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Wednesday, April 30, 2003

A Family Feud in Dixie

The BI-LO Center is one of those multi-use public/private buildings that plays host to all things from tractor pulls to minor league hockey games. Its creation on the edge of Greenville, South Carolina's progressive downtown was seen as a minor coup for the city. It would help build the forward-thinking downtown this city deserved. Greenville, after all, is a progressive oasis in a desert of often closed-minded mindsets.

In a little more than 24 hours, three young women who pop-shot to countryfolkpop stardom will take the BI-LO centers stage. The building will jangle as as oasis all its own. It will be surrounded by people who love their country, love their president, and hate three girls who have chicken feet tattooed on their own.

There's no need to recount the arguments. Natalie Maines either spoke her mind in a way that didn't well-serve her interests or she provided comfort to the enemy in a time of war. It has come to a point where it really doesn't matter anymore.

There's a lot to write on this subject...the effect of the controversy on a city that doesn't deserve it (even if the surrounding county does), the concept of the consequences of free speech, and how fantastically attractive Natalie Maines is (that should serve as full disclosure that I've been infatuated with her for some time). However, the point of this is how 13 words can cause so much trouble.

The problem is two-fold. First, America goes in cycles where it cares what people say then doesn't care what people say. We're currently on a "care" swing. From Trent Lott to Natalie Maines, we don't have much else going on, so we might as well pounce. After all, we've built homes for the homeless, cured AIDS, and put all the criminals in jail. We're hurting for something to occupy ourselves.

Secondly, if it had been anybody other than Natalie Maines who uttered the 13 words, it wouldn't have mattered. The infuriated won't admit it, but the reason is simple. INFURIATED: SHE'S SUPPOSED TO BE ON OUR SIDE.

If the Flaming Lips had gone to Holland and said they were ashamed General Tommy Franks was from Oklahoma, nobody would've cared. Two reasons: It's not because The Flaming Lips aren't role models for little girls. It's because The Infuriated don't expect The Lips to be on their side. They expect The Lips to use Vaseline instead of jelly. They expect The Lips to dress in bunny costumes. But they don't expect The Lips to be on their side.

Natalie, however--because she's supposed to be a bumpkin--was supposed to be a flag-waver and she wasn't. It's like the little brother in a Vietnam-era household who heads for the nearest Canadian border while his brother grabs an M-16. The family is caught off guard and they don't know how to handle it. Instead of responding with compassion and concern after the statement that was poorly-conceived and even less-expertly delivered, the rest of the family lashes out.

It doesn't matter whether I agree with what she said. It doesn't matter that I think I would've curtailed my public comments out of respect for my career and my bandmates careers. What matters is...in the grand scheme of things, this doesn't really matter. Just like Trent Lott's off the cuff comments didn't really matter, neither does this.

Natalie Maines is still a fantastic musician with a voice that makes me melt. The way I see it, if you can watch Martin Sheen in "Wall St." and Sean Penn in "Colors" and not throw up, the least you can do is cut a young girl some slack.

Because, as I remember it, life contains a bunch of stuff that matters a lot more.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Anatomy of an awards banquet

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I actually won a big award. Things like that don't happen.

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I allowed the station flight-booker to book me a three-leg flight to Atlantic City.

Perhaps the first sign of warning should have been when I watched a fire truck follow my third-leg plane into the gate.

But the first sign of warning came when a pretty girl named Melissa smelled something that had the scent of cooking biscuits. She and her foster puppy, a black lab named Dawson, sat at the front of the plane. She was charged with putting him in social situations before he received his formal training as a guide dog. In my opinion, Dawson got enough socialization Friday night to last a lifetime...no matter that a dog year equals seven human years.

The biscuit smell was actually smoke. Something on the plane was burning while we flew over the Atlantic. Dawson didn't stir much as the pilot indicated we were turning back. We didn't know there was smoke in the cockpit and he wasn't telling us. After the biscuits the first real sign of trouble was the line of emergency vehices waiting for us on the runway. I snapped this ugly picture after we stopped (the stewardess let out a sigh of relief and didn't bother asking me to stop).

