Friday, January 31, 2014

Weird Stuff My Mom Used to Say...Part II

During dinner with Dad last night, the subject of my Mother’s peculiar phrases came up once again. I wrote a blog some time ago about some of her favorite formulations like “John Brown”, “draw back a nub”, and “I swannee.” But I have a few more today, and one of them I would like the readers help in determining its origin.

My Mom often used the phrase, “getting up in the pictures.” It referred to one of us usually, since according to Mom, Dunnevants were always doing it. The best I can tell, to “get up in the pictures” meant to become hysterically overdramatic. Perhaps “pictures” was her term for movies, and to get up in the pictures referred to becoming like actors in a movie, being all dramatic.

“Yes Paula, we ARE having liver and onions for dinner, and if you don’t like it, don’t eat it, but don’t even think about getting up in the pictures with me!”

The thing is, none of us have ever heard anyone else use the term. We asked Dad if before he met Mom had he ever heard the expression. He said, “no.” A google search reveals nothing. Could this be an original expression made up by my mother? If any of you out there have used this phrase or heard it used elsewhere, please let me know.

Another favorite phrase of Mom’s was, “duck dying fit.” Again, keeping with the theme of hysterical drama, it referred to someone losing their composure, or throwing a temper tantrum.

“I swannee! They will spend any amount of money on a barbeque in the fellowship hall, but you ask those worthless deacons to approve a thousand more dollars for Lottie Moon and they have a duck dying fit!”

Its odd how many of Mom’s formulations had to do with people in various stages of dramatic meltdowns. Perhaps this gives you some idea of what life was like growing up in the Dunnevant home.

Mom also constantly used the term, “fixin-to.”( please…drop that annoying G) It meant “preparing to”, or “getting ready to.” Whenever she referred to her home in Buckingham, she would say, “Momanemms”

“I’m fixin-to start packing so we can head over to Momanemms for supper.”

For years I thought that the Dixon farm was named “Momanemms.”

Although Mom only had a high school education, and despite her colorful country vocabulary, I don’t want to leave the impression that she lacked intelligence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mom was extremely well-read and had an insatiable appetite for knowledge about the world. She was an amazing story teller and entirely self taught know-it-all. I would give any amount of money to hear just one more.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Faith in Humanity...Restored

When I woke up this morning I glanced at my phone and saw that it was 1 degree outside. Frankly, I could go for a little global warming about now. Also, I would like to thank the good people of Atlanta, Georgia for making the winter driving skills of Short Pumpians look positively Olympian by comparison. Of course in their defense, Atlanta gets a snow storm once every ten years or so, we get snow 4 or 5 times a year, EVERY year and still manage to wrap our cars around telephone polls as if we are shocked, SHOCKED that the roads are slippery.

A little further south in Birmingham, Alabama comes a story that helps restore my confidence in the human race. A Chick-fil-A restaurant near highway 280 found itself snowed in and the nearby interstate filled with iced in travelers stuck in a parking lot for hours. The owner, Mark Meadows, sent his employees home early, but soon they all returned because the roads were impassable. It was then that Meadows realized that he had stumbled upon a potential gold mine, hundreds of stranded, hungry potential customers trapped on the interstate, the quintessential captive audience. He could walk out to that highway with hundreds of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, charge triple the normal price and sell them all in less than thirty minutes. Some of those people had been trapped in their cars for seven hours! This would be like taking candy from a baby, it would make his month!

Only, that’s not how this story turned out. We’ve become accustomed to profiteers, opportunists who line their pockets by jacking up the price from everything from plywood to diapers during a hurricane, it happens so often we expect it. People who behave in this manner talk about supply and demand, covering their greed with talk of economic theory, as if academic discussions of the laws of scarcity can possibly salve their consciences. Not so with Mr. Mark Meadows of Birmingham, Alabama.

He instructed his employees to help him carry as many warm sandwiches as they could make through the snow and ice a mile walk to highway 280…and give them all away. Then he opened up his store for the entire night for anyone stranded who might need a warm place to sleep. The next morning everyone who took him up on his offer got a hot breakfast biscuit before they were sent on their way, all on the house.

Chick-fil-A is a money making machine of a franchise. Many of its most successful operators are among the evil 1%, no doubt. But, there is something else going on at many of their restaurants. Many of them have figured out the central truth that being in business isn’t always about money. Listen, we all want to make money. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to celebrating the notion of profit. But if the profit motive is the only thing a business has, an empty life will be the result.

I have friends who own a Chick-fil-A franchise. Mark and Becky Baldwin are the kind of people who would do the same thing as Mark Meadows did. In fact, they have done so before. They give away an awful lot of food, the cost of which comes off their bottom line. But it doesn’t take a government program to force their generosity, just the noble hearts of good men and women. If more of us out of simple gratefulness for our good fortune would develop a generous spirit, the world would be a far better place.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Returning To Golf

2014 is the year I plan on returning to the game of golf. There was a time in my life when I played the game quite often, as many as 30 rounds a year at my peak. But then I got busier, had open heart surgery and other inconveniences, and before you know it, I had lost interest in the game. I think last year I played four times, the year before that maybe twice that. This year will be different.

My skills as a golfer are sporadic and come and go more often than cell phone reception in West Virginia. I excel in only one area…the escape/trick shot, which should tell you everything you need to know about my game. It goes something like this, the guy I’m playing with hits his drive beautifully down the middle of the fairway, while mine gets overcooked into the trees, usually on the left side of the fairway. My opponent strides down the fairway confident that the hole is his. I find my ball on a patch of hardpan soil with a stand of trees directly in front of me. I take out a four iron and proceed to perfectly execute a low, sweeping hook around the trees and onto the green. It’s the only shot I can hit with anything approaching consistency.

What’s my handicap? I have no idea since I’ve never really had one officially calculated. My best score ever was a 75 shot three different times at three different courses. If I had to guess my average score I would say 88 or so. When I played a lot, maybe closer to 85. If I played a round today I would have a hard time breaking 90. I’m a terrible putter, prone to three and even four putt greens. I hit the ball fairly long for my age, I suppose. Unsurprisingly, I am an excellent trash-talker.

