Tragedy plus Time equals Comedy: Trump For America

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As Donald Trump prepares to host Saturday Night Live — a move under protest by Latino advocates, and one that may cause the FCC’s “Equal Time” rule to trigger free air time for other candidates* — the old adage that forms the bedrock of western sensibilities of humor leaps to mind:

Tragedy + Time = Comedy

The idea — probably from Steve Allen in the ’50s — is that, given enough time, the sting of something cataclysmic disappears or, at the very least, diminishes enough that it’s no longer so sacrosanct and becomes fodder for ribbing or, in some cases, outright mockery. Trump’s latest foray into comedy, though, is redundant. His campaign has been hilarious since day one.

I don’t mean to say that he isn’t a serious contender. Because plugging our collective ears and stomping our feet doesn’t make reality go away:

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Though Carson’s numbers and Trump’s numbers are headed for what Wall Street calls a ‘Death Cross,’ — just like they did on June 22 when Trump overtook Dr. Carson, a longtime target for the GOP — The Donald is still the clear front-runner. His campaign, based on pure ‘could this actually happen’ value is very, very real.

A June NBC/WSJ poll put Trump at 1%. In July, Politico tried to get to the bottom of who, exactly, are the people who support him. Tried and failed. They, like most of the rest of us, are stumped. In late August, a Gravis Poll of 1,200 likely Republican voters had Trump as high as 40%.

But, the longer this goes on, the more hilarious it becomes. It isn’t a question of how serious his chances are. The issue is that something so calamitous as the idea of Donald Trump as the leader of the free world has lost its sting and now it’s just funny.

The sideshow that is Donald Trump didn’t start in June when he announced his presence in that now-legendary speech at the eponymous Trump Tower, in which he famously insinuated that people who immigrate from Mexico, South and Central America, and the Middle East are, by and large, the flotsam and jetsam of human civilization.

In 1999, Trump identified as a member of the Reform Party.
In 2001, Trump identified as a Democrat.
In 2009, Trump said he was a Republican.
In 2011, he was self-declared Independent.
In 2012, he went returned to the Republican Party.

For those keeping score, in the span of 13 years, Trump changed party affiliations five times moving from center, to left, to right, to god-knows-where, back to right. That’s quite the cha-cha.

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It’s no secret that four times Trump’s casino kingdom has availed itself of U.S. bankruptcy laws (all four times were Chapter 11 restructuring rather than the more ominous and fatal Chapter 13.) In 1991, The Trump Taj Mahal began to founder forcing Trump to sell off his 282-foot yacht, the Trump Shuttle (a private regional airline), and half of his ownership stake in the casino. The next year, in 1992, Trump Castle Associates filed for Chapter 11 protection to cover New York’s Trump Plaza Hotel, Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, and the Trump Castle Casino Resort. 2004 saw Trump back in front of a bankruptcy court, this time for Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts which dropped $500 million in debt. Trump relinquished majority control, but remained the business’ largest single shareholder. 2009 was Trump’s final adieu to Atlantic City, when Trump Entertainment Records missed a $53 million bond payment.

Political flip-flopping and financial woes aside, his viability as a political leader hasn’t delivered much in the way of actionable content. His policy positions, until the announcement of his tax plan in September, charitably have been described as nebulous. When asked at a Rochester, N.H. town hall meeting — the same meeting where he replied that under his watch the U.S. would be ‘looking at a lot of different things’ when asked how he’d get rid of the country’s Muslims — what his plan was to restore the elusive American Dream, Trump gave a circular, insubstantial response that makes Kevin McCarthy look like FDR:

Look, we can bring the American Dream back. That I will tell you. We’re bringing it back. Okay? And I understand what you’re saying. And I get that from so many people. ‘Is The American Dream dead?’ They are asking me the question, ‘Is the American Dream dead?’ And the American Dream is in trouble. That I can tell you. Okay ? It’s in trouble. But we’re going to get it back.

Donald Trump’s campaign is serious; it has momentum. It’s great television, to wit: he’s making an in-person appearance at that great citadel of lefty lampooning, SNL. What remains to be seen is whether or not Trump himself is serious. That remains a possibility; this might be a giant ‘you’ve got something on your shirt’ to the entire world. Notice a certain disinterested flatness to the Donald’s buzz-worthiness prior to Summer 2015.

