Christmas Dangles (A Short Story)

Christmas Dangles
by Elam McKnight

They wanted us all to get together for a barbecue. It was nearing Christmas. I knew it was not the greatest of ideas. It had been years since we had all hung out. I was surprised we all were still alive and even in the same area. Some of us had kept in moderate to mild contact, this was before social media. Remembering that day is hard and it comes back to me in fractured dream. Last night it returned and prompted this.
Darin’s mom had volunteered her house, since that was the original meeting spot for most of us. Started with birthday parties in that fairly calm suburb of Memphis and was still a focal point into our teens and 20’s when many of us had gone off to school. The moment of our reunion, if that is what I should call it, the area was dodgy at best. Gangs had started moving near the suburb, matriculating out from the city center. It was safe enough, in comparison to many spots in the town, but still not somewhere to be running around in the middle of the night.
I was not going to go. I was 34, just landed a job teaching and was trying to save enough money to move out of my parent’s place. It had been a long road and I didn’t need the hassle of anything jumping back into my life. But, over the phone, my old buddy Eric had assured me “come on man it’ll be a blast. Everyone is acting right these days. It’ll be good to see everyone.”
I was not sure what to wear. We had all been such the rockers when we knew one another. I tried on an older concert shirt and some black jeans, not only did it not fit anymore I felt uncomfortable and old. I did not dare don my teacher suit, khakis and a polo, so I opted for some normal jeans and a button up with a light jacket, slipping on some black Chuck’s just to show I still was not totally serious. I wondered why I even cared anymore as I drove down the interstate towards Memphis.
The old neighborhood, where we grew up, had changed some, a bit rougher around the edges as I entered the suburb off the ramp. As I turned into the first row of residential houses the 70’s modern look did not seem so modern in comparison to some of the many Mc Mansions people were throwing up, even in the rural area I now lived in. It seemed so dated, but in that early fall sun, as I turned down some of our common streets, the ones we played on as kids I had that slight wave of nostalgia for a brief bit and as I turned onto Darin’s mom’s street, to the old house we used to hang around as kids, it did hit me. I was not expecting it and there it was, nostalgia so thick you had to shew it away, like flies.
I saw all the cars in the street and crammed in the two-space driveway at the end of the cul-de-sac where we used to ride skateboards and plot our next adventure. It was a motley assortment of used and newish vehicles, nothing I felt completely ashamed about parking my 2nd hand sedan next to, except for the sparkling Mercedes SUV which stood out, parked away from all the others.
‘well somebody made it out’ I thought as I could feel myself grow a bit trembly inside, almost first day of school jitters.
I had been through many ups and downs over the last 8 or 9 years getting my life sorted. Going back to school and walking into a classroom of kids in their late teens and early twenties, student teaching, meeting and being evaluated, poked and prodded by all sorts of new people and none of it made me anything close to as nervous as I felt right before walking back into a house filled with people I had grown up with since day one, people I had spent, literally, more than half my life with.
I could hear them carrying on as I went to the side door of the modern ranch style home. We always came in the side door. Darin’s mom always had us over. Darin’s dad had bailed when he was little, and it left Darin’s mom with 2 kids and a house to take care of. I never understood how she did it. My own mother used to make be take huge jars of peanut butter and giant packs of hamburger patties over there with all the time we spent lounging and eating. But she always said, “oh I don’t mind, it would be lonely without all of them” and would just smile and pull at her extra-long Virginia Slim.
I rapt lightly on the door, the sounds of people talking and chit chatting behind it, and felt that last bit of nervousness wash over me until it opened, and I was greeted with “Bubby!” Here I was, a 34-year-old man, with stubble, and a job, and roomful of other grownups yelling “Bubby” upon sight of me. I could not help but smile and the wave of nervousness left me. There were many of the old gang, Trip and Luke, both with dates whose names I cannot remember. Suze and Kellie, both with guys whose names I think were Bill and Kyle and everyone smiling and glad to see me. “You not got a date Bubby?”
“And bring her around you guys? Not a chance!”
Everyone laughed hard at my comment and I grimaced a bit at the thought of being single with everyone, it seemed, looking like they were married or had, at least, someone significant enough to bring to this reunion of our crazy group.
My eyes met with Elena, who I had not seen in at least 10 years, she smiled and I extended my hand to the guy standing next to her, who was her husband James.
“So good to see you Bubby!” she said as we embraced.
“How are you?”
“Great, we have 2 kids, 8 and 5, both boys. James works with the city government and I am with Fed Ex.”
“Oh wow you have grown up for real.”
She giggled at this, making me feel more at ease, and then she asked about me.
“How are you now?” It was always in a tone I was never sure how to read or infer. “how are you now?” like did I answer, “I am not about to die if that is what you are asking” or “Gee I am not matching up to anything my parents would have hoped” or “I didn’t jump off the end of a rope like Trace.”
Instead I gave the pat answer “I am good. Teaching school in Lauderdale County.”
“Oh great Bubby, you were always so good with kids.”
“So how many of the gang is here, has anyone done a head count or taken roll?”
“Not sure but Darin is over there with Pip and his new wife” she said and I turned into the direction she was motioning and there they were, two of my best friends growing up. Each holding a cola in their hands and Pip had this phenomenal blonde woman with him. They saw me and smiled “BUB!”
As I approached they both extended their arms and Pip said “naw buddy bring it in for the hug.”
It felt good to feel them close to me. It had been about 3 years since I had seen Darin during a quick lunch as I was getting fully back on my feet and almost done with my first year back at school. Pip, on the other hand, I had not seen in at least 12 years when he seemed to do a disappearing act. Not many had heard much from him since and I was sort of shocked to see him there. They both looked less for the wear, Darin was balding a bit but he still looked like the Darin I had known all those years. Pip looked as good as I had ever seen him. He was very fit and his teeth sparkled when he grinned. The last time I could remember, when things had gotten dark, he had a green tint to his skin and was puking behind a car we had ducked out in for a week or two, scrounging money from anyone that would help us. Then one day he said he was going home to ask for help and never came back. I guess he found it.
