Saturday, April 9, 2011

Blogging is not hard

Blogging is some of the easiest writing to do. The expectations are low. I have been blogging since 2001 and I believe that's why, for me, it is sometimes surprisingly difficult. Not the act itself, just seeing the point. I suppose this means I've passed the point in life where such personal writing is truly important to me. I'm not sure. Whatever the case, I find this blog hard to keep up because I rarely think, "oh, I'll blog that." I'm more likely to think, "that fits in a tweet." Or, "who the fuck cares except me?"

I don't think this is depression talking, either.

Funny thing is I did tons of writing yesterday and have done a great deal today but most of it has been in Google Docs or in a handwritten journal. So perhaps my attitude towards blogging is a phase of some sort. I've decided to take it inside and see what comes out.

But I'm also no longer starting a blog only to delete it willy-nilly later. I've done that several times before and always felt odd about it. Not bad. Just odd.

So this blog and the others I have on blogger will continue to be updated, just when I get to it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cooler than you


Been meaning to post this. My son woke up the other morning and the first thing he did was put on this amazing getup--one sister's old winter coat and the other sister's novelty 70s-style sunglasses. The overall effect was so awesome, of course my wife had to take a pic.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Unsolved Mysteries Clips: Men in Black

This is an 8-minute or so clip from the original Unsolved Mysteries, hosted by Robert Stack. It's about the ongoing mystery of Men in Black, mysterious strangers often associated with UFO sightings. MIBs are one of the most intriguing mysteries of the last 60 years or so as the questions about them could be endless: are they government agents? Are they extraterrestrials in human disguise? Are they just dudes who like to wear black and mess with people who claim to have seen UFOs? They are not Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, so just put that right out of your head now, you blog reader, you.

What--or who--ever they are, they often "generate" (in the words of one interviewee in this segment) a "sinister, evil nature."

Men in Black reports seem to have diminished over the years, but UFO reports still hit the news on a regular basis. It may be the MIBs gave up trying to quiet folks and went back to the mothership. If they ever existed at all.

Check out articles about UFOs covered on Unsolved Mysteries (essentially segment scripts converted to article format) here, at

The show has been re-packaged with Dennis Farina hosting and still airs on Lifetime each weekday at 4 and 5 p.m. ET.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 3, 1974

Some of whatever I've blogged in the past about living through the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974 has come from the following narrative, which I originally wrote in a personal journal. 

I'm transcribing this narrative in full for the first time, (as far as I can remember), mostly because I need to. It took me many years to realize my springtime obsession with and fear of storms was untreated PTSD, and I think putting this out there helps me. It also gives one person's narrative of the events as best as I could remember them. The following is as accurate in that it reflects the memories of someone who was only 6 at the time, but I am also certain I filled in some blanks with guesses and assumptions made after the fact. 

I was prompted to do this today both by the date and by the fact that a severe weather outbreak is predicted for essentially the same region tomorrow, April 4, 2011.

I wrote the following in 2006. 

Nashville, Tennessee, April 3, 1974

The morning of the day the storms came I woke up with a fever.

I remember sitting in my bed as my brother slipped on thick-heeled black shoes and snatched chocolate and peppermint candies from the bowl he kept beside our 13-inch black and white Zenith TV. On the screen the Three Stooges knuckled and poked each other into submission.

The morning of the day the storms came I woke with a fever, and my head hurt too much to laugh at Moe, Larry and Curly.

Perhaps there was sun early in the day but my memory is all yellow-tinged grays, like the smoke curling from my mother's mouth as she stubbed a Winston while watching the color TV in the living room, waiting for the morning news shows to end and her soap operas to begin.

For breakfast I ate Rice Krispies with too much sugar in a big white Tupperware bowl. I remember sprinkling the sugar on the cereal. White on white, fading to clear, disappearing into the milk.

I wore white pajamas, with green and brown stripes.


My mom and I sat in her 1973 VW Beetle under the bridge at Briley Parkway and Murfreesboro Road, emergency flashers on. The rain came crashing down in iron curtains and we could just make out other flickering lights ahead. It was the kind of downpour that stopped everything cold for a moment.

Teddy Bart was talking on the radio. Not his usual local politics or down-home cooking or country music star schmoozing. The words tornado and tornadoes came through clearly, when lightning wasn't striking somewhere and leaving a jagged hole in the signal.

"Mama," I asked, "is there going to be a tornado?"

My mom, who resembled both Carol Burnett and Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island, blew out more smoke. "No, honey."


The exam table in Dr. Beasley's office would still seem too high even in my teens. That day I sat up there staring at the pale, green-tiled floor feeling leaden, my head hot.

