Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A New Sheriff In Town

The NBA’s new commissioner, Adam Silver has put his league on notice that there will be no room for racism in professional basketball. He has set the bar very high indeed, by issuing a life time ban for Donald Sterling’s words uttered in a private conversation serendipitously recorded by his girlfriend and then leaked to TMZ. No matter the source, Sterling’s racist words earned him a record 2.5 million dollar fine, a life time ban and a forced sale of his ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers.  I shed no tears for Sterling, a world class creep who deserves everything he gets. But if I were a player in this league, I would be very, very nervous right about now.

Professional basketball players, like most world class athletes, aren’t exactly known for their Mensa memberships, neither are they known for their choirboy lifestyles, or open-minded acceptance of the “other.” A quick examination of the arrest records of the major stars of most American professional sports leagues will reveal an appalling number of aggravated assaults, domestic violence, drug use and possession, as well as your basic garden variety public intoxication charges. Now that the social media crowd has discovered the power that an illegally taped conversation has to catapult one to fame and potential fortune, we can expect more of it…a LOT more. So the next time Lebron and his entourage are out having a few drinks after a game and somebody starts telling jokes about that gay couple sitting in the third row, they better keep a sharp eye out for anyone holding their smart phone at an odd angle. If Carmelo Anthony casually makes disparaging remarks about a white opponent’s inability to jump, he better hope nobody gets it on tape.

There’s a new sheriff in town and he has made it clear that the NBA will not tolerate impure, insensitive or racist thoughts, even if they are expressed only in private conversations.

One wonders if any person associated with the NBA has ever done anything worthy of a life time ban before Mr. Sterling. Actually there have been a few, mostly no-name players like Roy Tarpley and Chris Washburn, banned for substance abuse. But when it comes to big name players, it’s practically impossible to be banned for life. Although Allen Iverson’s arrest record included physical violence against his wife, including throwing her out of his house naked into the street, no life time ban was issued. During a nine year NBA career Isaiah Rider was arrested an astonishing 832 times, a record that still stands, for everything from assault to weed possession. None of these 832 arrest or even the record setting accumulation of arrests were enough to illicit a life time ban from the Commissioner’s office. But that was then, and this is now. Adam Silver is no Donald Stern, and apparently Isaiah Rider is no Donald Sterling.

So here’s a head’s up to everyone associated with the League, watch your mouth. You never know who is listening.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Married to a Moron?

If I were so inclined, I could devote this space to a full-throated, play by play description of the respiratory battle going on inside my sinuses and lungs. I could describe the various medicines and therapies I have employed against the forces of evil arrayed against me. I could paint for you disturbing mental images of the shocking substance and unworldly color of what I have begun to cough up over the past 24 hours. But I will restrain myself, and spare you the details.

Instead, I will just say that unfortunately, my sainted wife seems to have come down with something very similar despite our best efforts at quarantine and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. The good news is that I feel terrific this morning, for the first time in 4 days. My schedule today is dominated by a Charity golf tournament event which according to the Doppler radar, might end up being played in a steady rain, probably not the ideal way to spend my first day back after battling the FluFromHell. Matter of fact, I’m rather sure that Pam is going to flip out when she reads this. “Seriously honey? You are seriously going to go play golf in a driving rain all day as sick as you’ve been for three days?? Moron. I am married to a moron.”

“No, no honey, you don’t understand. Being outside in the fresh air will actually be good for me. And I’m sure if it starts raining really hard they will call it off. Besides, think of the children! All the proceeds go to poor inner city kids so they can benefit from the First Tee program.”

“Great! By all means, let’s teach poor inner city kids how to play golf, so they can become morons too.”

Actually, Pam won’t say any of these things. She will probably be too weak to make the arguments, and I will be gone by the time she reads this. But I will be able to feel the power of her eye-roll and heavy sigh from miles away.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Donald Sterling

Finally, I have stumbled onto something that makes me care about the NBA. Donald Sterling.

Sterling.png  The 81 year old owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, real estate mogul, slum lord and dater of 25 year old mixed race girls, was recorded by one of them, V. Stiviano, saying that although he was an open minded kind of guy, he had to draw the line at her posting pictures of herself publically cavorting with black people, and that he would really appreciate it if she wouldn’t invite any of them to the Clippers games.

