Friday, March 31, 2006

Who's Your Best Friend?

Not long ago, my daughter asked me, “Dad, who is your best friend?” A young girl likely would expect a short, simple answer, most likely a name. If she were to be asked the same question, the answer probably would change month to month. It would depend upon with whom she has been spending the most time recently or who was mean to her at school that day. For a middle-aged man, the answer is significantly more complex.
The short answer, at least for me, would be “your mother.” Certainly my wife is the person I count on the most and the one I see every day. I enjoy her company immensely. I don’t think that’s what my daughter was looking for, though. Mom is a given.
So, how does one define “best friend?” The concept seems kind of juvenile. Why must someone be labeled as such? Am I looking for the person with whom I’ve been friends the longest? If so, the answer is easy. The guy I shared a desk with in first grade, who was best man in my wedding and is godfather to my children earns that distinction with ease. However, he lives five hours away. We talk often, but we only see one another once a year or so. We do have a lifetime of shared memories to fall back on, and spending time with him is effortless. For more than forty years he has been the one constant in my life. It’s not as if I can meet him after work for dinner or just drop by and hang out with his family, though.
Is your best friend the person you like the most, the one you’re always happy to see? If that’s the case, there’s another strong candidate. There are people for whom I have strong affection, and yet I’m not all that social with them. Maybe the spouses don’t get along or we’ve drifted apart over the years. I ran into one such person recently. Feeling particularly open, I said “I know we don’t see one another very often, but I hope you know I count you among my friends. Love is love.” The response was gratifying: “I feel exactly the same way.” It was a risk, but the reward was terrific.
AS I was struggling with a response to my daughter’s question, I thought of someone else. I told her that there is a person who I’m always happy to see and whose company I consistently enjoy. Does that define my best friend? I know that person has other friends who are closer. So, this begs another question. Does best friendship have to be mutual? I don’t have the answers. This is just something to think about.
We get so busy with work and kids and our myriad activities that sometimes we don’t do friendship maintenance. I’m suggesting we all take the time to thank our friends. There’s a line in the song “What a Wonderful World” that points out how uncomfortable many of us are about expressing our affection: “I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do?’ They’re really saying ‘I love you.’” It’s true.
Try reaching out to the people who are important to you. Don’t take for granted that they realize it. Express your friendship. I called my old first-grade deskmate just to say hello. I wrote an e-mail to someone else to thank him for his friendship.
Coincidentally, I got a card from someone thanking me for “putting up with” him. Giving and receiving these expressions of friendship is uplifting. Don’t be surprised if some people are uncomfortable with it. Given the state of things, that’s to be expected. It’ emotionally risky, but the rewards can be fantastic.
Who knows? You might found out who your best friend is.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Attempting to Celebrate

Life can really distract you sometimes. As a Louisiana resident and a sports fan, I should be celebrating right now. Two basketball teams from LSU have made it to the Final Four, the promised land of college basketball. While the women were expected to make it this far, the men were not. The Tigers have needed great defense and a lot of luck to advance to the game’s ultimate destination for the first time in 20 years. The state is awash in glee and anticipation over what has happened, as well as what is yet to come.
I’ve enjoyed it. I have watched every second of every men’s game in the NCAA tournament. There’s been tension and some celebration, but no emotional high. The sports fan, more specifically the LSU fan, in me is tempered by life.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that the accomplishments and shortcomings of LSU, Louisiana Tech and the Dallas Cowboys would set the tone for my day, week or month. Now, I can enjoy their successes but the disappointments matter little. That’s a wonderful thing.
Middle age has done it to me. I have an aging parent, a chronically ill sibling and two teenagers. Thank God my wife is wonderful and normal and well. She has been and continues to be an inspiring partner in dealing with life’s little travails. She’s also a great sports partner. She sat with me and suffered through the final moments of LSU’s overtime win over Texas, despite daunting personal distractions.
When you’re worried about your father and you feel powerless to help your brother and your son does the kind of self-destructive things that teenage boys do while your daughter lives and dies depending upon the attention paid to her by her friends, life gets a little confusing. Somehow, the number of commas in a basketball coach’s salary just doesn’t seem to matter. It’s a magnificent distraction. The success of LSU in particular and the riveting entertainment value of the NCAA tournament in general are welcome relief. I just wish I could be more exultant. It’s not to be, though. Exultation is something that occurs and cannot be faked or forced.
The weight of life and the responsibilities commensurate with existing as a forty-something husband/father/son/brother can lead you down a path of despondency. You must choose to turn away, however, and celebrate the things that are good.
I remember one time, as a little kid, attempting to make a deal with God about the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys. I told God that if the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, I would go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life. When I was a child, I spoke as a child; I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. St. Paul wrote that long ago. Now, I know what he means. I’m not interested in making any deals with the lord Almighty about the Cowboys or LSU. I just pray I make it through this phase of my life as a good son, a responsible husband, a wise father and a kind brother.
If LSU wins a national championship in basketball while I’m doing all that, it will be fun to watch.
Geaux Tigers.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Its Raining. Run for Your LIves!

