Fiction, football, hometown, life

New season, new story

Dead mule with legs in the air.
Southern fiction needs one of these!

Just in time for the season, my latest short story is a parable about football. “Bobby Dean Goes Viral” appears in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, which published another piece of mine last year.

In the South, the game is inextricable from faith and life. Of course, there are fiercely devoted fans in other places too, including the Midwest, where I grew up and went to college. You have to be dedicated if not mildly insane to sit in the stands for three or four hours when the mercury plunges below freezing and snow is swirling in your face.

Even so, football here in Georgia, Alabama, and the surrounding states is often part of one’s self, one’s sense of home. That’s why people like Bobby Dean get carried away and…no spoilers! I hope you enjoy my story and wherever you are, have a safe season. PS: Go Blue.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, football, Politics

A pandemic diary: Un-unmasking

July 28, 2021

My daily life won’t be affected by the disheartening but necessary call for vaccinated people in many places to wear masks indoors again. I never stopped using an N95 in public areas, both out of respect for others and to extend my personal shield as far as possible.

I take no pleasure in knowing I was on the right track. The warning is driven by the finding that vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can carry as much viral load as the unvaxxed, which means they may spread it to others. I’m not at all surprised that the CDC reversed course. I wish like hell that they’d done it before now. According to the New York Times, six weeks ago (June 14) my county in metro Atlanta reported 12 new cases and a seven-day average of 27. Yesterday we hit 282 cases with an average of 208.

Some accuse the CDC of flip-flopping or inconsistency. IMHO, the guidance should apply nationwide, not just where cases are surging, but it changed for a good reason: the data changed. This is natural. In my lifetime, there were serious people who claimed space flight was impossible because there was nothing up there for rockets to push against. You might recall that weather forecasters don’t keep predicting tropical-storm-force winds after the storm blows up into a hurricane.

Forget science: I’ll put this in the language of the least vaccinated part of the USA, the South or more precisely the the Southeastern Conference, stretching from Columbia, Missouri to Gainesville, Florida.* This language is football.

Let’s suppose Alabama’s new quarterback lights up the Florida secondary in the first half but in the second, the Gators’ edge rushers get into the backfield and he’s running for his life. Does Coach Nick Saban stick with the same blocking scheme? If you think so, you haven’t got the brains God gave geese, and he didn’t give geese much. (Nothing personal, y’all.)

Of course, we wouldn’t need masks if more of us got the jabs. That’s why, as a retired federal employee, I strongly support the vaccination mandate for the government. Like members of the armed forces and all civilian feds, I took an oath to defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This virus is our enemy but we can win. Take care, mask up, and be safe.

*The home of those Gator fans who never call. But that’s another story.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, football, Politics

A pandemic diary: Blue’s gone

August 13, 2020

Michigan quarterback running away from defender.

One Saturday in 1972 I walked out of the dorm where I’d lived for a couple of weeks, joining some new friends and what seemed like the whole town on the way to my first college football game. It was a clear, bright September day, nippy enough for a jacket, but even a three-foot blizzard wouldn’t have stopped us. (That kind of Michigan weather event really doesn’t happen much, at least not in the first week of the season.)

We hiked from the area known as the Hill at the northeastern edge of campus, past the libraries and lecture halls and down the main drag to Michigan Stadium, a couple of miles, but we were young and fired up. It didn’t matter that we had the worst seats in the Big House, high and dead center in the end zone. The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper, set the scene: “For most, the game itself is secondary — if noticed at all. More important are the good vibes picked up, the energy released by 80,000 bodies getting back into the swing of things after an eight-month hiatus.”

For me, it was the party of a lifetime. I still remember the vast crowd, the shouting and laughter and cheers, the perfectly synchronized marching band, cheerleaders doing backflips and cartwheels, all the pageantry. I’d never cared much about sports or school spirit in high school because all I wanted was to graduate and move on, but now I belonged.

With the drinking age being 18, there was plenty of booze in the stands back then. The Daily even ran a pre-game story headlined, “The cost of getting drunk,” and comparing prices. (You could pick up a fifth of Ripple at Campus Corner for 89 cents.) The times being what they were, the “vibes” also included weed: “As pungent mist rises above young people’s heads, the ubiquitous joint is passed as commonly as a cigarette.”

