When my musical hero James Taylor started wearing a hat on stage a few years ago, I started thinking about covering my own bald head in public.
I always admired James back when he didn’t seem to mind letting his fans know he was losing his hair. Look at his album covers from the ’80s and most of the ’90s. Until his 1997 album Hourglass, JT didn’t try to cover his male pattern baldness, unlike, say, Elton John, Beach Boy Mike Love, Jim Seals of the popular ’70s duo Seals & Crofts, and countless cowboy-hatted country singers.
James’s lack of pretension when it came to his receding hairline was refreshing. It was honest. And it made his songs seem that much more true to life and heartfelt, to be sung by a man who apparently cared more about the depth of his music than the superficiality of his image.
Along those lines, I never trust any balding man who has the audacity to wear an ugly or cheap toupee, like televangelist and faith-healer Ernest Angley, or who sports a bad comb-over, especially really silly-looking or Aqua Net-dependent ones like Donald Trump’s perpetual swirly. Who do they think they’re fooling, anyway?
Anyone who knows me sees the irony in my 730-mile road trip for a bottle of bourbon. I’m not a big drinker of anything stronger than Mountain Dew, and even that is off-limits now due to its sweetness.
But there we were last Friday at 4:15 a.m. — oh-dark-thirty, as Timberley called it — backing the Gray Goose, our trusty minivan, out of the driveway and onto the first leg of Siri’s 365-mile route to historic Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
We were headed northwest on Interstate 40 in the east Tennessee mountains when the sun rose about two hours later. We had already stopped at the all-business Haywood County (N.C.) I-40 Rest Area and, therefore, didn’t need to be officially welcomed to the Volunteer State at its fancier facility up the road.
You would have enjoyed my first draft’s opening sentence about reading The Mueller Report much more than this one.
My discarded lede used the same, shall I say, colorful language that President Trump uses in various parts of the most awe-inspiring research document I’ve ever read — awesome just from a retired English teacher and former journalist’s perspective. From other viewpoints, the Report’s findings should inspire regret and trepidation among reasonable readers about what has happened to American democracy and to the Presidency over the past few years, and what could conceivably happen next.
But back to my first sentence, I figured that if the President says bad words and no one really cares, then I could say them, too. Still, unlike our President, who never descends from his bully pulpit, I decided not to be provocative just to get your attention, and not to use profanity when, instead, civility is what our divided society needs. That’s how we’ll keep Russia from succeeding again — by banding together to fight off attacks instead of letting them divide and conquer us, which is what they did in the 2016 Campaign and could do again in the 2020 Campaign.
Also, in this book report of sorts, I’ve decided to focus not on what other journalists and pundits have been discussing — sometimes inaccurately — ever since the redacted Report’s release two months ago, but on what I haven’t read or heard anywhere yet about potential “collusion,” neither in the mainstream press nor on social media. That’s not to say no one else has made these observations, just that I’m not aware of them in the reporting and commentary I’ve encountered so far.
If you’re hesitant to click the “Continue Reading” link below, rest assured that I’ll be relatively brief (my 1,600 words compared to Mueller’s 448 pages). It took me over two weeks to read The Mueller Report aloud from start to finish, but I can sum up my take on it in one sentence to save you from reading more than you might want of this, especially if you’re an unrepentant Trump supporter who still claims to be a truth-loving Christian: Donald J. Trump is a prolific liar and one of the most corrupt Presidents in U.S. history. But we already knew that, right? Well, now we have official documentation.
Through the miracles of modern technology, if not modern medicine, I’m writing this column, start to finish, as I sit in the waiting area of our local hospital.
This hospital, in an earlier iteration, was where both Timberley and I were born — me, almost 60 years ago; Timberley, well, fewer years than that. It’s where a brother, grandparents, uncles, aunts and countless friends died in years past.
It’s where through the years we’ve visited sick relatives and friends who have actually recovered and returned to normal living, so — contrary to what some people say, that this hospital is where people go to die — this local institution is a key part of our hometown. The people who walk these halls and occupy these rooms are a true microcosm of this community.
Its official title is the Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, but everyone knows it as The Mueller Report.
