Sunday, December 30, 2012

The New Year's Holding On Line 1...

From today's Times and News-Star

You have gotten a phone call like the one I just got:

Yeah, Chris?
No sir. (I could tell he was an older guy.) This isn’t Chris. I think you…
Is Chris there?
No sir. I think you have the wrong number.
Well…it’s the number I just dialed.
Yessir, I bet it sure is.
Well where’s Chris?
Sir, I don’t know. What’s his…
Well what’s Chris’s number?
Sir, I don’t know. It’s not this one though.
Well I’m looking for Chris.
Yessir. (Now I was too, all of a sudden.) What’s Chris’s whole name?
Chris (Something)
I don’t think I know him. What number did you dial?
(He said my number.)
Yessir, that’s my number, and you dialed right, but somebody gave you the wrong number, I think.
So Chris isn’t with you.
No sir. He’s really not.
This isn’t his number?
No sir.
Somebody must have given me the wrong number.
Maybe. Yessir.
Well…I’m sorry.

He was beautiful. It was like being in the middle of an old Carol Burnett skit.

Asleep On The Hay: At last week’s church Christmas musical, a star was born. Our Baby Jesus is named Hunter; he was born back before football season started and slept, most impressively, from the first song until the last. This despite the choir singing at the top of its collective lungs. He’s got to be the most restful and content Baby Jesus I have ever seen in a Christmas play, and I have seen a few. Or maybe the child was awake, in which case he’s one of the better actors I’ve ever seen. I was impressed by the music and by that little boy.

Jesus slept.

Man, That’s Cold: Circle K, at least in these parts, no longer sells Icees. I am in the minority -- I have an Icee about once every five years – but even I know that Icee has been a Circle K staple since the chain was called Circle A. Folks go crazy over an Icee.

Several people, including my old Little League friend/enemy “Rock and Fire” Pringle, have met this news with less than enthusiasm. “They are going to some type of slushie,” he told me, the lowercase in his voice, as if he wouldn’t help a blind and wounded Slushie get off of a busy highway. “In what universe is a slushie better than an Icee?”

In the Circle K universe, apparently. Of course, we must remember that “better” is a relative term and that this is – it hurts me to say this – a business decision. The Circle K people told me the Mountain Dew people have the frozen drink business at Circle K now, so you can get a Pepsi Slushie but not a Coke Icee.

They never told us when we were little that the two drinks couldn’t co-exist, that penny Super Bubble would be a dime or that candy bars would go down in size and up in price. Growing up is not for sissies.

That Smarts: Now they are putting facsimiles of smart phones into toys? Embedding them into huggable toys? For kids to “train” on? Seriously? They really are. Albert Einstein was right. “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction,” he said. “The world will have a generation of idiots.”  -30-

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fragrance of Hope: Bethlehem

From today's Times and News-Star

Some days, everything’s whipped cream and sunshine.

The grits stay hot, the lights stay green, everything’s funny and your team wins.

But other days … the shadows show up. Then they take over. CNN Days, I call them. A counting of fatalities. An ongoing investigation. News about the shooter’s past. Features on the victims’ families. Shooter is usually singular and victim is usually plural.

Those are the days when I get awfully quiet. I wonder if you are the same. I wonder if you just want to pull the shades down and the covers up, feeling too discouraged and too helpless to do anything, including waste any more time trying to figure it out how to make it better, and where it all went wrong.

The question of why God allows suffering is one that won’t be fully answered here, due to limitations of both space and intellect. But at this time of the year, maybe more so at Easter, we know that the God of the Bible suffers with us. The manger tells us he suffers with us, the cross tells us he suffers for us. So while we might not understand why these tragic events are allowed to happen, we do know that it’s not because God doesn’t love us. This is a perfect prince who became a pauper, one who knows what it’s like to lose the most precious of earthly gifts – a child – and at the hands of unjust, evil men.

Suffering is never because God doesn’t love us.

I heard this song for the first time Sunday, “The Rose of Bethlehem.”

“There’s a fragrance much like hope
That it sends upon the wind
Reaching out to every soul
From a lowly manger’s crib…”

Hope. Through the miracle of the manger. Hope that a world insane will be set right, that evil fails and right prevails, that all wounds will be healed and hearts restored, that the glory and joy and feast of eternity will be so overwhelming that it will, as I gratefully heard a pastor say long ago, make all these horrific days and times and trials and heartbreaks seem like no more than one bad night in a cheap hotel.

