Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twas the Night Before...

The day of the wedding, I had lunch by myself.  A few of us had gone go-karting and hung out in the arcade that morning, after plans for zip lining fell through.   I wound up at a little seafood joint two blocks from the beach — just me, my crawfish and my Yuengling.  My last meal as a free man.  And not a bad choice, I might add, though some collard greens and cherry cobbler would have consummated it nicely.

As the crawfish began to disappear, I wondered if I’d be consummating anything anytime soon.  That is, considering the near-disastrous events of the night before.

Rehearsal had gone well enough, highlighted by the scrumptious swine delicacies of Hog Wild BBQ.  I was most excited about our recessional song (the Baja Men wedding classic, “Who Let the Dogs Out”) and my reception “mixtape.”  It was obvious (to me) that the old deejay hadn’t lost his touch.

Sure, one groomsman had been an hour late, and one bridesmaid missed the whole thing after getting lost in Mississippi.  (She looked like the lone survivor at the end of a horror movie as she avowed, “People think Alabama and Mississippi are the same.  They’re not.  Mississippi is way scarier.”)  But I figured if that’s the worst thing that happened, we were in good shape.

It wasn’t.

LJ and his wife invited us out to the Flora-Bama afterwards.  I should interject here that I may have given Fiancee Bone the impression that we would not go out after rehearsal.  I did this by telling her, “We will not go out after rehearsal.”  After all, we still had our vows to write!  (Procrastination being the mother of…. No wait, procrastination being the tie that… Eh, whatever, I’ll finish that line later.)

But we (I) was feeling guilty and trying to fit in as many friends and family as we (I) could.  After all, almost everyone had driven a minimum of five hours to get here.  So we (I) agreed (volunteered us) to go.

We rode with them and left Fiancee Bone’s car in the parking lot of the Gulf State Park Pavilion.  Our only instructions were to be cleared out by midnight because that’s when the gate would be locked.

The Flora-Bama was sprawling and historic, if uneventful.  It seemed the sort of place you really had to be inebriated to enjoy.  We got back to the Pavilion by 11:30. The gate, naturally, was locked.

After a few minutes of hemming, hawing, and investigating the situation, I decided there was space enough between the gate and a nearby utility pole to fit the car.  Perhaps you already have some idea where this is going?

As I navigated the five-speed, front-wheel drive German sedan towards the seemingly ever-shrinking gap, I looked at the three of them — LJ, my best man and friend of twenty-plus years; Mrs. LJ, well-intentioned if uber-panicky; and Fiancee Bone.  The skepticism was palpable.

I pressed on, determined to skillfully maneuver Fiancee Bone’s car through the opening, across a sandy threshold and into our future together.  Hero, thy name is Bone.

(I believe it was Gordon Lightfoot who once sang, “Heroes often fail.”)  My mistake was being too careful.  Not wanting to damage Fiancee Bone’s vehicle, I took it too slow.  The front-wheel drive, rather than working to pull me out of the sand (did I mention I was driving through sand?) only served to dig me in deeper -- literally and figuratively, I was thinking about this time.

I scanned Fiancee Bone’s face, trying to gauge her, um, enthusiasm.  On a scale of “I’m leaving and driving back home tonight” to “I love you forever,” it was a solid “I may not be speaking to you for awhile.”  We’d be fine.  Let’s face it, she’d surely put up with way worse than this in our time together.  I was inexplicably optimistic.

The three of us — LJ, Fiancee Bone and myself — got out to try and push.  Mrs. LJ got back into her own vehicle, presumably to panic some more or hide from the police that we all assumed would be arriving any minute.

Though buoyed by Mrs. LJ’s constant declarations of “This is never going to work,” pushing was a no-go.  The front wheels were nearly half-buried by now, thanks to some excessive gassing it earlier by yours truly.  The thought crossed my mind that no girl should have to be pushing a car from a stuck position the night before her wedding.  But in some way, it made me love her even more.   I looked at her again, and in that moment, I felt pretty confident she was not having similar thoughts about me.

Fiancee Bone began to call family members and friends to see if there was anyone who could pull us out, while Mrs. LJ consoled her with utterances of “I’d be so upset if I were you.”  I separated from the group a bit and walked back to the car.  That’s when I saw it — wedged down in the corner of the driver’s side window — the world’s tiniest post-it note.

I held the absurdly small piece of paper in the light and read it’s once-important but now terribly untimely message:

“Gate is dummy locked.  Please lock up when you leave.”

Why?  Just… why?

First of all, notes on cars go under the windshield wiper, everyone knows that!  I'm pretty sure that's in Deuteronomy, or would have been had post-it notes been invented in 1500 B.C., right between gleanest ye not thy fields after the harvest and something something something thine brother's oxen.

