Monday, July 29, 2013

The Earth Is Their Ceiling

“It’s mostly bones we’re riding over, anyway.”

It’s 1876. Former Texas Ranger Augustus McRae rides alongside the bastard orphan under his watch, attempting to console him from the seemingly unstoppable wave of death and cruelty he’s witnessed on the open ranges of Texas. The best he can offer the teen is the haunting reminder that untold numbers of animals and humans have passed before them, that their path is and will always be littered with remains.

“My earth is somebody’s ceiling.”

It’s the summer of 2013. The pop chanteuse Sara Bareilles is whispering in my ear about her experience “in a cemetery in the center of Queens.” With the help of Jack Antonoff of fun., she has crafted a sublime and stirring celebration of our mortality. I stagger for breath every time she asks the question, “Can I capture in sound / the weight of the ground?”

"Chasing the Sun" is an ambitious number in an impressive overall effort, and hopefully she'll show Chattanooga a good time when she plays here in a few weeks.

“...wishing we could witness the dead rise up and drink in midnightlife...”

It’s March 1992. A simple and cliched college breakup in December has left me lost in an emotional wilderness, and even into March the experience haunts me, long after I should have recovered. One the eve of Easter, I stumble drunk into Old Chapel Hill Cemetery with the remnants of a six-pack and finish the cheap beer while pondering my own mortality. I sat in the gazebo in the middle of that place and prayed for ghosts to come snap me out of my foolishness, to frighten the life back into me.

Mere minutes after I read that passage from Lonesome Dove, Sara Bareilles’ song from The Blessed Unrest invited itself into my ears, and both opened a sort of portal back to that moment in the Old Chapel Hill Graveyard. The collision and connectedness of timelines is a spiritual experience. These are the moments when we are like birds or ants, when our species shares a language unique to us. To ponder our mortality amongst corpses is as old as life and death itself.

Authors and artists have long sought to capture this synchronicity with varying levels of success, but everyday people have spent untold hours on the same train of thought. Some of them even try writing poems about it.

Easter Morning: In the Rafters
We sat above the raw earth on thin beams,
the gazebo grafted to the middle
of the graveyard, wishing we could witness
the dead rise up and drink in midnightlife.
We even left the last of our cheap beer
resting on the bottom wooden steps
so the crawling mewling first re-borns
could celebrate before they must stand. 
Our small sighs echoed below the shingles,
feed dangling off pulled back into childhood.
We whispered of teeter-totter future lives
and longed to walk forward without moving, 
to weather the erosion of our hours,
scatter our ashes, and wind on with the earth. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Burden of Tomorrow - The Tallest Man on Earth (mp3)

Lonesome Dove sat on my bookshelf for almost three years, waiting patiently for me. Much like the time it represents, in an unsettled and still untamed midwest, it never got ornery or chomped at the bit as it sat there, waiting. Like Deets, expert tracker for the Hat Creek Outfit, it simply enjoyed a quiet existence and asked little. Why rush the boy? The Old West ain’t coming back whether he reads about it today or 20 years from now.

I’d like to believe George R.R. Martin read Lonesome Dove at some point before he began carving out Westeros, the imaginary land of his now-wildly successful Song of Fire And Ice books. Both explore, with such detail and splendor, settings based loosely on our own past yet easily beyond our modern-day comprehension, and both establish and accept a code of ethics and “law” that serve to remind us just how arbitrary and fragile are the ways of our contemporary “civilization.”

As I do everytime I enmesh myself into Westerns or Westeros, I find myself reevaluating certain current events. Curious George Zimmerman. The Best Little Anti-Abortion House in Texas. The Hostile Takeover of North Carolina. (Alas, the South owns a nigh-monopoly on the melodrama in today’s politics.)

As an admitted liberal, stories like these have caused some real agitation and discomfort for me. I witness what feels like bloodlust borne of a tragic death in Florida, and I watch the very people who claim Obama wrongly railroaded the Affordable Care Act through without any bipartisan support cheering wildly as Republicans in one state after another railroad any and everything that tickles their fancy. (Obviously, it’s not the railroading, but rather the direction of those chugging locomotives, that raise our political ire.)

Reading about the Old West, however, pulls these “travesties” into a healthier scale. There was a time when most acknowledged crimes had the singular punishment of hanging, when a man was entitled to do practically anything imaginable to his wife and children, when someone verbally insulting you was reasonable grounds for ending their existence. Ours was once a land where habeas corpus was a new and rare species, a land where non-white humans were often considered another species entirely.

While we can gripe and debate about whether Trayvon or Zimmerman found justice in 2013, we can rest assured how things would have played out 150 years ago on the restless frontiers of our country. While we can lament that a hundred or so men can, with nary one female voice amongst them, turn back the clock on matters of women’s health and their rights to their own body, we must also acknowledge that not even these goobers can railroad us back a whole century.

We can also rest assured that Gus McRae is right, that the nature of both rivers and time is that they insist on moving us all forward, no matter how much one might wind us this way or that on its country mile current into the future.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Billy AWOL; Bob May As Well Write Another One

I've just finished, what is it, my 10th, 12th, maybe 14th book about the life of Ernest Hemingway? They all end the same way, with him putting a double-barreled shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.  It's getting depressing! (Except that this time, the writer clarifies that he actually put the barrels against his forehead, not in his mouth)

Hemingway's Boat focuses on the last 25 or so years of Hemingway's life, when he declines from virile big-game hunter to sickly, despondent old man with startling rapidity, his 38-foot fishing boat apparently his only source of solace.

Which, of course, has me thinking about retirement, as I always do when I'm down here in Florida.

Not in a depressed way.  Don't you worry about me, kid.  Just pondering options once again, and none of them involve "playing solitaire with a pearl-handled deck," as the late, great Warren Zevon once sang.  Instead, it's that conundrum of whether I want to be part of a normal, all-ages neighborhood and lifestyle, or whether there is some attraction to living primarily with other retired people, except when the grandchildren come down.  

As I wait for my children to get down here, I spend a lot of time among the retirees, watching, listening, at places like Panera (a favorite hangout) or the grocery store or the swimming pool.

The reality of retirement, which no billboard or brochure or promo wants to admit, is something Ernest Hemingway once said:  "All stories end in death, and he is no true storyteller who would keep that from you."  Retirement, for many of us, means some good, fun, exciting, free years on the front end and some tough years on the back end.  There's no way around it. Well, for all of us the back end is the same.

What I've observed this time is kind of interesting.  Given that if you live in a retirement community you're going to have a kind of revolving door of friendships--ring out the old and ring in the new--I've  often wondered how the community deals with that.  Certainly, in the 30 years my mother-in-law has owned this condominium, ALL of the people she knew when she arrived are gone, as well as most, if not all, of the second wave, and maybe even the third.  Se wasn't around much for the third wave, so it's hard to know.

