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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Suburban Landscapes

I'm a fescue man, matured from youth as a fescue boy, a time where I spent summer nights with my bare feet buried in dewy three-inch blades of it. During July days, I'd pick dandelion blossoms from the fescue carpet on Yulan Drive. At night, when the Dukes of Hazzard was coming on, I'd run in with pieces of grass stuck to my feet, the product of youthful carelessness and my mom's afternoon mowing. My parents' grass had roots in the southwest Missouri soil and they somehow wormed their way into how I look at suburban landscapes.

Where I come from, fescue was the thing. If anyone mentioned Bermuda, we thought shorts before grass. It wasn't until I ventured out from the city limit neighborhood that I started discovering that there was a world outside fescue. If it wasn't a shock, it was at least a real kick in the seat of the shorts.

Bermuda. Who would've thought there was a grass that greened only a few months out of the year, barely grew above its roots, and looked like it had always been freshly mowed? It was like a homeowner's dream. Instead of mowing once a week, it seemed Bermuda owners lived a life that began and ended on the 18th green.

I bought my house in 2000, and, no surprise, its lawn was fescue. It was comfortable, if almost impossible to maintain. Once the contract was signed, weeds raised their flags and bare spots spread like red clay oil slicks. The grass was its own thing, and I couldn't control it on my own.

It was then that I looked across the street and saw the neighbor with the Bermuda grass. He was a closet wife beater and wore a walkman and headphones when he trimmed his grass. He sang out loud and off key. For the summer months, when my grass was either sand-brown or uneven with weeds, the neighbor's yard looked like it was maintained by the greenskeepers from Augusta National. I couldn't decide if I pitied him more for how bad he sang or how little effort he really had to put into his lawn.

I developed a theory over time about Bermuda grass owners. I watched them as they tended to their lawns. They did it far more often than necessary, some even clipping small pieces of it with house scissors. They were the people who needed their lives to look perfect on the outside and needed to be seen tending to the perfection. I considered my lawn, misshapen and brown, a proud admission of my relaxed life outlook. And if anyone asked why I didn't have the perfect lawn, I had the perfect excuse: Hey, what can I do? Forget it, Jake. It's fescue.

That's when the Corner Bastard came in and turned my life upside down.

Corner Bastard lives up the street and around the corner of my little cookie cutter neighborhood. He drives perfect little cars, has perfect little bushes, and has a lawn of green fescue that not only is the pride of the neighborhood, but has managed to emasculate me in such a way that I can barely drive by without reminding my wife that I was "man enough to give her a baby, so stop looking at the damned grass like you want to have sex on it."

Corner Bastard blew my Bermuda theory right out of the Caribbean. Never in history has a lawn of fescue been so well maintained, perfectly groomed, and artfully crafted. It's as if God himself came down with a golden John Deere and rode around for seven days and nights.

It didn't matter when I drove by or what the weather was like. The lawn was perfect. I eventually lost my mind. In early 2006, I was on a quest to become an evil-doer and this guy entered into my plan. At the time, when I was feeling a little more rage, I called him PC. You can read about that time in Becoming An Evil-Doer Step 2.

In short, I had long believed I could leave a relaxed life of disorder because that's just the was fescue was. Corner Bastard proved me wrong.

Tonight after dinner, the wife chose a walk over a trip for ice cream. We four, a husband, wife, child, and dog headed up to the park. Along the way we were forced to walk by the house on the corner. I heard my wife before I saw it.

"Woah," she said.

I looked at Corner Bastard's grass. It was long and uneven.

"He must be dead," I said out loud, not bothering to conceal my hope.

We walked on, not saying anything more. I started playing out scenarios in which the guy had become an alcoholic, porn-addict, foot fetishist who got caught doing body shots off his nanny's feet. You can't very well mow the lawn when you're in rehab.

It was a perfect night. The near-waning gibbous moon was still waiting to come over the horizon. The local Hispanic population was playing soccer. My kid was pretending he was a super hero. I was the perfect father and breathing with the breeze.

After a stroll around the walking path, we wandered into the little playground to let the kid climb for a while. I was hidden under a cap and behind sunglasses, so my wife couldn't see my eyes turn to slits.

"We may have to leave," I said.


I nodded across the mulch.

"Oh," she said, and nodded.

There he stood with a soccer ball in his hand and chatting with another fit, well-groomed neighbor. Me? My hat was frayed, my shirt was wrinkled, and I hadn't shaved in almost two weeks. He? He was the picture of the perfect damned father. Like J.C. Penney catalog perfect. Why was his grass long? Because he was taking time out of his life to be a better father. Suddenly, I hated myself for hiring a lawn service this year.

A gangly kid walked in our direction. There was little doubt he was the guy's son. My boy ran up to him.

"Hi! What's you name?" L'il Otis asked. The kid answered.

"I'm Mr. Incredible," my boy said in response and assumed a super hero pose.

The kid didn't know what to say. He stared for a second and then ran away.

