Two Old Men Telling Stories

Barry Scott and I loved telling stories to each other about our childhoods, our families, our work, our faith. Between us we had well over one hundred years of stories. I recently walked the grounds of St. John’s AME Church where, two years before, we had done a performance of Jim Reyland’s play “Stand” and saw the ghosts rising from the concrete pad and grassy plot. It was all that was left of the church property after the tornado went through North Nashville in March of 2020. Before the show, Barry and I sat in the Sunday school turned make-shift

The Art of Conversation

I met Joshua back in the Fall of 2019 at one of the exits off Interstate 40 that cuts through the middle of downtown Nashville. Joshua is a newspaper vendor who sells The Contributor, a street newspaper focusing primarily on social justice issues involving poverty and homelessness. At peak morning hours (pre-Covid-19), there can be a steady stream of cars driving onto the exit ramp. These vehicles approach a traffic light where Joshua operates his business on this prime real estate. Then drivers must choose one of three different directions to take, and so become absorbed into the vast web

Love in the Time of Covid-19

Never thought I’d be standing at a baker’s bench. Never thought I’d be up to my wrists kneading dough. Never thought I’d be driving a delivery van to multiple locations giving out bread. But here we are in this not-quite dystopian world of pandemic and sequestration. Nothing like a plague to get the attention of the world. And yes, I ripped off the title of my piece from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s great novel, “Love in the Time of Cholera;” an excellent addition to one’s literary life experience. Kay and I were in New Zealand in mid-January when we became aware

Who Fired That Shot

I don’t know who fired the first shot, but I do know when and where the war began. It was in 1991, at Fontana Resort in North Carolina at the ninth Pryor Family Reunion. The war continued for decades; family “water warriors” from five states gathering once every two years for great battles with intermittent skirmishes among members of the clan in several other locations between reunions. Back in the day, humans roamed the landscape on foot. We were nomadic individual families that turned into clans that turned into tribes that, with a steady birth rate and population increases, eventually

Rocko Ride of Shame

I have embarrassed myself so often in life that one could accuse me of being an accomplished Performance Artist in the trade. For humiliation to work there must be witnesses. Doing something humiliating in the privacy of one’s personal space doesn’t count. The whole “dance like nobody’s watching” thing is a bit self-inflated. Unless, of course, you are Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes. But the trouble with the Ms. Benes’ character was that she was quite pleased with her “moves,” never seeing the disgrace. The humiliation only works when both the audience and the humiliated see the humiliation in action

Don’t Try This At Home

It was not until my mid-twenties that I began in earnest to read western classic literature. Growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia kept me from reading much of anything except comic books, Mad magazine, and newspapers—I was a paperboy for four years. For academic assignments I relied on the student’s best friend, CliffsNotes. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I discovered that I was not “slow of mind,” but that my brain/eye connections were malfunctioning when it came to reading. I just had a problem decoding language, so I decided to slow down and read for pleasure. While in my

The Christmas Tree Fairies

Our Christmas tradition was born out of a refusal to have a fake tree in the house: the same one pulled from storage each year, a trunk of hard synthetic with drilled holes for the perfectly tapered limbs to fit, and reeking with a musty smell of aged plastic. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” (thank you Jerry Seinfeld). We had to have a live tree, which meant finding a cedar tree on the wooded acreage behind our house, cutting it down, and lugging the felled beast home. The adventure always happened the day after Thanksgiving. We rose early

You Can Go Home Again

I never thought I would see this day. I did not even dream about it or hope that it might happen. It just happened. I did not try to make it happen; no strings were pulled; no favors called in; no money exchanged. It just happened. This is not some random act of stars aligning. Dare I say it, but this might be something ordained, and it took fifty years to get here. When I walked out onto the stage of Collins Auditorium to perform in Beki Baker’s (Chair of the theatre department at Lipscomb University) production of “Bright Star”

Bodies of Broken Bones

I love the stark realism the words of this title bring to mind. It comes from a phrase in “Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton: “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is a resetting of a body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them.” This spiritual image affords us a super power. We have a potential to have x-ray vision. We can look at

