Holy Smokes, I’m Having a Mid-Life Crises

It all started when I was born. Instead of being content with my newness, my body insisted upon obtaining life experience. Bones started growing. My big brain developed. My awesome cells multiplied. Once you start, there’s no stopping the engine. You just have to sit there and wait for the caboose.

Lately, I’ve begun startling Mrs. Angry with surprising revelations: I want a motorcycle. Or I’d like to buy one of those cool new Cameros and paint it a matted, bullet gray. I want to get into a bar fight (but I don’t want to get punched in the face). I want to fly (Balloon? Dirigible? Hang glider?) to Monte Carlo and play “games of skill” in a real casino – not Tunica where I shuffle from one $10 blackjack table to the next, frugally trying to make my $80 last the night.

“You’re having a mid-life crisis,” gasped Mrs. Angry.

What? No way. Don’t you have those in your 40’s? I’ve got five more good years in me. I don’t want to be that white-haired guy in the red Corvette, or the beer-gut hero who has to be pried out of his leather motorcycle pants. I don’t want to hit on Hooter waitresses or become a tri-athlete or join a rugby team or order boxes of ExtenZe™ online.

I just, you know, want a Camero.

“Where would you put the kids?” asked Mrs. Angry skeptically. Good question. I drive a 2001 Honda Accord now. Four doors. Four cylinders. Silver. It’s easily mistaken for a million other four-door silver Honda Accords. Mine is the one with the child seat in the back.



Where it lacks in room, it makes up for in vroom.


A couple months ago, my equally-as-old brother paid me a visit. He’s single. He owns a condo in downtown Memphis. He can handle a pool stick. When he’s bored, he joins a barbecue team or flies to Chicago with his buds to watch a soccer game. He is Bizzaro Angry Czeck.

“Let’s tear down the town!” he suggests, and I’m game because Mrs. Angry and the kids are out of town. I am ready to make a long-awaited appearance on the police report.

First, I take him to Buffalo Grill, a hamburger and beer joint. Not a bad selection. Except it’s five o’clock in the afternoon, and the only people eating at five of-the-clock are the elderly and exhausted parents with their kids. My brother and I look like wild-and-crazy guys that accidentally crashed the wrong party.

“Not much action here,” unnecessarily observed my brother. Luckily, the entire evening was stretched out in front of us like a $40 call girl! We were going to make the night our bitch!

Like the Duke Boys, we hopped into my Honda Accord and we headed to The West End, a dive that pretends to be a pub, but it’s really just a sports bar with leather sofas and chairs. The Cardinal game is on, so we figure we’ll knock down a few beers, take in a few innings, and maybe pass some oily winks to the waitresses. Why not? The Night Belonged To Us!



This. Will. Not. Be. Me.


It’s still kind of early though, and The West End is full of forty and fifty year old men puffing on cigarillos, playing table shuffleboard, and calling each other nicknames like “Hawkeye” and “Hunter” and “Duke.” They wear shirts that seemed to have been designed with a paint gun, and when the waitress comes by with drinks, they call her “Honey.”

Egad!” groans my brother. I direct him to a couple of those leather chairs I mentioned earlier, and we wait for a waitress to take our drink order. When she arrives, my brother orders a beer.

“Do you have a Cabernet?” I ask. My brother acts like he was gut-punched by an invisible iron fist.

“You want ‘a Cabernet!’” repeats my brother. I don’t like the way he says “a Cabernet.”

“Listen,” I tell him, “I had a beer at the Buffalo Grill and now my stomach feels full.”

He just looks at me.


I’m beginning to appreciate Rod Stewart. Jesus, no!


His beer and my Cabernet arrive, and the wine tastes like something squeezed out of some guy’s armpit hair. I don’t want to admit the inferiority of my choice, so when I finish the glass I order a second. Meanwhile, Hunter and Hawkeye and Duke are getting louder and louder, overly-cheering the shuffleboard game. They spend a great deal of time re-adjusting their pants.

“What dorks!” I say.

That’s our future,” jokes my brother, and we laugh like villains. I take another sip of wine. The baseball game isn’t coming on for another half an hour.

“Let’s get a six pack and watch the game at home,” I suggest, and my brother sighs. I don’t really understand why he sighed until we step outside, into the fading remains of sunlight.

Sunlight.

We didn’t even make it to nightfall! We slumped into the Honda Accord and chugged home, stopping first to fetch some Miller Lite because Miller Lite isn’t too heavy a beer. Later that evening, at one point, I said, “Wow! It’s almost ten o’clock!”

So I want a Camero.

