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August 2007

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
August 22, 2007

Two or three years ago, I did something extremely stupid: I shaved my head.

Now, of course, lots of men (and some women) shave their heads for all types of reasons, be it vanity, a change of hairstyle, or, in extreme cases, lice.

None of those reasons can adequately explain why, in a St. Louis hotel room, I took a portable Bic razor and some cheap hotel room soap and sliced every hair follicle off my scalp.

You see, I did it as a joke.

My brother and my teenage nephew were along for the trip, and on a goofy lark, I thought it would be simply hilarious to go Kojak.

It's just hair, I told myself. A bald look would crack up my brother and his son, and besides, it'll grow back.

And, sure enough, it did. It all came back in a few weeks Ð in no time, I had a head of shining white hair.

The only problem was this: my hair was dark blonde when I shaved it.

I'll repeat that in class for those who weren't paying attention: my hair was dark blonde when I shaved it. It returned snow white.

Some people scoff at this claim. Hair simply can't change colors over a few days time, it's been said. Well, I can only reply to such skeptics with six words: I'm living proof that it can.

Yes, there are a few celebrity examples of men whose hair turns prematurely silver. Richard Gere went white when he was around my age. And when he was about 33, Steve Martin's hair turned silver. (How do I know? I was Steve Martin's biggest fan when I was in fourth grade Ð this was roughly 1977. When his hair went from black to white almost overnight, I kept double-checking his age to make sure he hadn't been fibbing.)

Yet, as far as I know, those two gentlemen never shaved their heads.

* * *

Initially, the white hair didn't bother me. My wife and some friends told me it made me look "distinguished."

Others, however, asked me why I wasn't using Just for Men, the hair system that "magically" turns silver-haired men back to youthful and vibrant brown hair-covered studs.

Also, while my hair was the color of snow, my eyebrows and whiskers were still blonde. (They still are, by the way.)

So, I simply decided to tough it out. I still dressed in a somewhat youthful manner (my uniform is a t-shirt and jeans), and besides, most people around town knew about my Yul Brynner episode and realized my hair color change happened to be somewhat of a freak of nature.

But then, irritating things began to happen.

Item 1: When I would head to the grocery store or other public arena, people began mistaking me for my father. Which, to put it delicately, is not a bad thing (Pop is a handsome man), but let's put our cards on the table: Pop is in his late 60s; I just turned 40!

Item 2: A few weeks back, my brother and I journeyed to Memphis. As we entered a restaurant for dinner, an elderly man outside the eating establishment stopped me.

"Excuse me," he said as he looked into my eyes. "Aren't you Fred Smith?"

"Uhhhh," I stumbled. "No sir. My name is Rob."

The man shook his head, seemingly confused.

"Really?" he asked. "Are you serious? You're not Fred Smith?"

Thinking the man had too much to drink on this particular evening, I simply shook my head and told him: "Sir, my name is Rob. I don't know who Fred Smith is."

If, at the time, I would have turned my head to my brother, I would have found him trying to stifle laughter. Instead, I simply smiled at the man and moved into the restaurant.

There, inside and away from the man outside, my brother burst out laughing.

"Rob," he said after a laugh, "don't you know who Fred Smith is?"

"No," I innocently replied.

"Fred Smith is the founder of FedEx," my brother said between laughs. "He's like 65!"

For those of you who don't know, FedEx is headquartered in Memphis. And, for the record, I look nothing like Fred friggin' Smith.

Except for the white hair.

Finally, Item 3: This past week, I sat in a local restaurant waiting for a take-out order. A young man came up to me and introduced himself.

"Aren't you Rob Grace?" he asked.

Somewhat hesitantly, I replied: "Uhhh, yes."

He introduced himself and told me he has done computer work for my 46-year-old brother.

Jokingly, I said: "Oh, I'm sorry. I bet he is a pain to work with."

(Before I go further, let me again say this: I am 40!)

The young man laughed. "I know what you mean. I give my little brother a hard time too."

* * *

All of this is to say the following: if my hair looks a tad darker next time you see me, you now know why.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
August 15, 2007

Just call me Grizzly.

Like Grizzly Adams.

Only a thinner Grizzly Adams who can't grow a beard and has the skin pigmentation similar to Casper the Friendly Ghost.

I'll explain.

I've been roughing it for the past few days. I took the family deep into the Arkansas Ozarks wilderness, specifically a few miles outside of Jasper, near the Buffalo National River.

Actually, my wife and her sister put the trip together. They rented a big cabin in the middle of nowhere and invited various relatives. We all showed up with our cans of bug spray, sun block tubes and coolers packed with all types of eats and drinks.

The plan was to relax, enjoy each other's company, roast some marshmallows, and basically bask in the solitude and beauty of the Arkansas forest.

And I suppose for my wife and her sister, this plan was all fine and dandy except for one tiny problem, and that problem friends and neighbors can all be encapsulated in two words: Ned. Beatty.

You see, Julie and her sister have likely never heard of Ned Beatty. And, I think it's safe to say they've never seen the 1972 film, Deliverance.

I, on the other hand, have seen Deliverance. And a trip into any rural part of the South on a river known for its canoe excursions can always crank up the refrain of "Dueling Banjos" in the head of any person who has seen Deliverance.

I don't need to bore you with the plot: some city guys go floating, run into some hillbillies and before you know it, one of the guys is dead, and another is being chased around in his tighty whities by a demented, dentally-challenged backwoods freak who really loves the sounds of swine squealing in the forest.

And if you haven't guessed by now, the guy frantically running for his life clad only in his Fruit of the Looms is portrayed by the actor Ned Beatty.

So, my vision of an idyllic few days in the country was somewhat clouded by this terrifying, yet classic movie.

Needless to say, I packed nothing but boxers.

