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How to Man Up

The Art of Manliness is an informative and enjoyable blog dedicated to helping ordinary dudes become better men. Created by the husband and wife team of Brett and Kate McKay, the website has been imparting useful manly advice since 2008.

AOM

What sort of advice? Barnes & Noble had a good summary of that when it reviewed the McKays’ spin-off book, “The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man.” The review says this:

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Taking lessons from classic gentlemen such as Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, authors Brett and Kate McKay have created a collection of the most useful advice every man needs to know to live life to its full potential.

This book contains a wealth of information that ranges from survival skills to social skills to advice on how to improve your character.

Whether you are braving the wilds with your friends, courting your girlfriend or raising a family, inside you’ll find practical information and inspiration for every area of life. You’ll learn the basics all modern men should know, including how to:

Shave like your grandpa
Be a perfect houseguest
Fight like a gentleman using the art of bartitsu
Help a friend with a problem
Give a man hug
Perform a fireman’s carry
Ask for a woman’s hand in marriage
Raise resilient kids
Predict the weather like a frontiersman
Start a fire without matches
Give a dynamic speech
Live a well-balanced life

So jump in today and gain the skills and knowledge you need to be a real man in the 21st Century.

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Note to self: look into this “bartitsu” thing.

The McKays frequently look to the past for their material, and the appearance of the blog is decidedly old-timey — lots of vintage photos, sepia line drawings, top hats, and mustaches. The approach works very well. The stories invariably are enjoyable and worthwhile.

Typical of the stories featured on AOM is “37 Conversation Rules for Gentlemen from 1875.” The 37 rules were excerpted from “The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness” published in 1875 by Cecil B. Hartley.

The subtitle of Hartley’s book explains further:

“Being a Complete Guide for a Gentleman’s Conduct in All His Relations Toward Society, Containing Rules for the Etiquette to be Observed in the Street, at Table, in the Ball Room, Evening Party, and Morning Call, With Full Directions for Polite Correspondence, Dress, Conversation, Manly Exercises, and Accomplishments From the Best French, English, and American Authorities.”

Here are the 37 rules.

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1. Even if convinced that your opponent is utterly wrong, yield gracefully, decline further discussion, or dexterously turn the conversation, but do not obstinately defend your own opinion until you become angry… Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if I were president, or governor, I would,” — and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation.

2. Retain, if you will, a fixed political opinion, yet do not parade it upon all occasions, and, above all, do not endeavor to force others to agree with you. Listen calmly to their ideas upon the same subjects, and if you cannot agree, differ politely, and while your opponent may set you down as a bad politician, let him be obliged to admit that you are a gentleman.

3. Never interrupt anyone who is speaking; it is quite rude to officiously supply a name or date about which another hesitates, unless you are asked to do so. Another gross breach of etiquette is to anticipate the point of a story which another person is reciting, or to take it from his lips to finish it in your own language. Some persons plead as an excuse for this breach of etiquette, that the reciter was spoiling a good story by a bad manner, but this does not mend the matter. It is surely rude to give a man to understand that you do not consider him capable of finishing an anecdote that he has commenced.

4. It is ill-bred to put on an air of weariness during a long speech from another person, and quite as rude to look at a watch, read a letter, flirt the leaves of a book, or in any other action show that you are tired of the speaker or his subject.

5. In a general conversation, never speak when another person is speaking, and never try by raising your own voice to drown that of another. Never assume an air of haughtiness, or speak in a dictatorial manner; let your conversation be always amiable and frank, free from every affectation.

6. Never, unless you are requested to do so, speak of your own business or profession in society; to confine your conversation entirely to the subject or pursuit which is your own specialty is low-bred and vulgar. Make the subject for conversation suit the company in which you are placed. Joyous, light conversation will be at times as much out of place as a sermon would be at a dancing party. Let your conversation be grave or gay as suits the time or place.

7. In a dispute, if you cannot reconcile the parties, withdraw from them. You will surely make one enemy, perhaps two, by taking either side, in an argument when the speakers have lost their temper.

8. Never, during a general conversation, endeavor to concentrate the attention wholly upon yourself. It is quite as rude to enter into conversation with one of a group, and endeavor to draw him out of the circle of general conversation to talk with you alone.

