Digressions of a Dilettante

Digressions of a Dilettante
Vignettes of Inanity by Bud Hearn

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Worm Turns

You already know how boring I-16 can get, and I have traveled this route too often in the last couple of weeks. However, I-16, like slow long-distance running, is conducive to dwelling on inane thoughts and getting a hold on elusive dreams. Yesterday, the "worm" thought kept circling around in my brain, apparently prompting me to recall some long-buried remnants of my youth. And I was transported back in thought to pre-teen years of a country boy, bored, curious, and penniless, but creative.

In those days there was little excitement in Colquitt, Georgia, so we had to be creative. The Spring Creek, a beautiful but small creek, meandered slowly through the westerly portion of town, and it was the first choice for spending days in carefree fun. In fact, it was encouraged by our parents. We'd mostly fish with cane poles, using worms we captured, not bought. Since money was in short supply, we had to find our own fish bait, so we resorted to a method of extracting 2 inch wiggly earth worms from their burrows, a process called "grubbing."

"Grubbing" was simple: take a sharpened 2 foot 2 X 4, drive it into the ground about a foot, and take an axehead and rub it across the top. This produced a "grunting" sound which resulted in a 10-foot circumferential vibration of the ground. The worms, either tickled or intrigued by this mini-earthquake, came worming to the surface, where we'd pick them up by the hundreds. It’s easy to fool worms...little did they know their fate! The best “grubbing” was in a boggy area on "our place" (idiomatic for "our farm"), and we could always count on it for worms. We found some pine ridges which produced larger 10 inch worms we called "Piney Hill Rooters," but they were too big and we had to dice them up to fit in the fishes' mouths. I'm sure they appreciated this unanaesthetized primal surgery.

The results were always the same...we caught plenty of fish for our "fish frys" (just FYI, the very first outing produced for Tubby and me 45 bream, all of which fit into a quart jar). Country boys can survive! Well, you know the rest of the story...we grew up and left childish things behind, and began "grubbing" for grown-up things like money, a different sort of creative thrill...but, O, for the return just once more of the good-old-days!

You might wonder where the euphemistic saying, "the worm turns" came from, and where all this is heading...well, it was first used by Shakespeare (who else!) in Henry VI, Part 3, and in that context meant that even the most humble of creatures will eventually turn to fight an oppressor. Well, I kept thinkin’ how a worm might turn to accomplish this, and along I-16 somewhere near Blitchville it came to me in a flash of light. The moral is this: while we got the first laugh on the worms, nevertheless in the end the worms will feast on us even as we so callously did upon them. Thus, the circle is complete.

CAUTION: Identity Theft is Rampant.....You may be its next victim right now.....

Yes, like it or not, some computer in India may have your number and you may lose your stash to some Nigerian nitwit scheme. This is not supposed to be happening to us privileged ones who live on this island paradise, God’s Waiting Room, but it is. So, as model citizens, Renn and I have invited a couple of experts from the Computer Financial Investigations Division and IRS Criminal Investigations Division from FLETC to tell us how to protect ourselves from financial ruin --- Dennis Keith and Jim Wilson, respectively, will be our speakers Friday.

Of course, Identity Theft is not new, but inventive operatives have found novel technological means to separate us from names and money. This was more difficult in time past when identity depended on individual recognizance. You couldn't get away with much then. But we have ceased to be individuals, and have become numbers in cyberspace. Hence the problems.

In the good old days in Colquitt, one passed for who one was. As kids we'd play these silly games of riding horses of brooms, wearing pillow cases for Superman's flying cape, and things like that. We identified harmlessly with all sorts of characters. Even our mothers watched Queen For A Day on TV, hoping one day to have a clothes dryer. We all dreamed of being someone else, but just dreamed. There was a fellow, I think his name was Carl, who identified with a car motor. He was "not all there,” (“touched” as they said in those days), and his 3 year old mind was imprisoned in the body of a 35 year old man. Everybody knew Carl and felt sorry for him, and he just roamed idly downtown and in the ally where we played. Every day Carl came by, "Udduunn, uddumm, motor dead, honey...udduunn, udduunn, motor dead, honey." This was to my knowledge his only vocabulary, and nobody wanted his identity.

Well, these days are gone for sure, and things have changed. We're mature adults now, right? Mature, yes, but we have found even ourselves wishing ofttimes we were someone else, a new identity, if only for a day. I like Woody Allen's remark, "My only regret in life is that I was not someone else." They say college grads these days will have 7-8 careers, each bringing new identities. Imagine. And as adults we have found inventive but subtle means of our own to change identities, and there are a 1001 ways to do that: clothes, cars, jobs, friends, ideology, houses and so on. There are thousands of Elvis look-alikes, and countless celebrity wannabes and pretenders. I think a healthy response to our “mature” identity crises is to collectively take a good look in the mirror, have a hearty laugh, and get on with things.

But, you know, identity theft notwithstanding, life has always been full of angst and profound mysteries...and things always get worked out. But sometimes I remember Carl, "Uudduunn, uudduunn motor dead, honey"...and I wonder if he ever connected with his true identity and got his car started, "Vrooom, vrooom, motor alive, honey, motor alive." And, speaking of mysteries, I sometimes wonder about my own motor...you?

Friends: "Your Soul Secrets have been revealed..."

No, not to me personally, but to our Big Brother, if you can interpret the news lately. How so? Well, in many ways. Take, for example, the new X-ray imaging being installed in airports. Why, it sees right through you...yes, everything personal, which could be both a blessing and a curse, depending, if you know what I mean. Will we soon be profiled on the Internet? Possibly…..I hope so!

Now, take the little small cameras recording red-light runners--no questions asked--violation ticket in the mail. And GPS systems (satellites, folks) can track your car, cell phone, airplane, boat and your Web-surfing habits. Scary, huh? Already there are helmets of electrodes, chip implants in your head and other such invasions that allow your brain to interact with a computer. Where will it end? Not here, and no time soon...much more to come.

Read on: A "Metaphysician", aka a Neuroscientist, by use of a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) device, has discovered a way to interpret our “free will”, assuming by now we have any left. This science can read your mind, your secret secrets, your intents, your very soul, if you will. And the computer is 71% accurate...Imagine. Now you have no more secrets. And while I don't know how ladies feel about all this, but men, we have reached the final indignity of being totally naked to the world.

Well, some of this intrusion we may avoid, but there is still one little secret device, spoken of only in hushed whispers, that is unavoidable. I’m referring to the little red blinking light sensor found on toilet hardware in public facilities --- you’ve seen them. What are they really there for? Imagine the data they collect --- I shutter to think!

As for me, I always look on the positive side, fellas, so I think we shouldn't be too concerned about all this. It's been common knowledge since the days of The Garden that women, especially wives, have been able to discern the thoughts and intents of a man's brain. It's not all that difficult really, because at any given time there are only 4 or 5 things on a man's mind. And these can be narrowed statistically without science simply by observing such things as the time of day or night, the season, the sports season, the tides, NASCAR events and the level of sobriety, to mention a few. And I suspect the women will score better'n 71% accuracy. And we continue to wait for science to discover a machine to interpret women!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Friends: ESPERANTO…..

Esperanto…this strange word entered my vocabulary in 1985 and has been taped to my Atlanta office desk ever since. The desk cost $125 and came in three parts. It is constructed of Chinese sawdust and glue made from wood chips, and glazed over with some white acrylic plastic laminate, dissembling itself as expensive furniture you would expect a real estate tycoon to have. The desk, while cheap, is functional, but it’s mostly flash and little substance, and it might crumble if it were ever moved again. But it looks good! The word Esperanto is taped there as a constant reminder of some important things.

The term Esperanto was concocted in 1887 by a Polish eye doctor and linguist named Ludvig Larazus Zamenhof (great name, huh?) who wrote a book, Unua Libro under the pseudonym of Doktoro Esperanto. The word literally means “one who hopes” and was intended to be a universal second language to foster peace and understanding. Imagine: Peace and Understanding among 6-plus billion people! It has simply come to mean “an artificial language.” It might have gained wider acceptance had it been a Polish joke.

We’re having a national discussion in the US now on adopting English as a National Language, all the while gobbling some daily diet of amalgamated American slang. I suspect this is a move by the current majority to establish something that might promote unity before “we” in the majority become “we” in the minority. In time, however, the national language may be some combination of SpanRap or maybe a reversion to tom toms and smoke signals.