***

My Ned Beatty-fueled fears turned out to be completely unfounded, of course.

This place was fantastic -- lots of room, a big kitchen where we could all gather every morning, a large library with an intriguing selection of books, and most importantly, central air conditioning.

Sure, I realize Grizzly Adams never luxuriated in the manufactured cool breeze of air conditioning, but he and that big bear of his would have loved it.

* * *

The recent drought prevented us from a planned float trip on the Buffalo, but we did manage to head to a section called Kyle's Landing, a gorgeous bend in the river with a fairly deep swimming hole for the kids and surrounded by enormous rocky cliffs.

While the adults sat with our chairs in the cool water, the kids frolicked and swam in the shallow river. One member of our crew caught some crawfish with his bare hands (show off), and we decided to use the little crustaceans for some live fishing bait.

Dropping a stick he had found for his impromptu make-believe portrayal of the survivor dude on the Discovery Channel's Man Vs. Wild, my nine-year-old son decided to use the fishing rod and its fresh bait. After a few casts, he came up with a catch.

Since I was in my Grizzly Adams mood, I decided to do some fishing with some of the crawfish. I took the rod, freshly baited, waded out in the middle of the river, and cast my line into some shade-covered water near the bank.

Unfortunately, the line snagged in some brush hanging over the water. I pulled the rod. I jerked the line. I cussed under my breath. Finally, I decided to walk over to the bank and try to pull the line out of the greenery.

It was after the second step when I saw the thick, four-foot snake slither in front of me underneath the clear water.

"OOOOHHH BIG SNAKE! BIG SNAKE! BIIIIIG SNAKE!" I screamed. I snapped the line with one quick pull and sloshed back to the other side of the river in roughly three seconds flat.

I realize now that my reaction would have disappointed Grizzly Adams, but I'm sure the speed in which I ran out of the water would have made Ned Beatty proud.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

All Over the Map
by Rob Grace
August 1, 2007



I don't know about you, but seeing poor, cancer-stricken Tammy Faye Messner on CNN's Larry King Live almost two weeks ago was quite the shock. Unrecognizable, bone-thin and struggling for each breath, the former Mrs. Jim Bakker's appearance on the show seemed to be a fulfillment of her one final mission: a mission proclaiming that one can face death with grace, dignity and an unwavering faith.

Knowing that Mrs. Messner sought out King to speak to viewers about her final days and then knowing that the next day she had surrendered to her battle not only gives me goose bumps, but also reveals so much about her spirit and her faith.

Say what you will about her participation in the PTL scandal and televangelism in general, but what I saw on CNN that night was a woman filled with courage and strength practicing one final time what she so fervently preached.

* * *

And onto other things...

A Saturday or two ago (July 21 to be exact), I was in a Mountain Home grocery store skimming the latest issue of The National Enquirer. There were the requisite articles on celebrities who have gained a lot of weight in the past few months, as well as updates on the latest Hollywood marital implosions.

Then there was an article about Merv Griffin's final days. It seems that his son had been with the former talk show host and Hollywood bazillionaire in his last moments before his death from cancer.

The only problem was this: when I read the article on the 21st, Merv Griffin was still alive. Merv may be gone by the time you read these words, but I can tell you without a doubt, that on July 21, 2007, Merv Griffin was still with us on this planet.

Which brings me to this humbling revelation: if you can't trust the tabloids, then by golly, who can you trust?

* * *

I've written before in these pages about Ryan (NOT Bryan) Adams. He's a North Carolina-bred singer-songwriter with a musical output that would shame even the most prolific tunesmiths of our day.

Since 2000, the 32-year-old Adams has officially released nine studio albums. In 2005 alone, he released three impressive CDs, one of those being a double album. (Putting things into perspective, Bob Seger has only released one CD within that time frame.)

And note that I wrote these nine releases were official. I'm not including the seemingly countless amount of bootlegged studio albums from Adams, as well as a recent posting of 18 (!!!) full-length, unreleased albums on his website. (Granted, most of those web-only albums were bunk collected from Adams goofing around in the studio, but still...)

Which brings me to Easy Tiger, the latest album from Ryan Adams.

Tiger is a worthy introduction to this gentleman's musical blessings. Think of a 21st century Gram Parsons scrambled with some Grateful Dead (circa 1970), and you have Ryan Adams.

Adams and his talented band, the Cardinals, recently performed for a sold out crowd at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre in Memphis, delivering a performance that knocked me sideways.

Concentrating on a good portion of Easy Tiger and his three 2005 releases (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29), the primarily acoustic gig only solidified my opinion of Adams as one of our generation's musical wunderkinds.

So, trust me. Buy or download (legally, of course) a copy of Easy Tiger and introduce yourself to Ryan Adams.

Then after you listen a few times, go ahead and pick up some more of his albums.

They are all gold.

* * *

For a DVD rental this week, try the recently released 1978 film Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman, Theresa Russell and Harry Dean Stanton. If you've never heard of the movie, there's good reason. Hoffman, as producer and star, was so upset with the handling of Straight Time upon its release, he decided to sue the film's studio, Warner Bros.

The actor is mesmerizing as he plays Max Dembo, an ex-con struggling in vain to keep his record clean after he's been released from prison. A smug parole officer and some visits with a strung-out buddy do nothing to help Dembo's troubled assimilation back into society.

With his diminutive physicality and seemingly benign persona in many roles, an actor like Hoffman would be one of the least likely choices to portray a troubled, tense and violent criminal, but Dembo is his finest performance. He's a long way from The Graduate in this one.

Highly recommended stuff.

You can write Rob in care of Arkansas Weekly, or e-mail him at rgmax99@yahoo.com. You can view Rob's blog at http://suburbanvoodoo.blogspot.com.

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