Saturday, October 25, 2008

Palmer's Big Star: Part II

In my most recent post, I introduced the topic of Palmer’s Big Star, which has been in operation on Main St. in east Tupelo since the 1950s.
The mention of the store brought back a wave of memories, remarkable only if you view Palmer’s Big Star as simply a grocery store. It was that, of course, the place where everybody bought their bread and vegetables and meat. But it was much more, sort of a community gathering place.
There were several things that emerged from the dusty corridors of my memory at the mention of Palmer’s Big Star.
One of them was Quality Stamps.
Quality Stamps were trading stamps that you could collect and then redeem at a little “redemption center’’ located on South Gloster Street. As best I can tell, Quality Stamps were circulated primarily in what is referred to as the “Mid-South,’’ - Memphis and the surrounding areas of north Mississippi, west Tenneesee and east Arkansas. You may be familiar with S&H Green Stamps, which were more widely circulated. Well, Quality Stamps operated under a similar fashion.
At Palmer’s, you got a certain number of Quality Stamps for each dollar you spent on groceries. My recollection is not perfect on this point, but I seem to recall that the stamps had different values, sort of like currency. Mama was a devoted collector. Woe be it to the person who, having made a quick trip to Palmer's, did not return with her Quality Stamps.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table, licking those stamps and pasting them into the little booklets that, when filled with stamps, you could take to the redemption center. The redemption center looked much like any other retail store, as I recall. You could redeem your stamps for a wide variety of products, from house-wares to toys and games.
Mama being very practical, always used the stamps to buy something useful and sensible - pots, pans, small appliances, that sort of thing.
The one extravagant use of the stamps came when mama relented to my pleas to buy a popcorn popper. I remember pointing it out on the shelf. Mama was skeptical. We had a big pan to pop the popcorn with that had worked perfectly fine for years, after all.
But the popcorn popper was pretty cool, she had to admit. The popper plugged into a wall outlet and a big, clear plastic dome fit over the appliance. The dome was designed to be used as the bowl after the popcorn was popped. The popper had a non-stick surface, with a little metal arm that rotated around the surface to keep the un-popped kernels moving around to avoid sticking and ensure that all the kernels popped.
Mama still failed to see the need for such a device, but I suspect she thought of all the time I spent licking those stamps at the kitchen table and relented.
That night, a bunch of the neighborhood kids came over to watch the popcorn popper work its magic. Then we sat down at watched Jerry Lewis on “Saturday Night at the Movies’’ on TV.
Quality Stamps weren’t the only way to profit from a strip to Palmer’s Big Star, though. The store also featured “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ That turned out to be my first exposure to horse racing. Here’s how it worked:
With your purchase, you were given “betting slips’’ that featured the number of a horse and corresponding race. Again, the number of slips you received were based on your purchase amounts.
Each Saturday afternoon, we would pile our betting slips on the coffee table, sort them by the race and watch and watch the simulcast on the local TV station. Of course, it wasn’t really a simulcast, though. It was a re-run of a simulcast from races as such exotic tracks as Santa Anita, Gulf Stream, Belmont, etc.
In theory, if you had the winning horse, you could redeem your winning slip for cash. Again, I’m vague on the amount of money you could win. It turned out to be a moot point, anyway. We never won, although it seemed like we always had the “Place’’ horse. Of course, you didn’t win any money in the “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ for the Place or Show horses. Still, it was a thrill to have something riding on a race.
I suppose there were other grocery stores that featured Quality Stamps and “Let’s Go To The Races!’’ But Palmer’s was the only store I know of that had a Mynah bird.
At least, they had a Mynah bird for a while.
It was kept in a big cage near the store office and was a magnet for all the kids who accompanied their mama to the store. You had to be careful, though, because he was a temperamental old bird and had been known to take a nip at little fingers that were poked into his cage. We learned that pretty quick, so it never was much of a problem.
Unfortunately, though, the bird developed some unsavory habits that would eventually lead to his demise.
For one thing, he learned to whistle, which delighted the kids. Of course, it was a “wolf whistle,’’ a long, somehow lewd whistle that you normally associated with construction workers when a slender woman walks by in a short skirt.
The sensible, well-mannered women who patronized Palmer’s were decidedly not THAT sort of women, so when they walked by the bird and got the “wolf whistle,’’ it was mildly scandalous and deeply embarrassing.
The bird might have survived this indiscretion had he not picked up another bad habit.
Namely, he expanded his vocabulary to include a variety of curse words.
I do not know who taught the bird those particular words, although I do have my suspicions. I figure it was Buddy Palmer, who had the sort of irreverent personality that made him a likely suspect. But I could be wrong about that.
What I do know is that the Mynah bird soon disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him. If you know, clue me in, OK?
Another thing that distinguished Palmer’s Big Star was its link toboth Rock-n-Roll and Law Enforcement immortality. I’ll have to save that for next time, though.
Today is the best day of the year in racing and the horses are at the post for the Breeders Cup Marathon.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Palmer's Big Star: Part I

Another trip on the Way Back Machine, aka my high school web site, put me in touch with Tracy Nichols Lyle, who grew up next door to me in East Tupelo. Tracy is 10 years my junior, but she had older brothers that I remember well.
She mentioned that one of her brothers was the meat market manager at Palmer’s Big Star and I was surprised how many memories the thought of the little grocery store stirred.
Unlike other parts of the city, East Tupelo had its own identity, mainly because it had its only little pocket of commerce along a two-block stretch of Main Street.
Old man Post operated a barber shop on the south side of Main St. Although he cut hair for more than 40 years at that location, he only performed one haircut, as best I can tell, a tightly cropped buzz cut that every boy sported. Look at any old photos of the boys who grew up in East Tupelo and you’ll see that “style.’’
When we got into our teen years and were deemed old enough to make our own choices, we would take our business out of East Tupelo to the downtown Central Barber Shop, where the young barbers bet on football games and had back issues of Playboy Magazine you could look at. Being able to go to Central Barber Shop, where the buzz cut was never performed and you could look at pictures of naked women was considered a rite of passage among teenage boys.
Post’s Barber Shop was located right next to Johnny’s Drive-in, which was a main gathering place for breakfast and lunch. The tiny little diner only had seating for about 20. Most patrons chose to eat in their car. As soon as you pulled up, the diner’s car-hops would wait to see if you were going to get out. If you didn’t, they would approach and take your order and bring your food out to you.
Johnny’s is still in operation, I’m happy to report and there is still a Barber Shop at the same location, although Mr. Post has long since passed on. A block further south was Lawhon Elementary School, its property flanked by East Heights Baptist Church, the biggest church in East Tupelo, to the east and the Freewill Baptist Church to the West.
On the opposite side of the street, there was the post office and a People’s Bank branch.
And there was Palmer’s Big Star.
As I reflect, Palmer’s Big Star was the focal point of the community. If you lived in East Tupelo, you may or may not have done your banking at the People’s Bank. You may or may not have worshipped at East Heights Baptist Church. You may have treated yourself to breakfast at lunch at Johnny’s Drive-In from time to time, although eating out was considered quite the luxury for a lot of folks in this working class community. You may have had Mr. Post buzz your head or have had your mom cut your hair instead.
But everybody bought groceries. And while another small grocery store, Lackey’s, operated just “up the hill’’ to the east, almost everyone in East Tupelo shopped at the Big Star.
These days, it would be hard to imagine that a grocery store could be the central meeting place for a community. But that is precisely the role the Big Star performed.
J.K. Palmer and his wife, Lorene, opened the store in the late 1950s. I remember Mr. Palmer well. A very kind, gentle man, he often let hard-pressed customers pay for their groceries at the end of the month. More than once, he would simply tell a customer to “pay me when you can.’’
Try that at your local Wal-Mart SuperCenter.
Mr. Palmer had two sons who grew up in the business, Romie and Buddy. I knew Buddy pretty well, mainly because he was about the same age as one of my older brothers. Also, Buddy was one of the more interesting characters in town . In the ultra-conservative little town, Buddy was an island of eccentricity, flamboyant in his appearance, exuberant in his manner, full of odd ideas and varied interests. You never ran into Buddy Palmer without finding him captivated by some new and unexpected enterprise.
After college at Mississippi State, he returned to run the Big Star with his wife, Cecilia. A few years back, he turned the store over to his two sons, so the Big Star is being operated by the third generation of the Palmer family.
It is funny what sticks in our memories. Important things, we sometimes forget. The trivial live on, for no apparent reason. In my next blog, I’ll share a few of the memories of Palmer’s Big Star that have persisted over the years, including such important matters as Quality Stamps, Let’s Go To The Races, the Mynah bird and Elvis’s kinfolk.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Slim's Greatest hits: 2

Another reprised column from my newspaper days,this one involving unsolicited e-mail solicitations. The column was written in 2005, but remains timely as ever, don't you think?



I get a lot of e-mails. Most of them are junk. Some, though, warrant a response.
Here is one that qualified, followed by my reply:
I am writing you this letter with due respect and heart full of tears.
We have not met previously but I am asking for your assistance after I have gone through a document that speaks so good of you.
I am Miss Kumbo, 21, from Liberia, but at the moment staying in the refugee camp here in Dakar, Senegal due to the war problems in my home country. I need your assistance towards helping me to retrieve my late father’s financial inheritance presently in a financial firm, and transfer it to your personal account.
My most important concern is for you to assist me (in coming) to your country to continue my education.
The amount is $9.3 million. I had occasionally called the financial company for the release of the funds to me and they told me that due to my refugee status I cannot alone process it.
Rather, I should look for an aged foreign representative to apply for the release.
As soon as I hear from you we shall discuss your percentage . . . Please e-mail me through my personal e-mail: . . .
Best Regards, Kumbo.
Dear Kumbo:
First off, I’m sorry for your loss. I lost my mother about a year ago, so I can sympathize. Our circumstances differ on one major point: Mom didn’t leave me $9.3 million. My inheritance turned out to be two frying pans, some Tupperware and a ’93 Mercury Sable that needs a water pump.
Your status as a refugee evokes sympathy since I, too, am a refugee. I had to leave my native Mississippi when I said, in a moment of reckless candor, that NASCAR was boring.
I am surprised that you have documents that portray me favorably and can only assume the document you refer to is not The Letters to The Editor section of this newspaper.
As I understand your email, you want my help in getting into this country. Getting into this country, especially Arizona, does not appear to be difficult. I suggest you concentrate instead on getting into Mexico. It's a snap from there.
As for your desire to have $9.3 million deposited into my account, my only reservation is that it may cause several bank tellers to suffer coronaries when they see that my account has a balance above $1.97. But I'll risk it.
Tell the financial firm to send me a check right away.
By the way, I am surprised to discover that refugee camps now offer Internet access. A sign of the times, I suppose. Do you have Starbucks, too?
Anyway, I’m happy to help. After all, what are aged foreign representatives for?
Regards, Slim