9. A man of real intelligence and cultivated mind is generally modest. He may feel when in everyday society, that in intellectual acquirements he is above those around him; but he will not seek to make his companions feel their inferiority, nor try to display this advantage over them. He will discuss with frank simplicity the topics started by others, and endeavor to avoid starting such as they will not feel inclined to discuss. All that he says will be marked by politeness and deference to the feelings and opinions of others.

10. It is as great an accomplishment to listen with an air of interest and attention, as it is to speak well. To be a good listener is as indispensable as to be a good talker, and it is in the character of listener that you can most readily detect the man who is accustomed to good society.

11. Never listen to the conversation of two persons who have thus withdrawn from a group. If they are so near you that you cannot avoid hearing them, you may, with perfect propriety, change your seat.

12. Make your own share in conversation as modest and brief as is consistent with the subject under consideration, and avoid long speeches and tedious stories. If, however, another, particularly an old man, tells a long story, or one that is not new to you, listen respectfully until he has finished, before you speak again.

13. Speak of yourself but little. Your friends will find out your virtues without forcing you to tell them, and you may feel confident that it is equally unnecessary to expose your faults yourself.

14. If you submit to flattery, you must also submit to the imputation of folly and self-conceit.

15. In speaking of your friends, do not compare them, one with another. Speak of the merits of each one, but do not try to heighten the virtues of one by contrasting them with the vices of another.

16. Avoid, in conversation all subjects which can injure the absent. A gentleman will never calumniate or listen to calumny.

17. The wittiest man becomes tedious and ill-bred when he endeavors to engross entirely the attention of the company in which he should take a more modest part.

18. Avoid set phrases, and use quotations but rarely. They sometimes make a very piquant addition to conversation, but when they become a constant habit, they are exceedingly tedious, and in bad taste.

19. Avoid pedantry; it is a mark, not of intelligence, but stupidity.

20. Speak your own language correctly; at the same time do not be too great a stickler for formal correctness of phrases.

21. Never notice it if others make mistakes in language. To notice by word or look such errors in those around you is excessively ill-bred.

22. If you are a professional or scientific man, avoid the use of technical terms. They are in bad taste, because many will not understand them. If, however, you unconsciously use such a term or phrase, do not then commit the still greater error of explaining its meaning. No one will thank you for thus implying their ignorance.

23. In conversing with a foreigner who speaks imperfect English, listen with strict attention, yet do not supply a word, or phrase, if he hesitates. Above all, do not by a word or gesture show impatience if he makes pauses or blunders. If you understand his language, say so when you first speak to him; this is not making a display of your own knowledge, but is a kindness, as a foreigner will be pleased to hear and speak his own language when in a strange country.

24. Be careful in society never to play the part of buffoon, for you will soon become known as the “funny” man of the party, and no character is so perilous to your dignity as a gentleman. You lay yourself open to both censure and bad ridicule, and you may feel sure that, for every person who laughs with you, two are laughing at you, and for one who admires you, two will watch your antics with secret contempt.

25. Avoid boasting. To speak of your money, connections, or the luxuries at your command is in very bad taste. It is quite as ill-bred to boast of your intimacy with distinguished people. If their names occur naturally in the course of conversation, it is very well; but to be constantly quoting, “my friend, Gov. C,” or, “my intimate friend, the president,” is pompous and in bad taste.

26. While refusing the part of jester yourself, do not, by stiff manners, or cold, contemptuous looks, endeavor to check the innocent mirth of others. It is in excessively bad taste to drag in a grave subject of conversation when pleasant, bantering talk is going on around you. Join in pleasantly and forget your graver thoughts for the time, and you will win more popularity than if you chill the merry circle or turn their innocent gayety to grave discussions.

27. When thrown into the society of literary people, do not question them about their works. To speak in terms of admiration of any work to the author is in bad taste; but you may give pleasure, if, by a quotation from their writings, or a happy reference to them, you prove that you have read and appreciated them.

