Chris Cox

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op frIt was a great day for a picnic … or a baseball game. The sun hung there above the horizon like a hanging curveball, warm and inviting, and the air was as still as a sleeping cat curled up in a laundry basket of freshly dried towels. A spring day so perfectly placid often portends a storm, and in this case, as I stood there in right-centerfield flanked by my center fielder, Andy, and my right fielder, Rees, I was afraid the storm was just about ready to rage in the form of a furious rally by the Braves, the leaders of the Mountaineer Little League Farm League and proud owners of a 7-2 league record.

Our team, the Cubs, had jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, but the Braves had the bases loaded with two outs. A base hit here would plate at least two, and probably three runs, cutting significantly into our lead.

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op frI cannot credit film critic Roger Ebert, who died just a couple of weeks ago after a lengthy battle with cancer, with instilling in me a lifelong love of movies. I was already in love with movies before I saw Gene Siskel and Ebert’s show “Sneak Previews” in the late 1970s. Growing up in Sparta, I had seen movies in the old Sparta Theater and at Twin Oaks Drive-In. I went every chance I got, loving how the movies transported me from my small town and tightly circumscribed life into places and times and adventures I could have never dreamed of otherwise.

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The kids are doing their best to amuse themselves there at the water’s edge, but they are past restless. Something needs to happen, and sometimes when you’re fishing, not much does.

“Dad, can we skip rocks yet?” Dylan wants to know. Seven years old in another five weeks, he’s the oldest.

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7:37 a.m. — Snatched out of sleep by the ceaseless opening and closing of drawers. Goodness, woman, what can there be in those drawers? I turn over and groan dramatically, and she laughs without sympathy. A long night grading papers and checking box scores on the Internet. Finally, I remember: Today is race day. I hear Jack chattering on the monitor, scolding his stuffed giraffe about something it seems. I’d better get moving. Coffee, coffee, coffee ...

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“John From Cincinnati”

Call this a leap of faith, but with “The Sopranos” now gone for good, HBO’s new series, ostensibly about a family of surfers, may possibly help soften the blow. HBO has lost “Six Feet Under,” “Deadwood,” and “The Sopranos” in the last two years, and desperately needs one of its new shows to fill the enormous void those great shows left behind. “John From Cincinnati” was created by David Milch, the mastermind behind “Deadwood,” as well as “NYPD Blue.” With “NYPD Blue,” he took the cop show into uncharted territory, scandalizing the network and causing some sponsors to fall away before the show ultimately emerged as a big hit. With “Deadwood,” he essentially redefined the western.

Now he seems to have created something we have never seen before, if the pilot episode is any indication—a show about surfers that seems both quirky and ominous, straightforward in one scene and surreal, even supernatural, in the next. Is this David Lynch directing “Point Break”? Who knows what Milch is up to? I don’t, but I will certainly be tuning in on Sundays trying to find out.

 

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Cormac McCarthy is widely regarded as the best American writer since Faulkner, to whom he is frequently compared. After spending decades as a cult hero to a small but devoted band of academics and New York Times Book Review subscribers, McCarthy has finally broken through in the mainstream—not only did The Road win the Pulitzer Prize, it was recently chosen by Oprah as her “Book of the Month,” and McCarthy, a famous recluse who has granted exactly two interviews in 40 years, actually appeared on her show just a couple of weeks ago.

All of that said, McCarthy’s increased popularity is certainly not the result of any compromise in the overwhelming bleakness, nor are his recent books any easier to read. The Road, with its post-apocalyptic setting, focuses on the relationship between a father and a son as they struggle to stay alive in a world where there is little food or shelter, and danger lurks around every bend. The basic plot concerns their attempt to make it to the coast, where they hope to find ... something else, some spark of hope. But really, it is just an arbitrary goal, something to keep them moving, a reason to stay alive.

If all of this sounds unbearable, at times it nearly is, but the real spark of hope is the relationship itself, and there are many heartbreaking moments of tenderness that keep us going as well. Reading McCarthy is never easy, but it is an investment well worth making. The Road is austere, horrible, beautiful, and moving, all at the same time. How many books can you say that about?

 

The Apples In Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder

They have been around for nearly 10 years, but I had never happened upon their sunny, fuzzed up pop sound until I heard this album a couple of weeks ago, and now I can’t stop playing it. Imagine the Beatles crossed with Pavement, or the Beach Boys crossed with Yo La Tengo. Mostly, it is just a great collection of songs, perfect for summer. Seek this one out and be surprised by how good it makes you feel.

— By Chris Cox

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Kayden is doing her very best not to tell me about the preparations she and mom and Jack have made for Father’s Day, but she is 6 years old, and at this age especially, secrets are like little, wet bars of soap. The harder you try to hold onto them, the more likely they are to slip out of your grip. And she is trying so hard to hold on to what she knows, her knuckles are white.

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op frIt all started with a simple book fair at the middle school. My daughter, inspired perhaps by viewing the trailer for the movie about 12,000 times during the past few weeks, bought a paperback of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit. She couldn’t wait to see the movie, but as the daughter of an English teacher, she naturally wanted to read the book first. Bless her.

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op frWe had been dreading it all week, and now, as we stood there on a brisk Friday morning waiting on the school bus in front of our mailbox, my seven-year-old son and I had time to confront the reality of it: a weekend without the women.

Mother and daughter were leaving for the weekend to go on a Girl Scout camping trip, leaving the boys to fend for ourselves for approximately 48 hours. What would we do without them? Would we remember to eat? Keep the house in reasonable order? Attend to basic hygiene?

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op frOn any given Saturday morning for the past 20 years, I would roll out of bed, crank up the coffee machine and some Rolling Stones, throw on some running shorts and a tank top, and head out to the gym, eating a chalky protein bar on the way, the Clash or Elvis Costello urging me on along Highway 209. For a certain species of human being, the gym is like that old television sitcom “Cheers,” a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. Just think of treadmills as barstools and protein shakes as draft beer, and you’ll get the picture.

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You need some space. Believe me, I understand. The closets are so full, it takes two of you to press the doors closed — turn the knob to open one, and you risk a broken nose from the sheer force of stuff pushing out, like a dam bursting, unleashing a torrent of stuff. I know it’s dangerous. The shelves, all of them, every one in the entire house, are covered over with stuff. It is like kudzu, threatening to swallow the entire house by the end of the summer. Something has got to be done about it, all of this clutter. There is no room left for anything, not in this house, no space for a hairpin, no place to put a pocketful of change.

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As the war in Iraq drags on with no end in sight amid reports that al-Qaeda has regrouped and is stronger than ever, you would think that the presidential race for 2008 would be picking up momentum as Americans, finally haven given up completely on the incompetent incumbent if his recent approval ratings are to be believed, begin looking to the future for relief.

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My dad hated the beach. At least, that is how I remember it.

We only went a couple of times during my childhood, and I cannot recall a single instance of my father actually ever being in the ocean playfully batting at the waves, sitting on the beach under a big, colorful umbrella reading a trashy novel, or gathering shells in a plastic bucket early in the morning amid the joggers and older couples walking their dogs. He was much happier staying in the hotel near the air conditioner, watching the race on television or playing a game of gin with anybody he could coax away from beach frolicking for a stolen moment or two.

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When I went back to teaching full time about three years ago, one of the things I looked forward to most was having seven full weeks off in the summer. I have never had more than a week off here or a long weekend there, just long enough to squeeze in a trip to the beach or to see the parents, then hustle back barely in time to get home, unpack, eat cereal for dinner, collapse, then get up and go back to work the very next day. Aren’t vacations supposed to be refreshing, or invigorating, or at least relaxing? Then why did I always have the feeling after a vacation that I needed ANOTHER vacation to recover from my vacation before going back to work?

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Has any professional athlete ever made more a mess of his life than Atlanta Falcon quarterback Michael Vick?

At the ripe old age of 27, Vick had it made. After a stellar senior season at Virginia Tech, Vick was drafted in the first round of the 2001 NFL draft by the Falcons and immediately anointed as the savior of a struggling franchise, an electrifying quarterback unlike any the league had ever seen. Although one could name several quarterbacks throughout the history of the NFL who were mobile enough to scramble and occasionally break loose for decent runs, Vick was the first quarterback whose running ability actually terrified defensive coordinators around the league.

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For the last 24 hours, I have felt like a character in a movie. You have seen the movie, probably dozens of times. A small-town team nobody has ever heard of gets its big chance against a nationally ranked powerhouse. The fans there look up things about the team just out of curiosity, where the town is on the map, the enrollment numbers, maybe. They cannot pronounce the name of the school.

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A few years ago, I received a letter from a reader that I have never forgotten. Upset over the suicide of a former student — who I knew had long agonized over dealing with his homosexuality due to various painful journal entries he had written on his struggles — I had written a fairly angry column denouncing homophobia and challenging the widely held belief that one’s sexual orientation is a “choice.” About a week later, a letter arrived from a gentleman in his 60s, who basically laid out the long, sad story of his own lifelong struggle with being gay.

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The central paradox of parenting is that by the time you have it figured out, it’s over. Now that I have written that sentence, I immediately see two flaws in it, regardless of how wise it sounds. First, parenting is never over. Well into my late 30s, my father was still giving me an “allowance” and buying my meals whenever we ate out at restaurants, and my mother still fretted over my lack of sleep. You don’t stop being a parent the day your child turns 18. Second, you never figure it out. Never. You’ll figure out Rubik’s Cube before you have the first clue about parenting. You’ll learn two languages and write a novel first. Learn to play the violin. Run the Boston Marathon. Dance with the stars.

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Let me say this first. This is not really a column about restaurants. The last time I wrote a column about restaurants, I suggested that Pizza Hut bring those poor young ladies holding signs on the curb out of the blazing afternoon sun and let them work inside in air conditioning. Two days after that column appeared, we saw one of those same young ladies holding a sign that read, “Chris Cox, We Love Our Job!”

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I miss all those Sundays at my grandma’s house, so many Sundays, so many years. Once upon a time, it seemed we would never run out of them. It seemed as if there would always be cars lined up like dominos in the driveway, a couple of the trucks pulled up into the yard. It seemed as if the smell of frying chicken would always waft into the living room from the kitchen, drawing the men’s attention momentarily away from the Redskins-Cowboys football game and their talk of work and weather. It seemed as if the women would always be opening doors with their elbows, their arms full of casseroles or pies or three-bean salads.

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I am pretty sure I am going to get lashed for saying this, especially as an English teacher, but I do not really believe there is much that can be done to improve one’s ability to spell words. I haven’t done the research, but it has always seemed to me that good spellers are born, not made, that the ability to spell is as genetic as freckles or male pattern baldness.

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I look at you. You look at me. We’re dancing sort of, but I’m not much of a dancer and neither are you. There is no practical reason why you would want or need to buy cookie dough from my six-year-old daughter, just as there was no practical reason why, just a few years ago, I bought six boxes of Girl Scout cookies from your daughter. If either of us needed or wanted the cookies, we would simply get in our cars, drive to the supermarket, and purchase them. Think of a world in which we would have the things we needed only when six-year-old girls came knocking on our doors to provide them to us. I do not believe that this is a world either of us wants to live in.

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As you know, the Christmas season these days begins about 20 minutes after the last of the trick or treaters have collected their candy, and lasts until the last college bowl game is over, which used to be on New Year’s Day, but is now closer to Valentine’s Day. In other words, it goes on forever, no doubt driven more by the greed of consumerism than the true spirit of Christmas.

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(Editor’s note: Smoky Mountain News columnist Chris Cox delivered this address to the graduating class at Southwestern Community College this past weekend.)

A couple of days after I was asked to deliver this address, I asked my creative writing students if they had any ideas about what I should say. One of them said, “You should say something funny. Definitely funny.” But then one of them said, pausing for effect, “What if you try to say something funny and no one laughs?”

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So it’s the New Year. The ball has dropped, the parties are all over, your Kool and the Gang album has been tucked away for another year, and Dick Clark has gone back into his jar of formaldehyde. Did you make some New Year’s resolutions? I just bet you did. One great thing about Americans is how plucky we are. Every year, we make various resolutions: to lose weight, contribute more to charities, write more letters, be better neighbors, and watch less television. And every year, let’s face it, we fail miserably.