This came as disturbing news to the 9 black players on his team, not to mention Coach Doc Rivers, himself a lifelong African American. The Clippers, being in Los Angeles and Sterling, being a lecherous old man, went to great pains to display his broad-mindedness by adding this gem:

“You can sleep with black people…just don’t bring them to any of my games.”

Yes, nothing quite says “middle America” like an octogenarian hooking up with a 25 year old and nothing says “Los Angeles” like keeping the relationship wide open! This revelation comes at a particularly bad time for Sterling since not only are his Clippers finally in the playoffs but he was about to be given a lifetime achievement award by the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP. Awkward.

Of course it took Jesse and Al less than 5 minutes to latch onto this story, calling for boycotts, expulsion from the league and public castration. I’m sure there will be a staged protest outside the Staples Center, with black community leaders singing “We Shall Overcome” and Obamacare sign-up booths everywhere. But, for maybe the first time in my adult life, I find myself cheering them on. Can any of you imagine how angry you would be if you found out that your boss felt this way about your wife and kids? Can you imagine the rage that would build up inside of you if the person who signs your paycheck and smiles broadly every time he’s seen with you in public, revealed himself to be this sort of lecherous bigot? If I were a member of the Los Angeles Clippers I would have played my last game for Donald Sterling. I would honor his hateful wish and refuse to attend any more games at the Staples Center.

I’m done with the Donald Sterlings of this world. When I think about all of the friends I have who are Black, Asian, and Latino, this sort of thing makes me disgusted and angry. Mr. Sterling has a first Amendment right to say whatever he wants. His gold-bricking girlfriend violated his privacy rights by secretly recording a private conversation, but when you’re 81 and involved with a 25 year old, you tend to get exactly what you deserve in this life. So, no matter the circumstances of how we came about this information, I have a right to respond with righteous indignation to his hateful words and the NBA also has a right to…well, I’m not exactly sure what they have a right to do because I’m not a lawyer. But for crying out loud, if there is any way possible, Sterling has got to go. Everyone, not just Blacks but EVERYONE needs to boycott their games.

I think I need to go take a shower. Just thinking about this chump for the last thirty minutes makes me feel dirty.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Have you been under any stress lately?"

Whenever I go to the doctor, no matter the reason, one of the first things they ask me is, “Have you been under any stress lately?” I have always had a great deal of difficulty answering that question. The fact is that I don’t know what stress feels like, or more accurately I don’t know what the absence of stress feels like. As a business owner, I have never worked for a guaranteed paycheck in my entire adult life. What I earn is always a direct reflection of how successful or unsuccessful I have been at doing my job, which means that I never know what it’s going to be until I get it. That’s the sort of “stress” that most people couldn’t tolerate, which explains why there are so many more employees than there are owners. But since it is the only life I have ever known, I simply accept it as the price I pay for being my own boss. So, how do you answer that stress question? I usually end up saying, “Why, sure. Isn’t everybody?”

A couple of mornings ago I woke up coughing, a dry, hacking cough which produced nothing. It began as a tickle in the middle of my chest, and it brought back a flood of truly horrible memories of a time eleven years ago when the exact same type of cough ended up being the canary in the coal mine for open heart surgery. I must admit that I panicked and before the day was out I had had an echocardiogram done to make sure there was nothing wrong with my heart. Thankfully, the ticker is in great shape, but the cough persists and yesterday was joined by body aches and a sore throat. Lovely.

But, with the aid of Ambien, healthy doses of Ibuprofen and Zyrtec, I wake up this morning with less body aches, much subdued but still frustrating coughing, and zero voice. That’s not actually true, since I do have a voice, it just sounds like that guy who sang bass for the Temptations.

My doctor suggested that all of this was brought on by “excessive stress.” But how does that work? I suppose with the addition of dealing with my Dad’s issues over the last weeks, my stress quotient has risen over normal levels, but why does that mean that I am suddenly more susceptible to body aches and coughing? My two sisters have been equally stressed out over Dad and they haven’t started coughing their insides out. Why me? I can think of plenty of times when I was under huge amounts of stress but never got sick…like the time me and my buddies got caught trying to fly “Tiny” Lipscomb’s pants and underwear up the flagpole during gym class at Liberty Junior High, or the time my 11th grade English teacher called my name to give my oral report on Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, and I realized that I had read The Birth Mark instead. Talk about high levels of stress!