He introduced me to the stunning blonde woman who was Romana, and Romana was from Long Beach, and Romana was a cosmetic dentist, hence the winning smile, and Romana had been married to our boy Pip for about 5 years. Pip was doing real estate there in Long Beach and they met when Pip was out west trying to get into acting.
Growing up Pip was always that guy. I read a cheeky article recently about what it was like, from the perspective of the really attractive set, to have to live being so attractive. Pip could have added some insight to this article. He was always the guy you wanted to be wing man for. He was always the leader. He was the first one to skate. He was the first one to know about the Ramones. He was the first one to get an actual mohawk. He was the first one to think to start a punk band. He was the first one. He was the first one. He… was… the first one. And everyone loved him for all of it. And if he had not been my good friend since 1st grade I would have loathed the guy, but we were too tight and you could not help but love the guy, everyone else did anyway so you might as well join them.
It was that warm feeling you get, kind of like the holidays, once it all set in for me, being around them, like Christmas all over but more congenial and less rushed maybe. Darin’s mom was there setting out food, as usual, and we were all sipping colas and doing that reminiscing that people do when they get to a certain age. I was surprised by how much I had forgotten stacked up against what I remembered. Some even remembered back to Kindergarten, which was a blur to me, and who wet their pants or who got a spanking or who snuck a kiss behind the old, metal slide at the back of the playground. We all laughed and prodded at each other. It felt good again, to reconnect, and be among friends, these friends from so long ago.
Darin’s mom looked completely into her element, with more people than ever gathered around. For each one of us that was there it seemed that at least 75% had brought a spouse or significant other to balloon our number to at least 20. She just stood back, pulling on her long Virginia Slim and smiled. “so good to have all you kiddos back here one more time.”
We all thanked her for having us and told her the same, that it was, indeed, good to be back under one roof as a crew.
Then someone suggested we make a run to the store for beer and wine. Some eyes screened around, some casting at me, and others here and there willy Nellie. I heard a couple of whispers of ‘is that really a good idea?’ And I saw others reassuring and some saying “everything is fine it is just a few beers.”
“I’ll drive someone make a list” Pip yelled and seemed to coalesce everyone around the idea and ceased the harrumphs within the room or at least stifled them long enough for a list to be made and out the door he went. He turned to Darin and me “come on guys I need help carrying all this shit!”
We made our way out to, what turned out to be, his Mercedes SUV.
“Nice car” we both said, almost in unison.
“It’s just a rental guys.”
“You do know you are in Memphis, right?” Darin asked.
“Of course, bro but Romana will have nothing less. She was not raised like our southern fried, Memphis Wrasslin, Middle class, selves.”
“I always thought of myself as Upper Middle Class growing up.” Darin stated.
“Have you peeped the old neighborhood lately D?” I asked.
“Why yes Bub. I live here remember?”
“Fair enough.”
“Hey you two pansies quit your bitching and tell me about yourselves.”
“I am teaching now and still at mom and dad’s. That about sums it up for me.”
“What about you Darin? You got anything cooking these days?”
“Not really. Still working in Midtown serving bar and doing the music thing on the side. Drum when I can.”
“Cool. I wish I had never given up music. There is just no time in Long Beach for anything but work and Romana.”
We rode around the corner to the circle K. It had bars across the front where there had been none years before. We used to ride our bikes down to this spot, back when it was a 7-11. The thick bass from a car greeted us as we got out of the SUV.
“Old neighborhood is changing” Pip said.
“It’s not too bad. North Memphis is worse in spots” Darin said back. “I have not had any real problems.”
We each grabbed a case of different beer and Pip grabbed up 6 bottles of different versions of white wine.
“Better get some cups I am not sure if mom has enough.”
“Solo cups and wine, I must be back home in the Southland” Pip said and smiled.
“Well you want them to drink it out of their hands Pip?”
“Why no D? I was just being funny. Give it a rest buddy.”
Darin did seem extra stressed about something and sensitive about our hometown when we knew, all of us, that she had seen better days.
We loaded our booze into the car and headed back across the 4-lane street and back into the residential area listening to some classic rock on the local radio station.
Once we returned the group took on a deeper level of merriment. I knew I had a little bit of a drive to get back home so I nursed only one for the first hour and others seemed to do the same but this quickly devolved as Darin turned on his mother’s old tabletop stereo to the local public radio. It was a Saturday and the volunteer DJ’s were taking 2 hour slots. Old School Hip Hop sprang from the speakers and these seemed to charge revelry into the group.
As the sun slipped down and some of us mingled outside it was Pip who summoned us with “hey guys let’s go check out the gulch.” I cringed at the thought, but Pip had been pounding them hard and Darin had seemed to have loosened up after a few drinks. Before long there were about 6 of us, me included, walking down the old path that lead to a concrete drainage ditch where we used to play, affectionately known as the Gulch. I cannot remember how old we were or who named it. As we walked one of the wives, who I did not formally meet, who was really drunk on wine, was talking about how reconnecting with each other was akin to the same thing Xmas decorations do.
“My grandmother used to hang these certain dangles, with the old school blue lights, outside her front door and I would stare into them and feel so, at peace.”
“I have read that the expressions created by Xmas decorations is caused by first reinvigorating a sense of nostalgia within the person, depending on their sense of the holiday, but for most it takes them back to a deeper sense of childlike happiness. When combined with other’s experience you get a unified memory, a communal malaise.”
“Unless of course if Xmas sucked for you right?” I asked.
“True. This is very true” she said. “You got something against Xmas?” She then asked.
“Nahhh I effin love Xmas!”
She stared at me as we walked, maybe her slight drunkenness hid my sarcasm from her a bit, then she smiled.
“You kidder!”
There was a small, concrete maintenance bridge that spanned the Gulch and we all stood over its railing.
“is this it?” the same wife who was chattering on about Xmas asked.
“Yep. This is the Gulch.” Pip said.
“Welcome” I added.
“You walked me all the way down here to a drainage ditch?”
“You can go back hon.” Tim, the husband said.
“I think I will.”
