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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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dawn of the Local TV Dead

My broadcast past continues to haunt me like a zombie in a B-Movie. I've had another doggone Dialing For Thousands encounter. I arrived on time for a meeting at work, but the person I was scheduled to see called to say he was running a little late. I chose to use the unexpected free time to "chillax," as my daughter calls it. I went to the cafeteria to grab a Diet Coke and a moment of quiet. Instead, a nice man approached me and said, "My ex-wife's grandmother used to watch you every day." (The story varies like an urban legend, but there's almost always an elderly aunt or somebody's grandmother involved).
I'm like Charlie Brown with the football on this one. I always assume Aunt Bertie watched my sportscasts. I'm always wrong. Inevitably, a conversation which starts like this leads directly to a phone call, a practical joke and upset Auntie. Sure enough, his ex-wife's brother allegedly waited for me to appear on his television one night. He knew his grandmother would be watching. So, while I dialed the number to someone in Emerson, Arkansas or another obscure outpost in the Ark-La-Tex, he dialed Grandma's number. When she answered, he did his best to replicate my little presentation and got her worked up. Of course, they still tell this story at family gatherings.
The little viewer-interactive enterprise has been gone (but obviously not forgotten) for years, and yet it still stirs emotions. A version of this tale has been presented to me by countless strangers, along with stories of elderly relatives keeping careful daily logs of where I called and the results of those calls. I've had people send spiral notebooks to me which are filled with carefully kept notes, painstakingly spread upon the record of their lives, all over the fleeting possibility of winning cash in the low four figures. It astounded me when I was doing it. It astounds me more even today.
This is disturbing in a way because it leads to a feeling that I wasted a lot of time and energy. As a sportscaster, more often than not I reported on stories of success. A highlight is a high moment, something positive. The athletes we featured were selected to be profiled because of their achievements. Even with the scandals that sully sports today, the preponderance of reporting focuses on winners, people and moments of accomplishment.
All of that, twenty-five years as a sportscaster, seems forgotten now. Every interception, touchdown, home run, slam sunk, personal best time that was featured on our air has long since left the atmosphere and dissipated into nothingness. They occupy no space in anyone's grey matter, not even my own.
But Dialing for Thousands lives on.

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Parenting Never Stops

My father called last night to warn me about the dangers of the heat. He said not to go work in the yard, “because you could have a heat stroke and you would be paralyzed.” I laughed, but he has a point. I’ve heard the old folks talk about heat stroke, but I don’t know anyone who actually suffered from it. I don’t want to be the first.
It’s hot, there’s no question about it. It’s always hot in July. The temperature inevitably will surpass 100 degrees, so what’s new? I’ve been mowing yards in the summer for more than thirty years, and I haven’t had a heat stroke yet. Why worry now? I have to give it up to him, though. You don’t live eighty years without developing some kind of wisdom.
My father was the youngest of fourteen kids. His father had two wives, he tells me. Each of them produced seven babies. In a remarkable circumstance, no photo exists of all of them together. There’s a simple reason for that: they never were. Imagine having a family so large that there was not a single occasion when they were assembled in the same place. He was extraordinarily devoted to three of his brothers and two of his sisters. He was business partners with the first son of his mother, who was the eighth child of his father. His sisters cared for him as a child, and the bond they shared was tungsten.
Think about it. He has grieved the deaths of his parents, a wife and thirteen brothers and sisters. He turns 80 this month and has now lived longer than all but one of his siblings. Dealing with an octogenarian parent will be challenging and often frustrating, but it’s better than the alternative. It’s nice to have a parent around.
Many of my friends and all of my cousins on my dad’s side have lost both parents. This is working to my benefit, in a way. At least four cousins call or visit my father with encouraging regularity. They’re clinging to the older generation of the family, which helps him as much as it does them. A nice by-product is that some of the responsibility for the emotional well-being of the Agin’ Cajun is deflected from me. They talk about old times with him, and ask him to tell them stories about their parents. It’s an old-school, time-honored purveyance of family legacy.
In the meantime, my family still gets the benefit of having the old guy around. Advice about simple things is priceless. When my wife and I were planning to build a house, we were looking at lots. We were drawn to one with two giant pecan trees on it. We took my father to look things over. He glanced across the street and saw a bare piece of ground. He said, “That’s the one you want. I know you like these pecan threes, but if you build on this lot they’ll die.” We took his advice. Sure enough, less than two years later our neighbors across the street were out thousands of dollars because they had to have two dead pecan trees chopped down and hauled off. Now, the young trees we planted on our bare lot have grown 15-25 feet high and we have shade our neighbors envy.
He is a simple guy down to the core. He’s contemplating the end of the road. The other day he said, “Trying to provide y’all with an inheritance is hard work sometimes.” That’s not the kind of thing you want to think about, but I suppose it’s part of parenting. For now, we’ll let him keep on doing his job and I’ll do my best to avoid paralysis.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

