Thursday, December 9, 2010

False Pride

It’s amazing what the University of Kentucky and its fans take pride in these days.

First, it was NBA draft day, which UK Head Coach John Calipari called, “the biggest day in Kentucky basketball history.” I guess draft day is better than the NCAA tournament because it doesn’t have to be vacated.

Then, this week, Kentucky recorded an even greater achievement when it played on a blue basketball court in Freedom Hall. No less than UK mouthpiece Jimmy Dykes declared it another monumental moment in Wildcat history.

If you believe the story, the Kentucky State Fair Board took it upon itself to spend more than $10,000 in taxpayer dollars to refurbish the former University of Louisville basketball floor in Wildcat logos and colors. Kentucky fans were downright giddy, despite the fact that their archrival doesn’t even play there anymore.

To me, playing in Freedom Hall is a lot like getting a nice pair of hand-me-down pants. They look and feel great, but you still got them only because someone else doesn’t want them anymore.

But what do I know? Instead of being at 54-year-old Freedom Hall on Wednesday, I was at one of the nation’s newest and nicest arenas where the fans concern themselves with such insignificant things as winning basketball games.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

No Place Like Downtown

Ed Manassah was right.

Manassah, the former publisher of Kentucky’s largest newspaper, The Courier-Journal, served as visionary and head cheerleader for building the University of Louisville’s basketball arena downtown instead of alternative sites near the Louisville Water Company or at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. For having this vision, Manassah was criticized more than a bad basketball team. When Manassah’s newspaper crusaded for the downtown site, people accused him of sacrificing his journalistic integrity. Others suggested there must be some kind of nefarious hidden agenda at work.

Manassah was undeterred by those criticisms as well as concerns about cost and parking. He said a downtown arena would add sizzle to Louisville’s riverfront, while bolstering downtown businesses. As a result of his steady leadership – and that of Jim Host and others -- the downtown arena gained momentum and became a reality.

Today, I drive by the magnificent new arena at least twice daily. I’ve had the pleasure of attending several basketball games there. I’ve ridden a boat from southern Indiana to these games. I’ve felt downtown abuzz both before and afterward. Clearly, the downtown arena has benefitted both states.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else. After all, you can’t take a boat to the Water Company or revitalize a Central Business District from the fairgrounds. Furthermore, because of its location at the community’s doorstep, the arena is like a 720,000-square-foot welcome mat to the city and its university.

Maybe that’s why you so rarely hear from opponents of the downtown arena these days. If you did, even they’d probably admit that Manassah was right.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baba Booey Strikes Again

Baba Booey, also known as Gary Dell’Abate from the Howard Stern Show, threw out perhaps the worst first pitch in the history of baseball earlier this year at a New York Mets game, beaning the umpire in the process. Having finally lived that down, Dell’Abate literally struck again recently, hitting an audience member with a baseball while trying to redeem himself on The Jimmy Kimmel show.

To make matters worse, Robin Quivers, Stern’s sidekick, threw a perfect strike on Kimmel’s show just a few nights later in a dress and high heels.

For his part, Dell’Abate blamed Kimmel – a friend of the Stern show -- for unexpectedly springing the baseball bit on him. That blame was misplaced. Kimmel really did Dell’Abate a favor. After all, even with a best-selling book, Dell’Abate was lucky to get booked on Kimmel’s show. He isn’t exactly a household name outside the Stern universe. By breaking out the baseball, Kimmel managed to make Dell’Abate’s appearance not only interesting, but memorable, probably selling him a few books in the process.

Of course, Stern had a field day with the dell’abacle on his Sirius radio show. And that was before Quivers upstaged her Stern show cohort… so it’s only going to get worse.

Among other things, Stern said Dell’Abate should have refused to throw the pitch I respectfully disagree. In that case, Baba Booey would have come across as a baba bad sport. By participating in the bit, Dell'Abate came across as a good guy with a bad arm. There are worse things that could be said about him. And at this point, it’s more important for Dell’Abate to be pitching books than baseballs.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Artful Documentary

If asked to name my top five favorite film genres, documentaries wouldn’t make the list. Yet, for some odd reason, I always seem to find them when channel surfing and seldom seem to leave them. Such was the case with the oddly named “Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon.” I happened to run across this documentary on Showtime one morning when getting ready for work. Next thing I knew, I was running late.

The first time I watched it I thought it was about a dysfunctional father’s struggle with a bipolar disorder and how it affected his family. The second time I watched it I thought it was about a man who overcame disability to become an artist of some renown. Or maybe it was about a mother’s love. Come to think of it, it was really about all three.

I know this sounds disjointed. By all rights, it should have been, if not for the efforts of filmmaker Tom Murray. He’s probably the only person in the world who could have pulled it all together. For him, it was a labor of love. After all, the dysfunctional father and heroic mother are his parents; the disabled artist is his brother.

Murray tells the story of his father’s fall from grace, including anger, alcohol and financial troubles as well as the birth of a disabled son. Through most of it, Thomas E. Murray II refuses to acknowledge his problems. One day, after a chance meeting with the filmmaker, he swims out into the ocean and never returns. He was apparently overcome by the tides, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he committed suicide. The specter of this unpredictable man was so powerful that it remains over his family decades later.

Meanwhile, Christopher, who is said to suffer from autism as a result of not getting enough oxygen to his brain during birth, exceeds all expectations, thanks primarily to the loving and unwavering efforts of his mother. Christopher teaches himself to sketch following his father’s death. He turns out to be quite good … so good that his artwork, consisting mostly of multidimensional cityscapes, gains acclaim. There’s even a waiting list to purchase his work, although he sketches at his own pace.

Tom Murray tells this story artfully through home movies, interviews with family members and a well-chosen soundtrack. You can’t help but wonder how he maintained such distance while peeling back something so raw and personal. At times, you even think he’s pushing his own family members too hard for a response. No matter how he accomplished it, Murray created a film that is melancholy and hopeful at that same time.

Even when the documentary was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about this family and its struggles, past and future. There are clearly obstacles ahead for them with an aging matriarch and a son who, although talented, still faces many of challenges. How could they maintain stability? What would happen next?

That kind resonance is the mark of a good story. I always seem to find them …even when I’m not looking for them.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Perseverance Pays off for Burke

In 2009, before the University of Louisville football team had been fully infected by Kragfluenza, I followed the Cardinals to Lexington for a game against archrival Kentucky. For awhile, it looked like a storybook day for Louisville and its quarterback, Justin Burke.

