Friday, June 18, 2010

Summertime, and the livin' is queasy; Fish are dyin',water is black -- and I love my friends

What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a-happening?
Actually, I borrow that line from rock opera about the original “Superstar,” although when I saw it first, Ben Vereen, the guy with the bag o’ silver, stole the show.
That was maybe 1970 or so at Ravinia, outside Chicago. The young woman who took me turned out to be some sort of Republican judge in Florida. Obviously we had little in common, as I’m not particularly judgmental nor, well, Republican. Although I know some of both. I'm not even overly judgmental toward Republicans. I know some and enjoy their warped sense of tomfoolery.
Anyway, the reason for this thought today is that I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on. What’s going on… heck I should’ve used a little Marvin Gaye to open this particular segment, but it’s too late. Don’t want some Florida conservative judge questioning my judgment.
“What’s the buzz?” or something that sounded a lot like that -- though perhaps more guttural -- was a line I uttered to myself the other day when I stood outside and looked down at the pile of building materials that are in my driveway. Just scraps really. The contractors are doing a good job.
Looks like we’re maybe a week removed from having the lower level of our house restored to something resembling the lower level my wife, my father-in-law and I constructed all those years ago. I was the “muscle,” as I got out of most of the real tool-wielding by powering up a drill full-speed through my index finger. It hurt.
My cousin Jeff, an electrical wizard who came to Nashville because he was taking part in the plastic cars experiment down in Spring Hill, helped too.
Heck, I even bought one of those little toy cars. They were nice unless you worry about durability and resale value. They had the basic composition of a Corvette, which means that if you ever were in an accident, you probably would be as dead as a guy is who’s in an accident in a Corvette… except the news story would read “Tim Ghianni died when his Saturn was T-boned by a Kia” rather than “Tim Ghianni perished when his red Corvette burst into glorious flames after it was T-boned by a Kia.”
Of course, dead is dead. But wouldn’t you rather your last ride be in a Corvette rather than a Saturn. Or a Porsche, like James Dean. Note I said “James” rather than Jimmy, who apparently keeled over from too much sausage. I didn’t know him well. Although I did buy “Big Bad John” when it came out. It was OK, but I was more into Elvis, Duane Eddy, those Everly boys and Chuck Berry.
Of course I’m getting off the point again. That happens to me. My friends say it’s dementia… no “demented.” That’s it.
I counter it’s just that I’ve got “too much in my head.” My high school football helmet, back in the days when I had to shave my head to play football and I took out future Republican judges – in short before I let my hair begin growing and growing and growing … occasionally succumbing to a buzzsaw so I could cash in at graduation and whatnot … was 7-7/8. They had to order it from the Chicago Bears. That’s true.
Anyway, the point of this story, which is all so obvious by now, is luck and friendship and oil.
My luck has not been, well, swell lately.
To recap:
I am underemployed. That means I fight for every little job I can get as a writer or as a journalism adviser in order to feed my family. But I like it, in that the only real jerk I have to answer to is the guy I look at in the mirror when I shave. And, that dude’s scary, as I shave in the shower.
I love my work with the young people though. They need to learn journalism and communication skills from people who know them and have practiced them before the business became mechanized, push-button and autopilot.
Things seemed to be turning some sort of professional corner when 20 inches of rain fell in my front yard a few weeks ago. The basement that I’d toiled in, my office, my little fortress of solitude, was washed away.
Of course, the first thing I did was contact my insurance company, where a couple of different high-ranking and over-achieving bottom-liners told me – tongues obviously deep in cheek -- to “begin remediation immediately” and they’d get back to me to help. What they didn’t tell me was they were going to deny my claim for the remediation or for the rebuild.
Then began my three weeks of dealing with FEMA and the SBA. The end result? Well, it may not be in yet, because I seem to get a new letter every other day in which FEMA denies my claim and the SBA says it can’t help me. But it looks like I’m stuck with the tab. A lot of you out there know how this feels. I’m not alone.
I mean, this isn’t Bangladesh, but it might help if the late George Harrison would host a fund-raiser for me. “My friend came to me, sadness in his eyes, told me that he needed help before his house dies.”
Course it’s not that bad. At least I have a house to rebuild … with the $424.24 check FEMA sent me. OK, I live in a pretty nice middle-class neighborhood. I lost my lower level and all of its contents, other than my books and music. And it’s worth $424.24 according to the government. Oh yeah, it’s not just the Feds who are denying any help. Old Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen puts his signature on each denial. I can imagine him sitting in that stupid massive bunker he and Andrea built over there on Curtiswood, looking at FEMA applications and laughingly stamping his signature on them. I wonder if that bunker leaked all over the oil barons and the like that are entertained there?
Other things have happened in my “what’s goin’ on” ponderings.
Of course, the worst thing was that my cat died. I loved him as much as anything, and anyone who wants to find out more about that should read the two preceding blogs. I can’t go there tonight. Tomorrow I should be getting his ashes.
But this isn’t one of those “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” tales.
First of all, I’ve really found out how blessed I am… well, I’m not a “blessed” kinda guy … how about “fortunate” instead. As in “Fortunate Son,” from the same guy who sang “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Middle Tennessee’s collective anthem early last month.
But I truly am fortunate to have good friends.