Secondly, who buys the 1/2 inch by 1 3/4 inch post-it notes?  They are very hard to see!  Nothing says "I wanted to leave you a note so technically you couldn't say I hadn't, but I didn't really want you to get the message" more than this.

Now you understand, Fiancee Bone hadn’t wanted to go out in the first place.  Plus there was the little matter of the car getting stuck while it just so happened I was the one driving it.  So I was already skating on the thinnest of ice.  But this bit of news, which meant the entire misadventure could have and should have been avoided, had turned that ice to slush.

I walked back to the group — they had remained preoccupied — and did not say a word, but simply handed the note to Fiancee Bone.  My brain must have suppressed the memory of her reaction in the interest of self-preservation or something, because I cannot recall a thing that she said.

In order to put the finishing touches on my magnum opus, I strolled over to the entrance, easily removed the lock and swung open the gate.  Voila!  Well, at least I’ll know for next time?

Not more than a couple of minutes later, we noticed the headlights of a vehicle begin to slow and pull off the side of the road.  How were we going to explain our situation?  There’s no way the police would believe the truth.  More likely, they would think we’d broken in, went joy riding in the parking lot, probably smoked a few doobies, and got stuck on our way out.  I began to wonder what the Gulf Shores Jail was going to look like.

Would it be like the Andy Griffith Show?  That wouldn’t be so bad.  Or would it be more like Law & Order?  Would I get my own cell or would I be in holding with a bunch of other criminals?  I knew that regardless I would not be able to “go” in that little sink/toilet thingy with no privacy.  I’d just have to wet myself.  Of that, I was certain.

As it turns out, my toilet nightmare would have to wait.  It was not the cops.   Instead a white jacked-up truck had pulled up.  Two boys who looked to be no older than nineteen or twenty got out.  Without saying a word, one hopped into the bed of the truck and began pulling out a chain.  The other offered nothing more than a brief “Ya’ll stuck?” greeting as he began to tie one end of the chain around the front right wheel of Fiancee Bone’s car.  It was as if they had done this a hundred times before.

Displaying a prowess normally reserved for a NASCAR pit crew, they had us unstuck within three minutes.  It would have been sooner but someone didn’t realize he had the car in reverse at first.  We insisted they take twenty bucks for their trouble.

Back on the road, we saw the white truck again on the strip.  It was turning into the Hooters.   A well-deserved reward, I thought.

Meanwhile, Fiancee Bone wasn’t saying much.  Probably thinking about how to convey her undying devotion to me in her vows.

“You know, one day we’ll look back on all this and laugh,” I offered, feebly.   From her reaction I gathered that today was not that day.

Nevertheless, in eighteen hours we’d be married.  I was pretty sure.




"Tomorrow we can drive around this town, and let the cops chase us around.  The past is gone, but something might be found to take its place..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Old We've Gotten, How Many We've Lost

It was the spring of my discontent.  One of several.  I had been unemployed for about two months, ever since I called out one Friday night at the Food Fair so I could attend the county basketball tournament.  At the tender age of seventeen, I was on my own.  

Well, that's not entirely true.

I mean, I still lived with my parents and they fed me and stuff, and I was still in high school.  But...  I had stocked my last gallon of milk, fronted my last aisle, stolen my last grape... (What?  They're like half a cent each.  I ate like three a night.  Who amongst us hasn't absconded with a bit of produce without paying, let them cast the first stone... OWW!  Who threw that?!)

That May, I landed a weekend job at the local AM radio station.  It was, um, quaint.  They still had a fifteen-minute swap-and-shop phone-in program (think of it like Craigslist on the radio) every weekday.  Each morning at 7:57 they (we) aired the funeral announcements (think obituaries on the... well, you get the idea).

It also happened to be a country station.  The year was 1990.  Up 'til then, I had not been all that keen on country music.  In fact, we were just coming out of my favorite decade of pop music, and I was pickin' up whatever Casey Kasem was countin' down.

As it turned out, my hiring coincided with a remarkable country music boom.  Garth had come out in '89, along with Clint Black and Alan Jackson.  George Strait, Alabama, and Reba were all in the long sweet spots of their careers.  Brooks & Dunn were about to break through, along with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and on and on.  Coincidence?  Well, as I just used the word "coincided," then yes, completely.

I still remember the first time I played/heard "Friends in Low Places."  It was on a 45 (think compact discs for old folks).  Perhaps it was because I was still a few months away from my first crippling heartbreak and had never tasted beer, but the song didn't strike me as all that remarkable.  In fact, I predicted then and there that Clint Black would indeed have a longer, more successful career than Garth.  Still waiting to see how that one turns out.

