On Lewis Grizzard: ‘Uh, could we talk about MY books for a while?’

My wife and I recently drove to Marietta, Ga., for a wedding party. Imagine my surprise when on a stretch of I-85 in Coweta County, about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, I saw a sign that read: Lewis Grizzard Memorial Highway.

It warmed my heart, for I knew the late Lewis Grizzard when years ago I was a writer/editor for The Atlanta Constitution, where his incredible rise to fame began.

I say “incredible” because that’s a good word for it. When it comes to famous columnists, the list is short indeed. After you name Red Smith (of The New York Times) and Mike Royko (the Chicago newspapers, all of them), you’ve pretty much exhausted the list except for Grizzard.

How beloved was this son of tiny Moreland, Georgia (pop. 399 in the 2010 Census)? Listen up.

I write novels and sometimes make guest appearances to talk about my work and maybe sell a book or two. But I have rarely been to one where I wasn’t asked more about Grizzard than about me. Scout’s honor. An appearance at North Myrtle Beach Library was typical. I would’ve been better off reading aloud from Grizzard’s biography and books than my own. Could’ve left MY books in the car. Soon as I stepped to the podium, I was peppered with the kind of question I always hear when the audience learns that I once worked at The Atlanta Constitution:

“Did you know Lewis Grizzard?”

“Him and all his ex-wives,” I quipped. (One of Grizzard’s best lines was: “I don’t call my ex-wives by name anymore; I just address them as Plaintiff.”)

“Was he as funny in person as he is in his columns and books?”

“Uh, could we talk about something else – MY books, for instance?”

Kidding aside, his columns were hilarious, and even the titles of his books, which often were expansions of his standup comedy routines, are LOL:

  • “Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.”
  • “Southern By the Grace of God.” (My apologies to my Yankee neighbors in Litchfield Country Club.)
  • “I Haven’t Understood Anything Since 1962.”
  • And my favorite: “When My Love Returns From the Ladies Room, Will I Be Too Old To Care?”

For a columnist who wrote about little more than his love of the Georgia Bulldogs, a (presumably) fictional (and busty) gal named Kathy Sue Loudermilk, cold beer, chili dogs, and Braves baseball games, Grizzard attracted a huge following.

For an idea of how much his fans loved him, search Lewis Grizzard on Amazon and read a sampling of the reviews. “Laughed till I cried” appears often.

Better still, if he’s still doing it, catch Georgetown County native Bill Oberst Jr. onstage doing his portrayal of Grizzard. My wife and I did, at the Newberry Opera House some years back. Believe me, it was well worth the drive.

Lest I leave the wrong impression about Grizzard, he was not your typical corn-pone Southern humorist. He could be serious and even philosophical, as in a line I’ve long envied and wish I had written:

As both an old sportswriter and famous humorist, Grizzard drove many a mile on Georgia’s highways. He preferred the less-traveled routes to the super highways because, he wrote in one of his columns, “On a back Georgia road at night, you can ask yourself a serious question and get an honest answer.”

Dear hearts, in this life there aren’t many places where you can do that.

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Of formal dresses and BIG birthdays

Two thousand seventeen has not gotten off to a good start for Yours Truly.
First, there was the dress. No. make that The Dress. It was “The Dress” instead of simply “the dress” because it is for the upcoming wedding of our youngest son, Carson, a brilliant new lawyer (takes after his father) who now calls Des Moines, Iowa, home.

Carson will wed Claire Roth in Athens in April. You might recall my column on his unusual Pepperoni Proposal. If not, no matter; we are here today to talk dresses.

Brace yourself. Carson’s mother, Margaret, my wife, drove in mid-January, with me in tow, from Pawleys Island to Columbia, then to Athens, then to Atlanta. then back to Columbia, and then home — all in one weekend! And without finding a suitable dress!

But wait. There’s more.  The next weekend, we drove — are you ready? — to  Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to Columbia again in search of The Dress.