But that has to be tough.  So what do you do?

The other day at a produce market. I saw what you do.  You adopt a kind of fatalistic optimism.  Now, that may be the greatest oxymoron in the history of the world, but there is something to it.  In this case, two couples were talking at the checkout, well, two women, really, since one of the men was either deaf or out of it and the other was. For whatever reason, disconnected.  But of the two women representing the two couples, they were speaking of a health reality--- test or a surgery or a meeting with a doctor, something. Ad the one woman said to the other, "Well, we'll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."

In the face of an inevitability, what else can you do?

And that gave me a weird kind of comfort as I waited to pay for my cucumbers.  After all, they were buying vegetables, too.  They were going home to eat, to carry on, to persevere  just like anyone else. They would eat, despite this reality.

Would it be better to live somewhere else, someplace where they would have to bury this information, where this would be inappropriate store conversation, where it wasn't a variation of what many friends are also going through?  I don't know.  But I had always thought that this fantasy life of golf games, socials by the pool, trips to restaurants and trips abroad was the pretending.  Now, I am not so sure.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel?

And that, my friends, is likely the first and last Moody Blues reference that you will ever hear from me (a song title from In Search Of The Lost Chord, if interested). Especially since my premise is just the opposite:  traveling is the best way to think.

Yes, traveling is the best way to think.  Going to a new place with new ways of using one's senses leads to new ways of thinking.  If you have been in one place too long, your thoughts are stale, your observations become pedestrian (I know, you are now hoping for some non-pedestrian thoughts from this man in a different place, but I may disappoint you).   Still, I would argue that this is applicable whether you are thinking about work or pleasure, about the personal or the spiritual or the apocalyptic.

To turn onto a street lined with palm trees when you are used to walnuts and maples is a guarantee that different memories and associations will commence almost immediately.  The smell of the salt air, the way the giant clouds race across the sky in the afternoons, portending a brief, violent storm, these sensory benchmarks of a different world chase the old one out of your head.  Is it any wonder that the ubiquitous emails, the well-meaning phone calls from another place jar your sensibilities?

In the book I'm currently reading, Hemingway's Boat, the author opines that one of the reasons Hemingway's writing style changes in later life is because he is writing on or facing the open sea (in Key West or Bimini or Havana) rather than in the restrictive confines of a Paris flat.  Hemingway himself refers to it as a "loosening," and he even writes the occasional sentence which reaches Faulknerian length.

Though one need not the vast expanse of the ocean or towering mountains to rock one's sense of self, there is no doubt that these natural extremes, like the emptiness of a forest or the gentle rush of a stream, demand contemplation.

Here in Florida, as there on Long Island last week, my thoughts, to put it simply, do not tend towards work, and that alone makes all the difference.  The work-related email I receive feels more like a distraction to be put off or dispensed with quickly while I am down here pondering why the person here alone is less lonely than the people "back home" who are lonely without him, or considering, as happens increasingly every time I am down here, retirement and what shapes it will take.

As the title of Nicholson Baker's collection of essays from the mid-90's suggests, "the size of thoughts" varies, and with a chance to remove some of the clutter of daily, repetitive thoughts from the mind, there is a hope, at least for me, that some of the bigger thoughts in my head have a chance to get a little elbow room, to set up shop for awhile, to raid the refrigerator, so to speak, so that they may  nourish themselves, maybe even with a little repetitive mental exercise, get themselves into some kind of shape.

I let you down once again, though, by reminding you that I have no particular great insight to report.  But the possibility is here, the ground is fertile.

And while I dream of great thoughts, I pummel myself with just a different dailiness--exercise routines to maintain, the details of setting up and maintaining a living space, the demands of what to do that will allow me to say that I've been on vacation and done X (because people always want to know), where to eat.  Still, all of these concerns are simpler and more easily fulfilled here, and that is reassuring.

The irony of all of it, all of this thinking, perhaps, is the discovery that by traveling, we aren't trying to get away so much from a particular place or circumstance.  That is probably a futile gesture in 2013 anyway.  No, what we seek most is a vacation from ourselves.  We are tired of who is inside of us.  But that companion always tags along, and the best we can hope for is that he will behave a bit differently in a new place.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Strange Ride With Paul Westerberg

I don't think of myself as particularly OCD, despite a few quirks that I can identify.  But when I pulled out of my driveway in Chattanooga to start a 643 mile drive to Venice, Florida, something unusual happened.  It wasn't so unusual at the start.  All I did was to flip through my Ipod to find some music to start the trip and I settled on a Paul Westerberg CD.  His music had clicked with me before while driving, so I thought, why not?

Flash forward to almost 9 hours later, as I was turning off of I-75 onto Jacaranda Boulevard (Chattanooga to Venice is a single interstate trip; all you do is aim your car and drive), and I waited for a Replacements song to finish up before I clicked off the Ipod and focused on getting to my destination.

As you can infer, yes, indeed, I listened to Paul Westerberg sing his songs for 9 hours and for close to 650 miles.  I never deviated to another artist.  I never wanted to.  It was almost like I was in a trance and the only thing that could keep me going was--------more Westerberg.

I worked through (in this order)  Mono, Come Feel Me Tremble, the Open Season soundtrack, 49:00. "5:05", a bootleg version of "Nevermind" live, "Waiting For Somebody" from the Singles soundtrack, "Dyslexic Heart" and "All That I Had" from The Resterberg, Suicane Gratifaction, a bootleg live show from Fantasy Studios in 1996, Stereo (Grandpaboy), and 14 Songs, before moving all the way back to the 50+ Replacements song I have cherry-picked from various CDs.

For most of the trip, I eagerly scanned my Ipod to see what Westerberg I wanted to hear next.  His songs had established a groove, and I found that I wanted to stay in that groove.  Eventually, of course, I became fully committed to my course of action and told myself that I was going to see it through, but this wasn't a hard decision or a sacrifice.

During the entire trip, I skipped through only 4 songs that didn't hold my attention.

But I don't want this to be about Paul Westerberg or me, necessarily.  I want it to be about listening and music.  What was it about this music that made it the perfect accompaniment for that drive on that day?  I can name any number of artists whom I love, whose music has been seminal to my life, perhaps even (though I'm not sure) who are more accomplished than Westerberg, but whose catalog I probably couldn't hang with for two straight hours, let alone nine.