But I was younger then and didn’t know any better. Perhaps there is a level of acceptable stress over which we aren’t allowed to cross without negative health consequences. If so, I have apparently reached it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Can't Sleep

Its 3:52 in the morning and for the tenth straight day I am awake at this ungodly hour. Every night it’s the same, I fall asleep quick enough, but right around 2 am, my eyes open and I spend the next three hours wide awake. I may as well make semi-productive use of this time.

A few observations:

# I read somewhere that if all human intelligence were plotted on a bell curve; you would find that there are very few geniuses and very few sand-pounding idiots among us. The fact that geniuses are so rare is something we should instinctively know. The fact that so few of us are tragically stupid comes as a surprise to me. Most of us then would fall somewhere on either the ascending or descending curve of the bell, with the largest number of us at the flat place at the top of the curve in that most dreaded of all descriptions…a person of average intelligence.

# Looking back over this blog, the last couple of weeks have made for some pretty depressing reading and for this I feel an apology is in order. I have always assumed that most of you read this blog because it is reasonably entertaining. But with everything that has happened to my Dad since April 11, my writing has gotten thick and leaden with something close to grief. When I sit down to write, it’s always about whatever happens to be on my mind that day. Sometimes its politics, other times its sports or something interesting in the news. Well, for the last two weeks or so, the only thing on my mind has been Dad. Nobody wants to be beaten over the head with mortality and the frailty of life, so I’ll try to lighten things up in the future.

# There’s a great scene in the movie Memphis Belle where the crew start talking about what they plan on doing if they survive the war. One guy starts talking about how he has this idea of building a string of restaurants all across the country that are identical and serve the exact same food. The other guys start giving him the business, “That sounds terrible! Who the hell would want to go to the same restaurant and eat the same food all over the country?” they ask. The kid says, “It’s not a terrible idea. It’s comforting.” The thing is, I used to agree with him. There is something oddly comforting to be a thousand miles from home and see a Chick-Fil-A sign on the interstate. But as I have gotten older, chain stores have started to bother me. Short Pump is a perfect illustration of the problem. Drive down Broad Street from Gaskins to Lauderdale and you can count on one hand the number of unique, individually owned businesses. From the big box retailers down to practically all of the restaurants, everything is a national chain. We are being franchised to death.

Quick show of hands from everyone out there who thinks Richmond is a better place since Ukrop’s sold out to Martin’s? How about the fact that there isn’t room for Pleasant’s Hardware now that the big box stores command the retail heights? The worst part is Sports Bars. Why would anyone go to Buffalo Wild Wings, when Big Al’s is right down the street? I don’t know who owns BWW. For all I know, the place could be owned by some oil sheik from Saudi Arabia, or worse, somebody from New Jersey! We all know Al because he’s right there in the place greeting you by name when you walk in. He’s a Richmond guy. His kids went to school here. His son played Little League with my son. If he’s lucky enough to make a profit at the bar, he doesn’t stuff it in an off shore account or wire it back to Riyadh. He spends it right here in Richmond. Knowing him, he probably spends it on Redskin memorabilia, but the point is the money stays right here. I happen to think that that matters to a community. And yes, yes…I know that we all benefit from lower prices that come from the presence of the Walmarts of the world, so save me the economics lecture. But, the presence of Walmart doesn’t make Richmond a better place, it just makes us like every place else. I’m done with homogenization. I don’t want Richmond to look like every other city in America.

Buy Local!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Morning With Dad

This year there are no Easter eggs on the lawn, no baskets in front of the fireplace, no empty tomb rolls. There will be no Patrick and Kaitlin gathering their money-filled eggs scattered around the house. Instead, there are early morning hospital visits, Pam to visit her Mother and me to serve Dad his breakfast.

It seems odd to think of the resurrection while I watch my Father’s long goodbye. For him, there will be no miraculous recovery. At 89 his condition will only get progressively worse. There exists no drug that will make him 50 again.

