Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Waaay-back Wednesday: A picture worth saving

My wife ordered me to clean my room last night. "My room" is the spare bedroom where I keep my computer, books, old trophies, various sports memorabilia and "tacky" art such as the $2 print of dogs playing roulette.

I like my room just the way it is. I can find all my old papers amid the 10 gallons of trash covering my 1-gallon trash can. And there's a unique sense of order, mostly maintained by an array of spider webs.

I decided to shift the trash around a little to appease my wife and even made vacuum cleaner noises when she walked past the door.

Among the many items I discovered while climbing over the trash pile were really bad stories I wrote in college, photos of people I don't know but probably am related to and various woodland creatures.

Most of this junk found its way into a trash bag after all. Then I came across an item worth saving — my fifth-grade class photo.

I've seen only a handful of these boys and girls in the past decade. Most seem to have fallen off the face of the earth. Very few stayed home.

Of course, there's me, the class clown, sitting up front with my bowl haircut styled by Mom. I was also the kickball king, spelling bee champ and elementary school Valentino. I married every girl in the class at least twice in playground ceremonies. Gee, I hope those weren't official; I can't afford the alimony.

There's Paul on the left. The whole schoolyard circled us one day as we fought over a ponytailed cutie named Paula. Because we were friends, we never landed a punch. Dennis, the class tyrant, was so disappointed no blood was spilled that he told on us for fighting in the first place. Ten years later, Paul was a groomsman in my wedding. I don't know where Dennis is, but I bet the mafia or FBI does.

There are the teacher's pets — Darrell and Angela. I've seen Darrell once since high school. We played golf when he flew home on a break from his doctorate studies in Native American literature in New Mexico back in 1996. Angela is a well-paid geologist with a dog that goes to a pet psychiatrist. I hope I never get that rich and successful.

There's Stephen, the outcast no one played with, on the right. He went on to become a football star in high school. A couple of weeks before graduation, he and some buddies were goofing off in a hot rod when he lost control and crashed. He was paralyzed from the neck down. Last year, he decided he'd had enough of this world and rolled his wheelchair off a fishing dock at his college.

Even without the photo, I'll never forget Robin. With bright blue eyes, long blonde hair and a Texas accent, she's still the cutest 10-year-old girl I've ever seen. She was my first crush and my first heartbreak as she moved back to Texas before sixth grade began. I wonder where she's at. I wonder where they're all at.

I should clean my room more often.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Week in review

  • President Bush approves a $285 million package for Mongolia, the latest country to receive U.S. aid in exchange for committing to democratic reforms. In a related story, Chris Johnson applies for a democratic aid package after letting family vote on whether to have fried chicken or hamburgers for dinner.
  • The Dalai Lama is formally installed as a professor at Atlanta's Emory University. The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, whose face is recognized around the world, now is the bearer of a faculty ID card. However, in a surprise move, the school announces that the Dalai Lama will be teaching introductory volleyball and sports appreciation.
  • Author and radio host Garrison Keillor gets a restraining order against a Hawkinsville, Ga., woman he claims has sent him explicit e-mails, telephone calls and disturbing gifts, including a petrified alligator foot and dead beetles. I like Garrison Keillor, but it's obvious the guy just don't appreciate nice gifts.
  • Civilian deaths are down for the second straight month, meaning the surge is working ... or Iraq's running low on civilians.
  • China launches its first lunar probe. However, moments after the Long March 3-A rocket soars into outer space, it is recalled when it is revealed it's a piece of junk like everything else made in China.
  • Despite the recall, the lunar probe reaches the moon. In a phone call to Earth, the man in the moon notes that the probe is uncomfortable.
  • The United States puts renewed pressure on Cuba to push away from communism ... while continuing to gladly hand its jobs and economic future to communist China. But that's completely different, right?
  • America, the nation that has raised gluttony from sin to glory, sees competitive eater Joey Chesnutt set a new record by downing 103 Krystal burgers in eight minutes in the Krystal Square Off in Chattanooga. Chesnutt wins $10,000, but immediately invests $9,900 of it in toilet paper.
  • The number of vacant homes for sale rises in the third quarter, according to the government. The Census Bureau report puts the number of vacant homes for sale at 2.07 million in the period, up about 2 percent from the second quarter, and 7 percent above year ago levels. Of that number, approximately 2.06 million are in Columbus, Ga.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Waaay-back Wednesday: Don't trust those cows

Last week I had business back home, which meant a long, lonely drive down two-lane roads through the countryside.

