Saturday, August 15, 2015

Rattlesnake Saloon

You spend the better part of the past decade hardly having any plans at all.  Then, with no warning whatsoever, two different friends invite you to do something.  On back to back days!  Well, that weekend is shot.

Such was my lot recently.  One Friday night, we went to see the new "Vacation" movie, marking my first trip to a theater since 2013.  The following afternoon, we ventured out to a little place I like to call... 'Murica.


The Alabama boondocks.

Our destination was the Rattlesnake Saloon.  I don't know why it's called that -- though I have at least a faint idea -- and I was not about to ask.

To get there, you head out U.S. 72 West, past the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Cold Water Inn, and Dry Creek -- the latter turned out to be a blatant misnomer.  If you get to the Natchez Trace, you've gone too far.  (That sounds like a euphemism out of a bad abstinence education class.  "If you reach the female's 'Natchez Trace,' turn back immediately, cease heavy petting, and repent!")

Actually, you turn on the very same road that you do to get to the Coon Dog Cemetery.  No, that wasn't just a scene in "Sweet Home Alabama."  It exists.  And we're pretty proud of it.  If you travel there, you can see heart-wrenching epitaphs like, "He wasn't the best, but he was the best I ever had."  So carry a handkerchief.

But digress, I have.  Let's get back on our way to the Rattlesnake Saloon.

Traveling south, you'll pass "I think we're lost" and "I no longer have cell service."  About five miles after that, you take a right at "This looks like a good place to dump a body," and you're almost there.

Seems like a lot to ask, of a horse.
The parking lot is a field with an eclectic array of motorcycles, pickup trucks, people on horses, and soccer mom SUV's.  From here, you can see horse stalls, rows of campers, a general store, and two silver grain silos, which have been converted into two-story bunk houses. 

The Saloon itself is located down in a hollow.  You can walk down or ride your horse (there's a hitchin' post).  We chose option three: the "Saloon Taxi."  It's a white Ford F-250 double cab customized with wooden benches on each side of the bed.  As we left ground level and headed down a steep, winding gravel road, I thought "This must be how the Clampetts felt."   I hoped it would not be my last thought ever.

I feel like we're putting a lot of trust in the sedimentary rock
here. Rock that is obviously not averse to chemical erosion.
A kindly old gentleman drove the Taxi.  I called him "Paw" and "Jed."  I assume he was employed by the Saloon, but maybe not.  Maybe he was just an entrepreneurial old-timer out to make a buck.  So I tipped him.  A buck.

We got a table for seven and were seated outdoors.  There were about twenty-five tables located in the coolness beneath a large rock shelter.  While it was 2 o'clock on another stifling 95-degree July afternoon across most of Alabama, it must have been 15 degrees less where we ate.

The menu is fairly limited, but the food was decent.  Passing on the Skunk Rings, Snake Eyes and Tails, and Bronco Bits, for obvious reasons, I settled on the Polish Trail Dog with a side of onion rings and a lemonade.  The onion rings were a highlight.

Saloon Taxi track, BFE Alabama, circa AD 2015
For those who require a heftier portion, there is the Gigantor -- a 2 lb. burger served with a pound of fries and a half-pound of the aforementioned onion rings.  It's 45 bucks, but if you eat it all in under 45 minutes, it's free!  Then I suppose you can use the money for some Pepto, or start saving for that angioplasty which just got exponentially nearer.  So, win-win.

Now I did find out from another friend who went  later in the evening that there's really no seating policy.  If all the tables are full, you evidently have to share a table or, worse, hover behind someone and wait for them to leave.  So I'd recommend going at an odd, less crowded time.  But that's just me.  You know how I am about being around people.

After a filling meal and some good conversation, we decided to walk back to the top rather than wait for the Saloon Taxi.

There was some mention of going to visit the Coon Dog Cemetery, but I'd had enough socialization for one fiscal quarter.

So, modern day John Wayne that I am, I saddled up my soccer mom SUV and rode for home.

"Alabama, when red leaves are falling, I'll roam through your pastures with fences of rail / Alabama, when possums are crawling and hound dogs are whining and wagging their tails..."

