Sunday, August 31, 2014

Aye! Local laddie to tee’er up in Perthshire

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Some who read this section don’t read much of the sports section and few of you are from Scotland, so let me call attention to something you’ll find interesting if you love North Louisiana. Three young guys around here have put together an impressive resume, both individually and collectively. One of them will even represent the United States – that’s the entire country and not just Louisiana – in competition overseas in September.

The three teenagers are Sam Burns and Nathan Jeansonne of Calvary Baptist and Philip Barbaree of C.E. Byrd, each a member of their high school’s state championship golf team and each a Top 7 finisher in the Junior PGA on a Bryan, Texas, course in August. Sam finished first. This is no small feat.

Also, Sam is featured with the female champion on the back page of the current Golfweek magazine for winning yet another tournament, the Rolex Tournament of Champions in June.

Two things here for the non-golf fan:

First, three of the top seven junior golfers are from Shreveport-Bossier and practice and play together. This isn’t like the Three Stooges growing up in the same apartment complex or all the Beach Boys being cousins or friends. It’s not the Beatles living as boys within blocks of each other. But it’s in the ballpark. That’s a lot of good junior golf in one spot.

And two, Burns’ Junior PGA victory – 13-time PGA Tour winner David Toms won it in 1984 – earned him a spot in the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio in March. Even bigger than that, Burns will play on the Junior Ryder Cup USA team in Scotland in September.

Roy Lang III, sports editor of The Times in Shreveport, is in a small group of people who know as much golf as I do; he’s also in a tremendously large group of people who play it better. We lucked into Roy when he came from his home in Chicago to Centenary College on a golf scholarship. He says this trio of talent is legit and that Burns, just 18, is a player without a weak spot in his game.

I’m proud. And jealous.

Sam I’ve known since he was 2ish, playing with Tonka cars in the dirt while his older brother, Chase, served as a first sacker on our fall ball Orioles team 15 years ago. He remains the quietest Oriole I have ever not heard. Chase turned into an all-district linebacker at Captain Shreve High. Also quietly efficient, his little brother quit football in junior high because he was shooting under par at East Ridge Country Club, something that grownups and certainly kids don’t normally, well, do.

Funny. Just a few years before, Sam would go play golf with Chase and Chase’s friends with his little U.S. Kids set of clubs, and when bored he’d chase fairway bugs with a fly swatter. His “Uncle Butch” McClellan, close friend of Sam’s dad, Todd, since the two were boys, thought that Sam, as much as he had to fight Chase and his buddies growing up, would be the toughest linebacker to ever come out of Shreveport-Bossier.

But golf got Sam early. Or Sam got golf. And now, from Tonkas and fly swatters, he’s graduated all the way to Scotland and the Blairgowrie Golf Club in Perthshire, September 22-23. We’re talking berns and brae and heather and peat. Bogs and clover and people in funny hats. In more ways than a few, Perthshire’s a long way from Sam’s home courses of East Ridge and Toms 265 Academy and Squire Creek in Choudrant.

The courses are different and so is the language. They talk funny in Scotland. An internet investigation tells me that what appears to be an insult, “Awright ya wee bawbag?” is just a friendly “How are you!?” greeting. But if you drop the “awright” and “wee” and say, “Haw you, ya bawbag,” you’re saying, “I dislike you and think of you as a testicle.”

This makes me glad Sam does most all his talking with his clubs. Good luck, young friend. We’re proud. Speak softly, and carry a big driver.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

If you're dead, why even take a shower?

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Former Times sportswriter Jim McLain died a little more than three years ago, something I’d forgotten about until I saw him the other day in Shreveport.

It is not often you get to talk to your friends, in person, after they die. But Mr. McLain, a reporter for nearly 40 years and a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame since 1995 when he was presented the Distinguished Service Award, is nothing if not durable. Even after he’d died, he’d gone about his business, pro that he is.

Turns out that, according to Jim, the only really good part about being dead and not knowing about it is the being, as he describes it, “blissfully unaware.” But once he found out he was dead, well, it was a bit of a different ballgame.

“I might not have known I was dead for several more weeks if I hadn’t gotten a call from my doctor’s office,” he said.

The woman was pleasant when he answered but confused when, after she asked his name, he identified himself as the proposed deceased. The doctor’s secretary even asked to speak to his wife, who verified she’d been cooking and washing clothes all week for the same 80-year-old she’d been married to for half a century.

Mrs. McLain had done that work for nothing, according to the government. A recent Medicare claim filed on behalf of Mr. McLain had bounced back with the notation that, according to the latest records, he was dead.

Sorry. But there you have it. Who said life, or death, was fair?