Friday, October 17, 2008

TV worth watching - imagine that

There are few things that are a greater waste of time than watching TV. I watch a lot of TV anyway.
I really don’t know why I watch TV as much as I do. Usually, I find that I watch TV sort of by accident. TV is just sort of there, mainly as background noise. At a certain point, something on the TV will divert my attention for a moment, perhaps as I am pausing to reflect on a passage I’ve just read in a book or while I’m folding laundry or eating my dinner. Well, the next thing I know, I’m sitting in my easy chair and the 10 p.m. news is coming on and I realize I haven’t moved in three hours. I almost always feel mildly disgusted at having been so easily lured into watching a series of silly sit-coms or ludicrous hospital/crime dramas.
Now that I am no longer in the newspaper business, I’ve given some deep thought about exploring other writing genres, including TV writing. Inspired by shows like “E.R.’’ and “Grey’s Anatomy,’’ I have come up with a twist on the genre that I believe could be a very successful show.
My idea is to have a show about a Bordello where the main characters routinely slip off into a store room or closet and practice medicine. What do you think?
Well, I was watching one of those hospital dramas last night when, much to my surprise, I detected something truly literate in the script. In these instances, the pleasure is always enhanced by having found it in a place you least expect it.
But sure enough, as Thursday’s episode of “E.R.’’ came on, I found myself exposed to what many literary critics consider the greatest of the epic poems - The Book of Job.
I’ll try to reconstruct the scene, as best I can recall it.
The opening scene follows one of the doctors, Abby, as he arrives for her shift at County Hospital in Chicago. The scene is constructed in such as way to convey a sense of hopelessness on Abby’s part. Regular viewers know that Abby is one of the original characters on the show, which is in its final season. Abby started out as a nurse on the show, but is now a doctor. (In TV land, you can complete medical school between seasons, of course). A recovering alcoholic, Abby seems to be very disillusioned with life as an emergency room doctor, where she is daily exposed to the carnage normally associated with a hospital emergency room in a big, crime-ridden city.
Abby looks worn and world-weary as she arrives in the chaotic emergency room. The narrator quotes Job as Abby wanders, zombie-like, into the ER. At first, I do not recognize the passage because, I suspect, it is read from a contemporary translation that I do not use - most likely, “The Message’’ by Eugene H. Peterson. But when the narrator says “what I've dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life,’’ I know that he is quoting the Book of Job.
Now, if I had been the writer of that show, I believe I would have stayed with the King James Version, which is almost always the most poetic of the translations, although not always the easiest to understand.
But that’s a minor criticism.
The narration ends and we watch Abby as she goes through what we find out is her final shift at the hospital. She is moving to Boston to be with her young son and doctor/husband. Abby seems ambivalent about her impending departure. On one hand, you sense she is disillusioned by the grim realities of her job. On the other hand, you sense her affection and admiration for the other doctors and nurses. Over the course of the hour, Abby comes to the defense of a stressed-out young nurse, saves a guilt-ridden teen from suicide and provides encouragement to another weary doctor. And somehow, a flicker of hope seems to ignite in Abby.
At the end, Abby - box of personal effects in tow - says her quick goodbyes and heads out to the street, where her husband and child are waiting to greet her.
The narrator picks up, again quoting the Book of Job, with the series of rhetorical questions that God offers Job as a response to his complaints and accusations.
It was, I felt, a beautiful, thoughtful, literate handling of the story.
And it was on a TV show.
Imagine that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slim's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1

From time to time, I intend to reprise some of my old columns for your reading enjoyment.
Here in the Phoenix area, October means it is time for the Arizona State Fair. The following column about the fair was published on Oct. 16, 2005.


The Arizona State Fair started Friday, and I asked a young colleague if she was going. She wrinkled her nose and said no; it is too noisy, too crowded, too messy, too crude for her tastes, she said.
And I thought, gee, those are the reasons I like the fair.
In our postmodern, homogenized society, our entertainment seems to have been given over completely to technology. It is impersonal, sterile, passive.
Sure, the fair is quirky, flawed, unsophisticated, hopelessly tacky. In other words, it’s like me.
Go to a mega-theme park and you are nothing more than a consumer. Go to the fair and you are a real person talking to another real person about how he grew a 385-pound pumpkin. You just won’t see that at Legoland.
For all the clutter, confusion and cheesy attractions, state fairs remain popular. Probably the most famous of the state fairs is the Iowa State Fair, an event so popular that it inspired a Broadway musical: "Les Miserables," I think it was.
So I encourage all skeptics to take another look. There are still people who can make butter out of a cow, but where else will you see somebody making a cow out of butter? Where else will you find a booth that sells 14-foot fishing boats that can be folded flat and stored under your bed? Where else can you see hundreds of livestock, thousands of crafts and food items, all the products of folks who might be your neighbors?
I’m talking about folks such as Helen Spangler and Debbie Young. I don’t know either, but I bet they both have big, fat husbands. Spangler won eight blue ribbons for cakes. Young took home five blue ribbons for bread-making.
Nancy Asper only won a third place, which I would protest if I were her. Her "Most Outlandish’’ entry was a cake that looked exactly like a cat’s litter box — one badly in need of cleaning, at that.
The fair is all about stealing a kiss from your sweetie when the Ferris Wheel stops at the top. It’s about eating foods dripping with fat and not feeling guilty. It’s about winning an enormous overstuffed animal and then realizing you have to tote it around for the next three hours.
It’s about petting a rabbit, mooing at a cow (admit it, you’ve done that). It’s about giggly girls flirting with the boys and grandpas spoiling the kids with trinkets.
It’s about recognizing all the ordinary people around you and realizing that you fit right in.
It makes me feel sad for my young colleague, who seems to have forgotten that sense of wonder in the ordinary.
Messy, loud, crowded, tacky? What’s not to like?

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's a "Ruff'' new world

If you were to drive past the home of Mark and Ranae Salem these days, you would notice a bright blue banner with the words “It’s a Boy!’’ attached to the fence out front.
It is not what you might suspect. Mark and Ranae, whose appearances are youthful almost to the point of being spiteful, have not added to their family in the traditional sense.
Yet there is a new arrival. Just before going to bed Wednesday night, Mark went to check on one of his mares, Cowgirl, who he had moved into his small back yard in anticipation that she would soon deliver a foal.
Poor Cowgirl. Through the typically hot summer months, we had watched her as her belly swelled and her expression seemed to betray a weariness that only moms can understand.
Now, mares begin to leak milk about 24 hours before they deliver. But this is just a rule of thumb, as Mark and Ranae would discover.
When Mark checked on Cowgirl Wednesday night, there was no tell-tale signs of impending labor.
Thursday morning, Mark walked outside and a movement caught his eyes. His two angus calves were being chased by what he first thought was a big dog.
Mark looked again and was delighted by what he saw: A beautiful painted colt. Sometime between bedtime and daylight, Cowgirl had delivered. And only a few hours later, the little colt was already chasing the calves - a natural cow pony, for sure. Mark has named him Ruff-n-Ready, Ruff for short.
Since Thursday morning, a lot of the Salems’ friends have stopped by to see the little colt. He is a beautiful colt. In fact, he looks a lot like his sire, Splash. In addition to friends, other curious passers-by have noticed the colt and stopped to admire him.
Me? Well, maybe I’m getting to be a little sentimental in my middle age, but Ruff’s arrival seems to be some sort of tonic.
Last week, I was informed that the job lead I had been pursuing, a job that would have represented a major step forward in my struggle to put my life back together after the trauma of going to prison, has been put on hold. As the economic news worsened, the company decided it wise to put some of their plans on hold, and initiated a hiring freeze through the end of the year. Maybe in January, I was told. But, of course, the simple turn of the calendar isn’t guaranteed to change things. I guess there are thousands of Americans who are facing the same uncertain prospects that confront me.
So it was nice to have a distraction. When I went to visit Ruff for the first time, I brought a few snacks for Cowgirl, just to put the protective mom at ease. As I approached, Ruff moved close to his mom. But in a little while, as I kneeled down to present myself a less threatening presence to the gangly little colt, his caution gave way to curiosity. Under his mom’s ever watchful eye, he eased closer to me, finally allowing me to softly stroke his head and withers.
To Ruff, the world is a scary place. Everything is a new experience and, as a result, a potential danger. Of course, it is a dangerous world, but no less interesting because of it.
I know the feeling.
Times are hard, it is true.
But the world remains a hopeful place.
That’s important for me to remember in times like these.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

