Thursday, December 29, 2011


I've kicked around ideas as to why zombies are a center-stage topic of interest for my children. My wife and I don't talk about zombies (ha, like that would make a difference), we don't watch zombie movies at home (haha, like that would make a difference), and we don't condone the subject of zombies (hahaha, like that would make a freaking difference). Zombies for us have been an inconceivably non-issue... kind of like the intermarriage of a Democrat and Republican. Who produce purple offspring (I heard that happened once up North).

I recently went birthday shopping with my son at Barnes & Nobles when in the checkout line I came across these little, pet zombies. Complete with instructions on how to care for them. Care for them? How? By giving them peroxide and band aids? I was sure that were pet zombies to exist, the best way to care for one would be to let it bleed. 

No, I had to end this crap right now before it got way out of hand. My kids needed to know that I didn't "believe in" zombies so zombies wouldn't exist for them either. I had to let them know that the freak trend would soon be over, then we could go back to the good old days when we worried about more plausible creatures. Like aliens. And people who believed in them. 

But. Then. I was blindsided one afternoon as I contemplated working out (that gave me a nice burn). In considering the oxymoron of the living dead, what idea planted the seed of rebellion (aka, democracy) in our historical American mind in the first place? Yes, like you I saw the direction my mind was headed: John Calvin.

OK, not solely John Calvin (it's never "solely" anybody who gets a thing done). A combination of European "reformers", spanning a few hundred years, began thinking differently about things. Like how humans should be depicted in art: 

For example, do humans all really stand on tippy-toe? Regularly? (Humans are most honestly depicted within their environment, so environment has to be important).

Or, in true foreshortening shouldn't objects in the foreground be proportionately larger than objects in the background? (The relationship of things to each other within an environment is important).

And, where are the people of color? (Oops, that wasn't much of a concern for several more hundred years.)

It wasn't just art, but art was a portal into the many matters of humanity that were being rethought. The name for the high point of this period was called "Reformation." But I see it less as a reformation and more as a rebellion (Anyways, that's what it looks like here).

But the mother-thought of the Reformation surrounded the interpretation of freedom. What is freedom? Who is free? How free? 

John Calvin, blamed for the Calvinist interpretation of freedom, was first known as the father of constitutional government before he was ever a Calvinist (hahaha).

His interpretation of freedom shattered the exclusive monarchical rule, because not only did subjects now have legitimate obligations to the monarchy, but the monarchy also had legitimate duties to its subjects. And if either chose not to fulfill said duties, then the other was free from the tyrannical insistence that he alone obey but not be obeyed. That's where European countries originally got the idea of the constitution (I'm sure Henry wasn't too fond of Calvin. Initially).

But to what extent is God free? Infinitely. To what extent is man free? Finitely. BUT TO WHAT FREAKING EXTENT?

Zombies are the living dead, a conundrum, I think, to describe a fundamental confusion debated long before the Reformation and currently debated by the proliferation of commercial zombie goods. To what extent is dead dead? To what extent is alive alive? To what extent is free free?

Zombies, I am convinced, are less about the zombie and more about the extent. Do you push "it" to the extreme or do you pull it back so that it is a non-issue and, in effect, inert? Of course, these are good questions my children should be asking, and discussing, and even toying with. To what extent is standing on tippy toe no longer a proper artistic depiction of human stance? To what extent is foreshortening no longer foreshortening?

And where are the Black people?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


What do faux painting, the blues, and shrimp all have in common? Paul Dengler, of course, but you probably wouldn't know that because Paul Dengler is so modest. You might have a better chance finding him in the foyer of a mansion in Greater Nashville, immaculately rag-rolling and glazing twenty-foot-high walls with the patience and care of a disciplined brain surgeon than you would to see him in public. Even though he is one of two well-known, national Forrest Gump impersonators (the better one, I think), 

I wasn't aware of Paul's talent until six years ago. He wasn't even aware of it until a few years before that, haha. I finally invited him over for pizza this past spring. He gave such a powerfully convincing performance around the dinner table that I lost interest in eating, sitting in awe. Forrest Gump, after all, embodies the America spirit, fictional though he may be. In fact, had I the opportunity to meet George Washington or the real Forrest Gump, I would choose (forgive me ...) Forrest. I mean, can you think of anyone as selfless and ignorant of his proximity to greatness than Forrest Gump? 

