Category Archives: Personal

Hey, iTunes! Where are all of MY tunes?!?!?

iTunes panic

OK, I’m trying to suppress the panic here…

I was already pretty ticked off because the only tunes that showed up on my Apple TV were ones that I had “purchased” (either for money or by redeeming a free song from Starbucks or something) from iTunes.

Whereas, most of the music that was in iTunes on my PC laptop and my iPhone and my iPad were songs I owned before iTunes was invented — things I bought long, long ago, either on CD or vinyl (I have a turntable at home that hooks up to a computer and converts vinyl to MP3s). Stuff I had every right to. I liked that this music was in iTunes because it meant it wasn’t subject to the ravages of time and rough use as they affect vinyl and CDs — and they were available to me on multiple platforms, wherever I went.

The number of songs I had “purchased” from iTunes were insignificant. I mean, unless someone has given me an iTunes gift card, why would I spend money on something I could hear on Pandora or Spotify for free? (Especially, especially, especially if I had already paid for it once, twice or three times in my lifetime?)

Anyway, this state of affairs got worse when I got a new iPhone a month or so ago. Everything transferred over from my old iPhone just fine. But recently I noticed that all of MY music (the music I owned before iTunes, from vinyl and CD) was missing.

So today, when I connected the iPhone to my PC in order to transfer some photos, and iTunes automatically launched, I thought, “I’ll try to fix this.”

I did this by clicking on “Brad’s iPhone” in iTunes, scrolling down to options, and clicking off the button that said “Sync only checked songs and videos.” And then I clicked “Apply.”

I got a dialogue box that I can’t seem to get back again now, but I think it said something like “Do you want to erase the iTunes profile on your phone and replace it with the one on your computer?” I said “yes,” because that’s what I wanted to do. And I ran it.

And now, I still don’t have any of MY tunes on iTunes, and a bunch of them (but strangely, not all) have disappeared from my laptop as well! For instance, all of the Beatles albums — just gone!

They’re all still on my iPad. So now I’m scared to connect the iPad to the PC, lest I lose them. (And yeah, I suppose I still have copies of these things somewhere, in some form, but getting them onto iTunes represented a lot of time and effort.)

Any minute now, I’ll start freaking out.

Anyone have any advice?

My life, seen as a paranoid conspiracy theory

Actual untouched photograph taken in the Des Moines airport in January 1980. Why am I meeting with then-Senator, later White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker? And why am I in disguise?

Actual unretouched photograph taken in the Des Moines airport in January 1980. Why am I meeting with then-Senator, later White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker? And why am I in disguise? Who is the man in the background, watching us?

On a previous post, Doug mentioned Oliver Stone’s paranoid masterpiece “JFK.”

Which reminded me of when I lived in New Orleans — during Jim Garrison’s investigation.

Which got me to thinking further…

You know, Oliver Stone could probably weave a good paranoid conspiracy around my life. All of the following is true:

  1. I was in Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Latin America, not to be seen in this country for two-and-a-half years.
  3. That means I was conveniently out of the country when Kennedy was killed.
  4. There was a military coup while I was in Ecuador. It was planned (in part at least) in the very same house in which I lived, while I was there.
  5. My guitar teacher in Ecuador was an agent of U.S. Naval Intelligence.
  6. The pastor of the nondenominational church we attended was an agent of the CIA.
  7. Within months of returning to this country, I moved to New Orleans, where Jim Garrison was about to get rolling with his allegations.
  8. In 1970, I had a run-in with Admiral John McCain, then Commander-In-Chief, Pacific Command — and the father of the John McCain who was at the time a prisoner of the North Vietnamese.
  9. In 1978, I met George H.W. Bush, former head of the CIA who at the time was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
  10. I was in Iowa two years later, just before Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the caucuses there.
  11. Several weeks later, I was present during the Arkansas caucuses when delegates of Reagan and Howard Baker conspired to squeeze Bush out, thereby bumping him out of contention. I had been traveling with Baker in Iowa. I had a brief face-to-face contact with Bush that day.
  12. During the 80s, I had numerous face-to-face meetings with Al Gore.
  13. In subsequent years, I would have closed-door meetings at my office with John McCain (on multiple occasions), George W. Bush, Barack ObamaJoe Biden, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, and, completing the circle to the Kennedy administration, Ted Sorensen.

Forget Oliver Stone. I’m starting to have suspicions about myself

Think about it — how would your life look in the eyes of a conspiracy theorist who believes there’s no such thing as coincidence?

My very first Tweet was (allegedly) a sinful one

Twitter is celebrating its 8th birthday, and in connection with that has set up a website where you can find your very first Tweet ever.

Allegedly, this is mine:

first Tweet

First, I remember that Tweet. Weirdly, I was thinking about it during Mass this past Sunday. I was thinking about how it takes willpower to refrain from Tweeting during Mass, and I suddenly remembered a time when I gave in to the temptation. I sort of remembered where I was sitting. I also remembered that I had been to Starbucks that morning, and was still feeling a very nice first-cup buzz at the time. And I remembered that I mentioned that I was in Mass in the Tweet. (And the timestamp, 12:37 p.m., places it smack in the middle of the Mass I attend most weeks. And I checked — May 24 was a Sunday.)

Second, it seems highly unlikely that that was my first Tweet. I seem to recall rather clearly first trying out Twitter during the week, while sitting in my office in the Byrnes Building at USC. This was when I was on that 90-day consulting contract with Harris Pastides, right after I was laid off at The State. I had been talked into trying Twitter after a meeting in which some other consultants had given the university president and members of his communications team a presentation on social media. Tim Kelly talked me into it. I was reluctant to try Twitter, but he persuaded me that it would be a great tool for promoting my blog.