Or a motorcycle. And I’d like to go skydiving just once. And dye my hair blue. Not bright Anime blue, but real dark blue. And I want to own my own tuxedo and learn to play craps. And if that’s having a mid-life crisis, then baby, I’m having a mid-life crisis.

I hope it comes with a Camero.



###

Oh, Sure. You Like Drones NOW.

On August 5th, a missile materialized out of the Pakistani sky and blew Baitullah Mehsud into itty-bitty terrorist chunks. Mr. Mehsud wasn’t especially well-liked. He was widely vilified by Pakistanis for his messy suicide bombings against civilians. The CIA accused him of masterminding the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. There are unconfirmed reports that Mehsud left the top unscrewed on the red-pepper flake container at a Chucky Cheese.

He was a very bad man.

Mehsud was messily eliminated via “fire from the sky” – a missile fired from a military drone. These drones cruise high above Pakistan and Afghanistan in what we’re told are missions to seek and destroy high-value al Qaeda targets.

Mr. Mehsud currently rests in pieces all over Pakistan.

President Obama approves of these missions. He said so on the campaign trail. He’s given the thumbs-up for more drone operations. Al Qaeda thugs squirm beneath their own skies, wondering if the next run to Taco Bell will be their last.

The hits keep coming. On Thursday (August 27), two missiles allegedly fired by a U.S. drone struck a militant hideout, killing six fighters in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal region. Boom goes the dynamite!

We’ve launched more than 50 of these attacks since last September, killing about 480 people, including al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert (and scumbag), Abu Khabab al-Masri. Even with sticky pieces of Mehsud’s corpse atop the body pile, Pakistan isn’t exactly thrilled with an omnipresent robot patrolling their borders.

You want some of this?

Me, I like that our own military troops are far from danger as we drop Kung-Fu death blows from the sky like Zeus. I derive pleasure by imagining how nervous these al Qaeda creeps must get every time they emerge from their caves for sunshine. (“Dude, it’s your turn to get the beer!” “No! It’s your turn!”) I even like the message we are sending to Pakistan: You guys suck, so we’re doing the terrorist-killing for you.

Yeah, I like military drones. I like them in Pakistan.

I won’t like them when they are hovering over the Mexican-U.S. border in search of illegal aliens and drug runners. I won’t like them when they are cruising over the highway monitoring speed limits. I won’t like them when drones are flying over my neighborhood, making sure I’m not smoking a big J in my backyard. I don’t have to consult my crystal balls to know that that day is a-coming.

Today, hysterical conservatives are screaming that the threat of universal health care is a harbinger of a government take-over. Where were these conservatives when the government was eavesdropping on the phone conversations of American citizens? Where will these conservatives be when airborne drones monitor every booger we pick? Will that be too much government? Or will they simply supply the usual cop-out: If you’re not doing something wrong, you have nothing to worry about?

The military’s airborne drones are clever tools that save lives, eliminate dangerous foes, and look cool in an army recruiting television commercial. That they are directed against our enemies is a good thing.

That they will one day be directed at us is only a matter of time.

****

Rage Rules

I kind of like the Town Hall Criers.

The yellers. The screamers. The sobbers. I kinda like them. I don’t want to hang out with them. Or share a park bench with them. Quite frankly, I don’t even want to share a Denny’s with them. But I like them anyway.

I like them partly because of my special mandate to accept anger in all forms. And these clowns seem angry. Spittle flies from their lips. Their faces become red valentines of hate. They often break down in tears. How can I keep my head high in fury while dismissing the Town Hall Criers? I can’t. You’re in the club, bro.

Nobody said anger was good-looking. Or coherent.

And by expressing their anger, the Town Hall Criers have underscored the undervalued value of rancor: Rage makes people think.

Make no mistake, I believe most of the Town Hall Criers are imbeciles. They recklessly evoke the name of Hitler, applying it to our Nation’s leaders without really understanding the implications. They shout Socialism so much, you can almost see Newt Gingrich pulling the strings. And worst of all, they mistake single-minded rudeness for patriotism.

If you support government sponsored health care, then you hate Capitalism! You are a foe to freedom! And you know who else hated freedom? Hitler! Yes! Hitler! He took over the auto industry too! Boo! I’m scared! Boooo!

Yeah. I know. And still, I kinda like these guys.

I like them not for their heroically miniature brains, but because of what their ignorance has exposed: Health care is a bitch. It’s a kick to the pills for which no amount of ice can reduce the swelling and the ache. It’s as confusing as the disclaimer copy for Cialis. I’d have Lou Ferigno punch me in the face ten times rather than figure out how to pay for the resulting reconstructive surgery.

