Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Toward a Brighter 2014

That's me hoping 2014 comes in and goes out with a smile.
My friend Betsy Gehman, who's 90 and would likely have some idea about such things, says that "2013 was the worst year since 1930."

I can't speak to anything prior to the 1950s, but Betsy's including some pretty bad years. Hell, some pretty bad decades. Here's what she believes 2013 exceeded in sheer disappointment:

The Great Depression, WWII, McCarthy witchhunts, Vietnam, George Bush, Ronald Reagan, Watergate, Richard Nixon (there's a trend here with the Republicans), fashion of the 1970s, Big Hair, Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Gay Rights, The Right, Wall Street Meltdowns I and II. There's plenty more, but that'll get your attention.

On the flip side, 2013 did give us Miley Cyrus's tongue, twerking and haircuts that defy description, and for that we must be ever grateful. Miley is the very definition of levity in an age when Ted Cruz is considered a presidential candidate and one of the boys from "Duck Dynasty" is solemnly looked upon as potential VP timber.

For me, 2013 presented some pretty serious challenges. I apologized publicly at least twice, once for an error in a magazine story that still haunts me. I quoted two people correctly, but attributed their quotes incorrectly. I gave each the other's lines in one spot. I screwed up a significant relationship (with great regret) and spent the last half of the year waiting for my son to move his family to Spain. They still haven't gone and may not until February. I've never seen such ineptitude as that exhibited by the people trying to get his paperwork straightened out. And this is not the first rodeo for those trying to get all this stuff right. Stress on stress on stress. But I did get more time with the fam, especially Oz and Maddie.

I finally published my first novel and for that I'm grateful. I think it's a good book, if not a great one and a story that's easy to read, easy to understand, easy to like. I sold FRONT, the magazine I co-owned, in order to get that book finished and I've run into a whole lot of freelance work since then (for which I am both grateful and nearly exhausted). I plan to get on with Novel No. 2 shortly. I have 245 pages written, but I don't really feel like I've started yet. There's Novel 3 sitting in the paddock area, awaiting a post time.

I'm sliding in to home tonight with a good book, a comfy lounge chair, my grandgirl spending the night and a quiet toast (non-alcoholic) to what's ahead in hope and dream land.

What's ahead, I sincerely want, is a lot of learning, a great deal of growing and understanding and a feel for what's right. I'm probably too old to be doing all the self-examining I've been up to of late, but there are revelations in there that will make me better if they don't kill me.

I hope your 2014 will be as good as the one I'm planning and I would like it a lot if my plan becomes a reality.

(Photo by my buddy Anne Sampson.)

Monday, December 30, 2013

How To Save a Little Money Without Stretching

I just ran into this chart over on Facebook and find it to be both interesting and a bit misleading. The first half of the year, you're only saving $351 with absolutely no stretch. Gets increasingly tougher in weeks 27-52. You can accomplish exactly the same result by putting back $26.50 a week all year. It would represent a nice Christmas or vacation bonus for you.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Throwback Thursday on Sunday: TJ and Sally

Kathryn made a great Sally Hemings.
This is my former favorite ex-wife (since relegated to the No. 2 spot) Kathryn Rhoads and me in about 1981 or so at a Halloween costume party in the home of former Hollins history professor Jake Wheeler and his lovely wife.

Kathryn and I thought we'd be clever and show up as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave and mother of several of his children, who were very much in the news at the time. The theme was "famous couples." We had discussed going at Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle, of course), who were all being "outed" at the time. But, given that a history professor was giving the party, we settled on T.J. and Sally.

Kathryn looked great as Sally, but I struggled as TJ, though I had a red wig, woolen vest (made at Biltmore Homespun), knee breeches and black buckle shoes. I don't think I carried myself with enough dignity. Those squarish, tinted glasses didn't help, either.

The problem, however, was not so much my dignity as it was the fact that four other couples showed up as TJ and Sally. Probably should have expected that, given who was throwing the party.

'Hunger Games II': Lawrence and Not Much Else

Jennifer Lawrence: One expression's enough for her.
The latest take of "Hunger Games" ("Catching Fire") is reminiscent of the transition in the  1960s Herman's Hermits tune "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am": "Second verse, same as the first."