Esperanto has been tried before. Specifically, it followed hard on the heels of the evil-hearted antediluvian crowd that was wiped out by the Flood back over there in Genesis 6. It was attempted by the post—Flood pilgrims at Babel, who spoke one language and aimed to set up a world-class building program in an area currently occupied by Dubai. Genesis 11 reminds us of the consequences of that action, and it begs question: Can floods recur in the same place? Well, it makes for interesting reading. And today, Esperanto is alive and well, though artfully disguised, by the use of 0’s and 1’s algorithmically arranged in computers. We really speak one language these days. And the propensity to be artificial, and to deceive, has taken quantum leaps through this means of Esperanto. It’s Babel redux (Babel, interestingly, is a good play on words, meaning “to confuse”).

All this to say that the word Esperanto is a constant reminder of the artifices used in today’s universal culture to disguise ourselves and the real meaning of things…how artful we’ve become in deception. And it helps me contemplate with circumspection what I hear and read.

So I keep Esperanto posted on my shiny desk, a reminder to me that what is seen is not always what it seems to be. Living in a world of subjectivity, it’s real easy to be misunderstood, and clarity in communication these days is critical to peace and understanding. So here’s to Ludvig Lazarus in his attempt at unity, and may we hope the Heavenly Observer will withhold another Babel a little while longer while we try to get it right.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday, Dec 21, '07 End of a Season…..

Looking Back

My dad died suddenly on December 20, 1989. We expected it, but it was still a shock. Christmas was not the same that year for the family. It marked an “end of a season” for us. Who had he been to us? What was his life all about? How would we remember him? What did the mosaic of his life look like, and was it complete? We all have those questions, don’t we? And even though I wanted immediate answers, I figured I had the rest of my life to figure them out, so I was not in a hurry.

Our lives, like the years of our lives, are kinda like that. Each year we have a chance to look back and let the events of the declining year settle in. Time has a way of distilling the essence of a person, or a year of events, so that their sum represents a pretty good mosaic of the past. After a few unhurried years the details merge into a composite mosaic of a life or an era. The mind is always assimilating more parts of the puzzle, but the retrospective is really what assembles it into something comprehensible.

Retrospective…an interesting process in itself. What is emerging of 2007 as we backward-glance it? I see several puzzles all at once, perhaps as many as the new people I’ve met, the new friends I’ve made, the old ones who have departed one way or another. Puzzles come, they go. Nonetheless, each comprises mental compartments and sooner or later the “distillation of their essence” becomes another tangible part of an intricate design. How fascinating! I can’t wait until tomorrow to “turn over” some new pieces, so to speak, and “hurry” the process of seeing what my own mosaic looks like…but alas, the process has its own pace!

How can we make sense of such a mosaic? The Apostle wrote these words that give guidance, which I have contextualized:

“…Love never fails…for we know in part…but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then, face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. Now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

The Friday Forum exists because Chef Mike, Vanessa, Marjorie, Renn and I hope to add to the mosaic the admixture of love and community spirit…we hope it makes the island a bit more intimate and friendly. We have faith that when the time comes for the puzzle to be completed in our years and lives, we hope that it reflects the joy of your enthusiasm and the picture of each of your faces prominently displayed. And for those who only read the email, be of good cheer, you are not neglected!

The Trumpet plant in my yard is blooming profusely now, carelessly spreading its short-lived fragrance over the whole landscape…strange that it would bloom in this season. But it is, perhaps because in thanks for the tender love my daughter had for it in its several transplants. The sun sets low in the southwestern sky, casting long shadows on the plant in these short days. It gets only small slivers of sunlight daily. Soon it will retreat in rest for another season; but the distillation of its essence has carved out a place in the mosaic, which shall not be denied it.

In a few days 2007 will be over forever. What has distilled for 2007? In time we’ll know. Meanwhile, like the Trumpet plant, I think I will rest for awhile and let it evolve. After all, I have the rest of my life to figure it out! And so do you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Fare, Dec 19

Merry Christmas, Friends: Last Minute Quality Gift Ideas

Anxiety is building rapidly among last-minute shoppers…what to buy that special person, where to get it, time is short.…. Hurriedly we rush out, buying tawdry trinkets, paying too much, embarrassed at The Opening on The Day Of…Oh, the frustration! Well, I have found two Perfect last-minute gift ideas for you…guaranteed to evoke a response when opened.

Gift Number 1: The color is black, matches everything; one size fits all, unisex; fire-resistant, easily stored and cleaned; assembly is not required and no instructions necessary for use; portable, chic, useful, and easily adaptable for “re-gifting.” It’s thoughtful, cheap, and made from recycled materials so you can brag about being part of the “Green Movement”. Recipients will exclaim “Too nice, too nice…”, and praise your creativity.

Moreover, The Gift will become a symbol of your character, and if used daily will add many new friends, invitations, and important opportunities. It will be the envy of all your friends, and you will be able to always see the world and those in it from another point of view. Humility will rule your life and guarantee Head-of-The-Line entry through the Pearly Gates. It’s especially useful for men when playing with grandkids, house chores or just responding to wives’ occasional commands of, “Drop down and give me 50”.

But you must hurry …stocks are running low. What is Gift Number One? Why, it’s a pair of rubber knee pads, of course. The Cost? $8.99. Where? Home Depot. The Response upon Opening? Inestimably Incredulous! (click on the attachments above).

Gift Number 2: It makes a subtle statement of the Gift-Giver’s cache, and is reflective of the depth of your thoughtfulness. It is a perfect gift to every family member, especially children. It can be given to friends, business associates and others who have made meritorious achievements worthy of such a gift. It is timeless and easily replicated, plus it comes in all sizes and can occupy prominent locations within homes or offices. The gift is like fine art, and when spotlighted guests will admire your excellent decorative tastes.

However, you must find an artist or sculptor to assist you in this endeavor, and there is no lack of starving artists! Such a gift will set you apart from most and will surely establish your notoriety.

What is it? Why, of course, it’s a Shoulders-up Bust of your Head, done either in bronze, ebony or white-marble cast stone, complete with pedestal. The Cost? Negotiable, depending on the size of your Ego. Where? Any local artist. The Response upon Opening? A stunned hush or riotous laughter.

Perfect last minute quality gift ideas …. gifts that continue to give!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Prepping for the Event .....

Dear Friends: Prepping for The Event

The Event? Why, Christmas, of course—that time of year when we slay a perfectly beautiful evergreen tree and put it in the corner of the house for a few days, all decorated up like a military hero but soon dead. But hey, that’s Tradition. There were times when I suggested we just pile up the gifts in the corner of the house and throw some dead boughs on them, which is about what happens by the time Christmas Day comes. But that was uncool, and you already know the responses I got!

So last Saturday on an Indian summer day I left the fog-enshrouded island and headed up to Webster’s Tree Farm in Darien, where there are acres of perfectly pruned and shaped Fraziers, red cedars and pines. It was an event in itself. The air was thick with smoke from the grill where giant slabs of pork ribs were cooking, tantalizing …”Hey, Bud, here’s a nice 10 pound slab, only $15 bucks.” Tempting, but I was saving up for B & J’s, the local diner where you know the food is good by eyeballing the fleshly heft frequenting the joint.

It didn’t take long to find that perfect specimen to slay, and a couple of macho musk-emitting teenage boys, intent on impressing the single ingénue, grunted and sweated while “harvesting” the tree and toting it to my pickup…the tree homicide shall be laid to their heavenly account…amazing what $60 will buy at Webster’s! Loaded, the Chevy headed back down Hwy. 99 to B & J’s, where fried pork chops were the entrée, along with every veggie known, including rutabagas, and where I made up for the slab of ribs I had passed up. And get this: no fork is necessary for eating fried pork chops at B & J’s…fingers are de rigueur…it felt natural to be an undisciplined glutton!

Another Event was going on in Darien, and I heard the music as I arrived. Three enterprising black fellows had set up a make-shift stage in the yard of “The Painted Moon Art Store” and were jiving with a hot blues guitar, a wailing alto sax and keyboards. These boys were in the “zone.” The long, slow blues notes hung in the dry, lazy air, wafting through the empty and silent streets of Darien. The pickup would go no further and parked under an ancient oak tree. For not long enough I listened, as the combo mesmerized some tourists and a few locals. For the first time in months I felt “connected” with something more than myself…it was liberating. The cost? Free!

Fishermen lined the Darien River Bridge, with a backdrop of colorfully moored shrimp boats. A mile or so down Hwy. 17 another Event was occurring, as about 100 black suits, dresses and faces hovered around a green Darien Funeral Home tent, saying goodbye to a departed brother or sister…I think the song was Amazing Grace…and we all slowed to a crawl in respect, while the wailing sax kept filling my head with its sounds.

