Friday, July 25, 2014

Playwright Festival: A Critical Beginning

The second play of 10 in the Playwrights Festival 2014 on the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre gets underway in just a few minutes, so you'll want to hurry to get there.

These plays are from Hollins students--usually master's students--and they are in the development stage. Some are not even presented in total because they are longer than the 90 minute limit. But they are quite interesting and the audience gets an opportunity to help shape them as they develop. The first play tonight, "An Enemy That Warns: Fugitive," told the story of a man on the run from Homeland Security.

It will eventually be a tight drama, but the audience found a lot of holes in it. I admire playwright Michael Gilboe (left above with director MB DuMonde and Playwright Lab director Todd Ristau) who sat stoically and absorbed every word of criticism, taking copious notes as he went. It was an exercise in courage and commitment, I think. And maybe professionalism.

If you can't make the 8 p.m. start tonight, it gets going again tomorrow and Sunday at 11 a.m. with additional plays at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. I think you'll enjoy it, especially if you have a bit of the critic in you.

Photos: Slumming on the Cove With the Bechers

Thomas Becher and his son Andrew take a break on an island at Carvins Cove.
The Bechers paddling hard.
Met my pal Thomas Becher, a Roanoke PR executive, at Carvins Cove today to do a little end-of-the-week paddling. Thomas brought his seven-year-old son Andrew and we took a little trip toward the dam.

It was a lovely day, as you can see from these photos.
This little lady greeted me on the way into the Cove.
The cove at its very best.

Gratitude: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Gimme a head with hair.
Today, I am grateful for:

Early hair.
My hair. OK, that sounds pretty niggling, but when you're my age (68 next week) having all of anything that came with the package is reason to celebrate. My hair has always been good hair.

Originally it came in blond, then red and now a brownish-redish-blond and the beard is salt and paprika. I wear a baseball cap a lot, but it's not to hide my hair; it's to keep the sun out of my fading eyes.

I think I'll celebrate this morning with a nice shampoo.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Playwright Festival This Weekend and It's FREE

If you're looking to get your theater fill this weekend, the Playwrights Festival 2014 at Mill Mountain Theatre's Waldron Stage should take care of it pretty easily.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Hollins University and MMT will present 10 new plays for your enjoyment and it's all free. I'm one of the judges for the festival (no, I can't 'splain it, Lucy, except that I was asked) and even I, who really love the theater, will be in danger of an overdose by Sunday evening when the final play runs at 8 p.m.

This all starts with two plays Friday night beginning at 6 and continues Saturday and Sunday with a play every three hours beginning at 11 a.m. The writers for these plays are coming from all over the country to see how their work stacks up against other works.

Could be a lot of fun.

Grateful: A Little Night Music

Chet Baker's one of my faves.
Today, I am grateful for:

The sound of music, even though most would call me a musical nit-wit. I guess it's a matter of liking what we like, in the same way people used to explain why they voted for George W. Bush ("Uh ... I just like him ...").

Like most old white guys, there are some forms of music that don't play well on my ear (rap, urban contemporary, opera, white gospel, head-banging in its various forms old and new, etc.). I like soft jazz, which seems to enrage the hard-core jazz afficianados ("You like Kenny G!" they roar. "Well, no," I say, "but I like Rene Marie, Chet Baker, Nora Jones, Edith Piaf. You know, stuff that serves for mood." I get a sneer.)

Music sets a tone--so to speak--for my day or supplements an endorfin rush. Booze used to do that, but I dropped the booze. Music is a good substitute. I'll play Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings or David Alan Coe when I'm kicking back into my North Carolina mountain accent and put on Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette (how does she hit those notes and how many octaves does that voice run?) when love is all around. Bob Seeger, Mark Knopfler, Gerry Rafferty and Don Henley scratch my rock itch while Mozart and Chopin soothe the savage breast upon occasion. Bill Monroe ("My Last Days on Earth") pulls out the meloncholy with a triple-mandolin lead and Claire Lynch has just about the best voice in bluegrass (when Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton aren't singing it.)

