Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Blank Stare Meets the Confused Clerk

Blank stares and confused looks rule the day after the Great Gift Card Christmas of 2006. Early statistics indicate an increase in gift card purchases of more than thirty per cent over last year. We certainly contributed to the gift card craze at our house, but not without considerable effort. We hatched and executed a pretty ingenious plan for our sixteen-year-old son. We bought gift cards to various restaurants and entertainment venues, along with tickets to two upcoming concerts. My wife organized them all in an expandable file and labeled it “Chris’s night out.” For a guy with a girlfriend but no job, this worked out wonderfully.
We learned quickly during the process that the gift card concept trips up your average fast food worker. With only a couple of exceptions, we were unable to acquire gift cards from the first person we encountered. Time and again, we would ask for one and the manager had to be summoned. Many times, you could tell the poor guy was exasperated, with that “How many times to we have to go over this for God’s sake?” look on his face. We also quickly determined that it is essential to keep the receipts, particularly for those “reloadable” cards. We have a low level of confidence that all of our cards were properly processed.
Redemption proved to be an issue, too. The Day After Christmas, kids rushed to stores to help the value of those cards evaporate into a mist of video games, DVD’s and meals-on-the-go. I was in line at a major national electronics retailer when the blank stare went face to face with the confused clerk. A teenager ahead of me in the checkout line had a gift card valued at $25.00. His purchase came to thirty-two bucks and change. He gave the clerk the card and a ten dollar bill. Simple, right? Not so fast. The clerk took all the money and gave him back the gift card with a balance of seven dollars and change.
Am I wrong, or does this make absolutely no sense? Isn’t it obvious that you should use up the value of the gift card first, and then use the cash to offset the balance, giving change in cash? The kid’s mother was incredulous, and who can blame her? The thing is, it had to be explained to the clerk at least three times and the kid never got it. Frankly, he didn’t care. It’s not his money. He didn’t buy the gift card.
That’s the beauty of it for those retailers. There is no chance the purchase will be for the exact balance of the card. If you give a card to a customer (particularly a young one) with a balance on it, it is likely it won’t ever be used. That’s free money for the store. If the customer is compelled to use up the balance on the card, another purchase is executed, maybe one that wasn’t intended to begin with. That’s more money for the store.
It’s no wonder they’re pushing gift cards so hard. Now, if they can push their employees to learn to work with them properly, we’re getting somewhere.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jump on the Bandwagon: Hate USC Now

The last month has been fun for veteran observers of the LSU football program. The team won ten games in 2006, backing up a ten-win season in 2005. Twenty wins over two years is an achievement worth noting for any college football team in America. So, why were LSU fans feeling blue in early December? It’s because they were not seeing red.
LSU did not win the Southeastern conference West Division title and consequently did not play in the conference championship game. Nonetheless, their success on the field had them ranked among the nation’s elite, and going into the first weekend in December it appeared that the team and the fans would have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to the Rose Bowl. If Southern California could defeat a mediocre UCLA team, then the Trojans would play for the national championship and a spot would be created in the Rose Bowl. LSU was tabbed for that slot.
In the days leading up to that decisive Saturday, the Tiger Athletic Foundation sent an e-mail to its members advising that post-season travel plans were developing quickly. The message was sent in red font. Some people read a lot into that, bought plane tickets and made hotel reservations in Los Angeles. Then, USC lost. That put the Trojans into the Rose Bowl and sent LSU fans scurrying about in a frightful fret.
What does it say about the state of your football team that you can make it into the Sugar Bowl matched up against Notre Dame and you’re disappointed? For days, the tiger faithful were crestfallen. The Sugar Bowl certainly is prestigious, but in this unusual context it suddenly appeared to be just another trip to New Orleans.
Once they snapped out of their funk, many LSU fans realized a rivalry of sorts had been born. When LSU won the Bowl Championship Series national championship following the 2003 season, USC was named national champion by the Associated Press. So, to the wide world of observers, the national title appeared to be split. LSU fans began to revile USC for casting a shadow on the legitimate national title. Now, in 2006, the Trojans did them in again by losing to UCLA and yanking the Rose Bowl rug right from under their paws. Even though USC isn’t on LSU’s schedule, there’s plenty of reason to dislike them. It seems almost personal, in a way.
A rose smells lovely, but sugar is sweet and the LSU faithful have come around. Shirts emblazoned with “Beat Notre Dame” became popular Christmas gifts. Talk turned to the quality of seats in the Superdome as tickets to the game became more and more in demand. Slowly but surely, the purple and gold people among us began to realize that this little trip to New Orleans wasn’t such a bad deal, after all.
There is the little matter of those non-refundable airline tickets to Los Angeles. There are people all over the state stuck with those. If that breaks the budget, people will be seeing red, after all. Of course, we’re talking about ink instead of roses. Wasted money: another reason to hate USC.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Another Crack at Defining Friendship

When I was about 20 years old, I lived through a pretty significant heartbreak. The girl I thought I was going to marry unexpectedly dumped me and revealed that she had become invloved romantically with my closest friend at the time. I spent all of my free time with those two people, and poof...everything changed in an instant.
Not long after that, some people took pity on me and invited me to a party. I didn't know anyone there well, at all. There was a young woman there named Dianne Hay. She was so kind to me. She spent time alone with me and talked with me...helped me through the evening. She gave me hope that I would recover from this emotional darkness.
I only saw her once more. I remember well running into her a couple of weeks later at the Pizza Hut on Kings Highway in Shreveport. I never saw her again, and I have often wondered what became of her. I would like the opportunity to tell her how much that evening meant to me. She was there when I needed her, and no more. It was amazing. I may never see her again, but she apparently made a permanent impact on me.
I received an e-mail from a friend which started like this:
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you know which one it is, you will know what to do for that person. When someone is in your life for a REASON, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you with guidance and support, to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be. Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled, their work is done.
Immediately, I thought of Dianne. I guess the holiday season brings out my sappy side. My wife and I aren't nearly as social as some people I know. Sometimes, you think there are parties all over the place and we're just not invited. Then, something happens to make you realize that friends are friends. You don't necessarily have to be actively social with them to know they're truly significant in your life.
One of my newest friends (It's always hard to define that, especially when you're talking about people you work with) and his wife work really hard at "getting out there." If there's a fundraiser or a social event surrounding a cause or civic endeavor, they go. Consequently, they are invited to a lot of gatherings. Sometimes, I'm a little envious of all the things they do and all the social interaction they have. Then, I realize that we have essentially the same opportunities; we just make different choices. So, I ponder the difference between actual friends and business/ psuedosocial acquaintances.
My father has spent a lot of energy trying to keep the next generation of his family connected. I've steadfastly maintained that "just because they're your relatives doesn't mean they're your friends." Yet, during our most recent troubles with my brother, an uncle and a couple of cousins stepped forward as really good friends. So, I've learned it's never too late to re-assess your relationships.
The e-mail from my friend continued:
Some people come into your life for a SEASON, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it, it is real. But only for a season.
The older I get, the more I realize this is true. I think a lot of time, "work friends" fall into this category. You help and support one another. Then, someone moves on and your work is done. You might occasionally touch base, but the relationship is changed. It has served its purpose.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons, things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant .
There are a couple of friendships in which I have this level of confidence. Here at mid-life, it is incomprehensible to me that I will not go to my grave loving these people. I am fortunate to have a life-long friend who has been with me at every major step I have taken, from first grade to marriage to becoming a father to burying a parent. I, in turn, have had the honor of being with him at times like those, as well. Of course, my wife is the best friend any person could have. She is the model for how relationships should operate.
Over the years, I have made a few enemies but have earned many more friendships. I'm not really comfortable categorizing them, I just celebrate them. At the holidays, I'm grateful for them. If anybody knows Dianne, tell her I said thanks.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

The Longest Five Seconds of My Year

On the first Friday in December, I traditionally endure my annual physical. On Friday, December 1, 2006, the tradition continued. Having another man peer into various orifices is an unsettling experience on its own. In fact, for several years I went to a female doctor. I actually preferred that. However, there were certain activites which became necessary because of my family medical history. We weren't comfortable with her doing them, so I moved on. This is how we got to The Longest Five Seconds of My Year.
Let me lead you down this path gently (an adverb my doctor needs to embrace, by the way). My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was in his 50's. The good news is: He's 80 now, alive & well. The bad news is: he was much younger than your average prostate cancer patient. So, as fortune would have it, I began experiencing the up close and personal exam for prostate enlargement when I turned 40. If you don't know what I'm getting at, let's put it this way: as far as I'm concerned, Christmas does not come early for me. Seven Decembers now, a cumulative 30-40 seconds of my life have been excruciuatingly elongated.
I know I get no sympathy from women for his. The pelvic exams they live through can't be pleasant. I have a point to make, though. For a lot of women ( I dare say most), isn't the area the doctor examines used as an entrance much more than it is as an exit? I mean, think about it.
From my perspective, this prostate exam causes someone to force his way in through the out door. ( With a nod to Prince, I guess the doctor could wear a raspberry beret. An obscure reference, I know).
The silver lining: I hate needles. Any kind of puncture turns my stomach. In the sequence of events surrounding this annual prod-fest, the bloodwork comes after the (Oh, my God, here it comes) digital rectal exam. So, the needle stick is a tiptoe through the tulips. I'm typically still reeling from the initimate invasion, so I sail through the phlebotomy portion of the program unscathed. The palpation portion of the process is almost a pleasure, in a non-homoerotic kind of way.
This leads me to the lingering mystery which seems to enshroud all of this for me. As painful (yes, painful) and awkward and unsettling as the Five Seconds are for me, I just can't figure how some people engage in similar activities for pleasure. Maybe it's like coffee, an acquired taste. I'm not interested in any new acqusitions, by the way. Thanks.
I already have another appointment for the first Friday in December of 2007. You know when I start dreading the first Friday in December? The first Saturday in December. The 24 hours in between, I'm just trying to recover.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