"Looks like he has his dad's social skills," my wife mused.

I'm not sure what it was, but I felt better. I hated the guy less and liked myself more. He didn't have to be an adulterer with a drinking problem and I didn't have to have a green thumb. In our heart of hearts, we were both fescue men.

I do not feel any other kinship with this guy. I still think he spends too much time on his lawn, but, I'm done hating him and hating myself for it. He has his own problems, like teaching his son not to run away from potential friendship.

I have a lawn service, a wife who still goes to bed with me, and a super hero for a kid.

I am a fescue man.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quote of the Week (circa 1943)

This week finds me too overwhelmed with make-money work to do the not-make-so-much-money work here. I'm working some odd hours and find myself up late most nights watching whatever I can find on TV. I'm actually planning a post on this subject, but I couldn't let my favorite scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" go by. To understand it properly and in context, you should see the movie. Regardless, I find it to be both funny and poignant.

Charlie: What's the matter with you two? Do you always have to talk about killing people?

Joe: We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me, and I'm talking about killing him.

Emma: It's your father's way of relaxing.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

On being Devon Epps' mom

The last time Amanda Smith had a birthday party, it was an affair celebrated with three close close friends and a trash can full of booze and fruit. The girls all dressed up, posed for pictures, and acted like silly young women as they drank their "PJ" and celebrated the anniversary of their births. The summer of 2006 was on the wane and, if the pre-party pictures were any indication, life was pretty good.

At the time, as Smith celebrated her 26th birthday, no one said anything about the pictures or said anything about how the lifestyle might have affected her child. Many of us can look back on our lives at that age and recall similar times. In a neighborhood of glass houses, the first order of landscaping is cleaning up the stones. The more forgiving among us believe, as long as Smith provided for her child, she could not be blamed her for the occasional indiscretion.

Even today, one of Smith's close friends (name withheld on request) doesn't see Smith's occasional partying as any indication that Smith was a bad parent. "We had parties on occasion and she drank occasionally on the weekends," the friend told me, "but never in Devon's presence. By no means would I label her as an alcoholic or a drunk."

When a fire nearly killed Epps in May, those friends stood by Smith's side. Her MySpace page was packed with messages of sympathy. Friends from all over offered anything Smith needed to cope with the near-tragedy.

Today, it couldn't be more different.

This week, Amanda Smith celebrated her 27th birthday and the circumstances of the day couldn't be more different. Today, every detail of Smith's life is under scrutiny. Friday night, prosecutor-turned-television-vigilante Nancy Grace piggybacked on the release of an Associated Press article on Epps and dedicated half her show to the death of the seven-year-old boy. Lines like "This story stinks worse than 10-day-old flounder, OK? There's a million things wrong with it" were peppered throughout the half hour.

What was once the subject of local news, crime forums, and this blog had just turned into a national story. If Smith had developed any comfort in the level of coverage, it had to change Thursday night when the AP article hit the wire and Friday night when Grace brought in crime pundits from around the country to ruminate on the story. Smith, now a fresh 27 years old--guilty or innocent--was quickly becoming a national pariah, compared to the infamous Susan Smith.

In this environment, a lot of people would fall back on old friends. Instead, Smith has fallen off just about every familiar radar screen. The last time she surfaced publicly, she was sandwiched into the back of a truck in nearby Spartanburg County. The wreck was cause for even more questions about where Smith had been that night, not to mention what she was supposed to be doing the next day. Not injured badly enough to require hospitalization, Smith faded back into the shadows.

Even a one-time close friend who praised Smith's parenting skills has not shared a phone call with Epps' mother.

"Honestly, I haven't talked to her since she had her wreck, which has been a couple of weeks now," the friend said. "She hasn't contacted me and I haven't contacted her. It's been really hard on [her friends] because of everything that's being said."

Smith's disappearance from her friends' lives (and rumors about what she is doing now) are a strain on many people who know her. The only comments those people can summon with any ease involve Devon Epps himself. Said one friend, "He was the most outgoing, Southern-accented little boy I had ever met. He was kind of mean, but what seven-year-old isn't? He loved sports. He loved his Clemson Tigers. He also loved motorcycles."

But, on the subject of Smith's story--the one that tells of a knife-wielding carjacker in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of motives--even the people to whom the young woman was once the closest can't bring themselves to sign off on it.

When I asked a Smith friend about whether Smith's story was believable, the friend simply responded, "In ways yes. In ways no."

That is as close as Smith's old friends are getting to making a public statement in defense of the now 27-year-old woman.

We have no way of knowing what Smith is doing tonight or if she has a friend by her side. There is no way of knowing whether the mother sat down in front of the TV and cried as she was nationally trashed on Nancy Grace. Until this week, the media had been relatively kind to Amanda Smith. Now, the AP is making connections to Susan Smith and Nancy Grace is on the warpath.

In the face of near-accusations that she killed her son, Amanda Smith is silent.

