Sunday, December 20, 2015

Arnie Karr: A man I loved

Arnie Karr and I were set up to have a contentious relationship.

Arnie was a journalist, focusing on financial performance of apparel companies.  I was the mouthpiece for several companies that he followed.

Arnie was a brilliant, proudly Jewish, proudly liberal, proud New Yorker.  I am a white-bread, slightly redneck, thankful to be Christian, moderate to conservative Southern kid.

Arnie and I first met face-to face at a DNR event in New York about 20 years ago to discuss the future of retail.  I was on a panel with two consultants.

Arnie was the moderator.  The consultants blabbed on and on with their sketchy insights.  I spoke as a guy responsible for sales and profits of a $500 million public company with retailers pulling at our every coin pocket.  Arnie told me he appreciated my candor and that I made him laugh.

That was the beginning of a long-distance relationship of love and respect.

We've discussed politics, religion, the rag business, retail, family and a thousand other things via email, phone, social media and the all-to-rare in person meetings.  

The last time I saw Arnie was at P.J. Clarke's a few years ago, just before he left on a vacation to Hawaii with his beloved family.

I wrote a post on this blog about man love years ago.

I sent the link as a reminder to a number of men that I love in 2013.

Here's Arnie's response.

Alan – Amazing that you shared that this week. I'd just been reminded how true it is.

My mother still lives in the house where I grew up and, until this week, Mrs. Lippe, the mother of my closest childhood friend, Ken, and his sister, who had the same role in my sister's life, remained there as well. Mrs. Lippe — aka Lenny — had hip replacement surgery a few months ago and has been just a little bit less sharp since the surgery. And four stories is a lot for a widow in an empty nest to cover.

Lenny moved into an assisted living facility — yuck, euphemism! -- this week. As her daughter was getting ready to leave, who should show up at her door but my Mom, in her traditional role as someone who easily gives lots of love on an unconditional basis. Her daughter sent me a little note on Facebook telling me how good my Mom had made her and her mom both feel.

But when I got home that night and checked my personal email, there was a 1,000-word note from Ken. I haven't seen him since the day of his father's funeral last year. But, just like you wrote, it didn't matter. We weren't keeping tabs on each other. No one was watching the clock or the calendar.  He just felt he needed to put down in writing a remembrance about the day in 1957 he moved onto our "block" and, before he could even finish his first lunch in his new home, some dark-, curly-haired kid from down the block (you can probably guess who) knocked on and then opened the front door asking if the new people had anyone he could play with. It was just an incredibly touching note that produced a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes and several other physical abnormalities.

Ken and I were inseparable during our childhoods but drifted a bit in the later years of high school — I was more of a musician/writer and he more of an athlete — but we picked up exactly where we left off in 1976, when I arrived in California as DNR's new West Coast editor. He was going to school in Santa Barbara and I was in L.A., but we visited as often as possible. 

But Ken and me?  Exactly as you described. We can talk about anything and, even with 46 years of memories to draw on, it's still the man-love thing you described so well.

Glad you shared that, and really glad we had a chance to hoist a few last month.  Hawaii was, as you would expect, fantastic.


Arnie died a few weeks ago.  At 62.  I had no idea he was sick.  I woke up one day and he was gone.

Arnie, I love you.  I miss you.  

Ken, I'd love to meet you.

Mrs. Karr, I'd love to have coffee with you in your kitchen where you raised a great man.

Rhea and Daniel, I can somewhat imagine the hole in your world.  May God's peace be with you.

To all of us who loved Arnie Karr, let us soon stop grieving and start living as Arnie would have us do.  Honest, happy, dancing, singing, respectful of one another, learning everyday.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Roads of Madness

Dear Peanut,

So, you'll be getting your driver's license in two years.

You've learned well the first rule of safe driving:

"Assume every other driver on the road is an idiot."

The importance of this is because it's basically true, it's the safest way to drive, it prevents surprises, it saves time, eliminates guesswork and it will keep you out of harm's way.  

Remember, the objective of driving is to get from point A to point B in the safest and most pleasant means possible.  Idiots don't understand this at all, and therefore, they are to be avoided at all costs.

