this incredibly complicated and paranoid world of ours.

Anyway, that meant Kim needed to get a certified copy of her birth certificate and marriage certificate (as proof of name change). And that meant we needed to go to the Davidson County Register of Deeds in the lower level of the courthouse.

Oh-oh. I could see trouble on the horizon. Bureaucracy bubbling in the basement.

But, no.

We walked into the office, told the clerk behind the counter what we needed, and within 10 minutes, we had the documents in hand. Holy cow. I almost passed out.

Then it was my turn.

My quest, unlike Kim's, was going to be a little more problematical. I'm not a native North Carolinian. I was born in Pennsylvania. My certified birth certificate no doubt is moldering in a filing cabinet somewhere in Quaker officialdom. Maybe in Harrisburg. Maybe in Philadelphia. Maybe even in Scranton. There's no telling.

I was born in Allentown, in Lehigh County, which is located about an hour north of Philadelphia, an hour south of Scranton and an hour east of Harrisburg. Based on Kim's experience, I logically made a phone call to the Lehigh County Register of Deeds and explained what I needed.

The nice lady on the other end of the line told me that in Pennsylvania, you have to go through the Pennsylvania Department of Health to get a certified copy of a birth certificate. Well, so much for logic. She gave me a Web site and said to follow the simple instructions.

Oh-oh. There's no such things as simple instructions. Especially online.

My only other choice was to make my third 500-mile trip to Pennsylvania this year to physically show up and request a copy of my birth certificate, so I decided to go with the online option. I found the page I needed on the PDH site and went to work.

Actually, it was three online pages. The first page was the actual application. The second page required a credit card payment of $47, and the third page gave mailing instructions – and a request for a check for $40 (I wanted two copies at $20 a piece).

Huh? Two payments? I was confused. But I couldn't get from one online page to another without completing the previous page.

So I printed out my online receipt and snail-mailed it with my application, explaining that I'd already paid for it with a credit card. I sent it all off and waited my 10 business days.

About two weeks later I got a letter from the PDH, saying they were unable to process my application because the required $40 fee was not included. They also pointed out that Pennsylvania's only authorized vendor is www.VitalChek.com, not VitalRecordsOnline.

For crying out loud. Except that I was a little more colorful than that. Bluer, actually.

But it was the unauthorized VitalRecordsOnline that was on the PDH page. I hope they got that straightened out.

When I got my credit card statement a day or two later, it turned out my payment went to a Vital Records in Madrid, Spain.

This required me to cancel my credit card and get a new one, otherwise somebody in Spain was going to use my card to purchase bullfighting equipment and whatnot. A hassle, to be sure, but a necessary hassle.

In the meantime, I tried calling one of the phone numbers on the PDH site to let them know an unauthorized payment plan was on the second page of their site, but all I got was a recorded "Your phone call is important to us," etc, etc, and then a few minutes later a notice saying my wait time was 91 minutes for assistance and I was 31st in line. I was angry, but not that angry, so I hung up.

I mailed my check for $40 and hoped for the best, wondering when am I going to make time to drive back up to Pennsylvania?

That is, until my birth certificates arrived in the mail a few days ago.

Well, that was easy. Now to get the Real IDs taken care of...










Sunday, November 17, 2019

Midway

For a World War II history geek such as myself, I could hardly wait to see the movie Midway, which was released in theaters about two weeks ago.

Midway tells the incredible true story of one of the key turning points of the war in the Pacific during World War II, in which the United States Navy's air arm sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in a single day (June 4, 1942), just six months after Pearl Harbor, and forever thwarted Japan's ambitions for territorial expansion.

The real history of the battle almost defies belief.

On one level, it's a story of a military intelligence coup and how the United States managed to break and interpret Japan's codes as a prelude to the attack on Midway Island, an atoll in the Pacific within reach of Hawaii.

On another level, it's a story of sheer dumb luck as American torpedo bombers and dive bombers locate the Imperial Japanese Navy and attack the massive fleet in an uncoordinated assault while low on fuel.

Let me add here, in an historical aside, that the American torpedo bombers were antiquated TBD Devastators, which were slow, ungainly and obsolete before the war even began. The Devastators attacked the IJN carriers at wave-top level and drew the attention of the Japanese fighter coverage. It was suicidal. At least 34 of the 41 torpedo bombers were lost, and not a single torpedo (scandalously defective weapons early in the war, at best) scored a hit. Just a handful of American airmen survived the attack.

But with the Japanese air cover drawn low, the American dive bombers appeared unmolested at just the right moment minutes later, from two different directions and from 10,000 feet, to fatally hurt the IJN carriers. Thus, the sacrificial torpedo bombers served a valiant, if unplanned, purpose.

The reason the damage was so severe is that the Japanese were in a quandary, trying to decide whether to arm their planes with bombs for a second attack on Midway Island, or with torpedoes to attack the now revealed American carriers. Consequently, when the American dive bombers arrived, the Japanese were rearming and refueling their aircraft on the fight decks and hangers as the bombs were falling. To say the blow was fatal seems somehow inadequate. Several thousand human beings – even if they were the enemy – perished on shipboard infernos. The Japanese could never replace the experienced seamen and aviators they lost that day.

Anyway, back to the movie.

The flick depicts two real life Midway heroes, Lt. Cmdr. Wade McCluskey (portrayed by Luke Evans) of (scout-dive bomber group) VS-6, and Lt. Dick Best (Ed Skrein) of VB-6. Both actors give creditable performances with sparse, understated scripts. They tell the story, and that's all they need to do, because the story is more than enough.

From what I could see, the movie was pretty much historically accurate, which delighted me. The only thing I had to compare it to was the original Midway (1976), which featured an all-star cameo cast of Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, James Coburn, Glenn Ford and Robert Mitchum. That movie was ruined by an unnecessary and unrealistic romantic subplot, not to mention stock World War II combat footage of aircraft that weren't even present at Midway. Oh, my.

I had just one minor complaint about the current Midway. Instead of stock footage depicting combat, the movie uses computer generated imagery (CGI), which is spectacular. It means that aircraft like the SBD-3 Douglas Dauntless dive bomber are accurately portrayed right down to its rivets. You can't ask for more than that, especially since any of those surviving vintage planes are now found in museums.

But CGI also lets a director like Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) take some license. There are scenes of aircraft flying below tree-lined boulevards in Hawaii during the attack sequence on Pearl Harbor, which I'm pretty sure didn't happen. There are CGI explosions galore and more tracer bullets and anti-aircraft bursts in the sky than seems possible. But if the overkill (pun might be intended) is meant to seem harrowing, well, then, point taken.

Having said that, combat blood and gore are minimal – nothing like the realism we saw in Saving Private Ryan.

