Sunday, December 28, 2008

"We Know Drama" – Really? Do You?

So I'm watching TNT the other night, and it ran one of those promos that ends with the network's catchphrase: "We know drama." And for some reason, it made me sneer. (Well, not an actual sneer, because I'm not very good at that facial expression, although I can do a pretty good Elvis lip curl.)

I guess it just underscored how obsessed we are with drama nowadays. Yeah, contrived drama sells, but what it also does is lessen our appreciation for the truly dramatic – the significant kind of drama, the kind that really impacts our lives and makes us think deeply about important issues. After watching a particularly intense episode of, say, 24, does the real fight against terrorism strike a chord with us? Does real pain, real suffering, real danger, move us? Not as much as it should; I think the contrived drama of this age has desensitized us to a disturbing degree. The line between real and imagined is blurred.

On the other side, there is the kind of drama that brings us joy. Countless sports channels give us that, with more and more focus on the dramatic moments than on what led up to those moments. Just give us a the highlights, we say. No time for the meat of the matter.

What's wrong with the "boring" routine of everyday life? We should be satisfied with the small joys, the things that keep our hearts attuned to reality and prepare us to respond to real drama with true emotion – to tragedy, with compassion and hope; to victory, with gratitude and appreciation.

I find myself too often seeking pseudo-drama, and I feel like it sucks something out of me. Nothing wrong with a good movie or an exciting ballgame, but I think I put too much stock in what those temporal things have to offer. When I'm honest with myself, I know I'd rather be taking a walk through the woods, tuning out the world and listening to God.

Today's Redneck Thought: "People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for." – Harper Lee

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Black-and-White; or, Picturing the Past

I've got a copy of this picture of my great-great-grandfather, Samuel John Locke. He's 15 at the time, and he's wearing a Confederate army uniform. He's brandishing a large knife and an odd expression – a curious smirk, it seems. (I daresay it was the first time he'd had his picture taken.) I find myself studying the picture, searching his features to find some trace of physical resemblance between he and I. I've not really found any yet.

I also recently got a copy of a picture of my grandparents when they were a newly married couple. Mamaw and Papaw are 88 and 93 now, respectively, and I find it fascinating to compare then with now.

There is something about those old pictures that hold my mind captive. They give a glimpse of a slice of history, and I wish I could climb inside the picture and explore that history. Not having lived back then only heightens my curiosity. And for some reason, black-and-white photos are more engaging. They lack the dashes of color, but the monochromatic suggests a simpler time and a sturdier people. Of course, a student of history will know that there has never been such a thing as a "simpler time," not in this world.

But the view I get through those old photos paints a picture of an unfamiliar, out-of-reach place. I find some bit of my identity in them, because they remind me of my link to a past that's easily forgotten.

I often find myself wishing I could talk with my great-great-grandfather. But that one picture says a lot.

Today's Redneck Thought: "A picture's worth a thousand words/But you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered/You should've seen it in color" – Jamey Johnson, "In Color"

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Fakin' It; or, Plastic World

We put up our Christmas tree last night. It's a fake one. Can't remember the last time there was a real tree in my house at Christmastime. A fake one's more convenient, less expensive in the long run. A good investment, I guess. Plus, the cats don't try to climb it.

But I'm kind of tired of fake. Fake body parts, fake hamburgers, fake people, fake grass. Cars are made of plastic. My "hardwood" floors aren't actually made of wood. Fireplaces don't burn real logs. It's all a bit disillusioning.

Our society's based on fake. "Good works" posing as genuine, unquestionable moral character. Lust posing as love. Ignorance posing as knowledge. Heard something interesting the other day: Yoga doesn't actually relieve stress, it represses it. See, we want easy answers that make us feel better about ourselves. And pursuing a physical remedy for an emotional or spiritual ailment is easy.

It all just makes me want to find a real log cabin in the middle of the woods, where I can cut my own wood, eat fresh venison and not talk to anyone except those who truly love me. But I supposed that's a fantasy. So I'll just keep faking it.

Today's Redneck Thought: "My sister says Southerners are like other people, only more so." – Blanche McCrary Boyd

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last-Minute Shoppers; or, It's Thanksgiving Already?

All I needed was a bag of pecans and a block of gruyere cheese. That's all. So after parking a quarter-mile away – well, seemed like it – I walked into my local grocery establishment at 5:02 p.m. to procure the last necessary items for our Thanksgiving eve feast. I was in and out in a surprisingly fast 12 minutes, 1.2 seconds. That, despite having trouble finding the cheese and chatting with a fellow church member who had also been dispatched by his wife to purchase some food items.

Thank heaven for self check-out.

Nevertheless, I was amazed to once again witness the phenomenon of last-minute shopping. I know Southerners can move slower than molasses in January, but why do we think it's a good idea to wait until the night before a major holiday to do our shopping? It's not like these things sneak up on us; Madison Avenue makes sure of that. It's one thing if you're grabbing a couple of things, like I did, but you've got people piling up the their shopping carts.

My wife wisely bought most of her Thanksgiving fixings last week – and I must say, it was a feast that can't possibly be topped (turkey, sweet potato casserole, homemade mashed potatoes, cornbread [both sweet and unsweet, to accommodate our respective tastes], corn, green beans and pumpkin pie). As an aside, my wife and kids and I have our own feast the night before, and then we gather with extended family on Thanksgiving Day. I don't even bother trying to count up the calories.

I'm a procrastinator myself, and probably most of us are, but this last-minute shopping frenzy we see all the time befuddles me. Oh well. Time to go eat some pumpkin pie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Off the Gravy Train; or, An Unstuffed Turkey

I am at a crossroads. We all know what time of year it is. My favorite time of year, and a big reason for that is all the scrumptious food that I get for free. Just yesterday, I had a Thanksgiving feast at work, and then I had another that night at church. It was pretty much the best day of the year.

It'll be the same at Christmas. And of course there's the non-stop flow of sweets from countless sources. But I'm a conflicted man, because over the past year, I've been working out like I never have before. That's not to say I'm in the gym three hours a day, six days a week. Let's not get crazy. Shoot, I hardly went in September and October. But exercise is something I've had precious little of the last several years, and now I've got a routine going, and it's helped me lose a little weight and get more fit.

These next six weeks threaten to undo all that. Because I have never, ever been able to deny myself at the lunch or dinner table, especially not when it's laden with turkey, dressing (with gravy), sweet potato casserole, fried ham, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cornbread, pecan pie, chocolate chess pie, brownies, chocolate-covered pretzels – you get the idea. When you live in the South, turning down second helpings is an insult to the cook.

But I was kind of proud of myself yesterday. I didn't fill my plate like I normally would. I'm sure I still took in too many calories between the two feasts, but it's a start. I hope I can practice moderation next week when I'm at the family gathering at my grandparents' house.

But with the way my wife makes sweet potato casserole, I can't make any promises.

Today's Redneck Thought: "Don't eat anything bigger than your head: Sound advice, so put down that cheese ball." – Lewis Grizzard

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Franken Nonsense; or, Brain Freeze

If there are any Minnesotans reading this, I have a question for you: What's up with you people? Al Franken? Seriously? He came this close to becoming a member of the United States Senate. And at last report, there is actually a chance that could still happen. Yeah, this guy making big decisions in Washington.

No, Al, you're not good enough, you're not smart enough, and doggone it, most sensible people don't like you. But a lot of folks in Minnesota aren't sensible, I guess. I'm telling you, the cold does something to people's brains.

Did I follow Franken's campaign, study where he stands on the issues, investigate his opponent's qualifications and political record? Of course not. It's freakin' Minnesota, I don't care.

But what I do care about is our society's increasing fascination with celebrity, and the mistaken notion that fame equals competence. Let's not forget who Minnesota once elected governor. And don't even get me started on California.

Some who achieved fame in a previous occupation actually can do well in the political arena: Bill Bradley, Steve Largent, Ronald Reagan. But most aren't qualified. If I should someday become a famous novelist, am I suddenly going to think I'm a viable candidate for office, at any level? Heck, no. I know my limitations.

I mean, when a guy writes this kind of book, you can't expect much partisanship. Now, I'm sure Al's an intelligent fellow, but good grief. If some Saturday Night Live writer hadn't given him that Stuart Smalley character – and I admit, it was hilarious – we wouldn't even know who Franken is.

