Thursday, September 30, 2004
Erudite Redneck basics
"Ivy Dillinger" writes: "Now I wish I was an erudite redneck!!!"
Ivy, you CAN be an erudite redneck. Just leave the TV off unless it's on Booknotes, one of the C-SPANS, the news, the Andy Griffith Show or the Western Channel or NASCAR.
Read lots of books -- real books, scholarly ones with footnotes! -- and some journals like Foreign Affairs, the American Historical Association's journal, as well as Hot Rod magazine and a comic of yer choice (I perfer "Iron Man").
Drive a pickup truck, play around with a guitar and own at least one Rebel battle flag (I own a set).
And dip Copenhagen, or have fond memories of when you used to.
Oh, and you gotta love coldbeer and pork rinds. :-)
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
Quintessence of redneck erudition
Full crystallization of the two main streams of my life manifested itself on a note card at 7:39 a.m. today.
Sitting in a carrel at the college, in a near panic, wishing to the depths of my very soul, and lip, that I had a dip of wonderful, sweet, luscious, energy-giving, life-affirming Copenhagen snuff (but I quit over a year ago), teetering at the edge of despair, studying for the first major exam in my class on the Reformation -- Erasmus, Reuchlin, Ficino, Luther, Zwingli, Sattler and other clamoring for attention in my mind -- I glance at a card upon which I had jotted a couple of things to remember after the test, at noon.
1. Borrow book from English dept. (The book in question is an academic monograph titled The Image and Influence of the Oklahoma Prairie in Washington Irving's Tour of the West, by Dr. Linda L. Steele, a professor in said department. It costs $100 to buy. I am borrowing it to read because it coincides with one of my research interests.)
2. Get Jim's pork rinds. (Jim is the guy who won the pork rinds in the Andy Griffith-Mayberry trivia contest on yesterday's Erudite Redneck).
Wow. Nothing says "Erudite Redneck" like those two items in that very order.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
" 'Neet? Barn!"
Jiggle, jiggle. “Sarah? Get me the Internet. I’ll wait.”
We never had to call “Central” to get an outside line, but when I was growing up we did have a party line. We shared it with three other houses.
That means at least three out of four times when the phone would ring, it wouldn’t be for us – something that boggles young minds, my own back then, and any young 'un’s today.
Used to be, having a phone “number’ with letters in it sort of meant you were uptown – or at least in town: Seems like SUNmark 527 might have been a phone “number,” or something like it. I’m not sure because it was before me.
Seems like our ring was two longs and a short: “Riiiiing. Riiiiing. Ring.”
There were other combinations:
“Riiiiing. Ring. Riiiiing.”
“Ring. Ring. Ring.”
That meant that whenever the phone started to ring, we had to listen close – to hear whether it was for us or a neighbor.
The first phone number I remember was 3138. Then, it went to 6-3138. Then to 776-3138.
It’s hard to imagine a four-digit phone number now, when you have to dial an area code and full number to call almost anywhere besides across town.
But as recently as the early ’90s, in my father-in-law’s small home town in Texas, you could dial across town with four numbers – and I mean “dial.”
And just after midnight on New Year’s Eve, I still might call Mama or my brother and say, “Is this "2-oh-oh-5?” Because they’ll still get it.
It was funnier in the '70s, for some reason, when you called rank strangers with those four-digit numbers. It seemed to always catch people:
“Riiiiing. Ring. Ring.”
“Hi. Is this 1-9-7-7?”
(Yawn). “No. This is 3-1-3-9.” (Yawn).
“Ha, ha! It IS Nineteen seventy-seven! Happy new year! (Snicker). Click.
Being on a party line – wait, why was it called a “party line?” I guess it was because everyone on it was party to everyone else’s business. Or at least party to the same line. Boy, it would take some explaining to explain all that to a young ’un.
Try explaining what a “dial tone” is. First, you have to explain that there used to be dials on telephones.
All this rambling is courtesy of the angst that colors my temples and the bile that rises in my throat whenever I sign on to this here Internet, which is supposed to be so all-fired modern and all.
The kid in the “Zits” comic strip once wondered something like: “If the Internet is supposed to be so modern, why does it sound like a Warner Bros. cartoon when I sign on?” Funny.
That, itself, I suppose, is going away with the advent of broadband connectivity and the fading away of “dial-up” connections, which is a dated thing to call it, if you think about it. There is no dial on this computer or an any phone in this house.
What’s not so funny is the disconnect, if you’ll pardon the expression, I feel when I sign on. This clunky computer, with clunky AOL, barely, barely gets me on and off. The computer is four years old, and I can’t afford to upgrade because I just bought my kiddo one for college.
There is so much on the ‘Net, and so many ways to access it – and I feel like I’m stuck in Mayberry, usin’ one of those big, black, upright desktop phones with the separate receiver strung on a wire connected to the microphone.
I click “Sign On” on AOL and expect to hear a nice lady say, “Howdy, ER. Number please.”
Side note: Let’s all welcome Dr. ER to the cold, hard world of Lost Blogs. Like me, she learned the hard way to never blog directly into the Blogger window – not on THIS crappy computer – because if something goes wrong, it’s gone.
Side note 2: A free small bag of pork rinds to the first person who puts my headline – “ 'Neet? Barn!” – in context. There is a clue in this post!
Monday, September 27, 2004
And thanks, to She Who Is My Wife, Dr. Erudite Redhead, for joinin' me in this bloggin' deal with her own My Race Space, http://myracespace.blogspot.com/. It gives us another avenue to enjoy each other's writin' -- and y'all, too!
By the way, She Who Is has posted a pic of the famous Redheaded Redneck Stepchild, aka Bird, (nee Baby Bird) on her blog. And below that is a pic of She Who Is her own self. Check 'em out!
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Breaker. How ’bout it, TECH? You got yer ears on, come on? Breaker-breaker! Frenzied Feline, come back. Pair-A-Dice? Dr. ER? Trixie? Bring it on back, this here’s Erudite Redneck hollerin’ at ya, come on! I am 10-8 and 10-10 and listenin’ in.
CB radio lives! On-line! That’s what we’re doing, y’all. Most of what’s on most people’s blogs in just chatter -- and that’s most of what the CB craze was.
Thirty years or so, we had a base CB at the house. My big brother’s handle was Speed. My handle was Little Speed. We knew just a handful of people with CBs:
Blackbeard, about 40 miles to the south, Sambo, about 10 miles to the northwest, Bull of the Woods, maybe 10 or 12 miles due north, and Love Bandit, in town, a few miles to the west.
The trucker’s channel was Channel 10 then, not 19, and CBs had 23 channels, not 40 -- which, if you remember anything at all about CBs, shows that I go way back with ’em.
When they decided to move the trucker’s channel to 19, it caused havoc for local CB’ers, who all hung out on Channel 18. With Interstate 40 passing by our town, the bleedover was terrible.
Later, when I was old enough to drive, I changed my handle to Sheriff Rosco (for Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the "Dukes of Hazzard") and later to Rocky Raccoon (for the Beatles song).
In 1980, at 16, my first set of wheels was a 1970 Dodge Charger with a Confederate battle flag license plate on the front, a 23-channel CB radio with whip antenna and a horn that played "Dixie." That there is called livin’ not-yet-erudite redneck large! I had a CB in my truck as late as 1989.
And now I have a new version: Blogging, which, thanks to the CBS-document flap, news broken by bloggers, is probably on the front end of a craze.
Blogging purists, y’all just hush. Citizen’s-band radios, you’ll recall, had a legitimate existence before the craze took off -- and they are still in use today.
Web pages, which is what blogs are, after all, albeit simple ones, existed long before the emergence of blogging. They will exist after the new wears off of blogging, and the craze passes.
I’m sure the blogging craze will pass. Who among us will be survivors? My guess is the writers among us -- and that’s every single blogger I know personally -- will probably persevere.
Writing is what we do. Blogging provides a ready audience for our creative efforts. We’re all sponges for acknowledgement -- comments -- when it comes down to it. And although the gratification isn’t as immediate as findin’ a CB buddy with his ears on, it’s as real, and more permanent even:
We can go back time and again and reread our own writing, and the comments of our friends. Admit it. We do that -- because it’s part of the ruminative part of the writing-thinking process.
We will survive the blogging craze, we writers. -- just like truckers, ranchers and others still use two-way CB radios. Somebody ought to get C.W. McCall to write a song about us!
Later, y'all I'm goin' 10-7.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Not just "democracy" for Iraq
“Democracy” isn’t necessarily the answer to authoritarianism in Iraq.
“Liberty” is what we should be promoting, and that’s a different thing from “democracy.”
Liberty is freedom from the “arbitrary use of power,” as Fareed Zakaria put it in his recent (2003) book on this very subject, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.
Note the subtitle: Illiberal democracy … There is such a thing. In fact, Zakaria argues that illiberal democracies have become the norm -- something that's lost on most people in this country.
That’s the problem with the United States pledging to export democracy. Democracy is a tool, a vessel. That’s all. A democracy is what you make of it.
Democracies can run amok – and run against freedom, becoming arbitrary powers in themselves. A lynch mob is a democracy! And people who are afraid aren’t worth a damn at governing themselves in a democracy. Here’s an example from my studies this morning:
It’s 1534. Munster. The Lutherans are fixing to whip the Catholics for control of the free city in Germany. An offshoot of the Lutherans, a particularly radical strain of Anabaptists – who expect the Second Coming of Christ any minute, and who are willing to take up the sword to set up the New Jerusalem to usher Him in -- swoop in. The Lutherans, in some confusion, consider them allies.
IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS, the people of Munster, because they’re scared to death of the fighting in their midst and because they are further swayed by the end-times preaching, turn over the city government to the Anabaptists, who immediately start to dismantle the constitutional structure of the city. Lutherans and Catholics set aside their own differences and agree to a cease fire between them, so they can together fight the Anabaptists.