This is another of those series movies that annoy the hell out of me because they become tediously repititious and simply refuse to reach any conclusions. What has to happen here (a rebellion of oppressed minorities) is obvious, but they need to get to it before we lose interest. Before you lose interest. I've lost mine.

Without Jennifer Lawrence's presence, my thought is that "Hunger Games," regardless of the take, is a two-star movie (of five) at best. She elevates it to three stars simply by being there, since she doesn't really have to act. Lawrence is one of the truly remarkable screen presences I've seen in the past 20 or more years. Her love affair with the camera reminds of Marilyn Monroe's capacity to take over a scene without having to do anything. In "Hunger Games," Lawrence has basically one expression and is not pushed to do anything, as she has been in other, much, much better movies.

But this is a kids' movie (kids into their 30s, as it were) and those who want to see "Hunger Games" want explosions, special effects and cute tricks, not complex and difficult story lines. They get it with "Catching Fire," since it has absolutely nothing new to offer and wastes performances by such noted veterans as Woody Harrelson, , Stanley Tucci,  Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland.

This is a season of very good movies. Go see one. You won't get it, however, with "Hunger Games."

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Stunning New Novel from My Buddy Christine MacConnell

My longtime friend Christine MacConnell has finally released her debut novel and it's a dilly. The book is Griffin Farm (buy it here) and it is described thusly:

Fast-paced, dramatic, literary, and poetic, C.A. MacConnell's debut novel, Griffin Farm, is a sweeping tale about raging love, murder, addictions, brain disorders, horses, rock and roll, and recovery. Chilling, honest, and undeniably real, the story shows the deeply entangled history of two families, revealing one woman's heroic fight to heal.
Christine MacConnell

Christine, whom I first met years ago, lives near Cincinnati now where she's a freelance writer and a noted musician. She studied writing and film at Hollins, earning a master's in creative writing. While there, she won both the Hollins Fiction Prize and the Hollins Literary Festival Poetry Prize, pretty big deals at Hollins and since Hollins sets the bar for writing, pretty big deals everywhere.

I met her shortly after she finished school and found her to be a delicate, vulnerable, buffalo hide-tough young woman with a strong moral center and a fierce will. She's small, soft-spoken and easy to underestimate. But don't.

She has been a vocal advocate for substance abuse for some time and has won national awards for her courage and clarity on the topic. I love Christine because she doesn't waver, doesn't duck, isn't afraid and her book is like that: clear, direct, honest, chilling and uplifting. If you've had a problem with drugs or alcohol or "alternative lifestyles" or if you haven't, give Griffin Farm a shot. I think you'll be absorbed by it and by this wonderful young talent.

All I Want for Christmas is My Pampa's Book

Here's Maddie posing with her favorite Christmas present, my new novel CLOG!  She won't be allowed to read it until she's about 23 or so because of a racy scene or two that might catch an 8-year-old off guard. You can get your copy by clicking on one of the icons at the top right of this page. Make an old man happy. Buy CLOG! And then read it. (It is not a book about plumbing.)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day with Pampa and the Grands

Maddie, Oz and me behind a wall of Christmas.
Us without the Christmas wall.
Had a lovely Christmas evening at my son's house this evening and actually didn't get overfilled on the kids, who seemed remarkably controlled, considering what day it was, how many toys they faced and the excitement surrounding them.

I'm going to miss this when they're in Europe. But it was fun today.

Throwback Thursday on Christmas Wednesday

This would be my favorite daughter Jennie at about 3 (1970, probably) with the ugliest Santa I've seen in a long time (Hey, Santa! Your beard don't match your mustache! Fruit!).

Jennie calls attention to her floral motif slacks and I look at her coiffe, which is vintage Pageboy Little Girl for the coming Decade that Fashion Forgot (my favorite ex-wife's definition of the 1970s).

A Sweet Christmas Gift for Me, Too

I just lifted the following from an e-mail I sent a friend, 'cause I want you all to read it:

I've been selling stuff on Craigslist for [my son] Evan the last two days and just sold an old bass for $100 to a girl who hadn't been able to find her boyfriend a great present that she could afford. When she left, hugging the bass, she said, "I think he's going to ask me to marry him today. This will help."

