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Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: No key to the gnocchi

It's a guilty little pleasure, I suppose, my repeated viewing of the movie "Days of Thunder." It's the type of thing I'd never mention in front of my more enlightened friends, but when the NASCAR flick comes on TV, I don't turn it off. When Robert Duval jokes, "We're eating ice cream," I laugh. When he lumbers off into an old man's run at the end of the movie, saying, "I'll race your ass," I can't help but think, "Damn, right!" Like riding mopeds or enjoying the song "Lucas with the Lid Off," we all have things we do that we wouldn't want our friends seeing.

That, I hope, serves as some explanation for what ran through my mind last night as I stood in the kitchen with my hands buried in a giant bowl full of dough. Everything in my amateur culinary mind screamed, "This is going to be a disaster. Abort! Abort, you arrogant son of a bitch!"

But, on a more subconscious level, I heard the voice of Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle. It said, "There's nothing I can't do with a race car."

I didn't consider the Dianetics involved or whether I was under the influence of a psychiatrist at the time. Instead, I thought to myself, "There's nothing I can't do in the kitchen."

In reality, I know this to be untrue. It's not been six months since I made an uneducated and overconfident foray into the world of Thai food. My noodles ended up looking like something that came from a monkey's skull. A couple of years ago, I tried to experiment with a chile pepper and incorporate it into fairly simple Mexican dish. We ended up ordering a pizza.

Still, for a guy who is so afraid of failure, I have a bit of hubris when it comes to things involving pots and pans. I received an early education from my mom and grandma, two women who I still consider to be the best homestyle cooks I've ever known. Since then, I have spent countless hours reading, practicing, experimenting, and believing that, indeed, "There's nothing I can't do in the kitchen."

I know people who cook better than I do. I don't think I'm the best by any means. For instance, when we invited my friend Shep on an annual camping and music festival trip we take, I was only looking forward to his company. He showed up and built a mobile kitchen. He ended up cooking two meals a day for 20 people, all of whom raved--after the food was gone and there was nothing left to shove in their mouths. No, I am not the best, but cooking is something at which I am competent. I am not afraid to cook for people. In fact, I enjoy it.

That's how I ended up covered in flour and using a particular twelve letter phrase indicating Oedipal lust.

Some time within the last year, I developed a fascination with gnocchi. For those who don't know, gnocchi are small Italian dumplings. They're made with potatoes, wheat flour, or bread crumbs. The recipes for gnocchi are as varied as you could ever want. I chose to go with the potato variety.

There's nothing I can't do with a potato.

If there had been a camera on me and a camera on my food, they would've shown two different things. Over the course of an hour, the bowl went from filled with boiled potatoes to full of the most perfect looking dough you could ever want. The dough formed into balls. It morphed into perfectly sized snakes and then into small, fork-pressed dumplings which eventually found their way into a boiling pot of water.

During that same time, the camera on me would've been something that would show up on You Tube...a sweating, cursing, flour-covered thirty-something man shoving raw dough into his mouth and shaking his fist at an unseen culinary deity. I think I knew halfway through the process that I was going to fail. However, I couldn't admit it to myself. There's nothing I can't do with a boiling pot of water.

Duval's character would've finally had it up to his trucker hat with me. As I constructed my sauce, sauteed shallots and garlic, and tossed it all with with some shrimp, I could almost hear the disembodied voice of Harry Hogge saying, "I can't talk to that son of a bitch. I really can't."

I looked at the clock. The dinner hour had passed. Hell, the dessert hour had passed. My kid was in bed, the dog was sleeping, and the wife was starting to look ill. I strained the gnocchi from their watery grave and popped one in my mouth.

I muttered that twelve letter phrase and forced myself to swallow the lump. Something was wrong.

I grabbed another dumpling and swirled it in some Extra Virgin and herbs. I can't remember what bad word I used then, because I was too busy forking a third dumpling and dunking it in a pot of Mornay sauce. It was like the moment Cole Trickle just couldn't take it anymore, jammed down on the clutch, and blew his engine. I couldn't decide if I hated myself more for blowing the gnocchi or spending my time making a Mornay. What in the hell was I thinking? Mornay with a dumpling? I might as well have fed my wife Elmer's Glue Soup with a giant matzo ball.

In any amateur cook's life, there is a visible moment of concession that usually begins with a resigned sigh and ends with the sound of a whirring garbage disposal. In between, for me, was a trip to the pantry where I pulled out a half-full box of Spaghetti Rigati and threw it at the boiling pot of water. I can't even remember how I plated the food. I only remember my wife saying, "This is good," and me wanting to ask her how often she lies to my face. I was afraid to go to bed with her for fear of being lied to there as well. An hour or so later, my plate was sitting--still full--on the counter. My wife's was empty in the sink. Her lies, apparently, extend to the ability to hold down my culinary missteps.

"Days of Thunder" ends with Trickle in victory lane. My day ended in a two pound lump at my curb. The trash man had a little extra weight to carry this morning. Me? I carry the burden of knowing that there are things I can't do in the kitchen, and apparently making gnocchi is one of them.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

RER Devon Epps coverage makes it to print

I awoke this morning to find that the local alternative weekly, The Beat, has decided to reprise some of the Devon Epps coverage from the ethereal pages of this blog. The editor of the paper and I actually go back many years and have covered many of the same stories. I get the sense he's as conflicted about this particular case as I am.

If you'd like to take a look at the online version, you can find it here:

SHANNON’S LAW: Yet Another American Tragedy

Previous Coverage:

Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death

Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news

Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Devon Epps: Scene of the Crime?

This lonely place is so close to the interstate, it's not even an afterthought of a county planner's pen. It's like that space in your yard you forgot to landscape, shaded and covered in leaves, grassless, and out of the way of your attention. No one ever looks at it and no one would go looking for it. It's a place where nothing would ever happen, and if it did, it would be something bad.

The place where Amanda Smith says she was jumped by a maniacal knife-wielding murderer is an illustration of nowhere. If you're there, it's only because you're lost or going somewhere else. Seconds off Interstate 85, to get there takes a turn at the Whitehorse Road McDonalds and rounding a curve on the unimaginatively named Frontage Road. The intersection with Jacobs Road gives a driver two choices. If you turn left, it looks like it might take you somewhere worth going. If you turn right, it's pretty obvious you're going nowhere. It's a dead end and even the most respectful minds can't help but consider the bad pun.

I decided to go and I'm still not sure why. Going there is not on the way to anywhere for me. Going there serves no purpose. In the past, it would've been my job. Now, I figure most people would label it as sick curiosity. I know that it's neither of the two, but I'm still not sure what it is. A local writer with whom I'm friends e-mailed me while I was out of town and said he, too, felt some sort of compulsion to write about the ongoing case of Devon Epps' death. For me, since I can't get the case out of my head, writing about it is somewhat cathartic. Writing is what I can do when I can't make sense of things. I'd hoped that the two posts I'd written up to this point would do something, anything to make me feel better about this. I've covered and studied some of the most heinous crimes, but for the first time since Tiffany Souers was strangled in her Central, SC apartment, I find myself caring an inordinate amount about a crime in my adopted hometown.

I don't know why I went, but I did.

