Misery’s Hometown

The Braves have much to do with Atlanta being named Forbes' "Most Miserable Sports City". But so do the Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers...

In case the nasty weather, Republican primaries, spiraling deficit or the Oscars didn’t already make you feel like a snail’s slime trail, the good editors at Forbes have a little something to help you completely over the edge of the cliff.

Behold, Atlanta – the most miserable sports city in the United States.

That’s right, as if our private shame weren’t enough, Forbes has compounded the humiliation by dragging our futility on the field into the national spotlight. Just when the eternal hope of Spring Training and the NFL Draft were coming into sight, the magazine that’s all about money drags us backward into the horrific past: the Braves’ epic September collapse; the Falcons flop in New York; the Thrashers “relocation” to some fictional Canadian town; and the Hawks…well, the Hawks in general.

So just how is misery calculated?

“Our unique sports misery methodology isn’t focused on long-term futility… This is about misery as defined by heartbreak — teams good enough to win a lot of games and advance through the post-season, only to disappoint fans in the end by falling short of a championship. Which cities have endured that the most?  No one tops Atlanta, a combined 1-5 in World Series and Super Bowl play, not to mention numerous post-season flops in earlier rounds.”

Oh. Well, then, yeah – that’s us.

But that’s not all that’s miserable about Atlanta, right? I mean, if we’re going to pile on, let’s really pile it on. To wit:

  • Horrible traffic. On the level of Greek tragedy horrible, sort of a combo-platter of Prometheus in a Prius.
  • Air quality. My daughter is asthmatic. So are almost 80% of her friends it seems. When I was a kid we had one asthmatic in the entire school, and he only had an attack once every five years. Now, my kid barely makes it two months without some sort of pulmonary emergency, and a large part of that has to do with being number 10 on this list.
  • Transplants. Not the save-your-life-because-someone-was-kind-enough-to-donate-their-organs kind, but the kind that can be frequently overheard complaining about how “backwards”, “redneck”, “stupid”, or “hillbilly” we are “down here.” Nothing kills the simple joy of an overpriced coffee drink like some transplant wishing they’d stayed in whatever city they came from.
  • Georgia Tech. Not really, but the UGA alum in me can’t resist.
  • Road construction. As the late Lewis Grizzard once said, it’s like Sherman came back from the dead and brought jackhammers and bulldozers with him.
  • Gnats. And their insipid cousin the mosquito.
  • Local TV weather reporters. Just because someone in McCaysville saw a snowflake, it doesn’t mean we 23 news vans canvassing the state, looking for another frozen raindrop to fall. Plus, you just look silly standing out there in your hats.

I suppose I could go on, but to do so would mean further running down the place I call home. So we don’t have a Super Bowl title yet, or an NBA title, or even an NHL franchise. We still get Augusta National in the Spring, plus SEC football in the fall, the natives are still polite if not quite politically correct, and the rest of the modern world is starting to catch up on the fact that there are other Southern cooks besides Paula Deen. Plus, we’re home to the wonderful nectar that is Co-Coler.

So keep your sports titles Boston, New York, L.A., Dallas and St. Louis. That’s about all you’ve got going for you anyway.

Well, not really. But it feels better to say that.

You Just Never Know (Updated With Funeral Arrangments)

We went shoe shopping tonight, but that doesn’t really matter. I tell you that only to give you the context for what follows. When we got home, I was tired, irritated and just not feeling very well. As I mentioned in my earlier blog today, I’ve been re-visiting some old memories in an effort to revise and release a memoir on my daughter, Ruthanne, and it’s been a bit tougher than I anticipated. It got tougher still when I checked Facebook once I got home.

I had a message from a friend of mine, Tim, who is a youth pastor in Alabama. We both served at the same church in 1998-1999, me as the youth minister, he as children’s. Tim is a good man, a good husband and a good father. So I was pleasantly surprised to see a message from him.

Then the pleasantness went away.

Jason, don’t know if you’ve heard yet or not, but Karl Turner was killed today. Google crane accident atlanta.

The wind went out of me. I called Rachel over and read the message to her.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “That just gave me chills.”

I Googled exactly what Tim said, and sure enough, there were plenty of articles about an accident today in Atlanta, where two workers were killed after a forty foot fall from a 80-ft. tall bucket lift. I went through three different links before I found what I was looking for on AJC.com:

The men, Rigoberto Lopez, 29, and Karlos Turner, 42, were working in what was described by emergency workers as an 80-foot lift. The lift was on Dallas Street off the 500 block of Glen Iris Drive when it fell over at about 1 p.m., officials at the scene said.