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Circling Back

As a kid, you don't need much of a reason to be friends.  You're friends with whoever sits next to you in class, or because some kid's mom invites you to his birthday party, or because you live in the same neighborhood.

But even though there were other kids in our neighborhood, it was the three of us -- me and Chris and Chuck -- that stuck the closest.

Chris and I were only a year apart, occasional rivals but always friends.  We were Tom and Huck.  Our neighborhood surrounded by woods on three sides, the creek that ran by the sewage treatment plant our Mississippi.  (In fact, if you followed the creek long enough, it would eventually lead to the Tennessee, just on the west side of the Wheeler Dam.  We never followed it nearly that far, but we did try making a raft once.  Didn't float.)

And little Chuck, with his old man name and his shock of orange hair, a few years younger but always determined to keep up.  He was the little brother Chris and I never had, much to his chagrin I'm sure.  We picked on him mercilessly, but let anyone else try and they'd better be ready to fight.

We raced tricked out bikes around that sleepy circle, pretending they were motorcycles, Indy Cars, or the General Lee.  Played football in the empty lot, baseball with ghost men, and golf with tennis balls and utility poles for holes.  We were Joe Montana and Roger Staubach, Jack Nicklaus and Calvin Peete, Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan.  (I was Roger, Jack, and Mario.)

We had Ataris, but almost always preferred to be outside with our imaginations.  "Red Dawn" and "The Day After" weren't just movies, but very real possibilities.  We practiced for war with pop guns, canteens, and pine cones for hand grenades.  The woods, creek, and the old rock crusher a Soviet battlefield.

We were gymnasts in the '84 Olympics, taking the swings off an old swing set, using the frame as a high bar and practicing our dismounts.  When we were thirsty, we drank water from a hose.  When we were hungry, we asked one of our moms or scrounged around someone's kitchen for cookies or a popsicle or, in especially desperate times, loaf bread.

Chris's boom box played Run DMC, New Edition, Midnight Star, and Prince & The Revolution.  And of course there was the time Chris's older sister (kinda cute, but bossy) said we should start a band and she would be our manager.  New Addition.  That was the name she came up with.  And with that, her career in talent management was over as quickly as it had begun.

Scarce was the tree we couldn't and didn't climb.  We made a thousand mudballs out of the red Alabama clay and threw them at each other, built forts out of pine straw, and used an old chicken coop as a clubhouse.  We got skinned up knees and stung by bees.  And sometimes we fought, but were always friends again by the end of the day or the next afternoon.

We heard (and repeated) cautionary tales about Mr. Sampson, the neighborhood peeping Tom who none of us had ever seen.  He was our Boo Radley.  And we steered clear of Crazy Alice. One day an ambulance was in her driveway and my parents said she had taken too many pills and then nobody lived in her house again for a long time.

Still, those never seemed like legitimate threats.  They were more like urban legends.  Stories that grew tall in the movies of a 12-year-old boy's imagination.

We picked apples from the tree in Doctor Thames backyard (without permission), and played in the playhouse that had belonged to his kids (with permission), by then all grown and moved away.  We traded baseball cards and turns riding Chris's go-kart around the circle.  Once I accidentally ran it off the road and into Mr. Sampson's yard.  I had never been so scared and never told a soul.

The world felt so much safer then.  Or maybe we were just naive.  We'd leave home and be gone for hours, our only instructions to be back in time for supper.   We rode our bikes to the sewage treatment plant, past where the paved road turned to gravel, far beyond the last house in the neighborhood.  I think about today and my nephews and how I'm afraid to even let them out of my sight.

We moved away from that neighborhood when I was 13 or 14.  Mom and Dad didn't have health insurance.  So when we had our car wreck, the bills from the resulting hospitalization and various surgeries made it so they couldn't afford the house anymore.

I remember being a little upset when we left, but of course I wasn't nearly able to grasp the gravity of it then.  We moved into a trailer across town.  Chris and Chuck came to visit a time or two, but it was never the same.

