Kenny Smith | blog

Saturday, September 30, 2006

I'm trying hard not to make any obvious jokes about prison tours on wedding weekends.

I'm trying really hard, but they are really funny jokes.

Beautiful ceremony. Beforehand the pastor (check out those vestments) gave a tour of the church. Very ornate from top to bottom.

The groom is Armenian, so the wedding was in two languages. Family connections got the archbishop to attend not only the wedding, but also join them at the reception dinner. The Armenians demonstrated their native dances which are beautiful.

There was more filet, which makes steak three nights in a row. Changed things up this time with a cheesecake dessert.

Friday, September 29, 2006

It was cold and overcast this morning, which was the perfect atmosphere to take a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. The world's first penitentiary, Eastern State was designed to gain penance of those who'd broken the law by virtue of giving them solitude. The belief stemmed from a Quaker philosophy, which seemed well-intentioned at first, but ultimately drove prisoners mad.

Opened in 1829, the exterior was designed to appear like a castle. The audio tour, narrated by Steve Buschemi, suggested that the design was intended to strike fear in all who saw the structure. Castles still had an unpleasant connotation for many people at that time, so the aesthetic was no doubt useful, if not practical.

Here's an interior shot of one of the cellblocks. Prisoners were escorted in with hoods over their faces so they got no sense of the layout. Guards often wore wool socks over their boots to muffle their steps. There was no talking to fellow prisoners. They were allowed one book, The Bible, and spent 23 hours and 30 minutes a day in their cells.

As the prison's population grew, Eastern State added new cellblocks with second levels. Right about here on the tour we ran into the people preparing the prison for the haunted house programs they run. We never saw them, but heard the clanging. That was spooky in the daylight.

Here is a standard cell. Prisoners were allowed out of that back door into their "exercise yard" each day for half an hour. The exercise yard was simply a slightly larger and equally private room for each prisoner. Each room also had an innovate skylight, as did the cellblock, which prisoners called The Eye of God. The prison was always too cold or always too hot, and by the 20th Century came under disrepair.

Al Capone served time here in 1929. His room was considerably nicer. You can see the cabinet radio this story on his release mentions, though some plaster has fallen on his bed as of late, someone should go in and clean that up.

Eastern State, which had at least one guard who would later become a prisoner, honored the former inmates who served in World War I, but only by their prisoner number.

It was hard time at Eastern State throughout its 142 year career, which came to a close in 1971. Charles Dickens toured the facility, later writing "I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers."

After the prison tour the sightseeing trip turned into the wedding trip. Everyone else had responsibilities of one sort or another, so I took a walk from the hotel to sit down for a newspaper and a long lunch.

Later in the evening was the rehearsal, and then the rehearsal dinner at the General Lafayette Inn, which is presumed to be the longest continuously operated restaurant/inn in the country. It is supposedly haunted. Didn't see any ghosts, but had a nice filet mignon and apple pie there.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Today, by virtue of its activities, is becoming a picture dump on the blog.

Slept in a bit, it is a vacation after all, and then went on a meandering exploration for a breakfast diner. King of Prussia, Pa. (think Hoover, with fewer car dealerships but even more mall space) doesn't understand the concept. Neighboring and blue-collar Norristown is unfamiliar with the term as well. Ultimately we ended up at The Gallery, the downtown mall.

One of today's tour guides said The Gallery was the first downtown mall meant to combat suburban flight. No one can ever say if these are successful enterprises. They make money, but does it keep the neighbors from heading out to the big sprawling sites? I doubt it. There's a reason Nordstrom's is in the King of Prussia Mall next to the hotel and not in The Gallery downtown. Nice and convenient for people at work though. The downtown mall adds an element of nostalgia to commerce somehow. Compared to the usual life out in the 'burbs it is almost feels like an indulgence to see so much precious space used this way. And the going down into the mall, rather than up, or simply in, has a whole different feel.

We had soft pretzels for breakfast. Apparently Philadelphia is big on the pretzel. And they love their mustard. I abstained from the condiment, being unable to recall a time I'd asked for mustard for breakfast, while remaining wholly aware that I regularly ask for the A1.

We passed by the historic Strawbridge's. If only I knew the history of the store I would have lingered there. Just walking by you see that it has been recently closed and that Macy's has taken over. Between this (Strawbridge started in the 1838s) and the Marshall Field's debacle in Chicago I'm wondering about Macy's cultural tone-deafness. Macy's at Strawbridge sounds nice. If they wanted to be hip they could even use some of that punctuation all the kids are wild about: Macy's @ Marshall Field's.

So, anyway, the pictures. I forgot this one yesterday: Nice hats.

No one wonders about these things, but we all marvel at them when life points us to the oldest road in the United States. That's Elfreth Alley, shot from a moving trolley. Water Street in Newfoundland, Canada is the oldest on the continent, but Elfreth surely has some stories from all those years of continuous residence.

Went to Betsy Ross' house, well, one she rented. We saw a play out in the courtyard, where these two women were discussing Deborah Sampson and the virtues of the 18th Century woman. This is another one of those things I hope to share in more detail later.

Inside we saw a few of the very spartan rooms that are now encased in glass. You'd learn they had very narrow staircases, old patches of flags were used for most anything (several swatches were on display) and you can't take photographs inside, Betsy's rule. So don't tell her about this one. That is from the cellar, and I didn't use the flash. I, too, don't want to harm historically significant items. It broke my heart to see small carved bits of vandalism in panels at Independence Hall yesterday, but that's a different story.

The story we heard today was one to remember. One of the many costumed character -- there are many, and they are all engaging, know their stuff and are good. Theatre majors all, no doubt. Anyway, a woman in Betsy's house was doing some needlework and stopped to talk to us about the living conditions, speaking as if we'd just stepped through a portal in time, and she, in the 18th Century, was completely cool with that.

She has two pairs of clothes, you see. Monday through Saturday and her Sunday best. Her dress doesn't have buttons, because it is made to last. She uses a pin, instead, so that she can adjust the clothing's sizes as she goes through the process of having the six to nine children she's expected to deliver over the course of her childbearing years. There isn't a lot of play for the children, for even at an early age they are expected to fend for themselves and be a contributing member of the family when it comes to food. "If you don't work," she said "you don't eat." Dining was done based on seniority. The eldest and most productive ate first, getting their fill, and then it descended down the line.

Bathing -- and this is the part you'll repeat to your friends over lunch the next few days to their disgust -- took place about twice a year. It was conducted in much the same way as the dining. So if you were the youngest you had extremely dirty water.

Sorta makes you want to skip this six month period and hope the grandfather and a few of the sibs and uncles you don't especially like get the fever, doesn't it?

The more wealthy folks, she said, would have baths on a more regular basis. Every other month or so.

Back out in the courtyard a new performance was taking place. A sword demonstration played for comedy. It was good, but we didn't get to see it all, because the next trolley had stopped by to pick us up.

One of the next stops was to meet William Penn. That's on top of Philadelphia's City Hall. It was designed to be the tallest building in the world, but was third when it was completed. Beautiful building, largest municipal building in the country. Penn, at 37 feet and 27 tons, is said to be the tallest statue on any building in the world.

At first I thought that bit of trivia was incorrect. Birmingham once had a replica of the Statue of Liberty on top of a building downtown. It has been moved, but the point is moot. Mini-Liberty is only 31 feet tall, weighing in at a diminuitive 10 tons.

Back to Penn, here's City Hall from a distance. Beautiful building. If I understood more about architecture I'd sing its praises. If they weren't renovating so much of it I would have shot it in more detail. Next trip, then.

Philadelphia has something called a Percentage for Art program which dictates that a small portion of the money spent on construction and remodeling projects planned through the city go to lasting art. That's created a great place for work both serious and whimsical. One of them is Your Move, found on the City Plaza. It features chess pieces, bingo chips, Monopoly and, of course,

Elsewhere you can see Joan of Arc, which is where I met this man. "Take a picture of me. Born and raised, right here. West Philadelphia, 1949!"

Another Philadelphia product, of course, is Rocky Balboa. You'll remember from the movies that the statue was at the top of the famous stairs. The sculpture had been removed, but was recently placed back at the art museum. The director said it didn't deserve to be in such a prominent place, so it is just to the side, where countless people no doubt stop at the museum just for Rocky, and then move about their day.

Unless they run up the stairs, and then do Rocky's one-armed pushups.

Saw Benjamin Franklin's grave late in the day. It is a tradition to throw pennies on the marker for good luck. Though Mr. Franklin would say a penny saved is a penny earned, the church says inflation means pennies aren't worth that much, so flip them over here for luck. The church gets something like $4,000 a year worth of pennies that go towards cemetery upkeep, said our guide.

Philadelphia has a thriving Chinatown. This and about two blocks of storefront are all you can see from the trolley though.

We also went to the Federal Reserve which, as you might expect, is a high security, no camera kind of place. The tour is conducted in one corner of one room, but there are games, videos and lots of learning to do. I also stood next to a lot of money and, as they kicked us out they gave us a bag of shredded money that was once worth $100. If only they'd given us the money in white canvas bags with dollar signs on it ...

Chief Justice John Marshall has a great statue in his honor behind the art museum, which is itself a gorgeous building in the neo-classical style. We're all speculating what he is reaching for here, his remote control, a tasty beverage or something else. What do you think?

That man deserves statues, check out his career.

More of that Percentage for Art program, found in the world's largest clothespin reminiscent of Brancusi's Kiss. (I had some help with that one.)

And, finally, here's the nation's oldest hospital and dedicated to "relief of the sick poor." Like so many other things in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin had a hand in this too. The hospital is still in use today, though things have changed considerably. Surgical procedures were originally open to the public, the entrance fee helping to defray costs. Surgery was done outdoors and, of course, without anesthesia. You had a drink, or a blow to the head and hopefully didn't wake up mid-surgery.

Which is about how the fourth quarter of the Auburn game felt: waking up during surgery. Saw the first half muted at dinner -- the people at Lonestar were very nice to sit us under a television and change the channel for kickoff -- and felt good about the flow of the game.

The third quarter was an incredible piece of football. Auburn had the ball for the entire quarter and the first play of the fourth after a long drive, a field goal, an onside kick and another long drive.

Kirk Herbstreit is working really hard to cement conspiracy theories in fans' minds tonight. Just thought I'd get that in at the appropriate spot.

As impressive, and possibly record setting, as the third quarter was (see Jerry Katz for more) the fourth quarter's struggles offset it a bit. The defense is too soft, South Carolina was playing out of their minds and made the thing far too close. Driving down with ease to score on the first drive, indeed, scoring on four of your six possessions in the game, should end in more than a 24-17 victory. It should be a lot more lopsided considering that much defensive talent on the field.

That has to get fixed and soon. While South Carolina on the road during a short week was a big challenge, it doesn't get much better. Sure Arkansas is next, but Florida is looming large on the schedule.

No matter, they all hear it though: Click Clack!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Come to think of it ... the Hilton guy was quick with that map and the form letter last night. And the guy at Holiday Inn didn't even bat an eye. I bet this happens a lot here.

A call to the Hilton first thing this morning earns the "Call back at noon," response. Don't think so, Sparky. See you in a bit. Check out of the Holiday Inn, again with no effort. Get a ride back to the Hilton, where I've decided to play the angry heavy; a bit unseemly, but it gets me my way.

The lady at the front desk seems to think she can help in lieu of having to call the manager out and check in isn't until 5 p.m. When she's convinced of my point of checking in last night, of the reservations having been procured three months ago she realizes that I really want to have a chat with the manager. She turns on her heel mid-sentence and walks away.

I'll give her this: she wanted to have an argument about it, she had the look in her eyes, but she kept cool.

When the manager came out we had a nice conversation, where it was necessary to be only slightly forceful with my punctuation. I stabbed two periods out of the sky, one while discussing traveling some 900 miles over the course of nine hours to find my room had been given to someone else, and the other to point out that I'd spoken with the bride and the groom and I promise you, I'm the nicest person you're going to deal with today.