Tonight, I find myself wanting to tell Smith's story, wanting to know how she's spent the past five weeks, and wanting to know how many friends she has left. No matter how many news stories run and how many pundits talk, Smith's story is the only one that matters tonight.

If only she would tell it.

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?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

Devon Epps: Waiting

Devon Epps: Pictures

The Missing Memorial Page

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Friday, September 21, 2007


No writing today. No stories. Just an appeal for good thoughts.

Two of my dearest friends are taking their baby boy into heart surgery in just a few hours.

Today is dedicated to Jack, his heart, his parents' spirit, and a doctor's steady hand.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Devon Epps: The Missing Memorial Page

I've been out of town for a week. Upon my arrival back in Greenville, I discovered that I haven't missed much in the on-going investigation into the death of Devon Epps. The Greenville News has run a couple of stories, but they're basically saying what we already know.

I've been getting a lot of e-mails from readers regarding this case. Thanks for continuing to check in. One reader sent me something I've been trying to find for the past several weeks.

In the hours after Epps' death, his mother's MySpace page switched from a rundown of the kind of drinks Amanda Smith liked to enjoy to a memorial site for her son. A few days later, the entire site was taken down. Some industrious cyber sleuth was able to track down a cache of the page. A reader e-mailed it to me this evening.

**Cached version of Devon Epps Memorial Page**

It begins (note: any spelling and grammar mistakes were not corrected):

Dedicated to DEVON CHAD EPPS... July 12, 2000 to August 13, 2007. You will never be forgotten Son. You left me here alone... but soon I'll with you. Save me a spot! Rest in eternal peace baby boy and look down on us everyday. Keep us safe in this cold, dark world and give us strength on every pathway. Send us angels when we need them most, And be our light from coast to coast.

It continues:

To My Angel: August 14, 2007 My precious baby boy, we mourn you today. We sit here devastated, no words to say. Such an unthinkable act happened to you. So many unanswered questions are still ringing through. With shattered hearts and broken spirits, we try to maintain. Grieving you so deeply, no words to express this crushing pain. We ask God “why?” and “what is you master plan?” He whispers to us “I have you in the palm of my hand”. And so, we try to make it through another day without you. Waiting to see your sweet face again in heaven beyond the blue. You were our love, our life, our very heart that beat. Your smile was so beautiful, you brought joy to everyone you would meet. Your eyes were the window to the pure excitement you were thinking. Your endless energy fueled your spirit, your heavenly little being. Please watch over us in this day to day life we are left to live. Be by our side and in our heart, and strength we pray you give. We know you are waiting to welcome us to the other side, We long for the day we hold you again, and in your presence always abide. Devon, you are my angel. I love you so much and my world is empty without you. You were the driving force in my life and I can’t imagine going on with my life without you in it. The memories you have left me with are so dear to me and I will cherish everyone. I can’t wait to hold you again. I love you my only son and I miss you so very much.

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?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

Devon Epps: Waiting

Devon Epps: Pictures

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

An open letter to my shadow

Dear Federales,

I can only guess you didn't care if I noticed. I mean, it was 6am in my little suburban neighborhood. Nobody, not even the old lady who stays up late smoking and drinking sherry, was awake. I was the only car pulling out of the cul-de-sac at 6:13am. So, your man in the black Crown Vic didn't go unnoticed. His black sunglasses in the middle of the night did the rest to give him away. Federales, thinking they gotta look all federal.

So, follow me if you like. We're going to be among just a few cars on state 25 north through the Blue Ridge foothills. If you're confused about my almost immediate stop in Traveler's Rest, it's because none of us have eaten in 13 hours. Sure, we maintain a lot of disdain for McDonald's, but that's not going to stop us from getting a couple Egg McMuffins to fuel us through the mountain drive. Sure, you hang back. I'll pretend I don't notice you. It's too peaceful to care anyway. The sun isn't going to come up for an hour or so, the kid is watching his DVD player, the dog is sedated, and the wife is knocked out on some sort of therapeutic pillow. Me, I'm listening to XM-12 X-Country. I'm not unconvinced that this alone isn't the reason you're following me in the first place.

You, like me, are probably happy we left so early in the morning. It means we're going to miss rush hour in Asheville. Sure, it doesn't seem like it would be a big deal, but the drive on I-26 into the Southeast's coolest city can be a real bear in the mornings. Zipping through there at 7am means we're going to be outside of Knoxville by 8:30. It also means we're going to watch the sunrise in our rearview mirrors. If you struggle with believing in a higher power, as most people do, your first stop should be a sunrise in Appalachia. It's not going to make you believe in God, but it's going to make you wish you did. Oh, yeah. The God issue. That might be the reason you're following me.

