Friday, August 31, 2007

In Memory of Randall Combs

"O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again." Thomas Wolfe

I confessed recently to a close friend that, throughout my life, I've been blessed with better friends than I deserve, than I have ever deserved, than I am probably capable of deserving. That is still true. I open with that confession because I would never want the post which follows to lead any of those rare individuals without whose companionship my life would be simply barren to doubt for a moment their importance to me. "In Memory of" are words I pray never precede their names from my pen.

There are those for whom friendship is a zero-sum game. I am not one of them.

It has been seven years since The Friend of My Youth passed on. Judge Randall R. Combs shared nearly every formative adventure of my transition from boy to manhood. He was, in many, many ways, a better man than I will ever be. His obituary in the Salisbury Post couldn't begin to capture the man. The procession from church to graveyard was the longest most in our relatively small town had ever witnessed. To say that he was well known and respected stretches the limits of understatement. To say that he is missed, still, daily, is merely to acknowledge a void that can never really be filled.

I can at least say this. I did not have to regret, at the end, that I'd never told my friend what he meant to me. He knew. In memory of him, today, I want to offer here the text of the eulogy I offered at that service seven years ago, and to say, once more, I miss him. I miss him very much.

I’ve been to too many funerals for friends and acquaintances in the past few years and I’ve always wondered how someone who called the deceased his best friend managed to get through what I’m about to attempt. I’ve come up with a couple of answers. First, I’m going to keep in mind, that in all the years I knew Randall Combs, he never once felt sorry for himself, despite trials that would have defeated many of the best of the rest of us. And we, as Christians, all know where Randall is right now, so it’s not for him that we cry, but for ourselves, left here without him in our lives. So I’ll postpone self-pity for just a while yet. Secondly, I’m going to make the plea that the rowdy little boy in church made to the congregation as his daddy carried him down the aisle toward the back door. Ya’ll pray for me. Start now. Don’t wait until I get to the hard part, then if I make it through the little bit I want to say, we won’t have to wonder how.

Randall was my best friend. It’s that simple. I would have said Judge Randall R. Combs was my best friend, but that’s not the way I think of it, and that’s not the way it works. Randall, plain and simple, was my best friend. He was what Robert Penn Warren called The Friend of My Youth. “The Friend of Your Youth,” said Warren, “is the only friend you will every have, for he does not really see you. He sees in his mind a face which does not exist any more, speaks a name--Spike, Bud, Snip, Red, Rusty, Jack, Dave--which belongs to that now nonexistent face but which by some inane and doddering confusion of the universe is for the moment attached to a not too happily met and boring stranger. But he humors the drooling doddering confusion of the universe and continues to address politely that dull stranger by the name which properly belongs to the boy face and to the time when the boy voice called thinly across the late afternoon water or murmured by a campfire at night . . . the Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you any more.”

The only false part of that is that Randall and I never reached the point of being strangers to one another. We could pick up a conversation after months of silence. We never lost touch with one another’s voices. Our last phone conversation began with his “Hello” followed by simply, “Good evening your honor” from my voice in Colorado, then “Well hello Colonel” from his end. Who doesn’t recognize in those greetings the wonder of two little boys in grown up bodies, amazed and amused by their own grown up titles.

“The child is the father of the man” says Wordsworth. You’ll hear more about the man from Steve Hammonds in a few minutes, and you’ve read about the man in every paper that serves our community. I want to tell you a little about the boy behind the bench. Randall was the least selfish person I have ever known. He was my best friend, and I’ll admit openly that I won’t presume to say that I was his. Some things are destined to be lopsided. Most relationships are. And I only know one person who ever gave as much to Randall as he did to all of us. God willing, I’ll come to that part.

I met Randall in 1974 as a sophomore at South Rowan High School. Through some quirk of fate we both chose same girl to be the unfortunate object of our competing affections. For the record, Randall got the girl. I got the best friend anyone could ever wish for. In high school Randall and I spent time on the phone with each other like a pair of teenaged girls, usually talking about a pair of teenaged girls. There was very little we didn’t share. Both of us went through the divorce of our parents, Randall just enough ahead of me to be more of a help to me than I was to him.