It was a sight. Amazing how your mind creates this superficial reality or perceives size so differently in youth but later becomes non-sequitur as you grow up, the places of fantasy grown over and the mountains now mole hills. There, before us, was part of our collective mythos, the Gulch, a place where we floated the Mississippi like Huck and Tom, fought pirates, reenacted battles, made our first moves, copped our first feel or got our first kiss, and later where we bought 10 cent bags of weed and got whatever wino we could find to buy us .40’s to sneak down to the banks and stumble home or lie and say we were at a friend’s house.
As the wife stumbled off back up the path Pip looked out over the bridge that reached over the concrete ditch.
“How did we never catch typhoid in this thing?”
“It is just storm water.”
“Yeah but no telling what else ran through it.”
Darin seemed to go back to his earlier form but even more pent up, like the drinks were bouncing back onto him and undoing the good will they first created.
“What’s up with you D?”
He swiveled his head. I was glad Tim’s wife went back. It would have been too many questions. Too much ‘well then what happened’ and ‘did you see it coming?’
I didn’t say anything to Tim but I could tell he was relieved too without all the talk.
“I just don’t ever come down here since.”
“Since what?” Pip asked.
“Oh that’s right you had bailed from here before that.”
There was a silence and a space between us all.
“Honestly, I am not following you D.”
“This is where Trace killed himself Pip.”
Pip lowered his head a moment then nodded it back and forth as he looked down.
“Man I had no idea, honest I didn’t. I only heard about Trace a few years ago. Once I got clear of here I did not even have contact with my folks for a while. I am truly sorry man.”
“Ahh you didn’t know. But you could have stayed in touch.”
They both stood facing each other now and Pip stepped forward and turned his body into Darins giving him a big side hug.
“I mean it buddy I had no idea. I just wanted to see the Gulch.”
Me and the two others stood and awkwardly waited for the next thing, the next word to see where this was going.
Then Darin pointed with his right arm “it’s over there.” He stepped from us a few steps and then we followed him.
“That tree over there.”
Pip led the two toward where he pointed, and I followed. The other two held for a moment and then I heard their feet on the dry brush behind me.
There, at a medium sized oak, the only sign was a sawed-off limb. It was evenly taken, not fresh, but even after the years of its clean cut it was still obvious.
“I cut the limb down after the funeral and burned it in a fire. I would have cut the whole damn tree down but after I cut that limb off I didn’t care anymore. It’s just a damn tree. None of it matters anyway.”
Pip stood considering it. Stared up at it.
I kicked at the dirt a bit. I had seen it before and had tried to leave Trace in my mind in other places besides this one. Places where he was still alive. Places where he smiled, and sun lit his face.
Pip pulled out his wallet from his back pocket, thumbed through it for a bit and pulled out a small coin envelope. He sat down across a fallen tree in the sand and gravel near the concrete of the ditch.
“Who wants to smoke this with me?”
The other two, Tim and Eric, were both immediate.
“Hey guys you have fun with that, we are going back to the house.”
“Hey guys it’s just weed man no big.”
“Yeah well I don’t blaze no more man. I get drug tested.”
“Tell my mom we will be right back ok?” Darin said as they walked away and Tim motioned back that he understood. Darin’s voice, sounded like it used to, sounded much too young to be coming out of his older self.
As they disappeared into the trees Pip withdrew a smaller, cellophane envelope with about 2 grams of white powder and a sheath of aluminum foil wrapped up beside it.
I immediately knew there was trouble inside there.
“Hey man have you not learned anything in the last 10 years Pip?”
“What the f*** dude?  It’s just a little dope man?”
“Yeah a couple of minutes ago you said it was just some weed.”
“Yeah but you know those two they were always squares and I did not want them going back telling their wives I was smoking dope. How would that look?” He chuckled and looked at Darin. “Darin knows what I mean.”
I nodded my head.
“Seriously, this is the last thing I expected from you Pip, especially with your life now. Do you not remember the last time I saw you?”
“What are you stressing for man? I am in Memphis with two of my oldest bros and I want to feel a little dope and relax. It’s Christmas… Come on!”
I turned to leave.
“Darin you going back into this?”
“Just tell my mom I will be back in a bit.”
“this is f***ed  man. Really f***ed.”
The old me would have never said a word. The new me, the me that didn’t want to go back into that still wanted to be the old me. To feel that release again. To be calm and not worry about all the shit that I worry about now. The things that consume my mind, past, present and future. But I knew the way that road turned and just as I was about to join in or give in to myself I watched the foil unravel and heard its tinny sound as it rubbed itself. It was like a bell waking me up.
I wanted to say something else, but I walked back up the path and kept my head down until my feet touched back onto the pavement and then I made it to the house and the people. Everyone was even rowdier and then Pip’s wife asked, “Where is my hubby?”
I told her that he was be back soon with Darin. Tim and Eric were saying goodbyes with their wives in tow. They nodded in deference to me and shook my hand “glad to see you Bubs.”
We all three knew.
Darin’s mom came to me as I was finishing up my third and final beer.
“Where’s my boy?”
“Ahhh he and Pip stayed down at the Gulch for a bit.”
She nodded.
“They were being good boys, right?”
I nodded ‘yes’ and tried to train my eyes elsewhere. She knew I was full of it.
“Darin has never been right since Trace. It is good that you stay in contact some but sometimes, your friends drag you down.”
I looked at her and she nodded that we both knew what she was saying.
About that time Pip’s wife, Romana, came storming through the house asking if anyone had seen Pip. “The damn rental is gone. I went to get my contact case out of our overnight bag and it was gone.”
Darin’s mom caught me with another glance.
I slipped out the back door and made my way to the path that lead to the Gulch. I wanted to tell Pip that the car might have been stolen but I knew, deep down, better. As I rushed back to the spot the sun was almost cutting through the trees and setting to the west. I looked down to the spot by the bridge where we stood. I could see the charred piece of foil burned up beside the brown coin envelope. This was the only sight of them, all that they had left behind.
I crept back up the path and back at the house I snuck back into my older sedan, glad for where I parked, eased it out into the middle of the cul de sac, turned down that street, back onto the main one, hit I-40 and did not look back. On the radio in my older sedan I turned on the classic rock station and hummed along with the tunes for a bit. You can never go back and sometimes you don’t need too.


