Rapid Eye Reality -- Home of Brad Willis' writing on family life, travel adventures, and life inside the poker world

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Wednesday, January 30, 2002


1931 Juniper Circle was as clean as it needed to be. It had one bottle of 409 and one cannister of Scrubbing Bubbles (love those guys). One day we bought something called Toilet Duck so we could quack while we cleaned. But, for a duplex filled with smelly college guys...a clean salt water fish tank was more important than clean floors. I even recall Frankie once pouring his beer on the carpet...on purpose. We looked at him with light-level concern in our eyes. All he said: "Fuck it. It's a rental." That was all we needed to hear. We went back to playing Sega hockey.

As a result, there was bit of a fungus that tended to grow on one of the two showers. It was orange. We'd let it go for a while, then clean it, then watch it grow back. Point being, we put some money and effort into it, but knew there wasn't much we could do...short of taking out the entire shower complex and replacing it with something new.

In about an hour, I'll be on the second floor of our local Law Enforcement Center listening to the police chief talk about the 70 people they're arresting for street-level drug dealing. Most--if not all--of these dealers come from low-income neighborhoods...the kinds of places you only go to score or be killed. There are good people in those neighborhoods. I know and trust a few of them. But overall, the neighborhoods are full of scared old women and young toughs who would like nothing better than to become the next King Cody (one-time big-time dealer in our city. He's in prison now.).

My family knows first hand about how drugs can tie a slip knot around a person's life. Suffice it to say, I once thought the saddest thing I'd ever seen was my uncle being delivered to his son's funeral in the back of a county deputy's car. His son died in a car wreck. Dad was in jail for meth posession. A deputy watched the funeral from the back row, let my uncle come to my grandma's house for a few after-funeral hugs, then took him back to jail.

Today's drug round-up will be the second major drug story I've covered in the last few months. The first..."Operation: Lights Out"...was a round-up of mid-level club drug suppliers. They were basically selling happy pills to the dancing set of Greenville's club scene. Today's busts...called "Operation: New Year"...hit the street punks where it hurts.

Tomorrow, while today's 70 dealers sit in the county lock-up, 70 new kids will be working their way into Greenline, Nicholtown, and Greenville's West Side. The first 70 dealers will end up in a crowded jail or even more crowded prison...and learn how to become better criminals. Prisons are prep schools for the malcontents.

I'm not going to waste my time or yours by laying down both sides of this argument...or either side, for that matter. We know what the Just Say No People say and we know what the Legalize It People say. I'm not even going to tell you what side I'm on, because, frankly, it doesn't matter.

But sometimes I wonder if it isn't time we all just pour our beer on the carpet, say "fuck it, it's a rental," and worry more about how clean our fish tank is. After all, the shower is a clean place and can handle a little fungus. The fish tank is a little more vulnerable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

The Syndicate

In the late 1980's Willard, MO boasted a population of around 2000 people. At the time it had no traffic lights, no chain eateries, and more churches than gas stations.

Arthur was Deputy Barney Fife without the single bullet. He patroled the few square miles of town in a run-down cruiser, busting kids for rolling through stop signs and generating one of the town's main sources of revenue.

It was the type of town where teenagers actually kissed behind the bleachers at high school football games. It was the type of town where teenagers went to a place called Big Rock to party...and Big Rock was actually just a big rock. It was the type of place where you would hear a low groan working its way through the school hallways about a fight at Snyder's Farm after school. The type of place where two hundred kids would race to the farm after school and surround two corn-fed farm boys and watch them slug it out. The fight usually ended when one of the farm boys faced the ultimate humiliation...getting thrown in the creek.

It was a white town. Two black men graduated with the class of 1992.

It was a place where the boys drove muscle cars, girls played sports...or played boys, and it was not uncommon to see football stars playing a brass instrument in the marching band.

That was my world. Most all of my friends called Willard or its surrounding towns home. Nate and Xan lived in Nixa about 30 miles away. We didn't see them very often. At the time, Nixa might as well have been St. Louis.

Now I live in Upstate South Carolina and I wouldn't have thought of Willard if my e-mail box hadn't been overflowing today. I had e-mails from Boston and Kansas City. In just the short decade I've been gone from Willard, I've made friends who live all over the country...California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennesee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Massaschusetts, New York, West Virginia. If I needed to, I bet I could call any of them and have a place to crash for the night.

I went for a drive through Willard, MO over the holidays. It now has a few traffic lights, a few chain eateries, and ten officers on the police force. I still have friends there and could count on a warm bed if I needed one.

I figure...maybe this is what it all about. Maybe sometimes we give up a sense of home for a sense of...for lack of a better term...emotional expansion.

What was once the entire world in my eyes...is...just a part of it now. A different skin color is no longer an anomoly. Places like Portland, Boston, and Denver don't seem very far away at all.

The neat part about it, though, is this: In the course of uncomfortable change, you experiece what I'll loosely call life.

Ten years ago at this time...my world consisted of 2000 people, a few dozen churches, and an old crank named Officer Arthur. Now, my world is spread out like jelly on toast.

And it is sweet.

Monday, January 28, 2002

Damn it

I'm not sure if there are many jobs like mine. More to the point, I'm not sure if there are many bosses like mine.

Just as my dancing synapses have pulled the spark plugs on my desire to play this game anymore, my boss goes and tells a war story.

I guess every business has them...the tales of the one day you went out and something happened that you'll tell and tell again.

I wish you could meet my boss. Mix Peter Graves with a basically-sane General Patton and that's the guy that gave me my first honest shot at working in the news business.

He just told me a series of stories based around a 1964 KKK trial in Athens, GA. He covered it for UPI. He remembered the victim's name...a colonel from up north, caught by a quartet of night riders from 1960's Georgia. The Georgia jury freed the night riders. It became one of the first federal cases charging Klan members with violating a person's civil rights.

He told the story with a combination of zeal and nostalgia that makes me wonder why I want to get out of the business. Thirty-eight years later he's running the show here and doing it with a daily drive that beats any I've seen so far.

