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Blog for the Cure

24 Jun

beat-breast-cancerI’m a big fan of boobies, which, being a man, is sort of like saying that fish are fond of water. I think there is a DNA sequence that creates the otherwordly attraction that men have to breasts.

But I digress.

As I said, I’m a big fan of bo0bies, and recently my wife’s family has been scarred once again by breast cancer. Rachel’s mom is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and her sister was recently diagnosed and is currently in chemotherapy with radiation to follow. And did I mention she already had the preventative double mastectomy?

So, the boobies that I love the most are now even more in danger of cancer.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I love my wife as a person, not just for her anatomy. She knows this. I’m just using the irreverence to help make a point:

If you haven’t been involved in beating breast cancer – by supporting Susan G. Komen, or doing a three-day walk, or just wearing a ribbon to raise awareness – you need to get up off your butt and do it. The statistics on this disease are insane, and to find a cure we’ll all have to help.

Preserve the boobies, men! Mobilize to prevent breast cancer.

Otherwise, a whole sequence of our DNA may become a Darwinian albatross.


Why Not Just Call Her A “Nigger” and Be Done With It?

15 Jun

donkeySome folks are just idiots.

Take the GOP activist from South Carolina who recently referred to an escaped gorilla from a nearby zoo as “one of Michelle’s relatives.”

Michelle – as in Michelle Obama. As in the First Lady of the United States. As in well educated and accomplished African-American woman.

Did I mention that the guy wrote this on FACEBOOK?

Cause, you know, nobody ever visits that site.

Here’s the link to the story on CNN.

It blows my mind that anyone, let alone someone who makes a living purportedly as a savvy politico, would resort to making a crude joke aboout the President’s wife being descended from a gorilla. It’s just wrong (Darwinism aside).

Have we all gone insane? First David Letterman makes jokes about Sarah Palin’s kids, now we have a political activist resorting to Jim Crow imagery?

Good. God.

And the gentleman in question, Rusty DePass, says it was an attempt at a joke.


A joke?

Equating an African-American with a primate is a joke? Given the ugly history of racil epithets, I bet DePass really kills ’em when he does stand up at Klan rallies.

The GOP has been reportedly fighting to find it’s identity lately. Some are pushing hard for moderate politics, others see future only in the politics of division and polemics. Folks like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are calling for the party to lean away from the left and further to the right.

Well, got news for you, fellas – you keep letting guys like this DePass speak for you, and you won’t share anything with the democrats other than an unpleasant symbol.

And at least people will call the Democratic one a donkey.

They’ll just call you jackass.

Face(book) It – Blurbs That Ain’t Funny Just Don’t Cut It

9 Apr


I’ve only recently realized that the world has been taken over by Facebook and Twitter, and that most of what the world has to say isn’t funny.

Seriously. Have you ever read some of the status updates people put out? “Gone to bathroom. Will return.”

Truly, Hoss? You couldn’t just type – “leaving my desk. Be back in a few”?

It’s amazing how much talent it takes to type something hysterical in the limited amount of space you get with Facebook and Twitter status updates. Few people really have the talent, and even then, those people run out of interesting things to read after awhile. Usually a person is good for about 15-16 funny status updates in a given week; when you consider that most folks update their status that many times IN A FREAKING HOUR, you realize how many unfunny updates we’re being exposed to.

Look, if I wanted the CNN news ticker, I’d just go to CNN. I don’t need your take on the hostage crisis aboard the Maersk Alabama – I have Anderson Cooper for that. When I go on Facebook, I want to be amused by your creativity and imagination. I want to see the literary flair that average people possess without realizing it.

I mean, some folks just come up with downright hilarious observations and thoughts about life. Others regurgitate funny lines. But it’s those folks who choose to make you snooze to the minutiae of their daily droppings that kill me.

S0, as a public service, here are some funny and creative status updates for your Facebook or Twitter comedy-challenged friends and acquaintances. Feel free to use them any time (with proper attribution – at least leave me a comment and let me know you used it, even if you don’t tell anyone else…).

[Insert your user ID] wonders if Bob the Builder uses illegal immigrants.

…thinks that there should be more coffee, less morning.

…wishes that just once, the rest of the world would learn to obey me as they should.