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In the mid-to-late ’60s, The Beatles’ Apple Records label was treading water, trying to stay alive. Cue a rumor that Paul McCartney was killed in 1966 and that the man the world now knew as Paul was actually a body double named Billy Shears, supposedly supported by enigmatic clues in the band’s song lyrics and record art.

In 1966 it was “Paul is dead.”

In 2015 we have “Make America Great Again.”

When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much fuss was made from the GOP about his perceived lack of experience. The same point has been raised about Senators Cruz and Rubio, both GOP favorites at times. All three do have legislative experience, however insufficient it might be to appease their detractors. Carly Fiorino has been castigated for her unremarkable record as a business leader. During his presidential campaign, current V.P. Joe Biden was seemingly torpedoed by his own indelicate remarks.

Why isn’t any of that phasing Trump? Why is nothing that either the left or the right does to denigrate him having any effect? Is he even serious about any of this? And if he is, what would the Trump America look like?

In the words of a lollipop commercial from the ’70s: the world may never know.

What I do know is that I’d sooner vote for Frank Underwood, a man to whom my first introduction was watching him strangle a dog while I ate leftover Thai food.

My advice to you?

Laugh so you don’t cry.

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More Than a Meal

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Sean Brock // Billy Reid Journal

I am not food blogger. Actually, I’m not even a blogger at this point. Sorry about that.

But, I’ve been re-watching Season Two of PBS’ Mind of a Chef and, if you haven’t seen the show, it is some incredible television if you care anything about food. The second season, in addition to featuring the ingenious April Bloomfield of NYC’s The Spotted Pig, also features multiple James Beard award-winning southern food cult hero Sean Brock. If you’re not familiar with Sean Brock stop reading this. Go find out about Sean and come back. Brock’s Husk locations in Charleston and Nashville are new meccas for people discovering or re-discovering southern food: a renaissance that owes much of its fervor to the incredible work of the people over at the Southern Foodways Alliance.

I digress. This isn’t about Sean Brock. He just brought it about. Because southern food is some evocative stuff. Not to be confused with provocative. Which I suppose it could be depending on the situation.

Born-and-bred southerners love food. And they love to talk about food. Because, for butter or worse, food isn’t just the necessary stuff of life for us. It’s ritual. It’s community. It conjures up powerful memories. I could technically survive, I guess, on a bucket of spinach a day. But why would I want to? Survive, that is.

I am nearly 30 and have lived in three states: Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. Which means that I’ve been eating what we consider to be pretty traditional southern food, for basically my entire life. Most of that food has humble origins. Which is a polite way of saying that it evolved out of people being dirt poor or, sadly, enslaved.  Contrary to the caricature that is Paula Deen, southern food is based on a lot of vegetables and grains, seafood and pork. Brock addressed that in an episode of MOAC:

“We all know that southern food has a bad rap. It’s this, it’s that, it’s fried, it’s all pork. Or ‘I don’t like grits.’ You don’t like grits because you’ve eaten it out of that paper bag with that picture of the dude on the front. You come here, you eat real grits, you eat real cornbread, you taste real buttermilk, you eat real country ham, you drink fine bourbon. People leave here with a different opinion of southern food.” – Sean Brock

Sure there’s the possibly unnatural proclivity to deep fry anything that’ll sit still long enough. But by and large, this food came from fields. Corn, tomatoes, greens, rice, beans, squash. And in states with a coast oysters come into play. And the ubiquitous porcine bounty that we’re all familiar with.

More than this food is even about food, though, it’s about shared experience; it’s about hospitality. Part of that is associated with the famed ‘Southern Hospitality.’ Which was itself partly a result of poor people knowing what it was like to be poor and offering a plate to anyone who showed up. Brock talks a lot about this being honest food. And honest food is a foundation on which to build honest moments.

My friend Matt, a Baton Rouge native, himself a little homesick at times for the Deep South, will sometimes call me and invite me over to boil some little red devils and take part in that ceremony of pinching tails and sucking heads. And while they boil, and we chop corn and sausage, we talk. Matt’s a musician, and that’s part of what started to bond us those years ago. We talk about music, each of us getting excited about elements of songs that no one else seems to appreciate. And when that steam carries the smell and the dogs can’t take it anymore and neither can we, we eat. Till we can’t eat.