Madeleine Peyroux is a miracle and k.d. Lang puts us in another age. The Modern Jazz Quartet is the very essence of 1954 Grenwich Village. There are a lot more, but that small does will give you an idea of the range. I don't listen a lot, but I love what I care about. As with so many things.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gratitude: Finally, a Bestseller

Keith Ferrell, writer.
Today, I am grateful for:

My friend Keith Ferrell's recent success in the book world. His History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (with Brad Meltzer) was a NYTimes Top 10 bestseller last Christmas season and my guess is that his next work will head that way, as well.

(Keith will sign History Decoded at 7 tonight at the main Roanoke County library branch near Penn Forest Elementary School. He'll also read some of it for you.)

Keith has written about 20 books and thousands of magazine articles over the years and he's always been what good writers should be: literate, thoughtful, exhaustive and creative. It has not made him rich, but among writers his national reputation is sterling. As important in my world is that Keith, like a growing number of others I know, truly cares about the craft of writing and the people who practice it. Little puts me off quicker than one writer criticizing another out of jealousy. There's a good bit of that because it's a creative profession and creatives can be petty and small. Keith is neither.

He is a man who strongly believes in the New Yorker-style long form of writing. While I'm out there putzing around with 400-700-word pieces so that gaphics directors can run big pictures, Keith is writing for some of the few publications that don't care about art direcors. He's crafting beautiful, long, deep pieces that people respond to emotionally.

That's a writer.

(Keith and Roland Lazenby, another real writer whose Michael Jordan: The Life is on the way toward bestseller status, will combine to be our keynote speakers at the next Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins Jan 30-31, 2015.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gratitude: My Hard-Working Kids

This is Evan (pride) and Jennie (joy)
Today, I am grateful that:

Both my kids have solid, secure, well-paid jobs in the manufacturing sector. These are the jobs our country and our citizens need in order to make the economy and individual families healthy.

Jennie works for an automotive aftermarket company in north Georgia and Evan is with the Spanish division of a huge international manufacturer of transformers. Jennie's newish job came on the heels of her standing up for herself against a harrassing boss on the previous one and the new company benefits with her work ethic and her experience. Evan has been with ABB for some years.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whoop It Up: Virginia Tech Stadium Second Loudest

For those of you wondering just how loud Virginia Tech's smallesh football stadium is compared to some of the nation's 100,000-seat monsters, take heart. It is second in the nation in vocal volume to Penn State's huge Beaver Stadium (106,000 capacity) and one spot ahead of the University of Tennessee's legendary 104,000-seat Neyland Stadium.

(Note that the University of Alabama, 101,821, and Texas, 100,119, are not in the top 15. Here are the capacities of the nation's biggest college football stadiums.)

Tech's Lane Stadium is the third smallest stadium in the Top 15 and far smaller than many schools' facilities that did not make the list. Only Oregon's and Colorado's relatively tiny stadiums are smaller among the Top 15 and they are half the size of some.

The rankings are from TheBuckeyeNut

 Here is the Top 15:

1. Penn State (Beaver Stadium), 106,000 capacity
2. Virginia Tech (Lane Stadium), 66,233
 3. Tennessee (Neyland Stadium), 102,455
 4. Wisconsin (Camp Randall Stadium), 80,321
 5. Georgia (Sanford Stadium, 92,746
6. Florida State (Doak Campbell Stadium), 82,300
7. Oregon (Autzen Stadium), 54,000
8. Texas A&M (Kyle Field), 109,000
9. Colorado (Folsom Field), 53,750
10. Michigan (Michigan Stadium), 109,901
11. Michigan State (Spartan Stadium), 75,005
12. Auburn (Jordan-Hare Stadium), 87,451
13. LSU (Tiger Stadium), 102,321
14. Florida (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), 88,548
15. Ohio State (Ohio Stadium), 102,329

Gratitude: A Positive Nugget

Today, I am grateful for:

I'm thinkin', OK?

Gratitude is made more difficult when my neck has been having spasms since late in my hike on North Mountain yesterday afternoon. Slept minimally last night and woke up this a.m. missing an appointment for a story because I wrote down the address incorrectly (finally got over there and wrote the story). Bitch, bitch, bitch.

The day is going to turn around. I guess I can be grateful for that. The attitude, not so much the fact.

