Burger Up

It was a beautiful sunset, so pink and full of autumn promise that I drove north with my head turned to the left, glancing ahead in swivels to the sidestreets of 12th to make sure I didn’t miss someone pulling out. I was full from dinner.

As I crossed the interstate and headed into the Gulch, it fuzzed a mild filter onto the windows of the downtown skyline. It was the kind of sky that, if Photoshopped onto a NASA photo or digitized into a James Cameron movie, could be described as “otherworldy.” A few minutes later, as I descended Capitol Hill toward the northside, I admired the BRUTON SNUFF neon in red relief against the dusk. It is such an unremarked-on landmark, much more Nashville to me than say, Cheekwood, where you cannot ride a bike into the gardens; or the Parthenon, with LeQuire’s hideous sculpture of Athena.

I was returning from my first meal at a place that I would call, in a lesser mood, a new hipster joint called “Burger Up.” It’s been there a while; my natural hypocrisy toward trendiness had kept me out of there until now. I decided it had been there long enough to give it a whirl. I am tired of J Alexander’s.

It’s the kind of place that does indeed, scream, “But see? Nashville is cool, too,” in a very, “but we’re not trying to be!” sort of way. The waiters were almost elfin-looking in their deep, v-neck, heather grey t-shirts, tousled hair and skinny jeans – including the little fellow who breathlessly wanted to know about my iPad cover, saying, “it’s so cool that it props it up, does it charge it, too? I’ve never SEEN that!”

Fair disclosure: a mildly rigorous self-assessment made me feel sheepish. Perhaps a 53 year-old should not be critical of such an atmosphere as he perches on one of the incredibly high – and uncomfortable – metal stools at the marble bar in a t-shirt reading “Antique Funk” and spotlessly clean, Carolina blue Chuck Taylors, complaining to the barkeep about the weak AT&T wireless 3G signal in 12 South. “I should just shut the hell up and see if the food’s any good,” I thought. “I am not nice.” My catty impulses felt impaired, guilty, like a Catholic adolescent who has touched himself before sunrise service.

The crowd was brisk but not overcrowded, mostly 20-and-early-30-somethings, who seemed to be enjoying themselves at the low, rustic bench-tables. There were a few Vespa types; some wholesome, as-yet-unjaded Belmont students; new, perky moms in lycra gymwear and running shoes with double-tied laces. There was one woman near my age, who looked as out of place as I was trying not to feel, with a hemp purse, narrow eyeglasses and heavily teased-out hair. I think she was waiting for someone.

The fried house-made pickles (what does that mean, “house-made?”) were very, very good. The barkeep was nice enough, and the service just slow enough to let you know you are at a place where the food is supposed to be worth waiting for. Never one for a sandwich made of quinoa or anything that reminds me of the vegan I once dated, I ordered the regular burger. It wasn’t called that; it was named the “Triple-L” or some such. I had to ask for mustard. The fries came in a metal cup, which somehow gave them a feeling of being more greasy, if degrees of such can be measured in deep-fried food, or made worse by their containers. Fries in a box at least bleed some oil into the paperboard.

The burger was not particularly bad, nor good. I am of the school who believes it possible for well-cooked hamburger to still be juicy; I used to do it all the time for my ex-wife and stepkids with a $75 Weber and a bag of charcoal, flying drunk. Evidently, to get an undried-out burger now requires one to forego full cooking in favor of “pink.” I still can’t do it. My burger was well-seasoned, but burned-out. I ate all of it, and the pickles. I may have to go back for those. They are, after all, house-made.

I paid my $20 tab and walked past the fixed-gear bikes back to the car. There was a line at Las Paletas next door; I decided to pass.

It was worth the drive out just to see the sunset.

Mid-Year Rant n’ Review

The All-Star Game is upon us; it’s so hot that mowing the lawn means losing three pounds; froyo is almost better than sex. My TV is saying the northeast is having 100-degree temps today, and everyone should stay inside. Manhattan has to be dreadful, with all those air conditioners pumping heat out of the buildings and into the streets. Thermodynamics. They just are.

Time, therefore, for my first-ever Mid-Year Rant n’ Review. This, because it’s getting harder and harder to remember a whole year. It’s going too fast!

There’s too much competition in December for review pieces anyway.

Here’s where we are: the weather is crazy; the Gulf of Mexico is FUBAR; social networking is becoming necessary and therefore tiresome; and people are still wearing bad clothes.