Oh yeah, the football. With three minutes left in the first half, Michigan’s sophomore quarterback, who was making his first start, fired a touchdown pass right in front of us. The rest of the game was, as the paper said, “a bummer,” as neither team could score. Final: Michigan over Northwestern, 7-0. Ugly as a mud fence, but otherwise a great day in what was already an exciting freshman year.

I attended almost every home game for the next four seasons. Except for a long-ago lean period when I didn’t own a TV, I’ve caught at least some of the action every year since. Until now.

The Big Ten had no choice but to cancel everything. Playing a contact sport in a raging pandemic defies common sense. But we wouldn’t be trapped in this catastrophe if some of us had used common sense, like wearing masks and listening to the doctors instead of the flag-waving fruitcakes. We’ll probably lose Halloween next, followed by Thanksgiving. Have fun watching your folks eat the turkey on Zoom.

Michigan T-shirt and ball cap.
Back to the closet ’til next year

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, football, sex, Trump

A pandemic diary: Sex and violence and then some

July 29, 2020

Six feet apart beats six feet under. Apart: Good. Under: BAD. Repeat until you’re saying it in your sleep.

Want to liven up a Zoom call? Say, “Raise your hand if you’re wearing pants!”

Those who reject masks, vaccines, and science should be required to wear tinfoil on their heads at all times so the rest of us can steer clear.

If you still trust Trump’s Twitter feed, Google “Sex with demons” and see what pops up. Really. (Hint: this is the aforementioned sex.)

If you can’t wait to see young men play football when a deadly virus is everywhere, you probably would’ve appreciated the Roman gladiators. (Hint part 2: this is sort of violent.)

Working from home means you can never set your email for “Out of office.”

A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. A man who cuts his own hair has a bigger one.

People panic if someone blows out the candles on a birthday cake, yet they’ll scarf up takeout the cook might have sneezed on.

The people packing the bars are like the amateur drinkers who ruin St. Patrick’s Day. Please let the professionals get hammered in safety!

We’ll never reach herd immunity when the herd is made up mostly of lemmings and cats.

I wish I’d bought stock in pajamas,* Valium, seeds and fertilizer, sewing machines, bread machines, “Zoom for Dummies,” and box wine in BIG-ass boxes.

*This means, “purchased shares in manufacturers of sleepwear,” not “blew a small fortune on E-Trade while sitting around in my new Gap PJs.”

Recent posts

Florida, football, humor, life, Uncategorized

The ATL for Yankees and Gator fans

Greetings to all Michigan Wolverines, Florida Gators,* folks who got on the wrong plane, and everybody else who’s bound for Atlanta and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl! This is part of that delightful American holiday tradition in which we celebrate with family, give to the needy, humbly honor the rituals of our faith, and resolve to be better people in the New Year, then scream ourselves into an aneurysm and throw bowls of clam dip at our brand-new mega-screen TVs when a “ref” decides a young man from Our School “didn’t get his foot down in bounds.”

I’m talking about college football bowl games, approximately 8,395 of which are played every year, including the aforesaid Peach Bowl, which pits the Universities of Michigan and Florida against each other (again!). As an Atlanta resident, a U-M grad, AND an official Florida Man with a home on the Panhandle, I am uniquely qualified to answer all the Important Questions for visiting fans! Like these here:

Q: Is the traffic in Atlanta as bad as everybody says?
A: That’s just fake news. It’s worse. Think Midtown Manhattan and I-94 in Detroit are hellish caverns of misery? Down here we have the Perimeter, which winds around the city like chicken wire, is under construction 24-7 / 365, and moves at the speed of a dying garden slug. If Sherman had taken the Perimeter during his march, he never would’ve made it to the sea; the South would have won the war while he was stuck at the exit to I-20 East. By all means avoid the conflation of interstates we call Spaghetti Junction, which also resembles a nest of rattlesnakes but isn’t as friendly.

Q: What is the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl?
A: First and foremost, it’s not to be confused with any of our myriad** “Peach” and “Peachtree” names and places. Buckle up and listen, ‘cause we got us a Peachtree Street, West Peachtree Street, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Battle Avenue, Peachtree Corners, Peachtree Circle, Peachtree Plaza, Old Peachtree Road, Peachtree Millennial, Peachtree Pothole, and PTSD, Peachtree Stress Disorder. This game is also not to be confused with a playoff game but we already knew that!