I saw the change from vinyl to CD's to mp3's.  Commercials went from carts (think re-recordable 8-tracks) to mini-discs to mp3's.  And within a couple of years, the station applied for and was granted an FM license.  Eventually, I moved to full-time working the night shift on a real FM radio station (think SiriusXM for old folks).

Anytime someone would ask about my job, the answer was always some variant of "I'm only doing this until I find something else/figure out what I want to do for a career."  I assume it was part of my Peter Pan syndrome, always waiting for some fantastical ship whose arrival was always just around the corner.  

Then one day, it was twenty-five years later.  And I had spent approximately twenty-one of those working for various radio stations filling an assortment of positions, from DJ to reporter, producer to high school football scoreboard co-host.

So why did the career-that-wasn't end?  Well, consider that except for the most recent, every other radio station I had worked for has since been bought out, changed format and moved, or shut down entirely.  I have never spoken truer words than these: Clear Channel killed the radio star.

Perhaps I'll write more about my radio days later -- I can sense the masses clamoring.  But what got me thinking about those days were last week's CMA Awards Show.  My sister texted (think Snapchat for old folks) the day after the Awards to see if I had watched.  I had not.  

The last station I worked for was classic country, '50s through '90s, which probably contributed to my being mostly abhorred by what passes for current country music.  (And while I'm at it, you pesky kids, you get off my lawn!)

She went on to inform me, due to it being the 50th Anniversary, there had been a tribute of some sort and quite a few of the old guard had appeared.  So I spent a bit of Thursday scrounging around YouTube watching clips.

Soon I found myself on the outskirts of Nostalgia-ville, cruising down a warm and fuzzy stretch of Memory Lane (one of my favorite roads as you may have noticed over the years).  There was a montage of some of the legends who have passed, including Waylon, Haggard, Cash, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.  

I had not expected to become teary-eyed, yet there I was.

The music had played a significant role in my life, certainly that was some part of it.  I think it's fairly common to feel a connection with the people and things who share our little strip of time.  The singers and bands, actors and athletes, songs and TV shows.  In all the years of creation, these were ours.

But mostly I suppose it had to do with that old familiar reminder of time's swift and certain passage.  Watching Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Alabama, and others on stage, I soon had the thought, "Wait a second.  How did they become the old guard?"

For you may be able to convince me of many things, but you will never convince me that the early '90s were twenty-five years ago.  Feels more like ten.  Maybe fifteen.  But twenty-five?  One third of an average lifespan?  A quarter of a century?  It seems as impossible as a thing can be.

I swear just the other day I was dusting off an old Charley Pride LP, placing it on the turntable, back cueing it to the start of "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin," and flipping the switch from 45 to 33 1/3...

Geez, that must have been some switch.


"If we had an hourglass to watch each one go by, or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly..."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Semi-Decent Proposal

One year late in the spring I am at the beach, and find myself in what can only be described as the world’s most heinous piano bar. The pianists, if I may use that term loosely, are spouting distasteful sodomy jokes (are there tasteful ones?) with disconcerting frequency. Perhaps they mixed in a few other jokes as well, but much like an imagined prison stay, it’s the sodomy you remember.

I am sitting between the girl I’ve been courting for quite some time and my ex-best friend’s wife, wracking my brain for a way to get the former to leave so the latter and I can have a couple of minutes alone.

You may be wondering, much like I was at the time: how did I wind up here?

It all began with a boy, a plan, and a healthy dose of absentmindedness.

First, the plan. We’d go for a walk on the beach, a place sewn into both our souls. I’d kneel down and propose in Spanish — she had lived in Spain for four months — reciting the words on the folded piece of paper I had kept in my wallet and rehearsed so carefully. Granted, it wasn’t any elaborate plan, but it was mine. I’d even gone old school and ask her Dad's permission. He, the jeweler, and I were the only people who knew anything at all about it.

We were on our way to the coast, thirty minutes into the five-and-a-half-hour trek when it hit me. (Apologies in advance for the language.)

“Crap!”

A pause.

“Crap! Crap, crap, crap!”

“What’s wrong? Did you forget something?”

“Uh…. no.” An obvious lie.

“Are you sure? We can go back.”

“No. It’s fine.”

But it wasn’t fine. My non-elaborate plan had but one tiny flaw: I must not forget the ring!

We couldn’t go back for it. Even if we did backtrack, adding an hour to our trip, when I came out of the house, she’d be expecting me to be carrying something. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything to pretend I had forgotten that might seem worth going back for.

And so, we continued southward, past the familiar rolling hills north of Birmingham, my mind a million — er, thirty — miles away.

