Monday, February 25, 2013

My Nuts Are Your Nuts: Assessing the Post-Valentine's Fallout

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

And now a moment of silence for the men who fumbled on Valentine’s Day. Been a long week. Sort of like it was a long week for Napoleon after Waterloo.

This is one of those penalties with no pre-determined time limit. The sun won’t shine again until your mate decides to open the shutters, which depends a lot on luck, the level of your apologetic sincerity, and even diet. Might want to stock up on ice cream this week. And maybe vacuum.

We’ve all been there.

But there is hope! Remember: in only 50 short weeks you’ll have the chance to mess up again.

Valentine’s Day really is a tricky setup. We’re expected to play our hand like Valentino when, every other day of the year, we’re nothing more than Jethro. Nor are we expected to be. The unforgiving spotlight of romance is like a baseball when you’re having a bad day fielding: it will find you no matter where you hide.

Open mouth, insert excuse. “But honey, I …”

Famous last words. If you fumble on Valentine’s Day, you’d better be in a coma or passing a kidney stone. Otherwise, the jury can be harsh.

I enjoyed this Valentine’s Day as much or more than any before, though in honesty I was drawing from a very small sample set. Rarely have my gifts and cards and flowers been up to par. But hey, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn.

Speaking of, a friend of mine gave his wife of 50 years a card that scored big. Pictured was a very nice squirrel handing a sack of acorns to another somewhat awed and grateful squirrel. “My nuts are your nuts,” the card read. Nice…

He followed that up with something in frilly flannel from the sale rack and, boom!, winner winner chicken dinner. You can get away with being a tad tacky when you’ve got a half-century of matrimonial air underneath you.

There is a fine line we walk in this realm of gift giving. My friend Lil’ Tone toyed with the idea of getting his wife some Gold Bond for Valentine’s Day. “You know how women love gold,” he said. And they do. And they, like most any gender, hate to chafe. Be that as it may, Gold Bond is not a good Valentine’s Day gift, not unless you’re beloved is under house arrest and wearing a tight ankle bracelet.

I trusted Lil’ Tone last year, somewhat blindly, and got my Valentine Seasons 1 and 2 of “Downton Abby,” the surprise public television hit set in class-divided England 90 years ago. What a delightful roll of the dice! Home run! We watched both seasons in less than two weeks, then sweated it out until January for Season 3, which ended Sunday night.

See, you’ve got to watch the Brits. You’ve got to watch them every single second of the day. Because what happened – and you Downton fans I exchange mail with know what I’m talking about – is that the season we waited 10 months for was over in two. I think it was eight episodes. Sunday’s finale ended with Matthew, who didn’t sign a contract for Season 4, getting wiped off the pages of English history. Lady Sybil didn’t sign for next year either so she, too, was axed.

Of course, this was my fault. I gave a Valentine’s Day present that was the gift that kept on giving -- but only until the disappointing season finale. At least Gold Bond would have lasted longer.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Patsy Lewis: A Friend Who Never Failed Us

From today's Times and News-Star

I fell for Patsy Lewis not long after I failed out of college.

She was Dean of Admissions for more than 20 years, including in 1979, when the Louisiana Tech administration could not find a pulse on my grade-point average. It was to Mrs. Lewis’ office you limped when things like this happened. You begged there, in academic purgatory, for another shot.

In the newspaper 15 years ago, I wrote about that day:

“She asked – I’ll never forget it – if I had thought I was going to learn college work by osmosis. I told her I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know what osmosis meant.”

She told me that, in my case, it meant I had a long way to go.

Her instruction: Don’t miss class. Sit up front. Do what you’re told. Simple enough. But it was the way she said it, the way she looked at you. Something. She was the perpetual Homecoming Queen, the one you had a crush on when you were 8 and she was 18. Once you met her, you didn’t want to disappoint her.

I had no academic woes after that. Dozens and dozens of others have the same story. She not only got many of the great unwashed into college, but she kept us there. I know we’re not supposed to care so much what others think of us, but you really wanted Mrs. Patsy to know who you were. You knew she really did care, and if she felt you were shortchanging yourself, she’d let you know that too. She could say a lot with only a look. She understood the elegance of brevity.

I tell you this I went to Mrs. Patsy’s funeral last month. It was sad because so many will miss her but it was not unexpected and it was not deflating. Instead, hundreds of people came on that Saturday morning, each with a personal story of how she inspired, mothered, coached-up, disciplined or loved us toward a goal. She was a coach’s wife for more than 50 years, and row after row of athletes who had put on shoulder pads never or neckties seldom in the past 30 and 40 years were shaved, dressed, clean and sharp, a testament to a woman who was their mom away from home.

Besides enough lettermen to have a good scrimmage, two other distinct groups were in the church that morning: one, the teachers and administrators she’d shepherded, and two, her longtime Sunday school classmates, a good-looking group whose team anyone would be lucky to be on. When I moved back to Ruston four years ago, one of the first cards I got in the mail was from Mrs. Patsy, handwritten, welcoming me to church. She never left a wounded soldier on the field.

Mrs. Patsy was loyal, dependable, prepared, proper: I’d have printed something similar before she died, but she’d have felt it “most inappropriate.” She was stealthy.

Many champions were at her funeral, but none had ever seen anything to match the courage she displayed in her fourth quarter, the grace with which she both prepared for her passing and tolerated the cancer. The last time I saw her was Christmas Eve in church, thin but beautiful, her handsome family beside her. She loved them the most, but she loved us all in a very close way. She always made us feel “a part of.” I am grateful, blessed, so lucky, to have had a friend like her.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Good Morning!, Or, 'Ode to Bacon'

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

As a concession to age, about five days out of seven for the past 10 years I’ve eaten, for breakfast, cottage cheese and yogurt mixed up together.

