Wednesday, December 31, 2008

That hardest and most wonderful of all years

Dad called the other night. "We're just sitting here enjoying these cute pictures of Nephew Bone." (One of the things I gave them for Christmas was a Nephew Bone calendar I made at Also, he doesn't actually call him Nephew Bone, which I find odd.) "There's just one thing we don't understand."

"Uhh, OK?" At this point, I'm thinking I got someone's birthday wrong or something.

"What is this fes-TEE-vus in December?"

And I thought he read my blog.

Festivus IV was a rousing success. There were thirteen survivors in all this year. That's one shy of the all-time mark set back in 2006. In hindsight, I'm glad I decided to have Festivus again this year. After all, airing the grievances I have against myself gets old after awhile.

Highlights included some of the Festivian children learning the difference between a Festivus pole and a shower curtain rod in a tree stand. The group singing of Silver Pole was a hit, as usual. Next year, I think we may try it in the round. (Or whatever you call it when you sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and everyone starts at a different time.)

The Festivus Dinner featured a tempting schmeer of pizza, cupcakes, chips and salsa, and Twix--the only candy bar with the cookie crunch. As an added feature this year, we watched The Dealership episode of Seinfeld, which features George's candy lineup. ("Please, I think I've reached the point in my life where I can tell the difference between cookie and nougat. So let's not just say things that we both know are obvious fabrications!)

The Feats of Strength this year featured two card games of immense skill and lightning quick reflexes: Spoons and Egyptian Rat Screw. I wanted to play Scene It Seinfeld, but got out-voted like twelve to two. (I voted twice.) Wolfgang and Little Joe were the first people knocked the first couple games of Spoons, which resulted in Wolfgang letting the expletives fly. Fortunately, the children were gone by that time.

I also received a The Office wall calendar from LJ. Then later I found out he got Wolfgang a calendar featuring scantily clad women giving golf etiquette rules. "I didn't want to get ya'll the same thing," he explained. And here I thought he was just impressed with my golf etiquette.

So, grievances have been aired and the pole is back in the crawlspace. All that's left now is to repair damaged friendships and reflect on another year that has passed us by. And I will do that now.

Two-double-naught-eight. It was the year I first had something I'd written published in an actual book. It was the year I first became an uncle and a godfather. The year I visited Myrtle Beach for the first time. And of course, it was the year Bama spent seemingly half the season ranked #1.

But most all all, I will remember 2008 as the year the each member of my immediately family experienced one very significant event. The year began with Mom recovering from her minor stroke. Then Dad found out he needed open heart surgery and had a successful triple bypass in April. And then in August came Nephew Bone. Now the world revolves around him, and no one would have it any other way.

The worry and uncertainty about Mom and the hours sitting in the waiting room as Dad underwent his surgery were the most anxious moments of my life. Then there was the indescribable wonder, joy, and hope Nephew Bone brought with him into the world. Those are the reasons that 2008 was the hardest and most wonderful of all years.

Thank God that Mom and Dad made it through everything OK. And thank God for Nephew Bone.

In a few hours, the ball will drop on 2009. Though personally, I would prefer not to spend New Year's Eve with Ryan Seacrest. I mean, does he have to take over everything? First, it was American Top Forty. Then it was Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. Next thing you know, he'll be guest starring on General Hospital and dating Audrina on The Hills. At which point, I will not be able to take it anymore!

I wish you all have a happy and safe New Year's and an amazing 2009.

"Today, you know, that's good enough for me. Breathing in and out's a blessing, can't you see? Today's the first day of the rest of my life. And I'm alive, and well..."

Monday, December 29, 2008

A thousand words doesn't begin to cover it

It was one of those mid-December days in the teens--the thirteenth or seventeenth, maybe--that all seem to run together. A lady came by looking for my mother. She was accompanied by a younger woman and two girls who I would later learn were her daughter and two granddaughters. Not recognizing them, I was reluctant at first to share any information.