You can call me Tim

First off, let me apologize to long-time readers of this blog. Ever since I stumbled over that high school website that enabled me to get in touch with my old classmates about six weeks ago, I’ve found myself sort of fixated on those olden days - “before microwave ovens, when a girl could still cook and still would,‘’ is the way Merle Haggard put it. Recent blogs certainly have reflected my mild obsession with all things Tupelo High School circa 1975-77.
I cannot imagine that there is anything more tedious than reading about somebody else’s experiences in high school. But when you consider the unpleasant turn my life has taken in the past few years, I suspect you will be inclined to understand my temptation to occupy my thoughts with the soothing recollections of my days of blissful ignorance rather than contemplate the ambivalent ignorance of my current situation.
I suspect that someday I will emerge from this nostalgic fog and take up more contemporary subject matter.
But today is not that day. Sorry.
During my correspondence with my old classmates, I have found that many of them refer to me as “Tim.’’ The reason they do that is because that is my name: Tim Smith. Of course, if you have known me fewer than 30 years, you know me by my nickname, “Stud.’’
OK. So nobody calls me “Stud.’’ Well, that’s not entirely true. One woman about five years ago, gave me that pet name. I wound up buying a set of encyclopedias from her, so I’m not sure she was entirely sincere.
Most people know me as Slim, though.
When I got into my 40s, it used to sort of offend me when, upon introducing myself to someone, the person would often ask me why people called me “Slim.’’ Well, it used to be a descriptive nickname. Back when I got it, no one ever wondered why. It was obvious. Even though I lost a fair amount of weight a few years back, I still get that question.
So, here’s the answer:
In 1975, I was a sophomore in high school and “Gopher’’ Williams, one of the upperclassmen on the football team - not knowing my name - began to call me “Slim.’’ People with nicknames are entitled to give other people nicknames, I suppose.
To be honest, I rather liked the nickname and will confess that I sort of promoted the use of it. I find now that most of the old classmates who refer to me as “Slim’’ were on the football team.
There were a couple of reasons I favored “Slim’’ over “Tim’’ or - gasp - “Timmy,’’ as my mama called me.
First, I rather liked the alliterative qualities of being “Slim Smith.’’ By that time, I had already determined that I would be a writer, most likely a sports columnist at the New York Times if not the latest manifestation of the great, brooding Southern novelists of that era.
I felt “Slim Smith’’ was the sort of distinctive, memorable name that you associate with great literary figures.
The other, more practical reason, that I preferred “Slim'' to “Tim’’ is that my class at THS already had a “Tim Smith.’’ Somehow, being another “Tim Smith’’ made me feel sort of redundant.
Now, my name is “Timothy Lane Smith.’’ The other guy was “Timothy Lynn Smith.’’ I know this because all through high school I was regularly required to straighten this out.
Beyond the redundancy, I was a little worried about being identified with the other Tim Smith for another reason.
Now at this juncture, the subject of Timothy Lynn Smith is a delicate matter for me to discuss. You see, Timothy Lynn Smith was considered to be, in the vernacular of the day, a “hood.’’
I don’t know what the high school counter-culture of today is called. But in my day, those who rejected the accepted culture of the high school were called hoods. Upon reflection, I do not recall that hoods were really all that rebellious, though. Oh sure, they were somewhat more inclined to smoke cigarettes, cut classes, reject the latest fashions and be enrolled in "Vo-Tech'' classes. But primarily, the hoods were set apart in terms of attitude.
In every high school, you have a small cadre of really popular kids and a great mass of other kids aspiring to affiliate themselves with the popular group. The hoods didn't bother. They were pretty cool, now that I think about it.
I didn't think they were all that cool then, though.
So, being confused with Timothy Lynn Smith, at least in my mind, threatened any misguided ambition I might entertain about being accepted by the popular kids.
Now, I am not flat-out saying that Timothy Lynn Smith was a hood. As has been proven in previous blogs, my recollections are far from perfect.
NOTE TO TIM: If you were a hood, I’m not saying that was a bad thing. So don't come to Arizona and beat me up, OK? If you were not a hood, then you probably aren't inclined to come to Arizona and beat me up. Even so, I apologize if my memory was faulty on this point.
All I remember is that “Tim Smith’’ was routinely being called to the principal’s office. More often than not, they weren’t looking for me. That’s all I'm saying.
I do wonder what Timothy Lynn Smith is up to these days. Sometimes I imagine that he is a minister or teacher or something along those lines. Ironic, then, that it is Timothy Lane Smith who has a prison record, huh?
I’m thinking Timothy Lynn Smith may want to consider acquiring a nickname to spare him from such an unflattering case of mistaken identity.
He should look up Gopher Williams.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Setting the record straight

Because I have spent most of my adult life as a journalist, I am well familiar with the importance of getting things right. In more than 25 years as a reporter, columnist and editor, I’ve either wrote or ordered thousands of the “corrections’’ you generally find tucked away in daily newspapers.
For the time being, I’m out of the daily newspaper game (Injury Report: Strained Reputation, Out Indefinitely), but I find that corrections continue to hunt me down.
This was the case with my previous blog entry, entitled “How Slim Saved the Wave!’’
An alert reader -Mr. Clay Stewart of Tupelo, Miss. - pointed out that when I wrote that Clay Stewart had fallen ill and missed the game in question I was dead wrong. Although ill, Clay Stewart had played and played valiantly, collecting six tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown (not that he was keep track, of course).
I expect to hear from Mr. Stewart’s attorney any time now. I suspect we will have a long and candid discussion about the grievous harm I have done to Mr. Stewart’s reputation in the community, as well as the severe mental anguish my cruel and reckless misstatements have caused.
So I would like to point out that I have long considered Clay Stewart to be the best football player Tupelo has ever seen, not to mention he is a strikingly handsome man and a man to be trusted above all others. If I should father two more boys (the surgeon who performed the procedure back in 1992 assured me that’s not likely) I would, in fact, name them “Clay’’ and “Stewart.’’
Another alert reader, Mr. Jerry Britton of Pigeon Forge, Tenn., wrote to say that I had the score of the game wrong. I had recorded the score as Tupelo 24, Pine Bluff 16. Mr. Britton contends that the score was actually Tupelo 16, Pine Bluff 0 and I confess that I am much too lazy to look it up. I cannot see any reason why Mr. Britton would lie about such a thing, however.
In my defense, I will remind readers that in the blog post in question, I freely admited that I spent a lot of time watching the cheerleaders instead of the game. So under those conditions, I do not see why some people would bother to nitpick.
I mean, aside from getting many of the basic facts of the story all wrong, I thought it was fine prose, indeed.
Yet another alert reader, Mr. Randall Strange of Hattiesburg, Miss.. wrote on the subject of this post. Of course, Mr. Strange - never one to stay “on message’’ - soon wandered off to some other somewhat related memory of my football career at Tupelo High.
Mr. Strange wrote: “Out of all those years of football - games, practices, meeting, etc.. - the ONE THING that I remember vividly was our senior year - the last game and you were to be named captain for that night’s game. You were escorted into the pep rally by Perkins, Baker, Scrib, and, I think, Johnny Harris all wearing black pants, white shirts and black ties looking like the secret service protecting the President of the United States. That’s one of the memories I have smiled about over the last 30 years.’’
I know that you will find Mr. Strange’s comment alarming: Who would have thought that Mr. Strange could remember even one thing “vividly?’’ Obviously, I have underestimated the man.
But on this point - assuming there is no objection from Mr. Stewart or Mr. Britton - the recollections of Mr. Strange are quite accurate. The Pep Rally scene did play out just as he related.
However, Mr. Strange did neglect to relate another important part of the story, namely the inspiring speech that I made at the Pep Rally - a speech that, without question, rallied our team to victory in that game.
I remember warning the euphoric crowd at the Pep Rally that while it was true that I had undertaken the solemn responsibility of being Team Captain for the game and saying “heads or tails’’ when the coin was tossed before kickoff , that I was only one man and could not be expected to carry the team single-handedly.
I suspect that thought had probably already occurred to Coach Waite and the coaching staff.
But we did win. (If you want to know the score, ask Mr. Britton).
I further suspect that Mr. Stewart played a prominent role in that victory.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Slim saved the Wave!

A couple of weeks ago, an old friend from high school, Kathy Wallace, sent me an invitation to join a website dedicated to our high school. Apparently, this is the latest thing in social networking. All you have to do is plug in the name of your school (be sure to included “high school’’ followed by a dot followed by the letters
Well, I’ve been strolling down memory lane ever since, getting in touch with old classmates, some of whom I haven’t seen in 30 years.
Perhaps because of this, I find that long subdued memories from high school are emerging once again.
And, maybe because it is September and football season, my mind drifted back to a particular memory of my days as a member of the Tupelo High Golden Wave football team.
Now, I know what you are thinking: I am going to blather on about how I rescued the Wave from certain defeat with an inspiring heroic effort in the final desperate seconds and was ridden off the field on the shoulders of my teammates and into the embraces of a bevy of lithe, awe-struck young cheerleaders.
Well, if I were Lea Paslay or Tom Alef or Felix Rutledge, that might well be the story I would tell.
But even highly selective, much embellished memory does not permit me to tell such a tale, mainly because a bunch of my old football teammates have found this blog and would quickly expose me as a fraud.
So, the story I will tell, while much less heroic, is compelling in it own sort of humbling way.
If memory serves, it was 1976. The game in question was against Pine Bluff, Ark., Now, this was a momentous game for the Wave, not because it was a game against a team from a neighboring state, but because it marked the first - and only - time in my football career that we actually got to spend the night at an out of town game.
Because Pine Bluff was about a seven-hour bus ride, it was determined that we would bus over early in the afternoon on Thursday so that we would be rested and ready for the game on Friday night. There was a rumor that several of the players sneaked out of our Holiday Inn rooms and walked a few hundred yards to a Pizza Inn, where they bought pitchers of beer and played the juke box for a couple of hours. I suspect there was some truth to this rumor, mainly because I was there.
Now, in 1976, I was not prominent in the plans for head coach Dennis Waite and the coaching staff. I think I was third or fourth team at about five positions.
So, for me, the trip to Pine Bluff was not accompanied by any pressure. I figured I would do what I almost always did at games - convince a friend in the grandstands to sneak me a bag of popcorn, which I concealed in my helmet. I figured I would munch on popcorn and watch the game and the cheerleaders; my attention being equally divided between the two.
Let me pause here to discuss the cheerleaders of my generation. They were generally not chosen because of their athleticism, although , of course, there were sometimes athletic girls on the squad. Back in those days, cheerleaders were chosen primarily because they were good looking, energetic and could be convinced to shout, with great zeal, such inane things as "Two bits. Four bits. Six bits. A dollar. All for Tupelo, stand up and holler!''
I liked the cheerleaders a great deal - and from a great distance. The idea of approaching any of these beautiful, flawless creatures would have been, in my mind, an act of unimaginable arrogance. Girls like that go for the players who don't stand around like a doofus eathing popcorn out of their helmets. So, my strategy when it came to high school girls was to focus on the flawed ones, much like a lion picking out the wounded wildebeest from a great herd of "really hot'' wildebeests.
Well, there were no wounded wildebeests on our cheerleading squad. They were all wonderful, exalted creatures.
But I could still admire them from afar, like fine art.
So, while Coach Waite and his staff poured over their game plan with the starting lineup just prior to the game, I already had my game plan down and I was very confident about it, too.
But then, about an hour before we were to bus to the stadium, word began to leak out: Clay Stewart, one of the starting outside linebackers had come down with some sort of stomach flu and wouldn’t be able to play. Then, I got word that another player had suffered a similar malady. And another. And another. By the time we got on the bus, about a dozen players were out of commission.
And as we moved slowly down the side streets toward the stadium, it began to dawn on me that I might actually play, and not just in the last few minutes when the outcome had already been determined.
Rob Mosely got the start in Clay Stewart’s spot. The back-up to Rob was…well, I wasn’t sure who it was. Heck, it could even be me, for all I knew.
But as the game progressed, I sort of forgot all about what might happen if Rob got hurt.
About three minutes into the second half, with the Wave holding a narrow lead, I was munching on popcorn and ogling the cheerleaders when I happened to turn my attention to what was happening on the field. Just then, Rob went down in a pile of players and didn't get up.
Now by this time, I was well down toward the end of the bench, which is a good spot to be in if you happen to be eating popcorn out of your helmet. Coaches generally frown on players eating snacks on the sideline. You would be surprised how touchy coaches can be about things like that.
Then, I heard this booming voice. It was Fred Davis, one of the coaches, a wiry black man of indeterminable age who spoke with a gruff, guttural voice that you could hardly understand.
“Miff’’ (Smith),’’ he bellowed.
“Miff!’’ he yelled again, as I was trying to ditch the popcorn.
And it hit me: I WAS GOING INTO THE GAME!!!
Sprinting toward the middle of the sidelines, where the coaching staff prowled, I quickly snapped by chin strap.
“I’m here coach!’’ I said, ready to sprint out onto field.
“Good!’’ Davis barked. “We need your helmet.’’
So, I gave coach Davis my helmet and sort of slinked back down to the end of the sideline. It was embarrassing. Not only that, I didn't have anything to eat popcorn out of.
We bused home after the game and my buddy, Steve Stanfield, gave me a ride home. I walked in the door about 4 a.m. and mama was sitting in her chair in the living room. Mama just couldn't sleep until all her boys were home.
“Who won?’’ she asked sleepily, emerging from her chair to give me a hug.
“We did,’’ I said. “24-16, I think.’’
“Oh, good,’’ she said. “Did you get to play?’’
“Nah,’’ I said. “...but my helmet did.’’
So that's my football story. I know. It ain't exactly “Rudy.’’