Burke, who grew up in Lexington not far from the stadium, completed 15 or 28 passes for 245 yards. He had a lot of friends and family members in the stands. I know. I think I exchanged high-fives with all of them after nearly every completion.

Unfortunately, the celebration eventually ended. Louisville led until late when Trent Guy fumbled a punt, resulting in a Kentucky touchdown and a 31-27 Wildcats’ win. Nevertheless, it seemed Burke, an N.C. State transfer, had firmly established himself as Louisville’s quarterback. Like the win, that wasn’t to be either.

Burke played just two more games before being injured and replaced in the lineup by Adam Froman. That could have been the end of his story … and his career. It seemed like it would be until Saturday afternoon. That’s when Burke replaced an injured Froman in the lineup against Syracuse, leading visiting Louisville to its most important win of the season. I suspected Burke might rise to the occasion, based solely on the obviously flawed sample of a single game in Lexington in 2009.

It’s unclear who will play quarterback for Louisville this weekend as the Cardinals host another Big East foe, South Florida, with bowl eligibility at stake. If Froman is healthy, I suspect he’ll once again replace Burke … just like he did in 2009.

But no matter what happens, Burke will always have Syracuse. I’m happy for him. His success shows that perseverance pays off. My only regret is I couldn’t be there at Syracuse exchanging high-fives with his family members.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Smooth Sailing to UL Game

On my recent trip to a basketball game at the University of Louisville’s new downtown arena, the only traffic I encountered was barge traffic.

My son, Trent, and I avoided the regular bumper-to-bumper by boarding a boat called The Spirit of Jefferson in Jeffersonville, Ind., and taking it across the Ohio River to U of L’s beautiful new arena. Around 15 minutes later, we were dropped off just three blocks from the KFC Yum! Center. Following the game, we walked back to the river, boarded the boat again and were returned safely to the sunny side of Louisville.

The roundtrip cost $10 per person, which is really a bargain. We easily could have spent that on parking alone. But the real selling point is the aggravation you save. Once you’re back to the car, it’s smooth sailing all the way home.

A tip of the Cardinal cap to Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan for envisioning this innovative transportation alternative. Galligan will evaluate the program after six games to see if it’s successful. If so, it will continue the rest of the season. Here’s hoping that happens. I’ve been told around 2,500 U of L basketball season ticketholders live in southern Indiana. Surely, many will want to get on board with this, so to speak.

Galligan, of course, hopes boat riders will linger in Jeffersonville before or after the games and support its attractions. I, for one, have no problem repaying Galligan’s kindness with hot wings and cold beer.

In the meantime, there are a few tweaks that would make the trip even better. Primarily, the boat’s management needs to communicate more with passengers. They should make announcements as the boat departs and arrives, direct you to the arena, tell you when to return, etc. It wouldn’t hurt to wish the Cards well while they’re at it. In other words, just make the trip a little more hospitable.

I’m sure they will refine things over time. After all, this was just the maiden voyage … and a darn fine one.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Great Charcoal Caper

In a battle between cheapness and self consciousness, cheapness won out.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, my employer treated us all to a good old-fashioned cookout. After the cookout, there must have been some charcoal leftover because on Monday a few bags showed up for sale in the company cafeteria.

“How silly,” I thought to myself. “What kind of a goofball would buy a bag of charcoal at work?”

I continued to think this every time I went to the cafeteria for the next several days … until curiosity finally got the better of me and I checked the price. It was $5.50 for a 20-pound bag of Royal Oak hickory charcoal. I did the math. Good charcoal; pretty good price. I began to ponder the unthinkable.

“Nah, I can’t do that,” I thought. “Too embarrassing.”

Nevertheless, I subconsciously began to formulate a plan for the great charcoal caper. Maybe I could hit the cafeteria when it wasn’t too busy, pay for the charcoal, head straight to the door and escape relatively unnoticed.

I tried to dismiss the idea, but it kept gnawing at me. Then it happened. I found myself in a relatively deserted cafeteria. Impulses took over. I grabbed the 20-pounder and headed for the cash register. The perky clerk said, “You’re my first charcoal.” I worried that streamers and balloons might fall from the ceiling at any moment.

I felt like a pariah as I headed down the hall of a Fortune 500 company with a 20-pound bag of charcoal slug over my shoulder. Most people refused to make eye contact with such an oddity. To the few who did, I muttered something about a cookout.

I made it to the car with most of my dignity in tack … and a darn good deal on a much-needed bag of charcoal. That’s because the clerk actually charged me only $4 for the bag, probably because so few people would shoulder such embarrassment. Here’s the worst part: I’m thinking about going back for another bag.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Qs for George W.

As a political junky, I’ve always wanted to meet a president of the United States (or POTUS, as we politicos call them). For the longest time, I placed my hopes on either Sen. Richard Lugar or Rep. Lee Hamilton. Both are smart guys who I interviewed during my time as a reporter in southern Indiana. Same goes for Sen. Evan Bayh.

Any of them would probably have made a good president, but time has run out on all but Bayh and he seems to be in self-imposed exile.

As a result, meeting a president remains on my bucket list. Now, I’ve got my chance.

Former President George W. Bush is holding a contest in connection with the release of his upcoming memoir called “Decision Points.” He is inviting people to submit five questions to him on his Facebook page. 100 of those people will be invited to submit videos. One person will be selected from the videos to interview president number 43.

I should be that guy. After all, I know the protocols. For starters, I know former presidents are still addressed as “Mr. President.” I also voted for George W. Bush and I’m pretty sure I can actually pass a security clearance.

So, without further adieu, here are my five Qs for W:

1) How does the president make sure his advisors aren’t just telling him what he wants to hear?
2) What, if anything, can be done to curb partisanship?
3) How does one remain positive amidst criticism?
4) What is the best way for a former president to continue to serve his or her country?
5) What's the best advice your parents ever gave you?

If you want to submit your own questions, here’s a tip. You must first “like” Bush’s page to comment. However, based on the tone of some of the questions being asked, I’m thinking some of those people don’t really “like” him.

By comparison, my questions are a little softball. Don’t judge me for that. I told you. I want to meet a president.

One last thing: If I’m on your Christmas list, consider buying “Decision Points” for me. At least I can read about a president, even if I don’t get to meet one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Partying Is Part of Louisville Tradition

Going to a University of Louisville football game has always been more about the party than the football. That’s probably not going to change anytime soon, no matter how much first-year Head Coach Charlie Strong wishes it would.