…has seen fire and rain. Just not at the same time, because water extinguishes fire.

…wonders how in the holy hell the song “Rock-a-bye Baby” is supposed to be comforting to a small child. Have you ever really paid attention to the lyrics?

…wonders if the President ever goes around singing his name to the tune of “Rock the Casbah”?

…once gave a five dollar bill to a homeless man, who promptly gave it back and said, “Thanks, but by the look of things, you need this worse than I do.”

…would like to know: if you’re in the same bathroom as the Pope, and he drops a deuce, can you say “Holy crap!” and it not be a sin?

…thinks North Korea is mad because their leader looks like this guy from “The Simpsons”:

…says if you have to ask “What would Jesus do?” chances are you aren’t going to.

…thinkth thpeech impedimenth aren’t funny.

…would like to market the doll “Demolish Me Elmo.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Feel free to add your own hilarity in the comments section, and if you’re good, I’ll steal it and use it on my Facebook page. Plus, if you’re a Facebook member, you can become a member of the group“People With Good Taste: Folks Who Read The Southern Gentleman.”

A Veteran’s Story

11 Nov


I remember Mason Eugene “Gene” Ford as the somewhat irrascible old man that meandered through the baseball fields off McGee Road. He would float from field to field, taking in whichever ballgames suited him, I guess, talking with people and enjoying the sunshine or the rain or the cold. I never understood what would compel a man to just waste whole days wandering into and out of various Dixie Youth League baseball games; it seemed odd to me.

I spoke with Mr. Gene frequently, because he and my grandfather were friends, and because I spent the majority of my youthful springs and summers patrolling the many ball fields. I loved baseball. I loved to play baseball. And because of that and my grandfather’s passion for the game, I got to see a lot of Mr. Gene.

Tall, rail thin, he was always in coveralls of some sort. he usually sported a baseball cap, and if you didn’t know him you might think that his drawn face was contorted into a perpetual scowl. That wasn’t the case however – he was as friendly and kind as any other man you might want to meet.

I always remembered him for the strange concoction he usually carried with him: a tall glass of buttermilk with canned oysters and Tabasco sauce in it. He would walk through the ballpark with this cup of liquid nastiness in his hand, occasionally stopping to take a sip and then wiping the viscous fluid from his mouth. The smell alone was enough to kill you; Lord knows how horrid it had to taste.

I bring Mr. Gene up today not for the memories of him on the ballfield. I bring him up because of what happened to him on the battlefield, a story I never knew until long after his passing when his brothers Charles and Ronald shared it with me. It is a story of which, I am sorry to say, I don’t have all of the details, but it is one well worth reading on this Veterans’ Day.


Private Mason E. Ford was a ground soldier in the European Theatre, an Army infantryman working with the medical branch of the service. He was stationed in Germany, and was one of the many men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a hellish and horrific battle that was one of the costliest and most crucial of the Allied Forces victories.

But Gene Ford’s story goes beyond that battle, to the time that he spent imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp, Stalag 4B Muhlberg Sachsen 51-13. I don’t remember all of the details of his imprisonment there, how long he was held captive or how badly he was treated. I do remember that his brothers made it a point to tell me that he survived by eating rancid meat and rotted potatoes, that it was the strength of the man’s will and the grace of God that kept him from succumbing to death.

I searched the American Armed Forces Database for Mr. Gene and found a record of his imprisonment. I’m not sure how to really read it, but it seems to say that he was imprisoned from December 21, 1944 until December 6, 1945. I may be reading it wrong, but either way, the man endured hell on earth for a time greater than most people would be willing to endure it.

After hearing Mr. Gene’s story, hearing how he almost wasted away in a some stinking hole only to be repatriated and returned home to his wife and family and friends, I understood why he chose to spend his Saturday’s walking amidst small children and families. I understood why he would enjoy stopping to watch a random Tee ball game in which he had no real investment.

He was invested – invested with days and weeks of torturous survival, fighting for a cause and an ideal that he believed in. The grass that we kids played on was free from tyranny and hostility because he had paid a dear price for it, and it was his right to be able to stand watch over that turf and drink in all of the beauty that came with it. The playing fields of my youth were the battlefields of his heart, and I only wish I had known that he had given so much for me and my friends before his death. I would have said thank you. I wouldn’t have been as weary of seeing him standing behind the bleachers.

