Several years ago, HBO seemed to air the movie, What A Girl Wants at least 73 times per day.
The film, which originally came out in 2003, starred Amanda Bynes as “Daphne,” an American girl who learns her father (played, inexplicably, by Colin Firth) is a wealthy British politician. Wackiness ensues, as Daphne goes to England, teaches those stodgy Brits how to have fun, meets a cute musician boy (smoochy smoochy) and, ultimately, reunites her parents. It’s one of those movies that sucks so insanely badly that, when it’s on, I find myself absorbed by the awful lines and killer cliches. Think From Justin to Kelly, minus the excruciating soundtrack.
Anyhow, the thing about What a Girl Wants is that Amanda Bynes, not a good actor by any measure, has something snappy going on. She reminds me of the sort of girl I had crushes on when I was a teen—pretty, but not sexy; cool, but not arrogant; engaging, but not annoyingly so. There’s a warmth to her; a genuine … something to her character that shines through all the dogshit. It was enough that, come movie’s end, I sorta thought, “Maybe, just maybe, this kid has a chance …”
Earlier this week I Googled “Amanda Bynes,” just to see what’s cooking. On the bright side, she has 1,131,297 Twitter followers. On the dark side, I’m guessing they’re following her to watch the train wreck unfold stage by stage. Amanda Bynes, age 27, has been arrested multiple times. She smokes. She has these metal things coming out of both sides of her face. She has a really bad tattoo on one of her arms, She hasn’t had an acting career in years. She seems to like—no, need—attention.
In short, Amanda Bynes is example No. 432,345,432 why parents who turn their little kids into TV/movie stars are selfish fools. It just doesn’t work out, and even when it does work out, it doesn’t work out. You’re damned to be a lost soul, searching for the buzz that came at age 9, then vanished with the development of breasts and self-realization. The money is gone. The opportunities are gone.
And here you are. On Twitter. Showing the world photos of your boobs.
Was talking with a friend this morning. Her son is a college junior, just came home for the summer.
Earlier this year he applied for an internship at a large network. The gig would have been in human resources, his preferred field. He flew to New York for the interview (from his college down south), felt it went well. A couple of weeks later he was offered the position—dream achieved. It was paid, intensive; certainly—with a well-done summer—a job offer could have awaited.
“He was thrilled,” my friend said. “Just thrilled.”
Shortly after being offered the job, my friend’s son wrote his soon-to-be supervisor a quick “Thank You” note. He wrote it on his iPhone. He failed to capitalize the word, “Thursday.”
The next day, the soon-to-be-supervisor called. She was no longer his soon-to-be supervisor. “We don’t think you’re right for this,” she told him, citing the sloppiness. They spoke, and the company ultimately picked someone else.
Because of this …
Surprisingly, I have mixed thoughts.
On the one hand—what a remarkably dick move. This is a college kid, and you’re helping to crush a dream. He was your top candidate—until he failed to capitalized “Thursday” in a message? Really? As my friend noted, it’s entirely possible someone else came along, or a supervisor called in a favor, and this was a convenient excuse.
And yet …
I also get it. I warn my students about this shit all the time. All. The. Time. The comfort and ease and laziness that accompanies texting should not—and cannot—make its way into your professional work. I’ve had myriad papers submitted without the I capitalized; with ‘u’ instead of ‘you.’ It’s maddening, and screams to me, “I don’t really care enough to think this over.”
If nothing else, the lesson should be not to send professional e-mails via your phone.
American Idol has become an awful television show.
What once was fresh and lively is now stale and dull. The ever-rotating cast of judges is more frustrating than refreshing. There was, in the first four or five seasons, a genuinely magical chemistry between Simon, Paula and Randy. They felt like buds—the angry one, the kooky one, the cool one. It worked, and it worked very well.
I can count on one hand the number of people I know who still tune in. There are other things to watch, other activities to do. Idol feels very 2005. Nobody likes feeling 2005.