I could propose without a ring. She would be confused, at best; disappointed, at worst. Else I would have to wait until we returned and come up with some other probably even less elaborate plan. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach.

I texted my ex-best friend’s wife: “You will not believe what I did!”

And now four people knew.

(It seems worth noting here the reason he is my ex-best friend is simply because we drifted apart once he got married and then went off on some radical religious tangent. Nothing too sinister.)

They happened to be coming to the beach that same weekend. She was full of questions: Was there anyone who had a key to the house? Yes. The girl who would be coming by to feed Tony DiNozzo, my third-born Betta.

OK, so I guess it was just the one question. They would conspire. She would retrieve the ring from my underwear drawer — the place all men keep their valuables. I assume — and bring it South.

They would arrive Saturday afternoon. We would be departing for home Sunday morning. It would be tight, but it could be done. I was almost confident.

I had one last directive:

“Make sure you don’t get the wrong ring.”

“There’s more than one ring???”

“I was engaged before.”

Obviously, bringing the wrong ring could turn what I was naively optimistic was going to be a decent engagement story into one that would be… well, probably not even an engagement story at all.

Saturday evening, the prospective Fiancee Bone and I grabbed some seafood at Kenny D’s, then drove across the bridge to Okaloosa Island and the aforementioned Sodomy Saloon, the rendezvous point suggested by my now ring-bearing friend. It had taken some convincing on my part. It being our last night on the beach, the Prospective One wasn’t overly keen on spending part of it with my ex-best friend’s wife. But I persuaded her. Or more accurately, annoyed her about it until she relented. This is how I operate.

We got to the door. I nearly turned back. Cold feet? No. Ten dollar cover charge. Which, if you’ve never dated anyone, meant twenty dollar cover charge. I figured it up, it came to about a dollar forty-three cents per sodomy joke. I don’t know what the going rate is, but that seemed a tad high.

We must have sat there at least forty-five minutes. She who bore my ring and I casting glances at one another, trying to figure out how to make the exchange. (Which, as it turns out, you cannot do through glances alone.) She who may hopefully someday bear my child growing more agitated with each excruciating moment. Finally, an idea. My first.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Prospective fiancee always had to go.

“No.” Of course.

At that point, I swear I began to see smoke. I’m not sure if it was from the bar or literal steam rising from her increasingly infuriated (and oh so adorable) head, but considering it was a non-smoking bar…

Then Ring Bearer excused herself to go to the restroom. I sat there for a good thirty seconds, clueless.

Oh! It hit me. "Um, I guess I’ll go, too.”

There was a lobby outside the restrooms. Ring Bearer wasn’t there when I went in. Thankfully, she was waiting when I had finished making my deposit. We made the swap. I pondered how many transactions just like this must have taken place in this very spot. Probably not many.

By now, it had gotten to be the sleepy side of 10 p.m. With a bit of a drive still ahead, I thought it would be too late to suggest a walk on the beach once we got back to the room. She would be suspicious. So instead, I suggested we go for a walk on the pier not far from the bar. Just the two of us. (I'm pretty sure that part was integral.) She agreed.

Partway down the pier, between people fishing and... other people fishing, I stopped and leaned against the rail. We chatted for a bit, looking out over the ocean and back towards the hotels and lights along the shoreline. It truly was gorgeous, out here, away from all the sodomy.

When I caught her looking away, I pulled the ring box out of my pocket. When she turned back I smiled and, gazing into those eyes so full of love — although maybe not quite as full as they had been a couple of hours ago — said, “Has anyone told you lately they want to spend the rest of their life with you?”

I then proceeded to kneel, and right there next to a sign that read “No fishing or diving,” I jumped right in.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


She said yes. Eventually. Turns out at first it was so dark she couldn't see the ring. But I did get the Spanish right. Later she asked what I would've done if I'd dropped the ring into the ocean, you know, since it was right there and all. I had honestly never considered that, not surprisingly. We would be married about 80 miles down the coast a little over a year later. I volunteered her to be in charge of the rings.

"Someday somebody's gonna ask you / A question that you should say yes to / Once in your life / Maybe tonight I've got a question for you..."

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rusty

It was nineteen eighty-six or -seven.  I had gone with Fave Aunt to watch my cousin's rec league basketball game.  He was 8 or 9.  I didn't know any of the other kids on the court, but one stood out. I gathered from the parents cheering around me that his name was Rusty.

Rusty's head was cocked to the side a bit, his shoulder slightly raised.  Sort of like if you were trying to hold a phone between your ear and shoulder to free up both hands, then backed it off about halfway.  It was obviously some sort of physical abnormality, one I had never seen.  But that was only part of what made him stand out.