What Would Tom Hanks Have to Say?

In honor of this weekend's ativities, we reach back into the Daddy D archives. This was a contribution in May of 2005 to a now-defunct faith-based publication...

One of the most memorable lines spoken by Tom Hanks in a film comes from “A League of Their Own.” Hanks’ character manages a women’s baseball team. One of his players becomes upset and the manager is incredulous. “Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!” Maybe not, but there is crying in softball. I’ve discovered that, to my delight, this spring.
Coaching youth sports can be challenging and remarkably rewarding. I’ve had the opportunity to coach mixed soccer teams and boys’ baseball teams. Now, I’m having my first experience working with all girls, teenage girls. One of my neighbors has been coaching his daughter’s softball team for several years. Our girls are the same age and they’ve developed a close friendship. There was a spot open on the team this season, and we happily signed up. I was excited about it for all the usual reasons: new social opportunities for my daughter, a chance for her to build confidence, all that. I did not expect to take an active role in coaching the team. That seems to have happened, though and it is working out well.
My neighbor said he falls in love with the girls every spring and I’m beginning to understand why. They consistently surprise you. Just when you think they’re just being little girls, they turn on some intensity valve. Just when you think they have that figured out, they seem more interested in how their uniform looks than whether they can make the play.. Just when you think they’re ready to give up, they’ll break out an organized cheer. It’s confusing sometimes, but also uplifting.
In a recent game, our pitcher took a line drive off her shin. She hung in there, fielded the ball, made the throw and got the out. Then, she fell to the ground and started to sob. She wasn’t hysterical, though. She was hurting. Her tears were genuine and that was obvious to everyone. Thirty minutes later, the swelling was so bad it looked like she had grown a third knee. Not long after that, we engaged in a spirited debate about whether it would be “cooler” to go to school on a crutch, or just limping. I told her she would earn more cool points by limping around, but telling people she made the play. I think that’s the strategy she went with. Next game, she was back out there without fear but not without tears. Why was she crying this time? Her dad wouldn’t let her roll down the waistband of her shorts. See what I’m talking about?
Coaching girls is just different. Praise and warmth are much more effective motivators than criticism and challenge. Sometimes, when you’re coaching boys you can get what you want from them by making them angry. I’m discovering if you make a young girl mad, more often than not the results are the opposite of what you had hoped and intended.
When things work well, you get back much more than you give. One of our players missed a game. When she showed up for the next one I asked her where she had been. She said “Bible study.” I said, “Well, that’s much more important but we missed you and we’re glad you’re back.” The smile I got was utterly priceless. I don’t know if they feel things more deeply than the average teenage boy, but they certainly express their feelings more openly. You always know where you stand with those girls.
We are also fortunate in that most of our players seem to come from families of faith. Each girl is assigned to lead a team prayer at some point while we are together. The willingness with which they accept the responsibility and the apparent respect for the process is heartening.
They are taking advantage of social opportunities, becoming better friends and gaining confidence. More importantly, they’re learning to respect one another’s faith and dignity. They are learning to appreciate o another’s talents and celebrate their differences. They can still be little girls, but can catch you off guard with their depth of character.
Yes, it’s just softball; but there’s a lot of hope on that team. There are great families raising outstanding young women, the kind of girls who are easy to love.

