Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memphis Blues, Not Blue

So about a month ago, a coworker came into my office and queried, “Wanna go to Memphis?”
My initial reply was, why? To which he explained that he was scheduled to give a presentation at a bus conference but had a conflict with his annual vacation to Ireland. Well, after pulling a couple of strings and a rearrangement of schedules, I found myself on a Delta flight this past Monday, heading to the Land of Elvis, filling on for my coworker.
I have to admit that I was not expecting much. My main curiosity was to watch the March of the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel where I was staying, maybe catch up on some sleep. As well I was feeling like that poor stepchild, having recently received an email from my nephew describing his trip to Spain and sleeping in a 15th century castle, and my aforementioned coworker off to trace his family roots in Ireland.
I get freekin’ Memphis.
Whatever. Make the most of it, I said to self. So I get there Monday night with a scheduled meet ‘n greet at B.B. King’s on Beale Street. Great time - open bar, buffet of barbecue. And lemme tell you something right now - your choices of food in Memphis are barbecue and barbecue. But, with such a limited repertoire, I can tell you they do a helluva barbecue. Get any of that in Spain, nephew? And of course, lots of music. Blues. To repeat - Da Bluuuuuuuze. Memphis is renowned for the blues. They also claim to be the home of rock & roll, thanks to a lad that was born in nearby Tupelo, Mississippi who made a few records in Memphis.
Elvis may be The King, but the blues is king in Memphis. Mississippi delta backwater bayou, roll up your pants & stomp on the muck blues compliments of Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Gospel-tinged soul blues compliments of Dusty Springfield (she recorded there). Gritty, house-band blues compliments of Booker T & The MG’s. And home to more bands and performers you have never heard of but can blow the roof off of any honky tonk on either side of the big river that separates Memphis from Arkansas.
After enjoying my time at B.B. King’s, I took a stroll down Beale. Now like most towns, Memphis has its share of panhandlers, but at least in Memphis they’re creative. One guy challenged me to a sing-off for five bucks. Another was hawking CD’s of an apparent Memphis legend by the name of Big Jerry. Never heard of him. I stepped into one bar and there was a very large black man sitting in a chair onstage with sunglasses on, bobbing his head back and forth in time to the accompanying slide guitar and harmonica - on cue he would belt out the same lyrics - “People always ask me why I sing the blues….I tell them Lawd cuz I done paid my dues…” His name is Blind Mississippi Morris. That's him in the pic below.
A couple of blocks down the blues of Blind Mississippi Morris faded, taken over by the unmistakable twang of the voice of Johnny Cash. Stepping into the club, there was an old skinny white guy belting out ‘A Boy Named Sue’ replete with a running commentary that would make The Man in Black proud. Further down, near the barricades marking the end of the tourist section of Beale (and if that didn’t clue you in not to go any further, three Memphis police cars stationed there pretty much did the trick), another sound took the air - a harmonica backed by a slide guitar & organ, belting out ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’.
What a fun place.
And I can tell you, as I turned around and started heading back the other direction up Beale towards the river, the amalgam/alchemy of these sounds defined the place. And then I looked down. I wasn’t walking anymore. Instead it was more of a skip to the music, a lightness in my feet as I enveloped the atmosphere.
I was walking in Memphis. With my feet ten feet off of Beale.
Thanks a lot, Marc Cohn.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Man Mike

One of my more annoying traits, to those that care about me, is isolating. I have recently received quite a bit of feedback from friends and family about this; how I need to get out of my man-cave and at least pick up the phone once I a while. They’re right. I do tend to isolate. I could get into the reasons why but I won’t, at least not here. Not the purpose of this story. What this story is about is someone that I have known for 46 of my 52 years on this planet, how he has re-entered my life, and as a result has broken through my isolationism.

Mike grew up one block over from me in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. We went through grade school, middle and high school together. During our teen years we both gravitated towards golf and played tons of rounds together. A far better player than me, Mike went on to play the mini-tours in the 80’s and was a professional for a while. During our adult years we would get together every few years for a round of golf – maybe we were both in Ohio at the same time or business would bring him over to my neck of the woods. So we have more or less stayed in touch for the last three or so decades. He presently works in the golf industry with a job that allows him inside access to some fine courses. He lives in Ft. Myers but is up here in Orlando every week on business.

Back in 2009 when I took a job in Orlando, I got hold of Mike to let him know. Since then we have seen a lot of each other, and about four months ago we decided that we were going to get together once a week to play golf.

Awesome decision.

Wednesday evenings at Winter Park Country Club is our time. Two fifty-somethings that still play pretty decently but mostly get together to bond, play the game we love, share. We walk, never take a cart. Dinner always follows our rounds. I am not sure Mike knows how much these rounds mean to me, but they have become the focal point of my week. An oasis of fun in an otherwise demanding schedule of work, meetings, commitments. They ground me. Give me relief and a chance to walk in the fresh air, laugh, just have fun.

