Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cyber Self-Gratification

Everybody does it, they just don't talk about it. It's a natural occurrence that is done almost exclusively alone, but it's a dirty little secret people like to keep to themselves. Even those who claim no curiosity know in their quiet moments that the urge is there, and sooner or later, they succumb. People wait until their privacy is assured and they won't be interrupted, then they surrender to their yearnings and do it. They Google themselves.

I'm guilty, too. But ever since I began posting online, and The Memphis Flyer has been printing my articles in their weekly paper, I've gotten all Googled up and, like B.B. says, "The Thrill is Gone," or perhaps, just de-glossed. But the first time I Googled myself, my throat constricted and my face froze. After I had typed in my name and pressed "enter," the first headline that came up said "Dead in Memphis 6-19-70." For a moment, I thought I was living in an alternate universe until I read the article. It was from a 1995 Flyer story about The Grateful Dead coming to Memphis, and the reporter contacted me about attending a Dead concert in the Mid-South Coliseum in 1970, where they bombed. At this Vietnam era show, it looked like every sailor in Millington had come to see the Grateful Dead, and they all just sat there. I and several other hippies hung around afterward to offer our condolences to the band and apologise that our city wasn't more receptive. Phil Lesh told me that "Memphis is the most soul-less city we've ever played." Ah, the good old days.

After I had realized that it wasn't actually me who was dead, there were several other "hits" referencing my 1960s garage rock band with links and listings about Sun Records. I discovered that our 1965 Sun single was selling online for $65.00, which indirectly led to a full compilation by Ace Records. I was also amazed to learn from Google that I was a member of the Jackson, Tennessee based Rockabilly Hall of Fame. I suppose admittance is granted to anyone who ever released a record on the Sun label which, after the "Million Dollar Quartet," includes a long list of my fellow unknowns. Although the Radiants came along ten years after Rockabilly, a term that Sam Phillips hated, I was honored by the association. If they're still in the planning stages for our induction ceremony, however, they'd better hurry. Nobody's getting any younger.

My last name is uncommon, but Google introduced me to a slew of prospective relatives, from jocks to doctors, and even actors that play doctors. It turns out there are Haspels all over the place. I know for certain that some are unknown cousins, because someone has to be making those seersucker suits. I wonder if when they Google themselves, they wonder who in the hell I am. Seeing all that potential kin is interesting, but not enough for me to actually try and contact anyone. In this climate, they'd probably just hit me up for money and who needs that aggravation? I have other cousins who I actually like. Why ask for trouble?

It was likewise frightening the first time I typed in my name and clicked on Google "images." I expected to see an aging guy with a disheveled white beard, like my driver's license photo, but the first picture that came up was Osama bin Laden. Now my paranoia was confirmed. I had been scooped up in the Bush administration's dragnet and the NSA was monitoring my computer activity. I had used too many of the Echelon project "code words," and now they were lumping me in with Al Qaeda. I was hesitant to even click on the picture, thinking that a giant eye would appear on the screen and order me to the courthouse to receive my bar-code, but it turned out to be just a picture from the Flyer from an issue in which I had an article.

I enjoyed the Google re-affirming my identity for a time. Having online references about yourself is a little like a droplet of immortality, at least until the next technology comes along. But things have changed and Google is not as kind to me as it once was. It seems writing for The Flyer is a mixed blessing. I enjoy having my thoughts and opinions considered by a wider audience and the Flyer pays me for my work, but it also brought me out of my tiny, blog bubble and greater access has invited more criticism. As a songwriter in Nashville, I used to eat criticism on my cereal for breakfast and developed a weatherproofed, leathery hide. I've been disappointed more times than a Manson woman at a parole hearing, but when the criticism is printed, that goes up on the Google as well. Now, just after a music site that says my singing voice is interesting, there's a reader's comment that says I'm also ignorant. After such a blissful spell of happy Google searching, I have lost control over my cyber identity, and with each published article, the number of people who consider me an idiot has grown in tandem.