What truly sucks eggs is how painfully little we get paid to do this. We watch our college roommates enter into high-paying, high-benefit jobs and we do our best to make sure we don't rip the suits we bought in college because there's a good chance we won't be able to afford another one this year. We watch Katie Couric pulling down millions of dollars a year while we find ways to get around dry cleaning for another month.

My desk is cluttered right now. It is scattered with hastily-scribbled notes about bank robbers and other ne'er-do-wells. Bottle caps from much-needed caffeine containers are stacked more than a foot high...an attempt to entertain myself in a moment of malaise. A page ripped out of an issue of Cosmo featuring new news babe Ashleigh Banfield (according to Cosmo she is a "ballsy broadcaster" ) sits propped against my cubicle...30% of the article is about her boyfriend/producer/fiancee Drew. She's just a few years older than me and destined for network stardom.

So, what does this all mean? I dunno. A messy desk can say a lot about a person's life and work. I can look at pictures of my wife and I locked in a black and white wedding kiss, a photographer and I in front of a big army tank and ankle-deep in Mojave Desert sand, and buddy and I pleasantly inebriated and strumming guitars on my back deck.

As I find myself telling people all the time...life ain't so bad.

There has to be some balance, though. There has to be some way to enjoy one's work and life at the same time. One man, Photgrapher Mr. E, tells me that answer is not to make one's work one's life. I think that is a grand idea, but I have a hard time dividing the two and doing both justice at the same time.

But the sun is out and mayhaps it will shine a light on something for me. It's good for that kind of thing.

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Concious Evolution and the Man of Constant Sorrow

Last night was a bit of a live music coup for my group of friends. We had tickets to "Down From the Mountain" and were fortunate to have them. The show sold out in 48 hours. We had pretty good seats, too. Dr. Ralph Stanley wasn't far away at all. Jerry Douglas was scaring me with how well he could pick his guitar. Allison Krauss was sick and couldn't sing. Union Station more than made up for it. Kudos to my wife for getting on the stick and buying those tickets when she could.

That's not the coup, however.

After the show was over, we hopped in Emilio, drove from Spartanburg to Greenville and caught the last set of the Donna the Buffalo show at the Handlebar for free. And if you've never been to a Donna show, catching the last set is a lot like seeing a whole concert. We got there at 11:30 and left just before 2AM.

The only bad thing...I slept until noon-ish today. I'm very well-rested and as a result, not very creative. Plus, I'm distracted by the game that's on TV.

Regardless, it's been a nice weekend.

Friday, January 25, 2002

Enough of this

Bad Ju-Ju be gone.

There is only so long a feeling of uneasiness can hang in the air without falling under its own weight.

The wet still fell from the heavens as I went to bed last night. I wasn't optimistic. I had stepped on the lawn to pick up a news paper. The dirt felt like a sponge. I thought I was going to sink.

Around 11PM, I made the decision to log off the computer and go to bed. I wasn't tired. I didn't even want to quit working on the new Blog. But I wanted to be around people and what better place to do that but in bed. My wife and dog were there.

The wife was already asleep. She had thrown a shirt over her eyes. She had been too tired to turn off the light. The dog was hiding under the covers.

I crawled into bed. My wife woke up. We spent the next two hours being stupid. I turned the dog into The Queen and she ruled the bed. Then she chewed on my hand for a while (the dog, not my wife). I woke up in a great mood.

Now, the rain has stopped, the clouds are breaking, and Friday offers a weekend that we all desperately need.

And even better than all of that, it appears the two-year McDonalds Boycott is starting to work

CHICAGO (Reuters) - McDonald's Corp. MCD.N said on Thursday fourth-quarter net income fell 40 percent, its fifth straight quarterly decline, as the fast-food giant took charges for U.S. restructuring while declining sales in Asia and Latin America offset some recovery in Europe.

Sometimes I'm glad that I have no supernatural power to predict doom.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

They sky is falling and so is my level of optimism

Outside, the ceiling is gray, the ground is wet, and the North Carolinians are afraid.

There is a certain uneasiness mixed in with the two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. The raindrops are performing useless CPR on our air supply. Passing cold and warm fronts are eying each other like boxers from their corners. Both sides have decided to forego protective equipment. No one has the fortitude to ring the bell, but everyone knows a fight is coming and it is going to be bloody.

Weather foecasters are predicting thunderstorms. Two frightened North Carolina schools closed down after the town drunk spotted funnels in the sky. I am not the only one who fears what is in the air.

It's all in the way people are looking at each other. There is an uncertain distrust, a mild disdain, and a cloaked disapproval. In short, people aren't hugging each other when they meet in the hallways.

Perhaps my recent uneasiness involves a recurring dream that I only have when I'm awake. It's almost impossible to describe, but it goes a little something like this:

Two men (they have different faces and names almost every time, but sometimes they are my father and one of his brothers) are looking at each other. There is tension in their voices and their eyes won't unlock. They are speaking in almost inaudible whispers. Their lips are barely moving. They are having a conversation I can't hear and that's probably for the best. It's obvious whatever they are talking about will scare me. But what is for the best soon falls off of a cliff, because whatever they are talking about escalates to an almost homicidal degree. One moment they are speaking in hushed tones, the next they are screaming and not caring who listens. But the most distubing part...almost as quickly as they start screaming, they start to whisper again. Then it happens again. A scream, a whisper, a scream.

This usually only enters my head for a few seconds then dissolves into uneasiness. I've never actually seen this happen, especially with my father. He usually kept any trouble he was dealing with in a place far away from me. Just one reason to love my dad and mom.

But that uneasiness is here. I feel it this time without having had the day dream first.

Very little of what happens around me ever bothers me. I see life's daily inconsistencies and egomaniacs as part of an unseen engine that needs its ugly parts to run its pretty parts. I even like to be scared. Some of my most fond memories are having my wits scared almost completely out of me. I love horror movies (when they are well done). I like scary books (the kind where the monsters are actually people...or maybe, more precisely, the people are monsters). That said...I consider myself a fairly rational person.