Death of an Old-Time Newsie/Character

Oakie Asbury
Ralph Berrier Jr. has a good piece in today's local daily (here) about the life and death of Oakie Asbury, a photogrpaher I worked with for about 10 years at the paper.

'Course in a local obit, you're pretty well limited to praising the dead, but here online we can say what we want, so long as it's not slander or libel. I can tell you that likeable old Oakie s was one of the laziest newspaper people I ever knew and that's a high, high bar. The business is filled with gold bricks.

The first time I was exposed to Oakie's photos (so to speak), I was working layout on a Friday night in the sports department and about 8:15, Oakie comes in with photos from a game at William Fleming High, probably 15 minutes away. He had been there for a 7:30 game, shot pictures, got back to the office, processed the film, made and dried the prints and delivered them to me in 45 minutes.

The "action shots" he turned in were of the guys shooting layups in warmups. It never occurred to Oakie that the scoreboard clock in the background reading 0:00 might give him away. He always turned in rosters so we knew who was in the photos, but instead of copying them from the scorebook like other photographers and sportswriters, Oakie photo'd and turned in the picture. You could make it out yourself, thank you very much.

I miss guys and gals like the Oaks. Colorful, ballsy men and women who could do their jobs, have a good time and give you stories to tell your grandkids.

(Roanoke Times photo.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why We Write: It's Complicated

Thomas Wolfe: On writing a book.
My friend Keith Ferrell and I just spent some valued Christmas time in my living room, exchanging gifts (books, what else?) and talking about why we write. He got mine, I got a wonderful fiction lesson from Thomas Wolfe.

Writing's "why" is a greatly underappreciated topic, I think. So many people--generally not writers--believe we write because it pays us. It sometimes does. Not a lot, but I've made a living with it for nearly five decades; Keith for about four. We've earned well and badly, but always, we wrote regardless of whether we were being paid $3 a word (Keith, not me) or 10 cents a word. Or nothing. Sometimes nothing.

I have a new novel, CLOG!, that I published. I went through traditional channels for a while (about four months) and didn't come up with a publisher or an agent that I thought suitable. I got tired of that process and simply went ahead with the book because I didn't write it for money or fame. I wrote it because I needed to write it, because that story has rattled around in my brain for years and now it's on paper and people can read it. Some have. They seem to like it.

Keith has a book on the NYTimes bestseller list at this moment. It's History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, written with Brad Meltzer. He wrote that mostly for the money (and says it was a joy of a project), but he has two other books in his pipeline that he is writing because he's a writer. History Decoded likely helps make these two an easier sell, though it doesn't change a word in them.

The book industry is in a strange place these days. It's changing and people are monumentally uncomfortable, nervous and unsettled. A novelist I know had a publisher break its word to publish her very good book recently and she wound up at an academic press with it. That's pretty much death for sales of a book, but she wasn't writing for the money, though the book is certainly good enough to have a major imprint.  

Someone I know criticized me for scheduling a launch party for CLOG! because "it's only a self-pub." That hurt and it made me angry. I like this book; I'm proud of it; and I want to share it with people who believe in me and people who want to read a good tale. That's what a launch is about. It isn't about an agent with an agenda or a publisher with quarterly goals to meet. It's about me and my book and celebrating an accomplishment that few people on earth ever get to enjoy.

Keith's Christmas gift to me was The Story of a Novel by Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Of Time and the River, one of the great works by an American. Wolfe was reared in my hometown of Asheville and his Look Homeward Angel was set there (though it was called "Altamont"). CLOG! is partially set in Asheville. That's about as far as I can logically go with a comparison.

Here's Tom's take: 

"An editor, who is also a good friend of mine, told me about a year ago that he was sorry he had not kept a diary about the work that both of us were doing, the whole stroke, catch, flow, stop, and ending, the ten thousand fittings, changings, triumphs and surrenders that went into the making of [Of Time and the River]. 

