Thursday, January 31, 2013

More salad, please

"These were the happy days, the salad days as they say..."
~ Raising Arizona

My typical January blahs lacked their usual bite this winter.  And I have a couple of theories as to why.

One is that the blahs are holding off until February when I turn that age which shall not be spoken, thus in all probability entering a mid-life crisis the likes of which the world has scarcely seen, at which point my usual winter depression will last indefinitely, or longer.

The other has to do with the fact that this particular January has included a beautiful 2-inch snow (school was out for two days) and yet another Bama national championship.  To slightly reword the song, those are but two of my favorite things.  So I spent a decent portion of the month on cloud ten.

The man most responsible for this -- the football, not the snow, well not as far as I know anyway -- is Nicholas Lou Saban.

I nearly titled this post, "Have you ever really, really really ever loved a man?"  Because I have.  I do.  I love this man.  And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

If I would've had a Nick Saban in my formative years... who knows where I'd be right now?  I'd probably own a small country.  Or at least an E-Trade account.

These are the new glory days.  Three national championships in four seasons.  Are you kidding me??  My life has never been better.  As a sports fan, I mean.  (Important caveat there.)  These are my salad days.

For better or for worse, folks around these parts place a fair amount of importance on our college football, and, more specifically, our Crimson Tide.  I would even go so far as to say that for a majority of people in this state, their top three priorities are God, family, and Alabama football.  And not always in that order.

I just assumed it was that way everywhere.  It's kinda like the first time you leave the South and discover they don't have sweet tea in other places.  But in my golden years, I've come to realize that for many, many people, football is nothing more than a dalliance. (You have no idea how long I've been trying to work "dalliance" into a post.)

Just as I never thought to write about the delights of sweet tea, I've not written about Bama football from this angle.  So allow me to tell you a few things about our organization.

"Roll, Tide" is our cheer.  Maybe you've heard of it.  If not, you can hear it from 100,000 fans inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on most Saturdays in the fall, or in a million living rooms across the state on those same Saturdays, where families gather around televisions, and sometimes radios, hoping for another Bama victory, high-fiving and yes, roll-tiding after every big play.

But it's not just a cheer.  It can be a greeting, a better way to say "goodbye," even a question.  Say you've had a minor misunderstanding with someone.  After talking things out, you might say, "Roll Tide?" instead of "We good?"  And they might respond with, "Roll Tide" instead of "Yeah, we're good."

You might hear it from someone you pass in a convenience store, or your postal carrier.  You hear it at school and at work, where people wear their Bama gear on Fridays during the season.  Every Friday.  Not saying we're superstitious or anything, but if you didn't wear your Bama shirt and they were to lose that weekend, well good luck reconciling with your family.

I've heard it from a hotel front-desk clerk in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a McDonald's drive-thru attendant in Nowhere, Tennessee.  I've even heard it from a pulpit on Sunday, several times. (Is it any wonder those faith and football priorities get muddled occasionally?)

Hear it from a stranger, and you've instantly made a lifelong friend.

It's an aura that hangs in the air of this state like the heavy blanket of humidity on a summer night.  A commonality.  And a source of pride.

You didn't have to attend the university to get it.  We get it from our mothers and our fathers, our uncles and aunts, or maybe our granddaddy, our older brother or sister.  One of my favorite all-time family photos is of my aunt as a teenager in the '60s, wearing a Bama t-shirt.  Some pick it up on their own, attend their first game, and fall in love.

However you get it, once it's in you, it's lifelong.  For better or for worse.  In sickness and in health.  Good seasons and bad.  'Til death do you part.

Is it too important?  That probably all depends on who you ask.  But is it important?  No question.

My Mom once loved a man who wasn't my father.  His name was Bear Bryant.  He became coach of the Crimson Tide when she was 8, and he retired and passed away when I was 9.  An entire generation.  He won a few championships, too. Six, to be exact.

So the morning after this year's Bama team had showed them northern boys from Notre Dame what real football was, I was talking to Mom and decided to ask her if this was how it was then.  If these glory days were as good as the old glory days.