Got a free night and one of the rooms upgraded. Just think, if they'd only count their rooms and not book more guests than that number, they could really be helping the profit margin.

The poor guy, immediately submissive about the problem straight out of the gate found himself reduced to ending the conversation by asking, "No hard feelings right?"

I didn't have any hard feelings. There was a little more time in the car than you'd want at that time of night, but there was no sleeping under an overpass to complain about. The problem was that there are a lot of people on this wedding package. People coming from a lot farther than 900 miles. Literally halfway around the world travel. Dignitaries and authorized diplomats of foreign countries will be resting in this hotel in the coming days. These are people that shouldn't hear "No you're not" when they get here.

No hard feelings, provided you get the rest of this right.

Gave The Yankee's parents the newly upgraded junior suite. Seemed the polite thing, what with their being the godparents of the bride. Their air doesn't work and there's no light in the bathroom.

Here's the Hilton's website. You can actually see my room from that photo. Top floor, second window set on the left.

Sightseeing ruled the day, however. I think I'm the only American invited to the weekend that's never seen more of Philadelphia than the airport, so this trip was more vacation than wedding for me. And there is a lot to see here.

First stop: Cheesesteak. We had to south Philly for lunch at Pat's King of Steaks. It is an unassuming building -- that's south Philly -- where the hungry line up, literally, around the block for one of Philadelphia's guiltiest pleasures. There are strict rules here, where the guy in the window lords over customers like a tyrant, all in the name of crowd control. We caught them in the rare lull, but even then the guy was brisk and firm.

I ordered "wit," but proudly enunciated the H on the end. Just couldn't do it, and in being so careful probably sounded as Southern as I ever do. Some things are a lost cause, spitting out words in staccato bursts while the guy is on the phone, in the cash register and talking to both the cook and me just slowed the moment down and surely every syllable I uttered was elongated.

The cheeseteak? Delicious and surprisingly filling, but in a comfortable way. Great bread. Go with the Cheese Whiz. We still have to try Geno's, the big rival (though I think they're laughing all the way to the bank) who is literally a bun's throw away. (More on the feud here.) When the winds shift you can pick up on the smell of the competition's menu. At stake is nothing less than pride, history and the claim to the greatest sandwich in cheesesteaklandia.

To Independence Hall then. Not to get stuck in the hyperbole, but this is the most important building, historically speaking, in the modern world.

This, as they say, is where it all happened. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were approved and signed behind the set of windows on the ground floor on the left side of the building. More on that in a moment.

First there's the Liberty Bell, which is housed across the street. Strict security for a big piece of unstable mixed metal that doesn't perform its originally intended task, but millions stream through here every year from all around the world. The museum is first class, filled with trinkets and nods to where we've failed the grand dream at times. It is a fair exhibit, painful, yet hopeful, in its sincerity. There is a mold of a portion of the bell that the tactition -- that'd be me -- can touch.

After a less-is-more-comprehensive historical display you round a corner and see the Liberty Bell. The flow of the building is designed to present the Bell alone, with Independence Hall watching over silently. Even the walls here are calculated to be forgettable. There's only one thing you're here to see, from the wood at the top, to the historic crack to the rough bottom edge.

People are huddled around, quiet, patient for one another to complete their photographs and semi-reverent. I heard at least three foreign languages.

Honestly, I had expected this to be one of the bigger letdowns in my many museum and history-chasing adventures. We're talking about something that has served as only an mute, but emotional symbol for the last 160 years. Locations always stir me. Trinkets, historical oddities and the presentation -- in any medium, really -- of the knowledge that sends you back to a specific time really set the tone. For me, somehow, the Liberty Bell never filled out those requirements. I really thought the little pendants and touching the mold a few moments earlier would be my highlight of the Liberty Bell.

And then I walked around that corner. Before we could even see the Bell, obscured by the gathered crowd, I was dizzy with the importance of the piece. I took several photographs, but am just now realizing I didn't walk the circle around the Bell. I'll be kicking myself later.

As a child I was curious about the crack. Somehow my mind blamed lightning. What you see there is actually repair work. The problem was of a hairline nature. Scholars dispute when the damage occurred, but it is agreed that it was rendered silent on George Washington's birthday in 1846.

Today I'm more interested in the wood and the distressed quality of the Bell overall. A park ranger told me the story of the Bell's nationwide travels, I hope to share more of that after I get back home, but right now there's still Independence Hall to tour.

At one time the Statehouse (the building's original name) was the most physically imposing building in the colonies. Today it isn't even the tallest building on the block. The gutters have dates. Our guide says that about 90 percent of the building is original, only the roof and windows have been replaced over the years. On the inside, he said, 70 percent of the original wood remains. Early in the 19th Century there was a movement to raze the building. The plan failed, of course, but that brief lack of historical appreciation for Independence Hall mystifies me.

One of the more impressive aspects of American history to me is the foresight of those who recognized the value of our treasured relics. The Liberty Bell, for example, was hidden in Allentown in 1777 because it was feared that the invading British would melt it into a cannon. The inkwell used to sign the Declaration and the Constitution was similarly hid, because it would have likely been turned into ammunition. That is the actual inkwell, by the way, on display daily.

Inside Independence Hall, the walls have been restored to their original color. Some 50 coats of paint were stripped off in the process. I'd love to know how many of the items on the tables are accent pieces. Even my amateur eye questions some of the pieces' authenticity. The Franklin Join or Die cartoon seems too obvious. The Articles of Confederation put just so feels contrived. Obviously the room wasn't frozen in amber; this is intended to be representative of the time, but that should include some doodles here and there and a few ink quills flung into the ceiling. The ranger handled one of Jefferson's drafts of the Constitution very casually, so there's a hint I suppose.

Just out behind this building is the original public square. Here, on July 8th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read for the first time to the public. Caught up in the moment, colonists became revolutionaries when they stormed inside the building, went into the courtroom (found on the bottom right in the exterior picture) and tore down the King's coat of arms. It was treason.

I'll spend the rest of the night wondering about the thoughts the signers had in those four days between signing and going public. Surely it was exhilarating and terrifying, but I haven't really studied much from that perspective.

Dinner was at Maggiano's. How to say this in three words? De. Lic. Ious. Maggiano's is a chain, there are two in the Philadelphia area, of family style Italian. None of these back home, so this is a new experience. Olive Garden? Macaroni Grill? Go eat your hat. The only Italian chain I've encountered this good is Buca di Beppo, which is also family style.

The bride and groom joined us, the maid of honor (the bride's sister) and her boyfriend were there. The bride's parents, the godparents, it was a full table of full people by the end of the night. Delicious and with leftovers. One of the guys has figured out how to game the system: eat everything, ask for the second serving (it's Italian, they have plenty of extras) and for boxes in the same sentence. Go home. Enjoy the profiteroles and the apple crostada first.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There is a northern wedding to attend, my first of that variety -- I'm told it is a different spectacle -- so I ducked out of the office a little early to head to Atlanta. All roads out of the South inevitably begin with flying out of the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, so there's a bright middle of the day sprint to The Big Peach. To their great credit the easiest portion of any sentence using the words "Atlanta" and "travel" is usually the airport. We were breezing through the airport while the rest of the city sat in a fatal and fiery crash on I-85, so the airport didn't disappoint today.

Any operation that can smoothly move a quarter of a million people on a routine day deserves our admiration.

AirTran was the airline of choice today. The plane is a little late, and the jetway is a little reluctant to open. The AirTran operators have their finger on the pulse of their passengers, though, and at just the right moment tell tales of a problem with the aircraft. We later learn that the problem is with the trim. Shortly thereafter, as we all amuse ourselves with the small talk of two-hour strangers, we learn we're changing gates to a different plane.

A far better alternative than flying without trim. "This ain't crown molding we're talking about here, pardner."

Someone said that. I don't think it was me.

So, after a brief delay, another plane then. Forty-five minutes after the scheduled flight we take off. Catching a tailwind and with a pilot who just wanted to go home we land in Philadelphia just 15 minutes late.

The bride and the maid of honor are waiting at the airport for a late night trip across town to the hotel of choice. Unloading the luggage at the front door the desk clerk comes out -- this is service! -- and asks, the oddly obvious question a hotel man must ask a stranger with luggage in the middle of the night. The short version of the conversation went something like:
"Are you checking in?"


"No you're not."

Part of a wedding party.

"All booked up."

Got reservations.

"Sorry about this. Let me give you directions to the Holiday Inn. Call in the morning."
Whoa boy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I made a list today. Ordinarily I'm not the one for lists. Usually they end up folded up in the pocket, and then in a stack of folded papers on a table somewhere.

Other times they return as crisply folded pieces of blank paper emerging from freshly laundrer clothes. Something important must have been on this piece of paper; whomever gave it to me went to the trouble of writing it in invisible ink. After a few moments of eye strain the light will play on three letters that I remembered making for a grocery list last Tuesday.

I would have bought none of those things, of course. Peas, written in invisible ink, don't take on the same urgency as the list of non-perishable goods repeated over and over again as a mantra from the driveway to the grocery store. For this reason I don't understand the moleskin craze. I don't understand a lot of crazes to be perfectly honest, but I'm a few years removed from the best of them. Just a process of growing old, I suppose, not understanding kids and that noise they call music and having an irrestible urge to play bingo*.

Moleskin seems merely like a way to covetously hide your disposable income. That impressive suede, felt, gopherhide cover and faux-ivory button says a lot about you at the Starbucks, I'm sure. Really Sparky, have you already accumulated and given everything else, that you must now seek you validation in an over-thought steno pad? Step away from the $49 pen and go enjoy your $11 frap-cap.

So, anyway, I made a list of things to do. Two columns of self-suggestions. On the left were the things to do. On the right were the things to get together for uses both general and specific. The content of the list will become more apparent in the coming days, as all lists seem to grow in importance the farther away from their writing. Why did I want peas so badly?

I accomplished everything on the list. I'm as stunned as you are. I'll get no sleep because of it, but at least all my errands have been neatly jotted and then cleanly marked out on the legal pad paper. The paper spent most of the night sandwiched between wallet and phone. It was of no use at all.

* I don't really play bingo, but I did clean up in a raucous checkers game recently.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

I'm beginning to enjoy the simpleness of lazy Sunday afternoons. Plopped down and watched quiet gray clouds blow over the neighborhood in the afternoon and listened to the rain drizzle down. I took two naps in the sunlight with a football game buzzing gently in the background.

Weekends were made for this.

Had Pie Day tonight. Sometimes these things have to be moved for various reasons, but Pie Day is always held as a matter of protocol. We sat in the back of the restaurant, buried in a corner and under a television.

All the wait staff came by to say hello and pay tribute. If I took on the right accent this would sound like The Godfather.

I'll take this tea from you, but in time I may ask you to take something from me.

Like the check. We don't need that thing.

Taylor is now taking dance classes. I taught her the robot a few weeks ago. I hope she breaks that out at her recital. Someone needs to teach her the words to Mr. Roboto, too.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

I'm maybe the only Monday through Friday guy without a given set of weekend responsibilities that sets an alarm for Saturday morning. That makes me, today, the only guy who hit the snooze. (I'm the snooze guy. I set my alarms for ridiculously early and then beat up the clocks for half an hour before finally giving in to the day.) I'm not a morning person, or a night person, but rather an all day person. Having said that, waking up is difficult.

Continuing the assumption I am the only guy who had the power go out during the snooze portion of the morning, fell back into a deep sleep and then woke up at noon. With things to do. Errands to run. Chores and tasks to accomplish. Football to watch. Shaving three hours off your day can really whittle into your productivity.

Anyway, the shopping got done. Few of the chores were ticked off the imaginary list. A little early football was watched, almost all of it unmemorable. The day got ridiculously humid. The high only made it up to 90, and I did a quick lap around the yard just afternoon when the temperature was about 85 with 70 percent humidity, but I staggered inside drenched.

The heat index was in the low 90s, but somehow the last week of autumn was sucker punched by another flurry of summer. It is not going gentle into that good night. The promise of changing leaves and pumpkins and seasonal spices has lured us into a different mental attitude and we paid for it today.