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Raise Your Fist and Pray

(Alexandria, LA) July 15, 2006 – Anyone old enough to remember the 1968 Mexico City Olympics will appreciate this photo. Of course, my daughter never heard of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, but there she was, at an athletic event, raising a fist wrapped in a black glove. Smith and Carlos were kicked out of the Games after this medal ceremony. Their silent protest with a “black power” salute was perceived as "not in keeping with the spirit of the Olympics." The way this trip is going, maybe we should organize a “girl power” demonstration.
Last night, the difference maker in our extra-innings loss to West Ouachita was a triple play started by my daughter’s bat. The girl who was the victim of the third out had a much worse day. Earlier, she locked her mother’s car keys in the trunk. Even though both parents are here, no one had a spare key. A lot of the team’s equipment and all paperwork were in that trunk. Until a locksmith came along, we had issues. During the game, the same girl was involved in a collision at the plate and took an elbow to the ribs.
Another girl showed up with a 101 degree fever. Another woke up this morning with an ear infection. Of course, the one girl with no parent on the trip is the one who needs to see a doctor. Of course, no one thought to get any kind of pre-authorization for treatment. The good news: our catcher’s dad is a physician. The bad news: He’s a gynecologist. So, I’m not sure how that will help the ear infection.
Our pitcher from last night, who went eight innings, is walking around like a zombie and limping. Why did our pitcher go the distance? Because our other pitchers are at summer camp. One is in east Texas. Another is in southwest Arkansas. Another player is in Florida with her family. Those girls apparently are high-tailin’ it to central Louisiana like the cavalry or something. We need them. We’re sick and wounded. We played with exactly nine girls and got into extra innings.
Let’s list what we have here: Tears, fever, ear infection, keys in trunk, ice packs, hot packs, and feminine hygiene products. I haven’t mentioned mosquito bites, abrasions on the girl who forgot to pack her sliding pants, and who knows what coming from the cesspool of pathogens that summer camp can be.
Girl power, indeed.

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Adventures in Softball

Moreauville, LA (July 14, 2006) – Another weekend has meant another trip to an obscure location. The Louisiana Little League girls state softball tournament somehow wound up in Avoyelles Parish.
I’ve driven through this parish on the interstate countless times, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to set foot on Avoyelles soil. This is sad, in its own way, because it is my father’s home parish. In fact, he grew up just nine miles north of Moreauville in Marksville. Yes, if you cut me, I bleed Avoyelles parish blood. It happened tonight, figuratively speaking.
Our team lost in extra innings to a team from West Ouachita. There was a huge moment in the sixth inning. We were trailing by a run, but the lead-off hitters bunted their way to the corners. My daughter came up to bat. She took a couple of pitches then smoked a screaming line drive. It was the hardest I’ve ever seen her hit a ball. Unfortunately, it rocketed directly into the glove of the West Ouachita shortstop. The ball was struck so sharply that the runner on third, who was breaking with the pitch, had no shot to get back to the base. The runner from first tried to scramble back to the bag, but the Ouachita girls alertly threw over there. Yes, my daughter hit into a rally-crushing, inning-ending triple play. The public address announcer said, “That’s something you don’t see very often: A triple play!” Thanks, buddy.
The people here were very nice. This is situated far enough south in the state so that the Cajun accent is prominent. I know it well. It’s my father’s accent. The tournament host must not get to the northern part of the state much. While he proved to be adept and calling attention to the rare triple killing, he did not know how to pronounce the name of the home parish of our opponents. For the record, it’s “Washitah.” Apparently, the nice Cajun man thought there was an apostrophe in there somewhere. He kept calling them “West O’Washita.” At first, I thought it was a dialect thing, but then I realized he was doing it on purpose and it became hysterically funny. I guess he thought they were from the part of Louisiana settled by the Irish.
At one point in the evening, it took me about fifteen minutes just to visit the restroom. There was a little boy, about two and a half years old, in the men’s room. He didn’t lock the door behind him. I walked in on him, and said, “Oh, sorry buddy.” Too late: he was scared and starting calling Mommy. She went in to help him, but pulled a bonehead Mommy move. The kid had to sit to do his business, if you know what I’m saying. Mommy told him to hurry. She obviously doesn’t know much about boys and their bowels. Of course, her urging had the opposite effect than what she had hoped. Meanwhile, in the ladies’ room, someone was getting a spanking. There was crying coming from behind one door, accompanied by disquieting thwacking. Grunting and cajoling was coming from behind another door. Can’t a guy empty his bladder in peace? After all that, little Josh in the men’s room clogged up the toilet with tissue and his mom had to hunt down a plunger. Fun at the ballpark.
The girls recovered quickly from their disappointing loss. This is a double elimination tournament, so they live to play another day. The line of the night was uttered at the post-game pizza party. One of the girls went to the salad bar and got a bowl full of bacon bits. (Okay, it was my daughter). She was spooning the bacon bits onto a slice of pizza. I said “that’s weird.” She said, “Hey, they do it in Canada.” You have to think about it for a moment. The other girls giggled so much, I thought they’d pee their pants.
It’s a good thing Josh and his Mommy weren’t around.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What World Will Our Kids See?

