Friday, November 02, 2012

Singing the Chorus Soon (I Hope)

Martyrs and Thieves by Jennifer Knapp

I've only recently been introduced to Jennifer Knapp, and she is an amazing writer.  This song, in particular, struck me as critically important.  The words of each verse hit me hard; the second verse seems written especially for me.  One day, soon I hope, I will be able to sing the chorus, but I can't just yet, because my cries are not being heard, no matter how madly I shout.

There's a place in the darkness that I used to cling to
It presses harsh hope against time
In the absence of martyrs there's a presence of thieves
Who only want to rob you blind
They steal away any sense of peace
Though I'm a king I'm a king on my knees
And I know they are wrong when they say I am strong
As the darkness covers me


So turn on the light and reveal all the glory
I am not afraid
To bare all my weakness knowing in meekness
I have a kingdom to gain
Where there is peace and love in the light, in the light
Oh I am not afraid
To let Your light shine bright in my life, in my life
Oh I... am, I...

There are ghosts from my past who've owned more of my soul
Than I thought I had given away
They linger in closets and under my bed
And in pictures less proudly displayed
A great fool in my life I have been
Have squandered till pallid and thin
Hung my head in shame and refused to take blame
For the darkness I know I've let win


Can you hear me? (repeat 6x)

Well I've never been much for the baring of soul
In the presence of any man
I'd rather keep to myself all safe and secure
In the arms of a sinner I am
Could it be that my worth should depend
By the crimson stained grace on a hand
And like a lamp on a hill Lord I pray in Your will
To reveal all of You that I can


There's a place in the darkness that I used to cling to
It presses harsh hope against time...

Friday, July 06, 2012

Happy Birthday, Donna!!!!!!!!!!

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about how mundane tasks like rinsing dishes can wash you away in a sea of nostalgia, leaving you teary-eyed and even more in love with the people you thought you already loved more than life.  If you care to, you can read that post here.

I intended to use this blog as a place to share memories, and at one point I had the idea – and it is my intent still, should I ever get over this 3 ½ year case of writer’s block – to tie my love of music into this theme, posting memories that are, however inexplicably, intertwined with a specific song, like the time my friend Juan Villegas bought me a lime popsicle from the ice cream truck while Sister Christian played on WLS.  I don’t even like popsicles (particularly lime!), but now any time I hear mention of Night Ranger, I yearn for one of those horrific neon green frosty treats on a stick.  I’m sure the boys in the band would be thrilled at the association.

But I digress, or regress, as I am wont to do…

Tonight, I am parked in front of my computer, determined to shake off this writer’s block, and determined to resurrect my original intentions for this blog, hopefully to carry them into the future until I have accumulated a happy collection of memories that tell my story, or at least as much of it as I am willing to acknowledge…public therapy, in other words.

The reason for this newfound motivation is that a special occasion is coming up this Saturday:  My sister Donna, the subject of the above-mentioned post, is turning 50, and I was invited to share some memories.  And I will get right to it as soon as I get my mind around the idea of Donna being can this be???  If my mom is reading this, I apologize for the exclamations of disbelief that just passed through my head.



Scratch my head...

Ahh, okay…I think I’ve wrapped my mind around the concept.  Before I go off on another tangent, here are the first five memories that came to mind when I thought of Donna:

1)      Donna will know….

just don't Google "purple cow underwear" me on that.

2)      The highlight of my athletic career – I scored ten points and garnered lots of “attaboys” from coaches and teammates in a freshman basketball game against Riverside-Brookfield High School.  Donna was there to share this momentous achievement, and if that were the only game she ever attended, she might have gotten the impression I actually knew what I was doing on the basketball court.  After the game, Donna treated me to hot dogs at Mr. Pup on Lee Street.  Being a 15 year old boy, I, of course, didn’t consider showering in the locker room so I’m sure that lunch was a true delight for Donna.

    3)      There was a gas station, cement block walls painted white, next door to Pintsch’s True Value in Townsend, Wisconsin, where all they sold, it seemed, was air mattresses and minnows.  I would have staked my life on the fact that the word “cowabunga” was invented by, and belonged to, me and Donna, and to us alone.  I don’t know why or how I attached that word so personally to me and Donna, but I did, so it was devastating (remember, I was about six years old) when I saw an air mattress for sale at that gas station picturing Snoopy on a surf board shouting OUR word.  I might be the only child to have been betrayed by America’s favorite cartoon beagle.  And, years later, to see Bart Simpson flinging cowabungas about as if they were road apples….simply heartbreaking.