The day was pretty much anticlimactic after this …the tree was erected, lighted and decorated, mostly without complications this year and without the need to dust off some four-letter words I kept for such occasions. My wife praised me for such a fine tree selection, and I thought the better of suggesting (again!) that we all hide our presents and play hide and seek on Christmas Day to make The Event last longer. It seemed a crass thing to say on such an occasion, and besides, that wailing sax continued to blow freedom into my head, and I was not going to disturb the reverie of the day, nosiree!

December 13, 2007

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Elvis is Dead.....Now Evel is Too....

Elvis is Dead...
Now Evel is Too...

Evel Knievel, that is...dead at 69. The Daredevil who disdained death succumbed to what? Broken bones, concussions, blood and guts? No, stupid conservative things like diabetes, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, hepatitis C…, things we die of, we who have never done anything so adrenaline-pumping as jumping 52 cars with a Harley Motorcycle at Caesar's Palace, soaring at 350 mph 2,000 feet over the Snake Canyon, landing in beds of rattlesnakes. Not us, we play it safe...live out our lives peacefully, unlike advice from Mark Twain: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect."

Jack Kerouac once said, "...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn...". Evel was a self-described "gladiator in the new Rome," the possessor of the quintessential American trait of self-reinvention. He created a caricature larger than life that could be marketed worldwide to a generation hungry for virtual thrills. I think Jack might have called him mad!

It got me thinking about the value and the brevity of a "voice." Many voices make up the essence of America, not that Evel was as much a "voice" as an icon of idiotic stunts. Voices like Elvis, MLK, Gandhi, Kennedy, Sinatra, Pavarotti, Carson, Brando, Bogart, Gable, Di, Earhart, Churchill and many others… . Voices that made a real difference in things, in nations, in lives ~ voices that continue to speak today. But Evel’s life does point out by contrast the transformation of our culture from actual to virtual, where celebrity status and meritorious achievement stand in juxtaposition of one another.

Evel both succeeded and failed in many outrageous stunts and ended up with most of his bones broken at one time or another, being called virtually a "titanium body-parts" man. It's hard to figure out a man like this, and about all we can do is read his obit in awe of his courage, or idiocy. But one thing we cannot deny: Evel became a household word, for better or worse, in our generation and defined it in his own terms...and that, my friends, is huge -- - it takes real guts to look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I, really?”

We're looking for some loud, clear voices today that define what it means to be an American... What voices do we hear now? Are they voices of outrage, laments of inequity, of weak compromise, or are they bold voices of courage, of sacrifice, of innovation, of hope, or responsibility? Are we listening? What do we hear? What is our response? Elvis is dead and Evel too…..what about you?

December 6, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

Angola State Prison Rodeo...a Parody (short version)

Angola State Prison Rodeo…..
A Parody (
short version)

Sunday, October 14th, Angola State Prison, Angola, Louisiana. The Notice read: “You are about to enter a penal institution…” We all puckered up.

We left Baton Rouge in a white van and rolled across 51 miles of desolate Delta landscape littered with dilapidated mobile homes and hulks of rusted-out cars. Two hours later we entered the razor-sharp concertina wire gates of Angola Prison, where the rodeo theme was “Guts and Glory.”

The smiling face of Warden Burl Cain on a massive black sign welcomed us. A stark warning came with it: “If you wish to leave the premises, all guns, knives, alcohol and contraband should be surrendered at once.” We quickly consumed the beer and yielded up the bucket of KFC, bones and all.

The prison stood stark amid the lush green pastures of The Delta. Livestock grazed peacefully, framed by miles of white rail fences. Small lakes filled with white pond birds broke the symmetry of the fields … so quiet and tranquil. But the serenity disguised the reality of the treacherous institution where death-row and hopelessness co-exist within the tranquility…. Surreal and unnatural, like being an intruder in the distorted reality of a Salvatore Dali landscape.

Inside the scene was chaotic. Multitudes of hefty flesh pressed together alongside rows of low tables filled with fried swine delicacies: chittlins, cracklins and pigtails. The cooking caldrons crackled and spit as pig fat hit the boiling grease. As each hot batch was dumped onto the tables, a new crowd shoved its bodily mass into the fray, while gnats and green blow flies swarmed and buzzed in the wild ecstasy of the feeding frenzy. Beyond, throngs of frenetic shoppers mingled among the cramped booths of itinerant vendors and petty hustlers hawking cheap trinkets and prison memorabilia. It was a monument to human ugliness!

Inside the arena the air swirled with excitement. Some 10,000 “locals” roared and cheered while groups of brawny men and Harley has-beens huddled in tight circles engaging in guttural utterances. The crowd bore a remarkable familial resemblance to the inmates….unnerving!

But here things can turn nasty in a hurry. A thick air of tension permeated the tight enclosure of plowed dirt infused with the thick odor of excrement, urine and fear. Only a 9-foot fence separated prisoners, bulls and spectators.

The inmate “cowboys” were corralled in a wire cage beneath the “hospitality suite!” From there Prominent Invitees and VIPs could make sport of this absurdity, and if bored could easily poke the prisoners with sharp sticks to keep them attentive. We wondered how extreme the Authorities had been to “encourage” volunteerism for these events!

The events probably originated with Caligula, and we saw no way for the participants to win except by death… a hellish, psychological price to pay, since it reaffirmed the participants’ view of themselves as “losers.” But hey, this was Louisiana, where the hole in the wall of the State Capital, created by the bullet that killed Huey P. Long, is still enshrined and worshipped by busloads of devout Cajuns.

One event stood out: four “cowboys” sat playing cards at a red table. An 1,800 pound bull charged the table …. bodies flew through the air, landing with loud sickening thuds in the soft moist dirt, unconscious. They left on stretchers! Two remained seated … in a snorting rage the bull charged again, narrowly missing the two remaining players who were frozen by fear. Buzz --- time’s up…. these two shared the $200 purse…and the music played on: “Dum, dum, dum, another one bites the dust…dum, dum, dum….”

Despite this brutish display, the crowd showed a felicitous empathy for the safety and success of the “cowboys.” The only break in the tense drama occurred when a fellow in a shiny red Elvis outfit brought out 3 sheep dogs ridden by tiny monkeys wearing cowboy outfits and chasing wild goats. The laughter was almost too much to bear, and some became incontinent in the constrained effort of containment.

Finally, the crowd grew restless and made its slow retreat out into the humid dusk of a declining Delta day. Joining the exodus, we wondered: “What was this all about?” We concluded that everyone today had at least one thing in common: A longing to grab all the excitement that can be found in this short life. So for a few hours our lives and voices were fused into One, as we all participated in this wild, unpredictable Spectacle of Life called a rodeo.

My backward glance revealed the “cowboys,” now prisoners again, shuffling in slow motion as they boarded buses for the short trip home. Suddenly, the sky exploded with 100’s of white pond birds, and in the gathering gloom of the sunset they began a slow flight south to their home.

As darkness fell, the wind stirred the leaves of a changing season. Veiled yellowed windows of dimly-lit houses popped out of the dark woods as ghostly shapes moved slowly about inside, casting eerie shadows as the white van lurched forward, roaring through the night with the singular purpose of going home.

The day’s events distilled as I drifted off to sleep. In my dreams I saw flocks of white pond birds bursting forth in freedom, floating silently overhead, homeward. And we also, in freedom, headed back home to elegant island living….

December 3, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Man's Island Tailgate Party....A Thanksgiving Aftermath

Friends: A Man’s Island Tailgate Party…..
A Thanksgiving Aftermath

“…Cast thy bird upon the waters and it shall return to you….”

Be careful of the invitations you extend…they will come back to you. Yesterday, mine did.

The email read: “Join us for a dove cookout at lunch at the marina…no females allowed.” Now I’m not naïve, having been a Frat boy at UGA, and any invitation of such an exclusionary nature is always suspect. “OK, I’m in,” I wrote back, “is the KKK active again?” Eddie, the Island’s Noted Jurist, was hosting this affair for, according to him, a “select” group. So I grabbed my pal Jon (gotta be careful going to the island’s north end alone), and we headed out there to join the “select” group.

