Thursday, May 29, 2008

GK Critic

I took the opportunity, with the running of my fourth column, to interrupt 2-year-old GK's morning espresso and newspaper to ask what she thinks of it.

Me: Well?
GK (from behind the newspaper): What?
Me: What do you think?
GK: I think you people better figure out this mortgage situation before I get ready to sell my starter home.
Me: Not that, sweetie. My column. What do you think about it?
GK (folding paper down): Column?
Me: There, on the cover of the 'M' section. It's called "Because I Said So."
GK: Look at that, aren't you adorable with your little picture?
Me: It's the fourth one I've done. What do you think so far?
GK: Oh. Here, let me skim it.
Here she very quickly reads the column
GK: Your ... spelling is topnotch. Good use of punctuation, too.
Me: Thank you.
GK: How did this come about? Did you win a contest? Do they have Amateur Day over there?
Me: Well, some people called "editors" decided they wanted this column done and, I guess, some of them were familiar with my blog, so ...
GK: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back up there, Winchell. Familiar with your what?
Me: My blog.
GK: The hell is a blog?
Me: A web log. It's a website that makes it simple for the user to add content ...
GK: Look, let me explain something to you. I'm two. I'm trying to learn this insane language and it doesn't help when you people just make up new words to amuse yourselves and your internet friends.
She picks up and continues reading the Business section
GK: So what is this web log of yours called?
Me: Urf!.
GK: (audible sigh)
Me: What? It's something S used to say when she was about your age!
GK: I just saw S trying to eat a popsicle stick-end first.
Me: Yeah, she kind of worries me.
GK: You all worry me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Le Petit Tour

My most memorable bicycle rides:

  • As a boy, my mom and her cousin, Joe Jr., rode bikes with my sister and me on the backs of their bikes in the rickety, metal-and-foam child seats of the day, to Aunt Jeannie's house. That was a trip from Central Ave. and Tanglewood to Stonewall, just north of North Parkway. It felt like we traveled across the city; it was four miles.
  • Uncle Johnny and I once rode from our old house on Newhaven to our new house just behind Kirby High School when I was about 14. Now, this was a pretty long haul, about eight miles or so. It was thrilling to bike so far.
  • My friend Jim and I, well into our 20s, once planned to ride from his house in Midtown to Downtown. We thought this ride would take most of the day and planned for such. It took us about 20 minutes.

Yesterday, C and I rode bikes from the Castilo to Elizabeth's house, which is about two miles. It was nothing for me; I knew the distance beforehand, I knew the course we'd take and about how long it would take. But it must have felt to C like we rode across the city.

It was his longest ride to date and he handled it famously. He turned where I told him, he stopped when instructed and changed gears as advised. When we arrived at our destination, he was red-faced hot, but seemed pretty proud of himself.

The bicycle, at his age, is a means to escape. It's his freedom. When he needs some space from his siblings, the confines of the home and even his parents, I want him to know he can jump on his bike and go. And I want him to know how to do that safely.

He will have many more treks, but hopefully he'll remember this one. And, hopefully, I'll be a part of some of his others.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can I Get a Ride?

I like the Jon & Kate Plus 8 show on TLC because it's fun to watch people with more kids than us to see how they handle all that, and because I kind of have a thing for Kate, but mostly because I get excited when they show their van.

I don't know what kind of van it is, but there appears to be room enough to move their family of 10 around comfortably. Easy in and easy out, plenty of headroom. It's a dream.

I went on the Dodge website and built my own 2008 Dodge Sprinter 2500 passenger van, which looks like Jon & Kate's anyway. This beauty is 170-inches long with an extra-high roof, and seats 10 comfortably. It has a 5-speed automatic transmission, 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engine, automatic sliding right door and towing hitch for my eventual sailboat. And I chose hibiscus red with gray interior.

Total cost: $48,290.

To that end, I've bitten the bullet, sold out just a bit, and added some Google AdSense onto this blog. Not a lot, I don't like sites that are overrun with advertising. It's somewhat integrated over there on the right and down a bit. Doesn't cost you a thing to click, but it adds up for me the more you click on it. In fact, in the past seven days, I've taken in a total of $4.24, so I'm well on my way.