In the process, my wife tried on 124,698 dresses!

And that doesn’t count the 212 she bought online, eagerly awaited, tried on, and sent right back.

For me, this experience was very educational: I learned that my opinion on formal dresses means absolutely nothing — but I am now an expert on dress-shop decor and the behavior of women, all women, in such establishments. Long story short: women are not rational creatures. (No surprise there, eh, fellows?)

Then there was my wife’s birthday, which occurred this month. Because I dislike physical pain, I will  not mention which of her birthdays it was. I will say only that HER BIRTHDAY IS A  BIG. BIG DEAL!

I have learned that different families harbor different attitudes towards birthdays. In mine, thirteen and twenty-one were considered special. Sort of. Maybe. My wife says parole dates are more important in my family. And occur more often.

But among my in-laws, EVERY BIRTHDAY is special, and most special of all is my wife’s — and heaven help me if I forget it!

But how could I forget it? The hints begin six weeks ahead of The Day. And the REQUIRED preparations are themselves unforgettable.

First there’s the 21-gun salute.
Then comes the fireworks display.
Then there’s the flyover by the Blue Angels, complete with their famous synchronized wing-tip salute, while down below, in our front yard, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings a special version of “Happy Birthday To You — Yes, You!”

Do I exaggerate? OK — but only a little. In any case, she has now picked a dress — and loves it!

So, as the Bard of Avon said, “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Best of all, the doctor tells me that my bumps and bruises will be healed by the April 8 Wedding Day.

This bone scan was music to my ears

Who would have thought that a bone scan could be such a pleasant experience?

dancing_skeletons_clip_art_previewI didn’t. I figured I’d show up at Tidelands Health Waccamaw Hospital in Murrells Inlet, S.C., at the appointed hour, go downstairs to Nuclear Medicine, get an injection, lie on a table and listen to machinery whir around me, then get up and go home.

But two musicians whose day job is in nuclear medicine at the hospital made the scan a truly harmonious (no pun) event.

Imagine my surprise when over the soft whir of the scanner as the test began I heard music. Good music!

This was courtesy of Tom Goodman, 64 and a former Hoosier, and Darrin McCann, 45, who hails from all over. Those two can scan my old bones anytime they like (as long as they bring their music with them).

You know, yourself, that normally in situations like this the best a patient can expect is elevator music.

Read my lips: I hate elevator music!

It’s not even music. Reminds me of the old blues song by W.C. Handy, “Loveless Love.” You remember it: “From silkless silk to milkless milk, we are growing used to soul-less souls.” (Sing it again, Billie Holiday, wherever you are!)

Elevator music is music with no soul.

Can I get an amen on that?

If clarinetist Goodman and guitarist McCann had come up with the idea of accompanying bone scans with soul-less music, you wouldn’t be reading this. I wouldn’t have written it. But neither man just plays music; they both KNOW music.

In the short time I was there, we talked about music ranging from swing to rock to country and about musicians from B.B. King to Willie Nelson, from Norah Jones to the Eagles, and from Benny Goodman to Delbert McClinton. They knew them all.  Goodman even named his son Benny (after Guess Who), and the son plays clarinet, too – “better than I do,” said Dad, who now plays mostly in church.

“Both of us really love music,” said McCann, who used to play in bands, but now plays mostly for himself.

And both men spoke and smiled as one when I asked their favorite musical artists.

Without hesitation, they said, “The Beatles.”

When they said that, one of my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll songs raced through my mind: “Oh, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare…” That song, from the Beatles’ debut album “Please Please Me,” tore the doors off popular music when it roared onto the scene in 1963 to introduce The Fab Four.

Of course, Goodman and McCann don’t play get-up-and-dance music for patients. Patients are required to lie still during the scan. But the soft and soothing music the technicians do play is just as good in its own right, and the music the patients seem to like best is that of Bob DeAngelis, a Canadian jazz musician.

