Sunday, December 28, 2014

You never really outgrow being a Chicken

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

This is being written a week ahead of time. As I write this, South Carolina’s Gamecocks and the Hurricane of the University of Miami haven’t even left Columbia and Florida for Shreveport and their scheduled football game yet.

But by the time you read this, their Duck Commander Independence Bowl is in the books.
I’m supposed to have helped cover it, report on it for the newspaper. Lord willing, I did. Wonder what happened?

We all know now. Hopefully it was a clean game and fun crowd and one of the better Independence Bowls. Whether the game rewarded us or not, is it wrong to admit now that, secretly — and no offense to Miami — I was rooting for the Gamecocks? Does that make me a bad person?

Because here’s the problem: I’m not too proud to be Chicken, which is what we called the Gamecocks when I grew up in South Carolina and what they are called by the rural football fan back home today: the Chickens. (”Rural” in that previous sentence is redundant.)

It’s no secret that I love Louisiana Tech. I went to school there, flunked out there, was given another chance there and work both there and for the newspapers today. I was lucky to have been dropped off at Tech against my will one August day back in 1978, and I’ve become convinced since that it’s a place where you will not get lost unless you want to get lost. You won’t get overlooked at Tech; I’ve seen it play out time and time again. You’ll get an opportunity. Someone, or several people, will help you. If I can graduate, you can.

But for reasons sentimental, a spark for the love of my youth remains. Carolina and the Chickens are my first football girlfriend, and although things didn’t work out between us, I don’t like to hear people talk a badly about her. I don’t like to see her lose. And I sure don’t like to see her go 6-6 in a season when they/we were supposed to win the East Division of the Southeastern Conference. Losing to KENTUCKY?! In football? And to Tennessee? Tennessee’s AWFUL! Oh, the humanity!

In Carolina you are either a Chicken or a Clemson Tiger, Clemson being one of six teams who beat us this year. (Wasn’t close.) I am not as radical about this because I like Clemson and have friends from Clemson and B.B. Elvington, who grew up down the street from me and was idolized by all us boys in town, started three years for Clemson. But, the die was cast early and my family is a bunch of Chicken People. One of my uncles graduated from there and had season tickets. Another flunked out there and eventually graduated. (Flunking out is sort of another theme in our family.)

As a boy I saw the Chickens beat Wake Forest in Columbia and I saw the Chickens beat Clemson in Death Valley. I didn’t know there were that many people in the world, or that they could be that loud, or that there were that many colors. I can still see Tommy Suggs, the Chicken quarterback of the late 1960s and, for the past 40 years, the team’s radio color analyst, throwing a deep crossing route. I can see plainly the football on that clear fall day spiraling, the color of old shoe leather, a dusty tan.

Thank you, Tommy. Thank you, Chickens. We were good for a Peach Bowl every 20 years back then, but the loyal Chicken faithful hung in there. This longsuffering program, flashing that striking garnet and black, started in me a love of autumn Saturday afternoons. Chickens, in the coop and in the pan and on the field, have been a big part of my life. Lucky me.

So, Go Chickens — and it’s not my fault I feel that way, or always will. If you walk through the Carolina barnyard as a boy, you’re gonna get some Chicken poop on your little shoe. Take the word of someone who knows: that stuff’s really hard to get off.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Listening to the language of the holidays

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

The waiting room at the doctor’s office is as far away from the North Pole as Fourth of July is from Christmas. By definition, you are in a room where you do nothing but grab a creased Newsweek with Clinton on the cover and wait.

So I listened. And was not surprised. Coughs. Sneezes. Harsh words about a co-pay. And I thought, It really IS beginning to sound a lot like Christmas.

If Santa comes in moaning with the flu, we’ll have touched all the bases.

I love me some sounds of Christmastime, even though one of those sounds is a sniffle, and a standard is the inspired blowing of a nose. Hark the herald…

There’s the sound of the angry shopper, the screeching tires, the curse word when the lights don’t work, and the timeless “Are we there yet?”

Those are Christmas-seasoned but could happen almost any time. Christmas, though, Christmas has a language all its own, a language you hear only this time of year. Not a lot of Santa spottings in summertime.