28. It is extremely rude and pedantic, when engaged in general conversation, to make quotations in a foreign language.

29. To use phrases which admit of a double meaning, is ungentlemanly.

30. If you find you are becoming angry in a conversation, either turn to another subject or keep silence. You may utter, in the heat of passion, words which you would never use in a calmer moment, and which you would bitterly repent when they were once said.

31. “Never talk of ropes to a man whose father was hanged” is a vulgar but popular proverb. Avoid carefully subjects which may be construed into personalities, and keep a strict reserve upon family matters. Avoid, if you can, seeing the skeleton in your friend’s closet, but if it is paraded for your special benefit, regard it as a sacred confidence, and never betray your knowledge to a third party.

32. If you have traveled, although you will endeavor to improve your mind in such travel, do not be constantly speaking of your journeyings. Nothing is more tiresome than a man who commences every phrase with, “When I was in Paris,” or, “In Italy I saw…”

33. When asking questions about persons who are not known to you, in a drawing-room, avoid using adjectives; or you may enquire of a mother, “Who is that awkward, ugly girl?” and be answered, “Sir, that is my daughter.”

34. Avoid gossip; in a woman it is detestable, but in a man it is utterly despicable.

35. Do not officiously offer assistance or advice in general society. Nobody will thank you for it.

36. Avoid flattery. A delicate compliment is permissible in conversation, but flattery is broad, coarse, and to sensible people, disgusting. If you flatter your superiors, they will distrust you, thinking you have some selfish end; if you flatter ladies, they will despise you, thinking you have no other conversation.

37. A lady of sense will feel more complimented if you converse with her upon instructive, high subjects, than if you address to her only the language of compliment. In the latter case she will conclude that you consider her incapable of discussing higher subjects, and you cannot expect her to be pleased at being considered merely a silly, vain person, who must be flattered into good humor.

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So, there you have it — words of wisdom for every man with the sense to listen, still valid after 188 years.

All y’all — ladies as well as gentlemen — should check out The Art of Manliness.

Gentlemen

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Tune o’ the Day

“Hotel California” by the Eagles was one of the most popular rock songs of its era. It tells the story of a weary traveler who stops at an inviting, but spooky hotel, only to be trapped there forever amid some serious weirdness.  

According to band members, the song is an allegory about “hedonism, self-destruction, and greed” in the late 1970s.

In 2007, lead singer Don Henley said on 60 Minutes, “We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest. Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles.”

Guitarist Glenn Frey said the song is about materialism, excess, and “the darker side of Paradise.”

Despite these straightforward explanations, wacky theories abound — that the song secretly is about a mental hospital, or Satanism, or cocaine addiction. Apparently, some people just dig conspiracy theories.

One often-misinterpreted detail in the song is the reference to the “warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.”  Most people assume that colitas is some kind of aromatic desert flower. At first, I did.

Nope. “Colitas” is Spanish for “little tails” and is a reference to marijuana buds. The word was translated for the band by their Mexican-American road manager.

More trivia: the hotel on the album cover is the Beverly Hills Hotel, a grand old place built in 1912, long popular with the Hollywood crowd. The photo was taken from a cherry-picker 60 feet above Sunset Boulevard during rush-hour traffic.

Still more trivia: Frey said the line about stabbing the beast with “steely knives” alluded to Steely Dan, with whom The Eagles shared a manager. The girlfriend of Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker was said to be a major Eagles fan. (Frey said the “beast” in the song is addiction.)

To me, “Hotel California” is most notable for its killer guitar work, especially in the finale. The ending guitar duet by Don Felder and Joe Walsh is as brilliant today as it was 35 years ago.

I’m sure the high life in Los Angeles hasn’t changed much over the years, either.

Hotel California

By The Eagles, 1977
Written by Don Felder, Glenn Frey, and Don Henley

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair,
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air,
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim.
I had to stop for the night.

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell.
And I was thinking to myself,
“This could be Heaven or this could be Hell.”

Then she lit up a candle, and she showed me the way.
There were voices down the corridor;
I thought I heard them say…

“Welcome to the Hotel California.
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place),
Such a lovely face.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California.
Any time of year (Any time of year),
You can find it here.”

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted. She got the Mercedes Bends.
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends.
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.