4)      This is a current memory:  Donna’s hand-written notes I receive in the mail every month or two are one of the only things that ever cause me to think about moving back to Illinois.  They mean so much, and one of these days I’ll reciprocate.  I promise!

5)      The best of my childhood memories is of Thursday nights when somehow Donna and I wound up being the only two at home.  It might have been one school year, it might have been only a few months, but my memory tries to convince me it was several years.  Unless the Cubs were playing, we would watch Magnum, PI, then Simon & Simon, after doing the dishes of course.  I have remembered those Thursday nights for 30 years, and they are some of my happiest memories.

Okay, well that was five memories, and I didn’t even get to the time Donna treated me to my first ever bowling experience (I freaked out over having to wear previously worn shoes - oh, the horror! - and tried embedding myself into the brick wall, crying my eyes out), Jody Davis, games of hearts, or “RN stands for Real Nice” and so much more.

And it pains me to cut this off here, before I’ve had a chance to edit and perfect every single word, but it’s after 2AM and I have to work in a few hours, so I will finish by saying happy birthday, Donna!  Thank you for being a perfect sister; as much as I loved you on those Thursday nights, I love you even more now.

Oh, and I did mention tying my memories to specific songs.  I plan to provide more explanation in future posts, but this time I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  So, Donna, here’s the song that makes me think of you: Enjoy!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Charlotte 500, Laps 87 - 90: Of Beef & Buns

My favorite way of exploring my adopted hometown is working my way through the various "best of" lists that appear in newspapers and on the internet.  The Charlotte Observer runs a food related Sweet 16 every year during March Madness.  Sixteen restaurants known for a specific food item - wings, pizza, burgers, fries - are selected for the competition, and the field is narrowed weekly by on line voting until a winner is crowned the Best of Charlotte.  In 2011, the competition was all about burgers, divided between old school and new school.  In the end, the two schools of burger proved to be so vastly different the Observer opted to crown co-champs.  Before I turn the intro into a post of its own....

Lap 87: Brooks' Sandwich House (2710 N Brevard St, just off North Davidson, NoDa) was the winner of the old school bracket of the Observer's burger challenge.  Brooks' isn't much to look at - a dirty old shack, with a semi trailer parked (abandoned?) in back, and a large gravel lot in an old don't go to Brooks' because you happen to be driving by, you have to know it's there.  I expected something great, but left decidedly disappointed in the food.  I had the cheeseburger "all the way" (because that's what you're supposed to get at Brooks'), the classic Carolina style.  I was lucky enough to visit Brooks' Sandwich House on a gorgeously sunny and warm November day with a great friend who happens to have a truck with a tailgate, which proved an ideal place to eat our burgers and fries while naming the biting flies that attempted to impose themselves on our meal - that made the experience one of the happiest days I've had in a long time. The tailgate was also perfectly suited for people watching the diverse group of patrons that came to Brooks' for lunch. Due to the glowing reviews of Brooks' I will definitely return to see if my burger let-down was a fluke.

Lap 88: The Liberty (1812 South Blvd, South End) was the new school burger champ, a decision hard to argue.  While there are other reasons to visit the Liberty - great food and a fine beer list among them - the burger is truly delicious.  Nice and meaty, wonderfully juicy without being greasy...well worth a taste or two.  Or three.  The blue cheese potato chips are also outstanding.

Lap 89: Zack's Hamburgers (4009 South Blvd, at Scaleybark) is what McDonalds claims to be: simple, old fashioned burgers and fries.  Order the Zack's Special - two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a toasted bun (has a familiar ring, doesn't it?) served with fries - and you won't be disappointed.  I can't wait to go back!

Lap 90: Pinky's Westside Grill (1600 W Morehead St) serves up a fun mix of burgers with an unusual variety of toppings, including hummus, sauerkraut, and artichokes. One of the more interesting burgers is the Ding Dong style burger which is topped with crunchy peanut butter, honey-cilantro slaw, and hot sriracha sauce.  Mine was a tad dry (virtually mandated by state law) but the flavors were wonderful.  The fried pickle chips are a nice warm up for the burger.  If nothing else, it's a fun trip just to see the patriotic Volkswagen on the roof.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Charlotte 500, Lap 86: Lift Off - The Overlook

Airplanes taking off.  Yes, that seems a good way to get the 500 soaring again. 

Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is one of the few airports in the nation to designate a public viewing area - called the Overlook - nearly underneath the runways where you can watch airplanes take off into the wild blue.  Having grown up in a home with as close, if not a closer, view of the jets leaving O'Hare Airport, the thrill of liftoff wasn't nearly as exciting for me as it was for others, but, nonetheless, the Overlook is a fun way to enjoy a couple hours with friends.  My only recommendation is to choose a calm day...these pictures of blue, sunny skies belie the persistenly chilly wind blowing across the open spaces to make the day somewhat uncomfortable.

The Charlotte skyline in the distance.


Saturday, January 07, 2012

2011 Reading List

Since I'm having a difficult time refiring my writing engine, I thought I'd do something quick and simple by reviewing my reading for 2011.  This was, after all, intended to be a blog mainly about books when I first started.  Maybe some day I'll even post the two years I skipped.  Long gone are the years of reading 50 or more books; this year I managed only these 12:

1) Alexis de Tocqueville - Democracy in America - Much more interesting than it sounds, but much too long to keep me interested.
2) Johann David Wyss - The Swiss Family Robinson - When Mr Rogers Neighborhood meets Survivor...  I nearly gagged on the optimism.
3) Stephen King - Duma Key - Enjoyable but not especially memorable.
4) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Warrior
5) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Statesman
6) Harry Sievers - Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier President - A very up and down biography; at times great, at times mediocre.  Sievers seemed more a cheerleader for a dead president than a historian.
7) Stephen King - Under the Dome - King's best in a long time.  Still, he has a knack for building up these wonderful worlds, then having no way to escape them without a decisive and sudden conclusion that is nearly always a disappointment.
8) Daniel Keyes - Flowers for Algernon - I liked the idea much more than the book.
9) Richard Hough - Captain James Cook, A Biography - Interesting, but really all Cook did was sail around the world making charts, which hardly makes for scintillating reading.  The most engrossing section was the narrative of Cook's death at the hands of the Hawaiians.
10) Pat Conroy - The Prince of Tides - I have been unnecessarily avoiding this book for years, but it was outstanding, and I'm glad to have read it on the suggestion of a friend.
11) Joseph J Ellis - Founding Brothers - Excellent history clearly written. 
12) Jane Austen - Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen writes the same thing over and over, chapter after chapter, book after book.  A true one-trick pony.  It's a great trick, but....

My book of the year, narrowly edging out Founding Brothers. It got a boost in my mind for being recommended by a wonderful friend with whom I was able to discuss the book, which always makes reading more valuable and fun.


Sunday, October 23, 2011


Well, well,'s been about a month since I posted an entry declaring I had started writing again.  Clearly, I am off to a slow start.  The last month has been very busy.  And when I haven't been busy, I have been monumentally lazy.  I'll get my stuff back in order - I have all kinds of ideas, which I am sure the world is waiting to not read on this blog.  That's all I'm going to say now; really this is just a few lines to take up some space to make it look like I'm actually doing something.  Did it work?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Honey, I'm Home....

Life has certainly taken unexpected, and unhappy, turns over the last couple years, and it has become impossible, it seems, to write, to put my thoughts out in a public place, although I know very few people ever read my blog. After only a couple entries over the last two years, I'm sure all my readers have disappeared. Still, I retain this blog hoping my ability to write is somehow resurrected.

I miss writing, even when it's something silly, because it seems like it's what I am supposed to do. What I miss most, though, are those few posts where I was able to let something out from deep inside. What has been inside the last couple years is not pretty; it's confused, scared, sad, even ugly, so I have tried to bottle it up, an effort, maybe, to make it die. Recently, though, a wise friend challenged me to face what's in the bottle, to make it my friend, to get used to its company. I can't, after all, change what it is; it has happened, it is real history, it cannot die. It will forever be part of who I am.

