Archive for April, 2009

Baby classes

April 29, 2009

Julie and I began our baby classes last night at the local hospital. I am again struck with respect and reverence for her, and for my Mom, and for all of those women who, to steal from Look Who’s Talking, squeeze something the size of a watermelon out of a hole the size of a lemon.

After my friend Ryan Clark’s award-winning facebook alerts from he and his wife’s baby classes, I had high hopes for hilarity. There wasn’t overly much. I was impressed when our instructor told us a story of going to the hospital once just before birth, thinking her water broke, but finding out that she had peed her bed instead. I also was struck by the name of a rather disgusting gynecological phenomenon called “Bloody Show”. I was struck because I think it’s an awesome name for a bad rock band. Preferrably an English one.

Next week, I get to see two births on video. The thought did cross my mind that this is God’s revenge on me for every not-at-all-safe-for-children movie moment I’ve ever viewed. The second thought that crossed my mind was wondering what poor woman consented to allow vast rooms of people to watch movies of her naughty bits in all their raging birth-giving glory. I have respect and reverence for her too.

I’ll keep everyone posted. We’re down to approximately T minus 14 weeks for the arrival of my daughter. Which still sounds almost as odd to me as the idea of watching two women give birth next Tuesday. Ah well, it’s a new era. Or if not, it will be on Tuesday.

Joe

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Book #17- White House Ghosts by Robert Schlessinger

April 29, 2009

No, this book isn’t actually about ghosts, it’s about speechwriters. The general premise is to go President-by-President from FDR to W, discuss their speechwriters and their role in the administrations. Basically, there were a few universal premises I can report. How good of a speaker a President was seemed directly related to how well he got along/functioned with his speechwriters. When things didn’t work out, Presidents got pissy and fired people. When things worked, Presidents took all the credit.

Schlessinger has some interesting stories. It’s good to know who told Reagan to say “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” or where “Ich Bein Ein Berliner” (which I probably spelled wrong– sorry, don’t do German) came from, or how Harry Truman’s speechwriters worked on the whistle stop campaign that won the 1948 Presidential election. As I say, the down side is that it’s all pretty much the same story with a different Presidential name.

Still, if you’re a history junkie, there is some interesting insight here, and I felt that Schlesinger was fair and non-partisan in his writing.

#16- Redneck Riviera by Dennis Covington

April 21, 2009

The march to 50 new books in 2009 edges on…

16. Redneck Riviera- Dennis Covington

This book is a fairly thin memoir, but really struck a chord with me. Covington, who is Alabama ne’er-do-well, goes in search of his inheritance. Basically, his father was swindled in the purchase of 2 1/2 acres of swamp land in Florida. The land is being used by a group of violent squatters who call themselves “The Hunt Club”. Covington tries to claim his land, but his cabin is shot up, his pick up truck is torched, he is cursed and regaled, but on he fights.

What this book is really about is generations– the gap between our parents and us, and us and our kids (I say this although Covington is closer to my own parents’ age really)– and about inheritance. What do we take from those who come before? What should we take? What does any of it mean anyway? THese are the sort of questions which Covington seeks to answer. He is most poignant when he recalls a failed business venture of his teenaged years, selling armadillos, and his own father’s disappointment with the failure. He ties this in with he and his own daughter finding an armadillo near his father’s land and “adopting” it, only to have that armadillo die as well. It sounds odd and quirky, and it is, not unlike Covington himself. But it’s also a lot of fun, and a good book to make you think about what land means, and inheritance means, and life means. Not too shabby.

A brave new world of chicken

April 21, 2009

I am writing with not an experience, but an epiphany. A religious revelation. Moses had the burning bush, but I had the hot chicken.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a piece of a dilapidated strip mall in North Nashville, in a rather dubious part of town. The restaurant has a handfull of tables, and a dingy green color scheme. The area by the counter is highlighted by a certificate from a Tennessee Speaker of the House of Representatives proclaiming Prince’s the best restaurant in Tennessee, and a large bail bonds ad.

The menu is quite simple. There are a handful of sides– baked beans, potato salad, slaw, fries, and then there is the hot chicken. Mild, medium, hot, and extra hot. I bought mild and frankly cannot fathom the insanity of anyone to go above medium.