So I called up the Captain.
“Please bring me my wine.”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night,
Just to hear them say…

“Welcome to the Hotel California.
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place),
Such a lovely face.
They’re livin’ it up at the Hotel California.
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise).
Bring your alibis.”

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice,
And she said “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.”

And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast.
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast.

Last thing I remember,
I was running for the door.
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before.

“Relax, ” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave.”

 

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Emily

One of my sons is a police detective in nearby Athens, Georgia. His job is to deal with the dregs of humanity and the seediest parts of town. He isn’t as fond of Athens as I am.

Me, I like Athens a lot. If you’re free to choose your company and where to go, Athens is fun, funky, and fascinating. A case in point…

I was in downtown Athens a few days ago to pick up some poster prints — enlargements of the latest grandkid photos, to be precise. As I was exiting my car in the parking lot at the print shop, two guys, white and college-age, passed by on the sidewalk.

They were riding unicycles.

Both sported Mohawk haircuts. One blond, one brown.

Each was preceded by a dog on a leash — the brown-haired guy by a serene Australian shepherd, the blond guy by an energetic Yorkie.

As this party of four reached the corner, the traffic light changed, and they were obliged to stop for the cross traffic.

The dogs took a rest break. The unicyclists avoided dismounting by rocking back and forth — half a revolution forward, half a revolution back, half forward, half back.

I stood there a few feet away, observing the odd procession because, well, how could I not?

Before long, the blond rider noticed me. “Hey, man” he said congenially.

“Hey,” I replied. “I had a Yorkie once. With those little legs, he had a hard time keeping up.”

“Oh, Willie is tough,” he said. “He has more stamina than the rest of us put together.”

The two guys continued to rock back and forth, back and forth, remaining balanced with supreme ease. It looked like fun. Made me want to take up unicycling.

“We do a loop of the downtown with the dogs just about every day,” said the brown-haired guy. “Downtown and out Prince.” By Prince, he meant Prince Avenue, the street in front of us.

“Yeah,” said Blondie sarcastically, “Out Prince to see if Emily is at work! Ooh, ooh, Emily!”

“You know what?” said his friend, “Take a vacation, you jerk — to Jerk-maica!”

“Is Emily there? Will she see me?”

“Loser. Idiot.”

“Ooh, Emily!”

“You are so lame.”

“You’re the one who’s lame, lame-o! You and Emily live on different planets, man! It ain’t gonna happen! “

“Dude, you are such a loser.”

Blondie beamed smugly. The brown-haired guy, clearly embarrassed, gave me a sheepish look.

“Emily is really great, man,” he said wistfully. “And she’s such a babe! She’s, like… almost painful to look at.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s impressive. You’re a lucky guy.”

“Lucky. Yeah, right.”

The traffic light changed. The party of four prepared to cross Prince Avenue and continue down the other side.

“Later, man,” said Blondie.

“Yeah, later,” said the brown-haired guy.

“Have a good day, guys,” I said. “If you see Emily, tell her I said hey.” That got a laugh.

As I opened the door of the print shop, I turned and looked back. The four of them were advancing down the Prince Avenue sidewalk at a leisurely pace, single file. Willie was leading the way.

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Tune o’ the Day

When your nickname is Rocky, you get used to being asked whether it came from Rocky Balboa, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, or Rocky Raccoon. I answered that question in a blog post back in 2009.

The Beatles’ song “Rocky Raccoon” appeared on the White Album (technically entitled “The Beatles”) in 1968. It was written by Paul McCartney while the boys were in India studying with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guru of Transcendental Meditation.

After the Maharishi made sexual advances to some of the ladies in the Beatles’ entourage, the boys packed up and departed.  “We made a mistake,” McCartney said. “We thought there was more to him than there was.”

In later years, McCartney explained that “Rocky Raccoon” was meant as a spoof of the folksinger style. He also said the original name of the character was “Rocky Sassoon,” but he changed it because “Raccoon” sounded “more like a cowboy.”


