For What It’s Worth

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I’d been staring at my phone for so long I didn’t notice the tear until it had settled at the bottom of the black. Watching a live feed of a split screen, the President spoke to the nation urging calm in the wake of another young unarmed black life gone at the hands of a policeman and the local legal authorities announcing there wasn’t enough evidence to indict, while the town, Ferguson, Missouri, was being pelted with tear gas on one split. It looked like a video from fifty years ago, during the turbulent 1960s, when the Man and the oppressed Man clashed over civil rights. I expected the next video to be The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and for me to watch it while I took up chain-smoking. Then I realized it was now, today, 2014 and at some point, I cried.

No one really talks to each other anymore, hence the phone, this blog, and the media that are sort of social, but not really. It’s a dumping ground for opinion, misguided anger, and a lot of wrong.

Missing from the night, and now the day, is care for each other. It’s called empathy by some, I prefer to call it compassion.

The guy, Darren Wilson, who pulled the trigger, on the unarmed dead teenager, Michael Brown, in the Ferguson case, never mentioned his victim by name, calling him “a demon” and “it” then later releasing a statement never even acknowledging Brown or his family. This is the way the sides have been drawn in debating what happened. Names are replaced by labels and no one even considers what the other is thinking, especially if their skin color is different.

“Do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt” and “It’s about the choices you make” are the lectures given to people hurting as their community burns and they mourn a body left in the street for hours while being referred to as “it”.

I don’t even care about the politics anymore. I just want to know where is the compassion? Do you hit send through a sociopathic hadron collider that breaks down your humanity?

I’m afraid to die. I’m convinced my wife and kids will be trolled by my Facebook friends list like a Westboro Baptist Church picnic celebrating my decaying flesh.

All lives matter. For what it’s worth, nobody’s right, when everybody’s wrong.

Tomorrow, The Green Grass

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As an aspiring curmudgeon, I’ve drawn the conclusion that almost none of what people are paying attention to pop culturally I relate to anymore, especially the drumbeat of “baseball is dead”. With no rooting interest at all (I’m an Atlanta Braves fan), I’ve been enthralled with this year’s World Series between the mid-market, absent from the big-time for 29-years Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, a large market club vying for their 3rd championship in 5 years. According to television ratings, the media that are social and the college and professional football foaming at the mouth rabid dogs of the Deep South of which I reside, I’m in the minority in my passion for baseball.

I have a ridiculous need to be the most punk rock person in a room, real and virtual, so, the notion that not only are my lefty politics, music snob record collection, and now affinity for the game thought to be dead from greed and steroids over the past 20 years, I’m giddy with hipster pride.

I’m not a generally “happy” person, you know, by want or nature. Yet the some of the finest moments of my sarcastically tortured life surround the sport once played by men named Babe, Yogi, and Rube. Days fishing on Lake Chatuge in Towns County, Georgia near the North Carolina line with my late grandfather were punctuated by the wearing of Atlanta Braves caps, eating ham sandwiches and peanut butter crackers, and pumping my fists to homeruns hit by Dale Murphy and Bob Horner while Skip Carey, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson described their heroics over our transistor radio. This may explain why we didn’t catch a lot of brim, perch or crappe.

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I’m not a big fan of sports talk radio. A few years ago it turned into an ugly vaudeville act performed by mostly men who were raised on too much Howard Stern and not a lot of Vin Scully. The way radio is specialized, the only way you can find sports news while you’re in the car is to dial up those stations. I wanted to find out about the upcoming game six between the Royals and Giants. The Giants are up 3 games to 2 after a masterful performance from a good ole boy pitcher from North Carolina named Madison Bumgarner who has wild hair but a precise left arm. Instead of hearing anything about baseball championship, I endured over a half hour of college and pro football talk. This is the section of the country in which I choose to live, enamored with a sport that has huge problems but dominates the pop culture conscience.