For those of you who tend towards jazz, or even classical, I would guess you face a similar problem--nine straight hours of Beethoven or Coltrane would likely break even the most dedicated listener.  For those of you who only dip into the most popular music, I'm certain a 630 minute dose of Kanye West (if he has that much) or Celine Dion or Rod Stewart would ultimately leave you babbling by the side of the road before you got through Atlanta.

So what is it about Westerberg?  "My traveling companion has over 170 songs/ He's an eloquent rocker of the first order?"

Not that you are ever going to subject yourself to this test, but here's why I think Westerberg is so durable:

1.  His songs are built on familiar patterns, but with enough variations to differentiate them from other songwriters using the same patterns and from his own other songs.
2.  He is skilled as both a lyricist and a musician, so that if the music doesn't get you, then the lyrics will, and vice-versa.  An early song like "Unsatisfied" doesn't have much to say beyond the fact that the singer is unsatisfied, but the melody and the vocal performance of this sentiment makes it one of the most affecting songs in his canon.  A late song like "Lookin' Up In Heaven," weighted with the knowledge of his father's death, has me hanging on each line of the lyrics.  The riffs and shifts all the way from "I Will Dare" to "The Devil Raised A Good Boy" (buried in 49:00) remind me that he is a superb popular songwriter.  Even his "deep cuts" sound like hits.
3.  His catalog is large enough that only the rare listener would be intimately connected with every song.  A full listen includes a mix of hits, personal favorites, and discoveries that hadn't stood out before.

There's something aesthetic at work here; there's something that readers of This Is Your Brain On Music would understand.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get through that book, so I will have to offer a lesser explanation and assessment:  the right music at the right time sure can make the miles go by pleasurably (and faster!)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Cops Raid The Game

It's Always Something - Rick Springfield (mp3)

“Step up to the table in the middle of my life. / I take my cards and I check them twice. / I’ve got a killer hand; I’m ready to stake my claim... / The cops raid the game.” -- “It’s Always Something,” Rick Springfield

I am part of an elaborate criminal organization. We meet in secret once a month. We enter the room with cash. We sit around a table for several hours until only one or two of us remain to claim the money. And we constantly have to worry about a SWAT team raid.

No, seriously.

Well, actually what we are is a poker group mostly consisting of teachers. We have a tournament once each month with a $25 buy-in. Most of the time we’re talking about a whopping $250 prize pool.

Depending on whom you ask, what we are doing isn’t illegal. In theory, it would only be illegal if the guy hosting us ordered some pizzas ahead of time and then we pitched in to pay him back. Because, in theory, he could make a profit by hosting a gambling event.

If you play poker, you know just how random and incomprehensible most laws that affect the average person can be to the average person. 

In April 2012, a “high-stakes” poker game was busted by police in Chattanooga, and one of the participants got shot after allegedly drawing his weapon on an officer during the raid. The dude had a gun because their game had been robbed at their previous location. They felt, somewhat understandably, unsafe.

When asked why the police raided the game, Chattanooga’s police chief said, “One reason the vice unit goes after such operations is because of the robbery possibility that could end up with a number of people being shot.”

So, if you’re following the logic, the police busted the game and shot a man who was carrying a weapon to defend himself against possible robbery in order to protect all of the people in the room from possible robbery. Several message board comments about the raid suggested that the man drew his firearm fearing a robbery and not, as the police account suggested, because he wanted to go intimamente with a small army of cops.

The first time our group met and played following this incident, we yukked it up with a police officer who was a regular participant. Haha, they’ll come bust us next for our $250! Haha, they’ll send in the whole SWAT team for a bunch of deadly teacher gamblers! Except the cop didn’t laugh. He advised us to take the cash and place it in another room -- preferably a different location altogether, he said. He advised us to never have the game at any home that stored (even legal) firearms or even any large number of prescription pills.

“If they bust y’all, they’ll look for something to make it worth their time.”

We’re breaking records this year in Chattanooga for shootings. Something like 63 as of July 15. We’ve got serious and frightening crime coming out of our ass here in the Scenic City, but the ones who are nervous are a bunch of teachers and middle class fellas trying to escape their lives for a few hours of harmless low-cost fun. And the cops will bust our game in order to, apparently, protect us. So long as they don’t have to shoot us first. Which they could do if they feel threatened by how we quickly we drop to the floor and let go of that dealer button, which could be a deadly weapon.

Compared to most, I’m sympathetic to the lose-lose world of police. It’s a thankless job that pays for shit. And for every moment of adrenaline-pumping action you see on TV, cops go through hours and hours of mind-crushing paperwork and more hours and hours of unsexy work keeping the peace responding to thefts, minor domestic disputes, false alarms and so on. I tend to believe we get what we pay for, and we pay Walmart wages to protect our city but expect Fort Knox results.

What scares me is that cops seem to be taking out their frustrations and chasing adrenaline on the backs of some very un-dangerous, un-threatening individuals. A man named Radley Balko has written an entire book on this: "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces". Several harrowing excerpts from it are included at, including this one focusing on some disturbing anecdotal police raids.

We should pay our police more. We should expect more from them and in turn show a greater respect for them when they handle their responsibilities well, which most of them do most of the time even without much money or respect to show for it.

But can we expect the militarization of our police to wane? I wouldn’t bet on it. Because that’s illegal, and they might shoot first and ask questions later. You know, for my own good.

Friday, July 19, 2013

This Is Not The End

We had walked down by the entrance to the harbor at the edge of the world, the farthest tip of Long Island.  I was looking for "sea glass," my wife's latest obsession, those bits of tossed bottles now ground smooth with an opaque glow to them.  It's solo venture; another person casting shade over the beach detritus makes it difficult to see the special way the light hits sea-softened, smooth old glass.

But this time, she came up and opened her purse.  It was full of rocks.  "Look at these great rocks I'm going to use as paperweights," she said.

"Okay, Virginia Woolf," I joked, because she and the rocks and the sea made me think of Woolf filling her pockets with rocks and walking into the sea until she drowned.  A strange suicide, a woman's suicide, I suppose.  So they say.

I wasn't in a morose mood.  It was a bright morning, and the small waves came in quickly, had even lapped over my shoes and made me jump back and laugh.

It was the explanation of suicide that I was suddenly thinking about.  Take Woolf, for example.  I haven't studied her closely, but I've been in enough English classes to have heard that her self-death was the result of an imminent World War II and/or a difficult, loveless marriage with her husband, Leonard.

I suspect it was neither.  Our brains living inside of our societies force us to impose reason on the most unreasonable, irrational acts.  We must accede to that thinking for our own survival.  We must subscribe to the ultimate logical fallacy--if B follows A, then A must have caused B.  So we latch onto, in Woolf's case, both the absolutely global and the supremely intimate.