First, #Snowpocalypse. Or #TheSituation2010. Pick your hashtag. It was the kind of snow that wouldn’t have merited much mention in Chicago, but in Nashville, it was a big deal. 8 inches! People stayed home and talked about living on hardened cheese and breadcrumbs, and lamented they were out of bourbon. We went outside and took snapshots, and posted to Twitpic a lot. It was funny, watching the race to establish the “official” Twitter hashtag, and even funnier watching TV news outlets getting leads and content from social networks, because they can’t afford reporters anymore. Channel 4 talking heads were quoting stuff I’d seen on my iPhone 30 minutes earlier.

Spring came early, and it was glorious. The ornamental cherry-trees went apeshit. They looked like those Photoshop-enhanced trickshots you see in vacation ads. Flowers opened like time-lapse nature footage, and folks started training like hell for the Music City Marathon.

Then, Nashville became flooded. It was bad. There was a video on YouTube of a building floating down the freeway. Thousands lost everything. It rained something like a half-year’s worth in 2 days. Nashvillians discovered that their community spirit is world-class and became justifiably proud of it. There was a little bit too much chest thumping for my taste, but most of it was from people who were really making a difference: folks bragged about sandbagging and drywall ripping and loading up truckloads of waterlogged crap. They were cool. A lasting image in my mind is of a bunch of 20-somethings on a pickup rolling down my street, jumping off and handing out cases of Deer Park, laughing. The Ryman was untouched, but the Opryland Hotel was trashed. This re-affirmed my faith that God likes Hank, Sr. better than insurance company conventions.

And while He loves us, He perhaps loves irony more: a bunch of us thought #NashvilleFlood2010 was glossed over by the media. There had just been a car bombing attempt in Times Square by some wannabe zealot who didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He tried to use gasoline, propane and fireworks to make a big explosion. It made some smoke and spluttered like a Rush Limbaugh wet fart instead. The same time, a British petroleum company didn’t know what the hell it was doing with petrochemicals either, and one of the many oil rigs in the Gulf Of Mexico named Deepwater Horizon did blow up, spectacularly. Then they discovered they couldn’t cap the leaking oil, about a mile underwater, where only fishies and machines – not humans – can even reach. If we were all in a Pixar film, the fishies would be getting together and saving the day. Sadly, they are swimming away fast, or dying.

As I write, the biggest manmade environmental fuckup in history is ruining the Gulf of Mexico. And BP discovered that the second word in “PR” is “relations”. Relationships are not controllable in the 21st century. It has tried to cover its ass as the oil covers birds and beaches, and BP looks, to put it lightly, clueless and disingenuous. Their PR people lied a lot, too. No one knows how it’s going to end. Anderson Cooper and James Carville are down there wringing their hands, but the attention of folks outside the Gulf coast is flagging, because it has gone on and on to the point it’s wallpaper. It’s not affecting any really wealthy white people yet, and we can all still drive to Target.

I think it’s going to get a lot worse, yet.

. . .

Social networking continues to be the biggest thing since the printing press, and twice as revolutionary. SXSW came and went, and seemed to confirm the predictions that 2010 would be “the year of location.” The Tennessean took a picture of me checking in on Foursquare at Panera Bread. The lady who interviewed me for the piece admitted she didn’t own a Blackberry or iPhone, but was charged with writing it anyway. She did a great job. (I’m biased, though. It was a nice photo.)

I liked her a lot more than the “social media experts” who have all appeared from nowhere, as numerous as fixie-riding hipsters in East Nashville. You can’t swing a kitteh or walk past the beer keg at the CentreSource mixer without tripping over some fresh-faced, so-called social media “maven”. Me, I think you aren’t an expert unless people are actually paying you for it and it has a budget, as opposed to being someone who posts links to cats-on-a-treadmill videos.

Facebook continues to be bigger than anything except Google, which, strangely enough, hasn’t cracked social in a meaningful way. Yet. Buzz was dead in 5 minutes. No one cares. Everyone and his grandmother is too busy being outraged every time Facebook tries to do something to make money. They complain that our privacy has been violated. Of course, there’s no such thing as privacy on any social network. What’s really going on is that we suspect Zuckerberg and other young devil-may-care types are getting rich by using information we posted on the internet. Aaron Sorkin is working on a movie about this. It should be fun.