Jan Matthisz, the genius who leads this ELECTORAL takeover of Munster, gets himself killed trying to fend off the Lutheran-Catholic besiegers. John of Leyden steps in to fill the power vacuum at the top and sets up a kingdom based on a fairly twisted eschatology involving polygamy and communal ownership of all property – oh, and capital punishment, that is, by killing anyone who opposes him. The “kingdom” fell, but not without massive bloodshed.
A democracy without all the checks and balances our Founding Fathers miraculously put in place is a dangerous thing. So, the United States’ pledge to export “democracy” should only be part of the program.
First, we have to foster respect for the rule of law – that’s what makes democracy work, and to be fair, I think that’s what the people actually on the ground in Iraq are trying to do, God love ’em.
Our president, however, since he boasted once that he doesn’t read newspapers, and who probably didn’t read too deeply in the history books at Yale – Bush took a history degree from Yale in ’68, when I’m pretty classes were taught on a pass-fail basis -- probably really does think that “democracy” is all that’s required.
No! Rule of law. A constitution. A viable court system. Not democracy alone.
The Bill of Rights itself is a check on democracy. There are good reasons for it. If most of you want to take away my guns, you can't. If most of you want to shut down a newspaper because you disagree with it, you can't. If most of you think we should get out of Iraq, you'll have to wait -- because of checks on the power of "most of you," even though you would be a majority, and the majority is supposed to rule in a democracy, right?
U.S. Senators were appointed by state legislatures, not popularly elected, until a constitutional amendment in 1913 – and even today, with each state sending two senators to Washington regardless of population, the Senate is the least “democratic” of the two houses if what you’re talking about is everybody’s vote being equal to everyone else’s, which is usually what we think we mean when we talk about “the rule of the people.” There are good reasons for it.
The appointment of judges is antidemocratic. There are good reasons for it, despite some excesses. Judges are appointed partly as a check against runaway democracy.
Presidential appointment of cabinet officers, and gubernatorial appointments to boards and commissions – NOT democratic. There are good reasons for it.
There are many other checks on democracy that make this country what it is. We have general liberty, more or less, as Zakaria points out, because by “restricting our democracy we enhance our freedom.”
Lord help us if we install a “democracy” in Iraq, like the electoral system in Munster 470 years ago, that falls into the hands of religious fanatics. But how can it not, considering what, and who, we have to work with?
And if it's really not "democracy" that we're trying to plant over there, what is it? An ally in the Middle East? The seeds of discontent to bring down regional authoritarian governments that hate us? Fine. Let's say so.
Friday, September 24, 2004
"The Secret History of the Iraq War" -- remarks
-- Yossef Bodansky, The Secret History of the Iraq War (New York: ReganBooks, 2004): intro.
No review. Just a remark or two. I read on this when I need a break from Reformation studies. (The late medieval period in Europe and modern Iraq have much in common, actually: Warlords, fiefdoms, shifting allegiances, no real “state” or “nation” as we understand the term today.) The Secret History outlines just how determined the Bush administration was to go to war in Iraq – come hell on earth or high water in the Euphrates. All the last-minute “attempts” to avoid war – on both sides, to be fair – were to set up strategies for winnowing friends from enemies after the fighting. The book also outlines just how alone the United States is in the insane idea that democracy can be installed anywhere – and how alone we are in this fight.
About the author:
“Yossef Bodansky has been the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare for more than a decade. He is the longtime director of research at the International Strategic Studies Association and senior editor for the Defense and Foreign Affairs group of publications. Bodansky has been a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, as well as a former senior consultant for the U.S. departments of Defense and State. The author of the number one New York Times bestseller Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, he makes his primary home in Washington, D.C., and travels extensively to the Middle East and around the world."
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Dr. ER is in the house
CBS's Big Beady Eye
Don’t let the select use of language fool you: CBS says it has “launched an investigation” into how it got duped by the Texan with the supposedly fake documents regarding the president’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.
Just now, I saw a crawl on MSNBC that said the venerable network has “appointed a panel of two” to lead the “investigation.”
It’s all a crock. I don’t mean that CBS isn’t looking into what happened to whom, and why – how the normal safeguards surrounding accuracy in journalism, even in TV, which at its very, very, very best is only journalism light, failed.
But the language being used is all part of a game used by people who take themselves way too seriously.
CBS does not have subpoena power, which I consider a minimum power required to “launch an investigation.”
CBS probably hasn’t invited ABC or NBC to affirm its “appointment” of a “panel” – and usually, in serious settings, someone outside an organization being “investigated” is involved to lend real credibility.
Pay attention to the words people use. The are critical to understanding motive – and more important, how important they think they, and their opponents, are.
One of the best journalism profs I ever had in college had us study news dispatches from Vietnam. He pointed out that American reporters wrote that U.S. military officials “said” this or that, and that the enemy “claimed” this or that.
Critical difference. “Said” is neutral. “Claimed” is loaded, creating doubt in the reader’s mind by conveying that the writer has doubts.
Look for it in today’s news. Newsmakers and pundits are subtler these days sometimes, but sometimes they’re not – like CBS’s clumsy self-loving use of Big Official Words to describe how it is scrambling like hell to figure out what went wrong, before what’s left of its reputation is gone in the blink of its Big Beady Eye.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
"The Angel of Patience"
To weary hearts, to mourning homes,
God’s meekest Angel gently comes:
No power has he to banish pain,
Or give us back our lost again;
And yet in tenderest love our dear
And heavenly Father sends him here.
There’s quiet in that Angel’s glance,
There’s rest in his still countenance!
He mocks no grief with idle cheer,
Now wounds with words the mourner’s ear;
But ills and woes he may not cure
He kindly trains us to endure.
Angel of patience! Sent to calm
Our feverish vows with cooling palm;
To lay the storms of hope and fear,
And reconcile life’s smile and tear;
The throbs of wounded pride to still,
And make our own our Father’s will!
O thou who mournest on thy way,
With longings for the close of day;
He walks with thee, that Angel kind,
And gently whispers, “Be resigned:
Bear up, bear on, the end shall tell
The dear Lord ordereth all things well.”
Not what you get from TV preachers and others who make a mockery of the austerity of faith, and the awesomeness of God. But it’s the only kind of faith – resigned faith, in the face of situations seemingly out of control – that sustains.
Very Quaker. Very nineteenth-century. Very comforting, for those with ears to hear: “The dear Lord ordereth all things well.”
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Rednecks Down Under -- book review
In A Concise History of Australia (Cambridge University Press, 1999) Stuart Macintyre fuses a dash of the ancient story of the Aborigines with the later, well-documented eighteenth-century “invasion” by British prisoners and their keepers. His largely political-social synthesis informs but seems lacking in import beyond his key observation, which hinges on raw cultural conflict: “The Australian experience points up the key vulnerability of an isolated civilization to external aggression” (13).
Macintyre debunks the schoolboy history of Australia – that the former penal colony’s origin is one “of a sleeping land brought to life by purposeful endeavor” by colonists who “broke the silence of a primeval wilderness” in a “late chapter in British, European and world history” (1-2).
He sets aside the notion of colonial nationalism following the “path of the West in a journey that led from ancient Greece and Rome to Christian Europe, the Renaissance and Enlightenment with liberty, democracy and prosperity as its end-point” (5). What remains is a postmodernist mishmash of big facts and prominent players tied together merely by time and space.
His timeline begins “at least 40,000 and possibly 60,000 or more years before the present” (4). However, over his own protestations, he, too, turns to the invasion of 1788 as a real starting point. Macintyre’s chronological narrative has chapters summarizing basics, such as “Newcomers,” “Coercion,” “Sacrifice” and “Golden Age.” The space: the island-continent of Australia and its regional sphere, framed generally by Malaysia and Singapore to the northwest and New Zealand to the southeast.
Great Britain, of course, plays the leading role. The Axis powers, the United States and other nations come and go during the World Wars, taking Australian fighters with them.
The “nation” beyond the confines of the commonwealth itself, is comprised of Britons and their descendents, especially as Australia comes into its own during World War II, with white Australians discovering an identity in being “not” British, and the Aborigines and their descendents, from whom Macintyre finds a main source of modern national, multicultural identity. Geographically isolated Australia’s nationalistic “insistence on a common culture” at the turn of the twentieth century has been replaced by a celebration of many cultures with the renaissance of Aboriginal traditions near the turn of the twenty-first (278).
However, having removed any pretense of a “grand view” and having dismissed newer attempts at historical interpretation as “caught inextricably in the tangle of language and imagery used to describe them” – the convicts, for example, as victims, or as criminals, or as a work force (43) -- Macintyre rather negatively finds in Australia’s history “no declaration of its virtues” and in its present a cultural exhaustion and “signs of a premature senility.” (279).
Macintyre dismisses the role of the historian as guide to the future and seems suspicious of the historian’s contribution in any deeply interpretive way to understanding the past. Australia’s problem, he concludes, is: “No Statue of Liberty welcomes the newcomer, no proclamation of guiding principles is offered” (279-280). He leaves it at that.
Monday, September 20, 2004
Erudite redneck nightmare
Recall the intro to "Bonanza."
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Dum-dum-da, dum-dum-da, dum-dum-dum-dum-da!
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Got it? As the rich, melodic very Western tune plays, there’s the map of southern Nevada Territory, showing Lake Tahoe at bottom, Carson City, Virginia City and the Ponderosa. See it?
Then there’s the tiny flame that grows fast and burns through the map — and then up ride the Cartwrights a-horseback, dust a-flyin’ — Hoss, Little Joe, the dad. Was Adam in there? Candy? Anyway, there they are. See it?
OK. Now. Let the music play in yer head.
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Dum-dum-da, dum-dum-da, dum-dum-dum-dum-da!
Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da! Dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-da, dum-da-da-dum-dum-da!
Imagine a map of central Europe, circa 1559.
There’s Switzerland! Bern! Geneva! Zurich! As your mind pans out, there’s a tiny flame at Geneva! Before long it engulfs the whole region, from Vienna to Paris — and before long it burns up the whole dang map from Constantinople west to and including what’s now the UK. Gone!
Up ride four German knights! They’re Lutherans! Fightin’ the Catholics! Or maybe they’re takin’ a break from fightin’ the Catholics to join them in fightin’ the Anabaptists! They ride up, lumberingly, chain mail a-clanking, the dust flying!
