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Saturday, September 30, 2006

I am the problem

There are things we must admit to ourselves at 3am, when the family is asleep, a comedy about the government is on TV (the fiction version I turned to after watching the non-fiction farce all day), and there's too much silence on a Friday night.

I am the problem.

Tonight, while I was working in a job that I love in spite of its inherent work load, my wife and kid went to a little festival. When they got home, my son showed me an inflatable football. He'd won it in some game and was very proud.

"You know what he's really fascinated with right now?" my wife asked.

One minute later, I held my boy as we walked out into the chilly air. I pointed up at he sky.

"What's up there?" I asked.

He whispered, almost too quiet for me to hear it, "The stars." His eyes were heart-breaking. When he saw the crescent moon, his eyes went wider, "The mooooon."

As we walked back inside, the kid said, "Night night, stars."

I owe this kid for giving me a new reason to care.

Tonight I watched Act II in my government acting in a way that not only infuriates me, but also makes me hate myself for being a political apethist for the past 12 years. As an apethist, I have no right to complain. The sad part is, there are a lot of people out there who have cared about our government for a long time and voted accordingly. In the last few days, those people have been failed.

I want my kid to grow up in a country of which he can be proud. I want him to love his country as much as he loves the moon and stars. I want him to want to watch the heavens from American soil. Right now, for a variety of reasons, I have a hard time thinking about how I can share that with him.

Today (although it affects my job and, thus, my family) is really small potatoes compared to the things we've seen from our elected officials in the past couple of years. Yesterday's head-shot to habeus corpus was something everyone should care about. I won't even bother listing everything else.

Tonight, I'm upset with myself for letting the mice play while I went out in search of more cat nip. Tonight, I'm confused. And tonight, I'm sad.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Saying it when I don't have time to

Now in the final days of a 16-day work marathon, I'm about to have time to think and write again. Until then, a subject that just makes me sad, courtesy of Ze Frank (note: The Kansas City jokes and TSA riff come before the part that matters).

the show with zefrank

Monday, September 25, 2006

Product placement

Note to the makers of JIF: I have a pretty cute kid that really enjoys the making and subsequent eating of peanut butter cookies. Just sayin' is all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Missing Big Daddy

It's pre-autumn in South Carolina. At 4am on my back porch, it's 52 degrees and a breeze makes it feel even a little more chilly. Ten hours ago, I put the kid in our high-tech stroller (outfitted with an iPod hookup and pumpable tires) and took a walk up to the neighborhood park. On the walk home, I turned on Acoustic Syndicate and soaked in the blue sky that revealed itself yesterday.

My wife was beautiful today, sore from exercise, worn out from insomnia and a kid that almost lost part of a finger this week, and radiating a sweetness that only a husband can truly appreciate. As we navigated our way back to the homestead, I smiled at a family playing frisbee and sung along with Steve "Big Daddy" McMurry as he sang "Punkin' and Daisy." My wife endured it and smiled when I got silly about the blueness of the sky, my adoration for the kid in the stroller, the desire for a wife on the walk, and patience with the dog that was not nearly as dainty as she needed to be in front of the neighbors.

As we walked, we mused about a life that was 75 degrees every day.

"I really could do without winter," I said.

"I thought you said you wouldn't live anywhere that didn't have four seasons," the wife poked.

She was right. I'd said it before and I meant it. I can't appreciate days like today unless I live through the winters and suffer through the summers. It's the days in April, September, and October that make me believe in something that matters. It may not be the God that everyone else knows, but it's something that makes me want to live and not be afraid of dying.

I can't control the blueness of the sky. I can't control the speed of the breeze. I can't control myself. What I do, what I believe, what I appreciate are all things I don't even recognize until they are so deep-set that they are part of me.

I remember sitting at the Handlebar (the best local joint for live music) a few years ago and feeling tears come to my eyes as I listened to Julie Murphy Wells sing "Oh, My Brother." She fronts--if anyone really fronts--Eddie from Ohio. This is a band that most people just don't get until they see them live. New folk is something that the big city folks just don't understand. It's like indie music for the Appalachian set. It's harmony and soul and pure marrow. It just doesn't play in the city. It's something that you just wouldn't get if you live in L.A. or NYC. Regardless, Julie made me cry that night. I was sober and clear-headed. That night, there was something about Julie's voice that made me realize why some people cry when they see a perfect piece of art.