While his condition made it almost impossible for him to shoot accurately, Rusty was a rebounding whiz!  It was pretty clear, at least to me, that he was trying twice as hard as anyone else. 

The game ended.  I don't recall who won or lost.  Yes, we had winners and losers in those days.  We kept score.  And miracle of miracles, it didn't kill me.  (Just do me a favor and don't yell "Loser!" in my vicinity, I still get a little sensitive.)  But there are three distinct memories I have of that day:  My late uncle coaching my cousin's team; thinking to myself that my cousin was definitely never going to attend Duke on a basketball scholarship; and Rusty.

Years scattered.  I didn't think about those things for a long while.  Rusty went to that place where certain memories are kept.  Ones you can't necessarily recall on command, but they're solidly there.  It simply takes some trigger -- a dream, a particular song, some conversation -- to bring them to mind, clear as the day you lived them.

Then some years ago, my sister was telling me a story.  She mentioned a Rusty.  The name was just uncommon enough that I thought it might be the same guy.  It was.

Rusty was the same age as my sister's husband.  They were friends.  He was a groomsman in their wedding.  But somehow he wound up talking more often to my sister.

You see, Rusty was one of those poor, misfortunate souls that we here in the state of Alabama refer to as "Auburn fans."  (We have other, more colorful names, but I'll save those for another day.)

My sister, of course, was raised as was I -- to love Bear Bryant and the Crimson Tide.  She strayed away from the fold once, in her rebellious high school days.  Made Mom buy her a Michigan sweatshirt for Christmas the year Charles Woodson won the Heisman.  But she returned.  There was much rejoicing.  (See: "The Bible," Luke 15, Parable of the Ninety and Nine.)

Despite their opposite allegiances, Rusty would call my sister from time to time to talk football.  Because that is what we do in the South.  Before the games, at halftime of the games,  after the games, after the season, we talk about college football year-round. 

Rusty still lived with his parents.  My sister once told me his condition made him not want to go out much.  He didn't like crowds and preferred to only be around his closest few friends.  I liked to imagine that these conversations with my sister brought bits of brightness to his days.  Pure speculation on my part, the brain eager to fill in what it does not know.

As is so often the case, the news came out of the blue.  My sister calling to let me know Rusty had died.  He was thirty-six.

First, shock.  Then questions.  Eventually more speculation.

My sister said Rusty suffered from Crohn's disease.  He had been sick but had put off going to the doctor.  By the time they got him to the hospital it had been too late.  Was he afraid to go?  Maybe he was just sick of always going?  Did he not have insurance?  Maybe he had it but the deductible was so outrageous that he couldn't afford to go?  All valid questions in modern-day America, sadly.

The next day, someone shared a post from Rusty's sister on Facebook.  Heart-ripping.

There were only the two of them, him and her.  I know how that is, to have that one person who grew up exactly like you did.  In the same house, with the same parents.  The same blessings and disadvantages.  The same unspoken secrets.

I clicked over to Rusty's Facebook page.  Scrolling through the RIP's and "I'm gonna miss you's" I saw a message from my sister.  Tears began.

Further down, the posts became scarce.  Then, a handful of birthday wishes from earlier in the year.  I noticed the date.  Rusty and I shared the same birthday.  It seemed more than a coincidence somehow.  I knew I had to write something.

Sometimes, when you don't see someone often or haven't seen them for a long while, the image you have of them sort of becomes frozen in time.  I do it with famous people a lot.  When I hear a song from the 80's I still picture the singer or band looking as they did then.  I cringed a couple of weeks ago when I saw the promo for the new Matt LeBlanc show and all his gray hair.  In my mind, he's still sitting in Central Perk and it's twenty years ago.

I did the same thing with Rusty.  I thought of one long ago Saturday in nineteen eighty-something.  Of the rebounding whiz with his head cocked to the side, trying twice as hard as everyone else.  I reckon some have to try twice as hard their whole lives...

My sister said not many people showed up at the funeral.

And I remembered how Rusty never liked crowds.


"Remember him when he was still a proud man.  A vandal's smile, a baseball in his right hand.  Nothing but the blue sky in his eyes..."

Friday, February 05, 2016

Not Like Riding a Bike

You pick up the ball, but it feels awkward in your hands.  Too heavy, or maybe too light.  It's hard to believe there was once a time you were even decent at this at all.

You look at the goal, but it seems too high or too far away.  You decide to dribble a couple of times, an attempt to get a feel for the game once again.

There's no one around, so you shoot.  You miss the goal by a foot and the ball bounds harmlessly, first on the pavement then into the grass.

Air ball.