Strong recently urged U of L’s fans to not only get to the games at Papa John’s Cardinal stadium, but to get their butts into their seats, rather than lingering while tailgating. I agree that would be terrific. I also know why it’s probably not going to happen.

I’ll sum it up like this: For Louisville fans, the party has always been more dependable than the football.

UL football fans are used to disappointment. They have been bounced from the Missouri Valley Conference to being an independent to a member of Conference USA. The administration even talked about dropping football. Tickets were given away.

I can remember when Louisville’s schedule was littered with the likes of Drake, William and Mary, Army, Western Kentucky and Murray State. There were no natural rivals on the schedule. UL’s most hated rival, Kentucky, wouldn’t even play them.

Louisville landed their dream coach in Howard Schellenberger, only to lose him to Oklahoma. Even he couldn’t keep the Cardinals at the top. To illustrate how bad it was, I used to buy drinks in plastic cups at the stadium that listed UL’s bowl appearances. As best I can remember, there were only two: an ancient Sun Bowl and an Independence Bowl.

For the sake of my digestive system, I don’t even want to discuss the Ron Cooper and Steve Kragthorpe years.

Through all the uncertainty and losing and lackluster opponents, people have needed a reason to go to the games. They found one. It was the party. Generation after generation, they went for the party until it became a lasting part of the culture.

How do you get excited for a game against Drake? Six letters: P-A-R-T-A-Y.

That tradition has endured despite a terrific new stadium, Bobby Petrino, budding NFL players, a string of victories over Kentucky, a BCS conference and an Orange Bowl victory.

Strong doesn’t understand this because he comes from Florida. When was the last time the Gators bragged about their Sun Bowl appearance?

I don’t think Louisville fans even consciously realize this either. It’s just the way it is for them. And likely the way it’s going to remain.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Aging Blues Men Are National Treasures

Every time I see a Blues great like BB King or Buddy Guy, I worry that it might be the last time I ever see them. After all, they aren’t getting any younger. King is 85; Guy 74. Both are national treasures, able to sell out concert venues, despite their advancing age and the fact that their music, the Blues, isn’t really played on the radio anymore, outside of satellite.

A live show from either is a treat. Imagine what you’d pay to see Elvis Presley today. King and Guy are kings of the blues, just like Presley was king of rock’n’roll.

Affected by age and a variety of ailments, King now plays while sitting in a chair on stage. Nevertheless, he tours relentlessly all over the world. His voice remains strong, even if he’s lost a stroke or two on his legendary guitar, Lucille. He is a master storyteller. You never get tired of hearing his stories, even if you’ve heard them before.

Like King, Guy tours like his livelihood depended on it. Me and my wife caught him recently at Horseshoe in southern Indiana. I believe it was Guy's third show in three days in three different cities, but it didn’t show. Guy complained about his voice, but it didn’t seem to be lacking. Physically, he was as spry as performers half his age.

Guy channeled everybody from Jimmy Hendricks to Eric Clapton. He used his entire body as an instrument, playing his guitar against his chest, over his head, behind his back and between his legs. He then moved into the audience … the equivalent of a 74-year-old stage diving.

Along the way, he held the audience in the palm of his hand, separately praising and chastising them, all while keeping a wide smile on his face. He talked about the way the Blues is more suggestive than explicit, unlike today’s hip hop. He even sang a bluesy "Happy Birthday" to a fan.

Guy also played a little from another Blues great, the late John Lee Hooker. One of Kim’s greatest regrets is having never seen Hooker in concert. Muddy Waters also is gone. But you can see Guy and King … at least for now. Better appreciate it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Television Critic and Chief

In an recent interview, President Obama called Fox News “destructive” because of its “point of view.” Of course, Obama forgot to mention that there’s a network with an even more caustic “point of view” just down the dial in MSNBC. Why the selective memory? I guess having a “point of view” is OK with the president, just as long as that “point of view” happens to be his own.

The inconvenient truth is our country depends on the many points of view generated by a free press. Obama should know this. Wasn’t he the guy who was inspired by the book Team of Rivals? Heck, even Obama’s secretary of state has been known to throw a barb or two his way, back when they were opponents.

He apparently got past that, but he draws the line at Fox News.

Of course, I’m not suggesting Fox News doesn’t have a point of view. It does. But if Fox’s Sean Hannity is a weapon for the GOP, then Keith Olbermann is the Democratic equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. At least Hannity has a worthy adversary in Alan Colmes. There is no such counterbalance on MSNBC. In fact, if you ever see a conservative on MSNBC, it’s because he or she is some kind of wingnut.

Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are a daily duo of destruction. They never met a Republican idea – or heck, even a Republican –they liked. MSNBC’s agenda is to ridicule rather than inform. It is plug-and-play television. With George W. Bush gone and a Democrat controlled Congress in place, I’m surprised they can find anyone to demonize anymore. Thank goodness for Sarah Palin. She’s an easy target, if not an elected official.

It’s OK – even admirable -- for media outlets to have a point of view. It is part of a vibrant Democracy. George W. Bush dealt with it and so should Obama – even if he doesn’t agree with it. After all, he’s commander and chief, not chief TV critic.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Curious Case of Jimmy Johnson

I was watching a NASCAR race on television recently when former Dallas Cowboys' coach Jimmy Johnson appeared during the commercial break wearing a driver's suit and promoting a male enhancement product called Extenze. Talk about a guy who must be -- excuse the expression -- hard up for money.

Can you imagine the agent who had the cojones to pitch male enhancement to Jimmy Johnson? “I've got an offer here for you, coach. It's going to be really big."

That's certainly a game changer when it comes to your personal brand. With this spot, Johnson has essentially gone from a coach who won championships in both the NCAA and NFL to a guy who has some issues south of the border. Ditto for Johnson's former NFL colleague, Mike Ditka, who previously pitched Levitra, an impotence drug.

I yearn for the good old days when sports personalities appeared in beer ads screaming "less filling" and "tastes great." If Dick Butkus had problems below the belt, he sure didn't bother to share it with us.

The Extenze commercial is the second curious decision Johnson has made lately. Johnson also has been taking part in this season’s "Survivor." Let's hope his stay in Nicaragua is not too short.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Who Will Fill the Boss’ Seat on The Office?

There is a rumor that Harvey Keitel is being courted to replace the departing Steve Carell as boss of “The Office.” I have a few better ideas.