So, I had to give up Googling myself. It felt good for a while but I needed to stop. I was beginning to go blind and hair was growing on my keyboard. Every now and then I'll check to make sure I still exist, but my self-Googling verve has diminished with time. At first, it was a gentle ego massage to see my name on the World Wide Web, but it's not as thrilling when your name is followed by the word "fool." Googling is such a tough habit to break, it should have it's own 12 step program. "My name is Randy and I'm a Self-Googler." Although I haven't given it up completely, I'll stop cold turkey before I let that damn Google start talking back to me and calling me names. If I allowed that, it would then cease to be self-gratification and something more akin to masturbating with steel wool. It just feels so good when you stop.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Hussein's For You

I feel badly for those people who can find no joy in the inauguration of Barack Obama. Not enough to sympathize with their sour, sick and sorry asses, just regretful that they insist on going through life without a soul. If not for the mere history of the event, can they feel no grudging happiness for a people disenfranchised for centuries finally feeling the pride in their country that comes with inclusion? The possibilities now seem so limitless, one day we may even get a Jew in there. Hell, who am I kidding? But here are some choice excerpts from The Commercial Appeal's letters to the editor the day after the inauguration:

If Dr. Martin Luther King really believed what he preached, Tuesday would have been a sad day for him rather than a jubilant one.
I did wonder... if the new president would wear a golden crown, or continue with the feelings toward our new president have changed-I have no wish to even see his face with its arrogance, or the smirk on his wife's face.
..we have finally sworn in Barack Obama as savior of our country. I regret...he was not inaugurated sooner,...he could have walked on water to save the passengers of the U.S. Airways plane.
And this was before Obama had spent a single day in office.

With such gravely serious problems facing the country and the president, any sane person would wish him success, if only for their own self-interest. The most visible exception is Rush Limbaugh, whose latest ugly, narcotised ramblings should even give the "ditto-heads" pause. When Limbaugh was asked by a publication to write 400 words about what he hoped from the Obama administration, instead of enumerating political differences, Rush went into a sputtering rage saying, "I don't need 400 words. All I need is four; I hope he fails." What manner of patriot is this who's chief concern, in the face of worldwide financial catastrophe, is the reconstruction of his failed and broken political opinion? I became aware of Limbaugh the day after Clinton's election, when the swarthy egomaniac went on the air declaring "America Held Hostage: Day One." He beat the drums for Bush and cheerleaded for the Iraq War, and when the GOP lost Congress, he admitted that he had "carried water" for ideas and politicians with whom he did not agree. In other words, he's a tool and a liar. Were John McCain elected, can you imagine a single liberal pundit wishing him failure in a national crisis? It's time that local radio stations realize they have another Father Coughlin on their hands and kick Rush to the curb. Who needs this crap anymore?

I recognize well who these bitter radio talk-show callers are because I live among them. I find it prudent, however, to disassociate myself from those who can't bear the reality of President Barack Hussein Obama, because one thing I learned from the Bush regime; If someone strikes you on your left cheek, burn their houses, poison their wells, bomb their villages, and take all their shit. Then, if they should happen to turn out not to be the ones who struck you to begin with, oh well, "stuff happens." I choose to give the new president the time to prove himself and, for all of our sakes, I want him to succeed. But as for Limbaugh, who's verbal mung has finally sunk to Ann Coulter levels, and other blabber-mouths that agitate for the government's failure as an industry, the cheek-turning days are over and it's time to strike back. Hard. Amidst all the general good feeling generated by the Obama election and inauguration, the tolerance level for the old-school hate speech disguised as dissent is very low. Since we are still Born-Again Hippies, we say it with love; "Don't Tread On Me."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Overground Railroad

I guess you have to be over a certain age for the full symbolism of the Obama's train ride into the Capitol to hit you right in the heart, so I hope younger readers will indulge me if I get a little misty. Although Obama's trip from Philadelphia to Washington was fashioned after a similar inaugural Lincoln journey in 1861, only those over 148 years old will remember that a decoy train was used so Lincoln could be snuck into the Capitol under cover of darkness by the Pinkerton Company. Obama took the same journey in the light of day and arrived in exaltation. I only hope some aide is whispering "glory is fleeting" into his ear for humility's sake, although he seems to have plenty.