Okay, I’m still on a weather kick. Here in North Louisiana, we had an eventful weather weekend. There were big storms, impressive amounts of rain, a little hail and some alarming thunder. This is the kind of weekend where TV weathermen are worth their keep. Interestingly, the guy doing the weather report on the “Today Show” mentioned Shreveport this morning. So, it’s all good for the local weather people, who got it right.
Today, I’m on the viewers. Or, at least I’m on the public, many of whom likely are not actually viewers.
The wife and I were at a fancy dinner party Sunday night, the kind with printed place cards on the table. We were seated with people we had not met before. They were nice people. The men were well dressed and successful professionals. Their wives were lovely and comfortable conversationalists. That is, until the topic became the weather.
In March, you can count on a couple of things to carry polite small talk: the NCAA basketball tournament and the coming of Spring. Because two teams from the state are in the tournament, there was plenty for the guys to talk about. One woman at the table (my wife, of course God bless her) was able to carry on a reasonably intelligent dialogue about the Tigers and the Demons. Politeness to the clueless at our table dictated a change in topic, however. There was the inevitable talk of kids and schools. A reasonably engaging moment or two about the differences between Episcopalians and Roman Catholics livened things up a bit. Then, since it had been raining, talk turned to the weather.
For at least forty years, TV weather reporters have been explaining the concept of a watch versus a warning. It seems pretty simple, a common sense thing. A warning means you are being WARNED, for God’s sake. Doesn’t the word WARNING, even without the capital letters, connote a certain urgency? A watch, on the other hand, implies something more benign. “Let’s watch.” Somebody else is doing something interesting. We’ll watch. As opposed to: You’ve been warned! Get it? A watch means conditions are favorable for something to happen in and close to the watch area. A warning means it’s happening right now! Why don’t people get that?
So, we’re sitting behind our place cards making polite conversation about how much it’s rained when someone says it’s supposed to rain some more. I said I didn’t realize that (After all, I’m not a big fan of the TV weather report. See previous posts). Then, one of the lovely ladies at our table breaks out this little gem: “Yes, we’re under a tornado warning.” What?! Christ almighty, run for your lives! Seek shelter. Put down that pilaf and head for a small room near the center of the structure!
Not so fast. Her ever-alert husband, no doubt accustomed to his bride’s alert status, quickly said, “I think it’s a thunderstorm watch.” Huh? What? Oh, Where’s Emily Latella when you need her? You remember the Gilda Radner character from Saturday Night Live, don’t you? She’s get something all wrong. Someone would explain it to her and she would say, “Oh, that’s completely different. Never mind.” The thing is, this poor woman didn’t realize what she had said. She just said, “Oh”
I know this is an intelligent person. She offered cogent observations about matters of life. But, with the weather thing, she was way off the mark. The TV consultants tell us that the weather is one thing that all viewers have in common, so the weather report is the most important and consistently compelling component of a newscast. I’ll concede that. Now, all they need is viewers who pay attention long enough to know when to come in out of the rain.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Heavenly Demons Will Live On

Jermaine Wallace is immortal. His improbable three-point basket, which swished the net with five-tenths of a second showing on the clock at the Palace at Auburn Hills, the home of the Detroit Pistons, has assured that.
Wallace plays basketball for Northwestern State University, the little school in Natchitoches. The Demons were matched with Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament. For most of the game, things followed the anticipated trajectory. With eight and a half minutes left in the game, Iowa led by seventeen points. Northwestern coach Mike McConathy, in his excellent understated workmanlike way, kept his guys focused. Iowa apparently let down a little, and the Demons just kept coming.
Clifton Lee made four 3-pointers and a long jumper to pull NSU to within three points twice, then Jermaine Spencer scored in the lane to make it 60-59 Iowa with about a minute left. The Hawkeyes got a free throw to set the stage for Wallace’s improbable heroics. Demon Kerwin Forges missed a 3-pointer with about six seconds left and Wallace prevented the bouncing ball from going out of bounds, pivoted and sank the game-winning shot.
The place went nuts. Wallace ripped off his jersey. Of course, he was mobbed. One of the tournament’s all-time great upsets (a 14 seed over a 3) happened on one of its most memorable shots. Wallace’s heroics will be played thousands of times for years to come. The shot and the ensuing madness are instantly legendary.
This could not happen for a more deserving institution or a nicer man than demons coach Mike McConathy. He’s the kind of guy you pull for. He’s the kind of guy you want to see succeed. Even if his coaching career leads him no farther than Natchitoches, he will always have this moment. He will always have this team. He will always have Jermaine Wallace.

