It’s that time of year again. Our newest National Holiday is upon us, and it has snuck up on us like a thief in the night. Whether we are ready or not, it’s here. It’s the First Day of School.
Hallmark hasn’t caught up yet, but give those folks time. Like National Siblings Day, National Lawyer’s Day, or any of the rest of the new special events created for social media, it’s only a matter of time before the greeting card industry spots the opportunity and seizes their moment. Our children cannot start school without it being captured in a picture.
When I was a kid, we just started school on the appointed day and went to school. I think we might have had a half day the first day, and I think my parents might have wished me luck for the year, but I’m pretty sure we just walked in the schoolhouse the first day and away we went. These days, it’s a week-long celebration like Mardi Gras. Schools have orientation, then Meet the Teachers, then Meet the Desks, Meet the [Fill in the Mascot], and then, maybe, after all the pomp and circumstance, we start classes. All of these events are to be documented and shared on social media, or else there is real danger of it not being official. Query– if a child starts school and no one is there to take a picture, do they really start school? Because of the importance of these days, parents are dolling their kids up and threatening them with their lives to be on their best behavior for The First Day. Teachers have to prepare, as well. Not necessarily for their upcoming year, but instead for the week-long Grip and Grin with parents and the never-ending pictures where they will put their arm these little tykes and smile sweetly at the camera with a look reminiscent of those old World War II photographs of solders right before being shipped off to war. It’s The First Day.
An offshoot of The First Day for the older kids is the Dorm Room Decoration Day. Our children cannot go to college without an obligatory photo shoot of parents working diligently to turn their kid’s small room into something akin to the Taj Mahal. The budget for these makeovers appears to be roughly the same as Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding in the Eighties. It’s like a global competition to make the rooms as ornate as possible, with matching bed spreads, pillows, lamps and wall accessories. I’m not exaggerating– Ben and Erin from Home Town would be jealous of these efforts. Understand, these rooms will never, ever look this way again and are nowhere near an accurate representation of college life. But it’s a silent challenge– who can win Decoration Day?? The real kicker? Parents throw untold bucks at these extreme dorm makeovers only to find their child start planning their way to future off-campus housing as soon as those proud parents snap the obligatory Dorm Room Decoration Day picture. I guess we’ve got another holiday coming down the pike– College House Decoration Day??
You know what would be some fun? Let’s post pictures of a child’s 114th day of school when the kids barely arrive on time, half of their morning Pop Tart is smudged on their uniform shirt, and their khakis look like they’ve been wadded up in the back of Mom’s minivan. That’s probably a better representation of school. Or you grab a shot of that dorm room on a Friday in November after a long Thursday night of college engagement. All of those beautiful throw pillows are literally thrown all over the floor and that smiling student is probably wishing there weren’t so many cute mirrors in her room. It would be awesome.
I would write more but I have to go now- it’s Walker’s First Day. I need to get a picture before he leaves for school.
Originally published in The Bolivar Bullet on August 11, 2021.
My father was in the local hospital for almost two and a half weeks before he eventually passed away. Dad was fairly lucid for the first 3-4 days, but was his mind was shutting down along with his body.
On the first Sunday he was in the hospital, I arrived at his room late in the day only to find him screaming at a nurse trying gamely to make Dad comfortable in his bed.
“I need a blanket on my legs,” Dad bellowed. The blanket was already on his legs. But the poor nurse was doing his best to pacify his 88 year old taskmaster, so he just straightened the blanket with the hope of satisfying Dad.
“I need to raise my legs,” was the next order. “Son,” Dad said as he pointed at the nurse. “Help this man raise my legs to put a pillow underneath them.”
Ever the dutiful son, I did as I was told, and propped up Dad’s legs under the pillow.
“Why are my legs raised?” Dad yelped almost simultaneously to his little legs hitting the pillow. “My legs need to lay flat on the bed. Who raised them?” I felt like my father had turned into Louis Gossett, Jr.’s Marine drill sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman and I was Richard Gere in Basic Training.
We played this fun game of Dementia Simon Says for 15 minutes or so when Dad stopped suddenly and gazed up at the television on the wall. I recognized the unmistakable ticking ofthe 60 Minutes intro without even looking up,but when I did glance at the screen, I saw a familiar ruddy-faced man dressed in a navy suit with a shiny red tie tied just a little too long speaking to a huge throng of supporters.
