Thursday, May 13, 2021

Pigskin Panic

A while back, I was listening to the "Fresh Air" podcast on NPR, and host Terry Gross was introducing one of my favorite writers, David Sedaris. She mentioned that although Sedaris' writing generally tickles your funny bone, he also is not afraid to address subjects which may make readers uncomfortable. It occurred to me that my stories are typically innocuous, but to really stretch as a writer, I also should not limit myself. Hence, this post. What I want to write about today is sports, specifically football, and even more specifically, college football.

People get so excited about football. I have absolutely nothing against maintaining a healthy level of physical activity; in fact, I think that the more we sit, the worse we feel. The human body is just not made to remain in a still position for extended periods of time. But there must be something genetic about rabid fascination with football. What I mean here is the kind that keeps people glued to their seats for an entire weekend or screaming for their team to win, even suffering low-level depression when their team loses. It's all just a game, but it's a big game.

In this part of the South, college sports are front and center. When I moved to Atlanta, a female friend asked me, "So, who do you support in football, Georgia or Georgia Tech?" I replied that I had little interest in football, not to mention that having just moved from Chicago, I had little to no familiarity with either school, except that I knew Georgia Tech produced engineers. She said, "Well, you have to pick a side!" Believe me, it was years before I got around to it, and that was only when my oldest daughter enrolled at Georgia Tech. Then, the choice was clear.

Growing up in Memphis, we had a powerhouse basketball team at Memphis State (now University of Memphis), and of course, we had dedicated fans. The difference there was that basketball and football were pretty much on even footing -- you heard as much about one as the other. But honestly, down here, I don't believe the area would even function were it not for college football season. I am barely aware when teams start playing, but many of my friends, who are kind and decent people, know exactly when that first game is happening. Weddings (and probably even some funerals) get rescheduled around football games. It's amazing.

I went to Northwestern University, which back in the 70s did not have a winning football team. In fact, we were everyone's homecoming game, because we were so awful. That situation has improved greatly in the intervening years, to the point where Northwestern has played in several bowl games, including the Rose Bowl. But back in the day, we might get 9,000-10,000 fans at a game, and that was in a stadium that seated roughly 55,000. Down here, the stadiums are full to the brim and then some. At Northwestern, many Saturdays came and went without any evidence of a football game even happening. It was just quiet and peaceful on campus, and if it wasn't freezing, it would be nice to go outside for a while.

I have to admit that it's easy to get caught up in the whole thing. I have friends who say they are a "house divided" in that one person attended college (usually) at the fierce rival of the other. But going to a school is not a prerequisite for being a fan. For example, I have many friends who hail from points far north of here, but they are dyed-in-the-wool Georgia fans. Even me, myself, and I am entertained by LSU fans -- sure, I've been to Louisiana a number of times, but I didn't go to school there. However, I am totally fascinated by the level of celebration which these people are able to muster. I mean, it's Louisiana -- if you don't know how to party, you need to find another place. Also, I like the LSU colors.

So I just observe this whole thing and marvel at those people who maintain such strong ties to their alma mater or would-be alma mater. I don't totally get it, but I guess that if you like team sports, it's the bomb. Whenever I watch a football game, though, I am reminded of Andy Griffith's lines in his comedy monologue "What It Was, Was Football." In this piece, Andy plays a bumpkin sort of fellow who attends his first football game without really knowing what it's all about:

"I think it was that it's some kindly of a contest where they see which bunchful of them men can take that pumpkin and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other without gettin' knocked down or steppin' in somethin'."

We've only got about three months until college football season, so get your spirit wear while the gettin's good, amigos. Until then, review those stats from last year and prepare to make some party talk in the fall. May the best team win.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021


I will go even in winter. The spring and summer crowds can be almost overwhelming, but Pike Nurseries (any of their multiple Atlanta locations) are possessed of a sweet dormancy in winter that is soothing to the soul. Sure, there are empty pots here and there, a few hopeful seedlings and generally a wayward tree or two that may not make it until May, but overall, there's one thing that you can't help but be reminded of, and that is hopefulness. There is something so satisfying about that -- to know that even in an upside-down world with more that its share of challenges and problems, Mother Nature just keeps on giving, every single year. In the words of Audrey Hepburn, "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow." 

We are fortunate in Atlanta to have an abundance of beautiful landscapes. My Boston in-laws joke that this is the only city they've ever seen where gas stations are landscaped. It's true that even the most crowded spots in town make an effort to keep the place looking nice, and it shows. My feeling is that if we have to sit in traffic, there might as well be something nice to look at while idling.

There is a price to pay, of course. In wicked storms, we see trees toppling onto houses, snapping power lines, and blocking roads. There is an unmentioned philosophy here that putting up with tree damage is worth keeping the city green. I guess that depends on your homeowners insurance, but yes, we basically have a city in a forest. With all this greenery going on, there is a healthy inventory of garden stores all over town. One of my favorite things to do is just to roam these. It's like visiting a public garden or an arboretum for free.

But this year, partially emerged from the pandemic, has been spectacular in terms of gardening. I have lived in Atlanta since 1982 and have never seen anything like it. We had a mild winter but lots of rain, and the gentle warming trend we've experienced has spurred some outstanding plant growth. So for this post, instead of writing more myself, I'm going to let our back yard pictures do the talking. Be well, friends!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Oh, It Looks Like Daniel, Must Be the Clouds in My Eyes

I noticed this morning that he hadn't played Words With Friends in quite a while. From time to time, people drop off, so I checked Facebook, and there I saw my happy birthday message to him in February. But right above it was another post made two days later that read, "Happy belated heavenly Birthday." I had to stop for a while to gather my thoughts.