Do we ever consider that another part of the human mind wonders, What happens if I fill my pockets and walk into the water?  Do we remember that so much of what we do, the choices we make, result from minuscule events that took place mere moments before?  When Mersault kills the Arab in The Stranger, he says that he did it because the sun was in his eyes.  How can we disprove that, when an unpleasant encounter right before I meet you determines much of the way I treat you?

Lately, I've been watching The Top Of The Lake, an Australian mystery miniseries of the darkest order.   I don't know yet how it turns out, but one of the opening images of a fully-clothed young teenage girl walking into the lake apparently until it swallows her up until a voice calls her back is such an affecting one that it is difficult to get out of my head.

The show, like the rest of us, wants to infer, so far as I can tell, that something bad has happened to the girl which makes her want to go under and not come back up.  Not that she just might be "testing the waters," so to speak.

A friend of mine, divorced, cared for his sick father for weeks and decided to sell his home back home and to come live with his father.  But when he went back to close up his affairs, he died, and died under circumstances that might suggest to some that he wanted that to be the end.  Did he?  Was the prospect of caring for his father too overwhelming, even though he had done that very thing for weeks?  Was he looking for a way out?  There is no way to know.  Did he push himself too far as a lament or even as a celebration of a life chapter about to close?  Did the stress of care take him down?

We have to know.  And even if we can't know, we have to fashion a theory that makes us feel comfortable about him and us and where he might be and where we aren't.  How nice to be able to say that it was accidental, and therefore lumped into the understandable randomness of all that surrounds us.  Or wouldn't it be great if things just became more than he could take and so he acted?  We might not like the choice he made, but we can make sense of it.

I've had a fair amount of experience with suicide and all I've learned from all of it is that there is nothing to be figured out.  There is no sense to be made.   We have been crafted, as a species, to continue putting one foot in front of the other until the energies of our bodies make that no longer possible.  Maybe we aren't doing much more than walking with our heads down looking for shining things in the sand, but we are walking, we keep walking.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Titanium Toon Age Trifecta

Talking with Fireworks / Here, It Never Snowed - The Twilight Sad (mp3)

Whether the 1980s deserves credit for great music deserves to be debated. Despite my ‘80s music bias, it deserves to go down as a relatively embarrassing decade. Its synths and hair metal arguably served the one-two punch from which great hard rock music has never fully recovered.

For comics, on the other hand, in strip and book form, the 1980s is the Titanium Toon Age, and this claim is deserves to be beyond dispute.

In 1980, both Bloom County and The Far Side were born. These were John the Baptist and Mother Mary to Calvin & Hobbes. They were so powerful as to render almost insignificant the embarrassment that was Garfield.

Chris Claremont and John Byrne ushered in the decade in comic books by making X-Men an unstoppable force of nerd culture, and Frank Miller had begun to warm up a run that would make Daredevil the surprise of the early ‘80s. Alan Moore lurked. In swamps, mostly. Where he would remain until he took a character even more doomed to suckage than Daredevil -- DC’s Swamp Thing -- and made it into something mind-numbingly ambitious. Sandman and Hellblazer arrived at the end of the decade, more or less guaranteeing that nothing afterward could match the breadth and potency of that 10-year stretch of comic creativity.

In the middle, the trifecta of comic perfection hit. All three in less than a single year. Calvin and Hobbes in November 1985, The Dark Knight Returns in February 1986, and Watchmen in September.

Highway 61 Revisited, Pet Sounds and Sgt. Peppers came out in 1965, '66 and '67 respectively, so that might be as close as any genre gets to cramming top-level nigh-perfection into such a short span of time.

But the Titanium Toon Age was so perfect that we comic nerds are mostly still waiting around for something to return us to that glory. The worst music fans are like this, but most of us in the real world don’t yearn for a return to 1967. Few of us yearn for a return to some magical past pinnacle of television or film, either. But funny pages and comic books are different, because we’ve witnessed the best, and the rest is mere shadow, some feeble attempt to move around or beyond the ‘80s and consistently failing to do so.

The print industry is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and the film industry, with its increasingly omnipotent special effects, has stolen the surface mojo of comics. And although I love my superhero movies more than most -- even the sketchy and flawed ones -- it loses the ceaseless optimistic wonderment of the print experience.

Or maybe this isn't about comics at all. Maybe it's about having lost a quarter-century.

The trailer for a Dear Mr. Watterson, a documentary exploring the cultural and comic strip impact of Calvin & Hobbes was recently released. The film is due in November, although I doubt a Chattanooga theater will ever consider it, since it involves two things Chattanoogans don’t always appreciate: humor and literacy.

Monday, July 15, 2013


"Motherless children have a hard time
When the mother is gone, Lord."

--A. P. Carter

A friend of mine lost his mother yesterday, a sad circumstance I experienced some 13 years ago myself.  It is no great revelation to remark that a mother fills many roles that no one else can fill.

One of my favorite little details on the TV show, The Killing, is the character of the male detective, Stephen Holder, a kind of sleazy, youngish guy whose background and ethics are a bit questionable and who likes to relate using a kind of hip-hop dialect suited to his street cred if not his race.  I especially like his term for a mother, which is "moms," even when used in the singular, as in, "Yo, Little Man, where's yer moms?"

His word is perfect.  It captures, unintentionally I'm sure, the universality of motherly values, ones that we cherish, ones that I miss.  Every mother is a moms.

I've gotten to spend time with a couple of moms this summer, one just the other night, and in doing so, realized once again that universal truth:  to a true mother, all men who are friends of her sons are her sons.

A moms turns her own son back into a boy in her presence, regardless of how old or sophisticated he may think he is.  Every man is a son in the presence of his mother, and  even when he is the man hosting the party and mixing the drinks and grilling the food, his mother's input can only be ignored at his own peril.  For she knows the pacing of a party, has hospitality as part of her genetic code.

A moms will make a home very easy to be in.  For men.  She enjoys the women who visit, can share problems and commiserate with them, shares compliments and current women's issues, especially those concerning children, but her true gift is with her son's friends.  The women, she knows from personal experience, can fend for themselves, but the men must be taken care of.  As a species, they are fairly inept, don't know how to be assertive in a home like they are in the world, and, in her experience, simply don't know where things are because she has always located things for them.  That is part of what gave her purpose and what gives her purpose now.  You cannot do things for her, except maybe for heavy lifting, because she still lives to do those things for you.

A moms will scold you, but gently.  She will let you know that her son or you need to get more exercise or that you don't need that next glass of wine, but she is not really being critical.  Your ears don't burn.  You don't hold back from what you were doing. You know that she isn't trying to change you so much just have a chance at her say because there is no way to contest that what she says is right, but, oh, we foolish boys, we are going to do what we will do.

