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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Happy New Year

As 1:37 tries to find 1:38 AM, I find myself wishing there was someone awake to ask me, "So, what did you do today?". There is not. Only my doggy is out of bed. Scoop just walked in to show me what remains of a giant treat our neighbor gave her tonight. The Milk Bone was too big for her to finish, so she's carrying it around with her. I think she is afraid I'll eat it. I'm eating everything else in the house, after all.

With the half-treat crowding her jaws, Scoop can't ask me the question. If she could, I would answer while 1:38 found 1:50. My answer would go a little like this:

At work I read a column by Mike Foley of the The Greenville News. He lamented he spends most of his time feeling too old to try the things he once loved when he was a younger man. And he counted New Year's as a cut-rate holiday. He vowed to try to be younger next year.

I called my county coroner. Still no word on how the woman found in a warehouse this weekend died. I already have my suspicions, but I have other things to worry about at the moment.

At lunch time I went to a funeral home. The Reverend Jesse Jackson was there to talk about his formation of South Carolina's Rainbow/PUSH chapter. Jackson wasn't rhyming or reciting Green Eggs and Ham, but he was talking a good line. Try this quote about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on for size: "He pulled down the Cotton Curtain and connected Mason and Dixon." Not bad. Our conversation was cut short because the funeral home had business to conduct. One of the County Council members actually said this...word for word: "I hate to spoil the party, but they have to bring a body in here." Talk about upstaging the Right Reverend. But really...who has a press conference at a funeral home anyway?

My lunchtime...chicken salad on white. Twenty minutes. No dessert.

By 1:30 I was due at the office of South Carolina's Speaker of the House of Representatives. We talked politics. Then we talked New Year's. After sharing his plans with me, he said, "I've always thought it was sort of a throw-away holiday. Always sort of a let down." I stole a grape Jolly Rancher off his receptionist's desk and walked out.

My day moved by too fast and my work started to pile up. By 3:30 I was watching a videotape and marvelling at another good quote: ""When you go out and you know you're drunk and you get behind the wheel of a car, you're driving a gun looking for a target." Two decent quotes in one day. Not bad.

At four o'clock I realized I never heard back from the coroner. I made some phone calls to learn the autopsy on the homeless woman wasn't over yet. Looked like we wouldn't know what killed her today.

At 4:30, the Deputy Coroner called. I was under a pile of work and three people were screaming at me. It is this moment when I realized that my entire life has changed in the last ten months and I didn't notice it. I thought about vomiting.

As it turns out, the autopsy couldn't determine how the woman died. No signs that anyone killed her. It becomes "connect-the-dots" time. She's homeless, it's been cold, she's been dead in an empty warehouse for two weeks. Figure it out. Now figure out who cares. Decide which is more depressing.

5PM--I was 700 feet in the air and watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in months...maybe years. I had to pee but helicopters don't have lavatories (at least this one didn't) and the pilot is saying something that is starting to get old: "I'll probably stay home. I've never been much one for New Year's parties."

Here's the thing: I like New Year's Eve. It's a wonderful time to reflect and realize where your life stands. Sure, the night is arbitrary as a date. Sure the Waterford crystal ball in Times Square has corporate sponsorship. But at midnight, you can lean over and kiss your lover, your friends, or your buddies. When I have enough to drink, I kiss everybody (sometimes to my wife's chagrin).

That's why I have spent the last two nights (about 12 hours in all) cooking for a throw-down at Mt. Willis. Bubbly and BBQ for New Year's Eve. BBQ beef brisket, shredded BBQ beef sandwiches, shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, three kinds of homemade BBQ sauce, two-bite BBQ beef and Pepper Cheese crackers, Sausage and Cheese biscuits (AKA Brad's Big Balls), crab-dip stuffed anaheim peppers, Chelle's Pinwheels, chilled shrimp, and ginger-marinated grilled shrimp. Plus, champagne, beer, and a nearly-stocked bar (seems like the bottles are less full than I remember).

It is now closing in on 2:30 AM and I may or may not be able to sleep. The dog has run off with her half-treat to curl up with the sleeping wife. The only sound in the entire damned house is my fingers on these keys and the light hum of the Dell at my knees.

In less than 24 hours 2002 will find 2003. I don't know what I will find in that year, but my suspicions are that my discoveries will be markedly different than years gone by.

I'm not complaining, but no matter how old I get, I can't get over the fact that life tends to change just about the time one gets comfortable.