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Are you ready for a change, I mean a REAL change? The candidates for president of the United States are clearly ready.

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George Bernard Shaw once said, “It’s a shame that youth is wasted on the young.” If that is true, then I would also add that it is equally a shame that boredom is wasted on the bored.

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The most fascinating race for President of the United States in my lifetime could have become a good bit more settled after the Super Tuesday round of primaries. Hillary Clinton, the “establishment” candidate and heavy favorite going into the primary season, might have delivered the knockout blow to upstart Barack Obama. Instead, she managed only to hold serve in the biggest states that she absolutely had to have — New York, New Jersey, and California — and emerge on Wednesday with the very slightest of leads in delegates. It was enough for the Clinton campaign to declare the night a success, which it had to do as a show of confidence.

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Sparta, N.C. – I am on my way to town to get a birthday cake for my son, Jack. He will be 3 years old tomorrow, but we are celebrating tonight, so that all the family can join in the celebration while we are in town. I am thinking what every parent thinks when a child’s birthday rolls around: He cannot be 3 already. How can time possibly move so fast?

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op frI loved Andy Griffith as much as it is possible to love someone you’ve actually never met. In some very important ways, he was like a second father to me. Like a lot of young boys do, I worshiped my own father, even though I didn’t see him much. He was a long haul truck driver, home on the weekends and playing cards most of the time even then. He loved us and provided for us, but he just wasn’t home very often or for very long.

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 My daughter has arrived at an impossible age — impossible for her, impossible for me, impossible for her mother, impossible for her brother. If this age were a dinner, we’d send it back to the kitchen. If it were a car, we’d invoke the lemon law and demand another.

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I’ll admit that I have never been much of a cat person. It’s because I am a little selfish, I guess. When I come home at the end of the day, I like to have a pet who is happy to see me. When I come home at the end of the day, my miniature dachshund goes completely mad. He’s happier to see me than a teenage girl seeing Paul McCartney in 1964. In other words, he adores me, and I like that.

That’s just not how cats roll. In fact, cats don’t roll at all. They don’t roll, and they don’t do tricks, at least not the tricks you want them to do. They do what they like, especially if they are older, as accustomed to wielding power as an old mafia don. You keep company with a cat for very long, you eventually come to realize that you are actually more his valet than he is your pet. You live to serve your cat.

Maybe it is just my history with cats. I had one aunt who had a cat that mauled me when I stepped on her tail as a toddler, and another aunt who had a Siamese cat named “Princess” (of course) who was said to eat children. My aunt brought the cat home from Winston-Salem once and told us, “I’m sorry, kids, you can’t really touch or even go near Princess. She’s temperamental.” If we even ventured into the same room with Princess, she would arch her back and hiss menacingly, then crouch like a cheetah getting ready to pounce, causing us to dive over furniture like little soldiers avoiding gunfire.

With all of this as context, you can imagine how pleased I was when I met my wife years ago and discovered that she owned a cat that she had curiously burdened with the name “Bubbie Thomas” (pronounced “Toe Moss”). I had two dogs, an enormous lab/shepherd mix and a pit bull, and now a cat was going to be introduced into this environment? How was THAT supposed to work?

“Is he temperamental?” I asked her. I figured I had learned my way around cat euphemisms the hard way.

She told me that Bubbie was a pretty laid back cat. I had never heard of that and didn’t really believe her. I will never forget the first time I saw my two-year-old daughter reach over and lift Bubbie off the ground as nonchalantly as picking up a sack of flour and then stand there proudly with her pudgy little arms locked together just under his front arms. It looked as if she were about to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on him. Poor Bubbie had the look you sometimes see in the eyes of people who have been held hostage for a long time, a look of pure resignation with just a drop of hope, a look that said, “I’d sure like to escape, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon, is it?”

I had never seen anything like this in a cat before. I would come to understand eventually that Bubbie was kind of the “anti-Princess,” a cat that would never harm a child, even if the child pulled on his tail, tweaked his ears, or dragged him around in a wagon with a heavy towel covering his entire body, save a whisker or two. “Time to take baby shopping,” my daughter would say, and Bubbie would be off on an imaginary shopping trip. He would probably be trying on jackets, necklaces, and hats soon, and these indignities he would endure as patiently as any monk.

A few years later, when my son was born, the entire cycle began again, and then a few years after that, we brought home a miniature dachshund puppy who, the minute he was first able to pry his own eyes often after having been born, perceived that everything he saw was part of his new kingdom. Though he was no bigger than a cigarette, he was an alpha dog from the start, and within just a few months he and Bubbie began waging a three-year war for control of the home.

Though my general preference for dogs is well-documented, I was heartened to see Bubbie stand his ground against “the black menace,” as we came to call our dachshund. The dog would come racing around a corner or lunge from the sofa, dive-bombing poor Bubbie, who would react surprisingly quickly, considering his advancing age and slowing reflexes. He would hiss and raise a paw like Muhammad Ali fending off a Joe Frazier jab, then throw a rapid fire series of his own jabs.

Eventually, these two worked out an inexplicable truce, and each night they would wind up sprawled out next to each other like a couple of tiny dead cowboys on the sofa while my wife and I watched television or worked on our laptops.

As Bubbie continued to age, he began having some difficulty jumping on and off furniture, and lately he had been losing some weight. We took him to the vet last Friday as a precaution, thinking they could give him a steroid or something to increase his appetite. He was 14 years old, but we figured that with some love and care, he had a few more golden years left in him.

I was on my way to a meeting when my daughter called from the vet’s office and said with a voice choked with trembling bravery, “Daddy, I have some bad news. They’re putting Bubbie to sleep.”

I wheeled around immediately and sped as fast as I could to the vet and got there literally just in time. Bubbie was laid out on the table, barely conscious. My wife, barely able to hold back deep, heaving sobs, was holding and stroking his head. I held her with one arm and petted Bubbie with the other. His eyes were open, but he was completely limp, completely at peace, ready to go.

“He has a terminal disease,” said my wife. “They said it’s just going to get worse and worse.”

When it was over, my daughter could not be consoled, and I could do absolutely nothing to help her except sit on the bed and watch her whole body shake with wave after wave of the first pure grief she had ever had to endure. Memories of Bubbie swarmed the room; we couldn’t wipe them away, couldn’t find comfort in them, not yet. I knew that day would come, but she didn’t, and I couldn’t find the words to convince her.

“Why does it have to hurt so much, Daddy?” she said.

“Because we loved him so much,” I said. What else could I say?

“I never want another pet,” she said, and then screamed, “NEVER! NEVER! NEVER!”

One day, she will. Her broken heart will heal, as broken hearts must. One day, we will be able to talk about all the times she carried Bubbie around in her little arms, her head smushed against his, smiling and holding on for dear life. But not today. Today, we just manage to navigate around that big hole in our home where Bubbie used to be, trying not to fall in.

Godspeed, Bubbie Thomas. We’ll thank you for the memories as soon as we are able. Holding you tight, never letting go.

(Chris Cox is a teacher and a writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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Here in the South, if you are of a certain age, you have two families at least. The first is the family you’re born into. About that, you have no real say in the matter. Your second family consists of the people who, like you, grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show.” Like you, they believe that Mayberry is a real place, even though they know it isn’t, and yet it still is, really, just as real as the actual place they grew up, perhaps more so in some important way.

If that last sentence makes sense to you, you’re probably one of us. That means you probably know all the episodes by heart, even the ones  shot in color after Don Knotts left for the bright lights of Hollywood. It means that you know the real names of the actors who played the important characters, and just about all of them were important. Andy and Barney were the main characters, of course, but any member of the family knows that Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea), Ron Howard (Opie), Howard McNear (Floyd the barber), Jim Nabors (Gomer), Hal Smith (Otis), Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou), and Aneta Corsaut (Helen Crump) were every bit as crucial to the show as Andy and Barney. These were not just one-dimensional supporting characters but fully realized, vividly fleshed out human beings with indelible personalities of their own. In any given episode, one of them might be the protagonist instead of Andy or Barney. Any one of them could easily carry the show for as many episodes as the writers wished, and each had turns at being “the star.”

Aunt Bea relishing her “kerosense cucumbers.” Opie raising his baby birds. Thelma Lou refusing to be in Barney’s “hip pocket.” Gomer trying to repay Andy for saving his life. We know and remember every episode. In a way, they have mixed in among our own childhood memories, since many of us first saw these episodes as children and have seen them countless times since. Watching reruns of the show is, for us, akin to pulling out the family photograph album and remembering when. We love getting together with other members of “the family” and reminiscing.

“Remember that time when Andy and Barney were trying to help Goober get a girl?”

Ah, yes, Goober Pyle, played by George Lindsey. Goober was introduced to the show in 1964 as Gomer’s slightly less sophisticated cousin (“Goober ain’t stupid,” said Gomer. “He’s ugly, but he ain’t stupid.”). Goober worked at Wally’s filling station and almost always sported a beanie with turned-up edges that made him look like Mayberry’s court jester, which he was, but only at times, because none of Mayberry’s characters were ever that simple, just as real people are not.

As a young fellow, I often identified with Goober, who was shy and uneasy around girls, always relying on jokes and impressions of movie stars like Cary Grant or Edward G. Robinson in an attempt to impress them, always measuring himself against more experienced, worldly competition and coming up short, always awkward, hesitant, and uncertain. In spite of this, onward he plunged into the dense thicket of romance, armed only with the dullest butterknife to try to clear a path and find his way. That’s EXACTLY how I felt as well, inept and awkward, but propelled forward by forces I could neither comprehend nor resist. Over and over I stumbled, but, like Goober, I kept flailing away.

As Barney Fife put it in his pep talk to Goober, “Andy’s got a girl, I’ve got a girl, all God’s children got a girl.”

If Goober could find a girl, maybe I could, too. If Goober could keep trying, why shouldn’t I?

There are a lot of great Goober moments in the show, but my favorite may be an episode late in the series in which Goober forgets his razor on a camping trip, comes back with a scruffy beard, and then becomes convinced that he has become an intellectual because Andy, Floyd, and Aunt Bea tell him he looks “different,” and Goober longs more than anything to be different, to be as wise, successful, and self-assured as anyone else. Heavily influenced as he always is by the power of suggestion, Goober becomes overconfident to the point of being unbearable, pontificating on any and every subject to any and every person until Andy finally explodes (he was more irritable in the colored episodes, I submit) and tells him to shut up. Goober is chastened, fairly limping out of the barbershop in humiliation. But then we see him again at the weekly meeting of the town’s history club, offering a tentative and mercifully brief remark on the industrial revolution, followed by a self-effacing comment and that trademark grin.

Once again, Goober had gathered his pride, courage, and determination, and plunged ahead into the wilderness of human interaction.

Just a few short days ago, George “Goober” Lindsey died after a brief illness at the age of 83. He joins Don Knotts, Hal Smith, Frances Bavier, Howard McNear, Aneta Corsaut, and Jack Dodson, among others, who have gone on to that Mayberry that, in a way, exists in everyone who is part of this particular family, the Mayberry that is permanent and unchanging, the Mayberry where there is always time to make homemade ice cream on the porch on Sunday after church, where you can catch up on the local gossip in Floyd’s Barber Shop, and where on a warm summer night, you can hear Andy strumming his guitar all the way to the end of Maple Street.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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While I can appreciate that many citizens get caught up in this so-called “March Madness” every year, I no longer have the time to cast anything more than a sideways glance in the direction of the NCAA basketball tournament. Where I once followed every dribble and rebound of the tournament from start to finish, spending every available hour — and most of my hours were all too available in those days, which is the whole point — obsessing over my brackets and trying to will my favorite teams on to the next round by sheer force of concentration (not to mention the wearing of my lucky hat), I now rely on late night recaps on ESPN or the status updates of my Facebook friends to keep me abreast of the tournament.

In other words, it floats in the orbit of my consciousness, but barely so. For me, real March Madness is pressure washing the deck, while trying to find time to get my son’s bat speed up to par for his transition from T Ball to Farm League this season, when he will be adjusting to machine pitches. Then there is tax season right around the corner, and the yard is threatening to get out of control already, and I have a stack of papers to grade. We’ve got to get the house in order for that get-together we’ve been planning, and that basement has been waiting to be organized for months. I’ve got to get my wife’s car over to Asheville for servicing, and now here is the guy to spray for bugs.