I remember clearly the day I met Daniel Eremenchuk. I was working in my first IT job back in 1979, and I was on site at a client in downtown Chicago. Our Data General Nova minicomputer needed service, and the office folks said, "'ll get to meet Dan." He was described as something of a character, so immediately, I was fascinated.

In walked a fortysomething gentleman who looked like he could have been a beat poet in the 60s, but who had grown up in the 70s into a sort of rakish looking fellow, sporting a leather jacket, a mane of salt-and-pepper hair, and a full but neatly-trimmed beard. He introduced himself, and I did likewise. He fixed our computer problem in record time by opening up the back of the chassis and tinkering, all the while carrying on an engaging chatter. By the time he had completed his service call, we were instant friends.

Dan could fix anything with parts on hand or that he could procure at a moment's notice. A native of 1930s Chicago, he knew the city inside out, so if he had to run halfway across town to pick up a part, he would be back before you could bat an eyelash. He had no fear of anything digital and was very accomplished at diagnosing issues. Our equipment was "seasoned," but he assured us that he could keep it running, and that he did. When I took a job as data processing manager for the company, I never worried about whether a hardware issue would be resolved. Dan would do whatever it took to make it work.

He was more than just a service technician, though. Dan befriended almost everyone he met, and we invited him along to many of our lunches at West Loop eateries and taverns. He was splendid company and always had entertaining, offbeat stories to tell. On many occasions, he would complete a late service call at our office, and afterward, he and I would retire to the Golden Gate Restaurant for a brew and some solid chat. He was interested in everything and was great company. He also had this deep "huh, huh, huh" laugh that was his trademark. When Dan chuckled, you had to join in. His humor was infectious.

Dan drove an Audi Fox, which was a sporty car at the time. I remember countless occasions where he would pull up in front of our building on West Lake Street beneath the overhead train tracks, pop the trunk, and retrieve some miscellaneous memory board or power supply, then rush in from the cold only to have us back up and running in record time. One day, he came in looking a bit downtrodden, and I asked him what had happened. He told me that the Audi had broken down under one of the CTA overpasses on the Eisenhower Expressway and that he'd had to leave it to find help. He knew that the car would be stripped in the time it took anyone to arrive, and sure enough, he was right. Nevertheless, the next time I saw him, he was sporting new wheels with no interruption of his humor or the electrical parts inventory.

Dan was well-educated and continued learning throughout his life. In his later years, he fled the cold winters and moved to Arizona, where according to his Facebook profile, he studied "Production cinématographique en France." That was just like him, always expanding his boundaries and venturing into new territory. While living in Arizona, he provided IT and audiovisual assistance to local police departments and theater groups. That was how he rolled, a jack of all trades and a master at more than a few.

So now, when I pick up my phone and launch Words With Friends, it seems that I can still hear that chuckle. Dan, I know you'll never stop learning. Miss you, buddy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Sonic Boom

I'm "of the age" where I've discovered that my hearing (among other senses) is not what it used to be. Of course, my family and friends have been telling me for years that my hearing was on the fritz, but I didn't really believe it was all that bad; that is, until I started noticing that I couldn't even hear conversations at restaurants unless the person was sitting directly across from me or to either side. I found myself tuning out a lot.

Then, one day in late 2019, I visited an ENT for an ear infection, and as part of my exam, an audiologist tested my hearing. After the test, more detailed that any I'd had before, she showed me the results, which indicated fairly significant hearing loss in both ears. She told me that I could "really benefit" from hearing aids and offered me a pair to try. Curious as to the results, I put them in and walked outside. I was surprised to find that I could hear the fallen dry leaves hitting each other. It's kind of like when you get glasses, then realize that you're supposed to be able to see the leaves on trees. Anyway, I thought the situation over for about five minutes and opted to invest in a pair of Widex Evokes. Hey, who can resist hearing aids that are made in Denmark run by a company whose CEO is named Jorgen Jensen? I mean, there's something to be said for that.

Well, let me tell you, hearing aids have come a long way, my friends. They no longer are the brownish-yellowish behemoth attachments that sit on the back of the ear. Today's models come in all kinds of styles and designer colors. (I'm certain that some of this heightened aesthetic demand is because they're now used by all us Baby Boomers who spent so much time attenuating our hearing at "hard rock concerts" and now want something high-tech but low-profile.) Anyway, the pair I have is this matte grayish silver, and they feature Bluetooth connectivity along with AI-based sound profile creation. What this means is not only can I stream music at any time I have my phone around (which is always), and also carry on private and audible phone conversations, but that the hearing aids actually adapt to the ambient noise for any location that I'm in. This is all very transparent to the user, by the way, except when it's not, which can be interesting and generally humorous.

One thing notable about my entry into the land of artificially-enhanced hearing was that I made it last December, shortly before the pandemic started. That meant that I only had to deal with the noise of the world (much of which I hadn't previously noticed) for only a few months before beginning work at home, in a nice, peaceful environment. So I'm thinking that as we re-enter the riotous post-pandemic world, the adaptability feature of the hearing aids is going to be working overtime to compensate for all the cacophony. As it stands now, I can hear conversations several tables away at quiet restaurants, and that's not even turning up the volume. If I wanted to go all Mission: Impossible, I could jack them up to 10 and hear impending invasions of fire ants and probably lots of other stuff I'd rather not know about.

So, here's the thing: if someone that you trust tells you that you need hearing aids, don't be frightened. Honestly, I love mine. They are expensive, but they are so worth it, and once you have them, you'll think of them just like glasses or contact lenses. As musician Brian Jackson says about his pair, "Life is so much better when you can hear all the colors." Amen to that.