This is the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. Tender and crispy, but the breading isn’t just breading. It’s fire breading. You take a bite, feel the burn of cayenne pepper and simulataneous wonder how you’re going to eat another bite and how many more seconds you can survive without doing so.

On some level, I think eating Prince’s qualifies as an extreme sport. I always wondered about people who jump out of planes or surf giant waves. But I suppose the point of the whole exercise is the wild exhileration when it doesn’t kill you. As I picked apart each crumb in the box and sucked the last bites of skin off of my hot chicken, I understood it.

The tastiest chicken and one of the spiciest things I’ve ever eaten (and again, I got “mild”)– the combination is almost too much to bear. It’s like eating a great hamburger while riding a roller coaster, or getting a relieving massage in a hot tub. The senses just don’t know how to react.

I’m choosing just raving. You have to try this. Really. And in the meanwhile, here’s a 9 minute video about Prince’s, to help illustrate some of these things, as well as providing you with some background on how it came about (short version– womanizer goes home to angry girlfriend who tries to half poison him with scalding hot chicken, but he loves it, and dedicates his life to selling it).

May it brighten your week!

Joe

Presley-iad

April 8, 2009

While having a mini-vacation last weekend, Julie and I stayed in Tupelo, Mississippi. There’s not too much going on for Tupelo, but one thing it is famous for is being the birthplace of Elvis. We went to Graceland in the middle of a snowstorm a couple of years ago. It was all so incredibly surreal, like walking through a movie set which somebody called home. The garish and overwrought nature of the place ties in neatly with the chiq early ’70s decor. Austin Powers might live there, but not you or I.

While in Tupelo, we went to Elvis’s birthplace. It’s a two room shack, which reminds me of a much smaller version of the old home place where my great aunt and uncle still live. Elvis’s birthplace doesn’t have a broken down refrigerator on the porch or random chickens wandering about, and as I say, it’s much smaller, but otherwise, it was a relative ringer.

We paid our $4 and were rewarded with a tour of the two room dwelling, from a sharp elderly citizen of Tupelo, who filled us in on the history. The house was built by Elvis’s father, and by the time Elvis was three, his father went to prison for passing a forged check, and the family could not make payments, and the house was repossessed. The Presleys then moved in with Elvis’s grandparents, until they moved to Memphis when he was 13, and into public housing.

Somehow the sparse two room shack explained Elvis and Graceland and Colonel Tom and the Memphis Mafia and all of it. You could almost see the little boy, noted by friends to generally have ill-fitting clothing, the survivor of a pair of twins, a quiet Mama’s boy, about to be dispossessed of this very shack due to an eight dollar forged check. You could almost feel the organic American dream which had to sprout– that he would be bigger and richer and able to care for his parents and that the same kids who said his name to laugh at him would say it with that mixture of awe and revulsion which marks America’s attitude toward the many facets of Elvis to this day. Blue suede shoes and white suits and peanut butter and banana sandwiches and the jungle room. It was all there. And you didn’t have to linger too long to find it either.

Our tour guide told us that in 1956, when Elvis came back to town to play a concert, the house and 15 acres of land were for sale. He told the city that they could keep the money from the show if they would buy up the land and build a park. If that’s not a self-confident, self-mythologizing streak, then what is?

Still, I’d like to think that the tiny Tupelo house is the closest thing to the real Elvis we’ll ever find. I’d like to take the positives of the story as true– that our nation isn’t an aristocracy and those blessed with talent and drive and perhaps the hand of God can flourish from a two room shack in Tupelo as well as from the largest mansions. But I guess I also have to remember that little three year old boy and all of the ones who don’t make it out. And all of the pieces of the ones who do make it out that get left behind.

Joe

#15 Run It And Let’s Get the Hell Out of Here- Jonathan Rand

April 8, 2009

Subtitled, the comment of the Doctor who performed my colonoscopy.

Alright, alright. I’ll let it die.

Actual subtitle is “The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History”

I bought this book because it was cheap and looked easy to read. It was. Jonathan Rand does 2-3 page chapters on his 100 most memorable pro football plays. Out of the 100, I remembered maybe 20 of them. I’m not a giant NFL fan. But it was a fun way to remember the ones I do recall, and to learn about some of the other ones. It also was a good antidote to the other two books I’m working on now, about the Bible and U.S. Presidential speechwriters.