Ace Butler and His Long, Tricked Out Lincoln (A Short Story)




  Ace Butler and His Long, Tricked Out Lincoln


        By Elam McKnight


We had always called him Ace, since we were little and when he used to jump so high, into the air of the gym during a basketball game, it seemed his long, dark fingers would touch the steel beams that supported the gym’s roof. Ace was not his God given name, it was actually Fredrick, but the old men in town tagged him with Ace when he was little, back when he would run errands for them down at the pool hall where they played cards and snooker.

He’d usually be propped up against his car that sat on Freemont, three streets over from the school, and sometimes he’d holler “Hey young boy, go get me a pack of Kools!”

We’d march on down to the little market on main with our instruction and ask Mr. Jenkins, an ancient man with a balding scalp and horn rimmed glasses, for a pack of Kools.

He would say “ boys you know I can’t sell you no cigarettes.”

And we’d answer “they are for Ace.”

And he’d give them right over and reach for his green, cloth, ledger book and mark Ace down. We’d return with them and Ace would say something like “cool young brothers, solid.”


Once, one of the older black boys in the group said “Christopher ain’t no brother, he white.”


And Ace shook his head and said “Naw bruh, he cool.”


That made me smile.


To me and Black Dan there was no cooler cat we had ever known, short of Dr. J and Prince (but they were on T.V.), than Ace Butler, period. He had one of those bubble Afros and he still wore stacks, when he was not wearing his high top Chucks to play ball. The car he would be propped against was a super long, mint green, 1978 Lincoln Continental he had supposedly gotten for playing ball up in Illinois, back when he scored 20 points on the Indiana Hoosiers.

Ace was smooth with a voice like Don Cornelius, but louder. You could be coming down the street, even late at night, in the cut between the yards, and its bass frequency would register all around. It carried outside. Go inside a house nearby and it would disappear, come back out and it was still there, like a steady breeze. If Ace was out, propped up on his car, there was a good chance you would hear his voice.

He’d say “Hey young boy” and give you a little wave with his two long fingers of his right hand and thumb extended out, like he was flashing a baseball sign. He’d be at our little league games and all the folks would gather around him. He’d cheer for us little kids, tell us “get some dirt and rub it on your hands. Choke up on the bat young boy!” His bass heavy voice, with its bottom end, resonating through the chain link of the backstop. And even if you struck out he’d say something like “That’s OK young’un. You get em next time!”

Ace had played in the big time, been to school for two years up in the middle of Illinois. But then he came home and never went back. We had all been sure he would go pro and be playing against or with Dr. J or Magic Johnson one day. We thought he might even ‘D up’ Larry Bird, who I was supposed to like, because he was a white boy. It made my uncles yell at me when I said “Dr. J is the best.”

When we played pretend ball there was always a fight over who said “I’m Ace Butler” first.

 Ace would hold court most afternoons next to his car or on the courts. We would pass by his lonely car in the mornings and we’d hear, from the word on the street, Ace was usually sitting against the mint green Lincoln by about one in the afternoon. When we got out of school we’d always pass by and see him and a group huddled around jiving. You always heard him before you saw him, right before you rounded a corner, his voice in the trees, echoing off the houses and buildings. And his laugh took over his whole body then it seemed to take in the street and all its surroundings.