When I rounded the corner on Frontage Road, my first instinct was to slam on my brakes. A marked Greenville County Sheriff's cruiser sat in the middle of the road about 150 yards from the intersection with Jacobs Road. My wife was riding with me and quietly said, "Mmmm hmmm." I looked to the side at the uniformed deputy as I drove by. He didn't look at me.

Because I had no reason to be there, I almost felt guilty when I pulled up to the intersection. My instinct was to turn left, but when my wife spotted Epps' memorial on the right, I swerved and made the turn. Again, it was something that looked more than a little suspicious. Again, the deputy did nothing.

And, so there we sat, in front of the little memorial. A framed tribute sat among balloons, boxed toys, flowers, and burned candles. It all sat at the dusty roadside on the edge of what could barely be called a grove of trees. Up a worn out path about twenty feet stood a giant tree wrapped in a red ribbon. Tacked to both of them were the composite sketch put together by deputies based on Amanda Epps' reported recollection of the man she says killed her seven-year-old son.

Again, I don't know what I was looking for. This is a place that has been picked over by deputies, mourned over by family and friends, and visited by amateur sleuths from all over the area. It is a nothing place and the saddest of places to find the memorial to a child. Less than 300 yards down the road--a distance that could be run by even a heavy person in less than two minutes--is civilization. A few trees may block the actual building, but at night the Waffle House sign would almost be impossible to miss. The place Amanda Smith says her son died is a shadow. Shadows, I've found, are rarely home to happy times.

There was no reason to stay more than a couple of minutes. I turned around in the parking lot of what looked like a trucking company and headed back out the way I came. As I drove by again, the deputy was on his cell phone and didn't seem to pay me much mind. I didn't bother to wave. His presence there was not surveillance in the traditional sense. If the cops were really staking out the scene, it seems pretty obvious they wouldn't be sitting in plain view in a marked car. The deputy spending his time there is more than likely a signal to the community that the Sheriff's Office is still diligently working on the crime (a fact in which I still have the utmost faith) and a signal to anyone who might wander by the scene that they are being watched. As I was not driving a white town car, small civic, or look like the man Smith says killed her son, I was mercifully ignored. I'm not sure exactly what I would've said if the deputy had actually asked.

I've never really known how to feel about the concept of The First 48. I think a lot of cops--especially the dedicated ones--will tell you that the clock isn't nearly as important as the evidence and even if they don't make their arrest in the first 48 hours, they will still maintain a decent confidence they can nail their criminal. Around these parts, the cases that remain cold for too long tend to remain that way. I have entire files on cases that plagued the local cops for way too long. When the Blue Ridge Bank triple murders happened, I heard a lot of quiet talk among the investigators about who they believed was responsible. When Dale Fetner was stabbed outside his apartment, I heard a lot of the same talk. Both of those cases remain open. The Devon Epps death, though, is not like those cases. Though there is quite a bit of hand wringing about the lack of an arrest, this one doesn't at all feel like a case that will go cold. No, this case feels familiar for an entirely different reason. So familiar, in fact, that it goes without saying.

Tonight, as I try to figure out why I keep writing about this case instead of my normal silliness, I wonder. Did I visit the scene of the crime tonight? Or did I visit the place where the county coroner found him dead? Because there may be a difference and, if there is, the answer will make a lot of difference in how this story ends.


Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death

Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Double Down

This was not Las Vegas. It was, but it most certainly wasn't. I'd just left a valet named Dan standing in the dark parking lot of a place on the corner of Paradise. He had my cell number and I had his. That night, he was going to get hooked up and my friends were going to get hooked up and it seemed like all was well.

I had a different kind of urge in Las Vegas. I didn't need what everybody else in Vegas was looking for: drugs, women, or a casino host monitoring my every bet. I needed to get out while staying in. I needed to see something different. For one night only, I had taken on the role of making sure everybody was having a good time. We were a silly group, bound to not get in trouble unless we tried.

"What do you know about the Double Down?" I had asked the valet.

Dan rolled his eyes. "People in all black. Loud."

His words were meant as discouragement. He really wanted to get on with calling his buddy in the stretch limo so they could start divvying up the kickbacks and making me think they were doing me a huge favor, when in fact, they were just passing a little of their deal on to me. Price of doing business.

"Perfect," I said and told him my friends would be back in an hour and half to make good on the little deal we'd just struck.

So, there I was, leading a dozen guys--only two of them already messy enough to begin qualifying us for any Dirty Dozen discounts--down a dark side street and toward a place called the Double Down Saloon. My friend Joe Speaker had recommended it to me. The dive called itself the anti-Vegas, and after spending two months in Sin City already this calendar year, I wanted anything that wasn't Vegas. What's more, I wanted to make sure my friends saw more than the lions at the MGM.

Even though my back was turned to all of them, I felt the group pull back as soon as the place came into view. It was small, barely lit, and looked like the type of place where a knife fight might actually be something you could order from the bartender. The first off-strip place we'd hit, we actually ran into Mr. T. In this place, I figured we stood a better chance of seeing George Peppard, despite his fatal 1994 pneumonia.

The Double Down was packed and about the size of a bathroom in a Strip Vegas hotel. A band played in the corner, loud and shredding enough to make me wish I'd remembered to pack Advil. I looked on the wall where signs advertised the Bacon Martini and Ass Juice. Two girls dressed in all black looked as us as we walked through the door.

"Who invited the frat party?"

I stopped short. "Frat party?" I looked back at the guys behind me. Sure, Marty, the bachelor, no longer had bright red punk hair. Sure, my hair has been cropped back from shoulder length to a manageable mess. But frat party? That was just insulting.

"We're the farthest thing from a frat party," was all I could really manage over the noise. I started pointing at my friends. "Doctor, D.A., Bar Owner..." When I realized I was making her case for her, I shut up and ordered four Bacon Martinis.

"What's in it?" I asked the bartender over the lead singer's scream.

The guy looked at me like I was his mother. "Bacon and vodka."

That's when a calm started to come over me. The chicks at the bar were rude. The bartender was rude. The guy at the front door had been rude. Not once since we had crossed the property line had someone offered me a timeshare brochure, a drink in a yard-long glass, or show tickets at a show in exchange for just a few minutes of my time. The bartender poured like he was drinking the mess himself and not like he learned by watching Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

The drinks came across the bar at me. I took a sip and felt my gorge rise. Perfectly disgusting.

I handed my drink to my brother and said, "Make sure somebody else drinks that." I walked over to the corner of the room. There was no stage, save a small riser for a drum kit to rest. Four natty old couches made the boundary for the musicians to play. I collapsed on one with a cold beer in my hand and watched the next band set up.

For the next hour or so, I watched three guys in neckties rock out. I learned later they were the members of SKORCHAMENZA, a band that's been tearing up Vegas for the past several years. I left a little while later with a good memory and three pictures on my cell phone.

The men's room of the Double Down Saloon

Justin Vega, SKORCHAMENZA guitarist

SKORCHAMENZA drum kit, pre-show

Las Vegas is one of those odd places on earth where everything looks different, but everything is pretty much the same. The city itself is much different than most places in the world, but after you're there for a while, it's almost impossible to find anything that will make you say, "Heh, how about that? That's something different."