"... I propose to tell about this experience. I cannot tell any one how to write books; I cannot attempt to give any one rules whereby he will be enabled to get his books published by publishers or his stories accepted by high-paying magazines. I am not a professional writer; I am not even a skilled writer; I am just a writer who is on the way to learning about his profession and to discovering the line, the structure, and the articulation of the language which I must discover if I do the work I want to do. It is for just this reason, because I blunder, because every energy of my life and talent is still involved in this process of discovery that I am speaking as I speak here. I am going to tell the way in which I wrote a book. It will be intensely personal. It was the most intense part of my life for several years. There is nothing literary about it. It is a story of sweat and pain and despair and partial achievement. ..."

I'll buy that, even if a major publisher won't. 

Dudes: A Truly Fun Story Coming Your Way Soon

Roland Lazenby: "The Dude does have swaggar."
Just finished the final line of one of the most fun stories I've done in quite a while. It's tentatively called "Dudes" and it's for the Roanoker Magazine, February, I think (I never know with other people's publications). (Update: I'm told it's March/April.)

This one defines "dudes" and tells you who some of them are and how they go about it, what they think, what they drive, how they treat their women and stuff like that. I wish all my assignments were this much fun.

Here's a sample quote from Sports Dude and respected author Roland Lazenby: "Well, the Dude does have swagger, and like mine, it's absolutely clueless. So, yes, I have clueless swagger, which helps fulfill the irony requirements, I guess. I do have a rebellious nature, which is essential to the lifestyle of a dude. If you're conventional, you have no hope of achieving Dudedom. As far as insisting on quality, I've always appreciated a well-made White Russian, another part of that essence.”

The whole thing's like that and at this point, it's 4,000 words. Won't be that when editor Kurt Rheinheimer gets through with it, but, hey, he's the Dude. I'm just the dude-ette.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Couple of Excellent Movies in Roanoke

"American Hustle" and "Saving Mr. Banks" would seem to have very little in common, but the quality and depth of their casts is extraordinary for both movies.

American Hustle, based loosely on the convoluted 1980s Abscam scandle, is difficult to follow, but performances by Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence make it a true joy to watch. Bale, as always, is simply over the top, Adams is solid and Lawrence is--oh, hell, I could watch her read the phone book.

Abscam is one of the messiest scandals in our history and not so much because of corruption in high places, but because of the way the investigation by the FBI was mis-handled and how people were set up using some form of government that doesn't resemble ours.

In this fictionalized version, Adams and Bale are the con artists who con the FBI and it's fun to go along, although it's easy to get lost. I don't know how director David Russell managed to bring together this darkly clever movie, but ultimately he does.

"Saving Mr. Banks" deals with the difficult--damn near impossible--relationship between Walt Disney and "Mary Poppins" writer P.L. Travers, played with near perfection by Emma Thompson, one of the most talented actors living. Disney is Tom Hanks' typical understatement and he's just the right foil here.

"Mr. Banks'" cast is one that is uniformally excellent, top to bottom and features veterans like Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Rachel Griffiths, Kathy Baker and Ruth Wilson (whom I like a lot), as well as extraordinary strength in the peripheral characters. There's always something and somebody watchable on screen. How about an Academy Award for casting here?

This is a bit more than a typical Disney movie, though. It has some shades of Hitchcockian emotional difficulties at its roots and is instructive in the damage people do to each other.

I strongly recommend both and my guess is come Oscar time, you'll be hearing from both movies.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Packing in Some Quality Time Walking

"Want me to pose for you, Pampa?"
"How about like this? Like it better?"
Walking the timbers
"How 'bout maybe the two of us?"
Maddie and I got a walk on the greenway in this morning and it could be one of the last we have there for a few years.

Her departure date for Spain ("Daniel's grandgirl's leavin' tonight on a plane/I can see the red tail lights headin' for Spain") is in days now, so we're packing in time, whether or not quality.

I'm enjoying every minute of it and am going to miss this wonder of a kid more than I can even imagine right now, I'm afraid. But we have now.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Maddie Back to the Water, but Form's Shot

Maddie swims up the steps.
Maddie is out of school for the holidays, so this morning we went over to Green Ridge Rec Center to celebrate. Mads loves the water, but showed a lot of rust on her strokes with the swim season being several months behind. She's heading for Spain in mid-January, so her strokes will likely return pretty quickly. It's hot in Cordoba--almost year 'round and it looks like she'll have her own pool in the villa the family hopes to rent.