And this is as good a time as any to tell you that Randall was what God meant sons to be. Those of you who knew him also know that he loved his parents, both of them, but especially his mother, with whom he made a conscious decision to live, . . . he loved them both with an unconditional love that most parents can only pray for and dream of without ever expecting to see. Randall simply lived that love for his parents. If St. Peter stops Randall at the gate and goes down the list and holds him accountable for each commandment in turn, I can promise you that there will be no quibbling over the score on “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

I like to believe I played a small role in Randall’s becoming a judge. In our senior year, Randall and I filled the roles of opposing counsel in a mock trial in Ms. James’s Social Studies class. I don’t remember who won the case. I simply assume that if he won, it whetted his appetite for more, and if he lost, he must have resolved to seek vindication in the real world. We dressed the part for that trial, wearing our best (and only) three piece suits all day. Thereafter, we would call one another about once a month and one of us would say, “What do you think? Suits tomorrow?” And the other would say, “Okay.” And so, for no reason other than to be different, we would wear our suits and vests to school.

In 1977, before I left for the Air Force Academy and he for Wake Forest, we managed to steal the whole top half of a page in the Daily Independent by canoeing Lake Norman from Lookout Shoals Dam down to Cowan’s Ford. That’s about 24 miles of rowing. In the center of the page was a photo of the two of us, sitting together on a cooler, looking as cool as we knew how.

After graduation, we made the ritual trip to the beach together. We stayed at the Tryon Seville motel that year, and then returned there together like salmon every summer throughout our college years. Randall taught me to shag and we two taught our friend Dana to shag at Crazy Zacks in Ocean Drive. Dana, bless her heart, was another poor victim of our competing affections, but by that time we had learned, or mis-learned that the way to a woman’s heart was through disdain, and so we tried our hands for a day or two at who could appear most disinterested. When that failed, and having no inkwells handy in which to dip her hair, we took turns carrying her into the ocean, which terrified her, and dropping her there. We were college students by this time, but as the poet says, “the child is the father of the man”, and for the two of us, it was a long labor. Out of that summer was born a friendship that’s really hard to describe. Dana and I have decided that we now feel like a tripod with a leg missing, learning anew how to stand upright.

But there have been many times over the last few days that I’ve felt Randall still there and I’ve smiled. Last night, I knew that Randall was watching, sad, but immensely proud of Jessica as she stood by Donna and accepted the sympathy of so many people who were there because they admired him so much. Today, I felt him smiling and proud of Donna as she stood in his stead as witness to the swearing in of our newest district court judge.

And that brings me to one last story. Randall met Donna in 1984 while he was living in my townhome in Goldsboro where I was flying out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and he was interning in a law firm there. By the time I finally got to meet Donna, to hear her tell it, she was more than a little worried about that meeting. I’m going to tell you what I’ve always told Donna, which is another story within this one. While we were still in college, Randall was dating a girl who didn’t want to come to some picnic we were having because she didn’t think I liked her. I told Randall, “You tell her that I like her in direct proportion to how happy she makes my best friend.” Randall grinned, shook his head and said, “Well right now, you don’t really care whether she lives or dies.” And the unspoken rule for judging one another’s girlfriends became a spoken rule. Having explained the rule, I can now tell you, that Donna has been one of my very favorite people since the moment Randall met her. Of all the people who’ve shared his life, I believe Donna is the only one who’s given as much to him as he did to her. Of all my friends and acquaintances, I know of no one who married better than my very best friend. He was blessed with a wife whom he loved with all his heart, and blessed with two beautiful daughters of whom no father could ever have been more proud. And he was blessed with friends who looked to him to bring out the best in them.