Rocky Raccoon

By The Beatles, 1968
Written by Paul McCartney

Now, somewhere in the black minin’ hills of Dakota,
There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon.
And one day his woman ran off with another guy.
Hit young Rocky in the eye.
Rocky didn’t like that.
He said, I’m gonna get that boy.
So one day he walked into town,
Booked himself a room in the local saloon.

Rocky Raccoon
Checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s bible.
Rocky had come
Equipped with a gun
To shoot off the legs of his rival.

His rival, it seems,
Had broken his dreams
By stealing the girl of his fancy.
Her name was Magill,
And she called herself Lil,
But everyone knew her as Nancy.

Now, she and her man,
Who called himself Dan
Were in the next room at the hoedown.
Rocky burst in,
And grinning a grin,
He said, “Danny boy, this is a showdown.”
But Daniel was hot.
He drew first and shot,
And Rocky collapsed in the corner.

Now the doctor came in,
Stinking of gin,
And proceeded to lie on the table.
He said, “Rocky, you met your match.”
And Rocky said, “Doc, it’s only a scratch,
And I’ll be better — I’ll be better, doc — as soon as I am able.”

Now, Rocky Raccoon,
He fell back in his room,
Only to find Gideon’s bible.
Gideon checked out,
And he left it, no doubt,
To help with good Rocky’s revival.

The boys and their entourage with the Maharishi.

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A Whiff of Zen

The Golden Door is a luxury spa in Escondido, California, where, for a handsome sum, you will receive a rigorous pampering of body and mind.

The Golden Door regimen is a combination of massage, exercise, private counseling, and lectures about connecting with one’s inner self, taking control of one’s life, being one’s own best friend. etc.

Buddhism Lite, as someone put it. A whiff of Zen is in the air.

The cost of such pampering will get one’s attention. Sessions run about $1,000 a day, with a seven-day minimum. The staff of 150 serves a maximum of 40 guests.

There are women-only weeks, men-only weeks, and coed weeks. There are long morning hikes, workouts with personal trainers, and classes in aerobics, strength, flexibility, and cardiac fitness. The food is organic and locally grown.

At some point, you may want to request a Warm Honey Wrap and Orange Blossom Milk Soak:

Fresh honey is massaged into the entire body, followed by a heavenly foot massage while relaxing in a wrap of warm blankets. Then relax in a warm milk bath infused with fragrant orange blossom essential oils. Lastly, your body receives an application of an orange-blossom-scented lotion.

Since 1977, the guru of the Golden Door has been Annharriet Buck, a former college administrator who, in fact, studied under the Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.

Self-help lectures and meditation are not my cup of tea, but I admire Buck, who for 30 years has turned away publishers pleading for her to write books and get rich. She declines and continues to manage the Golden Door.

No doubt she could easily cash in if she chose to publish. “Seek a beautiful moment,” she says in her lectures. “No matter how bad you believe your past was, you did somehow learn to skip. There was a day when you discovered your shadow and how to ride a bike.”

“See yourself as an adorable four-year-old,” she says. “Treat yourself with the same forgiveness and tender care you would give the four-year-old. Honor your four-year-old.”

For those who find themselves stuck in a rut in life, Buck has a solution to getting unstuck. She calls it Buck’s Theory of Contrasts.

If you have been sitting, stand.
If you have been standing, sit.
If you have been traveling, stay home.
If you have been home, travel.
If you have been teaching, learn.
If you have been learning, teach.
If you have been talking, listen.
If you have been listening, talk.

Something for one to ponder while one saves up for one’s week at the spa.

 

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She Got the Ring

I love music — as long as it isn’t rap, country, or Italian opera.

Nevertheless, I give credit to the country genre for a few things: no other kind of music is so down to earth, or reflects emotion so unashamedly, or has the audacity to embrace humor.

Take, for example, these titles of country music songs…

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I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You

I’ll Marry You Tomorrow, but Let’s Honeymoon Tonight

All I Want from You Is Away

I Got In at 2 With a 10 and Woke Up at 10 With a 2

All the Guys that Turn Me On Turn Me Down

She Got the Ring and I Got the Finger

How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well

An Old Flame Can’t Hold a Candle to You

Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreen’s and I Cried All the Way to Sears

I’d Rather Pass a Kidney Stone Than Another Night With You

Don’t Believe My Heart Can Stand Another You

He’s Got a Way With Women, and He’s Just Got Away With Mine

Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin’ With Lovin’ on Your Mind

Drop-Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life

Feelin’ Single and Drinkin’ Doubles

Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes at Me

Four on the Floor and a Fifth Under the Seat

Going to Hell in Your Heavenly Arms

Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart

Did I Shave My Legs for This?