A moms knows when to stay and when to leave. She will acknowledge her own younger self with her sense of fun and her references to what she used to do or be.  She wants to be in on the joke, to enjoy the party food, even if that is not what she would normally allow herself.  She may have that extra glass of wine, but she knows that the arc of a party or a gathering is going to extend beyond her.  She'll be cleaning up, refusing much help, not only to keep things going smoothly for her son (and daughter-in-law), but also because, ultimately, she returns back to mother from friend, confidante, or partygoer.

But most of all, a moms is a woman who makes you feel, whoever you are, like you are just a little bit more protected than you would be if she wasn't there.  As you watch her set down her wine glass to swoop in to rescue a grandchild all while continuing her conversation, you remember how you were once that same child to either mother or grandmother, whose own little world of bumps and crashes and unbounded energy needed a gentle reminder, some guidance from her, perhaps just a touch, to make things right again.  And you still do.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I Don't Like Cake

Wheels - Cake (mp3)
Poundcake - Van Halen (mp3)

I don’t eat cake. I just don’t like the stuff, Sam I Am. The sugary sweetness of the icing usually overwhelms me, giving my taste buds a similar kind of bad reaction I get from most IPAs, to mention nothing of icing’s texture, the silkiness of it which also leaves me nonplussed.

Once in a while, a cake comes my way that lures me in. I can enjoy poundcake, for instance. Its simple and un-iced nature breaks so many of the Rules of Cakeness that I can enjoy it. Especially with strawberries.

Likewise, I don’t like Cake. You know, the band. I don’t get them, and I enjoy neither their message nor how it gets sonically delivered.

Because Cake is a band that arrived and earned its notice in the mid-‘90s, many people I know -- Okay fine, it’s almost all guys, so many guys I know -- are fond of Cake. They maybe like the band for its ability to leap through genres, to mash up a little country with white-boy rap or some bluegrass with nu-rock. Maybe there’s an elixir in Cake’s ironical and often-deadpanned lyrics to which I have some unfortunate genetic immunity.

Mostly I feel like Cake is a band version of PBR, which is to say a shit product chosen by the gods to carry immediate coded hipster cred. Cake and PBR are both secret handshakes of people who are better than you, but they’re also more intelligent, so they want to rub your face in their intelligence subtly, with a drink can or a sonically-unsettling song rather than a Hummer or a Brioni suit.

Deadspin offers a great review of “36 Cheap American Beers” which is occasionally amusing, but his comments on PBR are where I do a cheap beer spit take in his face:
It took me a few years to come around on PBR, probably because I was the sort of dipshit who worried about what message my beer was sending. Now that I'm liberated from such petty concerns, I can tell the world, "Hey, look at me spend $14 to get all-day drunk on clean, nondescript beer that tastes like Budweiser is supposed to."
And I’m, like, Say Huh? In point of fact, those who drink PBR are sending a very clear message: “I don’t care what you think about what beer I drink. I don’t waste my time with beer choices... (because I’m better than you).”

That’s the sound of Cake in my ears. They’re an in joke that isn’t funny, a secret passage to know-where, a batcave descent into a plain ol’ batcave rather than, you know, The Batcave.

I don’t want to dislike Cake. If someone has the energy and commitment to Cake to try and explain to me what I’ve been missing, or perhaps a sampling of songs that might convince me to reconsider, I’m all ears.

But hey, I like Poundcake. The Van Halen song. It's everything I like about actual poundcake. Unhealthy, simple-minded, and tasty. Can someone find me some Cake like that?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back

“Whatever you do, please don’t ever write about My Chemical Romance. As long as you don’t talk about those f*&kers, I’ll look forward to reading it.”

Back in 2008, when Bob and I came up with this crazy idea to write a (mostly) music blog we’d call Bottom of the Glass, we were telling our friends as well as those we knew with a particular inclination towards creative writing and contemporary music.

That quip about MCR was the response I got from Nick, a bigtime music lover with a penchant for Americana rock and folk. And I understood exactly what he meant, because MCR stands for almost everything a lover of Americana rock and folk despises.

The big label. The seemingly-bottled cynicism. The saccharine fight to remain an outcast. To someone like this teacher, My Chemical Romance was like J.D. Dean from “Heathers” except without the conviction to do anything truly crazy. They were posers without balls.

I laughed and nodded and agreed not to write anything about My Chemical Romance. But now they’re dead.

In March*, MCR announced they were no more.

So I’m hoping my former colleague will forgive me if I feel the need to eulogize them. I mean, hell, even Nikki and Paulo on LOST got a brief eulogy and their own Very Special Death Episode, so don’t MCR deserve at least that? Besides, Nick hardly reads anymore anyway, so screw him, right?!

Simply put, there aren’t three hard rock/punk/emo bands who have earned more time burning up my speakers than MCR in the past half-decade. When I need an injection of venomously raucous punkish rock -- and I admit it doesn’t happen as often as it once did -- these dudes deliver the medicine I need.

Welcome to the Black Parade is unquestionably the career pinnacle of their 4.5-album career, but their musical story arc has a certain to about it. They earned attention for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” as dead-on a look into the teenaged emotional rollercoaster as has been put to music in the 21st Century. The video is also a clever trailer homage to teen flicks good and bad.

It’s easy to see in hindsight that Danger Days was their death knell, but when you hear the 10-song collection that made up the shelved Conventional Weapons, you know their band was dealing with an incurable malignancy.

I imagine Gerard, ever the artist and comic book lover, wanted to get less dark, more optimistic, “poppier.” He’d done the death and black clothes thing long enough and was looking for a way move beyond it. While Danger Days is synthy and yearns to grow the MCR fanbase, Conventional Weapons songs sound like a sequel to ...Black Parade, which isn't a bad thing, but it is a band that's not interested in growing much. So it makes sense that the chose to try and grow, but it also makes sense that maybe the band as a whole didn't really enjoy the experience of the band in its pubescent stage.

Their last two albums are supposedly “concept albums,” which are only “concept albums” if you’ve never heard a decent f*#king concept album in your entire life. Which is to say, anyone under the age of 20 might have thought Black Parade and Danger Days were concept albums, but the rest of us knew better.

In honor of Nick, I’ll keep being mean to MCR another minute. More often than not, their lyrics lacked, but they occasionally landed an uppercut. There. Happy, Nick?