It’s our family tradition to congregate at my aunt and uncle’s house in Headland, Alabama sometime in the few days surrounding Christmas as a family. The whole family. Family that, as a result of moving to Tennessee in 1993, I don’t know half as well as I wish I did. Cousins I remember holding when they were newborns, telling me about their college classes. Like any good southern family gathering, the food is excessive. My personal favorite part of this tradition, though, are the oysters. My uncle gets a few Igloo coolers full of Apalachicola oysters and we shuck till we can’t feel our fingers and our noses run from inexact and inconsistent proportions of horseradish in homemade cocktail sauce. And my uncle’s laugh comes roaring out of that garage in Henry County and into the kitchen where it draws the brave among us out like a siren’s song to shuck and slurp and be family. Together.

2013-12-27 16.34.44My grandmother, like so many southern grandmothers, either loves to cook or sees it as her duty. Maybe a little of both. When we head home to Alabama for Christmas we stay with her. It is not an exaggeration to say that I cannot remember a morning that I have woken up in her house that there has not been scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and coffee waiting.

Then, we sit. There is no rush to go somewhere, to do something. We sit. And we talk to each other. We listen to the history of our family told by a woman who won’t be around to tell it much longer. Stories about my great-grandaddy Crozier’s farm. About cutting cane to make syrup. About hog killings. Stories about the War. About my grandfather’s work at Fort Rucker wrenching on airplanes for the army.

And then, pushing back from the table, my grandmother gathers dishes. And no fewer than ten minutes later, without fail, remarks “Well. I guess I better see about us some lunch…” She’s already planning what to feed us next. Because that’s how she loves us. That usually ends up fried chicken or pork chops. Usually some kind of field peas seasoned with big, fat, streaky bacon. Usually also sautéed squash or some kind of vegetable-based casserole. Spoon-drop cornbread that has just the right combination of grease and salt. And pound cake usually finishes it. Dinner is typically leftovers from lunch. Which I have never minded a day in my life seeing how it was so good the first time. And then we sit some more. And we listen some more.

In the grits, bacon, pork chops, field peas, fried chicken, squash, oysters, cornbread, and pound cake we get good food. What I’d argue is the best. But, like Sean Brock often remarks, southern food is honest food. And what gets pulled out of the ground or out of the water and ends up on our tables is far, far less about bodily nourishment than it is about feeding souls.

And when I eat this food with these people, I’m slap full.

74 Things I want to tell my son

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This list is a little presumptuous. I don’t have kids. I’m not married. But, I hope to have kids one day. And if I were to have a son, these are things I’d want him to hear from me. This being the internet, someone will inevitably think that this list is too this or not enough that. That’s all right; he’ll be my kid, not yours.