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Sopranos, Christine & Delinda: More TV Confessions

I guess I’m just a sucker for Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Her career-defining role as the fetching Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” elevated her to superstar status. However, I first noticed her during her stint on “Saturday Night Live.” I may have been the only viewer in America who watched the TV series “Day by Day,” in which she played the uptight, Type-A neighbor of the family central to the sitcom’s plot. Her name was Eileen Swift, and she would pop in on the couple which had given up their careers to open an in-home daycare center.
Her first post-Seinfeld series, “Watching Ellie” didn’t catch on; but the first two episodes of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” are promising. My wife saw the first episode, and I saw the pilot. We had them on TiVo, so we sat and watched them together. Both of us laughed out loud several times. I think Julia may have found her comedic stride again. If you watch her work, you can see just enough of Elaine in Christine to help viewers feel familiar. The character, however, is completely different and there are circumstances that allow men and women alike to enjoy the show’s premise. I think CBS has a hit on its hands.
This means Monday is big for the Big Eye. “Two and a Half Men” and “How I Met Your Mother” are legitimate successes and are laugh-out-loud funny, as well. I never watch them together, though. These are shows I save on TiVo. When I need thirty minutes of down time, they’re good company.
Has anybody figured out the sushi storyline on the season premiere of “The Sopranos?” I know all the talk is about suicide and shooting, but I just don’t get the sushi thing. I think the episode was over hyped a little, but it was still awfully good.
I saw in a magazine that one of the top ten DVD sales in America is season one of “Grey’s Anatomy.” I believe it. It’s the show everybody seems to be talking about. My family didn’t start watching it until this year. Is it because it’s on Sunday now? Where was it before? Anyway, it would be nice to know a lot of the back stories. I have to admit, I’m tempted to buy that DVD set, myself. The only thing that’s stopping me is a lack of time to sit down and watch them.
I just can’t believe that “Battlestar Galactica” is gone until October. I know Sopranos fans waited longer than that between seasons, and the anticipation continued to build. Maybe the long layoff will do BG fans some good. I hear fans complaining about the one-year time leap in the season finale, but it worked for me. I’m very pleased with the show overall, and I’ll miss it over the next several months. October. That’s ridiculous.
American idol remains a mystery to me. I guess Melissa was punished for forgetting her lyrics, but it seemed to me the judges tried to save her. Kevin needs to go. This is ridiculous. Don’t you wish that, maybe once, the producers would ask America to vote someone off instead of voting for the singer you’d like to keep? I’d vote Kevin off in a heartbeat, and Bucky would be next. I’m big on Lisa, but I don’t think she’ll win. Paris can sing, but she annoys me. Katherine is the cream of the female crop. Kellie has that “little minx” thing going that will help her stick around for a while. Chris and Taylor stand out for me among the guys. I think Ace has been exposed as a pretty boy.
I tried again with “The Office” at the urging of the Daddy D masses, but it just doesn’t work for me. I’ve thought about this. The humor has a mean-spirited tone. I didn’t enjoy “Everybody Loves Raymond” for the same reason. I’m still TiVoing it, though. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.
The race for my affection between Vanessa Marcil and Molly Sims has taken a surprising turn. They are Sam and Delinda on “Las Vegas.” I always liked my Sam. In fact, it wasn’t even close for me. However, after seeing Molly Sims in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, there’s a new front runner. By the way, does that show have a storyline? Does anybody care? It fits better on Friday night.
Finally, what can I say about Boston Legal? It never disappoints. It’s clever, sometimes hysterical, controversial and consistently entertaining. As an added bonus, at this moment I still think (with a nod to Molly Sims) that Julie Bowen is the best looking woman on television.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Great Eighty-Eight

