Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Heads Up!

We hear about the dangers in school every day on the news. There are gangs and kids with guns. There are bullies, both real and virtual. There was recently some tainted meat.

I learned today of another hazard. I got a call from Downtown Elementary this afternoon telling me that that S, who was on a field trip with her school (as was every other school in the city, it seemed) at a Memphis Redbirds baseball game, had been struck by a foul ball. A zinger right down the first base line.

"Can you go up there and see her?" I was asked.

Can I go see her? I've got to see this, I thought. I mean, S's head isn't much bigger than a baseball.

When I got there, her teacher, Mrs. Porter, and the school's principal, Mrs. Wunderlich, were both with her in the first aid office. I'm grateful to both of them for taking care of her and staying with her until I could get there.

She's fine, just a big knot on her melon. The good people of the first aid station gave her a Rockey the Redbird stuffed animal and she got to keep the ball.

Of all the dangers in schools these days, I never saw the lead-off batter in the bottom of the 8th coming. And, apparently, neither did S.

[Final score: Memphis 5, Salt Lake 10]

Say 5:45 One More Time!


Yes, I know.

Yes, C, I know.

You told me that.

I. Know.

These are the various ways, in increasingly agitated tones, that I responded to C letting me know, numerous times for the last couple of weeks, that he had to be at school at 5:45 this morning for a field trip to ... Arkansas? Not sure where, really, but possibly the dog track.

However, at 5:30 this morning, after having slept through the alarm for 15 minutes, I was a bit more whispery-loud, and urgent, asking Kristy to wake up and help get C's lunch together and wake him up.


But I got him there on time to meet the bus that will take him to wherever it is he's going, and we all learned that it is very irritating when your kid repeats himself 50 times, but it is necessary. And may not be enough.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Quartet's Aunt at Material

Look what my sister has done for our entertainment this Friday night!


Material is pleased to present its fifth exhibition of 2008: Elizabeth Alley: Class of ’88. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Friday, May 2 from 6-8 pm.

The exhibition will run from May 2 through May 31st.

Elizabeth Alley has shown her work regularly in the region since receiving her BFA from the University of Memphis in 1998. She has shown at a number of the area’s art spaces including Delta Axis at Marshall Arts, Lantana Projects, Memphis College of Art’s On the Street here in Memphis as well as the Renaissance Center in Dickson, Tennessee, the Nashville Airport, and the Southside Gallery in Oxford, Mississippi. She is represented locally by Perry Nicole Fine Art Gallery. She lives and works here in Memphis.

About the show the artist writes:

“In 1988 my big brother and all of his friends graduated from high school. I was simultaneously in awe of their milestone and bummed that all of the cool people were gone, leaving the school feeling leaderless.

“This series of acrylic paintings on paper takes a look back at the Class of ’88, though, which school isn’t important. The images show a true slice of life of the American teenager in 1988. It is a time that could never be duplicated. The images look like our memories – faded, and with a few details missing.”

Additional information and images of the artist’s work can be found at her website:

Material is located at 2553 Broad Avenue. Parking is available on both the north and south sides of Broad Avenue.

Monday, April 28, 2008

C in Charge

Who do I think I am? What am I doing here? As it turns out, I don’t know the first thing about being a parent, so it’s time to hand these kids over to the only person – other than their mother, mind you – who is qualified.

C, they’re all yours.

It’s already been documented just how helpful, at 10-years-old, he can be when his parents are out all night at a rock-n-roll show.

Last Friday night we had friends over for our weekly Cocktail Hour. We were all sitting outside and at some point GK required a Band-Aid. She … fell down, or something. I don’t know. Anyway, C went inside and came back with the bandage and a tube of Neosporin. As Kristy was quick to point out to him, “Daddy wouldn’t even know where the Neosporin was.” And she’s right!

Then, this morning, I put the kids in the car, had to reposition the car seats after yesterday’s Sam’s Club run, and then dart back in the house for something. Halfway downtown, C informed me that GK wasn’t buckled into her seat [this is the first Big Mama has heard of this]. I had JP buckle her in as I slowed to 20 mph or so.

What good am I as a parent? I can reach the upper kitchen cabinets and I hold a valid Tennessee driver’s license. Outside of those assets, my 10-year-old can handle whatever may come up. It’s humbling to know that 10 years of fatherhood can be replaced by a stepladder and $1.25 in bus fare.

Fed Up

I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown Memphis in 1970. In my lifetime, I’ve lived in Midtown, East and Southeast Memphis, and for most of that time I listened as my father put this city down day in and day out. It was with this attitude that I grew up, not even knowing what other cities might have to offer over ours, just as he didn’t.

