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Friday, January 30, 2004

And you want to be my latex salesman

Maybe as Americans were too serious about our politics. Maybe, like sport, we take sides too easily and no longer see the greater good of the game. Maybe we take our politicians too seriously and hold them to a standard much higher than we would hold ourselves.

Or maybe, just maybe, the entire political system has finally fallen off the edge of the universe.

There's a man named Bob Inglis who is running for Congress in the fine and serious state of South Carolina.

If you turn up your speakers and click on this link you'll discover how serious we really are here.

And this man wants to be my Congressman.

Now, you may say, "Well he's just a wild card candidate. Al Sharpton without the fancy turning of phrase."

Actually, this man has already been elected before. He'd likely still be in office if he hadn't term limited himself back in the 90s.

What's funnier? He's actually got a shot at winning this year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Perspective from Pitino

I'm wound so tight right now that if you flicked me in the right place, I might erupt in a Howard Dean Primal Scream. No amount of soothing talk from friends, family, or canines can calm my frayed nerves. If I were an old lady, I'd have a glass of sherry and knit myself into elderly oblivion.

For two years running, I've been bested by an ice storm. You might recal in 2003 I was forced to give in to help from a hottie volunteer firefighter when my none-too-studly SUV got stuck on the ice. This year, I happily relegated myself to driving a sensible Honda Civic with front wheel drive. It worked on two trips to work, and one trip back. On the final trip back, I made it all the way to my street and promptly crashed the Civic into my neighbor's Ford Explorer. The truck's tow package punctured the Civic's fiberglass. I shrugged, because that's when I do when situations fall out of my control.

I might have been able to deal with the annual ice humiliation had it not been for my inability to walk across my street (it sits on a slight incline) without sliding down into traffic of the main road. That is I might have been able to deal with it all better had I not had to crawl...on my hands and knees...across the damned street. At least the volunteer firefighter wasn't there to watch.

And all night long, frozen drizzle mercilessly coated the already frozen streets. It was evident even before I went to bed that I would require a ride to work from someone with a 4x4.

My wife, as the regular reader will already know, is pregnant. I tried to be a good husband. I really did. After watching her suffer the same humilation of crawling across the street, I got out this morning and poured sand on our front steps. I figured she could walk down the sand, into the crunchy grass, and to the roadside where the 4x4 would pick us up. I didn't count on the grass not being crunchy everywhere. She slipped. She fell on her butt. I launched into two straight hours of sympathetic worry for the Baby To Be Named Later. Of course, she is fine (if all web sites, my mother, and a doctor are to be believed), but you just don't like to see that happen.

So, there's all that. Ice storm, broken car, humiliation, and first-time parental panic.

And then there's work...politics, Panthers, ice storm, fatal hotel fire, etc.

In an effort to calm myself, I spent some time reading the sporting news of the day, and I realized that Lousiville coach Rick Pitino is having a rougher go of it.

Ths season, a former player died, his mom's caretaker died, his former nanny's kid died, one of his his forwards' brother was shot and killed, and another forwards' dad died. In 2001, two of his wife's brothers died, one in a car wreck and the other in the September 11th attacks.

And now he suffering excruciating pain from what he calls a urological problem. He's having to take a leave of absence. In his place he leaves an assistant coach who got busted for recently for DUI.

And according to Sports Illustarted, Pitino said, "I'm a very positive person. We're going to hope for the best in every situation."

So, life is stupid right now. I'd like nothing more than to be sitting in the April sun on my back porch, sipping a beer, strumming a guitar, and laughing with friends.

But at least I'm not Rick Pitino.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

In town

Five years ago I sat in a one bedroom apartment on the third floor of a blue building with pink breezeways. A resevoir wrapped around my little fjord of boredom and occasionally would spit out a wayward alligator. Somebody who looked like my future wife suggested we move to Greenville, SC. Out of sheer boredom, I agreed, then asked, "Where?"

Where, indeed. This is not a place you happen upon. As the spokesman of our so-called "international airport" (it has one flight to Amsterdam, so it qualifies) likes to say, GSP is a destination and departure airport. That is , if people come here, they likely have a reason. And then they know where to go when they're ready to leave.

Greenville, while one of the greatest places I've ever found to live, is of no real importance to people outside of the Upstate of South Carolina. So, when things happen here like they're happening right now, people who have just stumbled into town might start to wonder what kind of freakshow we're running here.

Par example...

