Monday, January 28, 2008

Another award!

Oh boy, another award! Deana over at the Friday Night Fish Fry recently nominated me for the Excellent Blog Award.

My acceptance speech: I would like to thank Deana for her generosity. I am truly humbled and need to thank a few folks that have prodded me along the way. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my mother and father who had no idea that their night of fun would have caused them 18 years of responsibility and the heartaches of dealing with a hard-headed kid. And of course I have to thank Ms. Freeman, my fourth grade teacher who kept me from a life of crime and debauchery. And then there were the guys in my Boy Scout Troop that showed me that a life of crime really doesn’t pay. I wonder if David and those two brothers whose name I forgot are still in the slammer. I want to thank my God for having withheld lightning bolts when they were well deserved. And finally, not to leave out the New Age and astrology folks, I should thank my lucky stars for they must have been in alignment to bring all this together and result in me receiving such a distinguished honor.

Enough bull… To accept this award, I have to nominate ten other bloggers for the award. Ya’ll deserve this award more so than me (can’t you see my sincere humility break through?), even those not picked… It was hard to limit this to just ten, but I’ve done my best…

Murf: Her name derives from the Smurfs, who were popular in the 80s, a decade with music she also enjoys. Murf’s world is both entertaining and over whelming. Reading her blog, one feels empathy for her husband Big A, for the Wendy’s Fry-guy that she stalks, and for ME! What else can I say about someone who aspires one day to grow up and become a Target sales associate?

Ed: Taking his name after the late western author, Edward Abbey, Ed is an engineer and his posts are as meticulous as only an engineer can do it. He post every week day when he is at work. He’ll be gone this week, but he’ll be back. Once a month he gives us a report on Little Abbey, his daughter whom we’ve watched grow from an embryo to a bubbling toddler. I’m afraid one day real soon I’ll open up Ed’s blog and learn she’s filling out college applications…

Gautami: A math teacher in New Delhi, Gautami writes beautiful poetry in her regular blog (see my sidebar). She also has a blog where she writes book reviews, which I’m highlighting here. She reads an incredible amount. By the way, what is it about Indian math professors who write well? There's Gautami and her poems as well as Manil Suri, a professor of professor of mathematic at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, who is the author of the wonderful novel, The Death of Vishnu.

Diane: An attorney that aspires to grow up and become a librarian, this is a gal who knows how to vacation. Off to New England in the fall, then Yellowstone in the winter, she was in Hawaii last spring or summer! She reads and, like me, listens to lots of books on an ipod (when she’s not singing along with The Who). She has two faithful companions that enjoying posing for the camera and, speaking for them, hates the kennel and gets nervous when the suitcases come out.

My Southern Coalition
Kenju: A florist who lives in the capital of North Carolina, Kenju has had the honor of helping decorate the Governor’s mansion for the past couple of years. Her blog is a hodge-podge, showing off her collections, her stories, as well as humorous tid-bits. (side note, in going to get Kenju's url, I notice that someone else has already given her this award... oh well, she'll soon have enough she can wall paper a wall.)

Kevin: A Southern Baptist working for a seminary in Texas. He’s interested in politics and, judging by the number of books he reads and movies he watches, never gets out of his chair and never sleeps. He has a large family in which there seems to be much love.

Kontan: When I started to read her blog, Kontan was a teacher in Mississippi. She’s now teaching history in Alabama (I assume that was a promotion) as well teaching a class at a local college. She’s committed to blog once a day throughout 2008! She has a lovely family. (I assure you, it’s only consequence that the names for my first three Southerners all begin with the letter K?)

Bone: Another one from ‘Bama, Bone has written some of the funniest post I’ve seen on the web. He’s also the creator of the 3-Word-Wednesday writing exercise.

Maggie: Maggie is a librarian in Mississippi (sounds like that would be an easy job, but let’s remember that despite the state’s illiteracy rate, they’ve produced a large number of literary giants). As a professional agitator (isn’t that what literary promoters are in Mississippi), she currently trying to start a war over cornbread. She is married to a firefighter who gets to ski at Whistler (I'm in the wrong line of work).