I mean, at least down here, we elect honest politicians. By honest, I don't mean scrupulous; I mean guys who are unapologetically politicians, and they get there without the aid of fame (though perhaps with the aid of fortune). I think I know why Fred Thompson didn't have his heart in running for president – he knew it'd be pushing his luck.

Chances are, I'll catch heck for this from some smarmy Democrat, from Minnesota most likely. But that's o-kay.

Today's Redneck Thought: Not redneck per se, but still good stuff.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Not Buying It; or, Keep the Change

Well, here I sit, waiting for things to change. What things exactly, I'm not sure, but if Barack Hussein Obama says things are a'changing, then who am I to argue? He's a polished orator, so he must be right.

But seriously, I'm not understanding the Obamamania. Well, I understand to a degree – I'm certain a few folks voted for him simply because of the color of his skin, not because of the content of his character. They love the idea of a bi-racial president, which means Tiger Woods should start boning up on foreign policy (those knees are going to eventually give out). People don't seem to realize that Obama is not a savior; he is nothing more than the hot politician. Dang hot, yes, but a politician at the core. He makes promises he couldn't possibly keep even if he wanted to, his greatest asset is the failures of the opposing party, and he lacks any real substance.

A lot of people like myself aren't happy with his victory (not that McCain would've been much better). I'm sure there are a few people who, to put it mildly, are not in love with the idea of a bi-racial president. I'm not one of those; Obama's skin color doesn't bother me, but his stance on economic and social issues sure does. I think that's the case with most Southern conservatives, which speaks well of the progress we've made in race relations.

I think it's great that his race wasn't a factor to most people who cast a ballot. I'm glad to see he's a family man, and that he loves sports (always a plus in my book). But all this "change" talk – not buying it. Just more empty words from another politician. Although if there is any change, I fear it will not be for the better, especially with Senate and House Republicans being in the minority.

Change, in the political realm, is good only if it benefits society as a whole. I'll be keeping an eye out for all this promised change. In the meantime, I'll keep living and toiling in the real world.

Today's Redneck Thought: "I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, that our only hope is in God." – Gen. Robert E. Lee

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Civic Duty; or, Voting for Coffee

Well, time to exercise our civic duty. As I type this, it's the day before Election Day, and I'm watching Saturday Night Live's Presidential Bash. Priceless stuff. Darrell Hammond for president!

But seriously, it's an election like this that makes secession sound attractive. Or moving to Antarctica. Or to the moon. Or far, far underground in a fully stocked fallout shelter.

I can feel the angry white man welling up in me again. In this corner we have the closet socialist, and in the other we have the nominal Republican who's stuck in his past. In other words, I've got no reasonable choice. But to not vote apparently makes you worse than child molesters and poachers. And I've seriously considered not voting, but that seems a copout. I could go third party, like last time, but I've become more of a realist since then.

So I will go to my local voting precinct and cast my ballot. Because I am a man of conviction. And because I want my free Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sick Stuff; or, Can't Believe What I 'Saw'

Time for me to rant like the old guy that always writes into his local newspaper.

But I want to know: What's wrong with some people? Specifically, what's wrong with the folks behind gore flicks (not Gore flicks – that's another rant entirely) like the Saw series? Saw V was released last weekend, making me wonder if this is supposed to be the Harry Potter of horror films (minus the good script-writing, sharp acting, etc.). The Orlando Sentinel gave it a 1-star rating, yet it still raked in $30.5 million on opening weekend, second only to High School Musical 3 (speaking of movies that make you shudder …).

I used to think that most people had what I call common decency. Even if they weren't church-going, God-fearing people, they still had a basic moral code. Not these wack jobs behind the Saw franchise.

I know of what I speak. During a recent out-of-town trip, I was channel surfing – hint for travelers: Lock it on ESPN and chuck the remote out of the hotel window – when I happened across one of the Saw installments. I watched for a few minutes to see what the big deal was. Didn't take long to figure out the gist, so I moved on when they started drenching this dude in liquefied pig remains.

Yeah, try getting that image out of your head.

Speaking of heads, I do wonder what's going on inside the noggins of those behind Saw. I've seen one of the Friday the 13th movies, and that's nothing more than an undead dude trying to hack up amorous teenagers. But from what little I've watched and from what I've read of Saw, the basic premise is forcible self-torture. Some kind of sociopathic mindset behind it all.

And of course, teens eat up this sort of stuff, which makes me wonder where their parents are. Probably comparing Benzes at some country club social, or whatever it is that rich, deadbeat parents do. Or maybe the kids are telling their folks that they're going to see the latest High School Musical.

Either way, pretty sick.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nature's Call; or, Rural Ramblings

I went to Knoxville this past weekend. Had to cover that debacle of a gamebetween Mississippi State and Tennessee. It wasn't pretty.

The drive up and back, though, was very pretty. Spectacular. I wisely chose to go via the Natchez Trace, which takes you as far as Nashville. The wife was with me, so we took our time. Stopped at a few scenic places – right by the Tennessee River, some trails, an overlook. Even though I have lived in the South my whole life – save for a five-month stay in St. Louis when said wife and I were dating – its natural beauty never ceases to amaze me, especially this time of year.

It's hard to describe such beauty, which is why I've included pictures. But there is something revitalizing and inspiring about the sharply colored leaves, the nonchalant flow of streams and creeks, the crisp air, the hills and dales (old-school vocab alert), the razor-sharp thorns of some strange tree (owww!).

I think perhaps the raw loveliness of nature – from the rough-hewn rocks to the cool, gentle breezes – is what reminds us of our humanity. I do pity those trapped in large cities, the dull asphalt jungle surreptitiously draining people of their winsomeness. Whatever that means.

But I do long to live in a more pastoral setting. Tupelo is nice, and it's surrounded by rurality, but I think I'd like to live in, say, Tennessee. Hillbilly country, if you will. For now, I guess I'll have to settle for the occasional visit.

Today's Redneck Thought: "I lived in Chicago for nearly three years. It was very cold there, and the people talked funny." – Lewis Grizzard

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My Greatest Fantasy; or, Chasin' a Chevy Dream

I've got truck envy. I've had it for years. Just ask my wife. After we first met, I described to her in a letter my dream truck. I wrote: "I'd love to have a big Chevy Z-71 4x4 off-road extended cab stepside w/a 454 engine, skid plates, 42-inch Super Swampers (tires), a Warn winch, steel-chrome brush guard bumper, and a rollbar w/ KCs across the top. Oh yeah, and a trailer hitch. And big rebel flag mudflaps. And maybe a couple of 15-inch Kickers being pushed by 2 100-watt amps. But I digress. And glass packs."

Oh yeah, and a lift kit. And I want it in blue. Or silver. But that's all. Basically, I wanted a Bigfoot. (Here is a "lite" version of what I'm talking about.)

While in high school, I was walking to a fine eating establishment in Monroe, La., (Burger King) and saw a truck that fit many of those specifications. I had to suck the drool back in my mouth. To this day, seeing such a truck makes my stomach flip.

Back in the day, I drove my father's Toyota pickup. Couldn't exactly go mudhogging in that, but it got me around. It was a manual shift, and I could bald a tire in second gear. You work with what you've got.

Now that I'm married with four kids, my dream truck would be quite impractical. Not to mention expensive. Yet, when I cross paths with a tricked-out ride, I daydream for a moment. Sitting up high, blowing out windshields when I rev the rumbling engine, splashing through small lakes. Oh, mother, that'd be sweet.

Oh well. My Honda's a good little car. Maybe I could put some spinner rims on it …

Today's Redneck Moment: I was watching my 4-year-old son playing in the house, and his little water gun was sticking out of his back pocket. I don't know, just struck me as funny.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Instant Brad; or, Just Text/Twitter/IM Me

You want to get in touch with me? It ain't hard. You can text me, Twitter me, chat with me on Facebook, hit me up on AIM, and if I ever used it, Yahoo! Instant Messenger. Or, you could just call me. Or comment on my blog, which I'm always checking. Or write to one of my four e-mail addresses.

It's Instant Brad – IB.

And it's cool. I kind of like it, especially being in my line of work. Comes in handy, whether it's posting quick updates or asking someone a question that I need the answer to now. It's a good way for me to keep up with people and vice versa.

