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Friday, October 29, 2004

Knock, knock

The sun always pushed through the mini-blinds to early for my taste. In the summer after my first year in college, I slept late as often as possible. I'd bury myself under a pile of blankets and hide until my stomach rumbled for lunch or my summer job beckoned me to the video store counter. In those early days, the Bohemian life was a good one.

It was May 1993 when my mother shook me awake by my shouders. I muscled through the ubiquitous college girl dreams and tried not to look startled when I opened my eyes. Tears were climbing over my mom's eyelids and getting ready to spill on top of me.

In the years before and years since, I've come to know this particular kind of wake-up call. It hasn't always been my mother shaking me awake, but it's almost always been really bad news. Usually someone is dead.

This time, though, the news was something far different.

"Your brother is in trouble," she said, finally losing it and breaking into real tears.

I didn't start laughing immediately, but it was a ridiculous proposition. Brother Otis just didn't get in trouble. He was an A-student, a starting football player, and just about anything you would want as a son and brother (Actually, it was sort of annoying for me, because I was more of an A-/B+ student, who was never very good at football, and in my earlier years had a thing for anarachy and chaos theory).

But as Mom continued to cry, I realized there might be a bit of a problem.

In the moments before she stormed in to interupt what must have been a fantastic dream about the girls who lived on the seventh floor of Laws Hall, two sunglassed men has knocked on our front door and asked to speak to Brother Otis.

"He's at school," Mom said.

"We need to talk to him, ma'am."

As Mom related the story, I began picturing some Joe Friday-ish characters and it made me giggle. It was just silly.

Before she was done telling the story, I was laughing through her tears. I was not a very good son.

Despite my laughter, there was burgeoning issue. Dad was on his way to pick up Brother Otis from school and take him to the local office of the Sunglassed Men.

In the days before we could all blog at will (or can we? That story in just a moment), the beginnings of the Internet were filled with BBS boards. Brother Otis, a young Republican at the time, was very active in several BBS communities, including a thread of jokes about Bill Clinton's first term as president. At the close of a series of of jokes, my naive little brother included a phrase that wasn't very smart. For fear of incurring the same trouble as he, I won't repeat what he wrote. But it wasn't very nice, it wasn't very smart, and it drew the attention of the Sunglassed Men.

Within a couple of hours, the family attorney, my father, and Brother Otis satin the office of Sunglassed Men, where Brother Otis was questioned at length about his BBS post and the motivation behind it. He was made to give his fingerprints and a handwriting sample. He was told he would be monitored for the next five years if he was within a certain mile-radius of our nation's leader.

Eventually, the rest of the family thought it was as funny as I did. To my knowledge, Borther Otis has never even been in a fight. He's about as non-violent as they come. But, he's got a file now. In short, my little brother got a really good taste of Big Brother.

Now that a decade has passed, it's a fun story to tell at parties or to make fun of my brother during a poker game.

Back in the day, I figure Big Brother had an easier time of monitoring the Internet. These days, there are so many people writing that tracking down an innocuous comment on a blog must be sort of labor intensive...

Now, that's a naive thing to say, isn't it.

Just ask Annie Sewell-Jennings...

Like many other young people, 22-year old Annie Sewell-Jennings of Charleston, South Carolina spends a lot of her time online. She's active at LiveJournal and runs a blog there. After the last Presidential debate, she wrote what she thought was a satirical entry. Annie and her friends are not big George Bush fans. So her and her friends engaged in some foolishness about praying for an aneurysm or mass suicide.

Tuesday night came a knock at the door. It was the Secret Service with some advice about threatening the President. The FBI had received a report and passed it on to the Secret Service.

Annie told me, "I think a lot of people take the Internet to be completely anonymous and separate from their real lives, and the fact of the matter is that's just not true."

"They were very considerate and polite," she said of the Secret Service agents, "and they understood that what I said was a joke but warned me not to say anything along those lines again. Believe me, I certainly won't. Lesson learned.


If there's one thing the Otis clan learned it is this:

We live in a country where you're free to say just about anything. For instance, I think diving isn't a sport. It's atheletic performance art. Olympian? Bah.

However, there are certain words we can't say and certain people we can't talk about.

Is that right or wrong?

Well, that's not for me to say...

At least it's not for me to say in a place where the Sunglassed Men might be reading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I am having...

...a very, very good day.

Monday, October 25, 2004

American music

So, tonight as I fed my kid and worked him up for a good night's rest, I found myself shackled to the couch watching the Radio Music Awards. I'm embarassed for us all.

I don't like to comment too much on pop culture because I'm afraid weasels and the like (what with all the popping and all), but such musical insanity drives me to the keyboard for the third time today.

In the past, I've been known to be called a musical elitist. That usally comes from people who try to explain to me that Jessica Simpson really is a misunderstood artist and should be recognized for the additions she's made to the collective consciousness of American music listners. In truth, there have been times in my life that I have shunned music simply because it is popular. For instance, I have this voice I do that sounds like Rob Thomas making tongue kisses with the lead singer of Creed while Eddie Vedder gives them both a shoe-shine.

Or something like that.

But, most people will give me this: I know good music when I hear it. Even if I don't particularly like a genre, I'll admit if someone is a good artist or performer. Frankly, no one comes to mind at the moment, but I'll gladly take requests for my opinion (because, as I hear it, everyone wants to know what I think...or is that, how much I drink?).

With all of this in mind, yuo can imagine how absolutely puke-in-my-pocket disgusted I was by the expectorations from the stage of the RMAs tonight.

A few thoughts before I go back to considering my other online adventures (and no, I don't mean American women GIs in Iraq porn, either--although I did look at it and those are some ugly naked women).