  1. No one else gets to tell you what makes you a man.
  2. You’re worth more than your bank account.
  3. Any woman who can’t see that isn’t worth your time.
  4. Buy the best suit you can afford.
  5. Take care of it: brush it, hang it up, dry clean it only when you absolutely have to.
  6. Eat dinner out by yourself sometimes.
  7. Polish your shoes. I’ll teach you.
  8. Iron your shirt. I’ll try to teach you.
  9. Have a hobby. Anything. Hunt. Fish. Collect stamps.
  10. Learn a little bit about everything.
  11. Learn everything about something.
  12. Drink your coffee black.
  13. Or load it with cream and sugar. Who cares. It’s your coffee.
  14. Ask her out. There’s no such thing as out of your league.
  15. If she says no, shake it off.
  16. Unless she’s really something, then ask her again.
  17. Give. Save. Then live off the rest.
  18. Leave town for the weekend. With friends when possible. Alone when necessary.
  19. Keep up with people who mean something to you. If you don’t, you’ll regret few things less.
  20. No lady should be standing while you’re sitting: give her your seat.
  21. Swearing in public is rude. And it shows you’re not smart enough to express yourself otherwise.
  22. But sometimes swearing is the only way to express yourself.
  23. Learn to cook breakfast and at least one pasta dish really well.
  24. Vote.
  25. Don’t ever vote for a candidate you know nothing about.
  26. When you travel outside of our country, be a good ambassador. You represent all of us.
  27. Be ready to back up your opinions. They will be challenged.
  28. Say ‘Thank you.’
  29. Pay your bills when they’re due.
  30. If you borrow something from someone, give it back in better shape than you received it, the minute you no longer need it.
  31. Otherwise you owe them a new one.
  32. Ask her father for permission.
  33. Then propose like it means something.
  34. Don’t ever read the comments section.
  35. The road is for driving. Not for showing off.
  36. Don’t talk trash during sports. Everyone hates that guy, including his teammates.
  37. If you ever cheer for the Mets I’ll legally disown you.
  38. There’s no shame in down time. In America we feel guilty for taking time for ourselves. Work, and work tirelessly, when you’re at work. When you’re not, don’t.
  39. Multivitamins are a waste of money. Just eat fruits and vegetables.
  40. Wear sunscreen.
  41. If you don’t know something, look it up for yourself.
  42. There’s no honor in saying you’ve read or seen books or movies that you haven’t.
  43. When the wanderlust takes you, don’t forget about your own country. There’s some pretty spectacular stuff right here.
  44. Find a drink you like and stand by it.
  45. Give jazz a chance.
  46. Righty-tighty. Left-loosey.
  47. Cut the grass. It’s cathartic.
  48. No shorter than 1″. A scalped lawn is a dead lawn.
  49. If at all possible, never pay someone to do something that you could do yourself.
  50. Read the newspaper. In whatever form it exists for you. Don’t skip the International sections.
  51. If you feel like crying, let it out.
  52. Only cry about things that matter.
  53. If you can’t pay your bills with what you make in the first two weeks of the month, you’re living above your means.
  54. Write Thank You notes when people do things for you. With a pen and paper.
  55. Do not Google your symptoms. Ever.
  56. If you’re ever dumb enough to get arrested, I’ll get you out. One time. Be prepared for my wrath.
  57. You will have your heart broken. And it will hurt. I’m sorry.
  58. You will break someone’s heart. That will hurt, too. I’m sorry.
  59. If you start losing your hair, own it. Cut it all off and move on.
  60. The first time you get a paycheck will be the last time I pay for your gas. Budget wisely.
  61. Don’t say you don’t like things that you haven’t tried.
  62. Don’t let the subjunctive tense of the English language die on your watch.
  63. Listen to your grandfather’s stories. When he’s not around anymore, you’ll wish you had.
  64. Work on your vocabulary. It will get you far.
  65. Have a favorite poet. I like Wendell Berry and Pablo Neruda.
  66. A pharmacy might be the worst place to buy anything except prescriptions. You’ll spend twice as much.
  67. Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics every time you get the sniffles. It’s more than likely that you’ll get over it.
  68. Don’t go to work when you’re sick.
  69. If you hate your job, find a new one. Think it over first, but being miserable isn’t worth a paycheck.
  70. Don’t skip leg day.
  71. The most expensive isn’t always the best. In fact, it rarely is.
  72. Have a hero. I don’t recommend that you choose me. I know me too well.
  73. Read Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If.‘ It should cover anything I missed.
  74. I love you. No matter what.

An open letter to the Sullivan Central High School Class of 2004

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Fellow Cougars of 2004:

I first want to address calling ourselves Cougars, still, after 10 years. Some of us think it silly to identify oneself, at almost 30 years old, with a long-gone part of our youth.

But make no mistake we are still, all of us, Cougars.

That name doesn’t have a thing to do with sports, even though I played football. “Played” is a term I use loosely in my case, but you get it. It’s not about what remains the most successful football season since, or one of the most successful basketball season since, or even one of the most decorated iterations of the band in the ten years since we left.

What it means to be called “Cougar” after all these years is shared experience. Commonality. Camaraderie. Community.

It means that we, all of us, stood in the stadium for hours on end, or sat in stationary school busses, or in the field house, half of us still with our lunch trays in hand because of bomb threats. It means that not one of us minded the realization that Coach Stephens was ever-so-lightly mocking us all; his wife’s brownies softened the blow. It means that we, together, sprinted to a 25-minute lunch period that, somehow, began at 10:30 in the morning, from the desolate corners of the 400s.

It means, too, that our collective heart broke when, in the span of sixteen months, we lost three people that we loved. Mourning Wayne, Joseph, and Nelson together bound us together in a deeply sad way. There is no separating people who endure that together.

In light of all that, I’m pleading with you all: come to this reunion.

Because these nights in September that are planned for us are not about how much “school spirit” we had. Or how much we’ve accomplished since. Or how much we wish we’d have accomplished by now. These nights of reunion that are planned are about our family. A huge, dysfunctional, widely dispersed family.

I’m not so naïve as to think that every single person in our class will rally around gathering together with people they were all too happy to be rid of, but the things that kept us apart from each other when we were in that building together for four years are trivial. They are nonsense.

I desperately hope that the thread that has quietly bound us together for these 10 years will show itself strong.

I’ll see you in September.

