Archive for July, 2009

Book 27 and the life of an expecting father

July 29, 2009

27. Land of Lincoln by Andrew Ferguson

Hands down, Ferguson’s book is one of the best I’ve read yet in my quest for 50 new books in 2009. He writes, not about the nuts and bolts facts of Lincoln, but more about what Lincoln means to people, and more specifically, what he is redefined into by people.

Ferguson goes to a conference of skeptics tearing down Lincoln as well as a convention of Lincoln impersonators. He talks with memorabilia collectors who have searched out pieces of hair and bits of blood from the assination of honest Abe and historians who build museums around Lincoln. He even goes on a vacation along the Lincoln Trail with his own family. His results are searching, insightful, funny and honest.

Surprise, surprise. Everybody has an agenda. Men who hate their wives (including Carnegie, the original self-help king) see him as a saint for dealing with that shrew Mary Todd, southern sympathizers think Abe was a closet racist and a nincompoop, historians see him in the bland politically correct terms of their modern historical movement, Ferguson’s children apparently think he was pretty boring. Ferguson tells us more about ourselves and our age than he does about Lincoln; history, he seems to say, is transfigured into a mirror, and whoever looks inside sees something that looks a lot like them.

But the book is a lot more fun than I’m letting on. He tells stories like that of a Lincoln historian and his wife in the 1930s or 1940s, trying to visit Mary Todd’s old Lexington, KY home. Now, it’s a nice museum. Then, it was a working whorehouse. I also could have laughed for hours at his depictions of the “humor” within the Lincoln impersonators convention– samples included an Abe plopping down in a booth for lunch and exclaiming, “Normally, I would try to avoid a Booth.” and tales of looking for a particular Abe at the convention and having another impersonator describe him as “the tall fellow, with the beard and the top hat.”

I really, really liked this book. There are a million books about that “What?” of Lincoln’s life. This is one about the “Why?” of his legacy. I recommend it.

T minus six days on the baby expected date. Starting to look like a late arrival could well be a possibility.

Also, I made my own hot chicken tenders yesterday. I nearly lit my internal organs ablaze. I’ll try to take pictures next time (of the chicken, not of my organs. Not another colonoscopy post!)

Joe

There’s nothing medium about either pregnancy or hot chicken

July 22, 2009

The dueling threads of my life– domesticity/parenthood and the raving idiot’s love of hot chicken were battling last night. First, the legendary David Vance and I went for some medium Prince’s Hot Chicken. I’m generally a mild hot chicken guy, but I wanted David to have the full experience. As we sat there with tears streaming down our cheeks and snot steadily threatening to pour out, I realized I had definitely reached that goal. I wondered if I was killing David for awhile, but then he hit his second wind and had every last bite of that incredibly tasty and ridiculously hot chicken. And it is ridiculous. I eat Insane wings at Zaxby’s to try to stay in training, but there’s no comparison. It was all it should be. I also credit David for the best insight yet into the hot chicken, as he said basically that if I approached it as others might approach a good bender– every once in a while, but not all the time– it might not kill me. Hopefully.

After this, it was on to shopping at Babies R Us for a bunch of stuff we needed. The highlight of that was that I found a mirror that you can stick in your car so you can watch your rear-facing baby in its carseat without wrecking. This was a particular thrill, as I managed to allay one of my wife and my 472,637 fears of parenting. Next week, I’ll be removing all electricity from the house and setting fire to all our books so that the baby can’t papercut herself on one.

Anyway, that’s the news from here on Walton Mountain where John Boy is battling explosive stomach cramps and trying to stockpile baby goods at the same time. T minus 13 days to the due date.

Joe

Book 26- Bragging Rights by Richard Ernsberger

July 14, 2009

Who would read a nine year old book chronicling a season of SEC football? Well, I would.

Ernsberger, who wrote for Newsweek, decided to chronicle the 1999 SEC football season. He has good stories of gameday atmosphere, recruiting chicanery, boosters manipulating whole universities to try to win another football game or two, and coaches eating, sleeping and drinking football.

Ernsberger’s book does a nice job of chronicling the energy that goes in to making SEC football the best college football in the nation, year in and year out. The 1999 season ended with Alabama winning the SEC championship. After the next season, Mike Dubose, their coach, was fired. It’s up and down and back up again, and it’s a game played by serious players, coaches, and boosters.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to find this book, but if you stumble on it for a couple dollars like I did, you might get some cheap entertainment.

One last blast of baby wisdom

July 14, 2009

As the baby experience approaches, we went in for one last dose of baby knowledge. An infant safety class was the attraction, and I’m pleased to say there was some very useful information shared. That said, it’s always kind of odd and scary. Let me give you a for instance…

Baby is coughing as if slightly choked. If you’re like me, you think, “Hey, it’s a baby, it’s small, it’s helpless, it’s coughing, you need to help it.” Apparently, not so much. The strategy is to basically let them cough until they just run out of energy, then to worry about them. It sounds like child abuse, but hey, it was in the class, it must be true.

I was also amazed at Martha, our teacher, demonstrating her baby dexterity. We were given lifesize dolls to practice various holds with. I look around and Martha is just whipping that doll from cradlehold to football hold to shoulder hold and so on. Honestly, somebody needed to play “Sweet Georgia Brown” and let her twirl the doll on her finger while they were doused in confetti.