There are plenty of things to frighten a parent. Chicken Pox, mean kids, kidnappers and bad babysitters are some of the things that come to mind. Handing your teenager the keys to a car and letting him drive out there in the world by himself has to be right up there.
This happened to us exactly one month ago. Already, we have a speeding ticket to show for it. 88 in a 70. Eighty-Eight! Miles per Hour. On the interstate (thank God).
“I wasn’t paying attention. I was following another car, passing on the left going down a hill.” That’s what we got. That’s the best he could do. This is so alarming; I can’t even be clever about it. He had other people’s children in the car with him. He was so unaware of his surroundings that when I asked him what agency issued the ticket, he had no clue. “What do you mean?” was his clever question. I asked, “Was it a state trooper, a sheriff’s deputy or a city policeman?” He had no idea. He said the guy’s uniform was blue. That’s the best he could do?
Since nobody’s dead or injured, this may be the best thing that could have happened to him. The officer of ambiguous origin gave him an appropriate scare. He’s going to be forced into manual labor to pay off the fine, which I’m sure will be hefty. Plus, he will be forced to attend some kind of speed deterrent classes.
I guess you just have to learn. He drove with a permit for a year, and we were constantly on him about his speed. I said to him, after the Great Eighty-Eight, “I know you think you’re invincible, but you’re not.” He really was convinced that police don’t enforce speed restrictions on the interstate. He found out the hard way that he was wrong. Thankfully, he was not dead wrong. He didn’t pay attention to his parents, but apparently he is paying attention to the guy in his rear-view mirror with the flashing lights.
His teenage indiscretions have been mild, and we’re thankful for that. Most of them have been somewhere on the line between annoying and amusing; but none have been legitimately frightening so far.
This one, I can’t get out of my mind. He was much closer to 100 mph than he was to the speed limit of 70.
I used to make fun of my mother, because she said that every time she heard an emergency siren, she thought for a second that something might have happened to my brother. Now, I feel as if I owe her an apology. This 88 thing has emotionally scarred me. I was na├»ve. I trusted the kid in his car. I didn’t worry when he was out there. Now, I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. It’s constantly on my mind.
The only other time I’ve been this worried about this kid, he was still in diapers. He and I were alone in the house. I went to the bathroom for a couple of minutes. When I came out, I couldn’t find him anywhere. I called him, looked everywhere and got a little panicky when I saw the front door was open. He had toddled into the yard, across the street and three houses down to play in Audrey Lewis’ garden. He was just sitting there, watching this little bird feeder spin around in the breeze. While I was relieved to see him, my mind was whirring with the awful possibilities this circumstance presented.
When I think about 88 Miles per hour, I feel almost exactly the same way.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Okay, Forget the Pilots. Go Demons

.So, the NAIA basketball tournament is underway. LSU-Shreveport, ranked #1 in the nation less than a month ago, lost in the first round to Southern Polytechnic. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the NAIA rankings system. Hey, an upset's an upset, and I'm upset that the Pilots lost.
Now, we can concentrate on LSU Baton Rouge in the NCAA. The Tigers will try to avoid an upset of their own again Iona.
Not to be confusing, but another Louisiana college team will play Iowa. There's just one letter's difference between Iona and Iowa, but there's a world of difference in the quality of play.
The Northwestern State Demons are in the NCAA Tournament for the ssecond time under affable coach Mike McConathy. Mike, who spent 13 seasons toiling in almost absolute obscurity at Bossier Parish Community College, is one of the most underappreciated coaches in the country. I've never met Steve Alford, the Iowa Coach (and probably the next coach at Indiana), but I'll take "Coach Mike" any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
That the Northwestern State Demons are in the NCAA Tournament isn’t a surprise. They were everybody’s pick to win the Southland Conference’s automatic berth, and their performance in the regular season showed why.
Now they’re back in a role they’ve thrived in this season: as an underdog against a tradition rich program from a power conference.
The Demons had five of those matchups this year. They won three, and arguably, four of them -- winning at Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, beating Oregon State in Hawaii, and falling short on the scoreboard in the Phantom Point” double OT loss to Iowa State at Hawaii’s Rainbow Classic. They also led at Missouri for 35 minutes but a 36-9 free throw disparity took a toll at game’s end.
But none of those teams have anything approaching the 2005-06 credentials posted by the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Big Ten Conference Tournament champs have 25 wins, one of the best RPIs in college hoops, a veteran lineup, an acclaimed head coach and staff and a
well-deserved No. 3 seeding in the Atlanta Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The SLC Tournament champ Demons also have 25 wins, a veteran lineup, and a remarkable head coach. McConathy has a simple mantra for his teams: “C’mon guys, let’s go to work.” To emphasize the point during last week’s Conference tournament, before the semifinals he put a hard hat for his pregame talk to the Demons, and he did so again in the championship game pregame speech.
The players autographed the hat before the finals. It's hokey, but it's quintessentially Mike, and it worked.
This is a guy who doesn't allow cursing, or "talking ugly" as he calls it, in his presence. He sets a standard for behavior and a standard for winning. I'm pulling for him. I've picked the Demons as an upset winner in my bracket. This is Mike's big chance. He has seven seniors. Next year, he starts rebuilding a bit.
His team just might be able to string together a couple of "Big Dance" wins before he runs into the Texas Longhorns. If it happens (and I'm admitting it's unlikely), then don't be surprised if McConathy gets some attention from a program that's a long, long way from BPCC.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Something to Celebrate on Greenwood Road

