This Town

I am technically considered a baby boomer; I was born in one of the last years that falls into that classification. But I’ve never felt like a child of any decade other than the 1980’s; even though I remember the 1960’s I was too young to be anything other than a passive observer. Likewise, most of the 1970’s I was young-ish; I graduated from high school in 1978 while I was still sixteen (turning seventeen the first week of college), and not turning twenty-one until 1982. So, if anything, I was probably mostly shaped by the 1980’s, even though I wasn’t a child of that decade. The 1980’s changed and shaped me and what I went through in that decade probably had the biggest impact on the person I was to become. The 1980’s were an interesting decade–horrific in some ways, terrific in others–but without question, I always think of the Go-Go’s when I think of that decade.

I remember the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio; it was different from anything else in the transitioning world of music; disco was dying everywhere except gay bars and so was operatic hard rock. New wave and punk were starting to make their presences felt on the charts, and of course the launch of MTV changed the world of popular music forever. I bought the Beauty and the Beat album the day it was officially released, at Tower Records on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno (I spent a lot of money in that Tower Records over the years). I loved it. It was one of the few albums I played cover-to-cover, over and over again. I wound up buying their albums on their release dates (alas, in the 1980’s there were only two more–Vacation and Talk Show–before they broke up the first time and an era ended), saw them multiple times in concert, and even bought their solo recordings (Jane Wiedlin’s solo recordings are spectacular and never got the attention they deserved).

I was distraught when they broke up.

So, naturally, when I heard Holly West was doing an anthology of crime stories based on the music of the Go-Go’s, I unashamedly contacted her and asked if I could write one for her. (I never do this, by the way. I will submit to open calls, but I never directly contact an editor to ask if I can write something for them.) Much to my delight, she said yes, gave me a list of song titles to choose from, and I picked “This Town.”

I honestly don’t know where the story came from. I cued up Beauty and the Beat on my computer one morning and blasted it while cleaning…listened to “This Town” on repeat a couple of times, and then sat down at the computer and started writing the story.

I was rather pleased with it, and so was Holly. The rest is history.

And when I found out Jane Wiedlin had written an introduction and the book was blurbed by 80’s MTV veejay Alan Hunter…what a fucking thrill.

And here’s the opening, for a taste.

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

 She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitated. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her, wanting to be her friends, to be her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras, and wasn’t from New Orleans.

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Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Paul leaves today for a week to visit his mother and family. I don’t mind being alone–well, alone except for an exceptionally needy cat–and so hopefully I will find the time to get things done. I managed almost three thousand words on the book last night, and I have some more work to do on the Scotty and the short story collection. If I focus–and I know I can–there should be no reason whatsoever that I can’t get all of this revising and editing and some writing done over the course of the week he’s going to be gone. I am hoping that my weird issue with the original back-up hard drive can be resolved by simply plugging it in to Paul’s computer this evening and then moving everything on it to the Cloud–and I will definitely need to spend some time cleaning up my iCloud drive. I tend to simply move stuff there and just leave it, so it isn’t very organized. I am really angry at myself for not being as anal this year about backing things up as I’ve been in the past, and while I know I’ve lost some things, I am hopeful that most everything that might be gone (the flash drive is gone forever, I fear) should be recovered from that backup hard drive.

Heavy heaving sigh. But must keep focused, must keep moving forward, must get things done.

I suppose one of the best things about not having published much (if at all) in the last few years is that there’s nothing lost permanently, at any rate. And I’ve printed most of everything out–people mock me for this, but you know what? It’s not as easy to lose a printed copy of something as it is apparently for electronic back-ups to disappear in the blink of an eye.

I was very pleased that I was able to log all those words last night while Paul packed. While it was a bit of a slog, and they aren’t good words by any means, I also realized last night before I went to bed that it’s a first draft and many times a first draft is just me vomiting up story and setting and characters; the real work begins with the second draft as I flesh the characters out and tie up the story and delete diversionary secondary stories that never go anywhere. I had wanted to have the first draft finished by the end of November–which plan turned out to be a complete and utter failure–but I would like to get the first draft finished by the end of December so I can get something else going after the first of the year. I’m hoping to be able to get back to the WIP, maybe get it all finished and tied up in a lovely loop by the end of February, and start getting it sent out to prospective agents in the new year.

Here’s hoping, at any rate.

And on that short note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I am hoping to get some of the next chapter done this morning before I take Paul to the airport on my way to work.

