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Tiger Woods’ Failure as a Father

4 Dec

Just a dang shame...

Yeah, there’s a reason the picture is taking up half of the column space, and it’s not the guy holding the baby.

It’s the baby.

Lost in all of the ugliness that has become Tiger and Elin Woods’ life are the faces of Sam (the pictured infant, now 2 years old) and Charlie (the nine-month old son that many people didn’t even realize existed until the scandals broke). Their dad, arguably the most famous man on the planet, will now be remembered in an entirely different way.

And those two kids will have to live with that.

It’s hard enough when people refer to your dad as “the Black Jesus”, “a golf god”, “the greatest athlete of all time.” That’s a heck of a legacy to live up to; the kind of thing that has driven other children of famous parents into the world of depression, addiction, even suicide.

Now tack onto that pre-existing fame the collective disappointment that many of our nation are experiencing right now, and it becomes an almost unbearable burden:

To bear not only your father’s greatest successes, but his greatest failure as well.

I don’t much care how the media views Tiger. I don’t much care if things get better for him, personally, in the near future. He deserves the excoriation as much as he ever deserved praise. I agree with Jesper Parnevik to some degree: whatever Elin dishes out, he’d better shut up and take.

But I do hope this blows over quickly for the kids. I hope that Tiger can get back on the golf course and win five or six tournaments in a row, put the focus back on his exceptional and singular skills as a golfer, and let his family rest in relative peace for a while. Maybe by the time Sam is old enough to darken the door of the local Kindergarten, the events of the past few days will be lessened in the overall pantheon of their family life; maybe by the time Charlie hits school, the past few days will only be a lame taunt lobbed at him by an overly jealous classmate.

I hope that’s the case. I hope.

But I don’t know. Until then, I’m praying for the kids.


Outstretched Hands

2 Dec

She comes to me every afternoon when I walk through the door, a smiling little metronome, each day asking the same thing.

“Play with me Daddy?”

Normally, my hands are full with my jacket, my laptop bag, maybe some books, and my answer is always the same.

“Not right now, honey. Daddy needs to change.”

Her face falls. Her shoulders slump. She recedes back into living room, a disappointed tide going back out into the sea of solitude for at least another ten or fifteen minutes. And I make my way down the hall and into my bedroom, exasperated by the unending need of an almost four year old daughter for my attention. The laptop bag slams into the bed. The tie comes off with a snap then gets thrown into the closet with my pants, shirt and shoes. I grab a pair of jeans, maybe my house shoes, and trudge back to where she sits. Continue reading

Tennessee’s Ghost – The Bell Witch (Or, Why I Don’t Go Spelunking Anymore)

28 Oct

Hey - at least they warn something creepy is about to happen...
Hey – at least they warn something creepy is about to happen…

ADAMS, TN – I’ve never been to the town of Adams, Tennessee, so I can’t verify what the fine folks of that town say has happened over the course of history in their area. But more than enough people have been affected by the phenomenon to render it America’s most well-known ghost story (if you don’t believe that, then check out the latest movie version: An American Haunting).

Southern Ghost Story Number One: The Bell Witch.

John Bell, a farmer in the Tennessee hinterlands bought a large parcel of timberland that he cleared to farm and erect a house for his family. As the story goes, one day, while hunting in his fields, Bell came across a dog – or what he thought was a dog. The animal, however, sported the head of a rabbit and unleashed a bizarre howl at Bell when he shot at the animal. Bell returned home, shaken by the incident, but thinking nothing of it.

Until the house was assaulted that night by the sounds of animals moaning and scratching the outer walls. Soon, the disturbances moved indoors, harrassing the family – Bell’s daughter Betsy in particular. The child was often pinched and slapped, leaving visible bruises and hand prints, or she was disturbed in the middle of the night by screeches, the shaking of her bed, or the sudden removal of her blankets.

Eventually, the Bells left the house and allowed some friends to stay overnight, just to test and see if the Bells were crazy.

They weren’t. The spirit attacked the visitors, and the Bell family returned to their haunted abode.

The legend only grows from there; the Bell Witch is said to have poisoned John Bell, leading to his death. The Witch is also credited with driving Betsy Bell to break off her marriage to her one true love, forcing the tormented child into the arms of her considerably older school teacher.