Nobody said anger was classy.

Before the Town Hall Criers colored their first Hitler mustache on a picture of President Obama, our elected Senators were hardly reading the measures the universal health care advocates were cooking up. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas claimed she hadn’t read the bill because “it wasn’t finished yet.” What the hell are you waiting for? Half-an-hour before the vote? Sen. Lincoln, fearful of becoming the next You Tube sensation, also postponed all her Town Hall meetings until after August. Perhaps she will have an opinion by then.

The Town Hall Criers, for all their misinformed bravado and scare tactics, are making our elected officials work. We’re all paying attention. Better yet, we’re asking all the questions that we should have asked at the very beginning. Why are we rushing this bill? What are the costs? Is there a better solution than just making up a whole new system? Is tighter regulation a more logical answer? Or should we forget these lukewarm half-measures and experiment with a Canadian-style system?

As an added bonus, Town Hall Criers are forcing us to ask questions about ourselves: Does the government still represent the people? Are we really a nation comprised of paranoid hillbillies? Do we view good health care as a right or a responsibility in this country? Can Senator Barney Frank hold his own in a fist fight?

Anger makes people wanna throw down.

Ask the Angry Czeck about universal health care, and I’ll tell you how I like the idea. Everyone in the word’s wealthiest country should receive excellent health care. Furthermore, our citizen’s are getting older, medical costs are out of control, malpractice suites are ridiculous, and Grey’s Anatomy is still on the air. Our health care is not the best in the world. But it’s also not the worst, and that’s got to count for something.

Meanwhile, the Town Hall Crier’s are still crying, still spreading around dumb rumors, still masking their ignorance with patriotism and still displaying a level of intelligence that makes me believe that the real problem might be our education system. Their colorful Made-For-YouTube highlights make me cringe. I thought Jon Goslin and the Oldsmobile Alero were America’s biggest embarrassments. Turns out, we can set the bar lower.

Still, I kinda like these guys.

*****

I Am Sorely Displeased With College Sports

I hate college sports.

Wait. That’s too harsh. It’s not even quite true. I hate Hitler. But college sports simmers close to the top, right there with Grey’s Anatomy, backward parkers, and wind chimes.

College sports sorely displease me.

But much in the way that I am sorely displeased with Jessica Simpson – I still sort of want to hang out with her. You know. Because, you know.

I like Arkansas State football and basketball. (Go Red Wolves.) I went to college there, so that’s my excuse. I know people who are nuts for Duke, and they’ve never been within 700 miles of North Carolina. That’s just wrong. What has Duke done for you? Listen, Chief: Duke doesn’t care about you or your family.

You know.

That’s not where my soreness comes from. What chafes my privates is the Lie Of Big Time Amateur Sports. Bowling isn’t big time (a sport for which Arkansas State excels). Football, basketball, hell even lacrosse is big time, and there’s nothing amateur about it.

Ask somebody why they love college sports, and you’ll likely receive this vein of bullshit: “It’s pure! The kids play for the joy of the game!”

Joy? Maybe. The kids seem to like it. Pure? No way.

I lived in Knoxville for a year. It’s home to a college called The University of Tennessee. They love their college football team in Knoxville. (A squad called The Volunteers, which further cements the amateur myth.) The local economy relies heavily on the football team to have a good season. Fewer people spend money downtown during bad years. You can imagine how dimly the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce views a losing season.

Reportedly, there’s an airplane runway just outside the city limits. A booster of the football team is rumored to own it. If you are a high school kid, and you play football, and a rich guy arranges for you to fly into his city so that you might meet the coach of his favorite college football team, are you really pure anymore? Or are you wearing a new dress and riding in a limo with Richard Gere?

All right, maybe that’s nitpicking. I’m sure all-star English majors are flown onto college campuses too. But let’s explore the college campus more thoroughly. Generally, you find the football and basketball teams ensconced in finer quarters than, say, the engineering club. Class attendance is mandatory, but you know. Come on. Practice wipes a guy out, right? Somebody will take notes. And should your keg-and-stripper party get out of hand, the campus cops are more than happy to look the other way. After all, the chief has $200 on the game.

College sport fans are pretty good.

You know what? Big time college athletes deserve the perks. I’m sincere. After all, the universities that pamper the athletes are making a mint off them, too. The English Department isn’t filling up the stadiums. Somebody is getting rich, and the athletes are moving the turnstiles.

Should we just outright pay the”student” athletes? Yes, Jesus, yes! And then at least we won’t be hypocrites demanding that our “student” athletes make good grades and behave like temple virgins while we sell them out on t-shirts. So the game would no longer be played by math majors. Was it ever?