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I’ll Be There

Thursday–the last full day of work for me this week; Fridays I only work half-days. The weekend looms on the horizon, and in theory, my life should be settling down into a normal routine next week at the day job after weeks of never being completely certain what I would be working the next day. For someone who is an utter control freak about time and scheduling, this has been torturous for me. For some reason I crave structure; I have to be at the office at this time, I can go to the grocery store here and then I can come home and spend this time writing and this time cleaning and this time watching television, relaxing.

And yet I also don’t like being caught in a routine, a rut, if you will.

I am nothing if not a writhing mass of contradictions.

But, like with audiobooks, an old dog can learn a new trick every now and then.

I am currently rereading Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, which I originally read in the 1970’s. The 1970’s was, for some reason–probably all the upheaval of that decade and attempts to recover from the social unrest of the previous decade–a decade of weird conspiracy theory and even more peculiar science; the Bermuda Triangle, UFO’s, Area 54, ancient aliens, etc. I used to read a lot of these books, mainly because they were interesting, even though there were frequently enormous gaps and huge leaps of logic required to follow the authorial reasoning to the points they were trying to make in those days; and even as a teenager I often spotted these logistical flaws. But the concept behind Chariots of the Gods? was one that I was interested in, and while von Däniken’s writing style (in fairness, the book was written in German and translated) left something to be desired, one thing I took away from the book in the first place was the realization that exclamation points used in non-fiction usually means most of the reasoning is bullshit.

(I also loved the movie Stargate, which can probably be directly traced back to reading Chariots of the Gods?)

I kind of love these theories, though, even as I recognized they are problematic. A lot of human history isn’t recorded, and so we are left, for the most part, to wonder about the origins and rise of Egyptian civilization, or what life was like in Ur, or how the idea for written communication began or where it came from, and so forth. I also remember one of the reasons I was partly drawn into the whole Chariots of the Gods? things in the first place was because one of the “sites” he tried to explain away as being designed for ancient astronauts were the strange lines on the plan of Nazca, in Peru–which I had read about in the forty-fourth Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher. (In retrospect, I am also horribly disappointed neither Nancy or the Hardy Boys–in the original series–never went to Egypt; both Rick Brant and Biff Brewster did, in The Egyptian Cat Mystery and Egyptian Scarab Mystery, respectively.)

But, as I said, even I, a relatively uneducated and unformed preteen, could spot fallacies in logic and reasoning in the book. It was made into a TV special, In Search of Ancient Astronauts, and then a feature film with the same name as the book. Von Däniken wrote several more books–turning it into a virtual cottage industry–but I never read beyond the first.

I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article on Von Däniken’s racism, and that his theories were based in racism (you can read it here), and as I read through the piece, nodding, I was also amazed at how it never occurred to me that essentially, Von Däniken’s theories were predicated on racism and asserting white supremacy by erasing the historical accomplishments of ancient, non-white civilizations. So, I checked the book out of the library to reread it and look for the racial coding–plus, to see if there are as many irrational and illogical leaps made as I remember.

And I also can’t stop thinking about the Bermuda Triangle and other conspiracy theories that were huge in the 1970’s…and wondering why the 1970’s was such a fertile ground for pseudoscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Real Love

Thursday morning feeling fine. How’s about you and your’n?

I wrote another chapter of Bury Me in Satin last night, and it’s….rough. But it’s a first draft, and usually I use the first draft as more of an extended outline rather than anything else; to get the story out, get a feel for the characters, and work out subplots and whether they work or not. The story, which has swirled amorphously in my mind for years now, is starting to emerge from those shadows and take shape, which is kind of cool (even after however many books it is I’ve written, this still amazes me every time it happens).

The day job move continues apace; yesterday I worked at the main office, helping to pack up stuff and clear things out–as with any move, it’s startling to see how much has accumulated over the years, and stuff that needed to be either shredded or thrown away years ago somehow just got put in a box and filed away somewhere. We all do this, I know; there’s nothing like moving to force you to purge.

I managed to borrow a copy of Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon from my friend Susan yesterday, and I am really looking forward to reading it. I can’t believe, as I have said many times recently, how little actual New Orleans history I’ve read; the only actual history I’ve read is the delightful Frenchmen Desire Goodchildren, John Churchill Chase’s brilliant history of the city, told through how the streets were named; and given the unique and strange street names we have here, it makes for a fun read. I highly recommend it; I may even need to take another read through its pages at some point. One of the most interesting things–to me at any rate–is how little mention there is of queer New Orleans history in so many of these books. It’s hinted at obliquely, or in passing–veiled references to “sodomy shows” and the occasional side reference to male prostitutes in Storyville in Empire of Sin–and even looking through the indexes of some of these books you find no mention of sodomy, homosexuality, or any of the other key secret words you would expect to find–which means my research is going to be difficult if not nigh impossible. But the best news about this is I have so many friends and connections in the city with research–I have a lot of friends at the Historic New Orleans Collection; I have friends who are local historians; and of course there are enormous archives at the UNO library, the public library, and at Tulane.