By the time the smoke cleared, we should've been in Atlantic City. Most people on the plane were just thankful we were back at Reagan National instead of the Atlantic. Their moods changed a lot by the time I snapped the next picture.

That's two hours later as we stood waiting for someone to pick us up and take us to a hotel. By this time it was nearly 1AM Saturday. We were still in D.C. and had recently been told we wouldn't arrive in AC until after 1PM the next day. We were nonplussed.

Forty-five minutes later, three shuttles picked up the 20 stranded travelers. Pictured here are the shuttles, a Navy man who held his temper pretty well, and Dawson the Dog (who also was holding his temper pretty well).

We all felt pretty good about living through the night before until the next day when my partner Don Jackson opened the Washington Post. Notice, he seems a little concerned.

It could be because it seemed like the Post had pulled a little Dewey-Truman trick. Maybe we'd been closer to death than we thought.

Nevertheless, we boarded the plane that looked exactly like the one we'd been on the night before...

...and took to the skies. The entire time I'd been feeling unsafe, I had been so close to the heart of the nation's defense and didn't know it.

Later, I gave a speech I don't remember and accepted the award.

All in all, it was a pretty good trip.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Bradoween Minister of Information

Since Baghdad Bob is out of a job, we've hired him to be the Information Minister for Bradoween...which, by the way, is June 7th.

Click on these words to see the latest Bradoween Bob news conference.

Be sure to turn up your speakers (but not too loud if you're at work).

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Crimes of passion

If the Internet had enough space, I'd list all the reasons I don't cheat on my wife. However, since even the near-infinite ether likely has its boundries, I'll stick to the most timely reason:

I don't cheat on my wife because if she ends up dead, I will go to prison.

Frankly, I've never had much desire to kill. It's not the blood so much as the entire lifetime of guilt thing just doesn't appeal to me. If I'm done with somebody, I just let them go on their way and screw up somebody else's life. If somebody else decides to kill them, it's not on me.

However, if I cheat on my wife and she ends up dead, I'm going to prison.

The evidence is overwhelming. I don't know if Scott Peterson is guilty (frankly, I think he probably is), but he might as well be. Not because he broke his marriage vows. Some marriages just suck. Not because he was carrying on an affair while his wife was pregnant. Not because he has the smug look of most of the guys I hated in high school. He might as well be guilty because he ignored the very real possiblity that his wife could end up dead while he was sticking it to some other woman.

Temptation is everwhere. We live in a world where it is impossible for a man like me to turn around without seeing a low-cut shirt, hip-hugger jeans with thong panties peaking up from the denim, and taut --oh, so taut- tummies between a thin mini t-shirt and low-slung black belt. If you think your wife is a bitch, you should meet Temptation. She is the accessory before the fact that will testify against you at your murder trial.

I canot judge people. Thankfully, it's not in my nature. Judge not, lest ye yada yada.

However, accept this piece of advice: If you decide temptation is too strong, do everything in your power to maintain your wife's safety. Test her drinking water for toxins. Check the brakes on her car. Buy her an elephant to protect the home. Keep her alive.

Because if she dies, you're not just an adulterer. You're a murderer.

Next week: Why not to buy a life insurance policy on your spouse.

Monday, April 21, 2003

One sick puppy

I sense that being a father might suck.

On a brief break from a 14-hour workday, I slipped home for an exceedingly healthy dinner of linguine with herbs. I let out the house therapy mutt for her nightly constitutional. She did her duty and began doing the thing that always makes me worry. She started eating the grass. I knew she was going to be ill. When she feels sick, she eats grass to make herself puke.

Sweet story, I know.

All of a sudden, I'm in full doggie-care mode. I'm monitoring the color of the puke, I'm feeding her bland people food to settle her tummy. I'm feeling sympathy gut cramps. I start to pant. I may or may not have peed on the couch.

The short version of the story is...the dog is fine. One good upchuck was all she needed. But it reminds me how terrifying it must be to be a parent.

Saturday agood friend of mine rolled her SUV down an embankment (the other driver's fault). In the vehicle with her as she rolled off the interstate: Her nine year old niece and 11-month old baby. Thanks to modern car restraint technology (and likely more than a little guardian angelic interventon), they all came out just fine.