Now I am not surprised at much, and can generally take care of myself, but I noticed a bit of reticence from my pal as we parked the car in the sand lot and proceeded through the grey mist and wind toward the marina. Suddenly, a man’s shrill whistle echoed from within the cavernous boat shed where stacks upon stacks of stored boats were riding out the nasty weather of the day. “Hey, boys, in here” Eddie’s voice boomed…and at that distance the crowd gathered around the fire appeared ominous, and there was a noticeable stiffening in my pal as he hung back a few steps…clearly he expected violence at any moment. And the Sea Island jackets we had were certainly not de rigueur in the context of the other “guests.” I think Palm Beach was what my pal had envisioned. Wrong!

Gathered around the fire of hot coals, upon which lay multitudes of barbequed doves, was a pretty good mix of local “boys,” and in no time Jon began to lighten up and feel at home in the crowd, although I think he continued to grasp his Swiss Army knife in his fist. In a semi-circle were four pickup trucks: red, yellow, black and white…their tailgates down, and those were our “tables.” Men just do things differently, ladies. The “dining room” scene was right out of the movie sets of Road Warriors and Blade Runner …scattered among us lay the cadavers of outboard motors parts, gas cans, and parts of engines and boats ready for the scrap pile…it reminded me of certain gyms I had been in recently…the best years are over! I now knew why no ladies were invited!

Seeing the “dining room” reminded me a little of how I was able to judge decent eating spots in Atlanta: Inspect the parking lot outside and one could determine the quality of both the food and patron. But amid all the clutter, we found the food was excellent.

Keith, the head dock-master, was a chef extraordinaire, and he had been cooking up this lunch for the better part of a day: BBQ doves, casserole doves, real mashed potatoes, baked beans (a staple at men’s gatherings!), cornbread, and rutabagas and cabbage. We filled our plates and staked out our tailgate. Soon more “boys” showed up, and the groups gathered…Tim, the head mechanic, and marina employees, Max and Sam; the Kennedy brothers, fishing guides, a couple of Bills, Hall, Buddy, Gil, Eddie, Jon and myself. Shuffling around and eating, kicking the loose motor parts, idle conversation and jokes occupied the hour…and plenty of embellishment of past exploits of dubious veracity…that’s what one does at men’s tailgate parties.

On the way out Jon learned a valuable lesson about rutabagas: they’re the only food group that one can eat and taste for a week afterwards…it was his first experience. The whole thing reminded me of an incident in my life a couple of years ago. While in Atlanta my wife called and asked, “Well, what did you do for dinner tonight?” I answered without even thinking, “Why, I did what all men have done since the dawn of time: I lit a fire, through a slab of red meat on it, and opened a Budweiser.” The phone went suddenly dead, so I had another Bud for good luck!

November 29, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Putting Things Into Perspective...Thanksgiving, 2007

Friday Forum Friends: Putting Things Into Perspective…
Thanksgiving, 2007

The Harvest is in, bounteous to overflowing, and we’re preparing for Thanksgiving, a time of gathering of family and friends as we turn back and remember our blessings, past and present. And your Friday Forum Hangar friends, Chef Mike, Vanessa, Renn, Hangar-Mother Marjorie and I, extend to you our best wishes for a memorable and safe holiday. Lunches will resume November 30th.

Last week was the birthday of noted astronomer, Carl Sagan, who persuaded NASA to include cameras on its spacecrafts: Viking, Voyager and Galileo, from which came extraordinary photographs of Earth, Saturn, Jupiter and space beyond. Sagan persuaded NASA to have Voyager 1 “turn back” on February 14, 1990, in order to picture Earth from the very edge of our solar system, about 4 billion miles away.

In this photograph the Earth appears as a tiny bluish-white speck nestled snugly within the center of a yellowish band of sunlight. It is bordered by rainbow-like streaks of scattered and reflected sunlight of green, red and orange. Beyond and on all sides of “our” sunbeam lies the horror of a great darkness and vast ethereal wasteland of outer space…in this cold and hostile firmament no other sign of life exists! (click on the link to see for yourself…you should!) www.planetary.org/explore/topics/earth/spacecraft.html Scroll down to Voyager One images.

In a retrospective Sagan later wrote these words: “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their liveson a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

We are not celestial wanderers, but merely earth-bound creatures of dust. The finite mind struggles to grasp the unfathomable enormity of the meaning of the universe and our relationship to it. No, the reality is that we live here, 4 billion miles “away” on a planet teeming with life in every form, where “life” occupies our lives. Things like family, finances, friends, health, wars, troubles, transient joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams, disappointments, achievements, successes, failures, birth and ultimately death. We live in real-time, with little time for spatial perspectives, of significance versus insignificance. Maybe we agree with Andrew Marvel,

“But at my back I always hear,
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.”

But there are times when we do “turn back” and look from our own outer edge, from our relative insignificance, to look into the deeper meaning of things…and Thanksgiving is one of those times. Through the many traditions of this holiday we do see things a bit differently, if only for a day. Deep in our collective hearts as a nation I believe we do stop and reflect on the miracle of it all and marvel at it with a great wonder and humility…if only for a day.

Perhaps during this Thanksgiving holiday we can blend these perspectives while we choose to celebrate our abundance, remembering the words of Mother Teresa, who said, “Small acts of kindness with great love, while we live out our days “…On (this) mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…..”,
If only for a day!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

November 20, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Making a Fool of Yourself...An Experiment

Friends: Making a Fool of Yourself…An Experiment

Some of you have asked what I do after work on my frequent trips to Atlanta. The following is an excerpt of a recent Monday night when four of us boys were bored and ventured out on an “experiment” to Hal’s in Buckhead, a favorite piano bar and restaurant where smoking and innuendo mix with macho tales of life long past. It is no sleazy “pick-up” joint per se, but some have been known to have come back the next day to retrieve their cars. But we were in for fun, drinks and food, and “The Experiment.”

Since this is a small island, the names of the participants have been obscured for obvious reasons…except for me, and you can never tell what part of “me” is actually me or some figment of somebody else…I leave you to figure that out. But “The Experiment” was to come up with some award-winning “pick-up” lines and try them in actual practice on some of the “worthy” patrons. So we got a bunch of them on-line, put them in a hat and drew out some for the experiment. Let me say that while we weren’t actually “urged” to leave the premises, the police were sitting in their cruiser outside just in case!

As we entered, and before we got “started,” “Gov” asked the cutest “greeter”, “Hon, where’s the bathroom?”, which unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the night…we were not taken too seriously! We quickly ordered refreshments and the cocktail waitress, about 25 or so, was the first “subject:” “Sweetie,” “The Barrister” said, “I’m writing a phone book, can I have your number?” It fell dead to the floor with a thud! Soon she was back, though, and it was my time: “Baby,” I asked, “what good is it for me to inherit $10 million when I have a weak heart?” That one got some traction, “Really,” she said, “you’ll need it, and leave me a big tip!” “The Tycoon” was laughing his head off, when a cutie walked by, and he winked at us and said, “Darling, my name is Mr. Right, and I heard you were looking for me.” I’m not sure of the exact words, but they seemed harsh as she uttered expletives and quickly sat down by a big burly fellow, who kept eyeing “Tycoon” for the rest of the night. We were a little unnerved, I might add.

Unnerved, maybe, but not undeterred. “Gov” returned from the bathroom, and as he passed a blonde seated at the bar, he smiled and said, “Honey, do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?” The peanuts narrowly missed his head! The Barrister tried a serious one on a cute redhead: “Hi, your daddy must have been a terrorist, because you are the bomb.” She made a certain finger sign as she walked on past. I noticed, shall I say, a mature lady sitting alone, and I wandered over and tried my best farm line on her: “Hi, do you want to see the new Velvet Elvis painting I just hung in my trailer?” From the glazed look in her eyes I knew she was a troubled soul, and so without incident I moved on back to the comfort of my pals. The Barrister singled out what looked like a serious businesswoman, and shocked us when he said, “Sister, can we talk…I’m entering the priesthood tomorrow.?” She fled quickly to the manager and we got more dirty looks.

Man,” we all lamented, “we were doing all right until you brought God into this…we’ll be cursed from now on and “The Experiment” will surely end in failure or a worse fate befall us.” But we continued until the food came, much with the same result, but not without a lot of laughs. Here are a few more lines you may want to consider on your next “experiment:You look a lot like my next girlfriend,” or, “You must be a parking ticket because you have “fine” written all over you”, or, “Can you catch, because I’m falling for you.” This is quite enough, I think…

Gorged with food and laughter, we ambled out about 8:00, having just made the cut for the “early-bird” specials. As we walked past the “Greeter,” and her friend, I heard them exclaim, “Now, aren’t they cute?” With that I knew “The Experiment” had failed, but we had a good time conducting it. This is what we do when we’re in Atlanta…and by 9:00 we were all safely in bed, alone, and we didn’t have to come back the next day to get our cars!

