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.