Kristy and I had the opportunity to move away for a bit just after we were married 14 years ago, and when we moved back it was with a new outlook. My time away made me realize what I liked and missed about Memphis. I was positive, forward-looking and ready to begin the next phase of our life. We had a son, bought a house and a business, and were willing to show our kids the good side of their hometown.

But I’m finished with all of that now.

The Quartet has seen the river and they’ve heard the blues. I’ve driven them down Belvedere in the spring and then again in the fall. We’ve been to the zoo and Soulsville and eaten barbecue until our bellies hurt. I can point out where I lived as a child or went to elementary school. I can tell them of their history here, about International Harvester where their great-grandfather worked for so long, or the butcher shop on Main St. owned by their great-great-grandfather in the 1940s and ‘50s.

But what I can’t tell them about is how, just over a year ago, a man walked into our good friend’s shop, threatened her with a gun, and took her money. Or how only eight months later a man walked into that same shop in Cooper-Young and forced her partner to the register, with her baby in her arms, for all of their money. Just two months ago that store was broken into, the door kicked in and the front counter ransacked.

I certainly can’t tell The Quartet that last month a man met their uncle on his front porch with a gun to take his wallet and watch, and that my sister was there to see it all happen. I’ve even tried to hide from them the five times my own store has been burglarized over the last nine years.

It’s all just too much. This city has broken my heart.

We’ve chosen the Midtown-area of Memphis to live because of its sense of community. But increasingly the only sense of community is felt when the college basketball team advances in the NCAA Tournament, and on garbage collection day when neighbors wave to each other at the curb while performing their civic duty.

What can we do? How can we save a city that, it seems, has nothing to count among its assets other than a good pulled pork sandwich, a handful of dead recording artists and the home base of an international shipping company which can’t be that great a company to work for after all if they force their upper echelon of executives to relocate and raise their families in this shithole.

We can vote. You can vote for the mayor, city council or school board member who you think can turn all of this around. And your vote will be counted along with all the other poor, uneducated voters who continue to elect legislators willing to sell their city, and its people, for a few thousand dollars; a mayor who has lost all focus and, apparently, any grip on reality; and a city council and school board that can’t see their civic responsibility past their own egos.

But first, I think, you have to decide that this city is worth saving. And I did. For a long time, I did. But I’m not sure how much longer I can go on wondering when – not if – another friend or loved one, or one of my very own children, will become a victim.

Kristy gets off work every day, picks up the kids and takes them home. If my phone rings at any point after that, my heart stops a little bit with fear. And I don’t believe that fear is at all unfounded.

There are no definite plans in place for how I, or my family, will deal with all of this. There is a lot of talk going on, a lot of best-case scenarios being bandied about. I’ll let you know whatever decisions are made right here when the time is nigh.

Until then, though, we’ll continue to peek out the door before leaving the house, we’ll stay aware of our surroundings before exiting the car and we’ll try to assure The Quartet that there are friendly and safe(r) places out there.

Friday, April 25, 2008


On the way to school the other morning, C told me that each student in his class is supposed to pick an animal and then come up with a PowerPoint presentation for that animal. I'm not sure if they're trying to sell these animals or market them, or what a PowerPoint even is, really. In fact, I just had to ask my sister how to write PowerPoint (Powerpoint? Power Point?).

I work alone, for myself, and therefore have no one I have to convince of anything other than customers, and I don't presume that they have the kind of time required to sit and look at a PowerPoint, whatever that is.

Maybe I should have my customers come in and watch a PowerPoint of different animals. Or maybe I should have a bunch of third-graders head up my marketing department. Couldn't hurt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Bedlam of Declan

What? I'm sorry, What?!

The Elvis Costello show was very loud last night. Very good, but so very loud. I can't hear anything over the ringing in my ears, which I must say is a nice change from the complaining of The Quartet that is usually in my ears.

Can I just take a moment to ask you people a favor? I don't go to many concerts, but when I do go, can I ask that you not spend the whole show with your phone or your tiny little camera held over your head to take a picture of what's going on on stage? Enjoy the concert in the moment, watch it life-size and not through the view finder on your Canon.

I was surprised to find last night that I knew about half of the songs Costello played. I own over 20 of his albums, many with their bonus discs of extended and obscure tracks. It was nice to hear stuff I didn't know by heart already. The songs he left out surprised me; no "Allison," no "Pump it Up," no "Just About Glad." But he did a version of "Everyday I Write the Book" that just about knocked me over.