But now the game is pure. You bet.

It has been announced that the University of Memphis basketball club will be stripped of its wins stemming from it’s glorious 2008 season. The team won 38 games, went to the Final Four, and were defeated by an even bigger Big Time program, Kansas, in the final game. There was much cheering.

Pssst. War of 1812. The cotton gin. Five.”

The media gushed. How did Memphis, a b-list player in the NCAA, suddenly manage to build a squad that rivaled the Dukes and Tar Heels and Longhorns of this world? The coach, John Calipari, was known to be an incredible recruiter, but come on? Memphis? Not exactly Georgetown.

I don’t know if John had access to a private airplane with a private landing strip, but he might have known somebody who would fraudulently take a recruit’s SAT test.*

Pure.

Now University of Memphis fans are staggering around Beale Street, pretending that they never suspected that maybe, just maybe, John Calipari’s magic dust wasn’t 100% pure. I mean, why wouldn’t the country’s top prospects reject Louisville or UCLA or Florida for a school that hadn’t had much success in college hoops since, well, since the last time the school forfeited a Final Four season, 1985? Was the tour of Graceland really that overwhelming?

People love college sports. There’s a romance to the concept. We like the stories ESPN invents about the hardworking kids who “play the game the right way.” Exactly what that way might be isn’t very clear.

Not really interested in his ethics.

Call me callous, but give me the pro game. The game with the best athletes. The game that won’t break my heart, no matter how many felonies are committed. Give me the game that I don’t have to pretend is some kind of sanctuary for good sportsmanship, fairness, and (trying not to laugh) academic achievement. The game that understands that it is a business rather than some kind of church.

Pro baseball is Roid Ball. Pro football players are pot-heads who run over pedestrians with enormous SUVs. Pro basketball players aren’t much better. I know. But to tell you the truth, I’m not getting a better vibe from the “amateurs” either. Plus nobody waxes poetically about the pro players’ sterling love of the game and their fidelity for sportsmanship. We pay pros millions of bucks to play ball, and that’s it. No illusions here.

This year, like every year, you’ll find the Angry Czeck rooting the Arkansas State Red Wolves to its few but satisfying victories. In fact, I will follow the team closely and with great interest. I will hope that they somehow upset Nebraska and Iowa this year. If they do, I’ll become an insufferable braggart. And if they don’t, well, a victory over Troy State will have to do.

I am sorely displeased with college sports, but, well, you know.

* It should be noted that John Callipari, who now coaches for the University of Kentucky, has not been implicated in the scandal. Nor was he directly implicated in the scandal that stripped his University of Massachusetts team of its victories in 1996.

XOXO

Republicans On The Campaign Trail of Tears

I don’t remember Republicans being so whiny.

When Glen Beck started sobbing on TV, I thought it was an anomaly. The GOP is like Conan: It never cries. It smirks, yes. Shrugs in the face of doom. Continues watching cartoons in the wake of despair. But cry and whine, never.

And yet, whining has become the key tactic for the Republicans. They didn’t get the man they wanted behind the Big Desk, so they emotionally (and moronically) question the winner’s heritage. They didn’t get to keep the status quo, so they shrilly scream socialism. Its not just beneath them. It’s beneath all of us.

Glenn Beck now knows why humans cry.

This is the Party that leads with the gut, for crying out loud. Who knew that the gut was such a baby?

Perhaps this is the real Republican Party.

And after eight brutal years of enduring iron-fisted GOP rule, I sort of forgot how Republican politics work. I simply got used to pointy-headed Democrats being ignored by Bush and his pals. But this Health Care debate has re-educated me, and I think it should do the same for you.

Allow me to break it down:

How A Republican Survives a Democratic White House

1. Whatever a Democrat claims, counter-claim the opposite. With enough practice, this can become as reflexive as breathing or polishing your flag lapel pin. For example, if a Democrat says a program will save the taxpayer money, immediately insist that it will actually cost them money. If a Democrat claims that proposed legislation will increase air quality, don’t waste a second saying that the bill will most likely kill us all. Don’t bother with research and the messy facts that accompany it. Just say the opposite. You’re on Fox & Friends, so it must be true.

2. Make everything about The Troops. If you catch a Democrat taking a leak, he or she is pissing in the faces of our Troops. If you spy a Democrat baking a pie, you can bet it’s not baked for The Troops (it’s probably intended for Al Qaeda). By contrast, everything Republicans do is for the troops. If a Republican wears deodorant, it’s for the troops. If a Republican bangs an intern after church, it’s for the troops. See how this works? You can never claim too much patriotism.