Hey! How about those Indians! The Fair Park High School basketball team won a state championship Saturday night by beating Wossman. It's the first state title for Fair Park since 1963. I'm not a fan. I certainly did not attend a Fair Park game this year, or for the last five years or so. Still, this is a tremendous accomplishment for the school particularly because it's an inner city campus. For the community the school serves, and for the city as a whole, this should provide a real morale boost.
There was a time when there were just two high schools in town: Fair Park and Byrd. While Byrd maintains a tremendous cross-generational sense of community and school pride, Fair Park is quite the opposite. Over the last 30 years or so, Fiar Park has become overwhelmingly African-American. That's simply an observation. Sadly, a lot of alumni simply aren't involved and just don't care anymore. Byrd boasts general reunions and is widely known as "The City of Byrd." Fair Park is just kind of the school across from the fairgrounds now.
This state championship will be deeply meaningful for Fair Park. The Indians' veteran coach, Ronald Preston, is a nice man and obviously an excellent coach. He has been close to achieving this dream several times. By all accounts, he has had teams which were much more talented. Coming down a couple of notches in classification may have helped, but that fact in no way diminishes this accomplishment. There's something to celebrate on Greenwood Road, and that has to be good for the whole city of Shreveport, with the possible exception of the City of Byrd.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tigers Frustrate Again

It doesn't matter in the short run, but didn't you just know LSU would lose in the SEC tournament?
Winning the conference title is a wonderful thing, an outstanding accomplishment. The post-season accolades received by Glen Davis and John Brady and the rest are all something worth celebrating. But, doggone it, don't you just wish they'd finish what they started just once?

The Tigers allowed five Florida Gators to score in double-figures Saturday and LSU lost 81-65. They got trounced. It was as if they didn't care. Maybe they didn't. They're virtually assured of at least a #3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Wouldn't a #2 have been better? I'm betting Florida will be seeded higher, and they should be.
LSU hasn't won an SEC tournament title since 1980 and hasn't played in the championship game since 1993. I know Tyrus Thomas is hurt and the NCAA's are more important. Still, LSU won 23 games this year. They had a seven-game winning streak. Imagine if they had taken a nine-game streak and 25 wins into the NCAA's. Wouldn't that have been imposing to a 15th-seed opponent?

LSU led Florida 41-38 at halftime but opened the second half by hitting only three of its first 13 shots. The Gators had them where they wanted them. It's just frustrating.

Glen Davis,who looked like the best player in college basketball against Vanderbilt Friday night while scoring 28 points, struggled Satuday. He had only two points in the first half against Florida and finished with 12.

Darrell Mitchell finished with a game-high 21 points for LSU. Tasmin Mitchell scored 20 for the second game in a row, and Darrell Lazare had 10 starting in place of Thomas.

Let's just hope Thomas feels better and D-Mitch can be more consistent. What will satisfy LSU fans? Final Four, of course. That's a pipe dream. I say two trips get them off John Brady's back. Win the two first round games and get to the Sweet 16, maybe win their way into the Elite 8, and Bengal Barney starts to concentrate on Smoke Laval's future at Alex Box Stadium. A first or second round loss and "for sale" signs will show up in Brady's yard. You watch and see. They should have won the doggone tournament. They really should have.
Doggone it.

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A Shot at Redemption

May I introduce you to the Bossier-Shreveport BattleWings? They’ve been around for a while now, but it seems you hardly know them. This team plays arena football, an exciting spring and summer sports alternative, but the team hasn’t really been embraced by the community. Maybe this is the year things change. 2006 could be the Wings’ breakout season.
For five seasons, various versions of this team have trotted out onto the CenturyTel Center turf, longing for your attention. At first, an emphasis was placed on featuring local and regional players. It seemed like a good idea. The team’s original owner, Michael Plaman, turned to a local former NFL player, Pat Tilley, to coach the team. The local fan base, no doubt spoiled by the consistent on-ice success of the hockey team which shares the building, expected a winner. Success on the field, or in the stands, has yet to come. Tilley stuck around for two seasons. His teams won sixteen games and lost 16 games. The 203 season was a disaster. The team had three head coaches, alarming player turnover and just three wins. Plaman bailed out, leaving the team’s reputation in shambles. The games were just no fun to watch.
The outlook is changed with the team’s present owner. Local businessman Dan Newman has turned to a coach with a track record of winning in arena football. John Fourcade, a great college quarterback at Ole Miss, won an Arena Football League championship as quarterback of the Denver Dynamite in 1987. He went on to quarterback the New Orleans Saints, and led them to the playoffs in the late 80’s. He is now a veteran arena football head coach. In 2002, the led the Florida Firecats to the Arena Cup, the AF2’s championship game. After two imminently forgettable seasons under head coach Keith Barefield, the Battle Wings suddenly have a high level of credibility.
Newman has patience, but he wants to win right away. He has suffered a little watching his team struggle for two years. He has traveled around the AFL and AF2 and has seen his share of raucous arenas filled with fervent fans. He imagines such a scene at CenturyTel. This arena football team is an amusing sidelight for Newman, who has built a multi-million dollar business in southeast Shreveport. Don’t think for a moment, though, that he doesn’t care. Newman loves football. He has traveled far and wide, not only with the Wings, but also as part of the Louisiana Tech football broadcast team. He has a lot of experience with sports enterprises teetering tantalizingly on the cusp of something special. By bringing Fourcade to town, he hopes to demonstrate that he’s serious about building a winner.
The early indications are positive. Open tryouts attracted players from across the country. That says a lot, considering these roster spots are part-time and seasonal and pay just a couple of hundred bucks a week. It means there’s hope. The players hope the coach can replicate his earlier success with this game. They hope they can contribute to a winning atmosphere, which will get them noticed at a higher level of football.
The BattleWings will soon begin their sixth season. No football team has lasted that long in our cities. Newman hopes you realize he’s sticking around, and so is his team. He also hopes you’ll get to know them a little better. Maybe you’ll like them better this time.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Give Me the Forecast, Save the Advice