Jadedprimadonna: Angie, as her name appears in my sidebar, is a doctoral student at Clemson, which is a shame for I’m sure she’d look a lot better in Carolina Blue than School Bus Orange. Read her blog to learn about her family, about university politics and the trails and tribulations of being a grad student…

The Appalachianist: Formerly known as AI or Appalachian Intellect, I’ve read his blog for over three years and, in my readings, have gone along with him on many a bear hunt. And a deployment to Iraq (He’s a member of the National Guard). He’s back safe now in his home in the Southern Mountains where he faces daily danger from Florida drivers that are unfamiliar with mountain roads. In a recent post in which he highlighted some musical videos, I about died laughing at the Tim Wilson song, "I Could Be Wrong." Warning, such lyrics would never be posted in my blog, but I still laughed, I'm not sure what that says about me.

I wish I could nominate everyone, but I’m allowed only ten folks. But wait; looking over my list, it seems I nominated eleven. What the heck…
I've missed out on sending you to other interesting blogs such as the always funny Jay; Pia, the Yankee moving to Mrytle Beach; Scarlet, the redheaded Cuban; Econ Dave, the serious economic professor; Tim who needs to finish his honeymoons and get back to blogging, Carmi and his wonderful photos; Karen and her sharp political wit; Pat and his Frost-like poetry, Ms. Night Music and her fishing expediations; Michael and his interviews and movie suggestions.... and the list goes on and on.

In other news… This snow has been great for cross country skiing and I’ve gotten out several times this weekend, but unfortunately it’s suppose to warm up and rain tomorrow—I hate this global warming stuff.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Travel Memories: Flying to Japan and the LA Riots

To be 22 again! This story occurred in November 1979. My wife at the time and I, both recent college graduates, were heading to Japan to visit my parents (They'd moved there when I was in college). This was my second commercial airline trip, her first. It was also the first time I’d ever rented a car on my own. I was young, naive, excited and had a bit more hair and a little less weight. The photo is of me (at age 22) in Japan.

We got into LA about noon, rented a car and took off for Long Beach. We had a little over of 24 hours to spend in the city and I was dead set on touring the Queen Mary. We spent the afternoon on the ship, being in awe of its beauty and grace and astonished at its size. That night, we ate in Long Beach to avoid the traffic, and then after dark headed back to our hotel near LAX. Our bodies were still on Eastern Standard Time, so we went to bed early and it seemed, got up even earlier. We caught the early edition of the morning news. Everything was about the Iranian crisis. Hostages had just been taken in Tehran. The Shah was in America, being treated for a fatal disease. The world markets were in turmoil and oil supplies were being threatened. The local news told about a planned protest by Iranian students against the United States allowing the Shah into the country. As they already had their permit, the protest was going on even though other groups weren’t too happy with the Iranians protesting while hostages were being held in Tehran. We didn’t pay much attention; LA is a big place. It was November 1979. We showered, packed out bags, walked around the neighborhood and got some breakfast. We brought matching “Los Angeles” t-shirt in a local shop.

Our plan that morning was to head north, drive through Hollywood, then head to the airport and catch the daily JAL flight to Tokyo. We got out our maps and talked to someone in the hotel about our plans. I don’t remember exactly how we went, but we drove down Hollywood Boulevard and at one point, we were on Wilshire Boulevard. As we drove, our attention was drawn away from the sights and to a grouping of helicopters hovering over the highway ahead of us. There was a crowd of folks on both sides of the road. We wondered if they were filming a movie. As we got closer, I saw that one of the helicopters was the police and the others were for various news channels. Police cruisers were parked all along the side of the highway. As I drove through the hostile crowd, I realized we were in the wrong place—that this was the protest we’d been hearing about all morning. We crept along, angry protestors on each side of the road shouting obscenities at each other. The crowds were being contained for the moment. We quickly turned on the radio; all stations were reporting what was happening…

We got through just in time. I noticed the two groups moving out into highway just after we past by. We quickly took off to the airport, thankful for if we’d been a minute or two later we’d been caught up in the mess and would have no doubt missed our flight. The protest turned into a large enough riot that after landing in Japan, we get to read all about it in an English newspaper.
Our riot troubles didn’t stop in America. My parents had planned to meet us at the Narita Airport, which was still relatively new then and being pestered by Japanese farmers who weren't too happy with its location. In protest, they blocked the train tracks that day. We spent an hour wandering the airport, wondering what we should do, while my parents tried to get to the airport. They finally showed up, after having transferred to a bus. We headed into Tokyo. It was getting very late and we were hungry. All the fast places to eat at the Tokyo station where closed and we didn’t have time to sit down and eat. We caught the train to Kamakura and had our first meal in Japan in the only place open, at a McDonalds across from the train station. So after flying half-way around the world, having had two close encounters with riots, my first meal in the orient was a McDonald’s fish sandwich.
Even though the world was at nervous during our sojourner in Japan, it turned out to be a great time to travel. Because of Japan being so vulnerable to the loss of oil, the yen nosedived to record lows. I’d exchanged fifty dollars in LA, just to have some cash when I got to Tokyo. The rate was something like 160 or 170 yen to the dollar (remember, the dollar has fallen a lot since then, it's I think it's closer to 100 to a dollar). A day later, when I exchanged money at a bank in Japan, the rate was something like 260 yen to the dollar. We felt rich!