But … there remains today. And tomorrow. More CNN Days to come. Such is the forecast in a fallen world. What can I do?

Maybe keep suiting up? Run the next play? If a Christmastime manger in a tiny town in the dead of winter is significant, then you must be. I must be.

"I am only one, but I am one,” said Edward Everett Hale, the flawed but prolific clergyman of the 19th century. “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."  

It sounds corny, but Charles Dickens and his one-man chain gang, Jacob Marley, had a point.

“Mankind was my business,” Marley says from the grave to Scrooge. “The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”

Mankind in our business. In the manger is our help and our hope that baby steps, even ours, add up.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mayan Calendar predicts/ coaches get punted

From Today's Times and News-Star

If the Mayan culture were thriving today as it did more than 1,000 years ago, no doubt their spokesperson would be on CNN saying, “Y’all are making, like, WAY too big of a deal over this calendar thing. We are just ending one calendar and beginning another! It’s a profit deal! We rotate ads out. That kind of thing. By the way, we have some great rates next month – if there is a next month!, HA! – on visits to Mirador. Don’t pass up this Late Preclassic, Postworld Special!”

Then they would laugh all the way to the First Rainforest Building & Loan.

We modern grownups can really mess things up. Just because a guy can build a pyramid without a tractor in South America doesn’t mean he knows when the world will end.

Because the Mayan Calendar has “an era” of the world ending Friday, many people think the world itself will end that day, which is, to quote the ancient Mayan philosophers, “baloney.” If you will simply look in your TV Guide, you will see that Ball State will play the University of Central Florida in St. Petersburg Friday in the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, and the world has never ended during any of the previous playings of the Beef ‘O’ Brady Bowl, despite its heavy Mayan fan base.

(The University of Memphis would disagree, having had their helmets handed to them to the tune of 41-14 by the University of South Florida in the inaugural ’08 bowl, but that is a different story. And if we were subjected to a replay of that, then hey, I’m all for the world ending.)

Mayans never professed to be good at calendar. The whole reason the culture collapsed is because half the population started taking Casual Friday on Tuesday  due to – no surprise here -- faulty calendars. Try building a stone city on Monday when half the population thinks it’s Saturday and see how far you get.

Besides, there is much too much going on in the world for it to end Friday. Having completely missed the presidential election in November, the American college football sporting public is making up for lost time by feasting on a cornucopia of head coaching changes at universities the land over. This is a carousel that would make even the mathematically adroit Mayans take off their socks and start counting with their toes.

Even as I am writing this, back rooms from Atlanta to Vegas are filled with cigar chomping boosters, accountants, administrators and friends of the program trying to connect the dots and find “the perfect coach.” They are encased in a whirlwind of “what ifs” and “but whats.” It is a dicey process as other coaches get pink slips and dominoes fall.

What these committees (and vocal sub-committees of faithful fans) are looking for, of course, is “a fit,” as they say in the biz. What works in Ruston or Natchitoches might not work in Lubbock or Bowling Green. Finding the right fit is not as hard as calculus, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Now the coaching, that’s the easy part. If you are thinking of “trying out” for head coach, you’ve got to be able to do these two things. One, you’ve got to be able to hold a big laminated sheet in front of your mouth while speaking. And two, you’ve got to be able to negotiate a spectacular buyout clause in case it’s you, and not the football, that’s punted. First things first.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can We Be Through With 'All We've Been Through'?'

From today's Times and News-Star

It’s a phrase common in all walks of life. Often it packs some truth.

“…after all we’ve been through.”

This might well bat leadoff in the extensive battery of catch-all phrases. From hurricanes to broken hearts to bad hamstrings, “after all we’ve been through” covers ground like corn covers Iowa.

In October, in response to tourists bus tours through the Lower Ninth Ward to see the still lingering destruction of Katrina, the Associated Press quoted a resident: “After all we’ve been through, we deserve more respect than this.”

Amen, sister.

Entertainer Colbie Caillat croons that she “can’t believe it, I still want you. And after all the things we’ve been through…” Which probably wasn’t a hurricane. They probably just had to stand in a long popcorn line at the show one night, maybe see her boyfriend’s ex break in line. Still, pain is relative; I wish them the best.