Ashley or Ashlee or Ash-head Simpson is what's wrong with America

Now, I'm the first person to defend people with large, unattractive noses. However, let's consider this: She gets popular by be related to somebody famous. She takes her lack of talent to superstar level, then blows it on national television by getting busted with the popular recording industry's dirty little secret: None of these talentless tarts is actually singing. Then, on live TV, she blames her band for it. Then, when given a chance to redeem herself the next night, she sounds like Gwen Stephani meets Marge Simpson. Then what does she do? She blames acid reflux. Get somewhere by being a relative of a famous person, fuck it up, blame somebody other than yourself for it. The American fucking way. The only decent thing she could do now is just go off and be like Paris Hilton--famous for the simple fact that she's famous.

It's that kid of shit that just depresses the hell out of me. I go see local live bands with people who can actually sing and harmonize live. They make enough money to put gas in the van. And this bobble-headed hoedown queen is making millions. Suck my nuts.

Sorry about that.

Damn! I like the way you move, but everybody in the house is getting tipsy. Hey, ya, what the hell was I saying?

Back when I was in the 'hood, an OG from way back, yo, hip-hop was all about one thing: Rappers rapping a rap about how good they are at rapping. Either that or busting a cap in whitey's ass (that's Whitey DaLuca, but I was out of town that weekend). There's been a shift in recent years though, I've discovered. Now, instead of rappers rapping about how good they can rap, so-called recording artists have found the formula to sure success: Find one phrase and repeat it over and over again. Now, I'm not saying this hasn't been done before. I mean, for Louie's sake, "Louie, Louie, oh baby, me gotta go." Still, learning the lyrics to hip-hop or R&B songs now is like memorizing a fortune cookie. "Hay YA! Everybody in the house say 'Confuscious say I like my bitches drunk!'"

If you use that, Usher, I want my fucking royalties.

Honey, you're going to have to hold on a second. Gretchen Wilson just took her shirt off

When Gretchen Wilson took her shirt off, I had to stop myself and sing that
"Confuscious Say:" song for a second. I've never been much for waify women, so that little country girl's body is alright with me. Nice voice, too. Bet she's really singing. Here's the thing though: She got famous with a novelty song. That's always the first nail in any artists coffin. Sad, really. I could go for seeing that lady in some more body suits.


I stopped watching after the first hour. I just couldn't take it anymore. Just like John Stewart should be commended for putting the 24-hour news station in their place, Elton John should be commended for calling out lip synchers.

I just don't have the energy to keep up with all of it anymore.

That's why I've become obsessed with programming my own station on Yahoo!'s Launchcast. If you have broadband and are any sort of music fan, you need to do this. It's free and barely cluttered by ads.

And if you want to listen to good music, just search for "otisbdart" on Launchcast and listen to mine (that is if you like Americana, jam bands, blues, world music, and old rock. Otherwise, I'd just remain in your little hole of lipstick lipsynching ladies of laziness. Or some other alliterative phrase that makes it sound like they suck).

Okay, I feel better.

LEAF, Fall 2004, Part Three

Saturday Night

I had spent the greater part of the morning collecting firewood from a nearby stand of trees. I was proud of myself, walking around with a He-Man-worthy look. The look said, "I bring fire. Bow before me."

It was not, however, fire I brought to Tent City. It was smoke. The wood was old, dead, and slightly wet. In an effort to cover the ashes and embers from previous fires, I'd laid the dead wood around the coals, perfecting my recipe for an absolutely annoying and, frankly, somehwat smelly fire. I was summarily banned from fire duty for the rest of the night.

With nothing left to do in the way of manliness, I played cards and drank until sundown. G-Rob had rallied from his earlier funk and set about encouraging me to fall down more than 2.5 times. A bottle of Jack Daniels had made its way into Tent City to compete with the ever-emptying bottle of Jim Beam.

At sundown, the temperature again dropped to slightly uncomfortable levels and even I layered up. Acoustic Syndicate was set to take the stage at 10pm and I wanted to been fully prepared in every way for what promised to be a fantastic show.

There would be, however, a confusing event before we departed on the hike to mainstage.

As we all sat around the fire (now burning nicely and appropriately thanks to the hands of better firesmiths like Murdock) making fun of unfortunate events that happened in my life and the lives of those I love, an unfamiliar face darkened our already dark door. At first many of us mistook the young face for one of the boys that was camping with us. Soon, though, I foud myself asking out loud, "Who is this kid?"

He looked to be about 12, was knoshing on a bag of beef jerky, and talking like he was on speed. Within a few minutes we heard an unfortunate tale. His mother was there, but he'd left her to her own devices. His father was there, but apparently with his girlfriend and The Kid didn't want to hang out with him either. What's more, he said, someone had broken into their tent and stole several items, including, he said, a very nice paring knife.

Paring knife? Incredulous, we were.

After several minutes of rambling, I suggesed rather forcefully that the kid go find his mom. After several other people joined in the polite "get outta here" chorus, the kid stood and left without another word.

We talked for a while about the kid and his motivation for hanging out with us. If true, his story was a sad one, we said. If false, we feared he might've had more sinister ideas. In fact, later, Cancel's camera disappeared. We can't help but think maybe the kid was involved, as we have never lost or had stolen anything of value at LEAF.

After the kid was gone, someone asked, "What is a paring knife good for anyway?"

Timmy spoke up. "It's good for cutting fruit."

I looked at him in the glow of the firelight.

"You just said that because it sounds like pear."


By 9:50pm, we were all sufficiently prepared for the show (some of us more than others). En masse, we hiked to the mainstage and were pleased to find our spot along the stage open and ready for us.

As prepared as I was for the show, I wasn't prepared for the abrupt departure of a couple of friends just minutes before the music started. I was paying no attention to the conversation, but apparently politics got brought up and things got a little out of hand. Since I had no part in the conversation, I can't comment on what was said or anyone's reaction to it. Suffice it to say, politics and LEAF don't mix.