As I type, a steady patter of ice pellets is smacking the vinyl siding on the outside of my house. What was supposed to be a minor weather event is turning into a full-blown southern ice storm. The local chief meteorologists are coming in off their weekend break to scream of the impending doom.

The weathermen will eventually step aside so the other doom news reporter can talk about the six people who died in a hotel fire overnight. Fifteen more injured, two of them from jumping out fourth story windows to avoid the smokes and flames. At some point, somone will think to ask why we allow buildings to be grandfathered into old fire codes that didn't require sprinkler systems in buildings where people sleep overnight. Oh, yeah. And at some point an attorney will ask, "So to what address do I send Comfort Inn's multi-million dollar lawsuit?" That is one lawsuit I can get behind.

But don't change the channel, yet. Greenville, SC has something else to offer.

In four days, each of the seven remaining men who seek to unseat President George W. Bush will come to Greenville, South Carolina and stand on stage at the Peace Center to debate on national TV. Tom Brokaw will moderate the argument. The Democratic debate could determine who eventually goes on to get the Democratic nomination. What's more, after the debate, they face a vote of state Democrats just a few days later.

Oh, and lest we forget, the Carolina Panthers are going to the Super Bowl a week from today.

In pieces that may seem like very little, but put all together it's going to make for a wild week.

Especially for a news guy who covers dead people and politicians.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

On swimming and my boys

If the title at all confuses you, I'd suggest reading the piece below this one before reading on.

I make a lot of rash decisions in my life. There was the time I decided to kill a bug on a second-floor ceiling by jumping from the top of the stairs and swatting at the little monster. There was the time I decided to open my wallet and start challenging anyone in the vicinity of a barroom pool table to a nice game of billiards...for money. And then there was the time I tried to convince the police officer that my friends had not been shooting off fireworks as my friends hid their fireworks in a burning firepit. And then there was the time...oh, just add water to any smirk you have right now and keep smirking.

I may not have developed a reputation for being an impulsive, devil-may-care guy, but I've had my moments. With that in mind, you should know this entire Otis as a daddy thing was not unplanned.

Since I've had so many questions and so little time to provide details, here is a list of answers to the Frequently Asked Questions.

1) Um...really...this isn't an accident? No. It's not. We'd been thinking about it for about a year, prepping for it for about seven months, and actively trying since October. Regular readers might remember my dad's head exploded in mid-October. The ensuing hospital stay precluded any attempts to really make a good effort in October. Careful study of the science and math involved indicates Ms. Otis became pregnant the very moment I arrived back on Mt. Willis. Like within minutes. I don't think I have to say I'm...relieved...about my boys' backstroke.

2) Are you really ready for this? Well, no. But, we decided recently--especially in light of my dad's head explosion--that we would never be ready professionally, personally, and financially at the same time. We're close enough now to make it work.

3) What's the due date? August 12th, although an informed medical source thinks it could be about a week earlier. Ms. Otis is officially like 12 or 13 weeks, but that's science talking. They say a baby takes nine months to cook. She got pregnant in mid-November. That's only two months ago. It's seven months until August 12th. The math just doesn't add up. But, I'm no doctor. All I know is I've seen a peanut with a heartbeat and the doctor says everything looks good.

4) So, blue or pink? Neither. Or both. It doesn't matter. In the age of 24-hour news stations, there just aren't many surprises anymore. At least for our first child, we'd like to be surprised. So, make it green. Make it yellow. Paint it black (see: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, etc). We don't care. We won't know whether it's a boy or girl until August.

5) How's Ms. Otis doing? Heh. Now that's a question. I'll put it this way: I'm still nursing the bruise I got when she elbowed me out of the way on her way to puke this morning. That's a fairly regular thing. And though we didn't expect her to start showing for a while, she is...well...showing. Either that or making a concentrated effort to push out her belly every time I look at it (which is about every 30 seconds).

So, there ya go.

Yep...there ya go.


Monday, January 19, 2004

A Christmas Story...belated

For the last few years I have written my family a story for Christmas. The intent is to keep record of the Willis family's life from year to year. While I normally just keep the stories within the family, this is one I'd like to share with all of you. It's important and has a good ending.

Second Chance Christmas

The dog had been locked up in a cage for several days. We called her temporary home a doggy country club, but all of us—especially Scoop—knew better. It was a loud, uncomfortable place where a little dog just couldn’t get any rest. What’s worse, the dainty little mutt couldn’t muster the courage to do her duty in front of all the other dogs. So, by the end of a three-day stay, she was ready to go. Literally.