And on the courts, behind the big Baptist church, was Ace’s prominent domain. Before Ace some of the older white men from the church would run off the black kids in the afternoon but after Ace made our little town a name no one said a word, especially if Ace was there. He was a draw. People would come from as far as Memphis to try their luck and always leave with their tail between their legs. They would play 3 on 3 and Ace used two older guys who had made it to state years before, but they were strictly role players because no one, and I mean no one could hold Ace.

The losing three and their folks might get mad, talk a little bit and I guess nowadays it might be sort of dangerous with the way folks tote guns, but back then the worst thing might be a little threat here and there. The rule, with the older players, was once you lost you laid your money on the court, by the free throw line, and left the same way you came into the court. I never saw Ace lay a dime on that line, not once.

Then one day, on our way to the courts, Ace wasn’t there. His car was in its same spot and there were even some folks gathered about, but no Ace. Someone said they thought he was sick. Then, the next day, no Ace. Then the next the same, no Ace. This went on for weeks. The talk started around that Ace had gone to try out for the NBA. Some folks said he was wanted by the sheriff and skipped town or the whole of Northwest Tennessee, but none of us believed that. And the days passed until we stopped hoping to even know.

 The Lincoln sat there on the side of the street the whole time, like a dog waiting on its owner to return. The city made Ace’s folks move it off the street that spring and the grass grew up around the perimeter of it and two of the tires went flat, sitting hard on their rims. Black Dan and I started taking a different path across town so we did not see it.

But missing most was his voice. The streets seemed silent. The crew that used to congregate still did but it was never the same and at night the lonely street was the worst. The street lights from the city utility poles seemed dimmer and you could hear their lonesome hum where before there was laughter and a booming voice.

Summer passed and when fall gloomed towards winter the perennial bush’s dried brown foliage seemed like would never come back to green. And when we ignored the nightly buzz of the utility lights and the crush of winter leaves beneath our feet there was this silence, and it was no good.

The spring did return and later, summer and the days without school. Black Dan and I had worked up a job mowing some yards with a borrowed push mower with my father furnishing the gas. We just had to push that blamed thing all over town. One June morning, passing by Ace’s house we heard something. Both of us, with our habit of not wanting to even look over there to the house if we had to pass that way, looked straight ahead and walked as though we had not.  But I knew what I had heard.

 “Hey young boy” in a soft, almost whisper and Black Dan turned and looked at me, searched my face. Then I peered past the overgrown Lincoln and saw a shadow of a figure sitting on the porch swing.

 Then it spoke again “Hey young boy.”

The bright light of the sun was rising over the houses and we walked closer to the porch to let our eyes adjust to the shade. As the light dimmed and I could focus I saw him, it was Ace sure enough. ‘Ace was back!’ I thought but he looked really different. Gone was the bubble Afro and it was replaced with a close crop. His voice did not have the strength it usually had. And gone was what seemed like half his body weight. But I was overjoyed to see Ace again, back on his block.

 “Hey young boys. Go get me some Kools” and we obliged. Ace was back!

We motored down the street as fast as we could, leaving the mower in Ace’s yard. When we asked for the Kools at the counter Mr. Jenkins looked back at us through his horned rimmed glasses, it had been over a year.

“Boys you know better than that.”

“But they are for Ace.”

“Ace?” he said.


“Where he been?”

“Don’t know but he sent us.”

He grabbed a pack and handed them over.

“You boy’s tell Ace to come see me when he can” he said as he made his markings in his ledger.

We nodded and ran down the street, back to where Ace sat on his mother’s porch. He peeled the cellophane from the hard pack of squares.

 “Where you been Ace?” we asked, almost in unison.

 He tamped the box into his hand, three hard pops.

 “Been around.”

 “We haven’t seen you.”

 He stuck one of the Kools between his lips.

 “Maybe I didn’t want to be seen?”

 “What for?” I asked.

 “Youngboy” he pulled the smoke into his lungs as he lit it with a match he struck off the coarse stone of the porch “you ain’t gotta know everything.”

 He said it firmly, but not mean.

 “We missed you Ace” Black Dan said weakly.

 Ace pulled at the Kool again then turned and spit over the ledge of the porch from his seat on the swing.

 “I missed you too. ” he said and stared down into the worn green paint of the porch.

“Now let me be.”

 We sauntered away, down the street, pushing the cling clanging mower. I was not sure how to feel and neither was Black Dan. He did not say so but we both knew and we did not talk about it for a long time as we finished our last two yards in the heat of the summer sun.

 Later we stowed the mower in the alley behind my father’s store and walked to our hiding spot, an empty train car on the tracks behind  the baseball fields. We sat with our feet dangling over the ledge of the box car, not saying a word. In our silence we sat until Black Dan sprung up and said
“I know what we can do!”

That night we gathered up the things we needed after Black Dan told me his plan. I crept out of my house and fetched an air tank from the shed. I had to be really quiet or my father would skin me bad. I felt like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer sneaking out to wade the Mississippi or go play pirate along its banks. But we were not doing something quite so daring.

I met Black Dan at the corner where he waited with a bucket filled with the supplies we needed. Black Dan’s uncle was the best car detailer in the town. We quietly made our way to Ace’s neighbor’s house. They had a hose and we had told them we wanted to use it late that night to surprise Ace. The owner, a man new to the town, frowned at first and then we coughed up $10 and he said “alright as long as you don’t make too much noise. I work first shift at the factory and need my sleep.”