But what is in the air right now is irrational. It doesn't make its decision based on what's best for the people breathing it in. Simply put, the ugly parts of this running engine are the parts that could destroy it.

Fear not. I am not losing my mind. I am not about to hole myself up in Greene County, Missouri's Fantastic Caverns.

I just don't feel right about my little microcosm of friends and co-workers right now. And, like the ol' country song goes...If the microcosm ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Note: I'm introducing an incomplete, but new blog today. Several of my friends and their friends (we're looking at about 20-30 men) are preapring to embark on a trip to Las Vegas. I'm trying to get all of them (or all of YOU, some cases) to blog as we get ready. You'll find the new site...which looks a lot like this one...at HeCon: Vegas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Hide your money and head for the hills

The Bad Ju-Ju has arrived.

England is under seige. A so-called "vomiting bug" has set up camp around Buckingham Palace and is threatening to cover the Big Ben and Parliament (look, kids!) with projectile puke. A London rag reports: "From Scotland to the South Coast, offices and schools have been left half empty as the vicious, airborne stomach infection - characterised by projectile vomiting and diarrhoea - has 'cut like a knife through butter'."

On this side of the pond, the wife's rear passenger tire finally gave up the ghost. My buddy's work project is tanking. There are evil witches and bitches among us. The city is having a rainy, bad-hair day. And the air around me smells like a high school whore.

There is nothing more scary than world-wide Bad Ju-Ju.

In college, we described it as a massive case of the Red Ass. It's a phrase that I think I stole from the 1985 movie "Moving Violations." It's one of these not-quite-tangible moods. If you accuse a person of having it, they have it by default. They can't deny it. Denying it only makes it a worse case of the Red Ass.

I'm almost afraid to leave my desk. But I must. More later.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002


I am no Paul Newman. I'm not a hustler. I'm not a shark. And I'm not good at much of anything that requires specific gaming skills.

But don't tell my South Carolina friends that, because as the cobwebs clear, and their synapses start to re-fire...they refuse to believe that they didn't get hustled.

Last Friday night was one of those evenings that was a big blank space of the social calender of life. We had nothing, nothing to do. We sat in T's Boy Room, listening to girls titter upstairs. We looked at each other and found nothing interesting in each other's features to talk about. There were no friendly insults, no spontaneous games of Euchre, no serious calls to go hide the in the back corner of a smokey bar.

I'm not big on being the social decision-maker. If I don't throw the party, I don't want to decide the agenda. In most cases, it's because I simply don't care what we do. But the sound of a beer can opening in complete silence was maddening and I took the initiative.

"Let's play Caps," I said and nobody was particulary excited about it.

My college friends taught me the game. It invovles two teams of two, sitting a goodly distance apart from each other, each team having a cup of beer at its feet. The object: The teams alternate tosses of a bottle cap with the intention of landing the cap in the opposing team's cup. If the thrower accomplishes the task, the opposing team must make its shot, and if it does not, the two losing team members must drink their beer. It's a simple game that requires good hand/eye coordination and the willingness to drink a lot of beer.

We had almost three cases.

"It has been a long time since I played," I explained as I missed my first few shots. Nobody really cared.

But they started to get excited as they hit their shots and forced the opposing team to drink. There were loud screams, a little pointing and poking, some high-fives that only men can appreciate. The first case of beer disappeared. Then half of the second case. The players started dropping out. I still wanted to play and started making large bets with ugly odds to get people to continue.

Then I hit a zone. The caps floated in the air and I felt like I could direct them with mere mind control. The satisfying mini-splash of my opponents' cups was only fuel for my future success.

That's when they started calling me a shark, a hustler, etc.

Before it ws all said and done, the beer was gone and I was still relatively sober.

I recognize that we're all too old to play drinking games. We are husbands, employees, parents, responsible members of society. We shouldn't drink for gaming success. And yet, most of what we do as friends either invovles some sort of competition or some sort of social drinking. I don't see any reason why we can't combine the two every once in a while.

And on that note...there is a multi-team Caps Tourney in Columbia, MO this weekend. If anybody there wants to charter me a plane...I might know a ringer.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Think good thoughts

I was getting ready to shut down for the night and watch some ball. Then I decided to make one last run through blog-ville. I clicked on the newest blogger among my group of friends (also one of my great friends from here) looking for some sports enthusiasm (because that's what you find at his site). But I found something sad and I didn't know exactly how to express my thoughts for him (a quick post in the "comments" section doesn't necessarily fit in this siuation...although I don't know if this does either).

Regardless, read Up For Anything and think some good thoughts for him.


Cold engine

Creativity has an engine and for me it runs on a fuel of sleeplessness.

I've always wondered why I'm a mental sloth on the weekends. Some would attribute it to the hops and barley coursing through my veins. I think it has more to do with being well-rested.

My creative neurons went on strike today. They pranced up and down my forehead with big poster board placards: "On Strike...Too Much Sleep."

The problem: I was just about ready to wake up this morning. I was perfectly tired and ready for a day of creative thinking. Then I heard the shower running. I knew my wife was in there and despite the fact we have two showers in the house, I knew I would only be showering in the one that was already in use. We're weird.

I could've made an intimate morning of it and joined her, but the Sleep Bug-a-Boo reached out and hit the snooze. Back intro dreamland.

Within mere seconds I was wrapped in a inticing little dream with a fantastic blues soundtrack. I was chin-deep in Behind the Looking Glass turtle-neck shirts and dream-world haziness. My back-up blues band followed behind me like Shaft's crew. My creative engine worked into a purring pound. Then it threw a rod as the alarm went off. I was on the way to work and my creative engine was leaking Think Oil all over the driveway.

I spent the day trying to fire up an out-of-gas engine and finally gave up about two hours ago. I buried my face in a plate full of leftovers and resigned myself to a night of mindless Big 12 basketball watching (...go tigers).

So, perhaps, tomorrow. I vow to get less sleep and only hit snooze six or seventeen times.