But here’s the thing with golf, and what I have missed the most. It’s a beautiful, relaxing walk. What other sport do you get to walk outside in the most beautiful part of any city while smoking a fine cigar and hanging out with friends? I’ve missed that aspect of the game more than anything.

Another thing, I will never, ever practice. Nope, hitting a bucket of balls at the driving range is golf without the beautiful walk thing, and just doesn’t work for me. Oh, and my clubs are all very, very old. My putter and irons,(the original Titleist DTs) are older than my Son. The newest club in my bag is a Mizuno driver which I bought maybe 15 years ago? This is the source of a barrage of disparaging remarks from my buddies every time I play. I am constantly told that if I would buy some clubs manufactured in this century my game would improve overnight. Perhaps, but this would require me spending upwards of a thousand dollars. I would rather keep the old clubs with which I once shot 75 three times. That way if I suck, I have an excellent excuse…inferior equipment!

So, if there are any golfers in the audience, don’t hesitate to ask me to play. In 2014 I plan to say, “yes!”

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Death of a Slur

I’m old enough to remember a very popular political slur that was once vigorously flung at mostly Democratic candidates. It was one of the most effective put downs in the business as it perfectly captured an alleged contrast between two vastly divergent philosophies of government. You heard it from the lips of every conservative candidate, and most Republican ones…career politician.

The implication was clear. Something had corrupted our democratic system to the point where there was no such thing as a citizen-legislator. The romantic image the founders put forth of men of great accomplishment who in their retiring years gave in to public pressure to serve as Senators and Congressmen, had been corrupted and replaced with political science majors with Master’s degrees in Public Policy who get their first job as a Congressional aid then hop on the treadmill to fame and fortune that is Washington, DC. So to lob the career politican bomb at someone was to brand him or her as an opportunist and moocher on the public teat. No more.

Two ostensibly Republican politicians have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell. Both men have ardent defenders. Both are career politicians, having received practically every adult paycheck courtesy of the taxpayer. For many Republicans and conservatives this is apparently no longer a bad thing. But in my opinion it is at the very heart of our dysfunctional government. Men and women may go to Washington as neutral outsiders bent on fixing the broken system, but once there, they become the system and are suddenly blind to its faults. They suddenly lose their moral opposition to term limits, and discover the virtues of featherbedding and the need to hone their fund raising skills. Thirty years later, they are still there voting for bills they’ve never read in exchange for a commitment from some Congresswoman from Delaware to support a bridge to nowhere back in the district, the district being a place where they seldom visit anymore anyway. The place is hopelessly provincial!

There are exceptions. In our own State, Mark Warner actually ran a profitable business before getting into politics. He actually knows what it’s like to make a profit, meet a payroll, and compete successfully in the marketplace. Maybe because of that, I never read about him in the newspaper. He’s our silent Senator. I take this as a good sign, although I didn’t vote for him…or maybe I did. I can’t remember, which should tell you something about my degree of interest in the process.

I guess I am pining for an era which never really has existed, but should have; a time when men and women of great reputation, talent and a life of actual accomplishment in the real world, devote the golden years of their lives to public service, where they can tell that smart-ass 27 year old aid what it’s actually like to build a business, or write a great novel, or teach inner city kids classical music successfully. Then maybe Washington would possess something it lacks…wisdom.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Little Compromises

So, the blizzard of ’14 which blanketed Short Pump with 2 whole inches of snow and shut down schools for 4 days has had an unintended consequence. It has unleashed Pam the Painter. Yes, my wife has taken this unplanned and unPAID vacation and turned it into an opportunity for home renewal. She is turning life’s lemons into lemonade, making chicken salad out of chicken, eh, you get the picture.

To say that my wife pays attention to detail would be damning her with faint praise. To say merely that she is a perfectionist would be an insult. When Pam brings her laser-like focus to painting the perfect straight line, it causes disruptions in global satellite communication so intense is the energy. Oh, and there will be no taping of walls when Pam wields her mighty brushes, these flawless lines must be fashioned totally free hand. “I just can’t get over how much longer this takes than I think it’s going to take,” she mumbles to no one in particular.

When this is all going on, I am relegated to walking through the rooms every thirty minutes complimenting how awesome it looks and asking if there is anything I can do. But I already know what she is thinking even if she doesn’t say it, “Are you kidding?? You’re only good for rolling ceilings and even then I’ll end up coming behind you to fix all the mistakes.”

So, imagine my surprise when she made this stunning announcement:

“Honey, you know how you’ve been asking me for 3 days if you can help? Well, I think I’ve got something for you to do.”

First I think it’s a trap. She is secretly resentful of my horrible painting skills and is getting ready to ask me to clean brushes as punishment. But then she says she actually wants me to paint something. I’m getting psyched. My wife actually has enough confidence in me to offer me a painting assignment? I’m ready, willing and able.

“Sometime tomorrow, I think I’m going to have you paint the inside of the pantry.

The inside of what is basically a closet, 3’x4’ with no light, in which one human being can barely fit and once filled with food, no one will ever be able to see my handiwork. Perfect.

This is what passes for division of labor when it comes to home decorating in my house. I am only assigned tasks that do not offend the perfectionist obsessions of my wife. But, I suppose it’s a fair trade. In thirty years of marriage she has never once mowed the grass. Anything that has the potential to result in a hernia or ruptured disk is my domain. Pam is boss of all things aesthetic. It actually works out pretty well, although I’m still bummed that she said “no” to my suggestion of hanging the “dogs playing poker” painting over the sofa.

It’s the little compromises that make marriage work!

Friday, January 24, 2014

My Sister is Retiring

My kid sister is retiring after over thirty years as an Educator in Henrico County. I say “kid sister” when she’s actually two years older than I am, but being the youngest child grants me such prerogatives. In our family there was Donnie and Linda, the older two kids, then a six year gap before Paula and I came along, so it was always “us” and “them.” So when one of “us” retires, I can’t let it pass without comment.

Paula has always been the one I followed in school. My teachers would stare at me after the first week of class each year with a puzzled expression that comes over people when they think that something can’t possibly be true. They would finally manage to ask, “Um, you couldn’t possibly be Paula’s brother, could you?”

So, my entire school life consisted of being a disappointment to a long list of teachers who were hoping for another Paula. What they were hoping for was a student with bright intelligence, a Puritan work ethic, a keen grasp of the concept of decorum and discipline, and at least the ability to stay in their seat. With me they got the anti-Paula.

