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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 where 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.”

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Hello, it’s me. Seriously.

Hi, this is Dave. It’s really me.

No kidding. Honestly, I’m Dave. I’m the real deal, the true article, born smack in the middle of the Boom and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan (where the city motto is, “Nobody Knows What the Heck It Means Anymore, But Yeah, There’s Still a Kalamazoo”).

I’m Dave, the guy with the deflating bed, aka Uncle Grumpy the grammar grouch, chronicler of old-age indignities, frog attacks, and sex advice for other geezers. Yes, that Dave! Check my photos and fingerprints if you’re not convinced.

Why am I trying to convince you that I’m myself? The other day, I got an emailed receipt and survey from a hotel where I never stayed. A few frantic phone calls revealed that somebody checked in using my name and my old Atlanta address, which were exposed in the big hack of federal employee data a couple of years ago. In other words, my identity has been stolen.

We’re not on the hook for any money, and so far haven’t uncovered any other scams. But it’s disturbing to know there’s a fake me out there. I also have to wonder what kind of putz would heist a normal, boring identity like mine. Why couldn’t he steal from somebody interesting, like Ted Cruz?

Until now, I hadn’t been affected by the breach and was hoping, apparently naively, to remain unscathed. But I can’t sit around worrying either.

If you’re a victim of identity theft or are afraid you might be, the federal government’s resource page is a good place to start. Meanwhile, if you run into somebody claiming to be David Swan, here’s how to tell the Dave from the doppelganger.

  1. If he has hair, it ain’t me, babe.
  2. He should know all kinds of obscure 60s and 70s music references (like the one in item #1). Ask him to name the duo that inflicted “In The Year 2525” on us, or the title of Norman Greenbaum’s follow-up to “Spirit In The Sky.” (Hint: It involves food.*)
  3. Sing the praises of Ohio State and/or Michigan State football. If you don’t hear “Go Blue!” within about 15 seconds, call the gendarmes!
  4. If he uses “barbecue” as a verb, he’s counterfeit. This is something I learned from my Southern transplantation. You might also ask him about his favorite meat and three.
  5. Get him to reminisce about being a cabdriver or an all-night DJ on an elevator-music radio station.
  6. If you’re riding in his car and he has no sense of direction, is the total antithesis of GPS and generally couldn’t find a giraffe in a broom closet, that’s me!

*The tune was “Canned Ham.” This has nothing to do with Canned Heat, a great blues band of the same era. See what I mean about those music references?

Justice, humanity, and language

If you’re a writer, jealousy and envy can be hard to keep in check. But while I might envy John le Carré every time I open one of his books, I don’t usually feel that way about Supreme Court justices. However, as you’ve probably heard, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s closing paragraph in his decision on same-sex marriage has been widely praised and repeated, not just for its content but for the beauty of the language. Since I taught writing as part of the job I recently retired from, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at why.

To start with, decisions by the Supremes and our other courts are not typically great writing. Brown vs. Board of Education, for example, includes the historic, “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place,” but the rest of the ruling is relatively workmanlike and restrained. Justice Kennedy’s paragraph is very different:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Now let’s break it down. No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. This sets the stage: a brief declarative sentence packed with simple, powerful words. It doesn’t weaken itself or burden the reader by using legalisms. It does remind us what we’re talking about: not just sexuality, but something larger and universal.

In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. Again, without throwing big words around, he delivers fundamental truths, which anyone who’s ever been married or deeply loved another person will understand. And he’s still using short sentences, with each one conveying its own idea. He’s not cramming several points into run-on sentences the way many legal documents do.

It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Bulls-eye. In all the years and all the ways we’ve fought over this issue, no one has ever recognized and stated this basic fact so clearly. The words make us realize it should’ve been self-evident all along, that no one should be blinded by their hatred of the difference of others.

Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. Who among us hasn’t feared loneliness? And finally: They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Not equal “treatment,” “accommodation,” “standing,” or “status,” but equal dignity, a human condition and emotion. Those two words and the rest of this brilliant passage make the reader understand that the law is not a bloodless entity, that it reaches into the core of our lives, and that in this case, the existing law was indefensible. Transforming the abstract into the real in this way is what every writer strives for. I’m definitely envious, but when I read it I couldn’t be happier.