The world is a scary place in 2006. It is terrifying to the parents of a sixteen year old boy. North Korea has taken saber rattling to a historical high. We seem to be bogged down in Iraq. Iran is lurking in the frightening corners of our consciousness. Now, Israel is blasting Lebanon back into the 1980’s, maybe farther back.
There is a major Air Force base here, so the sight of people in uniform is a daily occurrence. Warplanes fly over our heads all day every day and most of us don’t give them a second glance. They are part of the sky around here, and except during a thunderstorm, who spends a lot of time studying the sky? The same can be said of your kids. You go through life and they’re around. You take care of them, and life is routine unless some kid of storm is brewing.
There are frustrations which seem typical for parents of teenagers. My son is banging on his boundaries, always attempting to expand them. He probably needs a haircut, but certainly that’s subjective. He’s exceedingly bright and encouragingly witty. He could broaden his base of interests, but there’s no cause for real concern. His grades are excellent and he seems motivated to keep them that way. He and his sister get along well, and I’ve been told several times not to undervalue how fortunate we are in that regard.
I look into his eyes sometimes and wonder where they will lead him. What kind of world will he see? Will it be a healthy and happy world? Will the smile, which comes so easily to him these days, mature into a smile of contentment and satisfaction? He talks about the social pressures he endures, but I’m still convinced he’s had an easy ride. He attends a small, academically-oriented high school after spending eleven years in a church school environment. His cocoon has been spun of privilege, spirituality and intelligence.
Should he be more socially and politically aware? When I grew up, I watched network news every night. Even with a 24-hour news cycle available to him on his computer and his TV, I don’t think he’s particularly aware of what’s happening out there, and I think that’s a good thing. There is a passing knowledge of the circumstance in Iraq. When the war first started, he paid attention and asked questions. But now, it’s just part of the landscape. The possibility that he may be pressed into duty has been planted in his brain, but of course the notion that it may become reality is just preposterous.
The President has stated without equivocation that the draft will not be reinstated. There are people in positions of power who advocate some kind of service requirement and they may be emboldened by the global tumult which has developed. I have no military experience and I celebrate that. I don’t want to have any, either. I know my children are able to lead their sheltered lives because of the great military history of this country. I know my son is able to go about his activities without fear because kids just like him made a decision to serve our country. One of his closest friends from grade school days dreams of being a Green Beret, a Navy Seal or an Army Ranger. For the kid in my house, that simply does not compute. I hope he is not forced by some madman across the ocean to recalculate his future.
I’m not sure what to fear the most. North Korea seems to be the most real and imminent threat, but this Israel-Lebanon conflict has me dyspeptic. The conflicts in that part of the world seem somehow metastatic and the United States appears helpless to stop the spread of the disease. While an argument can be made that it’s not our business, that thinking is at best naïve. Our resources are being depleted and I fear the crisis point is near. While wading through all the conflicting information and points of view, one easily can come to the conclusion that we are not prepared to make a meaningful, positive impact across the globe. The time may come when we will be asked to “make real sacrifices.”
Military families across America are making them daily. I can’t say with confidence that our family is prepared for that possibility. I pray we never find out.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Is That a Satellite Dish on Your Car?

