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?"

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer: A Retrospective

Why does every year feel like the hottest summer ever?  Maybe it's just that I'm older.  Or maybe they are getting hotter, but this isn't a post on global warming.  I think we all know that's a farce perpetrated by Al Gore, the liberal media, most scientists, and the melting polar ice caps.

We're working on our 7th day of 96-degrees-plus.  Haven't hit triple digits yet, though we're hopeful for the weekend.  It gives us something to watch for, and helps break up the monotony of treating ourselves for signs of heat stroke.

I imagine it was like being on the Ark on day 39 of rain, and Noah's wife was probably like, "Dude, I'm so over rain."  But Noah was probably like, "Eh, the house is already a total loss, I'm gonna have to go to the Apple merchant to get a new abacus, may as well go for an even forty at this point."

A midsummer night's storm passed through Tuesday evening, providing a brief respite from the heat and bringing a few small tornadoes to neighboring counties.  The worst we got was having someone's trampoline blown into the road in front of my house.

It wasn't always like this.  Was it?  Summer used to seem cooler.  Plenty warm, for sure, but not my-internal-organs-are-going-to-fry-if-I-stay-outside-more-than-ten-minutes hot.  Anyway, it all got me to thinking about all the things summer used to be.  If you'll indulge me whilst I wax nostalgic for a moment...  ("As opposed to every other post you've ever written, Bone?")


Summer was a ballpark.  Lit up six nights a week.  Never on Sunday.  (You were in church then if your momma had raised you right.)  It was something to do in a town that didn't have anything else to do but go to the Hardee's or get up to no good.  I met a few girls there and played a little ball.  I was better at the latter but the former became a lifelong pursuit.

Summer was freedom.  Being out of school.  Every night felt like Friday night.  And that sultry evening air seemed to feed the restlessness.  Windows down, radio up.  Night driving and singing loud to some old summer song.

Summer was morning trips to Mamaw's with Mom.  Taking her into town and having breakfast at the Burger Chef.  Days lived with no real concept of time.  Mom was young, Mamaw was old, and it seemed that they would always be.

Summer was the city pool.  Learning to swim at the ripe old age of... well, is that really relevant here?  The cute lifeguard who unfortunately was too old for you.  (Which, personally, I've come to find I much prefer to them being too young.)

Summer was vacations.  Mostly just to Nashville.  They were small but they were ours.  Mom and Dad were still together.  I'd sit in the back seat and add up the miles between dots in the Rand McNally.  First I got too cool to go, then too old, and then Mom and Dad weren't together anymore.

Summer was time well wasted.  Countless hours spent on video games, hanging out at the mall, riding bikes, trading baseball cards, building forts, playing basketball, or long afternoons simply being bored.  Staying up late and sleeping later.  Some might disagree, but I say remain a kid for as long as possible.  Once the real world takes hold, it doesn't easily let go.

Summer was a song.  A thousand of them, really.  Sometimes sweet and wistful, sometimes upbeat and carefree.  But always, ended too soon.

(One of my thousand favorite summer songs...)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

No-talent assclowns and such

I want you to consider the state of the world for a moment...

Now consider this: 

Weren't we all better off when Michael Bolton was still having hits?  Think about it.  Gas was cheaper.  We were all much, much younger.  Some of us were thinner.  "Full House" was still on the air.  I'm just saying.

Lots has been going on in America lately, not all of which I'm thrilled about, but more on that later.  We celebrated another birthday here in the land of liberty over the weekend.  I wore my Old Navy U.S. Flag shirt.  Which was made in Vietnam.  I would not object if you say I am patriotism exemplified.

Enjoyed some good fried Fourth of July festival food.  I know it will kill me someday.  But my thinking was, "Surely it won't be today.  And hopefully not tomorrow either."  (Because tomorrow was Sunday and I didn't want to miss the U.S. Women's soccer match due to my untimely death or anything.)

I survived.  Though things may have looked precarious at times...

I also ran a 5K, recording my slowest time ever (24:59).  It was... interesting.  No timing chip.  No bib with a number on it.  We were given pre-race instructions as follows: Run down the hill, turn right at the stop sign, then turn left at the first road.  Run until the road dead ends.  We know it's dark so there's a truck parked out there with its lights on.  When you get to the truck, turn around and come back.

One guy got lost.  He evidently took a wrong turn and it wound up costing him about two minutes.  And no, it wasn't me!  Though that would've made for a much better story.

I saw him though, as I ambled along at my 8:03 pace.  This little glow stick coming through a cornfield towards the road.  (We all had to carry or wear glow sticks because it was a night race.) I'm not sure if anyone else got lost or not, and really with no timing chip or identification bib, there would be no way to know.  So, probably.

Saturday afternoon, we went for a brief two-and-a-half-hour canoe ride.  And while the canoe did not tip over, we did manage several unintentional 360's.  (Note: These should only be attempted by paddlers who have experienced a minimum of 2 to 4 canoe trips with varying degrees of success, are not in a hurry, and are able to express their frustrations with each other without using the paddle as a weapon.)

The part of the river we were on was sparse, which played right in to my dislike of crowds, and people in general.  We only saw four kayakers, two of whom cruised by just as we were performing some of our canoe acrobatics.  And there was one group of party bargers.  They had their inner tubes tied together, were shotgunning bad beer, and screaming the words to "God Bless the USA."  God bless us, indeed.

Speaking of these United States and what's been going on here lately, I just have one thing to say:  WTF????

It's ridiculous.  And I can't believe some people are actually supporting it.  Someone even invited me to go and see one of these disgraceful "productions," which I impolitely declined.  It's an insult to my intelligence and everything I've ever been raised to believe (about comedy). 

Is this really what we want to be as a nation?  Where a suburban Boston boy can grow up the younger brother of a New Kid On The Block and go on to earn excessive wealth and a modicum of fame by co-starring in not one, but two movies alongside a talking teddy bear?!

Mmhmm, suddenly my Michael Bolton theory's not sounding so terrible, is it?