It's obvious when talking to Paul that he absolutely loves the seasonal work the national chain of Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants give him. BUT his first love, hands down, is music. An accomplished blues musician, the sound that comes out of this man throws you for a curve. Listen:

Hearing Paul sing is like invoking the spirit of New Orleans. You would have been blown away like I was when I had him visit my school. Aside from the simon & garfunkelesque spell he put over his audience, I was more intrigued to see the number of songs he had written on the reams of paper he carries with him at the bottom of his guitar case. All in impeccable musical notation (He wouldn't say so).

But what do you do when talents like painting, music, and impersonation reach such a high level of proficiency that they fight for your attention and professional direction becomes impossible to determine without gut-wrenching angst? That has been a topic of several conversations we have had. "Pray for shrimp", says Paul, a prayer with which he has intimately become familiar these last few years. 

No one wants to miss out on opportunities, especially if he or she gains to do more good by taking them. But when life and time and resources don't allow any more time for juggling talents and gigs, you have to make a decision by cutting losses, watching some dreams drift, and praying that when the tide comes in, it brings in more shrimp than you've ever dreamed.

Take a listen to Paul's catalog of 35 songs. 35 different "prayers for shrimp", if you will.

Also, look up Paul on Facebook and "drop him a line!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


It's only half the story, but I've ferreted out details about rap duo Royal Ruckus' decade-long hibernation into the belly of Middle-Earth finally to emerge this past March with their latest: Rumors of Our Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated. While Michael Walker has been unavailable for comment, I've gotten the other half of the band, Jamey Bennett, to sing like a lark. Or rap like one. 

The classic Royal Ruckus experience is like falling through a portal of whimsy. You are Alice. They are Wonderland. Or maybe they are Alice, and you are Wonderland. From appearance to verbiage, you can't help but not to do a double-take when you lay eyes on these California boys or hear the eclectic vibe of their Old-School-Hip-Hop-inspired tracks. I mean, nothing about Jamey or Michael is hood. 

Except maybe neighborhood.

Maybe not.

But how do I describe this album? Hmm. OK, take Kern County's suburban Bakersfield. Lace with rural Tennessee's landscape. Intersperse with witty, life-stylized picture-parodies of middle-class America. Toss in any flavor of  Hawaiian and Cowboy musical influences. And periodically  punctuate with an Anglican reverence. Now, you have an idea of the ruckus these tracks make of your mind.

In the same whimsical and thought-provoking spirit of their music, I want to give four, little-known insights into this album.

1. Rumors of Our Demise is about rumors. So what have these guys been up to this past decade? The dirty truth is that Jamey has been teaching. Yes, teaching. Flicker Records might have brought Royal Ruckus to Nashville, but it didn't pay the bills. In the long run, that is. In the interim Jamey earned a BA in education and taught at a classical school. Not only did Jamey teach, but he actually wrote curriculum, eventually publishing several books. Here is a link.

2. Rumors of Our Demise is about of. I actually got to know Jamey pretty well as an educator (my line of business). One of the first members of an educational forum I founded in 2004, Jamey not only met me on Monday nights, but we also met several times outside those hours to talk about ideas. Jamey is one of the few "idea" people I've met who actually churns out a finished project. He has a pretty good track record of making art. Even when the music wasn't flowing, the beer was. And the beard. Jamey developed an insatiable interest in beer and beards. 

Especially the beards. 

Well, the beer, too.

 What does that have to do with of, and specifically Jamey's ofness? Nothing, even though I tried to make a connection.

3. Rumors of Our Demise is about our. These rumors aren't only about Jamey. They are about Michael, too. Other than the fact that Michael married a beautiful gal who, months before they met, was a dinner guest at my house. Other than the fact that I've seen him dozens of times at the Square in Downtown Franklin with his firstborn son. Other than the fact that I was disappointed when Michael had his son visit the barber for the first time to have his beautiful, blonde locks trimmed. Other than the fact that we've exchanged numbers only to not talk, I have little to report. Let me go do some good old facebook stalking.