Whoever replaces Carell has to be a blustery, clueless, loveable lug … or at least able to play one on TV. With that mind, I have come up with the following short list.
  • Matthew Broderick tops my list. He has a dry sense of humor like Carell and was talking directly into cameras before talking directly into cameras was cool with “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He’d probably take the gig if for no other reason than being tired of playing second fiddle to his wife, actress Sarah Jessica Parker of “Sex in the City” fame.

  • Ted Danson played a lovable letch on “Cheers” and he’s terrific in the unscripted “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” He seems to work well in an ensemble cast. While I never really watched “Becker,” I guess somebody did.

  • Brad Garrett played the perpetually put upon brother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” It’s easy to imagine HR guy Toby as Garrett’s new Raymond-like foil.

  • Janeane Garofalo would mix things up as the female boss on the office. She’s a comedienne with an understated wit and I’ve never seen her in anything bad.

  • The actor who played “PC” in the popular “Mac-PC” commercials. I hear he’s funny and he wouldn’t even have to change his wardrobe.

If I were swinging for the fences, I’d call Jim Carrey or Ben Stiller.

However, Keitel wouldn’t be my pick even if I were choosing only from the cast of “The Usual Suspects.” In that case, I’d go with Ray Liotta. I saw him on a cooking segment with Martha Stewart once and he looked as clueless as Michael Scott.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Obama Speech Not Without Flaws

I watched President Obama’s speech on Iraq last night for my speech class so I might as well share my impressions. Obama is obviously an accomplished speaker and he struck the right tone. There were a few solid lines, but the speech was not without its flaws.

The setting was right: in the Oval Office surrounded by family pictures and wearing a power tie and an American flag lapel pin. There were strong lines, such as, “Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq’s future is not.” He also made news for the press corps with a pledge to be out of Afganstain by next year.

With all that said, I have two main criticisms. First, Obama tried to cover too much. Second, he sometimes sounded more like a candidate than the president.

Obama’s speech had three main topics: Iraq, Afghanistan and the economy. It was natural to tie together the first two topics since both are Middle East hotspots. However, the speech unraveled when Obama turned to the economy. The president tried to convince us that forwarding his domestic agenda is somehow a way to honor the troops.

This leads me to my second criticism. Although subtle, Obama was too partisan for my liking, particularly for a speech of this nature. There was no need to rehash his disagreements with Bush or remind us of his campaign pledge. He also set expectations for continuing violence, saying, “As we speak, Al-Qaeda continues to plot against us. “ I’m sure this is the president’s way of trying to insulate himself against future criticism from the opposition party.

Obama was at his best when he eschewed politics for more universal themes. He spoke of his grandfather’s use of the GI Bill and talked about the last combat battalion leaving Iraq on the very road in which it had entered the country, but this time “no shots were fired.” He said they had “fought in a faraway place for people they never knew.”

Good stuff, but it could have been better if it had been a little more focused and a little less partisan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Conflicted on Cardinals

With Steve Kragthorpe and three seasons of ineptitude fading into the rearview mirror, I want to be optimistic about this year’s University of Louisville football team. I really do. But I’m finding myself somewhat conflicted.

Take the quarterback position as a prime example. Louisville returns three quarterbacks who won games last year in Justin Burke, Adam Froman and Will Stein. (That’s no small feat for a team that won all of four games.) All three showed flashes of being good quarterbacks last year. Burke looked downright unstoppable through most of the opener, which was a near upset of arch rival Kentucky. Froman proved to be a good, hardnosed leader. Stein’s size is questioned, but his toughness is beyond reproach.

Based on offensive coordinator Mike Sanford’s description of his spread offense, none of the returning quarterbacks seem ideally suited for it. Sanford recently talked about the importance of dual treat quarterback. He even mentioned running some option. That might point toward some involvement from true freshman Dominique Brown. From my perspective, you better not count on the option being an important part of your offense unless you’re jersey says “Navy” on the front or “Tebow” on the back. To make matters worse, Louisville couldn’t keep its quarterbacks healthy last year, even without running the option.

On the plus side, Louisville’s running back corps looks so solid behind Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell that Head Coach Charlie Strong moved the team’s second leading rusher from last season, Darius Ashley, to defense. Let’s hope Powell proves Strong right by hitting the hole with authority this season instead of more dancing like in the past. Both runners will have a big and experienced line to run behind.

No matter how leery I am of the offense, I am much more concerned about the Cardinals’ defense. Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford recently said only two players have nailed down starting positions, Greg Scruggs and Brandon Heath. He added that the Cards are so undersized on the defensive front that opposing offenses will just run the ball at them until they can stop it. As a result, most of the buzz around the defense surrounds two players who have yet to even join the team in USC transfer Jordan Campbell and former Michigan signee Demar Dorsey. One or both may not make it to campus.

I want to believe that better coaching alone could result in an extra win or two for the Cards this season. Strong has done and said all the right things since coming to Louisville. Yet, for all his competence to this point, the former Florida defensive coordinator has never called the shots. Sanford has more head coaching experience than he does. Maybe that’s why Strong has so readily handed over the offensive play calling over to him.

This strikes me as a little odd. We know Strong can be a top-notch defensive coordinator. You’d think he’d be eager to show off his offensive chops. Yet, he turns his offense over to someone else. That’s like a CEO who doesn’t want to serve on his company’s board of directors. We saw too much of this kind of delegating under Kragthorpe.

Despite these nagging doubts, I can imagine a scenario in which a leader emerges at quarterback, the defense makes up for its lack of size with quickness, and Strong shows everyone why he should have been a head coach five years ago. I can also imagine a scenario under which none of that happens and history repeats itself.

As I said, I’m conflicted.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reagan Library Has Hits, Misses

On a recent business trip, I had the opportunity to visit the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., with my family. I saw a lot of things, but the most memorable by far was one of the simplest. It was the quote on Reagan’s tombstone, which read:

“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”

The quote was pure Reagan. It captured Reagan’s unbridled optimism. It was "The Great Communicator” at his best.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of the library. Don't get me wrong, the library does a lot of things right. The setting is beautiful. The food is good. And the exhibits are so approachable that even children enjoy them. However, aside from the tombstone, I was provided with little insight into what made Reagan into Reagan.

Much of the museum’s wow factor is more about the office of president, than specific to nation’s 40th president. For instance, the library’s centerpiece is a retired Air Force One. I’m not talking about a section either. I'm talking about the whole darned plane in all its glory. How they got that thing in there still puzzles me.