I remember trying it, sitting there in that office, and almost immediately becoming hooked on it. Which surprised me. I thought I would hate it.

It seems highly unlikely that I would have waited until Sunday, while I was in Mass, to try my first Tweet. For one thing, if I hadn’t Tweeted before, how would I know that it was something I enjoyed doing, and therefore be tempted into doing it at such an inappropriate moment?

Still, it was interesting to suddenly have that indiscretion thrown at me today. It’s both a pleasant blast from the past, and a cause for a wave of guilt. But then, as Yossarian said to Chaplain Tappman, “I wouldn’t want to live without strong misgivings. Right, Chaplain?”

The beginning of the big, sad thaw

The unappealing mix of ice chunks and slush collecting beneath the eaves of my house.

The unappealing mix of ice chunks and slush collecting beneath the eaves of my house.

There are these chunks of ice, about an inch in length, up to maybe half an inch in breadth, raining down onto the icy coating covering my lawn. At first, it appears to me yet another variety of precipitation. But it’s coming from the trees. The steady clatter these things produce on my roof is accompanied by a liquid drip from the eaves.

It’s 34 degrees Fahrenheit, and the melt has begun. Which always imparts to me a sense of loss. There was all this solid, stable beauty that forced us to take note of it, and now, far too soon, it’s disappearing.

That may seem perverse. It may sound like a guy who doesn’t want to go to work. But I can do most of my work from home, as long as there is electricity. That’s not it. Anyway, I’ve never experienced winter weather severe enough to prevent me getting to the office if I really need to. And during all my years working at newspapers, I always did go to work. But I still felt the sense of loss when the snow and ice started melting.

I think I’ve just not had enough ice and snow in my life to ever feel like I’ve had enough of it, to get to the point that I’m ready for it to go away.

Usually in my life, it has melted away before it even begins to stick. And then, on the rare of occasions when it does stick — and this is twice so far this season — you hardly have time to say, “It’s winter!” before the drip starts from the eaves, and the solid beauty has begun to die.

… a huge flurry of chunks just came down onto the roof just over my head. My home office is in and upstairs room…

I began life in South Carolina, and lived in Charleston and Bennettsville and Columbia until I was kindergarten age, when we moved to Norfolk. After Norfolk, we were in New Jersey for a year, and there I had a good bit of winter weather. I can remember walking to school — it was just across the street from the apartment complex where we lived — when the snow was nearly to my knees. But I was pretty short then.

We went to Bennettsville for Christmas that year, so I missed my one chance at a white Christmas. The closest I would some was when we had that snow on Boxing Day in 2010, the day before we left for England — and missed that blizzard they’d just had there.

I’m sort of the opposite of Rob McKenna the Rain God in Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish — the lorry driver who is always driving through the rain that follows him everywhere. The snow generally avoids me. When it deigns to visit, it leaves before its welcome wears out, always. You might think of it as excessively polite.

It stayed away from me in most of the places I lived, as you’d expect — New Orleans; Tampa; Honolulu; Guayaquil, Ecuador. We got some in Jackson, TN, but it was always a big news story when we did. It was fairly routine in Wichita, but not so that I got tired of it. And I left Kansas as soon as I could for reasons unrelated to the weather. Although the incessant wind may have played a role in my eagerness to leave.

So anyway, here it is already above freezing, and it’s going away. And odd as it may seem, I hate to see this.

The icy debris that fell from trees, littering my sidewalk.

The icy debris that fell from trees, littering my sidewalk.

Another ‘Walking Dead’ kind of day in the Southland


I had already made the comparison between the recent weather-related apocalypse in Atlanta and “Walking Dead,” but I had somehow missed this post providing photographic evidence.

Whoa. It even includes “survivors” shuffling through the wreckage, in images very like those from everyone’s fave zombie TV show. Check it out. The main visual difference is that in the real-life shots, everything is icy, while it seems like it’s always sweltering summer on “Walking Dead.”

And today, I look out around me, and except for the presence of shuffling undead, this could indeed be the end of all we knew. My iPad just chimed to tell me that “Nearly 52,000 SCE&G customers [are] without power.”

Right now, I’m listening to Nikki Haley’s live briefing. She says T-Rav’s Daddy’s bridge is closed again…

Days such as this remind me of a dream I used to have, decades ago. All you Freudians, prepare to take notes…

I would dream that I was in a house that was seemingly miles from any road or sign of life, with deep, deep snow covering everything. Nothing but whiteness could be seen, for miles and miles of softly undulating, hilly landscape. There were no tracks in the snow. Most of all, there was no sound whatsoever. I was seeing all this not so much from inside the house, as I was seeing the completely snow-bound house set in an all-white background.

The memorable thing about the dream, the thing I wanted to go back to after I awoke, was the utter peacefulness of it. There was nothing to do, and nothing to worry about. Worry and stress was a thing of other times and other places. There was just the snow, and the quiet.

All the Freudians are now going “death wish!” But keep in mind this was in the context of me being a newspaperman. I had to go to work no matter what the weather, and go to great trouble to generate boring weather stories. Sitting tight in a warm house looking at the pretty snow was just not a part of my life.

I think maybe the dream just had to do with wanting a day off like other people. Even though I always scorned those wimps who stayed at home because it was a bit slippery outside, on some level I think I envied them. A perfectly pedestrian impulse. Although I’ll admit there was something mystical, something unearthly, about the peacefulness of that dream.

But I digress…



Reaching for the 350-Calorie barrier

My paleo diet is going OK. Not sticking to it religiously, but I’m eating almost no grains (had some rice over the weekend), which is the main point. Also avoiding legumes. Everything else in that diet is pretty much what I was doing before.