At least I know the engine is still there. It keeps reminding me of that blues song and polyester pounding.

Some day I'll learn to convert the fuel tank to fried chicken grease...then look out, folks. Nothing like a southern fried think-melon.


My blogging mind is on a bit of a hiatus right now. I expect it back by late afternoon. In the meantime, if you came here looking for something new to read or look at...

I've added about 15 new pictures to the Mt. Willis cam. You'll be happy to know that none of them feature my face. However, you will see my lovely wife, our home, our dog, a neat snowman constructed on our lawn by our neighbors, our neighbors' cute daughter, and a number of our friends in various states of confusion. To change pictures you need only to hit refresh on your browser.

I've also added links to a few more friends who have decided to try their hand at blogging. They've made some headway in their first few days and deserve a look. Look under the "Diversions" section.

Friday, January 18, 2002

Bad Ju-Ju

Something is in the air and Phil Collins can't feel it.

I'm not a big believer in the supernatural, but in the last few years I've developed a strange sense for an odd tilt to our little world. I have no idea what is going to happen. I don't even know that something is on the way. But there's a tilt to things that just doesn't feel quite right. It's a tightness in the atmosphere, like a warm and cold front colliding in Southwest Missouri.

Exhibit A: My dog puked last night. This is not entirely uncommon. She sometimes eats grass when her stomach doesn't feel so well. It is instinctual and a lot of dogs do it. But last night, Scoop didn't munch on the lawn. She just ate her dinner, ran around like a banshee for a hour or two, then jumped on to the floor, opened her mouth, and let her dinner fall out. She looked at me with this look in her eyes that said, "Sorry 'bout that. Bad ju-ju in the air. Run for your life."

Exhibit B: I drank wine last night. I don't drink wine. In college, my friends and I would make the drive up I-70 to the Rocheport Winery. We would drink fabulously bad wine for a few hours while the sun set over the Missouri River. We would've felt classy, except people usually got pretty sick afterward. Once on the ride back, my friend Su-choo let loose a good one out the passenger side window. She was sitting on my lap at the time.

People keep bringing wine to my house. It's the perfect "I felt like I should bring something" gift. Last night, I chilled and opened a bottle to have with our baked ziti. And before you say, "You just started eating baked ziti because of the Sopranos..."...I only started eating baked ziti after watching the Sopranos. The wife and I drank it all. It made me sleepy. If the dog hadn't puked, I would've gone immediately to bed.

Exhibit C: The sunset looks like armageddon. And from what I hear, so does the sunrise. The end of the day is orange and beautifully scary. I don't see this as a bad thing. But it is different. Different is often a little disconcerting.

I don't have much more evidence. Just some bad ju-ju in the air.

Be careful this weekend...or at the very least, don't grab a bottle of wine and take your dog to watch the sunset.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

"I divide all readers into two classes: Those who read to remember and those who read to forget."
--William Phelps

While that quote may be telling about readers, you could probably substitute a lot of words for"read" and have just as true of a statement. Try "drink." It works just as well.

When I read the quote, it made me think of why I write. I don't write to haul home the ham (that's my subsitute for bring home the bacon...I really prefer ham). I don't write so other people will read it (although i do enjoy getting comments and e-mails after I write something).

I write to remember. I write to forget.

My first form of artistic expression was crayola drawings. I didn't title my first work, but if I had the chance now I would call it "Memorial Day: Me in a Coffin." That was first grade. My teacher sent me to a counsellor.

By third grade, I was writing semi-fiction stories based on my vast experience at the time. My personal favorite was "The Ants." It told the story of an invasion of carpenter ants into a family camper. I submitted the work for a National Literary Award. I think I took second place. That's a joke.

I was still writing when junior high and high school rolled around. I went back and forth between flowery teen angst poetry and violent teen angst fiction that would get a sophomore expelled these days. My personal favorite was the story of a young man waiting for his date to get ready so he can give her his gift. He ends up shooting the girl and the guy who she was really getting ready for. I'm surprised no one sent me to a counsellor then. Or maybe they did and I've just blocked it all out. I sort of forget most of my high school years anyway. Teen angst is sometimes better than drugs and alcohol.

By college I had tried to cut back on the angst. I put more effort into keeping a little journal in a composition book and playing guitar. I fancied myself a stupid-song writer. There was the blues song about jumping off a building and impaling myself on a fence. A 50's style song about a college baseball player who supplied me with condoms. A dark country and western song about a roommate with an aversion to oral sex. A folk tune about the benefits of masturbation.

Then came the dark years. No song writing. No writing writing. My only form of self-expression was measuring my navel-depth with an unsharpened #2 pencil. If I was feeling adventurous, I'd sharpen it up.

Now, there's this.

I've been really surprised at the number of people who read this. Even more surprised at some of the nerves I touch from time to time. Some people keep quiet. Some send me quiet e-mails. Others use the comments section.

Why do I do it? I don't know.

I guess there's a part of me that--while I'm quite introverted--likes to be watched. I like people knowing things about me that I don't talk about in public. I like to vent without being "that guy who yells a lot."

But more than anything, I write to remember. And I write to forget.

I haven't done a lot in my life, but I like to remember the things I have. I like to remember racing my little bike up and down the street. I like to remember waking up outside Graceland at 4AM with my buddies, spending two minutes outside, then hitting the road to New Orleans, spiked up on ephedrine and ready to roll. I like to remember asking my wife to marry me in a seedy bar in Missouri while a guy sang "How Do You Say Fuck You In Spanish?" from a small stage in the back. And while I remember it all...I remember it better when I'm writing about it. It's like being able to see your memories.

I like to forget a lot of things. And writing about the things I remember helps me forget the things I don't want to think about.

So, thanks for reading. Gives me one more reason to write.

And maybe you'll forget something while you're reading. Or better yet...maybe you'll remember.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

That Place

After a day staring at a blank computer screen and tapping my fingers next to the keyboard, I now realize I have entered that place again.