Or are they the horseman of the Apocalypse? Like a 3-D movie, a lance pokes me in the chest and I wake up -- in a sweat.
Holy Roman crap! I gotta quit eatin’ jalapeno peppers and studyin’ with the Western Channel on just before I go to bed!
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Days and days and days on end
Here it is Sunday afternoon, and I'm at my desk at work, fixin' to try to get caught up -- but I probably won't. It's one of the things nobody warned me about when I started out on this lark, tryin' to get a graduate degree in history, back in the summer of '01.
Here are a few others:
2. Time sometimes loses all meaning.
Right now, the only distinction between a week day and a weekend is football. Pretty significant, maybe. But the significance evaporates as soon as the final buzzer sounds. Then it's back to juggling.
3. Something has to give.
Since the summer of '01, I have given up my vegetable gardening, which used to keep me sane; yard work and landscaping in general, which I really enjoy; my guitar, because if I have 10 free minutes, then that's 10 pages read of the average book -- but only two, or three, or just one, of what I'm reading this semester; and reading for sheer pleasure.
4. I may have lost some folks.
There are people I haven't seen since the early days of my sort-of-late-in-life return to the ivory tower. I just haven't had time to do any of the things that I used to do with certain people. I mean, there are a handful of folks I used to go to baseball games with. I didn't go to a single triple-A game this year.
5. Age brings its own challenges.
Starting a master's degree at 37 is a lot easier than finishing one at 40. I cannot imagine starting one now. I cannot imagine not finishing the one at hand. Interestingly, I can see myself continuing on for a Ph.D. I can see it. That doesn't mean I will. I am way tired.
6. The world marches on.
Since I started this degree have come the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, an explosion in the power of the federal government, under a Republican president, that the biggest lefty would never have dreamed of; a total reorientation of who the United States' friends and enemies are around the world; and a million other major changes that I've been forced to give comparatively scant attention to because studies have had me distracted. Wait -- maybe that's a good thing.
7. The digitization of academe.
Of course, it's taking over. I asked for an old-fashioned card to fill out an Inter-Library Loan request yesterday at the college library; they insisted that I do it on-line. Last semester, the prof required that we receive assignments, and post homework, on a class Web page. Sigh. Sorry, but I will always prefer things the old way, and will always go kicking and screaming into the future.
8. It really is darkest before the dawn.
Unless I bomb in my current class, my last, I will be finished with school at the end of the year. I didn't expect this semester to be any easier. But I for damn sure did not expect it to be so much harder. Holy Roman crap!
9. Nobody told me "blogging" would come to be, or that I'd get hooked on it just when I've become busier in life than any time since, oh, the spring of 1988 (next-to-last semester as an undergrad). Sigh, 28 minutes just flew by when I shoulda been working on something that counts on my "permanent record." :-) Make that 30, after the edit.
Saturday, September 18, 2004
Two ways to go
That’s the best thing about hitting any bottom: You really have only two options then – head straight up or sideways.
After getting’ a less-than-satisfactory grade back on a test yesterday morning, I slid sideways for the rest of the day – until I hit the Slough of Self Pity last night. See report on previous post.
Wow. I haven’t made so low a grade on a test since college algebra, during Reagan’s second term. It was not for lack of studying. Bird was shocked, in fact, because, as she said, she knows no one who studies as hard as I do.
But, some things I’m not good at – and maybe I needed the reminder. And it absolutely gives me empathy for Bird as she struggles with one particular class at O-State.
What I’m good at is writing, synthesis, analysis of ideas and communication.
Cartography, it turns out, is not my strong suit. The test: a blank map of Europe. The assignment: Find 40-some-odd cities, rivers, borders and physical features, circa 1559. Holy Roman crap!
I have done worse. I made a D for one quarter of P.E. in eighth or ninth grade – because the sorry sumbuck who “taught” the “class” – noncom P.E.; incessant dodgeball – suggested that I and another young lad were foolin’ around in the locker room between games – in front of God, and the 60-something other boys in the “class.”
B.S. and I had just had it with dodgeball; R.B., who was the girl’s basketball coach – and who was known as a jerk to my family from back in the late ’60s when he himself was in high school and hauled hay for my dad – resented the fact that he had to baby sit a noncom P.E. “class,” and so just turned us all loose in the gym with a bunch of balls.
B.S. and I, foolishly, stayed in the locker room as the rest of the guys were lining up for the next game. We thought we wouldn’t be missed – the kind of junior high school thinkin’ that usually gets junior high school boys into tight spots. R.B. noticed we were missin’ and sent another boy in to get us. As we came out, R.B. said, with all the boys lined up and watchin’ and listenin’ -- “What were y’all doin’ in there? Holding hands?”
I never once went back to that period. Got an F for the quarter, and got a D for the semester. If I ever see R.B. lyin’ bleedin’ by the side of the road, I will wave as I pass by. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.
Usually I do know my academic limitations.
A young ER considered electrical engineering – for about a week – early on back at Oklahoma State. Ha, ha and ha. This from a guy who eventually had to take three stabs at college algebra, and only slunk by with a “C” after takin’ the remedial algebra class first. And I had algebra I, algebra II and algebra III-trigonometry – plus fricking geometry – in high school!
ER considered a degree in economics – and settled for a minor only because of the econometrics, modeling and other hard-core math and statistics-related stuff that goes into it. Made low B’s in 18 hours of econ at OSU – by bombin’ on the charts, graphs, econometrics and stuff, and acing the narratives required to splain what it all meant.
Dang near pursued a job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, just barely out of high school. In fact, I think I was still a senior when I took some aptitude test that put me in the running to jine up as a civilian with the Corps. What were they – and I – thinkin’? The whole infrastructure of the Kerr-McClellen Arkansas River Navigational System would have been put in major jeopardy!
Sigh. So, some things this ol’ erudite redneck can do, and some he cain’t.
“Erudite,” by the way,” means “scholarly” or well-read, which I for damn sure am. It does not mean “intelligent,” necessarily, or even “bright,” although I suppose I might be both, at my best.
It means I study – and the fact is, even that doesn’t lead to success all the time.
That’s life. Them’s the breaks. Kay, sir! Ah! Sir, ah!
So, today: Straight up!
Straight from here to the kitchen table to hit the books and later, straight to work to get caught up, and later straight back and across town to watch a football game. Saturdays in the fall are Erudite Redneck High Holy Days: GO POKES! GO BRONCHOS!
Friday, September 17, 2004
Sad, pitiful, lonesome -- and I stink
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Well, I'll swan. Look what God, the inspiration of her redneck husband and easy technology hath wrought: Dr. Erudite Redhead, a.k.a. She Who Is My Wife, has started her own blog. Check it out at http://www.myracespace.blogspot.com/
You will see her as I first saw her: via her words, her wit and her thinkin' as reflected in her writin'. She and I met on-line -- although in a controlled on-line environment, not as two e-ships passin' in the night.
I was the stand-in host for a weekly topical chatroom organized by the newspaper I worked at in Texas. She was in grad school at Oklahoma State. The topic was one of interest to her and her studies.
I b'lieve the topic was pesticide drift and the damage it can cause. A bunch of cattlemen in North Texas were gettin' a little careless with the 2,4-D they were hirin' cropdusters to spray on their pastures to control weeds and brush. Summers in the mid-'90s were dang hot and windy ones, so the weed killer was driftin' from range land to nearby cotton fields, where it was killin' the cotton.
It was a real-life modern example of how, despite what Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, the cowman and the farmer can't always be friends.
Anyway, part of then-not-yet Dr. Erudite Redhead's studies had her interested in chemical pesticides, although I think her bent was more along the line of organo-phosphates. Anyway further, she clicked into the chatroom, joined the conversation -- and I started sort of flirtin' with her, sight unseen, in Instant Messages as the chatroom conversation went on.
We corresponded for a few months, then arranged to meet next time she was in town (the newspaper was in her hometown). Then kept correspondin' and kept meetin' and lo and behold here we are, fixin' to be married for seven years come Nov. 25.
She says we met "through the paper." I say we met on-line. We're both right.
And we both write. And she is dang good at it. Read her stuff and you will fall for her, too.
Welcome, She Who Is My Wife, to the world of bloggin'. :-)
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
9/15/01 -- FINAL
Three years ago today, when I woke up -- four full days after the Sept. 11 attacks, after an adventure I could never have dreamed up -- finally in my own bed, in my own home, in my own house, one thing was still out of place:
A rental car from Kentucky will still in my driveway. My pickup truck was still 20-some-odd miles away, behind a fence at the Will Roger Airport.
Laugh, if you want – I wouldn’t blame you. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until the very instant I used MY key, to open MY truck door, and scooted MY backside into MY seat of MY four-door red Dodge 1500.
Those were MY tunes on the radio (classic country, of course). That was MY spit cup on the dash (hadn’t quit Copenhagen yet). Hell, it was MY trash in the floorboard.
Not that I particularly liked that truck. Its wheel base, in fact, was too long and I never did get used to drivin’ it in town. I hit every curb that got close and some that didn’t. But after things being so out of control for a week, it was a major redneck comfort.
It was the second that I closed the door, put the key into the ignition and started the truck, that I realized I was really, truly, finally home.
I don’t pretend to know what all was involved in the feelings that I finally let overcome me. But only then did I feel the full weight of everything that had happened the past week come onto me with full force.
I was back in the saddle again – a timeworn and overused metaphor (or is it a simile?). Cowboys talk about men who can “sit” a horse. I “sat” my truck.
Bring on the world. BRING IT ON. MY tank was almost full. I could get away if I needed to – and I could get to, if I needed to. I was at no one’s mercy for the first time in a full week.
That’s it. That’s all. I’d been home since crossing the Kentucky-Tennessee line a few days before. I made it to the house the night before.
Sitting my truck helped me find myself in the midst of it all. Silly, maybe. Funny what you cling to in times of trouble. That dang ol’ truck was a kind of anchor that I hadn’t had for a week. I squeezed that steering wheel hard and just sat for a good while.