The only question is when will I have the time to do this research?

Time for me is always the question. And while I self-deprecate and self-lacerate a lot about my laziness, the truth is I just don’t have a lot of spare time–and I can’t work non-stop. You have to be able to recharge, relax, and rest, otherwise the work you do isn’t going to be much good.

But once the day-job move is over and I settle into yet another new weekly schedule and adapt, I think I’ll be able to get things going. And I am really looking forward to spending more time in the library.

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Keep on Walkin’

I’ve never really thought I could write personal essays (or non-fiction, for that matter). They never held much appeal to me, as either a reader or as a writer.

A lot of this has to do with my checkered educational history; for someone who aspired to be a writer, it now amazes me how many college professors desperately tried to stomp that aspiration out of me–yet at the same time, it enormously pleases me that I proved them all WRONG. When I first started college, the week before my seventeenth birthday, my basic English Comp class required us to spend the first day writing an essay, predicated around the question you are going to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island, what three people and three things would you take with you, and why? I don’t remember what I wrote; I know one of the people was Stephen King so he could keep writing books to entertain me. But the end result of that essay was me being moved from Basic Comp to Honors English. This was not only a surprise but exciting; whomever that professor was, he recognized my ability! 

Honors English, however, turned out to be a horrific nightmare…as did all of my experiences with the English department of that particular college. My new professor–whom I shall never forget, like I shall never forget my first creative writing professor at that benighted plague of a university–was, quite frankly, a moron. There were only twelve of us in the class; she advised us on the very first day that she never gave A’s because that left no room for improvement. I was not an Honors student, so this didn’t phase me, but it caused a lot of discomfort in my extremely-driven-by-GPA classmates. And she stuck to that; none of us ever got an A on any of our essays or papers, and she certainly didn’t teach us anything. My essays were shredded by her on a regular basis; she also liked to proclaim that we would never get so honest an opinion on our writing as we got from her, and even as a naive teenager, I sensed that she took malicious pleasure in being as nasty as she could with our work. We never got anything productive or useful from her; no editorial guidance whatsoever; just nasty condescending commentary in red ink on our papers. That, coupled with a kinder yet equally unhelpful professor in the second semester of Honors English Comp, convinced me that I would never be able to write non-fiction; that writing essays and personal essays were a skill set I neither possessed, nor could learn.

Thanks for that, bitches.

And when you factor in the creative writing professor the next semester who told me I’d never publish…well, you can see why I became absolutely disinterested in college and it just became something else I had to endure and get through.

So, as I grew older and evolved and continued reading and pursuing from time to time my desire to write, I avoided nonfiction and essays. I was never going to write them, I wasn’t any good at them, so why bother? This negative perception continued throughout my life until a friend told me, several years ago, that you write a personal essay on your blog every day. I’d even written and published some, yet I still had that wall up in my mind: I’m not smart enough. I’m not clever enough. Anything I have to say has already been said better by someone else. Anything point I’d try to make would get the response “well, duh, LOSER.”

I started reading Joan Didion last year, beginning with her book Miami, and suddenly, began to see essays in an entirely new light.

This is a book about books. To try that again, it is a book about my fatal flaw: that I insist on learning everything from books. I find myself wanting to apologize for my book’s title, which, in addition to embarrassingly taking part in a ubiquitous publishing trend by including the word girls, seems to evince a lurid and cutesy complicity in the very brutality it critiques. If I can say one lame thing in my defense, it is that I wanted to call this book Dead Girls from the moment I realized I was writing it, in the spring of 2014 I wrote an essay on the finale of the first season of True Detective, trying to parse a category of TV I identified as the Dead Girl Show, with Twin Peaks as this genre’s first and still most notable example. People seemed to like that essay, so I understood that Dead Girls was something I could hitch my wagon to.

So begins Alice Bolin’s Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession. To be honest, while I greatly enjoyed reading this book, I didn’t find that most of the essays were, in fact, about ‘surviving an American obsession’; I thought this was going to be a lengthy look at how the trope of dead girls runs through, and is repeatedly used, over and over, in all aspects of crime fiction; be it a television show, novels, or films. Bolin instead extrapolates her theme to encompass society as a whole, and I’m not entirely sure she succeeds.