In another post, I’ll tell you about my experience of a riot in Berkeley… What is it about me, California, and riots?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Corn Bread

After my last post, I thought it good that I come out and say that I personally don't use Martha White Cornbread mix (nor the Michigander Jiffy Cornbread mix. I make my own from scratch. Below is my tried and true recipe... This is a repeat. I posted this recipe over two years ago--so some of you have seen it before! Photo is of one of my frying pans, the type of pan that needs to be well-seasoned for cornbread.

Sage’s Cornbread (remember—ingredients are approximate)

Preheat oven to around 425 degrees F.
Mix together:
1 cup of cornmeal (I mostly use yellow, but white works well too)
1 cup of white flour
3 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking soda
Dash of salt
2 tablespoons of sugar

Optional variations: Add chopped jalepenos, pimentos, or a small can of creamed corn (reducing buttermilk slightly to make up for the liquid in the cream corn).

Add one beaten egg (make sure it’s black and blue) and a cup of buttermilk (pour yourself a second cup to enjoy while baking).

Mix until all the dry ingredients are wet.

Put approximately ¼ cup of Crisco into a cast-iron frying pan (or use bacon fat if you can spare the cholesterol—it’ll taste heavenly and if you eat of it, you may find yourself heavenly bound). Melt the fat/shortening. Add the mix into the frying pan and bake somewhere around 20 minutes (or until your toothpick comes out clean). If you don't use bacon grease, you can spread a bit of it on top with a brush to give the bread some of the flavor.

Now before you Southerners get all upset about me putting sugar in cornbread—as if I’m a Yankee—let me suggest you try it. They may not always be right up here, but sometimes they do have good ideas.

Serving suggestion: A bowl of pinto beans with onions on top, some turnip greens on the side, butter and jam and a jug on the table... It'll be a real feast!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Cornbread, folks along the Appalachian Trail

Today’s Sunday Scribblings assignment is to write about a fellow traveler. This is a continuation of a story I wrote last June (click here), which occurred when I was hiking the southern portion of the Appalachian Trail. The year was 1985; the real names (of those I know) have been changed. I should note that just this past month, after decades of saying I was going to get around to it, I finally read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (actually, I read only small sections of it, but I listened to the unabridged version on my ipod). I agree with Cornbread; it’s a good book. The picture is a copy of a photograph of me taken during this trip.

His name was Cornbread. No, that wasn’t his real name. I don’t think he ever said his real name, but Cornbread seemed to be a name that fit. Cornbread was a welcomed sight the afternoon climbed up Bly Gap and into North Carolina during the remnants of a tropical depression wringing itself dry over the Southern Appalachians. Muddy and cold, we were drawn toward Cornbread’s fire in the front of the shelter. Tipping his Mao Cap, he greeted us and asked what kind of crazy fools we were for hiking in such weather. Cornbread was a fair weather hiker. He didn’t have any place he needed to be and didn’t see the need to walk in the rain. Someone had left a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in the shelter and he’d spent the afternoon reading it. “It’s pretty good,” he said, “you all should read it.” I made a mental note to pick the book up.

Benjamin and I were just beginning the second week of a fourteen day trip, hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Fontana Dam in North Carolina. Along with us was Peter, who’d been tagging along since Blood Mountain; a guy from Atlanta who turned out to be a part-timer herbal pharmacist; and my current girlfriend. She had arrived late the night before, bringing supplies for our second week along with several steaks that had been frozen and wrapped in newspaper and stowed in a cooler. They were still frozen when we left the parking lot at Dick’s Gap that morning, and would thaw out as we hiked and be ready for the coals at dinner,

Six of us crowded into a shelter designed for eight. Ropes were strung under the roof to serve as a clothes line and soon the place smelled of wet wool socks. We sat on the wooden floor, our pruned feet dangling over the side and toward Cornbread’s roaring bonfire. He was already at work. With his cast-iron skillet, some oil and untold numbers Martha White Cornbread packets, he sat out to make hoe-cakes for the crowd. Soon, we were all pitching in what we had for dinner. Our steaks were cut and cut in half, giving everyone a piece. Someone fixed rice, someone else fixed pudding. There was a pot of noodles and even some Jiffy popcorn, in the light tin pans that when shook over a fire expanded like the belly of a pregnant woman. It was a fine feast. Benjamin and I offered everyone a shot of Scotch that we might toast one another.