“Disenchanted” has one of the very favorite verses of teen outsider disillusionment:
I spent my high school career
spit on and shoved to agree
so I could watch all my heroes
sell a car on TV
“Gun” off the not-released Chemical Weapons piles on some great lines, knocking our fetishistic love of firearms but especially hitting on our decade of desert warfare:
And if I’m old enough to die for your mistakes,
Can we bleed enough to fill up what the engine takes?
But what MCR did and did incredibly well, was blow out speakers with a healthy splash of melody and hook. Not many bands outside of freakish death-metal circles do that kind of thing anymore.

Foo is AWOL, and MCR is DOA. I miss them and the windows they can shake. May they rest in peace. And fret not from your temporary grave, Gerard Way. I hope your ghost finds a way to haunt my friend Nick, but I'll seance your soul on my iPod for many years to come.

* -- I just found out on June 20, because I’m not that rabid an MCR fan as to follow them on Twitter or anything (they didn’t even announce it on Twitter, those neanderthals!).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Why Is Hollywood After The White House?

Depressed by the continuing on-again, off-again rain, I told my wife that I was going to see a bad movie today.  I knew it would be bad, but I went anyway,  because I had to do something to get my mind off the incessant threat of rain.  I wanted a good movie; I wanted The Bling Ring, but there is apparently no room for that in this city, glutted as we are with regular and 3-D versions of about 5 movies total. But I wanted escapism and I didn't want superheroes and I didn't want zombies, so the only choice left, given that Sandra Bullock's godawful Academy Award-winning performance is still in my head, was White House Down.

I had seen this movie a couple of months ago.  It was called Olympus Has Fallen.  And even though one reviewer I trust made the same comparison but argued that Olympus Has Fallen was better executed, I still made it my movie of choice.

In short, people take over the White House (you know, the Chinese or people with a gripe against the government) and it is left to one disgraced agent to save both the president and the free world.  Oh, yeah, and there's a kid involved who is in the White House at considerable peril and who has a connection with said rogue agent that will call for some tough choices.

Why Hollywood enjoys blowing up Washington, DC I really don't know.  But now that I've seen them all (and White House Down even names check Independence Day by the same director where the aliens unleash some kind of ray which decimates the "Presidential Palace," as it was once called), I am ready to make one definitive assessment: if you want to watch a great White House takeover, of these two movies you should choose.............wait for it..............24, Season 4 or 5, I can't remember.  That, my friends, is a White House takeover!

There are a lot of reasons why White House Down simply doesn't work.  But the two main reasons are the two main actors.  Whatever preparation Jamie Foxx undertook to play the president, and I'm not convinced he did any, did not take.  Foxx in no way suggests the gravitas of a president.  When we first and last meet him, he's enjoying taking the presidential copter on an unscripted joyride around DC.  His big initiative in the film is that the U.S. will remove all its bases from the Middle East to promote peace, and military-industrial complex be damned.  And, worst of all, his demeanor, scene to scene, is that of a rapper pretending to be the president.  Sure he's cleaned up, but his language and sensibilities aren't.

Channing Tatum, as the unqualified agent who doesn't get the job on the President's security team demonstrates amply why he doesn't deserve the job.  He is goofy and adept only physically in most scenes.  He abandons the president to go get his daughter ("Stay here."), and instead of checking on the president when he appears to be dead or dying, he is watching his daughter on television.

None of which is to suggest that Olympus Has Fallen was particularly better.  It wasn't.  In fact, it was little more than Die Hard in the White House in the same way that Steven Seagall's Under Siege 2 was reviewed as "Die Hard on a battleship."  Not a compliment.  But Gerard Butler is a more convincing action hero than Tatum, who tries to get by on his sexy cred in People magazine.  At least Butler was all in; half the time, Tatum and Foxx are playing this one for laughs.

While I appreciated the two hour diversion, the most frustrating thing about movies like this is the oversimplification of DC culture itself.  Whatever else we may think of our government, the ease with which the White House is taken over defies even summer action blockbuster movie credibility.  While any of us might have reason to call our government inept on any given day for any number of reasons, we would never dare to suggest that it is inept in preserving its own self-interest.  

Now that we've had well over a decade to figure out Roland Emmerich's raison d'ĂȘtre as a summer blockbuster director, White House Down doesn't really even feel like an American movie.  It has an outsider feel for how things work here, for how easily we will or won't slip into patriotic mode, for our resilience.  Emmerich's movies are mostly variations on the theme of an America in turmoil, in disarray, unable to deal with much beyond its own borders.  Independence Day led with its title and seduced us into believing that it was tapping into American values to save the world.  I think he sees us as people who would destroy anything to save ourselves, and he's there to chronicle the destruction.

White House Down portrays us as ultimately a rogue nation that has so many layers of corruption and  self-interest that we don't have a rat's ass chance of giving a rat's ass about the rest of the world.  Our fictional movie president is celebrated for suggesting policy that will get us the hell out of the world's way.  Our leaders and their protectors can't see beyond their own families or their own agendas.  While it may become the case at some point that we step off the world stage, now does not feel quite like that time.

This movie imagines a weakened America full of cowboys and buffoons, at war with itself.  Maybe that's who we are, at least some of the time, but we still hang on to that American bravado where we don't want someone else being the one to tell us that.  I don't mind a senseless summer movie.  Certainly it got me out of the rain.  But sometimes these silly movies have more going on than just blowing stuff up for our entertainment.  Sometimes, they aim to instill in us visions of our worst selves while couching that message in patriotism.  As if we needed that. 

Or maybe I'm just being sensitive.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


Anytime there's a good, sustained rain, my basement floods.  Not just any rain, of course, and there are plenty of rains that hammer this area and my basement is none the worse.  But when the ground gets either saturated or overwhelmed, I end up battling the waters down below.

Logic, of course, says, Bob, why don't you just get your basement waterproofed?  Yeah, we'll, we are headed there, but we've only lived in this house for 20 years, so it isn't that surprising that we haven't fixed it yet.

As I write this, I'm sitting down in that basement, though the water is only coming in one particular rivulet to this room.  There are several in the room beyond.

The first few years we lived here, we were incredulous when the basement flooded.  There was carpet down here at that time, and while we set up a series of floor fans to try to dry out a blue rug that was turning increasingly brown, we couldn't help but wonder if the homeowners before us had never had a flooded basement.  We were naive back then.  We didn't ponder the possibility that someone might put down carpet to cover a house problem and then put the house up for sale in the summer when it didn't flood, at least back then.

For the weather has changed, hasn't it, my friends?  If you live your life trying to avoid a flooded basement like I do, it isn't difficult to chronicle the radical changes in weather patterns that occur increasingly.  I am just saying.

