Tuesday, August 25, 2015


           Our niece Sarah has officially competed her tenth lap around our planet's sun, a date that she's managed to wiggle into every conversation (hourly) for the past eight or nine months. I never knew a kid's birthday could be so vitally important.  I'm pretty sure my own childhood B-days didn't drum up this much fanfare... because we weren't allowed to make that big of a fuss over ourselves.  Having three siblings is a great way to keep a kid humble.

           No child's birthday since the virgin birth has commanded as much attention as Sarah's tenth. She's made it clear to all concerned that "double digits" is a monumental milestone, one worthy of headlines and ticker tape parades through town.  A conversation about vegetables was just as likely to end up being a discussion of her party plans, and it was a rare thing to get through a meal without the details of her celebration being mentioned.  

            Having been duly reminded, we had our bases covered yesterday.  But the kid hopped out of bed singing "Good Morning, Good Morning!" over and over and over, and made several references to the fact that it was indeed a beautiful morning, fit for a princess.  I tried to explain that it wasn't cool to behave like a weasel on crack before adults had consumed caffeine, but there was no talking to the child.  She was wired.  

             On our trip to school yesterday morning, we made a stop at Publix to pick up our order of 30 cupcakes for her to pass out to her classmates, and she made certain everyone within earshot of the cash register knew they were for her birthday celebration at school.  I hadn't had enough coffee for all this excitement, so I was more than eager to deliver the kid and her cupcakes to school.  She jabbered away excitedly as we sat in the school parking lot and waited for the doors to finally open.  What followed was an epic stream of consciousness, complete with tapping feet and waving hands and occasional musical renditions of "Good Morning, Good Morning!"...  You would have thought it was Christmas morning and she child was seconds away from ripping into a stack of presents, not moments away from homeroom attendance.

              I had a few hours to myself after Miss Hyper entered the school, a respite I used to prepare myself for the evening's dinner plans. We had told Sarah that in honor of her birthday we would take her to the restaurant of her choice, and she had smiled and threatened to find one that would cost "at least a hundred dollars!"  She chose TGIF Fridays, so I figure my wallet got a break on that deal...

              Her actual "party" is scheduled for this coming Saturday. We've reserved a pair of rooms at the local Embassy Suites, and she's invited four of her closest friends for a sleepover, complete with swimming in their indoor pool.  Every moment of that evening has already been meticulously planned out, I can assure you.  The child should consider a career as an event planner...

              Our birthday present for Sarah was an iPad Mini, something some of her friends have been using, and a device that she had mentioned frequently in the run up to this monumental event.  We had tried to program it earlier in the week, but like everything else around here, it required a modicum of technical expertise above our pay grade.  Immediately upon opening the iPad's box, Sarah signed in, created a pass code, chose a wallpaper for her homepage, and began chirping questions to Siri... all the way to Fridays.  She made sure the wait staff knew it was her birthday, and nodded approvingly when they offered a free dessert, complete with a cheerfully annoying Happy Birthday song no one recognized.

              When we finally got the kid wound down enough for bedtime, I looked at my wife and said, "At least we have 90 years before we have to worry about triple digits."

               Of course, in a couple of years we'll have to make a big fuss over the "teens".

               Sigh.  It never ends.

Monday, August 24, 2015


            If you've not read any of Bill Bryson's travel books, get thee to Amazon or your local library and check out any of them.  They're all great, and you'll learn more than you ever bargained for, I promise.

            My favorite Bryson book is "A Walk in the Woods", about his ill-fated attempt to hike the entirety of the Appalachian Trail with an equally out of shape companion.  It's a funny, informative tome about rekindling old friendship, self-discovery, and the painful consequences of being woefully unprepared.

            When my lovely (and dangerous) wife and I stayed at a mountain chalet in northern Georgia this past spring, we ventured over to a nearby state park that boasted the tallest cascade waterfall in the southeast.  While touring their visitor center, I noticed an entire rack of paperback copies of Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" and was informed by the staff that a portion of the movie based upon that book had been filmed within their park.  Apparently, we had stumbled upon a state park that was only 8.5 miles from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail... a little 2,175 mile hike all the way to the mountains of Maine.

             I can't even imagine trying to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Shit, I couldn't even make it up the 600 plus steps at Amicalola Falls...

             Seeing Bryson's book again reminded me of how much fun I'd had reading his struggles on the AT, and stoked my anticipation for the new Robert Redford/Nick Nolte film.  The previews look promising... I just hope the movie does the book justice.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OUTSOURCING TENNESSEE'S PARKS FOR FUN AND PROFIT (the nation's best state park system is about to change management...)