I would have understood, dang it, and I would have invited him to stand in a place of honor on the playgrounds he helped secure and provide.

Today, remembering all of our Veterans who gave some, and those some who gave all, I offer him my belated thanks.

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.


The First Date Story

14 Aug
The official flair from my middle school years...

The official flair from my middle school years...

The following story is true. The details are a little exaggerated, but that’s just for comedy’s sake. The actual event, participants and overall flow of the evening are all as true as my memory allows.

You might find this hard to believe, but I was a bit of dork when I was in school. Actually, calling me a bit of a dork is like saying the U.S.A. has a slight deficit. I was a total goober – and the peak of my gooberishness was my 7th grade year.

Barely five feet tall, weighed less than your average chihuahua, I was able to be somewhat socially redeemed by the obnoxious aviator-style windshield-sized glasses that I wore, which complimented my braces and acne quite nicely. I was lucky that mirrors reflected me, I was such a mess. I was so dorky that blind people would scream when I passed by.

In short, to my memory (and because it’s funnier), I was a complete loser.

But I was nice. I was always a polite child, and I treated everyone with the respect and gentility the South is known for (it wasn’t until I became an angry, angst-ridden high school student that I became a sarcastic jerk-wad). And, in the 7th grade, nice goes a long way. In case you’ve forgotten what 7th grade was like, let me illustrate the average pick-up line:

Girl is sitting in her seat, minding her own business.

Boy runs up, sits down beside her, punches her dead in the arm.

Girl winces in pain, rubs arm where assaulted.

Boy: You’re retarded.

Girl: You suck.

They passionately make out.

Anyway, the only reason that I stood out was my sensitivity and kindheartedness, and the fact that girls so badly scared the bejeezus out of me that I was too afraid to act macho around them. As in all good stories, the time came when fate smiled upon me, and this young woman – a vision of radiance and beauty – somehow became gravely mentally ill and decided that she found me attractive. Her name was Ali. I’ll leave it at that. And, if by some chance Ali actually reads this, may I apologize for the Nth time for my behavior?

Back to the story: the phone call comes in from Ali’s friend, Lisa. “Ali thinks you’re cute and sweet.”

I’m stunned. Can’t breathe. Might have slightly wet my pants. A girl has called me to tell me I’m cute? I look out the window to see if the Apocalypse has begun – nope. This is really happening. What do I say? How do I respond? Should I be cool? What’s the right thing to do here? Naturally, being as suave as I am, I respond with a, “Huh-huh.”

Long story short, we end up “going out.” Which is sort of like being engaged, only there’s more drama. Notes are exchanged, names are written on folders, people come up to you with M.A.S.H. games to play, there’s the whole awkward first-hand hold, just lots of stuff, you know? Most 7th graders who go out actually never go anywhere – they just sort of hang out a lot at school, and if they’re particularly chatty, they talk a lot on the phone. Actually, their friends talk to one another a lot on the phone; most going out seemed to occur third party.

Ali and I were actually good friends. She was funny, and pretty, and very nice. I was just happy to be noticed. After our second day anniversary (and if you remember 7th grade, that’s a long term relationship), empowered by confidence and blinded by stupidity, I asked Ali to go to the movies with me.

A date. An honest-to-gosh, real, live, in public date. And she said, “Yes.”

One of the more historic “Yes”es I’ve received in my life – it was truly life changing. I was going on a date. Other kids had been on dates before – the good looking, popular, well-liked kids that I knew simply because we were in Boy Scouts together. I began to scout for advice.

“Wear jeans, ’cause that’s rad.”

“Dude, be sure and wear you’re best button-up white shirt. You’ll look like Crockett.”

“If you want to get kissed, Bass shoes with the curly-que laces. Girls can’t resist.”

In case you haven’t figured it out, this was way back in the 80’s. Deal.

Anyway, the big night came and my mother graciously agreed to drive not only me and my date, but my friend Davin and his long-time girlfriend Jennifer to the movies. Ali was cool with the double-date, and I needed it to happen so I could watch Davin and know what to do. So there I am, standing in my room, outfit all laid out for my first date. Jeans. White button-up. Bass shoes with curly-que laces. I’m ready. I’m primed. I get dressed, and I can feel the surge of masculinity within me. My dork days are about to be over.