Dismissing the earlier fears about a crackdown on outside alcohol, I had packed my jacket with what I thought would be enough supplies to last me through the show. It didn't, however, and by the end of the first hour, I was dry. Fortunately someone-- and I can't remember who (sorry)-- was kind enough to bring me a bottle of Newcastle.

Acoustic Syndicate played one of the best shows I've ever seen. In a mischevious act of deception, however, they had scattered differing set lists all over the stage. Perhaps it was an attempt to keep us guessing at what they'd play next. I dunno. Still, while they didn't play a couple of my favorites, they were in top form and really should be recognized more outside of this region.

Sadly, the Newcastle didn't last as long as I thought it might. With still a few songs left before the band would shut down, I was dry again and set out on a mission to re-stock.

I was accompanied by my gaming muse, Lynn. Free from the bounds of babysitting her nephews, she was in as much of a party mood as I. We found a beer tent that had just closed. I was sad.

As we returned to the stage, one remaining vendor was open. A wine salesman.

Let me say this on wine: I'm clueless.

I know many people who know about good wines and bad wines. They know vintages. I only know that when I was in college, we'd head up to the winery overlooking the Missouri River, buy some horribly cheap wine, drink it with our pinkies sticking out, then wait for the headache that invaribly followed.

This night, however, it was the best source of re-stocking I could find.

I strode confidently to the wine salesman, looked at the winelist, and plopped all the cash in my pocket down on the counter in front of him. I looked at him expectantly, knowing if I could speak coherently, I would say something to the effect of, "Wine, sir. Forthwith. Your best vintage. Uncork that mother and lets commence with the pouring."

Instead, I looked at him, smiling. He looked back, wordless.

I looked down at my cash. Fourteen dollars, sitting lonely on the counter.

"Um...?" was about all I could say.

"The bottle is $20, sir."

I saw the look of disdain in the man's face. He, I'm sure, was one of those connoisseur types. The people who look down on old drunks like me. The type of people who would say, "I'm sorry, sir. We don't stock MadDog 20/20 in this cellar. Perhaps you'd be more comfortable on a street corner."

I might have said, "But that's all the cash I have." Frankly, though, I don't recall what I said. I only know that that gaming-now-party muse Lynn came to the rescue, making up the difference and sharing a look with the salesman that said something like, "I know. He's just a gauche heathen. I'll make sure he appreciates this."

"How many glasses would you like, sir?"

A more sarcastic and defensive Otis might've said, "Look asshole, I don't need any glasses. I plan to drink this swill straight from the bottle." But I didn't. I grabbed four plastic glasses and headed back to the stage, followed closely by Lynn, who probably saved me from myself more than once that night.

I think everyone at the stage, including the hippy that my wife later described as "scary," enjoyed the vintage very, very much.


After the show, the stronger among us decided it was a good time to head to the drum circle.

That's where things get a little gray for me.

I know me made it up Tricky Trail without incident. Upon our arrival, I sat on one of the split-log benches, bobbing my head to the rhythm of the drums and watching the embers from the bonfire catch the wind and dance in the air. The embers are always a source of fascination for young and old. The best description of them came from a toddler named Maggie, who upon her mother's urging that the embers were fireflies, said definitively, "No, mommy. They're electric noodles."


I took a short nap on a hill before standing and joining my compatriots near the fire. I sat cross-legged as Timmy, C-Fate, and Lynn joined us.

Timmy said, "Where's Otis?"

The rest of the group looked at him incredulously. "About one centimeter from your leg, T."

True, I could've licked his knee from where he stood.

By way of explanation, C-Fate offered, "So, guess how we got to the drum circle."

There are a couple of obvious ways to get to the drum circle. You either come up by way of Tricky Trail, or you can take long way around through the soccer field campground. After we had exhausted those options, C-Fate said, "No, we arrived in a Range Rover."

Again, we stared with a lack of understanding. By way of further explanation, C-Fate said, "Well, we were following Timmy..."

That was about all he had to say.

See, while Timmy has nearly the most festival experience under his belt, he has a depressing lack in directional ability. While he'll tell you where to turn when you're driving, following him anywhere is an act of sheer folly. More than one group of drum circle-happy travelers has found themselves terminally lost when under T's direction.

And it was so on this final evening of the festival that Timmy again led his crew astray. As the story went, Timmy said he had a shortcut. That's usually how it starts. After quite a hike, C-Fate and Lynn noticed they sounds of the drum circle were coming from the wrong direction.

"Maybe we should ask someone for directions," Lynn suggested.

T's response was in the negative and again they began walking. And walking. And walking, until such time they were, in fact, terminally lost.

Within a few minutes, a Range Rover pulled up. Inside was one of the festival directors, who inexplicably offered to give our crew a ride. Later Timmy would tell me the director continually threatened to whip him with a glo-necklace. That just made the story a little stranger, if you ask me.

Had it not been for the guidance of G-Rob's wife, I may not have made it down Tricky Trail in one piece. However, her literal helping hand guided me to safety and to a $30 win on my bet with G-Rob that I would fall down less than 2.5 times.

Strangely, though, when we arrived back at Tent City, I had a fairly deep gash in the palm of my hand.

I don't know how it got there.


And so ended the LEAF, Fall 2004. By Sunday morning, most of us found ourselves packing up and getting out early to go home and see the kids, family, or football games.

Fatigue of the LEAF variety is a funny thing. It doesn't fully set in until after you're home.

This time, it took me three days to fully recover from a weekend of sheer bliss.

And I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

LEAF, Fall 2004. Part 2
(Part 1 can be found below)


Early birds get the breakfast burritoes.

Fortunately, my 2am bed time made for an early rise. Tent City in the morning, even on a windy morning, is a beautiful thing in the fall. Fog hovers over Lake Eden and obscures the mountaintops. The sunrise paints the fall colors with even better oranges and reds. Dozens of people are making coffee and firing up camp stoves.