A lot of friendship is timing. “The Friend of Your Youth is your friend because he does not see you,” says the poet, “And perhaps he never saw you. What he saw was simply part of the furniture of the wonderful opening world. Friendship was something he suddenly discovered and had to give away as a recognition of and payment for the breathlessly opening world which momently divulged itself like a moonflower. It didn't matter . . . to whom he gave it, for the fact of giving was what mattered, and if you happened to be handy you were automatically endowed with all the appropriate attributes of a friend and forever after your reality is irrelevant. The Friend of Your Youth is the only friend you will ever have, for he hasn't the slightest concern with calculating his interest or your virtue.”

Randall had an amazing ability to look beyond the worst of each and every person he met and see the very best that person could be, whether it was a friend, a family member, or someone appearing before his bench. He simply always chose to see the best in people. Our Savior consecrated a memorial that’s performed thousands of times each day and hundreds of thousands of times each Sunday by saying “Do this in remembrance of me.” I ask you to do something in remembrance of Randall. When we look at one another, let’s look past faults and imperfections and see the very best we each can be. If we can do that, we’ll be looking at one another with Randall’s eyes, and Randall will live on in each of us.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Facebook and Identity Theft

Here's one more little rif on a recurring theme of mine. Recurring because some things need reiterating in order to keep folks (read: some of my very plugged-in, younger online friends in particular) on their toes. Hey, every frippin' year I have to accomplish the same half dozen computer-based training (CBT) modules on "Information Assurance" or the "Protection of Classified Information" or some such, so surely someone did a study that showed it was necessary. Surely they aren't making me repeat it because they think I might just hit the "Next Page" button as fast as the current page will load. Not me.

Anyway, long before I started seeing warnings pop up on the internet associating the risk of identity theft with the propensity of today's young to share everything about themselves on social networking sites, I was busy trying to convince some acquaintances that answering all hundred or more questions in three or four online surveys several times a week might be a fun way to explore the projection of one's various personae, but it was not a safe thing to do in terms of protecting one's future bank accounts. I've even sounded a few of those warnings here, as in my Independence Day post, for example.

Today, as I was catching up on some technology news, I came across an interesting article posted on CNet, titled, Facebook users open to cyberattacks, ID theft? Here's an excerpt that pretty much reiterates the message I've been trying to pass on, including a frightening example of exactly what I've been saying was possible:

However, Olson and Rick Howard, director of intelligence at VeriSign's iDefense Labs, said a longer-term problem is users' openness with personal information on public forums.

"They seem to have no sense of privacy," Howard said. "We think it could go two ways. In the future, they're either going to decide they're embarrassed by all the information they've put out there, or they may decide it's just the way it is and (that) it's OK to put information out there."

In a "thought experiment" the two conducted in the United States before visiting Australia, Howard said they managed to acquire enough information on one young user to steal her identity.

"We pulled down one person's name--in this instance, a female--and everything she put out there," Howard said.

"In 15 minutes of doing Google searches, we were able to collect enough information to steal her identity."
What makes the young particularly vunerable, as I've noted before, is that they have no idea, yet, which questions among the hundred or more in each survey reveal potentially compromising personal information. "Where were you born? What was your first car? What is your pet's name?" These sound like safe things to tell people who really want to know more about you. Problem is, they also function as security questions for online identification.

If you're the sort of person who reads blogs, you're probably not the sort of person who needs this warning. But how about your kids? Do you visit their MySpace and FaceBook profiles? Peruse the bulletins where so much about them is out there for all to see? It's worth your time. Educate them now and you may save them some pain later.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Umm . . . Like, check this out

As an English professor, you cannot help but love this:

The just announced “Umm Like All-Star” list includes Britney Spears, who was caught uttering 73 “likes” and “ya knows” in a five-minute video interview on YouTube.
Read the whole article here, to find out which celebs like, you know, um, can't string, like, five, you know, words, like, together in, like, you know, a row.

Or check out the whole Umm . . . Like website.