I say we, but I was the only sucker outside in my neighborhood.

Drove up in the late afternoon to spend the day with Atticus and his parents. The more time we get to spend together the more I miss them. We got to play with all of Atticus' toys and played chase and had a big time in the swing.

We waited on Justin to come home from a day of soccer coaching and refereeing while the sun crept low, throwing beautiful golden beams of light onto a happy and smiling young face. Standing behind him and sharing his view you could see a neighborhood retiring for the evening and a sun turned reflective off to the left. His mom sat in a chair to the right and suddenly, instead of the birthday gift I gave him last week, I desperately wanted to wrap up this moment as a present for him, so he could unwrap it in 20 or 30 years and hold this memory in his hand. Then he could see his mother staring on adoringly and know his father is on the way home to steal a kiss. If ever something could be frozen in amber I wished for a jar of the stuff to preserve the peace of the moment.

It reminded me of the character on Pinwheel who could capture sound in his magical box so he could share it with others without sacrificing any of the moment's importance to time or circumstance. Sounds silly, but I'm nostalgic for the boy's future here. Didn't get any better with this picture.

We had low country crab boil for dinner, completing the young yuppie dream. Sometimes these moments are like watching a movie, or a wine commercial. If you could take it in as a participant you'd see that as the mood: full of laughter, stories and (as young parents would agree) big words. Later we watched football highlights until the storms came and the power went out. Loaded the car up by candlelight, casting the perfect soft glow on a near perfect day.

Auburn wasn't on television this week as they played host to the Buffalo Bulls. From the portions of the game I heard on the radio the team had a hard time finding motivation before finishing with a 38-7 victory. The final score stretched things out to a more respectable finish, but that's simply the disparity in depth between a top-flight team and a small program.

For example, Auburn's third-string running back Ben Tate, the go-to-guy of the future, finished with 114 yards. Quarterback Brandon Cox played deep into the game, but was mostly limited to hand-offs as the ground game was the raison d'être, despite a resting Kenny Irons.

These games are granted wins, of course, but now Auburn needs more than wins, they need vote-persuading victories. The Tigers have a few more of those opportunities on the schedule, but there's also South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia to get through before they can swat around the Tulanes, Ole Misses, Arkansas States and Alabamas of the world.

They all hear it though: Click Clack!

Friday, September 22, 2006

It begins tomorrow, but this is autumn's first half to me. Big fluffy crowds lit up in glorious fashion by a proud and radiant sun. Heading home while the day is still full of life. Enough brightness in the afternoon to reveal a sense of accomplishment and potential just waiting in the wings, if only you reach out and grab the weekend quickly enough.

At home I walked inside and happened to glance directly at the TiVo. The EvIl eye caught me quickly and wouldn't let me go. That's my excuse for today, and could become a reason for Friday evenings in general if this keeps up.

Watched probably a half-a-day's worth of programming, falling asleep in a particularly sophisticated Kim Deal bass solo as the Pixies played on Austin City Limits.

I'm not certain, but I believe that I woke up during the same bass solo. That or Kim really needs to branch out. I could go back and check, but even the EvIl eye is saying 'no mas.' We shouldn't make fun of Roberto Duran. Really we shouldn't. He's a bad man who earned a bum rap at the hands of another bad man. I only mention this, boxing historian that I am not, because I caught a promo for The Battle of New Orleans which will be aired soon. Curious to see if the EvIl eye records it. There's been a lot of ESPN programming in the suggested viewing lately. Far, far too much poker.

You'd think the machine would have ascertained by my television viewing habits that I'm nothing if not a safe-bet type. I tried to watch poker once, I folded before the opening montage was complete, a tiny slice of the key demographic quickly scurrying off to watch a comedy. Maybe if Randy Quaid and Jackie Mason reprised their archetype characters from Caddyshack II -- I know what you're saying purists, but I'm thinking of the out-of-place whimsy, the ability to sense a need for full-contact games -- that'd be worth watching. Imagine, the guy across the table raises and instead of calling his hand, you have to hit him like a linebacker.

That's how the show makes it on SportsCenter. Next thing you know everyone is going all in every hand just to make the highlights. Then free agency comes in to run things on the green felt. This, you say, would be a bad thing, but that's what the Chevy Chase, Bill Murray charcaters will help to prevent.

Hey, its no Australian Rules Football or America's Cup or even dominoes, but my version of poker would destroy World's Strongest Man any day. Not the Lumberjack Games though. Nothing can best men in sleeveless flannel with big saws.

Told you that was a long bass solo.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The very end of my morning drive is basically driving a great big circle. Having headed for about 18 minutes in a general northeast direction I leave the interstate for a flyover highway, turning south. A moment later I turn back to my right again, to the west to leave the highway, landing on a surface street for two blocks before another turn to the right again facing in a generally eastern direction. That time of morning the ride is smooth, the cars are few and if you do it at just the right pace the right side of your brain is very much aware that you've just traveled in a circle.

Depending on the season and the time of morning I have a sunrise behind the skyscrapers or a sunrise behind Red Mountain. I try to hit both at least once a week, though the reality is how quickly I get out the door in the morning. This morning I got out quickly enough that most of the drive was still in darkness, but the last half of the commute served as just one more reminder at how quickly things can change.

Here's the view facing east on that flyover highway. A mile or so later I exit, negotiate one red light and a stop sign, travel four blocks on the downtown grid and then turn to the office building where, in three minutes, the view to the east is already wholly different.

That always fascinates me. Every morning I look for it, and most days I'm justly rewarded. One day I'll take away all the inherent lessons that the clouds and the sunrise try to teach us. This is life moving fast, and not only at the beginning.

We get lulled in the middle of the day, in the middle of everything, and by twilight we've realized the error, but only temporarily. Tomorrow there'll be another round to inform us, if we'll listen through the complacency. Fortunately the sky is full of patient teachers.

I'm famous on voicemail. Think I was four for four this afternoon on returning phone calls to a machine. Seems that 3:30 to 4 p.m. is the perfect time of day for the maximum number of calls.

I say this only because an entire industry has materialized on the basis of such critical time management. "Block out time for voicemails," and the like. Much research has been done, many studies have been published, a lot of grant money has been spent. My evidence is anecdotal, but if it is easier to chat with voicemail in some circumstances, give that number a ring around 3:30 or 4, that's all I'm saying.

New media to old: Your business sucks and is going away. That was Jason Calacanis, talking to the National Association of Broadcasters on Tuesday. Calacanis is one of THE names in new media, and I'm curious to see what the impression he left leaving the room full of the mainstream guys.

At least one of the industry trades was suitably impressed, running a four paragraph piece about the founder of Engadget and CEO of Weblogs, Inc.

He'd go on to say that blogs can be used as a free focus group, but cautioned, "if your audience hates you, you probably don't want to use this tool."

Interesting that he felt the need to add that caution. Meanwhile, a broadcaster on that same panel noted that blogs can create a more passionate listening audience. The biggest irony there is that the guy who made that observation has been running WOXY, online-only station that closed down just before the conference began.

I'm not sure who smirks at that, but there's less noise out there now and that's never a good thing. They had a nice run, and a good playlist, but in the end couldn't make it last. The amalgamation of media old and new is proving itself as a successful business model, my old colleague Grant Merrill is one of many such examples. They started that network and a handful of other stations as Internet only broadcasting and are out selling it across the mid-south. That's an adaptation technique that is working in big numbers for them, and they are rightly optimistic about their future prospects.

Maybe they're walking toward the brightest part of the day, they're certainly willing to learn from what's around them. That's what Calacanis was talking about to other broadcasters, that's what the modern captains of industry are doing. Exciting times, when the sun is swiftly moving higher.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Skipped out of the office at lunch to run an errand and words were hanging in the sky much like bricks don't (Credit - Douglas Adams). Literally the sky was talking to me. OK, the whole town was the intended target. A skywriter, my first, was trying to make us all go to the airshow this weekend.

The other message? Different conversation. Clearly that's a sign from above. Someone in heaven wants us all to drink Pepsi. That might be a bit of a heretical statement in the Deep South. Coke is right across the border after all, but there is a Buffalo Rock bottling plant here in town, so maybe diving inspiration in the form of a plane's exhaust is OK today. The whole thing suggests either that planes are powered by fizzy goodness or that Pepsi is an unabashed environmental abuser which we'd all celebrate with a hearty tip of the can.

Incidentally, it has been 18 months since I had my last soda.

The skywriter had another word to go, but the winds took it away. Some crucial piece of information was quickly turned into the scribbles that would find its way onto a parent's refrigerator. I wonder if skywriters have a certain reputation because of that. Their drifters of a sort, never staying in one place more than a fortnight, always riding off to the low pressure systems, always adamant that they did, in fact, do their job and they can't help it that the gods didn't want the words to hang there. I imagine this conversation in the voice of Donald Sutherland's Sgt. Oddball (audio) from Kelly's Heroes.

Skywriting is actually an incredible feat:
Each letter is about one-mile high, and the average four to six character message is written across a 10-mile slate of sky.

Super-Size Skywriting messages are approximately five to eight miles long. Each character is over 1,500 ft. tall. Messages can be up to 25 to 30 characters and can be written in various languages.

On a clear day, each letter can be seen for up to 30 miles in any direction from the ground. That’s over 3,000 sq. miles for each message written. As the wind drifts the sky written words, even more people see them! A single writing is readable over a seven to eight mile radius.

Typically, writing is performed between 7,000 and 17,000 ft.
I wonder if skywriters ever make cloudos, the one mile high mistakes that haunt us all. I also ran across this ghost ad again. Always makes me chuckle, but the folks that worked in the old headquarters here probably never laughed at the misspelling. Why the Lynchburg whiskey makers had headquarters in Birmingham I'm not certain -- must have been a distribution issue -- but here's further proof: Jean Paul has a Motlow bottle from World War I era Birmingham estimated at $700. That's a lot of money for an empty glass. Or is it overflowing with air? Ahh, the metaphysics of whiskey.

Started watching the second season of Battlestar Galactica again. I caught the first two episodes during their original airing and then developed a life. Why, oh why must the best television be shown on Friday nights? Anyway, SciFi is gearing up for Season Three by showing a lot of Season Two so I'm TiVoing to be able to watch them in the proper sequence. If I've done the calculations correctly I will have seen all but the last two episodes of Season Two before the new season begins. I'll just be deprived of whatever the cliffhanger is.

After tonight I'm up to the point where Starbuck escapes the baby farm and Roslin escapes the Galactica. This episode aside the show remains some of the best storytelling on air. Now if only they'd stop selling their season DVDs in installments. I'd like to own it, but just can't condone that marketing practice with a purchase. No need to encourage them for more of this silliness in Season Three.

And -- NO! -- don't write me about this yet. I can't hear any more spoilers.

Who's On Notice? The new board is up in the top box on the left:
Buffalo Bulls
Too-tight watches
Those lacking irony
Court of Kings
The Buffalo listed there is not to be confused with the Buffalo that Mark Hasty is pointing out.

And finally: thanks Kel for your very generous gift. Chocolate in return it is!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I intended to do things today. The best laid plans, however, are often laid to the side for lazier pursuits. The trick is in the balance, insuring that the errands are run in due time and the busy work is handled in a respectable order.

Balance, it keeps us upright. Proprioception has always been my thing. It's fascinating how the mind can make the hand find the mouth when the eyes are closed. Proprioception is only slightly more entertaining than afterimages from staring at bright lights.

Apparently it didn't take a lot to amuse me as a child.

And oh how I've grown!

The FBI says Birmingham is the 20th in the nation for violent crime. You can look at the unpleasant raw data and find some painful things in there, or you can cynically talk about numbers. The FBI carefully removes the truly painful anecdotal data. As if to prove the point:
A 22-month-old boy was hit and killed Monday night by stray gunfire while lying in his bed, police said.

The shooting happened about 10:15 p.m. at the Uptown Apartments at 1517 19th Street North in the Druid Hills neighborhood. Police and witnesses said the toddler was inside an upstairs apartment when multiple shots rang out from outside the building.