November 15, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Claxton Fruit Cake...An American Icon


It happened suddenly and without warning...the huge billboard, blood red, black and white leapt off its posts and visually assaulted me with its simple message: Claxton Fruit Cake, World Famous.

I quickly recovered as I rode by, remembering why I had ventured to Claxton, Georgia in the first place. It was to honor an invitation from my pal, Paul Parker, to take a day off and tour The Claxton Bakery, Inc., the origin of the world famous Claxton Fruit Cake. And here I was on this crisp Fall day, excited to learn about fruit cake making.

I also wanted to know the relevance of fruit cakes in our culture and to perhaps dispel the nasty rumor that The Claxton Fruit Cake might be moving to Ludowici for more favorable tax treatment.

So, here I was, in Claxton, Georgia, The Fruit Cake Capitol of the World, so the 200 foot water tower boasted in the arrogance of height. In its shadow stood a set of sleepy, non-descript buildings, home of The Claxton Bakery, Inc., looking unchanged from 1945 when Albert Parker bought it from Savino Tos, an Italian immigrant. It was like being inside a scene from an Edward Hooper painting, where time and change seems to stand still, so slight are the noticeable changes from the past. Only the computer terminals give it away. Savino Tos had a dream and Albert Parker bought into it...and the dream came alive. It was exciting for me to be within the bubble of this dream!

The bakery "headquarters" is deceiving...ostentatiousness is unnecessary in Claxton. Inside, it has the air of staunch South Georgia stability--gravitas you might say--and the second generation of Parkers, Mid (Middleton), Paul, Betty P. Smith and Dale, along with a handful of faithful employees, now bake over 2 million pounds each year of "home made" fruit cake. It is a single-product operation, and it is distributed worldwide. This is a real no-nonsense operation… work ethic and bottom-line economics are as highly prized here as philanthropy and charity, all the bedrock philosophy of The Claxton Bakery, Inc.

The Claxton Fruit Cake put this small town of 2,276 souls on the map. Situated at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 301 and 25, Yankees heading to Florida discovered the fruit cake, and word got around through the Civitan Clubs of America that this was a excellent product for use in fund-raising events. From that simple start it became world famous. The easy pickings on Yankees along Highway 301 are now over since I-95 opened. So the Parkers have discovered a brand new crossroads for distribution of the fruit cakes: the internet. And they are feverously working that highway for the next generation of business.

Paul gave me a tour of the operation which, like about most everything else in rural South Georgia, hasn't changed much since 1945---same process, same equipment … 65 years of "the same old same old." The warehouse bulged with fruit and nuts from vendors large and small across America, while immigrant employees and locals together mingled cordially in a spotlessly clean work environment. I considered applying for a job, but Paul quickly squelched the idea, suggesting my nefarious nature might be disruptive…..while he didn’t actually say so, I figured he was probably concerned I’d unionize the staff! Disappointed, I let it pass.

But I had questions for him. "Is the fruit cake a relevant product today," I asked Paul. "Absolutely," he countered quickly. "Why," I ventured? "Bud, as long as holiday traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas hold, the Claxton Fruit Cake will grace tables across this land. The fruit cake began in 14th century Rome, extended throughout Europe and now America. It is no whimsical fad, but a viable product. People love it, and not even The Tonight Show’s inane jokes affected us…..we’re still here and where’s Carson?" Wow, I thought.

The third generation of Parkers, Will and Abe, Dale's sons, are the insurance that The Claxton Fruit Cake will continue. Paul, with his feet propped up on the desk, and in his laid-back country drawl said, "Pal, we've got 'sticking power,' and we're here to stay". I believed him because I saw the fire of Albert Parker's dream burning in the eyes of all of ‘em. And believe me, you don't want to mess with South Georgia folks with these kinds of convictions!

One always knows when it's time to say "goodbye" in South Georgia, ‘cause they offer you a gift, usually something edible. Today was no exception. About 4 o’clock Joe Miller suddenly burst excitedly into Paul's office with a big bag of fresh country sausage, and after several packets were "forced" on me, I knew my time to leave had come.

I eased out of the side door, careful not to be detected by the reviled OSHA detective skulking around in the rear alley looking for code violations and vermin and slid on out of town. Heading south on Hwy. 301, the huge water tower in my rear view mirror reminded me of where I'd been...The Fruit Cake Capitol of the World.

Things need closure with me, and I tired to put it all together as my car sliced through the quiet countryside. I liked the thought of Mr. Tos, a penniless, Italian immigrant with a dream, who began something special that passed on down to the Parkers who continue to embrace the same dream. The fruit cake, with its multiple ingredients, in microcosm seems to represent the labors of many, all with a dream of some sort, big or small, and it represents the "fruits" of their collective labor.

I know, I know--it's hard to put flesh on the esoteric, and maybe my reach exceeds my grasp. But the thought made me smile and it stayed with me for some time.

Claxton faded in my view, but its claim to be the Fruit Cake Capitol of the World lives on. Albert Parker's spirit still walks the corridors of The Claxton Bakery, Inc. and his dream is vividly alive and well...for "… by it, he, being dead, yet speaketh."

Perhaps during these holidays we'll all cut into one of these juicy Claxton Fruit Cakes, and in so doing will remind ourselves to celebrate the common bond we have with each other as Americans.

So, from this Fruitcake to you, may we always find God blessing America, and long live the tradition of The Claxton Fruit Cake, An American Icon.....and Ludowici is out of the running!

November 9, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Nothing But Weeds.....

Friends: Nothing But Weeds…

Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From where, then, hath it tares? He said, An enemy hath done this.” Matthew 13: 27-28.

I was over in Brantley County the other day looking around to see if hard times had fallen on them over there and if I might be lucky enough to pick up a bargain or two on some land. Not much luck, but I did notice something interesting as I walked the sidewalks of the courthouse. Weeds grew up from everywhere. Have you ever noticed that weeds need absolutely no nutriment to grow? They peek up out of sheer concrete, asphalt and any soil that any respectable flower would not ever inhabit. Weeds happen! It led me to believe that there is a bias in nature to the chaotic, the uncultivated field, not to the cultivated one. Now this is deep stuff!

Take a look in your own yard or grass…can you imagine what would happen if you left it unattended for just a few months? Why, for example, kudzu grows 18 inches a day and at that rate, you can compute: In 232 days your entire yard would be overrun, not to mention your house. Speaking of kudzu, the Southern Cannibal, in Atlanta I had a neighbor who had solid red clay for a yard. Not even rocks would grow there, but kudzu thrived. And one day I found it literally running into my yard. I measured its progress, and absolutely it moved about 18 inches in one hot day when anything respectable would have been inside in the AC. What to do, what to do? I paced and paced, no ideas. Finally, I went out and staked out a “return path” for the pernicious plant and headed it back into the neighbor’s yard. It worked…I was a genius. Relentlessly it headed up the embankment, across the neighbor’s yard straight to the next neighbor, who was a pretty good sort. I sprinted to his house to warn him of the impending danger, and shared my secret. Today, from that one vine, much of northern Buckhead is fighting kudzu.

Now this has nothin’ to do with nothin’, but it does provide somewhat of a useful metaphor for our lives. I’m looking at the clutter on my desk…is there a deal lying up here anywhere? Can’t find it if it is…no nutriment, but only weeds are growing up here on the surface of this sterile desk, useless scraps of paper, books, left-over newspapers, unanswered emails, unreturned phone messages, and overrun trash cans. Like mad dogs it attacks me viciously every day. Goes to point out that unless you regularly get ruthless with clutter, with weeds, the bias of nature will overrun your life and you’ll wake up covered with kudzu…and an enemy hath done this, and keeps on doing it…and with our consent!

Take a lesson from the Hangar Prophet: divert the kudzu back where it came from and see what happens…and bundle up all that useless crap and send it to file 13…do it now!

November 8, 2007

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Getting Along Together....

Friends: Getting Along Together…

As you know, I continue to keep a real estate office in Atlanta so I can continue to keep a home here…and frequently I drive up there and re-enter the world of competition among the desperate, the dumb and the greedy. It’s real hard to get along together in this town, but I fit right into this genre, of course, else how could I understand it? The islands here really don’t prepare one for this level of competition, except it is a good place to run to for refuge.

