Saturday, December 31, 2005

So long, Freddie boy

Death has been chasing my father-in-law, Fred, for years. But each time it got close he's managed to slip its grip just in time. The day after Christmas, when he wasn't paying attention, it finally caught him. He was 87 at the time.

As I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper early on December 26, the phone rang. My mother-in-law, Ruby, was on the line but she wasn't talking to me. She was talking to the paramedics who were preparing to transport Fred to the hospital. She was trying to get them to tell her where they were taking him and insisting they take him to Osceola Memorial Hospital. Then the line went dead. A few minutes later the phone rang again and this time she was talking to me. "I think he's gone," she said. "Y'all better get down here."

What followed was frantic preparations to get everybody packed and ready to go. Ruby called back again and confirmed that Fred had died so then we had to call the NC relatives and tell them the news before hitting the road for Florida. With one thing and another we couldn't get going until almost two and then had to take the long route through Raleigh so our youngest son could get his suit and tie from his apartment.

If you've ever had the misfortune to travel by car to Florida at Christmastime you know what Interstate 95 is like: two (and sometimes three) southbound lanes packed with maniacs trying to go as fast as possible by changing lanes every few seconds. This, of course, results in the whole mess slowing to a crawl or coming to a complete stop for minutes at a time and then, inexplicably, everybody is driving 85 mph again until the next slow down. I won't even mention the Rec Vees cruising blissfully in the left lane at a blistering 45 mph. (OK, so maybe I will)

So anyway, it's well after 2 AM before we make it Kissimmee, unload the car and fall into bed. The next morning early, my mother-in-law, wife and I are at the funeral home - a dingy little pre-Disney remnant from the "good old days" when Central Florida was all orange groves and cattle ranches. Ruby and Fred had made pre-arrangements for this day a couple of years back but there were a lot details that needed attention. One of the details was a burial plot.

If you don't count the strip malls and toll-roads, Central Florida is not blessed with many physical features (remember: it all used to be orange groves and cattle ranches) so the cemetary we visited was pretty bleak by NC standards. The lady selling burial plots was originally from Wisconsin (practically nobody here is actually from Central Florida) so she peddled her expensive little holes in the ground with the flat matter-of-factness that Midwesterners are so famous for. Ruby was hoping for something nice - maybe with a tree or two nearby. The Wisconsin woman drove us out to inspect what she had available and showed us the only plot she had near a tree - a very dead tree - for $200 more than the ones farther away from the dead tree. Ruby wasn't buying it. We settled on a plot next to a Mr. Rogers and signed the papers (and wrote the check). One thing that is certain: death is very expensive and if you can't afford it I would advise you to avoid it.

The next preparations we had to make was for the luncheon after the funeral. Deli trays had to be ordered and beverages, napkins, table clothes etc. had to be purchased. Every few minutes the doorbell rang and soon the house was filling up with floral arrangements both tacky and tasteful. The phone also kept ringing. Relatives were calling to make excuses for why they wouldn't be able to attend the funeral. It was getting depressing.

Fred was not much of a church-goer so the funeral home found the Reverend Dr. Bob to officiate. He seemed like a nice guy on the phone and was willing to go along with whatever we wanted. He was a chaplin for the police department and a Baptist minister which we tried not to hold against him.

The day of the funeral finally arrived and everyone was up early. My oldest son and I headed to the Publix for the deli trays in a fog so dense you could barely see the traffic signals - a typical Central Florida morning. The viewing was not until 11 but Ruby was ready to go to the funeral home a little before ten. She and my wife went ahead while I waited for our two sons to get ready. We made it to the funeral home on schedule and were pleased to see that Fred looked pretty good - although the "blue casket with blue interior" they promised us looked decidedly silver with a gray interior. A few neighbors and Ruby's nephew from Maitland dropped in to pay their respects and we all sat around trying to make conversation (this was complicated by the fact that several neighbors didn't speak English. In Central Florida, English is the second language) After the longest hour of my life we headed to the cemetary.

The service was brief but effective. My wife wrote a nice eulogy which I read for her. The funeral director had forgotten to make arrangements for the military-style funeral arrnagments she'd promised but nobody really seemed to care much about it. Ruby did get a flag from one of the funeral home guys "with thanks from a grateful nation" but no rifle salute or honor guard. Oh well.

Back at the house we laid out the luncheon (way more food than we could eat.) My oldest son's catering experience came in handy as he dressed it up to look professional. A few of the neighbors who came to the funeral and Ruby's nephew also came by for lunch and another set of other distant relatives who had been hopelessly lost in Kissimmee throughout the proceedings found the house.

We ate. We remembered Fred, and finally, everybody went home leaving us with a ton of leftovers. At least we wouldn't starve.