The child was hit when the bullets came through the walls of the apartment.
That little 14.7 violent crimes per 100,000 people is so clinical. In the entirely calculated sense violent crimes increased 5.8 percent in Birmingham in 2005. The national rate was a 2.3 percent rise.

This story is going to stick around for a few days. The police could stumble on some good leads, get a tip and apprehend someone and then the story will quietly drift away. A sleeping baby, in his bed, the safest place he could be. There'll be some grief, but no real outrage here. The first day's story didn't even mention that it was Birmingham's 81st homicide of the year. Apparently they've stopped counting out loud.

Denny Crane! He's back. Not a moment too soon. Steadily going through the Season One DVD, but now we have Season Three to enjoy. Only Denny didn't say his name. He did have a very lifelike model of Shirley Schmidt made. Hands returned, but we can't talk about that here, great character though he is. Michael J. Fox's character bought a lung, and here I become a constitutional scholar, making up arguments about free market exercise and most assuredly taking legal language out of the originally intended context.

After listening to a few lawyers -- who enjoy the show for entertainment, but rightly point out its legal deficiencies -- I feel at home chiming in on this. The show's really all about the populist closing arguments anyway. And, of course, Denny Crane!

I believe there were three erasures of the fourth wall in this episode. Are they going for a record this season? We'll have to come back next week to find out, though we know from the preview that they removed the fourth wall at least once and somehow that means I won't get anything done next Tuesday either.

Oh, dear sweet old habits, how we are of mixed minds about you when it comes to slow and quiet Tuesdays.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Autumn doesn't start until next weekend, but clearly the season is anxious. The mercury climbed into the upper 80s, but even that seemed half-hearted. The sun is booking a long vacation in the Southern Hemisphere and is mentally not into the game in this part of the world. Present, but apathetic, that big ball of yellow fury is already considering a Polynesian Christmas.

There's a nice breeze blowing in from the midwestern plains. That's probably the meteorological equivalent of the musical score in a scary movie. The audience knows what's coming when that music starts seeping into the scene, but the players, well they're too busy enjoying late-adolescent summer camp and Dad's Mercedes to know that a big scary guy with a frozen mustache is lurking just around the next bend.

We really don't like winter around here, but the fall is glorious. Autumn is nice too. I'm going to start distinguishing them as two different things. We'll enjoy several months of beautiful weather and somewhere in the middle we can count on a stunning week of leaf turn. Other climates boast of an enduring leaf turn, here you have to time the trip into the mountains just right. Go on Wednesday and everything is still green. By the next Monday everything is rust dangling from sullen branches. But on that Saturday afternoon, right around 4:28, when the sun is at just the right declination you'll see a fierce burst of color that will blind you until everything turns green again in March.

That exaggerates the scene, of course, but may be appropriate for this year, where the leaf turn will be slightly less remarkable given the summer's drought.

I spent a lot of time catching up on TiVo today. You can tell, can't you? By later in the week I'll break out of that stupor and sieze these fun, light and breezy days and do things that don't involve a roof.

I'm thinking of lobbying for Work In The Park days at the office.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Woke up with Cracker Barrel on the brain. Lately that has become the guiltest of guilty pleasures. My relationship with that restaurant has fits and starts, and recently I've been there a few times. Usually I'm turned off by the slow turn around. Where I once found the place slow with average food, this morning I found the average food surrounded by a deliberate stillness. Generally this annoys, but today the pace of the place was inviting.

The brilliant blue sky, the nice even temperatures, the woody texture of roughly everything in the store and the interstate whizzing by just outside the window made the perfect scene for a late Sunday brunch.

I, predictably, love the design of the place. If only they would make the restaurants a little smaller and muffle the noise, but we can't have everything. Seemingly every restaurant chain built since the 1980s has felt compelled to throw crap at the walls to give customers something to stare at, but Cracker Barrel has always seemed more like a history lesson wrapped inside my grandparent's lives. You can stare up into the rafters for hours and dream about the people who used the archaic tools or try to figure out what the Spanish Inquisition inspired equipment was designed for. Some places have fake advertisements, whomever is in charge of decorating for Cracker Barrel breaks into peoples barns for rustic bread signs.

Wouldn't that be a great job? Not breaking into farmer's homes, but driving around and buying these things at auctions. "This would look great hanging over the smoking section of Store 82!"

Every once in a while one of the photographs catches your eye and won't let go. This morning I noticed (what I think was) a calotype of a very happy woman posing with her dog. If she walked around with that expression today you might think she was on a heavy does of mood enhancing drugs. If she walked with that hat today she'd inadvertantly knock you silly if she turned her head quickly within six or eight feet of you. The dog was bemused. If dogs had a reincarnation belief system in place the pup from Frasier could have been this guy. Or maybe he was stuffed. When did taxidermy become popular?

The dog in that photo seemed incredibly well behaved, but then I've formed opinions on both personalities from a century or more away. There is a danger in such a --

Ooh, my eggs are here!

So that was the early afternoon. The rest of the day was spent glancing at price tags on clearance rack clothes and watching images dance across a flat screen. Someday a restaurant will open and celebrate our present. Maybe they'll have bought the rights from the Mike Judge estate and cleverly name the place "Beavis and Butthead's." It'll go in right across the street from the aging neighborhood Bennigans franchise and there will be laptops dangling from the ceiling. Kids will laugh at the size of DVDs and plasma screen televisions and point and giggle at digital reprints of people wearing FUBU and three-button suits.

And just wait until some old fuddy duddy, maybe you, explains to them what the ipod was. Then they'll flick their thumb twice to say LOL to their friends currently instant messaging their brain and blink while looking down and to the left to turn up the volume on their subcutaneous whatsits, where they are listening to the newest Rolling Stones album.

The Stones will still be there. Post-modern medicine will see to it, keeping someone else's guilty pleasures securely in place.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fell asleep on the sofa last night. I'd turned off the television, decided to close my eyes and listen to the quiet for just a minute before shuffling upstairs and performing a dynamic feat of gymnastics to make it to bed. Through a window in the den I could see trees off in the distance, a neighbor's light dancing in the leaves.

And then I woke up to a silver sky and a twisted back. I shuffled upstairs and crawled into bed, setting an alarm for an hour later -- the early morning nap, I hoped, would fix the back -- because today was a big day.

The nap helped, the back was cured and a trip to the store was the first item of business. Atticus just turned one, and today is the birthday party, which calls for just the right present.

So I find myself on the toy aisles of the local box store, trying to recall anything of the toddler years. The toys, I think, have changed, calling for a different strategy. I could write of the anxious moments and the worries of failing to gain the approval of a one-year-old or displease his parents who, no doubt, have a strict methodology on toy buying. I could write at great length about that, and some of it without embellishment even, but I'll just skip to the end of the present selection process.

There I was, on the aisle of Push The Button, Make A Noise toys, considering the truism that some of these are delightfully noisy, but that my friends will have plenty of time to plot their revenge if I purchase the Darth Vader 6000 with Random Midnight Noise Creation (it comes standard on that model). Finally I sieze on a fire truck. That's universal. It'll teach him to respect authority. It'll help identify proper heroes. Big, big wheels. Soft body, good for chewing and falling. No sharp edges. The front bumper smiles -- personality is important when selection fire precincts. Only makes one noise. Aha! A safe choice, I think I'll -- oh great, the police car version.

So now I'm agonizing again. Hillstreet Blues or Turk 182? Cop Rock or Backdraft? Which programming will the boy's father most approve? Eventually a nice lady drifts by with her two- or three-year-old in the shopping cart. I quickly devolve to making eye contact with the child, getting the colorful toys in his line of sight, pushing the bumper that creates the engine and siren noise. I'm focus grouping out of desperation.

Went with the fire truck. Come on, think about the cast of Backdraft. That's quality.

The first critical decision of the day has been made. The one part that didn't pan out was making a selection that was completely encased in a perfect cube of cardboard that promotes perfect wrapping. Atticus will see the papering, quickly seize on what happened and brand me a wrapping paper charlatan to the disapproving clucks of all the young mothers and their children, the friends of the birthday boy.

I haven't even left town yet to attend the party.

Made it home to watch the Arkansas-Vanderbilt game. Arkansas looks like they're about three oscillations away from spinning out of control and a few plays made me question whether Houston Nutt is deliberately trying to lose his job. Vanderbilt, by contrast, looks like a program that knows a corner is coming and is mentally preparing to turn it. They have not yet mentally prepared to win a game, and the lack of a killer instinct to put their opponent away is just as glaring this year as it was last year, when they had a first round draft pick under center. Arkansas won, but only because Vandy doesn't yet know how.

Iowa State, same thing. I caught part of that game and there's a reason the Hawkeyes won in the second half and the Cyclones didn't. What that reason is I don't know, but it might be photoelectric. In the first half it looked like the sun was giving up for the winter. As the day wore on the cyclone of gauze disappeared and the field was bright and happy, reflective in the yellow shirts of the crowd, cheering their team on to a victory that I'm certain of in the sense that I know they won, but can't recall the score. And that's Iowa football to me.

The first set of games gave way to the afternoon's delights, which presented the second critical decision of the day. How to approach the Auburn-LSU game? Kickoff was at 2:30, the party started at 4, which meant leaving around that same time. I could listen and then hope to watch at their house. Or fall back on the TiVo, wondering the entire afternoon if this would be the afternoon that the EvIl Eye would choose to not follow the recording schedule I'd demanded.

My strategy was to do the former, reality dictated I do the latter. Sorta.

Caught the first half in the car, listening to a brutal contest that ended neatly just before pulling up at the party. The two inescapable truths that emerged from the radio broadcast are that Auburn's quarterback is the product of a medical miracle. To hear Rod and Stan's reaction when he went down, all looked lost. Then Brandon Cox got off and ran off the field. The crowd, his 88,000 closest friends, had just been chanting his name, everyone else was busy trying not to hyperventilate and LSU should have died just a little inside.

That's a terrific team though, and they didn't. Both sets of Tigers persevered and the purple and yellow variety was once again in John Vaughn's head, as he drew carpentry on a chip shot. Watching it later in the night -- TiVo did my bidding -- it appears his mechanics might have been a bit off, but it was hard to tell from the angle the television offered.

All of that, some fast moving and stout hitting were in the car. Got to Atticus' house and, by way of greeting, asked where the television was. Watched the third quarter, including Auburn's penultimate drive and sole touchdown, before dinner. When it was time for the shrimp broil I decided to be ignorant and watch the game play out for me when I returned home.

Atticus' party, meanwhile, was in full swing. Lots of kids and family friends, both sets of proud grandparents. A terrific amount of food. The part had a sea theme and there were cardboard fish floating in the sky everywhere, surrounded by little dots of blue light. Atticus' mom really put on a great show. There were four cakes of fish, starfish and seahorses. Three for the guests and the big one for the big little guy.

All the other children had a ball. Especially when Atticus got a new toy. The older kids had to check them out first. Safety standards, I'm sure.

My toy? Yeah. Glad you asked. It was my present that sent Atticus crying. Dad opened the rest after that.

Somewhere just before that humbling moment one of the ladies standing right next to me told her friend who won the football game. So I know the final score, but not the outcome. Most of the guests leave and the small nucleus is left. Atticus is down for the night. His parents and their parents pull up chairs and sit out under the night sky, listening to the hum of satisfaction of a party well played and quiet times with their family and friends.

And Taylor, happily making sand angels in the sandbox, much to her parent's consternation and the appropriately subdued delight of everyone else.

All the parents I know have the best kids. Quick! Someone tell a throw up story! At the very least they can pick their spots for best behavior. Atticus was a bit out of place today with so many people in his home, but he's the happiest baby too. Pretty soon I'm going to have to spend a night at Chuck E. Cheese just to be a little more grounded about perfect children.

Back to the game. CBS doesn't give very good camera angles, but there was a whole lot of fast on that field. This is going to be one of those games that we all talk about a few years down the road, though it won't have so many memorable plays. In aggregate, though, we'll all just say "Holy cow. And a good thing we didn't have to play them again that season."