Additionally, the museum displays a retired presidential helicopter, Marine One, a retired fighter jet, a presidential motorcade and a model of the White House. It’s all cool stuff for someone like me with a great curiosity about the office. But -- like the out-of-place display of vintage motorcycles -- gives little insight into Reagan himself.

A couple of exceptions were an exhibit devoted to the Cold War that highlighted Reagan's belief in “peace through strength” and a piece of the Berlin Wall, which came down, in no small part, thanks to his leadership. The most jolting exhibit is the suit coat Reagan wore on the day he was shot, complete with bullet hole. The accompanying text tells visitors not only about the shooting, but Reagan's demeanor afterward, including the fact that he prayed for his attacker and cracked wise that he hoped the doctors were Republicans.

In contrast, I saw little to nothing about Reagan’s upbringing, his days as an actor, his stint as governor of California or even his family, friends and colleagues. As a result, I left having enjoyed a wonderful view, a good burrito and a great keepsake photo of my family on the doorstep of Air Force One, but without an understanding of the forces that shaped one of the nation’s greatest presidents.

I did note several signs about a renovation that will mark what would have been Reagan's 100th year, as well as a lot of signs warning about rattlesnakes. Hopefully this means some of this is being rectified -- at least the content, if not the snakes.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

No Shame at UK

With the University of Kentucky waist deep in NCAA trouble in the 1980s, Sports Illustrated published a famous cover. It featured a supposed Kentucky basketball player with his head hung low under the headline “Kentucky’s Shame.”

The same headline couldn’t be published today. Under John Calipari, Kentucky clearly has no shame. Let me give you a couple of examples:

2011 recruiting: Anthony Davis, perhaps the top prospect in the nation in his class, has yet to sign with Kentucky, but there has already been a report of a rumor that he was paid $200,000 to do so.

2010: recruiting: Terrence Jones, a top prospect on the West Coast, called a press conference announcing his decision to go to the University of Washington, only to change his mind following a talk with Calipari.

2009 recruiting: Questions abound about the signing of Kentucky’s Eric Bledsoe, including the remarkable resurrection of his grades and allegations that his high school coach paid for his rent.

2009 recruiting: Big Blue deity John Wall was suspended for a couple games and ordered to pay back $800 given to him by an agent.

I don’t even want to talk about Marcus Teague.

The point is Calipari always works the margins. Where other coaches see trouble, he sees opportunities. When Tyreke Evans was implicated in a drive-by shooting, other coaches backed off. Calipari sped ahead. When Wall was cited for breaking and entering, others retreated. Calipari charged in.These kinds of shenanigans have resulted in Calipari-coached teams vacating NCAA Final Four appearances at both UMass and Memphis. He probably would have had to do the same thing at Kentucky, if only he had made the Final Four.

If any of us got a speeding ticket, we’d probably slow down … at least for a few days. That’s not the case with Calipari. He’s been warned and all but handcuffed, but he’s still flying past all the warning signs.

Let’s sum it up another way:

  • If Kentucky were BP, it would be drilling new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • If Kentucky were a prisoner, it would be stealing from its cellmate.

  • If Kentucky were Bill Clinton, it would be celebrating its impeachment acquittal at dinner with Monica Lewinsky.

  • If Kentucky were a basketball team, it would be, well, Kentucky.
No shame.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Along for the Ride to the Whitehouse

Just finished reading the book Game Change. It was like reliving the 2008 presidential campaign, but this time with an all-access pass. As most Americans, I already knew about most of the campaign’s high and low points, including the Rev. Wright controversy, the Edwards affair and the unexpected emergence of Sarah Palin as a candidate for vice president.

I didn’t know the stories behind these stories. This book shares them all, as well as the tremendous toll it took on the candidates.

The star players in the unfolding drama are Barack Obama and the Clintons. You get an inside look at the discipline of Obama’s campaign and the growing frustrations of the Clintons as they try desperately, and unsuccessfully, to sidetrack it.

My favorite stories though involved the bit players. I was fascinated by the arrogance that led to Edwards’ downfall. Similarly, the story of the unraveling of Sarah Palin was so well told it made me feel uncomfortable, yet I couldn’t stop reading it. The fact that she remains on the national stage today indicates she had more moxie than the authors knew.

On balance, however, I thought the book was pretty even-handed. If the authors had biases, they did a good job of hiding them. That said, I’ll never agree that Obama pummeled McCain in those debates as badly as the pundits said.

You often hear the presidential campaign called the “Road to the Whitehouse.” If that’s the case, then Game Change lets you ride shotgun.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Refudiate This

I’m no fan of Sarah Palin, but I am beginning to be convinced that she is indeed receiving hostile treatment from the media.

Today was a good example. The headlines screamed “Sarah Palin Compares Herself to Shakespeare.” When I saw the headline, I was shocked. I figured Palin must have gotten a hold of some bad bear meat or something … until I read a little further.

As it turns out, Palin had accidentally invented a word on her Twitter account. She said “refudiate” when she really meant “repudiate.” That’s not such an egregious sin in this world of 140 characters. I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years, and yet I’m sure my Twitter feed wouldn’t withstand a full-blown investigation by the grammar police.

Since I’m not a conversional national political figure, I get by with it. No such luck for Palin. The media pounced on her misstatement, sensing a Dan Qualye “potatoe” moment. Palin’s response was self-effacing. She joked that “Shakespeare liked to coin new words, too.”

Somehow this was interpreted by headline writers at CNN and others as Palin “comparing herself to Shakespeare.” That might be factually accurate, but it certainly didn’t capture the context. If you glanced at the headline alone, you would have thought – as I did – that Palin had lost it when she was actually just being playful.

Palin clearly wasn’t seriously comparing her mastery of the language to Shakespeare. In fact, she really was suggesting just the opposite.

Ironically, Palin’s gaffe may actually have helped her image with people like me who bothered to read the whole story. It humanized her. I, for one, appreciate the fact that she’s willing to post her thoughts – warts and all – without a bevy of speechwriters sanitizing them.

If you don’t agree, then I invite you to refudiate me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Not So Fast Food

I’m ashamed to say I’ve spent so much time in the drive-thru lane at fast food restaurants that I’ve caught onto the rhythms of them. I’ve learned some subtle, yet surefire cues that a transaction in front of you has gone horribly awry. I’m sharing these tips with you in hopes you can spot them, too. Armed with this information, you can successfully shift into neutral and turn up the radio. Or, if you see several of these traps in the same trip, you may want to commit the most egregious offense of all in fast food land, and speed away without your order.