But sometimes, I swear, I'd like to just chuck it all out the window of a speeding car. Because while IB means convenience, it means more pressure. Back in the day, you broke a story in the next day's paper. Today, the progression goes: Twitter, blog, Web site, message boards, newspaper, by which point it's old news.

IB means I'm always on my toes, 24/7. That's part of the job anyway, but now news moves faster, and my life in general moves faster. A brother can't relax on a Sunday, because a football player might have gotten arrested at 2 a.m. the night before for sending his ex harassing texts.

Sometimes IB wishes we were still an agrarian culture, when the only thing 'instant' was a pop-up rain shower, and nobody controlled that. People wrote letters (not typed), traveled less often (and less luxuriously), read yesterday's box scores in the paper, got up early to cook a real breakfast, grew their own food, and talked slower. And I bet they got a lot more accomplished in a day than I ever have.

My wife has sometimes threatened to go Amish. Yeah, but I'm neither a farmer nor handy with anything that doesn't have a keyboard, so we'd be up a creek there. Speaking of creeks, I haven't been near one since college. Used to swing across 'em with my friends on lazy summer days (or sometimes fall in them).

There ain't no going back, I don't suppose. Well, better go see who's on Facebook.

Today's Redneck Moment: Heck, I didn't have time for one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brad in the City; or, Where's My Exit?

I've started what will amount to a Big Cities of the South mini-tour. Went to Atlanta last weekend to cover the Mississippi State-Georgia Tech game. This week it's Baton Rouge for MSU-LSU. In October I will visit Knoxville, and in November Tuscaloosa. OK, Tuscaloosa isn't that big, but it's a college town.

I've been to all these places before – except Knoxville, just through it – but what I'm really looking forward to is taking in the game day scenes and tasting the local fare. Didn't get to do much of the latter in Atlanta, although I found a really good cup of coffee at a place next to the hotel in Buckhead. As for the game day atmosphere, it was pretty cool. First thing I saw when I got on campus was a bunch of frat boys holding a sign that said, "U honk, we drink." I honked.

Baton Rouge should be a much more, um, interesting experience. You start with LSU fans, the most obnoxious fans in the history of sports. They're angry no matter what happens, whether they beat you by 50 or lose in triple-overtime. Any excuse to lob whiskey bottles at you or yell unintelligible insults. I've actually never been to a game at Tiger Stadium, but I've heard countless horror stories and have seen beer flying onto the field on TV.

But I'm really looking forward to eating some genuine Cajun cooking. I have an affinity for it, especially gumbo. I spent nine years in north Louisiana, and while that area is more like Mississippi than south Louisiana, the people there do appreciate Cajun cuisine. So I've been asking around for good places to eat while I'm in Baton Rouge this weekend. Suggestions are welcome.

My main concern isn't the fans or finding good food, but rather not getting lost. I have about as good a sense of direction as a drunk Lindsey Lohan (is that redundant?). I got lost in Atlanta on the way to the game, on the way back to my car after the game (the parking garage was like two miles away), and on the way back to the hotel. And the next day, too, while trying to locate the Coca-Cola factory (it was closed). I still get turned around in Tupelo sometimes, and I've been living here almost six years.

So I'm leaving Friday, which will A) get me in ahead of game day traffic and all those crazy fans, B) give me plenty of time to scope out the restaurant scene, and C) give me a full day to find my hotel.

Today's (Actually Yesterday's) Redneck Moment: My youngest daughter, Trinity, finally lost her first tooth yesterday. But she didn't want the Tooth Fairy to come last night. She had to sleep with the tooth first.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Controlled Chaos; or, Drive Like an NYC Cabbie

I think it would do all Southerners good to take a trip to New York City. Seriously. Why?

To learn how to drive.

Yeah, I know. They drive like maniacs up there. I didn't actually drive in the city when we visited in July, but I rode in an airport shuttle van, and I learned a new meaning of the word 'fear' and was seriously questioning the integrity of the brakes. The Japanese guy driving was as 'psycho' as any cab driver. Or was he?

While it seemed we were on the brink of disaster every moment, after the ride, and after observing other drivers, I realized that New York drivers have mastered the art of controlled chaos. (That's what that whole city's about, right?) It might appear that these guys are nuts, but I bet they could fare quite well in a NASCAR road course race. Driving a race car is all about deft handling in tight quarters, and that's what I saw in NYC. It's a 'feel' thing.

So, since returning home, I've pulled a couple of New York moves, darting into a backed-up line of traffic or, as on the way home on the New Jersey Turnpike, making multiple-lane changes. Actually, I have a history of aggressive driving, but it was aggression minus intelligence. I've gotten better, honest.

I've actually long admired some of the New Yorkers' driving habits. Like hitting the gas when a light goes green, not when the person in front of you finally decides to go. See, if everybody gets on the gas at once, a lot more cars can beat the red.

Then there's the issue of improper lane usage. My gosh, Southerners can be clueless. Quick lesson: Granny lane to the right, hammer lane to the left. It's simple. If you're in the hammer and I'm coming up on your rear, please move. Every time I have to pass some yahoo on the right, I cast a condescending glare or shake my head.

Then there are those who try to drive like New Yorkers but instead drive like I used to. They tend to have very loud engines, which is supposed to impress me. Yeah, try that junk in New York, Jack. You'll get run off a bridge.

Today's Redneck Moment: My oldest, Deanna, walked in the door today and let out a belch. Just kept on walkin.'

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tall, Tall Weeds; or, Just Can't Cut It

I have totally lost track, but I think it's been about a month since I mowed our lawn. No joke. I cut it one day, looked real nice, and then it rained for about a week. Since our backyard holds water, I had to wait for it to dry. But before it did, it started raining again, and again. And I had craziness at work with my new beat.

It got to the point where I knew there was no way my little push-mower could handle the tall, thick grass in the back. So I had a guy all set to come out early this week to cut it. And of course, it rains. Thanks, Gustav.

So we've got cattails growing in the front yard, whilst my neighbors have their lawns neatly trimmed. We're white-trashin' it, much to the neighborhood association's chagrin, I'm sure.

Heck, I might as well go all the way with this. Think I'll find an old lawn chair, plop down in it in front of our weed-infested flower bed, and sit out there in my gym shorts and no shirt, with a root beer in my hand (I'm going for effect here, so such props are allowed). I need some cinder blocks to put under my Honda, and a pink flamingo (which they're not making anymore). Drew can run around in his underwear, and Rachel can wear a tight tank top, blue jean cutoffs and mismatched slippers.

Well, maybe not. My wife is gonna kill me for posting this, though.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Grammatically Incorrect; or, She Ain't Speakin' Right

I'm torn. My inner redneck is throwing down with my inner grammarian – OK, so I don't hide either of those characteristics very well. Dadgummit.

It's my middle daughter, Charlotte. She has learned the word "ain't" and has been saying it like some people say cuss words. "I ain't gonna do that." "This dress ain't clean." "I ain't got no pink socks." Ooh, a double negative. Honestly, I ain't sure what to do.

I'm secretly proud that she's learned how to use a staple of the Southern dialect. I haven't corrected her yet, and I'm not sure I will. Although it should be noted that the late, great Lewis Grizzard's mother, who was an English teacher and hard-line grammarian, despised the use of that word. "Fixing to," though, was just fine.

I do want Charlotte to sound like the intelligent little girl she is, but I can't bring myself to fixing her grammatical errors. Heck, I still talk that way in informal settings, because it comes naturally and provides some level of comfort. Occasionally, I will drop "ain't" or some other dialectal delicacy into my writing, for effect.

I'm not sure where she picked it up. Guess it could've been from me, but since I don't talk much, she probably got it at school. Sad, yes, but she started saying "ain't" about the time school started. I know Charlotte's teacher will correct her if needed, but I think Charlotte is like me and talks that way only in casual conversation.

It could be worse. There is the Southern dialect, and then there is the Redneck dialect. To borrow from Grizzard, some common terms/phrases you'll find in the latter dialect include:

• "His'n" (his).
• "If'n" (if).
• "You got air asack?" (Do you have a sack?)
• "I ain't got nairn." (No, I'm afraid I don't.)
• "I don't reckon. (I think not.)
• "Nekkid" (Naked).
• "Buck nekkid" (Naked and drunk).
• "Possum" (As in, "Possum more beer in my mug, honey.")