How did a Canadian jazz musician get into the act?

“I was shopping with my wife in Bed, Bath & Beyond when I heard good music being played in the store,” Goodman said. He asked a clerk about it, she showed him the album, and he bought it.

On the album, titled “In A Sentimental Mood,” were such old favorites as “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “Tenderly,” “Blue Velvet,” “Que Sera Sera,” all featuring the very listenable clarinet of DeAngelis.

Knowing he had stumbled onto a good thing, Goodman soon bought more albums.

“We now have a little bit of everything,” McCann said.

And so many patients have asked about the music that Goodman and McCann are now ready with a printout to give to the curious so they can find the music themselves on Amazon and websites.

P.S.: My scan was clear. So is my conscience, in case you wondered.

(Image Credit: “Dancing Skeletons Clip Art,” http://www.vector.me)

Bob Dylan, take note: The times they have done changed

Vintage wedding cake by pompixs and licensed at DepositPhotos.com

 

Whatever happened to simple weddings?

My wife Margaret and I got married 34 years ago in her parents’ living room, in Columbia, with maybe 10 people, tops, in attendance.

This past Thursday, Aug. 25, we drove to Athens, Ga., to make arrangements relating to our youngest son’s upcoming wedding featuring (at last count) 300 guests!

Our mission was to arrange for the wedding rehearsal dinner. You may recall the now-famous Pizza Proposal with a Diamond Topping, the story of which is posted right beneath this one. The wedding will take place on April 8 in Athens, where the bride’s parents live.

Now I’m finding out quickly how far behind the times I am. Who knew that arrangements for a little ol’ marriage could lead to exhaustion and penury?

Listen: the Normandy Invasion did not require the planning and logistics that a big wedding calls for nowadays.

Three-hundred wedding guests!

Why, on our way to Athens we passed through towns that did not have that many people living in the whole place! One such town was Paxville, a community in Clarendon County with a population of only 185 in the latest census.

So if all the guests for this wedding lived in Paxville, the town would be vacant and abandoned on April 8 — and we’d still need to borrow 115 more souls from nearby Pinewood (pop. 459) to make our quota of 300!

Lordy mercy, my dear old grandmother would say! (Note that I did not refer to her as “sainted,” but that’s a story for another time).

Arranging the rehearsal dinner, for which Margaret and I are responsible, seems easy by comparison to the responsibilities of the bride’s parents. Nevertheless, I returned home exhausted. It is not easy (nor inexpensive) to arrange dinner and drinks for 60 people and to find the ideal location for these festivities.

Is there adequate parking? How about access for the handicapped? How will seating be arranged? Who’s on third – no, wait; that’s another routine.

Long story longer, we traipsed all over town (and Athens is NOT Paxville) looking first at this place, then at that place, only to find that the very first place we had seen (Lyndon House Arts Center) was easily the best, after all.

We booked it.

So now could we go to lunch and call it a day?

Of course not, stupid! Now we had to find a caterer.

Oh.

“Don’t you know that an army moves on its stomach?”

“Well, yes, but I’m only just now realizing that I’m picking up the check for all those stomachs.”

More to the point, the currently betrothed son is only one of my four sons – and will be the first to wed. This one is being held in an arts center. Any others will be held in the poorhouse.

And I know what you’re thinking: I should have thought of this a long, long time ago – 34 years ago at least.

And all I can say is, True that!

Frankly, I like the “rehearsal dinner” my old friend Bobby Woodward says he and his wife Mary had years and years ago in Augusta, Ga.

Laughing, he said, “I sprung for a Dr. Pepper.”

The pizza proposal with the diamond topping

I know yCarsonClaireou’ve heard that love will find a way.

Me, too, but who knew that a pepperoni pizza could be part of Cupid’s plan?

You listening?

He was a boy, 26, from Columbia, South Carolina.

She was a girl, 23, from Albany, Georgia.