That said …
Tonight’s final episode offered something cool enough that it warrants mentioning. Namely, two two last singers—Candice Glover (the winner) and Kree Harrison—are both big. Not obese, but certainly plus-sized. They don’t have hour-glass figures; don’t fit neatly into leather pants or mini skirts. Why, Candice only showed her legs on the show’s second-to-last episode, prompting delightful shock from Nicki Minaj.
It’s a good thing, because Idol seems—primarily—to be a show for younger people, and I like that they’re not merely supporting the hottest of the hotties.
Anyhow, it’s over. Candice can sing, Kree can sing, the show is terrible.
I suppose most everyone does. A wink. A glare. A scratch. A gorgeous woman enters Starbucks, the eyes of others shift her way. A grumpy customer tells off a sandwich slinger—skip a beat, skip a beat, skip a beat … then watch the slinger’s mannerism as soon as the jerk exits the store. It’s all fascinating stuff; all life’s material.
I am especially fascinated by public bathrooms, and the role they play. Admittedly, this will probably get sorta gross …
Two people are on, say, a date. A first date. They’re talking, laughing. A spark exists, it’s undeniable. He’s a young guy, say, 26. She’s 24. Perky. Blonde hair, cute smile. She works in PR, loves her mother, her baby sister and her dog, Pluto. They both like this restaurant. It’s Greek. Excellent gyros.
Wait. “Excuse me,” she says. “I’ll be back in one minute …”
She grins, rises, leaves the table, walks off to the back of the eatery … where she proceeds to pull down her pants, sit on a round piece of porcelain and discharge brown mounds of stinky excrement from her anal cavity. There’s noise to accompany the vision—a loud, jagged ‘Pfft … pfft … pfft … pfft!’
When the task is completed, she takes pieces of white, rolled-up paper and shoves them into her anus. She uses her hand to wipe out the excrement. Again. And again.
Then she returns to the table; the entire incident unspoken.
One would never purposefully fart audibly on a date. One would never pick his nose, pull his nipple, download porn on his phone, call an ex-girlfriend, dance atop the table, scream out, “Bruce Berenyi! Bruce Berenyi!” for no apparent reason. Why? Because they’re all socially unacceptable behaviors, to be (at best) ridiculed and mocked. We are, with rare exception, in control. Our own public relations specialists.
Yet the bathroom visits happen. We pass liquid and matter, and it’s accepted as a goodnight kiss at the end of Date No. 3.
* Welcome to the 102nd installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every week on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at email@example.com. I’m listening.
This is a Quaz about a dictionary, and a signature, and the weirdness of life.
Back in 1995, while working as a reporter at The Tennessean, I’d occasionally cross the border into Kentucky to shop at Flea World, a weekly event in Bowling Green. In short, it was an enormous flea market, overloaded with used bags and baseball cards and rugs and the like.
I’d always return to my apartment with a couple of things—and once, after plunking down (I believe) $1, I returned with a red hard-cover Webster’s Dictionary. I didn’t give the book much thought, but it always stayed with me—from Nashville to New York City to New Rochelle. It’s now on my daughter’s book shelf, and last week we opened up the inside cover and noticed this …
“Who’s Laura Lee Emberton?” Casey asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But let’s find out.”
Thanks to the magic of the information superhighway (aka: The Google), it took me all of, oh, six minutes to locate Laura. And, man, is she a keeper. The young college student who etched her name inside a dictionary is not only a successful wife, mother and businesswoman, but the former Secretary of Education for the state of Kentucky. Put differently, the person who passed forth a book of words devoted herself to learning. I dig that.
In today’s 102nd Quaz, Laura talks about what it’s like to be asked about a long-ago signature. She breaks down the state of education, explains why she once ran, pants down, out of a school bathroom and admits she likes Walter Mondale … more than the iPhone. You can read her bio here, and order her book, Thank You For Blue Horses, here.
Laura Emberton Owens, you are officially the most unlikely of Quazes …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Laura, so I’m gonna start with the obvious: I found your name inside the front cover of my daughter’s dictionary. How did you feel when you received that e-mail? And what can you tell me about the Laura Lee Emberton who scribbled her name way back when?