It is always something when you are a grown-up with grown-up responsibilities. I envy those that have the time to think about a basketball tournament, I really do. I wish it still meant that much to me, but I just don’t have the time or energy for it.

Pest Guy: “How are you, Mr. Cox? Had any problems with pests this month?”

Me: “No, just a random spider or two. I killed one in the bathtub Wednesday. So, who you got in the Final Four this year?”

Pest Guy: “The Heels, Kentucky, Missouri, and Syracuse. You?”

Me: “I got Ohio State beating the Orangemen. I don’t see them getting there without Melo. I got Missouri, but I don’t love that bracket.”

I followed the pest guy around the house while he sprayed under the deck and around the hedges, debating the relative merits of our Final Four picks as well as the prospects of North Carolina teams. We agreed that Duke looked pretty vulnerable and that N.C. State would be a nice darkhorse team this year if they took good shots and avoided turnovers.

By the time the pest guy left, I had to jump in the car and get it over to Asheville to get a sensor replaced, the one that tells you when the air pressure in your rear left tire is low. On the way over, I had about a thousand things on my mind, not the least of which was, did we really need to spend $200 on a sensor to tell us that the air pressure in our rear left tire was low? Who has time to think about a basketball tournament when questions such as these become part of your life?

I finally arrived, got the car into the garage, and asked the guy if he could just turn off the warning light without replacing the sensor if we would assume full responsibility for the inflation of our tires.

Sensor Guy: “No sir, we cannot really disable that light on the dash for you. Plus, your car wouldn’t pass inspection.”

Me: “I see. It just seems a little silly to me, what with air pressure gauges and eyesight and everything, that we should need a sensor to tell us that we need air in our tires. Anyway, you think Roy’s got the Tar Heels ready to go?”

Sensor Guy: “Yeah, I’d say he does. If they stay focused and play defense for 40 minutes.”

Me: “Think they can take Kentucky? I guess Obama does.”

Sensor Guy: “Yeah, I saw that. I hope God is not a Republican.”

Me: “The Republicans say He is. The Heels may need some divine intervention to score inside on Anthony Davis.”

I had the sensor installed and drove home, stopping off for gas and a sandwich. The guy at Subway noticed I was wearing my lucky N.C. State hat.

Subway Guy: “Go Wolfpack!”

Me: “I heard that. Let’s just hope CJ Leslie can stay out of foul trouble.”

Subway Guy: “I heard that. You want pickles on this?”

I took my sandwich and made a quick cell phone call to my friend, Tim, for an update on the afternoon games. When I got home, my wife and children were downstairs watching Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

Them: “Hey, Daddy/Honey!!! Want to watch this with us?”

Me: “How much longer will it be on?”

Daughter: “It’s almost over.”

Me: “Don’t you guys have homework? Honey, did you remember you were going to pick up some pork chops at the grocery store for that new recipe?” Wife: “Yes, I remember. What’s wrong with you? You seem antsy.”

Me: “Me, antsy? Nah, just got a lot on my mind.”

I went upstairs and logged in on my laptop to check the scores on ESPN. I turned on some Miles Davis and tried to calm down a little. I graded a couple of papers, fed the dog, watered the plants, went to get the mail. Just how many frickin penguins did Mr. Poppers have?

Finally, the family emerged en masse from the family room, and I jumped out of the chair like a pop tart shot out of a toaster.

Wife: “Is there a game on?”

Me: “I think maybe there is. I’m just gonna watch a little TV and try to relax. I’ve just got too much going on this week, I guess.”

Wife: “Uh huh…”

Me: “Don’t forget those pork chops!”

I suppose, in the scheme of things, it is fine to enjoy such things as “March Madness” the way it should be enjoyed, as a pleasant and minor diversion from the crushing responsibilities of being an adult. As long as I am wearing my lucky hat, everything should work out fine.

Me: “WOLF!

You: “PACK!”

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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In the 1960s and 70s, everybody smoked, everybody but my mother, who didn’t smoke, drink, or do anything that Ann Landers wouldn’t have approved of. She still doesn’t, although I seem to recall that she once drank a pina colada on a cruise, long after the children were grown, of course. No, she didn’t smoke, which made her all the more remarkable since almost everyone else did. Finding a young person who didn’t smoke then would be like finding a young person now who doesn’t have a tattoo, a rare and wondrous creature.

My family photograph albums are filled with old photographs of relatives engaged in all sorts of activities, all performed with the ubiquitous cigarette dangling from lips, or attached like another finger to their right hands. My uncle, hovering over the grill, flipping hamburgers, smoking a cigarette. My grandmother, sitting on the front porch, breaking beans, smoking a cigarette. My father, standing in the front yard with a garden hose, spraying something or someone, smoking a cigarette.

I flirted with smoking off and on from the time I was 13 to the night I quit for good, in a bar called — and I am not making this up — Tobacco Road on Christmas Eve of 1984. I was sitting at a table with my best friend, Stewart, nursing a Michelob and a broken heart, watching the smoke drift into shreds beneath the stage lights where Nantucket had just finished their third encore and called it a night.

It was somewhere between one and two in the morning, and most of what was left of the crowd had already dispersed and vanished into the night. We were pondering a move on a table of four girls and two guys — Stewart had been asked to dance by one of the girls four or five times over the course of the evening, and now they were playing the “I see you, and I know you see me” game of staring that inevitably led to dancing, kissing, and leaving, one car following the other who knew where?

But my heart wasn’t really in it, and neither was his, I could tell. I killed my beer and stubbed out my cigarette just a bit dramatically. I was upset that a girl I liked had decided to go back to an old boyfriend. I was also upset that I was upset about it.

“That’s it for me,” I said, twisting the butt of the cigarette into the tray longer than necessary for an exclamation point. “That right there was my last cigarette.”

I can’t be absolutely sure, as I was tilting a little toward drunk just then, but I think I felt that quitting smoking was symbolic, since the girl was a smoker. I was giving cigarettes up. I was giving her up. Rather, I was giving the idea of her up. Poof. Up in smoke. It made sense to me at the time.

I haven’t smoked since. Most of those relatives from the photographs have also quit or passed away, many of them from smoking-related causes — heart attacks, cancer, diabetes. Stewart quit, too, just a year or two ago. He promptly gained 30 pounds, got disgusted with himself, and then turned to bike-riding to shed the weight. Now he competes in triathlons.

Yes, these are different days, different ways. There aren’t many places where a person can smoke inside, or even on the premises of many places. Many campuses are tobacco free. Smokers have become outcasts, even pariahs. It is difficult to comprehend how much smoking was just part of the culture then, not just something people did but part of who they were. Where I came from, you either farmed tobacco or knew people who did. My high school had a smoking area, and not just for the teachers. A lot of the guys who didn’t smoke chewed tobacco, usually Red Man. It was easy to buy cigarettes or chewing tobacco regardless of your age. After all, you were just supporting the local economy.

These days, most of the tobacco farms are gone from that area, many replaced by acres and acres of Christmas trees. I don’t know what percentage of people in the county are smokers, but it is a tiny fraction of what it once was, and that is a good thing. It is also a good thing that most people now wear seat belts, which they didn’t used to do, and avoid laying out in the sun all day on the weekends getting a tan, which they did use to do.

You do not see many pick-ups out on the highway with a bed full of children jostling around, which was pretty common back then. You don’t see many people on bicycles without a helmet. I cannot recall ever seeing a person on a bicycle wearing a helmet in those days.

By almost any sort of reckoning, we are smarter, safer, and healthier now than we once were. Would it sound crazy, then, if I admit that I kind of miss the general recklessness of those times? Have we somehow become too cautious, too buckled up, too protected, too insulated from the big, bad world?

Maybe it’s just the people in those pictures that I really miss, breaking beans until after dark, blowing smoke rings at the moon.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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When the legendary — and former — Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno died on Sunday morning, the first thought I had was of Oedipus the King. Like Paterno, Oedipus was much beloved by his subjects and, like Paterno, his moral blindness resulted in tragedy. There are those who say that Paterno, who was diagnosed with lung cancer not long after the news of the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and an empire 46 years in the making began to crumble, died of a broken heart. I don’t doubt that it hastened his death.

Perhaps it seems the height of hyperbole to cast Paterno’s fall from grace as worthy of Greek tragedy, but consider that Paterno was not only an icon at Penn State but a genuine legend in American sports. If there were a Mount Rushmore for college football coaches, Paterno’s face would not only have been on it — before the fall — it would have been the most prominent.

It was not only that Paterno had been at Penn State for 46 years and built a great football program that had endured over that span of time. It was that he was a symbol not just for succeeding, but for doing it the right way. If you had been asked to describe Paterno, you would have used words such as “integrity,” “honor,” and “loyalty” in a summary of his career and influence on the game. In a culture in which scandals, usually related to a “win at all cost” mentality, are all too common, Joe Paterno was the gold standard, the example you could point to if you wanted to demonstrate that there were still good guys out there whose character was beyond reproach.

The most bitterly ironic part of his fall from grace is that Paterno was the kind of coach you would want if you had a son who was planning to play college football. You would have trusted Paterno with your own child, and indeed, there are hundreds of players and former players who have stepped up to defend his reputation in the wake of the charges of serial child abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and allegations of a cover-up on the part of Paterno, the former president of the university, and several others. As scandals in American sports history are weighed and debated, this will go down as one of the very biggest ever.

Very likely, you already know the basic framework of the story. When Paterno was told that Sandusky had sexually assaulted a boy in the shower on campus back in 2002, Paterno “turned the information over” to someone else internally at Penn State. Sandusky was ultimately not charged, and Paterno did not follow up. This was nearly 10 years ago. Last fall, Sandusky was charged with 52 counts of child molestation, for which he will soon stand trial. On Nov. 9, not long after those charges had been made public, Paterno announced his retirement, but he was fired along with school president Graham Spanier less than 12 hours later by the Penn State board of trustees, who had gone into full-scale damage control as the scandal dominated the national news every day and night.

It has been sad watching Paterno scramble to salvage what remains of his reputation at the same time that he was literally fighting for his life from lung cancer. Less than two weeks ago, Paterno spoke on his action — and non-action — to the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins: “I didn’t know exactly how to handle it and I was afraid to do something that might jeopardize what the university procedure was. So I backed away and turned it over to some other people, people I thought would have a little more expertise than I did. It didn’t work out that way.”

To say that this explanation is inadequate, or even pathetic, is not just an understatement, but a mockery of common sense and basic human decency. Paterno was not just some guy at Penn State who had to follow procedure and observe the chain of command. He was the king. Had he chosen to do so, he could have pursued these charges vigorously, relentlessly, not only for the sake of the 10-year-old boy who was allegedly raped by Sandusky on that particular occasion, but for the sake of all those future victims who might have been spared had Paterno acted with honor and integrity when it mattered most.

Instead, he passed the buck. The very best that can be said is that he buried his head in the sand and rationalized that he had done what was expected of him. It is unlikely that history will be so kind in its verdict.

For all the good he did for so many young men, his epic failure to do more than the bare minimum, to do everything in his considerable power to protect young boys from a predator, Paterno’s final legacy is not just tainted by tragedy, but defined by it.

In the end, like Oedipus, he simply could not bear to look upon the truth. What a crying shame.

Chris Cox is a writer and teacher. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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On Christmas Eve, my dad would always bring home a huge box of navel oranges and bags of pecans, walnuts, and almonds, all still in their shells. These would be arranged, though not artfully, on the fireplace mantel underneath our stockings.

We knew that these gifts did not come from Santa Claus — they came from Florida, where Dad had just been in his 18-wheeler. He was not what anyone would call a healthy eater, but he did love those navel oranges. He’d peel them with his fingers, and then tear off sections for us to share. I liked peeling back the thin layer of skin on my section and then pretending to be a dinosaur devouring hundreds of the exposed, tiny orange trees with one enormous bite. Christmas Eve.