On a side note, the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes gave the current Midway a critics' score of 42 percent, which is horrible. But the audience score is 92 percent from a field of more than 6,500 viewers. I'm guessing the viewers were probably all history geeks. Geeks know what they know.

The Battle of Midway is remarkable history. If you happen to be a history nerd, then you might want to read "Shattered Sword – The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway" by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully (2007). It's very readable and it just might be the definitive work on the battle.

•   •   •

I might be on a movie review rampage in the next few weeks. I've already done a review of Judy, about the final months of the life of actress Judy Garland. I'm now eager to see Ford v Ferrari, which has already commanded a feature story in the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, and perhaps soon after that, I want to see Tom Hanks' turn as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

It's not the holiday season for nothing.




Sunday, November 3, 2019

'Judy'

The Wizard of Oz scared me.

I don't know. Maybe it was the Flying Monkeys. They were just outright weird, and there were so many of them, like fleets of German bombers, I imagined, terrorizing London during the blitz. Or maybe it was The Wicked Witch of the West (or was it the Wicked Witch of the East? I never get them straight.)

At any rate, as a child, I was never a big fan of the movie. I think as a kid I watched it once from beginning to end when it came on television, and then hoped we could watch something else when it came on the tube annually, like a recurring bad dream, year after year.

Why do children's tales scare the crap out of kids? What was L. Frank Baum thinking when he wrote this stuff?

Anyway, I felt this way about the movie even though Judy Garland was magnificent as Dorothy and I really liked when she sang "Over the Rainbow." Who doesn't?

It was only a few years later when I learned that Garland made other movies. She appeared with Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy series, and I really liked her in those. (There were 16 Andy Hardy films, but only three of them – Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941) – included Garland. She was the All-American girl who could sing and help Andy put on those fundraising backyard musicals to save the school band.)

This is mostly how I remember Judy Garland.

But even later, I came to appreciate musicals like Meet Me in St. Louis, which gave us "The Trolley Song" and one of the best holiday tunes ever in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and The Harvey Girls, which gave us "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."

I mention all of this because a little while ago Kim and I went to see Judy, the newly-released flick about the final months of Garland's life.

Oscar winner Réneé Zellweger (Cold Mountain) turns in what I think is another stunning performance. Not only is her acting spot on, but she does her own vocals. So when she sings "The Trolley Song" or "Over the Rainbow," you hear Judy Garland. It's remarkable.

The story itself is heartbreaking, and while I never did give in to a flood of tears, there is an ethos of sadness that seeps throughout the film. You know, in the end, that she will die (although her death is not portrayed) bankrupt, frustrated and emotionally injured. She was only 47 when she died, already looking like a worn down human being.

But you don't walk out of the theater feeling sad. You come out feeling more like Wow.








Sunday, October 27, 2019

My friend Jim (again)

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Jim Lippard, chairman of the board of directors for the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame.

For the most part, the email wasn't unusual. We were just hours away from the 18th annual induction ceremony, and for fellow board members such as myself (I've been on the board for nine years, several of them as the board's secretary. So Jim is kind of my boss), the email was designed to pump us up for the event. He does that every year.

Jim Lippard takes command and points the way...
 About halfway through the email, though, Jim announced (in a sort of 'Oh, by the way' insert) that he was closing down his tailor shop. You know, that modest little building on First Avenue that was once a bus stop and that he converted into his iconic tailor shop. You know, that building. He spent 36 years there, altering hems, stitching sleeves, sewing up loose ends, connecting with his customers, almost always with a joke on his tongue and a smile on his face. And now, at age 83, he decided it was time for retirement, effective the end of this month.

That was news that took my breath away. My brain suddenly clicked into flashback mode.

I came to Lexington in September of 1976 as a 25-year-old rookie sports writer for The Dispatch. There were two people I soon met who, little did I know at the time, would have an impact on my life.

One of them was Charlie England. It was football season when I arrived in Lexington, and Charlie was the quarterback coach for the Lexington Yellow Jackets. He befriended me almost immediately and helped me get my footing as I learned the ropes about town.

The other fellow was Jim. I met him in the spring, when the Post 8 American Legion baseball season began. Jim, I guess, was a member of Post 8 (he is a Korean War era veteran and served as an MP, if I have my story straight. He also played baseball for Post 8 in his youth). But mostly, it seemed, he was the team photographer. He was everywhere, home and away, getting everything into focus with what are now classic (maybe even antique) cameras. And somehow, we became casual friends. It probably had something to do with his irrepressible personality.

Then, in 1986, he became the team's athletic director. The rest, as they say, is well documented local history. Jim Leonard Post 8 soon dropped its financial sponsorship of the team for lack of money, and Jim started a fund-raising campaign to keep the team on the field, seeking corporate sponsorships (or even private sponsorships, whatever it took). It worked. To this day, Legion baseball at Holt-Moffitt Field is a welcome summer reprieve for many of us.

And our friendship grew.

He was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame in 2000; he served as North Carolina American Legion Commissioner in 2008-09. He was the founding father of the Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and then he himself was inducted into the Hall in 2009. He is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Meanwhile, through all of this, he was hemming and ha-hawing away in his humble tailor shop, happily keeping Lexington in stitches.

You probably wouldn't think that the closing of a tailor shop would be a big deal, but then, maybe this wasn't just any tailor shop. People would stop by just to chat. I, for one, would pop in for what I thought would be a few minutes to talk about the county Hall of Fame, and end up staying for an hour.

It was that kind of place: friendly, casual, small-town Americana with a big heart, providing an essential service to the community. You could almost sense Norman Rockwell lurking in an unseen corner, waiting for the perfect moment to put it all on canvas.

Then you realize, we were always in the perfect moment. And we are always the canvas.

Thanks, Jim. Now go enjoy your retirement.



Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Davidson County family affair

It almost makes you want to shake your head to clear out the background noise and bring some clarity back to your brain. Can this really be Davidson County?

There he was, Thomasville's Casey Medlin, all 104 remarkable years of him, sitting at his table with a remote microphone in front of him humbly offering his thanks and appreciation for his induction into the 18th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night at the jam-packed J. Smith Young YMCA.

Medlin, who was the clock operator for Thomasville football games for 46 years and thusly was the recipient of the organization's Unsung Hero recognition, was accompanied by his son, Danny. Oh, yeah. Danny, who was a football player at Thomasville, was inducted into the Hall in 2004, thanks to a stellar career as a lineman at N.C. State and who later won a Super Bowl ring playing lineman for the Oakland Raiders in 1977.

The Medlins are now the third father-son combination to be inducted into the Hall, the others being Doug and Charles Elmore and Wade and Steve Younts.

But wait. It gets better.