LAURA EMBERTON OWENS: I must admit a bit of apprehension upon first reading your inquiry about my middle name, a name that was replaced with my maiden name almost 32 years ago. My first thought was that you were a potential hacker finding a way into my computer files, and then I thought perhaps a friend from the past. Being more trusting than cautious, I chose to respond.
I can only assume the dictionary was part of my “school supplies” as a freshman at Western Kentucky University in the fall of 1976 which found its way into a used book store. The young lady who scribbled the very elementary-looking signature into the book was filled with the natural excitement that comes with your first taste independence. Being the fourth generation to attend WKU I doubt I had given much thought to school. It was never a question of whether I would go to college and doubtful a question of where. For me it was just the natural progression of next steps. I am relatively sure I spent more time thinking about being an ADPi than a scholar. Upon reflection, a do-over would be nice, but I would hate to give up the wonderful moments that go hand in hand with being young. At the end of the day, they help mold who we are.
J.P.:According to your company’s website, you are “a partner with the JYB3 Group and assists clients working to improve Kentucky in a range of areas, but focusing especially in the areas of workforce development, education, and technology solutions that allow government to operate more effectively and efficiently.” I’m gonna be 100 percent blunt: I’m a New Yorker, and many of us view Kentucky as this sorta backwoods state that only cares about guns, tobacco, Wildcat basketball and Rand Paul. Please make your case for the Bluegrass State. Whar are we missing?
L.E.O.: Make no mistake, you will find no greater passion for basketball than in the commonwealth of Kentucky. I would be remiss not to point out that we are home to the last two national champions, the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, respectively. Yes, we take the second amendment very seriously and for many decades depended on the tobacco crop to support the families who live in our beautiful state. But these are not the things that make Kentucky what it is. “Backwoods” perhaps, but in the most wonderful sense of the word. Is Kentucky a state full of nothing but polished socialites who ooze with etiquette when interviewed on national news? No, of course not, but what state is? Yet, we do indeed have our share, as seen in the recent broadcast of the 139TH running of the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps it is Kentucky’s unmistakable dialect that has contributed to the stereotype of a barefoot hillbilly, an image that has been exaggerated over the years, unfortunately. What you will find in Kentucky is a culture rich in tradition, proud of our horses and our bourbon. Periodically, there are events that may swap social graces for hospitality, but I would hope if you were visiting you would welcome feeling at home. We still respect our elders, take food to families who have lost a loved one or just moved into the neighborhood, have enough respect for strangers to pull off the road to show respect when a funeral procession passes, and take offense to those who choose not to show support for our country. I have been fortunate enough to travel to every region of the United States, and I can proudly say I can’t imagine living any place else.
J.P.:You are the former Secretary of Education for Kentucky. There seem to be contrasting statistics about your state’s educational output. On the one hands, you rank 47th in the nation in percentage of adult residents with bachelor’s degrees. On the other hand, you’re 14th in educational affordability. Laura, is Kentucky a smart place?
L.E.O.: One cannot argue Kentucky’s adult population is lagging behind the nation regarding the percentage of bachelor’s degrees. It should be noted, however, that aggressive measures are being taken both through legislation and university initiatives to promote increased attainment.
While more students are going to college directly from high school, the specific demographic that is lagging behind is that of adults. One initiative, Project Graduate, is Kentucky’s collaborative effort to reach out to the 11,000 Kentuckians who have earned 90 or more credit hours and encourage them to return and complete their bachelor’s degree. A second initiative, KnowHow2Goky, was designed to raise awareness about thE steps needed to prepare for college and to motivate low-income, first-generation students to turn their dreams of going to college into a reality.
To me, part of being “smart” is recognizing the problem and making effort to correct it. So, yes, Kentucky is a smart place.