There was never a question growing up as to what my sister would become. She was teacher material from the beginning. But it also didn’t surprise me that she would end up teaching in the Talented and Gifted program. Her imagination and ability to never be boring made the TAG program a perfect fit. She ran roughshod over boredom. Her take no prisoners mock trials were the stuff of legend at Byrd Middle School. Let’s just say that if the Supreme Court would have allowed Paula’s 7th graders to argue the case, we never would have been saddled with Roe v. Wade.

I’ll never forget the first time she asked me to come in to speak to her class. I say “never forget” in a purely generalized way since I can’t actually remember what I talked about. The thing I do remember was watching my sister in front of a room full of smarty-pants, over-achieving, West End children of privilege, in complete command. Those kids were eating out of her hand. She was large and in charge, and I was made to feel like a rock star simple because I was Ms. Dunnevant’s brother…whooooa!

After nearly thirty years of educating Henrico County’s finest within an inch of their lives, she was recruited into the fund-raising spider web of the Henrico Education Foundation, proving that she could have done anything she wished with her life. She was just as comfortable bossing around CEO’s in their boardrooms as she was with the kids in the classroom. She was never intimidated, she was the intimidator. No matter where Paula worked her real job title should have been Secretary of Getting Stuff Done. Or maybe, Secretary General of Get Out of My Way, I’m Busy Not Taking Shortcuts.

In short, Henrico will greatly miss her imagination, intelligence, creativity, work ethic, and discipline. Not to mention her world class sitting skills.
Congratulations, Sister!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Worst Kind of Cruelty

Whenever I am watching television I am always a little bit nervous. You never know when it might happen. I’m always on edge, waiting for it, hoping that it won’t come. Just about the time you’re all wrapped up in whatever it is you’re watching and have let your guard down, it happens. You see one of those ads from the Humane Society.

Watching one of these commercials is about the most horrible experience imaginable. It takes me to such a dark place of the soul. To see innocent, beautiful animals treated in such a way rips a hole in my heart and I can hardly bare to watch. Why is this?

Needless to say, there are actual human beings treated far worse each and every day all around the world. This world has become a Petri dish of cruelty, with new forms of inhumanity mutating practically every day. But when I watch a news report of some mindless terrorist attack or a school shooting I am saddened, but mindful that on some level it is the result of a decision that was made by someone based on some screwed up ideology or pathology. But at least there was a reason. When I see an abused dog in one of these ads I see an animal that didn’t get to make a decision. His tragic circumstance is the result of evil neglect. His fate sealed by a cruel master.

For me it goes back to Genesis. When mankind was given dominion over the animals it came with responsibilities. We were entrusted with their care. They depend on our provision and hope for our mercy and when we offer them neither, a place inside me erupts with righteous indignation of the sort that used to start wars. It’s so strange that I can find it in myself to forgive almost any failing in my fellow man, but I can never bring myself to forgive Michael Vick.

A friend of mine posted a picture on Facebook yesterday of a Golden retriever that appeared on her front porch yesterday morning freezing to death. She looked to be about ten years old, beautiful but in bad shape. I wanted to drive out there myself and take her home with me. I finally had to delete the picture or I would have.

I would be a much better person if I was as moved to righteous indignation at the suffering of my fellow man.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The McDonnell Indictment

Last night I went to bed in Virginia and this morning woke up in Illinois.

Virginians aren’t used to having their top elected officials brought up on corruption charges. We generally don’t elect the Rob Blagojevichs of the world, although the jury is still out on Terry McAuliffe. So, it was quite disturbing this morning to thumb through a 43 page Federal indictment of our former governor, Bob McDonnell and his wife on corruption charges.

This case presents me with quite a conflict of sympathies. On the one hand, I am predisposed to believe politicians capable of practically anything. On the other hand, the only thing more suspicious than a governor driving a Ferrari is a Federal investigation of a governor driving a Ferrari, politically motivated prosecutions being more numerous than flowers in the spring and all.

I met McDonnell once back when he was Attorney General. He had given a speech at some business meeting I attended and I chatted with him afterward. He seemed nice enough. I voted for him when he ran for governor, but reading through the indictment I am again reminded why I have become so cynical about politicians. They just aren’t very…smart.

Are the McDonnells corrupt or merely naive? Was there a quid pro quo relationship between the numerous gifts received from Mr. Williams, or just cluelessness and horrible judgment? Who knows?

Either way, it’s not a happy day for the State of Virginia.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Meteorology means never having to say, "I'm sorry."

Everybody makes mistakes. No one is perfect. All of us have missed the mark from time to time. But Good Lord, what in the world has gotten into the weather forecasters in Richmond, Virginia?

There’s this guy who works out of his basement in Chesterfield who seems to have started a meteorological cat fight amongst the profession of late. As far as I can tell, this guy made his bones from one forecast ten years ago where he called for a huge snowstorm a couple of weeks before it happened and instantly developed something like a cult following. He has a web site and a presence on Facebook from which he routinely trashes all of the local TV weathermen, calling them every name in the book for having the audacity to disagree with his forecasts.

Well now, after his initial prescient call way back when, he has turned into the proverbial stopped clock of forecasting…worthless 99% of the time but right twice a day regardless. Practically every one of his big predictions ends up being a bust, and yet I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anything approaching an apology from him when the local TV guys he constantly rips end up being much more accurate. It has become a fascinating spectacle to watch him make some outlandish outlier forecast, then start calling his competitors names. Ultimately, more often than not he ends up making an unprofessional, boorish fool of himself. And yet, he still remains in the business, meteorology obviously being the kind of business where accuracy is neither required nor expected.

Now that I think about it, the weather forecasting gig is an awful lot like politics. Apparently, being consistently wrong is not a career killer. John Kerry can spend his whole life being wrong about every foreign policy question this country has faced over the last fifty years and what happens? He becomes Secretary of State.
So, if the past is prologue, the mean little dude from Chesterfield will probably end up running NOAA before long.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Football vs. Downton Abbey

To any younger men who read this blog who might be wondering what it’s like to be married, I have an informative anecdote to share. It happened last night and in many ways perfectly illustrates what it means to be married.