More on Where I've Been

My brother got out of the hospital today, which is remarkable, considering we essentially were planning a funeral a couple of weeks ago. This is the same guy who got hit by a car while riding his bicycle earlier this year. It might seem, at first consideration, that the guy has some kind of dark cloud hanging over him. On the other hand, you may start to believe in guardian angels. Look at it this way: he's been struck by a moving motor vehicle and has drowned in a swimming pool in 2006 and lived to tell about it. Hey, at least he's trying to take care of himself.
He may be sprung from his stepdown bed, but he might still be a candidate for a stint in the loony bin. He's still a few bricks shy of a load, as the construction guys say. For instance, he has asked me every day, sometimes two or three times, where his wallet is. I tell him every time that I have it and it's safe, and his response is always the same: "Well, I didn't know." The hardest part about his elevator stopping a few floors short of the top is the fact that he doesn't realize it. He thinks he's fine. He wants to go back to work this week. It will be tough to convince him that he doesn't have sufficient judgment to drive. Even if he can work, how can he get there? This will be a new life experience.
All of this came on the heels of an emotional disaster in our house. One of the teenagers knew someone who commited suicide. We had a week of significant parenting activities there. That was the week after my father, who is 80, had a biventricular pacemaker with an internal defibrillator carved into his chest. The days leading up to that and the subsequent recovery period were a little stresser for everyone, too.
(For those reading carefully who might be confused about the fact that I wrote in an earlier post that I am my brother's only living relative, here's the deal: we have different fathers.)
So, I hope everyone can understand why the blog has been neglected. Daddy D has plenty of stories to tell. It's just that not many of them are fun to write. I'll try to get back into the swing of things. I've seen Borat. I took in a Hootie & the Blowfish concert. I also saw Racal Flatts. I took five 14-year-old girls to Dallas for a Christmas shopping expedition. I went to the LSU-Ole Miss game. There has been a lot to say, just not a lot of time to share it. I may even try to write like a writer again soon. I've had three significant family events in the last month to six weeks which have derailed normalcy. Maybe now we can get back on track.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Here's Where I've been

To the the vast yet ever-contracting Daddy D readership, I apologize for the extended absence. The last few weeks have been challenging.

If you have a family member with a "living will," take the existence of that document seriously. The idea that you may have to make decisions based on its contents is easy to embrace. If the execution of those wishes slaps you in the face, reality stings. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on the sofa watching football when my cell phone rang. The call was from a nearby hospital; the person on the other end was looking for my brother's nearest relative. He is divorced and has no children, so that distinction falls squarely on my shoulders. The voice on the phone said, "we need you to come here right away."
I arrived at the emergency room to receive the sobering news that my brother, who had been swimming laps in a nearby pool, had been found unconscious on the bottom. He was blue, he was not breathing and his eyes were fixed. He had been pulled from the pool, and a physician who coincidentally was swimming nearby administered CPR. Now, an hour or so later, he had been revived but was considered "extremely critical." There was significant concern that he would not live through the night. If he did, the damage to his brain could not be determined. He was not breathing on his own and there was no way to determine if he would regain the ability to do so.
The next morning, we were engaged in active discussions about organ donation. I called his lawyer and got the living will. There it was, in stark black and white: the decision to withdraw life-saving measures belonged solely to me. For days, my only brother lay motionless in an intensive care bed. The condition of his body and the status of his brain were in considerable doubt. We all grew up Roman Catholic, so a priest was summoned. He administered the 'last rights," and told us my brother had been absolved of all his sins and was ready to make the great journey.
The days passed and slowly he began to breathe a little on his own. He cleared a major hurdle and it became clear that he would not die, but the level to which his mind would function remained very much in doubt. The only way we would know, we were told, is by having a conversation with him. We could not do that until the beathing tube was removed, and that was several days away.
I'm happy to report that he is presently awake and alert and speaking in complete sentences. His congnitive abilities clearly are improving every day, but still he is obviously impaired. The rate of his progress is encouraging and now there's reason to hope he will make a complete recovery. However, he clearly cannot go home alone. He will need rehabilitation. He is able to participate in the decision-making process, but the days ahead will be challenging as we determine together how he will spend the next few weeks.
He doesn't remember what happened, but he has been told time and again how serious his condition has been. The man who saved his life has visited him several times. The nursing staff has expressed amazement at his progress. He doesn't remember seeing a light or anything like that, so you have to wonder about all that absolution. You have to have faith, that there is a journey to make when your time comes and faith that a second chance at life will not be wasted. I'll keep you posted.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Here Come the Bugs

As the closest thing we experience to an autumn chill tries uneasily to settle in over north Louisiana, we can realize in amazement that Our Little Hockey Team is still here, alive and crawfishin’. The Mudbugs apparently have stood the test of time and continue to amaze and amuse us. How can it be that minor league hockey has been a success in hunting and fishing country?
Can it be the team’s owner, a walking talking caricature who appears at games in a big, silly cowboy hat wearing a giant shiny belt buckle with his blue jeans? John Madden carries the same name as a famous football coach turned broadcaster, and seems to have a similar level of enthusiasm for his adopted game. His loves his Mudbugs and tirelessly promotes the team. When he bought the team from high-strung New Mexico chiropractor Michael Plaman, he kept key people in place and made a successful effort to establish affinity with his fan base. He also has run the team like the business it is, all the while perpetuating his own image as a good ol’ fella who wears his hat and goes mud-ridin’. It works, too. I’m certain he’s sincere in that way. The fans who like that sort of thing seem to identify with him while those who observe his sartorial shenanigans with skepticism easily can appreciate the show he offers when he makes his rounds through the stands during games. It’s not about spotlights and antics, but more about being highly visible and creating a sense of connectedness between the fans, the team and its owner.
Certainly, the fact that the team wins a lot of hockey games helps. They routinely make it into the Central Hockey league playoffs, and most recently have made it into the championship series twice. The fact that have been tantalizingly close to winning the championship only to fall agonizingly short seems to work in their favor. It’s almost like there is a script writer crafting cliffhangers. The fans keep coming back to find out what happens next.
The local hero has to be the Bugs’ fiery coach, Scott Muscutt. He has been with the team since its inception. He was one of the most recognizable players on the team before taking over as head coach. He met and married a local woman and is raising a family here. Madden was smart enough to know he’s got it good with his coach, and he has made no change there. Muscutt is easy to like, and the fans adore him not only because he wins but also because his passion for what he does shows through at every moment. He’s also developed into quite the public relations man, understanding how important it is to connect with the community and keep things clean and above board with the players he hires.
During the off-season, the team experienced perhaps the most dramatic turnover in player personnel it has seen since it was formed. This year may be Muscutt’s biggest challenge so far and his toughest test as a coach and the face man for the franchise. History and experience tell us he is up to the challenge. If he can’t mold a consistent winner out of his current crew, the fan base may become disenchanted. However, there’s enough good faith built up by management and ownership that a rough patch on the ice should not be much of an obstacle.
The key to continued success is to maintain and grow interest. Shreveport-Bossier has a long history of developing complacency over time, and that may be one of Madden and Muscutt’s biggest fears: that the cities have begun to take the Bugs for granted. They’re still here and certainly they have earned our attention.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Justice, Texas Style

According to reporting by KLTV, the ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas, an eight-year-old East Texas boy got a visit from a Mt. Vernon police officer during school hours. The reason: five overdue library books from the Franklin County Library. The report by Orelia Ortega said "The boy's father is furious that the school would allow something like this to happen. But the officer who went to the school says he was just doing his job." The boy said he had no clue why he got called to the principal's office in Mt. Vernon. Once inside, he saw Mt. Vernon Sgt. Blake Gurley, who was carrying a gun, handcuffs and pepper spray.
I understand and respect that police officers must be on guard for their safety at all times. They never know what danger may lurk around the next corner or in the nearest shadow. Sometimes, however, you have to use a little judgment.
I completely understand why this kid might be freaked out. If the report is accurate, this officer's attitude, demeanor and approach were inappropriate and over the top. On top of that, how can you explain that some police department thinks it's a high enough priority to chase down fifty bucks worth of overdue library books that they can yank a third grader out of class, not to mention humiliate him? The kid is so embarrassed by the whole thing that he has changed schools. Maybe that's an overreaction, but we can't get inside an eight-year-old's head.
Who exactly was the Mt. Vernon police department serving and protecting by this course of action? Can any good that might be done outweigh the obvious harm, not only to the kid and his family but to the department's image?
Sergeant Gurley told KLTV that every month, the library gives him a list of people who have not returned their books and he tries to contact them. He said the library sent out a notice regarding the overdue books to the boy's parents. "The mail was returned back to the library so they were not able to get a hold of the parent so I made a few phone calls and determined the child was the school," Sgt. Gurley told KLTV. (Of course, I'm already against the guy for using the redundant phrase "returned back," but that's another story, isn't it?)
At this point, Gurley obviously sprung into action and smoked out the nefarious ne'er-do-well.
The boy got the books (Peter's Trucks, Octopuses, Sea Anenomes, Jellyfish and another book, according to KLTV's reporting) during a school field trip.
The kid was so upset after his encounter with Serpico that he broke out in a rash and ultimately was taken to a hospital. I hope Sgt. Gurley feels like a big man today.
"I really feel that Will will carry this the rest of his life," the boy's father told the TV station.
Law enforcement at its best.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Eye Black on Sports Journalism

