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

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Two Is Better Than One; or, Double Dog

We got a dog. Again.

Last week we acquired Rascal, a chow/shepherd mix. Then on Friday, we got Mackinaw (more on that in a moment), a.k.a. Mack, a yellow lab. He's much, much more docile than Rascal – and twice as big – but they took to each other immediately. Can't hardly separate them.

I'll be honest, they're not the kind of dogs we had in mind all those years. Rachel wanted a black lab, me a chocolate lab. It's a typical case of fantasy vs. reality, like when a guy imagines marrying the homecoming queen but winds up with a girl from St. Louis. And you then realize how lucky you are.

We love the dogs, and they love us, so I think it'll be a long, loving relationship. One with lots of poop-scooping, but still.

Oh, and the name Mackinaw? We were driving back from Chicago a couple of years ago and crossed the Mackinaw River. I liked the name and thought it would be a good dog name. I think it fits.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Just a Trim; or, The Kindest Cut

There is something timeless about a barber shop. I don't mean those places like Supercuts, I mean places like the ones I grew up with. Sitting in one today feels just like it did then.

When I was living in Oxford as a child, my dad and I frequented Don & Dale's Barber Shop, which is still there and, I believe, still run by Don and Dale. I remember the smell and feel of the hot shaving cream on the back of my neck; dozens of magazines strewn about the chairs; Ole Miss wallpaper; sucking on a Sprite (in a green glass bottle, of course) as men talked about what men talk about in small towns.

Since I keep my head shaved, my wife is my barber, but now that I have a son, I've had the pleasure of reliving a part of my youth. I've found a good barber shop here in Tupelo, one that has magazines strewn about the chairs and is decorated with Ole Miss and Mississippi State paraphernalia (mostly the latter, I'm afraid).

I enjoy just sitting there as Drew gets his hair trimmed, as he did today. Men will walk in and exchange friendly greetings with the father and son proprietors, Bill and Dennis. The atmosphere is tinged with that subtle Southern charm that's harder and harder to find these days.

There is no old-fashioned Coke machine with glass bottles, though. I'll have to ask them about that.

Today's Redneck Moment: A young fella getting his hair cut today told of a recent fishing trip with his friend. Both were getting lots of nibbles but no bites. His friend, in frustration, grabbed his bow and arrow and "caught" a 7-pound bass.