One day not too awfully long ago, I made a familiar turn beneath a blinking yellow caution light and drove back through the old neighborhood. I figured most of the people that once lived there had moved or passed on during the past almost thirty years, but I was fairly sure Chris's parents were still there.   As I passed, I noticed some kids toys in their yard.  Grandkids.  I smiled.  Next door, a house had replaced the empty lot and it made me a little sad.

That third of a mile seemed so much shorter than I had remembered, the yards smaller, the hill we coasted down on our bicycles not nearly so steep.

I came to the stop sign at the end of the loop.  Years ago, a gangly kid with sandy blonde hair and a chipped front tooth would have turned right, beginning the descent down the hill, quickly gaining speed and always a tad nervous he wouldn't make the curve at the bottom.  Not looking back.  And never really noticing any time passing at all.

But on this day, he turned left to head back to the two-lane state road, stealing one last glance in the side-view.

"Objects in mirror are closer than they appear."

If only it were so.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Brought to you by the Roman numeral XIII and the Norse god of thunder

A long time ago, in a blog not that far away, there was a weekly blog meme known as the Thursday Thirteen.  The premise was straightforward: Blog a list of thirteen things.  It could be your thirteen favorite Keanu Reeves movie quotes ("Excellent!" "Party on, dudes."), your thirteen favorite Oprah giveaways, or simply thirteen random thoughts.

With all it's alliterative allure and randomness, how could I refuse?  So I participated for a few weeks back in late 2005 and early 2006.  And here's a bit of Bone trivia: The Thursday Thirteen was how I "met" Renee (I'm pretty sure).  An encounter which has truly enriched her life (less sure).

So for old times' sake...

I.  I watched "Sharknado 3" last night.  I never saw "Sharknado 2" so I was a bit lost for the first few minutes.  Spoiler alert: The movie ends with David Hasselhoff floating off infinitely into space.  Which, coincidentally, is where I thought he had been all along.

II.  Summer TV: 200 channels and "Full House" reruns are still the best thing on at least four nights a week.

III.  Sticking with the TV theme, Monday is Luke Spencer's final day

IV.  "How do you tell somebody that you care about deeply, I told you so?  Gently, with a rose? In a funny way, like it's a hilarious joke?  Or do you just let it go, because saying it would just make things worse? ...Probably the funny way." ~ Michael Scott.  (I've been rewatching a lot of "The Office" on NetFlix lately.)

V.  I'm in between books right now.  Waiting for "West of Sunset" to come out in paperback, 'cause that's how I roll.  And wondering should I read "Go Set a Watchman." 

VI.  Dad turned 65 this week.  I bought him some Fender wall art at Hobby Lobby for his guitar/amp repair shop, then signed his card, "Love, Bone: The Fender Stratocaster of sons."

VII.  Mom slipped "POTUS" into a conversation yesterday.  Which prompted a "Whoa, whoa, whoa!  WHAT did you just say?" response from her firstborn.  "POTUS?" she repeated, sounding a tad uncertain she had used it correctly.  I continued. "First you get an iPhone.  Now, POTUS is part of your daily vernacular???"  This is a woman who cruised through the 80's and 90's never even attempting to figure out how to program a VCR.  I'm gonna need some time to process.  I don't understand the world anymore.

VIII.  "I wish you would post even more political and religious stuff on Facebook," commented no one, ever.

IX.  We went to see the musical, "Oklahoma!" last week.  I think I can sum it up in one word:  long.  It was an hour and forty-three minutes before they got to intermission!  I wasn't sure I was going to make it.  Hopefully, I scored some bonus points.  Although I may have just been making up for some previously accrued demerits.  I firmly believe some mysteries cannot be known by mortal man.

X. The same local troupe that did "Oklahoma!" is doing "As You Like It" later in the season.  I'm thinking it's a go.  After all, can one desire too much of a good thing?  And by desire too much of a good thing, I mean, accumulate too many bonus points. What sayest thou? 

XI.  In honor of the 46th anniversary of the alleged moon landing... We can put a man on the moon but we can't put a small, respectful partition between every single urinal in every single public restroom in this country?!  (Sticking with the Shakespeare theme) I think no partitions is taking this "All the world's a stage" thing a bit too far.