Here's a perfect example of what's wrong with the media today: Over the weekend, on a day when there were perfectly good football games to report on, ESPN SportsCenter spent the first seven and a half minutes of its presentation discussing something that MIGHT happen. They had a live report from Yankee Stadium about the fact that Joe Torre might be fired as manager of the Yankees. Today, the news emerges that Torre won't be fired.
So, let's see. SportsCenter got it wrong, spent almost eight minutes getting it wrong, and no doubt today will not admit that they got it wrong. Their whole power block was based on a questionable newspaper report, to start with. The execution was bad and the journalism was worse. This does not even consider the fact that on an amazing football weekend, they dedicated inordinate blocks of their time to a baseball story was didn't really exist.
Since ESPN is the lead dog in the sportscasting pack, almost every little yapper out there in the sportscasting world went with some version of "what might happen to Joe Torre." It was ridiculous and embarrassing.
Don't get me wrong, if the Yankess had actually fired Joe Torre, then I wouldn't have a problem with SportsCenter of any other sports media outlet dedicating time and resources to the story. That's becuase it would have been a story, which it wasn't and isn't. Or, is it? It's a story today because Torre won't be fired. Of course, the fact that he's keeping his job is only a story today because one newspaper in New York and one cable outfit made up a story over the weekend. That is the sorry state of journalism today.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Breathing Easy

This is the conversation I had with my daughter while driving to school this morning:

Me: "Huh. This is kinda weird."
Her: "What?"
Me: "I'm breathing through both nostrils. Usually, I only breathe on the right side. It's a strange feeling."
Her: "Did you sleep on your back?"
Me: "What?"
Her: "Did you sleep on your back? Don't you usually sleep on your left side?"
Me: "I don't know. What are you talking about?"
Her: "Well, that's probably why you're breathing through both sides of your nose. If you sleep on your left side, all your snot shifts to the left during the night."

I laughed all the way there and haven't recovered yet.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Myth of High School Football

There is a prevailing notion that high school football is a big thing around here. I once believed it. I spent a quarter-century perpetuating it on local television. Maybe at one time it was. Now I believe, with a couple of exceptions, high school football has insignificant mass appeal in northwest Louisiana.
This is sacrilegious, I know, coming from someone who demanded the full resources of a local television station be dedicated to covering prep football for fifteen Fridays every fall. It's still being done, by the way. At the risk of sounding pompous and arrogant, I claim a significant amount of credit or blame for that. Over the last couple of years, I've spoken with two other long-time local TV sports directors about this phenomenon. I asked Ed Baswell (KTBS) and Bob Griffin (KSLA) if they can recall when we started going nuts over Friday nights. I worked for both of those gentlemen on dozens of autumn Fridays before I ran my own shop. I distinctly remember a time when we did not bring in extra help for Friday football. Nowadays, it's all hands on deck. Somewhere in the late 1980's, we starting turning up the pressure. Instead of three games, we covered five, then six, and so on. Gradually, we were spreading out over the massive geographic footprint of this television market and covering as many as fifteen games a night. None of us has been able to pinpoint when the decision was made to pursue Fridays with such vigor.
Special sets have been built, overtime is approved, graphics and music are produced. Now, at least two local TV stations do hour-long specials on Friday nights. "The Sideline Show" and "Friday Football Fever" on KTAL and KTBS are the kind of presentations that used to be reserved for annual sporting events such as the Super Derby and the Independence Bowl. As long as the account executives at the stations can make hay with this stuff, I guess the shows will continue.
That's the only real justification for them. I have two kids in high school. I can tell you that kids do not rush home to see their school's highlights on the local news. They go to parties after games. Except for Byrd, Airline, Evangel and Calvary, students and parents do not show up for the games in significant numbers. The circumstance is different in the rural parts of the viewing area, particularly in east Texas. Still, I'm not convinced that there is a massive viewership yearning for videotape of a sophomore running back breaking through the line for a gain of seven.
On the other side of the argument, you could add up the number of people in stadiums across the Ark-La-Tex on a given Friday and come up with an impressive number. Certainly, it would be larger than the crowd count at the movies or even a major concert. Okay, now I'm doing the math and the ancient logic I used to convince News Directors and Chief Photographers to sell their souls to Friday football is coming back to me. Maybe I'll catch a game and hurry home to see who had the best angle on the long touchdown run.
I know first-hand how hard all the local sports departments work. I know intimately how challenging and frustrating Friday nights can be. I also know how exhilirating and satisfying a well-presented highlight show can be. I wish my TV sports buddies well this fall. I just hope all the sweat and aggravation is worth it.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It's September. Do You Care?

Tradition tells us that since it is September, we must be thinking about baseball. Surely someone out there is, but I suspect the majority of those people are somewhere else. America’s pastime has become little more than a distraction, sadly.
Long gone are the days when a kid would sneak a radio into school to listen to World Series games. Of course, that’s not really a factor, anyway. The games all are played at night.
The point is: unless you’re in or near a baseball market with a playoff team, chances are you just don’t care. Steroid scandals, over saturation and slow play have led to the dilution of passion among casual fans. You can find a few hardliners in Houston and some diamond devotees in Dallas-Ft. Worth, but to find real baseball fans you have to go to St. Louis. There, the community lives and dies with its Cardinals. There’s no denying the passion in Boston for the Red Sox and long-suffering Cubs fans can be found in the four corners of our country. The same can be said for a few Yankees fans scattered coast-to-coast. Outside of that, we can find a passing interest at best in baseball.
Go ahead; try to start a conversation at the office about the playoffs and the World Series. You won’t get very far. Bring up LSU football, the Cowboys or the Saints and your productivity numbers will take a nosedive. That’s what engages people. Can you make a case for any baseball fan base which approaches that of any number of Southeastern Conference football teams?
If a northeast bias exists in the national media, then maybe a southern bias exists here. On a Saturday or Sunday this time of year, if you watch a sports highlights show, don’t you get aggravated if they interrupt the football segment to show baseball? Do you really care what John Kruk has to say? Somewhere, someone must because the national broadcasters keep playing baseball high in their shows. The national magazines put guys in caps instead of helmets on their covers, which may generate newsstand sales in the northeast, but not in the south.
Baseball is not dead by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s thriving in its own way. Even if the game in enshrouded in suspicion, people show up at the ballparks (at least some of them). The players are wealthy and of course the owners are much wealthier. Still, the game is out of touch, almost elitist. Many of the players just aren’t real and certainly they are not accessible. The average fan can’t afford to go to a game. Too rare are the visceral moments which allow the game to transcend those difficulties.
Conversely, the average football game will offer something once or twice during its course which will provide a real thrill. If you’re emotionally bound to a college program, you somehow can actually find enjoyment in being disappointed by your team’s season. At least you feel something.
Emotions will run high as Barry Bonds approaches Hank Aaron’s home run record, but that likely will come in the early to mid part of the season in 2007. For now, the question at hand is interest in crowning a world champion. Weren’t you left a little cold with the White Sox’ title a year ago? Did you even remember they are the reigning champions?
America’s relationship with baseball needs to be repaired. Just like any relationship, there must be give and take. Both sides need to care. Both sides need to work at it. At the rate things are going, the fans won’t even walk away from the game. That requires planning and a certain level of commitment. The worst thing that can happen to baseball seems to be taking place. A lot of people just don’t think about it anymore.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

These Things Are Stuck in My Craw

Does anybody really know what a craw is?

I know it is September, but temperatures are still getting into the 90’s every day. Can’t we all agree that it’s still HOT? Then, why do the TV weather people insist on saying it will be “cooler?” In order for the temperatures to be cooler, isn’t it self-evident that they have been cool to start? See what I’m saying? It can’t be “cooler,” if it’s not already cool. Don’t they mean it won’t be as hot? Or, have we reached a point in our lives as Southerners that 90 degrees can be classified as cool? I’m here to say no temperature can legitimately called “cool” unless it starts with a “6” or a lower digit….

I’ve noticed that some people have trouble grasping the consonant sound combination which sounds like “ts,” or “nce.” For instance, “license” is a singular word. “I need to renew my driver’s license.” Inevitably, someone will ask, “Did you get ‘em?”…as opposed to the more correct, “ Did you get it?” Conversely, there is the infamous media pass for a game at Shreveport’s “Independent Stadium.” This actually happened. Perhaps more egregious: the usually excellent superintendent of Caddo Parish schools heard on the radio saying something will cost “fifty cent.” That’s just inexcusable, in my view. One more example: a service station attendant in LeCompte, Louisiana with a name tag indicating she is called “Constant.”