We’d sit around the tree, poking at the presents — the ones from our parents or distant relatives — lifting them to gauge the heft, or giving them a gentle shake to see if anything moved inside, and how it moved, and what sounds issued if it did move. Since these were “parent” gifts, we knew that the contents would be something responsible, but dull, like tube socks or a flannel shirt, but since Santa would not be arriving for several more excruciating hours, and these presents DID bear our names and MIGHT be something at least a little more exciting than usual — maybe a Dallas Cowboys toboggan or a box of cashew turtles — we couldn’t help fussing over them obsessively while mean old Ben Weaver kept trying to get himself arrested in the Christmas episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” which we watched every year on Christmas Eve.

Ben Weaver. The Grinch. Ebenezer Scrooge. If Christmas possessed the magic to turn those hardened hearts, it was no less magical to us because it also had the power to bring our dad home to spend the evening with us, which was a rare and wondrous thing. He spent most of his time out on the truck, driving all over the country, and when he was home, he managed to find, orchestrate, or simply will a card game into existence, such was his love of gambling, or more precisely, his love of playing cards. Gambling was just his way of making the games more meaningful.

In any case, I didn’t begrudge it. I have always enjoyed, even admired, being around people who are in their element, doing what they love, and my dad was in his element playing cards. When we got a little older — old enough to drive — we knew we could find him at the golf course or the pool room or Southside Restaurant or Grady’s General Store playing gin for 10 or 20 or 50 dollars a hand, depending upon the daring, foolishness, and/or relative wealth of his opponent at any given time. He almost never lost, and when he did, he would usually win the next four or five hands in a row. He understood the game from the inside, somehow. If “Good Will Hunting” had been about cards, my dad would have been played by Matt Damon.

We’d find him, and then watch him play for 20 or 30 minutes. It was like watching a detective sweat out a confession, as he toyed with his opponent, joking one minute, grimacing the next, arching an eyebrow, the meaning of which was impossible to decode. The other guy would try to read something in his face — a huge mistake, a fatal mistake, as he transformed suddenly from a detective to a vampire, glamouring the poor fool into playing out another losing hand, and then handing us the proceeds to pay for gas, arcade games, fast food, or whatever escapades might await us on a Friday night in Sparta.

How many of our weekends, automobiles, or college classes were funded over the years from gambling is impossible to say, but suffice to say it was a lot. My sister once got a bedroom suite because a guy couldn’t pay. I once got my house painted.

Last week, my wife bought home a huge bag of navel oranges on the eleventh anniversary of my father’s death. It was just a coincidence, but this convergence brought him back with a force I haven’t felt for awhile, though he is, as he always has been, dead or alive, at the edge of my thoughts and dreams, barely out of reach, but still always there somehow, happy and in his element.

If you are lucky enough to have your dad at home on Christmas Eve, give him a big hug and savor him. If you are a dad, get home as much as you can all through the year. Find your kids in their element, and savor them. They’re growing up quick — you can bet on that.

Merry Christmas, Dad. I hope the navel oranges in heaven are as good as the ones from Florida.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who livesi n Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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When I turned 50 last week, I did not feel any older and certainly no wiser, but I did realize one thing I hadn’t really noticed before. I have now reached that age when people begin qualifying certain kinds of compliments, thus giving them a rather unappealing aftertaste. What should be sweet tastes instead like a spoonful of Pepto Bismol.

“Wow, you look pretty good for 50.”

“Fifty, huh? Well, you still get around pretty well.”

“Fifty and no heart attack yet? Not bad, big guy.”

You know you are getting on up there when people begin telling you that you look “much younger” than you actually are. Nobody says to a person turning 26, “Gee, Larry, you don’t look a day over 15.”

For one thing, it probably isn’t true. For another, and this is worse, it isn’t necessary. Celebrating your 26th birthday is grand. You’ve got all your hair. You can hike more than two miles without stopping to have a sandwich or a cigarette … or just a breather. You still get carded at Ingles, and you don’t care whether the wine you are buying will go with the lamb, because you’re not HAVING lamb. You’re having Taco Bell, which boasts a cuisine that matches well with a vast variety of wines, including the $3 bottle you just purchased. You get hangovers, but they last 12 seconds.

You have the nerve to dread turning 30. But not too much — it’s a LONG ways off, dude! You have a beanbag in your living room, and posters in your bedroom. Except for your parents and girlfriend — if you have one — no one expects much from you, since you’re only 26. You change jobs more often than you change your sheets, and no one thinks a thing about it. You get 12 phone messages a day and answer two of them, and it’s fine. You’ve maxed out three major credit cards, financing a trip to Cancun on one of them, and it’s all good. You’re 26. There’s plenty of time to be responsible later on.

When you turn 50, you get cards that make clever jokes about getting old, or not-so-clever jokes. You get sympathetic nods, or wide-eyed stares of feigned disbelief, or hearty slaps on the back. Damn, 50! Well, as one of my friends in the disbelieving camp put it, “you’ll always be 35 to me.”

See, that’s just the thing. I still feel 35 and think of myself as 35, until some 35-year-old doctor calls me “sir,” or I get a magazine from AARP along with my Rolling Stone in the day’s mail, or my wife reminds me that it is time to schedule that colonoscopy.

Sure, I can see some obvious signs of aging in the mirror every morning. My hair, what there is left of it, seems tinted with just a bit more silver each day, and the salt in my whiskers is making a hard charge these days to surpass the pepper, which is why I shave more than I once did. I can see a few more wrinkles around my eyes, and if I lay out of the gym for too long, my body revolts in the most violent and unseemly way, leaving me feeling about as firm and attractive as a bowl of cottage cheese. When I finally get up enough gumption to go back to the gym to resume working out, my body revolts again by aching for days. It hurts to wash my hair. It hurts to flip an omelette. It hurts to put the car in drive.

But there is a greater pain, still: the consequences of the desperate measures people will take to look 35 because they feel 35 or want to BE 35. For most men, such measures may include frequent trips to the tanning bed, hair plugs (or the more recent trend of shaving their heads, which I used to do), and various forms of overcompensation that are most likely associated with a paralyzing fear of sexual impotence. How about that new Harley Davidson? It sure is big and powerful, isn’t it?

Let the record reflect that I did not buy a motorcycle for my birthday. I celebrated at home with the family, and then went out for Japanese food. I took a nice warm bath in the Jacuzzi and put on a T-shirt and the new fuzzy pants my wife got me for my birthday. We put the kids to bed, danced in the living room for awhile to Billie Holiday, and then, well, let’s just put it this way. Not too shabby, considering I’m 50.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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During the winter, we met every Tuesday night in the conference room of the First Methodist Church, and on the colder nights of December and January, the smell of the kerosene heater stung our nostrils and coated the inside of our skulls like thick black paint. We milled around in our starchy brown uniforms and bright red neckerchiefs like little soldiers waiting to be deployed while we were actually waiting for the scoutmaster to appear and give us the scout signal, which meant that we were to fall into ranks in our respective patrols.

I was in the Screaming Eagles, which I thought was an awesome — we used the word  “awesome” a lot — patrol to be in, not only because of the obvious patriotic symbolism, but because the very idea of an actual screaming eagle seemed dangerous and thrilling. We were predatory and furious, soaring one minute, swooping down to snatch a goose from a pond the next minute. We were feared, but also celebrated and honored. And we had a cool patrol leader named Phil, who was laid back, but also knew his way around poison ivy and hatchets.

Once in a while, we would go camping, even in the winter, to prove our mettle and test the skills we had developed earning various merit badges, which adorned our sashes and made us stick out our narrow chests just that little bit extra as we marched down Main Street in the Christmas Parade every year.

I will confess that I was never the biggest fan of camping out in the winter to prove our mettle, regardless of the fact that my uncle’s goosedown sleeping bag — which I had inherited and which he had used during his days as a scout — had been tested to something like 20 below zero. On one of our excursions, the temperature actually did get down to 12 degrees. People were bringing their pets inside, and here we were stomping through the hard-frozen woods at dusk looking for the least crunchy patch of terrain to pitch our sad little pup tents and attempt a campfire.

It was so cold, that we tried doing everything with our gloves still on. Do you know how hard it is to pitch a tent, or operate an oil lamp, or cook up a little dinner on your Coleman stove with your gloves still on? We took them off, but within a minute or two our fingers were so numb that the net effect on our manual dexterity was the same, so we mostly kept them on and fumbled through, finally getting a fire big enough to thaw out our toes, which felt shrunken and remote in our boots. We would move our faces close enough to the crackling fire to get a little feeling and color back in them, and then quickly have to back off so that the acrid smoke did not choke us out.

We ate our beanie weanies and crackers, sandwiches, hot dogs, canned beef stew, and s’mores, and then drank hot chocolate and told ghost stories until we couldn’t stand it anymore. Even the stars seemed to shiver, and the trees groaned against a bitter wind.

“Good night, ladies,” said Phil, disappearing into his tent and then zipping it from the inside.

When I got home the next morning around 10 a.m., I took the hottest bath of my life, which lasted approximately four hours. I got so hot that I was forced to eat an entire box of Breyers French Vanilla Ice Cream when I got out, which made me so cold that I had to take another hot bath. I didn’t care. I was out of the woods, literally and figuratively. I had survived a camping trip in 12 degree weather.

I hadn’t slept more than a miserable hour or two. The rest of the night, I listened to the wind howl and batter our tents. I kept trying to find a place to put my face inside the sleeping bag where I could still breathe. When my face was not submerged completely, I felt like Mr. Potato Head, with ears and a nose that were so frozen that they felt detachable, as if they might actually fall off my head at any minute and be lost in the annihilating darkness, against which my wimpy little flashlight registered barely a protest.

I could still feel my face continuing to thaw out like a package of hamburger well up into the next day. I might go camping again someday, but never in the winter, not for any merit badge, not for anything or anyone.

And now, 35 years later, my son is trying out the scouts. His troop meets in the Methodist Church every Monday night, where the boys mill around in their starchy uniforms like little soldiers waiting to be deployed …. uh oh.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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By all accounts, my wife’s trip to Riverbend Elementary School to talk to Mrs. Gidcumb’s first-grade class about her career as a personal trainer and fitness coach was a smashing success. I’ll go ahead and disclose that I had some serious reservations about our decision to speak to the class about our respective careers, even though it would be a chance to support and perhaps impress our 6-year-old son, who seems to have only the vaguest awareness of what we do when we’re not ordering him around and dashing his dreams. We leave the house every weekday to go conduct some mysterious business somewhere, and that’s about all there is to it, as far as he is concerned.

As a longtime college English teacher, I knew I could not expect to dazzle them with a plaintive recitation of one of Keats’ glorious odes, or a thunderous performance of Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” even while I suspected they might at least find the title catchy, as my son very seldom goes gentle into his nights, good or bad.

In any case, I thought I could repel a ways down the poetry cliff to Shel Silverstein or the ever-reliable Dr. Seuss. I could breathe new life into “Green Eggs and Ham,” reading it with vigor and amazing theatrical flourishes — “I will NOT eat them with a goat!” — and then teach them how to explore and discuss Sam I Am’s role as the story’s antagonist, the protagonist’s dynamic transformation, the important themes in the poem (the courage to break old patterns and take chances in life, the courage to grow as a human being), and the significance of the rain and the dark as symbols in the poem.

I pictured them sitting forward in their seats to the point of tipping their chairs, spellbound by the revelations I would unfurl about a poem as familiar to them as a glass of milk, but somehow made new by this tall, interesting man in the corduroy blazer. I imagined them surrounding me after the performance like oddly wrapped little packages around a Christmas tree, peppering me with questions, begging me to come back next week to help them unpack the deeper meaning of “Horton Hears a Who.”

A week after my wife had literally dazzled them with some magical dissertation on the virtues of keeping fit, I arrived, prepared and confident and 10 minutes early, ready to blow their little minds like 20 caps in a cap pistol, pop pop pop pop pop, etc. I waited for them to file in from lunch and find their seats on the colorful classroom rug. I expected my son to move quickly and decisively to the front — that is MY dad! — but no, he chose a bean bag at some remove from “the stage,” and had to be told to find his place on the rug with his classmates. Well. Perhaps it was a little too weird for him, seeing dad in this alarming new context.