At the end of the show, for one of the encores, he brought out ... The Allman Brothers, I think it was. Three young, long-haired dudes, featuring Catch Me If You Can-French prison scene-Leonardo DiCaprio on guitar, came out to play with him. It was loud. Yet it was fun to watch because you could tell that Costello was thinking, "Pay attention boys, this is how you get to do this for 30 years."

For a very final encore, Elvis Costello and The Impostors, featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd, featuring Appetite for Destruction era-Axl Rose on guitar, came back out for a rousing version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," but not before the sound man apparently turned everything up except the lead vocals and then went home.

There's so much more to tell, but I have to go because GK may be crying in the other room. Maybe. I can't really hear so well.

[A very special Thank You to Aunt Elizabeth who watched The Quartet for us so we could go out last night.]

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sometimes I Wish That I Could Stop You From Talking

Big Mama and I are going out tonight to see Elvis Costello at the New Daisy. I can't even remember the last concert I went to. Do they start at 6:00 now, so I can get home and to sleep at a decent hour?

I asked The Quartet this morning what their favorite Costello song is and they said they don't know any of the song names. They're a bunch of liars. C asked if he sings "Muhammad Ali" and I said no. He asked if he sings "The Prettiest Waitress" and I said no. That boy breaks my heart.

So they asked me to play a CD on the way to school this morning, which I did because nobody ever asks me to play Elvis Costello. I put in My Aim Is True and we rocked out, as much as you can in a 17-year-old Volvo station wagon, anyway.

I'm looking forward to a night away from the kids and their lying ways, when I'll rock out with friends on Beale Street. As much as a 37-year-old can, anyway.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I walked out in the front yard yesterday, just in front of where the van was parked, and found JP standing in the driveway, shirtless, shorts down and peeing one of the most impressive arcs I've ever seen while grinning ear to ear.

He was clearly pleased with what he'd accomplished.

I should've stopped him, lectured him on the appropriateness of outdoor urination. But it really was quite impressive.

And, truth is, I was a little jealous. Not of the arc, mind you, I could have peed over him and the van. I was envious of the opportunity, and of the naivete that the front yard might not be the best place to relieve himself.

So I let him finish, which he did in due time, and when he looked over and caught me nearby, instead of a lecture, all I gave him was a thumbs up.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Four is the New Seven

If you've ever wanted to have your thumbs and fingers ink-smudged while reading something I've written about The Quartet, then you should pick up a copy of today's The Commercial Appeal and read my debut with the column "Because I Said So."

The buzz around The Castilo this morning:

Big Mama: Go steal a neighbor's paper so we can see it! (I did not do this.)

S (upon seeing my mug in the column): Who is that?!

JP: It's good they spelled our last name right.

C (after reading): It's good.

GK: That Daddy! That Daddy!

You can see for yourself HERE.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Common Sense and Laserbeams

I don't have a high horse when it comes to the environment, I leave that to the professionals. I just don't believe that humans could ever destroy Mother Nature, she's too tough a broad to succumb to the likes of a flock of animals who count opposable thumbs as their super power. And if we could, I don't believe that plastic bags from the grocery store is how we would kill her. I would hope that we'd be more creative than that, like maybe develop a mad scientist-type laser beam hidden deep in an island fortress somewhere. All the evil humans there would wear coverall uniforms in drab gray, or something, except the evil women who would wear something shorter and more colorful. Some of the drones may need to have their opposable thumbs removed to keep them in line.

But I digress.

I recently purchased some of the re-usable grocery bags from Kroger simply because they hold more and are easier to carry. I stopped by the Kroger at Cleveland and Poplar this morning to get some goods for work and took those bags in. At checkout, I stood there watching as, first, the sacker put the blue bags into a plastic bag. I explained to him that I'd already bought them and that the groceries speeding down the belt at him should be put into those re-usable bags. Please. I always say please, it's how I was raised. I then stood and watched as he and a supervisor put the groceries into plastic bags and then put those bags into the blue re-usable bags.

I should have explained it to them, and maybe the girl checking me out. And possibly to anyone I could gather around for an audience. But I spend my days and nights attempting to instill common sense into my four children and I just don't have the energy to try to persuade adults to think before they act. If it were a matter of life and death, then of course I would have made my wishes clear, but as I've said already, I just don't think it is.

We're trying to raise The Quartet to be productive and intelligent members of society. I try to make them see that all of their actions have consequences and that they should always think and consider the outcome before they act or speak. I'm trying to get them to think hard about that laser, about what island chain we should hide it in, about whether or not I'll be high up in the chain of command and, hopefully, get to keep my thumbs. Please?

