Monthly Archives: September 2010

Here’s One from the Wayback


Now Playing: Effect and Cause, White Stripes. “I guess you have to have a problem, If you want to invent a contraption. First you cause a train wreck, Then you put me in traction. Well, first came an action, And then a reaction. But you can’t switch around, For your own satisfaction. Well, you put my house down, then got mad At my reaction.”

I’ll warn you right now this one’s full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Which is to say, don’t go looking for any meaning out of it.

My first memories are of living in the little house way out in the country, almost at the North Carolina line. How close? My sister started elementary school in North Carolina, even though we lived in Virginia.

I don’t remember a lot about it, only that Becky, my older brother Frankie and I were happy. As I remember, we had two cars, a blue Chevy Impala – don’t remember the year – and a 1957 Chevy Bel Air. It was pink with white accents, a real classic. I still smile when I see a car like it in an old movie or television show.

I can’t remember much about the house. I think it had three small bedrooms. But the only real detail I remember is the small hole in the living-room wall. It had been made, I was told, when Becky fired Frankie’s BB gun in the house. (To become the reserved, sweet person that she did, Becky had a checkered past growing up. She once broke a cereal bowl over Frankie’s head. And she dropped me out of the ’57 Chevy onto the sidewalk in town when we were visiting relatives.

One memory was of a birthday, maybe my fourth (which would have put it in 1961). I got a plastic fishing pole and bucket and was able to fish in it. I’m pretty sure they were the only fish I ever caught, though as an adult I did catch some crabs (put away the dirty minds) at the point in Emerald Isle.

The other memory I have was of what we did for entertainment. Which was walk to the country store about a quarter-mile or so away. It was my uncle Emory Watts’ store, and we kids were always welcome. There was a pool table – kids weren’t allowed to play, of course, but we could grab a soft-drink carton for a seat and watch the adults. There was hoop cheese, which was always good.

And there was the candy: My favorite, inexplicably, was always those miniature wax soft-drink bottles with two or three drops of syrup in them. But I also liked Mary Janes, peanut butter cups – I remember they weren’t Reese’s but I don’t remember what brand they were, maybe Boyer’s, the crowd that made Mallo Cups – and hard candy like hoarhound sticks. And orange crush and Coke in a bottle, even the small bottles.

We moved away right before I started school. In fact, we moved about one mile from Cluster Springs Elementary School, which would be convenient. Once I got old enough, I’d walk home most days (and still beat the bus).

It was built on what today was a pretty large lot, which was good until I started having to cut the grass. Built closer to civilization but still not in it. At the time, there was woods and pasture on all three sides. We’d drive over once a week or so and watch the progress of the construction. On one trip, I venture a little to close to the pasture. Got cow-licked. For real. To this day, I’m not crazy about beef.

This was the house I really grew up in. It wasn’t large, but there were three bedrooms, a living room, den, dining room, kitchen and a bath and a half. And a basement. I’d have a lot of fun in that basement through the years. And in that big front yard. I’d live there until I left for college. After that, I spend limited time there, a couple of summers, a little time after I finished college and a few days here or there after that.

I’ve a ton of memories about this house – some bitter but most very sweet. But those are tales for other times.

“Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.” _ Albert Einstein

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In My Neighborhood, We Pay the Bill


Now Playing: Gimme Shelter, by the Rolling Stones. “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, My very life today. If I don’t get some shelter, Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away. War, children, it’s just a shot away,  It’s just a shot away. War, children, it’s just a shot away. It’s just a shot away.”

Editor’s Note: When I wrote this blog this a.m., Karen hated it because it was backwards. So I’m flipping it. If you want to see the original, click here.

I’ve written often about how much I love my subdivision and my neighbors. We all live within walking distance and get together a lot and cook out or have appetizers or just talk. And drink. It’s usually at Bill and Deb’s house. Bill’s got a bar upstairs. It’s a good place to go and relax and tell yarns and listen to music and have fun. But’s also a dangerous place. We’ve all been Billed. By that I mean become so drunk that we’ve embarrassed ourselves.

The first one I can recall has been dubbed, by Karen, as the Great Crapper Caper. The names are being withheld to protect the guilty, but it happened, as I remember, at a St. Patrick’s Day gathering. One neighbor, I’ll call him Marv, got into the Irish whiskey, among other liquors, as I remember it. He started singing Irish jigs and telling great stories. Meanwhile his wife Daisy is fuming. Marv wasn’t allowed to come play with us for awhile after that.

Daisy finally sent Marv home. She followed a little later. But that didn’t end it. Turns out Marv had to use the bathroom (a common occurrence after being Billed, as it turns out). We’re not sure how the next step happened. But somehow Marv fell off the toilet and broke it while he was falling. Daisy called Bill, who, as is his nature, came over to help get Marv to bed and stem the toilet from gushing water.