If I became a father and that happened to me, I probably would never let my kid leave the house again.

I'm sure fatherhood has a lot of perks. I'm just not sure I could ever handle it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to eat some grass.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Huh...last April was pretty neat

Funny how I run in cycles. I'm like a four stroke engine. We're currently in the April part of the cycle. I just looked back at last April, and I'm pretty much in the same mood I was in then. Jacked up about fun, jacked up about work, jacked up about the past, and jacked up about nookie.

So, if you're bored and are looking for a romp through Otis' springtime mindset, just take a look at last year. I'm getting pretty friggin' predictable.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Therapy in measures

It has something to do with making the light more subtle. If I can find a way to mute or otherwise maim the overhead lights, it soothes the exposed nerve endings. I'm functioning by lamplight at table level. It's casting my shadow on the wall. Jorma is singing and picking. Thanks, Jorma. Embryonic Journey or casual blue picking, either will do.

I remember a time when it took much more to put me in a good place. Sometimes it was impossible.

In the days before Internet chatrooms as we now know them, I became infatuated with a young woman named Lina Vitkauskas. Her name was Latvian, but she was a Chicago suburb fireball. I only knew her through her writing on a Prodigy message board, a few pictures and screenplays she sent me, and a few phone calls stolen at moments when my then-girlfriend wouldn't be around.

One of the phone calls came at an inopportune moment. Mom and Dad had just sat down to watch my uncle's gall bladder surgery video. Then-girlfriend, Amy, had just shown up at the house. Lina (that's Lynn-ah) called as Dad was pressing play. Rather than question why my parents wanted to watch my uncle's insides or fear Amy might discover who I was talking to, I hid in my parents' closet and took the call.

It's a long story, but it ended with Amy screaming about my uncle's guts. The relationship pretty much went the way of the gall bladder after that. Amy had caught me with another girl a few months before and I was on thin ice. I was a sucker for spitfire girls. Amy, a firecracker in her own right, had now discovered two side relationships with other girls of her ilk. She eventually tried to run over me with a car (that is only slightly an exaggeration) and took to seeing other men. Fair enough, but it didn't treat me well. I spent several months in a state of mental disrepair that often left me sobbing in an elementary school playground.

Later in life I found booze. That also is a long story (and one that still lacks a good epilogue) but it soothed the transition between college women. With the exception of peeing in houses under construction and waking up with near-strangers, it was a pretty good transitonal tool, but not nearly as personally constructive as I would've liked.

Life has changed a lot in the last six or seven years. I've avoided elementary schools. I've come to terms with past personal physical abuses. And I found a solution to relationship transitions. I think your country calls it marriage.

Of course, once one gives up on women, there is a whole host of other maladies to send you looking for a good playground or bar. Or better yet... a playground with a bar. It's not the serious stuff. It's the daily superficial stuff.

In the last few minutes I've switched over to Leo Kottke. I just looked down and Scoop, the resident therapy mutt, was drinking out of my water glass. We've reached the point in the year when the home's digital thermostat reading has climbed four degrees above the minimum heat setting. In a few weeks, Mt. Willis will require air conditioning. I'm making note to relish the remaining days of fresh air.

I stepped outside a few minutes ago when I went downstairs to refresh my water supply. Clear sky. Stars. A cool breeze. While I admired the sky, I figured out why I bothered to it down and write here tonight.

There used to be several days a week to sit around, drink a few beers, stare at the sky, listen to or play a little music, and share old meaningless stories. We rambled about women. We talked in circles about the merits (or lack thereof) of anarchy. Sometimes we even confessed secrets.

We just don't do that enough anymore. We talk a lot about work, the future, money, or life as we know it. We drink beer, we listen to music, and we talk in circles. But we stray away from engaging in that good therapy that keeps us all sane.

I have no reason to believe anyone really feels like reading something I wrote over two glasses of water and a few bars of Dave Brubeck music (I switched again). But I think there are probably a few people out there that remember those long nights of unspoken therapy.