He graduated (English) from the University of South Carolina (Go, Gamecocks!)

She graduated (social work) from the University of Alabama (Roll, Tide!)

This Southern boy and this Southern girl first met in Charleston, South Carolina, that Holy City of the American South.

This Southern twosome fell in love in Charleston, the perfect setting for Cupid’s marksmanship. Ask anybody who’s been there.pizza

Then, last week, this Southern boy and girl got engaged in Des Moines, Iowa.

Wait! Iowa?

Yes.

Iowa as in the Midwest – roughly a thousand miles from Charleston?

Yes.

But how…?

Patience, children.

His brother Tyler was a student at the Charleston School of Law. So was her sister, Anna.            One weekend, Claire Roth drove from Albany to Charleston to visit Anna. Carson Lamb drove down from Columbia to visit Tyler.

Bingo!

After all, they quickly found that they had a lot in common – not least a fondness for pizza.

Fast forward nearly four years. Carson has graduated from the Georgia State School of Law and taken a job with the Baudino Law Group in – you guessed it – Des Moines, Iowa. Claire now has a master’s degree in social work and is a school-based therapist in Des Moines with a private practice. The two Southerners moved to Des Moines last January.

Earlier this month, on a business trip to Atlanta, Carson bought an engagement ring on the quiet and had it delivered to his office back home.

Then he went to work on a delivery system of his own. These were the elements: a stroll downtown after supper to a local landmark, the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, and a “chance encounter” with a friend of Carson who moonlights at Domino’s.

The friend approached them, holding out a box of pizza to Claire, and saying that he had a “failed delivery” and that she and Carson could have the pizza free if they wanted it.

Do you smell a thickening plot?

When Claire looked back, Carson had dropped to one knee and was extending the ring for her to see, and the friend had opened the box to reveal a pizza with the words “Marry Me” spelled out in pepperoni — with a green pepper question mark.

The girl said yes!

They all then adjourned to a nearby wine bar where Carson had arranged a party with their local friends. Next they enjoyed champagne with Claire’s parents, Ira and Julie Roth, of Athens, Ga., who had flown into town for a weekend at the celebrated Iowa State Fair – and stumbled into their daughter’s surprise pizza proposal and engagement.

“None of my friends were surprised that Carson used pizza to propose,” Claire said. “I’ve always loved pizza. It’s probably disgusting how much I love it.”  Full disclosure: Both Carson and Tyler Lamb are the sons of this columnist and his wife Margaret, and Claire Roth is their future daughter-in-law.

P.S. The Des Moines Register caught wind of the Pizza Proposal and ran a story on it on August 10.

 

 

 

A confession: How to speak Southern

Okay, get the handcuffs ready. I’m about to confess:

By day, I am Robert Lamb, famous author of great novels. No, wait! Make that “relatively unknown author whose books were best-sellers in certain quarters,” namely my mother’s bridge club.

But by night I am, by design, mind you, the equally unknown Y'all Ain't From Around Here, Are Ya?author whose nom de plume is (drum roll, please) Cooper Riverbridge. (Note to all Ivy League grads out there: “nom de plume” means pen name.)

In 2009, disguised as Cooper Riverbridge, I wrote and published “Y’all Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya?” The subtitle was “How To Talk Like a South Carolinian,” and the book was illustrated by friend Rob Barge, (who then lived in Columbia but who since has deemed it wise to retreat to Georgia). A statute of limitations thing, if I recall. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Rob.)

What brought on this confession? Well, I remembered the other day that the first thing Dick, my new neighbor, said to me when we moved to Litchfield Country Club and he heard my Southern drawl was, “I’m from New York. You won’t hate me, will you?”