There is only one other similar train ride in my memory where ordinary people stood ten deep to catch a glimpse of their hero, and that was the funeral train of Robert F. Kennedy from New York to Washington, D.C. in August of 1968. It was the most poignant and tragic public event I had ever witnessed, and since I was young, and felt in the thick of current events, I was crushed by the promise destroyed and the hope denied. I'll admit that several years passed before I was able to watch news footage of that sad, solemn train and all those broken-hearted people standing by the tracks without weeping. But Barack Obama seems indeed inspired in his use of symbolism. Just as Grant Park in Chicago, a place infamously barred to protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention, was used for Obama's election night victory celebration, so this jubilant train trip, lined with exuberant well-wishers, only with tears of joy in their eyes this time, stands in juxtaposition to that painful memory of so many years past. It's almost as if something that was taken from me a long time ago has, in part, been given back.

I suppose I understand a bit better how Evangelicals must have felt when George W. Bush was elected, only without the accompanying dementia. I have no illusions that Barack Obama is the "messiah," I just believe he is the right man for this extremely difficult job, and I feel grateful for his election and confident in his abilities. Aside from electing a black man, I still find it astounding that the country elected an intellectual. It wasn't so long ago that "intellectual" was a dirty word, as in "pointy-headed," and other scornful descriptions used by the Tom DeLays and Karl Roves of this world. Clinton had an enormous intellect, but he was too much of a razorback, redneck-yahoo to be an intellectual. Kennedy was a brilliant rogue. The last Democratic intellectual to run for President was Adlai Stevenson, and the scorn from his political opponents over his braininess was sufficient for every candidate since to dumb down the message. Not this time. And people seem to be responding well to being talked to like adults.

Despite these desperate times, the excitement over the Obama inauguration is palpable and Rooseveltian in its scope. Yesterday's speech in Philadelphia contained these majestic words:
"And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed. What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."

Language like this, with an historical echo of Lincoln, if taken seriously, could well save not just this nation, but save us as a civil society.

I don't usually like to kick a man when he's down, but in the case of George Bush, I'll make an exception. There's a final irony to this entire scenario and it's that the Bush presidency really began with a catastrophe in lower Manhattan, and it ends with one as well, only with an entirely different result. Bush's tough-guy image was built standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers, but his "farewell" speech to the nation, with its' supporting cast of human props, resembled the final episode of "Seinfeld." There was the old fireman that Bush draped his arm around on top of the pile, there was the Katrina survivor who's arm someone must have been twisted to be there. The only old face missing was Lyndie England giving a "thumbs-up.". Only hours before, some sort of miracle had occurred in the Hudson River and a true American hero emerged in pilot "Sully" Sullenberger, but Bush was too self-absorbed and oblivious to even acknowledge the event and, of course, it's far too late for him to exploit it now. Obama already called. It reminds me of the Iranian militants waiting for Jimmy Carter to leave office before releasing the hostages. Whatever the significance, I'd think it serendipitous to begin a new administration after a miracle than after a disaster any day. Perhaps an era of new heroes has begun.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Check, Please

That was one hulluva soiree, but now it's time to fold the chairs, pay the band, and settle the tab. Let's see, you had the economic collapse and deepening recession, the housing crash and implosion of our financial institutions, the corruption of the Justice Department and the renegade Vice President, two ongoing wars with a side order of torture and a generous helping of CIA secret prisons, warrantless wiretapping, the destruction of the middle class, and the city of New Orleans. All told, your share comes to 1.2 trillion dollars. Do you think we should leave a tip with that?

With yesterday's eye-popping, head-shaking press conference, Bush leaves the presidency just as he arrived, full of it. Full of self-absorption without reflection, and full of pride, who's consequences a man familiar with proverbs should understand. But Bush was never one to dwell on consequences once his "gut" told him what to do. From the very first prime-time televised speech about his "Great Stem-Cell Compromise," Bush has played the presidency as a performance piece, where he goes out, day after day, and plays an amiable Master of Ceremonies to the nefarious deeds being done behind the curtain, just like Chuck Barris putting a smiling face on all the bizarre Gong Show activities going on in the background. He memorably said in 2005, "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again, to kind of catapult the propaganda." Bush certainly catapulted it with the best of them, I only wish someone had informed him beforehand that the President's job was more than Huckster in Chief.