My wife and I have a standing date with the Fort family on Sunday nights at 9 o’clock. They come over around 8:45. Sometimes it’s just Leigh Ann, sometimes Katy shows up and on occasion Gordon makes an appearance. Pam makes a huge bowl of parmesan cheese popcorn. We stand around chatting for a few minutes until the clock strikes 9, then hunker down to watch….Downton Abbey. For years it was “24” but that show ended and we needed another excuse to consume large quantities of popcorn slathered in butter and cheese, so thank God for Downton Abbey.

Well, last night presented something of a problem, a conundrum, a sticky wicket as it were. The San Francisco v. Seattle game was only in the late stages of the third quarter, with local kid Russell Wilson and the boys down 17-13 and about to stage an epic comeback about the time when the curtain went up on Downton. What to do?

Being married, one of the options of “what to do” was not telling the ladies that the travails of Anna and Mr. Bates would have to wait. That would have been about as popular as a story line featuring a gay love scene between Tom Barrow and Mr. Carson. No, instead of incurring the wrath of three women, I simply dialed up the ESPN app on the old smart phone and tried to keep up with two of the most incongruent simultaneous story lines imaginable. One minute I’m wondering why if Julian Fellows wanted to introduce a black jazz singer into the show why he didn’t cast one who could actually sing, and the next minute Marshawn Lynch was running over his own teammates on the way to a 40 yard touchdown. Five minutes later I’m about to start crying over poor Anna’s post rape torment at precisely the instant when Russell Wilson hits  Jermaine Kearse with a 35 yard scoring strike. Talk about your cognitive dissonance? You try fighting the urge to fist pump a winning score while Anna is asking Miss Hughes if she can move back into the big house? And poor Bates is left totally confused because he has no clue why his sainted Anna suddenly doesn’t want anything to do with him. How, pray tell am I supposed to celebrate the Seahawk victory with this sort of personal tragedy unfolding on the screen?
So, my young, single guy friends, this is just one of the many balancing acts you must learn to perform if you want to be married. There is a time and place for everything, and when it happens to be the same time, only the seasoned professional husband can hope to succeed

Sunday, January 19, 2014


My dad doesn’t talk much anymore. He listens and understands, just doesn’t say much. So when my sister Linda sat down with him Friday night for their weekly “Book Club” reading session, she was surprised to hear him say in a very serious voice, “I have a problem and I don’t know what to do about it.”

Linda, the nurse, immediately began to worry that he was about to tell her of some new physical problem. Since she knows every detail of Dad’s condition, she couldn’t imagine what this new ailment could possibly be. Then sadness flashed onto Dad’s face as he explained that he felt that any day now my daughter Kaitlin was going to ask him to perform her wedding ceremony this July, and he knew that he couldn’t possibly do it, but he didn’t want to “let her down.”

Linda’s email was at once the saddest yet most beautiful thing I’d ever read. Here was my 89 year old Father who can barely speak above a whisper, a man grown so unstable on his feet that he requires assistance at every turn, yet he has been fretting for who knows how long about letting my daughter down by not being able to officiate her wedding.

Even though Dad has, in fact, officiated every single wedding in his large and expanding family, the last one was many years ago, long before the unrelenting march of time began to silence his booming voice and sap his strength. We had kicked around the idea of having him record a prayer before hand that could be amplified through a sound system at the ceremony, since he may not be strong enough to even make it to the service. Kaitlin and Jon have already asked a dear friend, Gordon Fort, to officiate. But, I suppose in Dad’s mind he assumed that he would be expected to come through for Kaitlin. The very idea that Dad could possibly think that he was capable of letting any of us down is a crushing thought. But the fact that he has been worrying about all of this silently speaks volumes about his noble and dignified spirit.

None of us needed any further proof of our Father’s innate kindness. None of us have needed any additional reasons to love him. None of us have needed any more evidences of the profound sweetness of his soul.

But now we have them.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Customer Review of West Broad Village

There’s this development in the middle of Short Pump called “West Broad Village.” It used to be the site of a beautiful meandering farm surrounded by a white fence, with lush green pastures dotted by cattle. When my kids were toddlers they would always point at them, squealing with delight, “COWS!!!” Now I mostly point at the ridiculous traffic pouring out of the place and scream in frustration.

They started building this planned community the very second the old farmer finally agreed to sell the land, unfortunately just before the mortgage crisis broke and dried up all the credit. For awhile only ten percent of the place was out of the ground making it look like the dumbest idea ever. Many of we Short Pumpians were worried that we would be stuck with this still-birthed mountain of debris and hollowed out shells for years. There was worry about colonies of rats breeding in the rubble that would soon branch out into our neatly trimmed communities. There was dark talk of crack houses sprouting up. All of that overwrought suburban angst proved wasted after the financial markets recovered and the money started to flow again. Now it’s nearly completed, and we have a fully functioning, er, eh, well, actually I’m not sure what we have honestly.

The developers seemed to have wanted to build a neighborhood that looked 100 years old. Row houses with tiny little front yards no bigger than a large coffee table would line both sides of the street with fake gas lamps lighting the way. The rear of these houses featured concrete alley ways where the upwardly mobile young couples could park their two Tahoe’s in their big garages. But these alleys don’t have dumpsters or rats so I’m not sure they even count as alleys. To make the place even older looking some genius suggested making all the streets out of brick, which looked great until 6 months of traffic caused them to settle all catawampus-like so now you need a Tahoe to make it through the place.

Mixed in amongst the rows and rows of townhouses are businesses of all descriptions, just like a real town might have, if by “all descriptions” you mean “restaurants.” The website says, “West Broad Village is designed for people who want to live, work, shop and play within the community they call home.” And this community of chain restaurants, health clubs, wine lofts and cigar lounges is all crammed into 115 acres along with the 2000 or so hipsters who live there.