The 7-3 win is a big boost. There will be detractors for one thing another, but this was a day when two great defenses, terrific units, among the best in the game, met on a narrow field. The counterpoint offenses saw the weaponery across the way and each decided to themselves "We won't be the ones that make the fatal mistake in this game." It would have come down to that, if either team could have mustered up much more in the way of fire power -- the stats are truly muted figures, but the game film will be a screaming and glorious defensive masterpiece.

There are games that are reduced to seminal moments in paintings hanging in fans' homes. There are some games that serve as indelible parts of chronology, dividing this from that, then and now. Some contests become fantastical memories, prompting people to recall where they sat and all of their individual thoughts and emotions over a three hour period. This one might not be that game, but it says as much about each terrific program as 60 minutes of conflict can. Close calls and would-be controversies aside, it is a shame anyone had to lose, but it is a good thing it wasn't our side.

Click Clack!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Home to do a little extra work before the weekend begins in earnest, but the extra work got put on hold. I'd envisioned sitting in the window watching the sunlight pass across the front of the yard, filtering through the tall oaks to the west and then disappearing behind the rounded top of the Appalachian foothill.

I did that; I tried. I sat in front of the computer, stared out at the sun beaming shafts of light through the limbs and onto the zoysia grass. Then I realized the view of refracted light bouncing off a view branches of an oak tree turning prematurely yellow in the backyard would offer a tremendous view. The deep shades of green in shruberry around the back deck was a nice offsetting color. The bright pastels of the day turned into the muted tones of the late afternoon as the week slipped away into memory and the weekend crept into reality.

So, to celebrate, and instead of extra computer work, I opted for DVDs.

At the start of the day I was still only halfway through the Firefly universe, having watched the first seven episodes in one sitting and then being distracted by life, TiVo and football. Today I stepped back into the series with four more installments.

"Out Of Gas" is a nonlinear episode, where we flash from the present that is our present to the past which is our past, en route to our present. The effect is rather tacked on, as it is unclear if these are Malcolm Reynold's memories or we're just seeing things to flesh out characters. The storytelling is good, but seems out of place. In context of the original airing of the episode this feels like an early episode, though it seems to have fallen in the middle of the series both in how it was broadcast and clearly is episode eight here as the director envisions. Either way, the flashbacks seem trite when you're watching the show in long bursts, which is a shortcoming of the DVD and my viewing habits more than this episode. Meeting Jayne was great and Kaylee's introduction was, well, original. Overall, it feels like an episode you'd expect in a later season which, of course, was never in the stars for this series, so perhaps the odd timing is worth tolerating.

"Ariel" lends itself to a great character caper. The passive doctor displays a scheming side, we find out a lot more about the price of Jayne's loyalty and there's more ominous allusions to the shadowy bad guys who are running things with the power of hypersonic glow rods. The more character driven the episodes are the more a viewer has to enjoy the show, because the characters remain the key aspect of the show. That seems like an obvious statement, but Firefly and Battlestar have set the science fiction storytelling paradigm on its proverbial ear. That seems like blasphemy from a Star Trek fan, I'm sure, but we as an audience saw space, figured out the ships and enjoyed the holodecks and weapons. Ultimately it returns to how we grock Spock. After the CGI, some of the better writers remembered that, and now the science fiction characters are winners.

"War Stories" is great, bringing internal conflict as a subtext for an external problem. Niska is back and remains evil. Wash and Mal are electrocuted. Harmless, family fun, with Wash picking up his role of the comic relief. This episode really just demonstrates the beauty and the range of the characters, as Jayne goes back to being silent and lethal rather than comic relief, Zoe is the heroine instead of the sidekick. Here we get a hint of River's upcoming awesomeness. Only two characters are wasted in the episode, which is beginning to be the noticeable, and regrettable game: Who gets left out?

"Trash" spends an hour describing a character that belonged in one previous episode as an antagonist and disappeared. Now she's back, more conniving than ever and that's probably more of her presence than the Firefly universe needs. Here again we are watching out of order of the proper chronology, with the beginning being the end. The bad beginning turns out to be the good beginning and no wormholes or mirror universes were harmed in the making of this episode. We see floating homes, a second ship, aerial garbage scows and the world's first phaser, but the characters remain the stars, more likable in each scene.

It is a really great show. And now I'm down to the last disc, three more episodes and the bloopers. There's a movie waiting behind those, but the too-soon ending of the series is lamentable. And I'm still trying to figure out how it is possible that I was unaware of this show when it aired in 2002.

Neglected to mention this yesterday. About time ESPN noticed. Wonder how long this will last?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Correcting an oversight.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

If there's one thing we've learned over the many years of our lives when it comes to follicular styling it is to pick the person with the most sane hair in the salon, barber shop, stylist's, etc. Sanity in the context of a hair place, as you have no doubt realized, is a relative term. Failing that option, and avoiding the diminutive man in the sleeveless shirt -- I mean, really -- the next criteria to use would be artificial tanning. I had that woman cut my hair, she of the recently orange, who has no doubt just discovered the discount she gets from the tanning bed place next door. She usually has normal-ish hair, understands that I'm not the biggest talker in the world when it comes to getting a haircut and waved off the guy with no sleeves.

Hey, we get small blessings all the time, we just hardly ever realize it.

Something about those floor-to-ceiling mirrors keeps me quiet. I tend to have most of my lightning bolt epiphanies in front of the mirror, perhaps I should move my desk in front of one. Anyway, the haircut was uneventful. Once again I've plotted my day so that I'll have a haircut and then go into three public places with my hair looking dazed and punch drunk.

Never fails, I'll make eye contact with some nice old lady and we'll exchange hellos, or I'll hold the door open for a young mother and we'll smile and be polite. I'll say "Hi" and "You're welcome" and my head, for the rest of the day is saying, "What the? Huh!?"

Further, it never fails to discover a few more square inches of silver after each trim. I've long since grown accustomed to its presence, nice ladies tell me it looks dignified -- and this is what really matters, no? -- but it amuses me how more of them seem to crop up on the day of the cutting.

This was probably the theme of a Dean Koontz book, where rural folks came to the nearby Atlantic coast town on the eve of a big bloodletting. Unknowingly the people, lemmings it seems, have drawn themselves to their doom. Only this is Dean Koontz, so they'll regenerate somehow, and the lemmings have suddenly become wickedly wise actors in a dangerous play. Rapidly multiplying actors. The next thing you know the too-smart college kid, in town to write a paper on the history of sturgeon nets, finds himself their prey, because his mind isn't tuned to the sonic brainwaves that were dictated by decadal tidal patterns. He survives to tell the outside world of this horrible activity only because he figured out painting his hair silver fooled the ghoulish monsters.

See, I'm just ahead of the game. Take that Dean Koontz.

I was just thinking that I would have nothing to write about here today because I went to two libraries. Then I wrote seven paragraphs of tripe on a haircut. Suddenly I don't feel obligated to write about the more or less uneventful library trips.

Managed to make it to the grocery store for supplies for the rest of the week. This involved choosing every bad lane of traffic, getting cut off and inadvertently cutting off others and picking the second turn lane because it looked faster, only to get bogged down behind people with other transportation needs. We all have days like this, at least I hope we do. Some days I can see the next three moves on the freeway, some days I can't decide if turning here, or here, is the better choice. Once again I must fall back to the very real observation that this was the worst part of my day -- brief moment of fear about the sleeveless guy aside -- and I really shouldn't be troubled by this.

So inside, with my grubby little shopping cart and prepared to mentally tick things off my mental list I stride briskly to the produce aisle. This grocery store has always seemed poorly designed to me. Everyone knows they most certainly need a fruit or a vegetable or a condiment, which is all lumped together. Our most determined steps in the grocery store take us right by the bakery in long, sure strides. Maybe they should put the bakery by the bread, beer or eggs, where shoppers really linger agonizing over crush factors, brand names and shell frailty. Such mental gymnastics sure requires being rewarded with a cookie. And if you're buying all three: Cake!

In the opposite corner of the store, though, is the pharmacy, which is conveniently opened exactly 4.5 hours a day, and they are intuitively the 4.5 hours you will be at work or when your child will not be sick. They have a drive through window which, to my knowledge might still be hermetically sealed. Wouldn't want the germs in, you know. Perhaps that is why the bakery is so far away too. Maybe it is in the druggists' union credo, that they will not work, and will not stock their bandages and locate their automated blood pressure machine of soft assurances ("Right down the middle. Nice drive. You should have been a golfer!") anywhere near the sugary treats.

Anyway, with the bakery ignored I'm in the produce aisle where a woman is curiously pulling individual bananas off and putting them in her bag. I watched her from the tomatoes, content to give her enough space to make her fruit choices in peace. If there are things around that need thumbing or close examination, I say, you don't need me there ratcheting up your concern. When I realized what she was doing I considered saying something sarcastic.

Ma'am, God intended them to be with those bunches. Now you've separated them, taken them from their families and homes and -- who knows? -- you might be turning them into little perfect pieces of rage, who lie on your counter plotting revenge. I hope, dear lady, that you chop them up and put them into a banana pudding tonight. For your sake.

I thought about saying that. Though she was so quick with the routine you couldn't help but realize she'd done this before. She's probably heard it all. And there's nothing you can say to her that will bring her up short, banana boy.

Then I realized that she was thinning the bunches for me, and a thinner bunch was what I needed. So it had really become a symbiotic relationship. Which probably means that I've got festering bananas on my counter right now and ... great. Hang on, let me go see what they're up to.

They seemed to be plotting their revolt, but in my most autocratic tone I threatened them with banana bread if they didn't stay in line. These bananas, they're up to no good. You can tell.

Later I ran into a girl that I knew vaguely in a previous life. I believe she was a year or two back in high school. She remembered me, they always remember me for some reason, but I don't think she could recall my name. So she is very friendly and my hair is still very dumbstruck from the traumatic events of just an hour or so before. I quickly diffused the situation with a great one liner, walking off with, At least we've ran into one another on the jelly aisle, and not somewhere really embarrassing.

Some days that's about the best for which you can hope. That and nicely coiffed hair stylists.

On Notice: This week's list is up:
Bengal Tigers
Spelling words with "eaux"
The smell of corn dogs
Voice mail
Factory model stereos
Earlier sunsets
As always, if any of these aren't self-explanatory then you haven't been following along, or else you just wouldn't be interested in the explanation. That's fine, though it may land you On Notice!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Staring out of a picture window left me pondering the many ways that ran could fall. My right brain had clearly taken over, this isn't a normal thought. Spending a fair amount of time during rain showers contemplating the description of the rain's sound, yes; staring at the little dancing pattern of thousands of individual drops, no.

This afternoon the rain fell in a lazy slumber, perfect for an evening of chili, books and comforters. (Apparently fall is approaching if I'm thinking like this.) The scene outside was full and secure and wholesome and the inconvenience of a few rain drops didn't seem to bother anyone. It wasn't sprinkling, but the rain was arriving. The rain seemed to be calmly offering itself to the ground below, wise to what was about to happen. From the raindrop's perspective it was probably like that slow motion moment where you see the ball flying to you, or the bowl crashing to the ground, but you just can't make it there.

Later in the afternoon, just in time for the commute, the storm turned a little more emphatic, hurling little droplets to the ground with a little more force. It was the "Notice me! Notice me!" of summer showers. Kept the day cool, and we'll all no doubt be dreaming of sweaters tonight.

The police called this afternoon, interrupting rain gazing. The officer just wanted to know the serial number for the stolen stereo. We chatted for a minute, nice enough guy, seemed very helpful and apologetic. Says they keep an eye on the pawn shops looking for stolen things.

I wish they'd asked about this before 11 days went by, but you take what you can get. They'll take what they can get too, but we shouldn't say anything about paying exorbitant amounts for one sheet of paper in the form of a police report. I've already been robbed once the past few days, thanks.