 

 

A Cougar, forever,
Ryan Lee

Edward Abbey, a listless generation, and the romanticizing of bacon

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High technology has done us one great service: It has re-taught us the delight of performing simple and primordial tasks – chopping wood, building a fire, drawing water from a spring. – Edward Abbey

Think about it. In the last month, I’d wager that you’ve heard a conversation like this:

“I just bought a Kindle; I love it!”
“I could never buy one of those. I love books too much; it’s just not the same! I love the feel of a book; I love the smell.”

Why is that conversation happening? An e-reader is a much more efficient way to read. Bibliophiles should be falling over themselves to have their entire library in their purse, briefcase, or backpack. But, they aren’t.

Why?

Take a look at Instagram or Tumblr. Both of those platforms are packed to the gills with photos of cast iron skillets bearing some rustic-looking frontier-esque meal. They’re full of pictures of worn out books and french pressed coffee. Dirty old leather boots, and ramshackle barnwood furniture. 

Why?

The new way of making people think you’re cool is to talk about bacon. Bacon is EVERYWHERE. Bacon-scented, bacon-flavored everything is taking over the internet. Why in the world does bacon have a cult following?

Because the things that were supposed to impress us no longer do.

We’ve grown tired of shiny and new and fast and bright and big and white and clean. No one used to care about owning their grandfather’s shaving razor or their grandmother’s hand mirror.

We’re dying for things with character. We’re aching for experiences that weren’t churned out by a robot, shoved in a box, and sold to us. Old books are sexy, good leather shoes are sexy, bacon is sexy again because it’s simple. I believe, wholeheartedly, that Edward Abbey was onto something. The word up there that matters most is “delight.” High technology has taught us the delight of simplicity. 

The degree to which all this newness and novelty make us happy is a bell curve, and we’re shooting down the right side of that thing at breakneck speeds. 

Our reliance on Google and Apple and Twitter and Facebook, et al. ad nauseam and ad infinitum has taken us from a thirst for newer and better, to a thirst for meaningful things. A desire to own things that someone made because they were good at it, not because they knew it would break in a year and they could sell you the new model. A desire to experience things that not just anyone and everyone with $100 and a two-year contract has experienced.

The catharsis to be found in shopping at a farmer’s market, cooking yourself a meal, sitting down with a tangible paper-and-ink book, writing a letter on good paper with a good pen, or sitting around a fire with your friends isn’t a kitschy, ‘upper-middle-class white people’ trope. There’s real, intrinsic joy in the simplicity.

Relearn the delight.

My So Bald Life

I suffer from a medical condition called Androgenic Alopecia, caused by a sensitivity to the hormone Dihydrotestosterone.

Let’s call a spade a spade here:

I’m bald. Or balding, rather, I guess. But the fact is the virile dark brown mane of my late teens and early 20s got God’s Great Haircut when I was 24. And it’s been all downhill since. I never understood the phenomenon in which women can hate another woman, just because she’s pretty, until I started losing my hair. I get it now. When I see a dude with great hair I want to punch his lights out.

Gone are the days of carrying a brush in my car. I don’t even own a brush or a comb anymore. That’s not totally true, I guess. I own a suit brush and a 2 inch long beard comb.

Which brings me to this: Look around. See that guy? Late 20s probably? Beard? Baseball cap? Chances are high that it’s all a hot mess under that hat.

And that brings me to this: Why? Why is he wearing a hat? Why did he grow a beard? Why did I?

As far as the beard is concerned it’s very much a “might as well grow what hair I can” situation. Because losing your hair is, and I’m serious, the equivalent of cutting a lion’s mane off. That’s not meant to be some exaggerated, puffed-up, try-hard simile for masculinity, which most people can attest that I tend to stay away from. It’s just true. Men are proud, which is no secret. And our hair is a big deal. And when it starts falling out, and when that’s out of our control, it’s devastating. It’s humiliating. It’s, frankly, emasculating. And just like our poor lion it sucks all the royal bravado that, in doses, can serve us well, right out of us. Understand that, yes, it really does matter that much to men. No matter how many times guys who are losing their hair are told “It looks good on you!” or “You’ve got the head for it!”, it’s hard to believe that message. It’s harder to hear and believe that women don’t care that much. The jury’s still out on that one.

My hair started going when I was 24. I grew it out even longer. It got thinner. So I cut it shorter and tried to style it to minimize the damage. It got thinner still. So I cut it shorter again, still hanging on to it.