Then I went on with the rest of 9/15/01 and all the days that followed.
What follows is what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said during the official Laying of the Wreath Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on 9/11/04. The words people say in times of trouble – and times of remembrance – are so important. I happened to see and hear these on TV last Saturday.
Hear them well:
Chaplain Kerr, Mayor Williams, the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, and distinguished officials, families and friends that we honor today. Thank you all for being here. We think of you often. We remember your loss--our loss, the country’s loss, and the loss of loss of precious lives not lived -- colleagues from the Pentagon, passengers aboard 77 and crew members.
More than two centuries have passed since an assembly of citizens established a republic, rooted in liberty, and cemented in place by their belief in the unalienable rights of man.
The idea of government by the people was a truly audacious thought back then when our country was founded. And, in many parts of the world it is still an audacious thought today.
There have always been those who benefit by the rule by the few -- by the tyrant. Because America and freedom represent everything they preach against, they have fought our Nation since its founding in one way or another.
Free societies are in a very real sense an affront to their worldview. Free systems are the truth that points out their lies. They must know that, if given a real choice, the people they try to intimidate and rule would prefer freedom to that which the extremists offer.
Over the centuries these enemies have come in many forms -- Nazis, Fascists, Communists, fanatics, extremists of one type or another -- and they’ve killed millions trying to impose their will. In those battles, America has of course lost many lives -- those who were innocent victims of the violence and the lives, also, of those who courageously sacrificed themselves to defend our ideals.
Here, in this place, we need not look far in any direction to see tens of thousands of reminders of those sacrifices. Brave patriots occupy these hills, just as they occupy the cemeteries across the globe.
And they include the souls we gather to honor and remember today. And to their friends and families, our Nation offers our heartfelt condolences, our gratitude, and our prayers.
It’s common to hear that the taking of life was senseless. But those who inflicted this suffering had a sinister logic. They believed that by killing thousands of our citizens that they could frighten and intimidate our country, our people -- that they could shake the trust we have in each other, and that they could weaken the glue that holds our society together.
They wanted America to retreat from the world so that they could impose their ideology of oppression and hatred. They thought they could strike us with impunity, and that we would acquiesce. That the American soldier and the American people themselves, were in the words of one of their leaders “a paper tiger.”
Those we mourn today were not the first victims in the war declared against us by the extremists, nor were they the last. All across the world, the enemy has taken innocent lives. Extremists think nothing of cutting off people’s heads to advance their cause. They have murdered citizens -- even hundreds of schoolchildren recently -- from countries across the globe. And even today they plot to strike again.
But the enemies underestimated our country. They failed to understand the character of our people. And they misread our Commander-in-Chief.
Shortly after the September 11th attacks, President Bush told a shaken nation; he said, quote, “The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.”
The wound that was opened three years ago will always be with us. We know that. Yet our grief has found its purpose. September 11th was a call to arms.
And once again, brave men and women from this country have deployed abroad to defend freedom. And once again, an uncertain world looks to America and her allies to lead the way.
And once again, a determined enemy faces the arsenal of a purposeful nation awakened to danger.
In 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the United States Congress in Washington D.C., warning Americans of the great struggle before them.
Churchill, of course, had warned of the Nazi advance long before it was accepted wisdom, and people properly gave his words great weight.
He said, “Sure I am that this day -- now -- we are the masters of our fate; that the task which has been set us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our cause and an unconquerable will-power, salvation will not be denied us.”
Decades later, we again resolve to remain true to the mission that has been set before us. The lives that were lost on September 11th have meaning. They live on as a testament to a country that is courageous, that is determined, to a people who are resilient despite great loss, and to a cause that continues until that mission is accomplished and beyond.
May the Lord watch over all of us and bless our great country.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Three years ago, I was STILL tryin’ to get back to the house from Washington, D.C., three days after the terrorist attacks – but I was already “home,” a circumstance reflected by the sudden disappearance of a bunch of G’s, and the return of those friendly apostrophes in their place, at the end of “ing” words on this post.
“Home” for me stretches from the Mississippi River to the east, to 103 degrees W longitude (western edge of the Oklahoma Panhandle), to the Kansas border to the north, to the Rio Grande to the south.
It includes Arkansas, where I was born, Oklahoma, where I grew up and now live, Texas, where I spent 10 years, and Louisiana, where I have Cajun kin. By extension, “home” is the South as a whole, and the West as a whole.
All that was left the Friday after Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, was to get to “the house.” That’s what Southern-born and –bred men think in times of trouble – say, there’s a tornado comin’ or someone in the family has died, or they unexpectedly cancel a NASCAR race: “I better head to the house!”
It’d be a great name for a bar, since wives, even G.R.I.T.S. – Girls Raised in the South – do not always understand or appreciate the difference. Example: Wife, on phone: “Honey, are you comin’ home soon?” Husband, at work: “I am fixin’ to head to The House.”
So I slept in three years ago today, which means until about 8 a.m. as opposed to 6 or so. Got up, Mr. Dickel politely tappin’ me on the shoulder, sayin’ “Aren’t you glad you left two or three fingers of me in that bottle?” “Yessir, I am, Mr. Dickel, thanks for askin’. But did you have to go and kick me in the gut in my sleep?”
Victuals were high on my agenda. Got up, dressed, cleaned up, paid up, loaded up the rental car and headed west – all of about 10 miles to Earle, Ark., and a truck stop.
Homewise, it don’t get much better than the truck stop at the Earle exit off Interstate 40, in the Delta of eastern Arkansas, not far from a place called, as the ghost of Robert E. Lee is my witness, “Dixie.” Plate of sausage, eggs, cathead biscuits and gravy and hot, black coffee fixed me right up.
Back on the highway, keepin’ on truckin’ through Little Rock, I got to the homiest part of the state, northwest Arkansas and the Ozarks, by about 11 a.m. I was listenin’ to the car radio again for news, and I knew the to-do at the National Cathedral back in D.C. was fixin’ to happen – and that people all over the country were going to be gatherin’ under American flags for prayer in their public gatherin’ places at the same time.
I was close enough at the right time, so I got off at the Clarksville, Ark., exit, and pulled up to the Johnson County Courthouse – and it could be that this was the reason I headed south from Cincinnati, not west, in the first place.
My mama’s family came through Johnson County. Her daddy’s daddy is buried there. He was a private in Company C of the 1st Arkansas Volunteer Infantry during the War Between the States.
He lived to be 90, until 1930, with a crippled hip, which his pension records say he got by being whacked with the breech of a rifle, which means close-in, hand-to-hand fightin’ with some damnyank, and after havin’ had diarrhea ever since gettin’ dysentery during the war.
That’s 65 years with the runs. Plus he had “nerviousness,” his pension record says.
He was one tough old Rebel – a poor hillbilly who “fit” for his homeland because the way he saw it, his homeland was under attack. Remember: Johnson County is in the Ozarks, not the Delta. There were no plantations here, and few slaves. He didn’t fight for slavery. He fought for himself and his home.
And Mama knew him. She was born in 1922. She says she remembers her grandpa livin’ with them when was she was little, gettin’ the heebie-jeebies in the middle of the night, and balin’ off the sleepin’ porch, tearin’ off through the woods hollerin’ and carryin’ on. “Shell-shocked,” they called it then. “Post-traumatic stress disorder,” we call it now.
Anyway, that’s how close I am to the Late Unpleasantness: TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION. Mama knew him. I know Mama. That’s why I “still smell the powder burnin’ and probably always will.”
That’s why it was especially poignant for me to find myself standin’ on the Johnson County Courthouse steps, maybe with some unknown kin around me, for a small-town version of the Lord-help-us ceremony goin’ on at the National Cathedral at noon on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001:
Our homeland had been attacked, again. Three years later, I hope we still smell the jet fuel burnin’ -- and I pray that we always will.
Back on the highway, feelin’ proud and prayed up, it took about an hour or so to get across the rest of Arkansas, around Fort Smith and across the Arkansas River, to Mama’s house.
Hugs. Something to eat. Told some of the tale. Let Mama talk. Not only was I in D.C., but one of my grown nephews, a private pilot, was in New York City the day of the attacks. Mama was not amused. She would just as soon her babies and grandbabies stayed home, if not literally at the house. But she is a fraidy-cat, by her own admission, and we let her be.
Pulled out of Mama’s driveway, hung a right, headed to “town,” where at “the light,” I hooked a left, darted over the hill to the interstate and got back on I-40 headed west. In no time at all, I was back at my own house, with Dr. Erudite Redhead and then-still Baby Bird as glad to see me as ever.
Three years ago tonight, I put my head down on my own pillow, in my own bed, with my own wife – :-) -- my own kid in her room down the hall, my own dogs in the back yard. It was so quiet I almost couldn’t stand it.
With the airports still shut down, nothin’ but Nature was in the sky, and since we live directly under the flight path for planes comin’ into Will Rogers World Airport from the north, the silence was especially loud.
Dr. Erudite Redhead said the stillness made it even more unnerving earlier in the week, when NATO AWACS planes dispatched to shore up those called to duty from Tinker Air Force Base tooled around at what seemed like treetop level, spookin’ the dogs – just one of a million things I missed by bein’ gone.
The next few days, Dr. Erudite Redhead would catch me up on her end of the Erudite Redneck’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure.
Friday night after Sept. 11, 2001, finally home, finally back at the house, one thing was still out of place – one thing without which no redneck, erudite or otherwise, can totally relax. Danged if I didn’t have to hurry up and wait one more time, until Saturday morning.
One more -- :-) -- anon.
Monday, September 13, 2004
Three years ago today, I was up early, just five hours after crashing in a borrowed bed at 1 a.m., dressed, and, before I knew it, barreling south down a highway through the maw of Cincinnati’s Thursday-morning work traffic, which seemed only slightly altered, if at all, by the terrorist attacks two days earlier.
My brother-in-law was driving, hauling me to an airport and a rental car, across the Ohio River in Kentucky. Before long, keys in hand, I faced a decision, which wasn’t that tough of a call at all. How to get home?