I was pleased (and, frankly, a little surprised) to find I felt pretty good, all things considered. After some caffeine and a walk around the lake, I felt fairly solid. I, however, was one of the lucky ones.

Many Tent City ramblers--about 16 strong this year--had made the decision to go to the drum circle and stay late. I had no independent verification of the events, so I nodded as stories filtered in and out of tents. I was a little ashamed I didn't go and made a mental note to make every effort to make it to the drum circle later that night.

Boston Jay was among the first of the late-nighters to taste morning air. The thing about Jay is that, even when he's feeling his worst, he puts on a good face. He had been one of the drum circle stalwarts. I thought briefly about not including the already-mentioned story below, but it was the first good belly laugh I had in a while.

Saturday morning, as the winds started to whip whitecaps onto Lake Eden, tent doors opened one by one and the weary campers dragged themselves to chairs beside the campfire. Friday night had been a rowdy one, beginning early on with a tremedous show by Billy Joe Shaver.

Boston Jay sat fireside Saturday morning, his BoSox jersey soaking in the smell of the campfire smoke, thumbing through the show schedule.

"Damn, I missed Billy Joe Shaver."

One by one, tired heads turned toward Boston Jay, toward his shaking head, toward his assertion he'd missed Billy Joe Shaver.

Finally, someone said it.

"No, you didn't."

The giggles started immediately. Not only had Boston Jay been there, he'd danced his ass off for the entire show.

After a couple of moments, Boston Jay raised his head from the schedule.

"Did I enjoy it?"

Perhaps it was the laughter, perhaps it was the increasing winds and campfire smoke, but eventually G-Rob crawled out of his tent. He, too, had been a late-nighter and, unlike Boston Jay, G-Rob looked the part. His hair pointed in different directions, his eyes were puffy, and he had the distinct look of a man who had been a part of a very rough morning.

He plopped into a camping chair and, upon some urging, explained.

He'd risen at sunrise, after having barely been in bed for a couple hours, and discovered he wasn't feeling well. He decided to take a walk in the morning sun, down a road where he found a rock worthy of sitting. He sat, sucked in the morning air, then deposited everything in his stomach onto the fall leaves.

"That's when I looked up," he said, "and saw a group of kids watching me lose my dinner."

Poor kids.

Normally, I would've taken this opportunity to launch into an impossibly harsh critique of G-Rob's constitution, in which I would lament his inability to hold his liquor, his advancing age, and offer the suggestion that maybe he should just go home and spend time in his recliner watching Matlock.

But, G-Rob looked bad and I was sure that any amount of needling might result in his either actually leaving and going home, or more likely, serious retribution the next time I found myself in a sickly way.

So, I figured I'd help. I had the cure. Nothing cures a hangover like caffeine and cheese balls. I offered my can of Planter's Cheese Mania balls, from which G-Rob took a handful. Ted offered a plain bagel, which G-Rob took as well.

Two cheeseballs and one bite of bagel later, G-Rob stood and said he had to go.

We didn't see him again for several hours.

When he returned, he looked better, but a little embarassed. He'd taken a walk (to places unknown) and eventually fallen asleep on a fairly populated hillside. When he awoke, two children were standing over him, poking at him like he was a corpse.

"Mister?" Poke. "Mister?" Poke.

I guess they thought he was dead, which--a reasonable person might figure--was pretty close to the truth.


By early afternoon, most everybody had rallied to a degree that allowed them to stand, walk, and converse. Only Mrs. Otis (who had been without a good night's sleep for nine weeks) chose to sleep into the afternoon hours.

After an aborted trip to see Enter the Haggis and some poetry slam, several of us happened upon an unfortunate incident. The unrelenting winds had blown an entire tent into the lake. A portly firefighter had rescued the tent using a tow rope and a canoe, but getting the temporary home out of the water was going to be quite a task.

Before we could accurately assess the situation, G-Rob and I were working hand in hand with two cops and the firefighter to pull the waterlogged nylon out of the lake. The tent was full of sleeping bags, luggage, and such. It must have weighed more than 150 pounds.

After ten minutes of pulling, stretching, cursing, and yelling, we realized that our methods weren't going to work. Somebody had to get in the water and lift the tent from its bottom.

Previous reports had the water temperature at about 50 degrees. The wind was blowing at about 20mph. There stood a hungover G-Rob and an increasingly tired Otis. The look we shared indicated that neither he nor I were going to be getting in the lake of our own will.

I turned my head just slightly to look for more help. When I turned back, the portly firefighter had stripped off his shoes, socks, and pants. He stood in nothing more than a flannel shirt and baggy (much too baggy, in my opinion) pair of white briefs. It was all I could do to keep my breakfast burrito in my stomach.

That's when I heard the firefighter say the one thing I knew a hungover G-Rob didn't want to hear.

"Grab on to me here."


Ten minutes later we were back at camp, shuffling up for another marathon Euchre session. I can only hope G-Rob washed his hands.

Part Three--Saturday Night--Coming soon

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

LEAF, Fall 2004, Pt. 1

For ten days, we watched the weather report, picking our favorite weather web sites based on the most positive forecast for Black Mountain, NC. By late in the week of the festival, we'd determined we would not have perfect weather. In fact, we could only hope against hope to be dry. We'd done LEAF in the rain before. While always fun, being soaked for three days is not something to which you look forward. And one thing was clear: It was going to be windy. And likely cold. The meterologist among us was trying to avoid mentions of the phrase "wind chill," but it seemed inevitable that we would be forced to bundle up.

As the winds blew and blew, it wouldn't be long before the casino hostess among us, who knows about odds and such, would declare the festival to officially be the LEAF Blower Festival of 2004.