Keynote speaker Phil Rapp posed the question to the audience, "Will all those who won a Super Bowl ring please stand?" Danny Medlin and Ledford's Madison Hedgecock then rose from their seats. Hedgecock, who played for the University of North Carolina and then the New York Giants of the NFL, was the starting fullback for the Giants when they won the Super Bowl in 2008. He was inducted into the Hall in 2016.

Huh? Two Super Bowl rings in Davidson County, which has a mostly rural population of about 170,000? Whoa. By comparison, the city of Charlotte, by itself, has a population of 731,000.

But wait. It gets better.

Sitting a couple tables away from the Medlins was Ledford's Marcy Newton, who was also inducted last night. Newton just happened to win the United States Golf Association's U.S. Women's Amateur championship in 2000. That was just a few years after she won the USGA's Girls Junior Championship in 1995. She went on to play 13 years in the LPGA. She told the audience last night that the whole reason she got interested in golf in the first place was that as a youngster she couldn't wait to drive the golf cart on family outings.

Apparently, this is how Hall of Famers get started.

Sitting a table away from Newton was the family of Larry Beck Sr., who was inducted posthumously last night. Not many people can say they beat Jack Nicklaus in golf, but Beck did, back in 1957, when as a 17-year-old he whipped the future PGA Hall of Famer and golf legend 4-and-3 in the quarterfinals of the USGA Junior Championship. It was the only major title Nicklaus never won.

OMG, as they say these days.

Also inducted last night were Lexington's Rory Holt, who had a stellar career as an undersized 5-foot-7, 143-pound defensive back for Wake Forest football and before that, was an all-state quarterback at Lexington; football coach Dick Cline, who has a career record of 264-108 with tenures at Ledford, North Davidson, Ragsdale and Kernersville Glenn; basketball coach Matt Ridge, who turned around the boys' program at East Davidson and has since produced 10 championship seasons at Davidson County Community College; and Dale Peck, who starred in baseball and basketball for Reeds High School in the 1950s.

Almost all inductees will recognize family members as integral to their success, but last night, it seemed to be an unplanned major theme of the evening as every single one of the inductees recognized parents, spouses and children, often in heartfelt and emotionally heartrending moments.

It was a night to remember.

•   •   •

In perusing the list of past inductees, there's something else I want to mention. In addition to the three father-son combinations now in the Hall, there's two brother combinations in Gary and Steve Hinkle and Stew and Stan Lanier; there's a husband-and-wife entry in Caroline Smith and Madison Hedgecock, and Smith is also part of the only mother-daughter combination with her mother, Roxanna Smith. Tim Holt and Rory Holt are distantly related and Dick Cline and Wanda Wilson Cline are in-laws.

There are currently 127 inductees in the Hall, so there may be other combinations that I have overlooked, for which I apologize and will correct if it comes to my attention. But my point here is that the athletic DNA seems to run incredibly deep and unerringly true in Davidson County.





Sunday, October 13, 2019

Real ID

Neither Kim nor I have passports or our Real ID.

And time is growing short. If you want to fly domestically, or enter a Federal building, or perhaps even a nuclear power plant, you have to have your Real ID – indicated by a star on the upper right hand corner of your driver's license – by October 2020.

Thank you, Homeland Security.

On Friday, we put the wheels into motion. In addition to a certified birth certificate, Kim also needs her certified marriage certificate to prove that her legal last name is no longer Martin, but Wehrle.

So it was off to the Register of Deeds on Friday afternoon. I expected to be behind a ton of people at the counter, but there was no line and it all turned out to be a relatively painless process. The only identification Kim needed to get her copies of her certified documents was her driver's license – which has yet to have its Real ID stamped on it – and a 20 dollar bill.

Huh? I found this to be rather ironic. All she needed was her driver's license to get the documents she needs to prove she is who she says she is in order to get her security conscious Real ID that basically gives her access to anywhere in the nation?

Outstanding. Multiple levels of bureaucracy. Is this a great country, or what?

While Kim's quest was relatively easy, mine could be a bit more problematical. My certified birth certificate is presumably on file with the Register of Deeds at the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown, PA, the city where I was born 68 years ago.

So now I have to put those wheels into motion. Can I get a copy of my certified (stamped with a county seal) birth certificate online? Or with a telephone call? A written request? And how do I prove that I'm me to get the document I need to prove that I'm me when I'm 500 miles away? This all seems a little loopholish to me.

Please tell me I don't have to make my third trip to Pennsylvania is six months to make a personal appearance to get this done.

I can see all kinds of crevices I can fall through.

I guess I'll find out soon enough. I'll be calling the Lehigh County Register of Deeds tomorrow for instructions.

Then the real fun begins: making an appointment at the driver's license office to get my Real ID. I can't wait.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Scarred for life

Okay, this is the last blog I'm going to write about my recent colon resection surgery. I promise. I feel like the old geezer who goes around asking, unsolicited, "Hey, you want to see my incision?"

Actually, I have asked several people that. It's kind of surprising who wants to see it, and who doesn't. Not always who you'd expect.

Just for the record, the incision has healed nicely, but it's left a visible scar on my belly about three or four inches long, from my navel to my stomach. It sort of looks like a misplaced C-section (colon section?). But the healing has pleased my surgeon, who told me I could go ahead and wear those Speedos now.

Don't worry. I'm not posting any pictures.

Anyway, speaking of my surgeon, I had my post op follow-up with him on Monday, and the news was great. The pathology report showed that the enlarged and embedded polyp that he removed – along with about a foot of my colon – was benign, and that the lymph nodes were clear. Soooo, unless I get bopped on the head by a meteorite today and everything else being equal, I feel like I might have added a few more years to my lifespan.

But the pathology report was the news I wanted to share with you. It made me feel like I dodged a bullet at a time in my life when I no longer feel so bulletproof.

I won't go as far as to say that the surgery somehow changed me, although Kim senses that I've become even more sensitive to the world than before. I will say that the day I was released from the hospital, I stood in the sun, feeling its warmth, waiting for Kim to pick me up in the car. And when I got home and took my first stand-up shower since the surgery, the water massaging my skin felt especially cleansing. I sat on my seldom-used porch swing for hours one day, enjoying, well, just about everything. It's the little things, as they say.

Hell's bells, I even shaved off my goatee.

But I'm trying to keep this all in perspective. Since my release, I've seen several amputees. I've seen several people whose only mobility is a wheelchair. Some even carry their own oxygen. So it's been a there-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I reminder that my experience was basically a necessary inconvenience. There are others who deal with far greater challenges. I know that.

But I'm still grateful for my outcome.

If I could only remember where I put my Speedos.




Sunday, September 29, 2019

Finding the new me after 40 years

I didn't think that shaving off my goatee – which I did on Tuesday – then putting a picture of the newly clean-shaven me on Facebook, was such a big deal.