As I was preparing to relax a little, my sons decided that they wanted to drive back to NC so they wouldn't miss New Year's Eve celebrations. I guess life does go on and when you're in your twenties like they are, people are expecting you to party down regardless of the circumstances. It's a burden. I left my grieving wife with my grieving mother-in-law and headed back to NC with the boys. At 3:15 in the morning we hit the driveway in Greensboro.

This was one of those events that will always change, forever, the way you feel about a holiday. For my wife, Christmas will always be the day before her daddy died and his funeral will always be the day before her birthday. So it goes.

So long, Freddie boy. You did good.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Simple Sports analogies for everything

Lately, I've been getting a lot of letters from readers confused by religious issues like this one from little Becky Sue in Julian who writes:

"Coach, I've been hearing a lot about the Rapture lately but frankly, I'm just not getting it. I've tried reading Revelations and praying extra hard but all I'm getting is a migraine. Could you explain this to me with a simple easy-to-understand Sports Analogy. Thanks, Becky Sue (PS: Mama says hi)"

Sure Becky Sue, the Rapture isn't hard to understand but certain writers feel like they have to complicate it up to make it sound more difficult than it really is. Lord knows Revelations is complicated enough to give anybody a migraine so we'll just leave that book out of our discussion.

Imagine the Rapture as the celestial equivalent of the NFL Draft - if the NFL consisted of only two teams: The New England Patriots, representing the forces of Good, and the Oakland Raiders representing the forces of Evil. For the past two thousand years or so we've been treated to an extended version of an NFL Draft Pre-show where commentators have picked apart the teams and discussed what they will be looking for in the Draft.

The main event finally arrives like a "thief in the night" which means that it's only available on ESPN Radio at 2AM. The Pats get the first pick and they go with the Mother Teresa types to fill in their Special Teams. Nobody notices these people are missing at first because there are so few of them to start with. The Raiders go next and of course, they're all about their offensive line so Enron execs, gun lobbyists and the entire Al Qaeda organization get sucked into the great training camp in Hell. The second round goes pretty much like the first with the Pats picking mortal equivalents of Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi and the Raiders going with the Kerry Collinses and Randy Mosses of the world. Around the globe people start to wonder what all those "pop" "pop" "pop" sounds are.

By the third and fourth rounds ordinary people begin to notice that the Earth has a whole lot more elbow room than it did before (sort of what living in Montana is like). Entire businesses are totally shut down: credit cards don't work, American-made cars stop running, there is no Coke anywhere and Las Vegas is just gone. (However, the liquor stores are open and are doing land-office business.) This is when the ordinary sinners like third-string running backs from Grand Valley State start getting nervous about getting picked and run around looking for sports agents to represent them - which is a futile activity because the Raiders got them all in the second round.

After a few more rounds the Draft is over and those not picked are what we call "Left Behind". With limited options they can try out for Arena Football or hope that there is a spot for them in the Canadian or European Football leagues. Most will have to go into the dry cleaning business or work on the docks at UPS but it really won't matter because eventually, just like the end of THE NFL ON FOX everything will wink out of existence and a voice will say: "See Ya!"

You got it now Becky Sue? Easy peasy. So if you want to play for the Pats and NOT the Raiders you know what you need to do. We're either getting down to the two-minute warning or we're still in the first quarter, nobody knows for sure, but why takes chances?

Love ya,

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Where's Dmitry?

If you were among the throng that attended last night's Sealy Fox 8 Holiday Concert it might have crossed your mind to wonder about the conspicuous absense of the Greensboro Symphony's vaunted new conductor, Dmitry Sitskovetsky. It did mine.

When he was no-show last year I was willing to chalk it up to previous committments made before he was named the Greensboro Symphony's Music Director but I was sure that he would make his debut this year and take up the role that made Stuart Malina such a popular, almost beloved figure. But, nyet.

If one were inclined to be cynical (which I often am) one might think that Maestro Dmitry did not want to waste his valuable time getting chummy with the common folk that flock to these things. No, instead he would send the personable and charming Bruce Kiesling to minister to Greensboro's great un-washed. (In case you didn't attend, let me assure you that Bruce is nearly as skilled in schmoozing the crowd as Maestro Malina).

But wait: maybe I'm being too hard on Mr. Sitkovetsky. I've never heard him speak before and it could be that he has one of those impenetrable Russian accents that would have left the good folks from Pleasant Garden and Colfax furrowing their brows with incomprehension: "What'd he say, Erline?" "I'm not sure but I think he said the walls have flour foam dee Nude clapper spit"

Come to think of though, I've never actually laid eyes on Sitkovetsky here in Greensboro. I haven't made it to any of the Greensboro Symphony concerts lately (but what else would you expect from a rube like me?) so I have to trust the word of others that they've actually seen him on the podium. There are pictures of him (or maybe it's just an actor) on the Symphony's website. But, you know, all those billboards around town announcing "The Sitkovetsky Era" only showed a drawing of the Maestro - an artist's conception if you will. If you looked really closely at those billboards, way at the bottom, there in tiny lettering, were these words: This is what our conductor would look like if we actually had one but we kept the money and bought new tubas instead. Those Symphony folks are so clever - much smarter than those of us who attend the Sealy Fox 8 Holiday Concerts.