The Double Down Saloon was one of those rare places. Sure, I was just a tourist there for a couple of hours. I stayed just long enough to enjoy it, but not long enough to make the locals start worrying we were going to ruin their joint--a brief diversion accented by loud music, bad booze, and a staff that didn't give a damn whether I was there.

I never tried the Ass Juice.

Maybe that will be an adventure for another day.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Otis Unplugged

I'm not going off the grid so much as unplugging for a few days. Any updates, should they be necessary, interesting, or otherwise urgent (I'm not sure what qualifies under any of those categories) will be posted in the Twitter or Buzznet feeds on the left. For now, I'm getting on a plane for some old school silliness.

Devon Epps, Amanda Smith and the difficulties of reporting crime news

The pillow. The cops are testing the pillow.

The Greenville News' Paul Alongi greeted readers this morning with news that the Greenville County Sheriffs Office is testing the pillow that Amanda Smith says a carjacker used to smother her son Devon Epps.

At first blush, especially for the hundreds--if not thousands--of people who are spending their days searching for any new piece of news on the case, Alongi's revelation may elicit a "Well, duh." Of course, the cops are testing the pillow. My guess is there isn't a piece of paper or lint that's not being scrutinized. However, Alongi cannot be criticized for the one little tidbit of information used to lead his story today. Why? Because Alongi is keeping the story alive and that's harder than it may seem.

If you missed the last post here, Reading Between the Lines of Devon Epps' Death, here's a brief rundown of the story: Mother, Amanda Smith (no relation to Susan), tells cops she stopped at an intersection near a Greenville interstate. She says a guy who looked like the Unabomber (or some would say the Geico Caveman or her ex-husband), jumped into her car and smothered her son with a pillow before running off into the woods. Incredulous doesn't begin to describe the community reaction. People are looking for information everywhere, including the cached version of Amanda Smith's web page. Here's some of what they're seeing on her old page. [Edit: Some pictures removed at request of uninvolved parties.]

While it's been ten days since the death, the amount of official information coming out has been pretty sparse. This is the time when uncreative reporters start using the phrase "tight-lipped" and looking elsewhere for news.

How does it work? Well, my perspective comes from a TV newsroom. Every morning (say around 9:00-9:30am), the newsroom gets together to figure out what they are going to cover for the day. After some brief announcements from the bosses, each reporter in the room is given a chance to offer ideas for the daily coverage. Eventually, the crime beat reporter (who, if he or she is doing his or her job, has already been on the phone with no less than four different investigative agencies) gives a rundown of the overnight crimes and follow-ups on on-going investigations. The chances of whether a story shows up on TV that night begin with that reporter. The "pitch" includes what the reporter can do with the story and whether he/she can fill a two-minute hole in the newscast. That means, the reporter will have to find one or two people to interview, not to mention to find b-roll video to cover all his/her voice track. What's more, the story has to be interesting. If the pitch is good, the bosses (producers, assignment editors, and news directors) discuss it in a post-meeting meeting and the reporter then ends up with an assignment. The problem is, at least when it comes to TV news, that the cops don't want to do interviews every day. The reporters have either exhausted their sources or run out of energy chasing new people. Eventually (like, around day 4 or 5), the story starts turning into a 30-second VO (voice-over) or falling out of the newscasts entirely.

The Greenville News' Paul Alongi is doing his best to keep the story alive. He's finding a new lead nearly every day and doing his best to keep the story in the public eye. If he has to lead with the fact the cops are testing a piece of evidence, then so be it. At least he's trying.

I don't envy the reporters' positions. They have precious little to work with. There are few pictures and little video of the scene of the crime. The investigators are being as forthcoming as they can without hurting their case. I can only assume all the reporters have tracked down the family and friends of the the mom and victim (because, to be fair, they're pretty easy people to find) and can't nail down an interview. What's more, Amanda Smith isn't giving them much to work with. Sure, her old MySpace page shows she is a one-time party animal, but that's not news per se. If she had any bad criminal record, that would be news, too. However, records show that she's not committed any felonies in her 26 years in this area. Her worst crime for which she's been arrested is passing a bed check to Wal-Mart a couple of years ago. Beyond that, she's simply a traffic scofflaw.

Amanda Smith's Record

October 1996 --Speeding

May 1999 -- Failure to show proof of insurance
June 1999 -- Speeding (Failed to show for court)
August 1999 -- Failure to wear seatbelt

September 2001 -- Speeding
December 2001 --Failure to yield right of way

February 2002 --Speeding
August 2002 -- Speeding
December 2002 -- Negligent driving

March 2003 -- Speeding
August 2003 -- Speeding

June 2004 -- Speeding

November 2005 --Speeding
November 2005 -- Fraudulent check to WalMart

September 2006 --Operating vehicle on highway without registration and license due to delinquency

January 2007--Use of license plate other than for vehicle which issued
June 2007 -- Speeding (Failed to show for court)

Perhaps the biggest difficulty of all, though, is the presumption of innocence. If we believe in our legal system, we must believe until proven otherwise that Amanda Smith is innocent. As I said before, it is my hope that the hundreds of people calling her a murderer are wrong. I don't want to believe someone can kill their child, and neither do you.

It makes me, wonder, though, where Amanda has been. I'm sure she has a good attorney wisely advising her to keep her mouth shut until things cool off. However, I ask myself what I would do as a parent if my child had been killed by a maniacal and mysterious stranger and nobody could find him. You know what I would do even if you believed I was to blame? I would be on TV every damned day holding the sketch of the man I saw. I would be telling my story to whomever would listen and holding the investigators to task for not searching for the child killer. I would be giving interviews to every news outlet I could find and I would make sure the man who killed my kid was caught.

For now, the mother in this case is not doing that and I have to wonder why. Amanda, e-mail me. Set me straight. Set everybody straight.

For now, I'm going to be content with Paul Alongi's hard work. Paul has been around here for a while and knows this beat pretty well. I don't doubt he'll be on top of this story when it finally breaks.

Until then, I'm going to hug my kid and his beautiful mother and be happy my family is all in one piece.

Some people just aren't as fortunate.


Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death

Other coverage:

Devon Epps: Scene of the crime?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

iPod meme redux

A few people commented and/or e-mailed regarding last Friday's iPod meme list. For those still wondering, here's a list of the bands and songs and how they ended up on my iPod.

1. Carrie, darlin', Carrie. Carrie Brown I cried. If I can't marry Carrie Brown, believe I'd rather die. Believe I'd rather die, boys. Believe I'd rather die

Carrie Brown by Del McCoury Band and Steve Earle -- It's Steve Earle gone bluegrass and off The Mountain album that my friends, the Reillys, gave me for my birthday in December 1999. The album pretty much set up the next five or so years of my music listening and is still in regular rotation

2. A memory of a miner, who dragged himself to work, worked himself to death, workin' for someone else.

Shaky Ground by Uncle Tupelo -- This is off the acoustic album the boys from Illinois put together back during my college years. I don't think there is another album I have listened to more times from beginning to end.

3. Midnight from the Inside Out by the Black Crowes -- I will never be ashamed to say I like the Black Crowes. I've always wanted to see them live. Now, I'm going to in October.