This is called the New Urbanism by it’s proponents. But, it comes with some very Old Urbanism problems, namely…traffic. The problem seems to be that there are a ton of people who would never dream of living there but nonetheless are crazy about Tex-Mex. That was Pam and I last night. We head over to Chuys for dinner and spent literally 10 minutes inside the parking garage sitting still while an overmatched Asian woman tried to make up her mind whether or not she wanted to park. It didn’t help that she was driving an SUV and it also didn’t help that she didn’t know how to drive. The poor thing had no chance. At one point she even got out of her vehicle to plead with the ten of us in line behind her to all back up so she could more easily maneuver her Escalade into the space recently occupied by a Honda Civic. I was smugly proud of myself for maintaining my composure( thanks to the two beers I had had earlier at Mona’s Cigar Lounge!), when suddenly Pam reached across and violently engaged the horn. “Get back in your car and move along woman!” Pam was hungry and not in a mood to be trifled with. Ten minutes later we found a spot on the roof, then had a lovely meal of way too much steak burrito and you’ve got to be kidding “Chuychanga.”

The developers essentially wanted to relocate the Fan into Short Pump while leaving the crime down on the Boulevard. The problem is, they forgot to bring the Fan’s charm during the move.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Packing Heat?

There is a new hobby blazing through my part of the world. It seems close to a passion among its devotees, men and women. Many of my friends have taken it up, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. It appears that I stopped paying attention for a few minutes and suddenly half of my friends are packing heat!

I hear the stories about otherwise stable, ordinary, unthreatened people my age buying Smith & Wesson’s, and heading off to the shooting range for some good old fashioned family fun. Others, even more alarmingly, have secured concealed carry permits and so they never have to leave home without a deadly weapon.

Ok, before you guys get all “fired-up” and start lecturing me on the 2nd Amendment let me first say that I fully recognize your legal and constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I’m not part of the anti-gun crowd. It’s just that the idea of a movie theatre filled with upper middle class middle aged men and women packing newly issued handguns, makes me nervous as hell!

Of course, if while walking from the movie to my car in the parking lot, I suppose I would be grateful for one of those Glocks if I got accosted by some drugged up meth head demanding my money or my life. Although, come to think of it, I would just give him my money. Gun play with a twitchy addict might prove problematic.

I guess the rise in popularity of guns has something to do with the growing sense that society has gone off the rails and that we are headed for some sort of dystopian world where only the fully armed citizen will have a chance at survival. Either that, or we upper middle class folks are getting more bored by the minute and enjoy the thrill of filling a sketch target with lead. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

Knowing that so many of my friends are now armed does give me pause. Maybe I should think twice before playing that 100 point triple word score at Words With Friends against someone carrying a .357 magnum. Perhaps I should rethink trying to sink that 5 foot putt on the 18th hole for the match. Or maybe…just maybe, I should buy a gun. Can you just imagine? Me and my nervous energy, can’t sit still, practical joke-loving, easily pissed off, quick with the snarky putdowns self, walking around with a Springfield XD-S 45 on my hip?


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Thunder and a Memory

Just a few minutes ago the strangest thing happened. I was transported back in time…by a sound.

I was sitting in my recliner reading P.J. O’Rourke’s new book when I was surprised by the tingling of sleet on the window pane. I turned off the floor lamp to my left so I could see out and there they were, tiny sparkling pellets of ice dancing on the sill. Then I was startled by the sudden, misplaced peel of crackling thunder. In an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, I flew through time to the basement of the Winn’s Baptist Church parsonage, to a wildly similar cold April night in my eleventh year. It was after 10 and I was supposed to be asleep, but on this night I was sleeping in the bed in the basement, not my warm room upstairs for one reason and one reason only. It was opening night of Major League baseball, and my green hard plastic radio could pick up the Cleveland Indians games better from the basement. It was either 1968 or 1969, I’m not sure which. The Indians were playing the Tigers, or the Orioles, or somebody.

The radio was a mess, the color of diseased avocado, with a disfigured glob of burnt plastic on one side from where Donnie and I had propped it up against the baseboard heater one night to improve the reception for a Yankee game. As ugly as it was, there was something about the unheated, molded, mice infested atmosphere of our basement that agreed with my second hand radio delivering perfectly the high fidelity radio waves from WERE, 1490 AM in Cleveland along with the dulcet tones of Herb Score.

On this particular night I was about three innings in to a pitcher’s duel when I noticed the wind blowing a gale outside. Then the sound of sleet against the window panes of the outside door, and finally a frightening peel of thunder so full of cracks and pops, that it sent this eleven year old scurrying up to his bedroom faster than Lou Brock going from first to third on a single to left field.

I hadn’t conjured up that memory since it happened. But tonight, 17,000 sunsets later, it comes rushing back as clear as a bell. The mind and its memory is a terribly awesome thing.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guilt-free Eating

It has been my experience that there exists nothing on Earth more irritating than the zealot, the passionate fanatic, the newly converted to some perceived kernel of truth. The one person every smoker tries to avoid at a party is the guy who has just quit. Nothing can rip the joy out of a Holiday spread faster than the arrival of the guy who has just lost twenty pounds at Weight Watchers. Not that there’s anything wrong with losing weight or stopping smoking of course. It’s just that there is something so off putting about people who think they have figured everything out, especially when they suddenly believe it their duty to enlighten the rest of us.

I make this observation in light of the torrent of newsfeed-killing stories warning me about the mortal dangers lurking in practically everything I eat. From the evils of genetic modification, to the diabolical designs of high fructose corn syrup, all the way to the sinister intentions of “Big Food”, I am constantly being scolded for not educating myself, of being a victim of glutens, or worse, a hater of animals for my disgusting consumption of meat.

I am tempted here to tell the joke about the guy who gets run over by a truck while riding his bike ten miles out of his way so he can buy organic tomatoes. Actually, I just did…sorry. Here’s my opinion for what it’s worth. I am 55 years old and in pretty decent shape. I work out 4 times a week in a manic attempt to keep my weight down and to relieve stress. Having said this, I must admit that I love food and eat prodigious quantities of my favorites. Most of my favorite foods fall into the category of “dangerous to human beings." However, if someone told me that I could no longer have them, I might conclude that life wasn’t worth the living. The following is a list of the staples of my diet, the consumption of which provides me with great joy and about which I will never apologize.