3. Repackage the blame. Republicans recently blamed Obama for resorting to the “politics of fear.” What a masterstroke! Republicans invented fear politics, but now the Democrats are the fear-mongers! Forget that you can’t speak for three minutes on Fox & Friends without calling the President a Socialist. Never mind that you ominously whisper “nine eleven” every time your party’s sinister policies are questioned. You’re just telling it like it is! Obama says that healthcare today is pricey and that maybe we should fix it. BOO! You’re scaring me!

4. Insist that Christianity is under attack. Yes! Attack! You don’t have evidence of an attack, just that gut feeling we were talking about, so it must be true. During a debate (one in which you have failed to monopolize the microphone), claim that the Founding Fathers meant for America to be Jesus Country. Time your hissing perfectly when your opponent reminds you that neither Adams, Franklin, or Jeffereson held stong religious beliefs. Then shout, “Christianity is under attack!” (For bonus points, claim that it’s impossible for a white man to get a job in this country anymore.) This makes the crazy Christian Fundamentalists happy, because it means that they’re a big step closer to unloading their illegal cache of automatic weapons on the non-believers.

5. Say something completely crazy. You already have the mouthpieces in place: Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. All you have to do is make a nutty claim, and one of those guys will likely broadcast it to an audience of millions. For example, claim the President is not an American. Demand to see his birth certificate. When it is produced, pretend you didn’t see it. Keep claiming the President was born in another country until the Nation’s morons accept it as fact.

6. Nothing is too trivial to compare to Hitler. There is no greater evil than Hitler, so make sure to attach the Furor’s name to everything you dislike or fail to understand: universal health care, gun control, abortion, open diplomacy, or Sudoku. You know what Jesus would do. If a Democrat proposes it, you know that’s what Hitler would do.

7. Become hysterical at Town Hall meetings. Let’s face it – Town Hall meetings are laaaaaame. Spice it up by denying mental patients their medication for a week, and then unleash them before cringing Democrats! Make sure you don’t stick to talking points. Just grab the microphone and start screaming. Use words and phrases like “family values,” socialism,” and “Nazis.”

I’ve decoded your schemes and plans, Grand Ol‘ Party. Something else to whine about! Why can’t you man-up and take your ballot-box whoopin like men. I mean, we Democrats were nothing but dignified in 2000. We were so gracious, we let you have another four years so you’d have a do-over. But you screwed it all up, and now we’re in charge. If you don’t struggle, it won’t hurt so much

Really, it’s getting embarrassing for you.

***

The country makes the Angry Czeck its bitch

I am standing in the bathroom searching my body for ticks.

Ticks and I go way back, back to when I was a kid scouring the woods around my house. Yet, I never got used to their crusty bodies and their unquenchable thirst for blood. When I’d find one attached to my skin, I would claw and scratch at it until the insect was finally dislodged. No calm plucking. Not me. I know how their sinister existences play out. Why, a tick might hunch on a blade of grass or a low hanging tree limb for two, five, even ten years until a snack of blood like myself comes strolling by. The eerie patience of the woodland tick!

I find one almost immediately, right in the Junk Jungle.

Egah! I claw at it savagely. I imagine a haze of chemicals descending upon the Earth, a green cloud of death choking the strange life out of these disgusting parasite. But I know that, even on a small scale, this is not going to happen any time soon.

Not on The Patrick’s organic farm.

*

I met Eric Patrick in Memphis, when he and his wife lived a couple blocks from me. He was a corporate accountant for a very large company. He was also building his own sailboat.

“How to you make a boat?”
Eric shrugged. “I found the plans online. It didn’t look hard.”

Online, building a particle accelerator may not seem too hard, but Eric wasn’t intimidated by the task. He bought the materials, assembled his tools, and built himself a sailboat. As sailing vessels go, nobody was going to write a poem about Eric’s boat anytime soon. It looked like a homemade sailboat. I noted that the cabin seemed unfinished, and I asked him if he had any plans for making it more comfortable. You know, like adding a bench or something.

Eric looked at me, genuinely perplexed. “No,” he decided. “Why would I do that?

Eric is the only Pragmatic Romantic that I know.

**

However, Eric is not totally without bursts of pure romance.

He and his wife, Audrey, named his organic farm Foggy Hollow, an allusion to the white mist that settles on his land. He and I walk the grounds of Foggy Hollow in his boots – I don’t own boots, so I wear his. The ground is spongy beneath our feet. It’s been a wet summer.

A rainbow? Are you effing kidding me?