Don’t Be The Bunny

I have delayed my monthly story because I’ve been a little preoccupied ruling the world and “snuffing out popular resistance as if it were a naughty baby bunny.” It really is exhausting. There are just so many decisions to make—when your decisions are the only ones that matter, and there are so many people to keep in line—these people insist on having opinions contrary to my own. So yes, I have been busy playing a character that has created his own evil empire in a production of “Urinetown.” I have played bad guys before, but to give me an idea

Reservations in Heaven

I was raised in an era when our particular church persuasion believed that we were the only ones going to heaven, and only then if you behaved according to the rules and had done enough “good works” to get in, and if not, well too bad. My own heart knew that I would never be good enough or do enough to qualify. It took me awhile to ask the question that if our church affiliation was so unsure about its future hopes of heaven how then could they be so sure that anyone from another denomination had no chance of

You Gotta Love This Woman

We received a call recently from concerned parents worried about my wife’s influence on their children. The concerned parents were our daughter Lauren and son-in-law, Erik, and the children in question were our grand children. This was not an easy thing to accept. The complaint had to do with Kay’s lullaby catalog sung to the grand kids when she puts them to bed at night. I had long since been banned from lullaby duty. When I would pinch-hit for Kay in her absence all I came up with was “Purple Haze,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whipping Post,” and “Born to be

The Glory of Sons

One can find countless quotes on what it means to become a man from the humorous and profane to the solemn and profound. In my opinion, becoming a man is a process of making fewer and fewer stupid choices and putting more and more distance between each stupid choice. St. Paul said it best, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” Transitioning from “childish” mode to “manhood” mode is not the simple flip of a switch.

The Marriage of True Minds

Around the time I turned twelve, I had an early and shocking coming-of-age moment of discovery. The whole family was at the drive-in to see “Geronimo” starring Chuck Connors, and no, the shock was not that white men, albeit, well-tanned ones, could play Indians in Hollywood movies. The recognition of that incongruity of casting would come later. The disturbance in the force was to learn that my father had drawn a line of distinction between his kids and his wife. “I love your mother more than I love you kids.” Imagine in my little mind the sound effect of screeching

Unexpected Pockets of Beauty

The early years of the six-member Arnold household were lean. Mom was a genius at devising recipes with hamburger. There was no disposable income. There were no luxuries. The bank account was like the proverbial turnip from which no monetary blood could be squeezed. Vacations were never to the beach or mountains or theme parks. Our vacation was a trip to my paternal grandparents’ home in Richmond, Virginia. The journey from Nashville to Richmond began in the predawn hours and ended well after dark. This was before the Interstate system, and two-lane highways on the map led through cities and

Broke in Malibu or How I Met Angelina Jolie

In the early 1970’s both my sister and I heeded the call to “head west.” I was fleeing multiple failures in my attempts at higher education; a hippie lifestyle did not make for academic discipline or offer much professional opportunity unless you were a rock star or a cannabis farmer. I was neither. Most of my peers were closing in on a college degree by the time I was just getting started. My sister’s reason for fleeing was less complicated…a bad boyfriend. Pepperdine University had recently opened its Malibu campus, and through family connections, Nan and I had received music

Often Wrong; Never in Doubt

A few Thanksgivings ago the Arnold clan made up of the four families, plus guests (no we’re not a part of the southern mafia), gathered under one roof to celebrate the day. The weather was mild enough to enjoy being outside, so when not feasting around the tables, many folks chose to move outdoors. The patio fire pit was blazing and many of us clustered around it. I was standing in close proximity to the fire when someone in the crowd asked the question, “What is Boxing Day?” A smug look of “I got this” came over my face, and

My Best Self

Oh how we love to look at ourselves. We keep returning to any available mirror to be sure that what we judged acceptable at the start of the day remains in place until we collapse into bed at night exhausted from self-criticisms or fears of judgment and scorn of others. Most of us don’t have a magic mirror that will speak to us the disingenuous words we want to hear: “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” A dangerous and invariably damning question. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there will