  • BREAD. Not stuff that comes from a bag, but the homemade kind, made from scratch, biscuits and rolls hot out of the oven slathered in…
  • BUTTER, not margarine.
  • CHEESE, not the stuff that gets squirted from a tube or covered in cellophane, but hard, block cheese from places like Wisconsin, Vermont and France
  • SAUSAGE. Pretty much any type, from Andouille to Jimmy Dean. Links or patties, it matters not and the spicier the better.
  • MEAT which includes but by no means is limited to…chicken, beef, pork.
  • MASHED POTATOES loaded with salt and pepper
  • VEGETABLES, drizzled with olive oil and caramelized in the oven on a flat cookie sheet
  • COFFEE. Two cups a day with cream and a half teaspoon of SUGAR, not sweetener
  • SWEET TEA with lemon.
  • BEER, the darker the better and please, nothing “Lite”

There are many other foods which I love, these are just the basics. Now, I’m sure that many who are reading this are aghast at the fat content, the artery-hardening, politically incorrectness, the sheer audacity of what, to you, seems like an assault on healthy living. To each of you I say, the one thing I know for sure is that I am going to die from something. If the diet listed above is the thing that kills me, then I will die with a satisfied smile on my face. Incidentally, with the exception of the beer, this is virtually identical to my 89 year old Dad’s diet. So, there’s that.

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a devoted, gluten-avoiding, Monsanto-hating organic-loving vegan, I take my hat off to you and wish you well. But don’t ask me to buy into the guilt thing, because I’m not interested.   

Monday, January 13, 2014

16% Socialist??

Over the weekend, during a brief interlude of faint curiosity/ boredom, I succumbed to the temptation of filling out one of those internet surveys. You know the ones I’m talking about…take our ten question survey to discover your ideal Tuesday work outfit!! Only this one promised to tell me which political party I was most aligned with. My son had taken it and posted his results so I thought what the heck?

It was a rather lengthy list of questions. Since the survey was presented by a Libertarian website, I expected the questions to be phrased in such a way as to encourage Libertarian responses, but generally found them to be fair. It was a YES, NO format. A third option was CHOOSE ANOTHER STANCE. When this was checked a dropdown box appeared that listed four or five alternative answers. An example follows:

Should gay marriage be allowed in America?



Choose another stance:

  • Let each State decide
  • No, allow civil unions for same sex couples, but don’t call it marriage
  • Take the government out of marriage and instead make it a religious matter
  • Yes, but allow churches the right to refuse gay marriage ceremonies

 Not surprisingly, I found myself clicking the choose another stance option most of the time. The problem was that often I was unsatisfied with any of the options I was given even then! Then I was reduced to the, “add your own stance” answer. It took me forever to finish the survey. Once completed, I pushed the results key and was informed thusly:

Parties You Side With:

89% Libertarian

86% Republican

41% Green

30% Democrat

16% Socialist

 This survey blows! First of all, I know without question that the Republican and Libertarian parties do not agree anywhere approaching 85% of the time, and yet it says I agree with them almost equally. Secondly, the Green party? Do they have a position on abortion or gay marriage? If so, why? What does the death penalty have to do with the environment? And lastly, I agree with the Socialist party on something?? Wait..what??

So, I comb through the results searching for my latent Socialist weaknesses. It turns out that I am a closet pinko because of my opinion on the National Park Service, as follows:

Should National Parks continue to be preserved and protected by the Federal Government? My answer was “Yes.” I believe this largely because the National Park service is one of the very few government success stories. I have visited many of them and found them to be beautifully maintained, well run National treasures. The alternative of having a for profit business running these parks is wrought with peril. I keep imagining a gigantic billboard announcing how 15 minutes could save me 15% on my car insurance right next to the Presidents on Mt. Rushmore! The actual “Socialist Party preferred answer was “Yes, and expand the Federal Governments domain to protect more land.” Since my answer was “Yes”, it was deemed “similar.” Like I said, this survey blows.

Another thing that suggested Socialist leanings was my answer to the question, “Should the US interfere in the affairs of other countries?”  My initial answer was “No.” Then I clicked the other responses.  What I really believe is closer to “Only when there is a direct threat to our National security.” But, that opening allows the pinheads in Washington too much parsing of words and nuance and before you know it the discovery of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction become a direct threat. So, I just went with plain “No.” BAMM, I’m in league with the Socialists.

So, there you have it. I’m 89% Libertarian and 16% Socialist. Let’s legalize Marijuana and redistribute wealth!! Potheads of the world unite!!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wedding Planning: Part III

My wife and daughter just left the house giggling merrily, and disappeared down the street, cutting through the misty fog of this miserable day. What, you might ask could they possibly be so giddy about? Today, they are on the hunt for…wait for it…bridesmaid’s dresses!

Yes, just yesterday Pam produced a color swatch for my consideration. She held it up to the lamp light in the breakfast nook and began extolling the virtues of the rich, teal color and how it so perfectly complimented a throw pillow on Kaitlin’s sofa. I had just walked in the house from a workout at AMFAM and as is my unfortunate habit, had missed the first sentence of this exchange, resulting in the mistaken conclusion that Pam was planning on painting the walls of the kitchen this dark, foreboding color.

“NO, silly!” she explained. “This is the color of the bridesmaid’s dresses. Come on honey, keep up!”

So, off they go today in search for wedding finery. I sense just a hint of cockiness in them. Fresh off of last week’s wedding dress triumph; I fear that they may be under the mistaken impression that they have this business well in hand. I know better. When it comes to all things nuptial, I am a pessimist. At each and every turn I expect glitches, missteps, bitter disappointments, and escalating, out of control costs. I have steeled myself for these unhappy outcomes and have determined that no matter how bad it gets, I will be calm and collected. Above all else, I intend to smile and be of good cheer. I am determined not to pull a George Banks. I will not be reduced to the confines of a jail cell because of hot dog bun type meltdown. See, George’s problem was that he actually thought that it was possible for everything to work out well and at a reasonable price. Well, I’m not falling for that delusion. I am fully prepared for the financial and emotional implosion to come and will face it with hearty good cheer!

So far the problem seems to be that I have done all this steeling and girding up of loins…for nothing! They picked the venue with a minimum of angst and within a reasonable range of our budget. Then the photographer was booked along with the DJ, again with nary a tear. Next thing I know they’re out there picking out a wedding dress in one trip to David’s Bridal. It would be very tempting to let my guard down a bit. Things are going quite well. It’s actually quite eerie.

But, I know full well that there are many minefields ahead, what with a wedding cake to order and flowers to buy. I’ve watched enough cooking shows to know how volatile bakers and chefs can be, and I don’t even want to think about dealing with the eccentricities inherent in the personality of your average florist. It could still get very ugly, very quickly.