“Son….who is that??” Dad stammered while momentarily forgetting about his leg raises. He looked like he was straining his eyes for better focus.
“That’s Donald Trump, Dad. You know who that is,” I explained. “He’s running for President now.”
Dad’s blue eyes looked over at me like a confused child separated from his family in a department store. So I continued.
“He’s probably going to win the Republican nomination, and he’s going to be tough to beat in a national election. He’s dominating the news. I really think people are following his message.”
My father studied the screen with intense curiosity, as if he were a prehistoric caveman seeing fire for the first time. Finally, after about a minute or so of listening silently to the television, the wisest man I have ever known spoke.
“Son. Have I died and gone to hell?”
I’m tired of it all.
No. Let me put it another way.
I’m fucking sick and tired of it all.
I had grand plans of putting into words the lunacy of this time in our history. I really did. It was going to be grand and dazzle every one of you with crisp prose filled with biting and incisive commentary. Since January 6th, I’ve been clipping articles and essays ready to go. But when I wanted to finally begin, I couldn’t do it.
I’m too tired.
We are being pulled apart by our fringes. The center is not holding, as Yeats warned us, and now the politics of hate, division and straight-up lunacy are becoming the norm. Both sides of the aisle are guilty and I spare no one. I have always prided myself on my vocabulary but I don’t have a better way to describe it all than this – It’s all just so fucked-up.
Inhis book, Idiot America, Charles P. Pierce put forth the three Great Premises of what he terms the new “Idiot America”:
Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
“Fact” is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.
Anything can be true if someone says it loud enough.
That shoe fits our country like one of Kamala Harris’s Chuck Taylors, so we might as well wear it. We are all idiots. We are one nation under goddamn cell phones. If you can make a lot of people virtually “like” your views, then you’re golden. You’re practically a Kardashian then. Somehow, someway we have to go back to talking about ideas, not insults. Our commonalities used to be far greater than our differences. Our love of the whole— this beloved country— far surpassed our devotion to a political party or even worse, a person. Now I’m not so sure anyone gives a damn about our sameness. An incredible majority of our country has no desire to change its ways. We just want a faster internet service and our fellow man to leave us the hell alone so we can tap out pithy messages.
“If people see the Capitol going on,” Abraham Lincoln said to the Union Chaplain when asked about the expense of the dome during a civil war, “It is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.” For the first time in our nation’s history, on January 6, 2021, that little “shall go on” business seemed a bit dicey. I have good friends who went to DC for the rally. I know in my heart they didn’t go there with the intent to overthrow our government. But I also have dear friends who warned me for months of the impending federal marshal law or that the presidential election was “stolen,” even though they have no proof to that point. I guess the presidential election is a little like my own birth— I don’t have any proof I was there other than this document signed by a doctor which was purports to show evidence of the live birth of John Christopher Cox on June 11, 1974. But that doctor isn’t alive anymore so I should challenge the veracity of the entire document. I don’t remember being born so there’s a chance it didn’t happen. To believe otherwise is just buying into the government’s propaganda. Is that absurd? Absofrickinglutely it is. But the last 4 years has yielded a nation distrustful of itself. Our country should be the F.U.S.A., the Formerly United States of America.
God bless all of you. And may God bless this nation.
“You wouldn’t know what to do with me if I were normal.” Those were my mother’s words whenever I would get frustrated with her behavior.
“Normal is boring,” is another one. Like most things in life, in hindsight, I have to admit she was right.
This time of year, the world is in a state of chaos making holiday plans. Christmas decorations have been meticulously hung around our houses, and families come together to spend a couple days together in celebration. Every family has their own holiday stories, and a lot of those stories involve loved ones who are sadly no longer around to celebrate. Some families probably tell about the time their kooky uncle, filled with too much Christmas cheer, told inappropriate tales about their aunt. There’s always that one relative who can’t help but give the absolute worst gifts. Me? I have a bittersweet relationship with Christmas. We’ve had some wonderful times in our family, to be sure, but not without some bumps along the way.