Also, driver idiocy is not based on gender, socioeconomics, race, creed, religion, or nationality.  Or, for that matter, hair color.  (Although if her hair is the color of Twizzlers, she has more than three bumper stickers pertaining to saving the water moccasins, and she's driving thru Texas in August with her windows down, you might tap the brakes.)

In order to accelerate your training, the following wisdom has been gleaned over the past 44 years and countless millions of miles driving.

1.  Avoid the Rice Rocket

The driver of this car has taken a perfectly good, inexpensive automobile made in a Southeast Asian country and has spent a month of his wages on a high-flow catback exhaust that you can hear from a half-mile away.  It sounds like Godzilla farting.  

In addition to the annoying sound, this dude believes he is starring in Fast and Furious 9.  He drives without regard to his safety or yours.

Research has shown these drivers have a lower brain-to-body mass ratio than that of the bony-eared assfish. (The assfish was heretofore thought to hold the record of lowest ratio of all vertebrates. Fumes from high-flow catback exhausts, excessive consumption of Monster energy drinks and hours of Cannibal Corpse tunes at 130 decibels has allowed the Acanthonus armatus to move up a rung.)

2.  Pay Attention to Vehicle Color

If the vehicle is the color of anything ever seen in a baby's diaper, watch out. 

If the vehicle is the color of a freezer pop, watch out.

There are only five approved personal vehicle colors.  Black, white, red, candy apple red, silver and metallic grey.

White.  Not beige, not tan, not pearl white, not sand.


Red.  As in Coke red.  Not warm red, not plum, not pink, not puce. And do not be fooled by burgundy/maroon/crimson.  These are not red.  And, they are most likely being driven by a deranged fan of: a school with a two word fight song and both words rhyme with tumor, the University of Spoiled Children, Bates College (who managed to produce Bryant Gumbel), or Free Shoes/Seafood University.  Also, possibly a Gumper, a red-assed Aggie (a fine school but a weird cult), someone who always needs more cowbell or someone who thinks it perfectly normal to holler "Go Cocks" at a women's volleyball game.  Fear the wrong-shade-of-red vehicle driven by a Gopher (they elected Jesse Ventura as governor) or the swine worshiping fans of the team whose football coach once said, "Fayetteville isn't the end of the world.  But you can see it from here."


Candy apple red. A beautiful color for autos, trucks and Fender Stratocasters.

Metallic grey.  Avoid flat gray at all costs.  It is the color of death.  And Bondo.

No shade of brown, paprika, copper, bronze or pumpkin is approved.  David Fisher had a poop brown ex-government vehicle and the tales of idiocy from that four-door death machine are legendary.

The vehicle below is an example of an unapproved hue and therefore likely driven by an idiot.

This has been determined by the International Proper External Car Authority on Color. Better known as IPECAC.  Any unauthorized vehicle color will induce vomiting.

The are only a few exceptions.

First is the Jeep.  After all, it began as a General Purpose (the origin of the word jeep) military vehicle in WWII.  The Jeep is allowed browns, greens and golds.

Corvettes are allowed Daytona yellow.

The VW Beetle is allowed Yellow Rush, so long as it is driven by a woman.  (BTW, slug bug!)

And classic and antique cars and trucks, let's say 1970 or earlier, can be any color they want.

I speak from personal experience.  I've driven a late 1968 navy blue Chevy Malibu (known as "The Blue Crap"), a classic copper 1970 Camaro, and a forest green Tahoe.  Some of the worst decisions in my life were made driving those vehicles.  I was at those times not playing with a full deck.

Especially the time Jim Bennett and I played fake chicken on Boulder Way at midnight to impress our dates only to find out we both forgot who was to pass on which side and we nearly bought it.  I can still hear the tires screeching and Mrs. Yohe bolting out her front door only to see it was me in my copper Camaro and Bennett in his bright orange Chevy.  It didn't take long for her to let my parents know that my friend and I were idiots.  And, she was right. (I think Mrs. Bennett was spared that news.)

3.  Watch Out for Trucks with Unsecured Loads

Gravel trucks, uncovered dump trucks, trucks pulling trailers with a load that looks like it could fall off.