There are so few perfect things within reach of my understanding. I write a lot and a I read a lot. It's rare that something hits me in a place that makes me react involuntarily. Julie was not the first, but she's the one that defines it. She's the type of woman I'd never try to pick up in a club, but would've married in a second if I had been a single man, and she a single woman. Julie makes me cry.

And, so, Big Daddy. The man has a distictive voice that just doesn't translate to popular music. Big Daddy is the only guy who can scream into a microphone and make me love him. As this night turned into early morning, I spent an hour talking to a guy who had spent a year of his life in Iraq, driving over dead bodies and trying to come to grips with the reality of being a guy who believed in his country, but couldn't quite accept the cause his country supplied for war. A blog post that began as an homage to the seasons and their musical equivalent has become, again, something I can't quite define.

A little more than a year ago (and maybe more) Acoustic Syndicate broke up and left me without a "local" band to really appreicate. Tonight, I spent an hour trying to track down the voice that makes me happy. I miss his voice. I miss a male voice that touches me a place that no one else can touch.

Big Daddy is somewhere else now and I miss him. I'm now in search of something else. I'm as happy as I have ever been, but I want to find something that hits me in that place I can't define. It's not a desperate or sad search, but it's something that I really need.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

My lawn has an erection

I'll be the first to admit, I have the hottest wife on the block. What's more, within the view of my home office, I haven't seen anything so arousing as what I can find inside. That said, there must be something going on around this place, because my lawn has wood. And I'm not talking about the sweetgum tree.

But, wait...yes, let's talk about the sweetgum tree. In fact, before I get all salacious on you, let's talk about the yard as a whole. Despite the fact I really don't like my property that much, there are some things about it that are endearing.

For instance, my wife is really a terrible keeper of flowers and plants. She loves them, as I do, but her green thumb is more of an attraction for the Irish than it is for the lawn and garden department. Still, she's done better this year and created a few beds that are quite pretty.

Beyond the old lady's ability to keep things alive for the duration of a South Carolina summer are the little eccentricities. For me, it's the little evergreen tree that's been growing under the big sweetgum for the past five years. It started as no more than a wild sprout that I refused to mow down. Now, it's grown to sapling size and it's captured a special little piece of my heart. I can't help but love it. I also can't help but wonder what kind of problems it's going to cause for the huge sweetgum. It has to be like a boil on the root system of the tree I love to hate (sweetgums drop spikey balls on the ground in the fall and break pretty easily under the weight of an ice storm).

Then there's the giant weed that looks like it is a real plant. It's not. It looks like a fern. It's not. It sprouted up last year between two hibiscous bushes. I chopped it down once. While I was gone this summer, it came back. I sort of like it. For a weed, anyway.

All of these things I can stomach and enjoy on my own time. Today, however, I noticed my lawn had a woody. I was doing some work at my computer and looked out the second floor window. That's where I saw the disgusing display. It was below the white oak and it was dirtier than anything I've seen on Cinemax.

Obviously, it is some sort of mushroom. I brief web search makes me believe it might be something called a stinkhorn (a name that would explain why I puked in my mouth a little bit while taking the above picture). That said, most of the stinkhorns I've seen online have looked a little more like a...well, a dog's penis.

So, for now, I've convinced myself that my lawn is hot for the lawn next door, a finely manicured, irrigated, and green carpet of suburban sexiness. My only worry will be if my wife decides to start spending more time "working outside."


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Grab a paddle...

...we're headed down the stream of conciousness.

The weather changed overnight. I drove down the kind of road you only know if you grew up on a city's fringe. Back in Missouri, it was highway EE that ran between Springfield and Willard. Then it was Rock Quarry Road that ran between the University of Missouri campus and the townhomes we lives in off Nifong. In Mississippi, it was that road that ran from the Resevoir up to Lakeland. One would think I'd remember what that road was called, but for the life of me I can't. I've blocked out so many of the days that I lived in the Magnolia State, it's like it never really happened. In fact, as I let my mind wander, the only clear memory of Mississippi was looking at a dead guy's ever-graying hand as he lay beneath his SUV. That was the first of too many dead people I've seen since then.

It was 1am and the humdity in the air was the kind that made the outside of my windshield fog up. It had been sunny all day long. Despite the fact I couldn't see weather in the air, the darkness couldn't hide that autumn was sniffing at Upstate South Carolina. I drove the speed limit down State Park Road toward home where I would toss and turn in bed. I finally got up at 2am and wrote for a few hours about a subject that's been kicking my noodle for the past few days. It may end up being a subject here someday or it may remain in the My Documents file until it's time to kill this laptop and start writing in comp books again.