I'd packed the car the night before in anticipation of an early arrival on the mountain. I knew dragging Mrs. Otis away from L'il Otis for the first time would be difficult. She surprised me Friday morning by literally pushing me out the door--like a Band-Aid, ripping herself away quickly.

We stopped for ice, carefully steering clear of the drunk guy buying King Cobra at 9:30 in the morning (as we pulled out, he backed into an island of gas pumps, and later declared, "oh, well" as he stared at his dented bumper). Within thirty minutes, Mrs. Otis and I were exchanging looks as we wound through the colored mountains of northern Greenville County. Autumn had again painted well the hills and dales of the Blue Ridge foothills.

We were among the first to arrive at Tent City, bested only by Jane (Keeper of the Fire) and her daughter, Maggie. Setting up camp took a couple of hours. By early afternoon, we'd cracked our first beers, reviewed the music schedule for the night, and started playing the first hand in a marathon session of Euchre.

The weather reports carried few lies. The wind blew in gusts ranging from 10 to sometimes 25 miles per hour. When playing Euchre, we had to weight down the cards with beer cans. The only thing worse than the cold and wind burn was the campfire embers blowing into our faces at 20mph. I'm surprised we all still have our full sense of sight.

But we Tent City denizens are a hearty group. In the face of adversity, we do not back down. We do, however, find ways to forget about the weather.

As the sun went down on Friday night, I heated up a batch of soup prepared by Mrs. Otis. We ate, washing down our dinners with cold beers. By 7pm, we'd broken out a bottle of human anti-freeze, taken some nips as we strummed our guitars, and filled our flasks for the trek around the lake to see Billy Joe Shaver.

Throughout the day, there had been ominous and often-repeated reports circulating around camp that undercover officers were going to be making the scene. Not narc, but Alcs. That is, Department of Revenue officers were supposed to be checking for outside (meaning, not bought at the festival) booze. The alleged fine was $1200. We'd heard such reports in years past, but never so frequently mentioned by the early arrivals. We all made a mental note to keep the coolers closed and a close eye on unfamiliar faces.

We set out in small groups to the main stage. Billy Joe kicked off his set with "Georgia on a Fast Train" to which I sang along, drumming on my wife's back, and deciding to not care that a nearby couple had recognized G-Rob and I for who we really were. I passed the flask as Billy Joe sang songs of lament and survival.

At one point, I wished I had a notepad or recorder, because Billy launched into a monologue worth recording. At one point, he talked about how writing had saved his life. "Writing is better than any psychiatrist. I think everyone should do it," he said.

I knew I was getting a little loose in the noodle when I stole a guy's wife and began spinning her around in a haphazard dance that I thought was a two-step and she thought was a cha-cha. My wife suggested coffee might help and I agreed. After Billy Joe, I stepped out to a coffee tent and purchased a hot cup of joe to set my head right. It didn't help much, but it warmed me up. The bourbon was making my head silly. The next band on the bill didn't help.

Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors took the stage in George Clinton-esque fashion and dropped some funk on Lake Eden. Sometime in the middle of the show, I started to lose touch with myself, slipping into a familiar dance that people who know me well would recognize as an "Otis isn't long for the evening" move.

Mrs. Otis recognized it quickly and we agreed to make our way back to Tent City, where the fire still burned bright and a fresh supply of antifreeze awaited.

By the time I made it back, though, a fatigue had set in and I started considering the unthinkable. I actually considered going to bed.

T sat down next to me and we shared a look.

"T, there's no shame in not going to the drum circle," I said, which was, in fact, a lie. T had made a commitment earlier in the day to making the long walk to the bonfire and drum circle. Making a commitment meant there was sure shame in going to bed before the hike. Still, he believed me and for the first time in five years of LEAF festivals, he and I were both in our tents by 2am.

I fell asleep to the last few bars of the Woo Warriors music, wondering if, in fact, I had lost my ability to party like a rock star.

Saturday, though, had already begun. And the rumors of my demise would prove to be unfounded.

Coming in Part Two-- G-Rob--Dead Man, Boston Jay and the Gray Areas, The Naked Firefighter and the Water Tent, The Punk Kid, The Wine, and the long, strange trip three members of Tent City took to the drum circle

Monday, October 18, 2004

Back, back

I'm back from the mountain with some fun stories to tell. Unfortunately, my head is wrapped in three days of silliness and I don't trust my writing right now.

So, a full report on the LEAF trip should be forthcoming.

One tease:

Saturday morning, as the winds started to whip whitecaps onto Lake Eden, tent doors opened one by one and the weary campers dragged themselves to chairs beside the campfire. Friday night had been a rowdy one, beginning early on with a tremedous show by Billy Joe Shaver.

Boston Jay sat fireside Saturday morning, his BoSox jersey soaking in the smell of the campfire smoke, thumbing through the show schedule.

"Damn, I missed Billy Joe Shaver."

One by one, tired heads turned toward Boston Jay, toward his shaking head, toward his assertion he'd missed Billy Joe Shaver.

Finally, someone said it.

"No, you didn't."

The giggles started immediately. Not only had Boston Jay been there, he'd danced his ass off for the entire show.

After a couple of moments, Boston Jay raised his head from the schedule.

"Did I enjoy it?"

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Gone, gone

It's that time of year again. I'm out in search of my head. I usually find it on a mountain in Western North Carolina, so that's where I'm going tomorrow.

It was this time last year my life took the first in a series of amazing and sometimes confounding turns. On the way home from my mountain trip, I learned my dad was in the hospital.

I'd been intending to write up something about that here, but kept avoiding it, because I often write at work (sssshhh) and when I write about that story I tend to get a little misty-eyed.

I was writing an "I'm away" message on the other blog I write for and found myself on the subject. Before I knew it, I basically wrote what I was going to write here.

So, head over there and read it, if you like.