If you see a college student driving a pickup on his way to his dorm with a crappy table and a floppy mattress in the back, stop.  The mattress is very likely to blow out.  I know mine did on the Atlanta Highway.

4.  Fear the Non-maintained Hooptie

If the car's paint job looks like the sweat-stained baseball cap of the coach of Grand Canyon University, how well do you think the brakes are maintained?  Or the steering mechanism?  Or the tires, transmission, turn signals, brake lights, headlights, backup lights or any of a thousand other parts that are necessary for a car to be safe on the road?

Chances are, they aren't maintained at all.

If the rear window is full of crap, so is the brain of the driver.

Watch out for the loblolly driving regularly on one, two three or four emergency spare tires.  They are meant to get you to a tire repair store, not across the country.

5.  Stay Alert for Situational Idiocy

High school drivers, especially on the first day of school, the last day of school, or their birthday.

Panic stricken drivers at airports.  Especially Monday mornings.

Out-of-state drivers.  Imagine the poor soul from a state with less than 750,000 people encountering the 405 at rush hour.

6.  Beware Muffy and Fifi

Their names are interchangeable.  So are their brains.  Except the dog wouldn't wear the stupid hat.

7.  Give Wide Berth to All Hat, No Cattle Pickup Drivers

Nobody would drive this thing but a pilgarlic spending his daddy's money.  He's an idiot for owning it.  And, he believes he's bullet proof.  

He likely also wears his baseball hat backwards, or worse, sideways.  And there's high likelihood he wears white sunglasses.  

Stay clear.  

8.  Steer Clear of Ridiculous After Market Parts

As Gabe Massimi said, they call them spoilers cause they spoil the looks of the car. I suspect this dimwit thinks his looks cool.  And, it accents his racing stripes and his spare tire.  

Dubs are generally stupid.  Dubs on a pickup are particularly stupid, and so will the driver be.

9.  Be Especially Careful of the Combo Platter

Little one, quite often you will see more than one of these warning signs in one vehicle.

There are many more lessons that you'll have to learn on your own.  But if you start with a healthy distrust in every driver and vehicle around you, you will be way ahead.

Love you.  Be safe.  Drive happy.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dear Jihadi John

Dear "Jihadi John",

Sir, this is a love letter.

We in the "West" would call this a tough love letter.  But it is born out of love.

If your name is Mohammed Emwazi, as is now widely reported, then please allow me to address you as Mohammed.  "Jihadi John" is a media-created and crass way to de-personalize whoever you are.

Sir, you must be congratulated for accomplishing some significant personal goals.  You are now extremely well known.  And sadly, you are now perhaps the "most wanted" man on earth.

Your executions and your social media prowess have you in the gun sights of almost every country with a military capability on earth. 

If attention is what you've sought, you've got it.

Here's my question for you.

To what end?  If you are dead tomorrow, so what? 

You might die at any moment from a number of assailants.  The Jordanians, the Japanese, the Brits, the Americans, the Sauds and many others would like to see you dead. You have incensed all of them.

Your fellow ISIS/ISIL/Daesh compatriots might become jealous of your fame.  Watch your back.  And your front.

You are a dead man walking.

An American military man who spent much time in your current part of the world (not your West London upbringing), said this.  "If there is a single power the West underestimates, it is the power of collected hatred."

Having been raised and living in the "West", it is difficult to understand why.  We live in freedom.  We are free to speak, live, love, worship, contribute, play and go about life as we wish.

Apparently, this lifestyle offends you.

If you will, please allow me to offer a totally new thought on how to live and think that might free you from the certain death sentence that awaits you.

You are not the first or the most prolific terrorist against the "West" that has ever lived.  Nor are any of your compatriots.  And, you never will be.

Here are just a few folks to keep in mind.

The Romans.  (That didn't end well for them.)

The Nazis.  (That didn't end well for them.)

The Soviet Union (That didn't end well for them.  And it won't end well for Putin.)

Mohammed, freedom and love are what ends well.

 I have no idea if you've ever read the Holy Bible.  But, there's a story in there you ought to know about.