So here I am on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday night sitting in front of my computer when I'd rather be hiding outside or watching the final moments of whatever college football game is airing on tv. It feels good; it is easy to get lost in words. And that's how I feel when I write - I get lost in the words and then, when I come out of the woods, I love to look back and see what spilled out.

And I want to keep at it, because I know it's good for me. If anyone reads this, I hope you nag me to keep going. Even if I write something meaningless or foolish, I want to keep going, because I know that eventually something really good is going to come out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Long Time Ago, In a Land Far, Far Away

My fifteen minutes? I hope not.

I must have dropped an animal cracker.


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Random Pictures

Just because I haven't posted in a long time - I can't let an entire year pass without throwing something out here, never mind if I'm the only who sees it. Let's see if I still know how to do this....

Neck Rd, Huntersville

Old barn at the end of Neck Rd

Same old barn, different colors.


Monday, August 03, 2009

The Charlotte 500, Lap 85: Cajun Yarddog

Located in the Arboretum shopping center, the Cajun Yard Dog is one of my new favorites. Unfortunately, it's on the opposite side of Charlotte from my home. Fortunately, Charlotte really isn't that big - an oversized Mayberry, I've heard it called. The Yard Dog features the best blackened catfish poor boys this side of Chicago's Goose Island Brewpub. And since, lamentably, Goose has discontinued their poor boy, that would make the Yard Dog's version the best I've ever had (as Pete Townshend would say). In addition to the poor boy, the Cajun Yard Dog has a nice beer list, including New Orleans's Dixie and several selections from NC's own Boone Brewing, and a wide variety of sides for those of us who prefer something other than fries to accompany our sandwiches (although they did offer sweet potato fries, always a nice treat). For dessert, it was a chocolate pecan pie, possibly the best slice of pie I've ever eaten. Best of all was the company - some things will never change.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Charlotte 500, Lap 83 & 84: Asian Corner Mall

You can read a bit of the history of the Asian Corner Mall, formerly Tryon Mall, at Dead Malls dot Com. Who knew such a website existed??

I don't have any pictures of the mall itself - there really wasn't much to get pictures of. Maneuvering through the parking lot would have been easier in a Moon Rover; I don't think it's been maintained since the original pavement was laid decades ago. And the mall itself was dirty and run down. Still, there are a couple stops worth making.
Lap 83: Rolls at Hong Kong BBQ - These large, soft rolls, which taste like Hawaiian bread, are stuffed with various Chinese "things" (the appropriate word escapes me at the moment), such as Chinese bbq, chicken curry, peanut, and coconut. The coconut roll, which made a tasty breakfast the next morning, is pictured, but they all look the same, as you might expect. Very appetizing, once you get past the carcasses of roasted pigs and ducks and various other critters hanging on hooks, or, even, sitting on one of the dining tables. Carry out might be the best option.

Lap 84: International Market - Featuring a wide array of ethnic groceries, mainly Asian, this is a fascinating market to walk through. It's crowded and chaotic, but the food and drink options are astounding, and sometimes kinda gross.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Charlotte 500, Lap 82: The Horse Lap

I forgot one thing from Tryon Street that I meant to include with the last post. There are actually a number of things on Tryon that will eventually be added, but this is the one I've got the pictures for right now. It kinda speaks for itself - you hop in the carriage, the horses start walking...I think you get it.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Charlotte 500, Lap 79 - 81: Tryon Street History

Tryon Street is the main drag of Uptown Charlotte. Actually, Tryon runs through the entire city from southwest to northeast, and might be the only road of such length that doesn't change names four times on its way through town.

Anyway, in Uptown, there are three points of historical interest memorialized on Tryon Street that make up the next three laps on my list.

Lap 79: Every now and then, an event so momentous occurs that everyone knows exactly where they were when they heard the news. I imagine that every American, North or South, alive in April 1865 forever remembered when they heard about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Thanks to this marker in the sidewalk outside McCormick and Schmick's, you can stand where Jefferson David stood when he learned the news.

Lap 80: The Final Surrender. Just down the street, there is another marker identifying the location of the final meeting place of the Confederate cabinet, where Joe Johnston's surrender of the last major rebel army was authorized.

Lap 81: Charlotte was Country when Country wasn't..., well, when Country just wasn't: Some histories say the modern Country music and Bluegrass movements began in Charlotte. Of course, most major cities south of the Mason-Dixon line probably make the same claim. There is no denying, though, that the father of Blugrass, Bill Monroe, began his recording career in the Southern Radio Corporation offices on Tryon Street in 1936. We've got this marker to prove it!