There is a place for proper grammar and elocution. There is also a place for speaking in a natural manner. But Jeff Foxworthy is probably right: When we get to Heaven, St. Peter will say, "Y'all git in the truck, we goin' up to the big house."

Today's Redneck Thought: "She taught a love of words, of how they should be used and how they can fill a creative soul with a passion and lead it to a life's work." – Lewis Grizzard, on his mother, Christine

Monday, September 1, 2008

Making Change; or, Embracing the Unfamiliar

I don't like change. It's scary. The fear of it is in my blood. Like those who came before me, I prefer the way things used to be, whenever that was. I wish things were like they were 20 years ago, and 20 years from now, I'll say the same thing.

But I know that change is often necessary. Time moves forward with an annoying persistence, no matter the happy or tragic circumstances. Time has no feelings.

Change can be good, if you embrace it. I've had to do that this past week. I moved from covering high school sports to Mississippi State athletics. Yeah, cool job, but it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. I was comfortable where I was. I knew what I was doing. I wasn't nearly as visible as I am now, which meant less pressure.

Change meant confronting the unfamiliar, and with football season here, it meant tackling it head on. No time for dancing in the backfield; that's a good way to get flattened. So I've plowed forward.

Everybody tells me I'll be fine. Deep down, I know they're right, but I've never been a self-assured sort. Insecurities have plagued me as long as I can remember. That's another reason I don't like change – I think it will overwhelm me, or expose me as a fraud.

I need change, though. We all do. Without change, nothing ever gets better.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Football Time; or, The Bear is Smiling

Wow, so it's been how long since I posted something? Yeah, well, this past week was crazy busy. I was finishing up our 56-page preseason football magazine. Somehow I got stuck with most of the writing and most of the layout. Now that the football season starts in full this week, things will get even crazier. Yay!

But I do love football season. I don't give it the kind of reverence that many Southerners do. I would disagree with the late Bear Bryant – both in principle and theologically – who said, "If you want to walk the heavenly streets of gold, you gotta know the password: 'Roll, Tide, roll!'" That's actually three words, but Bryant also said, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class." Or a grammar class.

Nevertheless, there is something sweetly sentimental about a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon in the fall. Friends gather, succulent food is prepared – screw the calorie count – and the players trot out in their bright, crisp jerseys. As the weeks pass and the games become more important, autumn continues its slow, cool descent, until it's November and we're washing down those burgers with hot cocoa. The uniforms become dirtied and torn, and the helmets become colorful palettes marking the season's grinding progression.

I've often wondered how football became the preeminent sport in the South (and in other places). It's fun to watch, of course, and whether we are willing to admit it or not, we love the controlled violence of it. But I think the game's popularity can also be traced to the fact that there are only a few games, and teams play only once a week. Every game becomes an event, and the stakes are higher than in, say, a typical baseball game. In football, there are no rematches, no best-of-whatever series. You get one shot, and that's it.

A football game is not just a football game in the South. It is an event not only on the field, but off it. It's a social affair, which partly explains why Ole Miss coeds are bedecked in their Sunday finest every Saturday. I'm not sure I want to know the other part of the explanation.

The high school and college seasons start in full this coming weekend. I actually covered a private school game on Friday, and even though it was muggy and buggy, and the crowd was small (and not paying much attention), it was football. And it was good.

Today's Redneck Thought: "In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in Bear Bryant." – Wally Butts, former Georgia coach

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Tall Tale; or, A Great Idear

So some guys in Georgia claim they've found Bigfoot. Well, a Bigfoot. Because they say they saw a whole Sasquatch family. Yeah, they happened upon the beasts during a picnic volleyball match.

The intrepid adventurers held a news conference Friday but didn't bring the corpse with them, or much else in the way of solid evidence. So this is looking even more like a sham. I'm the least shocked person.

Let's think about this. Rednecks and tall tales go together like butter and grits. Over the years, the fish we've caught grow to enormous proportions, the deer we kill keep gaining extra points, and Bear Bryant is a minor god. I suppose those are more examples of hyperbole than flat-out tall tales, but we're good at taking an event or person and stretching the truth beyond the bounds of exaggeration. This is what's probably happening here.

See, these fellas were hiking through north Georgia when they came upon some badgers kicking around a pine cone (you might not know that this is a common badger game, and it helps explain why they're so ornery). Anyway, one of the guys – we'll call him Earl, since I didn't bother noticing their real names – says to Pete, "Pete, what are them raccoons doing?" "Them ain't raccoons," Pets says, "them's badgers." "Oh," says Earl with a blank expression. "Hey, that gives me an idear. Let's take that old gorilla suit I wore to the Christmas party and fool a bunch of cynical journalists and expert scientists into thinking it's Bigfoot." "Shewt, Earl! That's the best idear you've had since you took that deposed Nigerian prince for all his money! By the way, when's that check supposed to come?" "Uh, yeah," Earl says, "I'll go alert the media."

Pretty sure that's how it went down. Bigfoot says he agrees.

Today's Redneck Moment: When I came home at lunch, my wife was sweaty and filthy from pulling weeds. And I thought it was really sexy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Smashing Moments; or, Eat It, Frenchy

Did you see the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay the other night in Beijing? Did you see that Frenchman crying in the pool like someone had just put Tabasco sauce in his bidet? Oh, how sweet it is to shut up a jaw-jacker like that Alain Bernard ("We will smash the Americans."). Jason Lezak, you are forever my hero.

The Olympic Games have never failed to provide indelible moments such as that one. Whether it's Kerri Strug vaulting on one leg, or Michael Johnson blowing away the field in his shiny gold shoes, the Olympics always give me reason to celebrate like the American homer that I am. Am I jingoistic? You bet your sweet sushi I am. It's not politically correct to be so, which is all the more reason to be so.

I would not normally watch a swim meet, but since there's a chance for the U.S. to kick some serious tail I'm all over it. I hope Michael Phelps beats them all. I got so excited when Lezak beat Bernard to the wall, I … well, I can't really tell you what I did. Would've gotten me a night in the can if I'd done that in public.

Heck, I'd cheer like a madman for a Tiddlywinks competition if Americans were involved (although I draw the line at synchronized swimming). This is one of the easiest ways for me to show my patriotism. I don't mean to come off as arrogant – although Americans did perfect the art of arrogance; the French invented it – I'm just very proud of my country and those who compete for it. Any non-Americans who don't like it, guess what: Our basketball team could smash yours.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Frozen Up; or, Cursed Technology

I have not been meaning to neglect my blog. But my faithful Mac froze
up last Sunday; it's now in a better place. OK, it's actually in our
tech guy's office.

I am supposed to get a new one this week. I've been able to make do at
work, but not so much at home. I'm writing this post on my phone,
which is a very tedious process.

'Tis the curse of our modern blessing, technology. We go as it goes,
for better or worse. Like Bret Michaels of Poison sang so long ago
(1988), "Every rose has its thorn." I often marvel at those who once
had only a typewriter or pen and paper as their tools of composition.

Although I'm sure both methods are faster than typing on a tiny cell
phone keyboard with one hand.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In the Pink; or, Color Me Outraged

My fellow Southern men are being brainwashed, and something must be done. Just today, I discovered that a co-worker had been victimized. I hadn't the heart to say anything to him; he seemed so happy.

You see, he was wearing … a pink Oxford shirt. He's a good Southern boy from Lambert, Miss., and he should know better. But he's hardly alone.

A basketball coach I know had a pink shirt that he wore throughout the state basketball tournament last year. His "lucky shirt," he called it. Well, his team lost in the championship game. Maybe his players couldn't take him seriously because of the shirt. It's not a tool of intimidation.

I see it everywhere, guys wearing pink dress shirts. Apparently it's the fashion, which means we're letting some Yankee tell us how to dress. The Yankees have decided that pink shirts look good on guys, our wives have somehow convinced many of us that's true, and so we've accepted yet another Northern abomination, one as disturbing as sweet cornbread and Rascal Flatts.

Growing up, I don't recall seeing one male wear a pink shirt, or a pink anything. I saw lots of girls wear them. Because pink is, you know, a feminine color, just like mint green and purple. My daughters wear pink. My son does not, nor will he ever as long as I'm buying his clothes.

