Friday, December 24, 2004

A Box for Margaret

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm thinking of my dad. He passed away back in 1978, but at this time of year, there's a special memory of him that inspires me like no other. 

Back in the 1960's, my father was the manager of the Hogue and Knott #3 Supermarket on Lamar Avenue in Memphis. If you've visited elsewhere in my site, you've probably read stories about some of his patrons (see Luther for an example). I worked weekends and summers at the store from the time I was sixteen until I went away to college, and on several breaks thereafter, so I came to know many of the regulars. 

One of our most endearing customers was an elderly African American woman named Margaret, who lived in a tiny, drafty yellow clapboard house just down the street from the store. Margaret's husband was totally blind, but he was self-sufficient enough that she could leave him for short periods to walk to our store to buy groceries. She was one of those people who had next to nothing in terms of material possessions, yet never found anything important enough to complain about. 

Every year, in the last few days before Christmas, my dad would say that we needed to get a box together for Margaret. He would go around the store, packing her a big box of what were then staples: items such as flour, sugar, Crisco, and corn meal. Then, on Christmas Eve, he would present the box to Margaret as a gift -- no charge, it was just his way of helping someone who had nothing. I don't know that the items in the box were considered as a writeoff, and I don't imagine that my dad really cared one way or the other. Many times, I saw him give food or gifts to people in need. He didn't say much about it, but you knew he was always at the ready. 

And so today, when I stopped into my neighborhood Kroger supermarket to pick up some dishwasher detergent ($3.99 shelf price), I paused at the checkout line and purchased one of those $7.50 boxes of canned food for the needy, then placed it in the donation box set up at the front of the store. I didn't feel right until I had bought that box. It was as if my dad were looking over my shoulder, telling me to look out for others who might not have much of anything under their tree, if they even have a tree. 

Dad, I miss you, and I wish you were here. I thank you for your wisdom, your humor, and the work you did throughout the years to provide for us. But most of all, I thank you for putting in my heart and head the twin spirits of charity and empathy. I will try to keep them there until I buy next year's box. 

God bless, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 17, 2004

I have rediscovered my records, and my wife is understandably terrified. A couple of nights ago, I received a new phono cartridge that I had ordered online (call that a marriage of Seventies and Nineties technologies). For those of you who are too young to remember, a phono cartridge is the thingie that holds the needle ("stylus") which plays the record.

The first selection I sampled was David Bowie's "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars", followed in rapid succession by a cut or two from "Led Zeppelin II". Then tonight, in a fit of nostalgia, I spun Side 1 of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery". All these classics brought back many memories of evenings in the Seventies, sitting around in my Chicago dorm, trying to stay warm during my first winter there.

Karen has tried on several occasions to persuade me to rid myself of these albums. She believes that eBay provides a clever and convenient alternative to having them anchor the bottom shelves of our upstairs bookcases. But I believe that these carefully crafted platters of vinyl carry much more than music which she considers for the most part "obnoxious". I believe that "my records" (as I tenderly refer to them) are little musical vignettes of life as it was, even if some of them do have titles like "Polecat Woman".

I'm sure that as the weeks progress, I'll unearth more of these rotational treasures, and I'll try to remember to post a message whenever I hit a nerve. Perhaps I have opened a Pandora's Box. Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 5, 2004

It must be time for that trip out West. In years past, when I had a bit more control over my own destiny and schedule, I planned periodic trips to the West Coast for a reality check. Now, I know that to some of you, this may sound ironic, but let me explain.

I was born in Whittier, California, back in 1955, in the middle of the Eisenhower era. My parents were fond of L.A., but the rest of the family, with the exception of my dad's brother, was back in Tennessee, and I guess it was some acute need for closer family ties that lured my mom and dad back to west Tennessee. So that's where I grew up, with the exception of several summers during my teenage years, when my mom and dad would send me back to California to spend summers with my uncle and aunt.