It's not dark or light. It's a breezy, gray place. When I try to look out of it, it's like I'm looking through cheese cloth at a Buddy Holly 2002 Show. There's little to see and what I can see smells sort of dead.

It must be some emotional self-preservation mechanism that I have no control over.

I realize that yesterday's entry was a little heavy and I apologize for that. If you makes you feel any better, I have already stained my shirt with a Mr. Goodbar bar and a splash of Diet Coke. That's reality, baby.

I've tried to write here and for my job about a dozen times today and failed miserably. The thing that usually comes the easiest for me is apparently off jamming with Buddy and the band.

I figure my writing ability will realize Buddy is dead and return some time tomorrow.

So, that's that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2002


The feeling of spikey bike pedals digging into my bare feet was never enough to keep me from riding. It was summertime and it always felt like Home. And there were few better feelings than shoving my sore feet into the freshly cut grass on my parent's lawn. It was easy to call that place Home, because that is exactly what it was.

I only left because I felt like it was required. Boys need to leave Home or they never would learn what Home really is.

The feeling of a March wind through the windows of a place we called 1931 was always enough to keep me on that ratty sectional couch I took from my first Home. There were few better feelings than spending Saturday afternoons, kicked back in a pair of ripped blue jeans and a stained t-shirt, jawing with guys who could have been brothers and planning an adventure that we would never complete, but always find fun in trying to get there. It was easy to call that place Home, becuase that's exactly what it was.

I only left because I felt like it was required. Young men need to leave College or there was never any reason to be there in the first place.

The claustrophobia associated with a third-floor, one-bedroom apartment was always enough to make me wish I had never paid attention to what was required of me. There were few more depressing feelings than having the ability to cook an entire meal in a creaky toaster oven and eat it off a paper towel. It was easy to call that place Hell, because that's exactly what it was.

I only left because I woud've jumped off my third-floor balcony if I had stayed a week longer. Worker-Bees need to keep working or there was never any reason to start working in the first place.

The ideas that Boys must leave Home, young men must leave college, Worker Bees must keep working...they all still mean something, I'm sure.

The thing about life lessons is...sometimes you don't know what the lesson is until long after you have learned it.

There are few better feelings than finding Home when you thought you had lost it forever. And there is nothing more confusing than discovering that everything you've been working for may be impossible if you want to stay.

What may be more confusing than that...I may not have been working for the elusive "everything that I've been working for." I may have been working to find a place I can call Home again.

Ever worked so long at achieving a goal that you forgot what the goal was?

When the clock is ticking...

...the mind of a soon-to-be-married man can get messy.

Any man who has been through the year before and the year after The Big Day know this to be true: There is no way to plan for what you fiancee or wife might do or say. You can read books, consult other Married Men, look to some oracle. It will do you no good. One minute you are Leo DeCaprio, hanging off the end of a doomed boat, screaming about being a king, and the next you're asking where thant damned iceberg came from and how did everything get so soaking wet all of a sudden.

I only bring it up because Brother Beaker over at Code Orange is in the middle of his first engagement crisis and he needs everybody's help.

I won't go through the details. He explains the situation pretty well and if I were to get in the middle of a full explanation, there is a good chance I would get myself in trouble. I don't need that right now. I'm only a year and a half into my marital bliss and I'm just now learning when a man should keep his mouth shut (do you think I should've mentioned any of that?)

The thing is...he wants your imput and anyone who has every been married (man or woman) is invited to participate. Click on over, read hit problem, and comment in the "comment" section.

So, climb out of your Marriage Bunker and go out on a limb for the guy. Just be careful you don't scamper out too far. Those limbs can be tricky sometimes.

Monday, January 14, 2002

At Ease

We were mired in the rubber match of a three-game Euchre melee when the army-dressed man clumped down the stairs. His combat boots made a distinctive knock on the old wooden stairs. It was about the only thing that kept us from calling trump and finishing that game.

MD was home...at least for the time being.

MD is the friend who joined the National Guard at age 35, got married, then got called up shortly thereafter. His hair is High and Tight, his wife is in Atlanta, he's at Ft. Bragg. He had a weekend and he chose to meet his wife here in the Upstate for a weekend of fun.

The weekend was the kind I still live for. It wasn't fall-down-in-the-gutter drunk, stumble-out-of-a-bar-at-sunrise debauchery. But it was a weekend of dinners, hockey games (including some embarassing interaction with the Trenton Titans...more on that in a minute), and general fun.

Although I write this at my own peril (and I really don't want to do this, because it was quite embarassing), I kicked it old school at our little minor league hockey game Saturday night.

In college I was part of a group of guys known as The Antlers. We specialized in heckling and were pretty damned good at it. When my PR Hack friend T got us tickets on the glass at the hockey game, we thought it would be fun. So, we went and I decided it might be a good opportunity to see if I still had it in me.

Hockey is not the easiest place to heckle. Glass divides the Heckler from the Player and it makes it difficult to get one's point across. Fortunately, we sat right next to the opposing team's tunnel. There was a little space between the glass and some sort of fabric tunnel they pull out to protect the players.

I was into a guy named O'Brien. He had a smug look that I didn't quite like. I've always been a big fan of getting into one player and not letting up. I started off by telling him I was talking to his mom the other night and went from there.

The game ended well. Overtime. Shootout. The Grrrowl wins.

As O'Brien skated into his tunnel, I shoved my face into that little opening and broke into a good "Mama Closer."

He stopped and looked at me. I always love it when that happens.

"You paid to watch me play tonight," he said with that smug look.

I was just about to tell him I didn't actually pay and he didn't play that well...when one of the other Titans put his body into the tunnel glass and slammed the corner of it into my jaw.

I stumbled backward and the redneck in me kicked in. I went back hard, throwing my hands into the glass.

The Titans skated out and the security guy got mad at me.. Told me I shouldn't be talking to the other players.

Granted, I am far out of my heckling prime and maybe I should just grow up. But, as the creed goes..."Once an Antler, always an Antler, pre-born to be an Antler, and Antler until the end of the universe."

Don't tell me I can't talk to the other players.