Her Only Bad Habit Is Me

Here’s a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares

Hold On to Your Men, ‘Cause She’s Single Again

How Come Your Dog Don’t Bite Nobody but Me?

I Gave Her My Heart and a Diamond, and She Clubbed Me With a Spade

I Only Miss You on the Days That End in “Y”

If Today Was a Fish, I’d Throw it Back In

How Did You Get So Ugly Overnight?

I Want a Beer as Cold as My Ex-Wife’s Heart

If I Were In Your Shoes, I’d Walk Right Back To Me

If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me

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This just In

DUNNELLON, FLORIDA — A woman was arrested after allegedly hitting a man in the head with a raw steak.

According to a Marion County Sheriff’s Office report, the man told deputies his girlfriend repeatedly hit him with the uncooked meat and slapped his face after he refused a piece of sliced bread. The man said he wanted a bread roll.

The woman denied hitting the man with the steak, but did admit slapping him, saying she did it “so he could learn.”

The man declined medical assistance.

SIX MILE, SOUTH CAROLINA — A 40-year-old woman has been issued a ticket for public disorderly conduct after police said she rode a stolen horse down Main Street.

The report said a pedestrian flagged down the responding officer Saturday and told him that a woman was riding a horse on the double yellow line and “was barely able to stay on.”

According to the report, the officer saw a horse tied to a gas pump at a convenience store and found the woman using a phone inside the store.

The woman was unsteady on her feet, her speech was slurred, and she had an aroma of alcoholic beverage, the report said.

The woman stated she was riding the horse to her boyfriend’s house. She told the officer “that she wasn’t drunk, the horse was.”

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA — Authorities have charged a North Carolina woman with selling moonshine out of her day care center. The Charlotte Observer reported Tuesday that North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement arrested a 57-year-old woman last week at Parkview Community Center in Charlotte.

Agents said children were in the day care center when they sent in an undercover agent to buy two gallons of moonshine.

The woman told the newspaper she was set up by a neighbor. She said she was just holding a package for a man in exchange for $80 and didn’t even know what was in it.

Agents also arrested an 82-year-old man and charged him with making the moonshine. Authorities seized more than 80 gallons of moonshine from the man.

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This Just In

BERLIN, GERMANY — German police are investigating a kabob vendor’s hot sauce to determine whether it is capable of causing grievous bodily harm when used in an attack.

Police took a sample of the sauce from a kabob stand in Bremen’s central train station after a kabob salesman threw it into the eyes of a customer during a fight over napkins.

“Legally, the question of whether the spiciness of the kabob sauce constituted ‘normal’ or ‘grievous’ bodily harm must be addressed,” said a police spokesman.

Officers broke up a scuffle that ensued after a 23-year-old man wiped his messy hands on the stand because the vendor refused to give him a napkin. The vendor responded by flinging a ladle of hot sauce in the man’s face.

AYER, MASSACHUSETTS — Police said an 18-year-old man faces a charge of disorderly conduct for donning a mask like in the movie “V for Vendetta” to terrorize residents of the towns of Ayer and Groton.

The “V” sightings came after a group of teenagers began wearing the masks to scare each another. One teen got carried away and began peering into residents’ windows.

Police said the suspect was not arrested, but will face charges for scaring and alarming his neighbors.

SAGINAW, MICHIGAN — Victor Harris was pouring a fuel additive into his Lincoln Navigator at a 7-Eleven store, when a piece of paper fell into the gas tank.

Harris tried to fish the paper out with his index finger, but his finger became stuck in the gas tank opening.

Other patrons summoned Saginaw firefighters, who tried unsuccessfully to free the finger.

Finally, after four hours, crews cut off a four-foot section of the gas pipe and took Harris to nearby St. Mary’s Hospital. Medics there pried his finger from the pipe and gave him two stitches.