I’ve met most of the TV weather reporters in this market. I use that generic term, because not all of them are meteorologists. Every one of them is a nice human, and they’re good on the air. Since I haven’t charted their forecasts, I can’t make a fair assessment of their accuracy.
They all seem to have similar toys: radar, cameras placed around town for live looks outside and wiz-bang graphic packages to dress up their presentations. Since TV managers seem to think the weather report is the most important part of a newscast, I guess it just comes down to who you like best to watch.
The old sportscaster in me still gets confused sometimes about why the weather report gets so much attention and so much money thrown at it. It seems to me that you can say what needs to be said in thirty seconds or less: Today, it was hot. Tomorrow, it won’t be quite as hot, but the sun will be out most of the day. So, don’t expect rain. The weather people really earn their paychecks when the conditions are severe: extreme heat, extreme cold, thunderstorms, ice, that kind of thing. That’s why they’re there. I don’t begrudge them that, at all. Their presentations are absolutely essential to the success of local newscasts. I just wish there was more flexibility there. Give them the keys to the newscast when they’re necessary. When it’s a normal, routine day, let them get out of the way and let’s show some highlights or give two or three reporters another 45 second apiece to tell more of their stories.
I know that’s a fight I can’t win. So, I will endure superfluous information about some upper level trough or the jet stream and just live with it. That’s the way things are, and there are better fights out there.
There is one thing, though, I just have to vent about. Go ahead, tell me if it’s going to rain, then tell me why it’s going to rain, then repeat later that it’s going to rain, then come back at the end of the newscast to tell me yet again it’s going to rain. Once you’ve done that, though, be done with it. You’re a weatherman. You’re not my daddy. Give me the information and let me decide how to dress my kids or dress myself or whether or not to turn the air conditioner on. Jiminy Christmas, these guys saying, “You better grab the umbrella today,” Or, “be sure to dress the kids warm for the bus stop…” That’s just intrusive. It’s really insulting, like we the simple-minded viewers can’t think for ourselves and the weatherman has to instruct us.
Please, really…guys, just draw your isobars and talk to me about equal lines of pressure and how the ridge of high pressure is locking in over the area creating clear skies and cool temperatures and let me decide if I want to wear a sweater.
Good night and good luck.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Burnt Orange Bandwagon

