Hamburger Heaven, Irondale — Is that the person you knew in high school?

14 Nov

Facebook has changed so many things. If you’re younger than around 30, you might not be as familiar with the idea that upon leaving [insert place here … high school, old job, bar you used to hang out too much] that you could generally walk in one direction for a week or two and NEVER SEE THOSE PEOPLE AGAIN. Now that person who you vaguely, fondly remember from high school or the old job or bar is always sharing the specifics of the morning’s run or meme about Pres. Obama being a closet Lutheran.

Which brings me to Hamburger Heaven — the original on Crestwood Boulevard in Birmingham/Irondale.

Let’s get some things clear. I recognize that saying anything — positive or negative — about the original Hamburger Heaven will likely unlock some fierce feelings. It’s been around since 1982, flipping essentially the same food (it was sold some years later). I’ve known people that have had memorable experiences there … but in all honesty, few of them actually involve the food.

The good things about this place is it’s less of a fast food chain (though if you were defining things, it would be a fast food joint). It owes a lot more to its nearby barbecue brethren than to the Golden Arches. The place looks like a local joint — with homages to college football players and similar photos adorning the walls. So, in the decor department, I’m down with it. And as basically a local place, as we say around our parts, “Moo Moo Yea!”

In fact, for the most part, I’m down with the place as a whole. But — honesty box time — it’s a high quality, fast food joint. And this is the basic rub … in the parlance of today, the place is what it is. It’s better than almost any fast food burger you’ll find. The meat is hand-done and purports to be “fresh” and daily delivered. The burgers are typically juicy, made-to-order only when you’ve ordered — though you may have a patty that is just being finished.

It’s an decent burger. It could rival some of the sit-down small chains — Mooyah’s, Five Guys, etc — it could, but doesn’t consistently.

Hamburger Heaven primary transacts now on nostalgia. It draws based on its reputation and name — visit and see how they promote their past accomplishments. Years ago, they were the proverbial nice-sized fish in the small hamburger pond. They were the small town jock who wowed in high school but didn’t have quite the ability for the next level. Without the legacy and the nostalgia of people who visited there, Hamburger Heaven might have drifted off a long time ago to be one of those places that you only recall … because of Facebook or, in Hamburger Heaven’s case, because they’ve been able in later years to franchise the business (but believe me, they are not all the original, and I’m not sure they have added to the place’s legacy).

Today, burger competition is fierce. Now, Hamburger Heaven’s competition is more varied than it was 25 years ago when the closest burger competitors were likely Jacks, Krystal and other chains. Those haven’t changed, but the burger world exploded in the last 10-15 years, and now, for a similar price point (+ a buck or two), you can travel a few miles and get a competitive burger.

And here’s the deal: the burger is probably a seven out of 10. The extra points are that the joint has a good shake and for initiates, they know about getting the hamburger steak … with onions. But … I do not dig the fries. They are too pre-fab for my tastes and aren’t bad, or good, or memorable or anything that would cause you to go just for fries.

And my basic reaction to the place isn’t a burning desire to go because I’ve heard from someone else recently how great they think it is; it’s personal nostalgia. It’s remembering that I’ve liked it in the past. It’s a person I knew in a past life and going back doesn’t remind you how exceptional it was. Instead, it reminds you, when you go, of exactly what type of place it is and where it exists today.

Enjoy it for what it was. Enjoy it for what it is. But don’t allow memory to cloud what you’re getting — a decent burger — and shake — from a place that capitalizes on its other best asset — history.

Burger — 7 out of 10

Ambiance — 7 out of 10

Fries — 5 out of 10

Shakes — 8 out of 10


Back in the writing saddle and poetic musings from the lake

10 Nov

I have done something that I never should have done; I have not done this blog as I should have. I have fallen short. I have sinned and failed to be an obedient whatever … etc. But I’m gonna try to do better … and let me explain why for a second.

As sometimes happens, life can remind you when you are off track. I’m the first to admit that funks in life come and go. They are like the poor, laundry and LEGOs. They aren’t just with you always; you are gonna find them and step on them from time to time.

What I haven’t been doing is enough of the things that I love. I haven’t made the time. I have let myself get sidetracked. Life happens.