More Conroy

I'm two thirds of the way through The Lords of Discipline, and just needed to share the following quote, which is like much in McCarthy, and expressive of a concept around which Kevin McColley fashioned an entire novel, called Praying to a Laughing God. From Conroy:

"I have read too much history, Mr. McLean," he said, moving past Vanderhorst Row. "And it has depressed me about my fellow man."

"Why has it depressed you, sir?" I asked.

"Because the single theme of human existence is atrocity, sir. Even the most casual perusal of the subject would tell you that. Anything that man can do that will irreparably harm his fellow man, he will certainly do. I can close my eyes, Mr. McLean, close them this instant on this very pleasant walk, and my brain will come alive with horrendous, unspeakable images of heinous crimes men have performed against other men. Nothing surprisese me anymore. Nothing shocks me. I have reached the point in my life when I am seized with an utter hopelessness about the human race. And you, sir," he said, fixing his gaze on me, "how do you feel about the race that violates this lovely planet?"

"I like human beings all right, Colonel," I said, "better than wart hogs or sting rays, anyway."

"I assure you, cad, that you would receive far more justice and mercy from a wart hog than from one of the monstrous chimps who wears a black robe and sits in judgment against his fellow man. The God that created man in his own image, Mr. McLean, must be a vile, unconscionable being. Or he must be highly amused by depravity." --p. 395

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Mother Teresa: Doubts of a Saint

If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? --Cormac McCarthy's Judge Holden in Blood Meridian
I first came to Blood Meridian, at a time when the doubts in my own soul were at their darkest. Actually, I misspoke. I came to that book at a time when doubt had yielded to darker certainty. That, as much as anything, drew me to McCarthy. By the time I got to The Crossing, and the heretic of Caborca, it was as though I was reading about myself.
It was never that this man ceased to believe in God. No. It was rather that he came to believe terrible things of Him. --The Crossing p. 149

It has been a long slow recovery from certainty to the more optimistic condition of mere doubt.

So it was with some sense of kinship (make no mistake--I'm well aware that I am no saint) that I read today's news about the darkness which haunted Mother Teresa.

It began, she said, soon after she set up her Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in the late 1940s to succor India’s poor. And it lasted, with only a joyous five-week respite in 1959 when she refound God, until her death at age 87, a decade ago.

“There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work,’” she wrote in 1953.

What is one to do, then, laboring under such a burden? Where find some solace? If we are to judge from the life of Mother Teresa, there is something to be said for doing what one can for others. I understand that drive too. In 1982, smarting from the disintegration of a marriage, the brevity of which set a standard that Britney Spears only barely surpassed, I decided that the best way to move my focus from my own pathetic self-pity was to volunteer for a community crisis hotline in the small town where I bought my first house. It worked. I heard things, and talked people through things, that pretty quickly reminded me that my life was pretty damned good, all-in-all.

Which brings me to my questions for today: how does one one-up a mere hotline? How resist the urge to call down the lightning as does Ahab, haunted by equally dark certainties? How strike through the mask, and at what? Where does one find answers to the questions Suttree asks? That McCarthy asks through Suttree?

It cracked and boomed about and he pointed out the darkened heart within him and cried for light. If there be any art in the weathers of this earth. Or char these bones to coal. If you can, if you can. A blackened rag in the rain.

He sat with his back to a tree and watched the storm move on over the city. Am I a monster, are there monsters in me? --Suttree, p. 366

Where seek the confidence to answer in the affirmative the boy's question in The Road, "Are we still the good guys?" Where?

And in the meantime, while we seek?

Hard weather, says the old man. So may it be. Wrap me in the weathers of the earth, I will be hard and hard. My face will turn rain like the stones. --Suttree, p. 29

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What Kind of Sandwich Are You?

You Are a Ham Sandwich

You are quiet, understated, and a great comfort to all of your friends.

Over time, you have proven yourself as loyal and steadfast.

And you are by no means boring. You do well in any situation - from fancy to laid back.