It was always your tradition, or compulsion, to make your last shot of the day.  Which today might very well be your first shot of the day.  So you retrieve the ball, dribble back to the same spot and try again.

Though it feels as clumsy as the first, this time the ball clangs off the backboard then the side of the rim.  A little closer.

As you try and miss a third time, you wonder if it will ever feel as it once did, years ago when you could sometimes sense where the goal was and make the basket without even looking.

You think most likely not.  O, how you took those times for granted.

Finally, on your seventh or eighth or ninth attempt, the ball drops through the rim unscathed, making that sweet, once-familiar sound as it swishes through the nylon.

And you think maybe -- with good weather, countless hours of practice and frustration, and help from above -- you can learn to write again.

Just pray no one sees that first shot.


"Keep on dreamin' even if it breaks your heart..."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Rattlesnake Saloon


You spend the better part of the past decade hardly having any plans at all.  Then, with no warning whatsoever, two different friends invite you to do something.  On back to back days!  Well, that weekend is shot.

Such was my lot recently.  One Friday night, we went to see the new "Vacation" movie, marking my first trip to a theater since 2013.  The following afternoon, we ventured out to a little place I like to call... 'Murica.

B-Frickin'-E.

The Alabama boondocks.

Our destination was the Rattlesnake Saloon.  I don't know why it's called that -- though I have at least a faint idea -- and I was not about to ask.

To get there, you head out U.S. 72 West, past the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Cold Water Inn, and Dry Creek -- the latter turned out to be a blatant misnomer.  If you get to the Natchez Trace, you've gone too far.  (That sounds like a euphemism out of a bad abstinence education class.  "If you reach the female's 'Natchez Trace,' turn back immediately, cease heavy petting, and repent!")

Actually, you turn on the very same road that you do to get to the Coon Dog Cemetery.  No, that wasn't just a scene in "Sweet Home Alabama."  It exists.  And we're pretty proud of it.  If you travel there, you can see heart-wrenching epitaphs like, "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever had."  So carry a handkerchief.

But digress, I have.  Let's get back on our way to the Rattlesnake Saloon.

Traveling south, you'll pass "I think we're lost" and "I no longer have cell service."  About five miles after that, you take a right at "This looks like a good place to dump a body," and you're almost there.

Seems like a lot to ask, of a horse.
The parking lot is a field with an eclectic array of motorcycles, pickup trucks, people on horses, and soccer mom SUV's.  From here, you can see horse stalls, rows of campers, a general store, and two silver grain silos, which have been converted into two-story bunk houses. 

The Saloon itself is located down in a hollow.  You can walk down or ride your horse (there's a hitchin' post).  We chose option three: the "Saloon Taxi."  It's a white Ford F-250 double cab customized with wooden benches on each side of the bed.  As we left ground level and headed down a steep, winding gravel road, I thought "This must be how the Clampetts felt."   I hoped it would not be my last thought ever.

I feel like we're putting a lot of trust in the sedimentary rock
here. Rock that is obviously not averse to chemical erosion.
A kindly old gentleman drove the Taxi.  I called him "Paw" and "Jed."  I assume he was employed by the Saloon, but maybe not.  Maybe he was just an entrepreneurial old-timer out to make a buck.  So I tipped him.  A buck.

We got a table for seven and were seated outdoors.  There were about twenty-five tables located in the coolness beneath a large rock shelter.  While it was 2 o'clock on another stifling 95-degree July afternoon across most of Alabama, it must have been 15 degrees less where we ate.

The menu is fairly limited, but the food was decent.  Passing on the Skunk Rings, Snake Eyes and Tails, and Bronco Bits, for obvious reasons, I settled on the Polish Trail Dog with a side of onion rings and a lemonade.  The onion rings were a highlight.

Saloon Taxi track, BFE Alabama, circa AD 2015
For those who require a heftier portion, there is the Gigantor -- a 2 lb. burger served with a pound of fries and a half-pound of the aforementioned onion rings.  It's 45 bucks, but if you eat it all in under 45 minutes, it's free!  Then I suppose you can use the money for some Pepto, or start saving for that angioplasty which just got exponentially nearer.  So, win-win.

Now I did find out from another friend who went  later in the evening that there's really no seating policy.  If all the tables are full, you evidently have to share a table or, worse, hover behind someone and wait for them to leave.  So I'd recommend going at an odd, less crowded time.  But that's just me.  You know how I am about being around people.

After a filling meal and some good conversation, we decided to walk back to the top rather than wait for the Saloon Taxi.

There was some mention of going to visit the Coon Dog Cemetery, but I'd had enough socialization for one fiscal quarter.