So, without further adieu, here are 10 tips that your fast-food jaunt is becoming a journey, along with a forecast of expected delays.

Tip 1: The person in front of you has extended his or her head out the car window. This is a sign communication has broken down. Add two minutes.

Tip 2: Person in front of you gets his or her food from the window, but refuses to pull away. This is a burger bookkeeper. It requires a honking horn and a delay of three minutes.

Tip 3: The person in front of you has extended his or her arm out the window. This is not as serious as Tip 1 by itself, resulting in a delay of only about a minute. However, when accompanied by an extended head, can be a serious situation. Add five minutes.

Tip 4: Person in front of you is on his or her cell phone. This is the rare occasion where stupid meets incompetence. Add six minutes.

Tip 5: There is a Buick LeSabre or Crown Victoria in front of you. This person may be one of the first of the billions served. Add seven minutes.

Tip 6: There are now multiple heads and arms out both the driver’s and passenger’s windows. Add eight minutes.

Tip 7: Attendant asks you to repeat your order or repeats your order back to you incorrectly. Count on a loss of nine minutes … and one cheeseburger.

Tip 8: Same as tip 7, but in an accent you’ve never heard before. Prepare for a loss of two cheeseburgers and 12 minutes.

Tip 9: The person in front of you makes it to the window, gets his or her food and then promptly returns it to the attendant. This is the most serious situation you will encounter without requiring police intervention. Call your loved ones and expect a 15-minute delay.

Tip 10: The back-up lights of the vehicle in front of you are activated. Prepare for impact, a police report and a delay of an hour or better.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Power of a Good Story

As a former journalist and current public relations practitioner, I consider myself, above all else, to be a good storyteller. As such, I appreciate a well-told story. I heard one the other night from the guy sitting next to me at the B.B. King concert.

The guy told me he always remembered one person from his grade school above all others. Her name was Tammy. On those rare occasions whenever he ran into someone from grade school, the conversation always turned to Tammy.

Fast forward many years. I’m guessing he’s been married and divorced by then. He pops into a party. He’s not at his best. He’s been hitting it a hard lick all weekend. To his surprise, he runs into no one other than the oft mentioned Tammy. They reconnect.

“The rest,” he says, motioning to his wife, “is history.”

Maybe it was the open bar, but that seemed like a good story to me. It was simple, yet powerful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Am I the only one to notice the physical similarities between Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, above right, and lefty TV personality Rachel Maddow, above left (of course)? To me, Kagan looks like a grown-up version of Maddow. In fact, given Maddow's politics, it's easy to imagine she would want to grow up to be just like Kagan.

To be fair, I know very little about Kagan. I know a little more about Maddow -- at least as much as any person can learn in the time it takes to turn the channel. If Kagan is confirmed, I hope she's more reasoned on the court than Maddow is on her show. Otherwise, Supreme Court hearings would be absolutely unwatchable.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Beware: Intern May Turn Tables

I’ve always tried to treat interns at the companies where I’ve worked well. I figured they might end up being my boss some day. While that hasn’t happened yet, I’ve seen my former interns become colleagues and more over the years.

I once wrote a law school recommendation for an intern who later became an attorney. She now gives me free legal counsel. Another former intern became a bit of a job search specialist. She helped me land an interview when I really needed one. I later helped her get a job at the company where I worked. She became a solid contributor there.

Last week, I had occasion to run into another former intern in my first month on a new job. Except this time, the ex-intern didn’t remember me so fondly. He said I had been a little tough on him when he was a student reporter. He’s now an executive speechwriter. He may have been chiding me a little, but there was probably a bit of truth there, too.

Sure enough, I can be demanding of interns. But I’ve always tried to give them worthwhile work, while explaining the importance of even the most menial tasks.

If I erred on one, then shame on me. I’ve always disliked people who couldn’t treat others well, regardless of their standing. You never forget people who brought you under their wings … and those who treated you like something on the bottom their shoes.

So treat your interns well. After all, you never know when they’ll give you free legal advice, get you a job interview or chide you on your new job.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Honest Feedback Is Hard to Get

One of the most frustrating things about interviewing for a job is getting honest feedback on your performance from the people who interviewed you. I suppose people are too afraid of being sued to give you their true impressions. As a result, you’re usually left scrambling for the smallest clue of what might have gone awry.

Was my breath too minty or not minty enough? Was my handshake too firm or too wimpy? Was my power tie too powerful? Did a reference suddenly remember a time when I pushed him off a swing set? It’s anybody guess.

A friend told me about a time when he was passed over for a job. He called the hiring manager seeking some feedback. In a rare burst of openness, the manager told my friend that he seemed disinterested in the position. My friend took the criticism to heart. After that, he amped up the energy before every interview. The strange thing is I always thought this friend was pretty dynamic. I don’t know how anyone could experience him otherwise. Nevertheless, I’ve lived vicariously through his experience. As a result, I always go into an interview with the “Doug-o-meter” turned toward high. I figure this is what hiring managers are expecting, particularly from a PR guy.

One can express enthusiasm during an interview in many different ways. I shake hands firmly, look the interviewer in the eye, share stories about my experiences, ask questions and take notes. I even laugh when something is funny.

But is that laugh too hearty or not hearty enough? Thanks to the lawyers, we’ll probably never know for sure.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Accentuating the Positive

I was on the telephone the other day with a self-described “fast talking New Yorker” who couldn’t resist poking a little fun at my Kentucky accent.

“What accent?” I replied.

I was only half kidding. Despite being a born and bred Kentuckian, I never considered myself to have a particularly thick draw. I do confess to a little southern twang, but it’s nothing like the saucy sounds of my good friend from Louisana.

Nevertheless, from a New Yorker’s perspective, talking to me must be just like talking to “Larry the Cable Guy.” While I don’t have a corny catch phrase like “Git-R-Done,” I do have plenty of southern idioms. By far the worst is the long “i” sound. If I were Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones’ classic would be called “Tiiiiiime is on my Siiiiiide.

What’s a boy from a southern border state to do? Perhaps I could change my standard greeting to “hello” or “hey” from “hiiiiii.” Or maybe I could eliminate the number “five” from all addresses and telephone numbers.

That probably wouldn’t work. After all, an accent is like a bad golf swing. You can’t fix it no matter how hard you try.