So, now when I think I should be heading to bed, I probably won't. I've slipped into a therapy mode that feels pretty good. I killed one of the two lamps. I turned the music down a tad so others can sleep. And I'm sitting back feeling at least a little contented to know that I can vicariously live out a little bit of the best kid of therapy.

And I'll sit back and hope there might again be a day when we can all do this together...on a back porch, on a long drive to nowhere, or on a mountain that we'll name whatever we like.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Seemingly random, but clearly connected Sunday thoughts

  • My brother just bought a house in Charlotte.
  • It's amazing how a one-inch facial scar and small, but seemingly permanent goose-egg can increase an average guy's level of vanity by 1000%.
  • My life ain't so bad. I need a sign that says that.
  • Spring is like a sexual reward for abstinence.
  • Dental health is important, but mental health is critical.
  • The good times aren't over. I'm sure of it.
  • Some wrongs can only be righted by ignoring them.
  • The future frightens me.
  • Carpet is stupid.
  • I really need to lose 15 pounds.
  • I don't think I've had sunburn in three years.
  • If I lose 15 pounds, I may look into getting a sunburn. Maybe in Aruba.

  • Friday, April 11, 2003

    Um, yeah, that sounds about right

    My boss literally wore a riot helmet as he approached my desk. Literally. He peaked out through the plexiglass visor, but didn't speak. The implied plea was clear: "Please don't hit me for what I'm about to do."

    He took away my Saturday. Forecasts call for 71 degrees, sunny, and breezy. It's been raining for five straight days. I had a sober weekend of productivity planned.

    Our workplace survives on manpower. One piece of that power is a bit accident-prone. She tends to fall over a lot without a lot of explanation. We're told doctors have advised her to take the weekend (regular workdays for her) to recover from her most recent fall. I'm currently checking into the possiblities of contracting with the company that produced the Weeble-People to see if we can borrow some of the technology.

    The calender tells me that tomorrow is actually my four-year anniversary here. Four fucking years. And I sit at my desk dreading the story I'm about to air. When the dread subsides, I go back to thinking of Weeble-People technology. Fascinating.

    So, tomorrow as the sun dries the soil and the sweetgum trees begin their annual greening, I'll be efforting to make weekend news relevant.

    Four years, ladies and gents. That's a long damned time in dog years.

    Thursday, April 10, 2003

    The life of the amateur gambler

    I won't go into the few things in my life that increase my heart rate. If something is good enough to put an extra 15 beats per minute on the old ticker, I figure it's sacred enough to keep to myself.

    However, with that in mind, I will blog-defile the one secret vice that gets me going: The Game of Chance.

    I can't enter a game of poker, blackjack, or pai gow without that fantastically familiar feeling of barely-contained euphoria. It generally subsides after a few hands, but it is there nonetheless. The same goes for just about any kind of competition for money. It's not that I like the money that much. I like the fear of losing it and the reward of relief when I do not. Call me a masochist.

    Since I live in a state where it's illegal to gamble unless we're sending our losses to the state, I have to find ways to get my fix. My monthly poker game petered out. Internet gambling doesn't appeal to me. Embarassingly, I score with auctions and eBay. It's prospecting with the possiblity of loss and the reward of relief. I'm a sicko.

    I believe I was probably born a gambler. I believe something inside me likes to take risks when I know the stakes. I don't throw good money after bad. I know the score. I never lose more than I can afford.

    Sometimes, though, my gambler's instincts transfer into my regular life. I check-raise in arguments with my wife.

    For those who don't play...a check-raise is a cute little poker trick. Instead of betting, you defer to the next player. It's a silent indication to non-professional that your hand is weak. Sensing your potential weekness, your opponent bets on a hand they maybe would've folded. They are surprised when you turn around and raise their bet. They now have money in a hand without powerful cards to back it. That's when you go in for the kill and take their chips.

    So, tonight I check-raised my wife in the middle of an argument. It wasn't intentional. I've been watching a lot of poker on TV and jonesing for a good game.

    Oddly, with most things in life I maintain a great deal of patience. I'll fold ten weak hands in a row if I have to. However, sometimes before I know it, I just can't hold back and I realize that I'm check-raising with an unsuited 2-7 in a game of Texas Hold Back.