4. This song is sung for anyone that's listening. This song is for the broken spirited man.

Life Worth Livin' by Uncle Tupelo -- Off the No Depression album, and one of the songs that made the Americana/progressive country/Alt-country movement. A lot of you are fans of Wilco and Son Volt. You don't know what you missed 15 years ago when Jeff and Jay were playing together.

5. I'm a fool to want you, such a fool to want you, to want love that can't be true.

I'm a fool to want you as played by The Jody Grind -- An old standard, in this case performed by the now defunt Jody Grind duo. I fell in love with the lead singer when she opened for They Might Be Giants (also seeing them next month) back in the early 1990s. Somebody once told me the girl died in a bus crash, but I later learned that to be false. She's still singing, although never found much big time success.

6. Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, you can't tell the story by the cover of a book, so don't judge Jack, 'cause Jack Can't Cook.

Jack Can't Cook by Eddie From Ohio -- My favorite New Folk band from Virginia wrote this as a poke at Jack Kent Cooke. I've said it before, even if you don't like folk music, you should see Eddie From Ohio play live once. It's just too fun.

7. Brett is in the bathtub making soup for the ambassadors. I am in the hallway singing to the troubadours.

Bathtun Gin by Phish -- This is a live show from Charlotte given to me by my buddy G-Rob. Not my favorite song, but still in the rotation.

8. A man stood in the shadows, his face was dripping sweat. He took a break from running, but wasn't done yet.

Running for his Life by Yonder Mountain String Band -- My buddy Uncle Ted turned me onto YMSB a few years ago and rounded out my collection of newgrass bands. I still owe him for this one. If you like newgrass and don't know YMSB, for your sake, find two or three albums today.

9. If the rainbow was a roller coaster, I could ride it for free.

Rainbow Rollercoaster by Acoustic Syndicate -- Among my favorite bands to see live, Acoustic Syndicate played this live version at their farewell show a couple years back. Word is they are playing together again, but I haven't seen them since. I hope to be able to soon.

10. Meet me down on the railroad track, wear your hair high like a haystack, jump on in boxcar number nine, he'll take us out past the county line.

This Town Ain't Cool by The Cigar Store Indians -- Rockabilly from Crab Apple, Georgia. I've seen this band more times than I can count, and certainly more times than I remember.

11. Oh, can you hear me? Oh, can you, can you hear me? I have come from the grave, I have spared no shame.

Can You Hear Me by The Grievous Angels -- One of the bands I listened to during my All Alt-Country All The Time phase. It's not Sleeping in Bayou (With a needle and a spoon), but it reminds me of years gone by.

12. When I was a child, my family would travel down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born. There's backwards old town that's often remembered, so many times that my memories are worn.

Paradise by John Prine -- Say no more. No, really, if you don't like this song, shut up. Say no more.

13. Now here we go dropping science, dropping it all over, like bumping around the town like when you're driving a Range Rover.

Sounds of Science by The Beastie Boys -- I'm not much for the hip-hop/rap scene, but I've always had a thing for Paul's Boutique. Reminds me of my buddy Marty and rolling around in his broken down car back in college.

14. I never shoulda drank that tequila. I should've stayed with the beer. I took the first shot and like it or not, I couldn't stop 'til I landed right here.

The Tequila Song by Allen Ross -- This guy was a bar singer in Springfield, MO and performed regularly at my favorite and` now defunt dive Culleys. I asked my wife to marry me while Ross was singing. Ross performs from time to time with a guy named Hank Rotten under the likely name "Ross and Rotten." They play Sturgis and show up on biker bar jukeboxes. If you've heard me play guitar in the past ten years, you probably heard me do more than one of Ross' songs, including "Harley in the Rain."

15. Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow?

Caroline, No by the Beach Boys -- I grew up listening to the Beach Boys. No reason not to have Pet Sounds on my iPod, right?

16. (No lyrics) "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." Let's leave this one as obvious as it is, k?

17. When this war is over, it will be a better day. When this war is over, it will be a better day, but it won't bring back those poor boys in their graves.

When this War is Over by Clapton and Cale -- First song I heard from the duet album was one that sounded like Widespread when I first heard it. Bought it. Like it. Etc.

18. The thrill is gone. The thrill is gone away.

The Thrill is Gone as performed by Garcia and Grisman -- I like Jerry Garcia and Davis Grisman together a lot. This song got a lot of play. The rest of their work on the album is a lot better in my opinion.

19. A long time forgotten, her dreams just fell by the way and the good life he promised ain't what she's livin today.

Good Hearted Woman as performed live by Yonder Mountain String Band -- I'll listen to Willie Nelson whenever and for as long as you want me to. I also don't mind good bands covering him. So, thereya go.

20. Got a tow from a guy named Joe. Cost $60, hope I don't run out of dough. Told me about a sex offense put him three days in jail. I'm stuck in Indianapolis, hope I live to tell the tale.

Indianapolis by the Bottle Rockets -- Jay nailed me on this one. This song is too fun for anyone to dislike, even when sung by me after I've had way too much to drink.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Running buddies

I'm always the guy who vows to keep in touch. I'm the guy that grasps hold of a true friendship and refuses to cede control to the forces of time. Of course, I'm one of the world's worst at actually keeping in touch. I abhor speaking on the phone, I'm not much for instant messaging, and my life is so full of professional travel that I rarely get back to see my old friends. When geography gets in the way, it takes real effort to make sure friendships don't change or fall apart.

Over the years, though, I've been fortunate enough to develop friendships with people who share a love for the road and none-too-casual leanings toward mischief. These people need not be named. You read about them here on a regular basis. One of those people is a guy I met almost exactly 15 years ago. One of the first things I remember him saying is, "I like my coffee black and bitter--like my life." Sure, he was pretty dark back then. In the past decade and a half, he's lightened up more than I ever thought possible. He's forgiven me when I needed to be forgiven and he's been there for me every time I needed it. The only other thing I require in a friend is an understanding of my adventurous spirit. This guy has always done me one better and hit the road with me.

I've been a lot of places with a lot of people over the years. I've got running buddies in a lot of states and few different countries. However, no one has seen more new places and sought out more mischief with me than Marty. We hit the road together the first time in 1993 on the first of what would be three trips to New Orleans. That year and the next, we went in the middle of Mardi Gras. After that, the only thing that ever stopped us was running out of money or time. And even those things sometimes didn't get in the way.

There were times over the years that Marty, our friends, and I would literally grab a map at 4am and ask, "Okay, so where are we going?" That usually worked out pretty well. When we did it one night in Scotland, it landed us in Inverness at a really odd hour. We were looking for Nessie and ended up on an overnight train ride with some drunk Canadian girls.

Now, 15 years later, I'm married with a kid, dog, mortgage and screwed up professional life. Still, Marty and I have managed to hit the road together at least once a year for the past several. And now what is doing? Well, my running buddy is going and getting married. Insert whatever jokes you like here. I can't find one in my head. His wife-to-be is a sweetheart and seems to be able to put up with Marty. Of one thing, I'm relatively sure: our travels will continue.