. . .

On to style. There’s great news. There are signs that folks are actually getting less frumpy, looking less like they dressed from the dirty clothes pile, and that they care about their looks. I am seeing combed hair.

There are even a few brave souls who are getting it: simple, clean and crisp is the new hotness.

Then, there are the rest of you. Let’s review.

  • Ink is over, unless you get some. Then it’s forever. Please don’t. There is a fact about tattoos no one under 35 will say out loud: you will eventually regret those. Trust me.
  • Fixie bikes suck, unless you are a real cyclist in training. Get a gearshift, stupid; it’s hilly.
  • Oversized aviator sunglasses are really, really awful. There was fun in overstated eyewear for a while, but now we all look silly, like we’re wearing clown shoes.
  • Gladiator shoes and sandals that wrap around the ankle scream “photo of your Mom when she looked really, really dumb”. Look down. Yep, that’s you. But your Mom didn’t have Flikr abums. You do.
  • Gaudy neckwear isn’t for everyone. It probably isn’t for you. Get a solitaire. Even a Tiffany charm on a chain is better than that junkyard over your boobs, unless you are the kind of lady who really can pull off a vintage dress and a fascinator in your hair.
  • Designer jeans are super, super-silly. And $300 jeans from a “vintage denim boutique”? Really?
  • Eye makeup. Some of you are still overdoing it. Clean up. Also, the thing that makes your cheekbones stand out while the rest of your face looks emaciated? It is not pretty.
  • Men: plaid shirts with faux-pearl snaps are ugly. The rest of you who are straight are probably clueless, so stick to a t-shirt and jeans, or khaki shorts. No madras.

. . .

Lastly, at midpoint 2010, I have these opinions, which will make me look grumpy and unhip. Don’t care: Glee should not do covers of AC/DC songs, Lady Gaga is poo, and knowing how to write complete sentences is the new sexy.

It’s almost time for the new season of Mad Men. You are free to go.


Saturday morning, I am in bed
listening to a summer shower, rested and content, but wistful and
wondering if there’s a way to return to a dream of what I wish I’d left behind
but never really was.
The trees wave outside my window and
I pray for you, for shelter from the wetness and what you will confront.
It would be easier if you were nearby, stirring.

Put a Feed on This.

OK, enough. Congress: shut up. Everybody: shut up about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The finger-pointing, hearings, posturing are all disgraceful. Handle it. It’s epic, and it may not stop. Get every genius you can find. Make it a Manhattan Project. We can fry BP later. That part’s easy.

Think of this: you turn on a faucet and the knob breaks off in your hand, and a geyser of hot water shoots up and starts flooding the kitchen. You run outside and try to cut off the water at the main, but the valve breaks there, too. Water keeps flooding your house. Would you stand there arguing with the fam while your home is being destroyed by water? Maybe your wife/hubby/partner could call a hearing on how you’d been told that thing needed replacing 8 times. Maybe they’d call and complain to the water department that their cutoff valves are poorly maintained. Certainly your family leadership should be called into question right then, eh?

That’s what we’re doing now. We have a fantastic disaster unfolding, unprecedented, really. We need our smart people. I don’t care about BP’s negligence right now. I don’t care about the money, where it comes from, or if “the President’s response has been appropriate.” None of us should. We don’t have the luxury, not right this second. We need smart and courageous folks to figure out what can be done, and tell us. A couple days ago, I overheard a guy at the gym say, “They can go to the moon, but they can’t plug that well.” His oversimplification notwithstanding, he has a point: this is America, and we figure shit out. So let’s figure this one out, shall we?

If an earthquake obliterated, say, Memphis, everyone and his aunt Susan would be starting benefit efforts, loading trucks, texting $10 contributions and designing t-shirts. This is about as bad as that, or Haiti. No, it’s probably worse. We can’t even tell yet. We’ve never even seen this before. The Valdez spill may look like a spot in the driveway before this ends.

So, please, Congress: shut off the cameras. Mr. President: stop speaking to Gulf Coast groups and eating shellfish and carrying on. Tell us you’re getting the best people you can together to do one thing: make it stop.

Anderson Cooper: get off the fucking beach. Go stand outside a door to a room where people are trying to figure out what may be an intractable problem. Tell me every hour what they’re doing in there. Put a camera on the door with a live feed, like the one on the spill down on the Gulf Floor. Every time the door opens and somebody comes out to pee, make them have to look at the camera and say, “Nothing yet.”