To make my frustration grander, I just finished 22 hours over about 8 days, of Ken Burns’ Baseball Documentary covering over 170 years and numerous topics including the last 20 turbulent years of baseball where it tried to kill itself with a labor strike and steroid cheating. I first saw the series twenty years ago, but hadn’t seen the last two-part episode “The Tenth Inning: covering baseball from 1994-2009″. All of it was excellent. Even if you only kind of care about baseball, or maybe your weird uncle was the baseball nut in your family, you’ll find something to love about the documentary because Ken Burns is an artist at storytelling and presentation. Ex-Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee in a CCCP cap is a must watch, so is historian Doris Kearns Goodwin talking about breaking up with an uppity boyfriend who didn’t “get” her family’s love of  baseball. Still, there’s few people to talk about this with because all anyone wants to chat up is football.

After dosing on baseball for the past 2 weeks, with the documentary and the World Series, I’ve decided that most of baseball problems are easily solved. Unlike football, which faces generations of players damaged by head trauma, players who get arrested at a higher rate than any other, and pay disparities that extend from pro players who deserve more to college players who deserve something, baseball problems are more surface related.

Everyone has a plan to fix baseball. The games need to be shortened, the marketing is terrible, and the lack of interest from the minority community are all troublesome. I just think baseball needs to show themselves to people, more. They’ve gotten most of the drugs out of the game. The “small ball” play of the Royals and Giants is very exciting to watch and looks like the game I grew up on in the 1970s and 1980s. The biggest thing going for baseball is their very old man for a commissioner just retired a much younger man took over.

The biggest thing is there are memories like those I have fishing on the lake with grandfather. You don’t get those with other sports. Baseball is just like life. It’s everyday, it always endures, and the sense of history is unique and feels right. Tomorrow, the green grass will begin its turn to brown and the World Series will conclude in a couple of days. I’ll miss it. That means something.

Here’s The Jayhawks, they’re Minnesota Twins’ fans.

Superunknown, A Rant In The Key Of Grunge

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It’s a horrible, morbid, and superunknown thought that I know so many people my age think; maybe Kurt Cobain saw the future and that’s why he took the easy way out. That’s an explanation for the awful situation and unfathomable set of circumstances that make up this dark, cold, and unforgiving world we’re supposed to be running, and by we, I mean middle-aged people born between 1965 and 1980, aka, ridiculously, Generation X.

We were supposed to be better, smarter, more enlightened than our parents and grandparents. Sure, they lived through a Depression, won a World War, navigated the turbulent 1960s and survived the Watergate, energy crisis 1970s. In doing so, they turned their backs to racism, allowed Jim Crow laws, treating women as an underclass and ignoring gay people. They also gave us skyrocketing divorce rates, drug abuse, and exceptional narcissism that turned their kids and grandkids into pill popping misery-filled jerks on which they could blame everything. The problem is, we’re just as bad as they are, maybe worse, because we became like them.

Police and minorities are still in trouble with each other, women are losing rights to their bodies, and while we’re kicking all kinds of righteous civil-rights ass in getting same-sex marriage in 30 states and counting, homophobia is so out of control, it’s infected both houses of Congress and turned our social media accounts into spit-ball contests that treat friendship like those key parties some of our parents attended in 1973 while snorting their coke at discos a few years later.

Screw them, let’s talk about us. Why can’t we get our act together? For those of us who can’t make it through a day without a cocktail of meds and a trip to a CrossFit box just so we don’t go off on some buffoon in line at the big box store we vote for in every election that kills our economy and makes poor people even poorer, then the other lot is acting out against anything that isn’t white, red, white again, and blue.

We were supposed to question authority. Michael Stipe, Henry Rollins, Morrissey, Eddie Vedder and Kurt all told us we could. Yet, too many of us are watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh and posting right-wing blogs on Facebook with posts filled with so many lies and chockfull of so much racist, bigoted, misogynist and homophobic rhetoric it churns the stomachs of, well, anyone reasonable.

I sat at a table at some Bar-B-Q place in the middle of the Deep South, today, at 44-years-old, the youngest person of 8 diners, and heard 7 others rip the millennial generation or whatever we’re calling my 3 daughters’ age group, as lazy, shiftless and stupid. Have they looked in the mirror lately? Have they seen who they keep voting for? Have they read their Facebook walls? They’re the problem, too.