I guess that's life's way of letting us know that a new year isn't quite as aribitary as we think.

Friday, December 27, 2002

Blaming the sesame chicken

The phone rang so hard it almost shook itself off my bedside table. I pulled the cobwebs apart (those that covered my unfocused eyes) and reached for the receiver. Before I remembered I had moved the phone to my wife's side of the bed, the earpiece was against my head. A child's voice--a young girl by the sound of it--was on the other end of the line.

"Mr. Willis?"

"Uh-huh..." I wasn't quite awake yet. I'd been in the middle of a particularly ugly dream about my little dog. She was sick and I couldn't make her better. I hated dreams like that.

"I just wanted to warn you," she said. She sounded tentative, as if she were afraid herself. "The man was outside your house again this morning."

"What man?" A better question would've been: Who are you? But that's not what I asked.

"The same man that's been there every morning this week. He was trying to get your dog to come to the curb." She was talking faster.

"My dog is right here next to me," I said. Who was this little bitch and why was she waking me up at sunrise?

"I have to go. Bye." She was gone with a click.

I reached down to pet Scoop when the madness began. Scoop ran out from underneath the covers and jumped to the floor, her ass dragging the floor like it always did when she ran fast from something that scared her. Her fear made a lot more sense when a dog that looked just like her (and I mean exactly like her) scrambled out behind her. Before I could focus, the dogs were fighting, chasing each other around the room in an ugly asymetrical dance. It didn't take long for me to lose sight of which was the real Scoop.

Then she began to howl. I heard the noise off to my right (away from where the two dogs were fighting). I turned and she wasn't there. The phone was where I had moved it. I was under the covers and thirsty.

Scoop was howling, though. Under the covers, a cute, plaintive howl, singing with the fire trucks that were headed up to Altamont Road to help out an overturned car. Scoop did scramble out from underneath the covers. Alone. She sat at the end of the bed and howled with the fire trucks until they were out of earshot.

She breaks my damned heart when she does that. It's the sweetest thing you'll ever watch. Her little mouth looks like Snoopy's when he sings a sad song.

I don't have nightmares very much. I'm blaming the one early this morning on last night's Chinese meal and the fact that I left Scoop in a kennel for six days.

The subconscious is a vindictive little bitch.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Oral sex and those who have tired of it...

Disclaimer: This figures to be a PG-13 post if you haven't figured that out yet.

Most right-thinking people figured this one out a long time ago: TV news personalities are fake. In 89% of their broadcasts they practice the timeless art of pretending they care when they do not. They plaster on a look of great concern about the recent downturn in the economy or upturn in crime, or downturn in the availability of prescription drug care, or upturn in unprotected sex, or downturn in Brady Bunch re-runs, or upturn in the availablity of non-prescription drugs. In this case, they are more than likely not-so-concerned about the economy, rarely-if-ever affected by crime, healthy as an ox and have no need for prescription drugs, shaking off the afterglow of a good round of rubber-less sex that they particpated in while watching the Partridge Family (they think the Bradys suck). I say all that to say this: They don't give a diddly-damn about their news story of the day.

That ain't necessarily me--I'm watching the Bradys--but you get the point.

And I say all that to say this: Retailers are more than a little concerned about the level of holiday shopping in the last three weeks. This is what happens when optimism comes face to face with reality. The nation's stores are scared.

Make no mistake...the above statements are all very important. Consumer spending is one of the greatest indicators of the state of our nation's economy. Without a healthy economy, people will eventually lose their jobs. That leads to crime. Crimes leads to murder. And there the country goes breaking one of the Ten Commandments and now we're all fucked. Armageddon.

The lesson: Since you didn't buy Grandma the cheese ball and pecan log this Christmas, the world is going to come to an end.

That is essentially what I'm doing today. While politicians are raid your tax money, criminals drink rum punch in well-lit bars, and innocents rot in prison cells, I'm spending nine hours, several hundred dollars, and a lot of valuable time making sure a few thousand people in Upstate South Carolina know that major corporations like J.C. Penny and Target didn't have a very good holiday shopping season.

The problem is this: Too much news. It's a lot like oral sex. It's great to get or give a two or three times a day. But if you get it three times before breakfast, once at lunch, three times before dinner, and once before bed, you're eventually just going to start thinking: Damn, I really enjoy that...but enough. There is only so much a person can take before they start boring of the technique and general repetitiveness of it.