Didion, on the other hand, opens this way:

This book is called Slouching Towards Bethlehem because for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem which appears two pages back have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there. The widening gyre, the falcon which does not hear the falconer, the gaze blank and pitiless as the sun; those have been my points of reference, the only images against which much of what I was seeing and hearing and thinking seemed to make any pattern. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is also the title of one piece in the book, and that piece, which derived from some time spent in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, was for me the more imperative of all these pieces to write and the only one that made me despondent after it was printed. It was the first time I had dealt directly and flatly with the evidence of atomization, the proof that things fall apart: I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder. That was why the piece was so important to me. And after it was printed I saw that, however directly and flatly I thought I had said it, I had failed to get through to many of the people who read and even liked the piece, failed to suggest that I was talking about something more general than a handful of children wearing mandalas on their foreheads. Disc jockeys telephoned my house and wanted to discuss (on the air) the incidence of “filth” in the Haight-Ashbury, and acquaintances congratulated me on finishing the piece “just in time,” because “the whole fad’s dead now, fini, kaput.” I suppose almost everyone who writes is afflicted some of the time by the suspicion that nobody out there is listening, but it seemed to me then (perhaps because the piece was important to me) that I had never gotten a feedback so universally beside the point.

It seems unfair to critique Bolin negatively simply because the book went in a different direction than I thought it would; but I ultimately was disappointed in her collection primarily because I was looking for, I don’t know, a feminist point of view about the misogyny in crime fiction, both written and filmed. That was, actually, my primary carp about her book. I enjoyed it otherwise; Bolin has a dry wit and she wrote about a lot of things from a perspective I hadn’t considered–that of the young millennial female trying to make it in an increasingly hostile world with very little opportunity for young writers to make a living. She also critiques Didion harshly; harsher then perhaps I might have, although I do periodically take some issue with the lens through which Didion sees the world and writes about it–that of a very privileged white woman, whose inability to recognize her own privilege sometimes colors her observations.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is the third non-fiction book of Didion’s I’ve read over the last two years; the others being Miami and After Henry. I also read her novel A Book of Common Prayer, which, while bizarre, was also terribly interesting and exceptionally written. Regardless of what one might think of Didion’s privilege and how it might color her lens, the woman is an exceptionally skilled writer. Her sentences are flawlessly constructed, and the rhythm manages to convey an almost world-weariness, a sense of being jaded by what people do. The two books are actually good to read together, because they seem to focus on the same thing, even though written decades apart. Bolin uses the trope of the dead girl to launch into her consideration of a world where young people are disillusioned by the lack of opportunity, where intelligence and talent perhaps do not provide a means of making a living anymore, and how the misogyny of society, as depicted through the dead girl trope, helps stack the deck against young women. Didion’s book looks at the beginning of that erosion, the decay of the mythology of the American dream. Her observations of Haight-Ashbury during the days of the hippies and the flower children, and conversations with the young people who flocked there, is an interesting contrast to the world Bolin is writing about: those young people were disaffected by the box of the American dream, felt trapped by the opportunity their parents were pushing them towards; they didn’t want the white picket fence and the 2.3 children and the dog and the split-level house in the suburbs and the long commute into the city for a 9 to 5 existence. They rejected the American Dream; Bolin’s generation wishes it were even an option to reject.

Were I teaching Freshmen English Comp, these two books would be my required texts for my students. Both books made me think; both books inspired me to write myself and gave me ideas; both writers have depth and perception and skill. I got more than I was expecting from Bolin’s book; I got precisely what I thought I would from Didion’s.

I highly recommend both.

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GEAUX TIGERS!

ESPN’s College Gameday is in Baton Rouge this morning, and tonight Number One Alabama takes on Number Three LSU in Death Valley, aka Tiger Stadium.

This season has already exceeded all expectations for us Tiger fans; I think the best pre-season predictions had us finishing at maybe 7-5, and finishing no higher than fourth or fifth in the SEC West. Tonight, with only one loss, we take on the Alabama juggernaut which has been almost awe-inspiring to watch play all season. There are few teams, in all my years of watching college football, that have been so dominant as Alabama; no one has even gotten remotely close to beating the Tide this year. Their quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, is an unbelievable player; Alabama could probably be competitive in the NFL.

