The Salad Clan is on the road this week, spending spring break visiting the port city of Savannah, Ga.
We've found a little cottage on Tybee Island, a small barrier island about 25 minutes east of town right on the Atlantic Ocean.
For some advice on what to do and eat, I asked my friend Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and commentator on the History Channel's "Nature's Fury: Storm of the Century" episode of the series "Violent Earth,", last week for a few tips.
To: Houck, Jeff B.
Savannah is a wacky old town. If you saw the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," maybe you remember the line where the guy says Savannah is "Gone with the Wind on mescaline." (I've borrowed that line for Plymouth, which I sometimes describe to visitors as "Mayberry on mescaline." But for obvious reasons, I don't use this line with locals.)
When I was living in Georgia, I heard a great joke about Savannah: When you visit Atlanta, the first thing you're asked is, "What are your politics?" When you visit Macon, the first thing you're asked is, "What's your religion?" When vist Savannah, the first thing you're asked is, "What do you want to drink?"
Savannah has been called a beautiful lady with a dirty face -- gorgeous street vistas framed by decaying old buildings and tinged with squalor. Some of the streets are, to use a florid phrase, dream-like. Wide boulevards with medians, huge old oaks, Spanish moss, lots of little neighborhood parks and plazas. And if the people haven't been changed too much by the tourists, they're generally extremely well-mannered and friendly and they speak to you with this wonderful old coastal Georgia drawl. You get the idea that everybody has a couple of Bloody Marys with breakfast.
There is -- or at least, was -- a pretty good visitors center downtown that can get you oriented. By now, they may have devised a "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" tour of some sort. Seriously, I'd ask about it. That's the book/movie that really opened the town up and brought the tourists flocking in. And I think Savannah has cleaned up its act considerably since the book. When I was in Macon and going to Savannah occasionally, I was advised not to venture too far from River Street after dark. But that was many years ago and I don't think it's as dangerous as it was in those days.
It's been a while since Jane and I would occasionally duck into Savannah on our trips between NC and Fla., so I don't know what may have changed. It's too bad you're not going to be there on St. Patrick's Day. They have a huge goddam drunken party/friendly brawl on River Street. I think Savannah has the second-largest St. Paddy's Day celebration in the U.S. Then again, you're a family guy now, so maybe it's best that you missed it.
You should definitely check out River Street because that's sort of where one is supposed to go when one visits Savannah, although it may be a version of Duval Street/T-Shirt Shop Row by now. But give it a look. Grace might find a boutique she likes. It's sort of weird to look at all those old 17th and 18th century buildings on River Street and think of all of the desperate, shady, dangerous, clever and demented characters who came through them a couple of centuries ago when Savannah was one of the nation's major seaports, and see them used now to sell T-shirts and scented aromatherapy oils. Things have changed.
I wish I could tell you that you have to go to a certain little obscure bar or restaurant that only locals and worldly visitors know of, but I can't. My guess is that you can get great shrimp-and-grits and other low-country (I.e., coastal South) fare in that town.
Seems like the town is, or was, known for charming little piano bars. Johnny Mercer was from Savannah, and he certainly knew how to lay down the lyrics.
Hope this helps. I assume we'll see a report of your trip on the blog.
You can bank on that, my friend.
Let the blog wine flow.
Had the chance recently to judge an apron-decorating contest in conjunction with the Best of Tampa Bay culinary event this Saturday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Yes, I am living the dream.
Seriously, it was far from a snorefest. I and two other judges - one of which was Skip Mahaffey of U.S. 103.5-FM, had the arduous task of weeding through some really phenomenal designs.
This one was very Picasso.
Loved the Sulfur Springs tower on this one.
My fave: This play on the Last Supper.
The detail on this was amazing.
With James Beard appropriately at the center of the table, there's Mario and Wolfgang and Bourdain and Prudhomme and Emeril and Julia and Flay and Alton and Jacques and... Rachael Ray???
I don't know if I'd seat her at the head table.
Maybe at the bar. Maybe at a card table. But at the "best supper?"
I'd have to think about that one.
For a larger version of the above photo, click here. It's more than worth a look, even though it didn't take top prize.
Got this lovely note yesterday from my buddy Drew, who's serving as a battalion commander in Iraq.
It's about his wife, Susan, and an award she most deservedly won.