Coincidentally, Harris is an employee of St. Mary’s Hospital.

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I was in Savannah a few weeks ago to visit my Aunt Betty, and we spent some time wandering on foot around the historic district.

It was my idea. I’ve seen downtown Savannah countless times, of course, but in the last few years, I haven’t simply strolled aimlessly about. Which is by far the best way to experience the place, especially on an idyllic, sunny autumn day.

We found a parking place on West McDonough Street and walked east toward Orleans Square. When we got to the corner, Betty stopped abruptly.

“Ooooh, Rocky, look at this!” she exclaimed gleefully, pointing to a sign that read:

HARPER-FOWLKES HOUSE
OPEN FOR TOURS W-F 9-3

“This is a beautiful old residence,” she said excitedly. “I’ve known about it all my life, but it’s never been open to the public! I can’t believe they’ve opened it for tours!”

This was a major event: a historical structure in Savannah that Aunt Betty had never been in. It was Wednesday, so I made the only response that was appropriate:

“Well, why are we standing here? Let’s go take the tour.”

Savannah has hundreds of historic buildings that are deemed important enough to have names, but I’d never heard of the Harper-Fowlkes House.

Looking up, I saw a giant, three-story mansion looming overhead. It was inside a compound that occupied an entire city block. And Betty says this is a residence? Wow.

So we walked through the ornate wrought iron gates and up the lavish marble front steps and approached the massive double entrance doors. A hand-lettered sign taped above the lock said, “Please ring bell.” Which we did.

After a long delay, the door opened, slowly and quietly. I half expected to see Lurch, the Addams Family manservant, answering the door with, “You rang?”

Instead, a petite woman appeared and ushered us inside with great formality and politeness. She welcomed us to the mansion, asked us to sign the guest register, and disappeared.

Betty and I stood in the entrance hall, looking around at the columns and marble and gilded mirrors. Overhead was an large elliptical opening to the upper floors. It was like standing in the Capitol Rotunda.

A minute later, a second gentile lady appeared. She was our tour guide. No other visitors were in sight, so we got to touring forthwith.

I won’t describe the house here, The H-F website does a good enough job of that. But the history of the place, some of it related to us by the guide and some dug up later by me, is pretty fascinating.

The house was first owned by Stephen Gardner, a rich Savannah dude who bought it during construction in 1842. Stephen promptly fell on hard times, and the house was sold to another local aristocrat, Aaron Champion.

The house was passed down to a succession of Champions and their kin until 1939, when it was bought by an amazing lady, Alida Harper.

Alida Harper must have been a truly delightful person. By all accounts, she was happy and charismatic — tough, hard-working, and irrepressible, a la Amelia Earhart and Molly Brown.

From an early age, Alida was a charmer and a natural entrepreneur. In college in Virginia and Georgia, she excelled in art. After returning to Savannah, she opened a studio and embraced life as a socialite.

She started several businesses and parlayed them into successful careers as a gallery owner and restaurateur. She became an antiques dealer who traveled regularly to Europe.

And, in time, she became well-known for her role in historic preservation.

Over the years, using her own earnings, Alida purchased historic buildings in Savannah and restored them. She converted many to rental apartments, investing the income toward future purchases.

Inevitably, she became a leader in the growing movement to preserve and restore Savannah’s historic downtown, which had been declining for decades.

There is a story that as a young girl, Alida regularly rode the Barnard Street bus past the imposing “Gardner-Champion House,” and she often told herself that someday, she would own it.

Probably a fanciful tale. But in 1939, Alida did buy it — not just as a restoration project, but as a home. On New Year’s Eve, she and her mother moved in.

Alida purchased the house at a bank auction for $9,000. According to reports, the bank stamped “WOMAN” across the top of her mortgage papers.

In 1945, Alida married one of her tenants, Hunter Fowlkes, but the poor fellow died of natural causes 18 months later. Alida remained in the house and continued her work until she died in 1985, age 77.

Alida had carefully furnished her home over the years to her own taste, and it became a fine example of the mid-1800s style. All of the furnishings, chandeliers, mirrors, silver, china, and crystal, were hers.