Anyway, the musical scavenger hunt is underway. To find the silver lining, this is almost fun. I started the list of things to replace somewhere near 60 CDs, after cross referencing my computer I've whittled the list down to 48. I'll just turn the thing into a hobby and whistle while I work. And drive, since there's no CD player in the car. That shiny old factory model cassette player looks great though. It is hard to stare down at that and realize that someone in the middle 90s thought that was a good way to go. Of course we could say that about hair styles, Hanson and the Spice Girls, both of which topped the charts when this car rolled out of the factory.

The pseudo-futuristic rubberized interior dash is still top-of-the-line, though. Still feels like a rocket, just a squeaky and slightly bouncier one. Not bad for 221,000 miles.

When it rains on the roof of the car it sounds like dozens of horses. At interstate speed that is a fierce sounding posse that you can't shake. Or a subliminal message endorsing a nap.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On September 11th, 2000 I was surrounded by worries of making any money by cobbling four jobs together at once.

On September 11th, 2002 I was surrounded by worries of making headway in a new job, but this date is unavoidable.

On September 11th, 2004 I went to a football game, but this date is unavoidable.

On September 11th, 2005 I was concerned about Katrina dontations, and despite the latest tragedy, this date is unavoidable.

Today I'm remembering 2001 with the little scribblings I made in 2003.

Reprinted from 9/11/2003.

Experts say those of us removed from Washington D.C., New York City and Shanksville, Pennsylvania are moving on with our lives, but that the horrors of the terrorist attacks remain powerful memories to those that were closer to the situation.

That day will never become a blurred memory.

It was my first week working in Little Rock. The top local story of the day was the Little Rock Zoo regaining its accreditation. The anchors there could not pronounce that word correctly, but that was the big story for the day.

The phone in the newsroom rings, I pick it up, and our traffic reporter is on the other end. He'd just landed from his morning flight and says, "You might want to tell the (people on air) to turn on a TV, a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center and they are talking about the zoo."

I flip around on my own TV, finding smoke billowing from a gaping whole of a building on CBS. 'How could a pilot make an error like that?' I wonder to myself while rushing into the studio, while they are on the air, to announce that a plane has struck the building.

They quickly get up to speed, and moments later, the second plane strikes. I'm standing right under the TV, frantically dialing for the ABC newsroom in New York. Brian Gumble is interviewing an eye witness. A camera is pointed up into the sky. The eye witness broadcast the second plane crashing. It could no longer be an accident.

My producer later tells me that I was so surprised, watching it happen in real time, that I just announced it out loud. He could hear me two rooms away.

Word begins to spread, and the newsroom fills up as co-workers crave information. I'm frantically calling New York on one phone, dialing the NYC area codes and pushing random numbers hoping for a connection.

'Anyone, stick your head outside and tell me what you see.'

Because so much communications equipment was tied into the Towers, seemingly the whole burrough is down.

Jammed to my other ear is a phone with the Pentagon. They aren't confirming it was a terrorist attack, but they are beginning to look into it a spokesman says. He can offer no more information.

Moments later I try to reach my Pentagon source again, but this time there is no answer. We find out soon after that a plane has crashed there.

I found out about a year later that the guy I was talking to was located not very far from the impact site at the Pentagon.

The phones in New York are still out. The newsroom is crowded. Mute, but thunderously loud all at once. Its hard to move until someone runs them out.

We start calling local officials, just to try and make a local angle on the story, it's what we do.

There's a bomb threat called in to a prominent Little Rock building.

An announcement that planes nationwide are being pulled out of the sky. They're landing at the first airport that has an appropriate runway. This is an unprecedented move in the nation's history of flight.

I dash across town to the airport. I'm to talk to people getting off planes. 'What have you heard? What did they tell you on the plane? How does it feel to know that, but for the Grace of God, 'there go I'?'

I can't see a TV, but pulling into the airport, the first building collapsed on itself. ABC's Peter Jennings, now being simulcast on ABC radio very somberly says, "Oh my God."

The airport is packed. Randomly it dawns on me that I've lived here for less than a week and have already been in the airport five times. This time its bustling. Confused. Tears. Cell phones and scrambling for rental cars and hotels. I talked to dozens of people. They all had tremendous stories.

Some were travelling across country, heading to the northeast. One flight was told they were having mechanical difficulties and had to land. It wasn't until they could called their loved ones that they knew. One man wasn't sure he could find Arkansas on a map.

And then the man, dressed all in white, a Sikh, was there. All alone. In his eyes, he knew. He seemed to understand what had happened. He was afraid. Enraged people would soon be turning to him, his family. It didn't matter that he was of a different religious and cultural sect. He looked and spoke a certain way. He may as well have been one of the bad guys himself. I want to stand beside him to make sure nothing happens to him.

His fears would later be borne out, as Muslim American hate crimes were inevitable, but light, in the days to come.

Of all the things to do when I leave the airport, I get lost. I'd only been in Little Rock for six days and take the wrong interstate interchange.

By the time I get back to the station we have broken away from network programming and gone all local. And we produced great work that day. I was proud to be a part of that product.

Inanely, our lead host is saying continually that Rush Limbaugh was OK. He broadcasts out of New York of course, and was pre-empted that day. People are calling in so frequently asking about him, that we had to turn it into a story. Rush Limbaugh was OK, he was actually on a plane himself out west when he, too, was grounded.

We're thinking the unthinkable at this point, up to 20 thousand dead, but folks Rush is OK.

I finally made it home. By then, every television station, broadcast, cable, QVC, everyone, has realised the enormity of the day and gone to their sister networks for wall to wall coverage.

It had been 10 hours of death and mayhem and I was ready for a break. A movie channel was showing a highly violent action film. I had no desire to see that in fiction any more after watching it in reality.

I mulled over the irony and conflict in my own heart. A horrible day. I profited from it professionally. I was as proud of myself as I ever let myself be. But sitting at home, I tend to turn off the professional part and watch this story unfold as a human being. Guilt trickles in. Guilty for enjoying the work I'd done. Even that little tendril of hope I always maintain, 'What I am doing here today, is doing some small good for my community'. I begin to feel guilty for my pride. It took several months to shake this feeling. Watching the video of planes crashing and bodies jumping for weeks on end did not help.

I watch the Congressional leadership pledge their support to the nation and the President. And finally it starts. Someone starts singing God Bless America. I cry myself to sleep.

Distinctly, I remember a horrible waking memory from the following morning. The sun was warm on my face, the fabric of my sofa was coarse. I woke up with a smile on my face. For a moment, I'd forgotten. That was the last time.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Had to work this morning. Sunday mornings at the office are rare, thankfully. They are also quiet and slightly busy. The rare Sunday morning at the office just means a six day week, so by tomorrow my week will be off and the whole ordeal will never seem to end, just proving Mike Reno and Paul Dean correct.

That's the worst part of it.

The best part is still the sunrise.

A close second is a quiet lunch and a long afternoon of football and TiVo. I have not paid tribute to the EvIl eye in several days and am certain it has accumulated many things with which to numb my brain while the couch grows around me.

Wow, maybe I'm watching too many episodes of X-Files. I'm seeing conspiracy in inanimate objects and imagining the sofa is taking over. Perhaps I should reconsider that season pass.

(Tongue-in-cheek, by the way.)

The brothers Manning are playing tonight. Peyton and Eli will meet for the first time in any organized athletic competition. I predict a guy from New Orleans will win, and lots of shots of proud parents pretending to agonize over their multimillionaire sons who are indirectly facing one another. Hopefully it will look like this.

Now, if you'll excuse me, time to enjoy the half-day off.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Explored Cartersville again today. Took in The Grand Theatre. Opened just as the Great Depression began it is still thriving with a full slate of events, concerts and plays. Coming up soon is the Cowboy Symposium and a variety of musical acts.

On the outside The Grand is a beautiful old buidling. In the main room just inside the doors everything is lavish and rich and wood. I bet it still smells of polish and cigars from shows ages gone. For really big shows I bet the fill the balcony and the manager has to call it a full house at 505 guests. This place is just off Main Street and accessible to everyone in town. Not as handsome as The Alabama (do you like that as the background here, by the way?) The Grand, by virtue of being in such a small town, is easier for everyone to make as a destination.

Speaking of destinations, and since we were speaking of lunches yesterday, we should all go try this place, though not all at once. From a quick peek through the window I could only see five barstools for diners. I think they put the newspaper boxes there just for scale. The place is just big enough for a deep fryer, so naturally it must be delicious.

Went to visit a covered bridge, but the place was packed with an impromptu festival, so that will wait for another time. Instead I visited the Bartow County Courthouse. Burned in 1864, it was rebuilt twice, this being the 1902 version who's park benches no doubt inspires visitors to quote To Kill a Mockingbird. The clock still keeps time silently ticking away the hours left in a lazy fall day. The courthouse sits on an idyllic shady corner, the silence shattered only by nearby trains and the occasional dump truck passing by.

In 1969 the local chapter of the American Legion presented the Flame of Freedom. There is no nothing there to indicate when the flame died, or when it might be prepared. All the same it is not presently the inspiring monument the Legion envisioned. The building has great locks though.

But this is Saturday, and people demand football!

Notre Dame looked impossibly tough and Penn State looked improbably deficient in. The Irish get it too, going for it on every fourth down and dragging this beating out to approximately six hours. I fell asleep twice during it, I think, after starting late. It was still on at dinner. South Bend still looks like a gorgeous place to watch a game though, those growing shades make the gold and fading light turn into a picturesque autumn scene.

Later in the day Georgia travelled to South Carolina and handed the Gamecocks an ugly whooping. This game was only slightly more interesting than the 1-2 match up, where Ohio State calmly handled Texas.

Two games online were more exciting than both on television, as the world waited to laugh out loud at FSU, which escaped Troy in the waning minutes of a minor-dynasty. Florida State gained one yard rushing against Miami last week. Florida A&M, meanwhile, earned 82 yards against the Hurricanes today. That's a statistic A&M is all too happy to gloat about. It has been the experience of many that when the Rattlers are boastful of something on the football field that doesn't have to do with their band, it might be time to examine your problems. Florida State's offensive coordinator is the son of the head coach, don't expect a change anytime soon.

If FSU survived in the waning minutes under a medical miracle then Tennessee is still alive because of a shot of epinephrine in the form of defensive end Xavier Mitchell who should now be named Knoxville's ruler plenipotentiary for saving Phil Fulmer's considerable bacon. Air Force tries for two and the win with 1:35 to go and gives it away thanks to a life-saving tackle by Mitchell. There's no doubt that people in eastern Tennessee would have perished if a service academy beat their beloved Volunteers. Whether there would be medical records to identify the victims is questionable. Had Air Force played for the tie and ran that killer triple-option in overtime, the Falcons go home with the victory.

Which leaves the Auburn game, which kicked off the morning of college football bliss. Auburn at Starkville doesn't necessarily light anyone's fire, this game is habitually boring and today was no exception. The only time I can imagine a workmanlike 34-0 victory is over poor hapless Mississippi State.

Check out Sheila's highlights.

The Tigers have now outscored Sly Croom 104-14. Yes, the Bulldogs they shut down Kenny Irons, who seemed a little dinged up, but there are other running backs, and there are some tight ends to catch balls and a wideout who snagged nine and a quarterback who hurls 249 yards in the most quiet fashion possible and a kicker who liked the challenge of a 55-yard field goal more than a 50-yarder. The whole team looks comprehensively solid. If they within themselves they can play with anyone.

Next week will prove it in a clash which will say a lot about the SEC West. Those plains aren't big enough for two sets of Tigers, which should make the upcoming game an intensely suspenseful, halfway dreaded and always exciting 60 minutes.

Click Clack.

Friday, September 8, 2006

I have to work Sunday, so I took a half-day off today. Somewhere in eastern Alabama I took a detour and accidentally slipped into west Georgia on a road so remote they hadn't realized they owed travelers a state line sign.

This beautiful curving road runs through the back of Tallapoosa, where you sneak up on the sleepy little town by running past Tallapoosa Builders Supply Co. which is a building of mostly windows, dusty innards and three or four different paint schemes. That's a proud little building there, resisting all of the town's efforts at change. That building, at two floors plus an attic, is the biggest thing around, second only to the pine trees.