So, modern day John Wayne that I am, I saddled up my soccer mom SUV and rode for home.

"Alabama, when red leaves are falling, I'll roam through your pastures with fences of rail / Alabama, when possums are crawling and hound dogs are whining and wagging their tails..."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Circling Back

As a kid, you don't need much of a reason to be friends.  You're friends with whoever sits next to you in class, or because some kid's mom invites you to his birthday party, or because you live in the same neighborhood.

But even though there were other kids in our neighborhood, it was the three of us -- me and Chris and Chuck -- that stuck the closest.

Chris and I were only a year apart, occasional rivals but always friends.  We were Tom and Huck.  Our neighborhood surrounded by woods on three sides, the creek that ran by the sewage treatment plant our Mississippi.  (In fact, if you followed the creek long enough, it would eventually lead to the Tennessee, just on the west side of the Wheeler Dam.  We never followed it nearly that far, but we did try making a raft once.  Didn't float.)

And little Chuck, with his old man name and his shock of orange hair, a few years younger but always determined to keep up.  He was the little brother Chris and I never had, much to his chagrin I'm sure.  We picked on him mercilessly, but let anyone else try and they'd better be ready to fight.

We raced tricked out bikes around that sleepy circle, pretending they were motorcycles, Indy Cars, or the General Lee.  Played football in the empty lot, baseball with ghost men, and golf with tennis balls and utility poles for holes.  We were Joe Montana and Roger Staubach, Jack Nicklaus and Calvin Peete, Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan.  (I was Roger, Jack, and Mario.)

We had Ataris, but almost always preferred to be outside with our imaginations.  "Red Dawn" and "The Day After" weren't just movies, but very real possibilities.  We practiced for war with pop guns, canteens, and pine cones for hand grenades.  The woods, creek, and the old rock crusher a Soviet battlefield.

We were gymnasts in the '84 Olympics, taking the swings off an old swing set, using the frame as a high bar and practicing our dismounts.  When we were thirsty, we drank water from a hose.  When we were hungry, we asked one of our moms or scrounged around someone's kitchen for cookies or a popsicle or, in especially desperate times, loaf bread.

Chris's boom box played Run DMC, New Edition, Midnight Star, and Prince & The Revolution.  And of course there was the time Chris's older sister (kinda cute, but bossy) said we should start a band and she would be our manager.  New Addition.  That was the name she came up with.  And with that, her career in talent management was over as quickly as it had begun.

Scarce was the tree we couldn't and didn't climb.  We made a thousand mudballs out of the red Alabama clay and threw them at each other, built forts out of pine straw, and used an old chicken coop as a clubhouse.  We got skinned up knees and stung by bees.  And sometimes we fought, but were always friends again by the end of the day or the next afternoon.

We heard (and repeated) cautionary tales about Mr. Sampson, the neighborhood peeping Tom who none of us had ever seen.  He was our Boo Radley.  And we steered clear of Crazy Alice. One day an ambulance was in her driveway and my parents said she had taken too many pills and then nobody lived in her house again for a long time.

Still, those never seemed like legitimate threats.  They were more like urban legends.  Stories that grew tall in the movies of a 12-year-old boy's imagination.

We picked apples from the tree in Doctor Thames backyard (without permission), and played in the playhouse that had belonged to his kids (with permission), by then all grown and moved away.  We traded baseball cards and turns riding Chris's go-kart around the circle.  Once I accidentally ran it off the road and into Mr. Sampson's yard.  I had never been so scared and never told a soul.

The world felt so much safer then.  Or maybe we were just naive.  We'd leave home and be gone for hours, our only instructions to be back in time for supper.   We rode our bikes to the sewage treatment plant, past where the paved road turned to gravel, far beyond the last house in the neighborhood.  I think about today and my nephews and how I'm afraid to even let them out of my sight.

We moved away from that neighborhood when I was 13 or 14.  Mom and Dad didn't have health insurance.  So when we had our car wreck, the bills from the resulting hospitalization and various surgeries made it so they couldn't afford the house anymore.

I remember being a little upset when we left, but of course I wasn't nearly able to grasp the gravity of it then.  We moved into a trailer across town.  Chris and Chuck came to visit a time or two, but it was never the same.

One day not too awfully long ago, I made a familiar turn beneath a blinking yellow caution light and drove back through the old neighborhood. I figured most of the people that once lived there had moved or passed on during the past almost thirty years, but I was fairly sure Chris's parents were still there.   As I passed, I noticed some kids toys in their yard.  Grandkids.  I smiled.  Next door, a house had replaced the empty lot and it made me a little sad.

That third of a mile seemed so much shorter than I had remembered, the yards smaller, the hill we coasted down on our bicycles not nearly so steep.