The spirit seems to have lingered in the area, not only on the Bell’s former property, but all around the Tennessee valley. Reports of ghostly activity have often been attributed to the Witch – everything from audible phenomena to unexplained illnesses.

The current owners of the Bell property have made a tourist attraction of the land and the Bell Witch Cave, a dry cave on the property that the spirit supposedly lives in. Psychic and paranormal investigators, both amateur and professional, have spent time researching the grounds, looking for any clues as to why there would be such an agressive temporal disturbance. Supposedly there is an ancient Indian burial mound not too far away. Some believe the Cave itself was once the burial site for an Indian woman who was then disturbed by explorers who removed her from the cave. Here’s a photo from the Cave’s mouth; because the Cave has been labeled a dry cave by expert geologists (meaning that the only time there’s water in the cave is when it rains) the mist like form captured on film but not seen by the photographer’s naked eye ain’t just cave fog. But judge for yourself…

Grown people pee their pants when they see something like this.

Grown people pee their pants when they see something like this.

Whatever the story is or isn’t, it scared the holy heck out of me when I was a kid and my Boy Scout Troop went spelunking at the famous Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee. Cumberland Caverns is one of the more famous cave systems in the South. The caverns run deep into the mountains and underneath the Tennessee soil into regions that have still yet to be charted. One of the spooky stories of the Caverns was that the Bell Witch Cave actually connected with the system, and that at night, in the pitch black of the cave, the spirit could be seen floating through the cavern.

There was also another story about some dude covered in glowing, viscous slime, but I don’t really remember that one.

What I do remember though, is being pre-teen and lying in the belly of the earth, wondering, as I struggled with sleep, whether or not such things as ghosts existed. I tried to rationalize the stories as mere fantasy. But something in the night made me change my mind. It happened when I got up to go to the bathroom.

If you haven’t been to Cumberland Caverns, it ain’t for the claustrophobic among you. Tiny crawl spaces, thick, mucousy mud, and an eerie silence truly remind you that you are beyond your normal circumstances. While there are several miles of tunnels and caves to explore – and may I recommend you take the guided tour? – the biggest mind-bend of all comes when you bed down for the night in the sleeping chamber. Nothing more than a large, cleared out cave, it has relatively few lights – all of which are extinguished once the curfew is announced. The cave goes completely black, and except for each individual’s flashlight, it is impossible for the eye to adjust. There is no light whatsoever.

All you have is the void before your eyes, and the distant sounds of other people dreaming – and whatever ambient noises a hell-deep cave produces.

The bathroom is right through there...

The bathroom is right through there...

So naturally, we pack the place out with hyperactive pre-teen boys who enjoy working their imaginations overtime. The sound of mass hysteria is 23 kids (and a lot of the adults) hyperventiating in inky blackness. Tiredness eventually sets in, though, and most folks get off to sleep. For those of us who have OVERLY active imaginations, the security of sleep is not an option.

I lay there awake, remembering to breathe, repeating certain passages of the Bible in my mind, trying not to think about some fiendish apparition hovering unseen above my head, waiting to strike me with the slightest unintentional provocation. That image has a way of fixing itself in a young man’s mind, and I simply couldn’t sleep. Add to the terror the fact that caves don’t come with central heating and air, and I was shaking worse than Keith Richards singing lead for the Parkinson’s Five. Shaking + nerves + cold + 500 cups of juice/water/Coke = really needing to pee. Which meant getting out of my sleeping bag, leaving my father’s side, and traipsing to the toilet – which was really just a hole that went to God-knows-where with a board over top it.

I didn’t want to pee. The more I tried to convince myself that I didn’t have to pee, the more I had to pee. So I got up, grabbed my flashlight, turned it on and covered the beam with my hand. I didn’t want to wake anyone else by accidentally shining a light in their face; and, I didn’t want to see if there was any misty-ghosty-spooky-floaty thing in front of me. I made my way to the edge of the sleeping chamber and then, once past all the slumbering spelunkers, I removed my hand from the head of my flashlight to reveal…

…nothing. I exhaled, put a little skip in my step, and trotted to the potty.

Once I got to the latrine, I noticed the cave was considerably colder. Like, wicked colder. Which naturally made my bladder want to explode. I stepped into the men’s portion of the latrine and set about to do my business.

Misty river takes your mind...

Misty river takes your mind...