I can't even begin to explain to you the incredible responsibility of command in combat has been. The day to day decisions that place Soldiers' lives in harms way is a task I have never taken lightly. I don't tell you this for any sorrow or pity. I tell you this because I have taken this oath simply because I want what is best for my children, and my children's children.
I have traveled down a road that few commanders have by being both a Company Commander and now, a Battalion Commander in combat. Through it all, I can honestly say that I would have never made it without the love and support of Susan. She is all my strength, passion and devotion to duty. I will never be able to grasp all the pain and suffering I have placed on her due to my pursuits to lead Soldiers in combat. Through it all, she has never let me, my Soldiers, or my Soldiers' Families down. All the while, she has kept our family strong through long periods of time while I am away doing "Stuff."
Attached is a picture of Susan and the boys after she was awarded the Mary Walker Award. Also attached is her award nomination. Below is a brief description of who Mary Walker was, what she represents, and what the award is given for. It is a small token of recognition compared to all the lives that Susan has touched through her devotion to me, our Army Family, and our Nation.
We couldn't be more proud of her. As much as the Salad clan has been wowed by Drew's dedication and service in the 5 years we've known them both, the fortitude and composure shown by Susan - both during her husband's deployments and while he's actually been home to give her hell - has blown all of us away. She's passed those qualities to her boys with her amazing example.
Here's a description of the award:
The FORSCOM Dr. Mary E. Walker (DRMEW) award is a reward for Army spouses whose achievements and performance merit special recognition. The DRMEW award is a means of recognizing those who have contributed significantly to the quality of life for soldiers, exemplifying personal concern for the needs, training, development and welfare of soldiers and concern for families of soldiers.
Dr. Mary E. Walker: The name of the only woman in United States history to receive the Medal of Honor. She was a humanitarian devoted to the care and treatment of the sick and wounded during the Civil War, often at the risk of her own life. She was a patriot dedicated and loyal to her country, serving on a volunteer basis as a field surgeon.
And here is the nomination note that listed her overwhelming qualifications for the honor:
Subject: Dr. Mary E. Walker Award
Volunteer Name: Susan Meyerowich, Army Spouse
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment
Position: Battalion Family Readiness Group Leader and Crisis Response Team Member
Submitted by: CPT Ryan Piotrowski, Rear Detach Commander
Date: 23 January 2007
Susan has gone above and beyond in working with the Wolfhounds on a daily basis. She has provided exceptional guidance, direction, and oversight to her six FRG companies. Susan always takes time to assist with the many issues involved with the families of over 800 Soldiers assigned or attached to the Wolfhounds. Susan has arranged for several agencies to provide useful and sought after classes to spouses at battalion FRG meetings. She was open minded and focused on delivering to the community what was requested and made sense. Susan made it a point to meet new Soldiers and their families in order to invite them into the Wolfhound FRG and make them aware of the many contacts and resources available to them. Susan is an excellent team builder and inspired all of her FRG Leaders to stay motivated during the many issues and drama associated with a deployment. Susan also coordinated and executed the collection of over 180 gifts for the Holy Family Home Orphanage in Osaka, Japan this last winter.
Susan has displayed even more selfless service to the community and families through her actions as a Crisis Response Team member and Family Readiness Group Leader. She has been called on during all hours of the night and day to assemble with the Crisis Response Team and provide care to families of seriously injured or killed Soldiers. Other than providing care and contact to families of injured or killed Soldiers, Susan managed the flow of information to the FRG at the same time and always arranged a prayer vigil to take place in conjunction with any memorial ceremonies done in Iraq. The prayer vigil paid major dividends in keeping the Wolfhound family strong by allowing spouses, veterans, and friends to come together on a more personal level and express feelings together. Susan continues to follow up on all casualties and killed Soldiers and is more than willing to assist with mailing photos, cards, and flowers to families. Susan was always there for and dedicated the majority of her time to the community.
In addition to her FRG Leader and CRT duties, Susan has devoted time to teach religious education, 7th Grade Confirmation Prep Class on Schofield Barracks and serves as a Eucharistic Minister Coordinator, board member of the Church Council. Her other volunteerism activities include Parent Volunteer and Scholastic Book Fair Co-Coordinator, St. Michael’s School and Waipio Panthers Pee-Wee Division – Team Mom (one of four!) Her involvement in the Army community is constantly present with the Wolfhounds and the rest of the 25th Infantry Division.
Last week it was pork shoulder.
The pullet-ser prize: Two whole chickens.
