Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jolly Good

Hear ye, hear ye: Announcing the arrival of Lord Richard Tweets of Alger along with Lady Edith Dinky of Roxborough and Lady Alice Tootsie of Sweetgum.
Those are people I know whose names have been changed to that of royalty, in honor of yesterday's British wedding of William and Kate. To get your own royal name, you first take the name “Lord” or “Lady” depending if you're a man or woman, then choose a grandparent's first name, the name of your first pet, and finally the street where you grew up. I would be Lord Sylvester Skippy of Englehardt.
Wife Jenny was up at 3 a.m. yesterday to take in all the oohs and aahs associated with watching the fairy tale wedding, and I awoke at 6:15 a.m. in time to see the couple walk out of Westminster Abbey. I saw Kate's impressive dress and the carriage ride through the streets of London as the couple waved to millions of admiring Brits. I must admit, seeing the galloping gray horses and the men in bright red military uniforms and the queen in her yellow outfit and all the English citizens proudly waving flags – the 15 minutes I watched was pretty cool.
Royal Barf Bag
Perhaps some of the more interesting aspects of this royal extravaganza were the quick facts and odd news items associated with it. For example, Kate Middleton opted for traditional vows but did not say she would “obey” her husband, and 18 people in London were arrested during the ceremony for offenses ranging from breach of the peace to weapons possession. And a glassware company in China manufactured hundreds of mugs bearing the likenesses of the royal couple – except that Prince Harry was pictured next to Kate instead of Prince William.
General Electric introduced full-size refrigerators with both doors covered with a huge likeness of William and Kate hugging, while the cheapest gift I heard about was a wedding sick bag that sold for $5. Meanwhile, supposedly the most popular selling of all the wedding-inspired products has been royal wedding condoms, with the couple's faces emblazoned on the front of the cardboard package – nowhere else.
Book Update
Oh, my book. Two days ago, I mailed my entire manuscript to someone I know in Nashville who will give it to her friend who knows a couple of publishers, and I also mailed the first 50 pages of my script to an agent in Los Angeles who requested it. Nothing promised by anyone but at least there’s activity. Tally ho.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Grandpa Asked

I was alone at home yesterday when the doorbell rang, and was surprised to see my grandfather standing on the front porch.
I was surprised because he’s dead.
“I have some things to ask you, Kevin,” he said.
“C’mon in, Grandpa,” I said.
He took a seat on the living room couch.
“So, I hear your son Andrew is playing baseball,” Grandpa said. “How old is he now?”
“He’s seven,” I answered.
“How’s he doin’ in baseball?” Grandpa asked.
“He wasn’t very good at first but he’s comin’ around,” I said. “He’s catching the ball much better and he’s finally starting to hit. He mostly hits dribblers but in his last game, he slammed a line drive over the third baseman’s head for a solid double. It was the first time he’s ever ripped the ball, and he was beaming with joy.”
“You, yourself, were smiling while you were telling me that,” Grandpa said.
“Oh, I was a happy dad just seeing how happy Andrew was,” I said. “Honestly, I was happier for Andrew at that moment than at any time when I was playing baseball, and I had some great times playing ball.”
Then Grandpa changed the subject.
“So, I hear you wrote a book?” he asked.
“Yes, it was an undertaking but I enjoyed it,” I said.
“What if it sells?” he asked. “Say you become a published author and you end up writing six or seven books. That’ll probably make you some money, but what would you do with that money?”
“Y’know, my friend Marcus and I were talking at work a couple weeks ago about that exact subject, and we both said that if we each somehow land in a pile of money someday, we’d both give most of it away to hopefully make a difference in this world,” I answered.
“What specifically would you do with your money?” Grandpa asked.
“I’d donate much of it to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and St. Jude’s Hospital, to help kids who have been given a rough start in life,” I answered.
Suddenly, Grandpa got up from the couch and walked to the front door.
“Where ya goin’?” I asked.
“I have other people to see,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure you’re doin’ alright. I think you are.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life's a Gas