Jim suggested refiling the claim. Probably a typing error had occurred, he reasoned. But the following Wednesday after the mail arrived, he heard his wife yelling through the shower door, something about the Caddo Parish Registrar of Voters removing him – well, removing his corpse – from the voter rolls. “Hate to say it,” she said, “but it looks like this time, you really are dead.”

Thought No. 1 for Mr. Jim: “Wasted shower.” Thought No. 2: “The government has lost me and if I’m to be found, I have to send out my own search party.” Thought No. 3: “Why am I still hungry?”

He called his local Social Security Administration, hoping to avoid the fiscal pinch of missed checks and the like since, as the Medicare episode had taught him – and as the mutual funds people who wanted to settle his estate would soon tell him – the money gets sort of shut off or redirected once you start showing up dead. This happens to an estimated 14,000 people a year; if the Social Security Administration accidentally kills you, or lists you as dead, it’s good to let them know they have fumbled. You want to get off their Death Master File. You want to be, in the parlance of the agency, “resurrected” or “un-dead.” It’s not too much to ask, and in simplest terms, this is generally what is advised for you to do: go into the Social Security office with proper ID, the forms listing you as deceased, and prove that you have not “got dead.”

Turns out that in Jim’s case, an out-of-state funeral home had turned in his social Security number, obviously by mistake. The problem was quickly solved, a real shot in the arm to Jim but also for his loyal wife, who wasn’t doing all that cooking and cleaning for nothing after all.

Though he never found out how he died, Jim did find out when: March 12. “I have circled the 12th of March on every calendar since,” he said. “The Feds attempted to eliminate me once. They could try again.”

In the spare time that he’s been alive since retiring, Jim has written “Double Team Trap,” a Cold War spy thriller available online. If you pick up a copy he’s sure to sign it for you – if you can get to him before the government does.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A genie and three wishes would be handy right now

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

If the only comic bit Robin Williams had ever done was Elmer Fudd singing The Pointer Sisters’ “Fire,” I’d have still been a lifelong fan.

If you’ve never heard it, please try to imagine:

"When we kiiiiiiss….Fiiii-wuh…” Genius.

Did it make you sadder than you expected to hear Monday that he’d died? It did me, and I wondered why, and all I could come up with was that he entertained me in different ways through a lot of years, and he did the same for my son, and that I’d consciously decided, at some point along the way, that this was how things would end for Robin Williams.

“Good Will Hunting” was one of the first movies my son “got.” But years before, when he was 3, we’d seen “Aladdin” three times at “the big show” – including once on a Christmas Day, the same day Santa had brought him a genie bottle – then countless times in the living room. I didn’t always understand his comedic riffs, but I always enjoyed him in movies -- “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Dead Poets Society” and especially the genie singing “You Ain’t Never Had A Friend Like Me.”

But over time, either because of my circumstances or because of comparisons you make with people or conclusions you draw from all that, or because of my own insecurities, I decided that I would not be shocked if one day Robin Williams killed himself. But it’s probably not too smart to write in the newspaper, “I think that one day So-And-So will kill themselves.” Who wants to think that? It’s just that his highs seemed so high, and for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and so maybe I tried imagining how low his lows would be.

But I don’t know Robin Williams and I don’t do well when hearing people moralize about suicide. I do know that a tweet from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, while I’m sure well-intended, was not the message we want to get across. In the picture, Aladdin hugs the genie, and the caption reads “Genie, you’re free.”

Professionals tell us there are lots of reasons suicides happen, so I can’t begin to explain, but I do have experience: I have had in-laws die from suicide; people in my immediate family have held guns in their hands and stood on bridges while contemplating this very thing; I have been to three post-suicide funerals.

I was asked by one of my relatives to read “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness.” In it, Pulitzer winner William Styron describes his battle with suicidal depression. I read it, and while the joke would be that it made me want to kill myself, the reality is that it made me understand better why some people consider it. But again, professionals reason that suicide does not set the genie free. Tragedy all around.

Surely our similar experiences by now have helped us understand that every one of us needs encouragement, that we never really know what someone else carries into each new day, and that because of it, all of us could stand to err on the side of compassion and understanding.

Toward the end of “The Fisher King,” the female character, Lydia, tells the Robin Williams character how flawed she is, and how she’s certain he won’t like her, and how she’s clumsy and forgetful and…And then Williams’ character tells her that no, he already knows all that – and he loves her anyway. With all her faults.

That’s the kind of love we all want and the kind of indestructible, heavy duty love that’s available to each of us, the kind of love that can see you through the dark spots, and the only thing that any of us can depend on 100 percent to totally counter all our human insecurities. But maybe not everyone can feel that, or maybe sometimes, for a tragic moment, they lose it.

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255).