That’s when my mother opened the door and said, “You’re not wearing that. It’s too hot out.”

I would like to say that a discussion followed, but that would be a lie. I was an obedient kid; if mom said no, then no it was. I was in her hands. She opened my dresser and rummaged for a moment, then produced an outfit so heinous, so indescribably awful, that I actually defied my mother.

“I’m not wearing that,” I bellowed.

“You will, or you won’t go on this date,” she replied.

Descisions. Some change your life, you know? I pondered not going on the date and salvaging my dignity – I could pretend that I had caught a cold, or been diagnosed with a rare tropical disease, and that Ali and I would have to wait until the temperature was below 65 degrees before we went to the movies. But in the end, the dork couldn’t resist the pull of being seen in public with a real, live, good looking girl. I acquiesced.

I agreed to my mother’s costume design, and ended up wearing a matching shirt and shorts combo. But not just any combo, this one was powder blue tye-dyed, and had a large frowning face on the shirt with the words, “Worry – don’t be happy.” The same graphic was on the right leg of my shorts. Mom also pulled out knee-high socks with matching powder blue rings, and my best pair of Chuck Taylor low-cuts, white with powder blue laces. Don’t ask about the powder blue thing, it was just an “In” color at the time. I essentially looked like this:

This just screams manly, don't it?

This just screams manly, don't it?

 Fast forward an hour – we’ve picked up Davin, Jennifer and Ali (all of whom are wearing white button-up shirts, jeans and Bass shoes) and we’ve arrived at the movie theater, where we were set to take in Jim Belushi’s stunning masterpiece, “K-9.” Ever the gentleman, I approach the window to pay for mine and Ali’s tickets. The cashier, who was about 16, snickered when I approached, and then told me, “That’ll be $10 dollars.” I screamed out, “Ten dollars! That’s outrageous! I can’t believe you’re ripping people off like that!”

Just a tip for you kids out there: griping about prices while on a first date does not do much to improve your date’s impression of you.

Anyway, after turning into an old man at the ticket window, I then proceed inside, where I bought myself a large Coke, some popcorn, Milk Duds, some JuJuBees, a small nacho, an Icee and the family-sized bottle of Maalox.

I didn’t offer to buy Ali anything. Just walked into the theater to find some good make-out seats.

We got into the theater, and I had scouted out the perfect row – middle of the theater, left hand side, not beneath any sort of lighting. There were four chairs to the row, so no one else would bother us during the movie, and when the rest of the crew showed up we filed in: Davin, then Jennifer, then Ali, then me.

The girls immediately begin talking, paying absolutely no attention to Davin and I whatsoever. Just as the theater lights start dimming, I casually turn around to scout out the rest of the theater, and lo and behold, there is my mom – with my little brother and cousin in tow. She waved at me. My brother shot me the bird.

Once the movie started, I was consumed with dread – do I try and kiss her? Will she try and kiss me? What do I do? I turn to say something and she completely ignores me, continuing her conversation with Jennifer. I lean back and try to grab Davin’s attention. He finally looks my way and mouths, “What’s up?”

I mouth back, “What do I do?”

He mouths back, “Nothing, you look like a homo.”

I slump into my chair. First date, going down in flames, and suddenly Davin leans forward and holds up a box of candy for me to see:

The rest of the movie is a blur. By the time we’re done, Ali hasn’t spoken three words to me, my brother has launched a semi-melted Milk Dud at my head, and we have trudged to the car and on to Davin and Jennifer’s houses in complete silence.

When my mom pulls into Ali’s driveway, my heart begins racing. This is it. I’ll walk her to the door, and I’ll get my first kiss. It’s all working out!

I get out of the mini-van and escort Ali to her front door. An awkward, silent eternity passes and she finally opens the door to go inside. I close my eyes, pucker up, and lean towards her.

And get a big mouthful of air.

She’d already gone inside. She simply said, “Thanks for the movie. It was funny.” The next day or the next week, I’m not entirely sure because I started abusing Pixie Stix pretty hard after that night, Ali broke up with me. She never said it was because of the movies, but I’m pretty sure it was. That, and I think I called her a nasty word in an attempt to be macho. Whatever.