    That's why I'm not a pro.

    Wednesday, April 09, 2003

    Good luck, buddy

    Come home soon.

    Friday, April 04, 2003

    Movin' on up

    I should be ashamed to admit this, but for some reason I am not.

    My first real indication that Martin Luther King Jr. was an important man came from The Jeffersons. It was a retrospective episode in which George and Weezie, the dry cleaning magnates, remembered that April in 1968 when King was killed. The dry cleaning business came under fire during the ensuing riots. Even as a kid, I remember how frightening and touching the episode was...a stark contrast to the silliness of Mr. Bently walking on George's back or Tom Willis being so painfully white.

    Over time I've learned a lot about King, but not as much as I should. I learned more when I moved to the South. And frankly, I've come to learn more than I like... not about King, but about the social dynamics surrounding his legacy.

    I live in a progressive city. It boasts of a vibrant downtown. It is forward-looking. A while back, city leaders made the decision to honor Dr. King with a paid holiday for its employees. It's the same thing the state of South Carolina does. It's the same thing the country does. And it is the same thing a majority of the counties in this state do.

    That is with one notable exception.

    This progressive city is surrounded by the largest and most populated county in the state. It shares its name with its county seat. But the county's leaders (at least those who were elected to be leaders) do not share the proactive vision. Whether for political reasons or spite, the County Council has repeatedly refused to give its employees a paid holiday in honor of the man who changed this country in a way people of my age will never really understand.

    As this explanation of events figures to be pretty long, I'll let you make the decision to stop here or continue. What follows is more embarassing than learning my history from a sitcom.

    But at least I learned.

    Seven White Men

    They are so white they tend to blend in with the room's lightbulbs. The cabal consists of a man from the mountains, a man of the religious right, a man of old school white thought, a newbie I privately have been calling the Hitler Youth, a man of two faces, an old cop, and a vampire. They sit among a smaller mixed-gender group of white and black faces that is consistently rendered irrelevant.

    That is the County Council.

    The body's history is long and storied, but its recent actions threaten to overshadow any good it has done in the past.

    The short version of the story goes like this: The vocal minority on the council introduced legislation that would provide county employees with a paid holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. The silent majority shot it down, as routinely as it had done on previous occasions. However, this year holiday supporters fought back. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a man of a questionable background himself, came to town. Council meetings fell apart after that. Racial epithets overrode committee votes. Sixties-style sit-ins ensued. For two months, the only business was King business. There was no compromise. The white majority questioned King's background and the cost of providing an eleventh paid holiday to its employees.

    In an inspired moment, the council decided to form a community committee to study the holiday and report back. The committee was viewed in several different ways, good and bad. But it was something, and that was about all anybody could ask for after six consecutive meetings that were nothing more than free-for-alls.

    The committee did its work and reported back with two options for compromise: 1) Create a new holiday in honor of Dr. King or 2) Substitute an existing holiday for a King Day. While #2 was not exactly what holiday supporters had asked for, it seemed to be the best compromise. Whispers around County Square indicated #2 was a lock. The controversy would be over.

    Then, as things have a tendency to do in council chambers, everything went to hell. The man of two faces (some whispers say at the urging of the vampire) introduced a new so-called compromise: County employees would be guaranteed five holidays a year (New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). At the beginning of each year, county employees would vote by secret ballot on which other five days out of the year they would have off. Those can be any five days, including my birthday or Bradoween if I can build a lobby fast enough.

    If that sounds so moronic that you can't even comprehend it, don't worry. Nobody else understands it either. Imagine only knowing of a few holidays you'll get each year and then your other holidays falling at the mercy of all of your fellow co-workers--every year. It's bad business and it is exactly what we've come to expect from the seven white men.

    The seven white men have now alienated just about every person of importance in the county. The top business leaders (most of them also white) have denounced the decision. The county's delegation to the statehouse has denounced the decision. A Congressman with his eye on the Senate has denounced the decision. Companies with a huge financial interest in doing business with the county have withdrawn their bids. And now, Jesse Jackson is threatening to lobby major corporations against locating in what could be the biggest development to happen to the state in decades.