When do you hear “figgy pudding” or “ho ho ho” or “What size sweater you think he wears?” except at Christmastime?


The Island of Misfit Toys.

Burl Ives.

Andy Williams singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “The Andy Williams Christmas Special.” Came on public television the other night, a retrospective. Andy Williams, one of the finest gentleman and most talented entertainers to ever walk onto a stage, didn’t invent the Christmas sweater, but he probably perfected it …

Silver bells. Jingle bells. Sleigh bells. The bells of the Salvation Army.

Holly jolly.

Brenda Lee -- and if you don’t know how to bake a pie, Sara Lee!

Dean Martin singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” (Reminder: Dean Martin, most underrated entertainer ever.)

“Ha…llelujah! Hallelujah. Hallelujah!”

What’s your favorite Christmas sound? Could be your children, if you have little ones. Could be the memories of how your grown ones sounded when they were little ones. Maybe it’s your family arriving – or leaving! I know it’s not “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” (See “inspired nose blowing,” above.)

Christmas sounds are Ralphie asking for a BB gun and “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” and my favorite Christmas movie, “Scrooged,” which concludes with the Bill Murray character, TV exec Frank Cross, the modern-day Scrooge now re-born into the wonder of Christmas, saying that Christmas Eve is “…the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”

Christmas is the sound of someone, somewhere, changing.

It’s December words and phrases like Bethlehem and shepherds keeping watch …

And lo, the angel of the Lord…

Unto you is born this day in the city of David…

The wise men…

A manger and swaddling clothes.

And somewhere in all these Christmas words and sounds, between a baby crying and the cattle lowing and our carol singing, is the blessed sound of fullness…in silence. Not emptiness, but fullness.

Silent night, holy night.

The noise of nothing, which is the sound of everything. You’ll hear it if you try – and sometimes, even if you don’t.

Sounds good to me.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ask the Paperboy, Chapter 47: Christmas Edition

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Dear Ask the Paperboy:
Season’s Greetings to you and your Papergirl and any little Paperpeople you have at home; may your days be merry and bright.
My query: I keep forgetting, every Christmastime, to ask: What’s a yule?
Confused in Calhoun

Dear Confused:
Yule? Cool!

We use it today as another word for our season of Christmas, even though its etymology is suspect. Word scientists suspect it comes from ancient Norse and Germanic languages; “yule” in its original form could have been a Germanic name for a winter month, for example, and when someone from fourth-century Hallmark dreamed up a celebration to coincide with the wintertime, the celebration took its name from the month. Card sales skyrocketed; the price of papyrus has never been the same. (You can look it up.)

The only other guess that word scientists have is that either a Norse or German poet needed a rhyme for “rule” or “fool” or “tool.” In the fourth century, poets had more freedom. Since all the words had not been invented yet, they could make them up as they went along, sort of like senators do with their liquid platforms today. It was good to be a poet!
So their invention was our gain. Today we have Yuletide, Yule log, Yule Brenner and, especially overseas, the Yule Boar, like we have the Christmas goose or turkey. We also have Yule Bore, which is Aunt Dot when she’s had too much egg nog.
Dear Ask the Paperboy:
Someone told me this week after the Royal British Couple visited New York that William and Kate, at an NBA game, “literally ruled the Barclay Center.” I don’t think this is correct as they have no jurisdiction here. Did they literally rule?
Pauper in Princeton

Dear Pauper,
Few things wreck the Yuletide season for Paperboy more than the willy nilly use of “literally.” Paperboy needs a nerve pill!

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watched the Nets lose to the Cavs at Barclay in Brooklyn this week, cell phones snapped and we underlings stared and Beyonce and Jay Z (now THERE’S Brooklyn royalty!) introduced themselves, as did Lebron James (or King James, as he’s called; see the royalty theme here?) So they were welcomed, oogled and even feted, and no one likes a good holiday feting more than Paperboy. But they did NOT rule “literally,” because literally means “in actuality,” and the Duke and Duchess can rule, or semi-rule, on their home turf only. This was an away game for them. Be gone!

This is Paperboy’s final ruling. The middle class has spoken!