There is plenty more to come. I got a memoir from a Southern man who talks about nearly being killed trying to reclaim the 2 1/2 acres which his father was schemed out of, and which made up his entire inheritance. I got a newish book on Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is a wonderful writer, and Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation.” There’s another Springsteen book, and a biography of Cawood Ledford, king of basketball radio announcers. I will get to 50 new books in 2009. Maybe.

Joe

Colonoscopy or Things You Didn’t Want to Know About Me

April 8, 2009

A couple of weeks back, I got the privilege of undergoing a colonoscopy. This provided a lot of discomfort and a good excuse to write about something other than books. I’ll try to keep the blog family friendly, but in this case, there is a certain challenge.

The Preparation

After a day of clear liquids (water, chicken broth, jello and banana popsicles), the true fun set in after work.

At 5:00 the night before, I got to drink a small bottle of a liquid that I would describe as tasting like equal mixtures of battery acid, Sprite, and horse urine. Granted, I’ve never drank battery acid or horse urine. I’ve never been run over by a bus either, but I know it hurts. So anyway, I drank my little bottle. Although getting run over by the bus might be better.

I settled in to watch the NCAA tournament, not realizing that in fact I would be watching short bursts of the NCAA tournament.

At 7:00, I began drinking 64 ounces of Gatorade, cut with 14 days worth of laxative. Yes, two weeks. I called the nurse to confirm that they weren’t trying to kill me. She chuckled and admitted “Yeah, it is a lot.” Yeah, it is. I drank this mixture in 8 ounce doses at 20 minute intervals. It really didn’t taste as bad as it should. Basically, kind of like, well, Gatorade cut with chalk. Could’ve been worse.

What couldn’t have been worse was the atomic fallout that occurred. Fellow colonoscopy suffers told me “You will go a lot.” But how much is a lot? Three times? Five? So I kept a record. I had a pen and wrote down notes on every visit to the bathroom. I also included descriptive commentary of each movement, but as I say, family style blog here.

I can tell you that I went either twelve or thirteen times (and if you’re unsure how I’m unsure of exactly how many times, well, you haven’t had a colonoscopy) in a span of five hours and ten minutes. That averages out to once every 23-25 minutes, if you’re keeping score at home. By about halfway through this blessed preparation, I thought I might be the first person ever to be undergoing a rectal exorcism. If so, the spirit of my colon is definitely holy now.

The procedure itself was very much anti-climatic. I woke up asking the same questions multiple times. I also had a great need to dispel massive amounts of air from my insides. If you’ve seen the commerical where the little boy grabs a jar of wind and brings it home to his grandfather, and it blows out the candles on his birthday cake, think of that commercial. Instead of a jar, I had guts, and instead of blowing out the candles on the cake, I could’ve blown grandfather into an adjoining county, where he could live the remainder of his short life with a perpetually dazed expression on his face.

So there you are. I apologize for the gross out factor, and I recognize that just about anybody who read this probably really didn’t want to read it. But what are blogs for, if not writing about horrific things and forcing other people to read them?

Joe

#14 Basketball Pitino Style by Chris Cameron

April 8, 2009

This was a nice find in a used book store. It’s the story of a down on its luck dynastic basketball program hiring a well regarded Italian outsider head coach, who used a blend of charisma (his) and heart (his players) to turn one of the least talented teams in the history of Kentucky basketball into one of the most entertaining.

Kentucky’s 2010 season may end up looking a lot like its 1990 season, which is the subject of this book. John Calipari might be THE ANSWER in the way that Rick Pitino was THE ANSWER. But one thing is sure. The 1990 bunch was a special one. Kentucky had eight scholarship players, none over 6’7″, and none of particular athletic talent. But they had a coaching staff with Messrs Pitino, Smith and Donovan, and a style of play built on three-point shooting and the “mother-in-law” full court press. 14-14 is not a record which generally inspires the UK faithful, but those were different times.

And moving forward, they remain different times. I certainly hope Calipari brings in a better than 14-14 record. But more than that, I hope that he imprints his stamp on Kentucky basketball, and brings back excitement to a program for which it has long since been missing.

This book was very fun, and did make me hope that the bringing Pitino back to Lexington rumors that were circulating as I read it might be true. So they weren’t. Onward and upward, and hopefully next year I can review Basketball Calipari Style.

Joe