Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

It seemed simple in theory. Sitting behind this desk, Googling up directions costs nothing, requires no real effort and, if done at the right time of night, is pretty quiet.

It takes almost no time to say, "We're going to Naples, Florida." No packing required, no seat belts needed.

Driving 2,100 miles, however, is a whole different world. It's a world at 75 mph with frequent stops for the unhealthiest foods and foulest bathrooms. A world populated by tractor trailers, state troopers and creepy rest area attendants.

And it's a loud world.

But it's a world we explored for 10 days and it was (mostly) good.

We stopped first in Greensboro, GA, to visit with my grandparents, eat a delicious steak dinner and sleep in comfort for free. I always enjoy my grandparents' house and their company. We visited a nice park so the kids could run off some pent up energy and then laid around all night sipping wine, playing games and reading.

And listening to stories. I could listen to my grandparents tell stories about growing up all day long.

The very next day we packed up the kids and headed toward the tip of the dangle. It was a long, long drive. This is the first time we've driven to Naples and it was every bit of 10 hours. It felt like we would never make it to Tampa and, once we did, that we'd never make it the final two hours to my mom's house.

We did make it, though, and there was a houseful waiting on us when we arrived. My mom, stepdad, brother, sister and her family were all there to greet the weary travelers.

For the next six days we visited the beaches of Naples, swam in the pool, played endless games of Wii bowling and spent hours talking. It was the perfect way to spend a week. Our first excursion to the Gulf was to visit Vanderbilt Beach, which was much nicer than I remembered. The next time, though, we ventured downtown and found the city pier which extends out from a white sand beach butting up against homes in a quaint tropical neighborhood. We were smitten and visited it again the next day despite the half-hour drive from my mom's house.

We ate seafood and ice cream at Tin City and explored the paradise of Naples a bit.

It was great for my kids to get to visit their grandmother in her own home for the first time. They certainly made themselves at home, taking over her living room, video games and television, and declaring them for their own.

The following Saturday we learned that you can drive all. day. long. in Florida and at the end of that day you'll still be in Florida. It took us another 10 hours to make it to Panama City Beach where SAM had taken an impromptu vacation and met us for the weekend. We stayed in the townhouse of the fabulous Robin's parents (thanks again!), had dinner at Billy's Oyster Bar, swam in the pool, had the perfect Father's Day on the beach with lunch at Schooners.

After a couple of days of that, we loaded up once again for the drive back to Memphis. There was a time in my youth, before kids - long before - when I could make that drive in eight hours. This day it would take 10. A miserable 10 hours.

We made it home. We had a great time, all of us. The kids, hopefully, have memories of beautiful beaches, long days at the pool, visits with grandparents and great-grandparents and quality time with their mom and dad, and not just of the interminable drives.

I look forward to our next trip, whenever and wherever that might be.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Storybook Couple

I have a story in today's Commercial Appeal on Corey and Cheryl Mesler, the owners of Burke's Book Store. This is one of those stories you look forward to telling - how two people met, where they fell in love, the small business they run and raise their family around.

The Meslers were a joy to talk with, an interview that took over two hours because we kept getting sidetracked by books, movies, jazz and other such interests. It was a pleasure to meet them and to tell their story.

You should go in yourself and say hello. And buy a book, making a living at retail is an uphill struggle, trust me. Show the Meslers how much you enjoy their shop by spending a little cash. It doesn't take much.

I was embarrassed to see that I misspelled Harriette Beeson's name. She was the previous owner of Burke's. I have a very vivid memory of doublechecking the spelling of her name as I was writing. I know I did. I ... think I did.

Other than that, I'm very happy with the way the story turned out. And the way the Meslers' story is turning out should make us all happy at this time when marriages and small businesses fall apart on a daily basis.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 4, 1994

I put on the best suit I've ever owned, brushed my teeth and put some sweet-smelling pomade in my hair 15 years ago today to marry this girl.

And even though I had on a new pair of wingtips and a flower in my buttonhole, she still stole the show that day, as she's done every day for 15 years.

Happy anniversary, Kristy. I love you.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

He Knows the Tooth

C lost a tooth tonight. Another tooth. I think that's number 37 or 38 thus far and I'm not sure how that kid even chews any more.

He just came into the office and said, "Make sure the tooth fairy remembers I lost a tooth."

I asked him how I was supposed to get in touch with the tooth fairy and he said, "I know the tooth fairy doesn't exist."