Q: Where will the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl be played?
A: At Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Q: Why would anyone who drives a Mercedes-Benz eat at Chick-fil-A?
A: They got lost over on Peachtree and couldn’t find a Waffle House, though there’s one on every corner. Lest y’all think we get by on grits and hog parts, we also have restaurants where delectables like sustainable catfish, hakurei turnips, and evoo are on the menu.

Q: Huh?
A: “Evoo” stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil. However, if I were a server and a customer told me to “hold the evoo,” I’d call the vice squad. And how is the catfish sustainable if you’re going to devour it?

Q: Are grits groceries?
A: Boy Howdy! If you don’t believe it, just ask Little Milton or maybe Wet Willie, who were from Macon, GA, not to be confused with Makin’ Whoopee down on Peachtree, or more likely on Piedmont Road. (Note: the patrons of this fine establishment aren’t actually “Gentlemen.”)

*Over the years there’s been a lot of chatter on sports-talk radio about how “Gator fans never call.” Since I never listen, I have no idea if this vague rumor is true. But using my regular standards of accuracy and integrity, I’m going to assume it is! So Gator guys and gals, please continue this practice and DON’T CALL ME to complain about this article, ask for directions etc.
**Greek, Middle French, and Late Latin for “godamighty, that’s a big ol’ mess of ‘em.”

football, life, Politics, War

This land is their land

The Saturday after the Paris attacks I watched football as usual, but also for a little normalcy, a break from apprehension and sorrow. The game I saw was ideal for that purpose: Michigan vs. Indiana, taking me back to my home turf and calling up memories of football Saturdays in Ann Arbor 40 years ago.

Both schools are part of the Big Ten, which is as American as they come, being the oldest Division I athletic conference in the country.* Some people claim its brand of football is stodgy and boring, but this one was, as they say in Middle America, a barn-burner. Michigan won it 48-41 in double overtime, with the quarterback tossing six touchdown passes. One of them went to tight end Jake Butt (yes, the joke potential is limitless), who’s from Pickerington, Ohio.

But four of those TDs were caught by a lightning-fast wideout named Jehu Chesson, who was born in Monrovia, Liberia during the first Liberian civil war. The final, game-winning touchdown was scored by Amara Darboh, born around the same time in Freetown, Sierra Leone amid that country’s civil war. Chesson and his family moved to Ivory Coast before going on to St. Louis. Darboh’s parents were killed, but he escaped on foot with relatives to Gambia, Senegal, and finally, with sponsorship from a Christian group, to Des Moines. He’s now a U.S. citizen.

These young men came from places that many Americans would find obscure, like Raqqa. They fled bloody conflicts that dragged on for years, killed hundreds of thousands, and displaced millions. Would we be safer or stronger if we’d arbitrarily locked them out, as various politicians say we should do with the Syrians?

I know: Liberia and Sierra Leone didn’t breed terrorists who plant bombs in other places. But (1) the ones flooding Europe are trying to get away from the bombers themselves. (2) Refugees don’t just waltz into the USA through customs; the existing screening can take months or years. And (3): They’re less likely to be radicalized here than in some European slum.

I’m not blind to terrorism. I was among those who had to evacuate the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 and I spent the day a few blocks from there, wondering if another plane was coming at us. I’m absolutely not excusing extremism either. But Jeb Bush, who I rarely agree with on anything, committed common sense in talking about Paris and, “the despair and the hatred that has built up over time…where people may have a French passport, may be a French citizen, but they’re not really French.”

Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are sociology majors at one of our great universities. They perform the ritual of running under and touching the Michigan banner at home games, and they play those games under the Stars and Stripes. Even the people in Indiana can be thankful and proud that they’re here. We can all be proud if we reject ignorance, fear, and hatred, and welcome the Syrians to come.

