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.