I told him that once the magic of believing goes, then so does the money, and he said, in regards to his naive siblings, "But they still believe and if they ask to see my dollar in the morning then I have to show it to them."

So while the magic of the tooth fairy and of childhood beliefs have gone the way of his eye teeth, it appears that extortion is still vibrant and healthy.

Can I borrow a dollar?

Memphis Parent

I have a story in the June issue of Memphis Parent magazine, on newsstands now.

The June issue focuses on fathers, Father's Day and men's issues. I wrote an informative piece on vasectomies, calling on some friends for personal stories as well as Dr. Eber of the Conrad-Pearson Clinic for an expert's opinion. It's different than the column I wrote about the subject back in February.

I hope it's helpful for anyone considering this method of birth control.

Pick up your copy today!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Two Columns

I stepped out of my comfort zone last week and wrote a column that is not typical for me.

On Monday last week I sent in a piece that had been carefully crafted, impatiently re-crafted, and then tweaked ad nauseum until I, at last, couldn't wait any longer and let go of it.

Wednesday morning I woke up and read the story in the newspaper about county commissioners and local ministers coming together to denounce a certain segment of society's way of life and I sat down and wrote a new column in about 10 minutes.

The writing was quick and passionate and it just felt right. I sent it in to my editor, Peggy B, and asked if I could get that one in the paper instead of the previous column. She liked it but said it would have to be approved by someone higher up because it was controversial. I'm not sure if she had to go to bat for it or not, but it got in and I thank her for jumping through the hoops for me.

I still like the column, still believe in what I said. I got quite a few e-mails and the vast majority of them were agreeing with my sentiments and thanking me for writing it. And I got the e-mails from people questioning me, lecturing me, praying for me and letting me know that they will no longer read my column. And that's all fine, too, I thank them for taking the time to read and write to me.

The next column, I hope, will be funny, there's still plenty to laugh at out there.

I'm not going to run the column from last week that was replaced because it was timely as well and that time has passed. Here it is below as I wrote it:

Downtown Memphis is a living, breathing museum where local pages of history have been turned for the world at large to learn. It’s a place where Memphians and tourists travel to see a ball game, a concert, to eat and drink and celebrate. And for six years my kids traveled there to go to school. Since the day it opened, we’ve had our children at Downtown Elementary, beginning with Calvin in kindergarten.

They learned some of that local history with field trips to the Rock-n-Soul Museum, Mud Island, Beale Street, the Orpheum and the Fire Museum. Walking to these destinations from school gave them the opportunity to become a part of the pulse of downtown, and the city, and absorb the good and bad, the neglected and reborn. The landscape became a nursery for the first seeds of civic pride to be planted.

On Madison Ave., in the shadow of the Sterick Building and a mere pop fly from AutoZone Park, our kids have learned multiplication, history, science, piano and, probably, a little bit of panhandling. But this past school year was their last year at Downtown Elementary.

Due to our move to a new neighborhood, one with well-respected schools of its own, we have elected to move the kids and say goodbye to the teachers and staff that we’ve come to think of as family.

Who other than family would you entrust your children to every day for so many years? The staff there have been as approachable and available as any sibling or cousin. So it was with a bittersweet start to the summer that my wife, Kristy, and I went to Downtown Elementary on the final day of school last Friday to say goodbye.

We didn’t get much past the front office and the principal, Mrs. Wunderlich, before the emotions poured out. This emotion continued as we made our way to Mrs. Porter, the kindergarten teacher who has taught each child we’ve sent to that school. She started them on the journey of education in such a way that they have all become good students, eager to learn.

We’ve been asked by other parents over the years what we think of Downtown Elementary and whether we’d recommend it. Even with three kids there, they’d ask if we like it. And we did, we loved it and the kids loved it and that makes it very difficult to leave. Our kids will be at Richland Elementary and White Station Middle next year where we expect them to excel due to the seeds planted Downtown in previous years.

Memphis City Schools gets a bad rap. Some of it is deserved, much of it is not, especially at the most basic, most important, level: the teacher/student relationship. The schools in this city are full of caring, competent and imaginative teachers who unfairly get lumped in with the pencil pushers and cell phone abusers at the administrative level.

With the economy tightening, more and more parents of children in private schools are looking for other options to paying tuition when the best option may be right there in their neighborhood. We made a decision to put our children in the city school system, we chose Downtown Elementary, and we couldn’t have been happier.