I feel fairly confident in my driving as I cross the Tennessee line, but less so after I absolutely demolish a fearless squirrel. Sure, it was just a hapless rodent, but seeing it flatten and spin as it went from the front of my car to the back was a little odd. Being forced to look back, though, I noticed your Crown Vic was gone. A black SUV fell in behind me. Black SUV? Are you kidding me? Are you just trying to be cliche? Should I be looking up for the black helicopters, too? Listen, I'm driving a lot more today. Wouldn't it be easier just to track my cell phone and then fly to meet me? It's not like I'm going to do anything that could threaten democracy, the church, or Haliburton in the next 600 miles. This whole, "Make me feel like Henry Hill with the gravy on the stove and a noseful of blow" bit may be fun for you, but it's a little much for me.

I need gas. And a soda. Halfway between Knoxville and Music City, I pull the family mover into a place call the Bean Pot. At the counter, the lady tells me to have a "super Thursday and a great winter day." I had barely noticed that summer had somehow turned to fall in the last 24 hours. Back on the road, I think I've figured out the federale tail. There are four laptops in this vehicle and explaining all of them to the authorities might be difficult. I remember when the polygamist guru from Salt Lake finally got nabbed, the federales made a big deal out of the fact he had way too many laptops with him. Well, so do I. And that's probably why you're following me. Does it worry you that I've now moved to the passenger seat and have achieved Internet access and have a power source juicing this machine? Yeah, it probably does.

Behind a cattle truck, the wife expresses a little concern for the cows.

"I hope they shoot them up before the put them in there. It's gotta be a little disconcerting," she says.

"I'm sure they get used to it," I say.

"Well, I doubt they ride the trailer more than once," the wife says ominously.

And with that, we're in Music City.

(10:43am CT) -- I am opposed to parkways, loops, bypasses, and the like. However, in the interest of saving time on what is already going to be a long drive, I have chosen to follow a piece of my dad's advice and hopped on Briley Parkway. It looks brand new and, at least in the first couple of miles, is making Nashville look like every other city I've seen.

"Hey, look," my wife says with no small amount of bemusement, "Bass Pro."

Back when I was a kid in Skokie, Illinois Springfield, Missouri, Bass Pro was just a local place with taxidermied bears and a big fish tank (not to mention a lot of effin' boats). Now, you can't go to a major Southern city without seeing a Bass Pro outlet.

This is why I'm opposed to parkways. I just missed seeing Nashville in favor of saving some time. In the long run, I'm sure I'll have the chance again (like, five days from now), but it's this kind of progress that makes America boring. The fact that I'm writing this from said Parkway is probably the reason I can't see you following me anymore. Federale rules, I suspect, mandate covert tailing when dealing with a guy who bad mouths capital P Progress.

To offset the potential Gitmo offense, I make a Monkees joke as we take the exit for Clarksville.

11:19am CT--Now in the Middle of Nowhere, TN, you might think I'd be happy, what with my Luddite tendencies and general disdain for suburban sprawl. However, it's a bit boring. The lack of anything to look at (including your agents--where are They?) have left me to write and send a report for work, send some money I owe someone, and check up on the news. I'm doing all of this from a laptop at 75mph on I-24. While the kid watches "Cars" on the built-in DVD screen. While the wife listens to her iPod on a FM modulating device (Charlie Robison' "Barlight") and the dog sleeps in the backseat.

See, it's not progress that bothers me, Mr. Man. It's your means to this end. Yes, I want economic success. Yes, I want rapidly-advancing technology. Is the current state of America what I have to pay for my little toys and convenience? If so, I'll give it back. Pull me over right now, confiscate my four laptops, my Blackberry, and all of our Pixar DVDs. Leave me with the acoustic guitar in the back and enough gas to get home and we'll be fine.

This technology isn't perfect. Mapquest.com did its best to send me 70 miles out of my way in an effort to keep me off a country road for 20 minutes. Even good progress ain't perfect. Now, when I'm doing the Pee-Pee Dance, I'd kill for...well, I guess since we're doing this little "You follow me and I pretend it doesn't bother me" thing, I shouldn't be talking about what I'd kill for.

12:02pm CT--Very clever, Mr. Federale. Old ladies? I never would've guessed you'd employ some post-retirement chicas to keep tabs on me. Fast food and bathroom stop and I'm barely out of my car when an old lady pops from her vehicle and says, "Do you know how to work this?" I think she called it a grommet. Either I mis-heard her or she mispronounced the name of her GPS navigation device.

"I'm sorry, ma'am" I said, giving her the "I know you're a G-Lady" look. "Our car doesn't have one of those."

The lady looked at my laptop and the obviously working Internet service.

"Okay, then," she said. I get the sense that she has slipped a bug in my car and I vow not to say much until I can sweep it at our next stop.

It makes me feel no better when my wife suggests a few miles down the road that we pull off at Ft. Campbell to protest the war.

"Probably not a good idea," I said, checking in the rearview for the ladies

"Peaceful protest," she said. "Throw some limp french fries at the gate?"

I didn't answer. The wife belched loudly, and then said to herself, "That was hot."

As if to answer her, two helicopters appeared on the horizon, obviously from Ft. Campbell. They're desert camouflaged and have double rotors As I struggled to remember the name of helicopters with double rotors, the dog barked. It was the first angry noise she'd made since we left G-Vegas.