Scoop’s excitement about getting home and outside into a backyard more conducive to her intestinal necessities was getting the best of her. As she rode in the SUV--full of camping equipment and her tired, stinky companions--sitting still was not a priority. She bounced, she licked, she whined. She only wanted to be home.

So did we. We’d been in the mountains for three days. We had not showered. We reeked of sweat and campfire smoke. It was October 19th, 2003. The Sunday football games had kicked off about an hour before. If we hurried, we were going to make it home in time for the second half of the early games.

My cell phone rang just as Scoop knocked it in between the seats. As the phone beeped and rang, Scoop reached the peak of her excitement. We were on Church Street, just past the Taco Bell, seven minutes from home. Reaching the phone under Scoop’s bouncing, 13-pound frame was going to be a challenge.

For half a second, we almost didn’t answer the phone. But we did.

It was then, in a stinking car, with a whining dog, the radio blaring, and the Sunday sun shining like Heaven on Earth, that I learned that my dad was about to die.

None of it made much sense. I had heard the word aneurysm before, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know that its mere existence meant there was a chance someone could die. I didn’t know that if it ruptured, chances for a normal life were close to nil.

For 12 hours, I didn’t know anything. I screamed. I cried. I cursed everything in my path. For 12 hours I was a child left alone in a store by his mother. I was lost.

Then, the smell of a hospital hit my face and seeped into my hair. Tubes ran in and out of my dad’s body. Reality set in. Nothing short of fate or miracles or something I didn’t understand was going to save my dad’s life. And then I screamed, and cried, and cursed everything in my path again. Not because I was lost, but because I knew exactly where I was.

Days bled into weeks. Doctor’s announcements and changes in Dad’s condition changed as often as the menu in the first floor hospital cafeteria. Surviving the monotony and the occasional blows to the stomach required me to walk, sometimes without aim, around the hospital and into the Ozarks’ sun.

On one of those walks, I happened upon Mom. Something had been going in and out of my head for a few days and it was time to say it out loud.

“I spent more than 25 years being afraid Dad was going to die,” I told her. “It’s only been in the last couple of years that I stopped worrying about it. And now this happens.”

I was in the middle of a large bout of anger and self-pity. I was mad and red-faced. I wanted to blame somebody or something. Since there was nobody to blame, it didn’t take long to start thinking about what I could’ve done differently.

Hours and days passed. My mind replayed every moment in my life. Everything Dad had ever told me wrote itself on the inside of my eyelids. I could hear his voice. I could feel his hand on the back of my neck. I reconsidered every road I’d ever gone down, every crossroads at which I’d made a decision.

After screaming, crying, and cursing, my heart settled on two things I should’ve done a long time ago but for reasons I still don’t understand, had not.

On one of those many walks, I looked into the sun and clouds and thought, “Just give me one more chance.”

We knew it was bad because the chaplain was there. He had a somber look on his face. What a horrible job, I thought. His mere presence was a flashing red sign that read, “Your loved one is about to die.”

The doctors were about to take dad in for a surgery that would either save his life or kill him.

In the days leading up to that moment I had not been taking every opportunity to visit Dad. He was always asleep and full of tubes. A visit from me was going to do neither of us any good. But that had to change, because I’d asked for one more chance and this was my opportunity.

Barely able to speak, I asked the rest of my family to wait a minute while I walked into Dad’s room. He was asleep and I nearly turned and walked out. Instead, I stood by his bed and grabbed his hand.

I said, “I’ve lived my entire life based on the things you taught me. Every time I make a decision, I base it on how you taught me to look at life. Even if I don’t always do the right thing, I always know what the right decision is because of you. I never told you that. Whatever happens today, I’ll spend the rest of my life living by your example.”

Looking back, it seems awfully melodramatic. But there are things you should tell people. It’s better if you tell them when they are awake, but I didn’t have much choice. Perhaps I would’ve felt better about it if I hadn’t run out of the room, out of the hospital, and back into the Ozarks’ sun.

Still, I’d been given one more chance. In the sun, I vowed not to take it for granted.

The stories of Dad’s healing and recovery spread like legend across the Springfield medical community. When given his name, nurses were heard to respond, “Oh, you’re THAT John Willis.” Seasoned doctors shook their head in amazement. Regular folks spoke of miracles.

Weeks passed, Dad spoke again, walked again, and laughed again. Life had not returned to normal, but some of the normal things in life were happening again. Like any fantastically painful event that has passed, the reality of the pain started to fade.