My last annoying observation comes from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, where vendors were distracting me. Their little tags said ”Soda Water $3.00.” It was bottled spring water, just like Dasani or Ozarka or Evian. It’s not sparkly or soda or anything. I just want to know they they’re calling it “Soda Water,” when it’s not.

It’s not my last one, after all. This reminds me of a bonus annoyance: If it’s mayonnaise, it’s mayonnaise. If it’s salad dressing (Miracle Whip), it is NOT Mayonnaise. They’re both white and spreadable, but they do not taste alike. At the cafeteria at work, they make sandwiches. The ladies there offer you mustard or mayonnaise. It’s NOT mayo. I tried to explain it once, after I nearly gagged on my turkey & Swiss, but Apparently I’m the only one who cares.

I’m finished for now. Thank you.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The KTAL Dream

I dreamed last night that KTAL, in an effort to reach viewers, had reconstructed its anchor team from the mid-1980’s. Somehow, they convinced Sherri Allen to come back from KTBS, Ron Young to come over from KSLA, Dale Hoffman to move back from Alexandria and I was there sitting at my old desk. They even reconfigured the newsroom so that we were sitting in an office, just like we did for all those years.
This dream was not set in the 80’s. We sat around and talked about our experiences over the last twenty years, and none of us could believe we actually were sitting there. In this bizzaro world of my subconscious, the backdrop for the news set featured an 80’s Shreveport skyline. There was no AmSouth tower, no casinos, and no neon bridge.
I remember sitting at my desk, saying, “This is kind of cool in a nostalgic, retro way, but where is my computer?” as I stared at a beige IBM Selectric. Since the computers weren’t there, the prompter didn’t work, and a technician was scrambling to hook up an old-school, paper-fed conveyor belt prompting system.
Just for a moment, there was a flash of anger and frustration. Then, it all became comfortably amusing. We wondered where Al LeGrand was and told old stories about our late news director, Gordon Grafton. We decided that this was a stroke of genius, that a return to a Reagan-era presentation of the news might be just the tonic the station needed. I had the impression we all were doing this on the side, anyway. So, it was basically for fun, a kind of pseudo-social experiment, maybe even a stunt.
I actually have an image in my mind of Dale and Sherri sitting together on the set. Ron is walking over to the green screen as I walk into the studio, making final preparations to do a sportscast.
It was a happy dream, in a way. All the old interoffice rivalries were a distant memory. We were all older and wiser and happy to be together. We even used 80’s technology to present our little newscast, and it went smoothly.
Then, after the show…on my desk was a little slip of paper upon which was written the Count, Direction, Jackpot amount and Bonus Clue for Dialing for Thousands. Only then did I realize it actually was a nightmare.

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Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Conflict of Cultures

Both of our kids are in high school now, but they attend different schools.
We are experiencing the collision of cultures in our house on a daily basis. The older child attends Caddo Magnet High School, an academic Mecca with an overriding liberal attitude. The little one attends Byrd High School, where apparently the party never stops.
I graduated from a Catholic high school, and my wife graduated from a church school in Tennessee, so we’re learning about these places right along with our kids. My son is passionate about his loyalty to his school, but he’s not at all demonstrative about it. There are no yards signs or bumper stickers, only a steely resolve that there’s no other school for him. By contrast, my daughter is all about calling attention to “the City of Byrd.”
All of this is complicated by the fact that we live in Captain Shreve’s district. Shreve and Byrd are long-time, bitter rivals. The schools’ football teams will play against one another tonight, and the hype is electric, at least in our little corner of the universe. I acknowledge that, if you don’t have a rooting interest, this is all a tempest in a teapot. We haven’t lived through this before, so only now are we gaining an appreciation of it.
People who love Shreve just do not understand why anyone would drive past their school to attend that megalopolis Byrd. People who love Byrd see it as the most desirable place in town to spend your high school years and just can’t figure what the attraction is to Shreve or Magnet. There’s no reason there, it’s just about passion.
So, tonight, the Yellow Jackets will play the Gators and my daughter went to school in camouflage. The idea is they’re on a “gator hunt.” After the game, she’s invited to a party to “eat gator gumbo.” It’s all very cute and creative, and a nice way to build school spirit. Meantime, her low-key brother just doesn’t understand this hoopla. It seems to confound and amuse him. He has no interest in this football game or any kind of rivalry. He just wants to go to school, make good grades and hang out with his girlfriend. If the party never stops at Byrd, it apparently never starts at Magnet.
We didn’t set out to start a sociological experiment in our house, but one has developed. It will be interesting to watch this play out over the next couple of years.
In the meantime, I suppose I should attempt to become a “Byrd guy.” My daughter probably expects it; and my son doesn’t care either way. The Shreve fans in my neighborhood may take exception, but I have forces acting upon me which I may find difficult to resist.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pederson Continues to Lead Calvary

In the wake of the alma mater's football team getting baptized by Calvary Baptist in the Pope vs. Preacher Bowl last night, we dip into the Daddy D. archives again. This from November of 2005, a feature on Calvary's coach:

Doug Pederson never saw it coming: The hit that led to the end of his pro football career, which in turn sent him packing for an unanticipated journey to a place called Calvary, blindsided him in more ways than one.
Pederson spent thirteen seasons in the National Football League, most of them in Green Bay, backing up the most durable quarterback in league history, Brett Favre of the Packers. He came to accept his place in the Packers’ pecking order. “You can only play one quarterback at a time. You have three wide receivers or four wide receivers. You got one quarterback. I was comfortable in that role. I did everything I could every off-season, every preseason to be the back-up,” Pederson said as he kept tabs on a new team, this one decidedly different from the one he was a part of a year ago.
A number two quarterback must be prepared to enter a game on a moment’s notice. On October 3, 2004, Pederson got the call. Favre had been knocked silly. A concussion sent him to the sidelines. Pederson, leading the Green Bay offense, was stepping out of bounds at the end of an otherwise routine play when Keith Washington of the New York Giants delivered a wicked blow. Pederson had relaxed, thinking the play was finished when he “got blasted.” The result: a broken transverse process, a small bone off the vertebrae where muscles and ligaments attach to the spine.
While Pederson continued to play in the game, the pain worsened. Ultimately, as he attempted to throw a pass, “my whole back felt like a ball of fire.” More than a decade after breaking into the NFL, including stops in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Miami, Pederson had played his last down of pro football.
Lambeau Field, where the Packers play, is a long way from Linwood Avenue, where the Calvary Cavaliers listen attentively and with a certain reverence to their first-year coach. Certainly, there is deference to his experience. “He knows all the coverages. He knows how to watch film, read it. He knows everything that’s going on. He can prepare you for the next game every week,” said Calvary sophomore quarterback Jake Booty. In his new environment, though, Pederson commands respect for another reason.
“He’s a great Christian guy,” Booty said. “He’s a great guy to have around. He’s always encouraging, always there to help you. Never puts you down, no matter what’s going on.”
The jump from flying on charter jets across the country with millionaire superstars to riding a bus across north Louisiana with high school kids was a leap of faith.
“This transition has been really easy for me,” Pederson said. “Obviously, my faith had a big part in that, too.”
Calvary Baptist Academy’s leadership actively pursued Pederson to lead its brand new football program, which is competing in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association for the first time in 2005. “I blew them off twice. About January of this year, I decided to come take a look,” Pederson recalled. “I kept telling them I was going to come back and play another year. But, my wife and I traveled over here (from their off-season home in Monroe) and just fell in love with the place.” So far, the affection is returned. The comments from the players are consistent. They admire his patience. Booty, who has had three older brothers play major college football, has seen a variety of coaching styles up close. Being tutored by an NFL veteran might be intimidating, but Booty says Pederson “never gets real mad at you, upset, yelling at you…just showing what you need to do, basics and everything.” Sophomore wide receiver Khiry Cooper puts it more succinctly, saying his coach “sets a standard for Calvary.”
Pederson speaks with passion about that standard. He believes the school has high expectations athletically, academically and spiritually. He has affirmed his faith in the church’s leadership by enrolling his sons in the academy. “I always wanted to spend time with my boys, watch them grow, coach them. This gives me that opportunity.” At this moment, it’s difficult to discern where the coach stops speaking and Dad takes over.
“I wanted my boys to be in (a faith-based) environment. Now, I say that, but I back it up and I say ‘Is a Christian school, is a private school, is it All That?’ It’s what you make it. The fact that we can openly talk about our faith here and pray with the kids and do some things maybe a public school can’t do, that was of interest to me.”
“Over the years, football has blessed me. I’ve had the opportunity to go into schools and talk about my faith and what Jesus has done for me in my life through athletics. Now, I feel like this is just another platform I’ve been given to continue that and still stay in the game of football.”
Then it becomes clear that the Dad is the coach and the coach is the Dad: “I love the aspect of game planning for Friday Nights. I love the aspect of getting out here on the practice field and watching these boys grow, watching them work out in the weight room. Again, we’re building this thing from the ground up. I get to put in my ideas and traditions, and we get to start our own history.”
The story of Calvary football is being written day by day. Pederson and his team can only look forward, for truly there is no looking back. “There are no expectations this year,” Pederson offered. It seems philosophical, but is merely matter-of-fact. “We’re starting from ground zero, and whatever happens happens. That’s really the mentality that I’ve tried to get to these boys. There are no expectations of you. There is no last year. What do we compare it to? We’re starting. Whatever we do this year, now we’ve got a benchmark to build the next year and build the next year and we keep getting better and better.”
There is no premium placed on wins and losses, at least not yet. “Winning is probably second to just doing things right, just trying to get the program off the ground,” Pederson said, trying to convince himself. But he knows something about victory. He was part of a Super Bowl championship with the Packers, and was a freshman at Northeast Louisiana when the Indians won the NCAA 1-AA national championship. A native of Washington state, Pederson did not win a championship in high school. There is a hole in his resume he would like to fill as a coach. “I’m going to try to get these boys (a championship) here. That would really round out something to be proud of and get these boys believing in that.”
He has a philosophy that he believes will take them there: “I think if you take care of your business, do the little things you’re supposed to do, the wins and losses take care of themselves. You don’t have to preach winning to do it; you just have to teach football, the fundamentals of football. That’s how championship teams are built.”
The foundation will be laid with faith, kindness and encouragement.
“I was told that for every one negative you say, it takes five positives to reinforce a kid’s emotion and thought pattern. I’ve had coaches get in your face, scream, holler, cuss in your face and spit and everything else. Did it affect me? I understood I made the mistake. I didn’t need the coach telling me I made the mistake. Here again, at the high school level, you’re trying to mold and shape and create something where these boys want to play for you as a coach.”
Pederson is creating a culture of kindness in his football program, but that does not translate into low expectations. He sets those standards and expects them to be met by everyone around him. He will forcefully spell out his expectations, should the need arise.
“You still want to teach discipline. They still need to be disciplined, not only in school, but on the football field. They’ve got to take care of their business, and that’s something we’re trying to instill in these kids.”
Kids: A key component is this whole process. They are all teenagers, which presents its own set of challenges, some of which the first-year coach did not anticipate.
“In the NFL, all you did was football. You went to meetings, you went to practice, you went to more meetings, you went home,” he said somewhat wistfully. “Here, you’ve got to deal with school. (You’ve) got to keep your kids eligible. You’ve got to deal with a kid being sick. One kid’s out, so you’ve got to change your whole routine. You’ve got to deal with kids having doctor’s appointments during practice, dentist appointments. I’m with a young football team. I’ve got kids taking their driving tests. I’ve got to excuse kids from workouts to go take driving tests. That’s all new, but it’s something I’m adjusting to.”
As he authors Calvary’s football history, Pederson is already dreaming of a future that has its own rewards: “One day, you want them to come back to your school on homecoming or pick up the phone and call you and say ‘Hey coach, I appreciate everything you did. You really taught me how to be a man or to handle whatever situation comes down the road. That’s what makes it special to be a high school football coach.’”
Should it come to pass, no one should be blindsided by Pederson’s success.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Raising Cole Goes Big Screen