They're roasting over a basin of Corona beer.
Wood du jour: oak.
Life is good. Damn good.
There is no truth to the rumor that I waited until the golden light of sunset to take this photo in order to enhance its appearance.
No truth whatesoever.
And you thought the microwave smelled before...
So I'm watching "Idol" the other night when a commercial comes on for a shaver for women.
The tag line was something about "Release the goddess within" or some such garbage.
So it hasn't happened in the other parts of your life, but the razor, by God, will make it happen.
Funny, though. Something about the razor looks familiar...
Can't quite put my finger on it...
I bet this guy is hell on s'mores at a cookout.
I can't get enough of this story. I love how this crap mid-season replacement show has transformed into a symbol for humanity's greater good:
Heather Mills going 'Dancing'
NEW YORK - Heather Mills says her decision to compete on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" is no publicity stunt.
Mills, who is divorcing former Beatle Paul McCartney, says she is appearing on the show for charity, not to gain public sympathy.
"I've been chased and hounded for 10 months and told I'm a publicity-seeker, yet I've never gone out and done anything," the activist and former model says in an interview that was to air Tuesday on the syndicated TV show "Access Hollywood."
Mills, who lost her leg below the knee in a 1993 motorcycle accident, is the first contestant with an artificial limb to compete on the dance show.
Question: Would it be possible to lop off one of Yoko's legs, just to make things even?
I mean, we already know what it would sound like.
That question was rhetorical, of course.
Keeping it real, example No. 412:
Last night at the Waldorf-Astoria, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who proved that hip-hop was more than party music with their 1982 hit “The Message,” became the first hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Joseph Saddler, better known as the disc jockey and producer Grandmaster Flash, said backstage, “It opens the gates to our culture.”
Jay-Z, the rapper who is chief executive officer of Def Jam Records, handed the awards to the group. Reading his speech from a personal digital assistant, he said, “The shot heard ’round the world was fired from the South Bronx.”
Allow me to introduce a new baby at Casa del Ensalada:
It's my new smoker.
I couldn't be more proud.
I'll freely admit that I'm a gadget freak. When that passion gets directed at the kitchen, you get things like a hot dog roller and a s'mores maker. And a fiesta station. And two Easy Bake ovens. And an ice cream maker.
Once this fascination becomes public knowledge, people start to bestow gifts upon you, like my sister-in-law did with her illuminated beverage fountain at Christmas.
You buy your spouse a chocolate fountain for her birthday, thinking that will make her happy.
Dear friends ship you a turkey fryer from Hawaii, because if you need one giant vat of boiling oil, the least you can do is have one which does it safely and which does not require a rake to fish out the bird.
And then one day Salad Wife says "Happy Birthday" and throws a giant black metal box at you. And you start to cry a little over the joy you know your life is about to experience.
Hallmark doesn't make a card for such a moment. But it should.
Soon, you find yourself pestering professionals about the best wood to use. And what cuts of meat work best. And about cooking times. And marinating. And optimum temperatures.
You find yourself driving by outdoor cooking stores that aren't on the way home.
You learn to stop giggling at the phrase "Boston butt" because, hey, it's just another way to say "boneless pork shoulder." We're all adults here.
And then you actually make something. And it comes out like this.
It glistens in the golden evening sunlight. It's more than a meal; it's an achievement. Something primal within you is satisfied. Fire plus meat equals goodness, prosperity, good fortune.
But it's just cooked animal flesh.
It sits on a plate. It does nothing to amuse you, beyond its succulent meat and aromatic properties. It is not funny like a clown.
That becomes just not good enough.
Soon you realize that the cooking isn't the thing. It's the cooking and the sharing for which the giant black metal box was made.
So when your neighbor just happens to be driving out of the neighborhood on his way to a son's Cub Scout event, you rush to greet him with an 8-pound plate of pork. You peel off a piece and hand it to him. He moans with satisfaction at the flavor. And you know that you have transmitted joy through use of smoked food.
And all is well. And you can't wait until next weekend so you can do it again.
Definitely irony here.
Might I suggest an ice pick to the eardrums?
Worst. YouTube song. Ever.
This is what I imagine Jimmy Buffett sounds like in his head. While he's throwing up.
Am I the only one who finds this Oreos promotional card, which uses a tie-wearing adult man and a pigtailed young girl to visually instruct how to use the cookies in an eating game, a little creepy?
