Saturday, January 28, 2006

War Stories

This is a story of college days. I have a millions of 'em. (Ask my wife.) I originally wrote it as an e-mail response to Reese the Law Girl's feature "Interview with a Dummy (And His Momma)," but she said I should post it. And, as everyone in the Bloggosphere knows, Reese's Word Is Law.

No reflection on this Chris McCray character, who, from what I understand, is yer standard-issue sports Prima Donna, but a quick collegiate-sports related antecdote:

At my college (the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, isert cheap gag here) I had some contact witht he "sports stars" of the institution, which, the first two years I was there, were the baseball team. One of my pals (and debate team mates) had landed in the dorm where they housed, and on one of the two floors they occupied. His favorite way of describing them was "Those guys are animals." He would come back bearing tales of strange behavior, team steams in the gang showers, going into a team mate's room and throwing all his junk out the window, nothing serious or permanent, but generally weird. One night I happened to visit the dining hall shortly after hours, being let in by a line attendant who was a pal of mine (and a nice chick at that), and happened in on the team during thier designated "dining hour," after the hall was officially closed. I discovered that not only did they have their own special food prepared, they ate it. All of it. One of the guys had the charming habit of inserting a drumstick in his mouth and pulling outjust the bone. (An alarming thing the first two times I saw it, less alarming the next, what, fifteen, sixteen times?)

The more I got to know these guys, the more I understood that they were, by and large, nice, earnest guys who also had in common the attribute of being . . . not too bright. And the majority of them were going through college on the scholarship, which is to say they were all from poorer families. (Which is why they were so damned good those two years: they were hungry to keep their scholarships and get their sheepskins and go out in the real world and make some money. The next year, the winning record went to the team's collective head and they turned into Primas and they stopped winning games. Funny how that happens.)

Anyways, the more I got to know these guys, the more I got familiar with their study habits. Some leaned on tutors, others adopted "girlfriends" who would spoon-feed them study materials and write papers for them, some would cozy up to a faculty member and try and use their influence to score passing grades in other courses. (You might be suprised how often that worked, especially in the Physics and Geography departments.) And all of them made "friends," guys in their classes who they could glom on to for study aid, and the glom-ee would hear little or nothing from them after the semester was over and they had collected their C and gone back to the gym.

One of the baseballl players glomed on to my pal to get through a Political Science intro course, then stuck with him for another couple of classes, and they actually became friends. A couple of times I went to hang out in the baseball player's down romm with my pal Ken, but what they would mostly do was drink beer and quote baseball stats. It was alot like that joke about the Old Comedians Home where they're all rattling off numbers and laughing. I found other things to do with my time.

Then one semester Ken and I and another debator decided to take this course called American Military History. I forget how we got around to it, but the closer it got the stranger things I heard about it. It was a required course for the ROTC guys, which almost screamed fluff course, but the prof was a guy named Robert Reike, who had a seriously grim reputation. On the first day of class, there we were, about eight Poli Sci majors, me and Ken (Eng Lit dudes), fifteen or twenty ROTC upperclassmen-- and the baseball player.

When I saw Cal (I forget his name, so for the purpose of this story, it's Cal), I had mixed feelings. I didn't think he was up for the course, but then if it was easy enough for the ROTC pukes (patience, patience), then Cal ought to be fine, with Ken's help.

The first week was a whirlwind. I never, but never, took notes in any other course, but in Reike's class I filled legal pads like flow charts. Ken and Nate, my fellow debators, sharp cookies in their own right, were sweating right along side me. The ROTC guys, all of who seemed to think they werte gonna waltz through, put their heads down and bucked up, and for the first time I had a real appreciation for military discipline. (I got to know some of these guys, became friends with a couple, too.) Cal, though, I thought Cal was dead in the water. He took notes, but not fast. He seemed to jsut be letting the course flow over him. I couldn't tell, from observation, how much he was actually absorbing. I actually thought about buttonholing him after class and making sure he knew the drop/add process well enough.