Here is Mike's facebook page. Snoop on it yourself to find out what he's up to (I have a reputation I have to keep). 

Oh, snap, I just found Mike's blog page. It looks like he's been working on his own solo album!

4. Rumors of Our Demise is about demise. A lot can happen in eight years and has. The dissolution of Jamey's first marriage wasn't planned. Subsequent depression wasn't planned either. A job change in education and relational overhauls found Jamey all over a map that was hidden to most of us. 

Aside from a chat by my fireplace a year ago, the last I saw of Jamey for a couple of years was when he officially left Franklin, Tennessee. He packed up his stuff (I took several bags and boxes to Goodwill), took his dog, and set off for a short trip to visit family and friends on the West Coast before relocating to Hawaii. Then he took off for Europe, writing at pubs, investigating cathedrals, making the ever-witty comment now and then on Facebook. Then he was back in Hawaii. Then I ran into him at a local pub. Then he was at my fireplace, reminiscing about the whirlwind in both our lives. 

The reminiscing was painful for myself as well as for him. Certain projections in life just didn't reach their targets, and for Jamey that sense of being derailed infused his experience with a sobriety that lyric writing, beer brewing, and beard-growing alone were incapable of producing. Demise is the right word, but rumor is even better. The lyrical wit and hippity-hoppity fun of Rumors of Our Demise is rumor. A big one. That long, entangled process has been one of rising from the dead. 

Now, that's a rap.

Listen to this awesome album at:

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Memphis-raised Taylor Carroll releases his four-song EP, The Damage, each song, each instrument, and each vocal performed by the artist himself. Drumming for years, Taylor rounded off stints with Pillar, The Letter Black, Our Hearts Hero, Grammy & CMA award-winning Peasall Sisters, with production of a song for vocal training coach extraordinaire, Brett Manning’s Love Justice album.

Having lost almost a decade in deficits of attention, time, and money, Taylor took the plunge this past summer and disappeared. Four weeks later he emerged with four, stunning songs. Each “Taylor-made” ballad combines rich, musical legacy, keen production detail, and intolerable enthusiasm. Case in point, “Someone Else’s Dream” was written the night before it was recorded.

Though this EP is the culmination of his experience in musically supporting the projects of others, the overarching theme of Taylor’s EP is his signature commitment to a strong, personal significance. He sings that it is not possible to facelift your personal history by rearranging the unlovely facts that have made you you. You need to move on. The damage has already been done.

Here is a clip.


Preview the full songs on youtube ;)

Friday, December 2, 2011


Any compelling proof I need for the science of P90X is in the Great Wall of China. I cajoled Gordon Laurie, British jujitsu enthusiast and Washington-Lee High School's Assistant Principal in Arlington, Virginia to take the difficult route along the Wall in the hour or two we had to engage this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

553 steps. That is how many steps I lasted. Taking off at a brisk climb, I began to slow down within 100 steps, taking generous breaks every fifteen or twenty thereafter. By the time I had scaled the first two levels, my triceps (of all muscles) were given over to involuntary spasms, and the innermost part of my vital organs felt like I had been wrestling 10 minutes past the 3-minute limit. 

I sat down by a tower on the second tier to catch my breath. But my breath never came. It wasn't my breath. It was my life. I felt dried inside. My muscles had rebelled and were doing silly jigs that would have made me laugh had laughter even been a recollection of my human experience at that point.

Gordon Laurie, empathized with me for a few minutes, recovered, and proceeded to the next tier. Watching him climb, getting smaller and smaller, almost made me retch. I had been a gymnast for well over 25 years, lifted weights, yada yada. So what was my problem? 

As best as I can understand, controlled, organized workouts in air-conditioned gyms isn't a value system that works on the Great Wall of China. My pommel horse routine just didn't come in handy for the duration of my climb. I might have somewhat been prepared were I to have worked out on a pommel horse that constantly and randomly changed angles as I executed circles and scissors. Or I might have been prepared were I to have run laps on a track that randomly changed shape, inclining and declining unpredictably. 