Stopped in the other day at the RaceTrac gas station on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg. I spilled what I estimated to be 432 gallons of gas on my hands, so I thought I'd go in and wash the mortgage payment off.
Just so happened to have my camera with me.
I mean, doesn't everyone do that?
Uh oh. This looks bad.
What could have possibly occurred in this bathroom that a duct tape repair of the quad-roll toilet paper dispenser was deemed necessary?
Give them credit: At least they opted for matching black tape instead of just the gunmetal grey brand.
Clearly, someone at RaceTrac has been watching "Top Design."
I don't want to say this sink was grimy, but I think the last guy to use it was Ratso Rizzo.
Hey kids, look! It's the toilet from "Trainspotting."
Despite the nuclear pink freshening cake dangling over the bowl, the potty had an odor not unlike this cigarette clenched between the nicotine-stained lips of Keith Richards.
Wait a second. That pink thing looks familiar.
Ah, right. That's it.
Toilet got the herp.
We can continue now.
A condom machine. How helpful.
Think of this as protection for the man who's so irresistable, he'll still be able to get lucky after using this bathroom.
Let's look at the offerings, shall we?
Rubber traction during the winter driving season is important.
After you're through, you can use the Jimmy hat to make a tasty dessert.
Question: Can I get sprinkles on that?
That was rhetorical, of course.
Color is important. If you're sleeping with Sherwin Williams.
So many double entendres, so little time
iTunes commenter "JustDevin," who gives the disc three stars, writes:
"The vast majority of these tracks wouldn't surprise anyone until you get to the end of the album. "Balls To The Wall" takes on a whole new identity and is the only song you can say that about in this compilation. Gotta say I was impressed with that track."
And the award for Best New Podcast?
Every week, Rommie and Wes discuss everything recreational that you can legally do from the house. That includes everything from DVDs and music to gaming and TV.
The podcast they did with Kelvin Ma was hilarious. The one they did for St. Patrick's Day this week, featuring a discussion with Trib reporter John Allman about the "Leprechaun" series of horror movies was hilarious, with Wes using a James Lipton-like approach to dignify the conversation.
They also have a blog that is very entertaining, in a geeky, I'm-way-=too-plugged-into-technology kind of way.
Click here to subscribe to it through iTunes.
Don't cost nuthin'.
Just saw a news report that that standup comedian Richard Jeni is dead, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot in his apartment.
I saw Jeni perform at Gator Growl in 1989 and he was hysterical. Jeni played the Growl in 1996 after scheduled headliner Paul Rodriguez had to bow out after a death in the family.
Extra has this info about his career:
Raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, N.Y., Richard Jeni first received recognition through a series of Showtime stand-up specials and frequent appearances on The Tonight Show. Top executives at HBO noticed Jeni's talent, and he was soon picked up for his first appearance on the coveted HBO Comedy Hour in 1992, entitled Richard Jeni: Platypus Man. The show was very well received, and Jeni would return for 2 more shows, and go on to receive a CableACE Award for one of his HBO specials. Jeni would also star on the short-lived UPN sitcom "Platypus Man," and appear in the Jim Carrey film "The Mask." He also has starred in commercial campaigns for Certs, Arby's, and won a CLIO Award for his work as a writer/performer in a campaign for the Milk Association. 
Jeni's website biography claims that he has appeared more on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno than any other stand-up comedian, dating back to when the Tonight Show was hosted by Johnny Carson.
In 2004, Jeni was named number 57 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest standups of all time.
He had a lot of highlights, but never took off the way his contemporaries - Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano, Drew Carrey, Jim Carrey - did on TV and in the movies.
For a sample of his work, check out these clips, most of which were culled from his special, "A Big Steaming Pile of Me."
Yes, there is language that might be unsuitable for viewing by your toddler. Would you expect any less of the Salad?
PMS and Red Wine:
Gospel According to Vinny:
The Salad is No. 1 with a bullet for the following phrase:
Now, all I have to do is reach the Mount Everest of Google results for having the phrase "Rosie O'Donnell's misshapen body parts hanging grotesquely upside-down in an industrial-strength swing to treat her depression" and I'll have achieved the double-double in Most Freakishly Disturbing Images Known To Mankind.
Line of the week, courtesy of Joel McHale on "The Soup": "All the Happy Meals are running to her head."
When reached for comment, The Yoga Association of America was quoted as not saying, "Sting caused us enough headaches with his tantric crap. Now we get Betty Rubble hanging upside down? Oy vey."