A bit of a debate has ensued on another locally-oriented blog about the growth in popularity of satellite radio. One correspondent claims that a recent slide in ratings by local rock stations can be attributed to an increasing abundance of satellite receivers in cars. Another responds by saying he does not know anyone with satellite radio.
It’s interesting to watch this play out. My friend Jerry spent decades as a manager in local radio, and he periodically will send updates to me about the status of the satellite radio industry. He seems to be among those who perceive it to be a blip, a minor annoyance. I see it quite differently.
My wife, my father and I all have satellite radio in our vehicles. We also listen to satellite radio at the house. I do listen to local radio for specific things. I enjoy JJ and Bonzai in the afternoons. I also enjoy local news. It is not coincidental that I get those from the same station, KEEL, which is performing admirably in the local ratings. For music, I listen to XM 26, XM 46 and sometimes XM 72. My daughter moves manically between XM 20, XM21, XM 22 and XM 30. I’m sad to say that the local pop station, K 94.5, is usually her sixth option in the car. We have grown accustomed to commercial-free radio without a lot of jabbering. She is interested in the music exclusively.
The guys on the morning show at the local oldies station can be witty sometimes, and they have a credible news anchor on their show, so I will tune in to them sometimes in the morning.
I also have to support my man Fletcher wth his morning sports show.
Mostly, though, if I want talk, on XM I can choose between three sports networks, several news channels, and two or three comedy channels. There is no way the local stations can compete. In fact, I'm being less than honest if I don't admit that I listen to those specific local shows because I have personal relationships with most of the people on them. That doens't mean they're not successful, though.
I’ve spent a lot of time and poured a lot of my soul into local radio, and I continue to wish success for my friends, as well as everyone I don’t know in local radio. I believe they will thrive, because local is king. I just think they shouldn’t live in denial about where satellite radio is going and how it will impact the programming on their stations. The local rock stations, along with the Mix adult contemporary station are sliding in the ratings. It has nothing to do with the air personalities. It has a lot to do with how people choose to enjoy their music these days.
People much smarter than I are studying this carefully. They are looking for reasons to compel the listener to tune in. As my children grow with more and more options, radio stations are simply not a part of their lives as they were to the generation before them.
You can’t deny satellite radio, especially as receivers are becoming standard in many cars. If you know what to look for, drive through a parking lot and look for satellite antennas. I suspect there are more than you think.
As for the person who claims he doesn’t know anyone with satellite radio, I guess it’s all about the circles you run in. Aside from the three receivers in my immediate family, I can think of at least four people I encounter on a daily basis at work who have satellite radio in their cars.
It’s here, and it’s growing. For people inside the business to deny it is foolhardy.