J.P.:How do you motivate a kid to learn, when he sees no reason to be motivated? For example, my cousin used to teach in an inner-city school; a REALLY bad part of Brooklyn. Most of the kids were from single-parent homes, and only some of those parents had—at best—high school degrees. They live in a crappy, crime-infested area, there are few role models to show, “Hey, see what an education can do?” You have an opportunity to make quick money on a corner slinging rock … etc … etc. The rich suburban schools received far better materials, resources, etc. How do we reach those kids and say, “Hey! Studying pays off?”
L.E.O.: Giving relevance to education is essential for student buy-in and student success. For example, for a student who enjoys building things use carpentry to teach math. What better example of a right angle than the truss of a house. I am adamant that schools cannot succeed by offering a “cookie cutter” approach to education, in other words using the same methodology for disseminating the same information to every student.
When students find success in the early years of school and build on that, learning does not feel like an obstacle, but rather a mechanism for success. I agree maintaining student enthusiasm is difficult and a great part of expectations, or lack of, comes from the home. Unfortunately, most of what we emulate comes from what we see at home. I would also agree that it is more difficult to find role models for inner-city school kids, but they are there. It may not always be an adult who succeeded, but a peer who can set the example. Sadly, until we can teach the value of education to parents it will remain difficult to teach it to their children, a cycle that affects a nation.
J.P.:You’ve served on the White House Commission of Presidential Scholars at the invitation of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. That’s a head-scratching thing to read, because this nation is so politically divided right now. Can you work with/for presidents of both parties without: A. Catching grief from friends/colleagues/etc? B. Feeling guilty?
L.E.O.: Being on a commission is by no means the same as actually “working” for the President. It is an honor to be chosen, but a bit of unrewarded commitment in the end. Education is one of the few areas that both parties can somewhat agree on. I mean, who isn’t for giving students the best opportunities for success. While I appreciate President Obama extending the invitation to remain on the commission during his first year in office, I am realistic enough to know it is hard to come into office and make sweeping changes.
J.P.:What’s your path? Like, how did you get from a girl scribbling her name inside a book to where you are? How did this happen?
L.E.O.: Sometimes I wonder that myself. I have been so blessed, never imagining as the girl who wrote in the dictionary that I would have the wonderful opportunities that I have been given. For the most part I worked hard and was the right place at the right time.
J.P.:You worked as the assistant to the president for regional development at Western Kentucky University. I recently served as an adjunct professor at Manhattanville College here in Purchase, N.Y. The tuition is $53,000 annually. Many of these kids will be in debt for the next decade … two decades. Is it really worth it? Especially when technology seems to offer so many ways to make a career sans a formal degree?
L.E.O.: It absolutely depends on the student. First, I do not believe that college is for everyone, regardless of the tuition costs. I use my two children as the perfect example. My son, of whom I am extraordinarily proud, has chosen a path that didn’t require a degree. As hard as I tried to mold him into the role I wanted him to fulfill, he went down his own path.
He has done everything from make duck calls, to train horses, to be a commercial fisherman, and now is a guide for his duck hunting business, Double Banded Outfitters. He is so good at what he does and he loves it.
In high school I made him take honors English and enroll in college upon graduation. Not going was not an option. Thirteen years since his high school graduation, I am relatively sure he has never discussed Beowulf. I did him a disservice by not allowing him to go to the vocational school to learn skills that he was interested in.
My daughter, on the other hand, attends a private university with extraordinarily high standards for being admitted and even higher academic standards for staying. The privilege for attending comes with a hefty price tag. For those who attend, the acceptance rate for post-secondary programs is exceptionally high. She plans to attend law school so this is a great fit for her.
J.P.:I have one I’m thrilled/fascinated to ask you: You’re a Western Kentucky grad (two degrees), and you worked for the school. Recently, Western Kentucky hired Bobby Petrino as its football coach. Petrino, as you probably know, has quite the, ahem, record at past gigs (lied to administration, hired his mistress for gig she was unqualified for, lied to police about motorbike accident involving said mistress). Do you think it’s OK for a college to bring in such a man? Does it send/present the wrong message? Or are athletic departments different entities, and should be viewed, perhaps, separate from the universities?
