Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Dog Days

Bluffton Today column
June 22, 2011

We are reared to use ritual language and further taught to understand that in some environments a conventionalized response is expected. For example, I say, “please” when I want something and “thank you” when I receive that something. I greet you with a, “Hi, how are you?” and you respond with, “Well, and you?” That exchange is conventional, meaning we expect folks to stick to the script. Believe you me, if I ask you how you are I am most certainly looking for the standard response, not a seven and a half minute diatribe on your life. (Sorry to burst your over-sharing bubble.)

These ritual language cues are determined by your language environment and learned when we are young. My sister has two daughters born and raised in the south, so although one might think that the girls would be all sweet and southern they definitely have some Jersey in them. Why? Because they spend the majority of their time with Mom, Grandma, and Aunt “Nortney” and if you know us, you know we walk the line when it comes to sweet and southern. (My sister is cringing right now.)

Bottom line is, a lot of time, we say what we think we should say, not what we really want to say. And when you have absolutely nothing to say well, you talk about the weather.

Sweet Mary, it is stinkin’ hot. Not exactly a news flash. But I am melting. It is schlep to work, stick to your office chair, escape early, shuffle out to hide the sweat stains on you rear, go home, crank up the air conditioning, lay under a swirling ceiling fan, while tucking ice cubes into your undergarments hot.

Now, imagine you are covered in fur. And chained to a tree. In a yard with no shade. Your water bowl is empty. And your owner (I won’t even consider calling this torturous human your “parent”) won’t be home for hours.

Do you see where I am going with this? During the dog days of summer it is imperative that we keep our pups in mind. If you leave your pet outside in this heat, you are torturing you pet. Yes, torture! Dr. Ben Parker, of Coastal Veterinary Clinic had this to say, in a recent Facebook post earlier this week …

“I see dogs suffering and dying from heat stokes every year when it gets as hot out as it is today, even from well-meaning pet owners. Older dogs, puppies, dogs with chronic diseases, and short-nosed breeds (pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, etc) are all very susceptible to the heat even on short walks. My advice is to keep your dogs inside and limit any activity to early morning. It is too hot and too humid even for evening walks. A dog’s body temperature will rise to 107+ degrees in minutes.”

Can you imagine what 107 degrees must feel like? Not sure? Ok, put on your long johns, mittens, and winter coat and go sit in your car. In the driveway. On the hot asphalt. Realize there is nary a cold beer in sight. Stretch to reach that water bottle behind the seat, only to feel defeat. Wilt a little. You won’t last a minute.

My dog, Darby, has his own ritual language -- learned based on his environment, being reared by me. When I get home from work, it can only mean one thing. It’s walk time. He shakes his hind quarters, picks up his favorite toy, runs a few circles around the family room to limber up and heads to the door. He is ready to walk and whimpering if I am not a step behind.

Unfortunately Darby has been disappointed a lot over the last week or so. But, I’m not willing to risk his life or mine for a calorie burn.

It’s hot. Be smart. I want to see you again, so I can say, “Hey, how you doin’?”

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Twenty Years Ago ...

Bluffton Today column
June 8, 2011

At Monday night’s Bluffton High School graduation, I listened to the senior speaker talk about the “unknown” territory to which they were all heading, and I found myself nodding in agreement. A few minutes later we heard hundreds of names reeled off, in quick succession, with barely enough time for each graduate to absorb the step that they were about to take.

This is the real world baby. And boy, if only they knew now that over the next decade (or two) they will be learning lessons that will serve them well into their twilight years. Don’t you wish you could tell them everything? And don’t you wish that they would listen?

But, we didn’t.

Some lessons you have to learn on your own.

In all fairness, I may be a little hyper-sensitive to the graduation chatter this year having recently received the invitation to my 20th reunion. Talk about a shock to the system.

20 years ago, I had just gotten home from the senior prom where I wore an orange dress, custom made by a little old lady named “Mrs. Tennis.” I still remember going to the fittings and her not understanding why I didn’t want to wear high heels with my dress. (Some things never change, Mrs. T.)

20 years ago, I was preparing the long list of things I would need for college. A television, cute clothes, an ATM card for quick access to beer money, the WVU Mountaineers football schedule, bedding to coordinate with my roommate’s (always the Martha Stewart I was), milk crates for storage. You know the really important stuff.

20 years ago, I was lamenting about leaving my high school boyfriend, Brian, at the end of the summer. And, would cry each time I read his yearbook entry that included this line, “Courtney, next year I will be lick (nope, not a typo) a lost puppy dog when you are gone.” Not much of a speller, that kid… but soooo cute.

20 years ago, I was shrugging into a white cap and gown, preparing to walk the dusty field of Brick High School. (A field that as a female athlete I was never allowed to step on, they reserved that honor for the boys’ football and soccer teams. Nope, not bitter after 20 years), concocting the story in my head, for my parents who were NEVER going to let me stay out all night.