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

She's a Tiger, and I'm Long in the Tooth

Albany, Georgia (July 8, 2006) – My travels this spring and summer have taught me something about generic America. Wherever you wake up, you can usually find something that feels familiar, usually in the form of food: McDonald’s, Waffle House, Hooters, etc. Until recently, I haven’t understood why travelers go to these places. It seems to me that if you’re visiting a place, you should try to experience something about it that sets it apart.* Now, I’ve fallen into the trap of trying find something routine on the road. That’s the difference between travel for fun and travel for work, I suppose.
The people I’m with on these trips know what they like. I can tell you before I leave, without having to ask, where at least two of my meals will be: Hooters and Golden Corral. Even in Albany, Georgia (population 76,000 and shrinking), I can count on that.
You know you’ve fallen into some kind of eerie routine when a significant component of your dinner conversation involves comparing the Hooters you’re presently patronizing to others. For the record, Albany’s falls somewhere on the low end of the percentiles. The service was poor, the seating was uncomfortable, and the waitresses didn’t resemble the ones on the billboards. Get the picture?
How low did this conversation go? The manager stopped by to rub our shoulders, as Hooters women will occasionally do. I don’t ask. I just roll with it. The woman’s name, unfortunately, was Kat. You can imagine where things went from there. Just think of other things you might call a cat (Kat?) and move on. Anyhow, at one point, she said, “I’m a Tiger!” and growled a little while swiping a paw in our general direction. Apparently, I put my face in my hands. Kat said, “I’m sorry. Did I embarrass you?” I said, “No. You didn’t.” I was, of course, embarrassed for HER, but she didn’t realize it and I suppose that’s a good thing.
After that intellectually stimulating experience, I found my way to the local multiplex and watched “Click,” starring Adam Sandler. I enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t what I expected. Random thoughts: I had not noticed before how beautiful Kate Beckinsale is. I can’t explain why. It was nice to see Julie Kavner get work.** I always liked her on TV as Rhoda’s sister. (A Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off). The thing that stayed with me as I left the theater, though, was not the movie’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” type message. It was that Henry Winkler played a grandfather.
So, if I take one thing away from South Georgia, it’s this: I’m getting old. I’m embarrassed by low-brow overt sexual references offered by a young woman in a futile attempt to ingratiate herself to middle-aged men. I remember Rhoda, and Fonzie is a grandpa. I’ll start my Metamucil regimen now so I can be regular when I get back home.

*I got breakfast at Steak -n- Shake, which we don't have at home. So, I've grown culturally, just a little.

**To add to the notion that I'm hopelessly aging and out of touch, I didn't realize until I was writing this that Julie Kavner has had steady work for a long time as a character on The Simpsons. To me, she's Rhoda's sister. See what I mean?

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Friday, July 07, 2006

The Big Show in Bossier

Bossier City, LA (July 6, 2006) - It kind of amazes me that we’re consistently getting The Big Shows in Bossier City. Faith Hill and Her Husband thrilled a near-capacity crowd at CenturyTel Center Thursday night. To be fair to Faith’s true love, the decibel level from the crowd kicked up a few notches when Tim McGraw started his set. How it was decided that he was the headliner and she was the opener, I’ll never know. If I had the chance to make the decision alone, it would have been a no-brainer.
They opened the show on the stage together with “Like We Never Loved Before.” Then, McGraw disappeared under the stage and his spectacular wife rolled out an inspiring performance of hit after hit. “This Kiss,” a crowd favorite, was presented with an arrangement different from that of the recorded version. This live performance had more of a rock feel to it. Proving that she is not constrained by her country roots, Hill showed her versatility by performing an a cappella version of “I Surrender All,” at the request of an audience member. “It is Well With My Soul” also moved the crowd. Hill belted a little Janis Joplin along the way before being rejoined by her husband for two duets, “Angry All the Time,” and “Let’s Make Love.” Then, she and her loveliness disappeared under the stage as her spouse had done an hour and a half earlier.
I know McGraw has become a major country superstar, and I actually know the words of a few of his songs. He’s way too “country” for me, though. There’s a little too much fiddle in his songs and I have trouble getting past the way he seems to sing through his nose. After two songs, I looked at my wife and said, “I’ve seen what I’ve come to see. I’m going to get something to eat.” McGraw was eye candy for her.
There are not many country shows I would go see, but this couple is such an extraordinary combination of looks and talent that the concert struck me as something I needed to experience. I have to say it was not a disappointment. I may not enjoy Tim McGraw’s voice, but he’s a hit machine. You also have to like what he and his wife stand for. They’ve been married for ten years, and they still talk openly about their love and affection for one another. They were donating proceeds from the show to help hurricane victims in Louisiana. Somehow, even when they sang overtly suggestive songs it seemed okay because they’re married. The lyrics don’t come across as lascivious or prurient, just loving.
The night was a positive all around. Sometimes the singers’ voices seemed lost in the music, but most fans in attendance seemed to know all the words, anyway. Just hearing their songs performed live, you realized the scope of their talent.
The magnitude of this music event for Shreveport and Bossier City can’t be understated. The Eagles, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and other music industry legends have performed locally in the last few years, but this show featured two superstars together at the peak of their careers, and we were fortunate to have them perform for us. They did not disappoint.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