Friday, April 11, 2008


Back in the very late 1980s, very early '90s, I went to Memphis State University for a minute. One of my favorite courses that I took was a logic class. Elementary Logic, I believe it was called. It was soothing to me, like sinking back into a comfortable chair, to see how these letters and symbols fit together to form the foundation of all the more complex decisions we make every day in this insane society. The basic theory that A=B, B=C, therefore A=C sounded like Sinatra to me at that time.

S needed money today for a field trip at school. Among the three older kids, there is a field trip about once a week, all requiring $5 or $10 or $4 or, once, $40. I'm still not sure about that one, but soon after C was seen wearing some new sneakers. Today the fee was $9, which I put on top of her homework folder last night, and then at some point she came up to me at my desk to get an envelope for Kristy to put that money safely into.

On the way to school this morning, I asked S if she'd gotten her money for the field trip, which is to the zoo, by the way. "No," she said.

"Did your mother put the money in an envelope last night?" I asked.


"What happened to that envelope?"

"She put it in my folder."

"Do you have the folder?"


"Hey, S, do you have the money for your field trip?"


Money = Envelope
Envelope = Folder
Therefore, Money = Folder

She had failed to grasp the simplest tenet of logic. Not only failed to understand, but was actually stymied by it all when I tried to explain it to her. Maybe her tiny 5-year-old brain hasn't fully developed enough, or perhaps it was just too early in the morning for Dad's smart-ass point-making. Or, maybe, I expect too much from my kids, for them to see that A=C, when they can't even grasp that Daddy is always right, the simplest axiom in our family.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Because They Said So

For those of you who rushed out this morning and bought a The Commercial Appeal, or woke up while it was still dark out to get on your computer, glowing screen bathing your matted, bed-head hair, to read my column Because I Said So ... sorry. It got pushed back to next Thursday because they ran a giant piece on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today.

Please tune in next week, but until then, go back and read Stacey Greenberg's excellent column under the same title from last week.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Fanatical Four

The Quartet was as excited as everyone else in the city about the University of Memphis Tigers’ shot at the national championship last night. JP even made a diorama for the night, an image of a tiger dunking a basketball inside a little box. He whooped and cheered for the Tigers until they fell behind and he became discouraged, lying on the couch and burying his face in the pillows, eventually drifting into sleep. All before halftime.

It was a scene played out across the country yesterday, though possibly without the narcolepsy, but it was especially unusual for us because we don’t have a sports-minded household. Oh, sure, there are sports moments; there was the run through the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four for our hometown boys, and just last week I took The Quartet to Uncle Toby's house to witness Liverpool FC beat down Everton FC in the Merseyside Derby. And, like most households, we follow Le Tour de France every year and the World Cup every four.

But we don't follow the week-to-week progression of the NFL or the day-to-day baseball scores and stats. This is mainly because I don't have time what with working six days a week. And Kristy loathes sports. We don’t follow NASCAR because it’s a bunch of cars driving around an oval and I fall asleep and there’s yard work to do. Yet professional sports (and I lump college sports in with this, but that's a discussion for another time) have a place in our society and in growing up American.

Are my kids growing up with the full American childhood experience? With summer days on the ball field and Sunday afternoons cheering their favorite team? My son made a diorama for a college basketball game, for the love of all that is holy. Should I correct this? Probably. They should know that in this house we’re loyal to the Cubs. They should be encouraged, I suppose, to root for the hometown Grizzlies until that team moves and I have to explain money and television revenue sharing and what professional sports is really all about. They should realize, if they don’t already, that what those young men did last night in San Antonio was more than play a basketball game that would realize big money for the two universities and help to propel some of those athletes into the big leagues. They should know that that team, and that game, brought a city together, a city that is torn apart every day by the people running it, by the lowlifes on the street and by the news media. And they need to know that, at its core, it’s just a game. None of it, from the most casual soccer match in any third world country, to the most prestigious win of Tiger Woods’s career, none of it really matters in the end.

It’s all diversion, and that if you want to paint your face blue, then go ahead. If you want to dress your kids in team colors for the weekend, then by all means do so. And if you want to make yourself a diorama, well, that’d be just fine, too.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Downtown Elementary lost power yesterday morning so I got a call that the kids needed to be picked up, that they were closing early. Again. These kids have gotten out of school early for rain and for loss of electricity. When I was a kid we were lucky if school closed for snow.

On the walk back to my shop, C told us he had gotten his letter from his pen pal in Turkey. His class recently began a program of writing letters to strangers. "He doesn't speak English so good, but I don't blame him because he's on the other side of the world." Ahhh, the cultural tolerance. I told him, "Mmm, turkey."

Friday, April 04, 2008

Happy Morning

Anyone who is a parent remembers that moment when their child or their children came into this world. I mean that very instant when their baby sprung forth, unleashing that wonderful scream and a torrent of emotion. Many of you probably cried; I know I did.