The sun was shining, and I decided to roll down the window and breathe some of that fresh country air shortly after I left Buena Vista on Highway 41. I rolled it up two seconds later ... in a hurry.

I had forgotten what we country folks mean by the term "fresh country air." There's no such thing. It's an inside joke we country folks play on city slickers. We enjoy seeing the looks on the faces of city folks when they come to the country and take a big whiff of "fresh country air," better known to us as cow poopee.

It was the first time this year I'd seen cows. Living in the big city of Columbus, you don't see many cows, front porches with swings or drivers who use turn signals. I miss all of them.

But I still think cows are up to something. Every time I passed a herd, they all looked up at me very suspiciously. I'm sure as soon as my car was out of sight, one of the cows would say, "All right, roll the nuclear missile back out from behind the haystack and let's get back to work."

Intelligence-wise, cows are the most underrated animals on the planet. Sure, you think that all they do is lie around all day, eat and pass gas — kinda like your typical married man. But when you look into a cow's eyes, you can tell it is deep in thought — totally unlike your typical married man.

When I look at cows, I always think they're talking about me. Or maybe I'm just paranoid because I carry a leather wallet.

"Hey, Betsy. Moo. See that redneck over there? Moo. I think he tipped me over once while I was sleeping. Moo."

Yes, I admit it. I used to go cow-tipping. We small-town folks didn't have racquetball and we were too poor to play golf at the country club, so for recreation we piled into a pickup, crawled through a barbed-wire fence and tipped over sleeping cows ... and prayed we weren't in a bull pen.

These small-town Saturday nights have led to the formation of such crazy groups as FACT (Friends Against Cow-Tipping). They even have an Internet site with a link to a cow-tipping alternative for animal lovers — online electronic cow-tipping. They even moo when you push them with your mouse.

Some of you city folks also may think cow-tipping is cruel, but they get their turn. Each year a bunch of bulls chase humans who loiter in the streets of some podunk town in Spain to a stadium where a guy in a funny hat and tights (called a matador) dances around as bulls chase him and Spanish folks in the stadium shout "Ole!" which in English means, "Hey you idiot in the funny hat, look out! There's a bull behind you!"

Now, that is cruel. Cow-tipping is harmless fun. The only cruel thing about cow-tipping is what happens to your clean sneakers. And you thought your mom got mad when you tracked mud across the living room carpet.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A little perspective

Many Monday mornings when I come to work, there's a voice mail waiting on me from one of my most loyal readers. He never leaves his name or phone number and has been calling me for a few years now, usually leaving his message around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. He reads my column on the National Federation for the Blind Web site ... well, it's read to him by the computer anyway. He's always got a compliment and usually has a little advice, too. This week, after I wrote a column about riding bicycles, he left a long voice mail. Here's an excerpt:

"As you know, I am blind, and one of the biggest disappointments of my life was when I wanted to buy me a $5 bike to play with in the backyard and my mother talked me out of it. I could have never learned to ride it, but I could ride it enough to enjoy it. And I've often wished she hadn't talked me out of it."

He advised me to get on that bike and ride it just as long as I can. The old man always puts things into perspective. Thanks, old-timer.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Week in review