To Target, J.C. Penny...and Macy's, too: Blow me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Christmas is canceled

That was the first thing I heard this morning when I got out of bed. It was meant as a joke, but it had far-reaching ramifications. The traditional family event (50-60 hungry people with gifts, etc) was not going to happen.

This is why.

More than a foot of snow has fallen in the last 24 hours. It has provided a number of great stories on one of the best family-visit trips I've taken in a while.

The the funny thing is this...as much as my dad would've liked to bring the family together tonight...it seems we have all the family we need snowed-in right here.

My ass is cold, so I'm going to stand by the fire and smile.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Going home

In a couple of hours I'll be on a plane to see my parents. I feel safe just about everywhere I go, but home is the safest place I know. I knew very little fear there...ever.

There was some fear, however.

It seemed like it happened every night. The ugly woman with the green face crawled through my bedroom window and hovered over me. She bore a slight resemblance to the Wicked Witch of the West, but she was not.

She was Fear.

Over the course of many years, the woman didn’t change much. A few times she pulled up in a utility truck and parked next to the house before she came in. It was the same truck that belonged to the man who lived down Groton St.. I wonder now if that nice man ever knew Fear was stealing his truck for the sole purposes of scaring me as I slept.

I don’t remember how old I was when I shook the dream. I still remember my pounding heart and wishing I could lock my blankets around my head. The entire thought still makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’m sure I got scared as much as any other kid, but I don’t recall many of the scary times from my early youth. In fact, apart from the recurring dream, the only times I really remember being scared as a kid were when Dad crashed his Monte Carlo and when the family came home to a ransacked house.

In the months before Dad’s wreck, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (or some other like group) was running a sad commercial. A young boy sat on his front porch--baseball glove in hand--waiting for his dad to come home. Dad got drunk, wrecked his car, and left the boy waiting forever.
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The night my dad wrecked his car (he was sober, by the way), I had been sitting in my bedroom with my baseball glove in my hand. I had no plans to play catch with Dad that evening, but when I picked up the glove I had a brief flash of the commercial. That was followed by the quick thought: I hope Dad doesn’t have a wreck. The minutes ticked by and Dad didn’t come home. He had a wreck. It was really a minor fender bender that cut Dad’s head a little bit, but it scared me.

That moment still scares me a little bit, because there has always been a small part of me that believed that my thought about Dad crashing his car led to the wreck. I never told people that, fearing they would think me a lunatic. Then a few months ago I saw my county’s Sheriff driving down the road. I had a brief thought that he’d die in a car wreck. A week later he crashed his car. As it turned out he died from a massive heart attack. That fact didn’t stop me from thinking about Dad.

I think the family had been at my grandparents’ house the night burglars broke into our house on Yulan. Most of the memories are pretty mixed up in the fear. But the images are clear: A teddy bear ripped open, his stuffing entrails falling out of his stomach; our dog Bernie running all over the house; my grandparents arriving and advising me not to touch anything. I was scared that night. And though at age 29, I often forget to lock my home’s doors, the thought of that night still scares me.

I’m sure a few more times would qualify as scary, but I don’t remember many of them. In fact, I remember my youth as relatively fear-free.

Now, I seek out things that will give me a little scare. It takes quite a bit to get my adrenaline pumping.

As an adult, I wonder if this is a lesson for me. Perhaps as a parent I should force my future children into scary situations. It will save me worrying about them becoming an adrenaline junky like me.

Then again, maybe that’s a parent’s role. As I write this, I realize that my parents likely absorbed all the fear for me as a child. Without allowing me to notice, they sheltered me from the worst of fears. They couldn’t stop the car wreck, the burglars, or the green-faced witch that crawled in my window every night.

But everything else…they stopped.

I knew a lot of scared kids when I was young. I bet they are still scared today. It makes me believe that the scared kids grow up to be scared adults and fearless kids grow up to be fearless adults.

I’m happy to count myself among the latter.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Tornadoes and Bears

I mentioned this back in October. I've never seen a bear. I've never seen a hurricane. And I've never seen a tornado.

That makes me unhappy.

But now...the twisters are stalking me.

Yesterday one set down in Missouri, very near my hometown.

Minutes ago, another one set down just east of Jackson, MS (a place I'm trying to forget I once lived).

Now...the storms are heading east.

I live east.

I wonder if a bear is riding the wind...

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Free Time

I didn't win Powerball tonight. That means I have to go back to work in the morning.

I would be more depressed about it (maybe somewhere along the lines of drinking too much or driving recklessly for sport), but I have had six consecutive days off work. My wife should be jealous. I've found a new lover and she is Free Time.