I came to the stop sign at the end of the loop.  Years ago, a gangly kid with sandy blonde hair and a chipped front tooth would have turned right, beginning the descent down the hill, quickly gaining speed and always a tad nervous he wouldn't make the curve at the bottom.  Not looking back.  And never really noticing any time passing at all.

But on this day, he turned left to head back to the two-lane state road, stealing one last glance in the side-view.

"Objects in mirror are closer than they appear."

If only it were so.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Brought to you by the Roman numeral XIII and the Norse god of thunder

A long time ago, in a blog not that far away, there was a weekly blog meme known as the Thursday Thirteen.  The premise was straightforward: Blog a list of thirteen things.  It could be your thirteen favorite Keanu Reeves movie quotes ("Excellent!" "Party on, dudes."), your thirteen favorite Oprah giveaways, or simply thirteen random thoughts.

With all it's alliterative allure and randomness, how could I refuse?  So I participated for a few weeks back in late 2005 and early 2006.  And here's a bit of Bone trivia: The Thursday Thirteen was how I "met" Renee (I'm pretty sure).  An encounter which has truly enriched her life (less sure).

So for old times' sake...

I.  I watched "Sharknado 3" last night.  I never saw "Sharknado 2" so I was a bit lost for the first few minutes.  Spoiler alert: The movie ends with David Hasselhoff floating off infinitely into space.  Which, coincidentally, is where I thought he had been all along.

II.  Summer TV: 200 channels and "Full House" reruns are still the best thing on at least four nights a week.

III.  Sticking with the TV theme, Monday is Luke Spencer's final day



IV.  "How do you tell somebody that you care about deeply, I told you so?  Gently, with a rose? In a funny way, like it's a hilarious joke?  Or do you just let it go, because saying it would just make things worse? ...Probably the funny way." ~ Michael Scott.  (I've been rewatching a lot of "The Office" on NetFlix lately.)

V.  I'm in between books right now.  Waiting for "West of Sunset" to come out in paperback, 'cause that's how I roll.  And wondering should I read "Go Set a Watchman." 

VI.  Dad turned 65 this week.  I bought him some Fender wall art at Hobby Lobby for his guitar/amp repair shop, then signed his card, "Love, Bone: The Fender Stratocaster of sons."

VII.  Mom slipped "POTUS" into a conversation yesterday.  Which prompted a "Whoa, whoa, whoa!  WHAT did you just say?" response from her firstborn.  "POTUS?" she repeated, sounding a tad uncertain she had used it correctly.  I continued. "First you get an iPhone.  Now, POTUS is part of your daily vernacular???"  This is a woman who cruised through the 80's and 90's never even attempting to figure out how to program a VCR.  I'm gonna need some time to process.  I don't understand the world anymore.

VIII.  "I wish you would post even more political and religious stuff on Facebook," commented no one, ever.

IX.  We went to see the musical, "Oklahoma!" last week.  I think I can sum it up in one word:  long.  It was an hour and forty-three minutes before they got to intermission!  I wasn't sure I was going to make it.  Hopefully, I scored some bonus points.  Although I may have just been making up for some previously accrued demerits.  I firmly believe some mysteries cannot be known by mortal man.

X. The same local troupe that did "Oklahoma!" is doing "As You Like It" later in the season.  I'm thinking it's a go.  After all, can one desire too much of a good thing?  And by desire too much of a good thing, I mean, accumulate too many bonus points. What sayest thou? 

XI.  In honor of the 46th anniversary of the alleged moon landing... We can put a man on the moon but we can't put a small, respectful partition between every single urinal in every single public restroom in this country?!  (Sticking with the Shakespeare theme) I think no partitions is taking this "All the world's a stage" thing a bit too far.

XII. There are 44 days until college football season.  "I can tell you who time strolls for, who it trots for, who it gallops for, and who it stops cold for."  And I can tellest thou who it dost moveth like a snail for. (Hint: It's a blogger who accrues demerits at a sometimes frightening pace.)

XIII.  I've been listening to the new Jason Isbell album.  (I had to do something to get "Oh what a beautiful moooooor-ning" out of my head.)  After the brilliance of "Southeastern," I was afraid I'd be disappointed in whatever came next.  Kinda like losing the best girl you ever had.  But music is not like women, so I needn't have worried.

Even though the album only came out this past Friday, the folks at YouTube are all over it.  This is one of my favorites so far.  The hook line is sort of a theme woven throughout the album and many of the characters he paints such vivid pictures of.  It poses one of those profound, make-you-think questions.  I know I've been obsessing over it for days now...




"Are you living the life you chose?  Are you living the life that chose you?"