We sat around talking as the light drained from the sky, each of us sharing our stories. Cornbread told us about being an accountant on the Outer Banks. Many of his clients owned their own fishing and shrimping boats. One day he realized he was never going to get ahead in life, for the more he made the more he had to pay out. He owed alimony to two women and child-support to a third. So he quit his office job and hired on a hand on the boats, figuring that if he wasn’t going to make a living, he was at least going to enjoy what he was doing. While fishing, he read an article about the Appalachian Trail and decided he had to check it out. He set out to put together his grubstake, picking up an inexpensive backpack in a local store. Although his pack was named after some Himalayan peak, it made my back hurt just to look at it. He purchased a bulky sleeping back and collected some other gear together such as a frying pan and spatula. At the grocery store he stocked up on Martha White’s cornbread packets and headed to the trail. He wasn’t out to set any records; he just figured he could hide out and buy himself some time.

The next morning the skies cleared and everyone but Cornbread began to pack up for the day’s hike. He bid us farewell, tipping his cap and saying he didn’t have anything to do and could see no reason to move on till the puddles had dried out. When I looked back, he was engrossed in Dostoevsky.

I don’t know if his story was true, but it sounded good…

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Poetry Handbook: A book review with personal comments

Saturday morning update: In the review below, I refer to Garrison Keillor's reasoning for men writing poetry. I decided to see exactly what he said and this is what I found... In "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, Jim Dandy says there are two kinds of love poems: "I love you more than anything" and "I love you so much, how come you treat me so bad." (234) In Wobegon Boy, John comes to the conclusion: "it was suddenly clear to me why men have written poems all these centuries--it is to impress a woman in the hopes she will sleep with you." (304)

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (San Diego: Harcourt, 1994), 130 pages

As those of you who have read my blog for any length of time know, I occasionally post poetry. I started playing with poetry the summer I got out of college. I’m not sure why. At first it was haiku. Over the nearly 3 decades that have followed, I have played around with various styles of poetry, sometimes more intensely than others. I’m not really sure all my motives for doing this. Sometimes I delve into the craft when I want to remember an incident or capture a feeling. Sometimes I wonder if Garrison Keillor might be correct when he talks about guys who write poetry do so for only one reason—to seduce. For whatever reason that I’ve attempted to write poetry, I have never bothered studying the craft. That’s right; I’ve yet to take a class in poetry, but now I’ve read a book (now if I just stay in a Holiday Inn Express, I’ll be ready to go). Somewhere, it may have been in Gautami’s blog, I read about Mary Oliver’s, A Poetry Handbook. Having become familiar with Oliver’s poetry in her book, New and Selected Poems, I obtained the handbook and read it. The time I’ve spent with this book consist of my only formal study of the art.

Before I get into the review, I should give credit to Gautami and her wonderful writing for raising my interest in the various styles of poetry. Gautami’s work often follows precise parameters. At times she’ll identify the style of poetry using English words that could have just as easily been Hindi. I had no idea what a Terza Rima might have been, for all I knew it could have been a four-course Indian feast. I can thank Gautami for getting me curious about the styles. Another poet on the net whose writing I also enjoy is Pat Paulk. I encourage you to check them both out.

The Poetry Handbook is kind of like a dictionary, a place to learn the difference between a couplet, triplet, quatrain, terza rima, and a Spenserian stanza (59) or the differences between the syllabic and free verse (62-66). Did you know that a sonnet is 14 lines, traditionally in an iambic pentameter line (36, 59)? Did you know there are both feminine and masculine rhymes? (53) Did you know that by dropping the definite article, you’re making a move toward the abstract (94), and that by the length of your lines will also help the reader to interpret action (40-41)? Even after reading this book, I can’t profess that I’ve mastered all this material, but at least now I know where to look to find the answer! This handbook is packed with information. Mary Oliver explains the type of lines, the way sounds and diction works in poetry, the uses and types of figurative language, the need for the poet to read other poetry, to have the feedback of others, yet ultimately to work in solitude.