If I hear one more person bitch about rock and roll being dead, I’m going to make a citizen’s arrest, impound their CD collection, and expose their country music contraband. Florida-Georgia Line, the Nickelback of contemporary not really country music has the number one album this week. Have you heard them? They’re what you get when your high school friends’ media that are social accounts learn how to play guitar and crap out worthless things that are sort of not really songs.

It’s all our fault.

Are you reading this “friends?” Of course you’re not. It’s not on InforWars or Obamasucks.com or downloaded from Sean Hannity or Paul Finebaum’s radio shows.

How bad are things? I walked through my living room last night and two “stars” of the 1990s music era, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and Gavin Rossdale of Bush were on a reality show for singers giving career advice. Yeah, Kurt knew. It wasn’t just the drugs and depression, it was the future.

It’s how we react to injustice and then refuse to get along with those who disagree with us that makes us so terrible. A cop maybe, possibly, kills a black man and we run to our grandparents and find out what Fox News said is wrong with America then vomit the word “liberals” like my golden retriever rejecting that week old cereal bar he found under the couch. Then you don’t care that one of your best friend’s is a black, I mean liberal guy.

Kurt, forgive us, whereever you are. We failed you. Nothing we do Smells Like Teen Spirit, it’s all just Superunknown, like that other Seattle band whose singer ended up doing a James Bond theme.

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, I’m A SMITH

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If you hang around blogging long enough you become one of “those people”, that don’t write. It’s been a while and I have plenty of excuses but lack the energy to list them. I used to make fun of people who didn’t blog every day or every other day, then I turned into one. What happened to me? Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before, I lost a fight to someone bigger and tougher than me, real life.

I miss it, I promise. The prompts, like my own creation, 100 Word Song, the tight-knit community of like-minds and same publish button-pushers. Then my oldest daughter went to college, I started traveling for work, the other website I started ten months ago needed attention I couldn’t give, and my own mental illness started running my game by its rules.

Wait, those are excuses. It must have been the burrito I had for lunch that gave me the strength.

I’m struggling, with a lot of things. For now, I’m still working on the sequel of The Ballad Of Helene Troy, called Woman Of Troy. I hope to release it by the end of the year. Silas and Olive will be made into a novella, too, to be released soon.

I wrote two pieces, one serious, one humorous, about my life with mental illness, bi-polar disorder, and the things that surround it for my a new book coming out around March 2015 called SMITH – Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor.

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Since I was a teenager I wanted to be a Smith, and now I am, maybe not Johnny Marr or Morrissey but a new kind of SMITH. I’ll keep you updated on when the book comes out in the spring. Here is our the website

My focus for this space needs to return on what I love to do, fiction writing and posts about myself and the four women of whom I live. I need to say thank you to the dozen or so people who have inquired as to what the heck I’m doing with my writing life. Things are still busy at Lefty http://www.leftypop.com, please go there.

The notebooks are full, my mind is active, and characters are being developed. I just need to start hitting publish more often.

One of the changes I’ve made in my life that’s affected my writing is we cut our cable television off. Now, I’m watching my handful of favorite shows through HULU, NETFLIX, and whatever streaming services there are over my phone. This has allowed for more time to scribe.

I’m here, and I’ll be more, here, soon. Maybe, even tomorrow. I apologize for turning into one of “those people” that you view their blog and it says the last post was a date requiring an “s” to be added to the word “week”.

Since I’m a SMITH, I should play The Smiths. They just got nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Bittersweet Symphony

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Sipping a Diet Coke, eating lukewarm Chinese take out in a two and a half star hotel room in the middle of Massachusetts is how I unceremoniously reached middle-age, 44-years-old, a little over two weeks ago, while taking an inventory of the first half of my life.

Like so much of my time as a “grown-up”, I laughed at the lack of pomp or circumstance of my birthday and searched for the nugget of gratefulness at being alive, at least for another day, month, and hopefully, year.

When my dad was 44, he had a 23-year-old recent college graduate son, to whom he seemed like a very old man, clad in country club golfer attire and perpetually preaching about insurance, getting a good job, and settling down.