Concert Notes: I'm sure Neal McNeal is still regretting he implied that there are thousands of Old Dominion trucks on the roads trying to run us down. He may also have regretted saying that soloist Lisa Dames looked like Patsy Cline. She didn't. Speaking of Lisa, I think we could have done with maybe one fewer song from her - my vote would have been for the sappy "Christmas Shoes." Fox 8 personality, Julie Luck, looked very lovely (especially liked the shoes, Julie) but it was her unenviable task to "bring down the mood" with the announcement that cars parked in the Tobacco USA lot were being towed. She did manage to keep Neal McNeal from wandering too far off the schedule and for that we're grateful. The most charming skating moment was the gentleman who hoisted the little girls into awkward lifts and spun them around so carefully (liberal use of the awwwwwww factor). The Choral Society of Greensboro was brilliant, of course.

Friday, December 16, 2005

For Moon Children only

Did you see it? I did.

The final full moon of the year was last night but with all the clouds and rain and general yuckiness it was out of sight and out of mind. However, this morning at around 6:15 when I stepped out to get the newspaper it was shinning brightly in a clear star-studded sky - it was quite a sight.

This particular morning our newspaper route carrier was a little behind his time so while I waited to see the headlights of his white Astro van coming down the steet, I enjoyed the moon-lit stillness of a magical frosty December morning watching the tiny blinking lights of early morning aircraft move silently across the sky. I might have stayed longer but the newspaper delivery was nowhere in sight and there was hot coffee waiting for me inside - and the aforementioned frostiness was finding its way inside my bathrobe. So, goodnight moon. It was nice of you to drop by.

Any resemblance of the above text to a certain poem by Robert Frost was purely unintentional.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stay Home and Veg Tonight

I was waiting for it: the ominous crrrraaaaaaaaaccccckkkkking sound of branches snapping under the weight of ice that usually heralds an imminent power failure. Luckily, it didn't come. However, the kiddies did get to have an early holiday break and those of us in the employ of the University got a nice little delay. When it comes to freaking-out over weather nobody freaks out like we doFrom where I sit in my ivory tower it doesn't look like the ice is melting off the trees yet and it appears that the promised "highs in the 40s" aint going to happen. In fact, the current forecast is saying "...POTENTIAL FOR DEADLY COMBINATION OF DENSE FOG AND BLACK ICE..."
Hey, you gotta love that!If I were you I'd make sure the liquor cabinet is well stocked and that there are three or four loaves of bread and several gallons of milk on hand. Tonight would be a great night to make a nice dinner, finish those decorating chores you've been putting off, writing the Holiday cards to the people low on your list, maybe building a fire and checking to see if you can find "It's a Wonderful Life" somewhere on TV. If you're the adventurous type who laughs at bad weather, tonight would be the ideal time to hit the stores or go to the movies where the lines for King Kong could theoretically be shorter. But wouldn't you rather veg since you've got such a great opportunity?
It's almost four O'Clock. If you're still at work tell your boss you have a family emergency and have to leave early. He will probably appreciate this because he'd just as soon go home himself.
Becky Sue and I'll see you at HT. Just be careful out there.

Monday, December 12, 2005

O Christmas Tree

At this very moment my spouse is laboring at the annual chore of decorating the Christmas tree. I did my part Saturday: I vacuumed up the last few needles from last year’s tree, put this year’s in the stand (more or less straight) and put on the lights on. Whew! Talk about exhausting. I had to spend the entire day yesterday recuperating in front of the TV (watching the Panthers blow what should have been an easy game).

When you’ve been married for several decades, raised a couple of children to proto-adulthood and accumulated enough decorations to fill seven big Rubbermaid tubs the prospect of decorating another Christmas tree can be almost overwhelming. I can tell she’s not really up for it this year because she usually can’t wait to get her favorite decorations, the Hallmark Rocking Horses (1981 – 1997), on the tree. Why, yesterday she only got 20 ornaments up before she quit.

Part of our holiday torpor stems from the ravages of Empty-nest Syndrome. We’ve still got one in college and if he ever decides to come home for the Holidays maybe some of our ENS might go away. To be honest though, the Christmas tree has been entirely my wife’s chore since the kids got their first Nintendo game system way back when. After that time the kids never showed much interest in helping put up the tree (they will criticize it if it’s not up to their expectations.) So, having a child at home may add to the holiday spirit but not much to tree-decorating.