And one of the things that I’ve let slide for too long is writing … for me, mostly. And also for any of you who might have some interest in my musings … yes, all three of you.

Writing, you see, isn’t about the finished product. A few years ago, I wrote a novel that has turned into one of the best virtual dust collectors I have. I also wrote a series in a project about happiness. What I learned from doing those things is, for me, writing is therapeutic and performance art.

A recent epiphany about me: I am a performer at heart. I grew up singing, played in band and bands, and generally looked for occasions to perform — in school, in whatever. I’m sure that someone can write up my psych profile. It is as “they” proverbially say, what it is.

And what it also is — well, it is also an outlet. It’s therapy for me … and believe me, the cost of a blog is cheaper than professional help.

So, I’m gonna try to use this thing again. And I have some plans that I’ll share in the coming days. But for now, I’ve been on a bit of quest the last few days… to rediscover those things that I’m passionate about and to make a plan and start back on my journey.

So, you are either the beneficiary or the guinea pig…

While I’ve been away, I wanted to find some every day images and marry up some free verse and the images I took. These are all from the lakehouse of a friend (who kindly let me escape a few days). Hope you enjoy the verse and the pics.



Aside the still waters

Aside the still
Waters … where lapping, the stones, submerged,
Rested, unaware of a remolding embrace.
Breaking down, drop by each loving touch of a drop;
Ancient stone, in compliant dementia to the peaceful siren song.
Enraptured by…
The giver
The taker
The partaker
The drug of life
Dependent are we, caught, addicted to your charms
Unaware that your drops will misconstrue, break us
Reform us
I’m unworthy to be baptized by you
“Then, struggle no longer; Come, kiss my lips.”
Fingers outstretched IMG_2885
“What more can I do?”
Reaching down, pulling at answers he will not receive,
Responses, more than he bargains.
“But …”
Fingers outstretched… reaching out,
Grasping for straws
Gasping for air
In the silence, filled with light.
Fingers outstretched — embraced
As he is, where he is.
Enfolded by allusion… or illusion
Of a mother, a father, a lover, a friend
An oasis in joy or despair
and if truth be told, who would really care?
The lake at twilight
Bob is a loud-ass fish, unlike some scaly fisheren.
Slimy, bold and a oh so proud.
Stealthy in his swimmy charms.
Caring not about Kardashians, ineqaulity or bearing arms
They come, and bring their bags.
With bangs and bams and zips and yags
And Bob greets them with the subtle, silent baits …
Water and air
Remembering …
The trap is set
The prey is unaware
The twilight will claim another victim
For it is not you that comes to Bob…
It is Bob that comes, and finds, a needy you.

Happiness Project: Sing cause it means something …

27 Mar

When I put Ben to bed, he always asks for the same things – more time for video games, a drink, a story, world peace, another story, another drink, to brush his teeth, that I read Betsy a story, etc. … and that I sing him “his songs.” As I sit here humming my personal renditions of “Jesus Loves Me” and “Twinkle, Twinkle” (I prefer a bluesier version), singing to my kids has always made me happy.*

*I really can’t seem to write these without indulging in the frequent aside … With Emma, I sang “Hush Little Baby” and with Betsy, she always calmed down when I sang “Come Unto Me” by Take 6 or “Unforgettable” (just Nat King Cole, please; Natalie … my psychic friend says you’re needed elsewhere … ).

In fact, singing is one of those things that has both made me happy – a lot – and taught me a lot about guarding and protecting something that I do love … to ensure that it keeps making me happy.

When I was 10, my father was the minister of youth at Guntersville First Baptist Church. When I wasn’t playing football outside or trying to sneak into empty classrooms on the third floor, I was in the children’s/youth choir. The first time I can remember singing in front of an audience was the night the director, who was also my band director, asked if I wanted to do a solo – I think it was one of the verses to “Because He Lives.”*

*Which reminds me, this is a happiness blog, but I’d love to do a rant on church hymns that make me want to sneak liquor into the service … anything with blood in it; any that mention how I’d be better off dying and leaving this cruel world; and a host of others that I’ve sung and heard at funerals that make me well-up.