I have a buddy who attended the University of Texas. He went to the Rose Bowl this year, and obviously had a spectacular time as he watched his football team win the national championship. An amazing thing happened for him, too. The day after the Longhorns won, a photo was published in the Dallas Morning News of this guy high-fiving a Texas player. He was in the stands, leaning over as the players made their way into the tunnel. It’s clearly and unmistakably him. He ordered a giant enlargement of the photo from the newspaper, and has it matted and framed with his tickets. This one-of-a-kind piece of memorabilia is now prominently hanging in home, as you would expect. His office is preposterously decorated in an assault of orange. He’s still celebrating and most people acknowledge that, while it might be verging on innocuously obnoxious, he can pull it off for a while longer.
Conversely, a member of my family who has no ties to the University of Texas is wearing Longhorns gear and decorating his car with window stickers. I’ll say this for him: he was doing this before the National Championship. Considering the fact that he went to SMU, this fascination with the Steers and his proclivity for wearing burnt orange scream “bandwagon!” I’ve stayed silent about this until now, but circumstances force me to weigh in.
I admit that I’ve worn some LSU National Championship gear around town. Seeing this guy in his Texas regalia has given me pause. After all, I didn’t attend LSU in Baton Rouge. My diploma says “Louisiana State University” on it, but there’s a little “Shreveport” under there, too. However, I have attended plenty of LSU games over the years. I’ve been to a half-dozen or so LSU bowl games. Yes, I was at the Sugar Bowl when they won the national title. I think I can legitimately sport a little purple and gold and hold my head up high. This guy I’m talking about, I’m pretty sure he’s never actually been to a Texas game.
I’m really glad he has something to cheer about. He chose a team and he’s sticking by them. A member of his immediate family lives in Austin and he spends a significant amount of time there. So, it makes a little sense. Still, let’s remember he went to SMU. Whatever happened to “be true to your school?” If you’re not a big fan, that’s okay, but why adopt another school in your state? This would be easier to understand if he paraded around Austin in his burnt orange hoodie. Why would he slip it on in north Louisiana? He would never admit it, but he’s being an agitator.
This reminds me of two young women I know who were roommates when LSU beat Oklahoma for the BCS championship. One was an LSU graduate. The other graduated from Texas. It was fun to drive by their house and see the Tiger and Longhorn flags flying side-by-side. They both have moved to other states but remain close friends. They are happy for one another as they celebrate national championships just two years apart. These are people who can wear their colors without reservation.
I have a cap from the 2006 Rose Bowl which celebrates Texas’ national title. My buddy from the Dallas Morning News photo bought it for me in Pasadena. I feel funny about wearing it, though, because I’m much more closely aligned with LSU. I thought for a minute about passing it on to my family’s new Mister Texas, but I don’t want to contribute to his distressing behavior pattern. I’m more inclined to snap a photo and send it to the SMU Alumni Association.

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Saying Good-Bye Isn't Easy

Someone I liked and admired passed away this week. I attended his funeral, which was a moving experience on several levels. I started thinking about funerals, celebrations of life, and how they are approached.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals. My father was the youngest of fourteen children and he’s the last man standing. So, I’ve said “so long” to aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and my mother. My friends and my cousins have lost parents. Think about this: since my father, who will turn 80 this year, is the last of his generation still with us, he has become quite a father figure for his nieces and nephews. I am grateful that I still have a parent, because so many people my age do not.
A buddy of mine was called upon to do the eulogy at the service I attended most recently. This man is an accomplished and deeply experienced public speaker, but he was noticeably apprehensive as he approached the microphone for this speaking engagement. He did the deceased proud, though. When he sat down, he exhaled audibly, a sigh of relief mixed with grief. To be asked to eulogize someone is an honor difficult to pass up but nonetheless challenging to confront.
My first eulogy was for my mother. I had so much to say to those assembled. To be honest, I was angry and my first inclination was to express that. She died of lung cancer and never knew her grandchildren. I pleaded, cajoled, manipulated, threw tantrums and anything else I could think of for as long as I could remember to try to convince her to stop smoking. You know when she finally did? When the doctor carved her open and cut out one of her lungs. It didn’t do much good. Many of the people in the room for her funeral were around us as I was growing up. I was often criticized, rebuked and belittled because of my relentless anti-smoking efforts in my house. I was angry at all of them for sitting around the table and encouraging her habit. I wanted to tell them exactly that as they sat politely to say good-bye to her.
Ultimately, I decided that was a bad idea. The notion was inappropriate and the action certainly would have been over the top. So, I wrote some kind of pseudo-allegorical essay that I delivered through my grief and resentment. Some people liked it. I’m sure most people were confused by it. Fortunately for me and for them, that was the last most of us saw of one another. My motives for doing that eulogy were selfish. It was a cathartic experience, though, and I learned from it.
Since that time, I’ve become an old hand at paying tribute to the departed. My oldest friend, along with his brothers and sisters, asked me to eulogize both of his parents. I must have done an okay job with their father, because saying good-bye to their mother was quite an order. Those requests are among the greatest honors and most cherished memories I have. Those folks were the most positive influences in my life as I grew up, and I will always love that family. I also spoke at my wife’s grandfather’s funeral. I loved that old man as if I had known him all my life, and my own family honored me by bestowing that privilege upon me.
People don’t know how to react to the funeral speaker sometimes. My dear, sweet sainted Aunt died a few years ago (she was the last of my father’s siblings to pass away). My cousin and my uncle asked me to “say a few words” at the service. It was really the only time I’ve felt kind of intimidated in that setting. I had dozens of critical cousin eyes on me during that funeral. Being the youngest child of the youngest child, there’s a strange, strong family dynamic working there. In their eyes, sometimes I’m still a little kid, I think. I thought I did a nice job, and I got lots of pats on the back and compliments.
I was quite comfortable in my aunt’s home, as you might imagine. I spent a lot of time there growing up. In the absence of my mother, she in large measure played the role of grandmother to my children. To this day, there are cousins, older ones, I still haven’t met. Thirteen aunts and uncles produce a lot of relatives across a broad age range. I met one of my cousins for the first time at my aunt’s house that day. After the funeral, I was making myself at home. As I recall, I was standing in the kitchen, staring out the window and drinking a Coke. Suddenly, I noticed a person standing uncomfortably close to me. She was lovely, about fifteen years older. She said, “Excuse me. Who are you?” I introduced myself. Upon investigation, I discovered this woman is, in fact, my first cousin. She had no idea I even existed. She didn’t know my father, her uncle, even had a son. I was in my forties at the time, so I said, “Well, he’s had a son for more than forty years. I’m sorry you missed the news.” Cousins with whom I am actually acquainted told me later that this woman basically considers herself the matriarch of our generation. So, she was distressed that this person she did not know seemed to be the center of attention. Like I said, funerals are weird.
These occasions seem less somber than they used to be. Maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to the process. The man my buddy eulogized knew he was about to die. He recorded a message on video that was played back at the funeral. That was a new one for me. He said when he got word that his cancer was terminal; he accepted the news in the same manner in which he would have if he had been told he was cured. He had that much faith. He thanked his friends, his family and his church for their love, support and prayers. He asked everyone not to forget about his wife now that he isn’t around. It was just remarkable.
I haven’t thought much about how I would like my funeral to go when I die. I see it this way: I’m gone. The service is for those left behind. I’ve told my wife that, if I should die, she should marry for money next time. She married for love once and it’s worked out pretty well so far. So, it’s up to her and the kids what happens. Maybe I should make a videotape or a DVD now in case something happens suddenly. Probably not, although I would be the center of attention one last time. It would be my funeral, and I’ve had lots of practice.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Sick Weekend