No Tundra Was Harmed

I saw a man wearing a Shreveport Pirates T-Shirt. Wow. It’s been eleven years since the Canadian Football League abandoned its United States experiment. Sure, the Pirates’ two seasons at Independence Stadium were often tumultuous. For those of us who were involved with the team on a daily basis, the memories evoke smiles and laughter.
The team played in Shreveport for two seasons and had records of 3-15 and 5-13. Thirty-six regular season games produced just eight victories, but a bushel basket of hysterical recollections.
In the team’s first season, 1994, they were terrible. The Pirates had won just two games as the anticipation built for the season finale. The game was against the Ottawa Rough Riders, the team against which the Pirates had opened the season. The team’s owner, Bernie Glieberman, had owned the franchise in Ottawa in the recent past. The game was to be on national TV in Canada, on that country’s equivalent of ESPN. Fuel was added to the fire when the play-by-play man assigned to the game by the network said that the Ottawa coach would “rather gnaw off his own fingers than lose to Shreveport.” That got enormous play in the local media, and, well, them was fightin’ words. More than 32,000 fans showed up for the game, and the Pirates won. The announcer was doing a live post-game show from the field, and he looked like he was about to refund his supper right there. It was one of the greatest nights in the history of sports in Shreveport. Take my word for it.
Bless Bernie. He tried to fit in. he owned a vintage car, a 1948 Tucker, which he loaned for display to a Classic Car museum in downtown Shreveport. When he and his team skipped town, the city planned to seize the vehicle and hold it until some bills were satisfied. Glieberman’s local attorney was dispatched to drive the car out of town, presumably to hide it. He ran out of gas and the cops nabbed the Tucker.
The team’s first training camp was put together hastily. The players were forced to stay in dorms at the state fairgrounds originally designed to house children who were showing livestock at the fair. A classic line fired off by a large young football player, upon seeing his accommodations for the first time: “What kind of country-a** sh*t is this?” That line, for a time, became something of a mantra in the local media.
The shot of credibility this team had was the presence of its coach, NFL Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg. He didn’t win many football games, but he had everyone’s attention and respect.
A couple of more stories, just to illustrate how the two-year tenure of the Pirates could be a made-for-cable sitcom, if it’s done right. The Pirates had a punter named Aaron Kanner. He had been struggling a bit, and a member of the local media, who was working the sidelines of the game, decided to heckle him a little. (This was inappropriate and unprofessional, but it fit somehow). At one point in the game, Kanner was forced to punt from the back of his own end zone, and a decision had been made to take an intentional safety. Kanner simply could have fielded the snap and stepped out of the end zone, but no. He got the ball, wheeled, and punted a line-drive right at the startled and suddenly silent camera man.
Finally, there is the unforgettable scene from season two. The team owner, an aging northerner, standing in a steamy locker room following yet another loss by his team. He is surrounded by sweaty, naked young men and a couple of TV cameras when he launches into a profanity-laced, possibly alcohol-enhanced tirade. He is frustrated by his team’s lack of success on the field and in the stands, and he has found a culprit. “I don’t know where the &%$@ we’ll be next year, but I’m not going to any @#%^ing place that had G**Damned gambling boats!” After eleven years, that may not be a verbatim quote, but you get the idea. Needless to say, that tape has been played dozens of times, prompting, of course the question, “What kind of country a** sh*t is that?”

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Death Of Spectator Sports in Shreveport?