Your best friend: The Turkey Sandwich

Your mortal enemy: The Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Southern Women

I've said before and I'll say again, more than for any other reason, we love authors according to their ability to put into words far better than our own, the philosophies we believe we hold, or the observations we believe we've made, but could never have captured so perfectly. To wit, as I began The Lords of Discipline, my first Pat Conroy novel (an admission that shames me), I was no further than 4 pages into the prologue before I knew I will likely have read the entire Conroy canon by this time next year:

My mother is a different case. As lovely a woman as I have ever seen, bread and nurtured like a gardenia, she has always seemed somehow odorless and sexless to me, yet viscerally seductive in the manner of Southern women, that taloned species who speak with restrained and self-effacing drawls, fill a room with elegance and vulnerability, move with the grace of wind-tilted cane, and rule their families with a secret pact of steel. The sweetness of Southern women often conceals the secret deadliness of snakes. It has helped them survive the impervious tyranny of Southern men more comfortable with a myth than a flesh-and-blood woman.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Here's a tip for couples: please talk to one another--often, always, and honestly. And be open to hearing what the other has to say. Unconditional love doesn't mean that we view someone as perfect. It means that we love them, imperfections and all. If either of you complains to the other of some quirk or mannerism or habit that is less than endearing, then thank one another for the honesty, consider whether it is ammendable without any argument over whether it should be ammended. If it can, it should be. If it can't, then the other will have to decide what they can live with and still love. True unconditional love seldom exists, except in a parent for a child.

Be careful, always though, not to confuse the recognition of imperfections with failing to love. It is a far dearer thing, and harder to find, to be loved for what we really are, and to find a mate whose vision of us includes and helps us attain the best that we can be in this lifetime. Nathaniel Branden pointed out years ago that we tend to fall in love with people for the way they see us. Inevitably sad for us if that vision is an illusion, then so will its love be. Infinitely happy for us if that vision is real, both of what is and what can be, for then, the love also is real, unchanging, empowering, sustaining, encompassing, ever-growing. It would be lucky for us if we were designed so as only to fall in love with someone whose love and vision were of the former variety, rather than the latter. But we are so designed that the most attractive thing of all is the illusion of our own perfection when we see it in someone else's eyes

I think it's a rare person who even gets a shot at that more honest, open-eyed love. That's the sort of love that will help us up a notch on the circle. That is a soul mate. And it's a lucky person who gets that shot at an age or a stage when they can recognize the difference, and recognizing it, seize the right ring. God's sense of humor in that regard is closely linked to the fun he has with our sex drives.

A closing quote from Cormac:

Nor is this life of yours by which you set such store your doing, however you may choose to tell it. Its shape was forced in the void at the onset and all talk of what might otherwise have been is senseless for there is no otherwise. Of what could it be made? Where be hid? Or how make its appearance? The probability of the actual is absolute. That we have no power to guess it out beforehand makes it no less certain. That we may imagine alternate histories means nothing at all. (Cities of the Plain, 285)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Are you a Feminist?

I don't think I'll say where I waffled. I'll just say that it was the one question that really had nothing to do with feminism, because the answer is really gender independent. The underlying assumption behind every question is that the desired condition is already true for men, and in one particular case, it's not even close. It's simply not an "injustice" or inequality that's gender motivated or determined.

You Are 93%

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man). You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

(Hat tip: Enrevanche)

Like Minds?

I am so not a believer in coincidence.

All the way back across the country, I looked forward to penning a post about the superb new humidor I received during our visit to Wilmington, NC. In the last six months or more, I can think of not a single blog post, among the few I read with regularity, with cigars as a topic. Yet on my return, I find with some delight that the Mountain Philosopher is awake again, and among his recent posts, one about cigars. Coincidence?

I might have been willing to think so, but then . . . Two days ago, I finished Walter Isaacson's new biography of Einstein, having listened to it, from the Colorado/Kansas border to Tennessee before setting it aside to listen to The Road from Nashville to Wilmington (more on this in a later post), and then picking up Einstein again from Calabash through New Orleans and Dallas all the way back to Colorado. I highly recommend it, btw.