XII. There are 44 days until college football season.  "I can tell you who time strolls for, who it trots for, who it gallops for, and who it stops cold for."  And I can tellest thou who it dost moveth like a snail for. (Hint: It's a blogger who accrues demerits at a sometimes frightening pace.)

XIII.  I've been listening to the new Jason Isbell album.  (I had to do something to get "Oh what a beautiful moooooor-ning" out of my head.)  After the brilliance of "Southeastern," I was afraid I'd be disappointed in whatever came next.  Kinda like losing the best girl you ever had.  But music is not like women, so I needn't have worried.

Even though the album only came out this past Friday, the folks at YouTube are all over it.  This is one of my favorites so far.  The hook line is sort of a theme woven throughout the album and many of the characters he paints such vivid pictures of.  It poses one of those profound, make-you-think questions.  I know I've been obsessing over it for days now...

"Are you living the life you chose?  Are you living the life that chose you?"

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer: A Retrospective

Why does every year feel like the hottest summer ever?  Maybe it's just that I'm older.  Or maybe they are getting hotter, but this isn't a post on global warming.  I think we all know that's a farce perpetrated by Al Gore, the liberal media, most scientists, and the melting polar ice caps.

We're working on our 7th day of 96-degrees-plus.  Haven't hit triple digits yet, though we're hopeful for the weekend.  It gives us something to watch for, and helps break up the monotony of treating ourselves for signs of heat stroke.

I imagine it was like being on the Ark on day 39 of rain, and Noah's wife was probably like, "Dude, I'm so over rain."  But Noah was probably like, "Eh, the house is already a total loss, I'm gonna have to go to the Apple merchant to get a new abacus, may as well go for an even forty at this point."

A midsummer night's storm passed through Tuesday evening, providing a brief respite from the heat and bringing a few small tornadoes to neighboring counties.  The worst we got was having someone's trampoline blown into the road in front of my house.

It wasn't always like this.  Was it?  Summer used to seem cooler.  Plenty warm, for sure, but not my-internal-organs-are-going-to-fry-if-I-stay-outside-more-than-ten-minutes hot.  Anyway, it all got me to thinking about all the things summer used to be.  If you'll indulge me whilst I wax nostalgic for a moment...  ("As opposed to every other post you've ever written, Bone?")


Summer was a ballpark.  Lit up six nights a week.  Never on Sunday.  (You were in church then if your momma had raised you right.)  It was something to do in a town that didn't have anything else to do but go to the Hardee's or get up to no good.  I met a few girls there and played a little ball.  I was better at the latter but the former became a lifelong pursuit.

Summer was freedom.  Being out of school.  Every night felt like Friday night.  And that sultry evening air seemed to feed the restlessness.  Windows down, radio up.  Night driving and singing loud to some old summer song.

Summer was morning trips to Mamaw's with Mom.  Taking her into town and having breakfast at the Burger Chef.  Days lived with no real concept of time.  Mom was young, Mamaw was old, and it seemed that they would always be.

Summer was the city pool.  Learning to swim at the ripe old age of... well, is that really relevant here?  The cute lifeguard who unfortunately was too old for you.  (Which, personally, I've come to find I much prefer to them being too young.)

Summer was vacations.  Mostly just to Nashville.  They were small but they were ours.  Mom and Dad were still together.  I'd sit in the back seat and add up the miles between dots in the Rand McNally.  First I got too cool to go, then too old, and then Mom and Dad weren't together anymore.

Summer was time well wasted.  Countless hours spent on video games, hanging out at the mall, riding bikes, trading baseball cards, building forts, playing basketball, or long afternoons simply being bored.  Staying up late and sleeping later.  Some might disagree, but I say remain a kid for as long as possible.  Once the real world takes hold, it doesn't easily let go.

Summer was a song.  A thousand of them, really.  Sometimes sweet and wistful, sometimes upbeat and carefree.  But always, ended too soon.

(One of my thousand favorite summer songs...)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

No-talent assclowns and such

I want you to consider the state of the world for a moment...

