Monthly Archives: September 2011

Pond-ering the Past


Now Playing: Impossible Germany, by Wilco. “Wherever you go, Wherever you land, I’ll say what this means to me. I’ll do what I can.”

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I like to listen to Spotify, the online music service. I like Pandora, too, because the two are different. On Spotify, you mostly pick what you want to hear when you want to hear it (there are a few biggies like Led Zep that aren’t on it). So you can listen to stuff you’ve always wanted to hear more of – for me, that’s been Gram Parsons – or that you’ve always liked but never owned – like Traffic and John Hiatt.

I don’t always use Spotify, though. I like Pandora, too, because of the randomness of it all. You get introduced to stuff you might not have heard. The Supersuckers, fronted by my favorite artist (or at least the artist with my favorite name) Eddie Spaghetti, fall into this category.

But anyway, I get sentimental sometimes – I know that’s a shock – when I’m listening to Spotify and listen to stuff from my youth back in old South Boston, Va. And a recent song got me thinking about my best bud in high school, Tommy Nelson, whom I haven’t seen or heard from in at least 32 years.

The song was from an entirely forgettable Uriah Heep live album that Tommy had. Actually it was a medley: The Rock’N’Roll Medley, in which the band covered Roll Over Beethoven, Blue Suede Shoes, Mean Woman Blues, Hound Dog, At the Hop and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.

Was it any good? Hell, no. But we were 16 years old when it came out and we liked it. We liked it so much that we even sort of had a routine with it, where we’d trade the lead vocal back and forth. Bad enough that we did that. But I remember actually singing it for these girls (and I’m withholding the names to protect the innocent) we double-dated with. Who actually went out again with us after that. (Funny thing is, we never really set at the beginning who was dating whom, but it all worked out. Both of us liked both of them, and we had a good time. Which is all I’ll say about that.)

One thing I can’t remember about the above incident is whether we took the girls to Nelson’s Pond. Though I’m pretty sure we did. It would have been SOP.

Nelson’s Pond. Now there are some memories, though admittedly many of them are hazy.

We interrupt this blog for a special announcement to one potential reader: To Tommy’s sister, Anne Garner (who is one of my Facebook friends), if you’re reading this, stop now. Please. (I will always think of Anne Garner as being about 10 years old, though I know she’s not: She’s married to my cousin, for one thing.)

Nelson’s Pond was across the road from Tommy’s house on land that his parents owned. Or at least that’s what we called it when we went there to party. When we took dates there, we called it Passion Pond. Though I don’t know that it ever lived completely up to that name. Or at least I’m not telling.

But we had a lot of good parties there. We drank a lot of beer and did other stuff – again, I’m not telling. Let’s just say it sort of reminds me of the big field where they throw the party in Dazed and Confused, by far the best move ever made about growing up in the 1970s.

As kids can be, though, we were kinda stupid. I don’t know that we left them, but lots of beer cans – and other stuff – got left on the property. So eventually Tommy’s parents put a gate up on the road that went in there. Which didn’t stop us. Tommy had a key, after all, but it put a damper on having parties there. Particularly since it meant that Tommy’s parents, T.P. and Doris Anne, were kinda keeping an eye on activity there. We had to be a lot more careful after that – there was only one way in or out, so you definitely didn’t want to get caught.

Tommy and I actually met on the basketball court – we played on the two best teams in a youth league. He played for the Hawks – they had a 6-6 guy at center who went on to play some at Hampden-Sydney College, a really tough guy named Rex Puryear, a really good point guard, Stan Bradshaw, and some other good players. I played for the Springers. We had my best friend growing up, Mike Lipford, who was a damn good athlete and I think could have been a really good basketball player, my good buddy George Fountain, who was about 6-1 or 6-2 at the time and was a top player, and Larry Scott, who would later star at Elon. The other two starters were Ronnie Ratliff and me – our job was to play defense and pass – anything but shoot. Our coach was Harrison Connor, a tough guy who sponsored the team out of his own pocket when the local Ruritans withdrew funding because we had black players. Sadly, I’m not making that up.

Anyway, the Hawks beat us, but Tommy and I got to be friends. He’d later talk me into going to his church, First Baptist Church in South Boston. I went because they took beach trips and stuff. (Which might be fodder for a future entry. Or not.) I’d go to Sunday school, sometimes preaching. Or sometimes we’d go to the gas station down the street and hang out, sometimes with one of the Methodist Church girls I had a huge crush on. Sometimes we’d go to the Presbyterian Church across the street: Pound for pound, they had the best-looking girls.

But Tommy and I lost touch when we went to college. I was at UNC, Tommy was at Wake Forest. I went over to visit him once and really didn’t like it there at all. To top it off, we lost the football game to them that weekend.

I never went back, and I never saw Tommy much after that. I hear he’s moved back to SoBo, and some of my friends have reported running into him. I’d like to reconnect with my old buddy, but I haven’t put much effort into it. I’m kinda that way.

And I’d better quit now before this whole thing gets a bit too – here it comes – pond-erous.

“A fool can throw a stone in a pond that 100 wise men can not get out.” – Saul Bellow

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I Never Tire of Good Service


Karen tells me I’ve been ranting a lot lately on Facebook. From crappy service/treatment at/by Lowe’s to the Boy Chancellor to the DMV, it just seems like stuff has been driving me crazy – crazier – lately.