In the past year or so, all hell broke loose up there. So I bought clippers and took to the garage. Because there is quite literally nothing I can do about it. I can use Rogaine, a solution that makes your hair fall out before it grows back, only really works on the “bald spot” on the very top, and is completely nullified if you stop using it. I could use Propecia, which works like a dream for some guys and is utterly useless for others, and does all sorts of undesirable things to your mister bits.

Or, I can shut up and just deal with it. I had hair, now I don’t. It’s not like I went down a bad path in life, shunning all my parents’ teaching, and this is the consequence. It’s nature. It’s out of my control.

It’s taken four years, over 1,200 days, of looking in the mirror every morning and wistfully remembering. I’ve reached balding Nirvana. I’m content.

And, it might actually be the least important thing about me.

 

On Hadrian and Chutzpah

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Hadrian had a beard.

Looking through history, that probably shouldn’t come as a shock. Some of history’s greatest movers and shakers wore beards. Sigmund Freud’s beard ought to be in the Louvre. John Muir’s beard should be the fifth feature of Mount Rushmore.

Hadrian’s beard, though, was definitely not normal. Romans didn’t wear beards. They just didn’t. They saw it as an utterly Greek thing to do and, while Rome took a lot of its ideas from Greece, when it came to being naked all the time and growing beards, they just let Greece keep those. The Greeks were the butt of the collective Roman joke. Greece was Rome’s Canada, basically. And Hadrian loved the Greeks. He was enamored with Greek culture, food, art, and government.

So when Hadrian became emperor, and showed up wearing a beard (history doesn’t talk about where he landed on the whole ‘being naked all the time’ thing…) everyone, from senators to plebeians, mocked him unmercifully. They nicknamed him ‘Graeculus’. It basically means Greek-Boy. As in “Check out Greek-Boy’s fancy little beard!” It’s a little hard to tell if it was good-natured, or if they were just being ancient douchebags, but they laughed at him.

And Hadrian kept it. Being the emperor helped; being able to have people killed just for giggles is sort of carte blanche to do what you want. But by most accounts uber-man Hadrian was a pretty excellent Emperor. Except his dealings with the Jews. You can look that up.

The point is this:

Hadrian was man enough, and was in touch with his own spirit enough to know He loved Greece, and he thought beards looked cool. So he grew one. And everyone laughed at him. But he did it anyway, and didn’t really do much in the way of defending his choice. He just went everywhere with a beard, basically being the most powerful man in the world.

Are you man enough to do that? Are you man enough to love what you love, and block out those who tell you it’s ridiculous? Are you man enough to start a business, train for a marathon, or ask out that woman who’s “out of your league”?

People will spend your whole life telling you why things won’t work, why it’s a bad idea, why it’s silly, how it makes you look.

Grow a beard. A real one, and a metaphorical one. Pursue your passion, throw yourself into what you love, and don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t look good on you.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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The Southern obsession with college football is well-documented but poorly understood. The rest of the nation watches horrified, from September to January every year, as the lunatics come out of the woodwork shouting, drinking, shouting more, drinking more, and occasionally crying. It’s akin to watching a full quarter of our nation’s population be thrust deep into the throes of a manic episode. An episode which summarily becomes depressive. And again manic. It’s no wonder that the rest of the country thinks that we’re all insane.

Which is sad, really.

Because the rest of the country already thinks that every man, woman, and child south of Washington D.C. is an ignorant, barefoot, simpleton. And that is precisely why we love football so much.

Life in the American South, is not easy. Since people claimed ownership over other human beings and Sherman burned Atlanta, the Southern legacy has been hardship. Reconstruction was very nearly a myth in the South. Some would argue that the South is still, even now, reconstructing. The Great Depression that ravaged and wracked the rest of our nation at the beginning of the 1930s was felt ever more heavily in the South, as it was anywhere that agriculture was the industry. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, we had our own microcosmic Civil War. Families were divided again and communities again went to war. Churches were firebombed, men were hanged, and children were kidnapped and tortured all in the name of racial supremacy. American citizens, human beings, had to fight, and in some cases die, for the right to simply eat a sandwich at the same counter as a white man. In the summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, killing 1,836 people and causing an estimated 108 billion dollars in damages. On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, spilling 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, devastating the vital shrimp, oyster, and fishing industries in the Gulf.

Eight of the ten poorest states (by median income) are Southern states: Louisiana, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

Nine of the fifteen least-educated states in the country are also Southern states: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina.

Hardship is a way of life in the American South. And it is for this reason that college football is so vital to our survival as a people. In a world in which the South, in matters of perception, doesn’t have much else to be proud of, we hang our hats upon and puff up our chests because of college football. Quite simply, because we’re the best at it.