"Helicopters are probably wigging her out," the wife said.

"I can't hear them," I said, thinking and I'm obviously a little sensitive today.

"Yeah, but you don't have dog ears," the wife said. Again, it was logic with which I couldn't argue.

I tried to wrench my son's attention from Toy Story 2. My sudden screams of, "D! Helicopters! Helicopters! Helicopters!" probably sounded worse to the surveillance team than the war protest, limp french fries or not.

12:46pm CT--"I will not be picking up anyone along this stretch of road," the wife said out of nowhere.

We had just passed the Lake Barkley Classic Car Museum aong I-24. It was the first structure I'd seen in miles that hadn't been a rusted or rotten barn. A sign promised Elizabethtown in two miles. As I wondered if the town had anything to do with the movie I didn't see (really, it can't be...who would make a movie about Western, Kentucky?), I wondered why the wife was spontaneously refusing to pick up hitchhikers.

"Prison nearby?" I asked.

"Yep," she said.

By now, we've just about finished our time in Kentucky. As we cross into Marshall County over the Tennessee River, the wife's iPod plays "Livin' on a Prayer" (not my fault--driver gets to pick the music) and the wife mumbles, "I hope this isn't among the 70% of sub-standard bridges in America."

I'm neither killed by the bridge or Bon Jovi. When the wife utters out of nowhere, "My ass is starting to hurt. I have restless leg syndrome!" I know it's about time for me to take over the wheel again. I've lost sight of the federales, if they were ever there at all. I feel better about the idea of driving. Plus, we'll be back to X-Country on XM radio. That's worth it right there. Here in a bit, we're going to cross into southern Missouri. Provided that part of the world has cell towers, I'm going to turn this over to the wife. She or may not begin it with the line she just mutterered too me while pointing at a 4x4 truck driver.

Check in over here in an hour or so.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wednesday Mental Massage?

I know, I know. The Mental Massage is supposed to happen on Fridays. I mean, who goes for a mental rubdown on Wednesday? Well, as I mentioned before, this week and the next few are going to be a little odd and more than a little busy for me. At the time I should be mentally massaging on Friday, I'm likely going to be somewhere on I-44. So, just in case I can't make it back to the blogging machine, here's a quickie.

Devon Epps--I really expected to wake up this morning and see a lengthy piece in the Greenville News about Devon Epps. Today marks the one-month mark since the seven-year-old Greenville County boy was asphyxiated. While his mother, Amanda Smith, maintains a knife-wielding maniac sprang from the shadows, forced her from her car, and smothered her son with a pillow, there have been no arrests and no suspects publicly identified. Of course, the one-month mark is rather arbitrary, and in the investigative process means absolutely nothing. However, I think it does serve as a reminder to everybody that this case is still open.

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?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

Devon Epps: Waiting

Devon Epps: Pictures

September 11th--Also missing, I felt, from this week's news at large was much news coverage of the sixth anniversary. Again, anniversaries are little more than a date. However, every time the date 9/11 comes up, I can't help but think that September 11th should receive some sort of recognition. There is no date in my life that holds greater significance and I think that's even more true for many, many more people. Am I wrong to think there should be some nationally recognized day on 9/11? I hesitate to call it a holiday, because it is not a day of celebration. However, if we're going to take a day off to recognize our Presidents, Columbus, and the day or day declared its independence, we might consider federally marking the day the America changed forever.

Truckin'--I simply don't promote my buddy Pauly's literary 'zine here enough. He's been running this thing for what seems like forever and has been kind enough to ask me to write for him. I should be promoting it every month, and not just the months he publishes something I wrote. But, since he published something I wrote...well, here's this month's Truckin' (my piece is a typo-ridden and comma-splicey rumination on why airports sell condoms in their bathrooms).

1. Monk's Siberian Dream by Paul McGuire
Brain dead. Deep into the sixth day of a foggy bender, I had forgotten the day of the week. Frisatursunday? I’d successfully lost time. The demoralizing result was that my conversational skills had dwindled down to a few muttering sentences... More

2. The Rubber-less Traveler by Brad "Otis" Willis
Breathless, confused, and sick to my stomach, I arrived at the British Airways gate and looked at the departure board. The flight was delayed for an hour. This is how I travel. I run to nowhere to fly to somewhere where I see little, do much, and find myself asking questions like, "Why do they sell condoms in airport bathrooms?" ... More

3. It's Not Like I'm Dishonest; Honest by May B. Yesno
I'm a private investigator. A damn good private investigator. I have a wife, a very expensive wife. She likes the good things in life. We're matched. I like good things too... More

4. Coming Home by B Kemp
Some of my former friends think that she is using me for my money. It doesn't seem right to them that a man my age would "throw it all away," leaving my career for a life of unpredictability and adventure. My old friends are naturally suspicious of younger women wanting to spend their money, rightfully so I suppose... More

5. The Confetti of Life by Sean A. Donahue
I read the love letters that my grandfather sent to his wife. I could see the tears in my grandmother's eyes as she read them, touched them for one last link to him. I shed many a tear today, ones that no one saw, because I left the room before they fell... More

Roadie--Not sure what, if any, excitement the pending road trip will offer. Anything of note, interesting or not, will appear in the Twitter and Buzznet feeds. Oh, and because I've turned into a guy who has to be connected 95% of the time, I have outfitted the gas guzzling family mover into a mobile office. I could conceivably travel 100% of the time and never be away from work.