L.E.O.: I have mixed feeling on this. First, I think we will all agree athletics is an entity all its own. Right or wrong, they create their own island. WKU is such an outstanding university dedicated to raising education standards and has long been about tradition. I was a little surprised when they hired a coach with such a notorious past. According to Athletic Director Todd Stewart, Petrino was their top choice despite the scandal. In part because of his record as a coach and in part because of the way he accepted responsibility for his mistakes. I respect the decision of those closer to the situation and hope that I am a big enough person to realize everybody deserves a second chance.
J.P.:You spent eight years as an English teacher at Warren Central High School. Give me your absolute best/craziest/funniest story from your days as a high school educator …
L.E.O.: One that stands out still brings a chuckle, mostly because I am still so embarrassed. Taking for granted my usual surroundings in the restroom, it took me a moment to notice there was something a little different. In the corner was a snake coiled with its head pointed right in my direction. Taking no time to investigate, I ran into the crowded hall with my pants still at my knees. While I am all for being the center of attention, this isn’t what I usually had in mind.
J.P.:I always hear that we, as a country, have fallen behind [fill in the European/Asian] nation in education, and that this will come back to kill us. Do you agree? Does it really matter? And what do we need to do to fix things—if anything?
L.E.O.: I do agree, and yes, it absolutely matters. Perhaps the urgency may best be ascertained from your own statement that “it will come back to kill us.” At best, it is a slow but certain death for our economy. At its worst, it offers a mechanism for the annihilation of American citizens. We must find ways to nurture and promote human capital though education and innovation. Until our government becomes more fiscally responsible, it will be difficult to maintain revenue streams and impossible to increase the necessary funding for improvement.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LAURA EMBERTON OWENS:
• Five things always in your purse: Lipstick, billfold, pen, hand sanitizer, Christmas list.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): John Calipari, Empire State Building, iPhone 5, Starbucks, Billy Joel, Tellis Frank, Amanda Bynes, neck tattoos, jeans with high heels, the color green, Walter Mondale, Tim McGraw, sand beneath your toes, Valentine’s Day: Sand beneath your toes, Tim McGraw, jeans with high heels, Valentine’s Day, Starbucks, Billy Joel, Tellis Frank, John Calipari, Empire State Building, the color green, Walter Mondale, iPhone5, Amanda Bynes, neck tattoos.
• Your first job was as a payroll supervisor. This sounds insanely boring. Am I correct?: On one hand it was extraordinarily boring—I never really understood how people enjoyed working with numbers all day; on the other hand, I stayed a little petrified because it did not come easily to me. I had actually gone to apply for a teaching job (English). They said we don’t have an opening, but would you like to be the payroll supervisor … go figure!
• Did you attend your senior prom? If so, what do you recall?: I did. My date and I matched. I wore a yellow dress and he wore a yellow tux. Remember, this was the mid-seventies … still sounds awful. I had my first beer and was the only one out of my group who didn’t get to spend the night out.
• Smartest person you’ve ever met: No question, my father. He seems to know everything about everything. He is the retired Chief Judge on the Kentucky Court of Appeals, a true statesman and, more important, a great father!
• If you took the SAT right now, what would your score be?: I would be afraid to even guess. I am fairly certain my highest score would be in English/reading with my lowest in math.
• You were a member of the Glasgow City Council. How many times per year would the words, “Dude, just stop talking” enter your mind during meetings?: Believe it or not, very few. I served with a great group of folks who did such good job. Interesting note, I received more constituent calls and complaints over my vote on bingo than any other issue that came up. I voted “no” to allowing a bingo hall inside the city limits.
• As a former English teacher, are you cool with cursing? Is there a place for a good “shit!” or “fuck!”?: As a writer, philosophically, I want to say yes. In reality, I am not comfortable with it.
• Had she run, would Ashley Judd have had a shot against Mitch McConnell?: No. She is too liberal for most Kentuckians.
• Are you OK with students writing inside their dictionaries?: Absolutely! As long as the book is theirs I encourage students to write in every book, put notes in the margins, highlight significant points of interest, make it your own! Besides, you never know when it will lead you down an unexpected path.