             One of the many mantras of the Republican Party is the sad song that all things are best done by private industry, and not the government.  Everything under the sun has profit potential, and corporations want their buddies in the GOP to open up those markets for their businesses.  The fact that tens of thousands of state workers' jobs are suddenly (and very quietly) at risk is just icing on the cake for conservatives.

             Tennessee's Department of General Services website recently posted a "request for information for facilities management outsourcing", and several huge corporations are currently touring some of our state parks with an eye toward managing them for private profit.  The idea of outsourcing "office space, higher education, including classrooms, administrative space, dorms, hospitals, prisons, parks and recreational, including hospitality centers, hotels (inns), campground facilities, etc. military, etc." has an allure a lot of major league vendors can't resist.

              So, according to this story, those vendors are touring a few of Tennessee's state parks with an eye toward making bids for their operations.  Want a campsite for a few nights at Fall Creek Falls?  You'll be calling a private vending company to make your reservation. Want to play a round of golf at Henry Horton?  Same deal.  Perhaps this will be a good thing. Perhaps not.  They say the state will continue to own the parks, but will offer up long term leases to various vendors.

               What no one is saying is how all of this will affect the thousands of people who are currently employed in Tennessee's parks system.  Considering the fact that all corporations do their best to curtail expenses, shouldn't it be a given that wage and benefit cuts will be in the offing if this lease agreement change comes to pass?  Or is it more reasonable to expect wholesale turnover in the staffing of our state parks?  Will nepotism via private vendors become the norm for the prime jobs in the state parks system?  I'm afraid we'll have to wait and see.

                Obviously, the terms of these agreements and their overall legality will have to be pounded out in various legislative committees.  But don't expect the Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly to object to Republican Governor Haslam's plan to outsource as much of the state's property management as possible.  It's simply how they see things:  the state's government is too large and cumbersome to operate efficiently, and our friends in private bidness know best.

                Of course, even a cursory glance at Tennessee's private prison mess should be a disincentive to privatize the parks system, but...

                 Besides the obvious problems involving current state parks employees, should the citizens of Tennessee also be concerned that the companies chosen to serve as vendors or operators of our parks might also have the autonomy to sub-lease the property to extraction industries?  No one is saying.  But you count on the fact that mining and gas companies want access to valuable resources underground on state property, including our parks.

                 This may all work out well for the state and for those of us who enjoy a park system that is consistently ranked at the top in this country.  Then again, it might be disastrous.

                  Keep an eye on the next session of the nation's worst General Assembly in Nashville. Something tells me we'll need everyone's input to keep our best interests at heart.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015


            If you're like me (an atheist who despises organized religion and retches aloud whenever a televangelist appears on your TV screen) you will probably want to watch this clip from "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver".  Your sorry spiritual soul's salvation might depend upon it...

            Back in the days when late night/early morning television programming was a choice between a test pattern and various reruns of televangelists fleecing their flocks, some of us who worked the evening shift in the factory would settle in with a beer (and recreational narcotics) for the show.  And what a show it often turned out to be...

            Our buddy BJ across town has filed the paperwork to have himself declared an ordained minister, and while I haven't attended any of Beej's services, I can tell you that they're probably magnificent things to behold.  I know this because, like me, BJ used to watch Dr. Gene Scott perform his own unique brand of televangelism after working the night shift, and anyone out there who remembers Dr. Scott's bizarre telecasts will attest to the fact that they were indeed must-see-TV.  If you didn't get to see Dr. Scott on the air, you missed out on some truly inspirational shit...  It's not often you get to see a televangelist bark at his house band to "Play the damn song again, I don't hear any phones ringing!" in the middle of a sermon.

             There are reportedly upwards of 350,000 church congregations registered in America.  That would be 7,000 per state, if lunacy was divided equally.  But we all know certain parts of the country are more delusional that others, so the math isn't quite that simple.  Here in middle Tennessee for example, there are megachurches on every other corner, and their parking lots are often overflowing with automobiles and SUVs.  One church here in our fair city even sends up a plane towing a banner for a few days preceding Easter to let us know "He is Risen".  We assume they're not talking about the Pillsbury Doughboy.

             You might think that a small city like Murfreesboro's fondness for huge churches would make it a town free of homeless or hungry people, but there you go thinking again. What those churches like to do most is collect lots of cash, then send various members of their congregations off to third world pissholes for the purposes of "ministry", then return with stories of having spread the word to grateful folks in those far away places.  I'm quite certain a lot of truly great things are constructed, painted, and supplied with those missions, and that everyone involved is as sincere in their beliefs as they claim to be.

              And yet, I can't help but wonder why there are so many homeless and hungry people sharing a town where millions of dollars worth of donations fall into collection plates every month...

              Maybe I should call BJ and see what he does with HIS tithings.  He'd probably tell us. I doubt the local megachurches would answer the phone...