That was my redneck moment and I paid for it.

Nevertheless, when the soldier comes home, everyone is happy.

Friday, January 11, 2002

Charter Cable, Charter Communications, A Wired World Company, Dan Aykroyd

That is for the benefit of anyone who might be using a search engine to look for any of the above items.

Last night my mood deteriorated into something akin to three squirells fighting over one nut in a wool sock. I cut myself on some broken glass. The dinner I cooked tasted like Elmer's Glue and Uncooked Rice. And Charter Cable started sucking my eyeballs out of my head with a silly straw.

Full disclosure: My problem doesn't make much sense.

My remote control works for the TV, VCR, and stereo, but not for the digital cable box. What's worse, I guess the audio level on the cable box must be turned all the way down, because I'm getting nothing. Nothing, Jerry.

I called Charter knowing full well that I would sit on hold. I played my new video games and sat on hold for half an hour. Then Woman #1 came on. She was confused. She hung up on me. I called her one of the worst of names I could muster and redialed. I sat on hold for another half an hour, listenting to cable pitch-man Dan Aykroyd's career going down the toilet and trying to understand how my appoximate wait time could be twenty minutes for thirty straight minutes. Woman #2 comes on, is a little more helpful, then says she can't do anything except send a guy out in a week and a half.

"And in the meantine?" I ventured.

"Well..." she said.

That's all she said.

I'm not sure what is more depressing...that Dan Aykroyd has fallen so far from Conehead Grace that he is now reduced himself to picking up pennies in the sewer that Is Charter Cable...or that I have been giving a sizeable check to this company for the last three years.

This is what Charter has to say about customer service:

Charter Communications started with one goal: To provide its customers with high-quality service, the latest technology and a range of programming -- all at a fair price. That hasn't changed.

Excuse me, I just swallowed my tongue.

This mission statement must have been the dying words of a company employee fascinated wiht the idea of auto-erotic asphixiation.

Here is my little submission to the customer service department...

Maybe is makes no difference to you. I have to imagine a company with more than three billion to blow on sub-par broadband service probably has more to think about than keeping its customers happy. But have you considered a possible investment in customer service...service that doesn't require a customer to wait on hold for thirty minutes only to be discounted and hung up on?

Maybe a service that doesn't require a customer to wait an entire weekend day for a service tech who never shows up.

I am not an unreasonable fellow. In fact, I understand you have a lot on your plate.

But it must be nice to have a monopoly on cable service and routinely stick it to your customers.

I'm doing as much as I can. I canceled all of my movie channels. I am denying myself broadband service. It is my weak middle finger to the multi-billion dollar industry.

Some celeb on a morning talk show this week said they were reducing their consumption of everything.

I am not.

But I am cutting back. And the first place I'm cutting is around the pot-bellied porkers that run my cable service.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Layoff Envy

It's kind of like being so cold you wish you were in hell.

You know you're sick in the head. You know you're doing an old fashioned "point and poke" at the people who told you to be careful what you wish for. But, the envy is there and there's no real way to drown it.

Yesterday morning the Company Brass convened a meeting to announce the semi-demise of our company website.

It was a valiant effort: Four full-time editors and two sales reps. That was 18 months ago. As of this week (through layoffs and attrition) the company is down to one staff member. One guy got his pink-slip yesterday morning.

At first I stood there in the meeting, shaking my head, pursing my lips and quietly thanking my lucky bars that I would still be getting a small paycheck this week. There but for the grace...

Then I had to go back to work, back to ripping my nose off with a large grindstone, back to producing a daily miracle that has already been forgotten.

I remember a time almost three years ago. I turned in my resignation at my last job without knowing if I would find another. My then-fiancee had snagged a job in South Carolina and I decided I'd rather follow her than work in a job I really didn't like. I quit, drugged the dog (she doesn't ride well), and put rubber to road.

It's scary knowing you have no job, but there is a sense of freedom to it that is unmatched. It is much like (and I may have made this comparison before) finally telling the emotionally-blackmailing witch you've been dating for three months to grab a broom and take to the unfriendly sky. Suddenly, the World of Possiblities no longer looks like a WWF Cage-Match venue.

So, I'm feeling guilty for envying the guy who got cut. He now has a job search ahead of him, much like a few of my other friends who are still wearing out shoe-leather. I have to imagine it isn't a good feeling.

Apart from shoving something called Pineapple Whip into sugar cones, dipping corn dogs in opaque grease, and hawking new video releases to bored housewives, I've not worked in any industry except the one I'm in now. So, I have no real frame of reference about other job markets. I have one friend who is a prosecutor. Another is an accountant. Another an insurance agent. Appaisers, PR Hacks, Tech Security Gurus. I don't know if anybody is happy in their job. I wonder if there are people out there who have found freedom in their work...or is personal--not patriotic--freedom a job-free possibility that few people ever expeience.

Of course, we should always insert the "We should be happy to living in this country and not sleeping on skid row" caveat. The "Life Ain't So Bad" caveat always applies when I write here.

But, for a young white boy from a suburb without a city with nothing much to complain about but a sense of professional worthlessness, there is some envy for the life of the people who have a World of Possiblities in front of them.

It's a guilty envy, but an envy nonetheless.

Digital Target Practice

If I had a semi-automatic handgun--which I don't--and a thirty-yard shooting range in may back yard--again, which I don't--my useless little phone/radio/alarm clock would be in jeopardy today.

To be fair, it didn't do much of anything wrong...with the exception of working exactly as it should. It woke me up and I hate it for it.

Today is one of those days where Fatigue and its Minions are giving me a wedgie. I don't have the will to argue.

All I want is a four-day vacation. I don't care where I go. I can sit on my deck for all I care.

On a completely unrelated note...here is why I read the Las Vegas newspaper: John Smith has some thoughts today on parlay gambling.

More later as I figure out what city I'm in.

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

I don't have to wear underwear...