I had a few minutes to kill before the bell rang, so I made small talk with the children until one of them asked me to “do that trick” with my finger, one I had performed a couple of weeks prior when I came over to join my son at a table with his buddies for lunch in the school cafeteria. The trick is that you hold all of your fingers except the index finger straight out, bending your index finger and the thumb on your other hand, while holding the OTHER index finger over the crease where the first index finger and the other thumb join, thus creating the illusion that you can detach your index finger from the joint at will, up and down, up and down.

My uncle had turned me on to this trick 40 years ago, and my son and his friends were just as astonished by it as I had been four decades ago. Let’s stipulate, then, that the trick has stood the test of time.

I repeated the trick a few times, delighting the boys who had already seen it, as well as drawing considerable interest from those who had not, boys and girls alike (the trick is not “gender specific,” as they say). So what if I was warming them up with illusions? Whatever. I had their complete attention already, and my performance had not even begun.

Finally, it was time to start, and the teacher introduced me as extravagantly as if I were Robert Frost, which felt nice and increased my confidence even more. I thought I would lay just a little groundwork before launching into “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“Good morning, everyone! How many of you like to read and write?”

A few hands. Some whispering. Some squirming.

“Well, I teach college students how to read and write,” I began.

“Don’t college students already know how to read and write?” asked a precocious young fellow near the front.

“Well, yes, most of them,” I said. “But they are reading and writing at a more advanced …”

“Do the trick!” said a boy with preternaturally straight teeth.

“Maybe later,” I said, plowing on unperturbed. “I’ll bet that some you like poetry! How many of you…”

“I like rockets!” said a boy in a green, striped shirt.

“I like pudding!” said a girl with curly blonde hair.

“I like animals!” offered a girl in an adorable print dress.

“I have a bunny at home,” said another girl, whereupon eight or nine classmates began listing the various inventories of animal inhabitants at their homes, some of them including names with species.

“I have a goat named Johnny,” a boy said. “And a dog named Susie. And we have four cats, I forget some of their names …”

“Children, children,” the teacher interjected. “Please be still so Mr. Cox can continue. He has a lot of important things to tell us today.”

“Thank you very much,” I nodded. “Now then. How many of you have heard of Dr. Seuss?”

More hands this time. I was back in control, rolling now.

“How many of you have read or heard your parents read ‘Green Eggs and…’”

“We had green eggs in the cafeteria on Saint Patrick’s Day!” a girl exclaimed, springing up from the carpet.

“My mom says I’m allergic to eggs,” said the girl next to her.

“We get eggs from our chickens,” said the boy who likes rockets. “Their names are Lucy, Sarah, Old Betty, Donna …”

Egg stories popped up like dandelions all over the colorful rug.

“Children!” said the teacher. My son and another boy wrestled on the bean bag. “Jack, Odin, please return to the rug! Mr. Cox is going to tell us all …”

“Do the trick!” said the boy with the perfect teeth, followed by a chorus of children chanting “do the trick” over and over.

“I want to be a personal trainer and fitness coach when I grow up,” said a girl in the back. Could she have been taunting me?

I did the trick. A few of the kids jumped up and down, elbowing each other in the ribs and giggling. I did it again.

“Can you teach US how to do the trick?” said rocket boy.

I taught them how to do the trick, and by the time I left, some of them were getting pretty good at it. I didn’t read a word of the poem, much less delve into any analysis of it. My son has no more idea what I do for a living now then he did before my visit. No one is likely to say, “I want to be a college English teacher” as a result of anything I said or did on my career day visit.

On the other hand, a few kids can now detach their index fingers at the joint, or so it would seem.

“That’s my dad,” I heard my son say to a classmate as I turned to leave. “He knows all the best tricks.”

As long as he thinks so, I’ll continue to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Chris Cox is teacher and writer who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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When will we say, “It is enough”?

On Sept. 19, a 14-year-old boy named Jamey Rodemeyer from Buffalo, N.Y., committed suicide after suffering from being bullied by classmates who harassed him with gay slurs both at his school and online. Rodemeyer had recorded his own version of a video modeled on a project called “It Gets Better,” which was established by a writer named Dan Savage to give hope to young gays and lesbians dealing with harassment over their homosexuality.   

Rodemeyer had been in therapy, but had also been posting disturbing warnings on his Tumblr account. Just days prior to his suicide, he wrote, “No one in my school cares about preventing suicide, while you’re the ones calling me [gay slur] and tearing me down,” followed the next day by, “I always say I am bullied, but no one listens … What do I have to do so people will listen to me?”

Evidently, the answer to that question was to kill himself, because now, when it is too late, Rodemeyer’s story is finally getting attention, not just locally, but nationally. It hasn’t stopped the bullying, though. At a dance to honor Rodemeyer held on Sept. 22, several students taunted his sister, allegedly saying, “We’re glad he’s dead.” One of the students has been suspended, and the school is now investigating the bullying that Rodemeyer endured before taking his own life.

When will we finally say, “It is enough”?

Less than a week prior to Rodemeyer’s suicide, the North Carolina legislature voted to put a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages on ballot for the primary election in May 2012. It is already illegal in North Carolina for gays and lesbians to get married, but the amendment would make it even more difficult, and would bar the sanction of civil unions as well.

Gaston state Sen. James Forrester (R), who is a doctor and is lead sponsor of the bill, said this at a town hall meeting: “I’ve got a few homosexual patients and I treat them just the same as anybody else. I love them perhaps even more because I know they are going to die at least 20 years earlier and it’s something I have no control over and we need to reach out to them to try to get them to change their lifestyle and back to the normal lifestyle which we can accept.”

Of course, there is not a shred of credible evidence to support Forrester’s reckless claims, nor has he been able to articulate in subsequent interviews why gay marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage while divorce, for instance, is not. You will notice in the referenced quote above that Forrester uses the imperial “we” that excludes gays and lesbians by definition, while also suggesting that sexual orientation and “lifestyle” are interchangeable terms that mean the same thing.

We live in a curious stage in our nation’s history in which gays and lesbians are much more “accepted” than ever before, but this so-called acceptance comes with so many conditions, qualifiers, and exceptions that in the end, “our” cultural and political attitude regarding gays and lesbians is as exquisitely calibrated as a Swiss watch. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military was one example of this — it’s “OK” to be gay or lesbian as long as you do not talk about it or “make a show” of it, which is the way that the vast majority of homosexuals have had to live to get by in this country for countless years. In the nicer parts of town, you may no longer get savagely beaten or verbally attacked for being a gay or lesbian, as long as you don’t do something as egregious as hold hands on the street or in a restaurant with your partner, or life-mate, or whatever other euphemism that “we” find acceptable these days.

There is perhaps no better example of cognitive dissonance on the acceptance of gays and lesbians than the fluctuating positions on gay marriage taken by President Obama over the past 15 years. In 1996, he was for it. During his presidential campaign, he was against it. More recently, his position seems to be that it should be left up to the states. Obama has been quoted as saying that his position is “evolving,” which sounds a lot better than saying, “I am a hypocrite, and my position changes according to the situation and the audience and whether it is an election year.”

So what does all of this have to do with the suicide of a 14-year-old boy? Well, nothing and everything. If the President of the United States cannot make sense of his own position regarding gays and lesbians, if we as a people cannot let go of the conditions, qualifiers, and exceptions that block us from embracing gays and lesbians as being an actual part of “us,” if school officials will not investigate a teenager’s desperate cries for help until he is dead, then shame on us all.

When will we EVER say, “It is enough?”

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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I’ve loved rock and roll music all of my life. When I was a teenager, I listened to Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles and Bob Seger and other staples of FM radio that most parents were listening to as well, unless they were hopelessly uncool, but I also sought out more “dangerous” music that didn’t just push the envelope of teen rebellion. It stomped all over the envelope and then burned it into ashes. I listened to bands like AC/DC, the Blue Oyster Cult, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. When I was 17 years old, my favorite album was “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC.  Black Sabbath had an album called “We Sold Our Souls For Rock’n’Roll,” and members of Led Zeppelin were said to have been obsessed with occultist Aleister Crowley.

Like a lot of kids, I was attracted to this kind of music for various reasons. It was not music that any parent or teacher would have approved of, which was one big selling point. It offered a place to go for people who didn’t feel they fit in anywhere else, and it gave a sense not only of community but of power to a group that hadn’t had much of either in life. The power was in the power chords, thunderous hooks, music that would rattle the windows in your car, except that your windows were down, because you wanted everybody in your stupid-ass town to know that you were into AC/DC. You were part of that. The normal kids could listen to Peter Frampton and date cheerleaders and go to the prom. You were on “the highway to hell.” Rock on.

I thought of my high school days the first time I saw the documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” in 1996. In this documentary, three teenage boys from West Memphis, Ark., were arrested, tried, and ultimately convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys. The essence of the prosecution’s case against the boys was that they committed the murders as part of some occult ritual. They dressed in black, listened to Metallica, and didn’t really fit in with the “normal” kids. One of the boys, the ringleader, was named “Damien,” like the antichrist character in the movie “The Omen.” In the documentary, much is made of his interest in Aleister Crowley. There is an appalling lack of any real evidence in the movie, and most of the prosecution’s witnesses were discredited on cross-examination, even by court-appointed attorneys who would remind no one of Clarence Darrow.

Still, the boys were convicted, and Damien was given the death sentence.

Once the documentary aired, there was an immediate and strong reaction among the many people who saw it and felt a terrible injustice had been done. Even celebrities such as Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, actor Johnny Depp, and “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson — not to mention the members of Metallica — worked to raise money for the boys’ appeals and to raise awareness of the injustice. There were tribute albums, and a web site, and then a sequel to the original documentary.

There were also appeals, but even though the West Memphis Three had become quite literally a cause célèbre and had more resources at their disposal than the boys would have ever been able to imagine, for 17 years it all amounted to nothing in terms of changing their immediate reality. They were in prison, and would remain in prison, year after year after year. Echols spent much of that time in solitary confinement.

Finally, two Thursdays ago in a courtroom in Jonesboro, Ark., the three men — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley — entered into a plea agreement called an Alford Plea that essentially means that they are maintaining their innocence but believe there is a strong likelihood that a jury would find them guilty in exchange for being released from prison. It is a complicated legal maneuver that basically gets the state of Arkansas off the hook for a literal witch hunt that cost three innocent boys nearly 18 years of their freedom.

In a press conference shortly after their release from prison, Jason Baldwin said this: “This was not justice. In the beginning we told nothing but the truth — that we were innocent and they sent us to prison for the rest of our lives for it. We had to come here and the only thing the state would do for us is to say, ‘Hey, we will let you go only if you admit guilt,’ and that is not justice anyway you look it. They’re not out there trying to find who really murdered those boys, and I did not want to take the deal from the get-go. However, they are trying to kill Damien, and sometimes you just got to bite the gun to save somebody.”

The third documentary on the West Memphis Three is scheduled to be released in November. There may be a happier ending in this one, but Jason Baldwin is right: don’t dare call it justice. Those boys can’t have back 17 years of their lives, the actual killer (or killers) of three 8-year-old boys got away with it, and the Arkansas legal system essentially resorted to legal blackmail to get itself off the hook.

The West Memphis Three are free, but this is no happy ending.

(Chris Cox can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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“It’s like floating on a cloud,” that’s what the man in the booth said about his nifty adjustable hammocks. We took turns trying one out, first my wife — the most frugal among us and therefore the hardest sell — and then the two kids. Finally, I climbed in, skeptical that the hammock, which hangs from one hook and collapses into an unobtrusive bundle of netting when unoccupied, could accommodate my 6’4” 235 pound frame.

It did, and within a few seconds, I was floating on that cloud, as bemused festival goers floated past in small, talkative clumps, now just other clouds drifting by me. I had to have one. Uh, I mean WE had to have one. Minutes later, we were choosing a color and writing a check.

The very next Saturday, I was out on the deck floating in my new hammock, enjoying a cup of coffee and the last few chapters of a good novel. But more than that, I was enjoying the stillness of a perfect Crabtree afternoon.

Tammy had taken the kids into town to brave the “no tax weekend” madness. They’d be a few hours picking out new backpacks and notebooks and pencils and markers for school, not to mention trying on these jeans and that shirt.