  • Under pressure from the FDA, the makers of Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and other ED drugs agree to label the possible side effect of sudden hearing loss. So, now, not only can men have sex whenever they want, but they don't have to talk afterward. The Man Club meets and unanimously votes these as the best drugs ever!
  • Republican presidential hopefuls have their umpteenth debate with each trying to establish himself as the most conservative of the bunch. Mitt Romney wins the debate when he announces he doesn't even get naked to take a shower and anyone who does is a pervert.
  • Solidifying his status as the king of white trash, Kid Rock is arrested after getting into a fight outside an Atlanta Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning.
  • The World Bank announces the impact of recent turbulence in financial markets on developing countries has been limited ... due perhaps to the fact that the Third World is now worth an estimated 12 cents.
  • A second-grader's drawing of a stick figure shooting a gun earns him a one-day school suspension.
    Kyle Walker, 7, was suspended last week for violating Dennis Township Primary School's zero-tolerance policy on guns, the boy's mother, Shirley McDevitt, told The Press of Atlantic City. Lest you think this was an another overreaction by our paranoid authority figures, it should be noted that the stick figure has a history of mental problems and has been arrested several times.
  • "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling tells a group of fans that Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. She makes the announcement after Dumbledore is arrested for soliciting sex in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.
  • Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, says he doesn't believe Dumbledore is gay, but says he's awfully cute and if he were the least bit gay, he'd go out with Dumbledore, Hogwarts and all.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Waaay-back Wednesday: Big bad bag boy

When the phone rings at my desk after 11 p.m., it's never good news.

The only people who know they can find me there at that hour are the newspaper's production department, various law enforcement agencies and my wife. I just hope it's not my wife.

"I need you to drop by the grocery store on your way home and pick up some milk, orange juice, toilet paper and various feminine hygiene products."

"Sorry," I say, "no can do."

I would print her response here, but in strict accordance with the Georgia Newspaper Decency Act of 1937, I'd better just print my side of the conversation.

"Yes, dear. Yes, dear. Yes, that would hurt. A cheese grater, huh?"

Needless to say, I follow orders because I know who the man of our house is, and I don't want her to get mad.

No offense to our local establishments, but I hate going to the grocery store. Maybe it's because I have flashbacks to my days as a Food Transferral and Arrangement Engineer (bag boy) making $3.25 an hour. I often scream out with night terrors, still seeing Mrs. Jones chasing me around C-Mart in Oglethorpe, Ga., with a squashed loaf of Wonder Bread in her hand. The only tip she'd give me was the tip of her walking cane to the back of my head. You know what they say: "Hell hath no fury like a woman whose bread got mashed."

Most of these tragic bread-mashing incidents occurred on Fridays. I also seem to recall Mary Jane in Checkout Lane 2 wearing tight blue jeans every Friday. But I'm sure that bagging groceries behind her and putting Wonder Bread in the same bag as a 10-pound tub of lard was pure coincidence.

Though the parking lot of the store was filled with angry victims of my ruthless scheme to mash the world's bread, it was safer than the inside of the store. Remember that Tyrannosaurus rex from "Jurassic Park?" Compared to my boss, that T-Rex would be considered cute and cuddly.
I'm fairly certain that he didn't like me. I deciphered that from subtle, tiny hints he would drop in our conversations, such as, "Hey, kid, did I remember to tell you today that I don't like you?"

"Yes, sir."

"I must have forgotten to scratch that off my to-do list. Now cut the chatter and get back to work!"

I'm not sure why he didn't like me. Maybe it's because Slim Jims began mysteriously disappearing from the checkout aisles after I was hired. Again, pure coincidence — just like it's pure coincidence that Slim Jims were suddenly overstocked after I quit.

Though I worked there for just a few months, I developed the skills that serve as the foundation for my career today — such as knowing where the boss is at all times and how to respond when caught sleeping on the job.

"Chris, are you snoring?" my boss asks a couple of times a day.

"Uh, no. I'm just thinking really hard. My brain always makes that sound when I think."

"Well, maybe you shouldn't think so hard. You're starting to drool on your desk."

Granted, I may not be much more of an asset to the newspaper than I was to C-Mart. But since we don't sell Slim Jims at the Ledger-Enquirer, I'm not too much of a liability, either.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I look like this?

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a large group of middle school students at Arnold Magnet Academy in Columbus. Ms. Jill Sammons' class sent me a nice thank-you poster with a new version of my column sig. Thought I'd share ...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Return to Angel City

My friend Gregg and I went to Angel City, the motorcycle haven in Unadilla, Ga., for the fall rally this past Saturday. Gregg rides a Yamaha. I ride a Mazda SUV. Yes, I'm born to be mild.

Of course, while I'm at this rally with thousands of bikers, a biker legend came to the Ledger-Enquirer during my vacation: Erik Estrada, who played motorcycle cop Ponch on the old TV series "CHIPS." Read my co-worker Brad's blog to learn about that visit.

