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op frSome people complain all the time, about everything. They complain about the weather, the price of gasoline, their neglectful friends, the ratio of cashews in the average can of mixed nuts. Everything is a conspiracy against them. 

Road construction makes them late for work, as do you, if you are driving in front of them and dare to put on your brakes to avoid hitting a stray dog, or maybe a family crossing the street. The president’s State of the Union address is causing them to miss “American Idol,” and tonight’s episode is PIVOTAL!

op frThe reason that the death of Robin Williams seemed so particularly shocking, so cruel, even so personal, very nearly like a betrayal, is that when we think of him — his body of work, his persona, everything we know about him — our very first thought is of an irrepressible life force the likes of which we have never seen on the stage or screen. It was obvious from the very first minute that he captured America’s imagination as Mork from Ork on the 1970s television sitcom “Happy Days” that Williams was that rarest of birds — a complete original. He would remain so for nearly 40 years, not only continuing to find new ways to make us laugh, but by taking unexpected turns into drama, revealing depths that we hadn’t been able to imagine, perhaps giving us a glimpse of the darkness deep inside that eventually pulled him under.

op frEDISTO ISLAND, S.C. – My daughter has ordered an elaborate omelet, with spinach and cheese and who knows what else, but she seems to have lost all interest in actually eating it. 

Instead, she pokes listlessly at one edge, as if her plate has an invisible fence around it and she is guiding the omelet toward the gate, trying to help it escape. Though we are only a little over two days into our weeklong summer vacation and enjoying our first meal out, she is also dreaming of escape. Her omelet has become a metaphor.

“Daddy,” she says with a laden sigh, “I’m ready to go back to North Carolina.”

op frThere are movies that I simply cannot turn off once I stumble into them when I am switching channels, which I do whenever there is a commercial, as men have been hardwired to do since the dawn of the remote control. One of those movies is “Fargo,” by the Coen brothers, which I consider to be one of the five best movies ever made. Another is “Tombstone,” a western that I do not really even consider to be a very good movie, though it does contain an astonishing performance by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday.

In fact, it is Kilmer’s Holliday that compels me to keep watching every time I find “Tombstone” on cable. I can tell within five seconds exactly where we are in the movie, what scene featuring Holliday will come up next, and what the dialogue is in that scene, even when Holliday and his nemesis Johnny Ringo are trading ominous bits of Latin in their first encounter in the Oriental Saloon.

op coxA few weeks ago, my brother called me to ask if I thought he should apply for the job as president of Wilkes Community College. I have been teaching in the community college system for 23 years and was a dean for several years, so he thought I might have some special insight.

op frThe kids and I are in this strange new bonding phase of our relationship. For years, they displayed not the slightest interest in my personal history, even shrugging in absolute indifference when relatives pulled out old Polaroids to demonstrate the uncanny resemblance between me and them when I was their age.

Or we might be in the car, and an old song would come on the radio and remind me of a funny college story, which I would immediately begin narrating until it got sucked down and drowned in a vortex of moans and groans from the back seat.

op frFriday afternoon on the deck. The kids are home from school, and the three of us are enjoying another beautiful spring day, watching the squirrels and chickadees compete for the bird seed strewn all over the deck, thanks to the regular suicide runs the squirrels make for the feeder in spite of the best efforts of our miniature dachshund, who patrols this area with alarming vigor, to deter them. We call him “The Sheriff.”

The kids have bowls of chocolate ice cream with M&Ms, and I am enjoying a rare glass of red wine. In the background, Ryan Adams is singing about trains derailing and love lost and how he wants to be somebody’s firecracker. Jack has a chocolate moustache.

op shoneysIf someone had told me 30 years ago that someday I’d be sentimental about a Shoney’s restaurant closing down, I would have laughed out loud and accused them of being delusional. I guess I’ve always had a soft spot for their potato soup and hot fudge cakes, which I used to order as a kid when my parents took us there on infrequent trips out of town, but it is nothing I’d ever get misty-eyed over, anymore than I would over a three-piece original recipe chicken plate from Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Then again, 30 years ago, I could not have foreseen the unlikely role Shoney’s would wind up playing in my family history. Not just any Shoney’s, but this particular Shoney’s, sitting high on its perch in Waynesville like an enormous neon bird watching over the bustling traffic on U.S. 23-74 while keeping one wary eye on Lowe’s across the way.

op frWe had talked about going to Disney World for so long that it had become an abstraction, so distant and unreal that we might as well have been talking about taking a trip to Saturn. Still, the notion kept forcing itself upward though our cluttered and chaotic family life and back into our consciousness, like a dandelion that finds a way to grow through a crack in the sidewalk.

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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