Then as she started to leave, she said, "We're related to her."

"Oh... well, I'm her son."

Upon hearing that she sat her purse down and opened it. In a few seconds, she produced a small, somewhat worn flip photo album.

"Here's what I wanted to show her."

She opened the album. It was filled with pictures of my aunts and uncles when they were kids, teens, and newlyweds. In all, eight of Mom's eleven brothers and sisters were in at least one pictures. And most of them were in several. There were pictures of Mamaw and Papaw, great aunts and great uncles, and even my great grandmother. Pictures I had never seen. Most of them black and white.

I was overwhelmed. I had never seen more than a handful of photographs of my family from those days. As she flipped to each new picture, she would pause to see if I recognized the people in it. Sometimes I did. And if I didn't, when she told me who it was, I would see it immediately and smile and shake my head in amazement. Each photograph was priceless.

One picture had an old wall calendar in the background that dated it at 1968. Another had my fave aunt in it as a teenager. She was wearing a Bama t-shirt and looking a tad mischievous. Then there was one of Mom's elementary school pictures. And near the end of the album, a picture of Mom and Dad together, with Dad holding a guitar. I guess some things never change.

Some of the pictures would elicit a story from her, this lady who I found out during the course of conversation had married one of Mom's first cousins. The people I didn't know were almost as interesting to see and hear about as the people I did.

One picture was of my Uncle R with his arm around some girl I didn't know. They looked happy and young and full of life. I knew Uncle R wasn't married until he was in his forties.

"That's Alice," she said, as if sensing I was about to ask. "Oh, they were so in love. Those two would have gotten married but her daddy stopped it."

"Did her daddy have a problem with Uncle R?"

"He didn't want his daughter to marry R because of his..." She motioned her hand, unable to think of the word.

"Epilepsy." I finished her sentence. Uncle R had pretty severe seizures as long as I knew him. He died when he was fifty, just three months after Mamaw passed away. Hearing this story, I was very sad for him.

There was a picture of my Great Uncle J, who I'd never seen. His hair was slicked back and he had a Clark Gable moustache which caused me to remark that it looked like he was a ladies' man.

"Oh, you have no idea." She then proceeded to tell a story of how he got a job at a restaurant and dated a waitress there until his first paycheck, then he quit. He called the waitress and told her he couldn't work anymore because he'd been in a bad wreck and broke his arm, his leg, and several ribs, none of which was true.

There must have been fifty pictures or more, and I guess we sat there thirty or forty-five minutes looking through every one and talking about them. My eyes had already gotten moist. Then when we were done, she held out the album as if to give it to me.

"Oh, no. I couldn't possibly..."

"Yes. That's what I brought it for. I figured your mother would like to see these."

I was floored. There were no words to express my gratitude or emotions in that moment.

An idea occurred to me, so I asked her if it would be alright if I wrapped up the photo album and gave it to Mom "from Santa" for Christmas. She said she would like that very much. I promised her I'd guard them with my life. I told her I'd be sure Mom knew that she was the one responsible for the pictures, and even had her write her name and number on a piece of paper and slipped it inside the front cover.

I'm sure I told her thank you at least ten times. And before she got up to leave, still shaking my head in amazement, I said, "This is Christmas."

And it was.

"Here's the last one that we ever took of Daddy. We tried hard to make him smile but never did. And here's one I caught of you when you weren't ready. And here I am when I was just a kid..."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"I have waited for tomorrow from December 'til today..."

Sleep never came easy for me on Christmas Eve. The excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning was just too much. Every creak, every thud, every noise sounded exactly like sleigh bells or reindeer hooves or someone on the roof. One year, I know I must have gotten out of bed five times, walked into the living room in my baby blue Dallas Cowboys pajamas and told Mom I couldn't sleep.

I was always the kid who woke everyone else up on Christmas morning. Well most years. One particular Christmas, I remember I got out of bed at 1:30 in the morning. I'm still not sure I fell asleep at all that night.