Where I get my joy in this phrase is when it is uttered, usually quite recklessly, to the masses with an ear tuned to the world of sports. Here, the phrase gets milked like a Jersey cow.

“We’ve all been through so much together,” said a Penn State football linebacker in October, and I agree he and his team have a gripe more legitimate than that of San Francisco’s Giants, whose manager Bruce Bochy said after his team’s World Series title this year, “We’ve been through a lot.” It’s a standard post-game quip, as no player ever says, “We haven’t really been through squat,” though I’d give $10 to hear it once.

Erin Phillips of the Indiana Fever said the team’s WNBA title was especially sweet since “we’ve been through so much as a team.” And Tennessee pitcher Ivy Renfroe hugged her sister Ellen after a big win in the NCAA Softball Super Regional in May and explained, to no one’s surprise, that “we’ve been through so much together!”

A headline in the Baltimore Sun recently reminds us that “Maryland football’s senior class has been through plenty of ups and downs.” Substitute your team’s name for “Maryland” and it would still be correct.

New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte has a special affection for his retired coach Mel Stottlemyer because, he told the Tampa Daily News, “we’ve been through so much together.”

So have the Orlando Magic players, as Quentin Richardson reminded America after the Magic beat the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of their playoff series last spring. “We’ve been through so much this year as a group and fought through so much negativity,” said Richardson. The Magic fought negativity a lot better than they fought the Pacers, who won the series in five. I know of one thing the Pacers “went through together,” and that would be the Orlando Magic.

My favorite quote along these lines is from English author Ashleigh Brilliant; it makes wading through all the others worthwhile: “We’ve been through so much together,” she writes, “and most of it was your fault.”


Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Holiday Road Can Be Long And Winding

From today's Times and News-Star

Attention, all colons: May I have your attention please.

This is a public service announcement. It is meant to be helpful and not tacky, but sometimes the two roads converge.

During this holiday season, keep plenty of meds on hand to quell digestive issues. Sometimes, even the most well-meaning stomach can write a check that its fellow digestive tract members cannot cash.

Let’s be careful out there…

Last weekend a buddy of mine lost a bet with a fish taco.

We were on the road in San Jose, Calif., a long way from home and actually working at a football game. Being sick at home is no picnic. Being sick at a Marriott two time zones from your home bathroom is pure panic.

I was alerted and immediately gathered up a banana, dry cereals, water bottles, sport drinks and enough various kinds of medicines to eventually rope off every passageway in my buddy’s body except his nostrils. I’m like the character Red in “The Shawshank Redemption” -- I’m a man who knows how to get things.

So while he was in bed and the bathroom all day – it was a night game, which proved to be a blessing – we tried to trace the source of the problem. Perhaps it was the seafood restaurant. I don’t know as I had “tossed greens” and some au gratin potatoes. I don’t trust much fish on the road. My fish comfort zone is more along the lines of Port Au Prince or Jan’s River Restaurant or the Mohawk. Or at my brother-in-law’s table.

By game time, my man was a bit pale. But he’s a gamer, and we are part of a radio football broadcast (for lack of a better term) team, so as he made his way somewhat gingerly to the sidelines to report, we strapped in upstairs for the play-by-play by Dave Nitz and analysis (again, for lack of a better term) by me. This was but the calm before the storm.

I stuck my head out of the press box at halftime. Mistake. One of our crack photographers appeared to be throwing up (there is no better term) in much the same way, I suppose, that the Titanic appeared to be taking on water. I thought he was either going to die or was giving birth. It was a sickening sight. A three-heaver.

I rushed back inside and told Dave, “The whole system’s breaking down!”

Again, I do what guys do. I traced it back. Though this is totally unfair, the West Coast-based “In ’n’ Out Burger” would be the guilty party if I were going strictly by definition. But nothing that good can make you sick.

So I don’t know what it was. All I know is that he literally left it all on the field, and that’s about all you can ask for in an athletic contest.

The game and a few pounds were lost, but we persevered. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson, right? We returned home wiser, I hope. Certainly more medicated.

A lot of you will be traveling this month. Please watch your diet. Order food wisely. Stick with the classics. And carry medicine as backup because sickness can strike the fickle innards at any time. Of course, I’m no expert, nor a doctor. I’m just telling you what a little fishy told me.