Their past, our present

When a movie star lies about his past to protect his image, it’s usually a non-story. In fact, in Hollywood, it’s probably considered PR 101. But Ben Affleck went way over the line when he persuaded the PBS genealogy program “Finding Your Roots” not to mention an ancestor who owned slaves. As a result, PBS has suspended the next season of the show.

Affleck says he was looking for “the roots of his family’s interest in social justice.” As anyone who’s ever spent five minutes on Ancestry.com could have told him, digging into your past can bring both pleasant and unpleasant surprises, especially on this issue.

I learned a lot about my own roots from my wonderful aunt Rowena Swan, who spent years researching and writing a family history book. (She did it the old-fashioned, pre-Internet way too, walking around cemeteries and poring over files in courthouses.) As far as I know, none of the Swans in my line were slaveholders. Those who were alive during the Civil War were Union, including my great-great uncle, who died in Grant’s army.

However, another branch of the family, my great-grandmother’s forebears in Worcester, Massachusetts, had slaves in the late 1700s and early 1800s, including an elderly woman named Silvia. Yet another limb of the tree produced Julia Gardiner Tyler, who married President John Tyler in 1844 and joined him in fervently supporting the South after he left office.  According to Wikipedia, she got accustomed to owning slaves and enraged Union war veterans by flying a Confederate flag at her home on Staten Island.

I can’t run from, disown, or deny any of this. These are hard facts, just as it’s a fact that Washington and Jefferson had slaves. That doesn’t change their standing as founders of our country — but neither do their achievements make their slaveholding any less reprehensible.

Even in Silvia’s time, there were people who were affluent and powerful like her owners, but made different moral choices. My mother’s father, Thomas Walter Simpson, made that kind of choice when he hid his black workers from the mobs in the terrible Springfield, Illinois race riot in 1908. Ben Affleck had some noble ancestors too. But how many white families that came here before the Emancipation are completely pure?

We’re not our ancestors. But trying to hide their actions and our common history will only make things worse.

Going south (of the waistline)

We’re heading into stormy seas. Turbulence, quicksand, minefields, a bear trap, a maze of mirrors. The most dangerous place in the universe for any man with half a microgram of sense: a public discussion of the anatomy in the nether regions belonging to non-men, in other words women (AAAHHH-OOOO-GAAAA!!!!! WARNING!!!! DIVE!!! DIVE!!! AND BRING ME SOME MORE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!)

Why are we here? Well, for some time I’ve been thoroughly annoyed by most of the commercials we see on the evening network news. These ads involve all sorts of TMI issues, or what we might also call “oh geez, do I have to watch this during dinner?” Including but unfortunately not limited to: bladder control, constipation, low testosterone, and of course erectile dysfunction.

Let’s start with that one. Did you ever notice how all the women in the ED promotions are thinner than a fly rod (no joke intended), and are smiling, dewy-eyed, laughing, and positively glowing at the merest hint of ED becoming EF? Note to the makers of these concoctions: if you’re really trying to alert users to negative consequences, just skip the “warning” about an E lasting four hours or more, which for many of us male types is actually like the green flag at Daytona. Right now, I just know there’s some dude out there who’s about to respond, “Only four hours? Last week I…”

Now: there’s also an ad for something that’s supposed to cure the post-menopausal problems that lead to the female equivalent of ED. I am absolutely not making light of this or its seriousness. But this one comes with the usual laundry list of side effects and reasons not to take it, including “if you think you’re pregnant.” Rewind. Post-menopausal and pregnant? That’s either disclaimer madness at its worst or a bad case of “Who let the intern review the copy?”

This ad also refers to “Conjugated Estrogens.” With a nod to one of my spiritual and humorical (?) mentors, Mr. Dave Barry: wouldn’t “Conjugated Estrogens” be an absolutely incredible name for a rock band? (Joke intended.)

Going by the sheer volume of such ads, you’d think the entire middle-aged population was obsessed with these ailments to the exclusion of everything else. I know these are real problems, but Just remember, folks: we’re actually not the first ones who’ve ever had them. Just listen to Lightnin’ Hopkins sometime back in the last century, talking about how “My Starter Won’t Start This Morning.”  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go reset my timer for four hours and 27 minutes.