Back then, the basement only flooded a couple of times a year, and so it seemed manageable, always came as a bit of surprise.  These days, I watch the weather.  Whereas before the basement might get wet only during winter months when what wasn't cold enough to become snow soaked the ground and came in, now global weirding means that Tennessee might string together a stretch of excessive rains pretty much any time.  It's almost guaranteed to happen in the spring when, some years, we get all of the rain that we aren't going to get during the summer droughts.  

The worst was a time when a hurricane came up this way and unleashed on us.  That time, the water in the basement  was 4 or 5 inches deep and I drove through a torrential downpour out to the Home Depot late that night to see what kind of an electric pump I might find to get some of the water off of the floor and into the shower where it might drain away.

Most times, the water doesn't cover the entire floor.  It just comes in where it does as moving streams and eventually exits somehow from the backside of the house.  We can dry out most of the basement in a couple of days and follow-up with the dehumidifier and return to normal in 4-5 days.  

But it takes a toll.  There is no doubt.  My man cave, which I have probably bragged about in some previous post, always has to have a temporary nature to it.  I have to watch the weather and proof the room so it doesn't get befouled.  Right now, I'm looking at a rolled-up rug, a bunch of guitars and amps off the ground for safekeeping, and some wooden cabinets and other furnishings that are going to get wet each time the water comes in.  I got the room ready when we left for the 4th, but last night was feeling confident and put it all back together.  By 11AM this mornng, as it became obvious that the rain was finally going to settle in, I packed it all up again.  I feel like a Bedouin sometimes.  Without a camel.

I don't know if there's a lesson here.  If so, it may be that adage that with a house it's always something.  Which means that you're going to have to decide which "something" you're going to tackle.  Or it may be, fix something when you have chance because later on you won't have the money, but then you probably didn't have the money back then, either.  We didn't.  Or it may just be that an occasional flooded basement is one of those things that we learn to live with, like so many other oddities and embarassments that a family hopes no one else will notice, at least not very often.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Headmaster Rick Rubin?

Going Back to Cali - LL Cool J (mp3)

Rick Rubin would make a kickass independent school head of school.

At the end of a week where I attended a brain-agonizing three-day seminar about the evolution of leadership and management practices, I ran across this fascinating and detailed Newsweek interview with Rick Rubin, the veteran freaky music producer-slash-guru. Most reasonable music minds will acknowledge that he is the most important and influential music producer of the last 30 years.

From Def Jam Records and helping bring rap into the mainstream with LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys in the ‘80s to expanding the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ horizons in the ‘90s, to Adele and Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails in the 21st Century, Rubin has proven there is no genre or artist he can’t awaken, improve or revive.
Black Sabbath’s long-awaited reunion album, 13, which Rubin produced, is perched at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Another Rubin production, Kanye West’s Yeezus, will soon displace Black Sabbath in the top slot, giving Rubin two consecutive chart-topping records by two different acts. Few, if any, other producers have ever managed such a feat. (All quotes are from the Newsweek interview.)
Rick Rubin is the Phil Jackson of the music industry, a leader whose success relies entirely on the quality of someone else’s product and perceived performance.

I get no thrill from hero-worshipping Rick Rubin. He looks like some California-bred Buddhist hippie fake whose entire aura is created from the boredom of having more money than he knows what to do with. The first time I encountered his name was on his remix of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and I hated it. I hated it because it sucked. Shortly thereafter, my attitude adjusted with Blood Sugar Sex Magic, a whirling 74-minute dervish that pushed the Red Hot Chili Peppers from “promising punks” to culture-shifting zeitgeists. “Suck My Kiss” is a ball-jarring, off-the-top-rung bodyslam masterpiece of rock music in an album full of Ali-esque uppercuts.

No matter how freaky his visage, Rick Rubin is a demigod producer. More importantly, he embodies most of what I admire and aspire to when it comes to ideas of leadership in the world of schools and education.

A great school leader (or teacher) sees the potential in people and hounds, pokes, prods, pulls on them until they see it in themselves. Rubin kept after Chuck D until he caved and formed Public Enemy. Rubin worked on License to Ill for several years before he was satisfied. It’s now considered by Rolling Stone as the greatest debut album of all time.

A great school leader or teacher is more interested in the people or students they lead than in their own signature or imprint. The best leaders build up and encourage those around them and then work to get out of the way. Rubin sees his role not as a dictator or technician. He has never recorded his own album or written his own song; he sees himself:
Just as fan. Making music that I want to hear. You’re so close to something when you write it that it’s hard to have any perspective on how it hits someone else. My job is to be a professional version of the outside world—a listener who is not attached to any of it, who doesn’t know the story of how it was written, who doesn’t know how it works, who doesn’t know why this is important to you.
The best school leaders and teachers create products -- students, employees -- who help to build a school identity and culture that goes well beyond a single personality. Your success isn't about you.

Take a look at Rubin’s 30-year track record. Take a look at the variety, the ocean-wide swath of genre’s and talents. Then think about producers like T-Bone Burnett or Mutt Lange, Danger Mouse or Butch Vig. Their production work tends to be akin to giving those artists a tattoo. They overlay their own tastes and interests on the artist’s skin.

When you hear Mutt Lange songs, you know they’re Mutt Lange songs. The thumping drums. The pace. You line up his Def Leppard and Brian Adams and Shania Twain and Lady Gaga songs, and it’s glaringly obvious the same guy worked with them all. Lange songs are as distinct as a Jim Steinman song.

Rubin is entirely different. From one decade to the next, from one album to the next, he carries little baggage. I’m not sure any of us can truly appreciate what a talent that is, to wipe one’s mental slate clean, to remove the preconceptions and refuse to rely on what worked previously and focus only on The Now, only on the person we’re charged in that moment to help.
I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking that we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better. But it’s not the voice in your head. It’s a different voice. It’s not intellect. It’s not a brain function. It’s a body function, like running from a tiger.
You have to shut off all of those voices and look for these special moments—these moments that you accept you have no control over. So much of my job is to not think—to be open to what’s there, and then use my intuition to see where it takes me.
The best school leaders also know how to manage and get the best of veterans. They know how to maximize the strengths of people who have “been there, done that” for decades but still have passion fueling their engine and still long to make an impact in their careers. Rubin led Black Sabbath to the top of the charts and reminded a foggy country why Johnny Cash was ever relevant in the first place.
People who’ve made a lot of records tend not to make records as good as the ones they made when they’re younger. When you’re young and you get to make your first record, or your second record, it’s the most important thing in your life. When you’re making your 10th record, or your 50th record, it doesn’t have that same … Yeah. It’s not, like, it. That’s one piece. Another piece is that there’s a cycle that’s dictated by the reality of being a touring artist [when you only have eight weeks between tours to make a record]. At some point in time the cycle takes over, and even though you’re not really ready to make the record during that window, it’s the only window you have, so you put it out. Cracks in the foundation start. And slowly, over time, the creative process gets eroded, and it becomes something that’s just a window in the schedule instead of the most important thing that drives the whole train.
A great school leader is rarely an early adopter, nor does she think of technology or new educational theories as cure-alls for what ails the system. Rather, they see these things for their potential, and they evaluate the trade-offs. Rick Rubin knows that technology has hurt music at the same time it “improved” sound, but rather than trying to climb back into the past or deny change, he only focuses on minimizing the negatives of those new trends:
Technology makes it easy to get everything “right.” But if you rely on technology to get it right, you’re removing all of the human drama. The way most music is made today is parts are created and then played perfectly and then copied and pasted. Everything’s in time, everything’s in tune, but it’s not a performance. My goal was to get Black Sabbath back to performing together—to jamming—because they are experts at it.
If you don't see some connections between the ways music and education have been harmed by modern-day "improvements," you're not paying attention (or don't care).