I am reminded of two personal gasoline-related incidents as pump prices inch ever closer to the $4-a-gallon mark. One incident involved my car engine once running for five straight hours even though I didn't drive an inch, and the other featured me having a heart attack that I never really had.
Idle Mind
I was on summer vacation from high school years ago and attended a late-night party, then drove home exhausted at 2 a.m. to my parent's house. I parked in front on the street but just left the car running, and closed my eyes to rest for a few seconds.
But those few seconds turned into five hours of deep sleep as I ultimately stretched out on the front seat, with the engine running for the entire five hours. Suddenly at 7 a.m., I heard a loud pounding on the driver's side window.
“Kevin! Kevin!” yelled my panicky mother as she pounded away.
“Huh?” I muttered while struggling to sit up behind the steering wheel.
“Kevin, it's 7 o'clock. It's Saturday,” Mom declared. “You gotta go to work this morning – right now!”
“I do?” I sleepily mumbled. “Okay.”
So since the engine was still running, I just put my car in gear and drove to work.
Serious As a Heart Attack
A couple years back, I was motoring to work one rush-hour morning in my pickup truck, doing 75 in the left lane of the interstate. Suddenly, the engine completely died and I had to deftly maneuver my fast-coasting truck a full three lanes to the right and eventually onto the right shoulder.
Turns out my dilemma was a cracked gas line and an ignition system failure, so I forlornly grabbed my cell phone to call a tow truck. I knew it would take about an hour before the guy could get to me, so I closed my eyes and gently laid my head on the steering wheel to catch a quick nap.
But I was awakened 10 minutes later by the wailing sounds of sirens in the near distance, and looked up through my windshield to see two police cars roaring along the interstate – but going the wrong way.
The vehicles were on the right side of the freeway and proceeding against stopped traffic, and were hastily approaching me from the front. I then glanced in my rear view mirror and noticed that 50 yards back, a third police car had completely halted the rush-hour traffic – causing a major backup.
Oxygen – STAT!
I craned my neck and looked all around to figure the reason for the chaos, as the two speeding police cars screeched to a halt a couple feet from my truck. A patrolman with an oxygen canister jumped from his vehicle and ran to my driver's side window.
“Are you okay?” he asked with a tinge of panic in his voice.
“Uh, I'm fine,” I casually answered after rolling down the window in total confusion. “Why?”
“Because a motorist called and said they saw you slumped over the steering wheel, and they thought for sure that you had a heart attack,” he said.
I embarrassingly explained the situation and it took the officers about five minutes to pack up and leave. In the meantime, the massive line of backed-up vehicles on the interstate seemed to stretch longer than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
When traffic finally proceeded again, the thousands of cars and trucks began to creep by me – with every driver glancing in my direction to give me the dirtiest of looks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sickening Cicadas