Not at first.

Ummm...
 But the picture generated 80 comments and 117 thumbs ups, hearts or wows among my friends and acquaintances. Amazing. I've never had any post ever come close to those numbers before now.

As I explained in the original post, I shaved it off because Kim said she'd like to see me without facial hair at least once in our marriage, which will soon reach 39 years together (that's worth a 'wow', I think). Because she's been so phenomenal in my recovery from recent colon resection surgery, I figured the least I could do, like Zoltar, was grant this wish for her.

So I did it. What a guy.

A lot of people have asked her how she likes the new-look me, and she'll tell them, that after her initial shock, it's growing on her.

Nobody asks me how I like it.

Let me put it this way: the other morning, I figured it was time to shave off the three days growth that had creeped out on my face. It had been at least 45 years – maybe longer – since my last full facial shave.

Turns out, I might have forgotten how to shave with a razor. I had trouble negotiating under my nose and I actually drew blood (something a guy on blood thinners doesn't want) when I nicked the corner of my mouth. I was going with the grain, against the grain, up this way, down that way, here, there and everywhere. Oops.

All of this reminded me why I hated to shave in the first place. I don't know how most women do it when they shave every body hair in sight, every day.

Then I looked at the face in the mirror. A hard look. The first real look since I shaved off the goatee on Tuesday. I saw a stronger chin than I remembered, but jowls were forming on the perimeters and they were somewhat accented by dimples I forgot I had. I think I surprised myself. Older? Younger? Thinner? I'm not sure I really have a grasp for myself. I'll allow myself an "I guess it's OK."

For now.




Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A moving experience

"Your colon is about six feet long. I'm going to remove about a foot of it."

I nodded my head.

Huh? What?

"I don't think there's any cancer, but I'm going to treat it as if it's a cancer surgery. Just to be on the safe side."

HUH? WHAT?

That was pretty much my introduction to Dr. Steven Muscoreil a few weeks ago during our scheduled consultation at Davidson Surgical Associates. I'd just had a colonoscopy that showed a polyp, about the length of my thumb, that was lying flat and embedded in the colon wall on my right side.

In my simple layman's mind, I figured it would be done laprascopically, not really knowing what laparascopic surgery really was. I thought it would be an outpatient procedure.

"Normally, your hospital stay would be about five or six days," said Dr. Muscoreil, with the words "five or six days" bouncing around in my brain like an endless echo. "But we can have it done at Thomasville, where they offer the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, which could get you out in about three days if all goes well."

"So," I said, choking on my words. "It's not outpatient?"

"Oh, no," said Dr. Muscoreil, standing next to a poster on the wall mapping the human gastrointestinal tract. "This is major surgery."

Every muscle in my body tightened, especially around my throat. And maybe my sphincter, too. The only other time in my life I'd been in a hospital was when I was born 68 years ago.

"Oh, OK," I gulped as he pointed to the poster and explained where and what the colon did. I didn't hear a word he said. All I could hear was "Major surgery."

Scott, Shelly and the impatient patient
To make a long story short (this blog will probably be long enough as it is anyway), I chose to have the surgery done at the Thomasville Medical Center, specifically for the ERAS protocol. Dr. Muscoreil performed the laparascopic surgery in about three hours Friday morning (which happened to be Friday the 13th). When I came to after the anesthesia wore off, sometime around noon, I reckon, I was greeted by my wife Kim, her brother, Greg and his wife, Pam, and my brother, Scott, and his wife, Shelly, both of whom are nurses and had driven in from Oklahoma for this. More on Scott and Shelly later.
•   •   •
There's not a lot I remember about Friday. But one thing I do recall came during the pre-op preparation. I heard voices from a nearby nurses' station listing that morning's operations, one of which was a hysterectomy. When my nurse, Christy, came into my room, I asked her to make sure I wasn't the one scheduled for a hysterectomy. She about burst a gut (maybe I should rephrase that) and said, "We'd make some history, wouldn't we? Thanks for the laugh."

Weak humor is how I compensate for just about everything.
•   •   •
On Saturday morning, after my liquid breakfast, Scott said it was time for me to walk. This was shortly after Dr. Muscoreil had made his rounds and told me he hoped I'd get out of bed as soon as possible. There's nothing that promotes healing faster than walking.

(Interjection: Decades earlier, when Scott was 4 and I was his babysitter [I'm 11 years older than he], my middle brother, David, and I played a sorry joke on Scott. We told him he was adopted and to prove it, I drew up a bogus birth certificate, complete with swirly looking trim on the edges and with the name "Stanley Lipschitz" on it. It made him cry. And now, all these years later, here he was as my caregiver. Uh-oh).

This is my life now
 Scott told me how to roll out of bed, because the belly pain was somewhat acute. He stood me up. He told me to take a step to the left with my left foot, then a step to my right with my right foot. We did that about 10 times.

Then he had me stand in place and march like a soldier. I did about 10 steps like that. It was all about gaining stability.

I needed it, because when we finally launched forward, I couldn't believe how wobbly I was. But we managed about a 100 baby-step yards. During the course of the day, we increased our laps and distance, and I became more stable. It was amazing.

We'd get back to the room and Shelly, who's gone through her own intestinal challenges, offered advice and suggestions. I couldn't wait to see them each day. I couldn't have been in better hands.
•   •   •
Speaking of being in better hands, I have to say the staff at Thomasville Medical, from the nurses to the CNA's to housekeeping, was phenomenal. They always had time for idle chit chat and small talk, for my weak humor and giving me explanations for whatever med was being administered. Remarkable. So I offer many thanks to Lena, Kellie, Lou, Jesse, Twanda, Whitney, Dominique, Christy and Meredith. And those are just the ones I can remember. Thanks to all. Your care was both professional and personal and I know you put the "enhanced" part in Enhanced Recovery After Surgery. Or maybe it was the "recovery" part, I don't know. But thank you. I have not one single complaint.
•   •   •
Scott and Shelly departed for Oklahoma on Sunday, meaning Kim would really have to be the rock she's been through this whole incredible ordeal. Although I've known Shelly for just a handful of days, I gave her a tearful kiss on the cheek and my love.

Then I turned to Scott, embraced him in a big man/bear hug, gave him a weepy kiss on the cheek and thanked him for his care and love and wished them both a safe drive home.

I miss them already.

I wonder when I should tell him his name is really Stanley Wallowitz?




Sunday, September 1, 2019

Animal instincts

I was watching TV the other day – probably a football or baseball game – when one of those Geico gecko commercials came on.

There's a ton of them, and some of them are actually humorous enough to bring a smile to my face. Especially if the game I'm watching isn't all that exciting and my attention span is drifting.