She had no heirs, but she wanted the house to be preserved for future generations. What to do?

Alida’s father and brother had been long-time members of the Society of the Cincinnati, a patriotic organization founded by officers who fought in the Revolutionary War.

Knowing the organization and its aims, Alida bequeathed the house to the Georgia Chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati to be used as state headquarters.

Her will stipulated that the house must be properly maintained and can never be sold. The gentlemen of the Cincinnati had no problem with that.

In 1783, when the Society of the Cincinnati was founded, it adopted this premise:

The Officers of the American Army, having generally been taken from the citizens of America, possess high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus; and being resolved to follow his example by returning to their citizenship, they think they may with propriety denominate themselves the Society of the Cincinnati.

Cincinnatus is known for his quotation, “And now we will pound our swords into plowshares and proceed with peace.”

Inside the Harper-Fowlkes House are three large oil-on-canvas portraits that, in my mind, shed light on Alida’s sense of history and perhaps foreshadowed her ultimate plans for the house.

One portrait is of Joseph Clay, a Georgian, painted in 1722. Clay was a member of the Continental Congress.

The second is a military portrait of “Colonel Habersham,” painted after the Revolutionary War. Habersham, another Georgian, is shown clutching a sword close to his chest. He was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

The third portrait, from the same period, is an unusually realistic painting of Major John Berrien, another Georgian, who served with distinction throughout the Revolutionary War. Berrien, one of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati, was the first president of the Georgia Chapter.

I suspect some clues are there.

HF-1

The Harper-Fowlkes House, rear view.

HF-2

The front gate.

HF-3

The entrance hall.

Alida

Alida in her college days.

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Lewis Grizzard, the late Georgia humorist and author, was the archetypical comic who wasn’t laughing on the inside. The hard-drinking Lewis died in 1994 of a congenital heart defect after a series of surgeries. He was 48 and had been married four times.

Like many white Southerners of his era, Grizzard was not fully comfortable with the changes, social and political, that came with the South’s new prosperity. He wrote fondly about the old days and the old ways, but he also wore Gucci loafers (always without socks) and was proud to have eaten caviar at Maxim’s in Paris.

Lewis riled many readers with the barbs he hurled at gays and feminists. But he was at his best when he stayed in safer territory. Take, for example, his discourse on Georgia barbecue…

————

There was an annual Fourth of July barbecue in my hometown. The menfolk would sit up all night and barbecue hogs over an open pit, which doesn’t take a great deal of work once the hogs are cooking.

One year, a man from North Carolina was passing through and stopped in to partake. He asked for cole slaw.

“What for?” somebody asked. “There’s plenty of stew and light bread.”

“I want to put it on my barbecue,” the man from North Carolina said.

Somebody pulled a knife on the man, and he got in his car and went back to North Carolina.

After I left home, I roamed freely about other parts of the country, and I came to understand several truths about barbecue:

— The best barbecue is pork served in Georgia. In Texas, they barbecue beef, which isn’t barbecue at all.

— The best barbecue is found in family-run operations. Harold Hembree of Harold’s Barbecue in Atlanta can’t count the number of cousins and nieces and nephews working there. There are three generations of Sprayberrys cooking and serving at Sprayberry’s in Newnan. And it was Jim Brewer’s father-in-law who started Fresh-Air Barbecue in Jackson, Georgia, 51 years ago.

— If there are religious posters on the wall, you can usually count on the barbecue being good.

— Good barbecue restaurants rarely serve beer. “Mama won’t allow it in here,” is why Harold Hembree doesn’t serve it. “You’ll lose your family trade,” says Jim Brewer.

— The best barbecue restaurants are careful what kind of bread they serve with their meat. Normally, it’s buns for sandwiches and white bread for plates.

— Brunswick stew is too complicated to get into. Everybody has a different idea of how it should be cooked and what it should contain.

— Same with the sauce. There are hundreds of varieties of sauces. If the meat is good, the sauce will be, too.

— It is important to put up a sign in a barbecue restaurant that reads, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” This will add class to the place by keeping out people from Texas and North Carolina.

Grizzard

Lewis Grizzard.

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