The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are coming!
“When I was a kid, I took their shells from trees and then ran up to people and stuck the shells on their backs,” Chandra said at work last week.
“They shed their shells?” responded Jill. “I’m scared. The more I hear about this, the worse it gets.”
“It’s all so gross,” added Jessica. “I’m just gonna be a shut-in for six weeks.”
That conversation took place when a bunch of us discussed the upcoming invasion of cicadas (pronounced si-KAY-duhs), which has to rank high on the list of strangest phenomenons in God’s grand plan. In early May – only a couple weeks from now – my Nashville-area neighborhood and all of Middle Tennessee will be inundated by millions of nasty, sticky, flying cicada insects that are 2-3 inches long with large eyes wide apart on their heads, and transparent, multi-veined wings.
Every 13 Years? Seriously?
Perhaps the strangest aspect of these locust/grasshopper-looking creatures is that they only appear every 13 years, with the last monstrous swarm having visited Middle Tennessee in 1998.
“Cicadas emerge from the ground every 13 years in May, and come out by the millions,” says Dr. Frank Hale, a University of Tennessee entomologist. “This year’s invasion will feature the biggest cicadas ever to appear in Middle Tennessee. They will mate and the females will lay eggs in tree branches, then the adults ultimately return back into the ground until May 2024.”
2024? Is this bizarre or what?
Freaks Out Dogs and Cats
I vaguely remember the swarm of 1998, when people really couldn’t walk outside without getting hit in the head by several of the crazed menaces. I, myself, recall walking along a sidewalk and crunching many of them under my shoes. All flying male cicadas emit a loud, buzzing sound that Dr. Hale says can reach 120 decibels at close range. That’s where their name comes from – cicada means “buzzer” in Latin.
Just to be even nastier, cicadas leave behind a dry shell after they mate, so we’ll soon be seeing millions of discarded dead parts as well. Plus frenzied flying cicadas can get tangled in people’s hair, so some of the insects might inadvertently be brought into homes and workplaces.
“The insects are harmless to humans – they don’t bite or sting,” Hale says. “It’s just that hordes of them are everywhere for six weeks. They’re loud, eerie-looking, they freak out dogs and cats and they are a nightmare for some people, but then they leave our sight.”
Happy Eating
I read that cicadas also appear every 13 years in northern China, and the insects there are actually skewered, deep fried or stir fried and then eaten as a delicacy. I mention this because here in Middle Tennessee, there will soon be so many swarms buzzing around that many of us are destined to have a cicada or two fly into our mouths.
Please, God, don’t let that happen to me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Speaking of Which

I was in attendance one night as Rush Limbaugh spoke to a large crowd, and whether you share his political beliefs or not, the guy is a good speaker. His stage act had more gusto than a New Orleans chef.
At the other end of the spectrum, my former church had a priest who would lose me as soon as he got to the pulpit and cleared his throat. Studies have shown that the ideal sermon should be only six minutes long or else you lose the congregation, and that priest always talked for 15. Bless me, Father, and wake me up when you're done.
Why are some people good speakers while others make me want to bang my head like a screen door in a hurricane?
It's Called an Eraser
Golfer Lee Trevino once gave a golf lesson I signed up for and he spoke to 100 of us prior to demonstrating any shot-making techniques.
“I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game,” Trevino said as he began his talk. “It's called an eraser.”
The group chuckled and he immediately had our attention, and everyone knew we were in for a good time.
Those Kids Carried Uzis
Joe Clark was the most dynamic speaker I ever saw, when I caught his live speech in 1995 at Middle Tennessee State University. Clark became famous in the 1980s and '90s as a bat-wielding principal at a crime-ridden inner city high school in New Jersey. He ultimately turned that unruly institution into a model school, and his lay-down-the-law style of teaching and discipline led to a Hollywood movie about him called Lean On Me.
“To the black people in the audience tonight, quit blaming white people for all your problems,” said Clark, an African-American, as he started his MTSU speech. “White people have just as many problems as you, and the vast majority isn’t rich and privileged like you might think. Get off your rusty dusties and do for yourself.”
Clark's early remarks surprised me and probably all the other 10,000 spectators, but he certainly had everyone's attention as he moved to the subject of Black History Month.
"I don't want to think of myself as significant only one month out of the year,” he said. “So America, get together and stop judging people for the color of their skin. That's sick. You should judge people ultimately by the content of their character.”
The audience was spellbound throughout his entire speech, and when he started to wrap things up, Clark reached behind the podium to grab his trademark baseball bat and violently slammed it onto the stage. He laughed softly.
"Y'know, I only used the baseball bat when the media was around, because the media doesn't give attention to soft-spoken people," he said. "The bat represents the young peoples' choice to strike out or hit a home run."
“You really never hit a student with it?” a woman hollered from the audience.
“Ma'am, those kids carried Uzis,” he replied. “They would blow my bat to pieces if they wanted to.”
I'll always remember that night of Joe Clark and his speech, even though he spoke a lot longer than six minutes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Motoring Along