With the news that "Raising Cole" will become a big-budget motion picture, we dig into the Daddy D archives for a book review from July, 2004.

Marc Pittman has a tragic story to tell, and he gives us a glimpse into his soul in his book, Raising Cole. Pittman, a man of enormous physical stature, is carrying around burdens that might emotionally break the strongest people you’ve ever encountered. The book’s title refers to his efforts to mold the mind and body of his older son, who died in a car accident at 21.
Pittman’s effort is autobiographical, but his intention is to be instructive. His sons Cole and Chase were high school football players at Evangel Christian Academy, the highest-profile program in the state. The Pittmans were easy to notice, but not just because the boys were arguably the best football players in a program which routinely produces major college caliber talent. The nature of the father-son relationship was remarkable. A giant man and his ever-growing son were physically demonstrative. Pittman writes with obvious pride about the fact that his son, even as a football player at the University of Texas, would still kiss his father on the lips. This circumstance makes some people uncomfortable, and Pittman acknowledges that in conversation today. In his book, he remembers a time when Cole noticed that no other boys seemed to be kissing their fathers on the mouth, When asked about it, Pittman told his son that he guessed the other little boys didn’t love their daddies as much as he does.
Pittman asserts that so many people admired and asked about his relationship with his son that he felt compelled to share their story. After Cole died, he assessed the relationship with the younger son. He started writing Raising Cole in longhand. It’s an unconventional way to start a book, but then little about the Pittman family is conventional.
Cole Pittman came home to visit his family and friends in February of 2001. He was due back in Austin for the start of spring football practice. On the Sunday before he was to return, he made the decision to spend one more night in Shreveport. He got up Monday morning to drive back to school. Near Livingston, Texas he apparently fell asleep at the wheel. His SUV jumped a guardrail, landed in a ditch, and the young man died.
It is impossible to imagine the pain Marc Pittman endures. His son, away at college, called home every night at 9:30. Often he would call home several times during the course of the day to tell his father he loved him. Pittman’s love will never die and he’s still devoted to his son. There are no more nightly phone calls, but there are frequent visits to his son’s grave just to express his love.
Marc Pittman pushed his sons to succeed in football, in relationships and in life. He has pointed to what he believes to be his own shortcomings and tries to learn from then and teach with them. Some people around him think he has created a model for father-son relationships. He believes that, from his son’s death, a new kind of life has emerged.
This real-life local story has become a quick and fascinating read. It offers glimpses into the remarkable psyche of a “man’s man” who longs for affection and lavishes it on his children. The reader navigates an emotional minefield of devotion and despair, anger and angst. Ultimately, Raising Cole raises questions about men forming relationships. Is Marc Pittman’s formula something to emulate? Try Raising Cole for yourself and decide.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Purple and Gold Ornaments?

Happy Football Season! This greeting has spread around town like a holiday salutation. The smile it brings to so many faces is reminiscent of a much more temperate time of year. For LSU fans, the comparisons between September and December are fair. There’s something special in the air, a breathless anticipation. If the expectations of the season are realistic, this can be an uplifting, even rewarding interlude; but the potential for disappointment and a bit of despondency is real, particularly if we are expecting more than can realistically be delivered.
The 2006 LSU Tigers are ranked consistently in the top ten, and in the top five in some preseason polls. This is setting LSU fans up for quite a fall. The 2005 season was reasonably satisfying. The Tigers won eleven of their thirteen games, ending with a 40-3 dismantling of Miami in the Peach Bowl. The early-season overtime loss to Tennessee in the days following the Katrina disaster can be forgiven, quite unlike the disheartening defeat by Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game. If you throw out the SEC title game as an aberration, last year’s performance easily justifies the lofty if somewhat precarious perch upon which Tiger fans find themselves as the season begins.
There’s one player who touches the ball on every offensive play, and JaMarcus Russell causes the faithful to glisten as they consider the possibilities he brings to the field. He has guided his six-foot-six, 250-pound frame into a remarkable half-dozen come-from behind victories. He brings experience, savvy and imposing potential to his role as Coach Les Miles’ anointed starter at quarterback. The players around him have the potential to be spectacular, but they will be only as good as the offensive trigger man allows them to be. LSU’s biggest strength may be on the defensive side of the ball, where senior free safety La Ron Landry brings NFL-caliber talent to the field. Linebacker Ali Highsmith is expected to be among the best in the nation at his position. The Tigers had arguably the best pass defense in the conference in 2005, and the bulk of the defensive backfield remains intact. The defensive line is a question mark, and Highsmith’s colleagues backing them up need some seasoning.
The schedule does not work in LSU’s favor, if you consider the fact that Auburn, another top ten caliber team, shows up on the slate in mid-September. That game is set up to provide the first barometer reading for this year’s crew. The unthinkable distractions of a life-altering natural disaster shaped the 2005 team in ways previously unimaginable. This season, there is every reason to believe LSU’s status in the college football hierarchy will be determined by football and only football, the way a bunch over overgrown young men in helmets and pads should be evaluated. If they come away from the Auburn game with a victory, the anticipation of what is to come could very well be breathless.
This will be a critical juncture for the emotional well-being of LSU fans. Dreams of another BCS national championship will dance like sugarplums in their heads. There they will be, snuggled in the downy cover of their own gridiron dreams, hoping that the clatter they hear is not a harbinger of disappointment, but instead a precursor to a gift that will illuminate their new year with the light of legitimacy. All LSU fans really want for Christmas is a universal acknowledgment that their football program is among the nation’s elite. They don’t need ribbons and bows, they need crystal; and it needs to be shaped like a football and mounted on a trophy. “Happy Football Season” is an amusing and appropriate greeting in late summer and early fall. When it can be said with sincerity in December, you know you truly will have had a happy holiday. Plus, you’ve received a gift that keeps on giving. Get the purple and gold ornaments ready.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Countdown to Disappointment