Still, this whole "running buddy getting married" thing has gotten me a bit nostalgic. I spent some time today thinking back on our trips and looking over some old pictures. I probably have a thousand photos from those old days. I'll post the ones that won't get us in trouble.

I-70 rest stop on way to what I think was a Cardinals game. We're all throwing the "Jerry Brown! Write him in!" hand gesture. I wish I remembered what started all that.

Marty having a theological discussion with a street preacher in New Orleans

Breckenridge, CO...I picked up the nickname Otis, my brother (not pictured) picked up a fantastic head wound, and Marty went punk (Ryan and Frank, also pictured, were neither wounded nor punk)

Punk pre-law

The same four guys on a ledge overhanging the North Sea. We randomly jumped off a train at an unscheduled stop because we liked the view

Checkpoint Charlies with Joey Two-Hands, Marty, and our late friend John

Marty, Frank, and Ryan in Paris, making sure everyone knows they are Americans

Marty in the Louvre

Scotland, 1997

No one ever said traveling was easy

Marty and Ryan in the stairwell of Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

Marty with another Marty making up two parts of The House That Love Built's Trinity of Leisure hammock art (what we did when we stayed home)

Thinkin' man's chess after a ski trip

Vegas, 2002, with a group of hooligans that we call our friends

Marty, Scotland, 1997...I can't think of a more appropriate picture to end this

With less than a month to go before the nuptials, there is only one thing that makes sense. Sure, we could go to his town and follow some pre-marriage script. Or, we could do what we have always done and hit the road.

And, so, once more into the breach we go. It's not going to be a roadie this time, but, really, we're in our mid-30s now. We get in a car together, it's going to end up being some bad version of Old School. So, we'll skip the "drinking in the back seat and driving all night" portion of the show and just land in, well, of course, Las Vegas. After seven weeks there this summer, there's only one thing that would get me to go back, and this is it. And, of course, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

That's the good thing about the road. When it's your home, you're never far away from the people with whom you've shared it. I'm luckier than I can say to have shared it for so long with my running buddy, Marty.

So, here's to surviving this week and making it to the next dot on the map in the near future.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: From Bacon to iPods

For the first time in a long time, today actually feels like a Friday. I don't feel like doing anything that resembles work. I will, of course, but I don't think I'm going to work too hard. In fact, I don't think I'm going to work too hard here, either. So, here's a quick week in review and a fun music meme to put a period on the week.

Good thoughts for a friend in the hospital

L'il Otis Turns Three

The Devon Epps Story


Finally, as I've said before, I don't much cotton to memes, but the one BadBlood tried yesterday sounded like fun. Turn on your iPod, set to shuffle, and record the first few lines of the first 20 songs that play. I also don't much cotton to the supernatural forces folks, but I do have a special relationship with my iPod. It has days where it really gets me and knows where my head wants to go musically. When I turned on the Pod, this is what it spit out. It made for a good session. It took me on a ride that ranged from childhood listening, through college, through my post-college party days, and into whatever it is I am now. In short, a good shuffle. Some of the songs will be completely obvious to many of you. Others may be a bit more obscure. If any of them pique your interest and you want to know more about them, hit me in the comments and I might dedicate a post to this list. I think you'd all enjoy just about every band I heard play.

1.Carrie, darlin', Carrie. Carrie Brown I cried. If I can't marry Carrie Brown, believe I'd rather die. Believe I'd rather die, boys. Believe I'd rather die.

2. The memory of a miner, dragged himself to work, worked himself to death, working for someone else. We follow each other around on shaky ground.

3. You with your fast and fur-lined mind, with your disregard of time

4. This song is sung for anyone that's listening. This song is for the broken spirited man.

5. I'm a fool to want you, such a fool to want you, to want love that can't be true.

6. Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, Jack Can't Cook, you can't tell the story by the cover of a book, so don't judge Jack, 'cause Jack Can't Cook.

7. Brett is in the bathtub making soup for the ambassadors. I am in the hallway singing to the troubadours.

8. A man stood in the shadows, his face was dripping sweat. He took a break from running, but wasn't done yet.

9. If the rainbow was a roller coaster, I could ride it for free.

10. Meet me down on the railroad track, wear your hair high like a haystack, jump on in boxcar number nine, he'll take us out past the county line.

11. Oh, can you hear me? Oh, can you, can you hear me? I have come from the grave, I have spared no shame.

12. When I was a child, my family would travel down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born. There's backwards old town that's often remembered, so many times that my memories are worn.

13. Now here we go dropping science, dropping it all over, like bumping around the town like when you're driving a Range Rover.

14. I never shoulda drank that tequila. I should've stayed with the beer. I took the first shot and like it or not, I couldn't stop 'til I landed right here.

15. Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow?

16. (No lyrics) "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."

17. When this was is over, it will be a better day. When this war is over, it will be a better day, but it won't bring back those poor boys in their graves.

18. The thrill is gone. The thrill is gone away.

19. A long time forgotten, her dreams just fell by the way and the good life he promised ain't what she's livin today.

20. Got a tow from a guy named Joe. Cost $60, hope I don't run out of dough. Told me about a sex offense put him three days in jail. I'm stuck in Indianapolis, hope I live to tell the tale.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Greasing the wheels

If this work of fiction has you a little confused, you should be aware, it's my entry into the best contest of the year, courtesy of my friend Al Can't Hang.

The hemisphere swelled, at first like the heave of a well-toned breast at the peak of surprised breath, and then like the stomach of an alien-afflicted belly. The swell ended, the bulge began, and the pressure--for a half of a half of a second--sat in a state of suspended animation. Anything could happen at that moment. The world could be knocked off its axis, cancer could be cured, and Spanish Fly could be cut with all the coke in South America. It was a perfect moment that nobody saw happen. For that, you can blame the kid everybody calls Jose. He was flipping an over-hard egg when the orb of bacon fat pulsated and popped on the griddle. The fat turned clear and flew invisible through the air. It landed right where Mary-Maggie's neck met her shoulders.

"God dammit, Jose, you lazy son of a bitch." Mary-Maggie imagined an exclamation point on the end of her sentence, but it didn't come out that way. She slapped at her neck like she'd been bitten my a mosquito and cursed under her breath. It was just loud enough for the 20-year-old kid from Honduras to hear it, but not loud enough for Lady Melba to hear at the register. "I told you to cook the bacon on the back of the grill. Fourth time this week you've burned me."

"My name's not Jose, puta," Jose said. He wasn't going to bother telling her his name really was Jose. He used a long spatula to pull the pound of bacon to the front edge of the griddle. "You want I should aim for something other than your neck?"

Jose let her see his eyes fall to the place where Mary-Maggie's t-shirt rose up over her blue jeans. The tattoo that peaked out from the denim was a pink tulip surrounded by black thorns. Jose pressed the spatula down on a piece of bacon and got the desired pop. He gave her a wink.

Whatever Mary-Maggie said next went unheard because Lady Melba had stepped over from the register. "Don't ignore the man at the end of the counter," she said and flicked her eyes at me. I heard it all. The smell of the pork mixing with the coffee, toast, and cigarette smoke had stroked raw every one of my senses.