    All because of seven white men.

    The hardest part to understand is the simple fact that a majority of the people who live in the county continue to elect these guys. In short, it is our fault. The only solution will come at the ballot box. The scariest part is that I'm not sure if the people who live around the state's most progressive city will actually vote the seven white men out of office.

    Wait...that's not the scariest part. This news just in:

    Vampire For Congress 2004.

    Wednesday, April 02, 2003

    The guy across the room

    I can't recall one time I said more than "Hey, howyadoin?" to a guy named Joe. I never knew his real first and middle names were Antonio Joselita. I didn't know he was Philipino. To be honest, I didn't really know Joe. But I watched him smile a hundred times.

    He was a deputy in my home county. Thirty-four years old. He'd just scored a pretty big promotion that led him from the relative quiet of courtroom security to an investigator with a white collar crime unit. I knew him from the courtroom where I have spent hundreds of hours watching the ugly, horrible stories unfold. He was the different face. Not just different because he eyes and skin tone were different. He was different becuase he tended to smile more than other deputies.

    Last night, he'd just finished picking up some overtime by keeping an eye on a volatile County Council meeting (another embarassing debacle for another day). He pulled into his driveway, walked up the sidewalk, and came face to face with a gun. It was in the hand of his sister's ex-boyfriend.

    The boyfriend took the deputy's service weapon, forced him into the house he shared with his parents, and closed the door. While the deputy's mother and nephew hid in an upstair bedroom closet, the boyfriend called the sister. I don't know his exact words, but they went something like this.

    "I've got your brother and father."

    No one will understand what happens in a man's mind when a girl dumps him. It's too intangible to put into words. The boyfriend didn't bother trying. He put all of it into a gun's magazine.

    The upper middle class neighborhood was evacuated. The SWAT team came in, sporting big guns, listening devices, and special phones. They started talking to the guy, and much to their surprise, he started talking back. He was calm. He made no demands. Everything, thankfully, was under control.

    But deputies did not see Joe's hand cuffed in front of him. The did not see what was behind the boyfriend's eyes. They didn't see, but they heard.

    The popping was immistakable. Its destruction was as well.

    The SWAT guys went in hard and fast. And everything was quiet. The boyfriend didn't say much of anything, and he gave up without a fight at all.

    Joe and his father were on the floor--probably already dead--their heads full of holes.

    The boyfriend had again defined revenge. He was no different than the guys I watched in court with Joe.

    My phone rang about 5:15am, about the time the secondary cops and medical professionals were learning that Joe and his dad were dead. If my wife hadn't heard the phone, I would've been awake four hours later, listening to a cryptic phone message instructing me to put on my pants and get out the door.

    For the last 14 hours, I've been working on about three hours sleep and mainline adrenaline. It's only now as I sit down that the sheer stupidity of it all starts to sink in.

    A couple of hours ago I was standing in the parking lot of the sheriff's office. A deputy walked up and asked what was going on. I wasn't thinking clearly, but I was working on the assumption the 450 or so deputies had already been notified. I said, "Surely you already know." He didn't.

    I didn't even think long enough to say something like, "I'd rather not be the one to tell you," or, "Go ask you boss. It'll be better coming from him." I just said, "You know Joe? He died last night."

    The guy stiffened, like a monster hit with something big--but ot big enough--preparing to strike back. He didn't say anything as he started to walk away. Three steps into his departure he said something, but I didn't understand him. I wish I knew what he said.

    I spend a lot of time writing here trying to make sense of senseless situations. Everything has its box, and I do my best to wrap everything up.

    I wish I didn't get this. I wish I didn't understand. But I do.

    The boyfriend realized that murdering the person who wronged you is not revenge. He realized the only real revenge is lasting revenge.

    I knew the suspect's name before I knew Joe was the victim. I went to the courthouse to look up the suspect's criminal record. I didn't understand when the regular court security guys didn't greet me as they usually do.

    I understand now. They recognize revenge when they see it.

    Burning in everyone's eyes today was that defeated understanding. They will get no revenge on the boyfriend. The law doesn't allow for it. The law only allows them to kill the guy.

    And frankly, that just won't do.

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