We are a week away from the big Cowboys – Saints exhibition game at Independence Stadium, and my child-like enthusiasm for the event hasn’t been spreading.
The naysayers are out in force. Even our first-string local columnist, Teddy Allen, is taking pots shots at the game in the Sunday paper. Given his opinion, it looks as though a pre-game tailgate spread of pork roast and grits wouldn’t get him there. If the Saints have lost Teddy, they have a lot of ground to gain in Shreveport-Bossier.
Tom Benson, the Saints owner, has done a decent job of keeping his yap shut over the last several months. His unseemly and ill-timed flirtation with San Antonio in 2005 angered a lot of people around the state. Now, here in the northwest corner of Louisiana, some of us who have felt neglected or slapped around by Benson and the Saints have a chance to express our disdain by simply staying away. Many people are choosing to do that, refusing to pay the ticket price. Even more insulting, I’m predictably hearing time and again, is the parking charge. Perhaps more indicative of the prevailing mood: many people with whom I’ve discussed the game are only marginally aware of it. “When is it, again?” I’ve been asked time and again.
So, this is not a special event in the minds of many. It is, in fact, something worth barely considering. Somewhere, somebody thinks having the two nearest NFL teams meet in our little stadium is a big thing. Apparently, it’s a matter of value. They’d spend, say, twenty bucks a ticket but not a hundred. They’d pay five dollars, maybe seven, to park, but not twenty. They’d come if the thermometer registered less than 85 degrees, but it won’t.
I’ve watched parts of a handful of NFL preseason games this weekend. There are plenty of empty seats in those stadiums. Everyone understands that it’s just practice. So, I’m willing to concede that it won’t be embarrassing on a national scale if our stadium is sixty per cent full. Conversely, think how impressive it will be if the place appears packed on Monday Night Football. Wouldn’t we rather create the perception that we are a dynamic place, a place with enthusiasm for something so noteworthy?
It’s almost as if we’re reluctant to admit we’re proud to have the attention. Mega-Watt movie stars are hanging around town making big-budget films, but some of us are too arrogant or insecure to admit that this is something to be excited about. It’s fun and interesting and yes, cool, to have Sandra Bullock, Kevin Costner, John Goodman, William Hurt, and so many others here. It’s kind of amazing that the Heisman Trophy winner will strap on pads in our little locker room next Monday. Terrell Owens, one of the most controversial and yet compelling figures in professional sports, will catch passes on our turf. One of the three most successful pro football franchises of all time will play a (practice) game in prime time on national television in our city. How can that not be exciting?
It’s all in how you look at it. You can focus on the fact that the big names will only play part of the game, or you can focus on the fact that they’re here. You can focus on how the attendance really doesn’t matter, or you can focus on how a good showing will potentially make a positive impression, internally and externally. You can focus on how we’re a community in stalemate and malaise, or you can do something to prove otherwise.
I’m going to the game, and I’m taking friends along. I’m excited about it. I think it’s a big thing and I’m approaching it that way. I didn’t negotiate the state’s deal to subsidize the Saints’ operations, the former governor did that. I can’t change it and I choose not to protest it by staying away Monday night. I choose to participate in an activity that will make us all look good and will show that we are a city worthy of special events such as this. It has become cliché to speak of “quality of life” issues, but here is one, slapping us in the face. I guess that’s how some people see it, anyway. I choose not to be insulted, but to be enthused. See you at the game.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Life in HIgh Definition

I have entered the High Definition world at my house, and it’s a lovely place. I’m getting a dozen or so HD channels on my satellite service and several more over the air. Sadly, I am not getting NBC. My old pals at KTAL aren’t broadcasting in HDTV, and the station’s owners, apparently strapped for cash, have asked the feds to give them more time before they put up a signal. Not having High-Def coming from the Beautiful North Highlands Broadcasting complex is disappointing. The fact that I can’t even get channel 6’s digital signal on my TV is maddening, particularly since NBC has prime-time NFL games now.
I have tried diligently to pull in KTAL’s digital signal with my antenna. I’m getting KSLA, KTBS, KPXJ, KMSS and KLTS just fine. I went to a local electronics store and bought an amplifier for my digital antenna. Still no NBC. I called the place where we got the TV to ask for suggestions about pulling in channel 6’s digital signal. The store manager said, “We have a digital antenna forty-five feet in the air and we can’t get it here in the store. You’re wasting your time.”
I asked the guy who sold the amp to me if folks were having trouble getting 6’s digital signal. He said yes, “Because they broadcast from Texarkana.” That was a weird moment for me. I haven’t worked at the station for more than a year, but I spent two decades doing my best Don Quixote impersonation over the perception that the station broadcasts from Texarkana. For the record, they have exactly one news person in Texarkana and a couple of sales folks, which is about the same as the other stations in town. The studio is in north Shreveport and the transmitter is in Vivian.
There’s no excuse, though. Vivian, Texarkana, who cares? The bottom line is: I can’t bring in their digital signal with my antenna, and HDTV apparently is a distant, faint hope. I know they’re putting out a digital signal, because the station’s general manager has told me so many times. He’s told me how good the digital signal is. There’s a monitor in Master Control which shows the digital picture. Unless I can get it in my house, though, it’s all irrelevant to me.
The good news is, many of my favorite NBC shows are shown subsequent to their network broadcast on HD cable/ satellite channels. So, I’ll set the TiVo and watch them when it’s convenient. Of course, that does me little good with NFL games. I’m not willing, at this point, to invest any more time or money trying to bring in KTAL’s signal. It looks okay on satellite and that will have to do for now. Feel the power.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Chillin' in the HIlls

Lago Vista, TX (August 5, 2006) – Nine of the last seventeen weeks, I’ve been on the road. Only once has a member of my family elected to join me. I miss them. This weekend trip is purely for pleasure, unlike those of the last three months. I’ve come to the Texas hill country to see my oldest friend and his family. I’ve only been here a few hours, but we’ve already settled in to familiar stories, the kind that bore our children into submission.
My friend Mark is the fifth of six children, and four of his siblings are here. The house we’re in, in fact, belongs to his sister-in-law’s family. The fact that I’m welcome here says something about the depth of our friendship. One of his sisters was explaining to the younger generation here that “Darrell is like our fifth brother. He’s always been around.” I feel comfortable and safe here, dare I say loved? I appreciate so much being welcome in their family gatherings.
Mark and I met because our mothers were high school friends. I have known him for so long that I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know him. Next month, it will be forty years since we started first grade together at a little Catholic school in Bossier City. Friendships that enduring are rare and priceless.
We don’t talk as often as we did when we were younger. He lives five hours away from my home, and since his parents passed away he rarely has a reason to come home. Most of our conversations are seemingly superficial: a happy birthday here, a how’s it going there. I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days in his company and catching up. Although we are the same age, his family is younger than mine. His youngest child can still be fairly described as a baby, although surely she would dispute that. I had forgotten that kids are that little.
Underneath the birthday phone calls lies a foundation of love and respect. Our friendship has survived the years and the miles, and I hope and expect it will continue unabated, even if it is occasionally interrupted by the current of life.
The first night here, I’m celebrating a heart-warming reunion with great friends. Next, I’m planning to take a long look at this Hill Country to find out for myself what the fuss is all about. My father-in-law calls it God’s Country. I’m eager to see if I agree.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Long Wings' Season

I made it through a season of Arena Football as a team broadcaster. Our season was a disappointment, to say the least. The guys won three games and lost thirteen. A couple of times they were embarrassed, but in most games, they were competitive.
I have been asked several times over the last few days if I’m glad the season is finished. I am ambivalent, to tell you the truth. It will be nice to have my weekends back. I had fun, though, and most of the people I hung around with over the last eighteen weeks were enormously entertaining. I’m going to miss them.
Our beleaguered quarterback, JJ Raterink, was at or near the bottom of the league statistics in almost every category. But, he’s a great, clean-cut kid who seems to know what he wants out of life. He’s from Colorado and played college football at Wyoming. His parents traveled to every game and his older sister came to many of them. They are a devoted, close-knit family who support one another. They’ve invited just about everybody to Boulder to visit them, and they’re so doggone nice it’s easy to be tempted to take them up on the offer.
Former LSU and New Orleans Saints tight end Nicky Savoie joined the team at mid-season, hoping to whip himself sufficiently into shape to make a run at some kind of pro football comeback. He’s Cajun through and through. Even though he was the oldest guy on the team, in many ways he was like a huge kid. He stands 6’7”, but has the spirit of a teenager. After a rare road victory, he forced me to drink beer in order to celebrate. A good-natured, profanity-laced confrontation on the team bus left me no choice but to quaff hops and barley.
I spent most of my time on the road with the coaching staff. They’re all great guys. A couple of them are local. One is a graveyard shift police supervisor who just lives and breathes football. Another is a head coach at a local high school. Still another is a former pro football player who answered the call to help his friend, head coach John Fourcade.
Hanging around Fourcade was a career highlight. This guy is a constant laugh riot, even when he’s not trying to be. He’s hot-headed and profane when he’s agitated. He’s an engaging raconteur when he’s relaxed. From his days as a highly-recruited high school quarterback from New Orleans through his legendary career at Ole Miss, which led to a pro career in The CFL, NFL and AFL, he has stories. A guy who starred at an SEC school and was a playoff quarterback in the NFL gets around. When his playing days are over, he’s left with a seemingly endless supply of tall tales. This guy also owns several Hooters restaurants in Louisiana. Needless to say, he enjoys a certain amount of popularity.
Before the last game of the season, the assistant coaches bet him twenty dollars apiece that he could not make it through the first quarter without using profanity. He took the bet. I said we needed to define what profanity is, because he will try to find loopholes. Immediately, he started to squirm, saying anything that described a bodily function would not count as a cuss word. You can use your imagination, but at least three four-letter words come to mind that can fairly be categorized as bodily functions. One of them is one of the worst words in the English language. He was not allowed to use that excuse.
So, profanity was defined and the bet was on. About halfway through the first quarter, something frustrating happened. The coach’s head almost spun off his neck. He looked around, reached into his pocket, pulled out some $20 bills and threw them on the ground, screaming “There’s your *&^% money!,” Then, he turned to the player who upset him and screamed “What the (bodily function) were you doing? Get your head out of your (body part).” It was quintessential Fourcade, and it’s one of the things I will miss now that the season is finished.
I don’t know if he’ll be back with the team next year, or if I’ll be asked back, for that matter. Each of us had a one-year deal. I hope it works out for both of us. I made some new friends over the last eighteen weeks, and the whole experience has been worthwhile. I hope we’re both back. All of us deserve a chance to not only have fun, but to be a part of a winning team. I think we have what it takes to accomplish that. We just need a little more time.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'm OK in OKC