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A "real'' moment at the Convention

Like a lot of folks I watched Sarah Palin give her big speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday.
In the early part of her speech, Palin acknowledge the presence of her family, which consists of her parents, her husband, her five children and her soon-to-be son-in-law.
The controversy surrounding the pregnancy of her daughter, Bristol, had both of the heads of the two parties calling for the media to lay off the families of the candidates.
The media cannot help themselves, apparently.
So, predictably, after Palin acknowledged her family, some media types viewed it as a double-standard. The argument: You can’t tell the media to leave them out of the spotlight and then parade them before the spotlight.
But it seems to me whoever makes that argument in the media is simply mean-spirited.
I think all the candidates have a right to acknowledge their families. There’s a big difference between that and exposing them to brutal, entirely irrelevant questions.
Truth is, the kids have been the best part of either convention, in my opinion.
Barack Obama’s two girls are simply adorable.
And so are Palin's children.
In fact, the presence of those young children may be the only unscripted aspect of any convention. They provide the real moments that we all can relate to.
When Obama’s young daughter shouted out “Hi, daddy!’’ when she saw him on the big screen, that was a genuine, warm moment that any parent can relate to.
But the best, most real moment of all came on Wednesday.
Palin’s 7-year-old daughter was holding her baby brother, Trig. Then she did something that I think we all have experienced, one way or another: She licked her fingers and smoothed down the baby’s hair.
And this simple act proves a point that surely must be beyond debate: Girls are BORN with a maternal instinct. That is the sort of thing only a mother would do.
Anyone who has ever been a mom or a child (which includes just about everybody) has had that experience.
I know it was something I remember from my childhood. My mama would do the same thing to us boys, usually as we were piling out of the car at church on a Sunday morning.
She would stop us in our tracks and give us The Inspection: Shirt-tail tucked in? Check. Pants zipped? Check. Shoes tied? Check.
“Now let me look at that hair,’’ she would say, as he licked her fingers and plastered down our cowlicks and stray “bed-head’’ hair.
We hated it.
In fact, having your hair slicked down by your mama’s saliva ranked second only to being kissed by really old people when it came to things young boys hated most.
So, yes, I absolutely approve of candidates showing off their families at events such as this.
It is a reminder that we all share a common bond as Americans.
As long as mamas slick down their kids’ hair with spit, we’re going to be OK, I think.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Maureen Dowd: My inspiration!

A lot of people have written to encourage me to continue writing. Although the prospects may not seem particularly bright at the moment, they are convinced that I will be able to resurrect my writing career.
Now, there are two ways to look at this. One way is to dismiss it all as simply an act of generosity. Sometimes, it is easy for me to reach that conclusion.
The second way of looking at it is much more hopeful: If Maureen Dowd can be a columnist at the once-venerable New York Times, then there truly is no limit to my potential.
Tuesday’s edition of the Arizona Republic carried a reminder of this. There was Ms. Dowd’s column with a headline that read “If you like chick flicks, try “Half-Baked Alaska.’’ The column was about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Dowd, because she is so very original in her prose, thought it would be clever to address this subject as though it were a movie plot. This device is particularly appealing to Dowd because it permits her to distort, defame and ridicule her subject with impunity because she has crafted the criticism in the context of a fictitious movie plot. Fictitious characters, as we know, can say, believe, do or be anything that the author would like. When you are creating fiction, you don’t have to worry with annoying things like facts. You don’t have to meet any standards of honesty or fairness.
Now, it’s no shock at all that Dowd would come after Palin with sharpened fingernails. For Palin represents all that Dowd deeply despises. She is anti-abortion AND an evangelical, unforgivable sins in the eyes of women like Dowd, whose idea of feminism allows for no difference of opinion on those subjects.
Dowd, who once wrote a column for Time Magazine that suggested that all of Mississippi’s economic and social problems could be attributed to an insufficient number of abortion clinics, is obviously an idiot. She proves this on a routine basis. Another favorite Dowd-ism was when she wrote that Cindy Sheehan had "absolute moral authority'' on the war in Iraq. Apparently, Cindy Sheehan is God. Thanks, Maureen, for clearing that up.
So is it any wonder that when Dowd makes her case against Palin, she chooses a non-sensical premise. Palin is not qualified because she has never been on “Meet The Press.’’
I swear I am not making this up. This is what Dowd actually believes.
Of course, this says far more about Dowd and her media cohorts than it does about Palin. If you have ever wondered if the national media has an inflated view of itself, here is Exhibit A. Apparently, you have to be on “Meet the Press’’ to have any relevance.
I won’t go into the column point by point. I’ll just say simply that it is demeaning - Dowd imagines a scenario where Palin “Putting away her breast pump, (she) points her rifle…’
It is mean-spirited, even by liberal media standards.
The truth is, we don’t know much about Palin. But we will know plenty about her soon enough. While Dowd’s column suggests that a good portion of the national media will seek to portray her in the most unfavorable light, Americans will pay close attention to what she says over the next two months.
Blasting away at Palin before she even has an opportunity to express her views is not only unfair, but a tactical error for the media who obviously have a rooting interest in this election. Oh, I’m sure Dowd and her comrades will be the toast of the town among the liberal elite crowd that they slobber over.
But “out there’’ in the towns and cities of “irrelevant’’ middle America, people will make up their own minds, based not on Dowd’s views, but on what they see and hear from Palin herself. That is what fair-minded people always do.
When you get right down to it, I trust what I don’t know about Palin far more than what I do know about Dowd.
Dowd is a hack.
And she has a job.
That gives me hope.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Zoo memories

OK. So Monday was Labor Day and I thought I would go to the zoo.
I didn’t actually go to the zoo, of course. I just thought about going to the zoo. I also thought about doing some laundry.
It’s a lot more fun to think about going to the zoo than it is to think about doing laundry.
And I was weighing the pros and cons of going to the zoo, I started thinking about my previous trips to zoos.
The first zoo I remember going to was the zoo in Jackson. I was about 8. The thing that sticks out about that trip was that somehow I wound up with animal poop all over my shirt. I don’t know how that happened. Things like that happen to 8-year-olds. If you have kids, you know what I mean.
The next zoo I remember going to was the Audobon Zoo in New Orleans, which is an excellent zoo.
By this time, I had a boy of my own. Corey was about 3, I think, when we first went to the Audobon Zoo.
The thing I remember most about that trip was when we happened to stop in front of the bison exhibit.
There we were - me, my then-wife and my son, Corey - standing by the fence. Well, since Corey was only three, I had to point out what animal it was that we were supposed to be looking at. Otherwise, he would focus on some interloper, maybe a bug or a frog, and look at that.
So I said enthusiastically, “Corey! Look at the buffalo!’’
Well, as soon as I said that, this guy next to us, butts in and says, in sort of a snooty, condescending voice, “Actually, it’s a bison.’’
Don’t you hate know-it-alls? I mean.
I never really understood why people are like that. First, who cares? Second, do I know you? Third, Have I asked you for your expertise on the weighty issue of buffalo vs. bison? Fourth, do you realize that I’ve done hard time in prison and can snap at any moment? Of course, at this moment in history, it will be about 30 years before I actually go to prison, but I’m still a dangerous man.
So, that’s my main memory of the Audobon Zoo. Bisons.
The next zoo I went to was the San Francisco Zoo. You may recall that the San Francisco Zoo is where the fences at the Tiger Exhibit are about, oh, three feet high. A while back, a couple of drunken teens started taunting the Tigers, who inexplicably decided to quit being mellow Bay-Area Tigers and attacked the teens. Nobody taunts the Tigers there anymore.
By the time of my visit to the San Francisco Zoo, I had another child. Abby was about 4 when we all went to zoo.
It is a very nice zoo when the Tigers stay in their enclosures.
The highlight of that trip was around lunch time. Corey and Abby were STARVING, of course, because they hadn’t eaten anything in about five minutes. So we stopped at the little food court and bought hotdogs, chips and a soda for the four of us, which cost approximately $842.
Well, sweet little Abby was standing there, minding her own business, eating her hotdog. She had taken about one bite, when suddenly this pigeon dive-bombs her and snatches her hotdog right out of her little hand.
The expression on her face is difficult to convey in words. I’d say it was a mixture of shock, fear and confusion, followed by very loud crying.
“It’s OK,’’ I said. “I’ll get you another hotdog. It’s all right.’’
Poor child. Soon as she got that hot dog she went directly under the picnic table with it.
I’ve been to the Phoenix Zoo many times. The orangutans eat their own poop, by the way. I don’t know if that’s just a Phoenix thing or not, but it is highly entertaining, especially if you are a pre-teen boy. Or me.
That’s pretty much my zoo memories.
Animal poop on my shirt. Bison experts. Thieving pigeons. Orangutans eating their own feces.
I recalled all these fine experiences as I was thinking about going to the zoo on Labor Day.
Which maybe explains why I only thought about going to the zoo.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Slim's God-Fearin' Cornbread Recipe