Then, second week in, Reike made it know he was not pleased with the amount of student-teacher dialogue in the course. We had a brief decompression where we all of us, ROTC guys included, explained that we were too busy keeping up with him to do anything but. (Reike was in his 70's, looked doddering but sharp as a damned tack.) Reike embraced that, we laughed it off, and then, boom, it was off to the races again, but this time with commentary from the peanut gallery. Two, three days into this (two or three class sessions I should probably say), I looked over at Cal. I thought he had the deer-in-the-headlights look, not a good thing. And then, during the briefest of breaks in the intellectual discourse, Cal slowly, haltingly, asked a question.

And it was a good one, too.

I forget the subject, Crimean war or pre-industrial seige machines or what, but I remember the question Cal asked stopped us all in our tracks, and took the discussion in a wholly new direction. And he continued to do it, the rest of the semester. What I had mistaken for the deer-in-the-headlights look was actually the lightbulb going off, the sudden intellectual engagement that (I think) always signals the birth of an actual, boa fide scholar. The jock became an intellectual, boom, like that.

So he did great, got an A (we mostly did), and hung out with Ken and bored the hell out of the rest of us quoting baseball stats. He kept playing on the team, of course, and I kind of knew that he had come in contact with my pal Chris (Doc Nagel), but we didn't have a whole lot of direct contact for the next couple of years. FAst forward to graduation day. I was in the English pile, where there were thirty or fourty of us. Chris was in the Phil pile, all of 5. I was trying to spot a friend of mine in the History pile as they marched past our position in the Coliseum, and there he was. CAl had majored in History.

I caught him just briefly as I gladhanded my girl in History; he gave me a slanty-eyed grin and said "My Dad is pissed."

He had gone to college on the scholarship, enrolled in the business school to get his degree, and his Dad had a friend who was going to get him into real estate or insurance or something after graduation. But he had that taste of intelectual achievement, that spark, and he was hooked. A quick converstaion with Reike, who took him on as his advisor, and he was in. The thing was: he had alwasy just assumed that, being a dumb jock, that was all he'd ever be. He didn't know that he could learn. And once he found out, so it seemed, in Cal's case, the sky was the limit.

And after he met Chris, he got the bug for Philosophy, took a few courses, minored in Philosophy. A History major with a minor in Philosophy. In his father's view, utterly useless.

And then we all went off to grad school. I lost track of him after that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Doomed. So doomed.

I give. I caved. I didn't think I would, but I sure did.

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Bobo!

  1. Bobo can taste with his feet.
  2. The only planet that rotates on its side is Bobo.
  3. The colour of Bobo is no indication of his spiciness, but size usually is!
  4. If your ear itches, this means that someone is talking about Bobo!
  5. Bobo can be seen from space.
  6. A thimbleful of Bobo would weigh over 100 million tons!
  7. Forty percent of the world's almonds and twenty percent of the world's peanuts are used in the manufacture of Bobo!
  8. Neil Armstrong first stepped on Bobo with his left foot.
  9. You would have to dig through four thousand kilometres of Bobo to reach the earth's core.
  10. India tested its first nuclear Bobo in 1974.
I am interested in - do tell me about

Friday, January 20, 2006

Talk About Yer Trade-Offs

So I had a quick relapse of the cold I had just kicked. Long story short, an early morning trip to the DMV to get my driver license renewed, followed by a trip home with the windows down and the back window zipped out of the convertible top on the Miata=relapse. It was about 35 degrees out, which is just way too freaking cold to be running around in an open car, so I got to spend the rest of the day feeling like a dumbass. An achy, stuffy, nauseous dumbass.

So this morning, after a fairly patchy night's rest, about which more momentarily, I began feeling better. I resolved not to leave the house until after noon, so as not to incur the same stupid result as Thursday morning. So, right about a quarter of two, I got out, put the top down - 64 degrees - and spent about two and a half hours motoring around the countryside, after which I felt immensely better, and - and this is the really good news - hungry. So I stopped at the Harris Teeter (our local upscale grocery chain, which I love-- for a Freshetta five-cheese, brick oven style pizza, which I will add salami to, maybe with some chopped onion and sliced balck olives.