Quaz 1: Wendy Hagen (Former child actress, The Wonder Years)
My sister in law is named Leah Guggenheimer. We’re very tight; have been from the time I started dating my wife.
Leah owns an excellent camera, and takes sharp photos. She also has a lot of pride, and wants them to be good. Of my first five books, Leah is responsible for the book jacket author photos on two of them. Two days ago, on Mother’s Day, she came over to take the third.
We spent about, oh, 40 minutes, walking around the house, trying a few different locations. I wore a beige suit for several shots, but I’m just not a suit kind of guy. I’m the writer who smells a shirt lying on the bedroom floor, just to figure out if it’s wearable. Wrinkles? Meh. Stain? Meh.
Hence, the above photo. I’m wearing an inside-out Spider-Man T-shirt that was purchased from Target for $10. It’s tattered and faded, and 100-percent me. I actually shaved that morning, so you can see some cut/blood marks on my neck (I shave like I dance). I think there’s a tiny hair dangling from my right ear. My hairline is clearly fading away.
Yet another prom season has arrived. And, amazingly, I’ve never used this space to tell the saddest, most pathetic prom story of all time.
So, here I go …
The year was 1990. I was a senior at Mahopac High School. Gawky, awkward, never held a girl’s hand or—heaven forbid—kissed one. I wasn’t a popular kid in school, wasn’t an unpopular kid in school. I was, well, quirky. Sorta like I am now. I ran track, served as the newspaper’s sports editor, went by the nickname “Pearl,” had a best friend (Jonathan Powell—still very tight) who I pretty much did everything with. I was happy and content, but also very concerned. Prom, we’d all been told, was the most important night of our lives. It had to be great! Amazing! Remarkable! Spectacular!
I had no one to go with.
There was a girl on the track team, Laura Garraway, who was cute, but she had a boyfriend. My secret crush, Teresa McClure, barely knew I existed. I took Jody Cohen to my junior prom, but we were merely Hebrew school pals. Couldn’t go to that well again.
The first person I asked was Michele Sheehan. She was a sophomore, ran track with me. We barely knew one another, but she was pretty and friendly and Irish (I loooooved Irish girls). I figured out her schedule and, one afternoon, waited for her outside the library. When she emerged, I tapped her on the shoulder. “Uh, Michele …”
“So, I was wondering, whether, eh …” My hands were sweating. My heart was pounding. I was as smooth as tree bark. “Would you, maybe, go to the prom with me.”
Long, long, long silence. Ugly, horrible silence.
“Sure,” she said. “I just have to make sure it’s OK with my mom.”
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Two days later. “I’m sorry, Jeff,” Michele said. “My mom doesn’t know you, so she feels uncomfortable. I can’t go with you.”
There was now, if memory serves, about three weeks to go. Most everyone had a date. I was screwed. Super screwed. I couldn’t go alone. Couldn’t go with my mother. I looked around, and looked around. Then, I saw her: Christina Ruiz. Like Michele, she ran track. Like Michele, she was friendly and perky. We barely knew one another, and I suspected she was significantly too cool for me. But, hey, I didn’t have much of a choice.
Hence, after practice one day I approached. “So, Christina, I know this is sorta late, and kinda out of nowhere, but would you go to the prom with me?”
I expected no.
I was stunned. Staggered. Elated. A girl—a real girl!—would go to the prom with me. So what if we were kinda strangers? So what if—for all I knew—she had a boyfriend and a father with a gun? I was going to the prom. I was legit.
The night, oddly, is sorta fuzzy. That whole “The prom is the biggest event of your life” narrative (repeatedly annually by thousands upon thousands of American parents) is nonsense. Well, not if you get pregnant, or murdered. But, otherwise, nonsense. I remember Christina looked stunning—blue dress, hair done all nice. I remember I looked like a string bean in a tuxedo—all elbows and shoulders. I bought her a corsage, headed to her house and awkwardly pinned it to her strap. We then drove to my friend Jeff Goldeberger’s home, where the limo awaited.