Head home, that’s how — and this is something even my Texan wife still doesn’t understand.
Not west through southern Indiana, southern Illinois, to St. Louis and down to Tulsa and over to Oklahoma City, which would have been the shortest route.
No, to home, not just to the house. To my beloved Southland.
So, first, a jag southwest to Louisville, Ky., where a Wal-Mart yielded cheap Kentucky Wildcat T-shirts and a few other items my unexpected road trip left me needing.
Then, south on Interstate 65 toward Nashville, where, just as downtown peeked over the horizon, the simultaneous appearance of a military cargo plane in the otherwise still-planeless sky, and the radio announcement of the evacuation of downtown because of a suspicious package on the steps of the federal courthouse, unnerved me some.
In Nashville, I pulled onto a highway that let me play a little mental trick that put me closer to the house: Interstate 40, which, farther west, splices the state of Oklahoma north and south.
I-40 passes within a still night’s shouting distance from where I grew up. Back then, in the wee hours, I could hear the big rigs screaming on the highway, competing with the rhythmic sounds of the freight trains rattling the rails a half-mile in the other direction at the back of our pasture.
I-40 is a kind of driveway to Mama’s real driveway off a state highway in eastern Oklahoma, and it’s a kind of service road to the Oklahoma City area, where I now live.
I know the road — or feel like I do, even as far away as Knoxville, Tenn. Once, when I imagined myself going to college at the University of Tennessee, I told myself how to get there: "Get on I-40, go a pretty good ways and turn left." So, in Nashville, I could think: "To get to Mama’s, just go a ways west, and turn right. To get home, go a little ways more, and go right again."
My wife claims the only reason I headed south from Cincinnati to Nashville instead of west to St. Louis was so I could see my mama. There is some truth to that, but just a little. I wanted — needed — to be back where people think like me and sound like me, and that ain’t Indiana, Illinois and most of Missouri. Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas — that’s home in a way the Midwest will never, ever be.
So, three years ago today, right about now, I was on Interstate 40, already "home" in the broad sense — back in the South — headed west out of Nashville with Memphis dead ahead. One vision danced in my head: an exit, on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River, with both a liquor store and a motel.
It’s the same exit you take to get to the greyhound track at West Memphis, Ark. After a quick stop on one side of the interstate, at the store, for a pint of George Dickel whiskey, I scooted under the highway to a random, plain-Jane motel on the other side.
Got a room. Toted my bags in. Called my wife. (First real chance all day — I didn’t carry a cell phone then). Grabbed the ice bucket, headed to the end of the hall to fill it and came back. I grabbed a motel glass and mixed some Dickel with the only thing anyone should ever mix with it: some ice cubes. I turned on the TV, and sat, staring, soaking it in, for an hour or so, until all that was left of that Dickel was a couple of fingers in the bottom of the bottle.
Damn, that whiskey was good. It helped washed down the images on the TV, from New York and the Pentagon, which I had not been able to see since late the morning of the 11th. The news let me take the first little steps back to a connection with the rest of the world.
The radio news in the car all day was eerie. It is extremely rare to get news first from a radio nowadays. ABC Radio and CBS Radio served me well, but getting world-changing news that way was a throwback to Edgar R. Murrow and media history class in college. The medium itself colored the message a little — made it seem even scarier that it was, if that’s possible.
I love radio news. But I’m 40: I was raised on TV news. And on Sept. 13, 2001, I needed a TV news fix.
And, I freely and unabashedly admit that I needed that whiskey. Before trudging down to the motel bar for a catfish plate and a couple of beers before bed, I wrote the location, date and circumstances of my situation on the back label of that bottle of Dickel, which is now on a shelf in my home office. It says: "Sept. 13, 2001 West Memphis, Arkansas en route from Washington, D.C., and Sept. 11 -- '9-11' "
That little bit of whiskey remains as a redneck memorial to the next-to-last leg of a long, drawn-out homecoming the week the world stopped turning.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Three years ago today, I jerked awake with the kind of fleeting panic that lets you know immediately that something is not right. Nothing, in fact, was right:
Wrong pillow, wrong bed, wrong room, wrong house, wrong town, wrong state. Wrong angle of the sun through a wrongly oriented bedroom window. Wrong voices floating in from downstairs. I jumped up. Wrong floor. That’s hardwood down there, not carpet.
This was not home, and it was not the hotel.
In an instant, the situation I was in came back to me, where I was, where I had been and where I intended to go: home. The attacks of the previous day jerked a whole country out of complacency. They jerked me out of the relative comfort of a decently interesting conference in what is just about my favorite city in the world: Washington, D.C.
My benefactor, the one to whom all those wrong things belonged, in Maryland just outside Washington, was heading back to his office in D.C. After a quick shower and uncomfortable thanks to his wife, I hitched a ride with him to a mall in Kensington, Md., to wait for yet another rescuer, my sister-in-law, who was headed east from Lebanon, Ohio.
By this time of day, about 10 a.m., I had been sitting stiffly at a small table in a coffee shop for the first of what would drag on for eight hours. The goal: to get back to Oklahoma, with airports locked down and no rental cars to be had. Steps 1 and 2: Hurry up, and wait.
There was no TV in the coffee shop. I don’t remember whether I looked at a newspaper or not. I was in a kind of mild shock. With a big suitcase and a brief case to keep up with, neither with wheels, I wasn’t able to go out into the mall, not without lugging the stuff with me.
Besides, there is a rule of life I picked up somewhere that has served me well: If you don’t know what to do, then do nothing – the idea being that waiting for clarity is usually better than making a hasty decision that is no more than a shot in the dark. So, keeping my luggage close, I sat.
And read. My mother-in-law had given me a copy of Rick Bragg’s then-new book, “Ava’s Man,” and I had it with me. I read it from cover to cover, losing myself in his wonderful writing, and the wonderful subject, which is the kind only he can illuminate.
Bragg is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. He once worked at the New York Times. But he’s from Possum Trot, Ala. (that is a real place, not some publicist’s idea of a joke) – and he ain’t ashamed of it, is damn proud of it in fact.
That’s what imbues him with the kind of empathy that lets him sit and just visit with folks, and soak the life and truth and wisdom and humanity from them. The fact that he is a Southerner and gifted bull-shitter besides allows him to then write words that show, tell, instruct and edify readers all at once. He is someone whose abilities I approach only at my very, very best.
Here’s an example, just a tiny snippet: “God don't tiptoe into a Congregational Holiness Church. He bangs down the door and joins right in.” (Disclosure: I pilfered that and a few quotes that follow from reviews on-line; I can’t find “Ava’s Man” in the mounds of 19th-century history that has taken over my office).
“Ava’s Man” is a biography, with full familial, regional and historical context, of Bragg’s mama’s daddy, Charlie Bundrum. He died in ’58, the year before Bragg was born. Bragg still managed to capture his image, then paint a portrait that made me think I’d met the man myself.
"He was a tall, bone-thin man who worked with nails in his teeth and a roofing hatchet in a fist as hard as Augusta brick, who inspired backwoods legend and the kind of loyalty that still makes old men dip their heads respectfully when they say his name," Bragg wrote.
The grandpa Bragg never knew, and had to reconstruct for himself, and us, was an iconic figure who might’ve taken offense at such a label, if he thought it meant somebody thought he was gettin’ above his raising. He was a Southern man of Southern honor, poor as the red dirt of Alabama. He was a man bad to drink but good at his word, and somewhat of a gourmand (another word that might piss him off) of Southern ’shine: “He never sold a sip that he did not test with his own liver.”
I can think of no type of man more deserving of my admiration than Charlie Bundrum, and I know of no writer I admire more than Rick Bragg – and both allowed me to lose myself in another time and place, when real time, Sept. 12, 2001, and the place, near Washington, D.C., were so unnerving.
I just kept my head down and my mind and heart buried in that book – until it was done. I finished it just before my sister-in-law showed up.
She saw me before I saw her. My wife told me just this week, as I was remembering these days, that her sister thought I looked small and alone. Yes. But Bragg, fellow Southerner, fellow Erudite Redneck, took me away, and kept me as close to home, which to me means a particular kind of people and a particular kind of place, as words on pages ever can.
At around 4 p.m., I shifted from wait directly into hurry-up. Bags toted to the car, car gassed up and pointed west, we headed to Ohio. The trip is a blur, except, oddly, for a stop somewhere in Pennsylvania at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. I remember because I ordered a steak because I’d never known of a Cracker Barrel to have steak on the menu. Odd what you remember.
The Cracker Barrel itself was a continuation of the Rick Bragg-workin’-on-gettin’-home theme. The restaurants, which started in Tennessee, are mild, friendly caricatures of some of the best of Southern kitsch and eatin’.
But what really helped was seein’ my sis-in-law, who brought an air of “home” with her just by bein’ her. She is a Texas gal. She took her mission to “rescue” me seriously, and in her unreserved, hail-gal-well-met sort of way, she did more to settle me down than anyone else could’ve besides my wife or mama.
We pulled up to her house at about 1 a.m., me with no real worries -- no energy to do much else but collapse on another borrowed bed. The next day was to start with another hitched ride, to Kentucky, a rental car with my name on it and another semi-adventurous leg of a long trip home.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Three years ago today, when the world stopped turning, I was in an office building at 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, near Dupont Circle, about 4 miles from the Pentagon – and 1,322 miles from home.
A bunch of other journalists and I were around a conference table munching doughnuts and sipping coffee and juice. The conference was called to teach us how the insurance industry responds to disaster. Two officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were ready to talk about national flood insurance.
Just before 9 a.m., the conference organizer stepped into the room and told us a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Some of us wondered if it was a bad joke, considering the topic of the conference.
Most humor is gallows humor when a bunch of working press gets together. It is a coping mechanism that emerges after you’ve seen a certain number of dead bodies; heard a certain number of screaming, hurt people, in wrecks, fires and the like; had to try to talk to a certain number of grieving survivors – threshold numbers that are different for everyone. It makes you callous – not to people’s pain, but to your own.