Yesterday I drove half way and spent the night with my pal Mike Kellar on his hunting plantation in Washington County, middle-Georgia style. Fortified with tall glasses of good scotch which were frequently refreshed and lively conversation, we toured his hunting land in the pickup along with two dogs in the back. Our arms dangled out of the windows, soft breeze blowing our hair, the seat belts unbuckled (at 20 mph, who needs one!), my feet propped up on the dash, and we cruised along sandy dirt roads and fire breaks laughing, relaxing, embellishing stories that the country song describes as “…the older I get, the better I was.” It was good to forget the parallel universe of Atlanta for awhile.

We stopped at Jackie’s house, a timber cruiser and general handyman, and found him with several of his cronies and their toothless “women” sitting in the dusty squalor of the back yard in worn-out chairs and swings picked up at the local dump. Of course, they were drinking beer in great quantities and it was difficult to understand more than a few words in the sentences, just enough to piece together a generalization of what they were talking about. It was third-worldly for sure! I guess I was the good-lookin’ new guy on the block, and they eyed me pretty closely, especially the two women…but I don’t dig toothless gals, and so I didn’t make much eye contact with them for fear of having to defend myself. Hey, I saw Deliverance five times!

Now Jackie is a rooster man…that is, he raises roosters for cock fighting. Only problem is it’s illegal, unless you know the local sheriff. He defended his “trade” by some well-contextualized quotes from Proverbs, things like “Money answereth to all things…” and, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city…”. They spotted me as a rube and tried to sell me a bunch of these roosters and get into the dirty trade myself…and if I had not been so hungry for that steak Mike had promised, I might have joined him. So I dug deep with a Proverb of my own, “In the house of the righteous is much treasure, and in the revenues of the wicked is trouble”. That seemed to calm his nerves long enough for Mike and me to slink off in the darkness back to the truck for another scotch and that steak in Sandersville.

Later that night, as I walked outside with the dogs before bed, I thought about this motley crew of low-lifes…and the thing that struck me mostly was that they all got along with each other, sitting, laughing and drinking and seemingly having no cares in the world…and shoot, I think they were just fooling with me all along, just to see how I’d take it. I pulled off today at Exit 98, SR 57 to Reidsville off I-16 for some gas. Next to the Chevron station was a small lake and a multitude of farm animals basking in the sun…a bull, horse, donkey, ducks, geese, an emu and a cute herd of goats. They didn’t seemed to have much of a care either, and they were all sitting around together, like a scene out of Orwell’s Animal Farm…where he said, “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” They must have not read that part of Orwell, and like the rednecks, they were all getting along together.

Rodney King, you remember, the fellow in the LA riots who was assaulted, uttered this prophetic question, flung heavenly: “Can’t we all just get along?” Well, Rod, I think you hit on something, and as I spent 24 hours in the Georgia outback, I believe it is possible.

November 1, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

State of Denial ...

Friends: State of Denial…

Well, here we are, having arrived at that weekend on the Georgia Coast where the University of Georgia and the University of Florida meet in Jacksonville at what was once billed as the “largest tailgate party in the world,” or something like that. This year the Dawgs hope to defeat their arch-rival Gators for only the 3rd time in the last 18 years…I think my stats are correct, but the source was a man with a withered arm and may not be reliable.

“Hope” is the operative word here, and it is always helped along by an abundance of alcohol. Already, the university gang is arriving, and at last check there was no more ice on the island, and the beer trucks were lined up five-deep on the Causeway to the island. Of course, we more moderately disciplined and mature among the celebrants, and certainly the more decorous, have private affairs planned where more mature subjects other than college chatter is held in hushed and silent whispers: “What was your golf score,” or “Where is your latest ache,” such stuff as that. About as meaningless as the crowd in the Village hanging out of the convertibles and off the motel balconies chanting oms or other indecipherable chants and rituals of passage, which has of course passed us by long ago! Ugh.

The term “State of Denial” could apply to some attitude, or in this case to the state of Georgia as a whole. We’re denying a whole lot of things this weekend…like drinking water, for example. Reservoirs are bone dry and laded with red mud, fish lie rotting on the shore, and lip service is what the Gov is proclaiming…cut down on your showers, save a little water. And the City of Brunswick is trying to curtail the look of baggy pants and underwear that shows…denying the future leaders of the State their rightful expression of rebellion. But most of all we are in a state of denial that the point spread on the game if just 8 points…that’s right, folks, just 8 points.

But, Hey, denial has always been with us. Richard Jenkins writes a poem, some of which I excerpt for you to meditate on:

“…..Well, how else are you to live except by denial,
By some palatable fiction,
Some little song to sing
While the inevitable,
The black and white blindsiding fact,
Comes hurtling toward you out of the deep?…..”

Jenkins has to my knowledge never been to this island on GA/FL day, but it might do us good to remember that no matter what the outcome of the game Saturday, or the nonsensual things committed without regard to the consequences, anesthesization and denial are good remedies for whatever occurs here…and as usual, “what happens here, stays here.”

October 25, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Angola State Prison Rodeo...An Extreme Parody

Friends: Angola State Prison Rodeo….an Extreme Parody

Sunday, October 14th, Angola State Prison, Angola, Louisiana. The “Notice” read: “You are about to enter a penal institution….” We all puckered up!

Eight Intrepid Voyeurs in a white van entered through rolls of concertina wire the gates of this prison to watch, of all things, a prison rodeo. Orchestrated by George, there were Rocky, Adam, John, Ed, Tommy, Duane and myself… you know these fools, but last names are omitted to hold down the ridicule.

Warden Burl Cain welcomes us by a massive sign, warning that should we want to ever leave the premises we should keep all alcohol, guns, knives and contraband in our vehicles. None of us wanted the body searches promised to perpetrators.

The “games” began on a football-sized arena of plowed dirt smelling of excrement, urine and fear. The crowd, some 10,000 spectators, who, remarkably, bore familial resemblances to the inmates (mostly locals, but atavistically related….obesity being a kind word). The prisoner “cowboys” were corralled in a wire cage located just under the “executive viewing stand,” where Warden Cain and his invitees viewed the carnage to come, and could easily poke the prisoners with sharp sticks to keep them attentive. At a distance it was not easy to confirm, but I’m quite sure the “Cowboys” bore bodily evidences of floggings, burns and electric shock used to encourage them to “volunteer” for these games.

The “events” seemed to have originated with Caligula but embellished by fiendish manipulation. There was no way for the participant to “win” except by death, which seemed a hellish, psychological price to pay, since it reaffirmed the participants’ view of themselves as “losers.” But hey, this is Louisiana, where the hole in the wall of the State Capital, created by the bullet that killed Huey P. Long, is still enshrined and worshipped.

Space here prohibits a full recounting of the spectacle posing as a “rodeo”, but one event is worth noting: a red card table was set up in mid-arena, 4 “cowboys” in flak jackets sit at it playing poker. The 1,800 pound bull – one mean sucker – is released. He charges the table, bodies fly through the air, landing with loud thuds in the soft urine-soaked dust, unconscious and awaiting an exit on stretchers. Two remain seated at the “site” – the bull charges again with a snorting rage, his horns like swords flashing an ominous glare, and narrowly misses the two remaining players who are frozen by fear. Buzz --- time’s up. These two dodge death and share the $200 purse!

This display of human degradation continued for another two hours, punctuated by wild screams of approval from fat-intoxicated spectators gorging themselves on fried pig cracklins, chitlins and pig tails. The only break in the tense drama of death and mayhem was the Elvis-dressed dude with 3 sheep dogs ridden by little monkeys wearing cowboy outfits and chasing wild goats. The short hilarity of it all was almost too much to bear and some became incontinent in the constrained effort of containment.

Finally, our adrenal glands could take no more of the brute amusement, and in a long parade of vehicles we made our way out into the humid dusk of a declining Delta day, heading back to a more rational way of life --- but all the while, riding in the silent darkness, wondering: “What was this all about?”

October 18, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Lookin' At Trains and Other Anomalies

Friends: Lookin' At Trains and Other Anomalies

I told y'all you might not get the Friday Forum emails. Lynn is gone, and I "sent" it last week. But, alas, many said they didn't "get it" which, knowing this group, could mean they didn't "receive it" or they couldn't "get it." Admittedly some of my mental flushes are profound, but they are designed to get you to looking on "the other side" of things. So this week, Julie is going to attempt to send it. Hope you get it.

Yesterday I pulled up at the Okeefenokee Restaurant, you know, that local trans-fat joint where the locals congregate, to meet a fellow and try to beat him out of some of his real estate. When I got in the parking lot, I knew I had "arrived," seeing as this big lady was changing the diapers of some infant on the hood of the car, being supported by two loggers. Where else but in Folkston, Georgia would this happen?