The pace is picking up on exercise, though. As I may have mentioned, I got a Roku 2 for the upstairs TV for Christmas. That removed my lame objection to using my elliptical trainer, which was that there was nothing on TV, and I can’t engage in mind-numbing activity without a distraction to help the time pass. And I’ve never been able to read while bobbing up and down like that.

So I worked out a couple of times last week, then skipped a couple of days. Friday night, I got serious. I pushed hard, and set a new record for myself on that machine, burning 331 Calories in 30 minutes. That is, of course, assuming that the machine’s calculation based on my weight, etc., is accurate. But I figure it’s measuring something, and higher numbers mean progress.

Then, on Saturday, I pushed harder, and beat that.

Last night, I burned 349 in 30 minutes.

After I pass the 350 mark, maybe I’ll think about stepping up the resistance — or slowing it down slightly and going 35 minutes, or 40 minutes. Haven’t decided yet.

Just thought I’d report the progress…

My baby’s gone off to join the Peace Corps


If I seem distracted today, it’s because my youngest daughter, who graduated from College of Charleston several months ago, left today to begin her training for the Peace Corps — in Thailand.

I’m very proud of her, and also traumatized. We expect her to be gone a long time. How long? Well, my 19-month-old grandson will be almost 4 years old.

I try to cheer myself up with the below clip from “Volunteers,” which she posted on Facebook the day she learned where she would be posted. But today, it’s just not as funny as it normally would be.

I don’t know what else to say right now; words fail me. But she did a good job elaborating on this moment on her own blog last night:

So tomorrow marks the beginning of what people keep telling me will be a life changing journey.  I will meet my fellow Peace Corps trainees in Washington, DC before we board the flight to Thailand aka the other side of the planet.  You would think that I would be double-checking my packing lists or re-reading official documents, but instead I have spent the day rolling around toy tractors with my baby nephew and learning about Star Wars from my 4 year old niece. Not to mention eating as much southern food as possible.  After all, I don’t really think I could prepare myself for the next two years right now if I wanted to.

Not to say I haven’t tried.  I have stocked up on quite a few “riap roy” outfits (this is the expression for polite and professional).  This has definitely been the most difficult part of my preparations.  More difficult than the nearly year long application process, the multiple interviews, background checks, or medical clearances.  In fact, all of those things were pie.  Finding clothes that cover my shoulders, chest, and legs below my knees that I don’t feel Amish in has been more challenging than it sounds.  Sometimes I think to myself, how did my life go from getting in trouble for covering up my body and wearing more clothes than a leotard in ballet class, to this?  I took a weird turn somewhere, but I’m adjusting.

I have also prepared by learning the most important Thai phrases for survival.  I can now say, “fried chicken is delicious”,  “I don’t understand”, and “beautiful dress”.  I can also count to 100, though since Thai is a tonal language, meaning intonation determines the meaning of a word and not emotion like in English, I am probably making arbitrary philosophical statements instead.  This is fine with me for now, as I am sure that the next three months of Pre-Service Training will expand my linguistic abilities ten-fold.

What else to say?  I will miss my friends and family, my country, and my party clothes, but I feel really good about leaving.  Maybe the anxiety that everyone keeps expecting me to have will set in before I step off the plane or something, or maybe in a few months when I realize that I am the sole American in a 100 mile radius, but for now all I am is happy.  I have lived a lucky life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for everyone and everything in it. …

My personalized paleo diet: ‘Caveman no have chicken’

Nor did they have eggs, say I. Although I don’t know which they didn’t have first.

Hey, if it was good enough for Fred and Barney...

Hey, if it was good enough for Fred and Barney…

I have now sorta, kinda, in fits and starts, embarked on my first diet aimed (at least in part) at losing weight in my life.

I’ve always been on a rather restrictive diet, because of my allergies. And that diet has probably protected me from a lot of the ills that beset modern Americans. Thanks to my allergy to wheat (and, more severely, to dairy products and eggs), I can’t eat anything from a bakery, and that eliminates a lot of trouble right there.

It also cuts out most complex recipes, particular those involving some form of stuffing or sauce. Mostly, I eat very plain meat (except chicken), vegetables and fruit, with rice being my main starch, along with corn (grits) at breakfast.

And over the years, whatever health problems may arise, my basic vitals have been good — good pulse, low blood pressure, acceptable cholesterol levels, and so forth.

But several things happened recently:

  • Four members of my family — children and grandchildren — were diagnosed. with celiac disease. Others suspect they have it. Their new diets caused me to realize something I hadn’t known: that a gluten-free diet involves a LOT more than not eating wheat. It casts a pretty broad net. A gluten-free kitchen takes at least as much thought and effort as a kosher kitchen, seemingly. Probably more.
  • My first cousin, out in Montana, told me on Facebook that she had given up ALL grains, and never felt better. She said, “When I stopped grains altogether, my thoughts cleared, memory improved, bloating I didn’t realize I had went away.”
  • I myself had been experiencing increasing abdominal problems, including the aforementioned bloating, pretty much daily. (Sorry, but I think this is the only gross part.)
  • There was more going on to my increased waist size than the aforementioned. There was added mass that was more permanent, nothing that could be dismissed as “bloating.”
  • For the first time in my life, my weight — fully clothed, with coat wallet and cell phone and keys, mind you — was topping 180. One awful night in the last few weeks, it was 183.8 pounds. Not bad for a lot of guys my height, but bad for me. When I’m really working out a lot and in shape (which I really haven’t done since I left the paper and its basement gym), I’m more like 160. So this was bad.
  • My loosest pants and shirt collars were getting tight, the others I couldn’t wear at all — or couldn’t wear with a tie, in the case of the shirts.
  • I was really, really uncomfortable, with my belly pressing against my sternum every time I sat down. (This was with what most would regard as a quite modest paunch. I don’t see how people who are much, much bigger even breathe…)
  • I read a little about the paleolithic diet, and it made sense. Or at least, the rationale did. I’ve long known that men stopped being hunter-gatherers once they figured out that agriculture would enable them to make beer, but that that happened relatively recently, in evolutionary terms. So it makes sense that our bodies haven’t adapted to a diet of Big Macs, fries and giant Slurpees.
  • I realized that a paleo diet would make me gluten-free for the most part, eliminate grains altogether, and probably make me lose weight — or girth, which is the main point. (I wouldn’t mind weighing 184 if the extra 24 pounds were muscle, but that seems unlikely).