To us, it is not “just a game”. It’s the one of the few things we have. A thing that we can point at, and proclaim to the rest of the country: “You can’t compete with us.” Our academics, our healthcare, and our earnings potential are in sad states and don’t look to improve soon. Hardship remains our legacy, and likely, it ever will.

Whether you say Roll Tide, War Eagle, Geaux Tigers, Go Dawgs, or Go Vols (or any litany of cheers and chants), we’re unified in one thing:

We’re Southerners, and we’re better at football than you.

The top 25 recruiting classes in college football right now contain eleven of the SEC’s fourteen teams. The Southeastern Conference has won the last seven National Championships in college football. Since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998, the SEC has won nine national Championships. There have only been fifteen BCS Championship Games, and the SEC has won nine of them, by an average of two touchdowns (29-15). And subdivided further, those nine trophies have been hoisted by only five different universities. Three of those five have hoisted two or more crystal footballs in the last decade.

Come Saturdays, be proud. No matter who your team is. Cheer loud. Get mad. Throw things. Curse at the TV. Cry when your team loses. Cry when they win. Blame everything on referees. Spend the next seven days debating whether or not it was a catch. Spend more time worrying about the state of your quarterback’s shoulder than you do the project you have due at work. Because, by God, it’s not just a game.

It’s college football.

And it’s back.

Roll Tide and

S-E-C!

S-E-C!

S-E-C!

 

Tales of a Sixth-Grade Fat Boy: A Discussion about Male Body Image

This is a tale of male body image. It’s a thing that society either refuses to acknowledge, or is purely ignorant of. Our culture, and very rightly so, has made a lot of noise about what magazines and male lust have done to damage female body image. Male body image issues are just as real, and have garnered a shameful dearth of frank discussion. This is my side of that discussion.

David called me fat in the sixth grade.

Actually, he called me “fat boy”. I don’t remember what typical sixth-grade smart comment out of my mouth prompted him to call me that. I do, in his defense, remember that I said something to prompt it. But kids are kids, and kids are mean.

And in context, Dave is now one of my dearest friends. I was in his wedding; he, his wife Sarah, and his sweet daughter Emma are three of my favorite people on this earth. And we laugh about it now; it’s a running joke for the two of us.

I remember, too, holding up the line at Field Day 1992 in elementary school because I was slowly traversing a balance beam. From somewhere behind me, someone yelled “Move, fatty!”

I remember both times in my life that someone called me fat outright. Because it hurts; it hurts a lot.

When I was young, I was fat. I wasn’t chubby, or husky, or big-boned, or any other pleasantry that well-meaning mothers and grandmothers use to soften the obvious fact that a child is overweight. I spent all my time indoors reading and eating. That regimen resulted in fat kid who knew the answer to every question in school.

As fat kids do, I stayed fat. Through a move from Alabama to Tennessee, through elementary school, through middle school, and through my junior year of high school. And I was admittedly fortunate that I wasn’t bullied the way some overweight kids are.

The summer after my sophomore year I stepped on a scale and it said a horribly cruel thing to me:

235 lbs

The next April, I went to the football weight room with my friend Scotty. A coach I’d had for a class stopped me:

“What are you doing up here?”

“I…I’m gonna…I wanna play football.”

“…well. Alright.”

Through spring and summer workouts and a full Senior season of rigorous second-string mop-up duty I lost 45 lbs.

And I wasn’t fat anymore.

But then, I was again.

The ravages of college and late night Taco Bell runs and too much beer washed over me, and were unkind. I came back up. A lot. At my heaviest I weighed 260.

And I do have a big frame. I’m 5’10, but I have huge shoulders and a huge chest. But 260 is too fat for a 5’10 male no matter how large the frame.

I weigh, right now, the same as I did when I got on that scale when I was 16. And the fact is that if I weighed the 165-180 that the charts say I’m suppose to weigh, I’d look like Christian Bale in The Machinist. But the 235 I weigh now is in no way related to the 235 I weighed as a fat teenager. Long, long hours in the gym have made me bigger and stronger, but still heavier than I’ve ever been comfortable with.

All that serves this end: I can’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t insecure about my weight. Or how fat I looked. Or how fat I felt. Even as I write this, I just finished watching the Crossfit Games, and thought no less that 20 times in that hour “Man, I wish I had abs like that dude.”