In the previous post, I shared my efforts to enlighten a couple of transplanted Yankees by explaining how to make cornbread.
I received several responses.
Margaret Howell, an old friend from my high school days in Mississippi, wrote to say that my blog post had inspired her to make cornbread that very day. Of course, as a Southerner, Margaret made it the way Jesus would have made it - white corn meal, no sugar, she said.
“I had it with black-eyed peas and cabbage. Wish you were here for some!’’
Me, too.
Matt Self, who is a big-shot TV producer at the local NBC affiliate here in Phoenix, wrote to expand on the cornbread theme. “In my neck of the woods (Kimberly, Ala.) we crumble that stuff up in a glass and pour buttermilk over it.’’
Matt, is absolutely correct.
In fact, I told my Yankee friends about that, too. They just looked at me with an expression of incredulity, so I gave up trying to convince them. You have to take the Yankee out of people a little at a time, I reckon.
C.J. in Phoenix, being a Southwestern girl, was opposed to using corn meal altogether. “You need a recipe for tortillas,’’ she said. Let’s all pray for C.J., OK?
And finally, there was this from Cristina in Mesa: “So what’s your recipe? I don’t like the fluffy, yellow cake stuff, either.‘
Well, that’s a first. No one has ever asked me for a recipe before.
So I am honored to consent. Here goes:



One 8-inch cast-iron skillet, properly cured.
Note: Over my mild objections, you can also use the tin muffin trays or corn-pone trays, but I can’t guarantee that your conscience won’t keep you up at night if you do it that way.


1 ¼ cup of white corn meal mix.
½ cup of Martha White self-rising flour (It’s got Hot Rize!)
1 teaspoon salt
¾ tablespoon of baking powder
1/3 cup of Crisco shortening.
2 eggs
1 cup of milk

A word about ingredients:
Organic products are very popular these days. But I strongly advise against using organic produce in any recipe. OK, I realize that this recipe doesn’t cause for anything which would require you to choose between regular and organic, but let me finish: It’s a topic I have deep feelings about. And, besides, I never interrupt you when you are talking, do I?
Now, I am opposed to the use of organic produce for many good, common sense reasons.
First, people who insist on using organic produce are generally weird, odd, strange people. I am not sure exactly why that is. It could be a chicken-and-egg deal. I don’t know if they are weird, strange and odd because they consume organic produce or if consuming organic produce causes them to become weird, strange, odd people.
But, invariably, people who insist on organic produce are the sort of people who raise kids that turn out to be synchronized swimmers or rhythmic gymnasts. You know, weird people. So it’s best to stop the cycle of weirdness at the current generation.
Beyond that, I will point out when I grew up we grew almost all of our own vegetables. We had competition from bugs and worms as to who was going to enjoy the fruits of our labor, so we routinely saturated all of our plants with powerful chemicals. It never did me no harm. Today, I am a 5-foot-11, 185-pound picture of virile manhood, the veritable picture of health.*


Find a clean mixing bowl. (For me, this is the most time-consuming part of the process)
Dump in the flour, corn meal, salt, baking powder and mix thoroughly with a spoon.
In a separate container (my cookware consists primarily of plastic margarine and Kool-Whip containers. Either will suffice), mix the Crisco, beaten eggs and milk together.
Pour liquid concoction into pan with the corn meal mixture and blend with a wooden spoon. Don't use an electric mixer; the cornbread mixtures should not be too thoroughly blended.
Grease skillet with a stick of butter or margarine.
Set oven to 400-degrees and place skillet in over to preheat.
Remove pre-heated skillet from oven (with an oven-mitt, unless you want to practice your cussin‘) and pour mixture into pan.
Cook for roughly 35-40 minutes. To make sure it‘s done, stick a toothpick into the cornbreard. When you pull it out, if no cornmeal mixture sticks to it, you know it‘s done.


Cut cornbread into about six big slabs.
Slather butter all over your slab of cornbread (Don’t forget to say the blessin’ before you eat!)


This tip is from noted Southern cornbread connoisseur Bill Perkins. "The proper way to store cornbread is to leave it in skillet on top of the stove with a dish-towl over the top of it.'' Thanks, Bill, for all you do. And, most of all, for CARING!

* This is an example of a literary device writers refer to as "creative license,'' i.e., an exaggeration used to emphasis a point. How big a exaggeration it is in this case is open to debate.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's cornbread, not cake!

Ron and Joan try. They really do.
But some things are just not easy for them, mainly because of their disadvantaged upbringing.
By “disadvantaged upbringing,’’ I mean they are - and there is just not delicate way to put it - Yankees.
They just don’t know no better, as the saying goes back home.
I should point out here that Ron and Joan have done well for themselves despite this obstacle. They are eager to try new things and more or less open to a more enlightened view.
Take the issue of cornbread, for example.
Saturday afternoon, this important topic came up and we all decided that it would be great to have cornbread to go with the tortilla soup that a friend was bringing over for dinner the next day.
Those familiar with this blog know that I have been helping Ron and Joan out for the past few weeks while they recover from a bad car accident.
Well, I made the innocent inquiry of whether we had all the necessary ingredients for cornbread. It was with great pleasure that I learned that Ron and Joan had a big cast-iron skillet. It was really more than I could have expected, to be honest. We started clicking off the necessary ingredients: corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, cooking oil.
Then one of them - I think it was Joanie - said something that I found very disturbing: “Don’t forget the sugar,’’ she said.
Sugar? It was a jolt, to be honest.
And then I remembered: Yankees use sugar in their cornbread. And that ain’t all, either.
So I pressed them on their definition of cornbread.
Now, I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but their idea of cornbread was a creating that was yellow, fluffy and sweet.
“What you are describing ain’t cornbread,’’ I said in a calm, restrained voice. “Yellow? Fluffy? Sweet? You are describing cake!’’
Patiently, simply I tried to explain it to them.
“Well, I guess it is possible that cornbread can be made two ways,’’ I said. “You can make fluffy, sweet, yellow cornbread. That’s one way.
“And then there is the way God intended.’’
Now, this comes as no surprise to any genteel southerner, of course. We have known since our earliest days that cornbread is made with white cornmeal and no sugar.
But there have been dark forces at work over the decade, truncating the time-honored cornbread tradition. In fact, even the corn meal manufacturers - people who have been given a sacred trust to uphold all that is good and decent about cornbread - have proven to be a part of the conspiracy.
Don’t believe me: Check out the cornbread ratio on the box. It calls for roughly twice as much flour as corn meal, which is almost exactly the proper ratio inverted. They also call for as much as four teaspoons of baking powder, which - if followed - would produce that obscenely fluffy texture that is contrary to the very nature of cornbread and a violation of a major tenet in the art - that cornbread should be flat and course. And, of course, the box also calls for sugar, which is simply an abomination.
Now, Sunday evening I made cornbread. Sadly, the corn meal was yellow, so I had to carry on as best I could.
The end result wasn’t half bad, though.
And then Ron did something that I could not have anticipated: He poured honey over the cornbread, even as I was slathering the butter on my chunk of corn bread.
Of course, I was too polite to make a scene, but it did remind me of a passage in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.’’ In that seen one of the Ewell children had been invited to eat lunch with Jem and Scout. The visitor, being of a disadvantaged background and horrible manners, asked the maid for some molasses and drenched everything on his plate - meat, vegetables, bread - with molasses.
When Scout protested, the maid sternly told her to be quiet.
As I watched Ron drizzle honey over perfectly good cornbread, I suppressed my impulse to speak out.
Now, Ron is a fine, intelligent man.
But there are some gaps in his education.
Put honey on your cornbread?
Southern mamas would be aghast.
But I cut Ron and Joanie some slack.
They grew up Yankee. They just don’t know no better.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Have THEY Been Drinkin'?

Does anybody have a phone number for The FOX television network?
I have a TV show concept that I want to pitch: It’s called “Are You Smarter Than A University President?‘’
Last week, a group of 119 university presidents put their pointy little heads together and called for a reduction of the legal drinking age from 21 to 18.
The presidents say it is important to lower the legal drinking age to combat binge drinking on campus.
Oh, I see...
Well, no. I don’t.
These presidents claim that a lot of students under the age of 21 are prone to binge drinking because they have limited access to alcohol. Their theory: Because a person can’t buy a beer in a bar, he’ll buy 38 beers and drink them in the bushes someplace.
OK. First question:
True or false: The way to reduce abuse of a substance is to make it more readily available?
If your answer was, “Duh! False!’’ then congratulations! You Are Smarter Than A University President!
When this story first came out, I waited around for the punch-line, even checked the calendar to see if it was Chinese April Fool’s Day or something along those lines. Then it dawned on me that they were actually serious.
I listened to the arguments for reducing the legal drinking age limit to 18, as it was prior to 1984 when - as we all know - no one EVER binge drank.
Their argument is two-fold:
1. Under-age people binge drink because it is “forbidden fruit.’’ Make it legal to drink at age 18 and suddenly all these students will trade in Coronas for Calculus. (Dude! It's Saturday night! Let's study til we puke!'')
2. The legal drinking age of 21 isn’t working. People under 21 are drinking anyway! Shocking, huh?
Look, I’ve had three DUIs, even went to prison for DUI. I don’t claim to be an expert on many subjects, but I figure I have serious credentials when it comes to alcohol abuse.
And from where I sit (which is NOT on a bar stool , by the way), it is easy to see the deep flaws in both points.
1. For this premise to be true, you might expect that once a person turns 21 he immediately hangs up his beer bong and drinks only a glass of wine with dinner. Reality check time: Do you know any 21-year-olds? See what I mean?
Beyond that, the idea that making something legal diminishes its use is just plain goofy. I mean, under that theory, we should legalize murder, right? If that theory were true, abortions would have pretty much stopped after Roe v. Wade. Quite the opposite is true, as we all know.
2. This is equally nonsensical, even though it is embraced by Arizona Republic editorial writer Kathleen Ingley, who bemoaned the “failed law’ that raised the drinking-age limit to 21 in 1984.
Failed law? Ingley cited the fact that so many teens are drinking as proof of the failure of the law.
Interesting. I’ll go back to the law against murder. Every day, hundreds of people are murdered in the U.S. So, you see, the real problem here is that “failed law’’ against murder. At least that seems to be the way Ingley looks at it. I wonder what other bad things we could get rid of by simply changing the law that prohibits them? Just playing devil's advocate here, Kathleen, but could it possibly be the culture that is flawed and not the law?
But, really, what do all these university presidents hope to gain by calling for a change in the drinking age?
I suspect the real motive is that they are tired of being embarrassed by the torrent of booze that practically flows through their campuses, especially given the fact that 7 out of 10 students are under the legal drinking age. Furthermore, I suspect the presidents would like very much not to be held accountable for the overt law-breaking that transpires regularly on campus.
Me? I happen to favor the position held by Arizona senate candidate Russell Pearce (*K, Mesa) who plans to propose a law that would send anyone caught drinking under the age of 21 back to Mexico.
“But, hey, I’m not even FROM Mexico!’’ the offender might argue.
Well, too bad. You are a criminal and, the way Pearce sees it, all criminals should be sent to Mexico.
Now that I think of it, I think Pearce shouldn't be a senator; he should be a university president.
* Kook Party