That is, a modified paleo diet. Indeed, more hardcore paleo diet, if I may say so without bragging. No eggs, because they would kill me. And frankly, I seriously doubt that eggs could have formed any significant part of cavemen’s diets. Sure, they’d find one now and then, but they couldn’t have relied on them every morning for breakfast. Anyway, even if I weren’t allergic, better off without eggs on account of my slightly elevated cholesterol levels (which my doctor is thus far unconcerned about).

And do you think they even had chickens as we know them? I don’t think so. So when folks at ADCO said they were going out for chicken soup for lunch today, I grunted self-righteously, “Cavemen didn’t have chicken.” (As the diet progresses, that will probably come out more like, “Caveman no have chicken.”) Some paleo “authorities” may disagree, but what do they know, really? They weren’t around back then.

So, as the holidays wound down, so did my menu. At home, I’m eating meat and vegetables. At the Cap City Club each morning, I’ve cut out the grits and/or oatmeal. Just meat (which this morning, delightfully, included salmon) and fruit. And coffee — unsweetened, of course, but I was already there.

And no beer. Unless I find myself in a social situation in which it would just be plain rude to turn one down. (This has happened once since I started on Wednesday. It could happen again any time without warning — I’m very polite.)

No great loss in girth yet. But then, I’m sort of easing into this as I continue to eat some stuff left from the holidays, such as this wonderful bread that my daughter made, just for me, that includes nothing I’m allergic too. I’ll probably run out of that tomorrow.

I share all this because it’s what I’m thinking about. And the only news so far today seems to be that Liz Cheney isn’t running for the U.S. Senate, and frankly, I didn’t care about it when she was running…

Happy Birthday to the Twins!


My daughter posted this picture last night of her twins as precious, bald, happy 9-month-olds.

And the thing that struck me was the joyous wonder of their togetherness, something we non-twins cannot fully know. Each of them was born with her best friend, and grows up with her right at her side. Back in the days when this picture was taken, they slept in the same bed, side by side.

Below is a shot from several weeks ago of them standing in the same order, just as close as ever. Pure sweetness, pure love.

Today, they are 6 years old. Here’s the post when I announced their birth. I have always adored them, and still do…


My linguistic map, according to the NYT


I took this quiz to which Bryan drew my attention. It’s one that places you regionally in terms of, well, your terms — not your accent, but by the regionalism expressed in your choice of words.

I’m a little suspicious of the result. For the most part, it shows some influence from the places where I’ve lived. Almost everywhere I’ve ever lived is within the “more similar” areas, with the exception of Woodbury, NJ, which I think had a significant impact on the way I use language.

I think the reason I seem so Southern on the map is that I said that I use “y’all” as a second-person plural pronoun. Other than that one answer, which rang the Southern bell so loudly, I usually found myself distributed more widely across the country (the quiz gives you a map for each answer). And that would have been watered down if the test had allowed me to answer both “y’all” and “you,” which would have been accurate.

But hey, today, I’m going to be dismissive of anything the NYT has to say

UPDATE: Suspicious of the “y’all” bias in the test, which I felt anchored me as Southern no matter how I answered the other questions (two of the three Southern cities in which the test placed me — neither of which I ever lived in — were based on “y’all”), I went in and took the test again. This time, I answered “you,” which is accurate because I say that for the plural as well (when I lived in New Jersey in the 2nd grade, I would say, “youse guys,” so I could have stretched a point and answered that way).

This time, the test threw me a couple of curves and asked questions about two other words. I was asked how I pronounce “lawyer” and whether I call soft drinks “soda” or “pop” or whatever. I knew that “soda” would place me in the South, but that was the obvious answer. What shocked me was that pronouncing “lawyer” properly — clearly enunciating “law” and “yer” — also marked me as Southern (specifically, as being from what Memphis calls the “Mid-South” — could that be because I used to cover courts in that region?). Two of the three cities in which I was placed (Birmingham and Columbus, GA) were based on that. Which is weird, because Memphis would have made more sense, it being the dominant population center of the region that lit up when I answered the way I did.

Oh — and it also asked me about a pet peeve. I HATE it when I hear people call nighttime attire “puh-JAM-uhs.” Obviously, it is “pa-JAH-mas.” But answering that correctly also made me Southern. Go figure (which I’m pretty sure is Yankee talk).

My second result.

My second result — if anything, I came out more distinctly Southern.

Hanging out at the Myrtle Beach airport

Haven’t been blogging because I’ve been really busy, between holidays and some big work deadlines.

But listening to Nick Lowe’s “Christmas at the Airport” just now (yeah, I’m still listening to such, here on the 6th day of Christmas), I thought I’d give a sample of what I’ve been doing instead of writing in this forum.