One of the parents (lord knows, not mine) slipped the driver $50 so we could bring along a cooler filled with booze. Everyone drank—except for me. Why? Because I was scared and sad and afraid. When we arrived at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, the music was loud, the food mediocre, the night sorta forgettable. Because we were teenage boys, and teenage boys tend to be quite stupid, jokes were made about hooking up and “getting some.” I had no remote idea what this meant or entailed. I was just happy to be dancing with a pretty girl.
At night’s end, the three couples boarded the limo and headed back to Jeff’s house. This is where it all gets especially pathetic.
At some point, I decided this would be the night I finally kiss a girl. My plan was simple and relatively fail-proof. Upon reaching Jeff’s house, I’d say goodnight to the other couples and offer to drive Christina home. We’d arrive, I’d walk her to the front door, say something witty (“How about that Bruce Berenyi!”), pucker up and smooch. I didn’t need the kiss to be long, or passionate, or meaningful. I just needed a fucking kiss.
Well, we’re all in the limo, heading to Jeff’s. It’s, oh, 10:30 pm. The limo is under contract until 11:30. “You know what,” Jeff says, “once we get to my place, the limo can take the girls home. That seems to make sense, right?”
Everyone agreed. Even I, outwardly, agreed. Inside, however, I was screaming like a madman. What! What the fuck are you talking about, Goldberger! You’ve already kissed a fucking girl! For all I know, you’ve had sex. Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit! Noooooooooo … noooooooo … nooooooo …
We arrived. I exited the limo. Christina said goodnight. The door closed. The long black vehicle faded into the night.
I got in my ol Datsun 510 and sped to Christina’s house. Seriously, I did. I drove as fast as I possibly could. My plan was simple but, I must say, sorta John Cusack-holds-a-radio-above-his-head romantic. I would beat her to her house, call out her name as she exited the limo and say, “Christina, the night wouldn’t be complete without a kiss …” Or some jabber like that.
I got to her house. I sat, waiting. And sat waiting. And sat waiting. And sat waiting. And sat waiting.
The limo, clearly, had beaten me there. I lacked the guts to knock on her door, or call her the next day or, do, ahem, anything at all.
I simply returned home, and cried myself to sleep.
If you are a liberal, or a conservative, or independent, or indifferent, you should be angry, too.
According to new reports, federal investigators recently seized two months of phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors in what the AP has called, a “serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.”
I’m not writing this as a journalist, but as an American—one who generally supports the Obama Administration. This is shameful. Beyond shameful. A. Because it’s a direct, unambiguous violation of the United States Constitution; B. Because it directly goes against the past words and promises of a president who said his administration was dedicated to transparency.
It calls into question the very ethics of the people running the country; allows one to (rightly) wonder what else is going on; who else has been listened to and tapped. When Obama was elected, many of us breathed a sigh of relief, happy the Dick Cheney-esque days of secrecy and privacy infringement were over. Well, not so fast.
In and of itself, I wasn’t overly concerned about Benghazi. In and of itself, I was somewhat dismissive of the I.R.S. going after Tea Party members. All together, however, one must (absolutely must) ask himself whether this administration is any different than the Bush administration. You must wonder whether the rule of law is especially important, and whether getting ahead remains a greater priority than serving the people.
Usually, I hear the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly flapping their gums, ripping Democrats, and I blame the messenger.
This time, however, they have every right to go off.
Learned a few minutes ago that Alyne Payton, Walter and Eddie’s mother, died last week. She was 87.
A couple of things were written in the immediate aftermath of her death, all rightly warm and effusive. “Miss Alyne,” as she was universally called, was a marvelous, strong, beloved woman who never allowed the racial ugliness of a Mississippi upbringing to result in bitterness or hate. In my 2 1/2 years of reporting Sweetness, I learned different things about different people. Good. Bad. Middle. Nobody, however, had a bad word for Miss Alyne.
To me, what speaks most eloquently of Miss Alyne’s decency was the way she embraced Walter’s out-of-wedlock son several years ago, when he finally came to Mississippi for a visit. There was no awkwardness; no standoffish-ness. Just love and warmth and good food and Southern hospitality.
