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.