The men died from the fall…

I don’t know Rigoberto Lopez. I knew Karl Turner. I won’t pretend that we were best friends, but Karl was the worship leader at the same church where Tim and I served together. He was a good man. He was a good father. He was kind, and generous, and loved to laugh. Mostly, when I think of Karl, I just think about his humility. He wasn’t a braggart. He wasn’t brash. He was just a good man.

And now he’s gone.

I spoke to my students last night about death, how it’s the inescapable destination for all of us. We talked about the fact that death isn’t something to be taken lightly, and that even teenagers need to think about it at least on some level, because it will touch us all in some way. I told them that sometimes I feel as though I’m too familiar with it, because it seems like a month never goes by without my learning of someone passing away.

I believe it even more now.

Tonight, in Dallas, Georgia, a wife, a daughter, and a son are trying to comprehend the unfathomable: that their beloved husband and father is gone. If you have a moment, please take some time to pray for them – for tonight and the days ahead. And while you’re at it, pray for all of us, because you just never know.

You really just never know.

**Update: The arrangements for Karl‘s funeral and visitation have been set. Visitation will be at Carmichael Funeral Home on Saturday, December 3, from 2-4 PM and 6-8 PM. The funeral will be held at Karl’s home church, Elizabeth Baptist, at 2 PM on Sunday, December 4.**

Prayer For Alabama – And For Us

This is Tuscaloosa, Alabama a few hours ago. My wife has friends and family there, and the news isn’t good. The city is devastated, with several buildings simply gone. It only gets worse from there; the damage across the state, and all over the Southeast, is unspeakable. And it touches home in so many ways – our associate pastor’s wife has family in Cordova, Alabama and while her family is safe, she’s heard that her hometown has been obliterated. And the night isn’t over yet.

The storm line is moving rapidly into Atlanta, where I live, and the news reporters are all over the TV trying to emphasize just what’s coming our way. In some ways, it feels like a scene from an apocalyptic movie – people breathlessly watching the skies as an unknown and unstoppable force moves through the night devastating the people in its path.

I’m not the hysterical type – I tend to think that I’ll just go to bed here in a bit and wake up tomorrow like nothing ever happened. But for thousands of people tonight, the words I spoke to my students just an couple of hours ago seem freakishly prescient:

“Every day is life or death. We tend to think that everything is fine because we live comfortable lives with homes and cars and food. But for countless people all over the world, they don’t know when their next meal will come. Or if they get a next meal, whether or not that meal will kill them. There are places on earth where the next child born has a 99% chance of having HIV or AIDS and most likely won’t live past 16 years old. Life and death. We live with that reality every day. And God knows this. He knows and it’s why He isn’t content for us to come to Him; it’s why He left his glory behind and came to earth to take our sin on himself – and not just the sin of the people who would believe, but even the ones who would spit and cuss and deny God with their last breath. God died for them anyway because He loves them, and wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Life or death. We really do live on that edge. May God grant grace for those who find that edge too thin this evening, and may His people show compassion to those left behind.

How to Beat the Snowed-In Blues

Here in Atlanta, this has become a reality in many homes...

We’ve been snowed in our house for the last three days. It’s been fun, but the kids are finally starting to get bored with being inside, and my wife and I are beginning to wonder if we should redirect money from retirement into tuition for a good European Boarding school. To prevent us from shipping our kids to the KinderStalag in Dminsk, Prussia, we’ve decided to direct our creative energies towards some simple, homemade solutions that can keep the whole family entertained. I offer them up as suggestions for others who are stuck inside here in Atlanta or in other cold places. Like the South Pole.