Birds of the weather

OspreyAs I’ve said before, Florida sure is an interesting place, especially the wildlife, and no, I don’t mean Justin Bieber in Miami. When my wife and I went down to Ft. Myers last week, our hotel was on a classic suburban strip, yet just a short walk from an old canal that’s also a bike trail, park, and home to lots of birds. We saw a wood stork, great blue and little blue herons, egrets, some ducks I haven’t ID’d yet but looked like they had Mohawk hair, and this osprey.

If you’re a serious birder or watcher, the place to be in that area is the refuge on Sanibel Island. True fact: you can go to Ding Darling to look for the Marbled Godwit. We didn’t see any of those but did get to watch some white pelicans, roseate spoonbills (which look just like their name), and more other species than I have room to list. State parks are one of the things that Floridians do very well.

Little blue heron on sandbankOf course, at this time of year, the native feathered fauna are outnumbered by their flightless, RV and SUV-riding counterparts from up naw-wuth: the snowbirds! From Michigan they come, and Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, the whole Big 10, plus some auxiliary Greater Upper Midwestern states like Ontario and Nova Scotia.

If you think I’m kidding about their numbers, just try to get off Sanibel or onto I-75 in late afternoon; you’ll swear the city had imported Chris Christie to manage traffic. The locals sure know their customers, too. I heard more Bob Seger in restaurants around Ft. Myers than I’ve ever heard anywhere except Detroit.

In fact, most of the interstate south of Atlanta seems designed to fleece the birdies. At the point where anybody coming from Grand Rapids or Wapakoneta is bound to be desperate for a break, there’s a place called “Café Risqué – We Bare All!” and multiple billboards touting not one but two Adult Superstores: the Lion’s Den and Adult Central. I may be old and jaded, but come awwwnnn: how super can a porn shop be?

You can also get “Fireworks – Ground Shaking Mortars,” just the thing for that veteran of Afghanistan, Baghdad, or Khe Sanh in your life. And no trip is complete without visiting the Florida Citrus Center, which also conveniently peddles GATOR HEADS and WIND CHIMES. A bit north of Ft. Myers, there’s a billboard for the “No Needle, No Scalpel Vasectomy!” (If I were the copywriter, I believe I’d just leave out any mention of needles and scalpels altogether.) Then for women whose husbands missed that sign, there’s “My Gynecologist – We Deliver!”

We saw this too: a couple of Confederate flags the size of a barn door on tall poles next to the highway. One was north of Tifton, GA, the other right at the junction of I-75 and I-4, near Tampa. They weren’t flying when we drove down on January 18, but coming back on the 24th, the week of the Martin Luther King holiday, there they were. Coincidence? Not likely.  The snowbirds might think this is common in the South, which it most definitely is not.

A bird in the…where??

I walked into my home office early, straight out of the sack, without coffee, and heard something hit the floor. I knew right away what it was – one of the smaller parts from one of several Russian nesting dolls sitting on the bookcase. But why would it fall of its own accord? Then I saw something moving – no, flying –  across the back of the room. Sure enough, perched inside the open closet, was a little brown wren. He must’ve been roosting in the wreath on the front door, and somehow got inside without us noticing when we opened the door the previous night.

First frogs, then a deer running through the yard, now this. What followed was a bit like How to Pill a Cat in 13 Easy Steps but not quite as funny. (“Step 1: Wake up wife with the words, “There’s a bird in my office.”)  First, we tried to catch him in an old towel so we could get him back outside. At this point, the poor guy was fluttering around between the blind and the window, with us trying to get the towel on him and doll parts scattering all over.  We almost had him – until he flew away from the window, darted right under the bottom of the closed door, and was loose in the house.

As much as we both love nature and the outdoors, our sympathy and concern for the critter evaporated right then. After chasing him around my wife’s office for awhile, we turned off every light in the house and threw the front doors wide open, so the only light to attract him was from outside, and finally shooed him out.

Other than a bit of my sanity, the only casualty of this incident was the tiniest piece of a nesting doll representing eons of Russian leaders (up through Boris Yeltsin, who was in power when I bought the thing). Peter the Great is still missing in my office, and since he’s only about the size of a match head, he may be gone for awhile.