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

2008 Reading List

When I started this blog, I intended to post reviews of all the books I read. That lasted for approximately one book, with a few more reviews scattered over the months. So, to make up for that I thought I'd post a list of all the books I read in 2008, with my recommendations or criticisms included. And even this is late, since I intended to post it while watching football on New Years Day. Oh gets in the way sometimes, but here's what I read in 2008.

1) Isak Dinesen - Out of Africa - Boring
2) William C. Davis - Look Away: A History of the Confederate States of America - I'm not sure the author's analyses were always backed up by the facts, but this was a very educational book.
3) Omar Khayyam - The Rubaiyat - Don't know why this is a classic.
4) E. B. White - Stuart Little
5) Eugene O'Neill - Long Day's Journey Into Night - Repetitive and not very interesting.
6) Edmond Rostand - Cyrano de Bergerac - Silly.
7) Thornton Wilder - Our Town - I don't remember a thing about this book.
8) Cait Murphy - Crazy '08 - Great book, capped by the Cubs (the Cubs!!) winning the World Series. And, it's a true story!!!!!!!!!!!!
9) Theodore Dreiser - An American Tragedy - Very long, but very good.
10) Maureen Ogle - Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer - Informative and fun look at the American beer industry, tilted a bit too heavily, at times, toward Anheuser-Busch.
11) Edward Steers, Jr - Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln - Just the right amount of detail about a story I thought I knew.
12) Bill O'Reilly - Who's Looking Out For You - Typical conservative trash. O'Reilly can do better than this.
13) Kemp P. Battle - Great American Folklore - Much too long.
14) Joel Chandler Harris - Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings - Most disappointing book of the year. I thought I would like this, but it wore thin really fast.
15) Patrick F. McManus - They Shoot Canoes, Don't They? - Not very funny, which for a book of humor is not good.
16) Louis L'Amour - Last of the Breed - Horrible writing, stupid characterizations, awful book.
17) John Koessler - Names of Israel - Surprise book of the year - every section taught some good lessons.
18) Charles Frazier - Cold Mountain - Great story, but with arrogant writing.
19) John S. Carbone - The Civil War In Coastal North Carolina - I don't normally like topical history with such a narrow scope, but this was okay.
20) Jay Winik - April 1865 - Excellent history.
21) Thomas Keneally - American Scoundrel - Disappointing. Good, but disappointing.
22) Shel Silverstein - Where the Sidewalk Ends
23) Fred Saberhagen - The Lost Swords: The First Triad - Typical fantasy, these three books have been on my shelf for about half my lifetime and now I can finally get rid of them.
24) Fred Saberhagen - The Lost Swords: The Second Triad
25) Fred Saberhagen - The Lost Swords: Endgame
26) Booker T. Washington - Up From Slavery - Good stuff and easy to read.
27) Richard Bachman - Blaze - From Stephen King's alter ego, this book was surprisingly great.
28) Alexander Solzhenitsyn - One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Outstanding. I can see why this is a classic.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Walking Soundtrack # 12

1) Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain - Willie Nelson: Willie Nelson wrote a lot of great songs, but he didn't write this one, which was his first #1, and, in my opinion, the best song he's ever sung.
2) Tear Stained Letter - Johnny Cash: Forgettable song.
3) Stages - ZZ Top: My favorite song by ZZ Top, it really gets me fired up, so it is good for walking.
4) Heaven and Hell - John Entwistle: Live recording of one of Entwistle's Who songs. Too bad he never answered these questions for himself.
5) Where the Soul Never Dies - Willie Nelson: Interesting how these last two songs were shuffled together. I'm sure there's some great spiritual analysis to be done, but I'm not up to it.
6) I'm One - The Who with Eddie Vedder: One of the Who's best songs, it sounds like it could have been written for Vedder.
7) Top Jimmy - Van Halen: Great song to get you moving. It cooks and swings, just like Top Jimmy.
8) Death of a Clown - The Kinks: I'm almost afraid to know what this song is about, but it's one of my favorites, so it helps me keep up a good pace when I exercise. Otherwise, it's not exactly a working out kinda song.