...when I'm in my own home. That's one of the finest things about being underneath my steeply-pitched roof. I can wear sweatpants with no underwear and feel completely free from social reprisal. This likely means no more to you than a strange feeling in your stomach, but for me it is freedom. Strange though that I find freedom in being locked in my own house. If I could just find a way to go commando while I'm camping or listening to live music...

The point of that little missive...I'm home. South Carolina's capital city is behind me. Its cavernous, echoey, siren-slobbered streets are a mere ugly memory. The politicoes are hunkered down in their hotel bunkers and finding a new way to get re-elected. The Holiday Inn elevators are finding a way to not work for someone other than me. My connection with my wife is no longer through a satellite and a transparent earpiece. I am home and I'm not wearing underpants.

I now look forward to three days when I may not have to leave Greenville County. Very soon I will go to bed with my wife and pup. I will go out and celebrate Todd's birthday tomorrow night. I will find a Friday as soon as my bloodshot eyes can see clearly again.

I think, though, that I am gaining weight. My Weight-Test Suit (WTS) seems to be getting tighter in the waist again. I maintain the suit only to remind me that I once was physically proportional. I wore it today and didn't feel quite right until I came home, showered, and put on some droopy sweat pants.

There is no reason for a young man to put on weight. I have no kids. I have a dog that runs me ragged. And since my wife is a faux-vegetarian, I don't eat many hamburgers anymore. I make no New Year's resolutions, but I will continue to fit in my WTS.

I'm almost embarassed to admit this...but I potentially have a high school reunion coming up this summer. I have a deep-seeded fear that I will put on twenty pounds before that time.

I will walk in to that room with my beautiful wife on my arm and Thomas James will look at Ken Bauer and say, "How did Otis get so fat and still snag that lady?"

Bauer will repsond.."Must've hit an escort service on the way here from the airport."

(Note: My wife does not look like a hooker and the preceding comment was only meant to convey the stark difference between my potentially fat ass and the beauty-level of my little woman).

The only solace I can take in the possiblity of putting on Reunion Weight...I may end up wearing sweatpants and no boxers.

Monday, January 07, 2002

Otis Likes His Chicken Spicy

When the alarm shook me from an odd dream, I almost welcomed it. I always have bad-based dreams when I'm on the road. It was 3:15 in the morning and for 30 seconds I was happy to be awake.

Then the darkness rabbit-punched me. I melted into the shower and collapsed into a day that was bound to make me turn ugly. I'm still in Columbia and I'm just getting over wanting to carry a baseball bat with me wherever I go.

South Carolina kicked off it's new "Education Lottery" today. I won't spend much time on this, except to say that until state lawmakers actually pass a measure to appropriate the lottery money, the cash is going nowhere but there general fund. And this is an election year. How soon until the schools get some money? Think 2004.

I was sardined into a convenience store with a bunch of sweaty gamblers (I try not to sweat when I gamble). I taught an old black man how to scratch off a lottery ticket. I felt bad for doing it and wanted to tell him that he has a better chance in a Mississippi casino.

"How this work?" he asked, his long fingernails scratching at the silver latex on top of the card.

"Just take a coin," I said, "and scratch this part off."

He was delicate and slow. Painfully so. I hardly had the heart to tell him that he won. A dollar. I knew he'd go back and buy more. It is sucker's game and I hate to see people who don't suck get taken. He was a nice guy. Said he was helping the schools.

Twelve hours later I had stomached enough of the public relations machine and started calling some of the PR hacks bad names. A stoned kid who won fifty bucks tried to walk through my live shot nearly caught an elbow on his nez. I was muttering Seinfeld lines..."George is getting frustrated...these pretzels are making me thirsty."

By dinner time I was pulling myself down the sidewalk with my lips and drooping eyelids. When I asked for a table for five, the hostess took me to a large booth. I wasn't smelling too good (I sweat when I report, not when I gamble) and asked for a table with some chairs.

"Oh," she said, "I can't...the track team is coming in."

I turned around and looked at my colleagues. "You hear that? The TRACK TEAM is coming in."

I looked back at her and waited. She ended up offering me a booth with an extra chair.

I sat down and waited to see if it was the Gamecocks' men or women's track team.

It was the men's team.

Now, I'm in a hotel bed. My parter is asleep. I'm waiting to see the Ravens get humilated. Hope they do anyway.

You know, Su asked me if I brought the laptop for work or blogging. Put it this way...I've written a lot of stories in the last 24 hours. Only two have been on this laptop.

If only I could go home right now. I still have another 24 hours in this forsaken burg. Saw some more seagulls today though. That made me happy.

Brother Beaker picked a wedding date. That's good news.

I'm starting to lose my damned mind, so it's probably best that I end right now.

Remember, if you want to gamble...don't scratch to win. Double down on 11, never draw to an inside straight, and don't trust politicians to put your chips down on the green felt.

Sunday, January 06, 2002

Blogging in Columbia...South Cackalacky

Well, it's about time we put this cranky old laptop to use.

I'm now an hour and 45 minutes south of Mt. Willis with the wife's old laptop and no sleep ahead of me.

We've checked into a Holiday Inn (no Express here, although I would like to see that old Grandma lady eating breakfast off of a ironing board). It's 10PM and we have about five and half hours before we have to be up again. We're meeting the Governor much too early. I'm not sure if he is selling or buying the first lottery ticket.

This is bound to get ugly.

One note...if you for some reason using Netscape Communicator 4.6, please don't look at this site. It looks horrible with such a browser.

Another note...go check out Su at FlutterGlubMeow. Now that she's back in the news biz, she's getting back to her roots...blog-style.

Not much more to report than what I slopped into the ether this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow night...after a sleepless night and a long, long day...I'll have some halucinations to report.

Until then...find me some friggin' seagulls.

Out of Sorts

I spent a few minutes this afternoon driving through a Greenville fog, listening to John Gorka, and looking at the sky. It's not the thing one wants to do if one is looking to get all rowdy. I'm a bit out of sorts, off-kilter...sideways...if you will.

I dropped off my Blockbuster movies (note: "Following"=good, "Made"=bad, with the exception of a good performance by Vince Vaughn) and headed toward the office (little work to do before a lot of work to do).