Summer in California as a teenager was spectacular. We could ride horses down undeveloped dirt roads on Western movie sets in Chatsworth, shop at these new things called malls (also handy for checking out girls) in Canoga Park and Reseda, spend a day at Zuma or Pt. Mugu Beach, and get the perfect tan. It was nirvana.

In my twenties, I had a job which required me to travel to Los Angeles on a regular basis. It was during those years that I made new friends with similar interests. I was living in Chicago and Atlanta at the time, so going back to California meant a) getting a lucky reprieve from the brutal Chicago weather, and b) being among a more sober crowd than I found at that time in Atlanta.

Of course, many years have passed, and I know that all things change over time -- I'm sure that much change has come to Southern California. But I must say that to see the Hollywood sign lit up at night, to cruise west on Sunset, and to dine at one of my favorite places on La Cienega would indeed be rejuvenating at this point.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The election is over, and Christmas is on the way. I took the plunge and went shopping the day after Thanksgiving with my daughter Sarah. Woo-hoo, they was tons of folks out there. Of course, as a representative of Federated Department Stores (read Macy's, Bloomingdale's), I was happy to see this! I was even happier to see that people were actually buying things and not just looking.

We arrived at the Mall of Georgia at 8:25 AM and considered ourselves lucky to find a parking space in the O'Charley's Restaurant lot adjacent to the mall. (The mall lot itself was already full.) We walked in the Rich's (Federated also) entrance and were confronted by tons of shoppers. By 9:45, we were hungry and ready for lunch, and seeing that everyone else was already munching on burgers and plates of noodles, we joined in and were finished with lunch by 10:15. Another couple of hours at MOG and we headed to a regional outlet mall. The crowds were so thick there that a toothpick could stand on end!


Saturday, October 23, 2004

It's time to abolish the Electoral College. Here we are again in a tight presidential race, and it is entirely possible that the candidate who wins the popular vote will not win the election because of the Electoral College. It's too late now, but perhaps amending the Consitution would prevent another debacle like we saw in 2000. And look at the results of that election! (Sorry, W fans!)

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Truly, iTunes and the iPod are an amazing duo. Each Tuesday, Apple posts free downloads -- this week, among the offerings were audio versions of the presidential and vice presidential debates. Since I missed the VP show, I think I might take a listen. =:)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The morning after we returned from the Great California Trip of 1975, I put Dan Fogelberg's "Wysteria" on the stereo. Just now, almost thirty years later, I finished listening to it on my iPod at work, and it is still the most beautiful, calming song.

How is it that some songs are so tightly tied to a time and place (sometimes a person)? But is that not the wonder of music, the feelings that it evokes and sustains? When I heard the song today, I thought back on the thousands of miles that we drove on that trip, the variety of Americana that we experienced along the way, and the friendships that we have to this day. It was, in three words, very cool indeed.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Hello, Mother Nature. I love what you're wearing! Oy, the hurricane passed, the power is being restored all over town, and the place looks gorgeous. The sky was the most beautiful azure today, just picture perfect. It was a day where errands were not an issue!

Today we added a new member to our family -- a tiny pooch named Payday, a two-year-old Boston terrier/dachshund mix. He has an adorable face and has already made himself part of the family, although he's only been with us about six hours as of this writing. Within that time, he's been to Jake's Ice Cream in midtown, the Georgia Tech campus, and round about Alpharetta. At least he'll be well-traveled.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

I am sitting in the tail of Hurricane Ivan. The drive home today was remarkable. At one point, a downed tree caused all traffic to be routed through a BP gas station. At this point, many local schools have been closed for tomorrow. There is standing water in the most unlikely places. Stay tuned...

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Over the Labor Day weekend, we got high-definition TV (HDTV) installed in our downstairs media room, and I am still sitting here staring in childlike awe at the clarity of the pictures. Earlier today, we were watching a show about various kinds of salt-water fish, and it looked as if you were standing with your face pressed to the window at the Shedd Aquarium. Actually, it looked more like you were swimming in the tank with the fish, wearing a very good pair of glasses with an up-to-date prescription.