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A whole 'nother level

I was watching a little bit of the Olympic table tennis competition the other night and, naturally, it reminded me of prison.
I should probably explain that, huh?
Well, once I got out of Sheriff Joe’s Gulag and was transferred to the state prison at Florence, conditions improved in just about every way imaginable. Oh, it still wasn’t like an extended stay at the Four Seasons, which is what some people who don’t love mercy suggest whenever someone brings up poor living conditions in jail/prison.
Well, one of the little things they had there at Florence West prison was a ping-pong (or table tennis, if you prefer) table. These sorts of things were provided for inmates in order to break the monotony of beating each other up. So I played a lot of ping-pong.
Now, back at Itawamba Community College, I was sort of a ping-pong whiz. I wasn’t the best player on campus, but I was in the top five, for sure. But after I left Itawamba, I didn’t play ping-pong again and it’s funny how much your skills can diminish over a quarter-century of inactivity.
So when I first took up the paddle, I wasn’t much competition.
But the rust began to wear off. I was routinely beating my friends. I generally played people I was on good terms with, mainly as a safety precaution. You never know how a convict is going to react to getting skunked, after all.
After a couple of weeks, I was a dominant player. I even began to talk it around that we should put together some sort of ping-pong tournament.
Then one day I walked into the room where the table was located and saw two of Sheriff Joe’s most favorite people in the world - illegal aliens who had been sent to Florence.
Have you watched those Chinese players in the Olympics? Well, that’s pretty close to what I saw while watching these two inmates play. They were simply crushing shots and, more surprisingly, the ball kept coming back over the net somehow.
It was then I realized that if there was a tournament at Florence West, I’d be competing for the bronze - at best.
But isn’t that how it goes in life? Sometimes you fancy yourself pretty good at something, based on what turns out to be pretty limited information.
Poetry is a good example of this. So is singing.
I know a lot of people who sing well. In fact, I have an old high school friend, Jan Grissom, who became one of the world’s top sopranos. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the opportunity to hear Jan sing.
But I’ve heard some people who I thought were pretty good. I am thinking primarily of some people I’ve heard singing at church.
But there is a different level. I realized this when the contemporary Christian group Avalon came to sing at the church I attended. I was simply amazed.
Yes, there is a whole ‘nother level when it comes to singing.
It’s like that with ping-pong, too.
And writing.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Getting the Star treatment

I sat in Steve Strickbine’s office in Scottsdale on Friday morning as we negotiated a deal for me to write columns for his monthly magazines. I use the word “negotiated’’ is the loosest possible terms. Here is how those negotiations went:
Steve: “We would like you to write a column for us each month.’’
Me: “OK.’’
Strickbine is the president of Times Publications. Most likely you have seen his magazines, which are circulated around the Valley as the Scottsdale Times, Gilbert Times, Chandler Times, East Mesa Times, Ahwatukee Times, Northeast Phoenix Times and Glendale Times. About 125,000 copies are printed and distributed at more than 3,000 locations across the Valley.
I have been aware of the Times for a while now. The format allows writers the space necessary to do some in-depth reporting, something you see less and less of in newspapers. What you also see in the Times that you rarely see in newspapers any more is a sense of fun. It’s a lively, entertaining, well-done product.
Probably the most recognizable name among the Time’s contributors is David Leibowitz, a former columnist at both the East Valley Tribune and Arizona Republic and radio show host at KTAR.
Leibowitz writes columns for the Times now. Steve gave me a whole bunch of back issues and I noted that Leibowitz’s columns appear near the front of the magazine. My column, Steve said, will run a little farther back, in the “Voices’’ section.
Now, I don’t know what this means, of course. Although it appears to me that I’m batting clean-up while Leibowitz is up there at the top of the batting order, trying to draw a walk or roll a trickler through the infield. Of course, that is just one way of looking at it, I realize.
At any rate, I’m really excited to have the chance to have my words put on newsprint again. That hasn’t happened with any regularity since Feb. 14, 2007, my last column at the Tribune.
Leibowitz came up in my conversation with Steve. On March 14, 2007, Leibowitz and I met that day under the most unusual of circumstances. I don’t remember what Dave was wearing, but I was wearing the black-and-white stripes, handcuffs and leg shackles. We met in a small room in the visitation area of the Durango Jail in Phoenix. I had been at Durango for 12 days at the time.
I don’t remember hardly anything else about our conversation except for the fact that Leibowitz had a Starbuck’s coffee. Prisoners in Maricopa County are not allowed to have coffee, so I remember fixating on that Starbuck’s cup. In his column, Leibowitz said he was fixated on my leg shackles.
Anyway, we talked about an hour, I think, and then Leibowitz left to write a column and I left to serve another 110 days in custody.
I never did get a chance to see Leibowitz’s column about me and I sort of forgot the whole thing pretty quick. At the time, I was a little preoccupied with not getting beat up by the other inmates.
But Friday, the subject came up and I asked Steve if he had that back issue. He found one and gave it to me.
I was eager to read Leibowitz’s column because I remember how emotionally exhausted I was at the time of the interview. As I turned to the column, I wondered if I had been able to articulate any coherent thought during the interview Not surprisingly, Leibowitz produced an interesting column, even though most of my observations about life in jail could be paraphrased in one phrase: “GET ME OUT OF HERE, PLEASE!’’
But what really caught my attention was the promo of the column on the cover of the magazine. In the top right hand corner of the cover, there was a picture of Leibowitz and a headline that read “Slim Smith’s Tumble’’ with small type that read “Jailhouse interview with a fallen star!’’
The promo was only half an exaggeration, I realize. Fallen, certainly. Star? Well, that’s a pretty liberal use of the term, don’t you think?
Still, I got a good chuckle out of it.
Yes, I think writing for the Times is going to be a lot of fun.
Look for my debut column in the September edition.
They say they are going to promo the column on the cover, too.
“Star Rises From the Ashes’’ is my guess.
Too funny!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A job inquiry

August 13, 2008

Ms. Marian Frank
Features Department
The Arizona Republic

Ms. Frank,
One of the angels who flitter around and fuss over me and generally look after my well-being forwarded your memo about the job opening you have for a lifestyle columnist for Arizona Living.
After reading the memo very carefully, I have decided to seek this position. I freely admit that I am an unconventional choice for this position in the sense that I am a man and you are looking for someone to write about “issues, trends and experiences that appeal to women 40-49 years old.’’
The conventional candidate, I realize, would be a female in that age range.
Well, there is nothing this side of Sweden I can do about that.
While I am not a female, I have lots of experience with females. My own mother was a female, in fact.
I was once married to a female and if I ever marry again, I intend to marry another female, most likely in the very 40-49 age group you are seeking to serve (I am 49).
I have a sister who is a female. Also, I am a father to a 16-year-old female, which I realize is almost like a sub-species at that bewildering age.
Many of my best friends are females.
Aside from my extensive experience with females, I believe I possess other qualities that suit me for the job.
During my tenure as Metro Columnist at the East Valley Tribune, I found that my
columns had great appeal among women, even though I did not necessarily tailor my subject matter to this demographic.
Women seem to like my writing style, which I would describe as warm, personal, funny and unpretentious (is it pretentious to consider yourself unpretentious, I wonder?)
Modesty aside, I have a singular talent for relating to people on an intimate, emotional level. Women readers especially value that quality, I’ve come to realize.
Male readers generally are fact-driven. A guy wants to know an athlete’s stats. Women, again speaking in general terms, are more interested in how the athlete treats his mama. Men want spreadsheets. Women want stories. That plays to my strength; I am a story-teller.
I also think I have a pretty good feel for what women in the 40-49 are all about. Most are well-established in their careers and homes. Their children are older and they are beginning to wonder if it is possible to have grandchildren without the unflattering necessity of actually being a grandma.
Women in this age group generally have a well-defined sense of identity. Unlike their younger peers, they seem to possess a healthier balance between their personal interests (health, aging, retirement, etc.) and more universal concerns (community, charity, the environment, “Dancing With The Stars.’’)
They read more, are more discriminate in their choices and more certain of their convictions. They have been around the block; you can’t fool them.
I admire women in this age group. They are smart, interesting people.
I would like to write for them.
I am pretty sure they would like that, too.
Thanks for your consideration.