The form is ghastly on this freestyle lap.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Sailing School Grad

This is a clean-cut me in about 1979 (I would have been 33), wearing my Annapolis Sailing School T-shirt, which came with my diploma.

A friend and I--on a lark--went up for classes and came home sailors, though neither of us ever used the new skill to any degree. We actually did crew a sailboat in the Bahamas for about 10 days at one point, but we didn't need what we'd learned at the school. We were far more like go-fers than sailors on the 43-foot boat.

We learned the craft on small Rainbow sailboats, 23-footers that sailed like a dream. Maneuvered beautifully and made us all look like veterans from the beginning. This was (maybe still is) the boat the Naval Academy used to teach its midshipmen to sail. They all had to sail before they could graduate.

OK, now look at that hair. Are we talking perfect or what? Harrrrrrrr.

CLOG! Book Launch Set at Hollins, Jan. 8

Green Drawing Room is in Main Building, to the left.
We've scheduled the launch for CLOG!, my new--and first--novel Wednesday, Jan. 8, 6-7:30 p.m. at Hollins University's Green Drawing Room.

I'll be signing books and reading if anybody asks, but mostly this will be a time for writers to mingle and talk about ourselves, what we do best.

Thank you all for your marvelous support. Followers of this blog are invited.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Arrival: Just Like My First House

I remember the first house I ever bought. It came after getting sober, solidifying my finances, straightening out my life. When I walked onto the porch of that house the first time, it spoke to me and I bought it.

Didn't even need to go inside.

First night there, I wandered the near-empty rooms touching things, smiling, humming. I stayed up almost all night.

For the past hour or so, I've been sitting with my first novel piled around me, signing copies and putting them in envelopes for people who helped me develop and tell the story. Feels like my first house.

Happy? Yes. Content? You bet.

I wish this feeling for all of you you.

Tea Party Talk: You Believe What?

Got into an interesting discussion (if you can call it that) with a Tea Partier at a gathering the other night and I finally had to excuse myself before it became volatile.

The gentleman's assertion was that the Tea Party has no religious doctrine, no religious leanings, no religious influence. He asked several times for me to name one Tea Partier who used right wing religious doctrine to sway voters. I mentioned Palin, Bachmann, Cruz, Perry, Scott, Toomey, DeMint, Sanford, as well as a number of hangers-on whose central focus is to ban abortion. Abortion is a right-wing religious issue in general.

The man I was talking to denied that abortion was a central issue dividing left and right and said it was not a Tea Party issue. He was not aware of state and national legislation by various government entities that would force women wanting abortions to undergo vaginal probing procedures--which have no medical value at all, but are simply intimmidation tactics. He was unaware--or oblivious to--any of the anti-woman legislation backed by Tea Partiers across the country. My guess was that he wasn't aware of the Republican attempts to strip people of their right to vote if they are likely to be Democrats, an issue backed by Tea Partiers.

He insisted he does not want to spend federal or state money to give people abortions. I mentioned that I don't want to spend money on war, but that I accept the majority decision there.

I'm not sure which Tea Party he finds attractive, but his views struck me as more Libertarian than Tea Party, but, of course, the TP has more followers and, thus, more influence.

It's a frustrating discussion when the opposition doesn't know what it believes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Lovely Respite at the Lake

My dear pal Mary Miller and me earlier this evening.
Jim Miller cooked the meat, Jay Foster cut it.
Took my buddy Anne Sampson out to the lake this evening for a party at the home of long-time friend Marry Miller (owner of IDD in Blacksburg) and her lovely husband, Jim. These two are an unparallelled matched set, just about perfect for each other.

It was a warm house full of warm people, hot food and cold beverage and with a view of Smith Mountain Lake that is breath-taking, especially on a full moon night.

Lovely evening where I renewed some old acquaintences. Love these little respites.

Anne and me in front of Mary's Christmas tree.