Anyone who had been unfortunate enough to find themselves in my path during the fits of screaming, crying, and cursing might have thought I had forgotten about my pledge. They might have thought I was again taking for granted the light of the sun and the opportunity to take advantage of second chances.

My dad always smiled a lot. His laugh was infectious. His joy was contagious. I saw it more time than I could count. I always noted that joy manifested itself when he played with whatever kids found themselves in the same room with him.

I had been in New York City a few months before. On the cab ride to the airport, I got into a long conversation with the taxi driver. As we made out way through the tolls, he felt he had talked to me long enough to make a fair cabbie’s assessment.

His accent was thick, but I understood him to say, “You should have children now. Stop waiting.”

During my walks in the sun and talks with my mother, brother, and wife, I knew I had waited too long. I hadn’t listened to the cabbbie. I hadn’t taken heed of my father’s joy. I had lived a fast-moving, non-stop life for too many years.

There are many reasons I want to have a child. I want to see what happens when the love Michelle and I share becomes too strong for two people. I want to see her wipe my child’s nose. I want my mom to spoil my kid like she spoiled me. I want my brother and sister in-law to be aunt and uncle to more than my dog. I want to raise my child the same way my parents raised me. I want my child to be as happy as I am.

There are many reasons I want to have a child, not the least of which is putting it in my dad’s arms and watching him smile again.

I’ve lived a very fortunate life and fortune smiled on me once again and granted me a second chance. It allowed me to tell my dad what he’s meant to my life. And it’s given me a chance to watch him care for his grandchild.

So, this year’s Christmas story is not a tale of Willis past. It’s a tale of Willis future.

It ends like this:

Merry Christmas.

We’re due in August.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Hungry in America
Or...Why I'm fat and everybody else is fatter

The music rose up in a crescendo of gospel church proportions. The marketing wizards swayed in time with the fad organ. And somehow a skinny John Belushi came in over end to the pulpit and landed in a pile of fat. Oh, yeah, and death. He might have seen the light in The Band. He might have seen the beauty of a diet rich on amphetamines and alcohol. He might've ended up dead. Boy. He was an idiot, wasn't he?

Oh, yeah. So are we.

Let me tell you why I hate people. They like things easy and they're self-righteous about it. Walk with me down the road of the Atkins diet. Sure, at first it was a bunch of crazies eating steak and eggs for breakfast and flushing their hoagie buns down the toilet with their bran muffins. Then it was some doctors saying, "Well, it's no worse than what we've been doing to our bodies for years." And now it's the King, albeit the Burger King, offering a Whopper. Without a bun. In a bowl. With a plastic knife and fork.

Fork you, King. Fork you.

Here's a secret I learned while standing in front of something called the Obvious Loudspeaker: The average Whopper has nearly 50 grams of fat. That's almost all of the fat you should take in during a given day. Take away the bun, you take away a lot of carbs, but nearly none of the fat.

I agree. Carbs cause people to get fat. But...um...so does fat.

Now, I'm no svelte Svengali. In fact, in the past three months I've put on about ten pounds. I'm angry at myself. In advance of a fairly important couple of weeks in my professional life, I may go on a crash Atkins event to lose the added weight (right after these California rolls and piece of cake). However, I will do so with the expressed knowledge that I'm a friggin' idiot. The weight won't stay off unless I...unless I...

Oh, Jim brother of John Belushi, I just can't say it.

Okay...the weight won't stay off unless I exercise.

Now, understand, I'm not obese (I checked one of those fad BMI calculators). I stand nearly six feet tall and until a few months ago weighed in at 174 pounds. Now, it's 184. In accounting for the extra pounds I discovered a few too many trips to Taco Bell, an affinity for cream sauces, and two unfortunate and embarrassing trips to Long John Silver. Oh yeah, and to quote a line from Tom T. Hall, "I like beer." Fat audits can be very revealing.

On the issue of exercise, I really don't find any enjoyment in it. There was a time when I would do a lot of walking on a disc gold course. There was a time when I played racquetball with my college buddies. Then again, there was a time when I was really skinny in sixth grade and a girl called me "pencil dick." Times change.

A friend at work is trying to get me onto a bike. He wants a riding partner. I'm afraid of the outfit. And I'm afraid of, well, the exercise.

There is a reason for all of this. I turned 30 a few weeks ago. I cut my hair to look younger. In retaliation, it shot back a few gray hairs. Then it called down to the home office in Gutland, Stomachville and said, "tack on a few pounds to counteract this screwball's hubris."