What more can one ask for?
Here’s a passage from the book, RE: Alyne Payton.
Though she held no elected position or official post, Alyne was a mayoral-type figure in Columbia’s black community. She dispensed myriad pieces of wisdom (“Never give your kids soda,” “Rise early, sleep early, work hard.”), advised her friends, helped whenever help was needed. When Archie Johnson, Walter’s pal, describes Alyne as “remarkable,” he echoes a sentiment shared by many. In another era, in another location, she is a trained chef. Or maybe an interior decorator or artist. In Columbia, however, she was simply “Miss Alyne.”
“Everyone loved Walter’s mama,” said Johnson. “One thing I remember is that she was really into making her home look nice. During the falls she’d drive out to the country, to a rural area called Hawthorne where some of her family lived. We’d ride up with her, and on the way she’d inevitably want to stop and get us to pick the Cat Tails for her.
“When I think about her, and all the self-help books she could have written, she was amazing. Nothing about her life was haphazard. Everything was organized. She had a plan.”
Alyne served as a church usher and was the leader, nurturer and moral guide of the family. Peter, in turn, was the disciplinarian. Though only 5-foot-5 and maybe 140 pounds, with dark chocolate-toned skin and unusually long fingers, Peter demanded respect from his children, both with his scowl and his belt. Docile in his day-to-day demeanor, Peter seemed to derive his greatest pleasure from meeting up with his closest friend, a neighbor named Brady Lewis, in the back yard. There the two would reside for hours, lounging back on a pair of lawn chairs, telling stories and polishing off a couple of $1.50 glass bottles of grape-flavored Mad Dog 20/20 until they were drunk. Because Columbia was a dry town, the two tried keeping their ritual a secret. But everyone knew. “Walter’s dad was real quiet and agreeable,” said Robert Virgil, who grew up with Walter and Eddie. “I remember his dad used to come to my house, and he’d help us kill a chicken or a hog. Then he’d drink his Mad Dog.” Peter wasn’t merely known by his first name. With the exception of his wife and kids, he was “Peter Payton” to everyone, in all circumstances. “Peter Payton didn’t do no harm, and he wasn’t a bad man, but we called him the town drunk, because he seemed to be drinking his Mad Dog all the time,” said Earnestine Lewis. “No one ever bothered him because he never bothered nobody, but it was always the same thing—Peter Payton being drunk, Peter Payton stumbling around. Sometimes Miss Alyne would holler at him, make him come inside the house. He’d yell back, ‘Oh, Alyne! Let me be!’ But then he would always obey her. She wore the pants.”
So I was talking to the wife the other day, and the subject of my time covering Major League Baseball came up.
“When you’re in the locker rooms,” she asked, “and players are changing, do you notice their penises?”
This is a question many male reporters have faced, and with rare exception they almost always respond with, “Of course not” and “Hell no” and “Are you kidding me?”
They are, across the board, full of shit.
I have never entered a clubhouse looking for penises. I have never entered a clubhouse thinking of penises. Truth be told, I rarely notice them. But, the reality is, when you’re walking through a room of naked people, you can’t help but (on occasion) observe. You just can’t. Every so often, some writers would laugh over “the size of that guy”—meaning he’s REALLY large or t-e-e-n-y tiny. Again, not often. But it happens.
That’s actually the funny thing about the whole Jason Collins thing. Players who worry about gays in the locker room aren’t worried about being assaulted or raped. No, they’re worried about the discomfort of being looked at; being considered; being studied; being admired or ridiculed or … whatever. Well, that stuff happens all the time. From teammates. From coaches. From team employees. And, yes, from reporters. It all reminds me of a story a female journalist one told me about her days covering the Pittsburgh Pirates. Supposedly a particularly large slugger was being piggish in the clubhouse one afternoon, making suggestive jokes toward her about his penis. He told her she could come on over and “suck it,” to which she replied, “I might consider, but I’d never be able to find it under all those mounds of blubber.”