But, for the time being, all is well here at Dunnevant Wedding Central.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Understanding Chris Christie

Chris Christie. I like him. I like his combative, straight shooting news conferences and town meetings. I like his style and the fact that he’s trying to bring back obesity in our public servants. Call it Grover Cleveland Chic. Even though I don’t agree with 100% of his ideology, I think he would make a good President. Anyone who can manage to actually govern New Jersey in a reasonably conservative way deserves my attention. He has the guts to take on unions and the career feather-bedders in both parties. He doesn’t condescend to voters. He speaks to them as adults. As a Republican in a deeply Democratic state he governs like he’s playing with house money, like he can hardly believe he got elected in the first place so since he’s here he might as well kick some ass.

Having said all this, I don’t believe for a minute that he didn’t know what his staff was up to concerning the lane closure controversy. Despite his protestations, Christie IS a bully…to which I say, so what?

For most of our nation’s history, mayors and governors were known as “bosses”, or at least the most successful ones were. They got things done through a combination of persuasion, competence and yes…intimidation. In this sense, Christie is something of a throw back. He asked the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for an endorsement of his reelection campaign, part of Christie’s overwhelmingly successful bipartisan strategy of co-opting his potential political enemies. The mayor refused. Then Christie did something small, petty and vindictive as a demonstration of his power to make trouble makers pay. His aides ordered the closure of several lanes of the interstate right around the Fort Lee exits causing days of chaos, anger and frustration among its citizens.

When the Governor claimed in yesterday’s press conference that he knew nothing about any of this and that he had no idea what his staff was up to, he was telling a technical truth. He is a CEO and as such, his aides and top staff understand the time tested reality of something called plausible deniability. Basically this is an operating system whereby the boss allows only the most reliable and trusted people into his inner circle, then charges them with doing his will. If something gets messy in the discharge of doing his will, the CEO is to be carefully kept out of the loop so when and if it blows up, he can stand in front of a room full of reporters and honestly say, “I had no idea.”

But if you think he wouldn’t have approved of this lane closure business, you don’t understand A. politics and B. Chris Christie.

So yes, he is a bully and yes, this was a petty, revengeful, score-settling tantrum. But people, this is politics. Even worse, this is New Jersey politics. Nobody was pulled out of the Hackensack River wearing cement shoes. There are no bullet holes ripped throughout the mayor’s office. As score-settling goes in New Jersey, this is grade school horseplay.

The best we can hope for in our politicians anymore is competence. If you find one who is also tough as nails, that’s a bonus. But, there aren’t any more Jimmy Stewarts out there. The last Sunday school teacher to get elected President was Jimmy Carter and, God bless, our Republic won’t survive another one like him.

My prediction is that once the dust settles from this story, Christie’s poll and favorability numbers will go…up. I don’t think I’m the only American left who would like to see an ass-kicker in the White House.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Feeling the Itch

I turn to fiction in the winter, both the reading and writing of it. I’ve often wondered why this is, and have come to the reluctant conclusion that death is inspirational.
Last year about this time I began writing a novel. It is the second such book I have written, the first back in my twenties which was also started during the cold snowy months. Both plots are driven along in no insignificant way by death. This is not to say that the stories are about death, but rather that death serves as an excellent driver of plots.
In winter, it’s hard to escape death. It’s everywhere around you. Green gets replaced by gray. Leaves wither into brown and fly away except for the ones that stubbornly cling to the branches of tall oak trees, making them look sickly and tattered. Then the cold comes and the plants on the deck turn pale green and rubbery. The lush green lawns of the suburbs become matted and powdery, the color of sand.
Unlike the death of men, this is just a season. We know that in a few months time, the color will come back. We know this because it is reliably true. It happens every year. Still, to watch the world around us shrivel and die three months every year has always visited waves of melancholy upon me along with bouts of introspection. Ultimately, I escape to the reading and writing of fiction.
Once again, I’m feeling the itch to create something. The germs of ideas have lately come to life in my imagination. Most of them I reject because I lose interest so easily. Once they are rejected, I can’t even recall what they were, so complete is their banishment. Others fester up there for days, then weeks, until finally I find myself sitting here writing.
But if I’m going to write another book, I better get started while it’s winter. Once it’s warm and green again, I would much rather be outside living my real life than putzing around in an imaginary one.
Here’s a project for all of you literature fans. I wonder what percentage of the greatest novels ever written were started during winter? I’m willing to bet 75%.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It's Cold. Let's cancel school.

Anyone lucky enough to have octogenarian parents have marveled at the stories they tell of what it was like to go to school 70 years ago. Most started out in one room school houses. My father speaks often of his 5 mile walks to school, of how it was his job to keep the pot bellied stove full of wood during the winter months. We always listen in horrified fascination when he tells of the brute authoritarianism of his teachers who were famous for their knuckle-rapping rulers and fondness for public humiliation as a teaching tool. We can hardly imagine what it must have been like to teach a room full of kids from age 6-18. The fact that my Dad’s generation became known as “The Greatest” seems impossible from such a backward education foundation. But, all those guys and girls did was fight and win a World War, then come back home and unleash the most dynamic economic expansion in the history of Western Civilization, and while they were at it…they brought US into the world.

I mention all of this because I haven’t been able to think of much else since the events of yesterday in Henrico County. First, it was announced that there would be a two hour delay of school because of the…cold. It was 10 degrees at dawn and during the day the high temperature reached 26. I certainly hope my 89 year old Dad wasn’t watching TV when that was announced! The temperature didn’t set any type of all time record. There have been much colder days in past years, in fact, many sub-zero temperatures have been recorded in Richmond before. But I never remember having school delayed because of the temperature.

Then, mid-afternoon news began splashing all over the TV about some sort of incident at Glen Allen High School. First reports were of an agitated male teacher. Then the story changed to a love sick 16 year old student who “might have a gun.” Soon, the entire parking lot and all the streets around the school were covered with paramilitary units armed with machine guns, SWAT teams scurried around armed to the teeth, ready to spring into action. Every available Henrico County squad car seemed to be there, blue lights flashing. A crowd of worried parents stood in 15 degree cold waiting for information about the gun wielding teenager inside. Finally, a spokesperson for the, er..uh, authorities informed the crowd that in fact, the 16 year old in question was not in the school and in fact had never been to school all day. News teams from all three local news stations were on the scene with breathless accounts of what might have been another Columbine. One such reporter promised an interview at eleven of one of the girls who had endured this tragic day from the war zone of her Chemistry class. The County will no doubt provide psychological counseling for rattled students as they arrive two hours late this morning.