The Dallas Cowboys will play the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game on Monday Night Football in Shreveport on August 21.
Let that sink in for a moment. With the possible exception of the Notre Dame – LSU Independence Bowl, this is easily, unquestionably, irrefutably the most significant sporting event to take place in Shreveport in my lifetime.
It’s not sold out yet.
When the Miami Hurricanes came to Independence Stadium to play Louisiana Tech, that was big. Not only was one of the premier college football programs in the country bringing its team to Shreveport, it was led by a quarterback, Brock Berlin, who was opening his senior season in his home town. I wrote at the time that if the stadium didn’t sell out, Shreveport should just give up on sports. I meant it then. Sellout? It wasn’t even close.
How can Cowboys-Saints on Monday Night Football not sell out? In a town notorious for its excuses, what will keep people away? Number one, I guarantee it, is “It’s too hot.” Well, yes, it’s August. If it were just the Cowboys or just the Saints there might be a sliver of wiggle room in there, particularly since it’s “just” a preseason game. However, this event features the Cowboys AND the Saints. It doesn’t get better than that.
The tickets are expensive. For the best chairbacks near mid-field, the price tag is north of one hundred dollars. However, tickets for the game have been priced as low as fifteen dollars. Naturally, those were gone quickly. If there ever was a sporting event in town worth a premium price, this is it. It’s a school night, also. I haven’t found a person yet who thinks it’s a good idea to start school on August 9th. That person is out there, otherwise it would not have happened, but that’s beside the point. I’m guessing there’s a way to get the flashcards done and still make it to the game, if you really want to.
There lies the point. Do you want to? Do we want to? In Shreveport and Bossier City, we’ve made a tradition out of complaining about a lack of something to do. Now, here is something legitimate and, by our standards, spectacular. Yet, we’re struggling to sell it out! It would be overreaching, I suppose, to call this a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If the area does not respond with enthusiasm, it just might be. Why would the Cowboys or the Saints or any other sporting enterprise bother to come if there’s insufficient demand? We know there’s interest, but it’s a long way from the recliner to Independence Stadium sometimes.
Some in the area have surrendered the fight. Grambling doesn’t play football games in the stadium anymore. Northwestern State can’t justify moving a game off campus. Southern University spurned the city’s overtures. Even East Texas Baptist University took a run at playing a home game or two in Shreveport, but the process simply did not work to their advantage.
No doubt they have all felt the sting of the attitude summed up tidily by a conversation I had with a self-described sports fan in Shreveport. He said he had not been to a BattleWings game, A Mudbugs game, or the Independence Bowl. Ever. I didn’t bother to ask about the Sports or Centenary basketball or Louisiana Tech, because it would have been a waste of breath. I said, “I thought you said you’re a sports fan.” He said, “I am, as long as I can watch it from my own living room with my own bathroom nearby.”
Let’s not even think about how much it will cost to park our cars near the stadium for the Cowboys-Saints game. We all know how much Shreveport just loathes the idea of paying to park. The concession lines will be long, the traffic will be a hassle, the neighborhood is perceived as unsafe. The list goes on and on and on.
We won’t be building a 50,000 seat stadium in another part of town. The way things are going, in the not too distant future we won’t even need the one we have.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

These Things Come in Waves

A couple of days ago, I finally laid bare my feelings about Dialing for Thousands, the albatross of my broadcasting career. I've heard from people with whom I haven't communicated in years, which means someone is actually reading out there. Another blogger, Winter in Texarkana, wrote about the time my voice was on her father's answering machine. Today, I walked into the cafeteria at work, just to grab some lunch. A man stopped right in front of me and stared. He walked past me a couple of steps, then stopped again. He said, "Excuse me. I don't mean to bother you, but aren't you the jackpot man?"
I knew what he meant. "The Jackpot Man" could have so many positive connotations. It could mean I'm so reliable, I'm like money in the bank. It could mean that I've done something that made someone feel so good, they feel like they've hit the jackpot! I could go on, but it would be only an exercise in futility and frustration. I said, "Yes, I guess I am."
Then, I found two guys I know, sat with them and talked about sports for fifteen minutes as a method of purging my emotions.
Happy Independence Day from The Jackpot Man.

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