My "big" gift that year was a little mini Casio keyboard. It had four settings: piano, flute, violin, and something called fantasy. I turned the volume on the lowest setting and sat on the couch and played with it until everyone else woke up. I think Dad was the first to venture into the living room that morning, around 5:30.

I was afraid my parents might be upset. Normally they liked to watch as we found what Santa had left us scattered around the living room. But Dad didn't seem to mind. Then again, I was fourteen.

For awhile, my sister would tell me to wake her up on Christmas morning. But that only lasted a few years. Then she got too old. But I never did.

I still find it hard to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Back then, it was the anticipation. Now it's because I don't want it to end. That magical feeling of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

When you're a kid, those first twenty-four days of December seem to take forever. And when it's over, the next Christmas seems a hundred years away. The years pass a lot faster these days. Still, for just a little while tonight, I wish that I could stop time. It all goes by so fast.

Or maybe I'm still just a kid.

Merry Christmas, from my home to yours...

(Bone's Christmas tree and presents, circa 2008.)

"I'm as slow as christmas. I'll be up before the dawn. I'm not gonna miss this. I know that old saying's wrong. Every Christmas day makes every other day seem long. And what seemed would never get here has so quickly come and gone..."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Festivus IV

Every year around this time, I start hearing the questions. It really should come as no surprise. I mean, I'm single, thin, mid-thirties, and have an above average knowledge of all things Seinfeld.

"When's Festivus?"

"Are you having Festivus this year?"

After last year's 3rd Annual Festivus At Bone's drew only eight guests, down from the previous year's all-time high of fourteen, I had been considering not having Festivus this year. (Pause for gasps and bellows.)

I know, it's like telling a child Christmas has been cancelled. I just never realized how hard it would be to sustain a fake holiday. As I wrestled back and forth with the decision of whether or not to have a bunch of people over to trash my place, time just slipped up on me.

Tuesday is Festivus. Yet my Festivus pole remains in the crawlspace. Festivus evites have not been sent. And no Twix have been purchased for the candy lineup. Most importantly, my apartment has not been cleaned because I haven't had a girl over in weeks.

It's all these menial tasks. Laundry, grocery shopping, getting on here and surfing the internet. Do you have any idea how much time I waste on this computer? Throw in the fact that the city council has outlawed cockfighting, as well as unsanctioned cage fighting--severely limiting the options for the Feats of Strength--and it looked like Festivus wasn't going to happen.

Still, I was holding out hope right up to the last minute. Maybe some unexpected event, the magnitude of Donna Martin Graduates or the Save The Max radiothon, would occur to save Festivus.

It's kinda like in Liar Liar when Jim Carrey promised he was going to play baseball with the kid who played Lucas on General Hospital. And that girl from ER waited and waited until the very last minute even though Jim Carrey had let them down time and again. Then Jim Carrey gets thrown into jail, which is where the Festivus analogy kind of goes awry. Except that they boarded a plane for Boston with the guy who played David Lookner on Seinfeld, which kind of brings the whole thing full circle. But anyway...

I was ready to come to terms with the fact that there would be no 4th Annual Festivus At Bone's. Then the female portion of Kywana called the other day and said "Silver Bells" had come on the radio when she was in the car, and Kywana Jr. started singing "Silver Pole" instead of "Silver Bells." *sniff sniff*

Well, I just about lost it. And that's when I remembered what Festivus is all about. It's not about having a clean apartment or how many of your friends don't show up even though they tell you they will. Festivus is about getting together with people and feeling no obligation to buy them a gift. It's about letting those you care for know all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year. Most of all, it's about passing Frank Costanza's vision on to the next generation.

So Festivus at Bone's is on for Friday night. It's another Festivus miracle! Besides, if I don't do it, who will?

Sure, it's probably too late to book Christopher Cross. Actually, it's probably not. Still, there'll be lots of shouting and plenty of food if you get there early. And considering how close this Festivus was to not happening at all, I'd say there's a good chance it will surpass all Festivuses (Festivi?) past--all three of them.