Someone flipped a switch and a big flat TV screen seared the image of the twin towers, one with a terrible gash, spewing black smoke, into our minds. It’s the kind of iconic image that, for Americans and our friends, will last as long as we shall live.
Part of the reason that particular image is so lasting, I think, is because of the emotional-mental flip it required, at the time, to comprehend it. Anyone who saw the damage from the first crash before the second plane hit saw a tragic accident. It was only after the second plane that anyone realized it was something more – that we were under attack. Our minds, and hearts, had to go back to that first impression, reprocess it and re-file it.
So, just before 9 a.m., we were looking at an accident. Someone flipped the switch, the TV screen disappeared into the ceiling, and we resumed. One of the FEMA guys started talking – and before he could do much more than introduce himself and his colleague, the conference man stepped back into the room and said a second plane had hit the World Trade Center.
One of the FEMA men’s cell phones went off, and he left. Then the other FEMA guy’s cell phone rang, and he left.
The next hour or so are hazy in my memory. A plane crashed into the Pentagon. The plane went down in Pennsylvania. This wasn’t just news – and I was in it.
Some of the journalists went to work. They saw it, I’m sure, even through the emotions and the confusion, as the story of a lifetime. It never even occurred to me to “work” this story.
Journalist friends will be surprised, and some might be embarrassed for me. But it never crossed my mind. If anything, I would have expected someone to interview ME for a news story. I love D.C., but it’s not my home. I was a visitor in the nation’s capital. The conference broke up. My work was done.
One thing came to mind: I have to get home. It’s a natural reaction – especially for one who venerates and romanticizes ancestry, family history and place the way I do. My family, and my home, were out west.
Pioneers and others on the dark, treeless Plains in the 19th century kept their bearings because wagon masters always pointed their wagon tongues toward the North Star at night. In the morning light, they’d know which way to go. Between D.C. and Oklahoma the next several days, at night when I put down my head, images and thoughts of home, my wife, my kid, the dogs, and, not far away, Mama, my brother, sisters and in-laws in Oklahoma and Texas served as a North Star of sorts, keeping me focused.
Just before 10 a.m., still in the conference room, with the phones, cells and landlines, jammed all over the East, maybe the whole country, I borrowed someone’s computer and sent an e-mail to my wife.
At 8:55 a.m. in Oklahoma, this message popped up on my wife’s computer screen at work, from a name she had never heard:
From: XXX XXXX
Sent: Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 8:55 AM
Subject: Note from (me).
Government buildings closed and evaced. Everything grounded. Phones down. Will call when able. Our speakers this morning were from FEMA. Ha. Sigh. I love you. I might rent a car and drive home. :-) … Won’t be checking here for a reply.
She replied anyway, and I managed to see it:
Want me to call friends to drive you somewhere? Get a car, now, get out of that town!!!
For several hours in D.C., no one knew what to expect. A bomb scare at the State Department, supposedly involving a car, reminded me that terror can come in small packages as well as big airplanes.
What to do? The airports locked down, my flight out of Baltimore the next day was out – like I was going to get on a plane. Nothing makes me feel more helpless than being in a bad situation in one place and my vehicle in another. That, as much as anything, is why I don’t like to fly. I hate being at other people’s mercy.
In addition to getting toward home, my immediate mission was to get away from the District of Columbia. It seemed a very real possibility that the government would declare marshal law and closed the district, trapping me and everyone else.
My wife managed to get ahold of a colleague in D.C. who was gracious enough to give me a place to stay that night, as my wife worked to arrange for her sister, in Ohio, to come get me.
Some of this seems silly now, for me to want that desperately to get away, and to get to, and for my sister-in-law to be willing to drive so far, to “rescue” me. Others just sat tight. I can’t explain how powerful and with what clarity the idea – “Well, it’s time to head for the house” overcame me. And my Texan wife and her sister had the same crystal-clear idea about getting me home.
Just before 11 a.m., I walked the half-mile or so from the conference back to my hotel on Dupont Circle. The streets were jammed with cars, the sidewalks filled with people. A fighter jet screamed overhead, seeming to brush against the tops of the buildings. Remember that in D.C., no building is taller than the U.S. Capitol. The jet was just about tree-top level. The ground shook under my feet.
I have tactile memories. What I mean is, right now, I can feel the same feeling on the bottom of my feet as I felt the instant the ground shook under them three years ago today. The only other tactile memory I have is this, and it will tell you how powerful an experience it was for this Okie to be so far from home, in such an uncertain situation, in D.C., with the Pentagon, just cross the Potomac, in flames: Right now, 15 years later, I can still feel my dad’s clammy chest on my fingers and palms, from when I did heart massage as my brother attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, in the floor of my mom’s living room, where we stretched Daddy out after he slumped over in his wheelchair and died.
Back in my hotel room, I started throwing my things together. The Pentagon attack, of course, was local news in D.C., not national news. On TV, crawlers across the bottom of the screen, not common until 9/11, told of every closing known but did not mention the Metro, Washington’s subway system. Downstairs, the concierge had told me he thought the subway was shut down.
I raided the hotel room fridge, stuffing $4 Snickers bars , $3 cookies and $5 bottles of water and soft drinks into my luggage. (A fancy glass bottle of high-dollar water is still in my kitchen cupboard today, one of several personal historical artifacts I’ve kept).
My wife had arranged for her colleague to pick me up at a subway stop in Maryland, just across the D.C. line, and I aimed to get there whether the subway was running or not. With a big suitcase in one hand, my soft briefcase in the other, I walked out of the hotel fully prepared to hoof it across the District of Columbia and somehow find the subway stop.
Luckily, the Dupont Circle Metro stop was open, as was the one in Maryland, the northern-most stop on the Red Line. Some of the others were closed, it seems like, though I don’t know for sure. Anyway, I was glad.
One of the oddest things about my experience, and this is supremely ironic for a newsman, is how circumstances unfolded to leave me so ignorant as to what was going on anywhere. From the time I left the hotel, I neither saw nor heard any news for many hours – this at a time when the rest of the world was glued to their TVs. I did pick up a Washington Post “EXTRA” put out by mid-afternoon, but of course it had more questions than answers.
My wife’s colleague, whose name I had vaguely heard but whom I had never met, was to look for a “a big guy with glasses and a beard, in a white shirt and tie, with luggage,” at the Maryland subway stop. I was to look for a red Honda Acura. We found each other.
At his house in suburban Maryland, we called around to find a rental car, without luck. Many were caught behind fences at locked-down airports, I learned later. I’m pretty sure not one was available anywhere on the East Coast. My wife found one and reserved it in Kentucky, just across the Cincinnati River from Ohio.
Within hours, my sister-in-law, a gregarious and sweet redhead, took off with a friend from Lebanon, Ohio, headed for Maryland.
With nothing left to do but wait, my benefactors, bless their hearts, took me to dinner. It was at a Chinese place. The diminutive man behind the cash register had placed little American flags and some hastily drawn signs professing his patriotism.
I don’t want to know what it was like for people like him when the world stopped turning, because many people were ready to take out their anger on anyone who looked or talked differently from their own idea of what it meant to be American.
I don’t remember what I had to eat. I do recall that I washed it down with a zombie – fast.
Later, I put my head down on a borrowed pillow in a borrowed bed in a stranger’s house in an unfamiliar suburb 1,322 miles from home – and with everything that is dear to me so far away my heart and mind wanted to burst, I pointed my internal wagon tongue toward my own personal version of the North Star and tried to rest.
Friday, September 10, 2004
Three years ago today, right about now, a bunch of us were around a conference table in an office on Connecticut Avenue, just south of Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., not far from the Pentagon, listening to some of the most tedious and boring presentations I’ve ever had to endure.
All of us, all working press or TV types, were struggling not to nod off, just after lunch, as someone droned on and on about the incredibly mind-numbing details that go into bean counters at the Insurance Services Office. The office, somewhere in New Jersey, collects claims information and other data and creates the actuarial tables insurance companies use to set rates.
Forgive me while I fluff my chair and get comfortable. Just mentioning it makes me ... want ... to ... take ... a ... snooze. I didn’t even write anything about it for the newspaper. Yuck.
The morning session of the conference, meant to help journalists understand the way the insurance industry deals with disasters, was much more interesting, and the topic is in the news right now: hurricanes.
The guru of hurricane forecasters, Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science, said then, three years ago, that the United States hadn’t seen anything yet when it came to hurricanes and the damage they cause. His long-term forecast seems dead on, considering the havoc that hurricanes Charley, Frances and now "Ivan the Terrible" are causing:
"We will see above-average activity, especially compared with the long-term downturn in activity experienced during the quarter-century period of 1970-1994," Gray said. "These numbers aren’t extreme, but they continue the trend in which hurricane activity appears to be on a multi-decadal upswing."
For the scientifically inclined, he continued: "North-moving Atlantic Ocean currents bring warm, relatively salty water to the far North Atlantic, where larger quantities of this heavier, salt-laden water chill and sink. One effect of the resulting distribution of heat is more frequent storms with the potential to intensify to a major hurricane, perhaps hitting the eastern United States."
More to the precise point of the hurricane news of the past few weeks, he said the following, which should make any Floridians’ ears perk up: "In the next 35 years, Florida should experience about 10 times the economic loss (in 2000 dollars) that it suffered in the last 35 years, and about five times the per-capita economic loss."
Now, Florida is, and will continue to be, a lot more built up the next three decades than it was the past three, so there’s a big part of the increased damage the state can expect. But some of the increased damage will be because of a marked increased in the number of hurricanes heading Florida’s way.
Gray made his long-range forecast three years ago. Does that mean the East Coast has 32 more years of the kind of hurricane activity seen in the past few weeks. We’ll see.
So, three years ago today, while the bean-counting actuarial expert was droning on and on, I was reflecting on what Gray had to say, and how it would affect the country as a whole — emotionally, to see our fellow Americans get hammered time and again by fierce storms, economically, as building supply markets get jerked around every time, and fiscally, since the federal government does spend money for disaster recovery.