The dog was curled up on a cushion next to me, the cat stretched out near the railing of the deck, surveying the yard below. A cardinal pecked at the last few seeds in the birdfeeder, retreated to a nearby branch, and then came back again for another look.

A storm seemed to be moving in…or not. The sky was almost perfectly bifurcated, gray and ominous in the south, but blue with just a few wispy clouds in the northern half. Every few seconds, I could hear the distant rumble of thunder — somebody was getting pounded a ways off — but it didn’t seem to be getting any closer, and the animals were not disturbed from their respective spots of repose.

I kept floating, kept reading. Like my novel, summer was drawing to a close. I would be going back to work in a few days, the kids back to school in another week. The days, though still scorching, are already perceptibly shorter and will soon be growing even shorter, as we approach the beginning of football season, the arrival of the county and state fairs, the first chill, the turning of the leaves.

I imagined myself in the hammock on a crisp autumn day, drinking cider and reading a book of poems by Robert Frost, or maybe Yeats, trying to fight off the inevitable and ineffable melancholy that seems to find its way into my heart at unexpected moments this time of year.

Autumn is actually my favorite season, the richest and most lustrous of all the seasons. I prefer weather cool enough to require the wearing of flannel or a sweater to the searing, oppressive heat of July and August. I sleep better when it’s cold outside, and I always look forward to the day each year when we can finally replace the chenille bedspread with our goose down comforter and turn off the air conditioning once and for all.

But this isn’t just another fall. The kids are beginning to get older, especially our daughter, who has suddenly stopped clinging to her mother like another layer of skin and has, without warning, entered into a kind of pre-teen, semi-rebellious, mood-fluctuating, completely unpredictable funk. Sometimes, she’s her old self — giggling, ebullient, playing with dolls — while at others, even the task of eating dinner is simply too horrific to contemplate, as if her fork suddenly weighed 80 pounds and the act of lifting it from her plate to her mouth is very nearly an impossibility.

Questions, no matter how innocuous, are met with a theatrical rolling of the eyes and audible sighs. The very idea of asking about her day! Can you comprehend the absurdity of it?

In the meantime, our son is busy perfecting mischief, or discovering new ways to whine about eating squash or creamed corn, the very same foods he ate with relish as a babbling toddler. Now he finds ways to “hide” food by carving it into tiny morsels, and then reconstructing it on his plate, an elaborate project that could almost pass for modern art. Or he stalls, waiting for us to finish so that he can scrape his plate without being noticed while we are preoccupied with some part of the post-dinner routine.

He has become the family’s ace negotiator. Yes, he’ll eat one more bite of chicken IF he can play one more game of Mario Kart before bed. Yes, he’ll brush his teeth IF Charlie can come over this weekend.

The kids are changing fast, just like everybody warned they would when they were born. They’re crashing through childhood like bears through the forest, wild and lumbering and scary. Before we know it, they’ll be out of the woods, enrolling in college, holding up placards at televised games that read, “Send money.”

I do love this new hammock, but I guess I’d better be careful how much time I spend in it, huh?

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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We stood looking at the dinosaur for quite awhile. As parents of children ages 7 and 3, we are more than a little familiar with dinosaurs. In fact, our home has become somewhat of a haven for dinosaurs, an impressive assortment of velociraptors, pterodactyls, T Rex’s — we got ‘em all, even a battle-scarred triceratops that my son sometimes sneaks into bed at night. If the dinosaurs are all freed from toy basket confinement at once, his living quarters more nearly resembles Jurassic Park than a bedroom.

Still, the creature before us now is something else entirely. Standing two and half feet tall, “Spike” is able not only to walk — stampede is a better word, I suppose — he is also able to rise on two legs, throw back his massive head, and bellow full-throated roars skyward, shaking his head with rage, as if he knows his kind will soon be extinct and available only as action figures in a box store near you.

I picture him in my son’s bedroom, the other dinosaurs cowering beneath the bed, or trying to blend in with the stuffed animals. I know that my wife is about to speak, and I know what she is going to say, so when she says it, I’m ready.

“There’s just no way. We don’t have room for that. That dinosaur would have to have his OWN room. You cannot be serious.”

“Well, I’m not getting it for him. Santa Claus is. He said he wanted a big green dinosaur, and this is a big green dinosaur. Just look at him. There is no way we can leave him here.”

And I have the trump card, which she knows I am going to play, so I go ahead and play it.

“And you KNOW he is going to just love Spike. Can you imagine his face on Christmas morning?”

She can, and that is the end of that. Within minutes, we are stuffing Spike into the back of the van. I couldn’t shake the vague notion that my wife thought I might actually want Spike more than my son would, that he would be just fine with a big green dinosaur half Spike’s size, which would, in fact, still qualify as big, especially compared to his fellows back in Jack’s bedroom.

No way, I told myself. It’s about the kids. I’m an adult now, and have put childish things away. Then, the night after Christmas, we went over to my brother’s house for dinner. He has three boys in the same age range as our kids, and among other gifts, they had received a Nintendo Wii game. We spent probably an hour or two bowling, boxing, playing tennis and baseball, even golf. The kids kept wanting to horn in, but we told them they would get a turn soon.

“Now this is what you’ve really got to see,” my brother said, pulling out a game called “Rock Band.” This game includes a guitar, a drum kit, and a microphone, and the idea is that you and your friends play along to great rock and roll songs, and the more accurately you play along, the higher your score. If you fail to keep up adequately, you get “booted” out of the band.

Within seconds, I had the guitar strapped on, while my brother, who briefly fronted a band called Eastern Thunder back when mullets were considered hip and we were both capable of growing them, took the microphone. Our brother-in-law, a truck driver who was once a mechanic in the military, manned the drums. Quite possibly the most unlikely band ever assembled, we nonetheless stumbled through the tutorial before I announced us “ready for a gig,” and my brother promptly cued up “Roxanne,” by The Police.

I would like to report that we were naturals, that our wives were drawn in from the dining room to gasp in amazement at us — which they did, in fact, though not for the reasons we might have preferred. I made it half way through the song before getting booted, but my bandmates made it all the way through.

“Totally awesome!” I exclaimed when the song was over. I had become Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.”

We crapped out on Bon Jovi, which is just as well, but we got through a Clash song cleanly enough to get a few approving nods from the audience.

“Hey, that was pretty good,” said my mom. My mom. Rock on!

Then I got a wild hair.

“Hey, I wanna sing,” I said. “Let’s do ‘Roxanne’ again.”

So with my brother now on guitar, we got completely through “Roxanne,” and then did a Nirvana song for an encore, getting through that one as well. I looked at my individual score for singing, which was 97 out of 100. It was without question the most gratifying moment of my entire life.

OK, it was not THE most gratifying moment of my entire life. But it’s up there somewhere. I cannot recall being more pleased by any score I ever made in graduate school. Then again, I didn’t grow up dreaming of writing an ace paper on Edmund Spenser, but I did play air guitar to “Don’t Fear The Reaper” about 10,000 times in front of my bedroom mirror, dreaming of thousands of screaming fans just beyond the mirror there.

“That was really good, honey,” my wife said. My first groupie!

“But you can’t have one, OK?”

It’s just as well, really. By the time I get good enough to make it through a Ramones song, my kids will be old enough to be embarrassed by this spectacle, which would kind of burst my rock and roll bubble, if you feel me. It’s about them, after all, as I keep reminding my wife.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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You are 12 years old and it’s December and a school day. The days are shorter now, meaning it is still dark when the alarm clock blasts you out of your dreams like a cannonball fired at dawn in a war you don’t understand and didn’t choose. But you are not a cannonball. You’re a soldier, and this is reveille. Your mother is a drill sergeant, barking orders at you every morning before you are awake enough to understand them. Find your shoes, you always lose them! Brush your hair, it looks like a rat’s nest! Be careful with your milk, you usually spill it!

But not today. Where is she? You have managed to find the right knob on the alarm clock and the house is quiet again. In fact, the house is TOO quiet, no scraping of a spatula in a frying pan, no whistling of a coffee pot, no sprinkling of a shower head against a protesting occupant. Nothing but perfect stillness, utter calm, the kind of quiet that can only be accomplished by one thing — the accumulation of snow, enough to coat everything, enough to mute the earth. No cars passing by. No busses. Not even a dog barking. It’s as if the snow has enveloped every sound as well as every surface.

There is no joy purer than this recognition. It is a school day, and it has been snowing heavily while you slept, oblivious to the wonderful gift nature has prepared for you this morning. You can actually feel this before you see it, if you are properly attuned, as all kids soon become, to the ways and means of inclement weather. It is an epiphany that crystallizes slowly, deliciously, as you watch the bright red numbers on your clock change from 7:05 to 7:06. Once you have fully grasped the significance of this morning’s silence, you rush to the window and rip the curtains apart to survey the grandness of it all. And there it is, waiting just for you. Snow, two or three inches of it, maybe even more, covering everything — the cars, the mailbox, the neighbors’ rooftops, and, yes, the roads, as yet unbesmirched by even one set of tracks.

You look at this, and you press your face to the window to feel the cold glass against your nose and cheeks. You need something real, something tactile, to ground you a little. You breathe against the glass until it fogs over, then draw your initials in it. Now you’re feeling whimsical. Since there will be no school — you want to hear the “official announcement” of course, since that is part of the joy, sort of the whipped cream on the banana split of your good fortune — the whole day has been presented to you as a canvas. You can draw anything on it you wish. Potential activities crowd toward the top of your brain like fish in an aquarium seeking food.

You’ll build a snowman, a big one. You’ll build a snow fort, and assemble an arsenal of snowballs into the shape of a pyramid. You’ll develop some clever ruse to coax your sister and mom out of the house, then cream them until they both beg for mercy or run for cover. You’ll thaw out your wet, numb fingers by the fire in the fireplace, while you wait for the chicken soup to get hot on the stove. You’ll convince your mother to make you a side dish of tater tots since you are so hungry from this morning’s ambush. You’ll have a big glass of hot chocolate. You’ll watch a movie on television, or cartoons. With great stealth and cunning, you will extract your mom’s scissors from the kitchen drawer and carve amazing works of art from the morning paper, which you know will charm your father 10 percent more than it will vex him. “And this one is YOU, daddy!” That should do it.

You’ll play games with your sister, or you’ll antagonize her, which is the greatest game of all. You’ll stalk the cat through all the rooms of the house, fashioning a whip from a winter scarf and pretending to snap it in her direction like a cowboy on a horse. You will find this game more amusing than the cat finds it.

But right now is the greatest moment of all, when it is all still in front of you, and everyone else, including the sergeant, is still snuggled up in bed, and you can simply savor it. You go and turn on the radio and wait for the announcement. If you’re lucky, when you grow up, you’ll remember what days like this feel like for your kids and be a good sport when it is your turn to be ambushed.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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EDISTO, S.C. — If you’re going to roast in a record-breaking heat wave anyway, you might as well do it at the beach. Here, at least, we have the ocean breezes, a swimming pool at the resort, merciful air conditioning in the cottage we’re renting, and putt putt. No, strike that last item. Putt putt provides no respite at all from the withering heat except for the questionable shade afforded by the Spanish moss and a few scraggly Palmetto trees. It’s just that I have played so much putt putt this week, I cannot seem to form a list of any kind without including it.

Today is our last day at Edisto, so I just completed the last of 712 rounds I have played this week. If I had been forced to play one more hole, I would feed my purple golf ball to the snapping turtles and impale the model lighthouse on the fourth hole with my green putter. I would have thought my son’s obsession with putt putt, which began early last year would have waned by now, but, like a hurricane, it has only gathered strength, picking up in the gulf stream the added obsessions of ping pong and actual golf, the latter of which is almost compensation for the former. I would play golf at least five days a week if I had the money, time, and easy access to a good course, but since I don’t, I usually play once or twice per year, so it is a nice bonus when I get to come here and play the Plantation course with my son and my old buddy, Bill, who lives in Charleston and drives over for a round when we’re here.