You might say colors are gender-less, that my being anti-pink is a sign of my ignorance or poor fashion sense or whatever. I say, some things in life are black and white, and pink needs to stay where it belongs – off of me.

Today's Redneck Thought: "Mashed potatoes from a box. That's what's wrong with this country." – Lewis Grizzard

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New York, In Pictures, Take 2

From top: The scoreboard at Yankee Stadium (we sat right under it); a view from our seats in Shea Stadium; the Today Show outdoor set; my wife looking thrilled at Yankee Stadium; a view from our seats there.

New York, In Pictures

It only let me upload five images, so I will have to do this in at least two posts. From top: Me at Shea Stadium; the Empire State Building; Brandon driving after we got lost in Newark, N.J.; the intrepid travelers looking confused at Penn Station; Steve and Ryan share an intimate moment.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New York, Day 4; or, What a Trip

Time: 7:35 p.m.
Location: Home

Day 4 was mostly a travel day. Brandon, Jessica and Steve went back into the city before lunch Thursday, and then we left town about 1:30. Twenty-two hours later, we were home. I took a nap this afternoon, and I'm still tired.

We took our time getting back. Stopped in Hershey, Pa., and toured Chocolate World. I'm pretty sure that place was an actual piece of heaven on Earth. We also stopped at the Crayola factory in Easton, Pa.

Being in the van for so long, I've had time to reflect on the trip. This whole thing came about when Brandon invited me along. Rachel and I had originally planned to go camping in the Smokies this week, because our 10th anniversary is today. I'm glad this came up, and I'm glad my wife was cool with going with all the guys (she committed to the trip before Brandon's wife did).

New York lived down to some of the stereotypes – dirty streets, wacko drivers, wacko Yankees and Mets fans, etc. – but it was one of the most enjoyable trips I've ever taken. We met nice folks – New Yorkers and fellow tourists alike – and got to see some cool things. We went to ground zero, and while there wasn't much to look at besides construction equipment, the more I think about my visit, the more it sinks in how significant 9/11 was to everyone in this country, not just to New Yorkers. While the hustle and bustle surrounding us wasn't my cup of tea, it was encouraging to see that people there have been able to move on and live as normally as they possibly can in the wake of that tragedy.

The main reason I went on this trip was for the baseball. The Yankees and Mets are both getting new stadiums next year, and I just couldn't miss the chance to visit baseball's Mecca. Shea Stadium was a sweet bonus. It was nice to see where the Cardinals beat the Mets in the 2006 NLCS. My hope is to someday visit ballparks in all the major league cities. I've also been to both Busch Stadiums (St. Louis), the old Fulton County Stadium (Atlanta), the old Arlington Stadium (Texas), Miller Park (Milwaukee), Comerica Park (Detroit) and Wrigley Field (Chicago). Still a ways to go.

The best part of the trip was the people we went with. To review, it was Brandon Speck, his wife Jessica, Steven Criss, Adam Gore and Ryan Whittington. Rachel and I shared a room with the Specks, which was real interesting the first two nights in that one-bed room (had to get a rollaway). Rachel and Jessica had met once, briefly, and really hit it off. Adam, Steven and Ryan all work for WO7BN, the Bruce TV station, so I knew them (not as well as I know them now). Ryan's also an Ole Miss student, and he was the one who kept us laughing most of the time. I misstated earlier when I said none in the group had been to NYC before; Ryan had come twice, Brandon once, I believe. They did a good job getting us around. Rachel said before the trip that we'd either become great friends with these people or hate each other when it was through. The former held true.

Only so much can be said with words. I will soon post some photos here, if I'm able, as well as on Facebook for those of you who are my "friends." Now, I must go watch some movies with my wife. And I should probably begin planning that 20th anniversary trip to Ireland.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New York, Day 3; or, Crazy Trains

Time: 1:52 a.m.
Location: Days Inn, Newark, N.J.

Wow, I spent way too much time on the trains today. It took Brandon, Steven and I five hours just to come to the Newark airport, get something out of the van, check into the new hotel, and get back to the city.

Back in the city, Steven and I got separated from Brandon and took the wrong subway. We wound up walking 22 blocks to find everybody else. We made our way to the World Trade Center and were rather disappointed, to be honest. I feel bad saying that, but it was just a big hole under construction. Some of the group wanted to skip the Mets game and do more sight-seeing, so Rachel, Ryan and I hustled over to Shea Stadium. By hustled, I mean we took the 4 train to the 7, which was not as bad as John Rocker described it but was packed like a sardine can. We got to our seats in the bottom of the first inning.

These were actually better seats than at Yankee Stadium: upper deck, front row, a few yards outside the left field foul pole. Great view, and we thought a better atmosphere than the previous night. Jose Reyes' three-run home run keyed the Mets' 6-3 win over the Phillies. I believe that tied the teams for first in the NL East.

The game was easily the best part of the day. It's weird. You hear about and see things about these places like New York, and they don't seem to live up to the hype. We swung by the Today Show, for instance, and it was cool, but nothing spectacular. Al Roker is really short.

We leave Thursday (today, technically). I will reflect on the trip soon, with pictures included, I hope.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New York, Day 2; or, Yankee for a Day

Time: 11:07 p.m.
Location: Same as yesterday

I'm pretty sure I heard angels singing when I entered Yankee Stadium tonight. Yes, I'm a Cardinals fan, and yes, I technically hate the Yankees. But I am first and foremost a baseball fan, of both the game and its history. So that's why I felt no guilt when I bought a replica Lou Gehrig jersey (well, considering the price, perhaps some buyer's remorse).

Our seats were in the next-to-last row in the outfield bleachers, right below the scoreboard in right-center. Not great seats, but I didn't care. I had a seat in the House That Ruth Built. Since they don't allow beer in the bleachers, the fans were relatively tame. Although when some genius decided to wear a Jonathan Papelbon jersey, the fans around us serenaded him with a vulgar cheer expressing their collective opinion of the Red Sox.

So I got to see Jeter, A-Rod, Damon and the rest of them. Bobby Abreu homered, and the Yankees beat the Twins 8-2. About the seventh inning, it finally hit me where I was. I just sat there and soaked in the atmosphere and history that surrounded me. Yes, I'm a big-time romantic when it comes to baseball.

The day began more routinely. Steven and I had to go to Newark to move our van from Penn Station to Newark International. That's where we'd intended to park Monday, but thanks to my expert navigational skills, we missed our exit.

We're getting pretty good at navigating the city via the subway. Not as scary as I thought it might be. We've run into some nice people, and some rude ones, too. I met a couple from Corinth on Monday night at the ESPN Zone, and they advertise with the Daily Journal. Sheesh, I'm turning into my dad.

My wife is mad at me because I forgot to bring the Yankee Stadium cup our Coke was in. But she still loves me, and she's having fun, too. Our plan for Wednesday is to stand outside the Today Show and get on TV (I'll probably do the full goober routine - talking on my cell to someone and telling them to turn the channel while I wave and smile like, well, a goober). Then a change of hotels - got that part of the reservation screwed up, too - some sight-seeing and the Mets game. And if we're lucky, a seat in the Ed Sullivan Theater for Letterman.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New York, Day 1; or, "He Is Not Seriously Pulling Us Over!"

Time: 11:04 p.m.
Location: Room 417, Latham Hotel, E. 28th St., New York City

I'd have posted something earlier, but my phone wouldn't cooperate. Turns out that was the least of my problems.

Our trek to New York City - me, my wife and five friends - began about 8:15 p.m. Sunday. We were packed into our minivan like the Clampetts. Five guys, two gals and luggage. My knees are still sore and I've been awake since 9 a.m. Sunday. But I can't wait until we watch the Yankees on Tuesday, the Mets on Wednesday.

Our first hint of trouble came around Selmer, Tenn. When I took a curve a little hard, it felt like the van was sliding beneath me. "Jerry, we're loose in the turns. Give me a wedge adjustment next time in."

I told Ryan, who was to drive the next leg, to play close mind to how the van drove. But before we even got on the highway, Crossville, Tenn.'s finest pulled us over on the on ramp. "He is not seriously pulling us over!" exclaimed Ryan. Got busted for a busted taillight. Some red tape solved the problem.

The van gradually got worse, to the point that after eating at a Waffle House in Virginia, it was sliding around like a slalom skier.