Now this is a woman who, before and during many a football game, has been known to utter the statement, "Please look down on us today, Bear," as if soliciting some divine intervention.  The same mother who apparently trained me so that when a Sunday school teacher showed me a picture that was supposed to be Jesus walking on water and asked who it was, I replied, "That's Bear Bryant.  My Momma says he is the only person who can walk on water."

So when I asked her, "Is this how it was in the old days?" the answer I got was not the answer I expected.

After first scolding me for intimating she was old, she kind of laughed as she said, "No.  We never won like this."

Roll Tide?

Roll. Tide.

"I'm feelin' pretty good and that's the truth / It's neither drink nor drug induced, no / I'm just doin' alright / And it's a great day to be alive..."

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A show for the aged

Most of us probably have a few select tours we'd like see before we set sail for that great mosh pit in the sky. 

A Wham! reunion tour.  Miami Sound Machine.  DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince "Grandparents Just Don't Understand Tour."  (What?  I have mine.  You have your own.)

We sit around whiling away the hours in our workaday lives, just hoping for the day when we hear the news that our favorite band has gotten back together.

But then sometimes a tour comes along that is so amazing, so completely out of left field, that you didn't even know to wish for it.  It is truly beyond your wildest concert dreams.

That tour has arrived.

That's right, boys and girls... mostly girls.  Motownphilly, back again!  Turns out it's not so hard to say hello to yesterday.  You just thought it was the end of the road.  The nineties called, they want their boomsauce back!  

I've a mind to pull out my Batman t-shirt (a la Jordan Knight in the "I'll Be Loving You Forever" video).  And if I had enough hair, I'd totally rock a 1992 Boys II Men fade!  (As opposed to the slightly-modified Brandon Walsh "James Dean" 'do I unfortunately attempted to rock from 1991 until 1999.)

Boys II Men.  A band that needs no introduction.  And that's a good thing because I don't think I ever knew any of their names anyway.

But I did have their first tape.  Cooleyhighharmony.  The name says it all, really.  

When asked what the band had been up to, lo, these many years, one nameless band member said matter-of-factly, "Well... growing into men, as the name would suggest."

He continued, saying the guys were glad to be back to being Boys II Men after a couple of failed name changes.  "Men Reliving Their Past just didn't work for us.  The only people who showed up at our concerts were forty-year-old guys in football and softball uniforms.  And they didn't know the words to any of our songs."

When asked about their touring partners, this nameless member was only complimentary.  "We are honored to be touring with five middle-aged white guys from Boston.  It's not every day we get a chance to tour with someone whose last #1 hit was longer ago than ours."

Speaking of those "kids" from Beantown, I don't think I have to tell you my feelings about NKOTB.  I mean, my Where Are They Now post may very well have been the impetus for their first reunion tour in 2008.  (Dear World, You're welcome.  Signed, Bone.)

Unable or willing to reach any of the New Kids for comment, we imagine Donnie Wahlberg might have said, "Well, you know, no one really has any idea what movies I've been in.  To be honest, I can't even remember them myself.  But when I tell people I'm Donnie D, well, first they look kinda confused.  But after a couple of minutes of gentle coercion, eventually they're like, 'Oh!  You're one of the New Kids who hardly ever sang lead!'  I mean, you can't put a price on that.  When I'm dead and gone, that's something I can put on my tombstone.  By the way, speaking of tombstones, I now have a tombstone engraving business on the side -- I call it, Donnie D's Famous Last Words -- and I CAN put a price on all your grave marker needs."

And then there's 98 Degrees.  

Look, I gotta be honest.  I always get them mixed up with N'Sync and Backstreet Boys.  

On SongPop, I mean.

When some girl I'm playing against picks the Boy Bands category, I mean...

I always questioned why they didn't just use the degree symbol in their name?  Did they not have character map back then?  98°.  How cool would that have been!  Heck, they'd probably still be popular if I'd been in charge of their logo.

So if you're like me and have no clue what 98 Degrees sang, well there's only one way to find out -- besides the internet.  And asking someone.  And that way is, going to see them in concert.