Increasingly, our world looks at old people as disposable. Once they become totally dependent on drugs and the medical system for their survival, the clock begins to tick and the bureaucracy becomes impatient. Someone else needs the bed. Send him to hospice, load him up with morphine and in two weeks he’ll be gone, is the preferred if unspoken remedy.

But my faith informs me that all life is precious. Christ died for all of us, especially the most vulnerable. Dad’s Doctor, a Jewish man of prodigious gifts and a pure heart put it this way, “Even if he is only awake and engaged with you for a few hours a day, how do you send a man who is capable of laughter to hospice? He is still your Father; he knows you and he can have a conversation and smile brightly.

His words to us after a long day contemplating Dad’s care options restored our confidence in the justice of our decision. I will never forget them or the great Doctor.

I said earlier that it seemed odd the juxtaposition of Resurrection Sunday with Dad’s condition, but upon second thought, not so much. Someday soon, Dad will breathe his last. My faith teaches me that in that instant he will experience his own resurrection, no less miraculous than that Easter morning 2000 years ago. He will be reunited with our Mother and all will be right with the world. And we who remain will have no regrets.

Happy Easter, everyone.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Shopping For Nursing Homes

I just spent the day shopping for a nursing home for my Dad. In many ways, it was the most heart wrenching experience of my life. I was with my two sisters who seemed so remarkably composed and professional when all I wanted to do was throw something. But I managed to mask my emotions well enough to get through an extraordinarily difficult job that simply had to be done. To make a long story short, we ended up picking the very first place we visited, a remarkably unanimous decision from a family famous for our contentiousness. We felt the power of the hundreds of prayers which were being lifted on our behalf and by the end of the day felt as good about our decision as one can feel about this sort of thing. So, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression about what follows.

Throughout my entire life I have dealt with the most unpleasant events with dark humor, some would say gallows humor. They tell me that it is a complex and rather bizarre coping mechanism, but whatever, all I know is, it gets me through some rough days. Driving between nursing homes today I started compiling an assortment of David Letterman top ten lists like, things you don’t want to see in a nursing home, or the top ten indications that you’ve spent too much time shopping for nursing homes…that sort of thing. Sometime the choice is between bursting into uncontrollable sobbing or start cracking jokes. I’d rather crack jokes:

Things You DO NOT Want to see in a Nursing Home:

  1. A social activity in the multi-purpose room called “bedpan bingo.”  
  2. A banner hanging in the nurse’s station congratulating them on going 37 consecutive days without a patient wandering off the property.
  3. You don’t want to stumble upon a rowdy group of PT people playing beer pong with specimen cups.
  4. When touring a Catholic home, you don’t want to see red “last rights hot line” phones at every bedside.

Misc. Tips:

  1. Just because the Jewish homes smell like delicatessens when you first walk in doesn’t mean that there is no urine smell on the premises.
  2. Before agreeing to take the “dime tour” ask how much the place costs first. It speeds up the process.
  3. Even though you’ve done your research online and already know how many “stars” Medicare has given the place you are visiting, ask the admissions guy how many stars the place has, ESPECIALLY if they got a bad write up last year and only got two stars. It’s kind of fun watching him squirm and hearing the fascinating back story.

How You Know You Have Spent Too Long Shopping For Nursing Homes:

  1. When it occurs to you that you’ve used the word “incontinence” more times in the last five hours than you had in the 56 previous years of your life.
  2. When you decide to ask the woman who has just told you that their skilled nursing unit costs $220 a day, if you could get a discount if you went with unskilled nurses instead.

Cliven Bundy is no Hero

The enemy of your enemy isn’t always your friend.

Harry Reid is one of the most arrogant, ignorant political hacks to have been foisted on the American people in a generation. Barrels of ink have been spilled chronicling his ignorance, corruption and almost comical incompetence. He would be legitimately comical if not for the fact that he is the Senate Majority leader and wields real power. Harry Reid’s latest enemy is Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattleman who refuses to pay the Federal Government its “grazing fee” and as a consequence recently was surrounded by over 200 swat-team toughs from the Bureau of Land Management. This story is a complicated tail that goes back years and years, but once the helicopters and jack-booted Feds showed up it became headline news and quickly became a cause célèbre among the Tea Party, anti-government set. For them, Cliven Bundy was the hard working rancher fighting an out of control leviathan sent to rob him of his land and livelihood. Bundy good, Harry Reid bad.