Here's wishing you all a Happy Festivus For The Rest Of Us! Now, please join me in singing that favorite of all Festivus songs, Silver Pole.

"Silver Pole, Silver Pole. It's Festivus in the city. Tinsel free. So sturdy. Soon it will be Festivus..."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Take me home...

A few weeks ago I found myself on a road I've been on many times before. A two-lane country road not all that distinguishable from any of ten thousand others. It wasn't the most direct way to get to where I was going that day, but it was the way I needed to take. As I drove, I remembered. And though I never lived on that road, it felt like years of my life had been spent there.

Almost immediately, I recalled an icy night some years ago that resulted in a scarcely visible dent beneath the passenger side door of my Jeep. Suffice it to say the fourth mailbox on the right side of the road used to be wooden. You never forget your first.

A little further down I passed the old ball field, still standing but barely. The roofs gone off both of the concrete dugouts. The outfield fence rusted and torn down in places. The grass grown high. I remember when it came to life almost every summer night with bright lights, kids playing, parents cheering, coaches yelling.

If you take a left across from the ball field, it'll take you past the high school and the football field where one cold January morning I ran headfirst into the goalpost while not wearing a helmet. (Not intentionally.) Being knocked unconscious isn't loads of fun when it happens, but it makes for a decent story later.

But I didn't drive out by the school. I stayed on my current path, and I knew what was next. It's the fifth road on the left after you pass the Baptist church. The memories started to come. I pressed on the gas a little harder, maybe hoping I could outrun them. I loved a girl who lived down that road, and probably always will.

Almost to the top of the hill is the cut off to Roller Coaster Road. I'm sure I smiled as I passed it, thinking about all the afternoons spent running wide open up and down those hills. Top down. Stomach flipping. And time to burn.

The thought of turning around and taking one more ride on Roller Coaster Road briefly crossed my mind but I continued on, down the hill and finally to the stop sign. There on the corner is a little country store. Or used to be. It's been closed for years now, but the building is still there, looking dilapidated at best.

Some nights we would stop there and get a cold drink out of the machine after parking in the cotton fields, if we had enough change and enough time before daylight. I don't know what good it would have done, but part of me wished the store was still open. And I probably would have stopped off for a coke if it had been.

If you go straight at the stop sign, the paved road ends and dirt roads lead through miles of cotton fields. There are a couple of sharp curves and if you don't know the road well, perhaps on a foggy night, your friend's car might end up in a cotton field, on its side. And you might have to go back the next day to help him push it over so that another friend can tow it home.

I turned left at the stop sign. It was Thanksgiving day, and I had decided to visit the cemetery. Mamaw and Uncle J had been such a huge part of Thanksgiving for so many years, it just felt right to pay them a visit.

As I left that two-lane country road behind for another, I was astounded by how many memories were associated with that single stretch of highway. I felt a sense of home. I felt grounded.

There's something comforting in a place like that. Knowing that the memories are always there, just waiting until the next time I take a slight detour from life and go for a drive down that road. A road I know so well it feels like I could drive it with my eyes closed.

And sometimes I think I did.

"Ain't that just like a dream, runnin' wild and runnin' free. We were rebels chasin' time against the wind. Sometimes I long for just one night of the way I felt back then. But ain't that just like a dream, it always ends..."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It takes effort to be this unproductive

Also known as "What I did tonight instead of Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards, alleviating the nakedness of my Christmas tree, or anything else that might otherwise be deemed as productive."

I listened to iTunes. "Higher Love" by Steve Winwood came on. I googled it to see if it was "think about it" or "thing about it." I thought it was think, but also thought it could be thing. It turned out to be think, which is what I first thought.

While looking at the lyrics, however, I realized the chorus does not go "Great day of higher love!" Who knew?! All these many years I've been singing it wrong. Looks like somebody would have told me, instead of letting me look like an idiot.