As I embrace the dub 4s, I’m just hoping this CrossFit knee injury heals soon, I can find time to write, rock and roll makes a comeback before I think it’s too loud to listen to and my wife and three daughters allow my key to work when I get home at the end of each day.

I’ve been traveling for work, thus why I recognized mid-life a thousand miles from home earlier this month, and not writing as much I usually do.

I like to say I’m on year 8 of my mid-life crisis, but the truth is closer to the fact that my 44 is completely different from my dad’s and I’m slowly getting use to it and will one day be okay with it all.

I’m not the man I thought I’d be. I work only part-time in journalism, writing is more of glorified hobby, and my day job pays the bills and equates to the analogy as an overthinking busybody lighthouse keeper guiding ships along their way through my home, my writing commitments, and whatever friends have decided to stick around, even after knowing the mess that is me.

Over the past year, I’ve been hanging around old high school friends. This is something I never thought would happen. After re-establishing contact with fellow forty-somethings through the media that are social, we reunited, and found how much we viewed our lives differently, but through a common scope.

There are days I feel ancient like after a workout because body maintenance is important but harder than ever, or hanging with my college freshman daughter, or being in line at the grocery store with twenty-somethings who prattle on about staying out all night.

Recently, I was in one of those places and the 1997 alternative music anthem, Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve came on the sound system. I found myself grooving in the aisle with an impromptu five-minute therapy session. It felt amazing and assumed my dad or his friends never did that at my age.

There are things I’m fine with and wish my fellow forties would be as well.

It’s okay I’m not as conservative as my parents and grandparents. My open-mindedness has made me friends and acquaintances that have made my life more interesting.

I don’t think my eight tattoos, all received between the ages of 35 and 42, will make me look stupid later in life. Each one has a story.

I’m glad I sold my golf clubs a few years ago and started blogging. You can do it in your underwear and it costs a lot less than a round of eighteen.

I still hate most country music as much as I did when I was a teenager and this means I’m not giving in. Nothing says you’re getting old than listening to the same music as your parents and grandparents.

The Verve’s Urban Hymns album contains Bittersweet Symphony is a wiser person’s guide. It predicts the future, puts the past in perspective, and soothes the savage that is aging.

“‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down you know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet yeah”.

I have to end this post because it’s time to get my youngest daughter on the bus and go to work. But do me and many others my age a favor. The next time you see one of us lost in the grooves of Bittersweet Symphony in a store or at a kids’ ballgame, don’t bug us. We’re in a cathartic, profound moment that qualifies as intense psychoanalysis.

That’s forty-four, these days.

 

I wrote two books. They got good reviews. The third one, a sequel to the first, Woman Of Troy, is on the way, very soon.

The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com

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Cartoon

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Last time: http://lancemyblogcanbeatupyourblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/heaven-knows/

I needed something to stop the tears after leaving my daughter at college and the rock song of her generation blaring from a nearby dorm made me feel even older, so stopped at the red light and tapped my iPhone music library. The opening lyric, “now everybody’s looking after me,
If I’m dragging by some coat tail“, in front of twangy late 1980s college rock guitar brought on a 26-year-old memory I didn’t realize was there.

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Dude, like really, could you give us a minute! She’s upset!”

I surveyed the uncomfortable situation and didn’t know what to do. With two minutes before my 10th ever freshman DJ shift at the student radio station, I was being ordered out of the studio so some guy I didn’t know could console a crying girl I did know. The room was small, dark, and suffocating with more than two people inside. I tried to please two masters, my radio gig duty and their wishes to be rid of me. I decided to cue up my first record on the turntable next to the girl so I leaned into the thin, pale sophomore named Jule. I suspected her name it was Julie or maybe Julianne and she was reinventing herself like the rest of us social rejects at college. Those were the types that inhabited the University of Alabama student radio station, WVUA, in the fall of 1988.

“Why do you keep doing this to us? Leave us alone for five f**king minutes, a**hole!”

I thought I was a melodramatic bad actor but this guy blew me off the stage. The  vinyl record was ready with needle on groove, all that had to be done was push a button and the world would hear staion approved college rock for the top of the hour of 1am.