Mary-Maggie sighed and flipped her order book open to a new page. She tugged down on the back of her t-shirt and stepped over to me. "Help you?"

She was probably thirty years old, blonde with black roots, real breasts, and a fake tan. Her t-shirt read "Blue Flames, Class of '96" and hugged her more than it had on graduation night. I wondered how long it had been since she got the tattoos and if the thorns were pat of the original work or something she added years later.

"You know," I said. "In some cultures, absorbing pork fat is thought to aid fertility. Some women actually like it. They rub it into their skin. Some even eat it."

Mary-Maggie looked at me and tapped her pen on her pad. She punched the top of it, clicking the ball-point in an out. "You believe that guy?"

I looked at Jose and he caught me looking. He let his eyes graze across Mary-Maggie's jeans and gave me a knowing smile. He probably didn't know know, but he knew in his dreams, and that was good enough. Jose had a lot of dreams, not the least of which was doing naughty things to the counter waitress with his spatula.

"Can't blame him," I said. "In some cultures, being able to shoot bacon grease that far is a sign of virility."

Mary-Maggie stopped clicking her pen. "And which culture is that?"

Now it was my turn to wink. "Mine."

"What can I get you, sir?" the waitress said, clicking her pen once more.

"One egg, over hard. Coffee, black. Side of bacon. And another side of bacon."

The waitress ripped the sheet of paper off her pad and threw it to Jose's side. "Order in," she said, and then after a pause, "puto."

Mary-Maggie walked to the far end of the counter and took a pull off a bottle of water. She pulled her t-shirt down again and looked over at me. I heard my two sides of bacon hit Jose's hot spot just as the waitress took a determined woman's magazine advice column step toward me, my black coffee in her hand.

"I'm not sure who you think you are, mister. I've not seen you in here before, but I don't think I like how you were talking to me. I'm a lady just like Melba."

She was getting wound up, but it was clear her heart wasn't in it.

"You ever had pepper bacon?" I asked. "I think you would enjoy it."

She stopped and pulled a strand of hair out of her eyes. "You think I would enjoy it? What do you know about what I would enjoy? What do you know about me?"

I made a show of looking her up and down like I was sizing her up. I didn't need to.

"I know you don't like your tattoo anymore. I know you got the tulip for a boyfriend. He broke your heart--maybe knocked up your best friend? You got the thorns a few weeks later and probably haven't been in love since. You bleach your own hair, but go to the place across the street for your tan. You wear sunglasses and a hat when you go in because you don't want people to see you. Of course, you spend almost all the daylight hours in here, so when are you going to get a tan like that?"

Mary-Maggie looked angry, hot as a bacon bubble, and just as salty.

"I know you don't like your job and you'd quit if you could just come up with a better idea. You like to curse, you like to drink, and you like to--if you'll forgive me--screw, but you don't do those things as often as you like. You know you're going to get out of here soon, but not soon enough and, if you're not careful, by the time you find a guy who looks at you like Jose does when he's cooking, you're going to be too old to enjoy what it feels like when you get splattered with bacon grease."

The waitress seemed to soften just a little bit, but barely. She lowered her voice, "Fuck you, buddy."

"Oh, and I know this, Mary-Maggie: You love bacon. You love the way it smells. You love the way it feels, whether it's limp off the griddle or hard out of the microwave. Crispy, chewy, fatty, lean, you like it all. You once rendered bacon fat and cooked apples it because you like the taste of meat in your fruit. Even though you and Jose hate each other, he saves you a piece of bacon out of every pound he cooks and you eat it in one bite. He thinks he's going to get in your pants, and you don't care if he thinks that as long as you get your taste a couple times a day. If I may be forward, ma'am, I could give you that taste as often as you like and, again forgive me, I think you'd be begging me for it by the end of the week."

I stopped and took a sip of my coffee.

"Who in the hell are you?" Mary-Maggie asked.

I looked over at Jose. He was eying me like he caught me screwing his sister.

"Who am I? Well, Mary-Maggie, I am a member of the Bacon of the Month Club. And I think you should be, too."

The period on my sentence fell in concert with a pop, an arc of viscous fat, and a landing that couldn't have been more perfect. Mary-Maggie jumped like she'd been goosed by the devil himself.

Jose yelled, "Order up!" and as I looked from Mary to my two sides of bacon, I couldn't decide which one I wanted more.

I was pretty sure I wouldn't have to choose.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reading between the lines of Devon Epps' death

It's late, or at least late enough for a seven-year-old boy to be in bed. You've got a pillow in the car, so maybe you're on the road somewhere. Regardless, it's late and you're on a dark road near a major interstate. You love your son and you know you should be getting him in bed soon, but maybe circumstances don't quite allow it right now. Who knows where you're going, as long as you get there safely.

Your son is sitting in the front seat when you pull up to a traffic light. Maybe you're naive or distracted, but your doors are unlocked. Really, the city you're in isn't one splitting at the seams with crime, so you might be forgiven this indiscretion. Still, you're a young woman by yourself with a young boy who can't defend himself.

You can't even remember which direction you were looking when the passenger door opens and a man with a bushy beard jumps in with a knife. Later, to people reading the story, it must seem all a blur, because before reason can take over, you're outside of the car, the doors are locked, and the man is on top of your son. He's got that pillow over his face and he's smothering him. People reading later will wonder why the injury on your arm doesn't look that bad. Mothers all over the area will speculate about whether the man with the knife could've forced them out of the car and what they would've done if they'd seen the man holding the pillow over their son's face. More often than not, they talk about breaking the window with anything they could find.

By the time the cops arrive, your son is dead. Your car is still there, but your son is dead. The man you say killed him inexplicably ran off into the woods, leaving your car and all your possessions behind. By all appearances, it looks like bushy-bearded killer was on a mission to kill and nothing more.


If you're a parent, pet-owner, or even particularly fond of your car, this story just won't fit in your head. If true, it's the most confounding and terrifying story you could conceive. Random man jumps into your car at a traffic light with seemingly no other motive but to asphyxiate your son? On the list of Things That Don't Make Sense, this story sits at the top of the list.

Devon Epps' mother faces a serious burden tonight because that's her story. What you read above is the nuts and bolts of her story. She even went as far as to give the cops a great description of the killer. She sat down with enough information to put together a composite sketch.

I spent a long time looking at the picture, wondering where I had seen the guy before.

Devon Epps' mother has a second burden. It took me two days but I finally figured it out. The man she described to county deputies is Ted Kaczynski, aka The Unabomber. I don't mean to be glib, but Mother Epps has described the man who is sitting in Colorado in one of the highest security lockups in the world. The chances he sprang from the woods and randomly killed a young boy are relative small, not to mention being completely against his MO. Okay, that does sounds a little glib, if completely true.

The final burden is a tough one. A decade ago, in a town less than an hour away, Susan Smith killed her two sons and told local cops she had been carjacked by a man who stole her kids with the vehicle. It was a story that cut a gash in the heart of a nation--a gash stitched up with vengeance when we learned Smith actually killed her own children. It taught us as a country that we have boundless sympathy when a mother is hurting and ruthless vengeance when a mother hurts.