His real estate was out past the cemetery, where I noticed they are now not only putting benches out by the graves, but small mail boxes as well. Go figure. The real estate was not spectacular, so we headed back to town.
"Hey James, I said, what's with that there platform with all them people on it?" (you have to talk local so as not to be spotted as some "Slick" from the islands. I blend in well in Folkston). "Oh, them's 'train watchers', and didn't you know that Folkston is the 'Train Watching Capital' of the world?"

"You must be pulling my leg," I shouted over the roar of the train and the maddening screaming of the onlookers. There seemed to be a frenzy going on at the platform, which overlooked the tracks. "How come them folks are watching them trains go by," I asked, "it's too early for them to be drunk."
He said seriously, “Well, see that there little house over by the tracks ("little" is an understatement. It was about 12' X 20' and was situated right next to the twin tracks), I own it and it's been rented for 75 straight nights to folks from as far as Ireland. They come to watch them trains, and the cops have to patrol the area pretty close all day and night. When them trains come by whistling and rumbling, them folks come streaming over to the tracks, hollering wildly, and it's pretty close to a wild orgy of excitement."

There you have it folks. Just 45 miles from here the "Train Watching Capital of the World." And you can bet your little caboose the Friday Forum will soon get a day trip up to witness this spectacle of life. And heck, you can do things with impunity on the hood of your own car, too, if what I saw yesterday is any example. You can blame it on the trains and not the alcohol...Now, I remember the hood of my old car one night down on the farm many years ago...Oops, that's another story….

October 11, 2007

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Ladder to Nowhere

The Ladder to Nowhere

Well, here goes ... hope this email reaches you since Lynn is off doing God's work in Godless Russia. I've been left with 3 pages of instructions, so maybe we'll get lucky ... or you will get lucky if it doesn't make it.

In the middle of the grass in my back yard stands a shiny aluminum14 foot ladder. I have no clue why it is there, and it certainly looks out of context to say the least. Every morning I camp out on the back porch and do my reading and meditation ... sometimes I even pray for some of the more twisted souls in our Friday Forum group, although some of you may be beyond help. I can't get away from staring at that ladder. Why is it there? What could it mean?

I finally ask my daughter, "What's with the ladder in the back yard?" Her only reply is, "One day, Pop, you'll understand … . just meditate on it for a bit longer." I hate answers like that, don't you? Yesterday, curious beyond the capacity to contain it, I go out there and climb up on it to see if that might offer some clue to the dilemma. It got pretty wobbly as I got to the top, and it felt unnatural to say the least. Yet I remained up at the top long enough to look around for some clues. I found none. I came back down to earth.

I called my daughter over and asked, "Look, I've stared at that ladder for a week now, even climbed it this morning, and I'm no closer in discovering its significance than at first." She just laughed and left. Then I got to thinking about the ladder, remembering in years past how I couldn't wait to climb ladders, the higher the better ... hell be damned ... youth is always looking to get into the stratosphere, and the ladder is one way. And I also remembered that many of the business ladders, although fun to climb to these heights, led to nowhere ... the joy was in the climbing, not in the peak achievement. I remained at the top of these ladders for only a short time, and even while there life was pretty precarious at that altitude.

I once owned a number of trailer parks. I had a fellow named Steve who was a pretty good maintenance man, and he had no fear of ladders. One day he had a 40 footer propped up against a trailer and was at the top. "Hey Steve, if you keep up that work ethic you'll keep climbing that corporate ladder with me.” He wasn't impressed with this cheap accolade, and replied, "Well, Bud, I always want to know what my ladder is leaning on.” And in this case, as I later learned, trailer parks are bad investments and are a weak reed for leaning purposes. While Steve was a good maintenance man, he had a nasty habit of wife-beating, and it just didn't set well with me to see her all beat up and roaming around the park collecting rent. It seemed against nature, so he had to leave.

Now, I don't know if that tall ladder accounted for Steve's proclivity, but it might have. But there is a parallel in that story, if you can get it: Excessive heights produce excessive egos, or something like that ... maybe that's what my daughter was trying to say to me. And I'll repeat it to you ... he who hath ears, let him hear!

October 4, 2007

Search for the Perfect Holy Grill...An Allegorical Phantasm

Search for the Perfect Holy Grill ....
An Allegorical Phantasm

The unnaturally grim day got worse. My grill exploded as a fireball erupted instantly from the ancient cooker. A luminous cloud of burning vapor engulfed the air around me. I staggered backwards with a blackened and hairless head, and only the pool saved me from being burned to ash. Fortunately, survival was in the cards this evening, the hellish death-fire cheated out of its prey.
What I needed was a new and more predictable cooker, a perfect grill that did not require supplemental fire Insurance, and by golly, I was intent on finding one before the odds totally ran out! Atlanta was the place to start, so I began to plan for the trip.
That was several months ago, and like most things, I had not gotten around to it. The possibilities for the perfect grill formed flawlessly in my vision ... however; tonight I was stuck with the old TEC with its incendiary proclivities. Good-looking T -bone steaks were sizzling on it, waiting for some special guests. Sitting on the lounge next to the grill with the dog and a cold beer, I began to think about the "perfect grill" I was going to find as the late summer heat stultified my senses. Predictably, I drifted off at some point into that nether world where fantasy and reality coexist.

Some details of the afternoon remain foggy, yet the horror of the nasty spectacle remains vivid in my recollection. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first rule of shopping is never to go alone ... so I enlisted a like­minded outdoor cooking companion to assist me on the adventure, a prominent attorney of celebrity status, who abundantly attaches the term "Esq." to his signature ("Esquire" of course is the term all lawyers use to elevate status and to justify exorbitant fees!). Since the meter with Ed was not running on this trip, we proceeded to organize our search for the Perfect Holy Grill.
Methodically we began the process of elimination from the most likely sources: the Internet, Ace, Wal-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot and sundry specialty shops. As you might suspect, there were multiple possibilities, all promising to be the perfect grill, but missing the cut. By the third day we were running low on ideas and energy, and our time in the city was almost up. We needed to come up with something fast, so we resorted to extreme measures in the search.
We pulled out our best disguises: Ed, with his urban assault camouflage suit and red sun glasses, and me with my best hippie attire, complete with beads. We wanted to blend in well without calling undue attention to ourselves. The neighborhoods of nouveau riche huntsmen in red velvet jackets produced nothing, so we moved on to the derelict places of Atlanta, the dark alleys, the darkened doorways, vacant warehouses, burned-out houses, railroad gulches, expressway overpasses--places where disenfranchisement and lunacy live hand in hand. One often has to resort to the edge of madness to find something perfect, you know. People who live in these environments have to make-do with creative devices to survive ... a perfect place to search for the grail.

It was a hazy dusk as we approached a railroad trestle over the river. We saw what appeared to be a treacherous and unstable convocation of hobos, winos, bankrupt deal junkies, washed up athletes and derelicts of all sorts gathered around a large smoking fire. And there in their midst It was, right on the banks of the river and next to an abandoned boxcar, exactly what we had been looking for: the Perfect Holy Grill. It defied description, but it met all of the criteria for the "perfect" status: cheap, versatile, adaptive, mobile, sturdy and unpretentious. But how would we get it away from such a crowd of human ugliness? And why was such a pearl of perfection to be found in this strange and seedy world of misfits, drunkards and failures? These things cannot be explained by logic!
But sometimes things can go sideways on you without warning. In our exuberance caution was abandoned … we were soon spotted and things began to turn nasty. The horde went all to pieces turning into an angry mob… escape was impossible. With the animus of a crazed pit bull, Ed began to scream, "Back off, back off, I'm an important lawyer ... I have connections," to no avail. .. the mob was in no mood for idle chatter. He snarled and hurled his title, Esquire, at them like a crucifix, but even that was not able to save us from the brutal onslaught. No, it was too late; the fat was in the fire.
They swarmed upon us from every side with clubs, bricks, chains, whips and other medieval devices ... the dust roiled as a frenzy of mayhem and disaster enveloped us. They began to savagely beat us as they flew upon their spoil. Things were moving faster and faster, noise and confusion reigned. Out of the corner of one eye I glimpsed Ed in a dead sprint for the river. .. the pounding was taking its toll on me as things began to get fuzzy. Ed faded out of my sight, disappearing in the dark shadows that began to surround me. Caught in a desolate vortex of descending darkness, I saw only shadows and strangers in slow motion with wild, glittering eyes, smoke filling my nostrils as oblivion descended upon me with these final words swirling around in my brain:

" ... To die-to sleep-to sleep!
Perchance to dream .. for in that sleep of death
What dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil
... "

After some moments I was suddenly awakened by a violent pounding upon my chest, punctuated by a shrill voice, "Wake up, wake up ... what kind of cook are you?" my wife kept screaming. "I trusted you with $100 worth of steaks, and you get out here and fall asleep while they cook. The steaks are charred and the dog is wobbling incoherently since he drank your beer. What will our important guests think?" The smoke was thick about us; guilt hung heavy in the humid afternoon air and there was little I could do to rescue the steaks at this point... these things happen. Backup plan: Pizza!
Somehow the evening passed without further incident, although a chill permeated the air around the home place for a few days. I thought it best to remain out of sight and in hiding until the whirlwind had passed. Since then I have had time to ponder this somnolent adventure. Was it was a chimerical fantasy, prophesy or a dream? I can't say. Yet in each of these there is some hyperbolic exaggeration that leaves deep impressions. There is nothing "perfect" in this life except what we "see" in our minds. When taken outside of that context, its application is seriously flawed.
I've lived long enough now to know life is not perfect either, yet we seem to continue to search and hope for whatever perfect grail we envision ... and perhaps it's the journey that justifies the price of admission, I'm not sure. Just Buy the ticket, Take the ride.

Searching for the Perfect Holy Grill flash-backed these words I read somewhere:

"Oh, the Prison of Perfection,
The Freedom of Just Good Enough
. "

So lest a worst thing occur, I think I'll risk incineration and be content to stay with the grill that's just good enough, at least until something better shows up.

Ed's been pretty hard to find these days ... can't blame him. He's probably polishing up his image and hanging with a better elegant island living crowd. But as for me, you can be sure that I won't go to sleep again while cooking T-bones, and I promise you I'll keep a better eye on the dog! And, Oh, by the way, if you happen to see Ed around the island, tell him all's forgiven and it's safe to come back around ... steaks are on the grill. .. No more pizza!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Shaking the tree, Boss, shaking the tree!"

Friends: "Shaking the tree, Boss, shaking the tree!"
Paul Newman

Late night driving, whether sober or wigged-out on uppers, produces thoughts that come out of nowhere, from the deep levels of lunacy lurking near the surface, ready to jump out at any provocation ~~~ particularly as one cruises east near midnight through the rural darkness along I-16 with a full moon and truckers as travel companions. This was my predicament last night.

The above lines from the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke, uttered by Paul Newman, came to mind. Remember that movie? He had "the urge to go," so the chain gang Boss let him ease into the edge of the woods for relief, only he was to continue shaking the bush so he wouldn't run off...and he did just that, with a very long string while he made his escape.

Sometimes I feel like Luke when I'm in Atlanta, always "shaking the deal-bushes" to see what might fall out. When the kids were very young they called me The Money Tree. Before they knew how to spend really big money, and when they needed coins for snacks, and not for cars or houses, they used to say, “Let’s go shake The Money Tree.”

Well, what goes around eventually comes back around, you know. And for a lot of years now I have been shaking the Atlanta banks' money trees for coins, and I suspect a whole lot of others have been doing the same thing, too, if the news has any accuracy to it. But for many their "string" has run out, and while they attempt to escape through the forests of confusion, the banks are closing in. Escape is never possible...and the past is always close behind!

Cool Hand Luke was ultimately captured, beaten, humiliated and forced to dig deep holes (which always happens when we shake the banks' money trees too much!), from which the famous lines by the Warden originated: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Leaving Atlanta for the coast reminded me that we can run, but we cannot hide (also famous lines from the boxer, Joe Louis). The string will always run out, and we will be captured, stripped naked, beaten, cast into cages for punishment and shaken without mercy, forced to pay the last farthing...at least metaphorically anyway. I saw the beginning of a lot of holes being dug in Atlanta this week, and I'm glad that one of them was not mine (at least not yet!). And I hope that none of the holes I see appearing down here are yours!

August 30, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Escape to Africa

Friends: Escape to Africa

My wife escaped to Africa...another way of saying "she done left me."

After 41 years of a "blissful" marriage, she left me stranded on this island and headed for Africa with her friends. For a man's ego, that's hard to take: Why'd she go 8,000 miles, ride on a plane for 20 hours, just to escape this wonderful environment, and me, Mr. Wonderful?

I had some clues months ago that she had planned to leave me...late-night e-mails, UPS slick packages of exotic African game preserves, secretive phone calls. I admit I was alerted, but it was only when she rented "Out of Africa" starring Robert Redford and "The African Queen" with Bogart and watched them five times that I really became suspicious.

She must have gotten homesick, since she's called me regularly. On the last call she said there were some disappointments in the game preserve. Oh, the animals were wonderful, nobody on the tour had been eaten by lions, but the "tent" she saw in the brochures was not the actual tent she was given...Duh! I shudder to think, having slept in tents many times! Furthermore, she said the African plains were dry, dusty and the plants and trees brown. Where are the lush rain-forest jungles and Tarzan swinging from vines, she asked.

I asked if she'd found a Great White Hunter yet to keep her company, or at least to get a picture with...perhaps a Redford, or a Bogart. NO, that was more disappointing. Romantic notions die hard, especially when reality is faced with slick advertising!

I asked about buses...Oh yes, she said...we board buses, stand in single-file line like tourists, eyes glazed over from the early morning, shuffled out to the vineyards...but at least they could get anesthetized, and make the ride home enjoyable.

I'm not sure, but I think she kinda misses me...I'm just now getting into being a Left-behind, and my social life is improving, thanks to good friends, widows and other lonely hearts. The table has all the newspapers (week's supply--don't want to miss any news), and the place is generally clean. I can go to the Golden Isles Speedway without a curfew. Heck, if I didn't know better, I might think that maybe I am a Redford, a Bogart, if not a Tarzan...but alas, romantic notions die hard here, too!

She'll be home soon, and we'll resume our blissful marriage. But I got lucky, fellows, and I strongly advise you to keep a close tab on your spouse's activities, emails, advertising brochures from Abercrombie and Kent and rental movies...you may be able to stop madness before it occurs.

September 27, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nail Soup and Other Tidbits....

Friends: Nail Soup and Other Tidbits….

Weird stuff this week…it happens that way sometimes. What, with the meltdown of the credit markets, havoc in the financial streets of the world, racial beatings in Louisiana, tortures in Virginia, O.J. back in jail and a weirdo arrested at the airport with Asian snakes in jars of formaldehyde…why would my visit to Atlanta this week not be filled with strange events?

Sitting at the City Grille at Five Points with 3 other members of my investment team, sipping Perrier and “appearing connected” (which is what you must do at all costs to be successful in Atlanta), the subject of “nail soup“ came up. “Men, it’s all ‘nail soup’,” Kirby said.
What, are you some kind of nut,” I replied? “Nail soup?” He said, “That’s right…we are no different from a group of hobos, sitting out yonder among their pasteboard edifices under the interstate overpass, dreaming of the great fortunes they are destined to make with these investment schemes.”
Tom shouted, “Explain yourself, you fool, just what are you suggesting? We’re first-class businessmen here, concocting fabulous ideas to help the poor sub-prime victims escape jail, albeit at a profit to ourselves…it’s a humanitarian effort.”
Kirby said, “OK, you Pretenders, let me tell you a little about ‘nail soup,” and he went on to explain the receipt for the witches brew:

It’s simple: We take a big pot, fill it with water and set it to boiling, put a rusty nail in it and call it ‘Nail Soup.’ Immediately we create some carnival-like excitement among the other hobos, and they begin to flock over to our ‘office’ to see what’s going on.” One comments, “What’s in the pot?” We say, “Nail Soup,” to which we add that it’d be a little tastier with some carrots thrown in. Carrots miraculously appear.
The Fat is now in the Fire, so to speak, and other ingredients begin to show up from some “reinvented” hobos who want to join the “bailout” party…some potatoes, some onions, maybe some celery, a little seasoning and finally some meat. “Viola,” we have Nail Soup.

What are you trying to say, Chef,” Elliott said. “Only this,” Kirby says: “We’re starting out with a good idea, but we’ll need the help of some others to really make an edible stew out it.”
We returned to lunch of quiche, salads and fine coffee on a white linen tablecloth. But we left with a new appreciation of how ideas really come together. And Friends, we’re boiling up a big pot of water up here in the city right now! Nail Soup’s on the menu!

September 20, 2007