While I'm not a biker myself, I do enjoy mingling with the biker crowd. They have a sense of unity a lot like you find among Parrotheads at Jimmy Buffett concerts. Only they prefer beer and Jack Daniels over margaritas and the revving of engines over the revving of blenders. I didn't have my camera with me this time, so Smitty and the gang from back home won't have to worry about incriminating photos on the Internet. I imagine photos from this latest rally will be going up soon on the Angel City site.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Week in review

  • Sen. Larry Craig is inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame, marking the Republican lawmaker's first ceremonial appearance back in his home state since his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting became public in August. He also becomes the first person in Idaho to receive the prestigious Udaho award.
  • Traffic jams plague Columbus when jaywalkers and pedestrians prove they can actually get slower crossing the street as they come to a complete stop. The National Guard is deployed to remove the stationary pedestrians. Families may go to the Government Center at 10 a.m. Tuesday to identify family members collected from the streets.
  • A boy who was bitten multiple times by a Rottweiler running free on a Hawaiian beach is awarded $856,000 by a jury that concluded the dog's owner was negligent. Like every other owner of dogs who've mauled and bitten people, Mariko Bereday insists the dog is docile and not aggressive.
  • Thousands of cash-strapped Hawaiians tie raw meat to themselves and taunt Mariko Bereday's Rottweiler.
  • Boxer Evander Holyfield, 44, loses a unanimous decision to Sultan Ibragimov but insists he will continue pursuing the heavyweight title. Asked by a trainer following the fight, "How many fingers am I holding up?" Holyfield responds "1,347,321."
  • The rivalry between Coke and Pepsi takes a physical turn when a Pepsi deliveryman allegedly punches his Coke counterpart in the face at a western Pennsylvania Wal-Mart. When the Coke deliveryman left the store, his counterpart allegedly punched him in the face three times, breaking his nose and giving him a black eye, police said. No charges have been filed, but police characterized the incident as a misdemeanor simple assault. Pepsi is expected to roll out its "Pepsi Packs a Punch!" ad campaign any day now.
  • Thumper, a black Labrador retriever, is getting credit for saving a Greenville, Maine, man when a fire swept through his home. Thumper grabbed the sleeping Roland Cote by the arm to wake him. Cote said the fire marshal investigator believes the blaze was started when Princess, the family cat, tipped over a kerosene lantern. Cote says he and his pets escaped safely, but he says Princess did get her tail singed by the flames. Princess, however, has accused Thumper of staging the fire.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Week in review

  • Australian customs officers discover nearly 10.5 ounces of ecstasy tablets hidden inside a Mr. Potato Head toy sent to Australia from Ireland -- which explains Mr. Potato Head's huge smile.
  • Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), further giving evidence that his state is aptly named, reneges on his promise to step down from the Senate. His fellow senators blast Craig's decision, saying that his arrest for soliciting gay sex in a public restroom completely goes against the Senate's traditional views of appropriate sexual behavior -- namely that it should be between a man and his escort or intern.
  • Hurricane "expert" William Gray slightly downgrades his forecast, calling for four named storms in October and November, including two hurricanes, one of them major. Gray’s team at Colorado State University had earlier predicted five named storms. Gray later revises his prediction of having scrambled eggs for breakfast, changing it to Frosted Flakes. Gray then announces he's not even sure what a hurricane is. "I live in Colorado for crying out loud!" he says. "Ask somebody in Florida and leave me alone!"
  • After a million-plus ‘‘Thomas & Friends’’ toy trains were pulled because of lead paint, the maker of the smiley-faced toys sent customers ‘‘bonus gifts’’ — and now thousands of those have been recalled, too. In hindsight, maybe handing America's economy to China on a silver platter wasn't such a good idea. Meanwhile, millions of 3-year-olds meet in Chicago and declare war on China, arming themselves with lead paint-covered toy guns made in China.
  • UPS announces it is implementing a system that it says will allow its international shipments to cross borders more quickly ... by dressing the packages as Mexican farm workers.
  • White trash pop star Britney Spears loses custody of her two kids to former husband Kevin Federline. Losing your kids to Kevin Federline is the equivalent of losing a war against Bermuda.
  • A Georgia Tech study finds that people are becoming emotionally attached to those Roomba robotic vacuums, giving them nicknames and worrying when they signal for help. A related study by researchers at Arizona State University finds that people are really stupid.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court on declines to hear a challenge to Alabama’s ban on the sale of sex toys, ending a nine-year legal battle and prompting a warning to store owners to be prepared to clean off their shelves. The court vote was not revealed, but an insider reports overhearing Justice Clarence Thomas pleading, "Aw, c'mon, guys! Please!!"