So, that’s my first date story. I’d like to tell you I got better at it, but my first date with Rachel, my wife, was equally as bad. But I did get to wear what I wanted, so that was a step up. If you’re into public humiliation, by all means, leave a comment and share your first date.

Just be prepared to get laughed at. You Goober.

The South and Race – A Study of One Man’s Journey

31 Jul

SNELLVILLE, GA – When  you think of the words “South” and “race” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. almost immediately pops into your mind. He’s forever connected with the on-going struggle to bring equality to the African-American community, a struggle that has seen progress and regress as often as the beach has seen waves.

I have often been asked by others why the South has such a problem with Black people. My standard answer is usually, “Well, most of the normal folks here don’t.” Have a problem, that is. Most Southerners think of race as a problem that is generated by the media, or by outdated perceptions of the region. I’m not here to talk about the current state of the South as a whole. I can’t speak for everyone.

But I can tell you the story of one man. A man whom I love and am close to, a man that has been transformed over the past 15 years into a wiser denizen of this ever-changing landscape.

Hammerin' Hank Aaron

Hammerin' Hank Aaron

Let’s start with the gentleman to my right. His name, for those of you who don’t know, is Henry Aaron, although many of you are more familiar with his popular name, “Hank.” He is the all-time home run king in Major League Baseball (despite the fact that a certain cheater has passed his career record, Hank is still the king) and happens to be one of the classiest and finest citizens the city of Atlanta could ever hope for.

In 1974, he was about to break Babe Ruth’s record for most home runs. Hank had 714. Babe had 714. The tension was thick, not because the record was going to fall, but for the fact that Aaron was receiving death threats on a daily basis. In his autobiography, I Had A Hammer, he recounts the numerous and vicious letters mailed to him. The sentiment boiled down to one simple thing. “Ain’t no nigger gonna break Babe Ruth’s record.”

Anyway, in Atlanta, the race topic in the 70’s was a prime discussion piece. On the one hand you had a city embracing the Black culture. On the other hand, you had hundreds of years of conditioned racism. It was not uncommon for Black people to be derided from the pulpits of white churches as “abominations.” Interracial dating was still taboo. While Jim Crow wasn’t legal, he wasn’t entirely gone either.

And so, in small towns all over Georgia, thanks to the Hammer, plenty of people were talking about race.

I was born in 1976, a couple of years after Hank’s accomplishment. I grew up in a racially neutral home – my parents never used the N-word, and taught me that I was NEVER to use it under any circumstances. My best friend in Kindergarten was Alan Booker, an African-American.

So, that is the foundation.

Here is the confession. My grandfather, on my dad’s side, was not so neutral when it came to race. Growing up, he rarely used a word other than “nigger” to refer to any Black person, and he never referred to Black people in any positive way. To him, they were a corruptive force in the community. If a Black family moved in, “there goes the neighborhood.” They couldn’t be trusted, he said. Lazy and unwilling to work, he said. They steal from the government and take money out of the pockets of hard working white folks, he said. He wasn’t a Klansman, he wasn’t a militant racist; he didn’t burn crosses in yards or participate in menacing Black families.

He was a product of his environment. Period.

The church we grew up going to wasn’t race friendly either. And so we learned that Black people were somehow separate from white folks – some preachers even referring to the “mark of Cain” as God making Cain into a Black man. And it wasn’t a mark of protection, no sir – it was a mark of condemnation, and you’d better live right, or else you’ll get a “black mark” on your soul and be damned to hell. I went to church with my dad’s parents for 18 years. They heard the same sermons I heard. They were taught the same principles of the faith that I was taught. Only I had my dad and mom at home telling me differently, telling me that everyone was equal in the eyes of God.

This was the cauldron that produced a lot of what my grandfather believed about Black people. He had been culturally taught racism as a way of life, but to have it enforced from the pulpit – for someone who came to faith in God late in life, as my grandfather did, the impressions left by preachers were deep and immediate. He wasn’t much of a reader in those days – his limited education while growing up didn’t exactly make reading a favorite past time – so he took what he heard and he lived it by faith. Faith that the men who stood in the name of God were telling him the truth.