When Bush was asked about Obama's campaign pledge to restore the Unites State's moral standing in the world, he replied, "I strongly disagree that our moral standing has been damaged. It may be among the elites," he continued, "or parts of Europe." Who is it that Bush considers "the elites?" Oh, I remember, it's that Eastern Establishment from whence he came that now disdains him. Bush continued that he was "aware that some of them don't like me; the writers and opiners," almost poetic in blaming the messenger. In fact, Bush blamed everyone and everything except himself for the chasms of neglect that define his presidency. From bad intelligence concerning WMD in Iraq, to bad judgement over the aircraft carrier "Mission Accomplished" banner, to bad advice about the economy, nothing was his fault. Bush was merely a victim of circumstance, like a college fraternity president, embarrassed by a cheating scandal perpetrated by a few of the brothers. Of his time in office, Bush said he "had fun." At least someone did.

A question about a proposed, legal "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive pardons for his inquisitioners caused the President's hackles to rise and he abruptly dismissed the question, meaning "it's supposed to be a surprise." If someone's own conduct in office is felonious, do his pardons count later? Finally, addressing the viciousness of what passed as political discourse during his tenure, Bush had the gall to again compare himself with Abraham Lincoln, saying, "There was harsh discord (sic) at #16, and harsh discord for #43," neglecting the fact that aside from being President, the only thing Bush has in common with Lincoln is the hole in the head. The delusional Bush's final press conference was truly "The audacity of dope."

So far, President-elect Obama has been low-key in discussing future investigations of the Bush abuses, saying only, "No one is above the law," but there is a groundswell of people demanding accountability. I don't believe we've seen the last of George Bush in Washington D.C., only next time he'll be answering questions under subpoena in front of a congressional committee. Until that day arrives, as it surely will, my parting wish to George W. Bush is that he gather up all his American flag lapel pins and leftover "W" stickers, his jeans and boots and concho belts, all the Western-themed art and cowboy memorabilia, his "Shakespeares" and biographies of George Washington, the flags, the drapes, and that goddamned rug in the Oval Office and get the fuck out of my White House. Make room for someone who understands that the job is greater than the self-exaltation of one flawed and foolish man who remains thick as a brick until the bitter end. And I do mean bitter.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Happy New Year From Father Farken

This is a special guest blog from Father Ferhgus Farken. The good Padre is an ordained minister of the gospel, presently living in New Jersey.

Johnny*Burnette!!! Bless me Sputnik for I have sinned! In my New Year's sermon I told my congregation That the economy was so bad that I partied like it was 1929! I was about to credit the SPUTMEISTER but all that laughter...well it caused me to gloat instead... as if I had an original thought! Forgive me my good friend! I owe you big!

The New Year's party @ St Louis reminded me that there is a lot of room for song & dance in Catholic, Eastern Orthodox & Jewish theology. Matter of fact its a sin not to enjoy the presence of others. True spirituality is life affirming....Calling us to be fully human & fully alive. Hell is the absence of love...Heaven is where G*d's Love reigns. Like singing Danny Boy to the GREAT MONSIGNOR CLUNAN. (My favorite versions of DannyB are sung by Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson & Mario Lanza but I'm sure Randy's rendition is right up there. Never heard Carl sing it!) And Clunan! Well he was like an uncle to me! My good friend Ernie Pecker did a charming painting of the old saint. By the way! Did the good monsignor lead the Love Train? Which reminds me... I meant to mention something in your last blog (which dealt with homosexuality)!

I took some courses @ Memphis Theological Seminary & my professor of Church & Culture challenged us..."To love others! You've got to spend time with them". He had us dress up as homeless paupers & go begging on Beale St. with the poor. (I made a butt-load of beer money that night but I don't recommend sleeping on the sidewalks in front of Silkey's!) The late Dr. Paul Brown assigned McGirk & me to go to a gay bar some where near SUN RECORDS(This was in 83) & give a report the next day! I confess I didn't want anyone to recognize me so Shecky McGirk & I dressed up like clowns thinking we were incognito. Every thing was going alright till I had to go to the restroom. This guy follows me in & stands right beside me & sez " I couldn't help noticing the shoes!" (Me big ass clown shoes) Then he starts staring at me privates & sez while shaking his head "All shoes & nothing to show for it!" I thought this was no time to be competitive. Then I hear all this moaning...I turn around & there were about 12 guys doing the weirdest love train I have ever seen...they all had their pants down below their knees holding on to dear life to the person in front of them! They were all connected! This was no Little Eva's Locomotion! It was more like a Boo foo choo choo! It was not pretty! To be honest! I got the hell out of there before that LOVE TRAIN ran over me! Then I find my way to the bar only to discover that its open mike night & Shecky Kierkegaard McGirk is singing the worst version of Danny Boy that I have ever heard! Thank G*d Clunan wasn't there to hear that!