Today's Photo: Flower Boy in a Corn Field

This is a little something I put together yesterday. Picked up the painted glass at GW Ltd. (Goodwill) and pulled the frame from my stash. Then I printed a photo I shot before Halloween of Oz in a corn field and mounted it on the back.

Makes a nice presentation, I think. And it was a heck of a lot of fun to do. Took about 15 minutes to print the pix, trim it, paste it down, drive a nail and hang it.

Local Daily: No Cowards Allowed

The local daily in Roanoke has finally made a change in its editorial policy that was a long-time coming: people will be responsible for what they say in editorial responses.

Editor Joe Stinnett wrote this in today's edition:

"Now, a heads-up to our frequent online commenters on the blogs and stories: We'll be requiring you to use your real name when commenting, and we'll use Facebook for all comments. The comments can appear on your Facebook wall, or not, as you desire. This is a philosophical change, reflecting my belief that if you say something in public, you ought not to be anonymous. This change is already causing controversy with our online community at roanoke.com, and we welcome your non-anonymous comments pro and con on this change."

It only makes sense. If you want to say something in a public forum, you should not be anonymous. Anonynimity has led to drive-by slander and lible and it, at its most basic, a coward's outlet. No cowards allowed in public discourse.

Texas Wants To Strip Right To Vote from Women

Texas Republicans have a way of offending Democracy on a regular basis that borders on unique among states. Texas, of course, is not alone in being anti-woman. Examples are legion, most recently in Michigan where legislators want to require women to buy rape insurance.

The most recent outrage is an effort to disenfranchise more than a third of its women voters. Yes, these knuckle-dragging Cro-Magnons in the Texas General Assembly want to make it so difficult for women to vote that they won't. That's because Wendy Davis, whose filibuster recently caused a national stir, is running a strong race for governor and she's a Democrat. Can't beat her fair, then cheat. Hell, it's the Republican Way.

This from occupydemocrats.com:

Think Progress reports that as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like such a small thing, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66 percent of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34 percent of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99 percent of men are home free.

As of November 5, a birth certificate is not enough. Women voters will have to show legal proof of a name change: a marriage license, a divorce decree, or court ordered change; and they have to be the original documents. No photocopies allowed. This means thousands of women face the hassle of figuring out what they need and how to get it. Then they face at least a $20 fee, more if a woman doesn’t have the time to stand in line and wants it mailed. As a result, many women who are eligible to vote, won’t.

(Photo: newworldencyclopedia.org)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Lovely Gesture from a Classy Lady

Me with the Boyd tartan.
Ran into my new friend Angie Stanfill, who calls herself a "thriftie," a bit ago at GW Ltd. (Goodwill) in Roanoke and actually saw her for the first time.

Angie has already made my Christmas special with a wonderfully sweet, thoughtful and generous gesture, and it was lovely to look into that pretty face and say, "Thank you, ma'am."

Knowing I'm a rag picker from way back (she reads my stuff), Angie ran across a lovely Boyd tartan from Pendleton, bought it and shipped it to me.

A week or so ago, I got a note on Facebook from her asking my address. I didn't think much about it until the package arrived and I thought, "Oooooh, my!" Lovely scarf and I just adore my heritage (Scottish).

This is the kind of random kindness and thoughtfulness that embodies my vision of Christmas. It's obviously not about the scarf, but about Angie "getting it." She understands Christmas and I appreciate that. Thank you again, Angie.

Good Day on the Market for My Buddies

Bea waits on a customer who bought a bunch of stuff.
Paul and Bea wrap up a purchase.
My buddy Bea Guiterrez-Clements appeared to have found a whole new receptive audience for her marvelous pottery on Roanoke City Market this sleety-rainy-snowy morning.

I was at her spot for just a few minutes and she tallied a big sale during that period and said the morning had been brisk. "We'll be back," said her husband, Paul Clements, an artist, himself.

They're over from Lynchburg where they live in a 1790s cabin outside the city. This is their first excursion to City Market and Bea would likely deem it an unqualified success.

Happy's Could Face Condemnation (It's About Time!)

One very important question needs to be asked about Happy's Flea Market's citations yesterday for violations of the building code in Roanoke: "What the hell took you so long to notice?" (Story here.)