So there's a big college basketball tournament in Tampa: the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
This is a big deal. Really.
I can't say that I'm a diehard b-ball fan these days. I get into it when the Gators play, but I couldn't tell you much beyond that. College ball is an even bigger mystery. I just don't have the time, you know?
Which is quite a change from how I used to follow the game.
Back in 1984, I and my buddies Mike Stack and Paul Ezzo decided to drive to Atlanta from Tallahassee to see the NCAA east regional playoffs. We were going to Florida State University at the time and, well, school would always be there, but Michael Jordan and the University of North Carolina would not.
We piled into his Volkswagon GTI and booked it north for about 4 hours to The Omni in downtown Atlanta, which back then was relatively new. We all pitched in for gas money and then decided to pool our resources for scalped tickets we bought outside the arena.
I don't remember much about the games. I do remember being excited to see Michael Jordan play and legendary coaches Dean Smith and Bobby Knight on the sidelines. Jim Boeheim was the coach at Syracuse, with the star player Rony Seikaly on the floor. Indiana's big man, Uwe Blab, had a pretty solid couple games game.
I also remember an indellible moment when I saw Jordan take an Indiana player by his jersey, throw him out of bounds under the basket and get away with it, even though the ref was standing right there watchig it all happen. As much as it sounds like overstatement, it was my baptism into the world of reality. Not all things are fair, even when they look like it. You just have to move on and keep playing the game.
We drove from Tallahassee to Atlanta for the first day of the two-day event, then drove back home. Total round-trip mileage: about 548. Then we did it again the next day, figuring it at least would save us the cost of a hotel room. Thank god the Volkswagon got great mileage.
Anyway, the ACC games coming to Tampa have brought all that back.
And it has inspired Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and commentator on the History Channel's "Nature's Fury: Storm of the Century" episode of the series "Violent Earth,", who is a son of North Carolina and a nut for basketball.
Hhe sent me this e-mail earlier this week, before the games started in Tampa:
Sent: Thursday, March 08, 2007 9:05 AM
Subject: tourney time
Two questions: Do you think Tampa will notice that the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament is in town this week? And will the well-heeled, privaleged fans who always show up in Raleigh or Charlotte or Greensboro in their motor homes and fill up the towns' best hotels and restaurants follow the tourney to Florida?
I'm beginning to have my doubts. First, Alan Snel -- one of the shrewdest observers of the human condition I know -- thinks football-crazy Tampa will largely ignore college basketball. And I think he's right. There's no established audience for basketball, college or pro, in Tampa. The University of South Florida may become a Big East powerhouse one day, but that's years down the road and Tampa's focus on Bulls basketball will have to grow with their success.
And as for whether the league's usually loyal following will head down to Tampa, well, I was astonished last night when I saw about 25 ACC Tournament tickets for sale on a website called Stub Hub. I assume this means that, not only are some ticket holders willing to give up their tickets, they're willing to let them go at face value.
You have to understand that this is a shock to me. Here in North Carolina, the ACC Tournament is sort of like our Mardi Gras, only it doesn't have public nudity and you have to have a ticket to get in, only there's no public sale of tickets. Each school gets an allotment, and dibs on the tix always go to the biggest donors to member schools' athletic departments. I hear -- but I've never verified -- that it takes a minimum six-figure contribution to the Rams Club -- UNC's athletic booster club -- to just get on the waiting list for tournament tickets. I assume it's not any cheaper at the other schools.
I'm wondering if some of those tickets that showed up on Stub Hub came from Boston College backers. It's a long way from Chestnut Hill to That Arena in Tampa Whose Name You Don't Like to Mention.
The tournament started in 1953 in N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum, which at the time was the biggest arena in North Carolina and three or four surrounding states. In those days, only one team from each conference went to the NCAA Tournament, and only two conferences -- the ACC and the Southern Conference -- held post-season playoffs to determine who went to the NCAA.
We didn't have much in the way of homegrown entertainment in those days, and so the winner-take-all ACC Tournament quickly became an annual obsession in Virginia and the Carolinas. After more than 50 years, North Carolina literally still comes to a standstill for three days in early March, and passions run high. People bring TVs and radios to work, and bosses know they might as well look the other way at gametime. If you're in a public place while the tournament is going on, it's almost impossible to be out of earshot of a radio or TV broadcast of the games.