But, you know, never play down the power of a green lizard speaking to you with a Cockney accent about insurance, I always say. And I do. I always say that.

Despite the gecko's overabundant screen time and clever sales pitches, I've never been tempted to purchase any Geico insurance.

I kinda miss the days of Elsie...
 In fact, when I saw my first Geico lizard commercial, back in the days when I was a young man, I'd never heard of Geico. I thought they were a new outfit trying to make themselves famous with an impossibly hokey mascot that, really, sort of creeped me out.

But, no. Geico – which is actually an acronym for "Government Employees Insurance Company" – has been around since 1936, or before television. Or, perhaps interestingly enough, just in time for World War II and all those government employees wearing uniforms.

I just recently found out that the spokesman gecko has a name – "Martin," after the Martin Company ad agency that birthed him. I have it in the back of my head that I've actually heard him called "Martin" or "Marty" in one of those commercials, although I'm not positive about that. But, maybe. There's just so many of them.

Anyway, it suddenly seems like there's animated animal spokesmen, er, spokes people, er, spokes-imals all over the place.

I grew up with Elsie, the Borden cow, but now we have a blue cow promoting lactose-free milk. Blue cows. I'm not getting that. And she doesn't have a nickname, but I'm game. I'm thinking maybe "Flatulent Free Flossie," but something about that doesn't quite pass the sniff test there. Lactaid does have an effective motto, though: "The milk that doesn't mess with you." Yep.

I probably shouldn't admit that I kinda like these guys...
Speaking of cows, there's Chick-fil-A with its "Eat More Chikin" campaign, which is kind of brilliant, when you think about it. The cows, apparently, are illiterate, which automatically gives them subliminal mass appeal in this country.

I think my favorite animal commercial right now is for Serta mattresses. Serta has those goofy-but-adorable numbered sheep that you count while trying to get some shuteye. This most recent commercial has them cuddling up with you on the bed, stretching and yawning, smacking their lips just like you do when you fall asleep.

And, of course, in a stroke of marketing genius, you can order these fluffy stuffed sheep off the Internet and take them to bed with you, like you did with Teddy bears back when you were a kid.

Yep. I'm watching way too much television...

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Personal and indelicate

Testing. Testing. One, two three.

Just checking. I'd just come out of anesthesia and I wanted to make sure I'm the same person I was going into my colonoscopy as I was coming out. I guess I am, although the thought has occurred to me that while anesthetized, it would have been a really good time to insert a few more IQ points, perhaps intravenously. But I don't remember signing a waiver for something like that and Lord knows what that would have added to my final billing.

I need to take a few steps back right here to explain.

About a month ago, I did the Cologuard thing, where you send off a stool sample (Indelicate. I told you) for analysis and, based on your DNA, it can be determined whether your colon has any issues, like maybe cancer.

I chose to do Cologuard because it's a non-invasive procedure with something like a 93 percent (maybe higher) detection rate. You've probably seen the commercials on TV where an animated Cologuard box happily dances around the house to let you know this procedure is an option in your life. Hmmm, OK. My Cologuard box didn't dance. I simply wanted to avoid a colonoscopy. In fact, I did this procedure for the first time three years ago with no problem.

This time, I got a call from my doctor telling me my Cologuard analysis came back with a positive result, and the next step was a colonoscopy, the very thing I was trying to avoid in the first place.

What you need to know here is that, in my life, I've only been to the hospital twice: once, about nine years ago when I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) and was kept overnight for observation; and the first time was 68 years ago when I was born.

So we scheduled a procedure. Now look, I know colonoscopies happen all the time, that it's a common outpatient procedure, and nearly everybody I know, including family members, has had it done. But I was a little apprehensive anyway.

The hospital even sent me an email with a three-part video primer attachment to prepare me for what was coming. I was OK until they got to the part about some risks (although rare) involved. "We don't want to scare you, but..." warned the video.

Well, that scared the poop out of me (indelicate). It could have served as part of the prep for the colonoscopy.

Further adding to my concern was my AFib. I take a blood thinner, Eliquis, to help prevent blood platelets from pooling in my heart and throwing a stroke. I had to come off the Eliquis for three days, just in case any internal bleeding occurred. Even after the procedure, I'm off the Eliquis until Monday. So, yep, I'm as calm as a summer breeze.

I could go on, but I'll cut to the chase.

I had the procedure done on Friday. When I came out of the anesthesia, Kim said one of the first things I said, apparently in a rather loud voice that could be heard in the hallway, was "I didn't feel a damn thing" and then, trying to be funny, "Let's do this again."

Careful what you wish for. Don't try to be funny when coming out of anesthesia.

Two polyps were found, one of which they snipped out and sent off for biopsy. The other polyp is larger, more than an inch in size, and lying flat on its side against the colon wall. I know, because I saw the pictures. In fact, I should have brought the pics home with me to help illustrate this blog. Sorry. I wasn't thinking.

Anyway, a second procedure is needed to remove the larger polyp. It could be anything from laparascopy (usually an outpatient event) to full-fledged surgery. All that still remains to be determined.

I'm not complaining. I know there are people out there dealing with issues that are far more serious than mine – perhaps even life threatening – that makes my little adventure look like a walk in the park. I know that.

It's just that this is my adventure and I have to negotiate it in my own way.

Maybe I'll sign that waiver about adding IQ points after all.








Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woodstock: I wasn't there

I might be one of the few people left on the planet who will concede that he was not at Woodstock 50 years ago.

But I could have been.

I'd just graduated from high school, Class of 1969. I was 18 years old and had just gotten my first car, a 1965 Ford Falcon, as a graduation gift from my grandparents. I thought I was hot stuff. Freedom was in my car keys. I was going to need a car because I was about to become a commuter student at Kutztown State College, soon to be driving the 90-minute round trip every day for the next four years.

But trouble came quickly. My grandparents, Depression-era survivors always on the alert for a good deal, bought the car from someone whom I now assume to have been a disreputable auto dealer. There was sawdust in the automatic transmission.

Keep this in mind as I continue the tale.

One evening, as I was watching either Walter Cronkite or maybe Frank McGee on the evening news, they were telling us of a music festival that was happening just a couple of hours away from us in rural Bethel, New York.

We were living in Perkasie, PA, at the time, so it wouldn't have been a bad trip for me to make. I actually considered doing this.

My memory gets a little foggy at this point, which is what I think is happening to all those other people who tell you that they were, indeed, at Woodstock back in the day. Fog sets in.

What I do remember was that I was young, impetuous and bulletproof. I thought maybe I could go for a day, see what was going on at the festival, and then drive back home. I had no plans to stay overnight. I had no money, either.

What I also didn't have was a concept of 500,000 people milling around in a farmer's field (Max Yasgur's Farm is now an historic site in Sullivan County), with no immediate parking for sawdust filled Ford Falcons. Uh-oh.