Despite not having a summer to calll my own, I'm looking forward to autumn. With it comes a trip to LEAF (come on, you know you wanna go...), football weekends, and the death of the necessity of paying attention to yard work. While I was gone this summer, I paid two kids to mow the lawn. By the end of the summer, their version of their duties involved showing up whenever they needed $30. I mowed it myself today.

I read something the other day about a study that explained why teenagers are generally more selfish than adults. It has something to do with the evolution of the brain's chemical makeup. Apparently, as adults spent eons sheltering their children until reproductive age, they turned kids into selfish nits who don't give a damn about other people unless it suits their own self interests. I'm not so convinced of the science, but it would at least explain why my yard hadn't been mowed in a couple of weeks. That and the fact I'm lazy and hate yard work.

That said, I want a bigger yard. I found myself idly searching online the other day for homes in some of my favorite cities. As I searched, I narrowed my quest to properties that were two acres and larger. It's not so much the grass I want as the freedom from hearing my neighbor's phone ring. I've spent six years in this house planting vegetative buffers and I'm still lacking the privacy that would allow me to walk outside naked.

In other news, I'm finally going to get a DVR. I'm also going to buy a wall-mount TV for my upstairs office. Hopefully that will be enough to satiate my technology jones and keep me from buying a new cell phone and satellite radio.

That should do it for now. Too much time at the computer has turned me into a zombie. Fortunately the wife made pasta for dinner, so I don't have to eat brains again. Of course, if those kids show up to mow, I may have a little snack and see what selfish tastes like.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Some people pray. I don't and this is one of those times I wish I did."

Rapid Eye Reality, September 11, 2001


I sat at a traffic light today. I had to sit through it as it changed three times. One person in all the cars that passed was smiling. And I think he was only doing it to make his girlfriend smile. She wasn't.

And no one feels safe. Today I drove up into the northern part of the state. A huge nuclear generator sits up in the foothills, surrounded by a pretty lake with a pretty name...Keowee. About 48 hours ago, three unmarked choppers started hovering low over the reactors. The local cops had know idea who was at the controls. The state cops had no idea. And as it turns out, some of the feds didn't either. Two F-16s from a still-unnamed Air Force base scrambled and flew here. It took everybody about five and half hours to realize that the choppers were unmarked American military helicopters on a Top Secret training misson.

We all just grew up. I'm mad at myself because nothing excites me anymore. I'm not excited about watching football this weekend. I skipped a Donna the Buffalo concert last night (if you don't know the band, look it up). I don't want to hang out with my friends. I don't want to turn on the TV. And...I don't want to go to work.

Rapid Eye Reality, September 17, 2001


Image posted at RER in September 2002


Two years ago this morning it was the phone that woke me up. My mother: "Are you watching this?" I wasn't. I had overslept. Minutes later, I was in my car, unshaven, unshowered, and on my way to tell disembarking passengers at my local airport that their country was under attack. Watching their faces as I delivered the news firsthand is an experience that put a permanent hole in my psyche.

This morning, I didn't turn on the TV. I wobbled to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, and kissed my wife as I entered the shower. The cheap radio was in between frequencies and full of static. I fumbled with the wet buttons, trying to find a news program. Instead, I found a morning comedy team. I left it there and let Peter Frampton joke with the boys of the radio. Just like last year, America was calm. Planes were taking off and landing, people were being good worker bees, and the morning radio jocks weren't being pre-empted by network coverage of hell under the red, white, and blue.

On the way to work, I passed by the news radio stations again. Remembrance, but no news. Peter Frampton was still joking. In my morning news meeting, there was an understanding: Our station would recognize what day it was, but we would not forget the other news of the day. Two hours later, about the time two years ago I was telling a group of confused passengers from the northeast that they wouldn't be going home that day, I was standing at a different airport, preparing a report on a neat new runway improvement.

And then, lunch. Sub sandwich, baked chips, diet soda.

This, for better or worse, is normal.

I wonder as I sit in the middle of a conspicuously normal day, how September 11th will be recognized 50 years from now. Will it be a December 7th? Will it be a July 4th? Or will it be just another day, perhaps recognized on morning news programs during a "This Day In History" segment.