Have you ever seen early morning mist, or early morning fog, the kind that hangs low over the ground and sort of moves with the terrain? It’s kind of dense, and difficult to see through. You know what causes such fog, so it doesn’t scare you. Imagine that kind of fog, in a cave toilet, about one and half miles underground, creeping toward your foot in the dim light of your tiny AA flashlight. Then, as if the creeping fog weren’t enough, I heard someone exhaling; which sounds like no big deal, but when you know you’re alone, and the exhale lasts longer than 45 seconds, either you’ve been holding your own breath for too freaking long or something seriously other-worldly is shaking down.

I was paralyzed. Completely frozen. The fog crept over my feet as the exhale continued, and then, just as soon as it had appeared, it passed from my view as the exhale faded. Thank goodness I was already in the latrine to pee. Had that same thing occurred in the sleeping chambers, I would have peed my pants, my dad’s pants, the four sleeping bags nearest me and probably the ceiling of the cave. As it was, I was pretty scared.

What made it worse was when I came out of the latrine. There, tucked behind a stalgamite, were three of my friends from the Scout troop. They had been awake, seen my flashlight, and figured on scaring the bejeezus out of me when I came out of the toilet. Only, they were sitting stock-still behind their natural barrier and all three were honestly spooked. I shined my light on one of their faces, and all he managed to say was, “Are you okay?”

We quickly chatted about what we saw, and decided it was the Bell Witch. Or some seriously lost early morning fog. Or the angel of Death cruising for another victim. Or the mist from Stephen King’s short story. Or any number of diabolical, evil, hellish, satanic entities seeking whom it might devour. We huddled there for a good long while, working up the courage to head back to our sleeping backs and the blackness of the sleeping chamber. When we finally made it back, we all vowed to go to sleep, but when the lights came on in the morning, we were all wide awake – and so were several other people. Turns out, we weren’t the only ones to see some deranged fog in the night. We particularly felt better when a grown man exclaimed, “Once I get outta this hellhole, I ain’t never going underground agin!” When it was pointed out (by his wife) that he would eventually have to be buried after his death, he responded, “Not me, sister. I’ll gets creamated afore I go back underground!”

The entrance to the Caverns...

The entrance to the Caverns...

Knowing that a grown man was scared enough to burn his own body rather than bury it made all of us feel a lot better. But we still couldn’t get out of that cave fast enough. When we burst out of the cavern’s metal doors, we lapped up the sunshine and the comfort of knowing that we would soon be on the highway headed toward a most-decidedly unhaunted home. When the Cumberland Caverns idea came up again a few years later, we were quick to offer alternative plans.

Do I believe I saw a witch? A ghost? A haint? A spook? A spectre? I don’t know. All I know is I’ve never been back. And never will.


Deep Thoughts on Deep Frying

30 Jul
In the South, anything can be fried... and most likely will be.

In the South, anything can be fried... and most likely will be.

POOLER, GA – Local authorities responded to a 911 call in this tiny town today that involved a deep fryer, a turkey, and Richard “The King” Petty. Apparently, Leroy “Greasy” Gaines sustained major injuries when he thrust his hand into a deep fryer.

“I dropped my lucky spit cup into the grease,” he told medical personnel. “I didn’t want it to melt. They don’t make Dixie cups with Richard Petty on ’em anymore.”

“Greasy” Gaines was taken to the county hospital where he was treated for second and third degree burns on his left hand. According to witnesses, the spit cup was retrieved with minor damage – the picture of Petty was slightly singed.

“I sure learnt my lesson,” Gaines told reporters. “Don’t never drop your spit cup into hot grease.”

*     *     *     *     *

A co-worker asked me about the Southern penchant for deep frying the other day, and requested a column dedicated to the phenomenon. Always the humble servant, I thought I would oblige, so today we’re going to focus on the magic of Southern Fried Food.

There are many schools of thought as to why Southerners choose to fry dang near everything. One is that “frying tastes the bestest.” Another is that the average Southerner couldn’t afford some of the fancier devices required for other styles of cooking (i.e. ovens, microwaves, grills) so the pan fry method became the standard. Others just believe the region is occupied by obstinate, tradition-oriented people who refuse to change from what their momma and deaddy did.