I’ve done a good job of avoiding the hype for the game all week. I’ve made the mistake of getting sucked into this before, and I don’t have the time to bother with it. This past week, according to the hype machine and the newspapers and so forth across the state has been “Hate Bama Week”; I don’t hate Alabama. I have too many friends who went there and/or are fans; I also have family who went there. My distant cousin Gary Hollingsworth–his father and my father are first cousins; I don’t know what that makes us to each other, maybe first cousins once removed, or something like that–was the quarterback for Alabama in 1989 and 1990. (I also know this is all in fun for the most part , but I’ve never enjoyed the taunting or teasing or smack-talk from one fan base to another) My immediate family, and most everyone on my father’s side of the family, are all Auburn fans. I was a kid when Bear Bryant was the coach at Alabama, and I remember their dominance of the SEC in the 1970’s–when their worst season was a three-loss year in 1976. Sound familiar? Alabama’s current dominance began ten years ago in 2008; since then their worst season was a three-loss campaign in 2010. Other than that, I don’t think Alabama has lost more than one game in a regular season in the past eleven years, which is pretty damned impressive. They lost twice in the post-season in 2008 (Florida in SEC title game; Utah in the Sugar Bowl), three games in 2010 (South Carolina, LSU, Auburn), once in 2011 (LSU), to Texas A&M in 2012, Auburn in 2013, lost two years in a row to Ole Miss in 2014 and 2015. They won all their games in 2016, lost to Auburn last year, and are undefeated this year.

You cannot, no matter how badly you want to, deny what Alabama has accomplished under coach Nick Saban, who was 7-6 in his first season in Tuscaloosa–including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe. The next year they rolled into the SEC title game 11-0, and other than 2010, have been a national title contender every year since. That’s a pretty fucking impressive resume, and one that no other college team has even come remotely close to.

LSU hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2011, and hasn’t beaten them in Baton Rouge since 2010.

LSU has slipped since 2011. The Tigers have had some amazing, signature wins since then (Ole Miss in 2014, Georgia this year, to name two) but hasn’t contended for the national or conference championship in those seven years. In 2015 LSU got off to a great 7-0 start, before falling to Alabama in Tuscaloosa and skidding, losing three in a row. This year, the underrated Tigers have somehow managed to be ranked Number 3 in the playoff rankings and 4th in the polls, pulling off a 6-1 start which includes wins over three teams ranked in the Top 10 when they played and another ranked team in Mississippi State. In my wildest preseason dreams, I never would have dreamed we’d ride into Tiger Stadium ranked this high to play Alabama.

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and the best is Alabama. Every national champion since 2008 that is NOT Alabama had to beat Alabama in order to claim the crown (the sole exception being in 2013. Florida State beat Auburn in the closing seconds of the title game to become the only national champion in the last eleven years–LSU was national champion in 2007, and while Alabama wasn’t a contender that year, they still had to beat them–to not have to play Alabama). The dominance of Alabama and Coach Nick Saban is pretty much unparalleled; even the great Bear Bryant didn’t win as many national titles as Coach Saban has–Alabama always seemed to stumble in the post-season under Coach Bryant during the 1970’s, but finally won back to back titles in 1978 and 1979. Bud Wilkinson’s time at Oklahoma in the 1940’s and 1950’s was similar, the Sooners have also had some other periods of enormous success; USC has also had periods of dominance, as has Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State. Florida dominated the SEC in the 90’s; while Florida State and Miami also had great runs in the 80’s and 90’s.

As I said, love them or hate them, you can’t help but admire and respect what Alabama has accomplished, and there’s no end in sight for the foreseeable future to their winning ways.

Of course, I’m hoping LSU can shock the college football world one more time tonight, the same way they did by beating Miami, Auburn, and Georgia. Realistically, I have no idea how this game is going to play out.

But losing to Alabama is kind of like losing to the Patriots, or Serena Williams, or Simone Biles, or Roger Federer. You can only do your best and hold out hope that the breaks go your way; and there’s no disgrace in losing to a great team. I just want LSU to play well.

I grew up rooting for Alabama, and I still do most of the time–just not when they’re playing Auburn or LSU.

And yes, I am the only person in my family who roots for LSU. (My sister, my nieces and nephews are Kentucky fans; they live near Lexington and my youngest nephew and his wife both went there–and they too are having the season of their lives. Today they host Georgia, both teams with one loss, to determine who is going to win the SEC East; and who, before this season, would have dreamed that both Kentucky and LSU, on the first Saturday in November, would essentially be playing for their division titles? NO ONE.)

Even with a loss today, it’s possible for LSU to have its first ten win season since 2011.

I doubt very seriously that LSU won’t be taken seriously in the preseason next year.

GEAUX TIGERS!

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