My Christmas memories start like most who came of age in the mid Seventies. It wasn’t Christmas until I dog-eared pages and pages of toys from that most hallowed of holiday publications– the Sears Roebuck Wishbook. Thanks to the Wishbook, I would rise at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day with the hope Santa had left a ton of Minnesota Vikings gear in my living room. As you might imagine, all of the Vikings swag made me the envy of every elementary school kid in Cleveland, Mississippi. (Or not.) My parents would wipe sleep from their eyes, and slowly trudge to the den where we would open presents just like every other family. My dad would always get cookbooks and shirts, and my mom would almost always get a new bottle of her favorite perfume. Besides my Vikings gear, I remember my older brother giving me his collection of Hardy Boys books one Christmas, but not before leading me all over the house on a scavenger hunt. I never knew my mother’s father but I know he used to give Mom $100 every year on a whiskey bottle. How do do I know? Because Dad used to put a $100 bill on the same bottle of V.O. every year and wrap it under the tree for Mom to keep alive her father’s traditional gift. Our Christmas traditions were our Christmas traditions until they weren’t. (For many years, we visited relatives and clients all over the county on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for various holiday gatherings. I remember one year Dad brought me downtown to Rubenstein’s Department Store on Christmas Eve around 4 p.m. to “shop,” but I don’t recall him buying anything. I do recall him having a couple drinks with his friend Irving, and I had around 10 cookies waiting for them to stop talking. That same Christmas Eve, we then made a trip 25 minutes west to Rosedale to my dad’s aunt’s house for her family’s Christmas party, and Dad and I were able to get a little more bourbon and cookies, respectively. We ended the evening enjoying the Aguzzi family’s annual Christmas party, and I don’t recall anything eventful happening there. Well, other than I am fairly certain that last stop also involved more bourbon and cookies. As I recap that night now, I finally know why Dad never wanted to rise at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning.) At some point, Mom decided Christmas brought forth too many painful memories from her past, so we had to abbreviate the holiday festivities.
[Before going any further in this little story, I should first probably make everyone aware that my parents were extreme “cat” people. Growing up, we always had two or three cats around the house and my mother was known for feeding stray cats downtown by my father’s law office. Mom even had the local newspaper write a long article about her feeding the downtown cats- the pinnacle of small town fame. When I was about 15 years old, one of our cats had a litter of six kittens. Usually, despite his love of cats, Dad made sure we had homes for those kittens almost simultaneous with their birth. But this time, one of the kittens, a grey striped tabby tomcat with a pink nose, took a liking to me. From the moment the little cat opened his eyes, he gravitated to me. Every night, I would take my usual television viewing spot on the floor in our den and this little grey ball of fur would lay on my chest and purr loudly while I rubbed his back. After a couple weeks of this exercise, Dad told Mom we were keeping this new little cat because “that kitten should be able to stay with the boy he loves.” (Notice Dad framed it in favor of the cat, and not his son.) We named the tabby “Nagin Avalonni” after an Italian pen pal of Mom’s, and the cat quickly took over our home as if he were in charge. (The foreign pen pals are another story.). Nagin strutted around our house and ate pretty much anything and everything. He grew to be quite obese, mainly due to his aversion to outdoor exercise. As his waistline grew, so did his demands. He would jump up in my lap, and immediately start pawing at my hand to rub his belly while he purred and passed noxious gas that would almost make you choke if you were in the general vicinity. At some point, Dad coined him “King Noosky,” and explained to Mom and me the Nooskies were a special breed of striped fat cats throughout the world and Nagin was their King. As I look back, Dad’s creation of the Noosky legend is probably solid proof of the old adage “if you can’t beat them, then join them.” Rather than fighting, Dad just joined in the craziness that was our house.
What does all this cat stuff have to do with holidays, you might ask. Be patient. You will find out very soon.]
After Mom had what I would term a nervous breakdown during my late teens, she decided we would no longer have a Christmas tree at our house. Her reasons were long and many, and I won’t delve into her reasoning in this story. I was at an age by then that I wasn’t wishing from the Sears Wishbook anymore, but I still wanted a Christmas tree. Everyone else had a tree, but I also knew that not everyone had my Mom as their mother. Dad resigned himself to no Christmas tree, and it was what it was. Like I said earlier, Christmas brought back bad memories for Mom, and we were all trying to do what we could to just get through the holidays without a disturbance. (As an aside, mental illness is real. Don’t forget that.)