An old acquaintance Tom called me the other day from his Las Vegas home after stumbling upon my website on the Internet.
“You like living in Nashville?” he eventually got around to asking.
“Yeah, I like it a lot,” I answered.
“I notice in a couple of your blogs that you mention Detroit,” Tom said.
“I lived in Detroit for several years before moving to Nashville,” I said.
“Detroit?” he declared. “How could you stand living in ‘De-toilet?’ That place is a hole.”
Even though I left Detroit 15 years ago, his callous statement made me bristle a bit and I hastily wrapped up our conversation. After which, I got to thinking about some of the positives I remember about the Motor City, and wrote a few down.
Sammy Hagar Tipped $90
My first-ever job was after my high school junior year, getting hired as a room service waiter on weekends from 6 p.m.-2:30 a.m. at the Hotel Pontchartrain in downtown Detroit. The Ponch (now Detroit Riverside Hotel) was where many celebrities stayed when they rolled into town, and I met a lot of them whenever I hauled fancy dinners and bottles of champagne to their rooms. I met Ella Fitzgerald, Reggie Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Lee Iacocca, George Steinbrenner, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Keith Richards – and on and on.
At 2 a.m. one Saturday night, I got my biggest tip ever when rocker Sammy Hagar saw me as he was partying with two pretty girls in the Ponchartrain’s bar.
“Hey buddy, where can I get coney dogs around here?” Sammy shouted to me.
“Lafayette Coney Island a couple blocks away,” I answered. “They’re the best.”
“How ‘bout I give ya this $100 bill and you go get me four,” Sammy said. “Bring ‘em to me right here and you can keep the change. Get everything on ‘em – but no onions.”
Eagles and Van Gogh
Other fond memories I have of Detroit include seeing an Eagles concert outdoors at Tiger Stadium that lasted until 3 a.m., and once viewing an extremely rare Van Gogh and Picasso exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I also got half of my college education at the University of Detroit, and took wife Jenny on our first date to the Golden Fleece restaurant in the Greektown section of downtown Detroit. And being a car guy, attending the Detroit International Auto Show every January at Cobo Hall was something I always anticipated for months.
So even though I haven’t lived in Detroit for quite awhile, I wanted to mention some nice things about my former city that gets dumped on so often. Take that, Tom. Enjoy your summers in the Las Vegas desert.
Quick Made-Up Detroit Joke
But for all the positives that I just pointed out, Detroit still has its share of crime. In fact, I once got my car stolen at a restaurant in Detroit.
It happened one night after I drove to the restaurant and pulled up to the front door, got out and tossed my keys to the guy walking toward me to park the car. I entered the restaurant and ordered a Whopper, fries and chocolate shake, then went outside for my car and it was gone.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Webbed Feat

This whole social media thing is wild – or wildfire. I'm using today's blog to announce that the website has launched, but about 10 people already mentioned it to me seemingly only minutes after I, myself, first heard about it Thursday afternoon.
“Nice site. Congrats,” Gary told me at work – before I even had the chance to look at it.
“That's the power of social media,” boss Natasha mentioned Friday morning. “I saw it on Alison's Facebook page last night, and Diana already had it posted on her page.”
I still hardly know what's going on but want to thank Jon Brooks at Image Building Communications in Omaha for the web design. You've already gotten quite a few compliments, Jon.
Now I can press my foot on the accelerator and start sending more query letters to the agents I really want to bother. It'll be nice to add my website link at the end of every letter.
Never Saw a Cop
This doesn't relate to the website but involves writing: Yesterday I stumbled upon an English class journal I kept in college and thought I'd share a quick anecdote from it:
One mid-term, college friend Dan and I decided to drive from Detroit to Daytona Beach for spring break, and I had a hopped-up Camaro that was perfect for the 900-mile nonstop trip. The night before leaving, Dan purchased a radar detector so we could rocket as fast as possible to Daytona without ever having to worry about police.
“Ohio and Georgia are major speed traps, so this is brilliant,” he said while installing it perfectly.
We headed out the next morning and were soon blazing down Interstate 75, with the detector solidly perched on the dashboard. We blasted through Ohio speeding all the way, then roared through Kentucky and Tennessee and then steamrolled through Georgia. Every time I looked, the speedometer seemed to read 90 mph.
When we finally thundered into Daytona Beach, the normal 14-hour drive had taken us only 11 hours to complete. We pulled into a beachfront hotel and parked the Camaro, and I reached to the back of the detector to click the “off” switch.
But suddenly, I just sat for a few moments in stunned silence before looking at Dan. We never clicked it on.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Let Manson In