Last night, my wife and I drove to Myrtle Beach to send my youngest daughter up to Boston to visit a friend for a few days. She had found a bargain on the Web, and it involved flying from MB.

The flight was for 10:32 p.m. They ended up not boarding until almost 12:30 a.m. So we hung out at the airport for a time, part of which we filled by running through my daughter’s homemade Thai flash cards. (She’s heading off to the Peace Corps in a couple of weeks.)

During lulls in language study, I also Tweeted the following. Since a couple of them got some reTweets, I share:

Myrtle Beach airport more spacious-seeming than expected…

When a flight’s departure is delayed 2 hours, airline should foot open tab in bar for passengers. If the airport HAS a bar…

2 girls in MB airport killing time giving each other rides in luggage cart. Elder girl says, “Let’s do this until they yell at us…”

Airline woman who told us flight was delayed has stopped the girls having fun with luggage cart. Madame Buzzkill…

When your late-night flight is delayed two hours, this sign in the airport seems particularly apropos…


Saying goodbye to my very favorite store, Barnes & Noble on Harbison

The purists who didn't like the floor space that Toys & Games took over in recent years may be gratified to see that area as one of the first cleared out.

The purists who didn’t like the floor space that Toys & Games took over in recent years may be gratified to see that area as one of the first cleared out.

Here we are in the very last days of my very favorite store on Earth, the Barnes & Noble on Harbison.

Its last day of operation is Tuesday… Dec. 31.

The Harbison B&N is more than a store to me. Or perhaps I should say, something other than a store. I certainly made far more purchases at other stores over the years — Food Lion, Publix, Walmart and the like.

But for me, this store was the ultimate “third place.” That’s a term I knew nothing about until recently, when I was getting ready to help conduct a brand workshop for an ADCO client, and I happened to read up on the branding strategy of Starbucks, which has from the start striven to be a “place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home.”

I enjoy both of those places, but between the two, I prefer B&N. There’s only so much you can do in a Starbucks. Noise is often a factor in the coffee shops, while B&N had a more library-like feel to it, except right around the cafe portion, where the sound of the grinder could be intrusive. And then there are all the books to browse through, which to me has always been a sort of foretaste of heaven.

I loved browsing in B&N even before I started drinking coffee in 2004. (Long story behind that. From the time I turned 30 until my 50th year, caffeine drove me nuts. Then, when I was at the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, I started drinking coffee to deal with the 20-hour days — there was, after all, a Starbucks on every corner. And I found that it didn’t bother me anymore. In fact, it did what it was supposed to do, keeping me from dozing off and creating a nice, creative buzz.)

But to browse through those books for a couple of hours on a Saturday, enjoying my first (and second) coffees of the day — that was awesome. And if I took along my laptop and did a little blogging while I was there, well, all the better.

And yes, I did occasionally buy something. In fact, I buy most gifts there. I find it easier to imagine what sort of book someone will like than any other sort of gift, and I make a point of buying them at the actual store to show my appreciation for all the good times it affords me. Buying the gift also makes me feel less of a self-indulgent sensualist as I browse.

Anyway, I was there a couple of times over the last week or so before Christmas. The first time, I bought a book for my Dad — a biography of Omar Bradley. When I got to the counter to pay for it, the clerk asked whether I was a member. I said yes, and offered my card. It had expired (yeah, I think it was around the holidays when I renewed last year). She asked whether I wanted to renew. No, I said sadly, thinking, What would be the point?

The second time, on Christmas Eve, I found myself in Harbison with a little time on my hands, and just went in to browse once more. For nostalgia’s sake, I even put sugar in my coffee, even though I’ve been drinking it black for years. I used to use a lot of sugar back in the day, such as when I wrote this.

I was wandering through the DVD section, seeing if there were any last-minute gifts that would strike me, when one of the booksellers asked whether I needed help. I said no, but as he turned away, I asked him to wait.

I asked when the store would close. He told me — New Year’s Eve.

I asked why it was closing. He said because B&N couldn’t afford the lease, and the new tenant, Nordstrom, could.

Apologizing for intruding, I asked what he, who had worked at B&N quite a few years, was going to do. He said he might be working at the store at Richland Fashion Mall, and he urged me to come there. I said yeah, that store was OK, but it had no audio/video section. He noted pragmatically that that was the first part of the store he would expect to close, since everyone downloads music now and streams movies online.

But, feeling like an advocate trying to save a client’s life in a hopeless trial, I argued that Netflix didn’t have the high-quality, hard-to-find movies that you could buy at B&N, such as the Criterion collection of fine films. He pointed out there were other places you could get those, although no local, bricks-and-mortar location had as large a Criterion selection as B&N did.


I got a B&N gift card for Christmas, so I’ll probably be in their one more time before it closes for good. Maybe I’ll see you there. Maybe we can have a coffee together, with several sugars to counteract the bitterness…

The Mustang at 50 — finally, some news of interest to young readers


My 18-month-old grandson — who is often to be seen toddling about with a toy car in each hand, and who will spend hours testing one wheeled vehicle after another, rolling it back and forth on various surfaces to observe its properties — got very excited when he saw this morning’s business page in The State.

Our dedicated young engineer, carefully studying cars for rollability.

Our dedicated young engineer, carefully studying cars for rollability.

“Deh-is!” (“There it is!”) he exclaimed, pointing at the picture of the 50th-anniversary Mustang in the middle of the page.

Finally, some news that a young guy can care about. I don’t recall him taking interest in a newspaper before now.

In related news, our own Bryan Caskey posted a link to an interesting piece about how the Mustang might have looked, based on some of the concepts that Ford ran through before coming up with the one, true, perfect design.