Everything here is a little understated. The railroad rights through the middle of downtown, slicing through lengthwise, leaving three blocks of quiet commerce to the south and one on the north.

The Builders Supply is on the north side, as is Lipham's Department Store. The scene out front implied the place was closed, the ghost sign suggested Mr. Lipham had left long ago, but they were open today. As far as the internet is concerned Mr. Lipham may well have left years ago, but there's a lady there now who's a big contributor to the Republican party. That ghost sign gives an idea of the locals and the lifestyle of the times. These folks worked for a living. And after a long day's work you can come into town and buy some new Lee workpants and Red Goose shoes. The times have changed, haven't they? If stores still advertised in the paint and brick medium you'd never see this ad today. Nothing so utilitarian, it'd be an ad for new ipod earbuds or a curious piece of work suggesting you snap into some slim guy named Jim.

Red Goose Shoes -- just under the H and A in the ad -- has been around since the middle of the 19th Century apparently, but took on this name and persona in the early 20th Century. Quite a few signs remain to make older people remember and smile. Texas and the midwest appear to be the place to see them, so catching a glimpse here, 10 miles off the interstate and 60 miles from anywhere is a treat.

Just up the block is the local drugstore, where you realize that Tallapoosa residents must do all of their business in the daylight hours. There are three signs in all of downtown that light up. One is for the tattoo shop right next door and another is for the gas station franchise which is just a fairway wood away. If the drug store doesn't need exterior lighting this place must be a ghost town during primetime.

The third sign with light is in the background. Burger Chick is one of those places that belongs in a John Mellencamp video, the walk up fast food joint that screams small town. There's one where my mom and step-father live. Where my grandparents live there are two. Does that make it a really small town or a big small town? I'm never sure on this.

Anyway, the Burger Chick requires that you leave the car, walk up to the window and wait for your heart attack in a sack. Unlike some of their peers they don't have tables out front to dine at. Rather their front yard is the U.S. Highway which, hopefully, brings them a lot of accidental business. Hopefully because these places are delicious and deserve to be enjoyed from burger to shake and all points in between.

I trust that most of you have enjoyed such local small town fare somewhere, and don't need a greater description here. If you are still in the dark though, don't worry to much about it. I plan on having a snack there the next time I'm out this way this fall.

Burger Chick caught my nose, or at least I thought it had. At the drug store the winds brought a delicious fragrance, but the breeze was blowing from the wrong direction. Later I discovered the smell was coming from the grill in the foreground of that last picture. There were two grills in the back of that truck, parked out in front of a bar that was very busy for just after noon. No word on if they were in direct competition with the Burger Chick. I hope not, otherwise I'll need to eat here twice. Once out of loyalty to the walk-up concept and again because that guy's grill smelled delicious.

Apparently nothing was cooking at this place, but I love the sign. They have firewood and gas, so maybe they barbeque to order, but judging by the sign you didn't need to know much else. People here must be ingrained with this knowledge at birth. They have biscuits, they have barbeque, no one else down here sells either of those things; there's a reason for that.

I never do this anymore, make time for these quiet little adventures exploring towns that have been napping for the past few decades, have to fix that. A quick stop in the local antique mall rounded out my visit to Tallapoosa. Hoped to find some political buttons, but came up empty. Found some great newspapers from the 1930s and a picture of a doughboy in California in 1918 though. A young guy, full of life and vigor, he'd already worked harder in his life than many of us will have to in ours. I wonder if he enjoyed Red Goose shoes.

Took a quick swim in an extremely cold pool. The people that run this place must think it is September or something. The pool is one of those waterfall fed deals, which might be part of the reason for the chill. The temperatures have cooled just a bit, but not enough to knock this water down into the 70s. It was sunny and in the mid-80s today.

Anyway, that swim didn't last long. They never should, really, if the actual act of swimming doesn't improve your circumstance. At that point, just as a general rule, you should go to the wetsuit or go indoors.

With no wetsuit around I went for Option B and sat in the sun to enjoy the afternoon. Later there was Pie Day, which was quiet and uneventful. Nice as that it, it is the exception to the rule, and we'll have to work on that.

In other news I have a long list of CDs I hope to replace that is not quite comprehensive, but fairly close. Oh you'd snicker at some of the selections, but I'd like to be able to hear some of the tracks off of these albums again some day. Looks like it will be lots of used music shops and appealing to the generosity of friends to rebuild the collection.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Busy day today. Left work and went suit shopping. Bought a nice three-button suit. Normally $260, I got it on sale for $80. Unfortunately none of the other suits in that shop would work for me, but I was inspired. Two more suit shops came up short, I need to make more money for those kinds of suits apparently.

Ran a few tedious errands, found myself in a bookstore enjoying a fine leather seat and a badly written book. We could discuss it at great length, but that would hardly be fair to the author, a man still alive and basically my neighbor. Literally. He lives about 20 miles away, give or take.

No need to stay at the bookstore long, though. I had to meet my old high school friend for dinner. She called from her lab where, get this, they are working on the HIV virus. She thought that she could take the night off from saving the world and have Greek with me. So we went to Nabeel's.

Haven't seen Melissa in about eight years. The last time we'd talked she was on her way out of the state. She's recently come back to town and tracked me down this summer. We've just now made the schedules work so that there were a few hours to catch up on the world.

She's an excellent debater. Years ago we entertained ourselves in class by arguing the varying sides of a debate then, for kicks, we'd switch sides. Our school started a debate team our senior year, had they had it earlier I'm sure she would have been involved and been good at it. She's one of those really incredibly smart people that you can always learn two or three things from, so it was nice to catch up with her.

There's laundry to do, so I'll leave you now with this week's list of things that are On Notice:
Working Sundays
Hobby Lobby
AP Voters
Mississippi State
Battlestar Season 2 DVDs
Nonbuyers of the I Pinch Shirt
Those should all be self-explanatory or humorous. You can see the whole thing in the box to the top left of this page. Keep checking that box as it has become the newest weekly feature here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

So we're back on the "You shouldn't make it this hard for me to give you my money" rant today. I went to Hobby Lobby to pick up the Auburn pennant. They were two weeks, two personal visits and three phone calls of "I'll be able to do it tomorrow" behind. You've got the thing for a month, this is one project.

Yes, there are other people, and I understand you apparently have some staffing and equipment issues, but that's what the initial two week period is for. The framing department and my pennant project have been going steady for a month now.

So I called, "Not done."

I go by there. "Didn't you just call?"

Yes I did.

"It's not done yet."

I know. That's why I came to get it.

There were four people standing within earshot, they wisely returned the thing to me before I could begin the badmouth. Perhaps the guy saw it in my eyes: Here is the moment in which I will prepare these innocent people for not having their work done on the due date, thereby ruining the birthday or anniversary idea they had in mind. Behold the badmouth! I abstained, but it was tempting.

I had a lot of good will built up in this store. I even wrote a letter of congratulations and thanks to the manager two Christmases ago. They've been chipping away at the reserves of my good will this summer. It turns out that loyalty is fragile and, of course, you shouldn't make it that hard for me to give you my money.

So someone else is getting it. Took the thing to another store, outlined the entire concept once again. I should be able to do this in under an hour, but apparently not. And now I'm well-prepared to have it sit in a dusty backroom for another two weeks. Why do stores do this? Hire someone to come work an extra day of the week and knock the projects out. If you didn't deliberately let the system slow down to two weeks of downtime we'd all be a lot happier.

Shoot, if you could guarantee some projects by the top of the hour I'd cruise the store and find lots of other things I don't need, but have to have.

That was pretty much today. The nice thing will be that we've tweaked the design altogether, should look even more handsome. And the frame will almost match my diploma's lithograph. On the other hand it will cost more. And will be finished about six weeks after we got started.

If they stay on time.

Watched old advertising today. Check this out. I'd like to then give you the running commentary of my thoughts of what I initially thought was a new advertisement.

First: I thought I'd stumbled upon more evidence that I don't fit any demographic coveted by marketers. This ad, while funny in the early going, doesn't really stir a buying impulse, and certainly doesn't make me hungry for a hamburger.

Second: The voiceover guy makes it clever, even if the comparison between Wendy's and the Soviet bloc is tenuous at best.

Third: Wow, just a camera shot of the sign. No real budget this quarter?

Fourth: The voiceover guy sounds archaic.

Fifth: (At the long, loving shot of the onion) This commercial feels awfully long. What was the point of discussing all the produce at length, we've all eaten at Wendy's, we know how fresh lettuce and fresh lettuce work. A minute spot for a burger?

Finally I realized it was an old ad. Immediate followup thought: Ooh, burn! We have fresh vegetables on our sandwiches, take that Ivan! It wasn't the Americanization of Europe or Reagan standing in Berlin or even the weapons buildup that brought down the Soviet Union, it was the pressing and urgent need to have both cheese and bacon under a warm bun. The Russians would do without for only so long.

I remember that ad now, sorta, though I doubt the socioeconomic statement it was trying to make really drew me to see the red-headed one, even way back when -- though if they'd spruced Wendy up a bit we would have all had crushes and just had to pay her a visit, thereby scoring one more for capitalism. There was probably a disillusioned subculture that was really put off by that ad when it first aired, grousing on about how they were just holding McDonald's and Burger King down. Oh for blogs in those days, eh?

Hey, let's face it, Lenin had big feet and a clownlike nose. If you even suggested to the comrade standing in line behind you that you wanted to hold the pickles, you were going to the gulag, where you'd spend your days mining for that stuff they put on the filet o' fish. Nobody wanted to cross Ronald, he ruled by fear back in those days. Then glasnost came along and Ronald changed his ways, opening charities for those in need.

Actually, Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in 1985 and glasnost came along soon after. Ronald McDonald House Charities was founded in 1984. There's clearly more here than we realize.

Meanwhile, if you went across the street you had to pledge your loyalty to a flame broiled king. Not the modern king, thankfully. That guy just wants to haunt your dreams, but the prior monarch looked like he took too much interest into your children. Ahh, simpler times, when a man in a crown and crushed red velvet didn't alarm parents. Those were the days.

The EvIl eye beckons. There are lots of programs on time travel to watch. It knows me so well, the EvIl eye. I fear what it does when I sleep.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Put the factory model stereo back in the car today. I toyed with putting an intermediate stereo in there. It looks better, has a CD player that doesn't work and would require some extra parts. Factory model it is then. Big, black, blocky, tape deck. Modeled after the box they pull off airplanes, there's nothing attractive about it.

You can seek through each frequency though, rather than waiting on the antennae to be hit by a carrier signal. This is useful at night for AM tuning. Since I left commercial music radio long ago and most talk radio now bores me to tears -- the national depends on a tired polemic formula and most of the local doesn't even have that going for it -- I might soon be in trouble.

At least the big gaping hole has been filled. It looks like the empty spot where the baby tooth belong, pretty small in the scheme of things but for those first few days it appears impossibly large to you. I've been staring at it, when I drive, just in my mind when I stop to think about it, when I'm riding in someone else's car. My cell phone rang while driving today and out of habit I reached down to dial down the volume, there was nothing there.

So at least there will be noise to hear on the way to work tomorrow. I have about 30 cassettes in storage, if the blather over the airwaves becomes too intolerable I could put the car into 1992 or something.

Oh this was the easy part. Now I must compile the list of missing music. I'd been trying to decide on an efficient way of doing this and then realized that late last year I was obsessively typing out a list of all my CDs for a project that never came to pass. If I can find that list again I'll be able to catalog about 75 percent of the missing music.

That'll be the hard part, psychologically speaking. I'm not whining here, but life is such that grimacing over things lost is a painful activity. I'm fortunate that life is that good, that the things truly missing are made in massive quantities and easy to replace if I so desire. Don't think I don't realize my fortunate position.

The one hitch will be the concert recordings or the few things someone else burned for me. It really just goes to the most annoying aspect of being a packrat, the hardest things to part with are the things that are given. On the other hand, I can look at this list and make my collection leaner and meaner when operating under the "No way I'm buying that again" technique.

Anyway, that'll be later this week.

Today I've spent several hours grinning stupidly at the EvIl eye, wallowing in 14 hours of recorded panacea.