Saul of Tarsus (still a thriving city in Turkey), was a devout Jew.  He thought that the Jewish tradition was the only way.  He heard of the uprising of followers of Jesus.  He decided to become the pre-emenint  enemy of the followers of Christ.  He jailed them.  He persecuted them.  He thought he was on the high road.  He was enjoying his infamy.

One day, on the road to Damascus, he met Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, in person. 

Saul was changed that day.

He went from being the enemy of freedom and love to become Paul, the pre-eminent teacher of freedom and love.

Mohammed,  you have a choice.

You can die a small time martyr.

Or, you could lead your people out of darkness.

I implore you to study the life of Paul and the teachings of Jesus.

Hate will never conquer.  Only love can conquer all. 

Mohammed, I've lost a 26 year old son due to hate.

I pray for you an opportunity to change your world.

I love you, son.  I don't know how often you've heard that. I am a father.  I am a Christian.  I hurt for you. 

I can't comprehend what lead you to this life.  But, I can promise you that you can change your current and future.  And, a better way awaits you.

I know that on your current course, destruction awaits you.  But, I also know that redemption and knowing that you are loved unconditionally is a real and present opportunity.

Please, put down your dukes.

Know that love is all around if you will accept it.

God is love.  

Alan Burks

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What a photograph can reveal

Last Monday afternoon, something evil this way came into my intestines.

I assumed it was a 24 hour virus.  

By Thursday, all my Wikipedia research indicated the rumbling down below could no longer be assumed to be the Norovirus.

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate to become the patient of a physician that I liked then and trust and respect even more after all these years.  Dr. Paul Sokal.  

Thankfully, the good doctor was in Thursday afternoon.

After a few minutes of questions and examination, Dr. Sokal determined I had a bacterial infection, i.e. food poisoning.  (I swear to never eat at a NASCAR event again.)  A few days of antibiotics, and I would be good to go.

Once the exam was over, Dr. Sokal said that he wanted to show me a photograph he had taken.

I knew that years back he had given up on golf and taken up photography.  It made going to the doctor's office fun to see his new work on the wall on each visit.  Beautiful images from exotic locations, junkyards, the Calatrava bridge. New work from a recent trip to Lake Tahoe graced this exam room.

 "I think this may be the best photograph I've shot yet.  But given the nature of the image, and how you feel today, I hesitate to show it to you.  Probably better on your next visit."

"No, no.  Please show it to me.  I'm ok."

 So, he opened his computer, and this is the photograph.

"Alan, my dad was an Army veteran.  He is buried in Arlington National.  I'll never forget his ceremony.  The folding of the flag was an image I'll never forget.  You could have bounced quarters off the flag when the honor guard pulled it taut before they began to fold it.  

Thinking of him, I went to Dallas National to look around.  That's when I saw this image and captured it.  

And now, I wanted to ask your help.  I know you have suffered in this same way.  I'm determined to find the family of CPL Peter Courcy, but I don't have any idea where to begin.  If it I'm not asking too much, I was wondering if you could give this some thought and advise me where I might begin my search to find them."

I got goosebumps.  

"I know CPL Courcy's family.  I can put you in touch with them today.  Look, here's his mom's Facebook page.  We're friends.  She has a very similar photo on there.  What a wonderful day this is, Paul.  You didn't upset me at all.  Today is my Pete's birthday, and you just gave me a wonderful gift."

Then he got goosebumps.  

Now, I know why I got the yuk.

Now, I know more about Paul Sokal.

Now, I can see his father's ceremony.

Now, Paul Sokal knows the family of Peter Courcy.

Now, I see again the importance of the monuments we build to fallen heroes.

Now, I see more clearly the arc of miracles.  

Amazing what one photograph can reveal.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

How cold is it?

I have a new job.

Director of Marketing of the Walls Brands Group now owned by Williamson-Dickie Mfg. Co.

We make insulated workwear and hunting clothing.  The stuff you wear when it's cold and you work outdoors or go hunting and fishing in the cold.

I've been to Madison, Wisconsin twice in the past month.  Once, it was -11, and on the second trip it was -22.

It hurt to breathe.

We visited stores of a customer of ours, Blain's Farm and Fleet. 

On the most recent visit, we toured several stores and noticed that ice fishing huts were seriously marked down.