Now consider this: 

Weren't we all better off when Michael Bolton was still having hits?  Think about it.  Gas was cheaper.  We were all much, much younger.  Some of us were thinner.  "Full House" was still on the air.  I'm just saying.

Lots has been going on in America lately, not all of which I'm thrilled about, but more on that later.  We celebrated another birthday here in the land of liberty over the weekend.  I wore my Old Navy U.S. Flag shirt.  Which was made in Vietnam.  I would not object if you say I am patriotism exemplified.

Enjoyed some good fried Fourth of July festival food.  I know it will kill me someday.  But my thinking was, "Surely it won't be today.  And hopefully not tomorrow either."  (Because tomorrow was Sunday and I didn't want to miss the U.S. Women's soccer match due to my untimely death or anything.)

I survived.  Though things may have looked precarious at times...

I also ran a 5K, recording my slowest time ever (24:59).  It was... interesting.  No timing chip.  No bib with a number on it.  We were given pre-race instructions as follows: Run down the hill, turn right at the stop sign, then turn left at the first road.  Run until the road dead ends.  We know it's dark so there's a truck parked out there with its lights on.  When you get to the truck, turn around and come back.

One guy got lost.  He evidently took a wrong turn and it wound up costing him about two minutes.  And no, it wasn't me!  Though that would've made for a much better story.

I saw him though, as I ambled along at my 8:03 pace.  This little glow stick coming through a cornfield towards the road.  (We all had to carry or wear glow sticks because it was a night race.) I'm not sure if anyone else got lost or not, and really with no timing chip or identification bib, there would be no way to know.  So, probably.

Saturday afternoon, we went for a brief two-and-a-half-hour canoe ride.  And while the canoe did not tip over, we did manage several unintentional 360's.  (Note: These should only be attempted by paddlers who have experienced a minimum of 2 to 4 canoe trips with varying degrees of success, are not in a hurry, and are able to express their frustrations with each other without using the paddle as a weapon.)

The part of the river we were on was sparse, which played right in to my dislike of crowds, and people in general.  We only saw four kayakers, two of whom cruised by just as we were performing some of our canoe acrobatics.  And there was one group of party bargers.  They had their inner tubes tied together, were shotgunning bad beer, and screaming the words to "God Bless the USA."  God bless us, indeed.

Speaking of these United States and what's been going on here lately, I just have one thing to say:  WTF????

It's ridiculous.  And I can't believe some people are actually supporting it.  Someone even invited me to go and see one of these disgraceful "productions," which I impolitely declined.  It's an insult to my intelligence and everything I've ever been raised to believe (about comedy). 

Is this really what we want to be as a nation?  Where a suburban Boston boy can grow up the younger brother of a New Kid On The Block and go on to earn excessive wealth and a modicum of fame by co-starring in not one, but two movies alongside a talking teddy bear?!

Mmhmm, suddenly my Michael Bolton theory's not sounding so terrible, is it?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Nine days with Stephen

Empty are the hours post-Stephen
Lonely in the afterglow
Still, I'll not yet move on
For to this am I resigned
The next will ne'er sate me
As once he did

I knew of Stephen, but didn't come to know him personally until around ten years ago.  He gave me some tips on writing.  Useful tips.  Though how much and how well I've applied them is quite debatable.

Then we sort of drifted apart for a few years, as guys are wont to do.  Of course I heard things.  He was quite successful.  Me, less successful.  But I knew deep down that that never mattered to Stephen.

When we ran into each other a couple of weeks ago, it was as if we hadn't missed a step.  No, I take that back.  It was even better than before.

He was different somehow, but just as thrilling as ever.  And I realized I had matured in those ten years.  I was more equipped to handle a relationship now, the kind of commitment Stephen required.

And so we began.

Like I so often do with a new relationship, almost immediately I began to neglect friends, writing, and all other aspects of my life.  If there were a free moment to be stolen, I would spend it with him.

It's not that Stephen demands that, not in so many words anyway.  And yet he does, simply by the intensity he himself brings to the relationship.