I have a new quest – to cut down on the vast amount of television I’ve been watching lately.
But I can’t fully start until early June when the NHL hockey playoffs are finally over because it’s my favorite TV event of the year. The intensity and violence of the playoffs are exquisite and inspiring and provide me with some of my favorite viewing moments.
Okay, watching hockey every night for the next two months makes my TV cut-down pledge sound as sincere as a Charlie Sheen abstinence vow, but I am determined to cut back. Too much TV is turning me into a couch potato in the gravy boat of life, and my priorities need to change as I prepare to begin writing my second book.
Courting Disaster
I’m not proud of the next sentence, but maybe seeing it in print will help me straighten up. Two days ago on a Monday day off, I watched Judge Pirro at 9 a.m., Karen’s Court at 10, Judge Mathis at 11, Divorce Court at noon, Judge Alex at 1, Judge Joe Brown at 2, People’s Court at 3, Swift Justice at 4 and Judge Judy at 5.
Then when my family got home at 5:30, I suggested we all eat dinner in the living room where I watched Jeopardy followed by Wheel of Fortune, Big Bang Theory, an hour of Yankees-Twins baseball and finally the NCAA basketball championship game.
The Puck Drops Here
It’s true – ever since I finished writing “Crazy Lucky Dead” a month ago, I just decided to give myself a break and have watched a ton of TV. But it was like giving Charles Manson the keys to my house – I never should have done it, and now it needs to stop.
So tonight after work and after dinner, I’m heading upstairs to the computer room to begin putting together the outline for book 2. And go, Nashville Predators, go. Beat the Red Wings and everyone else.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Elmore Leonard and Me

I flew to Florida this past week for some R&R, and yesterday was rested and relaxed enough to start drafting my Saturday morning blog. Only one problem – I didn’t bring a laptop on the Florida trip, so on the airplane flight coming home I had to write the blog on a yellow legal pad – writing everything longhand.
Yes, longhand. Oh, the brutality. How people wrote anything before computers is inconceivable to me, and how they wrote in pen without inwardly whining like I did on the plane seems even more incredible.
Full Bore
Yesterday’s experience reminded me of an interview I once did with Elmore Leonard at his home. One of the things I wanted to know about the famed author was his specific writing schedule.
“Writing is my job so six days a week, every Monday through Saturday, I write full bore from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” said the author of “Get Shorty,” “Mr. Majestyk” and 45 other novels. “And I write everything longhand on yellow legal pads, then my secretary types it into a computer. I have never used a computer for writing. Longhand and legal pads – it’s how I’ve always done it and how I always will.”
A Hole in Two
While in Florida, I was hitting a bucket of golf balls and it reminded me of a quick golf anecdote that once happened to me. A friend Dave and I were at Belle Isle Golf Course in Detroit years ago and we started our rounds with two badly played holes. I was grumpy when I teed off the par 3 third hole, so I swung extra hard when it was my turn to hit.
But I barely ticked the ball and it actually somehow went two inches backwards, at which point I was seething. So I took a step back to the hateful ball and just whacked it off the ground as hard as I could. The ball took flight and headed toward the green, and I angrily grabbed my bag to start walking.
Halfway to the green, Dave and I noticed that four big guys playing in front of us were all standing behind the third green, waving their arms wildly and shouting at us.
“Oh, no. I probably hit one of ‘em in the head,” I moaned. “It looks like they wanna fight us. Why do I even play golf?”
But when we reached the formidable foursome, they all pointed to the hole and were falling over each other to shake my hand. It turns out my second whack from the tee box miraculously went 157 yards, right into the hole. I was ecstatic but still had to write a 2 on my scorecard.
I bet Elmore Leonard never got a hole in two.