You might wonder why I chose to write about this subject, other than the fact that it's happening in my adopted hometown. The reason is simple. You probably haven't heard about it yet. There is a disconnect here, obviously. I don't care where it happens--if a maniacal killer randomly kills a seven year old boy and then goes on the run, it's going to be national news. The networks would descend on our idyllic little community and set-up UnaSmotherer Watch. That's not happening.

Normally, I would blame the networks' absence on a fairly well-documented regional bias against the South. In this case, though, the networks' decision to not cover this story is justified. As a casual news consumer, you might not see why. However, as a guy who worked in news for a decade and covered the cop shop for more than half of that time, I can tell you why.

There is not a person in the Greenville County Sheriff's Office or any of the local news outlets that believes the mother's story. Speculation has run in just about every direction, but most of the time it circles back around to the mom (left).

If there was even a 40% chance this mother was telling the truth, here's what Greenville, South Carolina would look like right now: The Greenville County Sheriff's Office would have a command post running 24/7. Other agencies from the state and neighboring counties would be helping conduct the manhunt under Sheriff Steve Loftis' direction. Every news outlet would be leading with the story in every newscast. The composite photo would be on the door of every business in the area. Finally, based on the Sheriff's Office's reputation, I'd venture to say the killer would have been caught by now. There are a couple of homicide investigators within the department who I have the utmost respect for (Paul Silvaggio being the best, in my opinion) and, if I were still working the beat, I suspect these guys would be telling me off the record that they think...

Well, what do you figure they think? Indeed, it's pretty clear that if you read between the lines, you'll see that the cops and, by extension, media, believe the mom killed her own kid then made up an elaborate story in a sad effort to cover her madness. Right now, the cops and media are going through the motions of reporting the nuts and bolts of the story and making it appear as though they are giving the mother's story some credit. However, every single step they take makes it clear to the trained eye that they are ready to arrest her today.

I was fortunate in my career. While I covered more child deaths and murders than I would've liked, I never had to see a dead kid's body. Since that time, I've become a parent and the idea of hurting a child turns my stomach. The idea that a parent could actually kill their child is so foreign to me that I can barely conceive of it. So, tonight I'm hoping that my intuition and the gut feeling of every cop and reporter in town are wrong. I am actually hoping a madman killed Devon Epps.

Otherwise, Devon Epps' mother will face an even greater burden than those mentioned above. She will have to face the fact she murdered her child.

Other resources:

Cached version of Devon Epps' mother's MySpace page can be found here.

Revised version of Devon Epp's mother's MySpace page can be found here (since set to private).

Other coverage

Amanda Smith, Devon Epps, and the difficulties of reporting crime news

Devon Epps: Scene of the crime?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Three years

Three years ago at this time, I was unshaven, stinky, and collapsed on a faux bed in St. Francis women's. However, as I hadn't just shoved a seven pound eleven ounce bundle out of my crotch and I wasn't the cutest thing in the room, I kept my mouth shut.

Now, the boy known here as L'il Otis is a mischievous little monster with enough love to go around for all his toys and all the people who love him.

Happy birthday, buddy. Thanks for putting up with the adults.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007


It's pretty damned rare to find people later in life that you know you can trust like a brother. I've been fortunate enough to find a few of those people since I began this life far away from my real family. Among those kindred spirits is a guy some of you know and all of you have read about here. I call him Uncle Ted for reasons that would take too long to explain. He's neither an uncle nor a Ted, but he is like a brother to me. Since our friendship began, his family has become like family to me as well. Ted and I have been through a lot together, including my dad's near death and recovery from a brain aneurysm. During that time, Ted was one of many people I could count on to listen to me or talk me down.

Over the past few weeks, the roles have been reversed as Ted's dad Chuck (seen left) has gone through a really tough time. He's currently recovering from some serious cancer surgery. Ted's dad and mom have become like family to my family, so the weeks have weighed pretty heavy on everybody.

I've found it pretty amazing how many parallels there have been between Ted's situation and the one I went through almost four years ago. It like there is is script or at least an outline for what it's like to think your dad is going to die. I remember being in exactly the same mental place as Ted is right now and it's without a doubt the worst thing I have ever experienced.

Ted's dad is still having a rough go of it. However, I know this guy and there's very little that he can't conquer. He's my kind of dude--foul-mouthed, scotch-drinking, curmudgeonly, but as friendly and fun as you'd ever want in a guy. What's more, he loves his family in a way that every father should.

I've not written anything here up to this point about this. However, since Ted and his family have started up a blog to keep friends and family updated, I guess it's alright now. Back when my dad was in the hospital, we got tons of e-mails and comments on the blog I updated for my dad. I remember printing them all out and taking them to the hospital for him to read. Hospitals suck, but when you know there are people on the outside caring about you, it makes it a lot easier.

So, Ted, tell your mom and dad we love'em and to get back home soon.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Mental Massage: Africa Hot

I haven't done the old Friday Mental Massage for a while, so let's get it all out, shall we?

Africa Hot--I spent most of my summer in Las Vegas. The temperature was in triple digits all the time. Sure, it was hot, but it wasn't miserable. This week, G-Vegas is, to quote Biloxi Blues, "Africa Hot." I started working on cleaning out my garage yesterday afternoon and gave up after half an hour. My wife and I took the kid to the pool. When I started sweating in the water, I knew it was time to go back inside.

So, I did what any reasonable guy does in such a such a situation. I went to a bar. Then a poker game. By 10pm, despite being in a room with central air conditioning and two fans, I was sweating like my friend T does on an 80 degree day. I left before I'd planned to and came home. Once in bed, I continued to sweat in my 72-degree house. Something was so obviously wrong with my body, I decided to not go outside today.

Guess who's back?--It's about time I say.

What? WHAT?--Well, let's see here...I've been wanting to take a particular trip for the past three years, but wasn't able to do it. Now when I really don't have the mental fortitude or time to do it, I've been asked to go on this ten day jaunt. Well, that was fast. Back you your regularly scheduled program. I'll be maintaining the schedule I'd intended for the next couple months.

That news alone has turned this massage into a beat down.

I'm just going to sit here and not go outside.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Getting off the bottle

I'm not sure exactly how it happened. One day, the tap in the kitchen was working just fine. The next, there was a case of bottled water in my garage. It was like some marketing genius sneaked into our house before we got the Middle Finger to the Bad Guys alarm system and whispered into our ears, "You really should be drinking water out of bottles."

Actually, I know exactly how it happened. One day I didn't stop our dog from drinking out of my Shakespeare's cup and the next day the dog thought she could drink out of any glass she wanted. The next day, my wife was buying bottled water by the case.

"Scoop eats her own feces," was the wife's argument and it was one I couldn't readily debate. Frankly, debating makes me tired. I'd rather have sex.

So began to slow parade of Aquafina, Dasani, and Fruit2O marketing wizardry from the local Publix to my garage to my fridge. The kitchen tap was relegated to soaking pots and pans and filling up the flower watering can.

Over time I began to notice bottles of water around the house. They would be 3/4 consumed and serving little to no purpose. Our recycle bin--already full of my Diet Coke and beer cans--was no overflowing with clear plastic bottles. One day I noticed my wife grabbing the nearly empty bottles and using the backwash to water her flowers. That just about did it for me.