Education shouldn’t prioritize short-term gains, which is the ultimate flaw in NCLB and Common Core and testing testing testing. Education is a marathon with mind-numbing complexity. Rubin sees music similarly, as life insurance, not daytrading or house-flipping:
It’s impossible to build a music company as if you were selling shoes. It’s a different business. It has a different ebb and flow. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. You have to look at it as a longer-term game.
These leadership notions might not have fueled the great leaders of the 20th Century, and leadership isn’t geometry. There is no perfect Point A to Point B method of leadership. For every Phil Jackson there’s a Vince Lombardi, and for every Steve Jobs there’s a Jack Welch.

Rick Rubin's leadership notions aren't the only ones that will prevail in the coming years, but I  know what kind of person, what kind of leader I want to be one day, and I want that energy focused on making those around me better. Having my name in lights isn’t the endgame. Seeing others’ names in lights and knowing that I played some small part in developing or inspiring them to greater heights is what thrills me.

And I’m not unique. Most people who work in schools and love their jobs are in it for the same reasons, which are more about playing a part and making a difference than about fame and fortune. Rubin might not be in our business, but we could do worse than look to him as an example of the kind of leadership we’ll need as we advance into this new and ever-uncertain realm of education in the 21st Century.

Rubin even makes an asshat douchebag like Kid Rock better, the music equivalent of the Biblical miracle where the sun is frozen in the sky for several days. If you can improve Kid Rock one minute and Josh Groban the next, you can do anything.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tennessee Gun Club

Scout Niblett--"Gun" (mp3)

There is a gentleman who walks his two white dogs in my neighborhood every day.  He seems friendly enough when he passes, always waves and then moves on at an efficient clip.  He wears ear-covering headphones, so we don't speak, but I often--no, always--continue to watch him as he waves and strides briskly down the street.  On his hip, he wears a gun.  It's a sleek, modern-looking thing the color of this laptop, with sleek lines and sharp corners, probably a Glock.  He is a retired gentleman, though not particularly old, and the word on the street is that he is retired because he sustained a head injury.  So he takes on the duty of walking those dogs several times a day, well-armed and not worried.

To obtain a handgun carry permit in Tennessee, you must first successfully complete a Handgun Safety Course offered by a handgun safety school that is certified by the Department of Safety. 

You should then make application at any full service Driver Service Center. You will need to bring with you the original copy of your safety course completion certificate, Proof of US Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Residency, photo identification such as your Driver License, and $115 NON-REFUNDABLE permit fee. This fee may be paid in cash, money order or with a certified check. If there are no problems with the application and you meet all eligibility requirements, you should receive your permit within 90 days of the date you submit your application. 

When your application is processed at the Driver Service Center, you will be given instructions on being fingerprinted."   --

So, to carry his gun lawfully through my neighborhood, he must have passed a safety course, proved his residency and citizenship, paid a fee, waited up to 90 days for processing (we would assume background checks, etc.) and then been fingerprinted.  I have no doubt that this gentleman obtained his carry permit legally and I know nothing in particular about the nature of his head injury, so I don't mean (entirely) to suggest that I think he's going to go off some day while walking his dog.

I just don't like him walking past my house carrying a gun day after day.

I don't feel safer.  I don't feel protected.  I don't have anything against him, but neither do I have anything in common with him, save for a shared geographical proximity.  Indeed, the problem may be mine, because through coincidence, dumb luck, sheltered living, or simply a series of fortunate events, I spent my first 55 years of life not seeing a man walking past my house carrying a gun.  I spent those years being told and telling others that guns are dangerous things, best left in the hands of trained professionals, and that too many bad things can happen when they are around.  Nothing has happened during those 55 years to shake or rattle any of those beliefs at their core.

But this year, I'm seeing that gun every day.

And not just in my neighborhood.  The reality of the "Tennessee Gun Club," as I call the reality of pretty much anyone being allowed to carry a gun, either visibly or concealed, is that I am likely see one almost anywhere except schools (I hope) and some public parks.

At least in The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, the Shepherdsons and the Graingerfords (based on the Hatfields and McCoys, constantly feuding) left their rifles and pistols leaning against the outside wall of the church while they attended services inside, a detail Twain offered as part of his bitter satire on violence in the western states.

Here a couple of weeks ago, I was walking into Publix on a Sunday morning when I noticed the guy approaching the entrance from a different direction had a gun on his hip.  At first, my brain told me he was an undercover cop until it dawned on me that there ain't too much undercover about packing heat on your hip and until several encounters inside the store confirmed that he was simply shopping. 

With a gun.  For protection.  From what.  I don't know.

I know I'm just an annoying liberal unable or unwilling to face reality of the gun culture in America.  That is undoubtedly true.  But I also know that Tennessee, my state, has gone way off the deep end with guns.  Do you doubt me?  Well, while driving my daughter to Nashville yesterday to the airport, there is a particular gun store which advertises heavily on the billboards heading that way.  And I didn't pay them much attention--guns, assault rifles, ammo, blah, blah, blah.  Until I encountered this one:  SILENCERS ARE LEGAL.    And there's a humongous photo of the kind of silencer someone like James Bond or Jason Stratham would screw onto a pistol in preparation for "wet work."

"Silencers are legal?" I said incredulously.
"What are they?" my daughter asked.
"They are device you screw onto the end of a gun to muffle a gunshot.  I've heard they sound like a cough.  You've seen people use them in movies, I'm sure."
"That's weird," she said.

That's my state.  That's Tennessee.  Maybe it's your state, too.  Go ahead.  Make your best case, you freaking gun crazies.  Tell me why you should be allowed to own a silencer.  I'll wait.  While I cower in my house as you walk past with  
your dogs.