Little did he know that he was addressing the very man, perhaps the only man in these parts, who could help preserve his Yankee hide. At the time, I could not blow my cover, for the book was setting new records in low sales. But that was then and this is now. Here’s the book’s brief introduction:

“Folks in South Carolina are known for many things – firing on Fort Sumter to start the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ a curious obsession with beach music, a strong affinity for mustard-based barbeque, a fanatical devotion to college football, and their peculiar attraction to a dish called shrimp & grits. But above all, South Carolinians are known for one major attribute: they talk funny.”

My little book was aimed at helping people like Dick understand the language in this neck of the woods and to avoid that damning question posed to all – and they are many – who came here from north of the Mason-Dixon Line: “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Herewith a sampling:

  • ACKRUT – A not quite accurate pronunciation.
  • BAD to – Strongly inclined or strongly prone to, as in “He was bad to steal chickens.”
  • CARO-LEEN-IANS – Natives of the state as pronounced by a former governor who couldn’t pronounce the name of the natives of his own state. (We won’t reveal his name, but his initials were Carroll Campbell.)
  • CHEER – Something you sit in if you are a South Carolinian. Everybody else prefers a chair.
  • DILL – To South Carolinians this is an agreement; to everybody else it’s a pickle.
  • FEM – another word for movie.
  • FIXIN’ to – Preparing; getting ready, as in “I’m fixin’ to go to the store,” which is often pronounced “stow.”
  • LIBERRY – A storehouse for books as pronounced by a former University of South Carolina president.
  • RUBBA – A word that around here has lost its ‘lasticity.’

The list in the book runs through the alphabet, but you get the idea.

For clarification to newcomers, I might add that Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge replaced the old Cooper River Bridge, from which I purloined the pen name.

And before you ask, I was born in South Carolina and grew up in Georgia.

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Book Review: One of Us Is Sleeping

OneSleepThe biggest problem with Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping is that the one asleep is probably the reader.

Even a stream of consciousness novel, which is what this is supposed to be, is supposed to go somewhere—and leave the reader with the impression that he has been there and that the journey, however long, was worthwhile.

This novel opens with a section whose title seems an inadvertent forewarning: The Light Comes Creeping. Alas, so does the storyline, which seems to be a woman’s novel-length reflection during a snowbound Danish winter on a broken romance. On and on it lurches, in fragmented thoughts and images, till you want to say, “All right, already, I get the picture; the lout broke your heart. Get over it and get on with how it all happened.”

So much for inspiring reader empathy!

Okay, maybe even at this late date there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and for all we know it is the SOB who left her. But this gal is so self-absorbed it’s a wonder she saw him leave. No problem; he won’t really be missed. The protagonist resolves on page 210 “To enter inside the grief and remain there.” She even adds: “I will insist on being a distressed person within the world.”

Fine. But she’ll have to live with the knowledge that self-absorption just ain’t all that interesting. In fact, maybe that’s why you-know-who is now her used-to-be.

One suspects that the author forgot that even in a stream of consciousness novel, the story’s the thing. An interior monologue is a wonderful literary device depicting the thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind, but, like every other element of fiction writing, it is supposed to advance a story, not get stuck in egocentric maundering—and certainly not stray into a bog of self-pity.

In Ulysses, perhaps the best known of this kind of novel, author James Joyce takes the reader on a virtual walking tour of the Dublin, Ireland, of 1904. The story is alive with the sights and sounds of the world in which the protagonist, a middle-aged Jew, lives as while out for a walk he reflects on his youth. The reader comes away feeling that he has been on a fascinating municipal voyage with a very entertaining guide.

Another well-known example of the stream of consciousness novel is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, whose titular protagonist goes out one day in London to buy flowers for a party she is hosting.

As she goes, her thoughts introduce the reader to a complex and interesting character, one whose thoughts are not exclusively about herself, but about the society in which she lives and about the people she meets and those she knows. This weaves together for the reader the protagonist’s inner and outer reality, shedding light on the story, not just on the protagonist’s state of mind.

Both Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway are on Time’s list of the best 100 books published since 1923. They should be required reading for the author of One of Us Is Sleeping.

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