People have WANTED me to sing a lot more than I’ve felt inclined to do it. I love it when I sing because I want to, because I’m getting something out of it. I’m often embarrassed when I’m asked to sing and really don’t feel it … because in the end, I’d rather disappoint me than someone who has asked me. Most of us want to give of ourselves and do it from a sense of goodness, charity or desire to share and make people happy. It ain’t the same when you feel obligated or manipulated.

And just to complicate things, sometimes I’ve agreed to sing, reluctantly, and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. In the balance, it makes me happy. Maybe because I’m giving of myself. Maybe because of the connection with and to other singers and the audience. Maybe because I have seen people moved by the music and words … and I knew I was a part of it.

Which just goes to show, to be happy, follow your passion … but sometimes, try something you don’t want to do. What’s life without mystery and taking some risk?

At this point, I have no idea how many different songs I’ve sung – in choirs, groups or alone. And I’ve pretty much sung all types of stuff:

  • In high school, I sang Lionel Richie’s “Say you, Say me,” because my director at the time, and I believe it was Johnny Brewer, had some unexplainable fixation with that song. It was clearly a Lionel Richie time; we did the same song in band. (and no, go find your own clip of this one … Trust me, I heard it plenty)
  • At the same time, my church choir would travel every month to the nursing home, and we’d sing old Gospel hymns – think I’ll Fly Away, We will Understand it Better, Traveling On and shaped notes.*

*I REALLY detested this music when I was a kid. Instead of going on strike, I would simply steal one hymnal a week, knowing eventually I’d have them all, and chances to sing songs like this would evaporate. I did eventually have to explain the collection of songbooks to my parents.

  • I don’t know if we were that good or just that obnoxious, but Dale Foster, Hugh Thomas, Jon Campbell and a collection of others sang all around campus at Montevallo – in the street, the caf and in the shower at Napier Hall (it had great acoustics). While we could do one helluva version of Seven Bridges Road by the Eagles, I really loved caroling at Christmas. The best parts were singing outside Main Hall, and having people join our little troupe along the way.
  • I love singing The Messiah, and this last Christmas, had a first. Dale, who as a best friend is allowed to call in favors, asked me to sing with his choir and perform the tenor arias that begin the piece. The night of the performance, he also surprised me and ask that I do another solo … a bass one (I’m a tenor). Now, that’s fun (and that’s pressure, folks). Clip of Every Valley Shall Be Exalted (I know it looks like me, but alas … he’s just a pretenda’ but I’ve sung this many times)
  • More recently, I was introduced to karaoke. I admit, I’d never sung karaoke until last year, in all my years of singing. But sometimes now, I’ll go by myself just to get the chance. It’s also a place where I can shine with my soulful side. Don’t be hatin’ but I do kick-ass versions of “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “Me and Mrs. Jones,” by Billy Paul, and “Ain’t no Sunshine,” by Bill Withers.

And if you’re a hatah’ … message me, I’ll put my money where my silky, smooth vocals are!

So (Carpenter’s Fans): Sing, sing a song. Sing out loud. Sing out strong. No matter if it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear. Sing. Sing a song.

Happiness Project: What can I thank you for?

25 Mar

I have a question for you to ponder on a gorgeous Sunday morning: can we make ourselves feel happy? I can make myself angry, focusing on some slight, imagining things true or untrue and whipping up my emotions. I can make myself sad by cataloging shortcomings, disappointments and the people I’ve loved and lost. But what about being happy?

* First, I’m no longer sure – except in the black/white definition – what the opposite of happiness is. If you don’t think that happiness embraces sadness and happiness at the same time, I challenge to check out these posts from some of the folks also involved in this …

To paraphrase one of the writers who has been most influential to me – C.S. Lewis – to have joy, you have to stop thinking about it, contemplating it … and DO something.