Now, there, friends, is an idea.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Once a year and all the time

It's a picture I've looked at once every year for the past five years. It means something different every year.

It still means the same thing as the first time I saw it, too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Last Sleep

The New York Giants looked like they might be happier playing beer pong. The wife was out cold. The dog was out cold. With 1:57 left in the Sunday night game, I turned off the TV and fell immediately asleep. I had a dream that the editor of PokerNews had turned me into a sort of money mule and was giving me 5% of the cash I carried. I stuffed $200,000 in my shirt where my muscles should be and then woke up wondering why I bothered. I slept for nine hours and woke up feeling about as tired as I was the night before.

That, I think, was my last real chance to sleep between now and, eh, October. In the next few weeks, I will travel on a hella road trip with the entire family (including the dog), visit my parents, play guitar in a friend's wedding, and then stay up basically all night for 16 days straight. Sleep will likely come between 6am and noon every day. It's a stupid time of year and--with the exception of seeing all my friends at the wedding--I'm not looking forward to much of anything in the next three weeks.

That, I hope, will serve as some explanation for anything odd that may show up here in that time. I don't have anything odd planned, but based on the level of stress and fatigue I expect to experience, you never know what will happen.

Be warned.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Devon Epps: Picture the face behind the name

While I've never put this little corner of the Internet out as a crime blog, news source, or vigilante-inspiring screed, I do have a background in comprehensiveness...sometimes to a fault.

It occurred to me, though, that one thing has been missing in my ruminations (some would say unhealthy interest) on the death of Devon Epps. While I've gone to great lengths to describe just about anything I know about the case, for whatever reason, I've left out the most important thing.

Most of you don't know what Devon Epps looks like.

I don't think it was a conscious decision at the time, so much as it didn't feel right. Now, it does. So, I spent a little time delving into the recesses of social networking sites and scraped a few pictures of Devon Epps off a MySpace memorial slide show. Despite being messed up by a truly horrible Flash program, the photos give you an idea of what the little boy looked like.

Next week will mark the one-month mark since Devon Epps died. The incoming information has slowed down a bit. The only thing of real importance I've heard in the past week involves the time immediately before and what was supposed to happen the day of Amanda Smith's car wreck. However, as that information comes third hand, it's best I don't start posting rumors.

Here's to a peaceful weekend for those who deserve it.

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?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

Devon Epps: Waiting

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Friday Mental Massage: From Fossett to Fiddy

Some Fridays are a deep-tissue, slow massage that leaves you feeling relaxed. Today's is one of those choppy-choppy make-you-sound-like-a-outboard-motor massages. So, hold on and get ready to get beat up.

Find Fossett--It will not be a great tragedy of searchers don't find adventurer Steve Fossett, because he is a man who has set himself on a course that will eventually end in some sort of rather spectacular demise. If it wasn't going to be his balloon crashing into the Taj Mahal, it was going to be something similar to what we're seeing right now. Still, I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time hoping Fossett is found sunburned and dehydrated, but alive and well. Far too few people (me included) spend their time and money pushing the envelope. Hell, too few people even lick the envelope anymore. Find Fossett and find him alive.

Fiddy's Fibbing--Psssst. This whole 50-Cent vs. Kanye West album sales battle? Yeah, it's a marketing gimmick. I don't advocate pirating music, but if you're going to steal anything, make it these guys' albums. If you can't see them sitting in a hot tub full of money together, drinking Cristal, and laughing at all of the people who believe they really hate each other, then you deserve to spend the money on both albums. There's a reason the word "frenemy" has made it into the marketing industry lexicon and these guys are posing for the dictionary picture that will accompany the definition. Oh, and if you need another reason to look askance at the companies behind the faux fight, check out the date of the release. Says BET executive VP Stephen Hill, "We're gonna have fun on Sept. 11..."

Fred--Happened to catch Fred Thompson's Presidential announcement on The Tonight Show a couple nights ago. Fred beats the "I'm not your normal politician" drum pretty well. It's a bit easier for an actor to do. It's also the only thing a Republican can do to distinguish himself from the pack right now. Oh, wait, Fred. There is one more thing you can do. You could actually agree we're tied up in a real horror show in Iraq and not toe the party line like you're trying to turn on a foot fetishist.