Actually, I was kinda hoping they'd be the opening act and I could skip their part of the show.  But now I'm thinking what if Nick Lachey is doing a meet-and-greet, I'll probably want to get there early to get a place in line.

This is just the kind of tour that keeps that tiny, glimmering shard of hope alive that somehow, someday, Wham! might slip on the ol' "Choose Life" t-shirts one more time.  (Andrew?  George?  Come on, guys, none of us are getting any younger.)

And without hope, life would be... well, I shudder to think.

(Disclaimer: All interviews in the preceding post are fake.  The interviewees are real, in that they are real people.  But they are not real, in that they were not really interviewed by the real interviewer, who is me.  Those who were fake interviewed for this post did not necessarily say the quotes attributed to them, although that's not to say they couldn't have, had they actually been posed these very questions for real, which they were not.)

"Back in school we used to dream about this every day / Could it really happen / Or do dreams just fade away..."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why men don't like to take out the trash

In those days, the old folks would tell of a splendor which had once illuminated the heavens.  Though they had not seen it in ages, they spoke fondly of it.  And they called its name "the sun"...

I cannot recall the last time I didst see the yellow sun.

It has rained all year.  And more rain is forecast. It's like living in Seattle.  Except without the Space Needle, formerly cool music scene, or proximity to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

I'm beginning to think the Mayans may not have been completely wrong, just off by a month or two.

There is talk of this so-called "sun" appearing on Friday, but I'll believe it when I see it.  In the mean time, I think I may begin pricing gopher wood on Craigslist.  And livestock.

Today, the garbage was at the peak of its stench.  Unable to put it off any longer, I decided to brave the rain and take out the trash.

Big mistake.

To reach the communal waste receptacle, I have to go out the back gate, down a sidewalk, and across a small parking area.  It's roughly 72 steps, though I take longer strides to round it down to a nice OCD-friendly 70.  Actually, 80 would be more friendly.  Or 100.  Or 50.  I tried taking 50 once but then I just looked like a big lurching, creepy orangutan.

Often when it's raining, I'll jog instead of walking.  I don't want to run too fast, so as to appear scared of getting wet.  It's more of a manly trot, really.  Like a firefighter, in a bit of a hurry because, hey, you never know when there might be a life to save.

Well, the sidewalk part of the trip is fine, but once I get into the parking lot area, there is standing water.  At first, it's not too bad, just a few puddles.  But then I feel it soaking through my Chucks.  (Yes, I wear Chucks.  I dress like Ted Mosby.  I dress exactly like Ted Mosby.)  I cringe, but it is too late.  They are saturated.

With each step, the water seems to deepen exponentially.  Like the parking area must have been built on a slant for some reason.  By now, it has to be at least a foot deep.  So about halfway through the parking lot and with water soaking me from the knees down, I decide to abort.

What?  They always tell you in a flash flooding situation if you encounter standing water, do not try to cross.  Am I right?   Besides, it is a fact more people die from floods each year than are killed by automatic car wash mishaps and being crushed by vending machines combined!

Armed with this knowledge, I veer off to the right to begin making a half circle back towards home base.  But as soon as I do, I realize I still have a garbage bag in my hand.  My mind races.  I can't turn back now.  What am I gonna do, take the garbage back inside?  But Bone, you could die!  Yes, but this garbage really stinks.  Good point, risk it.

I veer back to the left, planning to toss the bag into the dumpster from ten yards away so I can retreat as quickly as possible.  It is then that I notice the dumpster door is closed.  I also realize that my free arm has, for some reason, begun flailing out to my side, as I... continue my... manly, fireman-like trot.   

I think I'm beginning to understand why J.D. Salinger didn't leave the house for 30 years.

I glance up at some of the windows.  They look dark and suddenly strange.  Hollow, yet not empty.  I wonder if someone is watching from within.  Or worse, videoing it all.

I mean, picture if you will: a man in his late thirties, daintily high-stepping through a foot or more of water, with a trash bag in one hand, other arm flailing like he's just seen a mouse, veering across the parking lot in a bit of an S-pattern, and now thoroughly soaked nearly up to his skivvies.  (I may have also let out a high-pitched yelp at some point when the water reached my knees.)