Whatever your philosophy on frying (and I personally fall somewhere between number 2 and 3) there is no limit on the variety to be found within this method of cooking. For example, a quick list of things that Southerners fry:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Okra
  • Squash
  • Apple pies
  • Peach pies
  • Banana sandwiches
  • Baloney (the correct Southern spelling)
  • Bacon
  • Sausage
  • Ham
  • Corn
  • Cornbread
  • Green beans
  • Onion rings
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Collard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Pickles
  • Ice cream
  • Pork chops
  • Chitterlings (pronounced ‘chitlins’)
  • Tongue
  • Brain
  • Cracklins (pig knuckles)
  • Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Salmon (pronounced ‘sal-mun’)
  • Green tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Chopped steak
  • Steak
  • Other assorted items, according to personal or familial tastes

Now, there are many different ways to fry. The gold standard in the South is the following: on your gas stove top, in a 10 to 12 inch cast iron skillet, using melted shortening or lard. The process is simple. Put the skillet (appropriately seasoned – and if you don’t know what that is, head to Food Network for a quick tutorial) on the gas and turn it to medium heat. Add in approximately three and a half pounds of Crisco shortening, or,for more flavor, good old fashioned hog lard (basically, the captured, rendered and cooled fat from a large swine). Let the shortening heat up until it’s melted, then jack the heat to medium-high to high. As soon as the grease starts spattering your hands and leaving small burn marks, you’re ready to do some cookin’!

One of the biggest questions for Southern frying is whether to bread, batter or both. Breading simply means sopping your items in a liquid (the standard is cold buttermilk, but you can substitute whole milk, cream, half and half or any other dairy product that flows slowly downhill) then dredging or dipping the item into a seasoned flour or other dry ingredient – bread crumbs, crumbled biscuit, cornmeal, cornmeal/flour, you get the idea. Battering means you take the flour or other dry ingredient and stir it into the buttermilk or other liquid until you form a loose batter that coats your item like Pepto Bismol does your stomach ulcers. Then of course, you can do both – dredge your item, dip it in batter, and then RE-dredge it, just to get that perfect one-inch thick layer of crust.

Once you’ve done all that, you simply deposit the chicken/turkey/veggie/strange concoction into the nuclear grease. It’s best to do this as though tossing a hand grenade – stand back from the pan and gently toss the chicken/turkey/veggie/concoction into the grease. If you stand directly over the pan and deposit the item, several layers of skin will be burned off by flying grease.

Now that you have your chicken, or whatever, in the pan, you must watch carefully for the signs of browning. Nothing on the planet is worse than something that was burned while fried. So keep a sharp eye on your food. Once you see the first hint of brown, go ahead and count to 15, then flip the item over. Why 15? Because that’s how long it takes from first browning to golden crispy perfection. Any less, you get rubbery crust. Any more, you get soot.

The opposite side of the item will take longer to brown, and should get darker than the other side. That’s fine. Once you’ve determined maximum crustage, remove the item from the grease (and please – use tongs or another type of utensil…) and place it on a raised rack. This will allow the grease on the bottom to drip off while the grease on top soaks into the meat and adds flavor. Not to mention another week closer to your first heart attack.

All that’s left to do now is enjoy! Take that first bite of fried chicken/turkey/veggie/whatever and savor the crisp crust… and the undercooked meat or veggie inside. Another Southern tradition is it usually takes about 3-6 times of attempting to fry something before you get it right. So, you can officially toss aside that flash-fried raw chicken and head to the local KFC, where they do chicken right.

And that, as they say in the cartoons, is all folks.

While He Lay Dying…

23 Jul

He looked pitiful, lying there in a hospital gown, his face colorless and sunken from the removal of his teeth. The room was darkened, the curtain half drawn in an attempt to offer some sense of privacy. But when you’re staring at your grandfather’s body in the middle of a crowded emergency room, hurting from the pain of your heart exploding, you don’t need a curtain to feel alone.

You just are.

His hair was matted and slightly out of place for him, the result of paramedics placing oxygen masks and other assorted life-saving torture devices over his face. His eyes were closed, skin graying by the minute. When I arrived at the emergency room to a seating area full of crying relatives, I braced myself for the worst. It didn’t matter. This man, this titan of my youth, now seemed what he was – a frail and sick man whose heart had been slowly dying for years. The cubbie hole that the doctor’s had stuck him in only added to the illusion that he was fading away before my eyes.