Oklahoma City (July 29,2006) - Oklahoma City is a great place to visit. There, something positive about my many travels. I'm been to lots of generic cities this spring and summer, and OKC stands out. Despite the alarming abundance of cowboy hats, it has a bit of sophistication to it. Its face is Bricktown, which does downtown proud. Imagine something grander that the Louisiana Boardwalk, but not on the scale of the RiverWalk in San Antonio.
This is my first visit to Oklahoma City, and I'm impressed. The Triple-A baseball park is spectacular. The multi-purpose arena is first-rate, and the things in between are clean, well-designed and obviously popular. Better still, they're all together, within walking distance of one another. It's a true residential, recreational and working downtown.
Bricktown is all about entertainment and dining. I didn't run across any retail, although I'm sure it's nearby. There was an outdoor concert going on, and the restaurants and theaters were packed. The crowd was attractive, abundant and diverse. I saw little kids and middle aged people. I saw white, black and Hispanic. I saw well-dressed people in their late teens to mid-twenties, in groups and on dates. I'm telling you, it was almost idyllic.
This is another one of those one-nighter weekend trips for me. I'll say this, though. If I have the opportunity to come back to Oklahoma City, I'll take it and I'm bringing friends with me.
This must be what the people who are planning the Shreveport-Bossier riverfront want to achieve. It's like the hoped-for Red River District married to the Boardwalk, only all grown up. They've tamed the river and have recerational boat rides on it. The walkways are multi-level and broom-clean. The landscaping is well maintained and maturing. This is a true downtown success story.
The prices were reasonable, the food was good, and the drinks were cold. The atmoshphere is upbeat and positive. This place should really be proud of itself.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

It's Not the Heat, It's the Humidity

Oklahoma City (July 28, 2006) - What do you get when you mix:

1) A July afternoon in northwest Louisiana, north Texas and central Oklahoma,

2) Twenty-one men,

3) One bus

4) Zero working air conditioners?

Answer: Nothing clever, at this time, to offer. Just relief to be on the ground.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Small Talk Topics to Avoid

Making small talk with someone can be revealing and enlightening. Certainly, one can learn to appreciate different ways of thinking. While waiting for a meeting to assemble, I became involved in typical workplace small-talk. It’s raining buckets here today, so that was an easy minute and a half. After that, we lost all contact with common ground.
I was talking with a man I’ve known for a while, but not very well. He’s the guy you see in the hall or grab a quick cup of coffee with in mid-afternoon. We started talking about sports and the conversation naturally turned to the upcoming Monday Night Football preseason game between the Saints and the Cowboys in Shreveport. I asked him if he plans to go. He said, “I won’t pay money to watch pro football as long as I can watch it on my TV.” Okay, then. I thought my head would explode.
I’ve had conversations like this in Shreveport over a long period of time. This attitude seems to prevail. It’s confounding and disappointing. This football game should be one of the biggest events this city has seen. We will be showcased on national television. This can send a message that this city is dynamic enough to pull off and support an event of this magnitude. But, no: we’re still fifteen thousand tickets short of a sellout. The man who made the comment works less than three-quarters of a mile from the stadium. He literally will not go across the street to watch this football game. It’s important to know that he considers himself to be a sports fan. He won’t support pro football because he says the players make too much money for playing a game. I did not break out my soap box, though. We moved on.
He asked the generic, “So, what’s been going on in your world?” I said, “Working and herding teenagers.” He has a daughter one year young than mine, so there. We had something to discuss. I said something about how scary it is to be raising teenagers and how much trouble they can get into if you don’t teach them well and monitor their activities. He said, “People tell me I’m strict with my daughter. Hell, yeah. If she was a boy I’d be whipping her ass every day. But, she’s a girl and you have to treat girls and boys differently.” Hold on. He’s not smiling. Keep in mind, he’s talking to a guy who’s reluctant to make his son get a haircut, and he’s talking about daily ass-whippings. I got a little uncomfortable. Then, he said his daughter won’t be allowed to wear make-up until she’s sixteen and that she knows she can’t associate with boys and that she’ll be allowed to go on supervised dates when she’s sixteen. I just laughed at my own obvious parental shortcomings.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ve told my kids that trust is theirs to lose. I’ve told them that I believe they will do the right thing and make good decisions. They have not always done that. When they have slipped up, there have been noteworthy consequences. I believe, however, that they have been honest with us about their lapses in judgment. Recently, someone who strongly disagrees with my way of thinking raised her voice and said, “Stop trying to be their friend and be their f*^@ing father!” I refuse to believe that being a father involves “ass whipping” and making your children miserable.
Except for the hair, which is a fight not worth the energy, our kids are held to standards academically, socially and behaviorally. They know it and with a couple of exceptions along the way, they have lived up to those standards and expectations. When they have fallen short, they have paid a price. We have presented our children with a wealth of opportunities for personal growth. They have embraced some and rejected others. That’s part of growing and learning. I want to encourage my kids to express themselves and live life. I don’t want to shackle and repress them. For as long as I can remember, I’ve resisted being shoved into a mold.
I love my kids for the people they are, for the people they are becoming. I respect them because they are smart enough to make choices with guidance from their parents and grandparents. I also understand they are kids who need parenting. They will make mistakes. They’ve made their share, but they’ve owned up to them. So many of my kids’ friends run and hide from their parents, it saddens me. I hope the other moms and dads out there know how their kids feel about them. Maybe they’re proud of it. Maybe it’s part of “being their f*^@ing father.” That’s not the way I see it. My daughter’s in high school now and she can wear make-up. My son can grow his hair down to his rear end, as far as I’m concerned. I would prefer it if he would wear polo shirts and khakis and have his hair short and parted on the side. But, that’s not who he is. Maybe that’s who he will be some day. I don’t think wearing make-up sends any kind of negative message about my daughter. In fact, if she didn’t, she would stand out in a negative way.
We get along. We have open discussions about fears, disappointments and frustrations. We preach responsibility and accountability. We talk about manners, academic achievement, and honoring your family. We hope we are raising well-adjusted young people who will be happy, productive adults and we’re not using physical intimidation to do it. That’s our way, the parenting path we’ve chosen.
I’ve learned along the way that there are certain things you don’t discuss at polite dinner parties or during workplace small talk: Abortion, public school/ private school, and now parenting philosophies. There’s too much tension, too much emotion involved. It’s too personal. If daily ass whippings work for you, well I don’t live in your house. What else can I say? It’s really none of my business.
Let’s get back to sports. There are plenty of good seats still available for that Monday Night Football game.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Political Face of Daddy D

Shreveport (July 26) - I have been thrust into the world of politics. This is not something I anticipated or sought, but there it is. One of my oldest friends has decided to run for mayor, and she asked me to introduce her at her announcement party. To be honest with you, I really don’t know a lot about her politics, but she has helped my family and me so much over such a long period of time that I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. I’ve introduced her twice now. I offered similar thoughts about our friendship at her first major fundraiser.
Having spent decades in the media, there are some things I have difficulty doing. I really struggle to cheer at sporting events. One of the fastest ways to be banned from a press box is to openly support one team or another. I also have been taught over the course of my adult life to never take a stand in the political arena. As a member of the media, it’s professional suicide to support a candidate publicly. So, being an out-front, face person for a mayoral candidate is a little disconcerting.
The politics of this mayoral race aside, I’m supporting someone who has supported me. This obviously is a major leap for my friend Liz, and my wife and I have her back whether she wins the election or not. The campaign has just begun and I have no idea what tone it will take. I’ve said for a while now that I know so many people who are running for mayor that I’ve just starting saying “good luck in the race.” I feel a little awkward because my wife and I are well acquainted with Republican candidate Jerry Jones and his wife. In fact, I felt compelled to explain to Jerry in advance why I would be publicly introducing Liz. To his credit, he said he understood and patted me on the shoulder.
There are many qualified candidates for mayor, and I feel confident that the city will be just fine under the leadership of most of them. Only one helped me navigate the treacherous waters of dating in the early 80’s. Only one propped me up as I made glaring mistakes in judgment personally and professionally. Only one had her mother cook elaborate meals for her hungry single friend. Only one stood up for us on our wedding day. Only one threw bridal showers for my fiancé and baby showers for my wife. Only one allowed us to fill her garage with furniture and boxes while we were building a house. Only one can induce a cathartic belly laugh when I’m dealing with stress. Only one offered advice and guidance when I was making a massive career change. I know and like and have confidence in several mayoral candidates, but only one is a friend in the truest sense of the word.
Only one asked me to introduce her candidacy to the city, and I enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Hair-Raising Experiences