“This is where we’re growing lettuce. And here are the watermelons,” he says, pointing to random patches of land. It’s hard to tell what I’m looking at. An organic farm lacks the aesthetic quality of a more traditional farm, with its nice neat rows of plants. An organic farmer cannot use pesticides or chemicals that will strip the soil of weeds and bugs. So everything looks overgrown and random, even though I know it isn’t. Eric doesn’t really do random.

Eric hands me a small ear of corn. The weather has been rough on corn, but I take a bite, and the corn is sweet and delicious. I ask him about subsidies and grants, and he responds, “A change we can believe in!”

Eric is a big Obama fan. You can tell because his Toyota Prius bears a couple Obama campaign stickers. Apparently, the new administration has been generous to organic farmers.

“I’m getting a grant to build a conservation fence,” he tells me. “Right now, there’s a whole lot of grant money available to organic farmers, but there’s not many around here. So I get what I want.”

Eric believes in what he says and what he practices. While others are content with talking about preserving the environment, Eric is, well, starting an organic farm. With a conservation fence. And plans for making his own electricity by building a hydro generator from the crystal-clear creek that runs through his property.

There is a great deal of property, too. Only about half of it is flat. Carved out of the rolling Tennessee landscape, Foggy Hollow looks nothing like the flat corn and bean farm I spent part of my childhood on in Illinois. I try to convince Eric to buy a four-wheeler. Not only for the fun, but because it would be a help on the land. Eric hems and haws and keeps claiming that it would run out of gas. The joke’s not funny the first time, but he says it at least twice. I sense something deeper. Finally, I discover the real reason for his reluctance.

He doesn’t want another gas-powered tool on his organic farm.

***

Several years ago, for reasons lost in the ether, I paid The Patrick’s a visit to their Memphis house. Eric was outside, as usual, doing outside stuff. That’s yet another point of difference between he and I. Eric loves being outside, loves the heat, the bugs, the wind. Me, I like climate control.

I found Eric doodling with what appeared to be weeds in a hanging pot.

“Tomatoes,” he explained. But he was all excited and giggling. He spent the next ten minutes telling me about his damn tomatoes. I don’t care about tomatoes, but I tried to share his enthusiasm. He’s a friend. But it’s impossible. Eric was goofy for his tomatoes. Later, I related the story to Mrs. Angry, then forgot about it.

I didn’t realize that I had witnessed the genesis of Eric’s obsession with organic farming.

****

Audrey has been married to Eric for eleven years. With him, she has moved to South Carolina, Memphis, Hattiesburg, and two places in Nashville. When Eric announced that he was giving up the secure lifestyle of corporate accounting for organic farming, she didn’t flip out. Instead, Audrey embraced the idea and became a farmer’s wife.

I watch Audrey shave a fresh zucchini with a cheese grader. She wears an apron. When dinner is ready, she rings a big bell in the backyard to summon her husband to the table.

Audrey used to work with Mrs. Angry at Youth Villages in Memphis, helping troubled inner-city kids learn how to balance a checkbook and apply for a job without setting the neighbor’s cat on fire. She used to spend her free time at coffee shops sipping java, or perusing the aisles of trendy bookstores. Now she spends a great deal of time prying produce from the earth and driving her oldest son, Liam, thirty miles to school. If there was an adjustment to be made adopting the organic lifestyle, it doesn’t show on Audrey.

Surrounded by crotch-seeking ticks

“We love it here,” she says simply, and she’s especially proud to lead us on a hike atop their hill, which boasts a splendid panoramic view of the hollow. There’s not another house to been seen. Like me, they once lived in a neighborhood where houses were built nearly wall-to-wall.

I wait for Audrey to admit a single regret, or to utter a selfish complaint. When none is forthcoming, I goad her. “Don’t you miss neighbors?” I ask like Iago. “Wouldn’t you like to wake up without having to shake spiders out of your shoes?”

Audrey laughs and continues with the making of her homemade pizza. She is youthful and merry, and she seems to gain energy from long hours. I realize then that no amount of goading would yield the response I expected. Audrey really did love it here on the farm.

*****

Eric is having trouble making the CD player in the aging Nissan Altima work. The machine stubbornly spits out the compact disc with Eric’s every attempt. The car has more than 160,000 miles on it. Eric expresses some minor annoyance.

“There’s a great song about chickens on this CD,” he says between clenched teeth, and I decide that this would be the quote that sums up my weekend at Foggy Hollow.

There’s a great song about chickens on this CD.

We’re on our way to the Cumberland River. Eric’s eldest son, Liam, and my eldest son, Angry Junior, sit in the back seat, engaged in the critical talk of 6-year-olds. Trailing behind the car – upon a steel-mesh cart that normally hauled organically grown squash, corn, and tomatoes – was a large yellow kayak.