Because I'll be returning to Wilmington in less than two weeks, I decided to finish off my summer reading with a Southern author I've been way too long in coming to. Thus it was that, yesterday, I began The Lords of Discipline. Why is that remarkable? Because today's post on The Archer Pelican is about none other than, you guessed it, Pat Conroy. Coincidence? Give me a break.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Input/Output and Minority Report

Remember that awesome input/output interface in Minority Report? (If you don't, or didn't see the movie, then see the trailer at the bottom of this post.) It's not as far into the future as you may think.

And searching for the right clip from Minority Report, I came across this further demo of the technology that either led to or sprung from what Microsoft is showing off above:

Finally, here's the trailer, the search for which thoroughly demonstrated to me that I'm far from the first to connect the movie and this technology. That said though, what should be more amazing is that a greater number of futuristic films haven't showcased it. I see the stuff above and I think it'll be pretty amazing if my grandchildren are using keyboards and mice. Hammers and chisels seem more likely than that.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Your memory or your life?

An interesting article appeared in the news last week. One which got my attention more than most.

Elderly black people who are chronic users of acid-inhibiting drugs in the family that includes Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet have 2½ times the normal risk of developing dementia, Indiana researchers reported Friday.

The drugs block production of stomach acid by inhibiting histamine-2 receptors; the stomach releases hydrochloric acid when stimulated by histamines. But they also inhibit the brain’s cholinergic system, which is involved in memory and cognition. Low levels of cholinergic activity have been linked to dementia.

Now I am neither elderly nor black, but I hope to be one someday, and I'm pretty sure that the biochemistry we're talking about here isn't race-related. The study subjects were black, driving the wording above.

Why did this get my attention? Because, like many married men my age who, forced to take pleasure where they can find it, long ago installed a mirror over the kitchen table, I was also long ago diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and GERD. Of more concern, a recent EGD (The fog of anesthesia of which I emerged from alternating a recitation of the "Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English and my favorite line of "jive" from Airplane. That the portions of my brain governing memory and language awakened well before those responsible for discretion did not amuse my spouse . . . but that's another story.) brought with it the news that the bottom five centimeters of my esophagus is being assimilated by my Borg-like stomach. The technical name for this is Barrett's Esophagus. It is a precursor condition to cancer, which, doesn't so much run in my family as sprint. But, Picard escaped the Borg, so resistance is never wholly futile.

While opinions seem to differ on whether esophageal tissue that has become stomach tissue can ever really become esophagus again, there is at least agreement that treating the GERD (with both lifestyle changes and drugs) can at least stop the damage.

My drug is Aciphex. Which, I am happy to report, is not in the class listed above, but is instead, a proton pump inhibitor. That's good news:
The study did not look at Caucasians and there was not enough data to suggest a risk from a different family of drugs called “proton pump inhibitors,” which includes Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid.

It would be a wicked irony indeed that asked a person to choose between risking an early end to life by leaving one condition unchecked and prolonging life, but not being able to remember why you wanted to in the first place. Which is why, in the end, lifestyle changes, when possible, are always a superior, if more difficult, option than drugs.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Blog Roll Catch Up

One of the things I like about IE7 is the ability to open a slew of websites with a single click from the favorites menu. Accordingly, I have a "Blog Maintenance" folder, and a "Blog Reads" folder. Part of catching up since vacation has been to peruse some of the posts on the Blogroll since I left. A few are worth recommending.

This from Indexed made me laugh out loud.

This shifting map of the Middle East on Acute Politics is worth watching.

Bad time to pick up a new vice?

Ten years ago, I couldn't explain what a single-malt Scotch was, let alone name a favorite. But I can now.

Cigars, though, I'm still learning about. I've added a cigar blog to my list of occasional reads, and for father's day this year, my daughters gave me a beautiful Don Salvatore Cuban Wheel humidor that I'm working on stocking with some good smokes as I discover them. That is, if I can afford to. A recent post over at Mountain Philosopher has me a little concerned:

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Bill, co-sponsored by Senators Hatch and Kennedy, and which passed the Senate last week by a veto-proof majority but which has yet to pass the House, would extend health insurance to millions of uninsured American children. The bulk of the program's costs would be financed by an additional 61 cent tax on a pack of cigarettes. Doesn't sound unreasonable to me.