This is our third year at Edisto, and we love its quiet, slightly goofy, almost surrealistic charm. In the offseason, there are barely enough people here for a decent game of touch football, and even in the high season, it is easy to get around, find parking places anywhere you go, and do whatever you want without enduring excruciating long lines and obnoxious, frequently intoxicated tourists. As long as you understand that you must leave your frenzied pace at the county line when you arrive and that you are not going to be dining every night in a five-star restaurant, you would probably love Edisto, unless you’re an obnoxious, frequently intoxicated tourist, in which case you’re probably not going to love anything anyway.

As an indication of the slower pace, the first adjustment you have to make at Edisto is that as long as you are there, you will be driving about as fast as the average golf cart or 12-year-old-on-a-bicycle goes, since you will be spending most of your time behind one or the other or both. There are almost as many golf carts and bicycles on the roads as there are cars, but if you come to think of your vehicle as a REALLY FANCY golf cart — with air conditioning and a radio! — and let go of the habit of racing to get everywhere you go, you’ll be fine. As the locals say, “It’s Ed-I-SLOW.” Learn it, know it, live it.

Every year, my wife grabs the real estate listings out of one of the racks in front of the Piggly Wiggly and regales me with various ads, as if it would be the most natural and obvious thing in the world for us to get into one of these places. I remind her that I am a teacher working in the state of North Carolina, which means that any second home we might be able to afford would have to be made of fabric or cardboard.

“Oh well, a girl can dream, can’t she?”

My favorite thing to do at Edisto is to walk out along the bay to watch the sun set and to see the dolphins playing about 50 yards or so off shore. I have yet to visit the bay and not see them there, and, of course, the sunsets are simply gorgeous. The kids like the dolphins, too, though they enjoy chasing the fiddler crabs after dark even more. By the time we leave, we have to use the flashlight to find our way back to the access, and both kids are coated in a film of sand and sea spray — there is no crevice, no nook, no cranny that the sand will not find, and no matter how thoroughly we shower and clean, there is always some residue. For weeks afterward, sand from the beach will spill out of shoes, hats, toys, and clothes, little souvenirs of our vacation.

If we can’t yet afford that place on Edisto, at least we can take a little of it back with us.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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For most people, Lorenzo Charles, who died last week in a bus accident at the age of 47, is little more than a footnote in sports history. If you are under the age of 35 or do not follow sports, you have probably never even heard of him. In some ways, Charles is the very definition of the old cliché “in the right place at the right time.” In the spring of 1983, it was Lorenzo Charles who caught a last second desperation shot by Wolfpack guard Dereck Whittenburg and stuffed it into the basket as time expired to give N.C. State the NCAA National Championship over the prohibitively favored Houston Cougars, a victory that is still regarded by most experts as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

The night Lorenzo Charles capped the most improbable run ever by a college basketball team with his last second heroics, I was in the basement of Owen Dorm on the N.C. State campus, surrounded by friends I had made during the previous two years when I was still a student at State. I had dropped out of school and drifted off, but not so far that I could not easily swim back for something this big. After all, these same friends and I had, during my freshman year, formed something called the HOZE Squad, which began as a way to get in on the 10-cent draft beer nights at a bar called Edwards Grocery (a promotion aimed at fraternities, but we found a loophole by ordering shirts with Greek letters. What could they say?).

There were about eight of us on the second floor of Owen Dorm, and we were all rabid sports fans, willing to camp out all night to get the best possible seats for football and basketball games. We wore our HOZE shirts on 10-cent draft night at Edwards Grocery, and we wore them to football and basketball games.

One sunny Saturday, one of us went to Radio Shack and saw a plastic fireman’s hat with a siren on top. Now the HOZE Squad had shirts and matching firemen’s helmets to wear to the games. Since we always sat in the first few rows of each game and were fairly raucous and creative in finding new ways to taunt and distract the opposing team, we soon began getting a lot of attention. The crowds at Reynolds Coliseum soon began taking cues more from us than the Wolfpack cheerleaders, so they eventually invited us to join forces with them to pump up the crowd.

Lorenzo Charles was still in high school that year, but it was Coach Jimmy Valvano’s first year at State, while Sidney Lowe, Dereck Whittenburg, and Thurl Bailey, who would form the nucleus for the 83 championship team, were all just sophomores. Led by Art Jones and Kenny Matthews, the team had a so-so year, finishing 14-13, but the next year, the team went 22-10 and made the NCAA tournament, losing in the first round.

Even though I was gone by the time the 1982-1983 season began, there were high hopes for the team going into the season, although the Virginia Cavaliers had this fellow named Ralph Sampson and the UNC Tar Heels had this other fellow named Michael Jordan. Bailey and Lowe were marginal prospects to play in the NBA, but neither had great star potential, and when Whittenburg went down during the regular season with a bad ankle, the season was in jeopardy. In fact, by the time Whittenburg returned, the team was pretty well mired in the lower middle of the conference standings and literally had to win the ACC Tournament to squeak into the field for the NCAA tournament.

Of course, the Wolfpack DID win the ACC tournament — they won three games by a grand total of 11 points, including wins over Jordan’s Tarheels and Sampson’s Cavaliers — and did earn a bid to the “big dance,” where they were slotted as a sixth seed in the West regional. The Pack was almost bounced out of the tournament in the very first game, as they were down by six points with less than a minute to go in a game against Pepperdine, but Pepperdine missed some key free throws and Cozell McQueen made a shot to put the game into a second overtime, ultimately resulting in a narrow escape for NC State in the first round.

There was even more danger the next round, when the Pack fell behind the favored Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, this time by 12 points with about 12 minutes to play, but once again State rallied and won 71-70 on a shot by Thurl Bailey with four seconds left in the game.

The “Cardiac Pack,” as someone dubbed them, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, where they had their one and only “ordinary” win, a 19-point win over Utah, which resulted in a rematch in the western regional final with the University of Virginia, ranked sixth in the nation and looking for revenge after the Wolfpack win in the ACC Tournament. Once again, State eked out a one-point win, 63-62, when Charles made two free throws with just seconds remaining in the game.

There is no way to overemphasize what a shock and delight it was to see N.C. State in the Final Four that year. Few, if any, fans expected anything more from that team at that time, especially with Houston and Louisville also in the Final Four. Luckily, those teams had to play each other in the semifinals, while State had Georgia in the other semifinal game. State did get by Georgia, while Houston, led by future NBA Hall of Fame players Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, looked every bit as dominant and scary as a college team featuring two future NBA Hall of Famers could possibly look in beating Louisville.

It has been nearly 30 years, and I still believe that if those two teams had played 10 more games after the championship game, Houston would have won all 10, most by double digits. But Valvano’s approach throughout the tournament had been to find a way to stay in the game, force other teams to make their free throws, and find a way to survive if they didn’t.

The only conceivable way State could hope to stay in the game was to control the tempo and get off to a good start, which they did by jumping out to a 32-25 halftime.

In the basement of Owen, we were about to come utterly unhinged. We were oh so close to winning it all, but we also knew that Houston could easily put up 50 or 60 points a half and win going away, as it had been expected to do.

Sure enough, the Cougars did rally and take a seven-point lead, but then the Wolfpack started to foul, a strategy that had served them well in getting to this point, and sure enough, the Cougars began missing their free throws. State eventually clawed to a 52-52 tie and had a chance to win the game in regulation, but the play Valvano had called broke down and all Dereck Whittenburg could do with time running out is fling up a wild shot from well beyond the top of the key.

That is when Lorenzo Charles changed our lives forever. When he stuffed the ball into the game and the buzzer sounded and Jim Valvano ran around the court looking for someone to hug, there was a frenzy of pure joy unlike anything that I have ever seen or felt. In the basement of Owen Dorm, everyone hugged everyone else. There were a lot of tears. People streamed out of the dorms and swarmed the campus, moving as one giant organism toward Hillsborough Street, where the party went on for hours and hours.

It was fitting that Lorenzo Charles had made the shot, and not Thurl Bailey or Sidney Lowe, because of how unlikely it all was. For the people who were there, Charles and the Wolfpack gave us an experience that we will never forget, a party to remember for the rest of our lives. For the HOZE Squad, eight guys who obsessed over the team as it developed over the course of three years into a national champion, Lorenzo Charles gave us something even more. He gave us a moment that any of us would name among the greatest of our entire lives, up there on the list where things like “birth of son” and “wedding” are listed, a notch below, perhaps, but JUST a notch.

On April 4, 1983, Lorenzo Charles taught us that literally anything can happen if you never give up. It sounds like some trite nonsense you would say to your child, perhaps half believing what you are saying, even as you say it. Except that we really do believe it. We believe it, because we saw it. We were there.

That’s why Charles’ death last week hit us hard. Oh, there were no more than a few Facebook posts to mark his passing among us, but there was a feeling in those posts that we all shared and all recognized. Lorenzo is gone too soon, but the spring of 1983 will burn brightly forever in our hearts. For us, he is no footnote; he’s an entire chapter, one we’ve dog-eared, highlighted, and committed to memory, a part of our very DNA.

May you rest in peace, Lorenzo Charles. The HOZE Squad says, “Thanks.”

(Chris Cox lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member.” When I graduated from high school, my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pattyrae Busic, gave me a beautiful edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and I believe this quote was one of the first I happened upon.

It obviously spoke to me, as I have straddled the barbed-wire fence between skepticism and outright cynicism about groups of all kinds ever since. I like people just fine one on one, but when you get more than two of them together at any given time and for any given purpose, the seeds of treachery and corruption are already sewn. Three is a crowd and four is a mob. I don’t think that’s in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but it ought to be.

It could be that you think on groups more favorably than I do. You think of the Girl Scouts, and I think of Hell’s Angels, the American Bar Association, and the Miami Heat. Even if I did think of the Girl Scouts, I am more apt to think of an unscrupulous mother dipping into a trust fund to buy four truckloads of Girl Scout cookies so her precious daughter can win a month’s worth of horseback riding lessons and get her picture in the paper in the same section with the newly engaged. Treachery.

Of course, I know there are worse groups than the Girl Scouts. I have nothing specifically against the Girl Scouts — my daughter is one, at least intermittently — but can they really be completely trusted in those cute little berets with their satchels full of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Crunch patties? Along they come every year, the little diet shatterers.

As I said, there are worse groups, much worse. In fact, perhaps no single group better illustrates the wisdom of Groucho Marx than politicians. I know, I know. I can feel 20,000 eyes rolling at the very mention of politics. Easy target. Low hanging fruit. Scooping fish out of a bathtub. Etcetera. But really, just when we think the fruit can’t hang any lower, along comes a John Edwards, a Newt Gingrich, or an Anthony Weiner to remind us of just how much we may have overestimated politicians, despite our best efforts to suspect the worst.

Edwards, of course, is really a peach, and a home-grown one at that. Here’s a guy who cheats on his wife, a wife who has battled cancer, and then tries to get points back because she was in remission when the affair occurred, according to him. He fathers a child with his mistress while running for President of the United States, blames it on one of his aides, and is ultimately indicted for using campaign money to cover it up. Yet, he certainly used his wife in the campaign while vehemently denying all of the allegations. Now he is finally admitting to most everything he had formerly denied except using the campaign money to cover it up, because that would be, you know, illegal. And he claims he did nothing illegal.

If he seems a little familiar, it may be that you knew a guy like Edwards in high school. Come on, you remember: He was the smarmy tennis player/student council president with perfect hair and no blemishes who used his older sister’s James Taylor records to seduce your girlfriend while you were out of town with your parents, later claiming “it was all her idea,” “he didn’t really want to,” and that you really ought to thank him for exposing her as a cheat now, before you go off to college and find out the hard way.

Then there is Gingrich, who has admitted cheating on his first two wives and seeking a divorce from one while she was recovering from cancer surgery. Nice. This is the same Gingrich who ran on a platform of “family values” while having an affair all the while during his 1992 campaign of terror against the Clintons. You probably knew a guy like Gingrich in high school. He was the preacher’s son who went to church every Sunday, but had a fifth of Jim Beam under his front seat and a stash of homegrown in the glove compartment. He may or may not have slept with your girlfriend, who may or may not be a lesbian, at the river party last weekend. Nobody can remember now, but the important thing is that he repented on Sunday, and he’s forgiven now, and, say, do you want a snort? He’ll skip history class if you will.