Angry Junior brings his own lunch on our kayak trip.

Even though the CD player isn’t working, I tell Eric I’m glad we selected the Altima over the Prius. I tell him I don’t want to get beat-up over the Obama stickers.

“You’d be surprised,” Eric tells me. “There are a lot of hippies that come out here wanting to get back to nature. I’ve seen Obama signs.”

That might be true, but mostly I’ve seen muscle-shirts, the Stars-and-Bars, and strange skull formations. Or maybe that’s just what I wanted to see. Eric has nothing but positive things to say about his neighbors, who aren’t all farmers. One, for example, repairs boilers.

“Boilers?” I repeat. Who in the hell has a boiler?

Suddenly, the CD player comes to life, and Eric has his chicken song. And he’s right. It might be the best song about chickens ever. If there’s a better one, I don’t want to hear it.

We launch the kayak on an inlet where many men are already fishing from their Ranger boats. We look a little out of place – two men and two small boys – paddling clumsily in no definitive direction among those who fish in silence. As it turns out, kayaking is work, and I decide to let Eric do most of it. Farming is like a membership to Gold’s Gym. After two months working the land, he had lost 15 pounds.

I make up a fictional mission to amuse the kids: We are on a quest to find a rogue Indian warrior, Chief Hippopottimo, and convince him to bury the hatchet and smoke the peace pipe with his White Father. We scan the wooded banks for signs of native activity – a smoke signal, perhaps. Eventually, we beach the kayak on a rocky shoal along the Cumberland, and we test our courage in the chilly waters.

This is how Eric relaxes. Apparently, Audrey had to force him to unwind on Sundays, or he’d be out in his fields pulling weeds or doing whatever organic farmers do. As a result, Eric has learned deeper things about himself. For example, he has gained a new appreciation for country music.

“I identify with it,” he admits. “You know, about working the land and freedom. Not the religious stuff.”

Eric isn’t a spiritual man, yet he seems to have found a kind of spirituality all the same. He has a profound respect for the power of the sun. He has made peace with the forces of weather and he has forged an alliance with the strange organisms that make his soil fertile. Eric has found his place in the world.

It’s just not my place, apparently. Every time we pass a boat, I shout, “Ahoy!” Eric tells me that shouting “ahoy” at a guy will get you beaten-up quicker than having an Obama sticker on your car.

******

Mrs. Angry is in her element in calf deep water, hunting for crawdads.

Bordering the back-end of Foggy Hollow is the cleanest stream I’ve every stuck a toe into. It looks like the saline solution I soak my contact lenses in. It is home to a colorful ecosystem of aquatic things that fascinate my sons. Mrs. Angry bounces from rock to rock, gleefully capturing enormous crawdads.

“Where’s the pollution, Dad?”

I stand in the center of the creek, barely moving. I don’t want to slip. I don’t want to get wet. I wish I can check my Facebook account. Suddenly, Angry Junior screams, “Snake!” and instead of fleeing to the house, Mrs. Angry and Audrey attempt to rustle it. Eric sits on the shore, his feet in the water. Huck Finn grown up.

Eric is not a hippy. Not exactly. But he definitely isn’t an accountant, although by his own admission he was pretty good at it. Nowadays, he dreams of ways of engineering a solar-powered tractor. Every Wednesday and Saturday, he and the family load up the Altima and drive to Nashville. There they sell their hard work to the city folk who like the idea of organic food, but lack the fortitude to grow it themselves.

Eric and Co. await the arrival of city folk.

I’m not even one of those guys. My philosophy is more chemicals, more irradiation, more hormones. Hell, if it’s good enough for the FDA, it’s good enough for me. To Eric, that makes as much sense as shouting “ahoy” from a kayak.

Mrs. Angry wants to take the kids and visit the chickens. Audrey wants to start dinner at the house, and I nearly break my neck joining her. The house sounds air conditioned and tick free. I see Mrs. Angry and Eric across the field, on their way to the chicken coop, with my two kids and the two Patrick boys trundling behind. I think that maybe it wouldn’t be bad living out here, on the land, making stuff grow. Instead of sitting in a sterile office, staring at my computer all day, dreaming up ways to sell stuff.

And then I feel something crawling in my pants, and I hurry to catch up with Audrey.

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Eric and Audrey Patrick live outside of Nashville on their organic farm they call Foggy Hollow. You may purchase their chemical-free produce at Franklin Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and the East Nashville Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays. Eric doesn’t write nearly enough posts on his Foggy Hollow blog, which you can access here.