I noticed that the creators of the Great Wall used series of uneven steps. Sometime they were steep. Then they would be cut in half. Then they would only be a few inches high but long. Whatever the case, the rhythm was uneven and disallowed your body to strike a projected stride. That didn't include the non steps that still sloped upwards at a deceptively steep incline. I have 17 steps in my house from the first to the second floor. What I climbed was almost 33 stories of uneven, muscle-punishing steps.  

So if anyone wants to criticize P90X, I suggest you consider the angle. Literally. 

Friday, October 7, 2011


I am grateful that my wife did not go to the office last Thursday. Else I would have come home to a house of ash. She decided to stay home at the last minute. I had turned on the dryer at 7:00 a.m. before I took the kids to school and made it to the office. At the tail-end of a meeting at 10:30 a.m., I received a frantic phone call from my wife, telling me that the dryer was on fire. 

I hung up, called 911, and sped to the house, speed-dialing her over and over again. No answer, but I figured it to be a good sign when I came within the vicinity of my house but saw no smoke hovering over it. Speeding into the cul de sac, the fire engine, firemen, and neighbors made an awkward arc around my house. And there was my wife, peeved and holding my littlest. That was all I cared about.

After giving them a big hug, I turned my attention to the firemen who were tossing heaps of clothes, half soaked, half ash, onto the lawn and wrestling the burnt dryer out of the laundry room. Main evidence of my wife's having bravely fought the fire was the pool of water all over the laundry and kitchen floor. 

When she noticed the fire, she had unplugged the dryer, doused it with container after container of water from the kitchen sink (which she found frustrating because I had recently installed a water-saving contraption that restricts water-flow from the sink). Then she called me. 

The damage could have been worse. Besides the house smelling like a campfire, the dryer was gone, the laundry floor ruined, and over thirty articles of clothing incinerated. So far, the home owner's insurance has been amiable.

So Sharilyn and I have talked about the "what ifs." What if she had gone to work or taken a nap or any number of scenarios. That got old after thirty minutes or so, relief trumping all of those negative calculations. 

The one thing, however, that has stuck with us is the reality that we are not immune to freak accidents or reasonable accidents for that matter. While an odd situation like a dryer fire initially makes you extra-vulnerable and jumpy (you see the potential for dryer fires everywhere), for us there was the shedding of that suburban smugness that attracted us to this house in the first place.

When you feel too safe, you don't think like a normal human should. You can't. You don't take reasonable caution. You don't take note of the little, errant judgments you make. You don't "double-check" yourself. And a little bit of the "you" you want to become dies. Maybe you want to lose weight, or learn a skill, or be a better dad. But you are prevented from doing that because you have no ability to tap into those natural reserves that allow you that. You have been disarmed of your unregulated skill-sets by the comfort police. They are lying dormant within you.

The comfort police tell you that if your yard is artificially green or greener than your neighbors, well, you are that much more immune than they are to the things that happen to people who don't care as much. When you are immune, you do stupid things like, I don't know, not locking your doors at night when you go to bed, leaving your purse on the front seat of your car when you dart into the gas station, paying your taxes only when the letters from the IRS get aggressive.

When we are comfortable like that, we are willing too shell out money for gym memberships whose services we don't use, magazines and newspapers we don't read, food we don't eat, and toys our children don't play with. Of course not. These items serve one purpose only: they are parts of that comfortable environment we create that act as a buffer between us and that real world to which we have grown unaccustomed and are afraid to encounter. We don't want stirred up within us the need for those unregulated, atrophied skills that initially got us to this level of comfort in the first place.

So what comfortable things have I given up? Well, defunct electric and electronic equipment is the first thing that comes to mind (after all, I don't want another fire).The day of the fire, I tossed a vacuum cleaner whose cord had frayed in two places and I also tossed a toy upon which my littlest daughter had injured herself. Yes, we felt leaner and meaner  again. And it feels good.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


So I had this China cabinet for sale on Craig's List this past spring. I get a phone call from a lady in my town who wants to buy it. But she wants if for half price.

Me, "Sorry, I can't do that."

Her, "But my husband just left me."

Me, "Mmm. I'm sorry."