The downside - and this is almost completely unrelated - is that the Wifey's cold, which had been on the verge of either going away or turning rotten, did the latter. She left work early (by a whopping 15 minutes, and utter rarity for her) and walked in looking, as my brother used to be fond of saying, like Death sitting on the street corner eating an onion sandwich.

Which is kind of odd. She surmised that I got my cold (the relapse) from our neice, who I took to see the Hoodwinked movie over the weekend, Rachelle skipped that outing, instead escorting our nephew Thomas, who is three, and who panicked when he found out the movie wasn't lunch. (Call it creative thinking.) So she didn't sit through the film with Josh and Cayla (which was great fun, by the way), and thus didn't share the infected popcorn (Rachelle's theory) which gave me the killer bug I insisted on thinking was just a relapse of my previous bug (because, dammit, I'm all done being sick, and that is my story, and I am sticking to it).

Anyways. It all finally translates out to this: now that I am well, after a night of sleep disturbed by my nausea and her coaghing, sneezing and snoring, I get to wait on the Wifey, hand and foot, until she is better. (Don't get me wrong: I enjoy it, I just don't like her being sick.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Dear Gerry, Dear Ford

Gerald Ford has been hospitalized with pneumonia. Of course, he's 92, and the admission was mainly a precaution, so's the could observe his condition while they administer large doses of antibiotics intraveneously. But still. Makes me nervous.

Let me explain. I have a strange affinity for Ford. When he became our president, after the whole Watergate thing, I guess I had some expectations. Great expectations. I had just become politically aware, at the worst possible time, and some optimistic part of my budding soul wanted Ford to be The Antidote: the president who would redeem the Presidency, something I had always been told was a sterling thing to be heartily admired.

And, of course, I was disappointed. I mean, Ford was a boob. The klutz thing was kind of an issue, but not as much as the war issue, which he didn't seem to understand, or the shambles our foreign relations had been reduced to under the duel riegn of Kissenger and Nixon. But the kicker, the big one, was the inflation issue.

He ran a campaign: Whip Inflation Now.

Of course, the acronym was WIN. Who wouldn't vote for that!

Nevermind that we live in such a complex and multilayered economic atmoshphere that it was not possible for the consumer, unless by way of unanimous and dynamic insurrection, to whip inflation, except by acts of conspicuous consumption without conscience or thought of consequence. (Which is what eventually happened, which did, in fact, whip the inflationary dragon that was threatening to depress our economy. It's the economy, stupid!)

But really, it was the fact that he clearly had been "advised." The program was supposed to bolster consumer confidence and spur spending, thus whipping inflation, but Ford didn't ever seem to be able to articulate it. "Well, the consumer, the cictizen consumer, in excercising the right to weild purchase power, expands the . . . er . . . improves the cost-bene . . . um causes a dramatic curve in the . . . er . . . WHIP INFLATION NOW!" (Cheers!)

But, and here's the flip side, I think he really believed it. I can't explain why, but there was something in the man's countenance that made me think that, despite anything else, he really thought America was the best place on earth and wished only good things for it. I think he really did think that, if nothing else, America could Whip Inflation Now. In fact, one of my prized possessions is a tiny orange pin bearing the acronym WIN. I love it. I especially loved it then. They want us to Whip Inflation Now, and they try to encourage us with this cheapo little pin? Dumbasses.

So here are my best wished for our former President: Get well, friend. Long may you run. If I owe you nothing else, I owe you my first formulation of the weirdness that is America: we live in the Tinkerbell economy. It's magic. You just have to believe.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ten Great Reasons to Hate Me

I've had to come to grips with a couple of things recently. The most painful of which I will not write about, as it is a personal thing involving other members of the family and I don't really feel like dragging it all out. Suffice it to say that it involves acceptance and forgiveness for the sake of others. I guess, if I have to, I can accept that my asshole brother-in-law is an asshole and forgive him for that.*

The other thing, the thing I will write about, is the glazed-over look that people get in their eyes when I talk about my Miata.