Slim Smith

P.S. Your memo mentioned that you are looking for a mix of Anna Quindlan, Ellen Goodman and Dave Barry. The voices in my head were all excited to hear there are jobs out there for schizophrenics!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beard dives into shallow end of the pool

Like most Arizonans watching the Olympics, I am rooting especially for the athletes who have Arizona ties.
There are a whole bunch of them, but I’ll not bother to suggest a number. I’ll leave that to the media, which appears to be obsessed with that sort of thing. Perhaps as a means of justifying the expense of sending reporters to China to cover the event “from an Arizona perspective,’’ some of the media have really gone to extremes to pronounce as many athletes as possible as having an Arizona connection.
Rest assured, if an Olympic athlete’s sister-in-law’s third cousin once went to NAU for a semester, that athlete is considered to have “Arizona ties.’’ Well, there is one Arizona athlete I simply can't root for.
Her name is Amanda Beard, a four-time Olympian and multiple medal-winner in swimming. Without question, Beard is a phenomenal talent. But I simply cannot cheer her on because she represents much of what I believe has gone desperately wrong in our culture.
Beard was making news long before she began her Olympic competition by posing nude, with an American flag as a backdrop, for a PETA ad. Beard explained that she posed nude to call attention to the cruelty of the fur industry.
Beard is an expert on this topic by virtue of having watched some PETA-produced videos about the subject.
I can only assume that before watching these videos, she was a wholesome, modest, decent young woman who - when confronted with the cruelty of the fur industry - did what any clear-headed, idealistic person would do - take all her clothes off and adorn herself with the invisible cloak of Bimbo-ism. I thought the American flag was a nice touch, too. It speaks so eloquently of all that is good and decent and virtuous in our country, don’t you think?
Now, this sort of distasteful extremism is only to be expected from PETA, whose president once wrote a letter of complaint to Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat when a suicide bomber committed the unspeakable atrocity of using a donkey in a bombing that - oh, by the way - killed a dozen or so innocent “non-animals.’’ The letter didn’t object to the human carnage, of course, since those victims were considered by PETA as merely collateral damage.
Yes, I think it is safe to say that there is no depth of poor taste PETA will not plumb in an effort to promote its agenda.
That is why I would like to have given Beard the benefit of the doubt by considering the possibility that she - being young, attractive and naive - was merely an unwitting pawn in PETA’s army of kooks.
There is no question she was an easy target for PETA recruiters, having grown up so very blond in Southern California and going to college at the University of Arizona in Tucson, otherwise known as Raza-ville. The girl never had a chance.
But, on the other hand, this was not Beard's first venture into exhibitionism. In a culture where Paris Hilton is the Queen of Empty-Headed Sexpots, Beard is obviously angling for a prominent place in her court.
Beard says she posed nude for PETA to support a cause. Well, I wonder: What cause she was advocating when she posed nude for Playboy and various other magazines that exists for primarily as an aid for men’s acts of, uh, self-gratification?
If you are female reading this, I hope you will take time out to enlighten me on this subject: What is it about the female gender that makes young girls consider being the object of lust for some greasy middle-aged truck-driver grunting in a restroom stall such a great achievement? I am reminded of a quote attributed to the late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge: "How do I know pornography depraves and corrupts? It depraves and corrupts me.''
Some of you might be inclined to quibble over whether or not Beard's photos are pornographic. To clarify, here's what I have adopted as a reasonable standard for determining what is or isn't pornography: Would you be comfortable showing it to either your child or your mother?
Of course, in our Western culture, no one even bothers to ask that sort of question anymore. As the esteemed Hilton might say, “There’s nothing better than being hot.’’ Poor deluded soul.
So, no, I’ll not be cheering on Arizona’s favorite exhibitionist when she hit’s the pool in China. I don't believe in her "cause.'' In fact, I don't even believe in her sincerity in supporting it.
Beard can pontificate all she wants about the fur industry, but I’ll bet if Nike developed a swimsuit made from the hides of baby seals that would shave .01 seconds off her time, she’d be out there balancing a beach ball on her nose and barking “Gimme!‘’

Monday, August 4, 2008

Why Tupelo "Rocks!''

I do not know what it was that turned my attention to my hometown. Maybe it is the uncertain nature of my current prospects. The clouds of my childhood are white and fluffy; those on the horizon, bleak and foreboding.
Maybe it was just a random thought that popped in my mind and snuggled in for a while, you know, sort of like a tune that keeps playing in your head.
Maybe it was something I ate.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been a little preoccupied with pleasant thoughts of home, which in my case is Tupelo, Mississippi.
As is often the case with hometowns, I realize that Tupelo is a great place to live if you don't actually live there anymore.
If you have heard of Tupelo, most likely it is because Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Also, Tupelo pops up from time to time in song lyrics, which suggests it must have some lyrical quality that my limited training renders me unable to identify.
When I lived there 30 years ago, the population was around 20,000, which qualified Tupelo as a major city by Mississippi standards. That meant that Tupelo residents were adorned with an air of big-city sophistication that people in Pontotoc or Booneville or Baldwin could never claim.
Tupelo was designated as an “All-America City’’ in the early 60s. Also, Tupelo was the first city to get its electric power from the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s. There was a Civil War battle there, but I don’t remember who won.
But most of all, Tupelo takes inordinate pride in being the “birthplace of Elvis.’’ He is not the only famous singer from Tupelo, though. Guy Hovis, Jr. is from Tupelo. He was a singer on the Lawrence Welk Show. But perhaps the best singer, judged solely on the quality of voice, is Jan Grissom. I went to high school with Jan, but I didn’t find out until recently that she went on to become a world-renowned soprano, a member of the Metropolitan Opera who sang with Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and a lot of other famous opera stars I never heard of.
Of more prominence, at least in my view, is that she was not once, but twice a guest on the “Prairie Home Companion’’ radio show with Garrison Kellior. Let me state now that I would do anything - including contract killing - to be on the "Prairie Home Companion'' show.
Yes, like most folks from Tupelo, I am proud of my hometown.
It has little to do with the honors it has received or the talented people who call it home.
Instead, it is the city’s healthy self-image. Tupelo is a great place because the people there believe it is. It is a town that takes some things very seriously - education and community service - but doesn’t take itself too seriously. People there are as inclined to embrace their quirks as quickly as their virtues.
As evidence of this quality, I submit this story about Tupelo:
Long before I came along, there was a pedestal outside the entrance of the Leake & Goodlett building supply store on East Main St. On it, there was a large oval stone. This, too, was a point of pride for the community.
There was an inscription on the pedestal that identified the stone as “The Tupelo Meteorite.’’
The inscription tells how the 1,100-pound meteorite fell to the earth near Nettleton, Miss., in 1870 where it was discovered by a farmer whose initial thought was likely to have been, “Great, another big, stupid rock I have to plow around!’’
Now, people in that agrarian part of the world are familiar with rocks of all shapes, sizes and hues. But there was something about this rock that suggested it was unique, even other-worldly. For one thing, there was its symmetry; rocks are rarely as oval as this one. The other thing was that, at least according to the farmer, the rock wasn’t in the field one day, but was the next. Your average, every-day, run-of-the-mill rock generally just doesn't show up in people's fields unannounced.
So based on such empirical evidence, the rock was proclaimed to be a meteorite and was brought to town and given a place of prominence. After all, there aren't many towns that have their own meteorites. Memphis doesn't have one. Neither does Atlanta or New Orleans.
The rock that suddenly appeared out of nowhere didn’t always stay put, though. Over the years, it could be found on the top of Dudie’s Dinner, in the foyer of the high school and at numerous other inappropriate venues around town. I confess that I had a hand in pilfering the meteorite and placing it in the foyer of the high school in 1977. I can say that now because the statute of limitation on such an offense has almost certainly expired by now.
But in 1980, a Dr. John Harris (a Yankee, I strongly suspect) happened to come across the meteorite as he was driving through Tupelo on the way to Ole Miss to give a lecture to whatever sober students he could round up.
Harris was a NASA chemist and nuclear physicist, so the Tupelo Meteorite was of great professional interest. He asked someone, probably Mayor Ballard, if he could borrow the meteorite to take it back to Houston for closer examination. Well, given the fact that people had been "borrowing'' the meteorite for years - and for far less edifying purposes - Mayor Ballard could hardly object.
Well, he should have, because a few months later Harris returned and pronounced that the meteorite was, uh, meteor-wrong. “It’s just a chunk of concreted sandstone,’’ he said.
It is at this point, where the true character of Tupelo was best exhibited. In fact, I consider it the town's finest hour.
I suspect that most towns, upon hearing that for more than 100 years they had been being paying homage to a chunk of concreted sandstone, would have taken great pains to quickly distance itself from the matter and hope that everybody else, especially those rubes in Pontotoc or Booneville or Baldwin, would eventually quit laughing.
But that is not the course that Tupelo pursued.
Instead, they quietly took possession of this giant rock and simply placed it back on its pedestal.
Furthermore, the inscription on the pedestal was not amended in any way.
It strikes me as an act of quiet, dignified defiance.
That is why, in the highly unlikely event that you happen to find yourself on East Main St. in Tupelo Mississippi, you will see The Tupelo Meteorite sitting proudly on its pedestal out front of the Leake & Goodlettt building.
Unless of course, it’s on the top of Dudie’s Dinner.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Comfort Food