Finally, we have the unfortunately named Anthony Weiner (cue the Beavis and Butthead laugh-track), who just a week ago admitted sending lewd photographs of himself to various young women, even though he is still a newlywed and these young women barely knew him, if they knew him at all. There are poses of Weiner in his underwear all over the Internet, and earlier this week, President Obama suggested that he probably should resign, which Weiner said he would not do just before checking into a treatment facility, ostensibly for troubled, partially nude narcissists with uncontrollable impulses to photograph themselves for strangers.

Of course, you probably knew a guy just like Weiner in high school. He was the wrestling coach’s son, but also third in his class. He had a high IQ and 3 percent body fat and an ego about the size of Jupiter. All of this was a front for his terrible insecurity with women, which at least prevented HIM from stealing your girlfriend, who was too old for him. No, your little sister was more his speed. He would send her pictures of him wrestling, or photos of his ‘chiseled sixpack,’ impressive to some, but perhaps merely confusing to an eighth-grader.

Your sister: “Why is this guy sending me pictures of his belly? Gross!!!”

Gross indeed, all of them gross. Any one of them, you could probably handle, but get them all together and what do you have? The United States Congress. You want to be in that club, you’re welcome to it. I’ll take the Girl Scouts any day.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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(Atlanta, GA) — We don’t get out much. Unless “getting out” means running out to Taco Bell because the fish we were going to cook has gone bad and there’s nothing left to eat in the house except half of bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and an 8-ounce can of water chestnuts. Unless “getting out” means going to Taco Bell one night and the grocery store the next, we really don’t get out much.

We get out so little, in fact, that about a month ago, I decided that we had to do something about it, something pretty grand, at least by our standards. We would have to rearrange our hectic work schedules, carve out a 48-hour swath in one of our endlessly booked weeks, and go somewhere to do something. We had been promising the kids that we would take them to the aquarium in Atlanta for, oh, three or four years, and with my son, Jack, now heavily into the new baseball season — his team this year is the Braves — I thought we could work a little Major League baseball game into our trip.

The next thing you know, I was on eBay buying tickets for killer seats down the third base line for a day game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field, while Tammy was working on a package deal for tickets to the aquarium and a nearby hotel in downtown Atlanta. Within an hour, we had tickets to the game, tickets to the aquarium, and reservations at the hotel for the following weekend.

We left fairly early on Saturday morning to make sure we made it in time for the first pitch a little after 1 pm. Tammy and Kayden were going to drop us off near the gate on Henry Aaron Drive, and then go to the mall for manicures, white chocolate, and other mallstuffs. In particular, Kayden was keen on going to the American Girl doll store to look at American Girl dolls, and Tammy was keen on going anyplace where she would not have to watch baseball being played for three hours.

We made it nearly an entire hour early, time enough for Jack and me to eat a couple of $8 hotdogs and watch a little batting practice from the outfield bleachers before heading down to our fairly remarkable seats about 20 feet behind the Cardinals dugout. Jack was decked out in his Braves jersey and cap, and we settled in for a pretty exciting pitcher’s duel. Two older guys next to us had just returned from Afghanistan, and one of them, a youngish grandfatherly type probably in his late 50s, befriended Jack by feeding him peanuts and teasing him about not catching foul balls that landed nowhere near us.

“You should have got THAT one,” he said, as a ball off Matt Holiday’s bat landed three sections over and about 20 rows behind us. “You gotta reach higher if you want to go home with a ball.”

The Braves took an early lead, but the bullpen squandered it as the Cards broke through for two runs in the top of the eighth to win the game 3-2. Jack didn’t care that much. He got to see “the big guys,” and as the crowd began to clear out, he made his way down toward the Cardinal dugout looking for bottle caps, loose change, or any other exotic souvenirs of his first big league ballgame

“Hey, little buddy,” I heard a woman’s voice call out. She was sitting directly behind the dugout with four or five other elderly fans, possibly connected with the team in some way, from the looks of it. “Come here. I’ve got something for you.”

Jack walked over and she promptly handed him a baseball, one that had actually been used in the game and tossed up to her as the teams changed sides between innings. Jack accepted the ball as if an astronaut were handing him a moonrock. We thanked the nice woman profusely, and finally made our way outside to take pictures of Jack standing with the statue of Hank Aaron in front of the stadium.

The cell phone rang. I told Jack before I answered the phone that his mother and sister were lost.

“We’re completely lost,” said Tammy. “I’m pulling off to figure out where we are, and then we’ll be there soon, OK?”

With a bit of time to kill, Jack and I wandered around Turner Field until we saw a small group of people clustered at the back, evidently waiting for the players to appear and sign their pennants, programs, and such. We just missed catcher Brian McCann, but when starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez came out, I grabbed Jack and hoisted him up among the throng, and in just a few minutes, his ball was autographed.

“I guess we’re lucky your mom got lost,” I said. “But I wouldn’t say that in the car, if I were you.”

Tammy and Kayden had as much fun at the mall as we did at the game, and the aquarium was an even bigger hit the next day. We got home pretty late on Sunday, exhausted, nearly broke, and pretty far behind on our work. It would take us days and a series of late nights to catch up, and we knew it. By the time we crawled into bed, we could barely form a coherent sentence.

“We need to get out more often,” Tammy mumbled, before nodding off.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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The crane games are beautiful beasts, shiny and brightly lit, with a glass belly full of forlorn and lonely stuffed animals waiting to be rescued by obsessive 9-year-old girls with a pocketful of quarters and reasonably good aim. My daughter literally cannot walk past a crane game — not at Shoneys, not in a grocery store, not in an arcade or a Laundromat — without plastering herself like a sheet of badly laid wallpaper against the crane game, her nose pressed to the glass, looking in at the sad assortment of captive creatures, any one of which would be so very grateful to find its way to a little girl’s bed come nightfall.

“Oh daddy, oh daddy, oh daddy,” she half sings, half pleads.

How much is that doggie in the window? About $17, most likely, maybe more. I’m pretty sure that the crane game — or the claw game, as some people may call it — is fixed, set on some mysterious device deep in its internal organs to grip firmly enough to extract an animal from the teeming pile about one out of every 10 or perhaps 20 tries, and that is if the crane has been perfectly positioned by the victim, I mean operator, who has been feeding the crane game beast quarters like Ritz crackers for nearly half an hour.

More often, the crane attaches half-heartedly and very briefly to an extruding foot or arm, pulling it upward gently for just a moment so that the animal seems to be waving to the child, “save me, save me,” only to release the animal back to the pile, while the crane returns mechanically, even coldly, to its original position, waiting to be fed again.

My daughter, bless her, believes she has the game figured, the beast tamed. She doesn’t. She’s a 9-year-old version of Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman.” Willy figured he was a great salesman and couldn’t figure why he was having such a hard time making ends meet every month. In the end, he relied on his neighbor Charley to pay his bills, essentially to subsidize his illusion of success.

In our version of the play, I am Charley, paying for my daughter’s illusions and obsessions. On her bed are approximately 65 stuffed creatures of various species. Of these, I would say about half of these are the spoils of victory from the arcade and carnival game wars. She has taken in these orphans, made them her children, arranged them in a community in which she is both mayor and head nurse, tending to them and their unpredictable and never-ending assortment of ailments.

I look in on them at night when she is fast asleep, surrounded by them, submerged in them, a foot poking out from under an alligator’s snout, one arm around a koala bear with one ear. Now I find that I am the one with my nose pressed against the glass. Believe this: I’d scoop her out of there and keep her if I could. I’d use all the quarters I could find, all I could afford or borrow, play all night if necessary. But there is no crane above her bed — just a ceiling fan, marking time. I know all too well how this game is rigged. She’s growing up too fast, and there is no rescue I know of for that.

“Oh daddy, oh daddy, oh daddy.” Those eyes.

“Here, baby,” I mumble, fishing out whatever quarters there are in my pockets. “Are you going after that turtle?”

“Nope, the yellow bird.”

She feeds the beast, and studies the bird, moving the crane past it, and then back, a smidge too far, and then over just a sliver. She studies it some more, looking first on one side, and then the other. Perfect. She pushes the button and the crane descends, its massive jaws closing over the bird’s head and upper body, pulling it just slightly before letting go.

It’s the not the letting go that bothers me, I don’t suppose. As I said, I know the game’s rigged. It’s how easy the crane makes it look to let go. It’s infuriating, maddening. My daughter isn’t fazed in the least. She’ll get ‘em next time. She has it figured out.

“Wait right here,” I tell her. “I’ll get change for a dollar.”

We’ll play all night if we have to.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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One of the advantages of getting older is that you learn a few things if you pay attention. For example, when I was younger, I hid certain things about myself when I met someone I thought I might be interested in dating. My dislike of cheese of all kinds. My knobby knees. The general slovenliness of my apartment and car. My ability to recite entire episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” from memory. My crush on Stevie Nicks.

I thought that disclosure of these quirks was best saved for later, perhaps quite a bit later, after we had had a kid or two and it seemed a bit safer. Of course, there is no such thing as “safer” when it comes to the minefield of relationships, where failure to disclose even the most seemingly harmless of quirks can be and often is interpreted as a form of manipulation, if not outright treachery.

“Yes, I appreciate that you are sensitive and know the right temperature for Petit Syrah,” she will say. “I don’t mind that every time you see Terry Finger, you start quoting lines from Ernest T. Bass or “Green Acres” and then laugh like a drunk hyena. That I can live with. But I will not spend my life with a man who will not eat lasagna as God intended it to be eaten, WITH cheese.”

That is why I told Tammy on our very first date about my fantasy sports thing. We were at a Chinese restaurant, where she pretended to enjoy Chinese food and I pretended to understand portion control. Otherwise, I intended to come clean about my fantasy sports thing.

At first, she was just confused. She thought I was saying that I fantasized about playing professional sports, something I have not done since puberty, when Stevie Nicks booted Steve Garvey out of the ‘obsession room’ in my brain — and believe me, it’s a pretty big room — taking up residence there for about the next four years, until I met a girl named Kim on a school trip to Washington, D.C. By then, my gargantuan baseball card collection had been collecting dust in the attic for some time.

Anyway, at the age I am now, I am more apt to fantasize about getting out of the bed in morning with no back pain that I am to fantasize about roaming center field for the Dodgers.

I explained to her that I am part of a group of guys who get together two times per year, every year, to draft teams for our fantasy league, which has been going on for better than 10 years now. Every October, we meet in Raleigh to draft our basketball teams, and every March, we meet here in Western North Carolina to draft baseball teams. I told her that these two days of the year were sacrosanct and were a non-negotiable part of any relationship we might (or might not) be having. Except that was not exactly how I put it. What I said was, “This really means a lot to all the guys, and I don’t have that many friends, and I want you to know right now how important it is to me that YOU have friends that you can do things with and I especially want to stress how welcome your parents would be if they ever wanted to come visit us.”

And then I gave her the last fake crabmeat wonton.

In our seven years together, she has been great about my fantasy sports thing, tolerating the glossy $9 magazines with Albert Pujols on the cover, smiling patiently when I am late to the table for dinner because I am still on the phone with my friend, Tim, debating the merits of choosing a shortstop with some pop or a five tool outfielder in the upcoming draft.

For the last two years, she has even agreed to let me host the draft at our home. She and the kids make plans for the weekend, get out of Dodge, and give us the run of the place. The draft takes just about an entire day, with guys sweating out each pick, looking up statistics on the Internet, contrasting those notes with their own notes, flipping through magazines and injury reports, comparing this player with that player. The intensity is maddening.

The beer helps some. And the NCAA tournament, which we either watch or keep one eye on, depending on whether somebody’s team is still alive and playing. By bedtime, we have our teams, which we study and analyze like a teenage boy looking at his first car, with a sense of awe and wonder and rich possibility. This team could WIN. This could be the year. I think that shortstop was the right pick.

As this pertains to relationships, I would simply say this. We are all complete weirdos about something. Along with “for better or worse,” the phrase “for normal or weird,” should be added to the marriage vows. I’ve got fantasy sports and my record collection. She’s got the Dave Matthews Band and reality shows about wedding cakes.

‘Til death do us part.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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