Before I walked out, I turned to Jule and placed my hand on her shoulder. We’d hung out for a few minutes at a time during station meetings. She was from suburban Atlanta, Georgia like me, but a town about an hour away. I muttered over my shoulder as I reached the door.

“Hang in there, I hope you’re okay.”

The guy started to scream at me again.

“Get the fu…..”

Jule placed one hand over his mouth and pointed to the door with the other. When he pushed away from her and stayed in his chair, she growled, low and intentional.

“The music comes first, here. It’s his shift, you leave and don’t call me, again.”

He got up, threw the rickety black office chair back into the radio console with his butt, then glared at me. He elbowed my chest like a rebounding basketball power forward and cursed into the hallway. I looked at the clock in the studio then at Jule. She wiped her eyes, rubbed her hands on her dirty jeans, then asked.

“What are you starting your show with?”

Her lips trembled. I wanted to ask her what happened. Instead, I just answered.

“Soul Asylum, Cartoon, it’s my favorite song right now, well, you know, until tomorrow.”

She laughed and leaned back in her chair as I pushed the button.

Like my teenager, I had a different life one month into my college career. I owe her a huge thanks for instant recall.

Heaven Knows

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Walking the streets of downtown Atlanta on a weekend afternoon is an assault on the senses as the sights, sounds, and smells of the previous night’s sins are prominent with a college campus the featured resident. I strolled out of the parking garage and began texting my Georgia State freshman daughter because I knew she wouldn’t answer a call since it’s 2014 and she has twitter. Before I could finish the message, I’d reached the courtyard of her dorm and looked up to see a little blond thing in a sweatshirt, shorts, and long golden hair greet her dumb dad.

“Hey, you. T (her roommate) saw you get out of your car so I just came on down. Let’s walk to my favorite Chinese food place.”

I held back a tear, as I hadn’t seen her in two weeks, traveling for work, missing her return home a few days, before. She let me lean on her shoulder at a cross section while we waited for a truck to turn right. I whispered.

“I missed you.”

I knew not to say it too loud as four boys she was familiar with approached us and everyone exchanged hellos.  She knew them from class, I assured myself.

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The Chinese food place was closed so we opted for plan B, wings and French Fries at a sports bar type joint, two storefronts down. She turned and smiled.

“I knew you’d pick wings.”

I started with a list of questions I’d mentally written down on the drive. We delved into her favorite class at the moment, philosophy, which was mine, too, when I was a college freshman, 126, I mean 26 years earlier, at the University of Alabama.

A few minutes after the food arrived, she started opening up about her life, slightly less than a month old. She’d changed a set of friends, found a church she liked, gotten off to a great start with her roommate, and figured out how to get to class without being too terribly late. I couldn’t stop looking at her face. Her smile was intentional and infectious. The dour, mean high school girl had changed. She was something totally different. She even slipped and said she missed me. It must have been the Mountain Dew talking.

I almost didn’t go back to her dorm. I was afraid of evidence like dirty clothes, old pizza boxes, maybe a beer can that didn’t belong or something that would make a worried, fussy father even worse. As rock music played from one dorm room we walked by, I braced for something nerve-wracking, instead, the discovery I made was much more profound.

Her roommate had the same face, smiley and anxious. The room was clean. They looked like young women not girls. After a while, I realized I didn’t belong and my stomach was already hurting. My welcome was worn out between the greasy food and cursory laughs at my bad jokes when I walked into their new home. She had homework piled up on her desk and a meet up with church friends in less than 2 hours. She sighed.

“I have an essay to write.”

I’m increasingly impatient with the attitudes of people my age towards those of my daughter’s. Maybe at other guys’ girls’ dorms at other colleges there were signs of immaturity and laziness, but at least for this day, my kid and her roomie had put on an excellent show. She had a new life, and it was going well. She didn’t ask for money and the hug and kiss she returned were sincere.

I waited till I got back to my car in the five dollar garage before I broke down. That, my daughter had earned. Heaven knows whether or not she’s making wise choices and taking advantage of her college opportunity. The mutual respect and shared trust taught me a lot. I haven’t screwed this up, so far.

Here’s The Pretty Reckless