*The Big Ten actually has fourteen teams, having extended its Midwestern roots to Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland. It’s also one of the most tradition-bound conferences in the country, but that’s another story.

football, life, music

Gone Blue

Even if you’re not a college football fan or a resident of Michigan, you’ve probably caught a whiff of the circus parade that began when a quarterback who’d been blasted by a defender and was obviously wobbly was allowed to stay on the field. I don’t have the space or the stomach to recap the details. In fact, I’m so sick of the whole thing that I’m retiring from Michigan football fandom, at least for the rest of this season and maybe for good.

How can I do this? Not easily. I’ve been following Michigan’s fortunes since my freshman year back in ’72, and I paid a little visit to the Big House even before that. But from now on, the remote will not point toward ESPN or the Big Ten Network at game time. The t-shirts will stay in the drawer. The blogs and Michigan newspaper sites will go unread. A modest volume of beer will go undrunk.

Call me crazy, disloyal, old and cranky, or anything you like. But friends, we are not given unlimited time in this world and I’m just not going to waste any more of mine on this clown car of a football team. It’s over. Done. Finished. Kaput. I’ve crossed the Rubicon, bought my last round and hopped in the cab. I couldn’t possibly say it any better than Jo Dee Messina did:

Well you filled up my head with so many lies
You’ve twisted my heart ’til something snapped inside
I’d like to give it one more try
But, my give a damn’s busted

You can crawl back home, say you were wrong
Stand out in the yard and cry all night long
Go ahead and water the lawn
My give a damn’s busted

football, humor, life

Fire irks and ireworks

Would it surprise you that the first controversy of this year’s college football season is already here and it has nothing to do with football – at least not what happens on the field? Nope, this one is about what will or won’t occur a few hundred feet above the turf, specifically Michigan Stadium (where I once played Frisbee at midnight). The athletic department had the idea of staging a fireworks display as part of the festivities at a couple of games this year. But nooooooooo!

The Regents of My Alma Mater have solemnly decreed with all the dignity and intellect ascribed to their office that none shall pass: no red glare and bombs bursting in air. No aerial shells, ball rockets, dragons’ eggs, stars, or other pyrotechnics shall light up the sky over the Big House. The reasons for this kibosh, as reported here by the Detroit News, include safety, which one might understand, but also concerns about “tradition and excess.” One Reg said, “We are not Comerica Park, Disney World or a circus … I love Michigan football for what it is … and for what it is not. It remains and should be an experience, a place that resists the excesses of our culture; intentionally simple. The fireworks should be on the field, not above it.”

Intentionally simple? Extra! Read all about it! A U of M Regent has discovered an actual, honest-to-Crisler time machine and journeyed back to the days of leather helmets and the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame! STOP THE PRESSES!!! (I worked as a journalist for 20+ years and always wanted to say that.)

Resists the excesses? Friends, we’re talking about major college football in the 21st century. You’ve got more than 100,000 people cheering, yelling, whooping, and waving their colors, TV copters and blimps overhead, marching bands, drunks and drunkettes, banners, beer commercials, traffic jams, and three or four hours of pure spectacle.

One of the times where the AD wanted to use fireworks was when Penn State comes in for a nationally-televised night game. I watched last year’s night game at Penn State, and even though my team found about 15 ways to blow it, I truly enjoyed all the pomp, the excitement, and the passion of the home crowd. Fireworks in an atmosphere like that would be just a bit of colorful frosting on a big cake.

The biggest problem with fireworks is that wherever they go, the amateur fireworkers follow. Some kid would get hold of some non-professional but powerful stuff, scare the bejabbers out of the neighbors, and maybe come away with a missing digit or two. This is the kind of thing that probably inspired one of Jeff Foxworthy’s best redneck gags: “What is the last thing a redneck ever says?” “HEY, Y’ALL! WATCH THIS!”

But I digress. My advice to the Regents is to quit worrying about tradition and just enjoy the party, like my friends and I did in the pre-ESPN, no-Internet days. Come to think of it, that time machine’s not such a bad idea after all.

Florida, football, humor, life, Writing

The follies of FL

Right now I imagine a lot of you are digging out of, shivering through, griping about, and generally trying to survive the big winter storm* that somebody christened “Hercules” but could also be called “Hyperbole.” Those who live in the frozen zone (frozone?) also are probably wishing they could decamp for someplace warm, especially Florida.