My wife’s pregnancy is full term today. This means we have three weeks until the due date, but that the baby is essentially ready to be born when the urge strikes her. It is both very daunting and very exciting.

Onward toward Fi’ty

July 7, 2009

25. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Brokaw’s book works from his basic thesis that the WWII era generation was a truly great group of people, and attempts to ask how and why. He profiles dozens of people, from men and women who are backbones of their small communities to famous politicians who got their starts in that era. It is humbling and interesting to read many of the stories. Brokaw could be accused of nostalgia, but he does try to admit that the era wasn’t all heroic sacrifice, but that in many places and instances, women and minorities were still treated as second or third class citizens. Of course, Brokaw’s spin on this is that it is because of the heroes of that era that things have changed to whatever extent they have.

I enjoyed the book, even if Brokaw’s attempts to gentle up the conversatism of his subjects seemed to be pandering. Of course, George Bush didn’t think WWII soldiers needed any special advantages. It’s good that he could move the silver spoon in his mouth long enough to tell Brokaw so. Of course, people who are 70-80 years old view marriage as sacred and inviolate and are uncomfortable with divorce. Refusing to acknowledge the problem is real rather than always being a result of whiny self-centered people doesn’t make it go away.

I enjoyed the book, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if Brokaw let his subjects speak more, and editorialized less himself. I’m working on another book right now that does a similar thing to much better effect, and I’ll be discussing that shortly.

T minus 28 days (till due date) on my daughter!

Joe

A memorable Fourth of July

July 5, 2009

I began my Cuatro de Julio celebration with a trip to the Nashville Hot Chicken Festival. Re-check my post about Prince’s if you need to be reminded of my passion for the fiery pollo, but anyway, suffice it to say that I love it enough to travel about an hour and a half and stand in a line in the sun for about as long to enjoy it with a community of like minded folk. David Vance, a friend of mine since the bygone WKU era, joined me for the hot chicken sampling, and a good chickening was had. It’s always a good time to visit with David, and we spent a lot of the day bemused at our oncoming old-manness, which manifests itself in things like the way that we don’t make new friends and develop propensities for doing nothing. Although the latter of those probably isn’t new, at least in my case.

Shortly after the hot chickening was concluded and I was leaving Nashville, I turned on the radio to learn of the shocking death of Steve McNair. McNair, the long time Tennessee Titans QB, was a much beloved figure in Nashville, and was probably one of the city’s most recognizable personalities. He also was shot and killed in an area of town I drove through twice today.

Sports talk radio has spun on and on and on already about McNair. News slowly trickled out that another woman was present and had been killed. At first, it was suggested that this other woman may be McNair’s wife, Michelle, but by tonight, it has instead been indicated to be another lady friend of McNair. While no one is saying it, the circumstances of the event seem to point toward a murder/suicide from the lady friend, although again, I don’t know anything except what I hear, and no one is willing to say this in so many words.

McNair was a Nashville icon, a hero to many, a good guy to nearly all. And now, at the end of his life, the questions will emerge. The circumstances in question suggest an extra-marital affair (Again, reserving the caveat that all I know is what I read and hear, and no one is saying that in so many words) with a woman who was stopped for a DUI on Thursday morning with McNair in the car which he co-owned with her. On the same evening that fans recall McNair’s clutch playmaking, his civic awareness, his positive reputation, a dark cloud falls over all of this. Maybe it was all an act. Maybe the real Steve McNair was a womanizer who cared only for himself, and behaved irresponsibly to the point of causing pain and suffering within his own family. Or maybe not.

It seems significant that this all comes down on July the 4th. America is, above all else, a nation built upon principles of human behavior, fundamental rights and liberties, a contract between the governing body and its constituents. Celebrity or fandom can also seem to present a similar contract. We the fans give our money, our time, and our support, and wear jerseys and make banners, and grieve the now departed because of a way they do their jobs, a fundamental code of human decency. A quarterback who plays through pain, who spends his own time and money to help those less fortunate, who takes great care to involve himself in his home community is a hero to millions.

And what happens when those contracts break down? What happens when the Patriot Act goes into effect, or when millions of innocent Japaneese are herded into World War II prison camps, or essential freedoms are ignored by our own government because they are inconvenient? What happens when the great quarterback appears to have forgotten his morality and forsaken his family? Where is the breaking point?

And the answer to that is an individual one. I hope that America, for all its flaws, is trying to move toward its idealized calling. I hope that McNair’s death can and will be explained in a way that does not make us all question and ultimately reject his entire moral fiber. And I hope that we all realize that part of America’s promise is the demand on its own citizens, NFL quarterbacks, lawyers, librarians, or whatever, that we have our own contracts– with our Maker, with our country, with our spouse and our friends and with humankind at large. We generally can’t control when our lives end, but the cost of freedom is the opportunity to succed or to fail. Our decisions today, individually and collectively, cannot help but define the way we will be viewed tomorrow and for ever therafter.

It’s not fireworks and it’s not fun, but it is important. Where Thomas Jefferson left off, maybe Steve McNair helped me remember today.