Sure, I had to drive 1100 miles, visit Ohio for the first time, and drive back to discover I won't be playing in my Fantasy Football League Superbowl. That should've sent me over the edge. But since then I have cooked, cleaned, holiday shopped, created, and plumbed. I plumbed!

I sawed through a rusted metal bolt. I cooked a new meal (its working title is Chairman of the Board Chicken and Rice...or Chairman Mao's Chicken Steak...I can't decide). I spent a lot of money I don't have. I've had more free time than I can remember since college. I could really get used to it.

But I didn't win the lottery.

I was fairly encouraged after I won $4 in Saturday's drawing. Since nobody won the jackpot it jumped up to $160 million. I couldn't lose, I thought. As it turns out, I couldn't get more than one number correct. And that was only on two of my ten tickets.

And that's why I have to go back to making my millions in other ways. Renting puppies and infants on the beach, creating a new kind of sports bar, or...shuddering at the thought...working hard until I'm 65.

Oh, sure...I could be depressed about going back to work tomorrow. But it wouldn't last long. I'm off for six days after Friday.

Sometimes life is too good.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002


My absence is explainable, but quite uninteresting. Suffice it to say, I've been gone to Chicago and Columbia, SC. And suffice it say I'm on my way to Columbus, OH and Springfield, MO.

I'm buried in trying to secure a future while living a present. I'm not doing either very well.

Regardless, I'm trying to fnd a few new hats to try on. This week it's a dunce cap. The next week I'm thinking about a wool stocking cap. The next week...a brown derby.

I'll get back to writing on a regular basis pretty soon.

Until then...let's all make a vow: Let's be us.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Southern Armageddon

The South operates on a philosophy of perceived strength. It may not have won the so-called War of Northern Aggression, but it survived and still has a Confederate flag to show for it. It turns up its nose at those northern supercilious types and vocally opposes the northern way of doing...things.

Stretching from the Piedmont of South Carolina to the Boot Heel of Missouri, a different form of northern agression reigns. In the south they call it Armageddon. In the north they call it ice.

If you've never lived in the north, the denizens of the great white parts kill ice with salt.

Funny thing about ice: It is the same color as salt. Southerners are suspicous of that. They like to be able to tell the difference between their elements. Salt belongs on food. All food.

To conserve on salt (because there is one meat-and-three eatery for every four people in the south), southerners dredge their beaches and cover the roads with sand. By the end of this ice storm, Interstate 85 will look like Folly Beach, SC. I've heard an industrious entrepreneur is already setting up umbrella and puppy rental stands around the Greenville exit.

As a result, the ice doesn't melt until the sun melts it and there are several thousand cubic meters of salt left for the fried chicken and fatback soup.

As an aside, I think it's time we start naming winter storms in the south. They come even more infrequently than hurricanes. As a birthday present to myself, I now shall begin naming all winter storms that hit Upstate South Carolina.

Please welcome, Winter Storm Addo (according to a baby name site, it's an African name for King of the Road).

Monday, December 02, 2002

Who has the power now, buddy?

Gotta be careful here. I've heard of people losing their jobs for less. Nevertheless...a quick observation:

There is a significant amount of satisfcation in walking into a bathroom while whistling some classical piece (it might have been something from Ravel) and discovering an authority figure bellied up to the urinal. The satisfaction grows when you note your little tune (maybe it was Bach) has stopped the authority figure's progress at said urinal.

But perhaps the greatest satisfcation is being able to start and finish your business, wash your hands, and whistle your way out the door while said authority figure is still trying to get re-started.

There just might be something to be said for whistling while you work.

The Cabin Sweats

It's a tightness...and not a good kind. It starts in the chest like panic attack and slips into the psyche like cheap booze. It's a fever, a need to get out. And it comes at times when it doesn't make sense.

Mt. Willis is no cabin, but I felt trapped inside this weekend. I did everything I could to leave. I took a four-mile walk through Cleveland Park. I didn't want the walk to end. I went for a Smoothie. I went out to dinner. I returned Blockbuster junk. Grocery store, Best Buy, Michael's, gas station. Nothing worked. I'm afraid to go home tonight.

Thing thing is...in the next four weeks I will be in Chicago, Columbia, S.C., Ohio, and Missouri. And that's just a preliminary list. There could be more. I should cherish the time I have at home.

But I need to get out. Otis needs to be free.

Free Otis...now that could be the rallying cry for the next generation.

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