One of my oldest and dearest friends, Rob Dollar, has assisted by providing good vibes from his home in Hopkinsville and from the road where he is a secret agent and head counter for the federal government. Well, actually he’s a Census Bureau leader of some sort and as soon as the counting stops, well, maybe he can become governor of Kentucky … or work for FEMA.
He also is the driving force behind this blog. “Why don’t you write a blog, Flapjacks?” he’s been saying for two years. Finally I had something to say and a need to say some of it and he worked to make it happen.
Another great friend who has stepped forward has asked to remain anonymous as to what he’s done. All I can say is that he was one of the few bosses I ever had that I not only liked but who still is alive. I’m glad about that latter in particular. A good friend, even though a little unassuming, who knew when real newspapers roamed the earth.
And then there’s Captain Kirk, who reemerged in my life after about a 30-year absence. Somehow, Cappy, a sailor from the Vietnam war who has turned sort of religious on me (not that there’s anything wrong with that), came upon my entries on Facebook about the flood and he began contacting me from his headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa. Back in college, I occasionally would “beat” him in pool at the bars, so others would want to take him on. Pool hustler and his pal chased into the dark night. Laughing.
Cappy reminds me that I once led the charge as we rode the range at Iowa State University, where I had fun while also getting good grades and sometimes only shaving half my face. Even if I had a full beard. I’d shave half the face and see how it felt before shaving the other.
More about him later. Suffice it to say he spent 35 years as a carny sideshow T-shirt air-brusher before he figured out he’d hit a dead end. … My friends, like me, can be stubborn. Even the humblest dreams die hard.
And while reconnecting with Cappy, I also reconnected with a guy I knew in Iowa who was going to vet school. Now he’s a part of a veterinary hospital in the L.A. area. He runs marathons and takes care of his family. He says he sleeps with his banker … who is his wife. Anyway, he has offered me long-distance advice and consolation when I’ve been going through the trauma of losing my cat. This vet is named Tom Carpenter. I’m not sure the lessons I taught him back in the dorm were always good for him, but he generally was game. And he’s a darned good vet, by all accounts.
Oh sure, there are other friends who haven’t touched base, but that’s OK. They have their own lives to lead.
I do have to say that Peter Cooper, one of the few journalists working at 1100 Broadway who‘s not afraid to be seen in my company, has been among my best supporters. He’s purchased several platters of lamb souvlaki for me and made me laugh. Gonna lick the platter, the gravy doesn’t matter. I keep telling him my luck will change and I can buy. He keeps on patiently waiting.
He’s also talked music with me, which is something I need. Music is important. I’m not talking about that Miley Cyrus chick who wears no underwear and sings like her underwear is too tight. I’m talking about Tom T. Hall, Bobby Bare and Johnny Cash.
And then there’s Bush Bernard, a true supporter, who provided me CD-playing equipment -- mine died in the flood --and gave me a big boost. He also said he lived through hurricanes and built back, so I would return as well.
The great Radney Foster spent time detailing his own flood foibles with me. And he also listened intently when I told him my own.
And then there’s Brad Schmitt. I don’t hear from him much. But that’s OK, as long as he’s in his meetings. He’s a good guy. He also had to rebuild. He’s got a new gig with the CVB. No we’re not talking about “Barefoot Jerry and the CDB, gather round children, get down.” The CVB is the Convention and Visitors Bureau here in Guitar Town and Brad is writing for them. I still hope he gets back on TV. Maybe he can talk big boss Butch down at the CVB into returning the promised calls to discuss what writing I could do for his fine organization.
There have been others who have stepped forward as well, so I have come to really appreciate the value of a few good friends. And some are basically Facebook friends, like Jerry Flowers, who has become something like an electronic brother. Oh, he’s a little more conservative than I am (most people in this particular human race are), but he’s a great guy. Even offered me and my family shelter from the storms of life.
Speaking of the storms of life, I had encouraging words from Randy Travis during a long and wide-ranging conversation. We had 15 minutes scheduled, but we both had so much fun talking, we went on for 45. He’s a great guy.
And then there’s the President of the United States of America. I began to fantasize back in my early flood ramblings, about the Prez visiting me to cheer me up.
Of course, he wasn’t here at all. The Secret Service has called to make sure I say this for sure. They don’t want the word to spread that the President of the United States of America was playing basketball here with me, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty and the late Richard Manuel of the Band. Sometimes Jerry Garcia stopped by to play mandolin while Hendrix played acoustic guitar and Vassar played his fiddle.
Anyway, even IF he was here, demonstrating his basketball form on my driveway and cussing like Jay-Z, I kept telling him he should be down in the Gulf Coast States taking care of the oil leak.
“Coast Guard admiral says there’s no leak,” he’d say, driving toward the hoop, using his butt to clear my son, Joe, out of the way.
He didn’t listen to me, and proved, as a result, that he’s just as good at ignoring a problem until it becomes an epic disaster as was his poker-playing pal and mentor George W. Bush.
So, what’s the buzz? What’s goin’ on?
This summer was going to be glorious. There was going to be a time at the beach in late May, early June. That had to be canceled because furniture had been floating around my ankles. Course, as it turns out, I wouldn’t have gone anyway, because my cat turned so ill.
The vacation was rescheduled for later in the summer…..By then the crystal white sands of the Redneck Riviera ought to be nice and black and covered with dead wildlife and the occasional rotting BP executive. Sometimes I see Kenny Stabler down there. If you don't know who he is, I guess you are younger.
And then tonight Ringo Starr decided he wasn’t going to talk with me.
Hope your summer is going well.

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