If I had it all to do over again, I might make some minor tweaks. I would wear black to the prom. Orange isn’t exactly timeless. A little less hairspray might have gone a long way as well. I would consider the really important things, like what will my study schedule would be like when taking five college level courses. On that note, I might not have picked an institution of 20,000 students, 450 miles and seven hours from home, with a bar called the “Library” to start my college education. The list goes on and on. But, with each misstep I learned something.

As I look back on 20 years, I realize that my true education has far exceeded the college years. In fact, I have learned more in the last ten than I probably did in the first post-high school decade. I’ve learned that the world is about people. Not our titles, not our net worth, nor our good looks (where, as you know, my bounty is plentiful) … it is all about people.

So, as the seniors in our community graduate this week, I wish them well as they prepare for the arduous adventure of continuous learning, inside and outside the classroom.

And as they embark on the journey of life, I hope they remember to have fun and enjoy every minute. Because as Bluffton’s valedictorian and one of the world’s greatest teachers said,

“You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting - So, get on your way!”

Perhaps we could all learn a little something from the good Doctor Seuss.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Luke Mitchell: Cool as a Cucumber

CB/CH2 June 2011 issue
He saunters up the stairs, and casually swipes his sandy brown hair from his brow, just before it falls across his eyes. He gets a hug, a kiss, and a “good to see you sweetie” from every server at Sunrise CafĂ©.
He folds himself into a chair, and in true southern fashion orders some grits … and a breakfast burrito. He warns me that he just ran a few miles, so he’ll be “scarfing down the burrito.”

At breakfast, Luke Mitchell reveals that he has made an important decision. “I’m not going back to college. I’m going to see if I can make a career out of music. I’ve got to do it while I’m young.” So his formal education is on the back burner, for now. “I’ll go back … I know I have a lot to learn.”

The young Mitchell – just 20 - waxed poetic about the life of a musician. “I know what I do is not socially normal. I work odd hours, which tends to alienate me from others.” Alienate him from others, yet move him closer to his family. After all he says, “My family members are my biggest fans. They keep coming to my shows no matter how many times they have seen me perform.”

His friends are mostly musicians too – and also “socially abnormal” one would surmise. Mitchell has been making music with friends since his early teens. Mitchell and his buddy Kieran Daly launched “New Kids on the Rock” when they were little. But, that was just the beginning. With a sheepish grin Mitchell asked me if I’d heard of “Lambtron” (named for a Pokemon character), or “The Great Escape,” or “Luke Mitchell and the Footlongs”?

“No?” he chuckled, “What about the “Gnomes”? We were super-famous, we blew up.” I shook my head head no, again, and he said, “When did you move here? Ah, we must have been before your time.”

(Oh yes, he’s a comedian too.)

Mitchell and his mid-teen bandmates did strike gold with the Gnomes about five years ago. Mitchell eventually quit the band, but fondly remembers the “money rolling in” and hinted about his interest in a reunion tour -- The Gnomes, where are they now?

A Family Affair
“My mom used to date musicians,” he says with a smirk. “Growing up there was always music in the house.” Mitchell’s step-father and member of Hilton Head’s home-grown band the “Bonzo Brothers” gave him his first drum set. And his father and mother avidly support Mitchell’s dream-chasing. Mitchell recently moved back to the Island, and is back living with his Dad, who has graciously approved the garage renovation that has yielded a pseudo-recording studio.

The apples don’t fall far from the family tree. Mitchell’s sister Hannah is the lead singer of the “Steppin Stones.” A band of teens that’ve been playing their parent’s music at venues around the Lowcountry for the last few years. (This summer you can find them under the big oak at Harbourtown.)

Making Music
When asked about his first album, High Expectations, Mitchell says, “It’s archaic, I don’t even know who that person is anymore.” Since then, he’s grown and benefited from the tutelage of a cadre of music legends. Namely, Jim Scott, who has seven Grammy’s on his shelf for his work with Tom Petty, Wilco, Rolling Stones, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As Mitchell was working on the songs for his second album, he got up the nerve to call Scott cold. He dropped the name of Jack Sherman, who played guitar on Mitchell’s first album and was a friend of Scott’s. Mitchell joked that he said, “Hello,” and then squeezed Sherman’s name into the conversation as quickly as he could, so Scott wouldn’t hang up. And it worked. Scott was willing to listen. So Mitchell sent him his stuff and then he waited. He waited an agonizing four months before he heard back. When he finally got the call, it was with a green light.

So, Mitchell jet-sets to Scott’s Los Angeles recording studio, which he likened to “heaven on earth for musicians,” and they record “Row Boat Row.” Titled as a tribute to growing up on Point Comfort Road, Mitchell says the album “just sounds like home.”

Appropriately, the official launch party for “Row Boat Row” is slated for June 25th at Remy’s, just down the road from “home.” And it’s no surprise that sister Hannah and the Steppin Stones will open for Mitchell.