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10 Things the Angry Czeck Says You Need to Know About Kids

The Angry Czeck has a friend who is several months pregnant with her first baby. If she’s anything like me and Mrs. Angry, she and her husband probably bought a lot of expensive books that pretends to prepare people for parenthood. Bah! Says the Angry Czeck. Raising kids isn’t rocket science. If caveman and the French can do it, so can you.

Still, a rookie parent could always use tips from a mystical guru. I’m willing to share with you my extensive knowledge, and my credentials cannot be questioned, as I have two kids myself. Stop listening to your mother-in-law and tattoo the following to your brain:


Ten Things The
Angry Czeck Says
You Need To Know
About Kids

1. Kids are easy to trick and to fool. Thanks to limited experience with humanity, kids are greatly susceptible to half-truths and lies. For example, my eldest son has been under the misconception that his great grandfather was a talking orangutan. He got this idea from what he foolishly perceives to be a trusted source of information: me. Now he tells all his friends that he’s only a couple generations removed from a monkey! That’s the best kind of fun.

2. Kids are bouncy. Children can do things that would kill or maim an adult – like leaping off furniture, ramming themselves into walls, and deflecting rocks off their heads. I don’t have a degree in science, but I happen to have it on good authority that children skin cells are of a similar consistency to a rubber tree plant. As a result, kids are difficult to break and can be molded into a variety of fun shapes. Buy that Sit-n-Spin with confidence, Rookie Parent!

3. Kids don’t care how naked you are. Whether you’re fully naked in the shower, or partly naked while dropping a deuce, your kid won’t give a damn. In fact, you’ll likely get a visit from your kid the moment you’re in a stage-of-undress. Sometimes, you can very well be naked with another naked person. In which case, immediately refer to Point Number One.

4. Kids think you’re indestructible. It’s always wise to keep your abdominal muscles flexed when you have kids in the house, because you never know when you’re gonna receive a running head-butt to the bread basket. Furthermore, children rarely comprehend the true temperature of fire, the hardness of a baseball, or the sensitivity of your nuts. If you dislike pain in any form, I recommend the big bottle of ibuprofen.

5. Kids think Scooby Doo is real. That’s unfortunate, because you know otherwise and you may begin to question your kid’s intelligence. It won’t help that your kid eats Hungry Hungry Hippo marbles and talks like Kirk Douglas. Relax. Get off the phone with the Special School. As kids age, they become smarter and they adopt more elegant speech patterns. The challenge is to remain smarter than your kids. Once they surpass your IQ, it’s game over.

6. Kids will eat all your chicken nuggets. Science has yet to record how many chicken nuggets a kid can eat at once. However, it has been well-documented in the field that while a kid may eat a prodigious amount of chicken nuggets, keeping them them eaten (rather than, say, in a semi-liquefied form on your brand new couch) is another story entirely.

7. Kids and your cell phone are mortal enemies. The cell phone is a device that takes your attention away from your kid. Therefore, expect at least 18 years of never finishing a telephone conversation. Kids will resort to any tactic to separate you from your cell phone, including dumping your expensive phone into the toilet, swimming pool, sewage pipe, or onto a busy highway. You may temporarily fool a kid with “their own phone” (usually a brightly colored toy phone painted like SpongeBob), but it will not be long before your kid recognizes this pseudo-phone as worthless crap.

8. Kids can be sonsuvabitches. This is not an indictment of the mother’s lineage so much as the gentle observation that kids, under any number of circumstances, can elect to become insufferable bastards at a moment’s notice. Whether you’re shopping at the grocery or attending a tragic funeral, one cannot predict when your kid might start screaming for soft drinks, throwing shoes, or punching you in the butt. NOTE: This is when people without kids start glaring at you. Don’t hesitate to give these people The Finger as you drag your kid to “time out.”

9. Kids want to smoke your cigarettes. Whatever you’re doing – fireworks, booze, hookers – your kids want to do it too. Unless you want to come home from a hard day’s work to find your kid wearing your ball-gag, nipple-clamps and leather chaps, try to keep the checkered elements of your life under wraps.

10. Kids are lousy conversationalists. I don’t know about other parents, but I find myself answering the same damn questions all damn day long. “For Christ’s sake, yes! The sun is hot!” If you’re having a kid and expecting to have Voltaire for company, I’ve got disappointing news for you, Chief.

There you go, Rookie Parents. Excellent advice and insight that should get you through the next five our six years with all your limbs intact. Don’t send me any questions, because I won’t answer them. But if you send me cash, I promise to spend it.

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