Football--Okay, this is our country, but you don't have to keep reminding me of it. I put up with John Mellencamp's song eight times per game for every game I watched last season. I know we're opening the season in his Mellencamp's home state this week. Let's give it a rest after last night, okay? Even if I have to listen to Stevie Ray's "Pride and Joy" driven into the ground by the advertising industry, at least I won't be hoping to die in a horrible crash on the Dixie Highway back home. I don't even dislike Mellencamp, but to quote The Bottle Rockets, "I'll puke if that jukebox plays John Cougar one more time."

Happy ending--As the week ends, I'm looking back at a week where I accomplished a lot and still have six days before I have to get back on the road. So, instead of doing nothing (which we pretty much did for the Labor Day holiday weekend), we're having some good friends over tomorrow night for some drinks, a friendly card game, and maybe a few rounds of Guitar Hero 2. My kid was good this week, the dog didn't die, and the wife has not suggested life insurance once (a sure sign she's not yet completed her plans to make sure I die an early but unsuspicious death...oh, and if I should die an early death, this is meant as a joke and should not cast suspicion on my wife...unless of course you find her with a bloody knife, a pack of Copags, and a Gin score sheet that shows me winning in five hands).


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Devon Epps: Waiting

"Taking a different way?" my wife asked as I slipped onto a different back road and drove through an old residential area.

We'd been out for ice cream. On the way home, I pulled over the railroad tracks and past an area where victim Francisco Velazquez had been found dead a few weeks before. It was walking distance from our house and a cut-through we used a couple of years ago. It's a product of the no-zoning South, where rough industrial areas rub up against family neighborhoods like a stranger on the subway. Maybe because I am more conscious of crime than I used to be, I recognize the dividing lines better than when I was a kid. Now, for better or worse, I know which intersection marks the point where the wife and kid should turn around and head back the other way on their a pied trips around the neighborhood.

Though Velazquez had been killed so close to my home, my diversion had nothing to do with his death. Earlier in the day, I'd been doing some routine background checks on Amanda Smith and realized that she, too, lived fairly close to me and within walking distance of a friend's house. This was a week ago and there was a sense among all the people following this case that the case was about to move...to do something--anything--to comfort the countless people who have become obsessed with Devon Epps' death.

Smith's residence (apparently on the same property as her grandparents', though I have no independent verification of that) sits on a cut-through street a few miles outside of town It's a road that barely exists and seems only to function as a place to have built a few houses in the past. As I idled down the road, I caught sight of the tell-tale dark blue car. The Greenville County Sheriff's Office cruiser sat parked in a ditch. No one sat inside it. It became pretty clear that Smith's neighbor was a cop, off-duty and not parked across the street from the Smith residence for any reason other than he lived there.

Up Smith's gravel driveway, a work crew wandered around the half-burned portion of one of the home's on the property, presumably the same portion that at one time house Devon Epps' bedroom--the same place he almost died last Spring during a fire of somewhat suspicious origin. There was no sign of Amanda Smith.

I learned later there was a good reason for Smith to not be there. She'd been in a wreck that morning, having slammed her grandparents' Kia into the back of a truck in a neighboring--but not close--county. She survived. The car didn't. She picked up a couple of traffic charges, was released from the hospital, and again faded back into relative obscurity.

My visit to her house last week coincided with the last public mention of the Devon Epps case in the news. Since then, the Greenville News has published one letter to the editor about the case and nothing else. The local crime beat reporters have been forced to move on to the other big cases of the past couple weeks, chiefly the officer-involved shooting of female ex-con Sabrina Parker.

While the traditional news outlets have moved on, the Internet as not. I started noticing a lot of referrals here from the local paper's discussion forum and discovered a ton of people who were participating in 100-page-long forum discussions about the case. Everybody from friends of the Epps family to amateur sleuths were debating the case and its merits. With no real news coming out, my e-mail box started filling up with questions from readers about the case. Just this morning I got an eight-point e-mail detailing some good questions about the case--all things that we might eventually learn when the investigation is complete. There are people Googling all over the country about this case, despite the fact that no national news outlet has bothered to touch it.

No one has asked for my opinion, but I figure I should make an admission. I figured we would've seen an arrest by now. The evidence, or lack thereof, however, seems to be dictating a more patient approach to the case. As has been stated before, there is only one known witness to Epps' death. At this point, Amanda Smith is the only one who can offer information about what happened. Beyond what she says, investigators must rely on the evidence. There are only a couple of kinds of available evidence that will make this case cut-and-dry and I would assume those brands of evidence are unavailable. Hence, making an arrest in a case that will be largely built on circumstantial evidence is a lot more difficult. While I have no direct knowledge of what's happened up to this point, I would bet there have been more than a few discussions with people in Solicitor Bob Arial's office, if not Ariail himself. I've only once seen Ariail go to trial without the goods, and that case was the high-profile death of a Greenville County Deputy. Ariail doesn't talk much publicly, and when he does, it is for good reason. He's not a prosecutor that steps too far out on a limb without a big net of evidence below him. If the Epps case currently rests on no more than common sense and circumstantial evidence, Ariail almost certainly isn't ready to bite.