We pulled off near Dublin, Va., and thanks to my expert navigational skills, we wound up five miles back down I-81. We finally found a Wal-Mart - should've turned left off the ramp the first time - and were directed from there to a local garage.

Smilin' Jack Akers - said so on his purple custom pickup - was an elderly mechanic whose hearing aid was working about as well as my van. He determined that a radial belt had come apart in the right front tire, so back to Wal-Mart for new treads. Back on the highway, and it's still sliding, though not as violently. Still, I figured that was $65 down the drain.

Still not sure if it was. But when we stopped for lunch, I checked the air pressure and found my rear tires were both about 14 pounds low. Problem solved, thanks to my expert mechanical skills.

To summarize the rest: We parked at the train station at Newark, took the train, found the hotel, went to eat at ESPN SportsZone (*drool*), Brandon's wife Jessica got sick, and we finally got back to our tiny little room at 11. Oh yeah, me and the wife are bunking with Brandon and Jessica, and the hotel screwed up our reservation, meaning our friends are sleeping on a fold-out bed.

Good gosh and good night.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Road Trip; or, New York City?!

As I write this, my trip to New York City is less than 24 hours away. I'm preparing for my visit by walking briskly and avoiding eye contact with strangers.

I admit to feeling some trepidation. I'm just a simple redneck who abhors crowds, filthiness and nasally accents. I'm afraid that even in New York, I will be easily spotted as an outsider. I might as well wear a T-shirt that reads, "Where's the closest Wal-Mart?"

I'll have six other people with me, none of whom have been to New York, so that'll scream, "Tourists!" But I do feel safer in a group of familiar people. After riding with them 18 hours in our minivan, I imagine I'll be real familiar with them. No Taco Bell on this trip.

If I'm going to stick out, I might as well make the most of it. You know, try to educate and enlighten the Yankees. How could I do that? Let me count the ways:

• Teach them the proper use of the term "y'all" and where to place the apostrophe (it's not "ya'll").
• Throw a bonfire party in Central Park.
• Introduce them to my wife's sweet tea (I'll tell them it's herbal or something).
• Show them how to amble (and if I have time, how to mosey).
• Direct them to this blog and other ones like it.

It's a start. Best go to bed now. I've got a busy week ahead of me.

Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

End of an Era; or, Crying with Yankees

I'm sitting here watching the Major League All-Star Game, and I'm feeling a little sad. Why? Because it's being played at Yankee Stadium, which is in its final days. A new stadium is being built right next door.

Yes, I find it odd to be empathizing with New Yorkers about anything. I have in the past referred to New York City as a giant rat hole. I would never, under any circumstances, want to live there. Many of the people who live there are condescending toward my kind. But there are times when one must put aside regional differences.

The New York Yankees have long been the kings of baseball. It's the cradle of our national pastime. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Derek Jeter – you know the names. Twenty-seven World Series titles. The pinstripes. And if you don't love 'em, you hate 'em.

An era that began in 1923 is coming to an end this season. The House That Ruth Built is shutting down, and it's a shame. Fortunately for me, I'll have the privilege of attending a game there next week. As a baseball fan, it'll be an awesome experience.

We all rallied around the Big Apple on 9/11, and while Yankee Stadium's closing does not approach that event in terms of its impact on our nation, it's significant nonetheless. Especially if you're a baseball purist like myself. It's the end of an era, and all that other mushy stuff.

The Yanks are playing the Twins the night I'll be there. I won't be rooting for either team, I'll just be soaking up the atmosphere and history. I'll be saying hello and goodbye. Don't tell anyone, but I might even shed a tear.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Southern Confinement; or, Where's the Carburetor?

My lovely wife and I had a nice talk last night about what it means to be a Southern man. I was lamenting the fact that I am neither a handy person nor have ever killed a deer. My wife assured me that providing for my family and being a good husband and father was what defined my manhood, Southern or otherwise.

She was right, of course. I sometimes feel trapped by the expectations we Southerners have created for ourselves. I think we limit ourselves when we try to conform to a preconceived cultural standard. Nothing wrong with hunting, woodworking and having intimate knowledge of car engines, but I need not feel a lesser man for not being proficient in those activities.

I embrace certain aspects of the Southern mindset. I try to be courteous, hospitable and loyal. I think Southern food, and our version of tea, is the best in the world. I love country music.

But I also realize that we don't have a monopoly on the aforementioned friendly qualities. I appreciate good food no matter where it's from (love Italian). My musical tastes are eclectic – I can go from George Strait to The Police to P.O.D. to Mozart. If it's good music, it's good music.

One thing I know I can do is write. Being from Mississippi, I feel an obligation to be very good at what I do, even if I know I'm not in the league of Faulkner or Welty. I could easily fall into the trap of thinking I need to write about the things they wrote about, which isn't a bad idea, but I must remember to find my own voice and let that guide me.

It's what a man must do.

Today's Redneck Thought: "The government is not best which secures life and property. There is a more valuable thing – manhood." – Mark Twain

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Clean Living; or, Muddied Memories

I used to love the mud. I'd play football in it, work in it, drive in it. I embraced wet dirt in all its filthy glory.

Something about getting muddy was beautiful to me. I remember after a day of mudhogging during high school, the entire front half of my buddy Scott's truck was caked in mud. I'm getting a little teary-eyed just thinking of it.

I can't recall the last time I got so down and dirty. I've become a bit of a neat freak since I got married and had kids. I wigged out the other day when my dog got his muddy paws on me (hey, I'd just put them on and was fixing to go to work). I find myself telling my kids to stay away from mud puddles. I'm an almost obsessive hand-washer (always have been, though).

I've wondered what's gone wrong with me. I feel like I'm collecting dust (but if you threw some water on me …). I'm going to assume this has some deeper meaning, so bear with me.

We've become a society where Hummers, the best off-road vehicles ever made, are driven by soccer moms and other people who don't know what mudhogging is. A clean Hummer is an abomination, right up there with sweet cornbread and the DH.

We don't like to get our hands dirty, do we? We miss out on a lot of fun, and on chances to help others. I admit to also being guilty of avoiding figurative filthiness, like trying to help a person through a big problem.

Being a Southerner, one whose ancestors always had dirt or mud under their fingernails, I feel a measure of shame about this. Southerners aren't supposed to be afraid of getting dirty, literally or figuratively. Shoot, my dad once ate dirt off a car bumper when he was little (which explains a lot).

I'm not sure how to remedy my problem. I can't go mudhogging in our minivan or Honda. I don't have time – or enough friends – for a good game of mud football. I work at a newspaper, so the only time I get muddy on the job is when I'm interviewing a football coach on a rainy Friday night.

I'm all clean on the outside, but my avoidance of mud makes me feel a little dirty on the inside.

Today's Redneck Thought: "You got to get a little mud on the tires." – Brad Paisley, Mud on the Tires

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Southern Dialect; or, You Ain't From Around Here, Is Ya?

We Southerners have a unique way of talking. You know, colorful metaphors, colloquialisms, compound words that weren't meant to be compound words in proper English. And I'm pretty sure "ain't" is exclusively ours, along with "y'all" and "nairn." (Example: "Y'all ain't got nairn.") But make sure you place the apostrophe correctly in "y'all." It ain't "ya'll."

Lately, I've come to treasure the uniqueness of the Southern dialect. It seems to be disappearing, and I'm pretty sure it's because there's a sinister plan to make us all sound like newscasters. I mean, when was the last time you heard Brian Williams close NBC Nightly News with, "I reckon that's all for tonight. Y'all have a good'un."

I'm all about good grammar and whatnot – I am a journalist with a minor in English – but I can do without it in an informal setting. Talking like a Southerner means you're talking honestly, and the conversation feels authentic, even if it's small-talk. "Hey, fella." "Hey, what ya know good?" "Nothin'. How's ya mom and them?" "Fair to middlin'." See what I mean?

Some of my favorite Southern phrases:
• "I'm fixin' to tan your hide, boy!"
• "Now you're cookin' with grease!"
• "She's easy on the eyes."
• "Don't piss on my leg and tell me it's rainin'!"
• "A'ight." (All right)

Then there are phrases that I'm pretty sure no self-respecting Southerner has ever uttered, but Hollywood or someone has made up:
• "I do declare!"
• "Y'all come back now, ya hear?"
• "Possum on a gum bush!" (Enos, from Dukes of Hazzard)

Speaking of Hollywood, don't you hate it when they cast a non-Southern actor to play a Southerner? Ugh. I still haven't forgiven Susan Sarandon for Bull Durham (she's from New York). Now Reese Witherspoon, there's a true belle (New Orleans).