Soon enough, I'm confident, I'll be tooling around town in this behemoth. Or, maybe, I'll just be sitting in it out in my driveway, a quiet place to escape from the cacophony in our house.

A Visitor

Knock. Knock.

My kids didn’t even know who he was.

“He looked like the mailman,” JP said.

It was my uncle Johnny, I’d know his voice anywhere. I hadn’t heard it for far too long, yet here he was, in Memphis and on my front porch. There was a time when we talked every other day, at least. Movies, books, sports, jokes -we discussed everything. But then something happened, and it happened on my end of the phone line, on my end of the In-Box.

I’m not sure if I’ve become too busy or if I just think I’m too busy. At some point, though, excuses became easier than actually blocking out 15 minutes of my day to call and say hello, and that’s wrong.

If we can’t take time out of our days to get in touch with those we know and love, then why are we doing what we do? Why work six days a week if on that seventh you can’t take a few minutes to say hello and ask someone what they’ve been up to? There is no point.

My family scattered from Memphis years ago, but I’ve always managed to stay in touch, until this last year, and I have no explanation for that. But I can, and will, correct it.

The Quartet needs to get to know their extended passel of kin. They need to know when a stranger comes to the door, whether that stranger is family or foe.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

You Know Who I Am

I've never been able to get a finger hold in this ephemeral notion of fame. Never tasted the sweet nectar of celebrity.

Until now.

For two years I've written this blog with some degree of anonymity. Sure, it wouldn't take Scotland Yard to find out who I am, but I didn't see the need to put myself out there. My name couldn't be found here, no full-face photos of me, no kids' names. But that all changed about a month ago when I started writing the small, bi-weekly column for The Commercial Appeal, "Because I Said So."

Now I'm out there. I'm out of my safe, dark closet and in the 40-watt glare of stardom. My name is Richard Alley. I have a blog.

My fame, however, is not limitless. I've been approached about the column by regulars to my shop and my kids seem to enjoy the smug, goofy grin in the paper every couple of weeks when I force them to acknowledge it.

So, essentially, I'm now recognized more in my home and for about two blocks downtown. It's a start.

I still wait on line, unable to gain entry past the velvet ropes that other local columnists, like Tim Sampson and Wendi Thomas, no doubt glide past. But I did get a personal invitation to Mr. Chuck's birthday party from Bard Cole of WKNO. It was a very nice gesture, though I, unfortunately, couldn't make it. Kristy and The Quartet went in my stead and had a lovely time.

Incidentally, I was looking forward to going because in his E-mail, Mr. Cole told me that Clifford, The Big Red Dog and Raggs would be there, and then was kind enough to explain parenthetically that these would be "people in cartoon character suits," which is good because real, giant red dogs scare hell out of me.

Then there was the old-timer who called me at work after my first column ran to let me know that my definition of a "baby boomer" - the collective name given to all those kids born at the same time because they made so much noise - was wrong. He asked that I correct it in a future column. Consider this the correction. And thanks, Patton, for making that call.

I still write for fun and to keep you all informed of what's going on with us. And, although being famous for writing a blog is like being known as the first to scale the shortest mountain alone, the money makes it so much more fun.

So if you see me in public then please say hello and I'll try to acknowledge you on the way to the VIP room at Schnuck's, the post office or Cafe Eclectic, or wherever it is the extremely high-profile people of my ilk hang out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


You remember that Marx Brothers picture where Chico plays the piano?

Doesn't matter which movie, they were all like that. At some point Chico would come across a piano and sit down to pound out a raucous tune, sometimes utilizing a prop, like an orange, and often using only his index finger to target a specific note.

Well, JP's piano playing is nothing at all like that. Last night at the recital, he fell fourth in line to play a song. That song was "What Can We Do?" He took the stage, bowed, played his song for about 15 seconds, his anemic fingers doing all they could to push the ivories down, stood for another bow and left the stage. It was all very quick, very professional and very good.

He's proud of himself as he has every right to be. He got a trophy for his work on the piano all year and he walked out of the building saying, "It's my first trophy!"