Happy's has been a falling-down wreck of a building for years. It's a big building, 90,000 square feet. And it's 55 years old and I don't recall ever seeing a repair truck parked outside. The bathrooms are distusting. I wouldn't go near the restaurant. The inside looks shaky and in desperate need of repair and update. The city now says the roof's about to fall down and it hopes the owners will repair it before we get a good snow. The electrical wiring is apparently iffy, at best.

As readers here know, I enjoy Happy's a great deal during the warm months. But I don't go inside the building. The action is in the parking lot when it's warm enough to have weekenders pack in there with items from their newly-cleaned out attics. Inside? No, thank you. What's mostly sold there is cheap junk (except maybe for the motorcycle gear shop) and it's new. I don't want to go to Happy's for new. I can get that better in a lot of places.

Happy's is one of many troubled Roanoke buildings owned by people from outside the city. Its owners are in Manassas. It could be condemned by Jan. 6 if extensive work isn't underway. About time, I'd say.

(Photo: boiseweekly.com)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Reynolds Withdraws from District 11 Race

Kimble Reynolds Jr.
(UPDATE: Reynolds took the hint. He's withdrawn as of Friday. Easy come, easy go.)

Former Martinsville Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr.'s entry into the 11th District House of Delegates race in Roanoke presents some interesting questions, since he's running as an Independent.

Reynolds, who lost a race to Robert Hurt (now a U.S. Congressman) for the 13th District seat earlier and who was a strong supporter of Tom Perriello's when he won a Congressional seat, throws a large wrench into what was looking like a Sam Rasoul cakewalk.

Rasoul beat three other Democrats to win that party's nomination to run against former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson, a Republican. Both Reynolds and Johnson are black and Rasoul is white. Roanoke's African-American community has tended to vote for black candidates when given that choice and in this race, they'll have two choices. Rasoul ran strong among minorities in his chase of the nomination, won by 44 votes.

Reynolds has little name recognition here and there are some who are even questioning whether he actually lives in the district (his law office remains in Martinsville), but he's in and his candidacy must be dealt with. His support of Perriello is encouraging. I think Perriello, a one-term Democrat in the House (he lost to Hurt, too), is one of the best Congressmen we've had in many years.

Reynolds is not going to win. You can bank that. But he can disrupt if the race is close and word is that Johnson's handlers plan a nasty campaign, the kind that divides. Sam won't do that. He's a good guy with a lot of integrity and my guess is he'd rather lose than be the kind of candidate who plays a dirty game, Mayor David Bowers' acrid assertions aside.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Street Tennis Anyone?

This is from a promotion the local daily did in about 1979 when a bunch of media types took to the streets to play tennis in front of god and a bunch of secretries looking out windows. I don't remember if there was a charity angle or if we were just showing our asses in public.

I was a sportswriter at the daily at the time and, if I recall correctly, I was paired with a sportswriter named Mark Meng against columnist Mike Ives and sportswriter Dennis Latta. Mark and I, who regularly played against each other (sometimes wearing cut-offs with the pocket torn off), kicked ass. (I say that having no idea what happened. Latta was the best player of the four and he used to beat me like an old piece of meat.)

This is my homage to Throwback Thursday.

Suddenly, a Safe Bungee Jump at VVM

A while back, I wrote about the dangerous, spiked, metal fence surrounding the bungee jump in the open area downstairs at Valley View Mall. Looks like somebody paid attention. This is the fence now. Plastic, rounded and not likely to impale a kid. Good for you Valley View.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Remembering the VW Bus and a Drug Dealer

I heard on the radio a while ago that Volkswagen is building its final bus in Brazil Dec. 31, and that brought up something I hadn't thought about in a while.

I used to have a VW bus, faded orange and white and the idiot who had it before me had removed the Porche engine that came with it and put in a Bug motor. That meant it would only go downhill and struggled on flat surfaces. Hills? Huh!

Anyhow, I finally got tired of wrestling the damned old ugly thing (that Consumer Reports suggested was a death trap), so I put it up for sale. This was about 1969 and the bus was from the 1950s (the first one was built in 1950), so I was asking what I thought was a steep $600 for it. Wasn't worth $2.50, but if you don't ask ...