I mean, if a woman is walking around with a little mini moustache, you don't just let it go and snicker behind her back. You say, "I think you gotta a little something on your lip there, ma'am... Oh! It's hair." Unless you're dating her, in which case you just have to pray someone else mentions it to her.

Otherwise, I practiced my skills at Yahoo pool. You know, because that's so much healthier than trying to go out and meet a girl or something.

I also watched a couple of Seinfelds, "The Rye" and "The Dog." I have a rule that I always stop if a Seinfeld is on TV, even though I have the DVDs. (Except for Seasons 8 & 9, which would be on my Amazon wish list if I had one.)

No fewer than fourteen times I looked out the window to see if it was snowing yet, because according to the weather people there was a 50 percent chance. "Up to an inch accumulation," they said. Of course, I never saw the first flurry. You'd think they would eventually luck up and get it right JUST ONE TIME. I mean, people win the Powerball. How hard could it be to close your eyes and predict snow?

Let's see, I know I must have done something else. I think the problem is I did so much, it's easy to forget some of it. Oh yes, now I remember. I heard a dog barking, so I cut off the lights and looked outside to see if there was a dangerous prowler or angry ex-girlfriend lurking. I'm basically a one-man Neighborhood Watch.

Ooo, I watched The Office! I think tonight was the best episode of the season so far. Here are a few random quotes, which may or may not mean something to you, largely depending on whether or not you watched the show:

"We are not going to support your alcoholism anymore. The next time you light yourself on fire, we are not going to help put you out."
"Ah, as fire marshal I would have to."

"Have you ever, under the influence of alcohol, questioned the teachings of the Mormon church?"

"I am not going to judge Phyllis for desecrating Christmas. There is one person who will though, and Phyllis just stuffed him into a drawer."

"Was John Belushi fine? Was Bob Hope fine?"

"Fire girl! ..... Too soon?"

OK, I must get to bed. Whoever knew there could be so much involved in doing nothing. May tomorrow be a great day of higher love for us all. Sorry, I just had to say it one last time. *sniff* I'll miss it.

"Think about it, there must be higher love. Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above. Without it, life is wasted time..."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

And I still don't know who Scuba Steve is

While chatting with an ex-girlfriend last week, a blog entry materialized...

Her: Damn you, Scuba Steve.

Me: Scuba Steve?
I think you've got your guys confused again, dear.

Her: No no no.
You've obviously never seen Big Daddy.

Me: Nope.
Well I saw part of it, I think.
Is that where they pee side by side?

Her: Mmm . . no?
You would like Big Daddy.
You should rent it.

Me: Are you sure?

Her: Yes, they don't pee together. I know that movie backwards, frontwards, sideways and upside down.
No peeing.

Me: Mmhmm.
Wanna bet?
(This is where I quote a Roger Ebert review I found after googling Big Daddy...)
"The predictable story arc has Sonny and Julian bonding. This is not as easy as it sounds, since any Adam Sandler character is self-obsessed to such a degree that his conversations sound like interior monologues. It is supposed to be funny that Sonny has a pathological hostility against society; when McDonald's won't serve them breakfast, he throws another customer's fries on the floor, and when a restaurant won't let the kid use the restroom, he and the kid pee on the restaurant's side door."

Her: He didn't pee.
The kid peed.
Because he has to pee every three seconds.

Me: OK, so Roger Ebert is wrong and you are right. Sure.

Her: Adam Sandler's on the lookout for him and says something like "Gee, you and my grandmother pee this much!"

Me: You're so self-assured when you're wrong. That's the amazing thing.

Rent the movie.

Me: You still wouldn't believe me.
I remember it. It's the only scene of the movie that even stands out to me. Roger Ebert wrote about it in his movie review. You're wrong.

Her: You stink, Justin Matisse.

Me: This is why we're not together.

Her: Because you stink?

Me: Because you can never ever ever admit you're wrong.
About anything.