Until then, I'm going to be on a mountain, listening to music, sitting in a camping chair, and sipping on something relaxing.

Go hug the people that love you. I'll be back next week.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Otis' head, in two parts

I gotta get out. My cube is too small. I've made it smaller by inserting earphones in my head and shutting out the din of the office. Occasionally I'll get up and walk around, but every door seems closed. Right now, I'm listening to the Falcon Ridge disc Susannah made a couple years ago. It was a get-rowdy disc she made for her friends, even those who couldn't make it. It's taken my head to some Northeastern farm field. My body, though, is stuck in a half-cubicle. It's almost scary.

I'm a little paranoid, I think.

I've pretty much completed my work for the day. That makes the office seem even smaller. At least when a major project is on the horizon, there is a vast expanse of paper and responsiblity.

I should let myself admit that I just don't care right now. My heart is with my wife and kid at home in a series of feedings and naps. My ambition is wrapped up in a fanciful world that I'm afraid to admit exists. My head is about 75 miles north of here, beside a lake, bobbing to music as it bounces across the water like skipped rock.

But here I am and I feel so trapped I'm on the verge of a panic attack.

I suppose if I just let myself go, let myself gently into the frame my mind is taking on, I'd just get up and walk out, put on a pair of cheap sunglasses, get behind the wheel, and just drive around in the sun for a while. That usually settles me down.

As I write this, I type a paragraph or two, sit and stare at the picture son my desk for a few minutes, write a screenplay to the soundtrack in my ears (now, Lyle Lovett's much-too-solemn "Step Inside This House" Disc 2), then return to typing, just to see words on the screen.


Damn, sorry about that.

I need to stop opening my head before I know what horses are going to run out. A smarter Otis would not write as he thinks.

I've since switched to Big Smith's first disc which has lightened my mood slightly.

With that in mind, here are the things that I don't want to talk about at LEAF this weekend:

1) My current job
2) My job prospects
3) With the exception of my son being born, anything that has happened in the past twelve months
4) Anything related to the presidential race
5) Anything related to the war in Iraq

And here are the things I want to do at LEAF:

1) I want to make an effort to see more music than I usually do. Foremost, I want be sure to see Billy Joe Shaver and Acoustic Syndicate in their entirety.
2) I want to sit by the fire and talk.
3) I want to make it to the drum circle, but make no commitments.
4) I want to convince Mrs. Otis that it is okay to have fun again.
5) I want it to be like it was five years ago when I hit the mountain for the first time.

Yeah, that should just about do it.

Manah, manah...

Black Mountain Forecast says...

Warm stuff? Check.
Anti-freeze? Check.
Cluttered head? Check.

Yep, I'm ready.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Don't go away mad, or I just might try to be funny

I was tired. I'd stayed up too late the night before and wanted to hit the sack early. There remained, however, one chore left to do: Take out the rotten, stinking, God forsaken trash.

Admittedly, I didn't want to do it. I wanted to lay down in bed, watch CSI, and fall asleep to the visage of the pretty brunette with the gap in her teeth (you know, back in the day, men considered a gap-toothed woman to be the sexiest of all).

Mrs. Otis reminded me, just as I'd prepared to hit the sack, "We forgot the trash."


Over the years, "we" has come to mean...me. We need to get that door fixed. We really need to get the garage cleaned out. We really need to mow the lawn.

Now, to be fair, Mrs. Otis wasn't trying to be a bitch. She just wanted the trash taken out. She said she'd do it, if I'd keep an eye on Li'l Otis.

But a tired Otis is an irrational, cranky Otis.

I stomped out to the garage, collected the rotten, stinking, God forsaken trash, and stomped it out to the curb where I deposited it with the full force of my crankiness.

I returned to the house, went upstairs without saying goodnight, watched the first 45 minutes of CSI, then fell asleep, leaving me without a clue as to how the show ended.

When Mrs. Otis came to bed, I could tell she was a little miffed at my performance earlier. I didn't blame her. I was acting like a baby, and she's gets enough of that during the day.

"What happened on CSI?" I asked. I really wanted to know.

"They didn't really resolve anything," she said. "The most unresolved episode ever."

Deep down, I felt like she was lying. She was trying to stick it to me.

I rolled over, still cranky, and fell asleep.

When I woke up four hours later, I felt better, less cranky, and a little silly for acting like a child. I went downstairs for a drink of water and returned to discover Mrs. Otis was still in crank-mode. The dog had been barking.

"There's a fucking cat in heat outside and it's pissing the dog off," she growled from under a pillow.

I thought for a moment, wondering about the cycles of cats, and if, in fact, there would be a cat in heat outside.

Then I made myself laugh.

"At least it's not a cat on a hot tin roof," I said. "Or worse, a fiddler on the roof. Or, worse, a fiddler on a hot tin roof. Because that would be loud, what with the fiddle and the tin roof and all."

She didn't respond.

Come on, bitch, that's funny.

I rolled over and went back to sleep.

This morning, though, life was better. The sun was out, the kid was acting sane, and we all, for once, got enough sleep.

I reminded her what I'd said a few hours earlier, about the cat, the fidddler, the roof and all.

This time she laughed.

That, folks, is life in suburbia.

And it ain't so bad.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Mailbag Mambo, or, a collection of digressions disguised as a theme

"You are truly hell bent on inspiring me to do something stupid."
--Friend of Otis (FOO)

The intersection of East North Street and Pleasantburg Drive is an ugly one. On one corner, the ubiquitous CVS Pharmacy sits, shooting orange light over a wide expanse of parking lots. The other corners are home to a mattress store, a Walgreens, and a gas station that makes a habit of mis-advertising the price of regular unleaded. It's a hub of mid-level commerce and an intersection I see more than most in my adopted hometown. About a year ago, a guy took his ex-girlfriend hostage in a nearby grocery store, then shot her in the back as she tried to run away. I hate that story.