As we have established, hair has been an issue for me for a long time. As a teenager, I had a long, wiry head of hair that drove my father crazy. It was the 70’s, and big, bushy hair was socially acceptable. I loved the way my hair felt in the back, even though I never was particularly happy with the way it looked. I promised myself at the time that, if I had a son, he could do whatever he wanted with his hair. I’m trying to keep that promise, but it’s a challenge.
When my son was wrapping up his church school career two and a half years ago, the administration there starting leaning on him about his hair. Believe me, it wasn’t that long. Nonetheless, in the spring of 2004, he was told that unless he cut his hair he would not be allowed to participate in graduation activities. He cut his hair. At the risk of being indelicate, the best way to put this is: he’s still pissed off about it. He vowed not to get his hair cut for one year. In keeping with my promise, he was allowed to do it. I didn’t think he would, but he did. In fact, he went almost a year and a half without seeing a set of shears. I didn’t like it one bit, but he was standing on principle and I was standing on a promise.
Finally, he had enough and got his hair cut to shoulder-length. He didn’t like it. He went back to the same place and got more cut off. He didn’t like it. He went back, three times in the same day and finally settled on a reasonable cut. He hasn’t had it cut since, and he’s looking raggedy. I’m urging him to get another cut before school starts, but I’m not forcing him. I’m keeping the promise, but it’s not easy. I want him to feel good about himself. If his hair gives him some kind of Samson-like self-confidence, then so be it.
I don’t have to like it, bit it is his hair. I fought hard for his right to have his hair as he wanted it when he was in 8th grade. I talked to the middle school coordinator, the school chaplain and the teacher who was driving the haircut train until I worked myself up into a state. We did not win the fight. To this day, I maintain that the length of his hair was one of the most superficial things to worry about and a colossal waste of time. Why, in the 21st century, are there arbitrary rules about the length of boys’ hair but none whatsoever about girls’? There was no answer to that question, but they refused to think beyond the school handbook. If they had just shut the hell up for three more weeks, the problem would have solved itself. But, no, they had to blindly and blithely spout their rules and send my son spinning into a tempest that still has him dizzy.
I truly believe I wouldn’t be fighting this hair battle today if the people at that school had just been reasonable. My wife and I were heavily involved in the school and the church for more than a decade when all this came up. That they refused to defer to the judgment of a student’s parents just mystifies and galls me. I appealed to their sense of reason, to their compassion and even to their own promises. They promised to treat each child as an individual; but they didn’t do it. They clung with white knuckles to their cookie-cutter rules, which is inconsistent at best with what they said they would do.
I loved that place. I poured my money, my heart and my soul into it, and I believe to this day that it let me down. My son’s hair is a symbol of what I perceive to be the school’s failure to be responsive to those who support it and nurture it. We got my daughter out of there and she blossomed in another environment.
I still love the place, and the rules people can thrive there. When it comes to my son’s haircut, it really doesn’t matter. The length of his hair will not affect his ability to get into a good college. Down the road, it may affect his ability to get a decent job. He can get it cut then. My hair has mostly fallen out, and I’ve said to him on more than one occasion, “Son, grow it while you’ve got it.” I know some people judge him harshly based upon the look he has chosen. He’s a kid and he’s feeling his way through life. His hair is part of who he is, and presently it’s helping define him.
Do I want him to get a hair cut? Certainly. Will I force him to cut it? Never. It’s his hair, not mine, not the school’s. I just want him to come to the conclusion on his own terms and in his own time that a nice haircut likely will serve his interests in a positive way. In the meantime, the people at school can feel good about themselves for taking a stand on something so vital.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Amarillo By Morning?

Amarillo, TX (July 21, 2006) – I have a friend who is forced to travel on business frequently. I envied him a little. I like to travel, and the opportunity to see other parts of the country on the company’s dime seemed like a sweet deal to me. Be careful what you wish for. I’ve spent eight of the last fifteen weekends on the road, and it has taken a toll on me.
I have nothing negative to say about Amarillo, except that it looks amazingly similar to any other place I’ve been this year. Given more than a couple of days to look around, I’m certain I would be able to find some distinguishing characteristics. That won’t happen, though. I’m spending exactly one night here. My hotel room is nice and the people with whom I’m traveling are pleasant, but I’m just aching to be home.
The highlight of my day was watching CNN Headline News. While the parent network, CNN, was providing live coverage of the escalating hostilities along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, Headline News was showing a high-speed chase outside of Houston. A man wanted for robbing a dry cleaners at gunpoint led police through neighborhoods, across a golf course and through several collisions before he came to a dramatic stop in a ravine. Normally, I would ignore this kind of “news” coverage on principal alone, but that’s how bored I was. Sitting in a hotel room on a Friday afternoon, I felt like I was in solitary confinement. I called my wife on the telephone and told her that this only confirmed that I could never survive in jail.
I want to kiss my wife, hug my daughter, pat my son on the back and pet my dog.
I want to drive my own car and sleep in my own bed. I brought a book. I’ve been enjoying it, and I’m about halfway finished. Somehow, I’m so out of sorts on this trip that I can’t muddle through more than a couple of pages. I’m tired, bored and distracted, but it’s no one’s fault. It just exists.
I filled up the evening. One of my traveling companions brought a DVD player into the room and we watched a movie. Then, we rounded up a couple of more guys, hopped into a taxi and went to see another movie. Tomorrow, we will get to the business that brought us to the Texas panhandle. For now, we’re just killing time and staying out of trouble.
And I get to do exactly the same thing with exactly the same people, except in a different city, again next weekend.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Buzz It or Beat It? Tough Chair Choices

My hair has always caused me problems. The latest edition of “Struggles With Hair” has less to do with what’s on my head (a pitiful remnant of a formerly densely populated follicular region) than it does with a peculiarly awkward circumstance surrounding its maintenance.
Several years ago, I abandoned the pretense of going to a “stylist” to get my hair cut. It wasn’t because I was ready to surrender emotionally to middle age. It was because I was so busy I had trouble keeping appointments. When I want a haircut, I want a haircut and I don’t want to wait a week and a half to get one. There is an old-school barbershop near my house.* It has a barber pole, a shoe shine man, witch hazel, hot shaving foam and straight razors. There are older men in white shirts with combs in their breast pockets standing behind barber chairs, just waiting for new heads to arrive. Arrive, they do. Rarely can you walk in and go straight to a barber, but the wait is rarely longer than fifteen minutes. There’s plenty of seating, some reasonably current magazines to read and a 70’s-era television with rabbit ears to keep you distracted. There’s almost always someone else waiting and the conversation inevitably turns to the weather, LSU football or some other easily discerned common denominator. The small talk is collegial and cordial. All of these factors combine to create a relatively pleasant half-hour diversion in your day.
I’ve run into a problem, though, which is causing me to pause before I return. I’m uncomfortable with the guy who most often cuts my hair. Here’s how the thing works at this barber shop: You walk in, and there are four barbers there. Most of the fellas wait and hop into the first available chair. The way things have fallen, I’ve wound up most often in the third chair from the left. The barber who works that chair has a close-cropped buzz cut and apparently is dead-set on doing his part to have the world conform to his look. About four haircuts ago, I came out of his chair looking like a dusty cue ball. My wife was not pleased and my kids snickered.
Some kind of unspoken arrangement seems to have ensued. While I’ve been to every barber in the place, this man now seems to perceive me as his client. If two chairs are open, there is a presumption in the shop that I’ll be sitting in his. You can see the body language of the other barbers saying, “Well, Darrell’s going over there. I’ll wait for the next guy.” The last time I was there, Buzzman said, “Well, I know not to cut your hair too short.” Then, he started talking instead of paying attention to what he was doing. Sure enough, my head looked something like the greens at the U.S. Open. Now, my wife has forbidden me to have my hair cut by him again.
So, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. There are three other barbers in that shop who cut my hair just like I want it. Do I dare walk in and snub Mr. Buzz? Do I explain to him that he’s been given at least three cautions about cutting my hair too short and I’m moving two chairs down the line? Do I avoid going in there altogether? I feel like I’m trapped in the middle of a Seinfeld episode.
When I was single and actually had hair worth managing, I would choose where to get my hair cut by going to the salon that had the most attractive female stylists. After I got married, I went for years to the nice lady near my neighborhood who proved adept at getting my wispy remnants to look relatively full as they stood valiantly on top of my head. Now, I just want the process to be quick and comfortable. No matter what I choose to do, there will be awkwardness. You don’t want that in a haircut experience. Having bad hair is awkward enough.

*Photo stolen from Will Clarke

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