Here are a few quotes that I found helpful and enlightening:

Most of what calls itself contemporary is built, whether it knows it or not, out of a desire to be liked. It is created in imitation of what already exists and is already admired. There is, in other words, northing new about it. To be contemporary is to rise through the stack of the past, like the fire through the mountain. Only a heat so deeply and intelligently born can carry a new idea into the air. (11-12)

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision—a faith, to use an old-fashion term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. (122)

Mary Oliver’s handbook is short and concise. It’s intended to be a beginning, but the 130 pages are packed with information. I expect I’ll keep it on my bookshelf, right next to a similarly concise work on writing by William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style. Both contain material that will take a lifetime to fully comprehend.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.

For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Yesterday wasn’t the most memorable birthday as I had lots of stuff going on at work and pretty much spend the day busy. Hopefully I’ll get some time in the next day or two to rest… I am thankful to Karen. In her non-political blog (the blog in my side bar is her political one), she created me this cake. I wish that really was me, getting ready to make a long run down a mountain… Now a mountain covered with icing, that sounds like something you’d find at the Big Rock Candy Mountain! Thanks Karen.

A few days before Christmas I had a blog with a picture of a puzzle I’d done which shows 36 cities to see before one died (which are from the 1000 places to see before you die book). No one took a stab at all the cities, but in case you are curious, these are the cities pictured in the puzzle (from left to right, top to bottom).

1. San Francisco, Copenhagen, Boston, Sydney, Rio de Janerio, New York
2. Dublin, Budapest, Bangkok, Berlin, Milan, Beijing
3. Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Paris, Moscow, Madrid, London
4. Barcelona, Cuzco, Rome, New Orleans, Jerusalem, Istanbul
5. Vienna, Venice, Prague, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Florence
6. Montreal, Lhasa, Las Vegas, Edinburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia

Monday, January 14, 2008

This and That and the Other

I haven’t done a hodge-podge post lately, but there are some things I want to share with you and other things to get off my chest. The photo was from the New Year Eve’s storm. We’re getting more snow as I write.

Tomorrow is Michigan’s primary. I’m at a loss as what to do. On the Democratic side, there is only Hilary Clinton as a candidate (Edwards and Obama are not running because the state broke the party’s rules about primaries). Furthermore, the Democrat National Committee has threatened not to allow Michigan’s delegates to be seated. Some Democrats are voting undecided, so that someone in the party can select non-committed delegates for the convention. I don’t like the idea of voting for no one, but I also don’t like the idea of not having a vote. Many Democrats, it seems, are going to go over the Republican side and vote. I even got a computer call today suggesting that all Democrats and Independents should do this… It’s appealing to go vote against Mitt Romney, but it would mean that I’d have to go to the dark side for at least a day and that the Republican party would get my name as having voted in their primary… I’ve never skipped a primary, but that’s my other option. Any suggestions?

I only caught part of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion” this weekend—the section titled “Lives of the Cowboys.” Someone was trying to get Dusty to join a cowboy organization, but he didn’t want to have any part of it. When they started telling him about their charitable work, Dusty said that he prefers to do his own… “My cause is fallen women” he proclaimed and went on to say the he makes sure his contributions get to the right place by giving them directly to fallen women. I about ran off the road laughing.

In a not so laughing matter, did you read that the FBI has lost wiretaps because they didn’t pay their phone bill? Instead of being surprised that Bin Laden hasn’t been caught, we should be amazed when they actually do apprehend a criminal. Somewhere I heard it joked that the phone companies will take the FBI’s word when they say the court order is in the mail, but they draw the line when they say the check’s in the mail.

In another laughing matter, I’m going to finally get my Christmas letters out this week. That’s right, I even missed the Orthodox Christmas celebration (but I think I’m still within their 12 days of Christmas). A few years ago I stopped worrying about getting my Christmas letters out before the holiday—which should be okay for I find that I’ve had more time to read those that have arrived since Christmas than the pile that arrived in mid-December. I’m not going to bore you with my entire letter (besides, it says stuff on topics I refrain from talking about here), but I will let you have a peak at my first paragraph.