Two stations, INHD and INHD2, provide HDTV-only programming, and the major networks broadcast many of their prime time programs such as ER, JAG, and NCIS in HDTV as well. If you'd like to find out more about this technology, there is an excellent background article at

I'm going to go sit back in front of the TV and resume the position. Have fun!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

I am a college parent. Yikes! Well, it went smoothly, I must say. After moving almost three cars full of stuff into half a dorm room, connecting to the Georgia Tech wicked fast fiber network, and finding a nice little wi-fi cafe built in a converted warehouse, we all declared Sarah's move a success. She's been there a week this past Thursday, and she seems to be loving it. College is very different now from my Northwestern days in the Seventies, but campus life is still a great experience, and I'm glad she's getting to be a part of it. We miss her, but this is the next chapter, so full speed ahead, I say!

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Ah, technology. Instead of my usual perch at Brooks Central, I'm sitting in the AutoIndulgence car wash center (The Ultimate Car Care Experience) at 12:45 PM on a Sunday, making the post-vacation blog entry. We just returned from a week in Sanibel Island, Florida. And my, what a week it was.

We took a family vacation to celebrate Karen's parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Last weekend's Tropical Storm Alex churned up a lot of activity down our way, so much so that we often watched as rain blow horizontally outside the windows of our beachfront condos. Not to be deterred, we became regular patrons of Island Bean Coffee, where I sampled my first Caffe Cubano (quite appropriate, seeing as how we were in south Florida and all).

There were several mornings where the weather allowed us to recline on the beach, soaking up the sun and listening to a nice mix of iPod tunes. And after a first failed attempt Wednesday evening at a champagne dolphin watch cruise, we tried again with success the following afternoon and were able to spot quite a number of the docile creatures in the bay which separates Sanibel from the mainland. (See the picture gallery for some samples.)

All in all, a nice time, but it's also good to be home, where the weather is about thirty degrees cooler, and the humidity is off the low end of the scale. Thursday, we move Sarah into her dorm at Georgia Tech, so here's to you, kids!


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Will Smith calls it "the invention of the century", and I'm inclined to agree.  Since I bought my 15GB iPod in May, I've come to look at and listen to music in a whole new way.  I currently have about 2,300 songs loaded, and there's room for plenty more.  For a music nut like me, this thing is Nirvana.  (Oh yeah...I've got some of their stuff on it, too.)

Monday, July 19, 2004

I have found the best catfish in Atlanta.  It is at Mouth of the South, located in Roswell on Mansell Road at Highway 9.  The owners are originally from Louisiana, but their methods of preparation more than satisfy any Southern-bred catfish lover.  The crawfish tails appetizer makes me yearn for humidity and lagniappe.  The place is wonderful!
This comfortable little restaurant has the makings of a Southern Ippolito's.  I say this because, at one point in time, Karen and I visited Ippolito's and felt that the marinara was out of this world.  But back then, Ippolito's was this little unknown place in a Roswell strip shopping center. My, how times have changed!

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I have overcome my fear of installing ceiling fans.  This may not sound like much to you, but in the twenty-two years that I've been a homeowner, only two tasks have truly daunted me to the point that I would not pursue them: 1) installing a garage door opener, and 2) installing a ceiling fan.  Having installed three rotating ceiling devices (I hesitate to call them by their real names) in the last two weeks, I feel that I have now been able to meet my problem head on and will not need further therapy.
Of course, the garage door opener is now starting to make a grinding noise.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Enough is enough! I have grown tired of eating poorly, feeling tired all the time, and gaining weight. Yesterday, I resumed my workouts at the YMCA, and this morning, I put in 45 minutes on the treadmill while watching "Sunday Morning" on CBS. At about 30 minutes, the endorphins kicked in, and I found myself sporting a smile. The thing is, if I put it down here, I'll keep doing it! =:)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Being privileged to be a parent has undoubtedly been the most joyful thing in my life. This past weekend, our eldest daughter Sarah graduated from high school. As we joined the 3,000+ attendees for the graduation, I saw many familiar faces from the era of day care, Barbie, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It brought back memories, but more importantly, it drove home just how much these kids have grown and matured into exceptional young people.