The news coverage continued the next day on network TV, because something special was clearly happening. The half-million people were actually getting along rather well with each other. I'm not sure which day it rained, but kids were having fun with mud slides and walking around naked. I'm sure I would have lost my car keys and wallet with the $5 in it. Uh-oh. I also figured these must have been big city New York kids, because public nudity hadn't hit Perkasie yet. They certainly looked more worldly than me (I'm certain that I was grotesquely naive), although I'd started letting my hair grow to fit into the hippie culture that was being helped along by this festival.

So now I was torn. Time was running out. The concert was entering its fourth and final day, and I was missing it. But when I saw the news footage of kids parking their cars on the side of country roads and walking miles through the rain and humidity to the festival, I started to get discouraged. Hmm. Maybe not.

And, just to remember, only a week before Woodstock, Charles Manson and his Family had murdered Sharon Tate, which was a huge game changer for long-haired people on the road. Damn hippies. Manson dominated the news on one hand, with Woodstock on the other and Vietnam in the middle. A cultural Yin and Yang, of sorts, was going on here.

So I never went to Woodstock. I soon traded in my Falcon for a 1963 straight-drive VW Beetle, which turned out to be one of the best cars I ever owned. It got me through four years of college and a 10,000-mile, six-week cross-country camping trip in 1973. And it fit in with my casually cultivated hippie persona, although I still feel like I'm a love and peace guy 50 years later.

I never regretted not going to Woodstock, because I'm sure I would have been eaten alive. And I've really enjoyed telling you that I didn't go, even though I wonder if it's a better story than if I had, in fact, gone.

Love and peace, y'all.




Saturday, August 17, 2019

Game time

This time, the weather forecast was for 10 percent chance of rain at game time.

And it found us.

Jim Buice, Neill Caldwell, Larry Lyon and Kevin Brafford.
Which was kind of interesting, because we were at BB&T Ballpark Friday night thanks to a rainout and subsequent power outage that postponed a game we had gathered to see back in May.

Jim, Neill, Larry and myself. Still smiling...
So somewhere around the third inning of the Dash's game with Potomac, a light, annoying rain began to fall. Not again. Apparently, we were being followed by a rain shadow.

But it didn't last long. So the five of us – Larry Lyon, Jim Buice, Kevin Brafford, Neill Caldwell and myself, all former sports writers for The Dispatch from back in the prehistoric days when you could actually hold a newspaper in your hands – reassembled ourselves to give this another try.

It worked. The rain lasted for about an inning (they never did bring out the tarp), and we did the stuff that you'd expect five former sports writers to do: talk about sports and journalism. One of us brought a copy of George Wills' baseball quiz and we spent some time guessing at the obscure answers.

At one point in the game, I took off on my own and walked the concourse around the stadium, taking in the different perspectives of the game. There's nothing like the view of a baseball field inside a stadium.

None of us did any heavy rooting, but we appreciated the talent on the field and wondered how long a 20-year-old minor leaguer stays in the game until he realizes that he has to get a real job some day, and probably sooner than later.

One of the Dash players, high draft choice Andrew Vaughn, signed a $7 million bonus, so I guess he'll be around for a while. Wonder how he gets along with potentially jealous teammates in the clubhouse?

But, to add perspective, everyone of those players was no doubt a star or standout on his high school or college team. The MLB winnowing process is an amazing thing.

There was one scary moment that none of us had ever seen in a baseball game before. While netting down both baselines protects the fans from sharply hit line drive foul balls, there is absolutely no protection for the players in the dugouts. And that's exactly what happened in this game.

A wild foul ball slammed into the Potomac dugout, and moments later, players were calling for the umpire to halt the game. Immediately, players gathered around the Nationals' bench, and play was halted for at least half a hour. An ambulance arrived and came on the field, and shortly, a gurney loaded a person into the van.

We stayed until the eighth inning was over and left, but not before Neill asked a police officer what he knew about the incident. Apparently, a bat boy was injured in the dugout and taken to the hospital. It was an unnerving moment and it begs the question why dugouts aren't more securely protected from foul balls. Players in a dugout are probably paying the least attention of anybody on the field.

Anyway, the rest of the night moved without incident. The Dash won 5-2 for their fourth straight victory.

But mostly, we all stole home after the game with the fires of longtime camaraderie still burning.

Maybe we can do this again next year,









Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Blowing Rock getaway

The whole point of the weekend was to escape the heat wave.

Well, that and to recharge the batteries. I've been on a couple of Civil War jaunts this year, already having spent a three-day weekend in Chattanooga, followed by a three-day weekend in Gettysburg about a month later.

But while I was busy honing my knowledge index, Kim was busy working hard at the office. I think the time she has taken off this year can be counted in hours, not days. She needed some down time.

So we escaped to Blowing Rock. This is kind of an annual thing for us. We usually go late in the summer, when it's usually hottest, to take advantage of the higher elevation of the mountains to give us the illusion that we are cooler there than if we were still in Lexington.

We do some shopping, some fine dining, and perusing the crafts at Art in the Park. We usually reserve a room at the Boxwood Lodge, which is near the bottom of the hill on Main Street. We park the car when we arrive on Friday (after first reconnoitering the shops in Boone), and don't get in it again until we leave on Sunday. You can walk everywhere. It's a good time and we generally feel refreshed after those 72 hours.

But this trip was a little different. We couldn't quite escape the heat. Not this year.

When we approached Blowing Rock on Friday, we came by way of Lenoir. It was 91 degrees at noon that day. After driving up the mountain, the temperature had dropped to 83, but the humidity kept the heat index (or feel-like temperature) in the mid-90s. Ahh, yes. The mountains.

Blowing Rock is always changing, and usually, there are one or two new businesses that pop up and catch our attention each year. Development is nonstop.

The thing I noticed this year is that they changed the grade of the hills, and for some reason that's beyond me, they made them a little steeper. Sunset Drive is nearly impossible to walk now. I bet it's a 45 degree incline. Maybe even 60. And combined with the heat index, I found myself taking slower steps up the hill to get from our motel to Art in the Park.

I started thinking how nice it would be to get in the car and...

No. Not gonna do it. I didn't want to lose my parking space, because motel spaces are at a premium.

I'm guessing we climbed the hill – either from the Main Street slope or the Sunset Drive challenge – at least five times on Saturday alone.

But the weekend flew by fast. We left the heat index in Blowing Rock on Sunday and hardly even had to re-acclimate ourselves to the 93 degree heat of home.

But we had recharged the batteries. Isn't that why you go to the mountains in the summer?




Sunday, August 4, 2019

Words fail

I went to bed last night with a heavy heart following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and then woke up this morning to another mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.