So, here's to hope. Here's to me losing this extra weight quickly and with the understanding that I'm no healthier for it. Then here's to me finding a way to be one of those self-righteous skinny people who look good in Lycra. Then here's to me kicking the Burger King's ass so far back to reality that I'll have to pick his crown jewels out of my toenails.

A Whopper in a bowl?

Flame broil this, King.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Bah humbug

To the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain"

It seems a bit belated,
I prob'ly should've stated,
I hate this vile month.

From New Year's Day to groundhog
I miss the cracklin' yule log,
and hate this vile month

...or something like that. Looking back at Januaries past, I find a few common threads. I'm almost always tired. I'm almost always trying to overcome an overwhemling sense of New Year's defeat, and the people around me are all very cranky or about to go off the deep end.

And this vile month is no different, Chico.

This morning my eyes popped open at 5:30am. I must have been channeling my mother or something (though she is very much alive and was probably awake as well). I washed dishes, I cleaned up the kitchen, took out the trash, read the news online, won $50 playing online poker, and indulged in a fine mug of coffee. Now, almost three hours later, I'm wondering if maybe I shouldn't go back to bed instead of going to work.

If I only had a brain, I just might.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Alright, alright, alright, I'll admit it

It hurts my Venus. It hurts Uranus. Regardless of the pain, I have to admit it.

The robotic mission to Mars fascinates me.

For those uneducated in my feelings about the great beyond (not to be confused with the Great Beyond, big sleep of death), I'm not too keen on astronomy. I find it theoretical, obtuse, and lacking in any real luster. Perhaps it's because if I have to see the cosmos through a big long tube, I might as well be in college beneath the smell of incense and tunes of the Grateful Dead.

My disinterest reached its zenith (or perhaps its nadir) during Mars' recent close proxemity to Earth. The media and many of my friends couldn't contain their excited magnetic poles. Every time we walked outside, they would point toward a blinking light in the sky and say, "Hey, look! Mars!"

Allow me to offer a wholehearted, "Okay, whatever."

And so, I developed a reputation for being, well, anti-Martian. Perhaps to do no more than noodle and needle me for being disinterested, my friends increased their fascination. They would direct their Mars-related comments directly at me. At one point I found myself around a campfire with an astrophysicist (really, I'm serious) talking in drunken slobbers about my disdain for the Red Planet. He tried with every ounce of his being to convince me that Mars' close proxemity to Earth was, in fact, a big deal. To no avail. I had grown to hate the damned planet.

Perhaps, then, it was Beagle--the failed Brittish robotic mission to Mars--that began my turing of the cheek. It may be because I once had a beagle named Bernie that I had to give away because he was too much of a rough-houser (I was six). It may be because I hate to see the Brits fail at something at which they were so destined to fail to begin with. Regardless, when the Beagle crashed into Mars and never barked again, I felt sort of sad.

Then NASA (a group of keystone physicists not unfamiliar with failure) made it happen. It did what every man who has ever driven his tee-shot into the rough during a par game has wanted to do: It put a golf cart on Mars. Bravo.

I didn't expect to care. I really didn't. Then I saw the pictures. Vast wastelands of nothing but dusty desert (but no sign of the poor Beagle).

It was then I realized that despite a lack of trees, streams, and mountains, Mars is a round, walkabout planet. Sure it's cold, dry, and boring. But, given the right air supply and space suit, I could go for a walk there.

That, friends, is more than a blinking red light in the sky.

So, okay, I'm sort of fascinated by Mars. One word about it and you can kiss me where the sun don't shine.

Friday, January 02, 2004


That is, 2003, you can go now.

The throwdown at Mt. Willis went well (to a point). It ended badly, but most parties that involve that much alcohol and bad blood usually do.

We had a few firsts. A career drinker who has never been pushed to the edge of wandering and vomiting was pushed over the edge and into fits of wretching next to my car. A lady who rarely drinks and never pukes, drank and puked. Oh, yeah, and the Sheriff's Office was forced to come out. How about that? (In all fairness, the de facto party hosts who took over after I went to bed--I couldn't go the distance this time--called deputies when a ultrarowdy and somewhat mean guest refused to leave, by cab or otherwise. My thanks go to those who took care of the last drama of the year).

Now, on to a year of being productive. I'm serious this time. Three hundred sixty-six days of drunken sloth just aren't going to cut it. Health. Reduced intoxication. Productivity. Organization. Planning for the future. That's 2004.

Of course, before I get to that, I have a weekend of playoff football to watch.

I'm screwed, aren't I?

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