Mike is a total bro. Extremely easy-going, supportive, an ally. When I recently went through a break-up with my girlfriend, he called me to see how I was doing. When we got to the course that week, I took a few minutes before teeing off to update him on things, how I was feeling – I wanted to get it out of the way before we teed off. Because once clubface meets ball, we are golfing. Life gets put on hold and we just enjoy each other’s company and the game we both love.

As I mentioned earlier, Mike is pretty damn good. He’s about a 2-handicap, hits a nice controlled draw, can pump it out there 260 yards if need be. Good touch around the greens. And, most importantly, a great attitude. Hit a bad shot? Drop another ball and try again. Three putt a green? Mike will say “C’mon you’re a better player than that. Hit another one.”

Last week we were on the sixth hole at Winter Park. A 310-yard dogleg-right par 4. Tall trees down the right that make cutting the corner difficult, The fairway runs out at about 230 yards, so the ‘prudent play’ is to hit a fairway metal or hybrid about 210 to the corner & have a simple wedge to the green. Every time we get to this hole, Mike pulls out the driver and tries to cut the corner. Of the 15 or so times we have played this hole, he has succeeded once in getting it on the green. The other times he's failed to clear the trees or hits it through the fairway into the woods beyond. Finally this past week I said “You know Mike, not for nothing, but you and driver just doesn’t seem to be a good fit here. Just too many things can go wrong, especially with your length. Why do you keep doing it?” His reply, which totally embodies him, was,

“Because it’s fun.”

And that reply was what it is all about, and what he is all about. Having fun. Score is irrelevant, well kinda. Sometimes we play for a Snickers Bar. But outside of that, yes, it’s about having fun. We don’t play golf to torture ourselves, we do it for fun. And Mike is fun. Fun to be around. Fun to have as a friend.

And he is my dear, dear friend. I would recommend anyone to get to know him, but knowing me, I would probably get jealous if you did. He’s mine.

And I’ll fight you for him.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Elevator Music

So I was at the dentist a couple of weeks back, and like most dentist’s offices there was music playing in the background. At first I really didn’t notice it until I grabbed a magazine and sat down to wait to be called back. Suddenly I am singing along with the lyrics - ‘Livin easy, livin free…season ticket on a one way ride…’

Yes. My dentist had AC/DC as his elevator music.

At first I had a bemused smile, thinking that my generation, born in the 50’s and 60s, had come of age. But then I gave it more thought and realized something a bit deeper - the rebelliousness of my youth has become the mainstream of today. And that kinda ticked me off. See, as a teenager in the late 70’s, I listened to that music with my afro mop of hair spastically jerking side to side, one hand holding a joint, the other with the middle finger extended. Screw you, world. This is my music, and fuck off if you don’t like it. If it’s too loud you’re too old.

Now that music is in dentist’s offices. Ugh.

Here’s a history lesson for anyone under 35. What we were listening to in the 70’s was a radical departure from what our parents listened to. As a child I was exposed to Ray Coniff, Sergio Mendez (and the Brazil ’66), and Frank Sinatra. Smooth, syrupy, comatose soliloquies of strangers in the night and tying yellow ribbons around old oak trees. It sucked. So my generation took a sharp turn away from this tripe and embraced loud, in your face noise (my dad certainly didn’t call it music, that’s for sure) about Running With The Devil, being Born To Run, and finding Paradise By The Dashboard Lights. We were young, brash, and we found something that we could tell the older generation to stick in your Herb Alpert pipe and smoke it, Pops. Every one of us would achieve nirvana bliss whenever dad would bang on our bedroom door imploring us to “TURN THAT CRAP DOWN!”

Not on your life, dad. We would turn it up to 11 in response.

Alas, we got older. And I had this fear as I entered my twenties, that one day a switch would flick in my brain and I would no longer want to listen to The Who or The Clash. That age would make me eschew this brash noise of my teens and I would settle down with some kind of flatline droll. Thankfully, that never happened. To this day, if I hear My Generation, I am still hoping I die before I get old. Nice.

Little did I realize that I was not unique. My whole generation was with me. And then, a decade or two later, it was the music of the majority. And now, in 2011, it is piped through doctor’s offices. It’s funny, looking back to three decades ago, that this would happen. It didn’t seem possible.

Who would have thought that ‘Love in an Elevator’ would become elevator music?

The irony.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let’s Talk About Me

There was a saying in a movie – or maybe it was a comedian, not sure. He said ‘Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?’
I love that phrase.

I am pretty self-centered. Much of that has to do with being single most of my adult life. Becoming a father helped to temper this, as I truly do what’s best for my son, but he lives with his mom. So when you live alone for thirty-some years., you tend to focus on what you want to do without much concern for others. Because there aren’t any others.