The bill also calls for HUGE increases on premium cigars which yours truly does relish upon occasion. How much of an increase? The current stoogie federal tax is a 5 cents. The House version of the bill calls for about a one dollar tax. Again, I can live with that 2000% increase.

But the Senate version goes crazy, setting up to a TEN DOLLAR TAX per stick! The formula calls for an approximately 53% tax on the wholesale cost. I typically smoke four to seven dollar cigars. A seven dollar cigar runs about $3.50 wholesale, making it $5.25 before markup, and about ten bucks to me if the retailer is going to maintain his margin and stay in business. The fifteen dollar sticks, and believe me, these are more popular than you might think, will start to go for 24 bucks.

I now understand why the humidor came with a little flyer urging me to visit the Legislative Action Center of the Retail Tobacco Dealers of America and get involved.

Seafood Capital of the World

First, a hearty thanks to Barry over at Enrevanche for the occasional post to They Rode On while I was busy enjoying a Saturday night stock car race, NC beaches, barbeque, and too much deep-fried seafood and hand-dipped Mayfield ice cream in "the seafood capital of the world."

Since this blog purports to claim food as an occasional topic, let me offer a few suggestions to anyone lucky enough to visit Calabash, NC, in the near future. After years of spending a week at Sunset Beach, about five miles up the coast from Calabash, I've tried most of the restaurants in town at least once. Every regular visitor to Calabash has a personal favorite. Dad's is The Seafood Hut, on the left after you make the turn at the light and head toward the dock. They have great seafood there, but last time I went (admittedly a few years ago), they only took cash, and I don't tend to travel with a lot of that, so we opt for Dockside instead.

Everyone has his or her own standard to judge a seafood house by, so here's what my family likes about Dockside, and you can judge from there. First, great service. (As our waitress came by the table the first time, carrying a tray of food to another table, she smilingly said, "I'll be right with ya'll." I could write a paragraph about why that mattered, but if you need the paragraph, you won't get it anyway.) Awesome, hot, plentiful hushpuppies. One family member's favorite is the deviled crab and another's is the shrimp and fish and clam chowder. My wife and I split the deluxe platter because we love all of the above and oysters and scallops, and we still have more food than we can eat. All hot, all fresh, all great.

Need a break from seafood, or allergic to it? Then try Tony's Pizza, on the right, just past The Seafood Hut, but before you get to Dockside. If we're down for the week, we'll hit Tony's at least once.

After dinner, there's only one place in Calabash that people in the know go for ice cream: The Back Porch. Once upon a time, it was in a tiny little building that really was more porch than building. But a few years ago, it moved to a location just across Beach Drive from Callahan's. For at least the decade that we've been visiting, Vivian has been hand-dipping Mayfield ice cream (my new personal favorite is Extreme Moose Tracks), and making true southern sundaes complete with wet nuts. If you don't know what wet nuts are, you are not a NC native. (Hint: to make some for yourself, take a mason jar, fill it with walnuts, then pour in Aunt Jemima Pancake Syrup to the top, put a lid on, let it sit for a week, then try that as a topping for your favorite ice cream.) A few years ago, a rival "creamery" moved in within spitting distance of the old porch. I can't comment on that other place except second-hand, and none of that has been good, bless their hearts. Go to the Back Porch.

Before you do though, you'll need to let that hefty helping of artery-hardening, deep-fried seafood settle, so if you're like our family, you'll need to spend an hour or so wandering around in Callahan's, across the street. Buy a t-shirt, pick up some new beach jewelry. If you leave with less than a pound of fudge, you're not trying. But, for heaven's sake, do not buy a hermit crab, unless your plan is to name it Willy and take it back to the ocean and set it free the very next day. You get lots of Karma points for that.