It should now be obvious to all of you that my Christmas cards and letters never made it. As late as it is, I can’t even blame it on the inefficiencies down at the Post Office. So this year, instead of writing a Christmas letters like almost everyone else, I decided I’d add a new twist. In Christmas letters (according to some etiquette I’ve read), you’re not suppose to brag about your great feats, nor are you to try to convince folks that your kids are the closest thing to perfection since that child born in Bethlehem two millenniums ago. So in an attempt not to upset the descendants of Amy Vanderbilt, I’m creating a new genre, the birthday letter. It’s my birthday and I can do whatever I please, etiquette or no etiquette! I’m celebrating another trip around the sun and move securely into my 50s (51 for those of you who must know). Happy birthday to me, but more importantly, I hope my birthday finds you all happy and enjoying life.
Now, those that forget my birthday—which is Wednesday—will feel doubly bad! Well, maybe not.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fishing with Granddad, Part 1: Saving Damsels

I took the picture to the left last summer in the mountains of North Carolina. This was not the lake in the story below and I can't find any digital pictures I have of a Sandhill lake.

Every summer, from the time I was twelve up till I started working at the age of sixteen, I spent at least two weeks with my grandparents. These lazy summer days were spent doing odd chores around their house and yard and going with my grandmother to visit relatives and old cemeteries where our ancestors were buried. My granddad would come in from work at 5 PM and my grandmother would have dinner ready so that as soon as we finished, the two of us could take off to a lake, a beaver dam or some farm pond where we’d fish till either a storm came up or the light had been drained from the sky. Then we’d go home and out back, under the porch light, we’d clean our catch, many of which my grandmother would fry up for us the next evening.

I have fond memories of fishing with my granddad. He allowed me a lot of independence which I valued, but probably had something to do with his belief that fish could hear you talking and him wanting to fish quietly. Once we got to the water, we’d often go in different directions. One evening we were fishing in rather large lake, downhill from a house that belonged to people my granddaddy knew. They were not home, so we drove around the house and my granddad parked his truck by the dam. With his fly rod, which is now one of my prize possessions, he fished one side of the lake while I crossed the dam and fished the other side using a spinning rod and a rebel, a top floating lure that when pulled fast will dive to about a foot under the surface and wiggle in a way that sometimes drove bass crazy.

After a few minutes of fishing this evening, I was startled to hear the muffled cry of a woman calling for help. I looked, but didn’t see anyone and was troubled because the voice seemed to come from behind my grandfather, up near the house, yet he didn’t seem fazed. The cry came again and I shouted at my grandfather, but he just waved and said its okay. It sure didn’t sound okay. When the cry came a third time, I knew someone was in trouble. I dropped my rod, made sure my Ka-bar knife was safely stowed in its sheath on my belt, and ran as fast as I could around the dam and up the hill, all the while yelling for my grandfather to join me. I couldn’t believe his hearing had gotten so bad, yet granddad didn’t bulge. “Come back here,” he said. But I kept running, with images of me saving some beautiful damsel in distress. I was also worried over what was wrong with my granddad and why he wasn't helping. I got up on top of the hill, near the house and started looking around frantically.

Instead of finding a woman in peril, I saw a peacock, its feathers displayed like the old NBC logo. I didn’t think anything about it, except that it was strange for peacocks are not native to the Sandhills of North Carolina. After a few minutes of not finding anything else unusual, I walked back down the hill toward my granddad. Right before I got to him, the cry came again. I turned around and saw the peacock up on top of the hill and heard my granddad laugh. Peacocks can make a cry that sounds a lot like a woman crying for help. Feeling a bit foolish, I went back to my fishing. I’d have to wait for another day to make my debut as the lone ranger.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Book Reviews: Fair Weather and Rock Springs

I have a stack of books waiting to be reviewed… Let me knock out two of ‘em in this one post. Both of these books I read the other week while on train to and from Chicago, and they couldn’t be more dissimilar, the only similar trait being the first name of the authors. Someone had recommended that I read Richard Ford as an example of a post-modern writer (a term that is about as easy to define as existentialism). The other by Richard Peck is written for a younger audience. His book was a Christmas gift I’d purchased for my daughter because of the trip we were taking and I felt it would be good for me to read it too. For those of you who want to know why I occasionally read books for 9-12 years olds, it’s so I can converse with her about what she’s reading.

Richard Ford, Rock Springs (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), 235 pages.