My obligatory ‘Where were you when you heard about JFK?’ story

Alliance for Progress: John F. Kennedy and Rómulo Betancourt at La Morita, Venezuela, during an official meeting. (Dec 16th, 1961)

Alliance for Progress: John F. Kennedy and Rómulo Betancourt at La Morita, Venezuela, during an official meeting. (Dec 16th, 1961)

Everybody has one, unless they’re just unfashionably young. (Sorry, young people: At our age, all we Boomers have left is our collective snobbishness about being the cool generation.)

Here’s mine…

I was living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where my Dad was doing quasi-diplomatic duty working with the Ecuadorean Navy. I attended Colegio Americano, which was out of town, on the opposite side of the city from our home. I rode to and from school each day on an ancient bus — very fat and rounded, looking like it could have dated to the 1930s. The bus was named “Don Enrique.” Buses had personalities there and then, and were all painted differently. Don Enrique was tan with brown trim. When it wasn’t taking us to school and home again, it worked as a public colectivo, carrying regular fares all around town. Don Enrique had no doors. It had two doorways — in the front and back, on the right-hand side — but they were always open. Young men were expected to jump on and off as the bus moved. It would stop for women, children and old men.

Perhaps I’m overdescribing. In any case, it took an hour to get home every day. I was one of the first picked up in the morning and the last left off, and there were a lot of stops.

My best friend, Tony Wessler, a fellow gringo whose father was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, lived about six blocks away from me. Tony and I had an awesome time living in Ecuador while we were in the 5th and 6th grades. It was a Huck Finn sort of existence. With one station, and that only broadcasting from about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., there was nothing worth watching on TV — we kept ours stored down in the garage our whole time there, and never turned it on. We were always outdoors, roving, having adventures improvised from the landscape, architecture and materials at hand. We used to have titanic king-of-the-hill battles around construction sites, using scraps of bamboo (which was lashed together for scaffolding) as swords. We climbed up on the walls that ran between all houses there, running along them as though they were sidewalks, leapt from the walls to the iron bars covering windows (usually no more than a couple of feet, most houses having no yards), climbed the bars to the flat roofs, and darted across the roofs. It wasn’t faster to cross blocks rather than go around them, but it was more fun.

On November 22, 1963, Tony obviously took the faster route of running through the streets.

Don Enrique had dropped him off at home as usual, then slowly wound around among the intervening six blocks, dropping off other kids. Then, I got off at the corner of Maracaibo y Seis de Mayo.

We lived in the top floor of a huge house. Our apartment had four bedrooms plus a servants’ wing (really, just a hallway leading to tiny room for the live-in maid, and the laundry room). The landlord, who lived downstairs, was a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. A few months before, he had played a key role in a military junta’s takeover of the government, and now was a big shot in the administration — I want to say minister of agriculture or something. The coup had been planned, in part, in our apartment. The landlord asked my folks if he could borrow the apartment for a meeting. They went out and left me and my brother with the capitan‘s kids downstairs. The junta would take over the next day. The man he met with would be the head of the junta.

I keep digressing.

As I say, we lived upstairs. The only access to our apartment was a set of enclosed stairs at the side of the house, adjacent to the garage. It was sealed off with a sidewalk-level security door with an anchor design in wrought iron. The door was always locked, but could be opened by someone pressing a button upstairs. As usually, I pressed the buzzer, and the door at the top of the stairs opened at the same time that the security door unlocked.

Up the stairs, I saw my mother and — to my shock — Tony. His chest was heaving. I couldn’t understand how he was there ahead of me. What’s going on? I asked.

“The president’s been shot!” said Tony.

It hadn’t hit me yet. “The president of what?” I asked. After all, we had just had a coup. I figured it was some other local upheaval, or maybe something in a neighboring country.

“The president of the United States,” said my mother. And by this time, it was known that he was dead.

It’s kind of hard to explain the depth of shock that we felt. It was a little like taking a spacewalk and suddenly becoming untethered. We were in this faraway country on behalf of the U.S. government. Ultimately, up the chain of command, the president was the guy who had sent us there. We particularly had a sense of that because we saw the evidence of JFK initiatives all around us. Programs such as the Alianza para el Progreso testified to the effect that Kennedy was the last president I can remember who gave a damn about Latin America. We had a sense of being in a place that our country cared about; we didn’t feel so isolated.

And now, the president was dead.

By this time, I had become an admirer of Kennedy. Three years before, I had wanted Nixon to win. I had wanted him to win so badly that I hid behind a chair in our living room and sulked while my mother was watching coverage of Kennedy’s inauguration. I hadn’t liked his tough talk toward the Soviets during the debates. He sounded to me like a guy who would send my Dad to war. (And as it happens, years later, my Dad would be serving in the VC-infested Rung Sat Special Zone during the Tet Offensive — so, in an indirect sense, I wasn’t wrong.)

But by now, I had become enchanted by the Kennedy aura. I particularly loved the PT-109 story, and it seemed like I had to wait forever for the movie to get down to Guayaquil. I had a comic book about it and everything.

And now, the president who had survived that was dead.

The war story was probably enough for a kid my age. But I think I also had a sense of him as an upbeat, optimistic kind of guy who believed that, as a country, together, we could get things done. With great vigah.

And now what? Here we were, so far away, with no prospect of returning home to God knew what anytime soon. (We returned to the States in April 1965.) I had seen, up close and personal, how fragile a system of government could be. Was the United States falling apart in our absence?

The interest in Latin America that JFK manifested was returned. Everyone seemed shocked and saddened by his death. There was a sense of kinship (to the best of my ability to tell at that age) that seemed rooted in his special status as the only Catholic U.S. president ever, but probably also fed on the glamor of Jack and Jackie, and the sympathy for their two little children.