So there it is. I am grateful to find a positive nuggett in the midst of a bunch of shit. Sometimes it's the best I can do.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Photos of the Day: A Brief Respite at Cloudy North Mountain

This butterfly was having a dandy time in a field of fresh flowers.
Looking out from the rocks.
Whether it's cloudy or bright, North Mountain in the heart of lovely Rockbridge County provides some of the best scenery and nature of any of the hikes around.

It's a relatively easy series of three or four hikes--none really testing, none long--on a ridge that gives you views of both sides of the mountain.

Here is some of what my photo buddy Anne Sampson and I discovered on today's jaunt in the woods.
This purple lichen was on one of the rocks, looking like a cave painting.
Pine cones at the crest of the ridge.
An early sign of fall.
Anne climbs a steep rock ...
... to see what's on the other side. This.
Queen Anne's lace, I think.
Anne discovered these guys. I would have stepped on them.
This is what we came for.

One Final Post: Reunion, Cont.

This is the old school yesterday, still holding on 40-plus years after closing.
Lunch was great, not so healthy.
The reunion went smoothly yesterday at Cranberry High in Avery County, N.C., and I left with a bit of new information. The real 50th reunion will be in September.

Seems Cranberry High was so small that over the years July has been the time for all-class reunions. That guaranteed a bit of a crowd, but yesterday there were probably fewer than 10 from my class. I'm assured that in September, there will be far more. I'm skeptical, but hey, what do I know?

At 17, I had a crush on Joyce Watson. A big one.
Our day together was one of talking about health conditions, old friends who have died, adventures from half a century ago, who was in love with whom, some of the same stuff we talked about as teenagers. The men seemed to want to talk about their involvement--exaggerated--in sports, the women their grandchildren.

The high school is a relic that is being restored to its former ... well, not so much glory as stability. 

My pal Jerry Turbyfill telling tales.
My grandpa helped build the school in 1923 and he built stuff to last. When the school went up, this little burg had nearly 3,000 people and a flourishing iron mine (Tweetsie Railroad was the freight hauler from the mine to Elizabethton, Tenn.). It had contained a huge cranberry bog at one time, hence the name. But the mine closed and by the time I arrived in 1963, there were 62 families, four churches, two general stores and a high school in Cranberry. The closest traffic light was in Newland, the only red and green one in the county. Banner Elk--a trendy, touristy, upscale resort now--had a yellow blinking light then.

As I looked around yesterday, mostly what I saw was retired
people with small lives, enjoying each other and the memories of happier times. One of those putting together the annual reunions and restoring the school said, "I wish the more successful people would come to these things, but their lives are too busy. It gives a false impresson of who we are."
Ex-beauty queen Regenia Street Clark.

Go Wildcats!
Indeed. There were a few people I went looking for yesterday and they weren't around. Maybe they'll be there in September. We'll see.

The old barn of a basketball arena is where the introductions were held. Lots of old people, including moi.

Gratitude: The Gift of Vision

Here are some of my spectacles, various prescriptions.
Today, I am grateful for:

Sight. That's an easy one to take for granted until the day when we start seeing it fade. It's a sense I've thought about a lot over the years.

When I started in the newspaper business in 1964, I had 20/15 vision. That's just about perfect and it's one of the reasons I was a pretty good passer in football. I could see the field. All of it. Six months after reading raw copy eight hours or more a day, my vision was 20/40 and I had to get glasses. Doc called it "paper blindness."

At first, the glasses were a blessing. Those who'd always thought me a simple-minded jock began to look at me differently. The black horn-rimmed glasses gave me more of an intellectual look, if not actually increasing my IQ. Friends and colleagues treated me differently and I liked that.

The eyes degraded some over the years and eventually, I required bi-focals, then tri-focals, which I had to break up among glasses. I simply could not see through three prescriptions at a time. Then I had to keep up with the glasses: one for distance, one for reading, one for the computer and various combinations of two prescriptions on one pair of glasses. It got expensive. It became confusing.