In my report the next day I disagreed with the professor. When you are in is blind. When you are serving in a soup kitchen...Love has no nose! When it comes to loving our brothers of a different orientation...stay away from that boo foo choo choo...for it might make one a wee bit judgemental...let us not forget... we all fall short. Love unconditionally!The Peace of the Lord! Fr.FerghusFarken

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:51:00 AM CST

Monday, January 05, 2009

Shock and Oy

Hamas rocket

There is no questioning Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, but the ongoing aerial assault and ground invasion is Bush-like in its' conception, and Rumsfeld-like in its' execution. It is as if the caretaker Olmert government wants to unleash one last spasm of violence against Hamas while they have the blinkered Bush still in office. But the lame duck Olmert, like Bush, has nothing further to lose except his legacy. After the disastrous incursion into Lebanon in 2006 which empowered Iran and strengthened Hezbollah, Olmert's popularity among Israeli's fell to 3% and, also like George Bush, he became the subject of a Hebrew Google search where his name was synonymous with "miserable failure."

The violation of a truce by Hamas and their indiscriminate firing of Qassam rockets into Southern Israel as a foolhardy provocation needed to be addressed. But if you have a sniper in a tall building, you take out the sniper- you don't level the entire building and hope the sniper is killed in the explosion. The massive ground invasion proves that the Olmert government is still fighting last century's wars and hoping for new results. The outrage has been the civilian casualties of the bombardment. U.N. observers have stated that as many as 1/3 of the total deaths in Gaza are women and children. This philosophy of "destroying the village to save the village" was discredited in Vietnam, and if they're keeping score by body count, the Gazans are losing 540-5. The blockage of a cease-fire demand in the United Nation by the U.S. further inflamed humanitarians, Muslim and Israeli alike, for abandoning the Gazans to the cold and dark.

My father used to tell me that it wasn't wise for Jews to publicly criticize other Jews, because there were so many others eager and ready to do so. But American Jews need to make the same differentiation between the founding principles of the Jewish State and the succession of transient power-holders in the Knesset, as was done in this country with the Johnson/Nixon Vietnam era, and the current war of choice in Iraq. I consider that Americans like Richard Clarke and John Dean, who were among the first to criticize the Bush war policy, as the true patriots of this dark period. In Israel, even the frontrunner for next Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the Sharon/Olmert Kadima Party government was a "total failure." It's normal and understandable for Jews everywhere to wish to defend Israel against all naysayers, but in the succession of larger-than-life Prime Ministers, from David Ben-Gurion, to Golda Meir, to Itzak Rabin, Israel has come to Olmert, an official who has already formally resigned his post over suspicions of corrupt activity while in office.

There will be no Mid-East peace until a new group of actors take their places, but it's hard to imagine that the Hamas government, even if physically destroyed, will be discredited in the eyes of the Palestinians. Israel has had peace governments and war governments, and it hasn't seemed to make much difference because of one fact of life; the Israeli people and their government have shown the desire to live in peace since the nation's founding in 1948, while the acting governments in Gaza, the West Bank, Iran and Syria and massive portions of the Arab populations that surround Israel, live to kill the Jews. The original conflict has turned into a blood feud. It's unfortunate, then, that the image of the heroic Israeli fighter in the War of Independence, and the bravery of Jewish soldiers during the Six Day War, should fall victim to this current image of aggressor and occupier resulting from the poor judgements of politicians seeking short-term gain. As the U.S. sheds itself of the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war, so Israel should examine its response of massive retaliation which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and is in danger of transforming the Gaza Strip into a new Warsaw Ghetto. The Gazans must be responsible for electing Hamas as their representatives. Israel must realize, however, that every Gazan is not Hamas.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ringing Out The Old

Happy New Year to One and All
Melody and I had an old fashioned New Year at home. We partied like it was 1929. As we stirred our pot of gruel simmering over an open fire in our den, I reminded her that we didn't have a fireplace. So after we stomped out the ashes, so as not to cause smoke damage to our High Definition television that I purchased right before the prices dropped like the Dow on a day when Bush holds a press conference, we settled in to watch how Dick Clark's attendants were going to dress him this year and wait for my balls to drop. But only Ryan Seacrest and Fergie showed up. I guess old Dick finally took the hint that the public doesn't want the New Year counted down by the Cryptkeeper. I still recall the New Year's in Times Square when the pickpockets were so aggressive, they tore the entire back pocket out of my friend Larry's pants. When they say that you must spend at least one New Year's Eve in your life in Times Square, they lie.