I have no doubt there will be many, many more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Piano Keys

Herbie Hancock performed on piano with the Chicago symphony at age 11, Buddy Rich began playing drums at 18-months and was a bandleader by age 11, Harry Connick Jr. recorded with a local jazz band at age 10 and Stevie Wonder signed with Motown at 11.

Six-year-old JP has a piano recital tonight at school. I don't think I'm ready for this; he says he is. I've asked him a dozen times if he's ready to play the piano in front of people and he assures me he's all set. But I'm not sure I'm prepared to watch my little boy trying to do his best in front of a crowd.

Truth is, I have no idea if he can play. He's been taking lessons this school year, but I don't even know if he can perform a whole song or not. He plays at home sometimes, but it's on an out-of-tune instrument I inherited from my grandmother. I don't know if it's him that sounds awful or the piano itself.

Last night, though, I was sitting outside with a cocktail after coming home from work and Kristy came out to tell me that JP was inside composing music. I went in to find him sitting at the piano, which was closed up, and writing notes on a piece of paper.

I watched him as he began furiously erasing a line of letters with his nub of a pencil and sliver of eraser. I know squat about the making of music, so the only thing I could offer him was a decent, well-sharpened pencil.

I asked why he was erasing those notes. "They'll be better on the right side," he said.

"Playing it with your right hand?"

"Yeah, it'll sound better."

He never did play it. Whatever he had going on was in his own little head. Hopefully it was good. And, hopefully, he'll do well tonight and the mistakes he'll make and embarrassment he'll feel are only in my head.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Doctor is In

I was exhausted yesterday. I have no idea why, but I had to take a minute in the middle of the day to rest my eyes and then I was asleep earlier than normal last night.

But before I fell asleep, I was lying in bed reading a book and GK was crawling all over me like a spider monkey. I said to her, "Where is my thyroid?" (My family has half the functioning thyroids they were born with). She pointed immediately to my elbow.

"Is there anything wrong with it?" I said.

Without missing a beat, she answered, "Yes."

Now, she's not a doctor. In fact, she's only just begun studying for her MCATs. But I have a bit of the hypochondria and so when she answered so quickly and so confidently that yes, in fact, the thyroid in my elbow is deficient, I panicked a bit. I'll admit that.

GK is one smart, well-read two-year-old. And it is true that I'm feeling somewhat rundown and there is a history of hypo- and hyper-thyroidism in the genes.

And now that I think about it, my elbow does hurt a bit.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

One of my favorite family photographs is a little square one taken back in the mid-1970s. In the picture, a young, long-haired mom sits at a kitchen table, flanked by her two children who lean in to the center, smiling.

The woman is beautiful and the kids, a son and daughter, are obviously happy.

She went on to have three more children. She grew stronger and wiser, just as those kids did. She set in motion who these five people would become, she helped make me who I am, the husband and parent I'm trying to be.

Thank you, Mom, for all you've done and all you continue to do. And Happy Mother's Day to all of the strong and beautiful women who are a part of my life, from the farthest tip of Florida, to Georgia, all the way up to Naperville, Ill., and back to Memphis, where I'm surrounded by a family and love bigger than I ever could have imagined.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

She Was Running

I went running with GK the other night. Well, I was running; she sat her lazy, diapered butt in the stroller, demanding I push.

I've never really done this before and it was a great workout. GK enjoyed it, too, just sitting there pointing at neighborhood cats and squirrels and the blooming flowers in all the yards, and talking away the whole time about what she saw.

At least, I guess that's what she was talking about. I had the iPod in my ears so I couldn't hear her at all.

It was a great bonding moment for father and daughter, though. I got a good cardiovascular workout and she got to ... do nothing, really. Just sit. Lazy.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Prime Time Dreams

On the way to school this morning, C told me he had a dream last night that white people were being enslaved. Kenneth, from 30 Rock was in it.

In the dream, C asked around and found that the only place where white people weren't being forced to be slaves was Detroit. So he asked Homer Simpson to take him there.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Because I Said So

Two weeks ago I had a column in The Commercial Appeal. The powers-that-be either didn't read that column closely, or yesterday was just an extraordinarily slow news day, because they put another one in there today!

Read the latest Because I Said So right here.