We have, indeed, moved on. But the feeling--at least inside my head--is still there. Otherwise, I wouldn't have woken up this morning until I heard my wife's sweet voice call from the shower.

RER, September 11, 2003


For some reason, I didn't write anything for the past two years.

It's about 80 degrees outside my office window right now. The branches of a Bradford Pear shade the room. The guy who was mowing his lawn has stopped and the smell of a pre-autumn grass clipping is still sneaking through the window screen.

I haven't turned on a TV today. I haven't listened to the radio. In fact, I've listened to nothing but the ambient sounds of the suburbs all morning long.

I can't help but wonder how long it was before people woke up on the anniversary of Kennedy's or King's death and thought about how it might have changed the world. This is now five years since the event that will define this part of America. I still thought about it when I woke up.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Touche (insert your own french accent)

"...you once said in a post that no one wants to hear you write about your kids. What can I say, it's a more interesting topic to me than poker."

--comment from previous post and an old friend who resurfaced to help me set my mind right

Well, damn. I thought no one remembered that post but me.

More on all of that, mind-altering drugs, my quest to go to SXSW for the fist time, and other topics after we get through the weekend. Upstate South Carolina has turned to the kind of weather that makes one appreciate four seasons. I mean, you LA types might have your constant paradise, you Texans may have your BBQ and execution records, you New Yorkers might have Ray's Pizza, and you Bostoners may have a stranglehold on the word wicked...but, by goodness, we have four seasons here like a sonofabitch.

Oh, and since you brought it up...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Fever dreams

A couple of days ago, I read a review of Nick Cage's "The Wicker Man" in which the reviewer wrote, "'The Wicker Man' is a screenwriter's fever dream; I couldn't make this up if I dropped acid and spent two weeks in a Native American sweat lodge."

At the time, I had no real frame of reference. I don't get sick and, as such, rarely am afflicted with fever. Now, Uncle Ted will protest and tell you that I live in the House of Hypchondria. While this might be true, Mt. Otis didn't take on this designation because of me. Regardless, I will maintain that I don't get sick. Or, if I do get sick, it's rarely often enough that I really remember it.

So, fever dream? Nice term, I guess. That was until my monkey-child decided to get ill at an unfortunate time and pass on his illness to his old man. As such, I spent the past 36 hours alternately wearing everything in my closet or nothing at all. What's more, I spent a lot of time sleeping. And dreaming. Oh, whoo-boy, do I know what a fever dream is now. Mamacita. Nothing like waking up from a dream to wonder if I've been fired for not showing up at my part-time job at Greenville Tech, then realizing I've never had a part-time job at Greenville Tech. The odd part was having to ask myself out loud, "Where do you work?" That's not to mention the three-wheeled vehicles at Willard High School and my enemies standing in the rain to put garbage-bag-covered boxes on my front porch while I grasp my dog in fear.

I've been rather annoyed since I got home from Vegas. After spending six weeks around the germiest people in the world (six weeks in which I never sniffled or even sniffed at illness), I've now been home for a little more than three weeks. During that time, I've been to the emergency room, the radiologist, and my family doctor twice. Beyond that, I've been given four different kinds of drugs and told to go back to the doctor next month.

I don't think I'm going to go. Why? Well, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being sick and I'm sick of people guessing at why I'm sick. What's more, I'm sick of being fed drugs that don't do much more than make me forget about the fact I'm sick. Frankly, if I needed drugs to make me sleep or forget about illnesses, I have friends that could take care of that without having to write me a script.

So, here's the part that really bothers me. I've neglected writing about this, but I've decided I'm going to (thank you, faulty synapses). After a CT scan that shows I have no abnormal fruits in my noodle, the headaches continued off and on for another week or so. That moved my doc to write me for...get this...antidepressants.

Now, yeah, I know antidepressants are helpful to a lot of people and have been lifesavers for people who suffer from legitimate depression. Further, I know that antidepressants can be used for all kinds of things. The drug my doc gave me has apprently been used for everything from adoloscent bed wetting problems to, yea verily, chronic head pain. Well, that was last Thusday. My wife got the pill-bottle filled for me, but I've not yet taken one. And I don't think I'm going to.

Why? Well, protest, I guess. My bother is a doctor, so I'm not really comfortable about laying into the profession as a whole. That said, I think there is something wrong with a system of medicine that jumps directly from "Let's kill the pain with pain killers" to "That didn't work? Well, shit, let's just throw a catch-all, mind-altering drug at you and see how that works."