Outside, the rain had stopped, but even though the clock read 2 p.m., it was dark. A street lamp flickered on.

The clouds have tails, I thought. The sky was heavy, the bottoms of the clouds fat, with tendrils curling down. I thought of picking up our poodle, Peppy, the year before, when his fur was still sleek and black. He was barely weaned from his mother, who lay in a blanket-lined refrigerator box, teats still heavy even though most of her puppies were gone.

The clouds looked like that dog's heavy nipples, lopped on one another.

My stomach churned.

The day was wrong. I was scared.

"Dr. Beasley," I asked, "will there be a tornado?"

Dr. Beasley, a solemn man with curly hair and owlish glasses, never raised his voice much above a mutter. "No," he said, popping his lips, "Doubt it."


Driving home, it began to hail. Dime-sized balls, pellets slicing sideways. Once, driving the long stretch of Highway 41 that passed by the Nashville Airport, the sturdy little Bug lurched a bit.

"Windy, bubba," said Mom, downshifting.

I'd been given a shot, for some reason. My headache was fading, fever abating.

My stomach twisted again.


I woke from a nap to I Love Lucy on the Zenith, my brother in the other bed drinking an RC Cola and eating a baloney sandwich.

I could hear my Dad talking with my oldest sister Sherry in the living room, bray on bray, the usual in our house, high voices vying for decibel dominance.

"Hey Steve," said my brother David, "there's gonna be a tornado."


The TV went dead when the radar cut in. It was just thick white blobs on a black field with county names. We heard the name of our area, "Antioch," and "tornado," then the transmission ended.

Then hail began to fall. Standing at the screen door in the living room, my father whistled. "Damn."

Dad was never impressed by much of anything.

"What is it, Daddy?" asked David.

We were all standing now. It felt like something invisible yet somehow still thick and tangible was bleeding into the room with us.

"Never seen hail fall like that, Dave," said my Dad.

"What about it?" asked Sherry.


CLACK. The lights flickered and a smattering of baseball-sized clumps of ice shattered on the patio on the other side of the screen door.

"--Usually, hail falls at an angle--"

clack-CLACK. I turned to see Mom wrapping her housecoat tightly around her slender frame. She stepped into their bedroom to make sure the dormer window above their bed was closed.

"But this--" said Daddy, "This is as if somebody's standing on the roof, just lobbing them into the yard."

Dad was right. The stones were arcing down lazily and bouncing.

Otherwise, all was still. We watched.

"Sherry," I asked my sister, who was 16 to my 6, "is there going to be a tornado?"


I could tell by the way her voice rose that she wasn't sure.

Now my mom and 13-year-old sister Rhonda, moderately autistic, always anxious, twirling cheap little necklaces around right index finger over and over, stood in the living room.

The hail stopped. Dad, an instinctive amateur scientist, headed outside.

I stood transfixed, watching him. I would find once I grew up that Dad wasn't a very big man, 5'9" at best. He had broad shoulders and thickly-muscled arms and carried himself as if he were 6'6". He always reminded us of Captain Kirk on Star Trek.

"Hey Steve, come here," he said. My father's voice could be a blaring tenor trumpet sounding alarms when he was angry, but most of the time it was gentle and spoke of an unused gift for singing.

Feeling wobbly, wishing I was still feeling sick enough to lay in bed, I went outside.

A mist was rising, about chest high on a 6-year-old, and through the woods came a surprising shaft of sunlight.

My father handed me a hailstone and instructed me to put it in the freezer. His intention was to later cut it open and show us how it was made: onion-like layers of ice formed by water droplets sweeping repeatedly through the frigid upper reaches of a storm cloud until they were too heavy to stay aloft.

I had run a couple of hailstones in when I paused to ask my mother again if there would be a tornado.

"Honey, if there is, we can't do anything about it," she said, "so might as well not worry about it."


I had never heard wonder in my father's voice. A smart man by anyone's standard, Dad was rarely awed by anything, at least not openly so.

I heard wonder as I opened the screen door to go out and grab another hailstone that day.

Even as I realized the momentary flash of sunlight was gone and the sky had grown dark again, Dad said, "Hey... here comes a tornado." His voice was mild. Not alarmed.

I turned back to gauge the reactions of my sisters, mother and brother. David and Sherry laughed. Our Dad was, after all, an inveterate kidder.

I looked at Dad. He must have realized we weren't getting it. "NO, I MEAN IT. HERE COMES A TORNADO!"

Then everyone was running, and the wind was picking up.


There was a work bench in our basement, the water heater, and vermin. Everyone crowded in, including Peppy the poodle.