So that's where I've been.  With Stephen.  I blame him completely.  What with his tales of time travel, the obdurate past, preventing the JFK assassination and such.  Who could resist?  Certainly not me.

As so often is the case with guys like Stephen, after only a week I could feel our time coming to an end.  Our relationship was sort of like an 842-page book, and I was already on page 627.  It was exactly like that, in fact.

Stephen lingered a couple of days more.  Then he was gone.

That love which soars the highest so often burns out the quickest.

There's a sign in front of the elementary school I pass on my way home which says, "Enjoy your summer. Read, read, read!"  Apparently their repetitive marketing/mind-control has worked, as I've been on a reading rampage the past few weeks (see above).  My most recent conquest was Stephen King's "11/22/63."  It's the longest book I've ever read (and it's not even really close).  I always feel a touch of melancholy in the days after finishing a good book.  And yes, I still buy actual books.  I haven't been converted to electronic readers yet.  They already took my cassettes and Polaroids!  I'm hanging on to these as long as I can.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Harbor bar

The harbor bar at sunset.  Those five words elicit a contented smile within me.  My blood pressure drops twenty points.

It sits upstairs, on the roof really.  There's a full restaurant below, but I never go there.  The bar is open air, providing an untainted view of the sunset over the bay bridge to the west.  You can see the cars, so tiny in the distance and completely silent, as they disappear over the bridge.  (Over the crest of the bridge, not plunging off the side or anything, just to be clear.)

It's always crowded but somehow there always seems to be an open table.  Inevitably, there's a band playing whose only redeeming quality just may be that they're not quite as bad as the last band you heard here.  But the deck is large so that if you sit far enough away, the music blends in with the hum of the crowd.

Down below, scores of people stroll along the harbor walk, excitedly boarding or disembarking from one of the many boats.  Dolphin tours, sunset cruises, fishing charters, and other sea craft, all designed to lure tourists and their vacation dollars.

A lone man stands amidst them all strumming a guitar and singing Jimmy Buffett songs for tips.  Upon hearing him, you conclude that despite all its other magnificent qualities, the harbor bar is not a music hotspot.

You think of the old cover band joke, "The more you drink, the better we sound."  Then you wonder if that really is an old joke or if you just now made it up.  If you did, you conclude that you must be a genius.  Like Einstein-level brilliant.  In fact, you decide you would like for people to start referring to you as Einstein, and not in an ironic way either.  (None of this thought process has anything to do with the two-and-a-half Shock Tops you've imbibed.)

You're not sure why you're referring to yourself in the second person all of the sudden.  Perhaps it's something geniuses do.  Your 9th grade English teacher (not to mention Jocelyn, oy!) would probably cringe.  But why should you care?  She let the girls in class call you "Elvis" the entire year.  Just because you curled your lip when you smiled and got a bad poofy haircut from your uncle who eventually wound up living near the coast for thirty years with the same male roommate.  Besides, why is your 9th grade English teacher even still reading your blog?  A little creepy, Ms. M.

(For those who may be curious, you feel you should mention that you soon returned to your 77-year-old barber for the remainder of your high school days.  And stopped using hairspray.  But thankfully, Elvis lives on forever in 9th grade yearbook photos.)

Beyond the boats, you can see the levee and seawall, and further out the Gulf, silvery and shimmering, at her most serene this time of day.

You breathe in slowly and completely, taking full advantage of the calming, mind-clearing powers of the sweet ocean air.  You savor the feel of the breeze as it chills your sun-stung skin.  (You're a guy so you try not to shiver, but it's difficult, and eventually impossible.)

Then you realize that all this, virtually everything you see, is only here because of the water. Without it, there would be no ocean breeze, no seagulls, no boats, no bay bridge, no tourists, no Jimmy Buffett wannabe, no harbor bar.

It's not a particularly profound realization, but even theoretical physicists (and those of us that should have been) have an off day now and then.  Probably.

As you amble toward the stairs to leave, your waitress runs up to you from behind.  (You had thought she was kinda cute, but had no idea she may have felt the same.)

"Hey, Einstein," she says.  But before you have time to wonder how she knew about your new nickname, you see her holding up a familiar plastic rectangle.