I guess I’ll just have to live with it. While New Yorkers probably won’t like it, something tells me I’ll be just fiiiiiine.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Marquis Really Meant

Today, Marquis Teague, a highly prized basketball recruit from Indianapolis, spurned my beloved Louisville Cardinals for our archrival, the villainous Kentucky Wildcats. Some say this happened only after Teague received a phone call on Kentucky’s behalf from none other than NBA superstar Lebron James.

Following are some of Teague’s actual comments along with my interpretation of what he really meant.

Marquis said: “It's been real tough. It's tough to tell coach Pitino no."

Marquis meant: “It’s even harder to tell Ben Franklin no.”

Marquis said: “I had people from Louisville and Kentucky saying things about each other’s school. It was pretty crazy, I really didn't think it would get like that.”

Marquis meant: “I was surprised UK fans could operate computers.”

Marquis said: “I heard that … the LeBron thing and I was like 'Dang I didn't even know he called me so how did anyone else know.' But that would have been pretty cool if he had called.”

Marquis meant: “UK’s compliance department has asked me not to talk about that.”

Marquis said: “I’ll tell him (Pitino) thank you for recruiting me and I love you and your family. I would have loved to have played for you, but I had to do what was best for me.”

Marquis meant: “Have you seen my blue Porsche?”

Marquis said: “I told Coach Calipari yesterday that I wanted to commit to him. I haven't talked to him today yet. I just said I wanted to be a Wildcat. It’s what I was comfortable with.”

Marquis meant: “Wonder if Cal needs his MasterCard back?”

Marquis said: “You see what Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall did and Brandon Knight is a great point guard coming in. … He has had some great point guards.”

Marquis meant: “I don’t care much for that coaching stuff.”

Marquis said: “It has been really hard the past few days, a lot of phone calls and a lot of things that were going on. It was neck-and-neck and I really didn't want to tell either one of them no. But now I am glad it's over."

Marquis meant: “They can’t get my phone records, can they? Maybe I shouldn’t have said that Lebron James stuff.”

Marquis said: “My dad liked Louisville a lot, but my mother liked Kentucky a lot.”

Marquis meant: “My dad is a good man; my mama is loco.”

Marquis said: “I almost committed to Louisville twice but that just shows what coach Cal can do. It means coach Cal is a great coach and a great man to change my mind like that.”

Marquis meant: It’s time for me to go. Lebron James is waiting for me on my private yacht, the U.S.S. Rupp.”

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Channeling Financial Advice

I was driving home from work one day surfing the a.m. radio dial when I came across such a mishmash of messages that I stopped in my tracks. A talk show host named Dave Ramsey was talking about everything from mutual funds to Jesus Christ. On the one hand, he was chastising callers for falling to their impulses. On the other, he was encouraging them to do better.

I listened to Ramsey for the next two weeks as sort of a goof. It was like an audio train wreck that I couldn’t turn away from. In retrospect, I think there was a pretty good reason I was drawn to Ramsey’s show.

Ramsey talked about living within your means, including driving used cars and eating rice and beans. He also talked about paying cash, tearing up your credit cards and building up an emergency fund. He talked about having the right kinds of insurance at the right price. It was commonsense stuff. As Ramsey would be the first to admit, it’s the kind of advice you’ve probably heard from your grandmother or read in best-selling books like The Millionaire Next Door. But Ramsey has an interesting “rags to riches” history and a compelling way of telling the story.

At the time I was listening to this, I was doing pretty well. I had a job I liked making decent money. Nevertheless, his message resonated with me. It wasn’t a goof anymore. I started worrying about things like an emergency fund.

I tried to get things in order. All the while, the program served as a daily booster shot. When people called in with the wrong priorities, I shared Ramsey’s frustrations. When people called in with success stories, I was motivated to join them as debt free.

Later, I lost my job. As it turned out, I needed Ramsey’s message even when I didn’t know it. Having that emergency fund paid off in spades. Boy was I happy that I found that quirky little program.

In the years since, I’ve lost touch with Ramsey’s show. But now, having lost a second job, I’m thankful I never lost touch with his message.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sending Your Boss Undercover

Want to know how to get your boss on Oprah? Send him undercover.

The CEO stars of the CBS hit show “Undercover Boss” appeared before a fawning Oprah Winfrey today. I’ve had more than a passing interest in this show since several PR people told me their companies were approached about doing it and took a pass. I bet they’re kicking themselves today.

With a couple of exceptions, the show has placed its participants in an overwhelmingly positive light. It has humanized participating companies by telling their stories through the perspective of their dedicated employees, including single parents, caretakers and students. As importantly, the employees’ interactions with their “undercover bosses” have been touching. The bosses have created programs for them, added benefits, and doled out scholarships, raises and promotions.

Having your CEO shown as devoted, caring and fair is no small thing, particularly in this environment of bailouts where corporate leaders have generally been portrayed as cutthroat, greedy and out of touch.

That’s the good news. There’s been some bad news, too.

In the Hooter’s episode, for instance, a restaurant manager degraded his waitresses. The CEO admonished him, but not nearly enough for my tastes. Additionally, the CEOs generally bumble around at their tasks like George Bush with a grocery scanner … but that’s before the big, heartfelt conclusion.

Sure, “Undercover Boss” is over produced. Of course, the skeptic in me wonders how the CEOs would’ve behaved in the same situations if the cameras weren’t around. Nevertheless, if presented with the opportunity, I’d like to think I would have advised my boss to shave his moustache and go undercover. Then I would have collected a big bonus after he appeared on Oprah.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moving Mountains

I just returned from Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Returning from Bristol is the easy part. Getting there is another matter.

Bristol is in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. You won’t find much parking near the track. Even if there was more, you wouldn’t want to park there. You’d be trapped for days, snowed in behind more than 100,000 NASCAR fans.

As a result, the only way to get to the track is to walk … and walk … and walk some more. The countryside is rugged. The best thing I can compare it to is being a horse in a steeplechase. My friend Kenny and I walked across fields, over mountains, through barbed wire fences and over gates. There was a creek, too, but we didn’t have to jump it … at least not this time.

The whole way the track is on the horizon, but never gets any closer, no matter how far you walk. Tickets to the event should be printed with the following admonishment: Warning, track is further than it appears.

Perhaps appropriately, considering you’re trekking to a half-mile bullring, it’s a circuitous route. I sometimes thought I should drop a trail of breadcrumbs (or Fritos), just in case I got lost and couldn’t find my way back.