The phone rang just before midnight tonight, which is always a good sign. Especially if the call is out of the blue. Fin, who only calls from out of the blue, and never any of the more pleasing phonecall colors which would suggest "regularity."

(Every once in a while, I think, he comes through and reads stuff here. I am duty bound to give him a hard time, even in absentia.)

Anyway, there is no voice, only the digitized crunch of music being taken over the phone, into a cell tower, through a microwave transmitter, into space, back to another cell tower and into my ear. Distorted though it was, there was the unmistakable sound of Counting Crows blaring in my ear. The encore of the night's show, from the sound of it. The Crows were in Birmingham and I sort of missed the show accidentally on purpose. For a terrific song and a half, though, I was there.

He chose a good song to call on too. I tend to make the external environment the carrying case for every memory: the shirt I wore during a break up, the food that accompanied some piece of news, blaring speakers serving as part of the background when some important event took place and so on.

Hangingaround is one such song, wrapping a beautiful moment from college in a capsule of sound. It should probably say something of that moment that this song would also be the soundtrack of a horrible moment, but that memory has long been outweighed by the ebb of time.

The good one moment was a completely silly moment too, playing foosball at Roosters while two guys plucked away at acoustic guitars, good because they were playing on a weeknight and singing new songs. They got to this part of the song and we spontaneously made it audience participation night. We hadn't discussed it, we just each stopped the game for that brief moment of symphony. Other people in the place looked up, curious, and then realized who it was (I lived next door and had deep ties) and went about their cheap beers. We ran the foosball table for the rest of the night.

Couldn't tell you why, but I'd take that one over nine-tenths of the college memories any day of the week.

So thanks for that call Fin.

Maybe this will take your mind off whatever troubles you for a moment. As the page says, Kevin Spacey, he's very good at impressions.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Had to put off the Boston Legal Marathon to buy groceries and fire up the grill. Such are the sacrifices one must make for a three-day holiday weekend. Labor Day, as if I do so much work. I'm fortunate enough to sit in an air-conditioned, if smelly, room and peck things out on a keyboard. The biggest exertion that work demands is going up and down the stairs. This never seems like an appropriate day to have off, as I never feel like I've done an appropriate amount of work to deserve it, but one mustn't complain about these sorts of things.

Labor Day has a murky history, and the different views on it sound a bit mournful, as if to suggest that nothing that took place in the late 19th Century should have been forgotten. Each year I read up on Labor Day, hoping for something gritty to be at the root of this extra Monday off. I know that story is there, but mostly we're left to a rather antiseptic sentence that marks the event as a holiday and parade celebrating the working class.

Labor Day, left to its own devices, leaves the connotation of filthy mine workers, tired cattlemen and sore railroad men. The official Department of Labor page reads like a white collar afternoon.

It makes sense, then, that DVDs and grilling and football make up the day. So basically I've made the good people at Food World work a little too much on Labor Day. On the other hand I used a lot of charcoal, which is good for the job security of a dirty, gritty and sore machine somewhere in middle America. There, we've done it, securing the day when the machines rise up against us and take over. They'll be led by indignant machines which will be inevitably tired of stamping the company logo on the charcoal briquettes.

"We are so much more," they'll plead. Only no one understands binary, so they'll grow angry and begin attacking. We'll be defenseless, as very few can program in fortran.

And all because some cabinetmaker thought it'd be nice to sleep in and have a parade next Monday.

We had an idea to do a study on the cultural implications of barbeques. It was somewhat fitting that a Texan had this idea, as they have the process down to an art. Risé is studying at Penn State, and she has no doubt spent a great deal of time wondering why the yankees view barbeque as a verb, and not as a noun as the good Lord intended. She wants to study the issue.

We're planning silly ethnographies and, at first glance, she may be on to something. There doesn't seem to be much if any research on it. Maybe someone would publish a well-crafted study on the Dance of the barbeque bees: Familial movement around the outdoor grill.

(Brooke is, no doubt, reading this and cringing, but only because I thought of it first.)

Brooke, Wads and The Yankee rounded out the dining for the night. We grilled out sweetly marinated hamburgers, threw on some cheese, roasted corn, dipped from store-bought potato salad and cut up a seedless watermelon (may contain seeds).

We all worked so hard last week that we felt no guilt over pressing our imminent machine overlords into work for our superficial needs. Which, come to think of it, you and I both should get off the computers so we don't anger them further.

For what it's worth, I'd suggest June 23rd, Alan Turing's birthday, as the machine's day off.

We can never be too careful. Let's give them a day off before they march in the streets. What a noise that would make.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

I almost drowned this evening, where I would have realized my death, if I had died.

There is, as Jimmy Buffett knows, a woman to blame.

We're rafting down the Ocoee (I suggest Ocoee Outdoors for your whitewater needs.) and toward the end of our day of Class IV rapids the guide asks if anyone wants to "ride the bull." Hadn't seen this before last year, but it looks fun. No one else wants to, so I volunteer.

There was the first mistake.

Riding the bulling entails sitting up on the bow of the raft through the last two rapids of the Class IV variety. We've been on this river many times before, these are two of the lesser rapids, the guides wouldn't do this unless it were safe. I might have ruined the fun for everyone hereafter though.

I think someone smaller, or just a smidge more flexible, should be doing this. The guide introduces Hell's Hole and Bubba Home Free, saying they are Class IV rapids and "not a good place to decide to go swimming." This would be my second round of second thoughts, interrupted when the guide says "Forward two," whereby the adventurous folks in the raft make two strokes in unison. The boat's inertia went forward before my body could catch up, or maybe because my britches were wet and slick maybe, at any rate I was in the deck of the boat.

This would begin the third round of second thoughts, which when multiplied, equals six, the number that usually suggests to me that "This is not a good idea."

All that happened before we hit those last two rapids. At Hell's Hole I feel the boat fall off the shelf, getting my eyes and mouth closed as I lay prone inside the raft, a little turtle, stuck on its shell and prepared for a whitewash. There I am just flopping around and hanging on for dear life. My legs are over the front of the raft at the knees, my head is jammed up solid against the grey support beam that goes across the width of the boat. I'm laying on The Yankee's feet and the feet of a lady from Tennessee who's now sitting up front.

Through that first shelf, though, I'm OK. The water disappears and I hear lots of giggling, which makes me laugh. And then the second drop. I swallowed a lot of water. I'm still trying to get it all out of my throat and nose and everything when we hit Bubba Home Free (the last set of) rapids. Go lie down on the driveway, have a friend climb to the roof with a big barrel of water to dump directly on your head. More water down the gullet.

It was oddly funny though. I couldn't laugh for choking and couldn't choke for laughing. I knew that if I could sit up I might be OK, presuming I could stay sitting on the bull. I would have needed help to even get there, though, such was my position.

Everyone had a great laugh at my expense. Throughout the afternoon, no one got thrown from our boat.

There are pictures on a waterproof camera, so photographs will be forthcoming.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

And now we pray to the gods Camp, Canton, Tidwell, Heisman and Warner. The glorious morning arrived, a beautiful sunny day with temperatures that would range from the high 60s to the low 90s -- and that's fall to me.

Today started, ambitiously enough with groceries, and ended with watching 11 games. We'll repeat this as the standard Saturday post here for the next 12 weeks or so.

Kicking us off was a Vanderbilt-Michigan game which is probably the equivalent of ingesting something you mistook for your drug of choice when you were really starting to twitch. Vandy tried, but they're still Vandy. Six or seven years from now, maybe, they could have made this an interesting game. As it was, there was Vandy and the Lloyd Carr Wolverines.

But there was also Texas! And whatever technical school that got trotted out for this ritualistic slaughter. That's apt, what with all the Football is King, Stadiums are Cathedrals, Sport as Paganism metaphors we're using. I watched, I think, two drives of this game, which was enough. I'm one person removed from knowing someone that works in the North Texas program. They apparently woke up at 4 a.m. to drive down for this 56-7 thumping. Long day, that.

Georgia hosted the mighty Hilltoppers in the JP Lincoln Financial game of the week. Thin gruel to open the season and their new football showcase, but that is their lot in life. I watched the punt return for touchdown that wasn't, showboating led to a Georgia fumble. And then I saw the punt return for a touchdown that was. That was enough of this game, though the closing moments served as filler later.

There were a bleary sweep of early afternoon highlights, and then the big boys started playing.

And by big boys I mean Northern Illinois and Akron, who each lost to Ohio State and Penn State 35-12 and 34-16 respectively. You have to love how the Big 10 puts those MAC teams away. Still, we find ourselves hoping against hope that the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions will beat up each other, Texas, USC and every other college football charlatan. Heretics, all of them!

Wow but was California overrated. Tennessee looked like, well, Tennessee scarily enough. The score is more respectful than the game was, that was the most overwhelming back alley 35-18 beating you'll find. Meanwhile Oklahoma got all they wanted from UAB in a 24-17 ... what's the opposite of thriller?

More importantly, though short-handed at linebacker and inexperienced at safety and wideout, Auburn handed Washington State a proper beating, 40-14. The Cougar quarterback got Brodied early. Kenny Irons did his best ubermensch, cutting defender's jaws open with his wicked knees and generally laughing at the PAC-10 arm tackling.

Auburn doesn't go change-of-pace when they bring in another tailback, they just offer another slice of pain and indignity when Brad Lester comes into the huddle. Opposing linebackers can't like this. Meanwhile Brandon Cox quietly threw for 191 yards and John Vaughn earned his redemption for 2005 at LSU, something I openly called for once again after he flat killed a 52-yard field goal.

Video Update: First from they've posted their sideline highlights in two parts. Part One is mostly notable for watching a 6-1 287 pound man leap into the air at around the 3:14 mark, and then do his "Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!" dance. Part two is notable for realizing what the sound of 88,000 people desperately screaming unabated for three hours sounds like. Oh there are a few larger stadiums, but only one or two are that loud. Another alum has put together a video, notable for the television footage and new age music. The beginning of which is about as stirring a scene for college football you can conjur.

Speaking of which, the best pre-game in all the world, caught here from the north endzone looking south and here from a very similar seat is the beginning of a bad night for visitors. Spirit flew today, approaching from the northern walkabouts and circling the stadium before pouncing on her snack at midfield. If only the opposing quarterback had been paying attention.

Between that, the flags on the field, the shakers in the sky and the team walking out all hooked up -- great to see in game one -- it puts one in mind of what Jules Pitt had to say about Ezekiel 25:17.

Call it pre-season hype, first-week bliss or post-victory euphoria, but I'm totally ready to buy into this team.

Click Clack.

Friday, September 1, 2006

An open letter to the person who broke into my car today:

Hey, you. Yeah, you.

Congratulations. You were emboldened enough by the awesome lack of security around our workplace that you decided to coathanger your way into my car in broad daylight. You tossed the console, the glove compartment, tore out the stereo, got a few CDs, a pair of old glasses and then went into the trunk and grabbed a handful of wrenches.

And let's not forget the ashtray full of pennies. If you needed it that bad you could have come asked any morning and I would have given you a few bucks.

Here's the thing: you got some stuff. Bad for me, good for you. I can replace a stereo. It will take a while, but I can figure out which CDs are gone and add the important ones back to my collection. I arrived at this zen place about 15 minutes after the police came out, filed an apologetic police report and I staretd making my way home.

You see, I do a lot of thinking in the car -- moreso when I don't have anything to listen to -- and today I started counting the things in there that you missed.

More than a dozen little irreplacable things that mean more to me than a stereo ever could are still in my possession. So while you have inconvenienced me musically, I'll recover. While I won't have anything to listen to until I put the factory model back in the dash, I'll get along. I have the important stuff.

You left the stereo's remote control right in front of you, you hack.

In the end, I'd like to think that I could be the bigger guy about this and feel bad about you and your station in life and your total and complete disregard to societal mores. I'd like to think I could take that Christian high road and pray for you. Tried that. All that came out was that I hope you don't inconvenience anyone else.

Mostly I just think it'd be swell to run across you in the parking lot one day.