  1. Hide the Baby: each of the older people in the house take turns hiding the youngest member of the household, then the rest of the family tries to find him/her. This works great until you forget where you hid the little booger.
  2. Mommy’s Shoe Shuffle: let the kids get into your master bedroom closet and rearrange Mommy’s shoe tree, the one with 327 pairs just hanging there. Then, time Mommy to see how quickly she can re-match each shoe with its missing mate. Or, time Mommy and see which happens faster–her finding each matching shoe or bursting into tears while Googling “divorce attorneys cheap”.
  3. Skype Daddy: can’t get Daddy away from the computer? Just Skype him from the next room. He’s sure to pay attention to you once you appear on his laptop screen!
  4. Porcelain Rescue: give your toddler a Ziploc bag full of small items (like all of your daughter’s Polly Pockets stuff, let’s say…) and then open the door to the master bathroom. Give the weeble-wooble five minutes, and then give mommy, daddy and the siblings 45 seconds to see how many pieces they can fish out of the potty before it gets flushed. Bonus points are given if the plumber does not get called.
  5. Thomas the Tank Engine Drinking Game: every time you hear a whistle toot, you do a shot of apple juice.
  6. Whale’s Tail: everyone puts on their favorite jeans and then you measure to see who’s butt has gotten the biggest.
  7. Kelly Slater Clicker Invitational: see who can surf through the channels in the least amount of time. Bonus points for every show you can name without having to stop and watch.
  8. Pimp My Toy: take apart as many toy cars as possible, then use the different pieces to create as many new models as possible.
  9. Match the Streak: let both of the kids run around the house as fast as possible – naked.
  10. Family Night RAW: basically, every man for himself wrestling. Just remember not to pinch, bite, slap or tackle the kids. It’s okay with your spouse.

So, how do you and your family pass the time when you can’t get out of the house?

How Lewis Grizzard Changed My Life

I was filing out an application for a men’s mentoring program today (it’s with the C.S. Lewis Institute here in Atlanta), and among the many questions I had to answer was this:

20. What book, other than the Bible, has had the greatest impact on your life? Explain why.

It took me a while to think of it, but once I settled on my answer, I was amazed at just how much that one little book changed the trajectory of my future. This is not spiritual, at least not on the surface, but the book that most changed my life was Lewis Grizzard’s Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.

I first read the book when I was in the sixth grade. My mother bought it as a pleasure read, but never quite got around to it. Something about the yellow paperback’s cover, a picture of Grizzard with a thermometer in his mouth and ice pack on his head, struck me as fascinating, and I quietly snuck the book out of my mom’s room and read it in one afternoon. I remember that I laughed at all of the jokes – even though this was an adult book with adult humor, everything resonated with me. It was the first glimpse of a truth about me: that I identified better with the generation ahead of me than I did with my own peers. My sensibilities, sense of humor, interests, observations, politics, and manners were more Baby Boomer than Gen X and I felt the same thing I felt when I stayed inside to listen to my parents and grandparents talk while the other kids went to play: that I was at home.

I loved the language, the irreverence, the risky-but-not-overt humor that everyone knew wasn’t like Mama’s but wouldn’t make Mama blush if she heard it; I loved the way that Grizzard was able to tell me about his plain life and make me interested. I had never read non-fiction before that (unless you count the Bible and my school books), and I had always assumed that non-fiction was boring. This opened up my eyes to the truth about story—narrative is the ebb and flow of all life, not just the stuff creative people make up. Grizzard’s book showed me that the average person is the central character in his or her own story while simultaneously being a major and/or minor character in countless other stories.

But I suppose what really makes this book most transformational in my life is the sheer fact that it made me want to write like Grizzard. I became a huge fan of his column in the AJC, and when it came time to select a career, and the college that would help prepare me for it, I followed in Lewis’ footsteps and chose the University of Georgia, majoring in Journalism. I gave up on that dream after my freshman year, but Lewis Grizzard’s book was so central to my choice that I never bothered considering any other school. It was UGA all the way.

I still find myself writing in the Grizzard tradition. I enjoy writing fiction, but I find that most of the time I connect best with people when I write in that columnist, everyman-observer, Southern boy style. I’ve found that I can write about anything that I want and be funny, serious, emotive, or all of the above within a single piece and people identify with it and embrace it. If I could have a career writing essays or columns that deal with my life as a parent or pastor or husband or Southern gentleman, I would be among the happiest men in the world, and I think in part it comes back to my salvation: I want to know that my life contributed something to the lives of others. My life – not what other people might expect from me, but who I am inside, no filters for public consumption.

I could go on, but in ways I couldn’t articulate, Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself was the awakening of the man I wanted to become, the man I am still striving to be. It remains a book that I read on a regular basis, even though some of the jokes aren’t as funny anymore; I can see in Grizzard a spiritual emptiness that leads to bitterness that I never noticed before, and it makes me sad for him, even as I determine to go in the opposite direction. But the book still reminds me of the stirring inside me to tell stories, to write well, to connect with people in a way that earns me an audience and the privilege to write about what I see is funny or true or meaningful or important about life. And it compels me to continue working toward the goal of being a published author, no matter how stacked the odds are against me. It is part of my purpose, I suppose, and Lewis Grizzard helped me find it.