Of course, if you enjoy short track racing like I do, then Bristol is the place to be … even if you have to move mountains to get there.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Good Friends in Tough Times

In my last blog post, I wrote about the lows of being laid off, but it hasn’t been all despair. In fact, I’ve been buoyed by the outpouring of support I have received since being laid off by Humana just two weeks ago. The support has come from all quarters, including people I would have expected and some I would not have.

I sincerely appreciate each and every gesture. It’s not easy for people to come forward in such a difficult time. As a matter of fact, many people don’t reach out. They don’t know what to say. Or, even worse, they know they should say something, but fear doing it. It’s as if they think the layoff virus will spread like monkey pox.

That’s why being laid off is so isolating. Life seems like it’s divided between the “haves” (those who have a job) and the “have nots” (those who don’t).Thankfully, most of my coworkers didn’t get caught up in that. They just reacted. And with great compassion, I might add.

For the rest of you, here’s my list of things people need to hear from you after they’ve lost their jobs.
  • You're sorry for what happened to them.
  • You think they’re a good worker and you’re happy to recommend them.
  • You will be looking out for opportunities for them.

That’s it … except one last thing.

  • You recently won the lottery and would like to commission them to write your memoirs at an exorbitant salary, starting in the morning.

Since I haven’t heard that last one yet, I’ll focus my energies on finding my next gig, knowing that I have a lot of terrific people supporting me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Two Bombs in One Day

Ever had a day so bad that even a homeless guy insulted you? That’s the kind of day I had a couple of weeks ago. It was the mother of all bad days.

I went to work knowing cuts were expected. The pending layoffs were the worst kept secret in the history of corporate America. I did not know, however, that I would be part of it. That, as it happens, was a much better kept secret.

It became clearer about the time that my senior vice president called me for a meeting. The meeting was originally scheduled on my floor. That was a mistake, he said over the telephone. Instead, it would be held in human resources. No mistaking that. A few minutes later, an HR person I had never met was talking to me about severance pay and employee assistance programs.

After a few more minutes passed, I was on the street headed toward my car with a folder stuffed with documents and a head full of fog. I barely noticed as a homeless person approached me. He asked if I could spare some money to get him something to eat. “I’m sorry,” I muttered, wanting to be anywhere but there.

“F you,” he replied.

It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Have Pen, Will Travel

I just got word that I am being laid off as part of cost-cutting measures at Humana, one of the nation's largest health insurers. I knew "admin" costs were being cut. I just didn't know that I was admin costs.

Plan to stay based in my hometown of Louisville, Ky. After all, the Cardinals are having a hard enough time, even with my support. However, I will travel as needed. Plus, with technology like it is, shouldn't I be able to work in my basement in my PJs?

I have more than 10 years experience as a PR pro in the utility and health care industries, as well as a lowly paid, but highly enjoyable stint in government service. I've worked in internal, external and provider communications. Before that, I worked for many years as a reporter and editor. (Don't worry, I've been deprogrammed). I still freelance when I'm particularly hungry.

I'm open to all opportunities. Or, as the headline says, "have pen, will travel."

Thanks for the look.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hatman Returns

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was a hat given to me by my sister and my brother-in-law. It’s the kind of hat that looks like you ought to be wearing it while lounging on the beach with an ugly Hawaiian shirt and a strong tropical drink. A friend of mine used to call a hat like this a “go to hell” hat. I’m really not sure why. Maybe it’s because when you wear this kind of hat you are basically telling the fashionistas to go to hell.

Anyway, the last time I saw a chapeau so grand it was a decade ago at a University of Louisville football game. At first, the wearer slipped in relatively unnoticed. That didn’t last long. The hat quickly garnered my attention and admiration. From then on, every time hatman slipped up and down the aisle – whether going to the bathroom or the beer line – I shouted, “Nice hat.”

Hatman originally accepted my compliment begrudgingly. Believe it or not, he might have actually thought I was making fun of him. I guess it eventually became second nature to him though. After all, he never stopped wearing the hat. In fact, I’d like to think he actually started to have some fun with it, at least until the incident.

For better or worse, “nice hat” was gaining momentum. Originally a chorus of only one, it was building to a regal refrain as others joined in, broadcasting hatman’s every movement. It seemed mostly good-spirited until the last game of the year. As I recall, Louisville was taking a horrendous beating. Hatman was returning from his regular bathroom/beer run. For some inexplicable reason, the crowd’s pent-up frustration was seemingly unleashed at that very moment onto the hat. Vulgarities were hurled. Debris was tossed. It was uglier than a Hawaiian shirt.

In the aftermath of such a riotous display, the hat was, unfortunately, never seen again. That is until it – or a damn-fine facsimile -- showed up 10 years later in my gift box on Christmas Eve. This was kismet. I proudly put the hat on. My sister snapped a photo. I couldn’t wait to load the photo to Facebook. Before 24 hours had passed, I heard from my good friend, Kenny, who has shared U of L football tickets with me since the dinosaurs roamed the earth.

He had only two words for such an auspicious occasion: “Nice hat.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Remembering Uncle Bill

When I think of my great uncle, Bill Webb, who died this weekend after a lengthy illness, two images come to mind. The first is of him in a boat at Nolin Lake and the second is of him walking along the streets in Camp Taylor.

Bill loved to fish and was a great fisherman. He was one of the early adaptors of what we call “the little green worm,” which is a lethal weapon to bass to this day. He fished with my dad quite a bit. He’d also fish by himself. He had his own routines.

Once, when I was very young, Uncle Bill invited me to join him on a fishing trip. I’m sure it cramped his style a little bit to have a kid along, but you wouldn’t know it. He was very patient . . . until I started catching more fish than him, courtesy of the little green worm.

At that point, Uncle Bill decided I should take my own fish off the hook. Maybe he was trying to teach me, but I think he was trying to catch up. Either way, Bill was as proud of my fish as I was. He couldn’t wait to get home to show my dad our catch and needle him about how his boy had thrived under the tutelage of “a real fisherman.” I never caught a bigger fish to this day.

My second memory of Uncle Bill is of him walking the streets of Camp Taylor like the community’s unofficial mayor. Bill had a heart attack when he was younger and would walk the perimeter of Audubon Park Country Club for exercise, picking up wayward golf balls as he went. As best I know, Uncle Bill didn’t play golf. On his walkabout, Bill would always pass our front porch, hollering “hey, Dougo,” whenever he saw me or my dad.

I suspect once Uncle Bill is laid to rest this week Aunt Norma will find a basement full of golf balls . . . and a few packs of little green worms.