High school is not what it was when we baby boomers were kids. The homework is tougher, hours are longer, and rules abound. Students take SAT's four and five times, stay up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning doing homework, manage a myriad of extracurricular activities, and, like their parents, deal with puzzling administrative guidelines on a daily basis. Yet, they are clearly cut out to be the leaders of tomorrow.

It is impossible to truly say how proud I am of Sarah and her accomplishments. She has strong streaks of common sense and open-mindedness. And this is the case with many of her friends as well. It is a true pleasure just to be around them, to feel their energy and enthusiasm, to listen as they advise one another and help each other through the personal challenges that inevitably accompany teendom. Indeed, we are in good hands for the future.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

This morning, I find myself missing Chicago. I downloaded a couple of Steve Goodman songs from iTunes, and that's what got the whole thing started. For those of you who aren't familiar with his music, Steve Goodman was the writer of the 70's hit "City of New Orleans", made popular by Arlo Guthrie and covered by tons of artists. Steve most closely fit into the folk genre, and always sang from the heart about life, love, and his home city. He passed away in 1984 after a long struggle with leukemia.

Steve was diagnosed with leukemia in the early 70's, but as with his matter-of-fact approach to everything else, he released an album shortly before his death entitled "Artistic Hair", the cover of which pictured him almost bald from extensive chemotherapy. But he remained until the end a height-challenged (just a little over five feet) fighter who eloquently and humorously captured the spirit of Chicago. Listen to his ballad "Lincoln Park Pirates", dedicated to Lincoln Towing, a notorious Chicago towing company, or "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request", and you'll understand. What a guy.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Greetings from what appears to be spring (just a few degrees colder than normal). After a period of intense reflection, I have come to the conclusion that absolutely everything in the USA is changing. Italy is looking better and better. (I wonder if they take credit cards for down payments on Tuscan villas?) So what if they've changed their government over fifty times since World War II? As long as you can still get fresh baked bread, tasty local red wine, and good pasta, who cares?

Here's my solution to our current mess: OUTSOURCE THE WAR IN IRAQ. You may laugh, but just think of the possibilities and all the issues which might be resolved by this one simple action. There's work to be done and people willing to do it, so let's keep our options open.

In other news...I have a daughter who is heading to college in the fall! She's extremely happy that Georgia Tech (her alma mater-to-be) is in the Final Four. More news on this college experience as it develops.

Ciao! =:)

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Yes! Spring beckons! For two afternoons in a row, I've driven with the top down on my 328i, listening to music ranging all the way from Chuck Mangione to 3 Doors Down. I can hear the birdies singing high in the trees, and today I even smelled freshly trimmed grass. Mamma Mia! Fire up the grill...find the blender...pull out the shorts and t-shirts. Warm weather is almost here!

And we now have a presidential election, do we not? Looks as if it may be interesting. Will John Kerry name John Edwards as his running mate? Who knows? In the words of Scarlett O'Hara, "After all, tomorrow is another day." (This being Atlanta and all, I must throw in one "Gone with the Wind" reference.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Georgia primary is next week. Friends of mine who have never voted before say that they plan to vote this time. It should be lively, to say the least...can't wait! Personally, I'd love to see a matchup between two candidates from the past...

__ Richard M. Nixon ("I am the President. Let there be no mistake about that.")
__ Richard J. Daley ("They have vilified me, they have crucified me, yes, they have even criticized me.")