Moments like this are the entire reason YouTube was created!  Also, the mental health profession.

Resigned to my fate, I wade over to the dumpster and deposit the bag of trash.  Soaking wet and now also freezing, because not only is it raining, but it has not gotten above 38 degrees all day, I begin the 70-step slog back.  Except for some reason, I don't walk.  But I do not trot, either.  It's more like I'm skipping now.

Involuntarily, inexplicably, skipping in the rain.

And pretty sure I no longer look anything like a fireman.

"Hey, come look through the window pane / The bus is comin' / Gonna take us to the train / Looks like we'll be blessed with a little more rain / It's four feet high and risin'..."

Saturday, January 05, 2013

For Bill

My senior year of high school, I got a job working part-time at a radio station.  I came in during the week for two hours each morning to intern with the news department.  I got school credit for it and got to miss first period every morning.  So, win-win.

During college, I continued working there, eventually moving up to a full-time on-air shift.  We carried local high school basketball and football games, and "Bill" was one of the guys who did play-by-play for our sports broadcasts.

Bill was 60ish.  Gregarious.  He had a zest for life, and people, and conversation.  And I never knew why, but he seemed to take a liking to me.  Just one of those people who's always genuinely happy to see you.  That's a great quality, I think.

Anytime I'm talking to someone who doesn't know Bill, my quick, go-to description of him is "the man who always used to find me tickets to Alabama games."  And anyone who knows me at all will know that that alone would put him right at the top of my list.

It was during my time at the radio station that this occurred.

A friend and I decided we'd try and start going to some Bama games.  This was the early 90's, so way before eBay and StubHub.  There were pretty much three ways to get tickets:  Buy some outside the stadium, check the classifieds, or word of mouth.

One Friday evening at work, I guess Bill overheard me talking about wanting to go to a game.  By that night, I had tickets to the next day's game.

From that point on, he'd always ask if I needed tickets.  For about three or four years there, anytime I was wanting to go to a game, I'd call him.  And I don't think there was a single time when he didn't manage to find someone who had tickets for sale.

Sometimes I wouldn't even have to ask.  He'd call me, just to check.  I still remember those brief but oh-so-important conversations: "Bone.  Bill.  You need tickets?"

It was like he had taken it as his personal mission to always make sure I had tickets.  I mean, who does that?  It was an act of kindness for which I never got to repay him.  But I will never forget it.

Eventually I started getting season tickets.  And after I quit that job, I didn't see Bill much.  Just occasionally at a basketball game or somewhere around town.  I specifically remember one instance -- some sort of community festival.  He had clearly lost a lot of weight.  I found out later he'd gotten the cancer.  But he greeted me just like he always had.  Smiling.  Genuinely happy to see me.

Looking back, I guess by this time he must have been in his early 70's.  But not to me.  To me, he was still the same age he'd been when I first met him.  I do that sometimes, especially with people I don't see very often.  I get a picture of them in my mind, and how old I think they are, and then they're always that age.

Until they're not anymore.

A few years ago, Bill started working in the clubhouse at one of the golf courses where I play.  I was surprised to see him.  It was a good surprise.  Gregarious as ever, he looked a lot better and I silently hoped he had beaten the cancer.  We would always share a bit of banter when I played there.  He still seemed happy to see me.  And by then, I was just as happy to see him.

When he wasn't there for awhile, I asked about him, and they said he was having some health problems.  I feared the worst.  But he came back to work and I thought maybe he was gonna be alright.

Then I started missing him again.  He wasn't there two, three, four times in a row.  I asked when he was coming back.  The guy got a solemn look -- one of those looks that completely and immediately changes your mood and you don't ever want to see from anyone.  He shook his head slowly and said, "I don't think Bill's coming back."

He was right.  Bill passed away on Christmas morning.  He was 82. 

Somehow I was still surprised when I heard the news.  And stupidly, I'd never gone to visit him.

I know he would've been happy to see me.

"My old friend, this song's for you / 'Cause a few simple verses was the least that I could do / To tell the world that you were here..."