We eased the hose over to Ace’s car and as silently as we could we doused it with water and washed the year’s worth of dust off of it. There was not much light from the utility pole but just enough to see what we were doing. We wiped and soaped up the car two times, slowly rinsing it until all the dust was gone and it started to shine with the reflection of the water on its mint green skin.

We had four large towels and we hand dried it and then used them to buff the clear coat wax that Black Dan’s uncle swore by. We shined everything and even scrubbed the wheels with brillo pads and then waxed them too, after I aired the two flat ones up. We were both surprised they still held air. Then, to make the plan complete, we slowly opened the door to the driver side, slid the gear into neutral and both of us pushed it out into the street and turned it back into its old home, right in front of the house.

We stood back and admired our work. It shined like never before, bathed in the yellow light from the buzzing street lamp. Both of us agreed he would love it and we parted ways, sneaking back to our houses. I thought I was caught for sure going back into my bedroom window when I thought I heard by father’s footsteps in the hall. I lay really still on my bed and then the house became silent again except for the hum of the air conditioner in the front room.

The next morning we met up at the corner of Ace’s block. And there the car sat, even shinier than the night before with the morning sun reflecting off the clear coats of wax we had put on the night before. We brought a towel a piece and started buffing it again to make sure it was even more sparkling. As we wiped the slick surface of the car we heard Ace’s voice from the porch.

 “What ya’ll doing?”

 We both froze and looked to the porch. Ace was standing there on the top stoop. He ambled down to the sidewalk and slowly paced out to the street to where we stood.

My mouth did not want to work at first as I watched him take in the car,as if he was counting it by inches. He walked to the rear and looked it over. Then he looked down to the both of us.


“You did this?

We nodded and then I managed “we both just wanted to do something nice for you Ace.”

 He stared away from us, as though his eyes were focused on some distant vista that only he could see.

 “That was real nice young boys. Real nice” but he did not smile.

 “We thought you might want to ride around in it sometime Ace.”

 It was then that his eyes got foggy and water pooled up in them.

 “Well young boys… I don’t have much need for it anymore. But thank ya.”

 He looked off again.

 “I’ll be seeing you later” and without saying anything else he turned towards the house.

 We stood there for a little bit, not knowing what to do and then turned ourselves. And as he walked away, about halfway down the street, Ace’s booming voice returned once more.

 “That was real solid!”

 We turned to look for him but he was gone back inside. We both smiled.

Two weeks later Ace was dead. No one ever said what was wrong other than he was just gone. They loaded his car up on a wrecker a week after they buried him and we never saw it again. We stopped going down that street for a long time until one day it didn’t matter anymore.



Eddie Murphy, paging Eddie Murphy: SNL NEEDS YOU!

I have not blogged in a while. Quite frankly I have tried to stay clear of the political fray other than the “now and again” comment on a friends post. And my inspiration for returning to my blog is not about politics as much as it is about a comedic happening that we cannot allow to pass from this earth without being expressed. This is a once in a lifetime chance and if it is pursued it will be, like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, quoting from the fictitious book in the film written by James Earl Jone’s character:

“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up a few seconds to show you what’s possible.”


There is something screaming out there in the world. Right now it is just a whisper. But if enough people really wanted it to happen it could.

Eddie Murphy must return to SNL and play Anthony Scaramucci.

Not sure if everyone is up to date on the happenings surrounding the new White House Communications Director, in his short but blusterous tenure, but apparently he has a pretty colorful mouth on him. I honestly don’t want to publish the things he has allegedly said. I will direct you to this article RIGHT HERE  and RIGHT HERE where he is quoted as saying some pretty rough things.

**Warning it is not for children. Heck, after I read it I was not sure if it was for me.

So, you have this very vocal Italian American who has, as one of my friends, who is also an Italian American, put it “Thank you, Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci, for reinforcing every horrible stereotype of Italian Americans.”

Many people now know Eddie Murphy as the voice behind some pretty famous cartoon and pixar characters. It is to the point that many people, especially the younger generations, who don’t really, for the most part know the true range of Mr. Murphy.

First thing many people might say “Eddie Murphy is a black guy.” Obviously, which leads me to exhibit A:

“So he can play an older Jewish man” you might say which leads me to exhibit B:

Warning: NSFW… There is cursing here.


Oh forget it just google: Eddie Murphy does Italians. Trust me, he has it down!

There needs to be an online movement. Scratch that, there has to be an online movement to make this happen. Maybe Mr. Murphy is retired from the SNL for good. Maybe he does not do these type routines anymore. Even more the reason we need to make this happen. We will laugh so hard our faces will hurt the next day. This has the potential to be one of the funniest things ever to occur on national television.

And, lord knows, we could use some laughter.








Steve Perry (Journey) returns to the stage

There is not that much good news in the music world these days. At least from a true performance standpoint with so many bands playing to click tracks and outright lipsyncing to a half filled stadium or a bunch of people jumping about in throngs and surrounding one guy with a turntable. Where did our live performers go? I know they are still out there but none are packing stadiums.
Then out of no where, out of left field, maybe even further back where the really big hitters drop homers into the street, walked Steve Perry. Who expected this?
And can he still deliver? Oh yes indeed! And he picked a very cool band, EELs, to come back out with. At least with the EELS you know they are going to be doing actual music and not a virtual performance propped up by backing tracks and dancers to distract you from the lack of music. The video evidences this. The man can still wail!
Here is what it makes me wonder: is this a sign that live music still has a place or was this the swan song everyone has been waiting for?