Rock Springs is a collection of short stories based in the American West. The stories are told through a host of characters, all who have experienced loss. There are boys whose mothers have run out on them, men and women who have been betrayed by lovers, young girls trapped by the poor decisions they’ve made. All the characters are down on their luck. Some are out of work, one has car problems, one lost the use of his legs, and they all have relationship issues. The setting, mostly small towns with seedy bars and cheap hotels, cold winters and sad train yards, emphasize the loneliness of those whose stories are being told. Yet, in all the stories, there’s a glimpse of grace. It feels as if Ford uses the rail lines, the rivers, the highways and the hopeful destination of Florida as reminders there is something better somewhere else. In a Kafkaesque sense, none of the characters are able to escape even though a few find peace, such as a man and wife still being devoted to one another even though their future is bleak. “Nobody dies of a broken heart,” (33) one of the characters, quoting his ex-wife, tells his son. In a way, that’s true. These characters all seemed trapped in their own personal hell and are unable to escape; in many of the stories, death might be a welcome release. My favorite sentence in the book: “Trouble comes cheap and leaves expensive” (150). This certainly rings true in all these stories.

Richard Peck, Fair Weather (New York: Puffin Books, 2001), 130 pages

Its 1893, and three children who have grown up on a farm in Southern Illinois are going on the trip of their life. The story is told through the middle child, Rosie. She has an older sister and a younger brother. Their aunt has sent then tickets on the Illinois Central so that they could come and stay visit her in Chicago and attend the World’s Fair. Their mother was supposed to go with them, but she sent her ticket back, putting the girls in charge of their older sister. On the train, they find their eccentric old grandfather had stolen his daughter’s ticket (he was supposed to mail the ticket back, put kept the letter). Grandpa along with his dog also goes to Chicago. The three of them, two girls, a boy, and a crazy old man, along with their widow aunt who’d married well (the old man’s daughter), spend a week seeing the sights at the fair.

I love the grandfather character. He meets the mayor of Chicago, a Democrat, and introduces himself in an obvious reference to Lincoln as a “Republican from the day we put that rail splitter in office.” He sings all kinds of little songs; his favorite I may take as my own theme song:

Beefsteak when I’m hungry
Corn likker when I’m dry
Pretty little gal when I’m lonesome
Sweet heaven when I die…

As they make their way through the fair, the kids who have already been surprised when grandpa brought along his dog are in for another shock. They see a marquee advertising a show by Lillian Russell, the name of Grandpa’s horse. Buster thinks Grandpa has managed to also bring his horse to the fair, only to discover that Lillian Russell is, at least according to their aunt, a risqué actor. Their aunt is livid; gramps is excited to get to see the woman of his dreams. He also wants to see the belly dancers, providing another shock for the kid’s aunt who is trying to protect them from the seedy side of the fair. As is often the case in these younger “fairytale” novels, gramps turns out to having fought with Buffalo Bill in the Civil War and becomes quite a celebrity, allowing the kids to have all kinds of experiences.

I like historical books for children and would recommend this one for younger readers. For adults wanting to know about the 1893 Fair, I’d recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America (New York: Vintage Books, 2003). This is a well researched book that weaves together the fair and the story of Dr. Holmes, who may be America’s first modern serial killer, a man who committed many of his murders in Chicago at the time of the fair.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Dozen to Climax: Memories of high school days

Warning, this is a PG-13 post! I’m sure Murf, my alter-ego, will have a field day with it. The map shows our travel and the location of Liberty and Climax, towns that are now “by-passed." If you click on the map, you can read the town names.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been over thirty years, but much has changed since I graduated from high school. Sometimes I look back longingly for those carefree days, other times I remember all the awkward moments and think I’d never want to go back.

Things had settled down by my senior year in high school, meaning there were no race riots that year. I graduated in ’75. That January I turned 18 and was required to register for the draft. I kept putting it off and finally, after a couple of months, did my civic duty and received a lecture how I could have been arrested for being so late (I think you had 30 days after you turn 18 to register). I wasn’t too worried about it; the country hadn’t drafted anyone in a few years and South Vietnam was in the process of falling to the North. Yet, I can’t say I was completely unpatriotic as I was taking Junior ROTC (a program that served as my inoculation from a military career). I was reluctant to take a third year of ROTC my senior year, but having already done the first two years my mother encouraged me to go ahead and finish it out. I did, but I was really just putting in time. As a member of the school debate team, I sought my identity there, causing me to be a bit schizophrenic. As the only one in ROTC also involved in debate, I was teasingly called JB (for John Birch) by others on the team. Likewise, as the only debater in ROTC, those in uniform nicknamed me Fidel (after our favorite Cuban dictator).