The old adage at play here in both cases seems to be, rather be safe than sorry. I get it. If some poor kid in Varina is found frozen to death at his bus stop, the County would be tarred and feathered for its insensitive negligence. If there really had been a 16 year old wielding a Glock inside Glen Allen High School and the county hadn’t unleashed 10 divisions to the school, I suppose the blood of innocents would have been on their hands. I suppose. We live in a country ruled by lawyers and governed ultimately by litigation, so this is the way things must be now.

Still, I cannot shake the conviction deep down inside me that we have become a weak and pampered country, where life’s difficulties and nature’s wrath have become things to avoid instead of obstacles to overcome.

10 degrees out? How about we throw on another layer and make an adventure out of it?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's Good to be King

With only the National Championship game left to be played, the college football bowl season is almost over. When my team, the University of Alabama, lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, a flood of commentary began to fly over the interwebs that finally, finally, after long last the mighty SEC had received its comeuppance. Um…no.

Let there be no misunderstanding, Oklahoma played an outstanding game and deserved the victory. They were clearly the better team. They were better on defense, offense and special teams, and on that night the Crimson Tide was even out coached. But to extrapolate the demise of SEC dominance from one game is wishful thinking.

With one game left, here are the records of the five major football conferences in this year’s bowl season:

ACC    4-5

Big Ten    2-5

Big 12    3-3

Pac 12    6-3

SEC    7-2

The Title will pit Auburn against Florida State, giving the ACC a chance to reach the .500 mark. I believe that the Seminoles are the better team despite coming from a weaker conference and should win the game. But if they do and the SEC string of seven consecutive national titles is broken, it will not mean that somehow magically the SEC has become weak. It will mean merely that every streak has an end. There will no doubt come a day when some other region of the country will rise to dominate the sport. My guess would be the Pac 12. But that day hasn’t arrived just yet.

So, all of you SEC haters out there need to keep your powder dry. We’re still the King. And it’s good to be King!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Saying YES to the Dress

I haven’t felt right for over a week now. Last Sunday started with pink eye and since then there have been a series of sore throaty/acky/cough-filled days and nights. I have been assured by my Nazi Doctor over at Patient First that I don’t have the FLU, more likely a lesser virus that I will have to muddle through with until it runs its course.

But yesterday afternoon delivered a highlight, a ray of sunshine into my otherwise dismal week. My daughter said “YES” to the dress.

Here’s how it happened. Since Pam and Kaitlin are both off this week, they thought it might be a perfect time to begin the great wedding dress hunt. I have secretly been dreading this from the day she announced her engagement. My two girls are gifted with talents and abilities that would fill pages of this blog if I were so inclined, however, they both share one excruciating flaw. They are both horribly indecisive, in matters of style and fashion, not always on the same page. Combine these two facts with the search for something as iconic and emotionally charged as a wedding dress, and, well…I was expecting a Bataan Death March style campaign drenched with tears and frustration. Needless to say, I stayed at home.

To be honest, that wasn’t the only reason I stayed home. I’m in no particular hurry to see my little girl trying on wedding dresses. There. I said it. I don’t think that this is something I should have a say in. I’m happy to pay for the thing, but I would rather wait until the big day to see her wearing it.

Pam sent me the first text at 4:04, “Dress 1 has been tried on. There were tears.”

Yeah, no kidding! Imagine that? Crying the first time you see the girl who just three days ago you were teaching how to field grounders wearing a wedding dress? Who could have seen THAT coming? No Thanks. I was very glad to be in my recliner reading the new Deen Koontz novel.

Text number 2, “Dress number two turned out to be the one Kaitlyn Burton wore in her wedding.”

Pam seemed giddy, almost playful. Things seemed to be going well.

Text number 3, “We may have found THE ONE!”

I looked at my watch. It was 5:47. Fifteen minutes later I’m hit with three texts in rapid fire succession,

“She’s trying a couple more on, but she found one that is gorgeous and fits well!

Oh dear. Now there is a second one that’s also beautiful.

Decisions, decisions!”

 Thirty minutes pass. It’s now 6:30 and I’ve heard nothing. In my mind I’m imagining the worst. Both of them discover that they are at odds over which beautiful dress is in fact, THE ONE. Pam tells Kaitlin that the only thing that matters is what SHE thinks, to which Kaitlin replies that she wants Mom to like it just as much as she does. Then the both of them collapse into silent indecision. I decide to send a text of my own.

“What’s the dinner plan?”

Twenty minutes pass without a response. Virus or no, I’m starving. I glance at my watch. 7:02. Finally, a response from Pam,

“We have no plan.”

Seriously?? That’s all I get? They are either hopelessly depressed by the whole experience, or Pam is messing with me. Then this headliner at 7:16…

“We said  YES TO THE DRESS, and within budget!”

The phone rings and its Kaitlin’s happy voice, “I found a dress Daddy!!”

Twenty five minutes later I meet them at Glory Days. They walk in together smiling from ear to ear. After ordering the fabulous soft pretzels with crab dip appetizer, Kaitlin insists on showing me a picture. “What do you think?” she asks.

She hands me her new Apple 5s cell phone and there she is, standing in front of a bank of mirrors, her curly hair tied up with a thing, a veil draping down behind her. It’s a wedding dress with stuff on it. I have no idea what the proper term for all of this stuff is and I never intend to find out. All I know was that she looked stunning, even on the 4 inch screen of a smart phone. I was determined to maintain my composure and I did. I said something like, “Wow, sweetie. It’s beautiful. It has lots of stuff on it.” when what I really wanted to say was, “How is it possible that you grew up so fast into such an incredible woman?” And, where in God’s name is my cheese burger? Anything to change the subject.

So, the dress has been bought, an important item crossed off the wedding To-Do list. It took only one 4 hour trip to David’s Bridal, with only tears of joy spilled. We may just get through this.