Sunday, March 23, 2014

Don't Get 'Taken' To The Prom

From today's Times and News-Star

It may or may not be true that Junior Waverly took me out behind the junior high one day and beat me senseless, and it may or may not be true that I probably had it coming. I would never accuse Junior of making a poor decision. Not to his face. At least not again. I’d probably said something that offended him. Like asking him how eighth grade was the third time around.

In Junior’s defense, he was one of the few guys at school who looked good in overalls, never raised his hand when the teacher asked if anyone had questions, and took off my cafeteria lunch plate only what he felt he absolutely, positively had to have to keep from starving to death before he could get to the convenience store at 3 o’clock, or what we called, in Junior’s honor, The Shoplifting Hour.

Nervously, waiting on the bell: “What time is it?”

“Five til Shoplifting.”

Like that. The closer the bell got to 3, the more Junior acted like a wino hanging around waiting on the liquor store to open.

What I’m saying is, we all get taken now and then, either out behind the school house, out behind the barn, or to the cleaners. That last one is the subject of today’s meaningful, timely essay.

There is something going on today that is needlessly taking money from the pockets of hard-working parents, and that “something” is called “The Prom.” I’m not talking about your daddy’s prom: suit, dance, home. Today it is an Event, as if the implications alone of it being a Junior-Senior Prom don’t make it special enough.

The average cost of going to the prom in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas is $1,203 per couple, says a Visa-based survey. This shocked me: are children getting shot into space as part of their prom? Are we paying them $200 an hour to get out of the house for a night? Are tattoos that expensive?

Some parent with way too much time got the ball rolling and no one stood up to say, “Wait. Are you – what’s the right word? – insane?” Because in my parts, the teens dress in clothes they’ll never wear again, have their photos made together and in groups, de-dress into casual wear, go to eat (at a restaurant out of town, sometimes in a limo), come back, re-dress, go to the dance for maybe an hour, go to someone’s house, back to casual clothes, watch movies and eat pancakes and bacon.

Anything in which bacon is involved deserves better. This is pregame, game and postgame taken to the cha-ching extreme. Homecoming is much the same, so don’t get me started. (The dance is not even the same day as the football game anymore.)

It is too late for me. My ship has sailed, though I can proudly say I got out for less than the average bear. If you are a parent of a child who has a prom in his or her future, either start saving now or put your foot down. Or plan not to eat for a couple of months.

It cost my son a necktie, supper and some flowers to go to the prom. I will always have a sentimental weakness toward him for that.

Capital outlay was a bit more for my precious step-human, but not much. Since she is of the female variety, she was not responsible for food. But she was responsible for wearing a dress. You might not know this, but prom dresses can cost as much as a four-cylinder.

“I will give you fifty bucks, cash, if you borrow a dress,” I told her a month ago. She lit up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “Cash,” I said again.

She borrowed a dress, her mom hemmed it, and we sent the dress borrowee a gift along with a tears-of-joy-stained thank-you note since we had saved what amounted to a house payment. Something borrowed, no one’s blue.

There is no shame in a borrowed dress; my prom-bound female teen put on hers and looked like Rita Hayworth before the big dance number in “Affair in Trinidad.” I handed her two 20s and a 10 and asked her to get me Glenn Ford’s autograph. She didn’t know what that meant but it didn’t matter; she still went into the night wiser, richer, and well-dressed. The Prom Trifecta. Best 50 bucks I’ve ever spent.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sure Sign Of Spring: It's Blooming Basketballs

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Boy, THAT 30 years went by fast…

Before an explanation, consider this:

The oak leaf hydrangea has tiny white buds and the succulents are coming back, peeking out of the pine straw and growing up around what remains of last year’s strong arms, now brittle and heading toward hollow.

Signs of spring.

But even city folk know that the pregnant robin’s got nothing on television when it comes to announcing the end of winter. Spring’s in the air, and so are basketballs. Time for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. Time to dance and all that.

Where’s the remote?

This week is one of the best to be a college sports fan. For sure this month is.

Conference tournaments – they’ve been going on all week! -- conclude today. Tonight, the Field of 64 will be announced, and those teams join in a tournament that won’t conclude until April 7, the Monday night before the start of The Masters on April 10.

Not a bad week for sports, and not a bad third week of spring, that second week of April.

But first, the tournament, something that’s become so popular, even the non-sports fans are drawn to it. If they’re not filling out a bracket – don’t forget that Warren Buffett’s offering to pay a billion bucks for a perfect bracket -- they’re at least watching SOME of a game. This tournament sort of gets infectious, like the early spring influenza epidemic of 1918 -- but without everyone’s skin turning dark red and feet turning black. Well, and 500,000 Americans dying.

A happier thought, about that billion you can win: register online. It’s worth a chance, but be aware that the chance is somewhere between 1 in 9.2 quintillion (that’s a nine with 18 zeroes) to the much more reasonable 1 in 128 billion.

Gannett’s Chris Chase reported in USA Today that, in layman’s terms, that means that if everyone in the United States submitted a bracket every year, a perfect one would show up every 400 years.