And so he had no problem with the word “nigger.” If the preacher said it, why couldn’t he?

As me and my cousins got older, we chided him on the use of the word. “Can’t you just say ‘black’?” we would ask. “Maybe even colored? How about Negro?” He would pat us on the head and laugh. “They all mean the same thing.”

He wasn’t racist in his actions. He would give to anyone who had need, regardless of color. But the ideas, the language, that were pressed into him as a child, a young man, and now as an adult, were still present in his perceptions.

Until he left the church we grew up in. We went through the most common of Southern church activities – a church split – and my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, all ended up leaving the church we grew up in. And we all ended up at another church, this one a long ways from the small community church in Snellville.

This one was in DeKalb county. In Stone Mountain. And for those of you who don’t know, in the late 90’s, Snellville and Gwinnett County were still relatively lily white. Stone Mountain and DeKalb County were almost direct opposite.

The church we started going to was a small white congregation on Panola Road. In many ways, it was almost the same as the church we had grown up in. But the pastor, and the community, was different. Black people, when they chose to attend, were welcomed into the church with hugs, handshakes and warm fellowship. The pastor preached the message of the Gospel – that in Jesus, there is no division – and slowly, my grandfather’s language began to turn. The N-word became less frequent. He went to “colored” or “black” most of the time, although he would still occasionally slip and use the N-word.

After a few years, that church ended up having to close its doors. My family splintered after that. My parents went one way, my grandparents, and the rest of the extended family, went others. I started working for a church in Marietta, which was diverse in its population, and I began seeing my own tendencies toward racial stereotyping or racially divisive language. It didn’t take me long to correct it, and as I noted my own education in this area, I began to see it in my grandfather too. The change was rapid and it was amazing. I mentioned that he was never much of a reader, but when he joined his current church some ten years ago, he was encouraged and taught by his pastor to read the Bible for himself. My grandfather learned that he didn’t have to rely on someone else to tell him what God wanted from him – he learned that he could read the Bible and God would speak to him too.

And one of the things God spoke to him about was his attitude towards African-Americans. My grandfather became convicted and shameful over his past speech and beliefs. He repented of the ways he was taught, and he learned to challenge that pre-supposition in others. The more he read, the more he learned that indeed, “all men are created equal.”

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama

Presidential Candidate Barack Obama

I mentioned Barack Obama to him not too long ago. He wasn’t fond of him. I winced. “Don’t like the fact that he’s so young,” he said. I waited, expecting the follow up, “and he’s black.”

It never came. I asked him, does it bother you that a Black man could be President of the United States?

“Nope. White people have screwed things up enough. He deserves a chance to be President.”

I won’t say I was speechless, but it was one of those stunning moments in life when your perception of the universe seems to shift just so and suddenly things seem brighter and clearer. I was amazed – not at the fact that he had changed; the world and our culture demanded it, so there really was no choice. No, I was amazed at the fact that the lasting change, the hardest part, he had done on his own. That he had transformed his own soul through his relationship with God by searching the Bible and reflecting on his life and times. And in the end he had enough God-given character and strength to say, “I will not be this way anymore.”

Pop Harold is 82 now (or 81 or 83, I can’t remember for some reason) and I don’t get to see him much at all. Usually just holidays or the random time I think about being a good grandson and take my daughter over to see him. He’s stooped, bent from age and a variety of health issues that have sapped the strength right out of his limbs. A little slower, a little more reflective, we normally talk about heaven and what it will be like to die and enter into a different kind of rest.

But occasionally we’ll talk about the news of the day, the latest on the tube, whatever, and I will sit there amazed at the man’s capacity for re-invention. For observation. For someone who went through school (“In the front door and right on through out the back door” as he says) without going all the way through, he’s perceptive and wise in a way that I’ll never know. I am able to articulate much more eloquently what my other grandfather meant to me, but when it comes to Pop Harold, I’ve always found the words short. His value to me has been more in my soul and heart, a deeper connection that has shaped me in ways that I still don’t fully understand, and might never.

But as the nation rockets towards, potentially, a history-altering election I wanted to at least clear one Southerners name from the immediate assumption of racism. Pop, you have worked longer and harder at becoming a better man than anyone else I know. I love you for it.