Anyway, enough of that rabbit trail. I just always try to make sure my words, both verbal and written, retain the richness of the Southern dialect. If I had my druthers, everyone would talk like me. But we ain't all perfect.

Today's Redneck Thought: "What in tarnation was he talkin' about?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bagged Blogs; or, Barack Off

For further proof that liberals don't generally like for people to have opinions different from theirs, check out this story about how some Barack Obama supporters tricked Google's blog-hosting service – the one I'm on, – into shutting down several anti-Obama blogs.

I guess some folks think Obama is unassailable, because he's such a charismatic orator. And he's a black guy running for president, which means we have to like him. I actually saw an editorial cartoon that depicted Martin Luther King Jr. thinking about a black man someday running for president, and in the thought bubble was Obama. Um, maybe not.

You see, I don't think King would support Obama, for the same reason I don't: He doesn't share the Christian values that King held and that I hold dear. Some people have called the anti-Obama crowd racist, which is absurd. I don't oppose him because he's black, I oppose him because of what he believes in (not that he's really addressed the issues). Am I supposed to vote for the guy because of some residual Southern guilt passed down from my ancestors?

I don't think many liberals believe Southerners like myself can support a candidate on the basis of something besides color or party affiliation. They're wrong, of course, and they never stop to consider that they're as blindly loyal to the Democratic party as any conservative might be to the GOP. So happens I'm of a third-party mindset.

John McCain? I don't support him, and he's an old white war hero dude. I don't expect his supporters will try to shut anyone down, though.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Unwittingly Healthy; or, Say Nofu to Tofu

I can't say I'm proud of what I did. I vowed I'd never do it, so diametrically opposed to my worldview was it. I wouldn't call it a despicable act by any means, but just a strong preference.

If it helps, I was tricked.

Shortly after arriving to the in-laws' house in St. Louis tonight, I snapped up a freshly cooked meatball from a plate. It tasted OK. I didn't spit it out. Turns out it wasn't a meatball.

It was a tofu ball.

Tofu. The ultimate vegan food, the health food so often targeted in jokes about non-meat-eaters. Tofu. Ech. But I ate another one, just to make sure I hadn't fooled myself the first time (my wife said after she learned what it was, it didn't taste as good). The second one was barely warm, which didn't help its cause. I concluded that, in this form at least, tofu wasn't as evil as I'd previously thought, but it wasn't something I'd eat again.

I looked it up, and I'm glad I didn't know this before I ate: Tofu is essentially coagulated soy milk. Mmmm, chunky fake milk. Pile it up!

I view this as a reminder to be grateful for the Southern diet I have become accustomed to. Who cares if it's not all healthy. Man, I'm hungry. Somebody get me a biscuit.

Today's Redneck Moment: My son Drew keeps insisting that he "needs" a bigger General Lee car. He might be right.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lining Up for Thrills; or, Manufactured Fun

We got back from vacation in Branson on Saturday night. It was fun – so fun I'm worn out. This seems to happen every year.

I suspect my exhaustion can be traced to the unspontaneous fun I had. Specifically, going to the water park twice. I was whipped last year after two days at Silver Dollar City, so I'm starting to see a common thread.

Theme parks are a product of capitalism, which I've got no problem with. The problem is that they've become products, period. You have to pay a lot of money just to experience a day full of fleeting thrills. Most of the time, you're walking across the oven-hot pavement and then standing in line 30-45 minutes for a 15-second ride.

Our fun, especially when on vacation, is manufactured. It's handed to us in a neat and expensive package. While it is indeed fun, it doesn't feel authentic. I remember as a kid taking a three-week vacation out West. We visited no theme parks, saw no shows. We would drive, stop at a camp site for a few days, and entertain ourselves (and that often involved – gasp! – mixing with strangers).

At home, I'd do things like play ball in the yard or swing over a creek or go bird hunting with my BB gun (shh! Don't tell my mom!). I engaged the world around me. Going to a place like a theme park, while entertaining, feels more like an escape into an isolated world. It has positive aspects – who doesn't like to escape the world for a while? – but I prefer a less rigid, more spontaneous approach to fun.

The most fun I had in Branson? Tossing the baseball around with my brother-in-law, and shooting hoops at the resort where we stayed. Pretty basic, but pretty satisfying. And it didn't cost me a thing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No Boundaries; or, Redneck Relatives

I'm on vacation this week in Branson, Mo., with the wife and kids, the in-laws, and several relatives from that side of the family. And as I'm reminded whenever I'm around Rachel's relatives, redneckedness knows no geographical boundaries.

In fact, my wife has been comparing and contrasting Mississippi rednecks, such as myself, to Pennsylvania rednecks, such as her aunts, uncles and cousins. They don't have the accent, she noted, and they're still technically Yankees. But we have much in common.

Cousin Frankie – who couldn't make it this year – is a mechanic and Dukes of Hazzard fanatic. Uncle George works 12-hour days in a foundry. The other Uncle George, who I think was raised in Colorado and New Jersey, got in last night after a long trip and promptly downed three beers to take the edge off.

Then there's my father-in-law, Frank, who has been fishing most every morning since we've arrived. He's a big-shot executive, but he's as down-to-earth as they come. Being grounded has long been an admired redneck quality.

Frank's lovely wife, Elvesta, is from Oklahoma (as is my wife, though she grew up in St. Louis). That's the home of Garth Brooks, who still sometimes pretends he's a redneck.

So, being here in the Ozarks, just a few yards from a big lake, and surrounded by loved ones who are more like me than they'd probably be willing to admit, I feel right at home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cultural Richness; or, Of Ghosts and Tire Irons

From my perspective, Southern history and culture have always been colored by legend and intrigue. I find myself most fascinated by such things as French Quarter ghosts, Civil War what-ifs and the psychological footprints left by our many famous authors.

Growing up around here, you hear all kinds of stories from generations past. Like my great-great-grandfather joining the Confederate army at age 15. Or my grandfather, who at one time drove a bus for the city of Memphis, shooting at a thief through the front window of said bus. Or my dad's friend having a paranormal experience in a cotton field.

My life, however, has been devoid of such adventure. The best story I could tell you is when I thought my best friend and I might get beaten to death by a drunk dude with a tire iron. Actually, that's a pretty good story.

We were at a friend's house one night just outside West Monroe, La., when we heard what sounded like a gunshot followed by squealing tires. My buddy, Scott, and I ventured outside and found a guy standing by an old Camaro, which had spun out and come to rest in the neighbors' driveway. He was clearly inebriated, and while he was nice to us, he kept cussing his car and flogging it with the tire iron, putting several holes in the hood and making Scott and I very nervous.

The police eventually came and took both him and his car away.

Anyway, living in a time when the mindless culture of personal celebrity has robbed us of real characters and real stories, makes me feel like I've missed out on something. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong generation. I'm all about indoor plumbing, but I think life was richer when you had to do your business in an outhouse.

Who knows, maybe one of these days I'll write a book about all the cool things in Southern culture that I've missed. That way, they'll never be forgotten.

Today's Redneck Thought: "The education of a man is never completed until he dies." – Robert E. Lee

Friday, June 6, 2008

Outdoor Fun; or, A Big Ol' Front Porch

The wife and I went to the annual Elvis Festival tonight in downtown Tupelo. After a couple of hours of enjoyment, it dawned upon me that a good time in these parts is best had outdoors.

In the city, or where it's always cold, folks go to clubs and bars and domed stadiums or coliseums for entertainment. Sure, you've got that to some degree here, but Southerners have always known how to utilize what God gave us.

Rachel and I sat on a bench for a while, listening to bands on the stage behind us as we watched kids play in the fountain. We people-watched, and visited with the ones we knew. Later on, a friend took us up to the roof of a restaurant, where we could lounge on couches or lean over the railing to watch the festivities from three floors up.

As the sun grudgingly dipped below the horizon, a cool breeze took the edge off the lingering mugginess. No loud drunks or loud music up there, just a couple dozen people enjoying a Friday night in Tupelo. We didn't want to go home.