As a former Michigander, New Englander, and Washingtonian, I can definitely relate. I’m now a part-time resident of Inlet Beach, FL, where the picture above was taken and my wife and I visit every chance we get. However, Florida has some little eccentricities that you really don’t run across in Grand Rapids, St. Paul, Parma, Mahwah, Worcester, Westchester, and all those other places where the flakes are flying.

Let’s take a quiz: Which of these are actual Florida news headlines and which are made up?

Man Tries to Trade Alligator For Beer

Amorous Dolphin Tries to Boink TV Babe in Theme Park Pool

Kangaroo Leads Florida Deputies on 10-Hour Chase

Florida Beachgoer Discovers Human Foot in Shoe**

Man Loses Hand, Has Weed-Whacker Strapped Onto Stump

Florida Man Bitten by Shark, Punched by Monkey (Twice), Struck by Lightning, Bitten by Snake

Slimy, Giant Snails Invade South Florida

Police Ticket Man for Running Backwards

Killer Chops Off Victim’s Legs at Knees to Fit Body Into Suitcase

Woman Allegedly Calls 911 to Report Drunk People Inside Bar

Except for #2, 5, and 9, all of these things actually happened in 2013, according to our friends at Buzzfeed. The others describe events that took place in a few of the many great books by Carl Hiaasen, which any northern immigrant (and everyone everywhere) should read for some wild and hilarious tales (but at all costs avoid the movie version of “Strip Tease”).

*As the Almighty Editorial Poobah, Pontiff, and Kahuna, I hereby ban for now and forevermore the use of “The Big Chill” to describe actual weather events, as opposed to the movie.  Unfortunately, one of the best quotes from the film – “C’mon, Blue, you’re not supposed to fold until the fourth quarter!” – remains relevant.

**Presumably not his own foot and shoe.

football, humor, life

Blue in the night

The other day I spotted this headline on the website that brings us all the news from Ann Arbor, Michigan, my college town: “Police: U-M frat members arrested after breaking into the Big House.” One’s first reaction might be, “What are these clowns learning in that overpriced school? Haven’t they ever seen a prison movie? You’re supposed to break OUT OF the Big House!”

However, the House in question, for those who aren’t steeped in college football, is Michigan Stadium. And I can’t condemn the frat guys too much because I once did the very same thing. In fact, I did it on my third night at the University of Michigan.

In late June of 1972, barely a month out of high school, I borrowed my mother’s ’67 Dart and drove to Ann Arbor for freshman orientation. You spent about a week living in a dorm, touring the campus, maybe taking some tests related to your fall classes, and generally getting a feel for college life. I remember being crammed into a single room with another guy, maybe two, and the staff blasting the Beatles outside the door to wake us up in the morning. I also recall the thrill of walking around and knowing I’d soon be there full time, free of my high school self and all his struggles, starting over, being somebody different and better.

What I remember most is that one evening, after the frosh-to-be had finished the formal program for the day and some of us were hanging out in the lounge of the dorm, one of our sophomore and junior advisors suggested we go play Frisbee in the stadium. Of course, I said, “Sure!”

Now up to that point, I was not a Michigan fan. I had no idea the place was “The Big House.” I figured it was just another football field, a bigger cousin of the one where the Kalamazoo Loy Norrix Knights played.

Four of us walked down there: the older guy, two freshwomen, and me. Our “guide” knew right where to find a gate that wasn’t chained tightly and we could squeeze through.

It was midnight. The field was still and quiet, bathed in soft white light. We walked to the 50 yard line and tossed the ‘Bee around, then sat down on the artificial turf and just talked for a while. Because it was night, I didn’t really get a sense of how big the place was. But I was thinking that this college business was pretty cool and I’d probably do all right.

Of course, we were putting ourselves in some serious jeopardy. I can only imagine what would’ve happened to us if we’d been busted. I’m pretty sure the legendary coach Bo Schembechler would’ve been extremely PO’d if a bunch of hippies had been caught defiling his field.

A couple of months later, I got my first view of the place in daylight, as Michigan bested Northwestern in a real Big Ten barn-burner of a home opener, with a final score of 7-0. I spent a lot of fun Saturday afternoons there in the next four years, but don’t remember any of them half as well as that night.