"You forgot your credit card."

"The King," circa 1988.

This came from a writing exercise I found on author Chrys Fey's blog.  Sage interviewed Chrys on his blog recently, which is how I made her blog-quaintance.  This particular exercise was to write anything that comes to mind involving water.  It started as a description of one of my favorite places near the ocean, then evolved (devolved?) to include a tiny bit of fiction as well.  See more writing exercises here.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saying goodbye to three-fourths of my life

I could not say what David Letterman meant to the rest of the world.  I can only try and articulate what he meant to me.

In the early days, he (and the Beastie Boys) seemed to speak directly to my teenaged soul.  I can remember Axl and I discussing the previous night's Top Ten List the next day at school, when we weren't busy writing down color-coded lyrics to "Paul Revere" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." 

Sardonic, absurd, non-conforming, self-deprecating, and more than a bit of a goofball -- wait, are we talking about Dave or 17-year-old me?  Even so, he somehow managed to come across as hip and cool.  (OK, yes, we're definitely talking about Dave.)

In the NBC days particularly, the surprise element of the show was off the charts.  One article I read put forth the idea of how enormous Letterman would have been on the internet and Twitter has such things been around/popular then.  I cringe at using such a cliche, but you literally never knew what was going to happen.  It made for must-see late night TV.

One of my favorite parts was when Letterman took the show to the streets of Manhattan and somehow magically made you feel as if you were there, a part of New York, the center of the world.  The show lost something as those escapades became rarer, eventually all but stopping.

It's easy to forget how the late night landscape looked when Letterman, having been passed over to succeed Carson, made the jump to CBS.  ABC was airing "Nightline."  Prior to 1993, I think CBS had a late night movie offering in that slot.  Arsenio was around in syndication.  But for the most part, no other talk show had been able to sustain for any considerable length of time opposite "The Tonight Show."  (Remember "Into the Night Starring Rick Dees?"  Me either.)

I would argue that Letterman's move and success spurred a significant shift in late night programming, for better or worse.  Pretty soon every Tom (Snyder), Dick (Dietrick), and Chevy (Chase) around were joining the party. 

All this is not to say Dave and I didn't have our issues, or that I was always a faithful viewer.  I hadn't been for awhile.  Heck, I fell asleep during the finale and had to watch the rest of it the next day on DVR.  Staying up until midnight and waking up at 7:00 when you're seventeen is slightly more exhilarating than staying up until midnight and waking up at 5:00 when you're forty-two.

And I think we all remember the Bone/Letterman online Top Ten Contest feud.  (Top Ten Little Known Facts About Santa Claus? My entry: Doesn't believe in HIMSELF.)  Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the far-less-criminal Oprah/Letterman feud.

In recent years, the surprise element was not nearly what it once was.  The show became less funny to me.  But at the same time, Letterman became more real, more human.  (This is something Leno never quite managed, in my opinion, and I suppose maybe never wanted to.)

Letterman made very public mistakes, he had serious health problems, he became a father.  He cared and talked about world events and politics.  And I always thought his interview skills to be excellent, far and above any of his late night contemporaries.

As he sort of became the elder statesman, it seemed like he appealed to a wider audience.  At least within my test group.  Because while I didn't watch nearly as often, my Mom became one of his biggest fans.  I know she would not have even considered watching him in 1989.

"That David is so silly, isn't he?" she would say with much affection.  Rupert Jee and Jack Hanna were two of her favorites.  And anytime Regis and Letterman were on together, it was the highlight of her month.

I wonder what she'll do now, what she'll watch, as she doesn't seem to care for or get any of "those kids on there now."

I can hardly remember a time when there wasn't a David Letterman on television.  For thirty-three of my forty-two years, there has been.  And then it hits me, I'm not writing about what his show meant to me.  Instead, in all selfishness, it's about what his retirement signifies:  The inescapable passing of time.

And all you can do is remember, and say goodbye.  To the gap-toothed smile, the tossing of pens at cameras, and those years of your life.

"And I wonder when I sing along with you / If everything could ever feel this real forever / If anything could ever be this good again..."