Her, "He took every last thing I had. Including my China cabinet. It was handed down to me by my mother. Your's looks just like it." Oh, crap.

Me, "Mmm, I'm sorry. I can't let it got for half."

Her, "It reminds me of my mother."

Me, "Mmm, I'll take off a quarter of the price?"

Her, "He took all of my money."

Me, "Well, my China cabinet is special to me, too. Sorry."

Those of you who frequently sell items on Craig's List know what I mean about these kinds of conversations. I don't like having to ferret out who is really down on their luck, who is really a victim, or who is really too incompetent to execute a minor business transaction. I'm on Craig's List to make money. Not to make friends. Not to counsel. Not to be a "blessing."

But you can't avoid these kinds of conversations if you allow others to contact you through email or phone (even though you ask people to text). I've collected an assortment of strange, "textual" conversations from Craig's List Creepers. 

Craig's List Creepers are people who shop on Craig's List under the guise of buying but end up conversing without a sale. I have recorded a few below (Keep in mind that I live in Tennessee. All mispellings and grammatical flaws are "as is" in the texts I received):

Craig's List Creeper, "Trade?"

Me, "Trade what items?"

Craig's List Creeper,"What d0 you have texted several ads"

Craig's List Creeper, "Is it a 360"

Me, "What?"

(That was fruitless. Here is another):

Craig's List Creeper, "Will u give me the dimensions please?"

Me, "Of?"

Craig's List Creeper, "Dimension of the end pieces."

Me, "I have a credenza and armoire for sale, but I don't believe I have any end pieces."

Craig's List Creeper, "I thought u had an entertainment ceter"

Me, "Ok, That's the armoire you are talking about. Indonesian wood?"

Craig's List Creeper, "I have lost my mind it is the credenza that I want the measurements on"

Me, "Ok.Well, it is about 5 feet long and almost two feet wide."

Craig's List Creeper, "Sorry 2 wide thanks"

(Understandable. Here is another):

Craig's List Creeper, "Does the ak47 airsoft come with a battery? And how many FPS does it shoot? I am seriously interested LUCKIESS GUY EVER"

Me, "Yes, it does come with a battery. I am not sure the FPS, but I am certain it is well over 300."

Craig's List Creeper, "Does the airsoft ak work good and is it full metal (except the wooden part of course) $nake in the Gra$$"

Me, "Yes."

Craig's List Creeper, "And how much do you want for just tha ak+ accessories and clips? i dont want the flags or the mini guns $nake in the Gra$$"

Me, "$150."

Craig's List Creeper, "Good. my sons bday is may 28 and he wants a new ak. let me think about it. i will get back in touch $nake in the Gra$$"

(I don't know if he changed personas throughout the conversation, but I am certain I was speaking with the same person. Who wanted a customized, Ak-47 with an actual wooden Ak gun stock. For his son.): 

Craigs List Creeper, "I am very interested in your credenza if you still have it. Thanks"
Me, "Yes."
Craigs List Creeper, "I am in a meeting right now. I will call asap. Thanks"

Craig's List Creeper, "Do you know how long it is? Is it cherry finish? I am going to send you a picture of my desk and see if you think it matches. I live 2 hrs away, but I will take it if it matches."

Me, "Yes, it is a cherry. It looks like a match."
Craig's List Creeper, "Great. Would Wednesday afternoon work for me to come and pick it up? What would be a good time? I can put an address in my GPS."

Craig's List Creeper, "Did u get my message about tomorrow?"

Me, "Yes. That will work. The address is (my address). Let's make it for 3:30."

Craig's List Creeper, "Can u measure how long it is? I am hoping to be able to drive my car and not my husbands truck."

Me, "72x20x30 (inches). I am not certain it will fit in a car. You might want to bring the truck."

Craig's List Creeper, "Thanks!"
Me, "You are welcome. Feel free to pick up tomorrow or Friday."

Craig's List Creeper, "Sorry I haven't got back with u sooner. We r still without power and my phone has been dead. I have had family members injured and some with homes destroyed. I would love to have the credenza, just not sure how soon I can get there. If u need to sell it, I understand. Thanks."