More than music
After listening to a preview of “Row Boat Row” there is no doubt that Mitchell has the vocal chops to make it. Smooth and soulful, his voice is soothing, his lyrics have a rhythm and spirit to them that can easily overtake you. (And make you miss your turn on your way back from the Island to Bluffton. True story.)

But it’s about more than writing and singing songs for Mitchell. “These days you need to know all elements of the business if you want to make it a career,” he says. And he wants it. Bad. “My goal is to serve the music and let that lead me … I need to be technically good enough to do anything in this business.” Which is why in addition to songwriter and singer, Mitchell also hones his skills on the piano, rhythm guitar, drums, and in producer’s seat. “In this moment, I’ll do anything to make this a career.”

Even though he’s been at it for years, he still can’t eat a meal before a show. The nerves get to him – but, it isn’t a fear of messing up – everyone misses lyrics – it is the deep desire to put on a good show.
“The performance means nothing if you don’t connect with your audience,” he says. “The more ego you have, the worse you perform.”

This former Hilton Head High School “Student of the Year” is ambitious and anxious. He can’t sit still for 20 minutes. There is no such thing as down time, Mitchell says – “I get restless and feel like I should be working on music. Music is all I want. We can’t help what we do. Music calls to you. I can’t stop it. I guess I never really started it either. It just happened.”

Of Note: Luke told me that when he is being interviewed he always prepares for one question, that no one ever asks – If you were stranded on a desert island, what three CDs would you want with you?

So I asked.

Interestingly, he could only come up with two – “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty and “Lola Versus Powerman and the Money Go Round” by the Kinks. Not a surprise as both offer heavy influence on the musician Mitchell has become.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Line In the Sand

CH/CB2 June issue and the great debaters (me!) tackle the topic of Bluffton vs. Hilton Head.

When I was preparing to move to the Lowcountry from the snow-laden northeast, I received one tidbit of advice. If you are going to work in Bluffton, live in Bluffton. If you are going to work on the Island, live on the Island.

Since I would be giving up a 150-mile daily roundtrip commute, and anxious to reclaim some “me time,” I heeded that advice. The decision to move was actually swift. I had only been to the Bluffton/Hilton Head area twice before I decided to move here. My sister moved first. Shortly thereafter, Mom decided that she was going to retire to Bluffton. And I figured what the hell. I bought a home via email, and picked out my upgrades from a large FedEx box that arrived one snowy morning full of tile samples, cabinet doors, and counter top choices.

Fast forward a few months, 800 miles, one broken down moving truck on the side of I-95 outside of Raleigh, and I was home. At first, I was all about going to the beach on Hilton Head, which in hindsight makes little sense to me. I grew up at the beach, in a tourist town, where I would hide from Memorial Day to Labor Day to avoid what we called “bennies.” (Benny was an acronym for some of the places that the tourists would come from -- Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, and New York.) And now, I was doing the exact same thing. I moved to paradise to sit in traffic for thirty minutes, to travel eight miles, pay $1 an hour for beach parking, and be annoyed in traffic on the way back home, all for an ocean that I have been swimming in for more than thirty years.

And then, I discovered the May River, and realized I never had to leave Bluffton. I sunk my toes in the pluff mud. I inhaled the salty air. I devoured the sweet oysters plucked from the riverbeds. And it all became clear. This is why I moved here. There is only one place to find the May River. And that my friends, is Bluffton, South Carolina. It only takes one foray into the river to realize what a gem it is.

Oh but life can get sweeter. Buy a boat, for dancing the tides, and your life will change forever. Mine did. Now, I live my life by the tides. Ok, by my iPhone and the tides, which I can check at just a moment’s notice and with a finger’s touch thanks to the handy dandy tide app. Seriously though, from March – October the tides help to balance my life. Whether it is a rockin’ sandbar Saturday, with 1,000 other revelers. Or high tide, when I feel comfortable skirting up Bull Creek, throwing in the anchor, and floating in front of “our oak.” Or, a slow cruise up the river, watching Old Town as if it was a movie set.

I’m also lucky that my office overlooks the May River. (Well, if I crane my neck just right.) Let’s face it, there is no bad day, when you can slowly walk down the dock and feel the stress of work lift from your shoulders.

Now, I realize my entire argument is based on the allure of the May River. But the May River is Bluffton. It always has been. It is centerpiece to the town. Even our main drag, which I would argue is Calhoun Street, empties into the May. Long before all of us Yankees moved here, before Bluffton had a Best Buy, a Target, a Taco Tuesday at Jim n Nicks, a Wendy’s or a Walmart -- folks simply lived their lives by the tide. How fortunate are we, that in 2011, we can do the same.

Frank, just one final thing, I have to ask -- without Bluffton, how exactly would you get to Hilton Head?

My point exactly.