We were invited out by friends, and I appreciate them thinking of us, but like my Daddy used to say, "The only thing worse than staying home on New Year's Eve is going out on New Year's Eve." Add that to the fact that in my years as a working musician, every single New Year's was an adventure waiting to happen. Some were terrific, like playing the Hard Rock in New York with Isaac Tigrett acting as host. And some were nightmarish, like the private corporate party we played thrown by a CEO big shot who got shitfaced and insisted on singing "Summertime" with the band. The poor slob got up to "and the cotton..." and he could go no further. He just stood there slumped and numb, mumbling "and the cotton...," over and over. Finally, when a couple of his employees were helping him off the stage, I said into the microphone, "Hey, don't quit your day job," at which point he broke loose from his handlers like James Brown and charged the stage, jacking up Bob Simon by the shirt collar screaming, "What did you say, you sonofabitch?" Bob was beet red before the enraged and drunken man who was going to pay us could be torn away from his throat, proving that even in the most miserable of circumstances, there can still be amusing incidents.

I've seen the combination of an anxiety-producing overemphasis on having a good time, mixed with a "drink quick and suffer later" philosophy, end badly and early for a whole lot of people. Musicians refer to New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night." One thing I'm assured of by staying home is that I won't be killed on the road. I have no objection to anyone drinking, but I don't drink because it has an unpleasant effect on me. I wish I could achieve a little pleasure in drink, but I only get ill. I go directly from being straight to being sick, with no euphoria in between. That's why it's particularly difficult for me to be around drunk people on this night. It's like back in the 70s, when you walked into a party and everyone was high on Quaaludes but you. Unless you're part of the orgy, it's a gruesome sight. Melody and I even forgot to open the champagne at midnight sent to us by Father Farken, but that only means Mimosas tomorrow, headache or no.

Among the best New Year's parties we ever played, was for the congregation of St. Louis Catholic Church on White Station Rd. No one was drinking except for what they were sneaking under the table because they were in the Parrish Hall and the retiring Monsignor Clunan was in attendance. I got to sing "Danny Boy" for him. It turned out that several people I knew from high school were there and they were so happy the band turned out to be us, that they turned it into a 60s style sock hop. I've never seen sober people with so much abandon. They even did the "Love Train" all around the room. Of course, I've been on the other side of the coin until I realized that alcohol wasn't my friend, and have been carried from a few places, or woken up with my head bobbing from the back seat of a strange car in an unknown location among people speaking in a foreign tongue, but why dwell on that? The sick part was never worth the momentary fun part for me. I envy sociable drinkers. It's that glassy stare that gets to me.

My most memorable New Year's gig involved our late drummer, Mike Gardner. An agent had booked us at the Officer's Club in Millington, on the naval base- always a fun bunch. We needed passes to be admitted and when it took too long, the ever impatient Mr. Gardner got into an argument with a guard after calling him an "Anchor Clanker." Things got no better from there. The Naval officers and their wives had to have had the tightest collective sphincters of any group we ever faced. They refused to have fun. They hated everything we played. Our calls for them to hit the dance floor were met with icy stares. We played "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight and the place was empty by 12:05. We were unloading equipment through the front door and down a long sidewalk covered with an awning and into our vehicles when it began to rain. Mike got in his black pick-up truck and backed it into one of the rod-iron, decorative pillars that held up the entryway, bending it in half and collapsing the entire awning. We looked around, but the area was deserted, so we piled in our cars, booked for Memphis, and cashed the check. One of the few times I've enjoyed being with someone who had too much to drink on New Year's Eve was that night when Mike Gardner literally brought down the house.

I wish a very good new year to everybody, may the hangover be brief, and may the pain be made durable by the promise. If you wish to leave 2008 with a little hope, look at the face of this child gazing at our new president. May we all be so inspired in 2009. Randy