Here's my point. I know doctor's are busy. I know they have to shove as many patients into their day as they can. And, frankly, I like my doctor. He's a good enough guy. However, since I've been running around the medical arena, no doctor (save my brother, who was off work at the time and wondering if I was dying or not)has spent more than five minutes asking me questions about my symptoms. Who has? Well, my wife, Uncle Ted, T, my brother, my mom, my old boss, G-Rob, Badblood, The Mark, Stina...well, you get the point. The people who actually care about me. What's more, I've received more helpful medical advice from those people than I have from my doctor so far.

So, no antidepressants for me. The $7 co-pay to decipher the doctor's handwriting was worth deciding that I'm annoyed more than I am sick. This is why I never went to the doctor before and it's probably the reason I won't go again soon.

See, call me a hippie, call me a Luddite, call me what you want. I just can't jump from pain killers to antidepressants for a chronic headache. I just can't. One friend suggested I've been grinding my teeth in my sleep. Another friend suggested I get a massage. Both of these are fairly reasonable suggestions. Both of these are things my doctor might have considered before trying to put me on antidepressants.

So, I've not taken one and I'm not gonna.

The other night during a blissful hiatus from one illness or another, I had a few drinks with my buddies. During this time, my friend T looked at me and said, "One word: Nyquil."

I don't think I have to tell you...I feel better today than I have in three weeks.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Planning for spontanaeity

I never thought I would write this, but I think Nekesa Mumbi Moody is an idiot.

I had no reason to expect to unleash my vitriol on Moody. First, I have never read anything by the writer. Second, I really don't care whether he/she likes or dislikes a program or artist that is the unfortunate subject of a review. That said, Moody's review of the MTV Video Music Awards baffles me.

First, a moment of full disclosure: I don't watch MTV anymore. In fact, the last time I watched the so-called Music Television network on any kind of regular basis, I was in college, and much of that was against my will. Further, I don't recall the last time I watched the MTV Video Music Awards. I'd have to imagine that it was a time before Beck had penned something about a cocaine nose job.

So, today, I had read a piece online at the Washinton Post about flaccid end to the entire Valerie Plame/CIA/Joe Wilson incident. The Post editorial basically served as a sigh to end the whole affair. As the sub-hed read: "It turns out that the person who exposed CIA agent Valerie Plame was not out to punish her husband." After sighing along with the un-bylined writer, I went on a general news search around the ether. During a pass through CNN.com, I happened across an Associated Press review titled "MTV Awards: One snoozer of a show."

To get the full effect of Moody's disgust with the show, you need to read the whole piece, but here's the gist:

"...nobody except a video choreographer's mother watches this show for the awards. Fans watch for the FCC-flaunting skits, nearly naked starlets, foul-mouthed speeches and those embarrassingly bad dance numbers.

They do NOT watch for lectures from former Vice President Al Gore on global warming. When does the phrase "here's a photo of a glacier melting" ever fit into an awards show?

Somewhere along the way, the MTV Awards seemed to have morphed into the Grammys.

Christina Aguilera, who previously shocked our senses as the dirty Xtina, looked downright classy as she performed a low-key ballad. And there were no wardrobe malfunctions whatsoever during Timberlake's perfunctory show kickoff."

Though I'm tempted to go through Moody's screed point-by-point, I'm simply too tired after sighing through the first read.

It seems the entertainment industry has wound its way so far through attempts to be extreme that it is now facing criticism for no longer finding ways to fool its audience into believing that it had creatively and spontaneously been shocking viewers for the past 20 years. Or, to put a finer point on it (and one with fewer words), the only remaining extreme is not being extreme anymore. And that has Moody yawning.

Moody's missive is the equivalent of wearing a trucker hat after 25 years of making fun of people who wear them. The sad fact is that we are so bored with our own daily lives that we actually publish people who are writing reviews of a show that is no more than one giant review. Even worse, I'm now writing a review of a review of a review.

Damn, I'm tired.

Note: Some XM dj just mentioned the only alleged spontaneous moment in last night's VMAs and asked, "Do you think that was staged?"

I guess my exhaustion is largely based in Moody's expectation to find anything worthy of nipple-perking on MTV. To believe MTV has at any point in the last ten years had anything to offer us in the way of the cutting edge is ignoring the real creative world to a fault. To criticize MTV for failing to deliver on said expectations is simply showing the fray on Moody's tucker hat.

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