I started drinking from the tap again.

And why not? I live in a pristine area of the country where water flows down out of the Blue Ridge Mountains and into local lakes and reservoirs, most of which are clean enough to bathe a newborn baby. The water, if I may say so my damned self, tastes fantastic and in most cases as good or better than any bottled water. You've actually seen my water. Remember the movie Deliverance? That's my water. Once we got rid of the anal-raping rednecks, there wasn't much to worry about.

There are other places that aren't as lucky. Warrensburg, Missouri likely has the worst water I ever tasted. Las Vegas ain't much better. Still, a cheap charcoal filter on the tap in those places will make the water halfway decent, just like it will anywhere else.

I didn't say much to my wife about her bottle water fetish. I didn't have to listen to her scream at the dog and there were fewer spills at the hands of the Toddler Monster in the house. What's more, my parents had become bottled water drinkers and far be it for me to deny them water when they came to the house.

Before I go on, let me make one thing clear. I love Mama Earth, but I'm not an environmentalist turned Global Warming freak turned Eco-Terrorist. I don't litter, I recycle whatever I can, and I don't go outside and spray aerosol in the air every morning. Still, I'm far from preachy about it. After all, I drive an SUV, my wife drives an SUV, and my kid wore disposable diapers for the first two and half years of his life. To get all high and mighty about the environment would be a little two-faced. What's more, we are grand wasters of this precious natural resource. During the summer months, our vanity takes over and we water our lawn three or four nights a week. You know, keeping up with the Joneses and all.

Damn, this stuff is wet!

Still, within a couple of weeks, I saw two different reports that moved me to act. First, I saw a report about the amount of oil used to transport the bottled water from Fiji and other locales. That same report went on to talk about the amount of landfill space taken up by the plastic bottles that most people were throwing in the trash. The second report was not necessarily news to me, but it drove home the message. See, Aquafina and Dasani...well, they are tap water, people. You're drinking tap water. Out of a $2 bottle.

So, finally, a few days ago, I geared myself up for the fight with the wife. I put on my athletic cup, grabbed L'il Otis' bike helmet and a large stick from the back yard. I stood in front of her and said, "We have to stop buying bottled water."

I braced myself for the gutshot--an area I'd forgotten to protect. My eyes firmly closed, I waited for just two seconds before it came.

"Okay," she said. It wasn't a resigned "Okay." It was like, "You want me breathe? Okay."

Well, that was easy.

As it turned out, my wife wasn't as much of a fetishist as I thought. She didn't really give a damn about her bottled water. She was buying it out of convenience and, likely, some subliminally inculcated marketing magic.

And so that is how the Otis Clan gave up bottled water. The wife is now drinking out of a cup with a lid the dog can't open and I'm still on the Shake's cup. We will get no medals from Al Gore. We will not wake up to lower gas prices in the morning. We will simply save $20 or so a week and reserve our bottled water drinking for the times we go places that don't have a ready and clean tap.

As long as the dog doesn't start taking a dump in the kitchen sink, I think we're going to survive.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Where's the beef?

A quickie...

The wife and I have been thinking about cutting certain things out of our lives. The first was bottled water. The second more ambitious project was the elimination of fast food. The latest trip to the grocery store resulted in the usual case of water staying on the shelf. It did not stop the bag of Wendy's coming home for lunch, though.

And so, the boy is too caught up in being the comedian at the kitchen table to eat his burger and I'm getting frustrated.

"I'm just eating the bread," he said.

"I need you to eat the burger, too. You know," I said. "Back when I was younger, there was an old lady on TV who screamed WHERE'S THE BEEF? in Wendy's commercials"

The kid thought this was exceptionally funny and laughed in the right places. I thought he got the joke.

"Hamburger isn't beef, Daddy!"

While he might have had a point about the Wendy's burger, I felt like I should set him straight, just in case he ever ended up inside a real burger joint.

"Hamburger is beef, D. And beef comes from cows."

The kid laughed like I'd just ripped my nose off.

"Beef doesn't come from cows, Daddy. Milk comes from cows!"

"Well, so does beef, buddy."

The kid just said, "Noooooo..."

"Alright then," I said. "Where do hamburgers come from?"

Now L'il Otis got serious and looked at me like I was about to turn three instead of him.

"From the kitchen where they cook them, Daddy."

The kid makes a lot of sense sometimes.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Road People

I woke up Saturday morning in Portsmouth, Ohio at 8am. It's a depressing little town that sits in its own shadow. Once a thriving steel town, it now seems to exist on little but welfare and disability money. That might be overstating things a bit, but I don't think I'm far off. The houses there are all--or, I should say were all--beautiful. The architecture is fantastic and in my downtown area, the houses would start at half a million bucks. In Portsmouth, the houses are homes for broken people with broken bank accounts. No home I saw in the city proper look like it had been painted since I was born.

At night, the city is actually somewhat beautiful. The summer sky paints purple the train trestles and old brick buildings. The peeling paint and worn human faces all sit in the dark. The hills that surround the city loom overhead and it's worth a picture or two.

I didn't take any because I left my camera at home. I had a surprise work project pop up and my head was stuck with the idea that I would be working a 13-hour day on Sunday. So, after my wife's family reunion in the 100 degree heat, and a trip to the fire station so my wife's uncle could show L'il Otis the trucks, we got back on the road and traveled the eight hours home. Then the kid puked up two helpings of green beans, two ears of corn, and some BBQ ribs. In the car. Fifteen minutes from home.

By the time the kid was cleaned up and put in bed, it was nearly time to go to work. Before I finally fell asleep, I had been awake for around 39 hours. The only time I had ever been awake longer was during an ill-advised 40-something hour run in Las Vegas in December 2004.

So, when my wife shook me awake an hour and half later, I wanted to die. Not just go back to sleep. I wanted to die. The home alarm system apparently works, because--for reasons that I still haven't figured out--the back door came open. I stalked around the house wishing I'd bought that gun a few years back. No intruder appeared and I eventually went back to sleep.

And now, it's back to the grind. I probably have half a dozen things to write about, but I time is limited at the moment. Just wanted to drop in and make sure everyone knew I was still alive. Also, if you have the time, please send good thoughts out to my buddy Uncle Ted's dad. He's in a big surgery today and could use some good luck.

Finally, a couple of pictures. The first is of the boy at the small town firehouse this weekend (primarily because my wife is on a blogging break that I'm working to end). The second is blind to my buddy G-Rob and Ashley Judd.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

World through a windshield

On a roadie with the fam and posting from the road. In fact, we're crossing the TN/KY state line this very moment.

I check in for only two reasons. First, please note the Twitter feed on the left. I can't promise to be interesting, but I can promise some semblance of blogging. Oh, and while you're at it, I've added a Buzznet feed at the bottom-left, because the idea of insta-publishing makes me feel all bloggy.

Second, we recently stopped in a place called Jellico, TN. Its most endearing quality was its name, which means I don't have to write eight paragraphs about whoever thought it was worth the time to scrape "FUK DRYERS" into the hand dryer in the BP bathroom.

Oh yeah, anyone need a blogger/writer/poker guy to mow their lawn or dog sit?


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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license