I hesitate to say it, but it almost feels like this is a case we might have to wait on for a while. There's a lot that the cops know that few other people do, and until the investigators have enough to convince Ariail they have a winnable case, we won't see an arrest. It's the frustrating thing about crime news. This is not CSI. This is not Law & Order. It could be many more weeks before anything else about this case is mentioned publicly. One thing I've found over the years, though, is that quiet can be a good thing. When the cops and prosecutors don't have to spend their time fording the P.R. river, they have time to get work done.

I hope that's what's happening now.

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?

Rapid Eye Reality coverage of Epps case makes it to print

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's Science

I think back to the first time I saw my wife. I had this sense that she was it. She was smart, driven, and creative. It only helped that she walked around in clothes that showed off her hip bones and occasionally wore silver necklaces that set off her cleavage in such a way that I spent about nine months trying to make my shower colder (hint: dry ice and a box fan). Eventually, she acquiesced and we became mates for life.

God bless, Science. For, if it had not been for those hip bones and well-accented chest-parts, I probably would've ended up with some By George's bimbo who couldn't diagram a sentence in five seconds. At least, that's what Science tells me.

I gotta hand it to a group of researchers, the Associated Press, and CNN. They have convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that men prefer hot women over chicks with hairy moles and a club foot. One of the hottest stories of the day on CNN is a rip-and-read from the AP which begins, "Science is confirming what most women know: When given the choice for a mate, men go for good looks."

I applaud the scientific effort. If we are to understand how far we have evolved from monkey-types who will hump a lemur if it winks at them right, we must understand what inside us drives us toward our future monkey-business mates. Sure, there are some people who would say that proof that we focus on good looks only goes to deny our consciousness and lumps us with the atavistic chronic masturbators. Thank goodness, Science is around.

I'll admit. I was curious. After all, if there is something in science that can explain to me why I like to look at hot women, I'd like to memorize it so I can recite it verbatim the next time my wife catches me lingering over the pages of Wicked Chops on a Friday night.

"Honey, pay no attention to Jessica Alba or how cold it must be in that room. It's Science. Just ask CNN."

So, verily, I clicked with all speed onto the headline "Men want hot women, study confirms" on CNN, expecting to find a well-documented, well-researched, irrefutable piece of scientific evidence to explain why I have my Netvibes Google Image Search permanently set to Scarlett Johansson. I was not disappointed. The second paragraph read:

Researchers led by Todd report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that their study found humans were similar to most other mammals, "following Darwin's principle of choosy females and competitive males, even if humans say something different."

I rose in a cheer to celebrate the Darwinian defense. Gotta love me some Darwin. Now, I said to myself, just show me the science!

I am no scientist. My education on the scientific method comes from a real bastard named Richard Summers ("Otis, you are a failure and won't achieve anything.") and a few tired teaching assistants at the University of Missouri. And, to be fair, I wasn't listening very hard. However, somewhere in my learning I recall something about control groups, data collection, and representative samples. Which is why, dear friends, I was a little put off by the data points for the assertion that men like hot women.

The study that has made it into a scientific journal, the Associated Press, and CNN consisted of the following: 26 men and 20 women.

In Munich.


Apparently, the white coats put a group of men and women ranging in age from the nubile 26-year-olds to the crotchety 40-year-olds into a room and watched them speed date for three to seven minutes at a time.

In Munich.


And thus was born the confirmation that men prefer hot women. Or, at least, that 26 men in one European country prefer hot women when they only get to talk to them for five minutes.

I conducted a couple of similar studies recently and found that men like to gamble (study based on survey taken from 30 men at underground card room), women prefer wine to beer (based on survey taken from two women at a recent BBQ), and all South Carolina women look good in bikinis (based on looking out my window at a neighbor doing yard work several years ago). Not content to focus my study on stateside phenomena, I also branched out to Monte Carlo (all people in Monte Carlo are arrogant) and Austria (all the water in Austria smells like rotten eggs). Under the scientific principles outlined by the above-mentioned researchers, it doesn't matter much that my study was based on four bartenders in Monte Carlo and one small river in Baden, Austria.

There is probably some staff writer at the Tonight Show currently sitting in his office and coming up with lines for Leno like "A study out of Germany confirms that men prefer good looking women. (Pregnant pause to allow audience to formulate their own feeble punchline) Well, duh! Kevin, were you part of this study?"

That's what this kind of news is all about. It's a way to keep junk scientists in good grant money, keep the news stations in fluffy kicker pieces, and keep the late night comedians flush with throwaway jokes to fill 20 seconds of a monologue. Beyond that, it's not going to help me explain to my wife why I don't take off my sunglasses when we go to the pool and why I almost rolled the family car over the other day when driving by Bob Jones University (you wanna talk about hot women...). No, my wife will say, "Twenty-six German men prefer hot women and this is how you expect me to accept the $600 pay-per-view bill?"

No, my wife is smarter that that. And that is why I think she's the hottest chick outside of Munich.

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