The two events are separated by 1,600 miles and 13 hours, leaving a total of 29 dead and God knows how many families shattered.

It's the 250th mass shooting in the last 215 days.

For what?

What the hell is going on?

Ponder this list: I just can't write anymore today.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The new English

Every once in a while, when I'm perusing (not persuing) my friends on Facebook, I'll come across a post where someone uses Internet shorthand to articulate their message.

I'm not sure "articulate" is actually the correct word here. The message can be filled with acronyms all over the place, which requires something like a code-breaking machine to translate. UKWIM?

I think this particular type of shorthand came about with the advent of Twitter, because apparently, you can use only so many characters in a Twitter post. I don't Twitter. I don't Tweet. IDK, it just seems like a CWOT to me, if not a GWOT.

The King's English (or maybe it's the Queen's English, since she's been on the throne for about 70 years now) has always been good enough for me. I like words. I like to play with them, to fool around with their meaning, to make them rhyme, to make them paint a picture if I can. Too many acronyms slow me down and distract me from comprehending the actual message. It requires a multitasking ability that I guess I don't have. I'm sooo OOT.

Some shorthand I just don't get. Why is K the Internet substitute for OK? Are we really saving bandwidth with this? Saving time? I'm O_O.

Then there are acronyms with letters and numbers in them, similar to a license plate. Like "P3r5On", which means "person." It actually looks like the word "person", it has the same number of characters as "person", why can't we just use "person"? It actually seems more difficult to type out the shorthand version. DOH.

All of this kind of makes me wonder how Shakespeare, the master wordsmith, would shake out in today's world: 2B or not 2B, that is the ?

Hmmm. Maybe not. Quill pens don't travel through time very well.

BTW, do these acronyms take some of the venom and vitriol out of swearing? Can I tell somebody to GTH and it simply makes them LOL 4COL? J/W.

Well, G2G. CUL while I CUWTA.

Ha.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed

We were living in Connecticut, if memory serves (a somewhat spotty thing for me these days), back in 1962. I wasn't a news junkie yet. I mean, I was just 11 years old. Televisions offered only three networks, and those were in black-and-white. Radio was mostly a static-filled AM thing. Newspapers were for adults; I read comic books.

Even the Beatles were trying to find themselves back in 1962, replacing their drummer, Pete Best, with some goofball named Ringo – if we even knew who the Beatles were back then.

But in September of that year, President John F. Kennedy told a crowd of 40,000 people sweltering in the Texas heat at Rice University football stadium that it would be nice if we, the United States, could put a man on the moon – and bring him back home again – before the end of the decade.

I didn't hear the speech, but I heard the request. What an audacious thing to say. In 1962, we were just 35 years removed from Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis. We had no rockets that could reach Earth's escape velocity. We had no spacesuits. We had no astrophysicists. All we had was Walt Disney (from 1955):



And you want to put a man on the moon?

But a mere seven years later, I was sitting in front of a color television set. I'd become an 18-year-old  news junkie by then, hooked and fueled by the coverage of Kennedy's assassination just a little more than a year after his speech at Rice University. All of us knew who the Beatles were by then and we listened to them enchant us on clear-as-a-bell FM radio. And we had Mission Control, where all those 30-year-old engineers, mathematicians and physicists wore white dress shirts, skinny ties and chain-smoked cigarettes.

And we had Project Apollo.

Fifty years and several hours ago, I was in front of my TV, patiently waiting for Neil Armstrong to set foot on the moon's surface. It was getting late into the night, almost 11 p.m. The lunar module, Eagle, had landed at 4:19 p.m., but it took Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin seven long and unending hours to prepare for their moonwalk.

I wondered if it was even going to happen as I listened to fatherly Walter Cronkite assure me that it was. I'd watch a little, walk away for a bit, and then come back to watch some more. It might not even have been wall-to-wall coverage back then; I'm not sure. It probably was.

And, finally, it was time. I remember being drowsy, but I wasn't going to miss this for anything.

Then, almost as if by magic, the grainy live pictures of Armstrong climbing down the ladder of the lunar module were broadcast into our living room. I remember thinking that it was amazing that we had live television coverage of this event, an historic endeavor somehow transmitted 240,000 miles for the world to see. How'd they do that?

I really thought we were on the cusp of something spectacular back then. I could see missions to Mars and beyond. Star Trek made me think Vulcans, Tribbles and warp speed could be real things. We could do anything.

But, no. Budget cuts and shifting priorities have distracted us from our natural inclination to explore. Just three years later, with Apollo 17 in 1972, Gene Cernan became the last man to set foot on the moon.

I can only hope that we're in a holding pattern right now. I remember how excited I was about space exploration back in the 1960s, and maybe NASA, in conjunction with commercial entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Richard Branson, can take us there again.

I hope so. I mean, I really want to see a Tribble.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The helping hand

Years and years ago, when I was still just a pup starting out on a career in sports journalism – and thus seriously underpaid – I tried to maintain the family tradition of sponsoring a child through the Save the Children Federation. (See here)

My parents sponsored a Navajo Indian child, keeping our dollars in the United States, and I thought I could do the same thing. So I signed up. This was back in the late 1970s, when I was making less than $200 a week (or $10,400 a year, before taxes). I gladly assumed sponsorship of an 8-year-old Navajo child in Crownpoint, New Mexico. We'd occasionally write letters to each other and that usually made me feel pretty good about my altruistic self. That was especially true when the child's parents would add a note thanking me for my support. I knew I was doing something good.

There were times when this was not financially easy to do. There would come the odd month when the car payment, car insurance, gas for the car, rent, utilities and other sundry bills would conspire to come due at the same time. My $20 monthly contribution to save my child put a serious crimp in my personal finances. I remember buying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a pack of hot dogs that I could grill on my hibachi, and make them last and live off those for the rest of the week until the next paycheck came.

No sweat. All those hot dogs and fried chicken helped me become the man I am today.

Anyway, I kept the sponsorship going until he turned 18 years old. Never having children myself, I felt like I made a contribution in someone's life, even at $20 a pop. I still feel that way.

The other day, I was watching something on television, and suddenly, Marlo Thomas is talking to me. It's that time of year again when St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital makes its annual fundraising pitch (see here), and the images are heartrending. They're designed to be, no doubt, but still, seeing a young child hooked up to an IV bag when he should be playing outside with his friends pretty much grabs me by the throat.

I think St. Jude's has done incredible work over the decades. According to the commercial, St. Jude's, through its research, has produced something like an 80 percent survival rate among its youthful cancer patients. That still means 20 percent are dying. That's a hard statistic to absorb.

While I was trying to assimilate that hard truth, as the St. Jude commercial was going to fade, in the very next commercial block came an ad for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (see here).