All of you: think of the firefighters on 9/11 right after the WTC collapsed, or Churchill, or Captain Sully when a bird hit the engine. Act like them. Go. Because the rest of us feel really, really helpless right now.


There is something very sad, and elegant, and essential in the blown call by umpire Jim Joyce in what would have been Armando Galarraga’s perfect baseball game last night.

I just read the story, having missed SportsCenter before bed. It was an unattributed AP wire piece on WSJ.com. There was something very old-school and fitting about reading a reporter’s account the day after. As a baseball fan, it made me emotional. So sad, and so real!

The blown call, the fan/player reactions, the inevitable day-after ranting for use of instant replay, and demands that the commish reverse the call all remind me of why baseball – in that most trite and over-worn of similes – is “like life.”

A perfect baseball game is one of the holiest of holy grails in sport. The odds against it are so great that it has occurred only 20 times in a sport that has an 162-game regular season, and has been played since the 1800’s. To happen, it requires things go perfect not just once, but 27 times in a row. This means excellent pitching, excellent fielding, and yes, excellent officiating. The more spiritually-minded will say it also reflects a certain divinity, fate, luck – whatever you want to call it. No one who sits in a baseball stadium ever forgets seeing a perfect game. It’s like seeing a double-perfect rainbow, finding a 100-bill on the sidewalk, meeting the man or woman of your dreams and winning a Porche convertible all on the same day. No other sport even has a statistic called “a perfect game.” Think of that.

Now, witness the reaction of the umpire, who did the very, very hardest thing a person of character can ever do: immediately and publicly admit, with elegance and grace, that you are wrong. “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it. I just cost that kid a perfect game.”

Or the fans, who booed as only a crowd will boo when they know in their hearts they are seeing something wrong, something perfect being snatched away, like a child’s stolen popsicle on a summer’s day.

And manager Jim Leyland, as old-school and hardcore a baseball man as is left in the game, this very classy observation: “Emotions were running high for everybody and I think that’s why the guys were emotional after the game. I wish we wouldn’t have been, but we were. But I think it’s understandable in that case. That’s a pretty sacred thing, something like that.”

And read this, from the AP story, heartbreaking in its simplicity: “After Joyce’s call, Mr. Galarraga quietly went back to work as the crowd started to boo.”

There is much worthy criticism – and unworthy sportswriter ranting – decrying the lack of character and role models in professional sports. Here, in a simple game, are the things parents everywhere try to teach their children: life is sometimes unfair. Admit your mistakes immediately and courageously, and apologize. Forgive those who’ve wronged you, and get on with your work. And if there is injustice, or a thing can be improved, say so, and call for change.

Do I have an opinion on overturning the call? Yes. They shouldn’t. Let it stand.

What about changing the rules? Sure, that’s OK. Although I can’t imagine baseball being improved with endless slow-mo replays on base calls.

Nor can I imagine a simple game being more instructive, or poignant than last night’s. It was perfect just the way it was.

Bless your heart.

Those of us in the Southland love to explain to folks from elsewhere the forty-eleven shades of meaning in the innocent-sounding wish, “Bless your heart.” Anyone raised south of Mason-Dixon and east of Big Muddy can interpret them without thinking.  And most people who come here get it pretty fast, because we make sure they do. Spoken: “Your husband left you for that hussy? You poor thing. Bless your heart.” Unspoken: “No wonder. You’re an overweight, vapid bitch in designer denim. Bourbon? Why yes, thank you.”

Since the Cumberland and the surrounding rivers in middle Tennessee bloated beyond their flood stages and made a mess – nay, a wreck – of so many of our neighbor’s lives, many here have felt ignored or unnoticed by “big media.” Nashville received a quick and painful reminder of where we stand on the editorial priority list. Where are the satellite trucks? Why isn’t Katie Couric here? Shit, Gwenyth Paltrow said we are awesome. Excuse me, Wolf, but we’ve got people dying and there’s a building floating down the freeway. Doesn’t that qualify as a situation?

There have been some thoughtful and heartfelt words shared. My neighbor Kate O was quick to chastise me when I snarled on Facebook that I didn’t “give a rat’s ass if we make the New York Times or not” : “The point of working towards national media attention is the chance of increased aid for those who need it & never thought to get FEMA flood insurance.”  She also posted on her own blog some well-articulated thoughts to the same effect. She’s right; we do need all the help we can whomp up.