After musing on Gray’s presentation, after totally tuning out the bean counter once and for all, I started thinking about supper. Some colleagues and I ate at Famous Luigi’s, 1132 19th St. NW, on the top floor, which was so hot the round window on the front of the restaurant was propped open. Excellent victuals and excellent atmosphere.
And I was looking forward to the next morning’s session, to be led by a couple of guys from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We, and they, expected the session to last until noon Tuesday, Sept. 11. They stayed only for a few minutes, it turned out, when work called them away unexpectedly.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
Three years ago today, just about right now, I was on a commuter train between Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C. — the first time I’d ever been on a train (besides the subway in D.C.). Pretty excitin’ for a country boy, especially one fairly easy to impress.
Earlier in the day, I was up with the chickens, checking in at Will Rogers World Airport a little before 6, for what would turn out to be my last flight, to date. If I’d had a driver, I could’ve had him pull up to the front curb of the place, jumped out, pulled my luggage out of the back, and walked in, at least to the check-in counter, almost undisturbed.
Airports have always been one big headache for me -- but that’s just me. Especially so early in the day, when you can’t start drinkin’ because you haven’t finished havin’ your dadgum coffee yet. What a pain. Of course, I had no idea just how much of a pain airports were fixin’ to become.
Later that day, in D.C., in a hotel on Dupont Circle, I noshed finger sandwiches and crudites while sippin’ white wine (as God is my witness) with other workin’-press types from all over the country at a welcoming reception.
Why do people do that to us? The press, like the Army, travels on its belly. Coldbeer, or a coldCoke, and something substantial to eat is all it takes to make any of us happy. Finger sandwiches and horse d’ovaries generally piss most of us off.
We were all in D.C. to spend a few days at a seminar learning about how the insurance industry reacts to crises and disasters. We were all thinking about tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other acts of God. We were not thinking about acts of man.
None of us could have fathomed the coming supreme acts of cowardice and evil, one perpetrated just 4 miles away, that would forever alter our concepts of "crisis" and "disaster." The irony of our reason for being in D.C. would become brutally evident in just 36 hours.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Three years ago today, I was nervously excited about a business trip to Washington, D.C.
Nervous because I'm always nervous to fly. Jesus said, "Lo(w), I am with you always." No amount of thinking "tall bus, tall bus" will calm me down. Only the execution of two seemingly disparate desires will: the desire to get right with the Lord, and the desire to drink heavily.
Bun-headed types might be appalled. But the Bible says to give thanks in all things. There are times when I honestly and as humbly as I know how, pray: "Lord, for the distilled spirits (or cereal grains and hops, as the case may be) I am about to receive, may I be truly thankful. Bless them to the nourishment of my spirit."
Excited because I love D.C. I fell in love with it at the tender age of 22, back when I was "in Congress," as a press intern. I picked up Potomac Fever, which, like malaria, you never ever get over.
Three years ago today was three days before the bastards who attacked this country started a chain of events that tore me forcefully from my favorite city in the world and forever colored the romantic view I had held of "our nation's capital" for 15 years. Damn them all to American justice.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
The Battle of Pea Ridge
PEA RIDGE NATIONAL MILITARY PARK, Ark. -- That's fescue down there, not corn.
Aside from that, what you see below this bluff in the Ozarks is exactly what the boys in gray and the boys in blue saw -- more than 26,000 of them -- on March 6-8, 1862, during the Battle of Pea Ridge.
From the fence lines to the lay of the land to the surrounding hickory oak forests to the little clumps of trees scattered about the prairie, the battle ground has been restored to appear almost exactly as it did -- minus the corn -- in 1862.
The Battle of Pea Ridge actually occurred on two distinct battlegrounds, Elkhorn Tavern and Leetown. The two-day engagement is known as the battle that saved Missouri for the Union.
The Battle of Prairie Grove, to the south, came nine months later, but the Union and the Confederacy were mainly fighting for control of northwest Arkansas by then -- although a victorious Confederacy would have plunged straight up into Missouri. Of course, the Rebels didn't.
Here, a stone's throw from the Missouri state line, marched the Union Army of the Southwest, 10,500 troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis. Curtis's aim was to keep Missouri under Union control and to secure the upper reaches of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
At Leetown and Elkhorn Tavern, Curtis met the Confederate Army of the West, 16,000 Southerners, including three regiments of Cherokees, led by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn.
Here's how it played out:
On the night of March 6, Van Dorn set out to outflank the union position near Pea Ridge, dividing his army into two columns. The next morning, the Union marched north to meet the Confederates.
At Leetown, two Confederate generals -- Brig. Gen. Ben McCullough and Brig. Gen. James McQueen McIntosh -- were killed and the ranking Southern colonel was captured. Union victory.
Van Dorn's second column had advanced to Elkhorn Tavern. By nightfall, the area was secure. The important Telegraph Road was in the South's hands. Confederate victory.
This was no draw, though. The next morning, Curtis's men, regrouped and consolidated, counter-attacked near the tavern. Superior artillery slowly but surely pounded the Confederates to, well -- to death.
Of the 5,949 casualties over the three days, most -- 4,600 -- were Confederates. Van Dorn, running out of ammunition, abandoned the battlefield.
The 4,300-acre Pea Ridge National Military Park, about 40 miles northeast of Fayetteville, includes one of the best-preserved battlefields in the country.
Some 2,000 acres around Elkhorn Tavern have been painstakingly returned to their 1862 appearance. The reforestation and recovery project began in the 1960s and, natural resources being what they are, will never be complete.
For one thing, researchers are still getting information in bits and pieces that cause them to make subtle changes.
Think of it: There was no satellite photography in 1862. The Elkhorn Tavern battlefield has been restored based on all kinds of information, including crude maps drawn in the field, battle strategies concocted on the fly and letters written home before, during and after the fighting. A change can come after something as simple as finding a letter that mentions a tree line, or a single tree, or a big rock, that nobody knew of before.
Then there's nature itself. Cedar is trying to take over parts of the park -- and it was nowhere to be seen around here 135 years ago.
The National Park Service has reconstructed the Elkhorn Tavern itself -- think bed-and-breakfast inn, not sleazy roadhouse -- on the site of the original.
But there's no corn, even though dirt farmers around Elkhorn Tavern grew it.
There were corn fields here. It having been early March, that means one of two things: fighting took place in fields of dead stalks from the season before or in fields being prepared for planting within the next month. There certainly wasn't any new corn that early in the spring.
In any case, that's one detail the Park Service opted not to recreate. That would turn park rangers into farmers.
The fescue in place of the corn serves a dual purpose. It preserves the prairie that surrounded the corn patches, as it was in 1862. And, under hay leases with area farmers, it provides income that goes straight into the coffers of Pea Ridge National Military Park.
The hay money helps Davis and others continue to preserve the heritage, and natural artifacts, of this little part of the War Between the States.
Monday, September 06, 2004
"A Revolutionary People at War" -- book review
By The Erudite Redneck
Character is perhaps the slipperiest of traits to judge, especially for a whole people, but Charles Royster illuminates the major strains of American moral fiber as it drove, sustained and sometimes failed the Revolution. He finds the American spirit, a sense of Providence-inspired greatness contradicted by selfishness, in letters, diaries, newspapers and other primary sources.
Within the concepts of sin, failure, grace and redemption common to the period, Royster, professor of history at Louisiana State University, details the birth and nurturing of American civic religion in this revision of his doctoral thesis at the University of California, Berkeley.
Continental Army soldiers were torn between love of country and love of personal freedom, personal courage and public virtue. The citizen-soldier fought for freedom, and for pay, carrying in his heart an inherent contradiction: To secure liberty for his countrymen, he had to give up his own.
Liberty at arms was unwieldy. Recruiting was constant. Soldiers were unwilling to follow accepted military norms, ignoring decorum and embracing desertion. Yet they believed they were innately superior to the British. The war would be won, despite the loss of a given battle, because God willed it.
Army officers carried their own contradictions, steeped in concepts of gentry and aristocracy. Military hierarchy encouraged such traditions and claims to superiority, deemed un-American by many revolutionaries.
The population struggled between libertarian impulses and the need for strong government to prosecute the war. People swayed under news and rumors, from joy and hope to gloom and despair.
When fighting was far away, they expressed a more fundamental contradiction, a personal evasion of the public call for sacrifice: People lived free before independence was secured, making money, spending it and carrying on as if the war did not exist.
The civic religion had its own enthusiasm, a partial legacy of the Great Awakening. The war would be won, God willing, or would be lost, but with the world watching and posterity at stake, the war would be won.
Royster brings a deep understanding of Protestant theology and everyday religious thought to A Revolutionary People at War. The book, loosely chronological, thoroughly footnoted but lacking a bibliography, is imbued with spirituality. If Royster had been more explicit, it could be mistaken for religious history.
Readers unfamiliar with the underlying theme of redemption will easily follow his meandering yet effective argument. Readers who know the story will see what Royster never declares directly. The revolutionaries saw themselves as fully Christian: riddled with hypocrisy and other sin, sanctified by faith, saved by God’s undeserved grace.
Sunday, September 05, 2004
-- Between-the-songs doggerel on "Indian Reservation," 1971 album by Mark Lindsay and Paul Revere and the Raiders, and just about where I am today.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
Redneck relaxation technique
OMMMMMMMMMM, y’all, OMMMMMMMMMM.
OMMMMMMMMMM, y’all, OMMMMMMMMMM.
That’s me tryin’ to chill out, which does not come easy at all. In fact, just about nothin’ tenses me up faster than somebody tellin’ me to relax. Makes me want to bonk ‘em on the head.
Relax?!? Who’s got time to relax??
About 900-something miles into the 3,600-mile mad dash Dr. Erudite Redhead and I took from Oklahoma, through the Texas Panhandle, up and across Colorado, up and across Wyoming, over to South Dakota, back over and up to Montana, and back to Oklahoma, in July, in nine days, in a pickup truck, She Who Is My Wife was heard to utter, bewilderingly, after lookin’ hard at the itinerary I’d hornswoggled her into, “But, when are we gonna have time to relax?”