These days, I'm still confused, it's still expensive and I still can't always see. I have no idea why, but medical science doesn't seem to be able to manufacture a pair of glasses that allow me to see both far and near at the same time. But at least (and I hate to start a sentence that way because it means something minimal is coming) my vision is stabalized. Dr. Gorgeous, my optometrist, once told me that happens as we age. It's one of the few good advantages of age, I've discovered.

I am an occasional photographer, as you might know, and photographers look at things with a different perspective than non-photographers. We see detail, angle and line, prospects for great photos and not just what's in the viewshed. Good vision is essential.

Through it all, I have my eyesight, though it's not perfect. I can still fully appreciate a blooming daisy, a red tomato, a beautiful face or a worn and expressive one, great architecture, a mountain range, a round bottom, a tiny detail in a painting ... all the things that make sight a joy. And something we should never take for granted.

Quote: The Fall of a Middle Class Family

McDonnells at their inaugural.
“This was a … middle-class family that had ambitions far larger than their budget, and so once they achieved the goal of the governorship, they weren’t ready psychologically for what was going to come,” UVa's Larry Sabato said. He said he’s seen over the years a difference between public officials who come from money and those who don’t.

--Richmond Times-Dispatch story today on the fall of Gov. Bob McDonnell. (One wonders where Pat Robertson figures in this and why he is not supporting his accolyte, McDonnell, a graduate of Robertson's Regent University. Jerry Falwell Jr. came to his rescue recently by hiring McDonnell at Liberty University to teach.)

(Photo: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The 50th Year: Miss Kay's Magical Touch

Note the add-on laces for the dancing shoes.
Dresses were made in home ec class.
My old high school, Cranberry High in Avery County North Carolina, was quite a force in competitive square dancing from the late 1940s to the end of the 1960s because of the best coach of any kind I ever saw.

Miss Kay (Kay Wilkins) ran an extraordinarily tight ship and during her years at the tiny school, retired the Old Smokey trophy of the Mountain Youth Jamboree and won three national championships. I don't know which was more prestigious, but let's just say she had credentials.

Miss Kay is in a nursing home in Marion, N.C., now, closing in on 90. A couple of years ago, I wrote a story about her for Blue Ridge Country magazine ("The Ballad of Miss Kay" won an international award) and turned that piece into the novel CLOG! recently.
Miss Kay's license plate.

Today, I was back at the old school for our 50th reunion and visited the virtual shrine to Miss Kay that is her old room these days. These photos contain some of what I found. I toured the room with former Wildcat dancer Regenia Street Clark, who filled in some of the details for me. Regenia was on at least one of the national title teams.

Her coaching jacket (with whistle).
Ours was a poor school, so the square dance costumes were made in home economics classes from patterns Miss Kay and the students created. The fabric was furnished free by a mill in Spruce Pine where Miss Kay's husband worked. The dancing shoes were not fancy (though the label here says they were) and did not lace up the calf. Miss Kay gave each of the girls shoe laces to use separately, giving the effect of impressive shoes. The whole thing was cobbled together. The talent and the coaching were the exception.

The dancers, developed by Miss Kay (who also coached basketball) were extraordinary and she was creative beyond words, always keeping a step (dance step, that is) ahead of the competition. I watched her teams at a distance. With my mouth open. Some of our football players danced for her. They always said square dancing was much tougher. I had no doubt.

Hand-made boys and girls costumes.
This is the tiny school auditorium where the national champion square dance team performed.

Photos of the Day: A Little Time in Hop's Room

Me at my favorite teacher, Hop Heaton's desk.
Me at my desk: A short smack away.
The late James "Hop" Heaton was most likely my favorite teacher of all time. Hop was a big man, a football and war guy with a thundering voice, an outsized laugh, and a smile you could see over in in Yancy County who taught geometry.

He went to Lenoir Rhyne College, but I don't think he ever got a degree. He said he learned geometry on submarines. I never knew if he was pulling my leg--which he loved to do--or was serious. Fact was, Cranberry High School in 1963-1964 was in the poorest county--Avery--in the U.S. of A. and didn't have a lot of options about who it hired. It lucked into Hop. It lucked into Rock Hall, too. He was the guy who taught me to write. Another story, though. This one's about Hop.