Rest in Peace Philip Seymour Hoffman and Everyone else Calm Down!

I was as shocked as any normal fan to hear of the tragic loss of this great actor. It is always so sad to hear someone who has gone off the rails and falls back into their disease. And it is much sadder to learn they also have children who will grow up without a father. But it seemed innocuous enough when I made a mere comment, about an article on Esquire magazine that the piece they did, just a few hours after it was announced Hoffman had died, missed the mark to me. Oh I should have known better.

Read comment section of the article.

I will not labor anyone’s mind by going into this but let’s just say that my comment was not met with pleasure. I simply thought, out of respect for the man’s family, the writer could have waited on talking about the dirty details and how troubled the actor was and instead just let him be dead in peace, at least for the first 24 hours postmortem. Apparently I am a “bleeding heart who is pretentious”, “Ignorant” for not understanding the article’s intent, which I did, and “weird” for stating that there were children out there who are missing their father and probably very sad. I know there are trolls on the Interwebs but I suspect the “top commenters” on Esquire are a paid hit squad used to immediately attack anyone who comments are unfavorable about an article. Either that or they are just a cult of boring trolls who feed off one another for lack of something better to do. Nevertheless I removed my comment. 

Then I noticed reoccurring themes in other places. I cannot remember when a star’s death was so immediately divisive, I mean this is still so fresh that just now, at 4:00 p.m. CST, a full day has passed since his body was found. All over FB and Twitter people were vacillating between remorse, out and out disdain for the manner in which he died, and any other angle. I think I was finally pushed to write this after my comment “what a waste of an Awesome Human” was responded to with “He wasn’t too awesome he put a needle in his arm.” Which leads me to this. Addiction is not a “shaming” sport and those who engage in such do not understand the nature of it. I believe that it is no different if Hoffman had died of diabetes and people were all over the web commenting “yeah he should have stayed away from the jelly doughnuts” or “that is what he gets for drinking Coca-Cola.” Addiction is a disease and not a failing of character.

So all you folks out there…stand down on this one unless you are ready to feel some heat.

Rest in Peace Philip Seymour Hoffman and Fare the Well.









The Doctor said What? : Tampa Doctor Accused of vile mistreatment of Down syndrome

So I am flickering through FB when a post strikes my eye. It is on a friend’s wall and it reads just like this:


I am an immediate skeptic, the usual half of what you hear and none of what you hear type, and started my usual Google Sleuthing. All the results I got at the time were apparent re-postings of the same post above, all over varying FB pages. There were a ton though.

Then I noticed the Google searches were coming back with a bit more validity. Then I found this blog post.


And then this in the comment section:


This person is apparently very real and I immediately found her FB page with this post:


This appears to be true. I will await the report to come back but I am going to say that “my gut”, even without Nate Silver precision, tells me it is going to come back ACCURATE.


If it is accurate what is to be done to the physician named above?

I can imagine parents and relatives of disabled children everywhere thinking it not a bad idea for him to be run out of town on a rail, or worse. I can imagine fates worse than death for someone who could be this cruel. Could he lose his medical license? I doubt it but he should.

Here is the point we miss so many times in out civilized, wired or even better, wireless society: we can mete out the punishment ourselves, and no I do not mean violent action, harassment, or anything even remotely illegal. If Anonymous has taught us anything it has taught us that power is within our grasp. Information is power and when properly focused, aimed, and fired it can land devastating blows, though figurative, often times just as painful psychically.

If this man said these words about this child, I am not saying he did, but if he did, then there needs to be a pulling away from his clinic and services the likes of which it is so fast that the next galaxy over can hear the sucking sound. And when he has lost his business, because the people have refused to stop coming, and he has to work at another place the people find out who runs that business and refuse their services and call all their administrators and make posts all over the internet and utilize their freedom of speech to say that this man is unacceptable. Then he will feel the pain he deserves.

He should be made to do a penance. What penance? I am not sure. I am probably not the one qualified to make it up but if I were it would include voracious public apologies, public service, and proof that he is willing to learn a new way of doing and do so, immediately. This man is a doctor so I am not sure what part of the equation he did not get in medical school or just simply did not learn in his travails being a human being but the time is now for him to change.

What if he chooses to refuse? He sounds arrogant enough that this might be a possibility. I mean why on earth would someone make such a comment if they did not feel an abundance of arrogance coursing through their veins? Even if someone thought in this manner I can only see some terrible dysfunction in ego being the source of them having such a FILTER Malfunction. 

If he refuses to make this right, to submit himself to the scrutiny, and make himself a better sentient being? Let the dogs have him.

But what we fail to realize, as a people, is that we hold all these scenarios in our collective hands. When a wrong is done we as a people can affect great change. Merely railing on FB or the Interwebz is just a beginning. We can move mountains if we all get on the same accord.

Power to the People

Don’t forget.

A Flag by any other name is still a flag of a traitor




I am pretty sick of the drama surrounding this traitor flag. As a southerner we have many people who argue heritage but really fail to look at the implications of the south’s actions in the 1860’s. The rebellion of the south is treason, plain and simple, and to imagine it as anything else is silly. It is one of the most important parts of America’s history so it should not, by any means, be made light of or forgotten. We should study it and continue to learn lessons from it. We also need to be desperately honest with ourselves. I also think that so many of the rebel flag waivers would really not feel so embolden if they realized that their ancestors, especially mine,  were poor dirt farmers manipulated by the “gentry/aristocratic” minority into the most deadly conflict in America history to protect a way of life that only the rich were benefiting from. The south lost so many great men because of the war and it is no way to gauge what our future would have been like had not so many great, brave people died to save a way of life foreign to almost everyone.