I'm finding that it's not the same emotion when your baby wakes up earlier than expected in the mornings and springs forth from her room, all snot-encrusted, wild haired, and spewing forth anger and ear-splitting, "Mommy!s." Unlike birth, I just wish I could put her back in; I don't want to see you or hear you until you're ready to be seen and heard. And if that's nine months from now, then so be it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Trash Collecting

S always brings her empty Zip-Loc lunch bags home from school. In camping parlance, she packs out what she packed in. We’ve never camped. I know that some people will want to believe that S is interested in recycling. That she’d like to see these plastic baggies re-used again and again, never adding to the non-biodegradable detritus clogging up Mother Nature’s arteries.

S does not care.

She puts those empty bags back in her lunchbox because 1) she doesn’t want to walk to the garbage can at school, and 2) she’s afraid the universe may come to a screeching halt and we will run out of garbage at home.

We will not.

I throw these empty Zip-Locs in the garbage because the idea of putting a new meat sandwich into what once held an older meat sandwich makes me want to throw up. The question is what to do with all the garbage? Or rather, with the recyclables. Such a nice word, recyclable. It’s not trash, it’s recyclable. And we do recycle, we have a curbside bin provided by the city and I fill it up every week. The problem is that there is still trash, er, recyclables, to be put in there because The Quartet ingests copious amounts of milk, gingerale and Chef Boyardee. So the left-over trash – I’ve just now decided to call it what it is, trash – piles up. In my home.

I know we can call the city and request an extra curbside bin. We had two at one time, but the extra … disappeared. It was recycled, I imagine. I hope. I have to believe that at some point the trash collector assumes that two bins is a mistake, and an egregious paperwork error has occurred somewhere in the chain of command, and liberates one of them. And I’m left, again, with a pile of trash in my house.

Kristy and I disagree on immediate solutions. She says we should take our neighbor’s bin since he just moved out of town and the house is vacant; let recycling logistics be the home buyer’s dilemma. I say fill up the recycle bin with the appropriate garbage and dump the rest in the big, green can.

We are at an impasse. But, I’m the one taking the garbage out.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


From 1945 until 1970, my grandfather, Cal Alley, was editorial cartoonist for The Commercial Appeal here in Memphis. In addition to his editorial duties, he wrote and illustrated a nationally syndicated comic strip called "The Ryatts." The Ryatts was a strip celebrating the day-to-day life of a family with five children, gleaned from Cal's own family life. I like to think that Urf! is my own little Ryatts, though I don't claim to have a quarter of my grandfather's talent.

What I do have now is my own space in The Commercial Appeal to highlight my family. I, along with the multi-talented Stacey Greenberg, will be penning a column about our adventures as parents called "Because I Said So." It is to run every Thursday on the cover of the M section and, apparenlty, the day before on the internet. Stacey's can be found here; mine will appear next week.

What can you hope to learn from Because I Said So that you haven't from this blog? Well, you'll find out who I really am, you'll learn the actual names of The Quartet and, together, we'll find out whether or not you can use the term "public flatulence" in a daily newspaper with circulation over 100,000. Please read.

Changing Channels

Dinnertime at the Castilo has matured somewhat. I'm afraid to say that for years we have been one those typical American families that would eat in front of the television, if not all of us, then at least most of us. Recently, however, in my infinite wisdom and out of true paternal devotion, I've put an end to that and we've been eating around the massive dining table that Big Mama bought for me several Father's Days ago.

And it's been fun. Mostly. The kids look forward to the dinner hour when we will all sit together to eat and talk. But like so many other things, they've taken it to its most irritating extreme. They talk and talk and talk, and touch, and stand and sit and stand and sit and stand and sit. They need more milk. Now. JP won't leave C alone, and S only wants to eat three or four more bites. C is still telling us how his day was.

Perhaps this is how supper has always been, though drowned out by The Simpsons or 60 Minutes. Or maybe The Quartet was so mesmerized by the predicament Earl had gotten himself into this week that they'd forgotten to pick at each other. Whatever it was, I think I might want it back. It was quieter, less kinetic, and all happened an appreciable distance away from me. Kristy and I could sit at the table, if we chose, to talk quietly, read a magazine or book, or work the day's crossword.

The silence wasn't total, but the interruptions seemed fewer. Messes were still made, but they were out of sight.

This could be seen as parental regression, I know, taking the kids from the family table and putting them back in front of the TV. It's the lazy way out, sure. But who knew that without the inane chatter and hyperactive jump cuts of dinnertime television, that these kids would simply create their own?