The first time I remember hearing the word “martyr,” it was in relation to Kennedy. I still don’t know exactly what cause he was supposed to be martyred to, but there was that aura about his death. In any case, the reverence toward his memory that I sensed in the people around me had that tinge about it.

When my school yearbook came out a short time later, there was a memorial page dedicated to the president. It consisted mostly of a large photo of the Kennedys emerging from a church after Mass, looking young and healthy and happy, with Jackie wearing a veil…

Does my little guy’s freak flag no longer fly?

The Before look: Having a laugh with his big sister in the back of my truck a couple of weeks ago.

The Before look: Having a laugh with his big sister in the back of my truck a couple of weeks ago.

I’m in suspense waiting to see my grandson’s new look.

During the cut...

During the cut…

I learned from Facebook that he had his first haircut over the weekend, and I haven’t seen him yet.

I’m told his aunt, who is a professional at this, went easy on him, and that he’s sort of just down to, say, early-Beatles length rather than the late-60s look he’s had the last couple of months.

So it’s not like he has a crewcut or a high-and-tight or anything. It’s not like John Candy in “Stripes.”

That’s good. Because I very much like him the way he was.

I get to see him when he spends the night at our house tomorrow night. I’ll just have to wait until then.

Yes, when you get to be a grandfather, you go around thinking about stuff like this. You don’t want people making your grandchildren grow up too fast, because they’re so much fun as they are.

Also, hair length is more of an issue to us Boomers than to other generations…

Sharing a flower with Big Sister. Not that he's a hippy or anything...

Sharing a flower with Big Sister. Not that he’s a hippy or anything…


You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. Hang in there…

Jim Hesson was possibly my best friend on senior staff at The State, except for Warren Bolton. He was the paper’s IT director. Actually, we called it “I.S.,” for “information services,” and Jim lived that. He was helpful, patient, competent, and had a great sense of humor.

Jim Hesson

Jim Hesson

I still remember with embarrassment the time we were all riding up to North Carolina in a van for a senior staff retreat. He and I talked and joked back and forth so constantly that the person sitting between us finally offered to move, so that we would stop talking across her. Which made me feel bad that we’d been so rude. But I always had a good time talking with Jim.

The purpose of that trip, by the way, wasn’t to talk business. It was to go whitewater rafting. Holly Rogers, the life-loving soul who was then our human resources director, had this idea that to work together effectively, people should sometimes have fun together (another year, she dragged us all out to Frankie’s Fun Park). I would grumble and complain and pass critical remarks about these outings, and fret about the work waiting for me, but once there, I would throw myself into it and have as much fun as anybody. Those were different times.

Back to Jim Hesson. Today, Jim posted this on Facebook:

Yesterday morning I was having my quiet time on the train heading in to work. I was praying that God would give me clarity about my job and if it was time to seek another position. After I got in I was called in to a meeting where I was told my position was eliminated , along with a number of others in our IT dept. So God did answer my prayer, just not in the way I expected. God is good. And I know He can be trusted in all things.

I am so sorry, Jim. But I believe your faith is well-placed. You got an answer; it’s just not going to be an easy one to accept. May you soon see clearly the next steps on the path before. That’s the hard part — wondering whether that next opportunity will ever come. The good news is that you’ve got the right attitude about it.

I am deeply impressed by Jim’s honesty in sharing this. I wasn’t like that. Oh, I shared a lot — far, far more than most people who are laid off do. Thousands upon thousands of words, in my last columns and on the blog. On the first day I didn’t have a job to go to, I stood up in front of the Columbia Rotary Club and cracked jokes about it. And I didn’t lie about anything.

But it was superficial, stiff-upper-lip stuff. It was never gut-level. Not that I meant to mislead; I was just so busy figuring out the next step of each day that I didn’t plumb the depths of what I felt. In truth, of course, I wasn’t feeling on a deep level. I wouldn’t fully realize at the time how much I was losing. The grief of losing the job that paid me well to do what I do best is something that has unfolded itself gradually over a period of years. At the time, the bad feelings were offset by relief that I would no longer be the one laying off, and then having to figure out how to do the job going forward, without those good people. I quickly got over the rush of anger that I felt in the moment I got the news. I refused to dwell, even in my own mind, on how it felt to tell my wife and family.

And I certainly didn’t share private communications between me and the Almighty. In any case, they would have seemed rather incoherent and repetitive, not elegant and direct like what Jim shared.

It occurred to me to keep a journal, maybe write a book, about what it was like to have reached the pinnacle of what you wanted to do for a living, and then have it all taken away in an instant, just as you’re stepping into your peak earning years. And about what happens next. It would have relevance, in that year of 2009. (And today as well. How many people out there have never regained what they had? The unemployment figures don’t tell you that.) But I thought, what a bummer that would be — I certainly wouldn’t want to read such a book, much less write one.

Now, if I wanted to go back and write something like that, I’d have trouble assembling the details. I’ve just forgotten so much of it.

In any case, what could I write that would be as powerful as what Jim did?

You’re a good man, Jim Hesson. I know God will bless you going forward…

I just passed the 10,000-Tweet threshold! Is there a prize?


It happened when my last blog post automatically went out on Twitter.


It is perhaps fitting that the landmark Tweet was an instance of me asking you, the reader, what was going on. In the olden days — gather ’round, children, while Big Daddy tells you how it was — we, the journalists, told you, the great, passive, unwashed out there, what was going on.closeup

Not so in this era. Oh, sometimes I go cover something and tell y’all about it, but since this blog is not limited to things I’ve personally investigated and experienced, crowd-sourcing can often be the way to go. I mean, if you had to wait for me to go out physically and find 10,000 things to write about, you might have to wait longer than you’d like.