The good thing about being on the debating team was that we got to go out-of-town once a month for overnight tournaments. Another thing allowed back then was that those of us who were seniors got to drive the school vans on these debating trips. Most of the debating tournaments were held in the High Point, Greensboro, Winston-Salem area. There were no freeways down to the coast back in ’75, and we’d wind our ways through small towns to our destination. Once we left Siler City, the trip heated up. Next, the road took us through the town of Liberty. With the country still in a hangover from the 60s, liberty meant a particular kind of freedom that was augmented by a special site just down the road from Liberty, the infamous “Horney Livestock Auction” (their sign featured the heads of two pigs in love, their snouts crossed). By now the van was steaming as we headed through the hamlet of Climax. Moans could be heard from the back of the van (this was long before the release of the movie “When Harry Met Sally”). As we pulled out of the town, the driver would be congratulated on a job well done. He’d just taken the taken the entire team to Climax. All the rest of the day, other teams would look at us in wonder as the driver walked around like a rooster continuing to be congratulated for his feat that morning. There must be something about being young; I’ve never since had an opportunity to take twelve people to Climax.

We always had a good time on these trips. Nights were especially exciting as we’d all crowd into a single room for a party. We stayed in cheap motels, many of which had 25 cent vibrators on the beds. I can attest to the fact that these vibrators don’t work when you have twelve or so people piled onto the bed. But before it was too late, our teachers would come by, separating the boys from the girls and sending us to bed so that we’d be fresh and alert from the next days rounds.

We decided we wanted our team picture for the yearbook to be taken in front of the Horny Livestock sign. We all stood up proudly. Us guys wore double knit leisure suits (we were required to wear suits and the leisure suit, which now seem so ridiculous, were our suits of choice). The gals wore short skirts, very short as was the fashion then. The picture didn’t make it pass the yearbook censors and at the last minute, in order to get our pictures in the yearbook, we had all borrow sport coats from the drama closet and have our picture retaken, this time in front of a sundial. I wish I had gotten a copy of the photo by the livestock sign. In my mind that picture still symbolizes my senior year.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Non-Political Poll

This picture has nothing to do with this post, but I like it and shot the photo late yesterday on a county road.

Diane (who's about to go to Yellowstone and making me jealous) is polling her readers about the first 45 and the first album they purchased. Since I’m not feeling all that creative right now, and because the last thing our world needs right now is another presidential poll, I decided to steal her idea. For those younger readers, a 45 was a single vinyl record (not really a single song because it had a hit on one side and some filler song on the flip-side). 45 referred to the speed—the record would go around the turntable 45 times a minute. An album is the equivalent to a CD and ran around the turntable at 33 rpm. I know some of my readers may have come of age in the 78 era (I had a few of those when I was a kid, my favorite being the theme song from the movie “Ole Yeller,” but I never actually purchased a 78). As for those who first album was an 8-track, we collectively feel sorry for you.

Now, after the above nonsense, let me tell you about my first 45 record. It was a solo by a one hit wonder band (this song was #1 in both the US and Britain). Zager and Evans was a band from Lincoln, Nebraska and there one hit, and my first 45, was titled “In the Year 2525.” This purchase was made in the summer of ’69 and shows that even then I had an environmental leaning.

My first album purchased, which was about the same time as my first 45, was the soundtrack for Hair. I know that some of you will find this ironic, especially when looking at the pictures in my first post of 2008 showing the giant bald spot on the top of my head. I longingly remember the lyrics to the chorus: “Gimme head with hair, long beautiful hair, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen.” My mother was horrified at the thought of us owning this album and was sure my brother and I (we pulled together our resources to buy the album) had gone over to Satan. She was even more horrified when I offered to bring the album to a church event—they were looking for a copy of the song “Easy to be hard,” which is on the album, to be used during the weekend retreat. My mother, in a desire to keep up the appearance that her sons were righteous, didn’t want anyone to know that we had this album.

Okay, what was your first record? And was it a 33, a 45 or a 78? Or did you first purchase an 8 track or cassette? Fess up! And do you have any interesting stories to go with your first purchase of music?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year Snowfall

Happy New Year!
We were blessed with a fresh blanket of snow last night.

The view from the front yard looking west.

The view of the pasture out behind the house.

In addition to some cross country skiing, I took a run down the sled hill with a friend holding and using my camera. My daughter's sled is too small! Notice my new Stetson.

I'm beginning to lose control as well as my hat.

There goes the hat.

Wipeout! And a less than flattering photo of the top of my head...

May 2008 be good to you!