This school jacket is in Hop's renovated room.
Hop was a line coach in football, so I never worked directly for him (I was a quarterback). He taught me everything else. I looked up to him in a way that was almost fatherly and he didn't hesitate to sit and have those prayer meeting type chats with me when I was out of line or just confused, either.

Hop may have had the biggest hands I've ever seen and he'd put them on my shoulder, sometimes with tenderness, sometimes with authority. I always knew when his hand was on my shoulder and I always knew why.

He died with Alzheimers a few years ago. I'm glad I didn't see that.

Today I was back in his classroom at my 50th class' reunion (unofficial), the same classroom where I sat at the front, left so he could reach me if he needed to. I sat on his desk for a photo, something he would have booted me upstairs for were he still alive.

Hop was the kind of guy I hope Madeline and Oz--my grands--experience before their schooling ends. He made school memorable. I loved that guy.

(Photos: Regenia Street Clark.)

Gratitude: A Rare Cup of Coffee

There's the coffee as I type this.
Today, I am grateful for:

Coffee. OK, I don't like coffee. That's irrelevant. This morning I awoke at the Pineola Inn in the only establishment of its kind in the continental U.S.--I'm certain--that does not have coffee on the premises. And that didn't make me happy. It made me ... well ... unsettled. I think its absence must be illegal on some level. It is certainly immoral.

So, I took a quick shower, grabbed the keys and shot out to a little gas station up the Newland Highway where I discovered plenty of coffee. But no decaf. I told the owner what I wanted, and he told his assistant to make some. She came to the coffee area, looked at the pot and announced, "I don't know how to make decaf." The owner rolled his eyes and jumped to the rescue.

The girl watched as he poured about three or four measures of Folgers into the paper filter. "Just eyeball it," he said to her,  as if explaining a delicate surgical procedure. "Be a minute," he said to me. I paced, looking at the handmade wooden bird houses. One was a guitar. "Hmmm," I thought, "wonder how that would play on Edinburgh Drive?"

A man came in and stopped at the coffee machine. "That decaf?" he asked, pointing to the orange-trimmed pot. "Yes," I said. He curled his lip. As the owner had explained, "Not much call for decaf around here." I felt my manhood was being questioned. The man picked up the green-trimmed pot and poured. A large. Mine was still brewing.

As he left, I grabbed the green pot, pulled out the orange one from under the coffee drip, replaced it with the green and poured my cup almost full. I put three Half-and-Halfs, which aren't half and half, and was ready to go. $1.50 later, I was out the door. Smiling and thinking, "OK, I'm addicted. I've heard that somewhere before."

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Reunion: Old Friend, Wondrous Dinner

TheArtisanal rests in an isolated area near Banner Elk.
Regenia on the Veranda.
Regenia (Street) Clark and I settled down to dinner tonight at a lovely lodge near Banner Elk called the Artisanal, which was founded a few years ago by a pretty women of Indian ancestry.

It is a beautiful, five-star eatery where dining is an extraordinary pleasure--soup to nuts. On this night, dinner was secondary, though, because Regenia and I had to much catching up to do. And we did. We drove around the town and talked for a long time, then had dinner and drove some more on this cool, rainy, foggy evening in the North Carolina highlands.

There are so very many people between us that is difficult to find them all and were left searching for this one and that and telling revealing stories of them all. We were at Grandfather Home together 50 years ago, Regeina spending eight years there, me only my senior year in high school.

Most of the kids at the home were either abandoned or abused. I was neither, choosing to stay there to get away from the poverty and distraction of home. Regenia and her brother and sister lived there and she and I barely knew each other, though she was a cheerleader and I was on the football team. Regenia was, in fact, involved in nearly everything, one of the most popular kids in school. You can still see ample evidence of why that was true in her smile and her very real interest in others. Great conversationalist and I simply adore listening to that pure Avery County lilt. There is something entirely elegant about its Elizabethan nature.

She made enough of an impression on me in our year at Cranberry High that she is in CLOG! as a part of a couple of characters. She's actually pretty easy to spot.

Tomorrow morning we meet at the old high school, which has become something of a shrine. It closed in the early 1970s, was a lumber storage facility for years and was finally saved by, among other people, our old middle linebacker Gaylard Andrews, a guy who still lumbers when he walks. Always did. Guess there's something poetic in that.