It’s starting to get on my nerves. Not happening for me.

It is not cottage cheese’s fault and it is not yogurt’s fault, though they are each be easy targets. Cottage cheese is good for you but it couldn’t run out of sight in a day and a half. So much for it being “healthy.”

Cottage cheese is supposed to be just about the most perfect man-made (no offense to cows) food there is. A fistful of it is packed full of protein. It is low in fat and has carbs, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron ore and tin, and a four-ounce serving contains more than 12 percent the daily recommended helping of cottage.

When I am eating it I try not to think of the word “curd.” Curd does not sound good but, well, there is no getting around that those are the little things half floating around in the other stuff, which is, I suppose, curd runoff.

It is not an especially ugly food – it is lumpy and white, like good homemade mashed potatoes – but it will win no beauty contest for you either.

Never until I started eating cottage cheese and yogurt together had I eaten cottage cheese alone. It doesn’t taste like anything really, but if you had to say it DID taste like something, you would think of something bad.

That is just my opinion.

But mix cottage cheese and yogurt together – say a vanilla or strawberry yogurt, whatever you prefer – and bingo!, you have a healthy combo that does not taste bad at all. Drop some blueberries or bananas and/or granola in there and you’ve got a most decent leadoff hitter.

Good, and good for you.

There are only two drawbacks.

One, after a while, curds and yogurt lose that sensual BAM!, you know, the one they never really had in the first place. After a decade, you have an excuse for waking each morning and crying over spoiled (spoilt?) milk.

The second drawback: cottage cheese and yogurt is no bacon and eggs. And bacon and eggs is the flagship of the breakfast armada.

You’ve got your French toast. Your waffle. Even your morning pork chop or sausage, patty or link. Outstanding all.

But if the go-to breakfast foods were lined up and we’re choosing team captains, bacon and eggs would be my first selection. Cottage cheese is the kid who does not get picked.

The multi-talented egg needs no introduction, and just smelling a home where bacon fries makes you feel like you can make it one more day, no matter how tough the sledding.

Bacon is to meats what brown sugar is to sweets: it just makes everything better.

Bacon makes people smile. Bacon beats cottage cheese in a footrace 10 times out of 10. I wish my name were Sir Teddy Bacon.

My second draft pick: biscuit. The chef is key, but even a buttered canned biscuit will at least look at you in the eye.

Third draft pick: grits. But only if someone who knows how to make them are in charge. Bad grits might as well be cottage cheese.

Now you can come in with all your fillers, your pastries, Stuff With Syrup On It, fruit and hash browns. (I love hash browns.)

Chocolate milk. Orange juice. Coffee. Eat all that and your day is made and you haven’t even left the house yet.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Waiting? Who Has Time For That?!

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

An aging Ben Franklin said a bunch of neat things, including, somewhat wistfully, upon seeing a breathtaking maiden in corset and satin and lace at an outdoor party in France, “Ah, to be 70 again.”

But another thing he said, this time as Poor Richard, was this: “He that can have patience can have what he will.”

Of course, he said that long before the invention of the microwave, the iPhone, call waiting or even the Pop-Tart. In Franklin’s day, waiting was not an option.

Today, the most sagely humorous of our Founding Fathers would consider an amendment, I should think. Something like, “He that has no patience can have what he will anyway – and pretty quickly, depending on the length of the line at the drive-thru.”

If Ben were alive today, he’d be, well, very old. But he’d also be very surprised at how waiting has become so overrated.

Waiting? That’s so 20th century. As the now Internet-famous Sweet Brown said on one of the year’s most viral videos, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

No. Nobody’s got time to wait. Waiting is for losers and for people bringing out your food. And if it’s a buffet -- or if you call in your order or email your order -- you don’t even have to wait on your food.

Sometimes the impatience of the younger crowd surprises me. This is a generation that thinks you should be able to read “Waiting for Godot” in 30 minutes and watch “60 Minutes” in 10. Of course, you CAN watch “60 Minutes” in 40 minutes, if you’ll only remember to set your DVR.

Daily I have to remind myself that today’s generation – called Generation Y, the Millennial Generation or Generation 9/11 – are not to be blamed for their attitude concerning waiting. They’ve never had to wait on squat. Has your child ever even heard a telephone’s busy signal?

It’s about this simple: they don’t know how to wait because they’ve had precious little practice at it. Sadly, they at least have an excuse for their impatience. We do not. You’d think we’d be used to waiting: we grew up waiting for hamburger meat to thaw.

Today’s youngsters don’t know what life is like without modern ingenious time savers, things as simple as the quick oil change.

The remote control -- no more waiting on someone to actually have to “get up.” Automatic banking. You get online and check the weather, order a new dress or see what time the show starts, so there’s no waiting on the local news, going to the mall or finding a newspaper.

We thought 8-tracks or cassettes were the gold at the end of the music rainbow, but when we got through listening to our favorite song, we had to wait on it to “come around” again. Today – you push a button. Instant rewind.

Don’t wait on reruns; just buy the DVD. You can even pay extra and get “express delivery.”

Buy your cinema ticket before you go. Print your train ticket at home. Go through the Express Line at the store.

If I weren’t impatient I’d remind you of more -- like instant oatmeal, check-eliminating debit cards and spray tans.

The closest we got to any of these things back in the day was the Readers Digest and Jiffy-Pop, which wasn’t that good but the novelty of “instant” popcorn and watching the aluminum rise made you feel like you were launching Skylab. And it took only five minutes! But these days, who has five minutes?