People change while they're following their teams. Little old ladies who go to church every Sunday and never use an expletive stronger than "land's sake" cuss like sailors if their team blows a big lead. Grads of UNC or NC State who happen to be Methodists may stop speaking to their minister for a few days if he or she went to Duke Divinity School. Picture Aunt Bee telling Floyd the barber to stick it where the sun never shines during a Duke-Wake Forest game, or Barney taking a swing at Andy during a UNC-NC State matchup, and you have some idea of the intensity.
I've always thought that getting a ticket to the ACC tournament is a bigger deal than getting a ticket to the World Series. It's my perception that tournament tickets are as difficult to obtain as certain controlled substances, and more expensive. You have to go to wherever the tournament is being played and find a scalper who'll sell you tix for 10 or 20 times their face value.
That was the case in 1985, when I got to go to the first round of the tournament in Atlanta. I was working at the Macon Telegraph, which received tickets and press passes from the conference to cover the games. But the tickets and passes came with a caveat -- your newspaper had to have someone present at all of the games, or you forfeited your tickets.
It so happened that all of the Telegraph's sportswriters were busy on the opening round, and it looked like the newspaper was going to lose its credentials for the rest of the tournament. So someone had to go to Atlanta to hold the Telegraph's place for the remaining games.
It was a tough and thankless assignment, but I volunteered. It helped that I was the first reporter to hear about the sports department's problem, and had snagged the tix before anyone else in the newsroom heard about the situation.
I was forced to spend about eight hours sitting on the floor beneath the basket at The Omni. I was in a daze when I left the arena around midnight. I was so over-stimulated that it would be a couple of days before I came down. I still have the ticket stub from that day.
So, when the 54th tournament tips off at noon Thursday, will Tampa appreciate what's happening in The Arena Whose Name You Don't Like to Mention, or it be just another day on the bay? How about letting me know.
Would this make her the Queen of Pain?
You go through spurts.
Sometimes you post a bunch of stuff to your blog. You fall in love a little with the power to publish. You make yourself laugh in your mouth a little. You feel the need to share that item that caused a titter in your soul.
And then you don't.
It just goes away. Not away away. Just far enough away that it keeps your fingers from the keyboard.
You don't fall out of love with the blog thing. To borrow a phrase: You're just not that into it. You just need a breather.
That's the only way how I can explain why I've had these photos in my possession for going on two weeks now and yet failed to put them in the Salad bowl:
Yes, that's Martha Stewart. Yes, I was feet away from her, for the better part of 30 minutes. Yes, I shot the photos. I had unfettered, open-range, take-as-much-as-you-want-from-the-celebrity-buffet access.
And yet, I was so nonplussed that I didn't take the three minutes necessary to put the photos on the blog.
Why was that?
Maybe it was burnout. It was a long weekend. I had stretchmarks on my eyelids, I was so tired.
And, as I've said before, I was fresh out of words. I'll freely admit that. Nonstop blogging in an exotic location about a bizarre event will do that to a guy.
But what it was not: an attempt to kill the blog or keep things from you, my dear reader(s).
So what I'm saying is: Please forgive my tardiness. It isn't you. It isn't this. It's me.
I have a couple of postings in me that are quite dated. Some might be irrelevant. But they're still pretty funny. At least I think so. And that's the standard I use to publish anyway.
Priority 1: Amuse Jeff.
Priority 2: Refer to Priority 1.
So I'll be posting them. Soon. I promise.
All I ask is for your patience and understanding.
We'll get through this together and move on.
I only got 48. And I sat here idle for the final 3 minutes.
In my defense, I've never visited Indiana or Wyoming.
The latest letter from my buddy Drew in Iraq included a story from "Stars and Stripes."
I guess S&S could easily be accused of painting a rosy picture, since it is the newspaper of the U.S. military, but I've been surprised with how much balance I've read since Drew and his wife, Susan, have been sending me links to articles which feature his work there. The photo of Drew mourning the loss of one of his soldiers - haunts me to this day. It pains me that someone we love and care so deeply for has to shoulder so much pain and pressure on a daily basis. Such an experience, endured voluntarily or not, has to leave a permanent mark on a man's soul.
I continue to be endlessly proud of Drew's service there - and of Susan's and the boys' sacrifice back home - not to mention the dedication of the soldiers under Drew's command.