Dining room at Artisanal.

The Trip So Far: GPS to the Moon

My new shirt and me.
So I put my faith in my GPS and it takes me through Rural Retreat, Galax and god knows where else to turn a three-hour trip to the mountains of North Carolina into a four-hour adventure. But it got me here. Right to the front door of the Pineola Inn. For that I'm grateful. For the round-about, I could bitch, but I won't.

Upon entering Boone, I discovered the temperature outside my truck was 66 degrees and falling and that I had not packed anything with sleeves. I actually had a jacket readied for the trip (so I could eat dinner with an old friend in a toney restaurant tonight), but I forgot to put it in the truck. About half way between Boone and Linville, I found a thrift shop on the side of the road. Slid into the parking lot, stormed in the front door with "where's the men's stuff?" and immediately found a new (with tag) gold faux suede Van Husen shirt, size 16 1/2, 33-34 and I slipped it on, handed the lady $5 and was back out the door. Can't shop faster or better than that.

Now, I'm at the Inn, waiting for my old high school friend Regeina Street Clark to pick me up for dinner in Banner Elk. This should be fun.

Gratitude: 50 Is More Than a Number Today

With two of my best high school buds Jerry Turbyfill (and wife Doris) and Gaylard Andrews.
Today I am grateful for:


Tomorrow is my 50th Cranberry, N.C., High School reunion (the graduation anniversary was in May). Aug. 22 is the 50th anniversary of the day I walked into Bob Terrell's Asheville Citizen-Times sports department and began my adventure in journalism.

I've heard from old people all my life that "it seems like yesterday" and it does once you're at a 50th anniversary event. I look at the classmates surrounding me and wonder who these old people are, not recognizing that I fit perfectly with the blue hair, the baldies, the pot bellies, the turkey necks, sagging jowels and boobs and butts, the huskier voices, the limps, the canes and walkers, the coughs and the cloudy eyes.

I think "I'm different," but that's not the case. I'm 67 and they're 67 or 68. We've aged differently, but we share a great deal of the experience, the knowing looks, the conversation from another time. And then I look across the room and see Joyce Watson. I recognize the big, beautiful blue eyes immediately and all else about her that is different doesn't matter. She is still the tall, slim, smiling young woman I was so taken by as a senior at a new school. She was kind to me and I fell in love with her at a distance. Her boyfriend was my tackle and a quarterback does not mess with his tackle. But the memory remains. All the memories remain.

Tomorrow, I'll see the old friends, the best friends, the ones who remind me that I'm still 17, still slim and athletic, still have my life ahead of me.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Photo of the Day: Sneak Thief

Sometimes you have to go deep to expose the thieves.
Here's my pal with the whole tomato.
Just went out to pick some tomatoes for a friend and ran into this sneak thief, trying to eat his body weightX200.

Greedy little greenie, but I sliced the tomato to show him up, then tossed him and the eaten part away. No, animal rights people, I didn't kill him. I threw him into my neighbor's garden (heh, heh, heh ...).

Gratitude: Happy About the Energy

This is my kinda gal!
Today, I'm grateful for:

A high level of energy that allows me--at 67 (68 in two weeks)--to be involved in ways that much younger people aren't. This is both physical and mental energy that lead to good health and remaining smack in the middle of projects that are of some value to me and to others.

There are days when, by 9 a.m. I have done as much work as 30-year-younger people finish in a day, leaving a good bit of time for play, which I thoroughly enjoy. I find that most of my closest friends are a good bit younger than I am because they remain curious, intellectually challenged by life and physically active.

I feel blessed with the situation and hope never to take it for granted.


Photo of the Day: Whack!

I like this black and white shot.
I guess Sonya'd had enough. I pulled up the trusty Sony point-and-shoot one last time for a selfie and it was all she could stand, so she reached out with the paddle and ... Well, you know the story.

That's Sonya Chappelear and me at Carvins Cove yesterday afternoon on a crystalline day where the wind was strong enough for a lone sailboat and plenty of choppy water for the kayaks.
Here's Sonya in a more temperate moment collaborating on the double-selfie.