There’s something to be said for having a routine illness in your house. Nobody’s hoping for anything serious, but the occasional “I don’t feel so good” has its advantages. Late last week, my daughter alerted us that she wasn’t feeling well. I’ll spare you the details, but there were frequent trips to the restroom involved. You can’t be too careful, so we made an appointment with the pediatrician. The bottom line: the actual, honest-to-goodness flu, Influenza. Not this bird stuff, but more serious than a bout of allergy, sinus, or a common cold. She was a sick little human.
I felt sorry for her. This hit her on Thursday, and on Friday she was invited to two simultaneous parties. It was going to work out well for her. The parties were three houses apart, and both included roadies for group dinners. Amazingly, both dinners were at the same restaurant. She was in a classic “worlds collide” circumstance. Two friends, who are not necessarily friends with one another, were having parties which involved dual locations. And yet, she would be able to fully participate in both events! What more could a girl want? What she did not count on was The Flu.
We were sitting around the house Friday night, feeling sorry for one another when we heard screaming from outside. It was good screaming, celebratory and squealy in nature. Without thinking, I looked at my flu-stricken friend and said, “party.” One of the girls had rented a limousine to transport everybody to dinner, and the screamfest roared right past our house. My daughter looked out the window, and must have felt like Johnny Cash in Folsum Prison. She had the blues. That limo was rollin’ round the bend, and she hadn’t seen the sunshine since she didn’t know when. She was stuck in Folsum prison, and time kept draggin’ on. That limo kept a-movin’. Not to San Antone, but to Shogun Japanese steakhouse. Of course, from my daughter’s point of view, they were just about the same. She was going neither place.
A couple of hours later, when we had recovered from the emotional blow, we heard more screaming. It was different screaming, but still the silly, fun kind. You guessed it: party number two. That group had returned from the Japanese steak house and was now running around the neighborhood. Some kind of outdoor game developed and the outside of our house became a staging area. There was fun and food on two fronts, and my poor teenager was in quarantine. She was emotionally tortured.
We watched a movie together that night, but I don’t really remember what it was. All I remember is the sad, sick eyes of a pitiful teenager longing to scream free. The good news is we were together.
A couple of days later, #1 son began making frequent trips to the restroom, himself. Double trouble. His illness has been a little less dramatic, but no less noteworthy. This is a 16-year-old boy with a driver’s license and his own car. He did not leave the house on Saturday. The magnitude of that can’t be overstated. How sick was he? He sat through a screening, without moving, of “Must Love Dogs.” If you haven’t seen this movie, trust me: There is absolutely nothing in it for a teenage boy. From a middle-aged man’s point of view, there is one redeeming aspect. Diane lane is on camera a lot. She’s the star of the movie, and that’s what got my attention. The film itself was pretty stupid, but hey, we were all together.
That’s the silver lining of this whole weekend of sickness. The four of us, plus the dog and the cat, spent hours together in the same room. That doesn’t happen very often. We compromised on movies and meals. The sick were cared for and kept one another company. The weekend was low-key despite all the screaming. It turned into a nice family event. So, don’t let a little sickness bring you down. It might just bring you together.

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