A year or so I wrote a story on this blog titled ‘Being Single’. It was a take on living in a big city alone, and the pangs of guilt I get when I don’t partake in all that Orlando has to offer. But it was also a personal pep talk – it was a veiled wish that I could be in a relationship with someone who I loved and cared about. Well, wouldn’t you know, a few months after writing that, I met someone. We hit it off immediately, loved spending time together, and we fell in love. Nice.

Last week we broke up. Lasted all of three months. Which brings me to another one of my favorite phrases -
A little of me goes a long way.

I don’t know if I am any more or less ‘difficult’ of a person to deal with. I got my shit, so to speak. But everyone does. One the minus side of ledger is stubborn insistence of alone time (a product of all my years beng alone), and a rather large skeleton in my closet that sometimes comes out to play. I won’t elaborate more than that, just to say that it is a factor in dealing with me. That’s about it. On the plus side is I can be very charming, friendly, easy smile, fairly intelligent. I can be your best advocate; a man in your corner, so to speak. If you’re my friend or lover, I am on your side. Always.

But I can also be overbearing, arrogant. always right. Especially that last one – I will insist that my way is the best way to do something to that, as I have found out, erodes relationships. I talk too much. I say things that I wish I could grab out of the air and stuff back into my mouth. I find myself spending a lot of time explaining what I said so as to not be misunderstood. It gets tiring – not just for me but for the people around me.

That’s why I said a little of me goes a long way. Not counting my ex-wife, the longest relationship I have had is six months. And my wife was a marathon of a year and a half. My latest one lasted three months.

Now, I could go through each of my relationships and explain the dynamic, and how this one was not right for me, that one was insecure and so on. But there is an undeniable thread though all of the relationship that didn’t work. Me. I was that common element in all of them And my track record, frankly, sucks. And further, each of my ex’s can give you whatever their reasons were for breaking up. Some of them said it was them, but I don’t buy it. It was me.

It’s always about me.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Automatically Wrong

So I understand that Glenn Beck & Company were discussing on Faux News the other day whether or not Osama Bin Laden should have been killed.
Read that sentence again. They were actually criticizing President Obama for authorizing the raid on the safe house in Pakistan where Bin Laden was holed up.
Now, I understand. This is how Fox rolls. Being the mouthpiece for the right means having to criticize whatever Obama does, even when it results in the extermination of the most feared and wanted terrorist on earth, responsible for 3,000 deaths on 9/11/01, and whom the previous president started two wars over.
But Obama did it. And in keeping with their script, they must therefore criticize it.
I have some faith that most people understand how the right operates. However, given Fox’s strong viewing numbers, I am not so sure. And it is because there are some people, and the results of the 2008 presidential election say they are in the minority, that eats this stuff up. They didn’t vote for Obama so it is human nature that they want to criticize him. That’s fine. But there comes a time to just say stop already. Bin Laden is dead. This is a good thing. Be proud to be an American, even if your bias precludes you from being proud of Obama.
But why is this? Why is there a certain percentage of this country that cannot even accept that Obama is an American, much less the president? And by extension, cannot accept anything he does and thus has to be stopped or at least slowed down in anything he tries to accomplish?
The Right will not tell you this, but the reason for this has to do with the way they felt George W. Bush was treated. They feel that he was unjustly criticized and are now just slapping back. Well, this is where I take my stand in the debate. In short, Bush earned his criticism. Obama just got elected.
Ever wonder why it took almost ten years to finally get Bin Laden? Ever think it might have had to do with having him surrounded in Tora Bora in late 2001 only to let him squirm away, then making a decision to needlessly start a war elsewhere? Bush couldn’t get Bin Laden, so he sold the public that the real fight should be in Iraq. Many, like myself disagreed. But understand – it wasn’t a kneejerk ‘I disagree with anything Bush does’ criticism, it was more like, ‘Uh, really? Iraq is where we need to be? Well okay but you better be right.’
He wasn’t.
Flawed intel, no WMD, 4,000 American troops killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. In short, Bush earned his criticism. So, years later, Obama finally gets the guy Bush had in his sights in 2001. And there is no doubt in my mind that had it been Bush that gave the order, those chuckleheads would have been exploding with plaudits.
Hey look – I understand this is how the Right and Left operate. Support their man, criticize the other side. But this has gotten plain silly. Remember right after Obama was elected and they had an elderly lady weeping, saying ‘I want my country back’...?
Sweetie, nobody took it from you. You just got out-voted. It happens.
But there’s an insidious undercurrent to all this. Never have I seen such a president receive such unwarranted heat from so many sides. Hell, never have I seen an elected president’s nationality criticized. Obama, unfortunately, has become the first president in history that had to hold a press conference to release his birth certificate. Such is the voracity from the right.
So here’s my conclusion, and you’re not going to like it. But stop by a coffee shop in Nashville or a Waffle House in Fort Worth and tee this one up and see what you get –
Some people just cannot accept a black man being president.
And before you criticize me for saying that, give me another reason why he would be ostracized by anyone for catching and killing Bin Laden. Post a comment. Enlighten me.