The weirdest part came yesterday, when I stopped at a chop shop during one of my periodic countryside drives. I had been looking for a replacement for the center console lid-- this thing that your right elbow rests on while driving (as driver), which, if you don't know the Miata cockpit intimately, could never be adequately described. Suffice it to say that it's a piece of plastic. The piece of plastic in my Miata is covered with a vinyl-coated pad which was installed by the previous owner. The kit-- and more on this to come-- involves a set of adhesive backed velcro strips which apply to the console lid and a matching set on the pad. I'd seen this kind of thing for sale on the internet when I went out looking for a replacement, since the pad on my piece of plastic had a ruptured corner. Nothing serious, just kind of shabby looking.

(Of course, the kit on the internet boasted and Italian leather pad, and the same kind of friction would have resulted in a dignified worn-and-polished patch where the vinyl one boasts a ragged edge and a spectacular view of the cheap fabric binder element.)

The replacement part, new, starts at 70 bucks, before shipping. So that was out. It's a piece of plastic! And, of course, ordering stuff on the internet, there's shipping to consider. Enter the fine folks at Sports Car Salvage on Lucia-Riverbend Road.

Now, first things first: I don't trust car guys. Never have. I've seen too many brag about how hot their ride was, only to produce a smoking, belching, badly tuned beast that only runs because it's basically in the process of digesting it's own engine block. And, too, growing up here, in Charlotte, NC, which more than one wag has parsed Car Lot-- well, hell, need I say more? The two ubiquitous elements of my beloved home town, when I was a growing lad, were used car lots (and their rotten commercials) and televangelists, both of which, due to the lousy nature of the broadcast world in the Seventies, were virtually inescapable.

I trust salvage guys even less, and oh, could I tell you some stories. The salvage guys I've known have had exactly two modes of being: arrogant and pissed off, and always pissed off because they weren't smart enough to justify their arrogance. So I was reticent to drop in at Sports Car Salvage on Lucia-Riverbend Road, in spite of the fact that I'd seen Miatas stationed out front several times in passing. I finally did yesterday, purely on a whim. Here are some fun facts about cars sales guys, and they are all 100 % true.

They are dumb about parking lots. It struck me some years ago that the real reason I hate car lots, especially in the summer time, is that they are great, huge heat sinks. They are all made of vast spans of black asphalt, and in the summertime the asphalt absorbs and radiates the heat back out. Now, the cars are going to be hot inside already, so what would make more sense that parking them out on a huge heat sink? The customers will be uncomfortable and grouchy, so when you start in on your hard-sell or haggle, they're guaranteed to be pissed off and irritable. Genius!

They are dumb about cars. OK, this one isn't 100% true. But any care sales guy will tell you anything about any car he's trying to sell you, which has to mean that car sales guys love sales more than they love cars. And that's dumb.

They don't know dick about driving. Actually, this isn't true about at least one car sales guy I know of, the one who sold my wife her Mini. He drove us out on a country road outside Winston-Salem like a bat out of hell (by way of demonstration, of course), but then the Mini people don't call them "salesmen," they're "Mini Motering Advisors." Normally I don't fall for such semantic horseshit, but in this case I guess I have to make an exceptption.

But I digress: car sales guys are dumb about driving. After all, the way they see cars most of the time is static, still, sitting on the lot. That has to numb your instincts. So the guy selling you this car doesn't have clue one as to how to drive it. Does that make sense?