And I’m not bemoaning that a little hard work in the gym didn’t just magically give me 5% body fat. It takes more work than I’ve put in, and more dedicated nutrition choices.

But be conscious that men, even as much as women, are bombarded with airbrushed, tan, six-packed models on magazine covers. And we hear women wax animalistic about how hot these guys are. And when that happens, just as much as women, even healthy men long to be someone else. Someone with bigger biceps. With a sharp chin with perfect Clooney-esque stubble. A guy with abs you could grate cheese on. A guy with a Superman chest and bowling ball shoulders.

Men, eat smart. Wake up early and go to the gym. Play basketball, go hiking, play on the company softball team.

But for the love of everything you hold dear, don’t sit around staring at the Men’s Health cover that tells you you’ll have better sex, if you could just had a flatter stomach or bulging biceps. Because short of a DNA transplant, chances are you won’t look like that guy.

Don’t sell yourself short, buddy. Don’t get hung up on not looking like a magazine cover model. You’re more than the sum of your measurements. Stop living like that. Unless you want to be in hell every waking moment of your life.

In which case, be my guest.

Lessons From Women I’ve Loved

*I have loved and I have lost. I have cut loose and I have been cut loose. I have mourned the end and I have come up gasping for air like a drowning man. Such is love. None of these women know that this blog exists. Barely anyone does. But, all the same, anonymity is largely protected here.

A,
First love is a bond that is never broken. No matter who I ever love, the lesson of loving you will stay with me forever. I will never, and could never forget kissing you that first time. You in your blue dress. I had never loved another person so much that it hurt to be out of their presence.

We were so hysterically young.

When you broke up with me on your back porch, and I went back to my car through the yard, so that I didn’t have to walk back through the house and let your parents and your sister see me sobbing cataclysmically, I learned that love is a terrible, damnable, awful thing. But a thing that is worth every wound it inflicts. I owe you much for that.

 

Al,
I remember the first time I ever put my eyes on you. What you said. What you were wearing. Where we were. We were in the seventh grade. The seventh grade. We were thirteen years old, Al. And I knew something that I loved was in you. And five years later, I loved you. And I do, desperately, mean that I loved you. But boys are foolish at eighteen. And fools are forever regretting the fruits of their foolishness. I had no idea how to handle a girl who loved me the way that you did.

And I broke my first heart at eighteen.

Regret is scoffed at and wished away, and warded off with trite sayings bound in neat packages. But I have one great regret in my life. And you suffered tears for my mistake.

Your husband is a better man than I am. I know this, because I know him. And I know him very well. And your son is beautiful. I had no idea eyes could be as blue as that boy’s. They are your excellent reward for my foolishness. From you, I have learned that even what I regret, may have perfect resolution for someone else. None of the words I know are good enough to say how happy I am for your life.

 

S,
You broke up with me on AIM. Not cool. No hard feelings, though. You were too tall for me, anyway. We looked ridiculous.

 

B,
Every man has a story about an insane woman. And thanks to you, mine is a wildly entertaining cautionary tale filled with 3 am phone calls to inform me of my shortfalls, forged letters from “ex-girlfriends”, and my first – and I pray only – instance of trying to break up with someone, and failing.

I have never slept so soundly as the night I told you to hit the bricks. The sunrise was brighter, colors more vivid, food more sumptuous. Thank you for teaching me warning signs.

But, and I can’t stress this enough, you were the worst.

 

J,
That we can now speak to each other like human beings that once put our tongues in each other’s mouths, rather than strangers on a bus, is a huge improvement. I saw you hide behind someone once, to avoid being seen by me. We all deal in our own ways, I suppose.

I told you I loved you, and I swore that I did.

I did not.

I told you so, because I had inside information that the feeling was incredibly mutual, and you were simply waiting for me to voice my feeling. So I told you. And you laid upon my vulnerable spirit the “I’m not ready to say it” speech. Which I respected, and appreciated.

A week later you dumped me.

And three days after that I got fired. And the next day, I came to see you, so that we could talk, because if ever I needed you, it was after I lost my job. And I put on a pathetic display. Sobbing on the way home so hard that I missed my exit, and ended up in Virginia. But you have done me a great service, teaching me that love is not a feeling. And if love is based completely on the chemicals at work on my brain, it isn’t love at all. Love is infinitely more than a base human emotion.

And I’m really glad that we can speak to each other now. That year of pretending we’d never met was ridiculous.

I owe you, all of you, all more than I can tell. Thank you.