Saturday, I again found myself at the intersection, waiting for a light to change. I'd just come from a CD store that uses a unique form of marketing (and by unique, I mean, completely ineffective). It changed its name from Manifest to Earshot, but left the Manifest signage in place. So, now, if you knew it as Manifest, you have no way of knowing how to look it up in the phone book or online. If you can find an old phone book, you can find Manifest. When you call, they answer, "Earhsot Records, formerly Manifest." I figure it won't be long before the store changes its name to a symbol.

Buying cds used to be a weekly occurence for me. In the old days, the above-mentioned FOO and I would take an afternoon, head up to Streetside Records and often come home with something worth a listen.

Damn, those were good days.

Since those days, though, I just don't buy cds as often. I don't know exactly why. Less free time, a mortgage, and the availability of free music on the net are probably all to blame.

But Saturday, I knew I was going to be driving to a city about an hour away and I needed some fresh tracks. So, I bought two double discs: Acoustic Syndicate's "Live from the Neighborhood" and a double live from Yonder Mountain String Band.

After Phish decided to break up for good, even mainstream media were speculating on who would take the place of the jam band that had taken the place of the Grateful Dead after Jerry died. CNN predicted one of five bands would take over: String Cheese Incident, moe, Widespread Panic, The Dead (sans Jerry, of course), or Ween. I suppose any of the choices are valid. I like me some Cheese and Widespread, and you can't deny the validity of The Dead. However, for my taste, you can't beat the jamgrass sensibilties of Acoustic Syndicate and YMSB. Though most people who live outside the land of Yonder (Pacific Northwest/Mountains), or Acoustic Syndicate (Appalachia) likely aren't all the familiar with the style, I gaurantee that hardcore fans of any of the established jam bands would have a damned ball at the kind of shows I like to see.

And so there I sat at the intersection, Acoustic Syndicate's cover of Niel Young's "Powderfinger" pumping out of my stock stereo. I hid behind a pair of cheap sunglasses, one of many pairs left behind at my house after a poker game. My fingers strummed across the steering wheel as I imagined myself sitting around a campfire at LEAF with the phantom banjo player, picking out the rhythm as the man with no name hit the melody. The harmonies massaged my noodle the way my noodle like to be massaged.

That's when I felt it.

My eyes started to burn, then moisten. I looked around to make sure no other drivers were watching, lifted up the cheap sunglasses, and took a peak at my eyes in the rearview mirror. Sure enough, tears were welling up in the ducts.

I popped the glasses back up on my crooked nose and smiled.

In recent years I've discovered that my body has a visceral reaction to harmonies. I'm sure it has something to do with my mood at the time, but there are certain singers who can put a tear on my face just by singing. When Acoustic Syndicate's Big Daddy, Eddie from Ohio's Julie Murphy Wells, or Crosby Stills and Nash hit the harmonies just right, it makes me want to stand in the dark, smiling and crying.

I've heard of people crying at a good painting or a well-turned phrase. For my money, though, nothing touches deeper than a well-hit harmony.

In the days before life around here got really odd, my friend Todd and I formed a bond over harmonies. Neither of us will ever make it big with music, but we can both carry a tune. He has more musical talent than I do, and as such, can harmonize with just about anything I sing. We hadn't sung together in quite a while. A couple of weeks ago, as we ambled half-drunk through the streets of Greenville, we found ourselves singing, harmonizing over the din of downtown drinkers. We shared an unspoken understanding: Few things feel as good as hitting the harmony just right, even if it is under the influence of booze, etc.

And so it was that the above-mentioned FOO sent the one line e-mail in response to something I'd written earlier.

"You are truly hell bent on inspiring me to do something stupid."

I wrote him back, saying he might have coined the coolest phrase I'd heard in months. Inside, I was thinking, it was more than cool. It was beautiful.

He wrote back to explain what he meant, though it was unnecessary, because I knew exactly what he was saying.

I've labored for too long under the egomanical assumption that I was the only person I knew who felt there was something greater inside me, aching to get out, but constrained by convention, tradition, or general good sense. I've come to find, however, that most people feel that way. They either--like me--refuse to admit it to others or refuse to admit it to themselves. My closest friends, from Colorado, to Missouri, to South Carolina all share this feeling in one way or another. It manifests itself in different ways, but I'm sure we share the same urge.

But inspiration to do something stupid?

The phrase screams oxymoron, but I think most of us know that stupid is only a synonym for breaking from convention, security, tradition.

It doesn't have to be something life-altering. But if we can all seek out, or at the very least recognize inspiration, we can find ourselves in the middle of something so stupid that it is absolutely meant to be.

Be inspired by harmony. Let yourself cry. Be inspired by your friends. Be inspired by a life less conventional. I think if I can allow myself to do that, I'll be able to find life.

Perhaps, we can all agree to let ourselves be inspired to stupidity.

And to the friend who wrote me with that line...thanks.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Hear me roar...or, at least, shout a little

When I got into work today, two e-mails sat stewing in my inbox. I like e-mail. It's like a little ether-gift to people who don't like to talk on the phone. These e-mails, though, were a little odd (not quite as odd as the one of Barney singing Tupac, but that's another story for another day--by the way, thanks Marty).

Both e-mails were from good friends.

Here's the first.

I am Todd. That's bad news for you. You are not Todd.
If, for some reson, you were to become Todd, that would be good for you.
I the meantime, you are not TODD.

Todd is Great
Todd is Good
Todd is God!

I read this one first. I responded as best as I could, that I'm Otis and I understand I'm not Todd. The metaphysical and theological questions posed by such an e-mail are many, but my mind isn't functioning on that level this morning.

At one time I considered myself a pretty good read of what my friends are thinking. In the past eleven months, I've discovered I don't know what anybody is thinking (unless I'm sitting at a poker table, of course).