Her: Oh for the love. . he doesn't pee on the wall.

Me: Even with written proof from one of the 3 most popular movie critics in the history of the world.
So what chance do I have in a regular argument?

Her: Oh oh oh.
I'm wrong.
When Julian can't pee on the wall because they're in public, Adam Sandler does it to show him that it's no big deal.
You're right.

Me: Wow.
Let us commemorate this day.

Her: Goodnight, Bone.

Me: Or we can not commemorate it and say we did.

"I hope them cigarettes are gonna make you cough. I hope you heard this song, and it pissed you off. I take that back, I hope you're doing fine. And if I had a dollar, I might give you ninety-nine..."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thirty-six reasons to be thankful

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It was a perfect weekend here. Thursday was Thanksgiving (you know, in case you somehow missed that), I took off work Friday, I golfed, and I attended the Bama game on Saturday.

But there could have been a massive cranberry shortage causing them to cancel Thanksgiving. Golf could have been rained out. I could have had to work over finishing up my TPS reports. And it still would have been perfect.

Why? I can answer that question with two words and two numbers.

Alabama 36, Auburn 0.

That's right. The magical mystery season continued Saturday with a thrashing of our cross-state rivals. They're calling it the Beatdown In T-Town. And who am I to argue? Nothing short of Jason Morgan leaving General Hospital could have made this weekend anything less than perfect.

To fully convey what the Alabama/Auburn game means to persons in this state would be impossible. For many years, the success and tradition of the Crimson Tide served as a source of pride for the state. College football is king here. "Are you for Alabama or Auburn?" is literally a more popular conversation topic than discussing the weather. Why, I posed that very question to a cute waitress at my favorite theme restaurant this past Friday night. When you add to that the fact that you are playing your in-state rival--whose fans you have to see Sunday morning at church or Monday at work--suffice it to say that it's a big game.

Alabama and Auburn first played one another in football in 1893, without helmets!!! (Oh, wait a second. Apparently no one played with helmets back then.) The teams played eleven times between 1893-1907, before a dispute between the schools caused the series to end. The teams would not play again until 1948.

During the forty year hiatus--which by the grace of God I was not alive for--several attempts were made to resume the series. At one time, Alabama's Board of Trustees was against the resumption, saying that an Auburn-Alabama rivalry would lead to an overemphasis of football in the state of Alabama. Hmm, ya think?

When I was but a lad, and Alabama would beat Auburn, we would load up in the car and drive to a sporting goods store thirty minutes away. There we would stand in line with anywhere from thirty to fifty other fans waiting for "score shirts" from the game to literally roll off the press.

The "score shirts" would obviously have the score of the game, and usually some really cheesy slogan. The one that sticks out in my mind for some reason is "No Sugar Bowl Cause The Tide Did Roll." (cringe) And we bought these. And wore them. Proudly.

Nowadays when we beat Auburn I'm just exorbitantly happy. And if we lose, I typically go into my room, bury my head in a pillow, and refuse to answer the phone or have any contact with the outside world for two or three hours. I'm so glad I've matured over the years.

As I stated earlier, to fully convey what the Alabama/Auburn game means to the people of this state would be impossible. Though perhaps the following scene can shed a bit of light.

One of the popular outbound routes from Tuscaloosa is Highway 13. It's a two-lane road that winds around curves and over hills. Over about a sixty-mile stretch there are maybe four gas stations, a couple of roadside diners, and not much else.

Coming home Saturday night, there was an uncommon sight in front of one of the diners. Out near the road, in the light of one of those yellow portable marquee signs, two women and three children were standing. Thirty miles from anywhere, at 8 o'clock at night, there they were. Just standing and waving at the train of cars traveling home from the game.

We honked as we passed by. Because though it might be impossible to put into words, somehow we understood why they were out there. And as strange as it might have seemed to someone else, to us it made perfect sense.

"Go roll to victory. Hit your stride. You're Dixie's football pride, Crimson Tide..."