But here’s the thing. I don’t bitch all the time.

Case in point: Tuesday.

Karen had just left the house when the phone rang a few minutes later. It was her: “The TPMS light is back on.” “Come back home, I’ll put some air in it.”

I should explain here that a couple of weeks ago the Tire Pressure Management System light had come on while we were a few miles from the house in Monroe. I checked the front driver’s side tire and sure enough it was a bit low, so I went to the gas station nearest the house and put some air in the offending tire. Checked it the next morning, and the next and a few times since and everything’s been A-OK. I’d pretty much assigned it to the inactive file of my brain filing cabinet.

Till Tuesday. She got home and we swapped cars, and I went to the gas station and measured it. It had lost a fair amount of air, so I added some and knew that I likely had a problem. That afternoon, I called the service guys at the Dale Jarrett dealership around the corner and told ’em my problem.

I’d started going to the dealership for my oil changes and other service needs a couple of years ago. It is close to Murray Manor and I like the cafe over at the Ford section of the dealership. They serve a mean country ham biscuit and have good wi-fi, which combine to take the sting out of waiting. They’re fast, they don’t up sell and I trust ’em. One day I had a lengthy repair and they took me home so I didn’t have to cool my heels there all day.

Anyway, they told me to bring it before 4 and they’d fix it that afternoon. I told ’em I was pretty sure I needed to replace the bad tire and its mate and would leave it up to them as to whether I needed to replace all four tires and that I certainly thought it was possible.

So I went down about 3:30, dreading the $325 for two tires I’d surely have to pay and the $650 that I feared it would be.

They got to it right away and five minutes later the main service comes back into the waiting room. “Mr. Murray, I can’t in good conscience tell you that you need to replace ANY tires. They’re in great shape.” “What about the leaky one?” “There’s a nail in it. We can patch it and get you out of here for $12.”

There you go. I’d given them free reign to charge me $650. They’d countered with $12.

I’ve always liked Dale Jarrett as a driver. For one thing, he’s a big Carolina fan. And he’s always seemed like a good dude, an unassuming guy it’d be fun to have a beer and watch a game with.

And while I still don’t want to buy a Ford (my Dad wouldn’t like it if I did), I’ll continue to patronize the service folks at his dealership. There are some good guys there.

So much for the raving part of today’s post. But you just knew there had to be rant, and here it comes.

Last week several North Carolina newspapers published articles about a state Department of Public Instruction report on the layoffs that have been imposed since the recession in 2008. The report was worthless, it turned out a couple days later when it was really scrutinized, because the school systems used different criteria in determining what was a layoff and what wasn’t. Two systems didn’t even answer the survey.

The original articles talked about how many fewer teachers there are this year in public schools in the state (that part isn’t debatable). And how many fewer teacher assistants. And counselors. And nurses. And social workers. And librarians. It’s an outrage, really, a stupid, shortsighted, penny-wise and pound-foolish move by the Republicans who now control the flow of tax money in the state. All to get rid of a penny of the state sales tax. I don’t know about you, but that extra penny I’ve been keeping since July 1 isn’t exactly making my pockets bulge.

But here’s the thing. The article didn’t talk about how many fewer assistant principals there are in schools this year. And I have a feeling – from the anecdotal evidence of the schools my kids go to – that there aren’t fewer assistant principals. Which is the one thing the schools could do without.

I didn’t like the assistant principals back when I was in school. And I liked them far better then than I like the ones I’ve dealt with since my kids started middle and high school.

Like the one who assured my wife that my oldest son was safe. Safe from the “death threat” issued by his 50-pound girlfriend because he had teased her.

Like the one who told me last year that kids giving an account of an “incident” involving my youngest son weren’t just saying what she wanted to hear. “I’m a trained professional, Mr. Murray. I know how to get them to tell the truth,” she said. Only she didn’t. That’s according to one of my son’s teachers, who knew of at least one lie told in the recounting of the incident. And told me about it. The same assistant principal who hung up on me when I was discussing the “incident” with her. (Full disclosure: I had Hulked up and was yelling at her.)

Like the one who refused to let my son transfer to another section of biology last spring to get away from a crappy teacher. Despite having the backing of his guidance counselor for the transfer request. Despite my taking time to attend a conference with the teacher. Who told at least three lies during her conversation with me – she didn’t know I knew what I knew, but the guidance counselor did and heard the same things I heard. The same assistant principal who wouldn’t return calls or emails requesting an explanation. He finally – at the prodding of his boss, whom I really admire – did tell me that he just didn’t want to let a student change teachers. (So why’d I go through the conference, it the transfer wasn’t going to happen regardless? All I heard was the crickets.)

Like the one who prowls the halls of my son’s middle school with a bullhorn. The better to yell at kids with.

Like the one who makes the robo-calls nearly every night from the middle school. To give such vitally important information as bluejean day Friday of last week. On consecutive nights.

And yet we keep these people when budgets get tight and cut teachers. It ain’t right.

When you get right down to it, I find them pretty – wait for it – TIRE-some.

So it goes.

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