I discarded the e-mail and moved on through the inbox, where eventually I ran across this one.

Dear Otis,

I am G-Rob. I just wanted you to know and remember that. And I am awesome, wouldn't you say? G-Rob...awesome guy...that's me.

Awesome...I mean, G-Rob.

I didn't respond to this one. The message is not uncommon for G-Rob, although I don't think he likes himself as much as he says he does.

Curiously, upon further investigation I discovered that Todd actually wrote the G-Rob note, and they both collaborated on the Todd note.

That sounds about right.

Even if it wasn't their intention, the notes got me thinking about myself, why I've developed a reputation for self deprication, and why I don't write more notes to people declaring "I am Otis and I rule!"

The other day, Mrs. Otis and I were riding down the road and I said of poker, "It's the first thing in my life that I actually feel like I do well."

Strangely, she encouraged such a line of thought. She's good to me that way.

Of course, she thinks I do a lot of things well. She's good to me that way, too.

So, in an effort to proclaim I'm actually decent at something, I'll brag a little bit.

I just got published in a national poker magazine (got the cover story, in fact). Unfortunately, it appears All IN magazine is only available to subscribers. Still, it was a pretty neat feeling to see my work in glossy print.

So, there.

Note: CJ has scanned the entire article. You can find it, for a limited time, at our poker blog Up For Poker.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Seismology in the life of Otis

You don't have to undertsand much about tectonics or seismology to appreciate what's happening in the state of Washington right now. If the line of satellite news trucks at the base of Mount St. Helens weren't enough of a harbinger, the frequent--if irregular--expectorations of steam from the crater of the volcano tell us something is happening. Whatever it is, big or small, it is happening.

Perhaps if it weren't for geologists--and their quasi-pagan brethren, seismologists--we wouldn't know that an erpution of steam, ash, or, verily, magma may be on the horizon. That's the good thing about science and science-talking types. At the very least, they can hold our hands and interpret events for us. Otherwise, we might be all afraid, looking for virgins to sacrifice, and muttering "I, for one, welcome our new volcanic overlord..."

Life and its eruptions ain't quite as easy, however.

I think back on moments of slight seismic shift in my life, knowing now of their importance, but at the time failing to grasp the gravity of such movements. At the time, they were slight tremors--good and bad--that I didn't fully recognize as life-altering moments.


"I've got something to tell you."

I was at my locker, thinking on the failure of the school to adequately protect its students belongings. I wasn't thinking that months later I would join in a late-night mission of civil disobedience into the school, in which a group of malcontents opened every unlockable locker and spelled out the words "locker reform" in books in the school hallways.

Danny was behind me.

"I've got something to tell you."

Danny was a star athlete, who against all odds, had befriended an awkward young wide receiver wannabe many years before.

"I'm going to be a father."

We were 17 years old. I was going on to college. Danny was supposed to go with me. Now, he was going on to be a father.

I was going to college by myself.


It was hot outside Law Hall. Room 616 was empty, save me and Saturday Night Live. I'd gone to college on my own and expected to walk into a world straight out of Hollywood, with girls running around in their underwear, beer-soaked slip-and-slide hallways, and a cranky dean who wanted to put the screws to the roustabouts.

Instead, I was alone and figuring college was going to be giant bore.

I'd left my door open just in case a girl in her panties needed escape from the tickle fights that were sure to be taking place one floor above.

That's when a scrawny, bespeckled kid walked in.

"Come here. I need to ask you a question."

I stood and walked into the room next door.

"You think that'll scare away the ladies?"

On the wall next to his bed was a poster of Friday the 13th's Jason.

I don't remember my response, but eventually the kid turned to me and said, "They call me Attitude."

As it turned out, most of that dorm was straight out of Hollywood. Girls ran around in their panties. Beer flowed as free as water. While I never met the dean of the univeristy, there was a cranky guy named Dean who oversaw the dorm. There was even a good ghost story about the kid who had fallen down the elevator shaft the year before.

And Attitude? Well, over the years, he'd sort of become the mayor, nay, governor, of the whole place.

A friendship formed in the shadow of a fictional mass murderer led me to the rest of the guys in the dorm who remain some of my best friends to this day.


Those are just a couple of moments that come to mind. There are others, of course. The chance meeting with a beautiful, young pixie named Michelle who ripped from my psyche the desire to forever be a rambling bachelor. The post-happy hour drive with a guy named "T" who popped a Tesla tape in his Jeep's tape deck and waited gauge my response. A life-long friendship sealed in a night of driving fast and throwing 16 ounce bottles from a moving car.

What I'm saying is this: Some moments, like the phone call that said my dad was in the hospital, or my wife stepping into the bedroom and announcing she was pregnant, are obvious. They are moments that scream out for recording.

But there are other moments that are less tangible, moments that you can't define as important until much later in life.

Often these moments involve meeting new people or sharing a new experience with someone you know. But sometimes, it's just a day. Sometimes a single day can mean a lot.

If I were a life-seismologist, I would predict that yesterday was one of those days. Nothing too important happened. It was a fairly ordinary day, with a couple of slightly extraordinary occurences. Maybe a 1.2 on the life-Richter scale.

What actually happened is of no real importance. What is important, however, is this: I think I could be a better person, a more successful person, a better husband and father, and a better friend if I could pay closer attention to the smaller moments. That goal stands in contrast to how I often look at the world--waiting for that one big moment where everything is good and it all seems clear as day.

That just doesn't happen very often.

I took a picture of Li'l Otis last week. It's back and white, tight-focused on his eyes, his head laid back in the grass, sights set on a single blade that is too close to his face for his young eyes to focus.

My hope is that I can teach him what it is taking me much too long to learn:

Sometimes the things you're looking for aren't happening at some un-tellable time in the future. Sometimes life is happening as you live it.

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