What makes Bill so insidious is that he does his evil with a smile on his face. You never realize what has happened until it has happened. Or the next day, when you’re suffering for it.

Here’s a typical way he does it. We’ll be at his house, upstairs in the bar, watching the Super Bowl or the Panthers (and that one time, both) on the big screen TV. He starts out by pouring shots for touchdowns. Then for first downs. Then for commercials. Then for breathing. Before you know it, you’re out of control.

That’s how our friend Trevor, a 20-something guy that used to live in the neighborhood and for some reason liked to hang out with us old folks, got his.

I’d gotten drunk or tight several times at Bill’s, but I’d kept it under control for the most part. Until my turn came. The only good thing about this situation was, Karen got Billed, too. I won’t go into too many details, but she fell upstairs. (She wasn’t hurt.)

We’d been invited over for Frogmore stew, a tasty boil containing shrimp, crab legs, clams, mussels, smoke sausage, corn on the cob and redskin potatoes. There was plenty of food and the beer was flowing.

I didn’t want to be a pig, so I didn’t eat much – for me, anyway. Which didn’t serve me well when the party moved upstairs to Bill’s Bar. Where, as usual, Bill served exotic shot after normal shot after exotic shot. While having one himself only occasionally, then just sitting back and watching the havoc he had wreaked. Needless to say, I got trashed, as did my neighbor and amigo, David.

Because David is Puerto Rican, I started channeling West Side Story (always has been a favorite musical of mine). Which is to say I started singing. Not Officer Krupke or When You’re a Jet or America. I started singing I Feel Pretty. And doing the backup parts, too. The neighbors have never let me forget it.

To make it worse, David and I left the party to go play pool at his house. I remember leaving and taking a few shots but not much else. Neither does he. I think we’re both glad of that.

I ended up at my house, passed out in the bathroom, with Karen poking me with her foot to try to wake me up. It took me a few minutes, but I finally made it out in time to see her rubbing her head.

So there you have it, another instance of my life being a song. (There’s still at least one more instance, but I’m not sure I’ll ever reveal that one. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

We’ve all learned by now. Bill’s the greatest guy in the world, but he will leave you passed out on a broken toilet, or just in the bathroom, or on your steps. Or who knows where?

Saturday, he and Deb are going with Karen and I to a party at our friends Betty and Bob’s house, way out in Union County. I’ll be driving, so I won’t be partaking much, if any, and so I’ll be in control for this one. I’ve got a feeling Bill won’t be able to pass up the Shot Block. Betty and Bob always have this giant block of ice, with paths carved down it. The idea is to pour the shot down it, the recipient has to drink or get drenched.

This time, Bill might get Billed.

Shalom. Have a great weekend, and I promise I’ll see you next week.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” _ Soren Kierkegaard

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In My Neighborhood, We Pay the Bill


Now Playing: Gimme Shelter, by the Rolling Stones. “Oh, a storm is threat’ning, My very life today. If I don’t get some shelter, Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away. War, children, it’s just a shot away,  It’s just a shot away. War, children, it’s just a shot away. It’s just a shot away.”

Shalom. Have a great weekend, and I promise I’ll see you next week.

This time, Bill might get Billed.

Saturday, he and Deb are going with Karen and I to a party at our friends Betty and Bob’s house, way out in Union County. I’ll be driving, so I won’t be partaking much, if any, and so I’ll be in control for this one. I’ve got a feeling Bill won’t be able to pass up the Shot Block. Betty and Bob always have this giant block of ice, with paths carved down it. The idea is to pour the shot down it, the recipient has to drink or get drenched.

We’ve all learned by now. Bill’s the greatest guy in the world, but he will leave you passed out on a broken toilet, or just in the bathroom, or on your steps. Or who knows where?

So there you have it, another instance of my life being a song. (There’s still at least one more instance, but I’m not sure I’ll ever reveal that one. Think Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

I ended up at my house, passed out in the bathroom, with Karen poking me with her foot to try to wake me up. It took me a few minutes, but I finally made it out in time to see her rubbing her head.

To make it worse, David and I left the party to go play pool at his house. I remember leaving and taking a few shots but not much else. Neither does he. I think we’re both glad of that.

Because David is Puerto Rican, I started channeling West Side Story (always has been a favorite musical of mine). Which is to say I started singing. Not Officer Krupke or When You’re a Jet or America. I started singing I Feel Pretty. And doing the backup parts, too. The neighbors have never let me forget it.

I didn’t want to be a pig, so I didn’t eat much – for me, anyway. Which didn’t serve me well when the party moved upstairs to Bill’s Bar. Where, as usual, Bill served exotic shot after normal shot after exotic shot. While having one himself only occasionally, then just sitting back and watching the havoc he had wreaked. Needless to say, I got trashed, as did my neighbor and amigo, David.