So it is with no small measure of surprise that I read the candor expressed by the officers in this article. It wasn't what I was expecting from "Stars & Stripes":
Here's an excerpt:
Hawijah is overshadowed in most ways by the more prosperous and strategically important Kurdish-led enclave of Kirkuk, about 43 miles to the northeast. But Hawijah has outstripped its neighbor in one dubious respect: the number of American casualties. The Hawaii-based 2-27 has lost 12 soldiers in seven months.
Lt. Col. Drew Meyerowich, the unit’s commander, has shaped many of the changes in Hawijah. But even for a commander who exudes tough assertiveness and confidence, there were moments when he wondered if the town was beyond repair.
“You begin to question almost immediately once you start losing soldiers if you will ever see success,” he said.
Hawijah is almost exclusively Sunni Arab, the ousted ruling class of the former regime, and residents took their fall from grace hard.
“The people were bitter,” Meyerowich said. “We were seen as occupiers.”
U.S. officials estimate coalition forces saw somewhere between 70 to 80 roadside bombs a month.
“There was a general mistrust,” Lozauskas said. “The city was such a hotbed.” Because of that, U.S. soldiers did a lot of “kicking in doors and tossing houses” when they first arrived.
But they shifted tactics and emphasized intelligence operations and humanitarian aid to win over residents. Residents received food and fuel along with messages that troops were there to help.
“That’s how this war has to be fought,” Lozauskas said. U.S. leaders also pushed the Iraqi army to take a more active role, stationing them on McHenry. The collaboration has not always been easy.
“All a U.S. soldier knows is to take the lead, take charge,” Lozauskas said. “It’s hard to understand that Iraqis need to be in the lead.”
Slowly results trickled in. Attacks once directed at U.S. troops shifted toward the Iraqis. Whether or not insurgents believed in the viability of the Iraqi army, it was clear that U.S. forces were determined to have them share the risks of policing Hawijah.
The culmination was a drive for police recruits that attracted more than 400 men, more than double the number expected.
Apparently, insurgents also had taken notice. The recruiting drive took place on Feb. 14.
When the first wave of attacks occurred that day, the would-be police officers had already left for the training academy in Kirkuk. “The insurgents didn’t know that,” Lozauskas said.
The 23-year-old from Roelle Park, N.J., was at a command post on McHenry when mortars began dropping.
At that moment, chatter spiked on the radio.
“Turki House! Turki House!” an Iraqi voice called out on the air, the pop and hiss of gunfire in the background. Soldiers had dubbed an outpost at the southeast corner of Hawijah the “Turki House.” Two traffic checkpoints at the northern and western ends of Hawijah were also under fire.
In the center of town, Joslyn was in a joint headquarters when he heard the familiar thump of rounds striking sandbags.
“The (headquarters) takes small arms fire pretty frequently, pretty much every day,” said the 25-year-old from Bedford, Va. “But very rarely do we come under heavy machine gun fire.”
Joslyn ordered his men to take cover.
“We took about 10 minutes of small arms fire,” Joslyn said. “It’s clear now that it was suppression fire.”
A large blast momentarily silenced the shouts of U.S. soldiers as shattered glass and plumes of dirt and dust filled the air.
“It knocked every pane of glass out ... and knocked a lot of our guys on their backs. It went off about 100 to 200 meters from our position,” Joslyn said.
No American had been hurt, but a nearby two-story police station was flattened and three police killed.
Their havoc complete, the insurgents began to melt away. Three attackers fled by car west out of the city with a U.S. helicopter close behind. A mile outside the city, they continued by foot and ran for the reeds.
The helicopter pilots later reported that while in pursuit, they noticed a crowd of 20 to 30 Iraqis gathering. Some men in the crowd had taken their shirts off and waved them in the air to attract the attention of the aircraft.
The crowd, their arms extended in unison, pointed to the reeds. Not content to just point out the men, however, the crowd took matters into their own hands. Armed with only sticks and their fists, they went after the insurgents and managed to drag one of the fugitives out, while the other two slipped away.
The crowd clubbed and tied the man until American forces arrived to take custody.
At the time, Joslyn thought little of the capture, but after reflection has seen it as significant.
“At first I’m thinking to myself ‘That’s convenient,’ ” he said. “It’s actually quite a big deal in a place like Hawijah. Insurgents had just attacked coalition forces and the Iraq police and the people said ‘Enough is enough.’ ”
Meyerowich is cautiously optimistic after Feb. 14. “It’s not the same Hawijah,” Meyerowich said. “You almost have to ask yourself what is going on here.”