I feel a little bit guilty – or something, I'm really not quite sure what the emotion is – because my TV screen is filled with pitiful dogs limping around on three legs or cats pleading to you with soulful eyes in a way that you never knew animals could communicate.

What to do? What to do? I want to save the children. I want to cure cancer. I want to do all of these things, but the reality is we can only pick and choose our battles. Yes, I still pay outlandish fees for my cable and WiFi. I still make the occasional contribution to save a Civil War battlefield, for crying out loud. We're still separating families and locking up children in cages. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I sometimes ask myself, when confronted with these seemingly moral dilemmas, What Would Jesus Do?

I'm not sure what the answer is. We are a race filled with contradictions and hypocrisies and apparently, nothing will ever change that. There may not even be an answer, other than doing the best we can and hoping it's enough.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Home improvements

It wasn't that long ago when the twin Parkview Apartments buildings on West Third Avenue looked as if they were primed for the wrecking ball.

The historic structures – now almost 100 years old – were dilapidated. The place had become an eyesore. Glass in many of the windows was broken out; the little plots of grass out front always seemed snakey and in need of cutting; and occasional squatters seemed likely to be seeking shelter there. It all added up to a sense of frustration and insecurity for the neighborhood.

Parkview Apartment No. 1 is showing itself off.
 Almost a decade ago, Core Properties & Development out of Burlington showed interest in renovating the apartments. Then, after a series of fits and starts centering around the availability of tax credits, the project began in earnest a little more than a year ago. Help also arrived from BB&T, LMI Builders, West & Stem Architects and Twain Financial Partners out of St. Louis.

And now, Core Properties is finally renting apartments.

Between the two buildings, there are 30 units available. Correction: make that 20. As of today, six of the 12 apartments in Building No. 1 are rented; four single bedroom apartments in Building No. 2 are already spoken for, and the renovation is still to be completed.

There's a lot to be said for the updated buildings. One of the most attractive features about them is their proximity to the shops and restaurants in Uptown Lexington, just a couple of blocks away. The J. Smith Young YMCA is a block over, Lanier's Hardware is two blocks away, the Breeden Amphitheater is nearby, and four churches dot the immediate neighborhood. Talk about location, location, location.

Granite counter tops are appealing in one of the apartment kitchens.
Just as attractive, there are brand new appliances in each kitchen, including dishwashers, microwaves and stacked washers and dryers. Hardwood floors are everywhere and Building No. 2 features an original marble hallway. Wi-Fi and water are part of the rent, and there is a new parking lot behind the buildings. An extra storage area for each building is located in the basement of Building No. 2. New landscaping gives the place a visual appeal.

Rent? The single bedroom units are in the $600 to $700 range, while the two-bedroom apartments go for $900 to $1,000 per month.

There are two open houses a week, with one every Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the other on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. If you need help, Jerry Mayes is on site. Not only is he showing the units for Core Properties, he's the first tenant to sign on since the renovation began.

"So far, there's been a good flow of people coming in to look at the buildings," said Mayes. "Interestingly enough, a lot of people were former residents here and they just want to look around. It's kind of neat. I think they're impressed."

The only serious drawback I see is there are no elevators for the three-story buildings. I don't know if that's because the developers wanted to keep the historical integrity of the buildings intact (they are located in the Lexington Residential Historic District) or if there was just no way for some other reason to add elevators. But it might be a game-changer for some folks.

Nevertheless, I am excited about this. I live in the historic district and the renovated Parkview Apartments could become an anchor property for the neighborhood.

At any rate, a former eyesore is no more.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Geezer report: Go see 'Yesterday'

The premise is intriguing: when the entire planet suffers a bout of amnesia during a mysterious 12-second power outage, only struggling down-and-out singer/songwriter Jack Malik is rendered immune – because he happened to get hit by a bus and is rendered unconscious in those very same 12 seconds.

When he regains consciousness, he shortly finds out that he's the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles and their songs. And while he knows it's fraudulent, he turns that knowledge into a superstar-making career move. Every song he "writes" is spectacular, because nobody has ever heard of Lennon-McCartney before.



That's the storyline behind "Yesterday," an appealing little flick that features Himesh Patel in the role of Jack, which requires the obligatory suspension of belief as time-warping movies usually do. But we've done it before, even willingly, with flicks like the "Back to the Future" franchise, "Field of Dreams" or even "It's a Wonderful Life," to name a few favorites in a very large genre of mind-benders.

There are a couple of things going for this movie. One of them is Patel, primarily known for his work in the BBC television series "Eastenders". The surprise here is that Patel, in his first movie role, is a pretty darn good singer. He actually does his own singing and instrument playing in the movie, adding a touch of authenticity to the fantasy.

Another thing going for this movie is the soundtrack. How are you going to top The Beatles? I think I read the producers got the rights/permission to use 20 Beatle tunes (an expensive proposition), of which 17 are used. The songs appear mostly as snippets to move the story along, but for an old geezer like myself, who once wanted to hold your hand and years ago turned 64 on that long and winding road, Beatle snippets are more than enough.

It reminds us of what a joy the Beatles music was in real time, and still is in real life. As if we need to be reminded.

There seems to be a bunch of movies suddenly appearing on screen featuring iconic soundtracks: "Bohemian Rhapsody" gives us Queen; "Rocketman" gives us Elton John; and a new movie slated for release later this year, "Blinded By the Light," gives us Bruce Springsteen. It was only a matter of time before we were given The Beatles. Are the Rolling Stones far behind? It's a good time to be alive.

Ed Sheeran, a real-life top-selling recording artist who is chipmunk cute, plays himself in a nice turn here. He provides some of the comic relief, trying to convince Jack to retitle "Hey Jude" to "Hey Dude." Lily James is engaging as Jack's manager and unrequited love interest until it's almost too late, and Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon is brutally effective as a Los Angeles record producer, if not sometimes over the top.

I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but if you see the flick, make sure to stay for the last half-hour. There's a moment in there that's absolutely breathtaking for Beatles fans. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. Intrigued, aren't you? It's worth it.

 •   •   •

I went to see this movie at Tinseltown in Salisbury. Today is the opening day for the first-run movie, and Tinseltown offered a 10:30 a.m. showing, which is perfect for us geezers. No screaming kids. No pooh-poohing millennials. It virtually guarantees that you'll stay awake for the whole one hour, 56-minute running time, which is nice. And unless you've had a whole pot of coffee for breakfast, you'll likely stay out of the restroom, too, which means you won't miss anything.

I was one of 15 people in the theater. All of us, I think, were of the Silver Sneakers generation, which means we're the only ones who will probably "get" this movie.

I even asked the college-age ticket taker if only "old" people were seeing this flick.

"So far," he chuckled, looking me square in the eye.

Let it be.