We’d been invited over for Frogmore stew, a tasty boil containing shrimp, crab legs, clams, mussels, smoke sausage, corn on the cob and redskin potatoes. There was plenty of food and the beer was flowing.

I’d gotten drunk or tight several times at Bill’s, but I’d kept it under control for the most part. Until my turn came. The only good thing about this situation was, Karen got Billed, too. I won’t go into too many details, but she fell upstairs. (She wasn’t hurt.)

That’s how our friend Trevor, a 20-something guy that used to live in the neighborhood and for some reason liked to hang out with us old folks, got his.

Here’s a typical way he does it. We’ll be at his house, upstairs in the bar, watching the Super Bowl or the Panthers (and that one time, both) on the big screen TV. He starts out by pouring shots for touchdowns. Then for first downs. Then for commercials. Then for breathing. Before you know it, you’re out of control.

What makes Bill so insidious is that he does his evil with a smile on his face. You never realize what has happened until it has happened. Or the next day, when you’re suffering for it.

Daisy finally sent Marv home. She followed a little later. But that didn’t end it. Turns out Marv had to use the bathroom (a common occurrence after being Billed, as it turns out). We’re not sure how the next step happened. But somehow Marv fell off the toilet and broke it while he was falling. Daisy called Bill, who, as is his nature, came over to help get Marv to bed and stem the toilet from gushing water.

The first one I can recall has been dubbed, by Karen, as the Great Crapper Caper. The names are being withheld to protect the guilty, but it happened, as I remember, at a St. Patrick’s Day gathering. One neighbor, I’ll call him Marv, got into the Irish whiskey, among other liquors, as I remember it. He started singing Irish jigs and telling great stories. Meanwhile his wife Daisy is fuming. Marv wasn’t allowed to come play with us for awhile after that.

I’ve written often about how much I love my subdivision and my neighbors. We all live within walking distance and get together a lot and cook out or have appetizers or just talk. And drink. It’s usually at Bill and Deb’s house. Bill’s got a bar upstairs. It’s a good place to go and relax and tell yarns and listen to music and have fun. But’s also a dangerous place. We’ve all been Billed. By that I mean become so drunk that we’ve embarrassed ourselves.

If you got this far, thanks for indulging me on this backwards blog!

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” _ Soren Kierkegaard

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Still More Tales From a Reporter’s Notebook, or The Gastonia Connection


Now Playing: Seems Like a Long Time, by Rod Stewart “War time is only the other side of peace time, but if you’ve ever seen how wars are won, you know what it’s like, to wish peace time would come. And don’t it seem like a long time, seem like a long time, seems like a long, long time. Don’t it though, Rod.

I start this entry today with a disclaimer. Nothing that follows should be taken as making fun of Gastonia or Gastonians. I promise. I loved my four years there (and still go to a dentist there, because I trust him).

Here in the Greater Charlotte Area, Gastonia often is the butt of jokes. I’ve laughed, too, even though I’ve lived there, and really liked a lot about the city – Tony’s Ice Cream, R.O.’s barbecue, etc. We moved to Gastonia in March 1993 because I took a job as news editor at The Gaston Gazette. I also worked as sports editor (an entry for another day) and special-projects editor. Met a bunch of good folks there, including a bunch of current Facebook friends: Anna Turnage, Leslie Weaver, Shana Hefner, Heather Hay, Andy Jasner, Devin Steele (which I’ve always thought would make a great name for a hard-boiled private investigator), Bill Sheridan, Barry Smith, Barry Bridges, Jamey Reynolds and I’m sure some others. I also reconnected there with a good friend from Jacksonville, Jim Bretzius, and his wife Hunter, who’s now the editor of The Gazette.

Anyway, in addition to making a lot of good friends, I also learned a lot at The Gazette. Most of all I learned about finding the Local Angle. You know, the connection to a national news story that makes it relevant to readers. In Gastonia, I learned that there’s ALWAYS a local angle. You just have to find it.

Here’s the part where I might offend the city and its residents: You know how Sunnydale High School in Buffy the Vampire Slayer sat on a Hellmouth, the gateway to demon realms. That’s why Buffy and her pals had so many problems. Well, I think Gastonia might be sitting on another kind of portal – the gateway to weird.

Some of it is little weird. Like my boss at the Gazette, Skip. His first name was Arthur. Like me. His middle name was Frank. My dad and brother’s name. We showed up at the same party with our wives. It was the first and only time we ever met. My wife was wearing a black shirt and green khaki shorts. His wife was wearing a black shirt and green khaki shorts. And it gets better. The day I told folks at the office that Karen and I were expecting our first child, he told folks at the office that he and Dina were expecting their first child.

Some of it is BIG weird. Remember the San Diego cult that designed websites and its members committed suicide with phenobarbitol AND plastic bags tied around their heads because they were convinced that a space ship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet would take them to heaven. The leader, Marshall Applewhite, and some of its members had castrated themselves. Guess where Marshall once was a minister of music at a Presbyterian church?