My sympathies are always going to be with the individual against the State, and in this case especially so. The image of a bunch of Delta Team Six wannabees descending on a lone cattle rancher strikes me as a despicable overreach. But, once you explore this story in greater detail, it’s hard to maintain those sympathies.

Cliven Bundy has been a rancher all of his life like his family before him who have owned that land since 1870. He lives in a State where the Federal Government owns 84% of the land. He is also surrounded by hundreds of other cattle ranchers who, although they might not LIKE it, have had no problem paying the grazing fee. Bundy has refused to pay since 1993 and now finds himself $300,000 in arrears. Apparently the big shots at the BLM decided that they had had enough of Bundy and decided to make an example of him. So some idiot came up with the idea of confiscating his 400 head of cattle and holding them as ransom until he paid…or something like that. A hot mess has developed.

Listen, I take a back seat to no one in my frustration with big government. We suffer under a tyranny of laws, 80,000 pages of them at last count in the Federal Register. Furthermore, it pains me to write checks to the IRS when I consider how much of the money will be spent. But we live in a Constitutional Republic, the success of which is predicated on a population committed to the rule of law. Now, obviously if the Feds pass a law that asks me to kill my children, I will rebel even to the point of violent revolution to overthrow such a government. But short of that, I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I want to obey. I don’t get to attach a note to that check I just wrote to the IRS that says, “Oh, by the way, I deducted 20% from what I owe you because I don’t want to fund Obamacare.”

If Mr. Bundy doesn’t like the grazing fee, he should organize his fellow ranchers; raise hell at the State capital. He should become a royal pain in the neck on the local political scene and agitate for someone to run against Harry Reid. Cliven Bundy might be a decent hardworking guy who has been unduly harassed by an out of control government, but he also may be a cantankerous old fart who hates taxes. In either case, he’s no hero.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bubba Watson and the Waffle House

Bubba Watson is that most rare of breeds, an interesting golfer. In a sport that features mostly pampered country club Ken-doll types who one suspects have never done an honest day’s work in their lives, Watson feels like the skunk at the garden party. He’s the guy in that Polaner All Fruit commercial blurting out, “Would ya please pass the jelly?” He’s the guy who showed up for his first Master’s appearance driving down Magnolia Lane in the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard, giving Hootie Johnson the vapors.

Unfortunately for polite society, Bubba Watson is a bizarrely gifted golfer who not only hits it 340 off the tee but possesses otherworldly imagination around the greens, and the ability to make his ball travel in sweeping arcs from all directions seemingly at will. As a consequence of these gifts, there he was in the dying light of a Sunday evening in Augusta, Georgia walking off the 18th green into the arms of his adopted two year old son and his former college basketball star of a wife, about to be fitted for his second green jacket in three years.

After the cameras said good night, there was the champion’s dinner, after which Bubba and family hit the road to head for home. That’s when the trouble started. No, I don’t mean the usual athlete trouble like beating up his wife then getting caught snorting coke at a strip club with mobsters kind of trouble. No, this kind of trouble: Bubba.jpg 

Yes, that’s Bubba and his wife about to chow down on a one AM Waffle House meal of hash browns and cinnamon buns. Our grand arbiters of culture and their PC brethren were not amused. Somebody named Katherine Tallmadge took to the airwaves denouncing Bubba for his horrible parenting, not to mention the bad example he was setting for all Americans by eating in an establishment that serves poison. Ms. Tallmadge, who apparently makes her living by nagging the hell out of people over what they eat, insinuated that Bubba was a “gazillionaire who was trying to make us all think he was one of us.” Ms. Tallmadge needs to get out more. If she did she might learn that Mr. Watson has been eating at Waffle Houses all of his life. It’s his favorite restaurant. In fact, after winning his first green jacket in 2012 he suggested that he might have the following year’s champions dinner catered by Waffle House. Hootie had to be hospitalized for two weeks over that one.

I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Waffle House myself, but I love Bubba Watson. Here’s a news flash for Katherine Tallmadge…where Bubba decides to eat at one o’clock in the morning after winning the most prestigious event in golf is none of your business. If she wants to drink soy milk and eat free range tofu for breakfast it’s none of my business either.

Let Bubba be Bubba.