I don’t remember what all I said to him. I just know that I spoke from the heart. There was so much to say, so much to praise him for, to share with him, and in the end that the words fell on unhearing ears didn’t matter. I wasn’t speaking to his ears. I was speaking to his heart – as he had spoken to mine countless times over the course of my life. I leaned over and kissed his forehead, a habit I had developed over the last couple of years as a way of preventing him from trying to stand up and hug me. Standing was too hard for him, so I just leaned over and kissed his forehead. He knew it was to prevent him embarrassment, and so did everyone else in the room, but he didn’t care. He’d tell me he loved me and that I needed come back soon.

Standing there for the four or five minutes I had alone with him I could hear the stories he told me, things that he had passed on to me – not because I was special, but because I was the only one who had loved to listen. Jokes, humorous anecdotes from his childhood, stories about my mom and her brother and sister. Stories about baseball games played, regrets long held and a heart too big to hold the love and pain and years of physical abuse.

He smoked like a freight train for years – started when he was just 12 – and kept on smoking until after the second or third heart attack when the doctor told him, “Quit, or I’m not saving your life anymore. If you don’t care to save yourself, I ain’t wasting my time.” He let go of a 50 year addiction overnight.

So many things about him stood out. Even when he got sick and couldn’t work anymore, he sat on the carport watching cars go by, waiting for an opportunity to get out and into the daily grind. He used to count the cars as they passed, and one of his favorite games was for him to count the red ones and me to count the blue ones. The person who counted the most cars in an hour won. There was no prize, and it took me quite a while to realize that it was a trick to keep me quiet and still for an hour.

He swore he was the only one who could grill chicken correctly. No boneless breasts for him – he liked grilling half chickens, bone-in, slow over coals. He wouldn’t even let anyone else turn the danged things. Only him.

He made his wife sort his daily pill regimen for him. Said he couldn’t keep them straight in his mind. The truth is, he liked being doted on, and she liked doting on him. He had two pill boxes, each with seven compartments, every compartment filled. One was for his morning pills. The other for his evening ones. He used to grumble about taking more pills than a “hippie rock star.” Sometimes, he would pretend that he wasn’t taking them, acting as if he threw them across the room. But he knew that without those pills, he couldn’t survive.

He wore hats. Always wore hats, unless he was going to church or to the doctor. His favorite kind of hats were baseball hats, and he usually rotated between an Atlanta Braves hat and a University of Georgia hat. When it came time to select where I would go to college, there was only one choice in his mind – UGA. I graduated from there with a degree in English, something that he was irrepressibly proud of.

He was a car trader, carpenter, leather worker, farmer, and all-around Jack-of-all-trades. He tried to teach some of his skill and know-how to me, hiring me to be his assistant one summer when he had a lot of carpentry work to do. I went gamely along, eager to spend time with him, learn a little bit, and mainly make some under the table tax-free cash. On the second day, I forget what I was doing but I was sucking at it miserably, and he walked over, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Son, go to college. Because if you have to do this for a living, you’ll sure as hell starve to death.”

I stood there in that tiny room staring at the shrinking body of what had been one of the most imposing figures in my life. I kissed his forehead. I said my goodbyes. I made my peace with the fact that he was gone, that I’d never hear his voice, or sit with him on the carport, or eat at the kitchen table with him ever again. And two days later, I stood and preached his funeral. I told many of the stories he’d told me, making the hundreds of people in attendance cry and laugh at the same time. And I realized that he had given me a lot of what makes me who I am.

Today, for some reason, I can’t stop thinking about that sweet man, lying there in that hospital room, gone from my life without ever knowing his great-granddaughter, or any of the other wonderful things that have happened in the five years since his passing. I can’t stop thinking about him, and I can’t hold back the tears, but I can’t stop smiling either.

I miss you, Pop. Five years you’ve been gone, but it seems like forever. You would have loved Ella – she is just your style. I’ll stop by and say hello again when I get a chance, but I hope that you liked the flag that Ella and I put on your grave Memorial Day weekend. She stood on your headstone, pointed at it and asked, “Pop?”

I leaned over and kissed her forehead, much the same as I used to do to you, and said, “Yes. Pop.”

She smiled then said, “Bye-bye, Pop.”

And today, for the umpteenth time in the last five years, I say it again – knowing that I am one day closer to seeing you again.

For Pop Emmette.

For Pop Emmette.