There is this post, which most everyone online in Nashville has seen, and inspired the “We Are Nashville” groups, t-shirts, twibbons, Twitter hashtags and so on.

My friend, writer and editor Alice Sullivan shared this.

And we did make a splash in the NYT after all, with a great piece from local resident Ann Patchett.

There are others.

Jim Reams, a wordsmith to be envied (I envy him, anyway) shared this: “We noticed that you didn’t notice. That’s OK, there was a bomb that didn’t explode in Times Square and and oil spill in the Gulf. It took up all the news space. Seriously, it’s OK.”

Of course, nobody here is really OK with it. Here’s why: our feelings are hurt. See, this flood destroyed many homes, upended thousands of lives, flat-out ended others, and scared the holy bejesus out of us. And what we received was big media’s equivalent of “Bless your heart.”

Meanwhile, folks rose to the occasion, as folks do anywhere and anytime their lives are threatened. The spirit of the community has been, if anything, more often mentioned by folks here than our lack of media attention. I’m seeing a tweet right now from CNN hottie Anderson Cooper (the chicks all say he’s hot; I think he’s good but slurs too much).

In nashville. so many people volunteering to help their neighbors who are suffering in the wake of the flooding. Truly inspiring

Considering what we’ve been through – are going through – most everyone’s hurt feelings about the media are as natural as catfish in the Cumberland. Getting riled up because we may not get all the support we deserve is right and proper, too. But I’m thinking maybe what we should do is forgive ’em. The President declared us a disaster area in a pretty timely fashion; Mr. Cooper is here somewhere and women all around are wondering where the hell he’s staying; and I even saw Pat Robertson covering us on TV, and he didn’t say that God hates us, or even that He brought the Flood because John Rich is a big fat bigot. It sucks, but the Gulf oil spill IS a pretty big story, and New York IS the biggest city in America and was successfully attacked less than a decade ago. Even a dud bomb in Times Square is pretty friggin’ scary. Being a news editor ain’t easy.

For me, I’m going to try – I said try – and do what southerners do. Which is smile, offer some iced tea, Yazoo Brew or Jack Daniel’s to the crews giving us the coverage we do get, kill ’em with kindness and remember to say this when I start to feel we’ve been slighted by the networks: “Bless their hearts.”

First place

I was at our first place today.
The garden we made was a mess, the pathway pebbles strewn about.
Bricks in the wavy wall were all out of their stacks
And dandelions dangled in the unmulched squalor.
What a pile of dirt your mother brought
That you raked out and planted,
I contained,
And dotted with sprinklers for the absent rain.
Was it for nought? No, not.
Fond memories fare well amid the rot.

Ice cream shop

Ice cream from your hand on my glasses
gives the springtime sun a soft focus.
The look beneath your long lashes is far away
then suddenly again, right here
as you dip into your gooey cup and make another smear.


Your mom posted photos of you this morning. They were good to see.
They made my eyes fill with tears and my heart hurt.
A friend had posted a piece about old photos on her blog, and I read that next
while Jamie Cullum played and sang, “Love ain’t gonna let you down no more” in my kitchen.
I wonder what your downstream will be, how you’ll get back to see the banks you’re playing on today.
I hope someone saves a dusty shoebox for you, for your spirit to sometimes hop in and ride,
against the current, against the tide.

Asking a cat to swim

I had a few words with a person I’ll call an “advisor” today. Not my shrink; that was yesterday. (I need a lot of advice, so I have people.)

Here’s what he said (advisor, not psychologist): “Here’s your assignment for this week. It’s to not have an opinion on anything.” He said that!

Of course, he knows that’s like asking a cat to swim. I have an opinion on everything, including your footwear. Especially your footwear.

I may have to stay in the house for a week. That can’t be healthy, right? It’s springtime, and the ornamental cherries are snowing all up and down my street. People are wearing flipflops. I have strong opinions about flipflops, and men in madras.

I did recently promise to not be contrarian, TFN. I had to N pretty quickly, though. Probably after going to Whole Foods, or reading a tweet about pancakes, which makes me respond without thinking, “pancakes are not food.” But that isn’t opinion; it’s fact.

So this will be harder. Maybe I need to call and get some clarification on this assignment.

I have some thoughts on it.