PREVIOUS LETTERS FROM IRAQ:
Time out for toys.
Coffee and sunsets.
Get your motor runnin'.
"Wolfhounds don't do anything small."
Thanksgiving in Iraq.
"What sacrifice for the sake of freedom feels like."
"I am amazed by them every single day."
It's who you know.
Month two of deployment.
I'd walk a mile.
Boots on the ground.
Once more into the breech.
Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and commentator on the History Channel's "Nature's Fury: Storm of the Century" episode of the series "Violent Earth," sent this e-mail after visiting the Sunshine State recently:
I saw this on U.S. 27 in Suwannee County when I was down there a few weeks ago.
It took a moment to make the connection between a septic tank service billboard and the phrase "No. 1 in the No. 2 business" and then I nearly ran into the ditch.
We know how you feel, Willie.
We went to the BrandonShoppingtownmallTownCenterWestfieldShoppingPlazaMall this weekend to see the big "new wing" that was being unveiled with lots of unopened shops and restaurants.
They include this sports equipment retailer.
Not a big crowd yet, as you can see.
Maybe people just aren't looking close enough.
Like we said, Willie, we know how you feel.
I wish I had a dime for every letter I got from Sweden.
I picked up this Gmail the other day:
Cool site You’ve got!
I’m a Swedish guy who saw Your page about the Elvis Project when I searched the Altavista for pics of Elvis Rings.
I think the Alabama football rings (especially the one on the pinky) on Gary Elvis right hand (pic: ElvisGaryRings2.jpg) is awesome!
The problem is that those kind of rings is impossible to find in Sweden. Do You know were I can buy such a ring or a similar one in the US? A Swedish goldsmith told me that he can copy/mould the ring if I can get him an original model. Maybe those kind of rings is available in silver or any other metal?
Maybe You know how I can contact Gary Britt? Has he any homepage or e-mail? He maybe have any idéas of how I can solve this problem. Maybe he knows if this particular model is still available on the American market?
Have a Great Day!
Well, Tobias, I feel your pain. It's equally as difficult for me here in the States to get an authentic metalic silver body shirt like Bjorn Ulvaeus wore during the ABBA world tour, circa 1975. We all have our crosses to bear.
I've had no contact with Gary Elvis since that day. He seems like a lovely man, though. Perhaps he'd share with you the sources for his rings.
Or, you know, maybe the least you two could do is sing a harmonized version of "Knowing Me/Knowing You."
Oh, and for the record, you'll never find anyone in Sweden willing to grow Elvis sideburns purely for the purpose of photographic amusement.
So, you know, don't even try.
My friend Ryan reports that the "Idea Hamster" is now loose at his workplace.
All they need now is a "Jump To Conclusions" Mat.
An update: Salad reader Gabe Cook writes:
I've been stopping by your blog for over a year now. I might finally have something worth contributing. Warning: you may have to poke your own eyes out after watching it. Here goes...
I've watched this video. I will forever be changed.
This is what the future looks like; a place where advertising icons get their own shows.
Can an episode of "Good To Be The King" be far away?
Remember ex-soap star Brenda Dickson - she of "The Young & The Restless" and of the annoying "how to be fabulous" videos?
Apparently she has quite the active social life. In court.
Hollywood actress Brenda Dickson's 16-day stay in jail here ended yesterday after two lively court hearings in which Dickson mocked a lawyer with Nazi salutes and told the judge her divorce settlement was "a fraud," but ultimately swore to abide by the terms of her property settlement.
Dickson, 58, was jailed on a contempt of court charge Feb. 6 for failure to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement in her divorce from local attorney Jan Weinberg. Wearing a green velour track suit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, Dickson appeared in Family Court yesterday for hearings before part-time Judge Darryl Choy.
Claiming that Choy's rulings had rendered her penniless and homeless, Dickson asked several times to borrow money from Weinberg's lawyer, Charles Kleintop, and even saluted him several times with the words, "Heil Hitler. Third Reich."
But Dickson ultimately said the words that Kleintop and Choy wanted to hear: that she would stop attempts to block the scheduled $1.37 million sale of a Los Angeles condominium that she and Weinberg jointly own.
Hat tip: Sassier Apple
Photo: courtesy of the Match Game Wallpaper Factory, which is almost as scary as Dickson.