I saw that damned seagull again. He had come another 48 miles north from Greenwood to Greenville.

And then I saw it...it wasn't just Wayward Seagull. It was a whole flock of seagulls. Seriously.

It appears I've been spending the last few years with my headed buried deeply in southern red clay. In three years, I don't think I've seen a seagull farther north than Columbia. Now, I'm seeing full flocks in the dead of winter. Seagulls...flying north for the winter. I can't imagine this is a unique phenomenon. I have to guess...I've just not been paying attention.

And the seagulls are the least of my ignorance.

I looked up today and realized that I have no idea where I will be in one year. My contract with the ol' TV thing is up in four months. My friends are having babies. Brother Beaker is getting married.

None of these is a bad thing. In fact, most are really, really good. It's just this: After three years of getting really comfortable, my life is about to change again.

I used to like it a lot. That's why I got into this business in the first place. Constant change and manhunts. I never knew where and when I was going to be.

Now...well, now I sort of like knowing I'm going to go to bed on Mt. Willis and knowing that when I wake up there, I'll know who I can call for whatever I need.

I'm not down...I'm just nervous. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Sometimes it can eat your stomach lining like a fanged bacteria.

Incidentally, I won't be around for a few days. I'm getting shipped off to our state capital/capitol for the kickoff of the new South Carolina Education Lottery (hrumph) and the first day of our General Assembly's session. Two nights and three days in downtown Columbia. I should've looked into that for my honeymoon...

So, if you happen to see a plan for the next three years of my life floating around anywhere, slip it in my e-mail box and I'll look it over when I get back.

I'm going in search of more seagulls.

Comment Away

After a short absence, RER's comment section is back up and running...thanks to the good people at Rate Your Music for getting us back on track.

So, feel free to comment as you like. I don't hear from enough of you people anymore.

Just look below each post at the comment section and click on it if you have something to say.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Beer Thieves and Wayward Seagulls

Snow allied with the Yankess long ago. It was a Northen entity at the time of the Civil War and it when it came time for the blue and the gray to fight, there's no question which side the Great White took.

I'm a bit of a Yank myself (actually, I'm from Missouri, so I have a bit of a Mason-Dixon problem). All northern-ways aside, I'm not a huge fan of snow. I liked it until I got into the news business. Much like doctors and cops, newsies don't get snow days.

I got up for work at 2:30 this morning and drove through the most recent battle of the War of Northern Agression. I ended up in the Emerald City, Greenwood, South Carolina.

Note: Five inches of snow in the South is equivalent to armageddon in Bufflao, NY.

The work was uneventful. It snowed. I talked about snow. I played in the street.

Them, something neat happened. I looked through the white mess into the sky and saw among the crows and flakes...a wayward seagull, as white as the snow. He looked damned confused. I think he might have lost his way from Charleston or something. I wanted to counsel him. I have a long history with Bird Relations and felt like I couldv'e done something to soothe his confused bird brain. But, he flew off into the white. Probably looking for the ocean. I didn't have the heart to scream after him...youre heading toward Michigan!!

After about ten hours of work, I headed back to Greenville. I stopped off for some caffeine and some Reeces Pieces. A guy decked out in camo (not one of the National Guard troops dealing with our "disaster") was buying Keystone Ice in 22 ounce cans...with what looked like change from his kid's piggy bank (his kid was buying a water gun). Camo-Man bought two cans...then discovered he had enough change for one more. He paid for it and walked back to the cooler to pick it up. I saw it coming from behind the foot-long hotdog roller-heater. He was going to take one more than he paid for.

I almost screamed out when I saw him shove the fourth beer in his bag, then I decided that if the guy is dressed in all camo and he's not a member of the active service, it might be best to leave him alone. He might be from where the bird was headed...and you know what kind of militia-types they have up there.

The sad part of this...it was a cheap and poorly executed heist. The sadder part, the sleepy-looking cashier didn't see it coming and didn't notice until I pointed it out to him. He walked in two circles, much like a dog looking for a place to go, then sighed, and looked at the floor until the guy and his kid pulled out into the snow.

I'm home now. My day finished early. Now, I'm thinking about sleeping, but feeling like I might not be able to.

If I do, I will dream sadly of the Michigan Militia shooting wayward seagulls for target practice...then drinking cheap, ill-gotten beer to celebrate their kill.

I do love the South.

I could just do without the snow and the suckers.

The seagulls can stay.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

Fire on the New Year, White Death in the Air

There is nothing quite as pretty as a mill fire at 5 o'clock in the morning.

For those who don't know, Upstate South Carolina was once a bastion of the textile industry. The industry spent decades building fortresses of fibers, large towering brick structures full of wood and chemicals. Then it all went in the toilet. Some people blame NAFTA. Some people blame other things. Regardless, those once powerful fortresses became fires waiting to happen.

I was still awake at 5AM on New Year's Day. The party still hadn't quite broken up. My wife and two good buddies were finishing off what was left of our few remaining brain cells. We watched the morning news and watched the Appleton Mill in nearby Anderson...all 20 acres of buildings...burn. It was magnificent. I've covered mill fires from the ground before. They are a sight to behold. Had I not been so intoxicated, I would've wanted to be in the helicopter above this one. It was spectatcular.

However, I was in no condition to move from my couch.

The party started about 7:30 and raged hard until about three the next morning. All in all, there were about 35 people there. Almost all of the food and a goodly portion of all the drink disappeared. We celebrated at the stroke of midnight. Everybody kissed each other. It was a fine time.

Around one (that's Midnight Central Time) Brother Beaker called with some fantastic news. I'll let him share the details, but suffice to to say...I have a bachelor party to plan.

The Upstate is now watching the sky for White Death. A strange storm is brewing in southern Georgia and Alabama. It is supposed to start dumping White Death on our highways and byways this afternoon.

It's funny how Buffalo, NY can peacefully deal with seven feet of snow and we won't be able to handle a few inches.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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