After a couple years of our treeless Christmas tradition, Mom found a grey and white striped stuffed plush cat sitting on its hind legs one afternoon while she was shopping one afternoon on QVC. The cat’s stomach lit up in the middle like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial while its little paws flew up and down like a stuffed Chris Farley. Unbeknownst to any of us, Mom pulled this little creature out of a box as soon as it arrived at the house, put a little red bow around its neck and placed it on the couch in the den. We later found out she named it the “Christmas Noosky,” in honor of our cat Nagin who was still ruling the roost.
Dad and I were both unaware of the Christmas Noosky’s existence until a couple days before Christmas when Dad and I both came in the back door at the same time late one afternoon. He had a couple wrapped presents under his arm, so I held the door open for him. As was Dad’s custom after a long day at the office, he poured himself a tall drink in the kitchen, and then walked into our living room to unwind. I walked in the den shortly after he did.
Both of our eyes immediately went to the warm yellow glow emanating from the top of the couch. In the darkness of the den, we clearly saw the vision of a glowing, stuffed grey and white feline. At its paws, Mom had placed wrapped Christmas gifts.
Dad took a long pull from his scotch, and looked over at me.
“Son, your mother has put a stuffed animal on our couch.”
I nodded in return.
“And we are now putting presents under it instead of using a Christmas tree,” Dad finished.
Dad shook his head slowly, as if he had lost another one. He lifted his cup for another drink while he stared at the glowing tabby pumping his arms like a stuffed track star. Finally, Dad let out a sigh, shrugged and placed both of the presents in his hand at the toy’s paws.
“Well as long as you know what we are doing. It makes sense to me.”
Dad then sat down in his chair and began reading the evening paper with a bemused look on his face. Every now and then, he would peer over at the Christmas Noosky and chuckle. Mom came down the hall from her room shortly afterwards for dinner, and life was normal.
It was the doubles match I had waited for my entire life even if I never knew it.
It wasn’t because of our opponents. I had played countless sets of doubles with and against each of them. They were regulars around the courts.
It wasn’t because of how well I played. I’ve played better tennis. Honestly, my bad knee was killing me most of the match and I felt like I heard the Sanford and Son theme song in my head every time I skipped toward the ball. The sharp pain in my right arm is constant with every serve. Old age is having its way with this 46 year old body.
This match was special to me because of my partner. He was not just any partner, not just some random dude in the ad court. Nope. Not at all. For the first time, my partner and I shared a name. Today, my partner was my 15 year old son, and it was my favorite match ever. Continue reading “My Favorite Match Ever”
The Coach only knew one of the forty-eight kids in the park commission summer baseball draft. With his first pick, he drafted that one kid, and then started drafting by shirt size because that’s what he was told to do by another coach in the room. A couple rounds later, the Coach drafted a Kid (shirt size Large) when all of the other coaches in the room started hooting and hollering.
“That’s the best kid in the league,” they said. “He was absolutely dominant two years ago in Boo Boys,” they said. Great, the Coach thought. Why didn’t you draft him? How good was this Kid?
Two weeks later, every player had been to practice except for the Kid. Night after night, the Coach would call the Kid, and after a few minutes, the Kid would promise to be at practice the next day. But nothing ever changed. No Kid. The Coach asked the team about him every day, and they just shook their heads. Continue reading “The Coach and the Kid”
Notice I didn’t say “good.” I didn’t say “above-average.” I said “perfect.” Both of my wonderful parents cared about me, my siblings, and all of our friends. But Do you know how hard it is to be perfect?
It wasn’t always easy to be the child of Ancil L. Cox, Jr. In fact, there were plenty of times when it was damn hard. I spent many a day in my youth trying to gain our father’s approval in one way or another.
If you knew him, then you knew that whether it was in everyday life or in the practice of law, Dad was a perfectionist. Our home endured story after story about his days as the valedictorian of Shaw High School, and how high his grades were in school.
“Daunting” does not even begin to describe what it was like to be his child. I mentioned that Dad reminded us all his academic success at Shaw High and in college. Naturally, anything less than all “A’s” on my own report card led to some comment about me “not trying,” and I was generally then treated to a lecture about how I was not living up to my potential. His nightly newspaper reading would invariably give him the opportunity to point out some other student who was, in his mind, excelling at something or another in the academic field while I was still not applying myself. I swear to you– because of Dad, I knew my friends’ grades better than my own. At the age of 45, I am now ashamed to admit that the result of this behavior was a resentment/competitiveness in me as a kid and as an early adult toward Dad that is hard to describe with words.