Usually when people say “literally,” they intend to say “figuratively” or “metaphorically.” If someone says that the hustle and bustle of Christmas season “literally drives me up the wall,” and they aren’t 20 feet above you, clinging to Sheetrock like Spiderman, they have misspoken.

Please, countrymen: quell this “literally” uprising. Paperboy is beside himse…No … wait…that’s not possible either.
Dear Ask the Paperboy:
Why did Timmy get four new tires for his pickup truck and I got only one? I have been a better boy than Timmy.
Slick in Sibley

Dear Slick,
A couple of things here. One, if you’ve been better than Timmy – with “better” being a matter of opinion – that still doesn’t mean you will score better in the tread department. Life, she’s not fair. But more likely than not, Paperboy suspects the reason is that Timmy’s daddy’s redneck Santa has more money at his disposal than your daddy’s redneck Santa. On the cheery side, remember: sometimes less is more! Drive safely. And favor the side with the good tire.

Dear Ask the Paperboy:
Do you know what a “nerve pill” is? My mom mentions these a lot around Christmas time. Does she need surgery?
Still in Mangham

Dear Still,
Your mom does not need surgery. She will be fine – as soon as the holidays are over and Aunt Dot goes back to Texas.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

If you give a Surprise Dog, it will be a ruff Christmas

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

If you have the space and time, there is every good reason in the world for you to have a dog.

There is also every good reason for you not to get a dog or give someone a dog for Christmas. More often than not, giving a dog to someone for Christmas is like giving a side of beef to a guy who doesn’t have a freezer. You’re emotional. You want to make a big splash. He could use it. It’s a nice thought. It will nourish him. He’s just not prepared for it all.

If you’ve talked about the dog since September, and given the giftee time to prepare, different ballgame. But if you opened a box and in it is The Unexpected Dog and you are suddenly The Unprepared Dog Owner, you will be picking up poop and broken lamps before the Yuletide sun sets.

Merry Christmas!

I never wanted a dog for Christmas, mainly because we always had dogs already. If we hadn’t had some, I’m sure I would have wanted one. Or three. Instead, one Christmas I got a horse, but he stayed in the barn down the road and had a big field to hang out in, along with other horses. He was not a lone horse trapped in my house with nothing to do while I was at school.

So please keep a check on your well-meaning emotion. The lure of the puppy is undeniable. Black Lab. Red Bow. Green tree.

But how far behind can brown poop and yellow pee be?

Happy New Year!

Santa is not equipped, first of all, to carry a lot of dogs. Dogs do not interact well with reindeer. They are not good flyers. They are no fan of heights.

Also, dogs get lost in the Christmas shuffle. They are warm and fuzzy and The Best Christmas Present Ever – until dad gets back home with the batteries that go with the toy that is suddenly much better than a dog.

Dogs aren’t like an air hockey table that you play with for a week and get bored with, or that you play with once a week and love. A dog is something that demands attention every single day. There is nothing wrong with wanting a dog and feeling, as most children do, that they can care for a dog. It’s just that few children can, not without much, much help from a grown person, preferably one who knows a vet.

Dogs are miraculous friends. The benefits to your mental and physical health are documented. Sure, cats are good too, and I miss mine: Jingle Bell made me feel better about myself because I was never quite that lazy. I sure did love that guy who, as my son said while we buried him, always thought he was a dog, just without the ambition.

But dogs, real ones and really cared for ones, keep the energy level up at home. They let you know you are loved. They encourage and protect and illustrate loyalty. In a lot of ways, dogs set the bar for us human people. A more loyal and less critical companion is hard to find. Get a dog!

But if you are going to get or give a Christmas dog, plan for next year. Get it in November. An early present. Then you can work it into the system so that by Christmas, it’s another member of the family. By then, we are squared-up on our responsibilities, on what a dog requires from us to be a fully functional dog instead of something that eats shoes or digs holes in the yard.    

This is the gift that keeps on giving, for sure, but they keep on taking, too. They take space and money and food and time. They shouldn’t have to bargain for all of those, not right out of the chute at Christmastime, when too much activity is on the calendar already. It’s hard enough to break in a new guy during the off-season.

Put it on the list for next year. Or for spring or summer. Who says you can’t have Christmas in July?