It's like we were all sittin' on a big front porch. The city folks ought to try it some time.

Today's Redneck Thought: "If the world had a front porch like we did back then/We'd still have our problems, but we'd all be friends." – Tracy Lawrence, "If the World Had a Front Porch"

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mississippi Misconceptions; or, Better Than Advertised

My wife recently blogged about how enlightened she's become about Mississippi since marrying me and moving here.

"Learning about Mississippi from the outside, you never get the whole picture," she wrote. "There's a lot about Mississippi you are not taught in school, which tends to focus on the negative."

No joke. Bill Cosby once said that when he heard Mississippi mentioned, all he thought of was dirty pickup trucks. The Magnolia state regularly fights Arkansas and Louisiana to stay out of the economic and educational cellar. We are No. 1 in something – obesity.

I could go off on a tangent about how many of Mississippi's problems – many of the South's problems – are the heavy residue of Reconstruction. But I'm here to focus on the positive, people.

Bo Diddley just died. OK, that's not very positive-sounding. But the McComb native is one of several musical geniuses from this state. B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Elvis, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Stuart, 3 Doors Down – we've produced them in all genres. Except New Age.

Athletes? Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Archie Manning, Brett Favre, Chris Jackson, Ruthie Bolton, etc.

Writers? Oh man. Faulkner, Grisham, Welty, Foote, Locke (ha!).

We are a gifted bunch, and we're smarter than we get credit for. Ole Miss churns out Rhodes Scholars like MSU students churn butter (sorry, couldn't resist). And our women are stunning.

Do we have dirty trucks? Of course. And many of them have really big mud tires. The better to run over Yankee snobs.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Asphalt Islands; or, Bypassing Home

This might seem odd, but when I'm driving on a four-lane highway, I notice old road beds. They fascinate me, these abandoned stretches of cracked, overgrown asphalt. Most of the time, it's a small strip of road, where the new bypass veers off.

You see a lot of bypasses around here. They give drivers quick passage around small towns like Pontotoc, Houston and Nettleton. Instead of having to battle that traffic snarl at Main and Fifth, we can whiz around all that, with nothing to slow us down but the occasional deer or possum darting out of the ditch.

I'm a typical guy, I like to make good time. But I think we've lost something in our haste. I know downtowns have lost valuable business dollars, especially the gas stations and what few mom and pop eateries remain. I wasn't around in the pre-bypass era, but I imagine downtowns were a lot livelier than they are now. When my route takes me through one, I don't see much happening, no matter the day or time.

We're losing much more than money, though. It's like we're trying to bypass a whole part of our culture and heritage. I have my suspicions why we're doing this, but that could take days to dissect.

When I see those vanishing roadways, which normally are on an island between the bypass's new direction and where the old road picks back up, I feel like I've lost something I never had. It's like the route home has been torn up, and we eventually forget that the road, and what's at the other end of it, was ever there.

Today's Redneck Moment: My two oldest daughters were trying to out-burp each other at the dinner table. *sniff* I'm so proud.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Driven to Distraction; or, Thoughts on Thinking

I think I've forgotten how to be alone with my thoughts. Or maybe I'm just too scared to be.

And these days, there are plenty of ways for me to distract myself: my phone, my computer, the TV, a magazine, etc. Most of the time, those distractions are time-wasters. When I get spare time, which is rare, I have trouble making it productive. And if I have nothing pressing to do, I have a disturbingly strong urge to busy myself with pointless activities.

This is especially troubling for me because I'm a writer. I believe writers do their best work after ruminating in solitude, letting life's experiences, both the fantastic and the mundane, percolate in the mind and reveal their little wonders. I feel my writing has suffered lately because of my diminished ability to just sit and think, to just be.

There is one time when all distractions are absent, when my mind has my full attention. It's when I'm in bed, about to go to sleep. It's then that I often find my creative juices flowing, which means I probably ought to keep a notebook next to my bed. But I usually stay up so late – as I've done tonight – that sleep cuts short my creative stream.

Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong generation. I often have a longing for days I have never known, when life moved more slowly and men were expected to sit and think. I imagine William Faulkner spent a lot of time with his own thoughts. I hope I can reacquaint myself with my own.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Worth the Money; or, Good Food, Good People

I ate at a cool little deli today in Pearl. Frisco Deli it's called, tucked behind a Texaco station. While it's not southern cuisine, it's good eatin'. I'm not such a Southern snob that I think all non-Southern foods are inferior.

I had the house burger, which comes on a kaiser roll. De-licious. The sweet tea was a tad too sweet, but it was good. What gave the place Southern charm was the people. It was a diverse group behind the counter and in the kitchen – black, white, young, old, heavily tattooed, not tattooed – but they provided something I see very little of at the Burger Kings and Subways and KFCs: friendly service. And it's sincere, not just the product of some corporate mandate.

I told the cashier, a middle-aged black gentleman, that I got the burger. Before I could tell him what else I'd gotten, he'd rung it all up: $7.67. "Just get me started," he said with a grin, "and I'll come up with a total." Or something to that effect. The man exuded friendliness, which made me feel guilty for having no cash for the tip jar.

It's these kind of places that give you your money's worth. We ate with my parents at a mom-and-pop eatery in Houston on a recent Sunday – I forget its name – and I enjoyed some good old home cooking. The place had atmosphere, too, which is something else those cookie-cutter chains lack.

Next time I'm in Pearl, I'll probably visit Frisco Deli again, or some such place, where the people and the food both are genuine.

Today's Redneck Moment: I visited the Bass Pro Shop's Outdoor World that's here in Pearl. Frickin' huge. I go in every time I come down here. It's basically Redneck Heaven.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shootin' the Spit; or, Artful Drooling

Well, this blog has come to a screeching halt. I must do better. My inability to post regularly makes me spittin' mad.

Speaking of spitting, that's one of my nasty habits. Ever since I learned from my cousin Kelly how to hock a loogie, I've been a spitter. I don't know why; it's easier just to swallow one's saliva, but where's the fun in that? A nice thick spitball can travel yards, and if no one spat, we wouldn't have spitting contests. (Of course, those contests usually involve watermelon seeds or cherry pits, but still …)

Expectoration has a long history, and it's not all bad. Spitting on someone has always been considered the ultimate insult, but Jesus used his spittle, plus a pinch of dirt, to heal the blind. Many a pact have been sealed by a soggy handshake. Gaylord Perry owes his career to the spitball … OK, maybe that doesn't fall in the good column, unless you're Gaylord Perry.

Spitting is not very sanitary, which is why I have stopped doing it on sidewalks and in parking lots. I try to keep it in the grass or the bushes. And for some reason, I've always thought it blasphemy to spit anywhere on church property. I'm pretty sure somebody told me that when I was little, and it stuck with me.

Spitting is an art form. You have to ball up the loogie with your tongue, or if you want to get cute, you can "skeet" or "gleek" – send a shower of spit through your teeth. I've never mastered that, thought I've done it on accident quite often.

That's right, accidental spitting. I must be a redneck.

Today's Redneck Moment: My youngest daughter hocked a good-sized loogie out my car window. I was so proud.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Staying Busy; or, No Time to Kill

My, what a week. Swamped at work, and now I'm down with strep throat. That's why I haven't blogged for six days. Shame on me.

I often find myself tethered to an unbending schedule, and with my job and having four kids, it's usually a crazy, unpredictable one. And me not being the most time-efficient person doesn't help matters. I have been known to forget to pick up kids from school.

Used to be that only the big city was a place of bustle. The South was a culture not necessarily of leisure – I think Southerners are the hardest-working folks out there – but of timelessness. I don't see many people swinging on their front porch drinking sweet tea. Shoot, I don't have much of a front porch (although my wife makes awesome sweet tea). We seem to have forgotten how to relax and stay in tune with each other.

I like small, sleepy towns. I'm sure they're still out there, but in fewer numbers. Someday when I'm old and the kids are gone, I want to find one of those sleepy towns and sit out on a porch swing, sipping sweet tea, watching the lightning bugs and listening to the critters singing after the sun sets, waving and calling to neighbors as they stroll past.

That's many years away, of course. Hope I haven't died from stress by then.

Redneck Thought of the Day: "I'm in a hurry to get things done/I rush and rush until life's no fun/All I've really got to do is live and die/But I'm in a hurry and don't know why." – Alabama