It’s still going on, too. In the past few days, a West Virginia advocate for medically assisted suicide announced that, because North Carolina no law specifically criminalizing physician-assisted suicide, he wanted to establish a center here. And guess where he decided it should be?

Guess that’s one way to get out of town.

“Know what’s weird. Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon, everything’s different.” _ Bill Watterson (the guy who used to do Calvin & Hobbes)

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You Can Go Home Again …


Now Playing: Something in the Way She Moves, by James Taylor, which seems kind of appropriate given today’s news about my beloved Tar Heels. “There’s something in the way she moves, Or looks my way, or calls my name, That seems to leave this troubled world behind. And if I’m feeling down and blue, Or troubled by some foolish game, She always seems to make me change my mind.”

I never made it through Thomas Wolfe’s works, Look Homeward, Angel or You Can’t Go Home Again. Too many parsed brows or lips or whatever.

But I will take issue with his titles, if nothing else.

That’s because I went home a couple of weekends ago. To my 35th High School Reunion. Against all odds.

Let me explain. I grew up in Cluster Springs, Va., a small community near the not-so-bustling town of South Boston, Va. It’s near Danville.

I’ve written before about family and friends there and – trust me – I loved them all. But my dream all through school was getting away. That’s partially because of my chosen field of study – Journalism. I didn’t want to work for either of the twice-weeklies in town. And really, I wanted to see more of the world. Particularly after four years at the University of the People in Chapel Hill. (And make no mistake, I still love my alma mater, despite its football scandal. Might love it more, even, because it’s so obviously trying to do the RIGHT thing instead of the BETTER FOR SPORTS thing.)

So I knew early on I’d be leaving town when I got out of high school. And I didn’t come back much during college. I stayed in Chapel Hill the summer between my junior and senior years and for awhile after graduation. I got a real job in August and moved away for good, other than trips, usually brief ones, to visit the family. Which means it had been about 33 years since I’d seen anyone from high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like ’em, I just grew away from them, for better or worse.

When I started social networking in December, I connected with some folks from my old high school. Then some more. And more. Some lived in SoBo, others had moved – to Richmond, London, South Carolina and a lot of other places. When the idea of a class reunion surfaced, Karen and I talked about it and committed to go.

As the day approached, I got a little bit worried. My two best friends in high school, Tommy and Howard, weren’t on the list. I hadn’t reconnected with them, to my discredit. Nor were three good friends from elementary school, Mike, George and Larry. I’d reconnected with George – he lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and I knew his coming would be a longshot. We’ll have our own reunion some other time – here in Charlotte or in J-ville. I’m confident of that. But a lot of folks would be there that I hadn’t seen in ages, particularly a bunch of female friends. Including the first girl I kissed – my childhood friend, Mitzi (It was in first grade: She and I were the king and queen of our class), my senior prom date (both of them – but that’s a tale for another time, or would be if I remembered more of it), and a bunch of others.

When the day got there, Karen and I dumped the kids off at my sister’s and headed to the Country Club.

I worried at first I’d gotten the date or place wrong. Everybody looked too old. Then I looked in the mirror and realized I really was in the right place.

So how was it? It was really good. My friend Amy showed Karen some photos from the senior yearbook, back when I was skinny. I caught up with a lot of folks. It was mostly, where do you live, what are you doing, here’s photos of my kids and so on. What else do you say to folks you haven’t seen for at least 33 years. Some highlights: Found out that two former classmates lived in the Charlotte area. Debi, whom I knew in high school but not well, is in Huntersville. She lives about a mile from the business park where I interviewed for a job this week. The other Charlottean was my old friend Pam. She and I had nearly every class together and it was like we’d never missed a beat. We said we’d get together, and I think we almost certainly will. (Karen liked her, too.) Got a warmer-than-expected greeting from someone who’d once called me – to my face – the most stuck-up guy in junior high (in actuality, I had a huge crush on her, while considering her the most stuck-up girl in junior high).

But I couldn’t help thinking about the people who weren’t there. My friend Nick came after Karen and I had left. He joined the Navy after high school, and I haven’t seen him since. I hate that I missed him. I’d still like to see Tommy and Howard. I found out Larry had lost both legs because of complications due to diabetes (which was crushing, he was a great basketball player and had played collegiately at Elon). Also missing was the girl I’d had the biggest crush of all on in high school. And Joan. Joan had been one of my best friends from elementary school through high school. She gave me rides to and from school. I don’t think we ever had a cross word. But I’d heard a few months ago that Joan was dead. I don’t know how or when. But I missed her greatly.

Despite the bitter, there was plenty of sweet though. You can go home again. Just don’t expect it to be like it used to be.

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” _ Maya Angelou

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