Boil that all down and it tells you one irrefutable truth: if car guys are dumb, car salvage guys are doubly so. The cars they see, in addition to being static, are hunks of junk. So in addition to being inordinately proud of having two-- two-- Sunbeam Tiger carcasses under his roof, the old guy who ran the shop also made me stand and wait before taking my money-- cash-- for the piece of plastic. ($35, half what it would have cost new, which I guess is fair enough.) Also, the kid who did the actual work-- climbing up into the Miata on the rack and pulling the console lid, ignoring my plea of "What happened to this thing!?!" on observing that although the car displayed almost no exterior damage, the windsheild, interior passenger's side, sported a head shaped indention eigh inches deep-- boasted that he owned a Miata himself, 1990, first generation, but didn't want to talk about it. Which had to mean that he screwed with the thing, so it no longer ran . . . well, like a Miata.

So I won't be going back there. Salvage guys give me the willies. And oh, the storeis I could tell.

But the real reason why we're here today is, of course, reasons you can all commence hating me. I know it's importatnt to you, so, without further ado, here we go.

I don't have to work. Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah! And yet, somehow, I do. In addition to writing, I have been studying up on Korean war history, the history of jazz and rock-n-roll, and preparing a road-runner's geography of upper Mecklenburg county.

I own a Miata. Her name is Nomi, bu the way; Japanese for Flea.

And I won't shut up about it. Which is far more to the point. Enough said.

I own a 25 year old Seagull 12 string guitar. And you don't.

I am possessed of an artisitic sensibility that makes me stand in awe of otherwise ordinary phenomena. I can only imagine that would annoy you. It's a big part of the reason I married my wife, and also a the main reason that Doc Nagel is my best friend: they are pre-disposed to put up with my crap.

I drink Dasani bottled water. I take that back. You don't have to hate me for that. I hate myself for that already. But I swear to God, they put something in that water. (Actually, just this past year they finally got around to admitting on the label that they add salt and minerals to the stuff.)

I re-fill the Dasani bottles with tap water and cary them around. But it's not for the reasons you think. I don't have some cloying, overwhelming need for everyonme to think I'm drinking Dasani. DASANI! BEHOLD, I AM A ROCK STAR!!! It's just for convenience; the bottle happens to fit precisely in the gap behind the passenger's seat in my Miata. Did I mention I own a Miata? So that's, what, six reasons? Lesseee . . .

I have special powers over traffic lights. I can make any traffic light turn green by reaching for my Dasani bottle. I'm telling you, they stuff has voodoo!!!

I am bald and I wear a hat. It's not that I wear a hat because I'm bald, to cover it up. I just like wearing a hat, have for years. But I have caused no end of consternation. For whatever reason, I don't look bald, and when I take the hat off . . . Suffice it to say I have caused audible gasps from across the room, on occasion from entire crowds. It's just not nice of me.

I wear a beard. I never really got why, but this has occasionally been a matter of great dissapointment, especially when I meet people who thought they liked me but didn't know I wear a beard. (And it's not a Goatee, it's a Romanov.) (So what do I need, one more?)

I am obbsessive about wearing Hawaiian shirts. They're almost all blue, and none of them are gaudy, but still, I wear them all the damned time. Except in winter, when I switch to flannels.

So how's that? Enough? I hope so. Other than those, I have no flaws at all, none. Zip, zilch, zero. OK; I'm gonna go shower, get dressed, and stand under the sword of Damocles for the rest of the day.

*Note I didn't say which one. Clever, eh? This way they call allllllll get pissed off at me. Not that any of them read my blog anyways.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

And Now I'm Sick

I have finally succumbed to the virus that the namy many neices and nephews spent the pre-Christmas season handing back and forth. As a result, I have nothing to report, except that I finally got around to watching Neil Young's concert film Rust Never Sleeps, and today I will spend my day listening to the many, many CD's I got as presents from the Wifey and Doc Nagel this Christmas, including a best of Leo Kottke from his Chrysalis years, the expanded Mad Dogs & Englishmen, The Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire (the last and best album before the band went kerflooey), a collection of Stravinsky's shorter pieces rendered by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and, God help us, a Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros disc. And many others. I have my achy, stuffy, nauseous work cut out for me today.