I’m excited about this milestone, and really feel like I’m entitled to some sort of prize for getting here. But I think I’m to be as disappointed as Calvin. Remember this strip?

Calvin (running in circles, throwing his arms up and exclaiming in delighted triumph: “Mom! Mom! I just saw the first robin of spring! Call the newspaper quick! Ha ha! A front page write-up! A commemorative plaque! A civic ceremony! All for me! Hooray! Hooray! Oh boy! Should I put the prize money in a trust fund or blow it all at once? Ha ha! I can’t believe I did it!”

Mom’s voice, from out of frame: “Calvin…”

A dejected Calvin, to Hobbes: “It’s a hard, bitter, cruel world to have to grow up in, Hobbes.”

Hobbes: “Cheer up! Did I tell you I saw a robin yesterday?”

My favorite store in the universe is closing!

As y’all know, one of my very favorite leisuretime activities is to go to Barnes & Noble, get a cup of coffee, and browse. And sometimes blog — it’s one of my favorite remote locations for that.

I’ve done this in lots of Barnes & Nobles — such as in Memphis; Myrtle Beach; New York; Florence (SC); Charleston; Harrisonburg, Va.; Camp Hill, PA — but my favorite, my essential, my default, has always been the one in Harbison.

I wrote one of my favorite early blog posts, headlined, “The Caffeine Also Rises,” at a Barnes & Noble. An excerpt from that over-stimulated ramble in 2005:

This is blogging. This is the true blogging, el blogando verdadero, con afición, the kind a man wants if he is a man. The kind that Jake and Lady Brett might have done, if they’d had wi-fi hotspots in the Montparnasse.

What brings this on is that I am writing standing up, Hemingway-style, at the counter in a cafe. But there is nothing romantic about this, which the old man would appreciate. Sort of. This isn’t his kind of cafe. It’s not a cafe he could ever have dreamed of. It’s a Starbucks in the middle of a Barnes and Noble (sorry, Rhett, but I’m out of town today, and there’s noHappy Bookseller here). About the one good and true thing that can be said in favor of being in this place at this time is that there is basically no chance of running into Gertrude Steinhere. Or Alice, either.

I’m standing because there are no electrical outlets near the tables, just here at the counter. And trying to sit on one of these high stools and type kills my shoulders. No, it’s not my wound from the Great War, just middle age….

There’s nothing like writing under the influence of your first, or second, coffee of the day. Especially back then, before I had built up resistance.

But the best of all was at the B&N at Harbison. It just had the perfect feel to it. I wrote this and this and this there.

The one at Richland Fashion Mall (or whatever it’s called now) is OK in a pinch, but not the same. Maybe it’s that there’s no video and music department; I don’t know — but I’ve never been inclined to spend much time there.

Anyway, you get the picture. So you can imagine how dismayed I am at this:


COLUMBIA, SC — Barnes and Noble on Harbison Boulevard will close at the end of the year, leaving the Irmo area without a traditional bookstore selling new books.

A manager answering the phone at the store Monday morning said she could not give details to the media. Efforts to reach a spokesperson Monday morning were not successful.

However, employees are telling customers that the store at 278-A Harbison Blvd. will close at the end of the year because its lease is not being renewed….

If I were a guy whose favorite recreation was jogging in the park, and the park got paved over, I couldn’t be more upset.

This is just wrong.

Maybe I should have bought something now and then when I was there browsing. Or maybe I shouldn’t have fallen into the habit of buying my coffee at the actual Starbucks across the parking lot before entering the store.

But surely I’m exaggerating the impact of my own behavior — right?

Gathering to say goodbye to Lee Bandy

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy's funeral.

Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, at reception following Lee Bandy’s funeral.

Above are some of the better-known people who showed up at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia yesterday to pay their respects to the inimitable Lee Bandy.

There were other politicos, such as Sen. John Courson and former Attorney General Henry McMaster. But far more numerous were present and former colleagues of Lee’s from The State.

With the emphasis being on “former.”

Lindsey Graham wondered whether there were more alumni of the paper in the receiving line — which wound all the way around the fellowship hall — than the present total newsroom employment, and I looked around and said yes, almost certainly.

The former certainly outnumbered the present at the lunch that some of us went to at the Thirsty Fellow after the funeral and reception. That group is pictured below. Of those at the table, only three currently work at The State. The rest are at The Post and Courier in Charleston, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and various other places. Some are free-lancing. Some of us, of course, aren’t in the game at the moment.

That night was when we gave Lee a proper newspaper send-off. There were about 50 of us at Megan Sexton and Sammy Fretwell’s house. At one point in the evening, we crowded into a ragged circle in the biggest room in the house to share Bandy stories. The first couple of speakers were fairly choked up. Then Aaron Sheinin of the AJC cheered us up by saying, “What would we all say if he walked in that door right now?” And immediately, we all raised our glasses and shouted, “Bandy!”

So we went around the room, and after each testimonial — some poignant, some humorous, some both — we hoisted our glasses and cried out his name again. Just the way we did during his lifetime, in a tone infused with delight. That was the way everyone greeted him, from presidents to senators to political professionals to his fellow scribes. Everyone was glad to see him.

And everyone was deeply sorry to see him go.

There was in the room a rosy glow of remembrance of what we had all meant to each other once, and a joy at regaining that comradeship, if only for an evening. But none of the rest of us will have a sendoff like Bandy’s, nor will any of us deserve it as much…