It may as well be called Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, because few people who really need to read it are doing so or likely ever will. I’m talking about the good evangelical Christian folks who value Truth, Justice and the American Way but still voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and, here’s the important part, will vote to re-elect him in 2020, no matter who runs against him. I’m not talking about intelligent, sensible Americans who can face facts now and admit they made a grievous error in judgement three years ago. Continue reading Robert Mueller’s Day Off: We’re Waiting for the Movie, But All We’re Getting Is a Reality Show
This past Sunday I finally took out my white flag — actually, my credit card — and paid for a digital subscription to one of my hometown newspapers. Even though President Trump calls the news media the “enemy of the people,” I decided that since I couldn’t beat ’em, I might as well join ’em — “them” being the Lenoir News-Topic’s army of subscribers.
In one regard Trump was right: The newspaper’s wall — firewall, that is — was just too “big and beautiful,” from the News-Topic circulation department’s perspective, anyway, for me to get past. Time and again, I’ve tried to dash onto the paper’s website to read an article, column or obituary, only to be reminded that I was an undocumented visitor at newstopicnews.com and that my paperwork needed to be on file to enjoy the benefits of subscribership.
We were sitting at a table in Ham’s Restaurant this past Sunday afternoon when the sad news scrolled across the bottom of the Carolina baseball game on ESPN.
“Oh, man,” Rodney said after a sip of tea. “Bart Starr died.”
“Really?” I said, putting down my sandwich and turning to look at the screen. It was true, even though our heroes aren’t supposed to die.
The waitress came about then to refill our water glasses, bringing our reminiscence to an abrupt end. At that point, the restaurant’s pledge of “Food – Sports – Spirits – Fun” was only three-quarters true at best.
All my life I’ve been told that Duke’s Mayonnaise is the only real mayonnaise. But the other day I cast caution to the wind and bought Food Lion’s store brand—also labeled as Real Mayonnaise, no less—and I liked it just fine. So I saved money and kept that mayo-slathered monkey on my back.
Timberley warned me, though, that once tomato season arrives, we will not have anything but Duke’s in our house. No Kraft Mayo, no Blue Plate, no Hellmann’s and—not even if it’s the only jar of mayo-like spread left on the shelf—absitively, posolutely no Miracle Whip Salad Dressing.
Whenever I read anything by or about Henry David Thoreau, my favorite philosopher, I start looking for ways to simplify our lives—or to economize, at least. Right now we’re reading aloud our friend Jeff Cramer’s book Solid Seasons, about Thoreau’s friendship with his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson. Only about 50 pages into the book, we’ll probably need a week to finish it, because we pause every page or two to discuss an issue that we can apply to our own lives or relationships. That’s a good thing. Continue reading A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet … But What About Duke’s Mayo?
It all started when we both wanted to read the same book but didn’t want to wait our turn. So to keep the peace, I read it out loud. What we learned was that we enjoyed doing that.
Through the years I’ve always read portions of books aloud to Timberley, particularly back when we were working on our young-adult novel Night Lights and the other unpublished manuscripts in that series. Back then it was a regular practice for me to rise early, write several pages or maybe a chapter, and then read it to Timberley later in the morning for her feedback. That’s how we co-wrote all those Kindred Spirits Adventure books.
Before the first Hunger Games movie came out in 2012, we started reading all the novels in Suzanne Collins’s series about Katniss Everdeen and her dystopian world. After the first book, we were hooked and couldn’t wait to read the next one. Around the same time, we also read Kaui Hart Hemmings’s The Descendants out loud before seeing its film version starring George Clooney. That book, in particular, is much better than the movie, though Timberley would rather look at George than listen to me.
I’m starting this column on March 28, 2019, so who knows what will happen between now and when it’s posted—or if it’s ever posted? No one, right? Life can be good, bad or indifferent.
But it’s Opening Day in Major League baseball, when hope, if not optimism, springs eternal, and when grass, except here in Boone, is green again. So here’s what I’m thinking about right now.
It has been that kind of retirement so far for Timberley and me. We retired from public school teaching in August 2016 because the demands of working full-time and helping care for two elderly, seriously-ill parents had become too great. Then, after saying good-bye to the daily grind of teaching—and three-quarters of our annual income—both of us encountered health problems of our own that far overshadowed mere worries about financial security.
Fortunately, as of this writing, we both have realized “new normals” in response to our medical challenges. Timberley has been able to continue teaching part-time at Appalachian State University during three of the past four semesters since her cancer surgery, and last fall I started working there, too, as a part-time consultant in the University Writing Center, my first real job since my back surgery one year ago this week. For those opportunities, we’re grateful.