It was a “vacation,” after all, but only right then and there did my bride of purt’ near seven years and I realize we had radically different ideas about same. To me, a vacation is something on which ones does. To her, a vacation is something on which one is. In other words, time off is meant to be filled with active verbs for me, plain ol “to be” ones for her.
“Relax?!?” the ol’ Erudite Redneck sorter bellowed, in a motel room in Colorado Springs, way too far from the house to consider turnin’ back. “Relax?!? We can relax when we’re dead! I’m on a mission!”
True story. And yep, we were both tireder when we got home than before we left. But that’s what a vacation is for. To me. She Who Is fussed and carried on some, but we did what I set out to accomplish – and that particular placement of personal pronouns is on purpose. We’d gone on several trips of her own design; this was the first one that was all Erudite Redneck-inspired:
The ultimate destiny was the Little Bighorn Battlefield, in Montana, 20-odd miles north of Sheridan, Wyo. The little “town” of Garryowen – named for the Irish tune that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer almost always had his regimental band play as they headed into battle – and the Crow Agency, about 2 miles north, both claim the site.
The mail comes out of Crow Agency. Garryowen actually has true claim to where Sitting Bull’s camp was on June 25, 1876, the day Custer’s ego, a tectonic yet temporary shift in attitude among the Sioux and Cheyenne, and the shifting winds of domestic U.S. politics all came together in an almost mystic cyclone of fate, dust, misfortune, blood, Indian rage and guts to claim Custer and all of his men in the famed and vaunted Seventh Cavalry.
Between January and May, I read no fewer than 20 books on all aspects of the Indian wars, the damnyankee president grant’s “peace policy,” white migration west, gold lustin’ and every other aspect of the era and events surrounding Custer’s demise. Not until we climbed out of the truck and I stood on the very ground of the battlefield did I “get” the fighting of that day and how it played out. Well worth the trip.
Devil’s Tower. Black Hills. Badlands. Mt. Rushmore. Pike’s Peak. Bent’s Fort, a rebuilt 1830s tradin’ post in southeast Colorado. Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma, at the very northwest tip of our Panhandle. All were stops on the trip. But seein’ where Custer fell, especially with all the background on it now clutterin’ up my head, automatically replaced my first time in Washington, D.C., as my favorite trip anywhere, ever.
Dang it. I have done let myself work up something of a mental lather, just thinkin’ about all that stuff and writin’ it up – writin’ after all, bein’ a form of work, even for people who aren’t bad at it – and please don’t mistake this here for anything but the pure-dee ramblin’ it is.
Give me a minute.
OMMMMMMMMMM, ah say(?), OMMMMMMMMMM.
OMMMMMMMMMM, ah say(?), OMMMMMMMMMM.
Startled She Who Is awhallago with that. I was in the front room, testin’ out my baritone, and she was in the bedroom gettin’ read to go to the Super Wal-mart about 150 yards away from the house, which is sweet. I mean, if I have to live in town anyway, I ain’t gonna grumble too much about there bein’ big stores, and cars and people in it. Which is why people who live in town, and complain about the attributes of livin’ in town, can just pipe down. Likewise, people who move to the country and complain that there are big tractors in their way on county roads and nasty ol’ cows everywhere can hush. Just pick yer dadgum bed and lie in it.
Anyway, “OMMMMMMMMMM, OMMMMMMMMMM,” I said(?) in the front room. Then, “OMMMMMMMMMM, OMMMMMMMMMM,” I said(?) halfway down the hall. Then, “OMMMMMMMMMM, OMMMMMMMMMM,” I said(?) at the bedroom door, where she looked up as I came in declared that she was sure hopin’ that it was me makin’ them sounds but she wadn’t sure.
Well, of course not. She’d never heard ’em comin’ out of me before. See, I can’t remember the last time I got up on a Saturday morning intendin’ to relax. And I really don’t know how.
The yard will still get mowed. The week’s mail will still get gone through. Might go ahead and run to the office and do the couple hours worth of paper shufflin’ I couldn’t get done yesterday. But I will endeavor to do it relaxingly, not stridently.
Standin’ behind my Weber Kettle™ grill (I am a believer) as the beer-soaked brats cook up, then, reclinin’ in the recliner watchin’ Oklahoma State whup UCLA on the TV, then headin’ out to Central State to watch them boys whup Abilene Christian – all that will help me chill out, most of it not bein’ anything resembling work or worry.
We’ll see. It does not come naturally to me. Just don’t anybody tell me to relax and maybe I can pull it off. This is me talkin, though. OMMMMMMMMMM, I’ll swan, OMMMMMMMMMM. OMMMMMMMMMM, oh my soul, OMMMMMMMMMM.
Friday, September 03, 2004
Racin' to the rescue!
By The Associated Press
HAMPTON, GA (AP) -- The Atlanta Motor Speedway will open its campgrounds this weekend to evacuees of Hurricane Frances. The speedway's gravel campgrounds are equipped to handle thousands of campers during its two annual NASCAR race weekends. Its facilites include hot showers and restrooms.
Speedway President Ed Clark says it's the right thing to do for our neighbors, as Georgia's inland hotels begin filling up. At least a million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate their homes as Frances nears landfall.Atlanta Motor Speedway is located about 25 miles south of Atlanta and about eight miles west of Interstate 75.
Does my erudite redneck heart proud. -- ER
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Parentin' -- Erudite Redneck-style
Bird heard a few stern words from me this week. She was freaking out over what to do about a class that's harder than she though it'd be at Oklahoma State. I hope she understands why I was stern and that I do know what I'm talking about, but I'm prepared to wait for her experience to catch up with reality.
The tone of the conversation -- OK, the lecture -- reminded me of about the only other time the ol' Erudite Redneck came down hard on Bird, back when she really and truly was Baby Bird.
She was 14, we had just moved to Oklahoma from Texas, and she had racked up a bunch of long-distance phone calls, calling her friends she left behind. Total surprise when I got the phone bill. Pretty serious infraction. Since the phone bill is one of the ones I pay, I got to come up with the punishment.
When it was over, I'm pretty sure she wished she coulda just got a whuppin' -- but that wouldn't've been the Erudite Redneck way.
Here 'tis. Enjoy.
Oct. 16, 2000
Pay attention to the boldface words. Number 9 below relates to them.
Here are the details of what you must do as a result of the long-distance calls you made without permission. If this seems harsh, I’m sorry. I consider what you did to be no different than sneaking money out of my billfold — and $75 is a lot of money in any case.
The fact that you made calls repeatedly makes it worse. The fact that I won’t know the true extent of this until next month’s phone bill comes makes it terrible.
In fact, this is the biggest mistake you’ve made since I’ve been around.
Above all else, I want to be able to trust you. I want to be able to believe what you say, and I want to be able to trust your judgment. And right now, I can do none of that.
This has to do with rights and privileges. What follows is meant to be more disciplinary than punitive.
1. You are grounded from AOL, the telephone and TV for at least one month. On Saturday, Nov. 18, the grounding is lifted — if and only if you have performed the "community service," explained below. Until then, you are to stay out of my office. You may speak to relatives on the phone in some other room when they call. You may use the phone to call relatives, with good reason, with permission. You may listen to music, but this privilege may be revoked at my discretion for the remainder of your grounding, depending on your attitude and how you act.
2. To "pay" for the $75 in phone calls, you will perform 12 hours of "community service" around the house. This is the equivalent of being paid $6.25 per hour. Cleaning your room, which you are supposed to do anyway, does not count toward this. You must keep a log of your work. I must initial each entry. You should ask me for work to do; I have a few ideas, but I will not make this easy for you. The work may be inside or outside the house. You will not receive credit for work done without my prior approval.
Special consideration: For the following, you get 15 minutes of credit per day (not counting days when you spend the night elsewhere). You must feed and water the dogs every day, without being asked or reminded to do so; you must clear away the table after meals; you must keep the dishes washed and put away as needed every day (no dishes left in the sink over night, if the dishwasher is full of dirty dishes wash them, if it is full of clean dishes put them away). You must help us keep the living room and kitchen areas uncluttered and clean. In other words, look around: If something needs done, then do it.
3. On Tuesday night you must watch the presidential debate with me and take notes. Then, using your notes and what you remember from the debate, summarize each question and each reply. For each issue, answer the following questions (ask me to explain this better before the debate comes on): A. Why is this an important issue? B. Who (or what kind of people) is affected by this issue? Consider this a "theme." You must use complete sentences and paragraphs.
4. Why was it wrong to make those calls without permission? Think of three reasons it was wrong and write a little about each one. How will you re-earn my trust? (75 words at least).
5. When you do something wrong to someone, do you ever feel remorseful before you get caught? Why or why not? How is the feeling you have before you get caught different from the feeling you have after you get caught? (125 words at least).
6. There are always consequences to doing wrong, even if you don’t get caught. Think of five examples of people doing someone wrong and what the consequences might be even if nobody ever found out. An example: Say I never noticed that your calls are what caused the phone bill to be $75 higher than usual; so you didn’t "get caught." Say I had planned to spend that much on you at the mall, or for a special Christmas present; but because the phone bill was higher than I expected, I was unable to. The consequences, which you may have never known about, were that you didn’t get the stuff I had intended to give you because of your own dishonesty and waste. Another example, and this is a true one: (Relative of mine) stole some magic markers from a store we were in together when we were little. He did not get caught and I did not know about it until we got home. I was completely astounded when he showed them to me. I did not tell on him, but I let him know I thought he had done wrong. He felt remorseful for a long, long time. To this day, I can mention it and it makes him feel a little bad. The consequence: He will always know he did wrong and it will always make him feel bad. Think of your own five examples and write a little about each one. They do not have to be true-to-life. But they have to sound reasonable.
7. You are a good kid, but everyone has room for improvement. Name five areas where you need to improve and write a little about what you plan to do about them.
8. What are you thankful for? List everything you can think of.
9. Above, 14 words are boldfaced. Write out the dictionary explanation of each word. Check the definition that seems to come closest to what I meant. The words you should look up and define are:
That's it. I thinked the only one she begged off on was the presidential debate; seems like some school function was going on at the same time. Think I was too harsh? :-)