Crouched beside Sherry beside the water heater I looked down and found one of my molded plastic astronauts from the previous Christmas. I picked him up as if he were a talisman.

Outside the world grew darker and I began to worry the toy astronaut with my fingers.

I don't recall sounds. Not at first. I remember the trees lining the neighbor's fence, 200 feet from the entrance to the basement, bending in unison. Deep, solemn bows, as if they were paying respect to the storm.

Then things began flying horizontally across that visible patch of lawn, from all directions. The sound that seemed to insinuate itself up from the ground beneath us then couldn't be justified with a trite comparison to a freight train. No, this was the sound of the longest pipe on God's pipe organ, a bass note felt more than heard.

The tornado was coming straight for us.

The sky was divided above those groveling trees between the turning phalanx of black-green cloud, the outer roiling of the supercell, and comparatively bright, flat, white clouds.

Darker, the world grew darker.

Above our heads, our little house began to scream.


A fireball erupted, our neighbor told us later, when the funnel struck the electrical sub-station on our road. He said something colorful about it, some wise thing about hell erupting on Earth.

My grandfather spent the whole storm in his fake black leather easy chair, my grandmother in the closet behind him, shouting for him to join her.

Someone in the Forest View subdivision, a mile away, saw the snaking cone ripping through the second-growth woods that separated our rural road from those tract homes and died of a heart attack. A boy I would befriend two years later watched two of his neighbor's houses fly apart, and away.

Our house, save the dormer window in my parents' bedroom and all the shingles on the southwest corner of the house, was otherwise unscathed.

More storms came that day. Our power was out for weeks. My Dad and Grandpa sat outside with loaded guns to discourage looters.

We survived.

After that first twister I looked up and saw dark clouds rushing away faster than I'd ever imagined clouds could move, like the final curtain after an exciting stage show. For a few minutes they revealed brilliantly clean, blue April skies.

After the Super Outbreak of April 3rd and 4th, 1974, I realized something powerful and deep: we could be reduced to animals cowering in holes, thumbing totems  as the world reminded us just how small, how temporary we truly are.

From that day on I was cursed with real nightmares. I was also cursed with the sense, the understanding that death could come screaming even to our isolated little homestead on the eastern brow of a hill.

After that day, the skies, and life, were no longer benign.

The Super Outbreak's final tally: 148 tornadoes across nearly 2600 miles, the most twisters ever in a 24-hour period. Sixty-one were an F-3 or higher on the Fujita Scale of measurement: in other words, killers. Three-hundred and fifteen people were killed, 5,484 were injured. 


My Horrible Basement


I had to go to the basement today.

We live in a 100-year-old house. It is in decent shape overall, but the basement is horrible. Half the area looks just as I am sure it did when the house was built: fucking creepy.

The other half has clearly been used by previous owners and renters, but not for a decade at least. And all of it is awful. It is dark. Insulation hangs down, ripped from where it was stapled under the floorboards. An old carpet covers the clay floor. Remarkably, it isn't moldy. It does, however, exist in a permanent state of squishiness. "Squishiness" is a cute word for a terrible state.

I went down there to store some things we don't use but can't easily throw out. Once in the basement I realized the duct that feeds the main A/C vent needed to be re-attached. I got some tape--I actually use duct tape on ducts, sometimes--and a flashlight.

I climbed up on an old folding chair to secure the duct to the vent.

In that moment I was sure every crawling thing in the basement was skittering down my bare neck. I imagined hundreds of baby black widows on my shoulders, looking for their biting spots. In my mind, vicious, mutant rats who emigrated from Chernobyl were preparing to shred my ankles.

And then. And. Then.

I was done.

I scrambled down from the folding chair, sweeping imagined crawling things from my legs, neck and shoulders.

As I stumbled across the stone seen in the photo above, which lays just inside the basement entrance, I realized some previous tenant had most likely laid it there as a warning.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Walk


I went for a walk in the woods. I jogged the first quarter-mile or so. My age and weight told on me. I grew tired but was determined to finish the walk. Since I was listening to music on my phone and tired I somehow lost track of where I was.

The trails where I walked are well-marked but I was still confused. I was looking at a suburban roadway through the trees and had never seen that from the trail before. Above the still nude trees it grew cloudy. The wind grew cold.

For a moment I felt very old. I am only 43, but I imagined myself 40 years older. Imagined myself 83 and alone and confused in the cold woods.

Then I thought, keep walking, dumbass, and get over it. And I did.

When I was done I paused and took this photo by the rushing, cold, brown river. I was thinking of the NO OUTLET sign by my house, where I usually make jokey self-portraits. Thinking, illogically, fuck you, pal.