(We had a series of tornadoes throughout the span of this conversation, and Alabama was hit badly. She still seemed interested in the credenza, and I had the sneaking suspicion she might still be wanting it. For free. Here's another one on the Ak-47):

Craig's List Creeper, "Do you still have your air soft guns
Me, "I have my AK."

Craig's List Creeper, "How much Jake"
Me, "$150 for AK, scope, and six or so clips."
Craig's List Creeper, "Can you send pic Jake"
Me, "Battery too."

Craig's List Creeper, "How much you want Jake"
Me, "$150 for AK, scope, and six or so clips."
Craig's List Creeper, "How much you want Jake"
Me, "$150 for AK, scope, and six or so clips."

Craig's List Creeper, "Where do you like at Jake"
Me, "Are you interested in buying it?"
Craig's List Creeper, "Cash or trade Jake"

Me, "Cash."
Craig's List Creeper, "Where do you live Jake"
Craig's List Creeper, "I want it Jake"
Me, "Can you come get it on Saturday morning?"
Craig's List Creeper, "Where em you live Jake"

Me, "I'm with the Marines in Parris Island until late tomorrow night. I will give you my house number when I get back."
Me, "Still interested in the AK47."

Craig's List Creeper, "Yes where do you live at
Me, "I live in Franklin. Let me know a time when you are ready to see it and I will give you my address."

Craig's List Creeper, "Could you meet me Jake"
Craig's List Creeper, "Could you meet me somewhere.
An work just text Jake"

Me, "I can meet you today if you can't drop by. Just let me know where."

Craig's List Creeper, "Huh Jake"
Me, "To see the AK 47. If you can meet today I will send you my address if that works better. Just let me know."
Craig's List Creeper, "Can we meet Jake"
Me, "Sure. You let me know when."

(Jake must have had mental problems. I don't know why he had a phone).

Through texts like these, I soon lost my long-sufferingedness and resorted to "Yes", "No", or a simple "Item has been sold" to avoid superfluous details of unnecessary, short-lived relationships with people whose motives I could only scrutinize by spelling and grammar. My inbox is full of the ambiguous intentions of people who say they want to buy but who end up having short conversations with me like we dated before. 

Every once in a while, however, it is not necessary to scrutinize the meaning of a text.

Yeah, pervert.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


You know that unsettling feeling. You are standing at the cash register. You just swiped your debit or credit card. You have typed in the magic code. You are waiting. Waiting... waiting... almost there... Approved!

If ever you want to experience acceptance, do this. In a topsy-turvy economy where people are losing their jobs, homes, and minds, an approval rating can do wonders for serotonin levels and self-esteem.

A clever friend of mine recently told me that it is better to work from a surplus than a deficit. That helped to put the approval rating into perspective. To one operating from a surplus, an approval rating confirms what he already knows. This describes the grounded person who exhibits quiet calm, minds his own business, and experiences little emotional stress "one way or the other."

To one operating from a deficit, an approval rating is essentially all he has to rely upon. He constantly needs the affirmation of others to tell him that he is good enough or smart enough or that everything will be OK. That he is acceptable and accepted. I am not criticizing one or the other (I think it fair to say that we experience cycles of both). It is just a helpful rule to keep in mind to understand why you might be feeling exceptionally confident or why you might feel that you are in a season of minimizing contact with the world.

You are more vulnerable when you want so badly to be in the club that you might do things conscience wouldn't dictate under normal circumstances. And you are less vulnerable when rituals or rites of inclusion do not alter your core values one way or the other. 

Which reminds me of some great advice I heard in a movie once. Don't drink to be happy. Drink to be happier. And if it makes any difference, whoever reads this has my great big stamp of approval.

Welcome to the club!

Friday, September 23, 2011


Chris passed on September 23, 2010. A Thursday. I had been watching THE OFFICE when I was notified. The "Benihana Christmas" episode. 

Chris had been my student at Stone Table in my tenth year of having founded the school. He had transferred to Centennial High for his Junior year. I took him out to eat the Saturday before in Belle Meade with Brett Manning, Leah, and cousin Mike. 

I don't really want to say anything. I just want to show a few photos of Chris. In memory.

Peace and comfort to Chris' parents, siblings, and extended loved ones.

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