Having grown up in the South, ice fishing is one of those things I've been amazed by and always wanted to try.  We're used to cane poles and mosquitoes and bream.  Drilling a hole in the ice seems so otherworldy.  And a really cold winter, I assumed, would be the pinnacle for the sport.

So I asked the store manager why the ice fishing huts were marked down.

I assumed, wrongly, that it was late in the season.

"Oh, it's been an awful ice fishing season.  It's been too cold to ice fish", was the response of the manager.

That's how cold it's been.

It's friggin cold across North America.

No snow in Atlanta or ice in Dallas can explain the cold that Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada, etc. has experienced this year.

I'm sure Al Gore and company have an explanation.  But I believe their PowerPoint is wrong.

The good folks in the Northern climes of the U.S. have experienced a record cold.  As have the folks in almost every state.

And, it's not over yet.

Indications are that winter will continue to be on us in a serious way for at least another two months.

Somethings happening here.  And, what is is, ain't exactly clear.

But it ain't global warming.

And for those of us in Southern climes, we need to learn from our Northern neighbors.  Life goes on unabated for them.  They are prepared.  The airports are open and on time.  The highways are cleared and safe.  City sidewalks are clear.

The Ice Age might well be upon us.

Buckle up.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Where is Johnny Marks when we need him?

When's the last time a good new Christmas song was written?

So far as I can tell, it was in the 1990's.


Is it our love of nostalgia?  Or lack of interest?  Or lack of talent?

I'm dumbfounded.

Starting Thanksgiving week, we all start listening to Christmas music.

And according to various charts, here are the most popular songs and when they were written:

"All I Want for Christmas is You"  1994

"Grown Up Christmas List"  1992

"The Christmas Song"  1944

"Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree"  1958

"Feliz Navidad"  1970

"A Holly Jolly Christmas"  1965

"Jingle Bell Rock"  1957

"White Christmas"  1940

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas"  1951

"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"  1949

Interestingly, most of our favorite Christmas songs were written by men who were devout Jews of European Jewish descent.  Johnny Marks, Irving Berlin, Walter Afanasieff and Mel Torme. 

Some might say they took advantage of a commercial opportunity.  I like to think that they appreciated their Christian neighbors and used their musical talents to honor a special time of year.

I, for one, hope for new Christmas classics.

The story of hope and grace is eternal.  There is enough musical talent around the world to write many more.

The Advent is upon us.  Let the inspiration inspire you songwriters out there to add to the best time of the year.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pete Burks Day of Service 2013

In the spring of 2012, a group of young men that were high school buds of Pete's decided to honor their friend in a way they thought he would like.

A day of service to the community.  As in, volunteering to help a neighbor in need to fix up their house, paint their gutters, repair their fence or clean up a yard that's become a bit too much for them to keep up.

Last September, this group of young men convinced the city of Richardson, Texas to assign them a number of homes that were out of code or in need of some repair.  The homeowners were usually elderly, sick, physically challenged, economically challenged or all of the above. 

So much good was done last year that Pete Burks Day of Service II was held in Richardson this past Saturday.  The mayor was there to say thanks.  City council was there.  The city manager was there.  And, about 50 volunteers were there to help neighbors in need.

The YMCA got some maintenance taken care of and some trees planted.  A park was spruced up.  Fences past their prime were removed to make room for new fences.  Houses were painted.

And, there was the jungle house. 

Take a look at this picture.  See if you can see the house.

Not to worry.  None of us who drove up could see the house, either. 

The gentleman who has lived there for 40 years has had his share of challenges.  He gave up on the yard years ago.  Like most of  his life, it was just too much for him.

Here's what it looked like three hours later.

The transformation was amazing.  The owner was thankful for the help.  The neighbors were astonished and appreciative. 

And quite often, the volunteers would be asked, "Now, who are you guys and why are you doing this?"

And so, Pete's story would be shared. 

And, the underlying reason for the day of service was made clear.

"You must love your neighbor as you love yourself."

It's all about love.  And loving someone first.   

Thanks, Footwashers.  Thanks, sponsors.  Thanks, volunteers.  Thanks, Richardson.  Thank you, Lord.

Thanks, Petey.  You continue to inspire others six years after you left us.