Go Rockies!

Amid all the negative stories about pro and other athletes lately -- Olympic medalist Marion Jones finally admitting using steroids before her 5-medal performance at the 2000 Olympics, Vick and his dogfighting, Bonds and his illegitimate home run record, the New England Patriots cheating with the help of technology -- is this story:

The Colorado Rockies players (on their own) have decided to donate their share of playoff winnings to the widow of Mike Coolbaugh, who was killed July 22 when he was struck with a line drive while coaching first base for the Rockies' minor league affiliate Tulsa Drillers. The Coolbaughs have two children, ages 5 and 3, and one on the way. If the Rockies make it all the way through the World Series, the players' share could be around $10 million. So, I'm rooting for the Rockies. Besides, two of their players -- Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki -- helped me finish second in my fantasy baseball league.

Click here to read more about the Rockies' gesture.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Waaay-back Wednesday: Interstate pit-stop

"What'll it be, hun?"

This is the sound of music to me at 2 a.m. on some forgotten exit along the interstate. Not only will this sweet lady keep my cup filled with hot coffee and bring me a plateful of eggs, grits, sausage and toast, but she calls me "hun." Even my wife won't call me "hun" unless it's accompanied by "Atilla."

It's one of my favorite guilty pleasures, stopping at these 24-hour breakfast joints far away from home. You know the place by some name — Waffle House, Huddle House, Omelet House, Coffee Kettle, etc. As Shakespeare said, "A Waffle House by any other name would smell just as much like cigarettes and grease."

I like sitting here alone, a total stranger that no one will remember one minute after I walk out of here — though they do steal glances at me as I jot down notes in my reporter's notebook. What kind of freak stops in a Waffle House to write at 2 a.m.? "If that's sober," the man staring at me from three booths away is thinking, "I'll stay drunk, thank you."

The crowd in here is the same as it is every 2 a.m., though this is my first time in this particular Waffle Huddle Omelet Coffee House. A few stools down sits an old man with his coffee and Camels. When one goes out, he lights another. I figure he's been sitting there awhile, probably since the Beatles split.

Behind me is a table of teen-age boys discussing graphically — though unrealistically — their exploits with the ladies before Saturday evening turned into the wee hours of Sunday morning. Nothing wrong with a little macho fantasy talk, I guess. Been there, done that. Besides, when they're ready for reality and have $50 to spare, there's always that lady over there by the pay phone.

In the corner booth sits a couple laughing and pumping quarters into the jukebox, which, thank goodness, has a slew of Merle Haggard songs. I don't think these two folks knew each other too well before tonight, but I get the feeling they'll know each other all too well by morning.

And, of course, there are the two ladies waiting tables. Linda's in her 40s, Sally Ann's in her 50s. Linda is happy to see me. Everybody else in here is simply riding out the night and probably spent most of their money before coming here. I'm a sober stranger who might actually leave a decent tip. And I always do — a least a quarter per "hun."

And there's the intense cook, who seems to be cooking for 500 customers instead of the dozen that are here. He can't stop to breathe while Linda and Sally shout out, "Number three, scattered and smothered, over easy, scorch it with extra cheese!" Where he found time to get those four dozen tattoos, I have no idea.

"Here you go, darlin'," Linda says as she delivers my meal. "Darlin" — that's worth two quarters. Linda looks at me funny as I sample the grits and say, "My compliments to the chef." The "chef" glares at me briefly, wishing it weren't too late to spit in my cheese grits.

I drop two bucks on the table as I leave — two "darlins" and four "huns" — and then stick two quarters in the jukebox and request the same song ("Achy Breaky Heart") three straight times. They're gonna remember me for more than a minute after I leave, by golly.