Of course, by then the field will have expanded beyond 64 teams – just my opinion – and the odds will be much higher, and we will all likely have passed away, so there you go. It’s not fair, but if life were fair, Elvis would still be alive, and all the impersonators would be dead.

What occurred to me on the eve of the tournament was that 30 springs have gone by awfully fast. It was 30 years ago right now that I was about to graduate from college. What makes 1983-84 a memorable spring to me, though, was that Louisiana Tech had just won its first of two straight conference titles and was heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. 

Some guy named “the Mailman” was on that team, as was another sophomore, Shreveporter Wayne Smith. Alan Davis from Monroe and Willie Simmons and Adam Frank, each from New Orleans. Robert Godbolt from Detroit. Seems like the other day …

That team went 26-7, lost in the second round to NCAA finalist Houston in a game that featured two future NBA Hall of Fame players, Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon and Tech’s Karl Malone. Who knew then?

Heading into the Conference USA Tournament earlier this week, Tech mirrored the 83-84 team with a league title and a 25-6 record. This year’s team either won a spot in the NCAA Tournament Saturday night – I’m writing this pre-then – or will wait for an at-large bid on tonight’s televised Selection Sunday show. If not that, they play in the NIT.
(ED NOTE: Tech lost in its conference finals and landed a third-seed in the NIT.)
Otherwise, the teams aren’t alike, but they both won and each had a personality you could pull for. Like the annual tournament, no two are alike, but they’re all good. For those three weeks of early spring, they do something nature can’t: they freeze spring for you, and make the time turn back, or at least stand still.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Re-Garden Re-Grow?

From today's Times and News-Star

Home gardening for a guy is sort of like a woman is for a guy. You’re attracted to it, you’d like to participate, but starting out, you really don’t know what to do. Or what not to do.

But then you dive in and gain a little experience. And … you still don’t know what to do. Or what not to do.

Mistakes will be made.

A gardening friend shared this quote with me on her site this week, from the late gardening fanatic and writer Barbara Borland: “A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.” Borland is now hopefully in a garden not built with human hands, amazed that the dog doesn’t bite and the bee doesn’t sting and her plants are perfectly spaced and fruitful, as far as the eye can see. But on earth, it’s a bit of a different ballgame.

Here, we deal with moody weather, red clay dirt and the arresting human element. Barbara knows. The only way to learn is to do, and in the doing comes the mistake-making. In gardening, batting .300 is unacceptable, but thinking you are going to get on base every time, much less score, is nothing less than a dream of Eden.

“I am a wayward, wilful, contrary gardener,” Borland once wrote, and aren’t we all. It’s a battle. Us against the world, the world being literally just that – earth, and Mother Nature.

It’s a jungle up in here.

After a long layoff, I am back in the gardening game nine months now. One of the lessons I’ve learned – and I hope this helps the rookie and reminds the veteran – is that it’s a game of give and take. You seldom get it just right the first time. “But remember,” a wise friend told me, during a sparring match I was having with shi shis and hydrangeas, “if things don’t work out, you can always dig it up and put it somewhere else.”

I read recently a long story about “My Worst Gardening Mistake.” Dumping seeds, unknowingly, into a rock garden, and watching it turn into dandelion garden with rocks in it. A shrub that was supposed to grow six feet wide eventually growing – well what do you know? – six feet wide, overtaking every other plant in its path. A lady overplanting turnips until her husband, exasperated, offered one night at supper a quote that will live in vegetable garden infamy: “Turnip crepes? Are you kidding me?”

Misery loves company.

My friend Jeremy Dirt, a pro in the garden arena, dropped by our estate the other day, at my request, in exchange for a world famous Scatterload sandwich from Dowling’s. Small price to pay for beauty.

I wanted to show him where I’d planted the Teddy Bear Magnolia, the coral bark Japanese maple, the Natchez crepe myrtle. I was so proud. And then he opened his mouth.

“Why,” he said, “did you do this before asking me?”

“I didn’t want to get on your nerves,” I said.

His look told me that I had not accomplished that.

The magnolia will grow into the edge of the roof. The Japanese maple, she’ll be too hot where she is. The crepe myrtles, too close together. And that is literally just the start of how my garden will grow.

The effort was there, but not the result. Jeremy’s top comment during the 20 minutes he was on The Property: “Well, that SHOULD be all right.” This after he’d stared in silence a full minute at two bottlebush and a bridal wreath and something called a loquat, all in a bed eight by five. “This should be all right…” Should be…Which means it very well might not be.

Why didn’t I call him?

It is not too late. I still have the month to “get stuff into the ground,” as gardeners say, these trees and perennials for which I have some degree of hope. But the lesson here is to ask. I’ve found both gardeners and computer people to be willing, even eager, to share what is hard-earned and hard-to-come-by knowledge in areas where the tiniest thing can make a big difference.  

So as we head into Spring Fever, ask. Talk amongst yourselves. Read, but ask A Real Person too, as North Louisiana gardeners know things about the land, from experience, that differ from the norm. Learn from their mistakes.

You haven’t really started writing until you’ve started rewriting. And you haven’t really started gardening until you’ve had the pleasure of digging up your best plans and plants and started re-gardening.