Remember when James Agee told a reader to “F&^% Off?”…Yeah me neither

Some of you might have heard about Linda Tirado. She was the woman who wrote a moving piece about her personal experiences being poor in America. It first appeared on Gawker and because it was so poignant it became viral. I will not bore you with the details because, frankly, I am not well researched on her specific case or her background, but needless to say her words resonated throughout the “interwebs.”
You can read her story here.
Then a “journalist” from the Houston Press questioned the validity of this woman’s story and inferred, from how I understood her words, she was misrepresenting herself. To be fair the writer for the Houston Press, Angelica Leicht, was not the only writer who questioned the truth of Linda Tirado’s story. But this writer is the only one who decided to tell me to “F&^% Off.”
And that is really the substance of this blog.

Yes, an actual news reporter, or writer, or whatever title you chose to attach chose to lash out at a mere Tweet I made five days ago. And I did not even question her story. See Below:
Angelica Leicht EFF OFF 2

And really this is where I fall off the boat. This is the very reason our “news” these days is manufactured, mostly, by individuals who have no business publishing words for human consumption. Journalism is truly a lost art and so few actually practice it with any sense of professionalism.
Exhibit B:

Angelica Leicht EFF OFF 3

I also don’t remember a writer, from the era when journalism was considered a professional occupation, lashing out at one of their readers with ad hominem language. I am not going to question the writer’s product: her base examination of the validity of Linda Tirado’s story. They do a pretty good job of it here.
What I am going to point out is this: there is no wonder that the world is filled with misinformed people. We are being misinformed by people who have no business writing about heady subjects. These matters need to be left to professionals who know what writing is supposed to be and who are not simply hacking their way towards sensationalism. This writer seems more suited for TMZ type fodder, not real news. Examples of subjects she might approach could be: Adult Toys or the best bar to get smashed at in Houston,TX. She has already made her mark on these pressing social issues.

It is generally best for someone to stick with what they know and not get too far off the beaten path. This is the case with this writer. I do not care one whit if Linda Tirado was lying or not. Apparently she was not, from the backlash of articles I have read in the last few days defending her and presenting the timeline from Gawker which shows, clearly, she had to be pushed into publishing her original piece. It was that good.

Where I get confused and stymied is that a “journalist” would take the time to hurl an expletive at someone across the Twitter-verse who simply wondered, in a Tweet, if the writer had a twitter account. If I write something for the world to read I am going to stand by it and if someone disagrees with me so be it. They are my words, or at least the pattern of words I chose to string together. Have some confidence in what you put out there to the world or don’t write it at all. And for sure don’t hit publish or better yet, don’t tread in deep waters without your floatation device.

Much like Shakespeare’s Queen Gertrude “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Hard work Trumps Talent

Just picked up a book by Matthew Quick (of Silver Lining Playbook fame) called Boy 21. Skimmed the first few pages and the main character’s father threw this nugget out in the first 5 pages. “Hard work beats out talent in the last of the race.” I have read about that far and to be honest that quote stopped me cold in my tracks.

This is so often true and in the music industry, or any industry for that matter, the talented, the one who have been told they are great their whole lives jump out of the pond and into the river which ultimately leads to the sea and on into the ocean, provided they make it that far. Along this journey the talented start running into many things, namely, other talented people, some kind of talented people with no drive, and some people with a little talent and the will to move mountains a spoonful at a time. If I am a betting man and these three are my choices I take the latter every time.

Why? Because the world is filled with talented people but so few who are actually willing to put in the “sweat equity” to keep at it until the job is done. This is not to say that there are not immensely talented people out there with just as immense amount of work ethic. There are and these people are often called genius, and rightfully so. But sometimes having just the spark of want and culminating it with a go “with-it-ness ” makes all the difference.

I had a basketball coach in middle school who used to run us like dogs who owed him money. I mean beginning of practice you started running, practiced, and then at the end it was followed by a good half mile and more suicides than I thought I could take. He used to say “boys the difference at the end of the game is who is holding their shorts. If you look over and it is late in the fourth quarter and one team is holding their shorts most of the time they are going to lose.” It was all about conditioning, to be the ones with air for the last quarter, to be the guys not holding their shorts when go time arrived.

We all miss the mark and get discouraged in this life, regardless of our passions and the task we chose to pursue but I have noticed, looking in retrospect, and doing that big evaluation we all probably do I see those hurdles don’t seem so cumbersome and the mistakes I made in the past I don’t make any more. Why? Because I have conditioned myself not to make them. And man I made them but in the now, going forward, I learned and I would not have if I had quit or given up.

It is the struggle in these days which defines us. Or better yet how we respond in the struggle. If you have talent use it wisely and stick to it when things don’t go your way. Keep a journal and look back from time to time at those patches that were not so smooth and then look how you made it through. The same goes for the person who does not quit and has just a bit of the old spark of talent.

Yet at the end of the day, when I am at the ticket window placing my bet, I will put it right on the nose of that rough horse whose coat might not be as shiny and may even have some scars on it. Heck that horse might finish the race dead last but I know it will be back the next time to pay off eventually.