I’m in Mesa and I’m not really supposed to be here.
No, it’s not as though that I have been banned from Mesa or anything sinister like that. (On second thought, who knows, maybe I am banned from Mesa; I haven’t looked at my court papers in a while).
It’s just that I was supposed to be back at home in Tempe after back-to-back house/animal-sitting engagements in Mesa, then Ahwatukee.
But the day I left Mesa, the folks I was house-sitting for - Ron and Joanie Newth - were involved in a pretty bad crash on the interstate. Ron suffered broken ribs, broken bones in one hand, a couple of broken fingers on the other and a concussion. He was released from the hospital Monday (July 21). Joanie is still in the hospital where she is recovering from broken ribs, punctured lungs and a stubborn infection in her leg.
'Since I’m in a position to help out, I returned to the Newths home here in Mesa on Friday and will be here until Ron runs me off. Presumably, the idea was that I would be handy to help Ron with things while he continues to recover.
But Saturday morning, Ron was busy making French toast for our breakfast while I was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper. Can you spot what’s wrong with this picture?
Anyway, any of you who know the Newths will be relieved to know that Ron is taking excellent care of me.
In my defense, I will say that I mowed the lawn. So there.
Of course, I stand ready to help, should Ron need it.
It would be difficult for me to deny Ron and Joan anything, to be honest. Of course, I don't actually HAVE anything, so there's no real internal conflict on my part, if you know what I mean.
The larger point I am trying to make here is that the Newths were there for me in my most difficult days.
On April 21, 2007 (coincidentally that was also the anniversary date of my mother’s death), I received a letter from The Tribune saying that the paper had changed its mind and decided to fire me. In an instant, I was just another incarcerated convict, with nothing much waiting for me outside the prison gate - no home, no job, no plans. The next day, I wrote a terrified letter to Ron and Joanie, asking them to put the word out that I would need a place to stay and a job. Did they know anyone who could help?
They were the one couple that I somehow knew would be there to help. This, despite the fact that I had only known them for a few years and we were more acquaintances than close friends.
A lot of people that I knew much better than the Newths didn‘t waste any time in putting some distance between themselves and me. Not the Newths.
Looking back, there were a handful of truly supportive people who held me up when I was sinking - when, in fact, I sorta wanted to sink. I am referring to folks like Mark and Ranae Salem, Matt and Billye Paulson, Rex Griswold (he offered to let me stay in his home: Imagine THAT conversation: “Honey, get the guest bedroom ready! A convicted felon is coming to live with us!), Geri Koeppel and, of course, my brothers and sister.
So, I will be forever indebted to the folks like the Newths. Ron can make me French toast as long as he wants, as far as I’m concerned.
Funny, our whole relationship started with food.
Back in December of 2005, I wrote a column satirizing a meeting of the Mesa City Council. (if you want to read that column you can find it at:
A couple of days later, I arrived at the office to find a fresh loaf of homemade banana nut bread on my desk with a note from Joanie, a woman I had never met, saying how much she enjoyed my column. That still stands out as one of my favorite memories of my days as the Metro Columnist at the Tribune. It is not for me to say how good that column was, but I bet Hemingway never got homemade banana nut bread for anything he wrote. I’m just saying, you know?
Anyway, like so many people in this part of the world, I’ve grown to love and admire the Newths. They are kind and thoughtful and generous. They’re bright, articulate and hospitable.
During the time I’ve spent with Ron here, I have witnessed how deeply moved he has been by the many expressions of sympathy he has received as he and Joanie recuperate. But that kind of outpouring of affection doesn’t surprise me at all. The Newths have been sowing kindness for years. The crop is coming in, now that they need that sort of nourishment.
I don’t necessarily eye-to-eye with Ron and Joanie on everthing, of course. When it comes to politics they are a little more liberal than I am. For example, they have two miniature schnauzers. Their names are Barack and Hillary.
Of course, while I was house-sitting I called them Ron and Nancy.
But, please, don’t tell the Newths.
I’ve grown quite fond of Ron’s French toast.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gray's Anatomy

Two pretty little girls stand in the living room and it is obvious from their posture and demeanor that they have rehearsed the speech they are about to deliver.
Their dad is sitting there in the living room in his favorite chair. I’m guessing he is watching a ballgame on TV, although it is strictly conjecture on my part. That’s what I do when I sit in my easy chair.
The elder of the two girls, says in a solemn tone, “Dad, it’s time.’’
The younger pipes in on cue, ‘You would be a nice catch for someone.’’
The elder daughter reveals the box she has been hiding behind her back.
It is a box of “Just for Men’’ hair coloring.
You see, dad suffers from a condition that insures perpetual solitude. Dad has gray hair, which means he is condemned to a life of - I don’t know - watching whatever he wants to watch on TV, eating dinner in his boxers when his daughters aren’t staying over, playing golf on both Saturday AND Sunday if he chooses, not having to lower the lid on the toilet and not having to go see “Sex & The City‘’ or - even worse - "Mamma Mia!'' when he really wanted to see “Iron Man.’’
Now, you can bet if this dad’s progeny had been boys instead of girls, the scene would have played out differently, maybe like this:
Elder son: “Dad, it’s time.’’
Younger son holds out a box.
It is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.
Now, of course this is simply a television ad. The folks at “Just For Men,’’ are making a point: Gray hair isn’t appealing to women, at least it isn't appealing to lean, long-legged, pretty women in their early 30s.
Based on my own observations, I am conflicted over the accuracy of this claim. As you can tell from my photo, I have gray hair. I am alone. I have not noticed any lean, long-legged pretty women in their early 30s knocking on my door. Of course, I did go to the mailbox down the street a while back. Maybe they came by then. I don’t know. I sorta doubt it.
On the other hand, many women have told me that they find gray hair attractive on a guy.
So maybe it isn’t my gray hair. A quick personal inventory seems appropriate:
Things I have:
A felony conviction.
A winning personality.
A lots of silly stories.
Things I don’t have:
A drivers license.
A home of my own.
A car.
A decent job.
A savings account.
Yes, it is obviously to the gray hair that’s holding me back.
But, then again, there is one huge problem with this conclusion: I already tried coloring my hair.
Really, it was my brother Mick’s fault. About a year-and-a-half ago, he came to visit from Houston and attended church with me. All the folks at church told me how nice it was to meet my younger brother.
Younger brother? He’s four years older than me, for cryin’ out loud!
My brother is living a lie, you see. He’s been coloring his hair for years, the big fraud.
Well, I was so offended that the next day I went down to Smart Clips and had them color my hair. The cosmetologist lady asked me what my natural color was.
“Brown….I think, Yes, brown. I’m pretty sure.’’
An hour later, I emerged from the Smart Clips with a head full of dark, brown hair.
Over the course of the next few days, I noticed that women did not seem to be paying any attention at all. Sometimes I'd walk right past the same woman two or three times, running my hand through my thick brown hair. No response at all, although one lady did threaten to call 9-1-1, if you can count that as a reaction.
None of my male friends noticed, of course That's how guys are. You could walk past your friend with one of your arms torn off and he might not notice. Men tend not to look at each other. Ever.
Of course, there were some women who noticed. My ex-wife, for example. Co-workers, too. And folks at the church. Nobody liked it. Now, they just didn’t come out and say it, of course. But I could tell by their forced smile and the rather vague compliments. “Wow, you look really different!’’ That sort of thing.
The one exception was my teenage daughter, Abby.
“Cool!’’ she said.
Of course, Abby changes her hair color about once per month, so that pretty much eliminated her as an impartial witness.
To be honest, I didn’t like it, either. I felt like a total phony and couldn’t wait for the color to fade to gray.
So, here I am.
Gray again.
And all alone.
Watching a ballgame on TV.
Eating dinner in my boxers.
Works for me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Streaking down Memory Lane

A brief in Friday’s edition of the Arizona Republic caught my attention and made me wax nostalgic.
OK, “wax’’ is not a word I generally use every day. But if Bill Goodykoontz, the Republic's movie critic, can refer to a movie as being a “lark’’ then I should have some license, too. By the way, I thought a lark was some sort of bird. Also, I vaguely recall that Lark was also a brand of cigarettes way back when.
At any rate, the brief was about how the Gilbert police were looking for a man accused of indecent exposure after a woman saw him running naked through a park Thursday morning.
According to the report, he was last seen riding a bike into a neighborhood. I am assuming he was still naked at that point, but the story doesn’t say.
Anyway, the police were provided a pretty good description. The perp is reported to be between 20 and 30 years old, is about 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds and has a tattoo of a sun on his right thigh.
I’d say the woman got a REALLY good look at the offender. At this point, I half expected her to say that the offender likes long walks on the beach, cuddling, old movies and is possibly Jewish, if you get my drift.
I mean, heck, she got everything but a phone number, you know?
Of course, these days the idea of a man running naked through the park is, in some quarter, considered a serious offense. You can get prison time for it, in fact. And after you get out, you have to register as a sex offender and folks will hound you out of any decent neighborhood.
Ah, but this was not always the case.
Well do I know that, in fact.
Let’s travel back to the summer of 1975. A group of 16-year-old boys are hanging out at one of the kid’s homes. They are bored because it is summer, they are 16 and the XBox won’t be invented for another 25 years.
So, one of the boys stands up, strips off his Peter Frampton T-shirt and announces, “I’m going to streak around the subdivision.’’
This pronouncement prompts a lively discussion among the boys. Wagers are made. Then off comes the Levis and Fruit Of The Looms and he is standing there, wearing only his Converse All-Stars.
As the boys begin to scream and holler, heads peak out through the windows of the houses along the previously quiet street. As the boy begins to run down the sidewalk, 14-year-old Avery Bank is, at that very moment, walking out her front door, oblivious to the figure that is soon to pass with a few feet of her.
She hears the hollers, looks up and sees the boy right in front of her. The boy sees her stunned expression as he passes and laughs so hard he almost stumbles.
Soon, he has made the complete circuit and is greeted with cheers from his buddies.
They laugh, slap five (high-fives would not be invented for another five years or so).
Then one of the boys, Bill Perkins, makes a suggestion:
“You know, if you really want to do it right, you should streak by Rockwell,’’ he says.
Now this suggestion represents a serious raising of the stakes.
Rockwell Park is where all the high school kids hang out in Tupelo on a Saturday night. To streak past Rockwell Park - the plan involves running behind Perkin’s ratty old Ford pick-up truck with its headlights flashing and horn blowing - would be an enormous risk. But it would also insure the streaker a permanent place in Tupelo folklore.
“I’ll do it,’’ I said.
So, a hundred feet or so before the entrance to the Park, I emerged from the pick-up truck and made my dash into immortality, with Perkins blasting the horn and shutting the headlights on and off. The kids at the park began to hoop and holler, girls peaked and blushed and laughed.
And at the end of the circuit, the truck stopped and I climbed back into the cab of the truck.
An hour later, Randall, who had also been in the truck told me that he had to talk Perkins out of abandoning me, naked, and speeding away.
“I would have killed him,’’ I said, laughing. That would have been pretty funny, I had to admit.
Now, I don’t know what would have happened if the cops had caught me that summer night 33 years ago. But I doubt I would have had to register for anything or being facing any jail time. Of course, my folks would have gone ballistic, so I'm grateful I wasn't caught.
Of course, times have changed.
There was a time when simply being naked wasn’t considered a sex crime. Heck, I can remember many times when Southern mama’s wouldn’t even let their muddy children set foot in the house. If you had been playing in mud holes - another pre-video-game pastime - your mama would make you strip naked out on the front lawn while she washed you down with the garden hose. Mamas were more concerned with the state of their carpet than any embarrassment suffered as a result on being naked out on the front lawn. Mamas back then were practical that way.
I would strongly suggest mamas avoid this these days. Otherwise, you can expect a visit from CPS.
Late humor columnist Lewis Grizzard put it pretty well, I thought, when he said that there was two states of being unclothed: Naked and Nekked. Naked is when you don’t have any clothes on. Nekked is when you don’t have any clothes on and you’re up to something.
Now, I don’t know the intentions of this guy in Gilbert. I like to think t was just a bit of innocent exuberance. I hope that’s the case.
Somehow, I suspect the woman who reported the incident feels the same way.
It was just a lark, after all.