So, this slick-looking guy showed up in a recent-vintage black Mercedes, took a quick look at the van and said, "How much?" as he pulled an impressive roll of bills from his pocket.

"$600," I said, smiling and adding, "You look like a drug dealer with that wad."

"I am," he said, "and you'd damn well better not pass that along. I need a vehicle that won't draw attention."

I signed over the title and his buddy jumped into the bus, turned it on and drove off. The dealer hung for a minute and reminded me: "Don't say anything about this." I didn't.

A Bit of an Overstatement from the Senator

"For far too long here in Washington D.C. compromise has been considered a dirty word, especially when it comes to the budget. We have broken through the partisanship and the gridlock."

--Sen. Patty Murray on the House-Senate budget compromise reached yesterday on the budget. I'd call this a "rhetorical overreach." "Broken through," my white ass.

A Special Treat for Fans of Good Pottery

You're in for a treat this weekend on Roanoke City Market. Bea Guiterrez-Clements of Lynchburg will be on Roanoke City Market with her pottery and you can take some of it home.

Bea is a native of the Canary Islands who studied in Ireland and at Penland, N.C., and has become quite the buzz in the Hill City. She is married to glass and metal artist Paul Clements.

You can read about the two of them and their fun love story in the January-February issue of the Roanoker Magazine, which will be on newsstands in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, go see the pottery. It's lovely.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Attention! Music on Aisle 13

I was out doing a little Christmas stocking shopping early this evening and heard a lovely voice eminating from the wrapping paper aisle.

I followed the music and found a pretty, middle-aged, open-faced, brown-skinned woman in a bright, festive outfit singing away.

After watching her for a moment, I sidled up and joined her. She looked at me, smiled, put her hand on my shoulder and we sereneded the shoppers at Big Lots through two songs.

It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

(Graphic: lifereference.wordpress.com)

Finally ... CLOG! Is Here

My first novel, CLOG!, is fully online at Amazon Kindle, Amazon and CreateSpace, so you can order your copy ($15 for the book, $3.99 for the Kindle) now.

The paper copies of the book will be here at the end of this month and we're scheduling a launch  at Hollins in January. I'll post plenty about that before it happens and I'd like to invite you all to show up and celebrate with me.

CLOG! is my fifth book, but my first novel and I can tell you it feels wonderful to have finished and to be able to get on to what's next. I like the book and I hope you do. Order a bunch of copies and make us all happy.

Let me mention that I get a bigger share of the CreateSpace purchases than the Amazon buys, but if you're putting down the bread, do what works for you.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Photo Essay: A Day of Absolutely Nothing

No more kayaking in 2013. It's official.
Weeping cherry in the ice.
Last of the Bradford pear leaves, berries.
These colorful, weedy guys are in my forsythia, along with the ice.
Hummingbird cocktail on ice.
Lantern on the back porch.
Ice is finally melting on the deck. Short and sweet. Thanks for that.
Our little ice story over the weekend gave me the opportunity to get comfy in a big chair, bake some cookies that I can't eat, watch a "Suits" marathon of about 10 episodes and do exactly nothing for the first time in my memory. And to enjoy it. I don't generally enjoy inactivity, but when it's icy outside, I simply stop and do what nature intended.

Roanoke Mayor Needs to Apologize or Show Proof of Wrongdoing

David Bowers
It's past time for Roanoke Mayor David Bowers to poop or get off the pot with his accusations that Sam Rasoul ran a "dirty and dispicable" campaign to win the Democratic primary for the District 11 seat in the Virginia General Assembly. Rasoul won a four-way race by 44 votes Saturday in the primary.

David has often played loose cannon in the past and he needs to take responsibility for this wild accusation and either 'fess up that it's bullshit or give us some evidence of the wrongdoing. David's a lawyer and he knows the value of facts in the face of slander.

One has to wonder if, like Rush Limbaugh and those of his ilk, David is projecting his own values on Sam's campaign. Otherwise, where does his accusation come from? Sam is a good, honest and hard-working young man and he deserves better from the mayor. We all do. But I've said that a number of times before.

(Photo: WDBJ7)