People may ask: what’s the matter with you that you can help decorate the tree? Well, let me tell you. There appears to be an aesthetic standard that can only be realized when a woman does the decorating – strange but true. I’ve asked dozens of guys about this and to a man, each reports that his decorating duties end at putting up the lights. We’re genetically incapable of discerning when a spot calls for a red or a silver ornament (when put to the test we will invariable guess wrong.) We are disqualified because of our gender.

Tonight when I go home I will congratulate my wife on another year’s triumph, fix her a drink (maybe two) and bask in the glow of Holiday magic. Now, if I can only figure out a genetic anomaly that would prevent me from having to Christmas shop.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Spectacular Light Show

If you found today's N&R article about How to make lighted tree balls interesting (and even if you didn't) you owe it to yourself to take a little drive down Ridgeway Ave. It's one of those great community efforts with almost everyone on Ridgeway (and several intersecting streets) sporting these tree balls. Go on, pack up the fam and go see for yourself. What would be really cool, of course, would be if next year, the entire city of Greensboro made and displayed these balls. We'd be famous as "The City that loved Christmas." (Which we do). See the map below for directions.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Make Mine a Lexus

It's funny how some companies tote out Holiday commercials (and play them endlessly) for what has to be a miniscule market. I'm speaking today about the current Lexus commercials.

In one, the model from the "All About the O", commercials (see note below) is obviously having a hard time trying to figure out what to give her hubby for Christmas. You can tell from her pouty perplexed expression that time is running short and those Internet pages she's perusing are all dead-ends. Luckily, she happens to look out her window and sees a Lexus sporting a big red bow (choirs of angels begin to sing "Allelujah" - in my version). The Lexus she's looking at pulls away revealing that the big red bow is really a decoration in the yard across the street. HA HA HA we were so fooled - the first few dozen times we saw that spot. So anyway, to make a short story shorter, in the next scene we see our heroine presenting a brand new Lexus to her model husband. Could he be a doctor maybe? Corporate exec? High-powered attorney? What ever he does for a living he must also play a lot of golf 'cause he just has that look.

We have a little ritual at my house that whenever that commercial comes on I say to my wife: "Hey, I know what you can get me for Christmas this year." (She no longer thinks it's funny btw). Of course, most of us aren't doctors, lawyers, corporate execs - or models in Lexus commercials for that matter- we also don't have that look that says we play a lot of golf (and I'm going to guess that means 99% of the schlubs watching TV at that time - and yes, I'm including myself) so we can't pop down to our Lexus dealership and drop $50K on a new Lexus.

But logic tells me that Lexus isn't going to spend the kind of dough necessary to hire the models, produce the spots and buy the expensive holiday television time unless they expect some kind of return. Which means that the 1% of the non-schlub population that COULD afford to make a snap decision to buy a new Lexus and might Just Do It. So now the rest of us all feel bad about our crappy lives. Why God, why can't I just put on my Nike golf jacket, jump into my 20 year-old Pontiac, drive down to my Lexus dealership and drive home in a brand new Lexus? It aint fair I tells ya!

If you're driving your 20 year old car down the street on Christmas morning and are passed by a beautiful couple in a brand new Lexus, remember: God likes them better.

Note: What the heck did we ever do before the Internet? I did a Google search for " model and came up with this: The Sabine Ehrenfeld Internet Fan Page
Who would have thunk it? One minute Sabine (it's pronouced Sa-BEAN-uh fyi) is just a nameless (albeit gorgeous) face on TV and the next minute, I know more about her than I know about many of my co-workers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Holy Title Loan, Batman!

A couple of nights ago, while dozing in front of my TV I thought I saw the Reverend Al Sharpton shilling for a car title loan company. Nah, I thought, must be my imagination.

But last night I was wide awake when I saw the commercial again and this time it was NOT my imagination (I have witnesses). I have always secretly suspected that the Reverend Al inclined toward the slimeball end of the integrity spectrum and now we have confirmation.

Doing a bit of research about Loanmax, the company Al is shilling for, I found the following : END CAR TITLE LOANS and this from the Center for Responsible Lending. Turns out that this is another abusive lending practice with effective lending rates of upwards of 300%! But there is Al talking about how he is fighting for the common man and implying that when he needs quick cash he goes to Loanmax (that will be the day). Shame on you Al Sharpton!

In the commercial, Al references Virginia and not North Carolina so it's possible that this deceptive lending practice is not available to the common men and women of our fair state.

This from the man who wanted to be President!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mr. 1000

One dees days Boys
Gown see my bay-ee-ay-e-bee
Gown see my bay-bee
Comin' down the road.
She has my pardon
Pardon in her apron, woh lawd
Gone see the guvner
Said: release my man.
She's comin down the road, yeah
She's comin' down the road.
Red dress on, yeah
She's got her red dress on.

Ten Years After. "One of these days" from "A Space in Time"