When happiness seems distant to me, I usually start thanking people for what they’ve done for me, validate what they’ve meant to me or show my appreciation for who they are. I also try to be grateful and have some fun with things that make my life better. So, I’m going to throw out some thanks today:

  • Coffee – I wasn’t always a coffee drinker, but I do so appreciate the brown grit in a cup that just seems to make my day a bit more awake.
  • My baby, Betsy – She’s two, and we’ve spent most of the week alone together. She reminded me that being a father is one of the greatest gifts in the world, as she kept coming back to sit in my lap, clung to me when she was scared, and made all sorts of attempts to get dill pickles (“kuckles”, as she says) out of the fridge.
  • Kathy Due – We haven’t seen each other since college, but she read one of my recent posts in the project. She sent me a message on Facebook that couldn’t have come at a better time.
  • My parents – I could get all sappy about what good people they are (and they are!). But they also make me laugh a lot. After spending nearly a week with them, my older kids begged: “Please, no steak or pizza tonight” when they got home! And when I talked with my brother, Jon, recently he related that my dad – a Baptist minister (yes, I have fallen far) — had told him, “Yes, I’ve had to adjust my theology a good bit after you boys grew up.”
  • Barry Norris – He is one of a kind – an organist, choir director, carpenter and missionary. What I love about him is his passion for people and the grace he shows them. I have to thank him, however, because he has a gift of talking me into singing in his choir, even when I’m reluctant or busy. And it always, always, is worth the effort.
  • Randy Miller, Terry McElroy and Matt Rocksvold – I know it’s not manly/cool to thank your occasional drinking buddies for whatever trouble they seem to be able to get me into. So, I am not thanking you. Nope, not at all.

When I start this gratitude thing, it really begins to take on a life of its own; I could thank people – and probably should – a lot more than I do and or for a lot more things than I do. I’ve had – and continue to have – my personal compliment of crap, or what seems like it. But there are always people and things that make it better – for seconds, moments or days.

I became single again the year I turned 40. And I decided to change some things in my life. I wanted to be bolder and cultivate a mind-set of joy: (and yes, I do say this) “Our lives are short and the opportunities we have to live, love and enjoy the beauty around us are too few to … [insert the veiled excuse, such as, “worry about what someone else will think; not take a risk; not stay out too late, etc.]. Basically, life is too short to give myself an abundance of reasons to regret.

It’s that way for all of us. Instead, just DO.

As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” It might also have a love child of happiness …

Check out these great blogs, too, from other happy people.

Happiness Project: If you’re Prince, it’s cool to be weird

24 Mar

Today, I’m equating guilty pleasures and being happy. If chocolate cake or porches or whatever can bring a few minutes of happiness, I owe at least a nod to his majestic purple weirdness. If I’ve had a guilty pleasure when it comes to music, it has been Prince since the early 1980s.

I was a little bitter at that time in my life … (trust me, I’ve gotten over it). The whole world was not-Lady and not-man Gaga over this one-gloved, unusually high-pitched voiced guy who kept promising the world … over and over … that he wasn’t Billie Jean’s lover.

All the time, I was sneaking reads of the words to Darlin’ Nikki and hoping whichever radio station played “Let’s Go Crazy,” wouldn’t use the short version of the song, which cut off a few seconds of the guitar solo at the end.

Man, that annoyed me.

I was a Prince fan already, because 1999 had been a staple of the band bus. I didn’t have a copy of it, but I knew which songs on it that I liked: 1999, DMSR, Lady Cab Driver and Delirious (I was never that crazy about Little Red Corvette … though I like Corvettes … and the songs was kinda slutty, you know).

My parents – God, love em – didn’t monitor my music a lot, but there was no way I was going to see Purple Rain.

But when I got in high school, I bought a copy of Around the World in a Day, the follow up album to Purple Rain. To non-Prince people, it’s the Raspberry Beret album …

Which brings me to an important Prince-point: the crap on the radio was usually the often doofus-music, as he might tell you himself, schlocked together for Warner Bros. Raspberry Beret was catchy, but with the depth of a your basic sideline or locker room interview.

There are plenty of songs on that album that I flat wore out. And I used to be able – all you oldsters will know of what I speak – to flip the tape at just the right point to begin songs I wanted on the other side of the tape.

I liked that he was catchy, lurid and everything that rock and roll should be. But I was completed taken to another level of weird appreciation when I read the liner notes … I don’t have them around, but let’s just agree on one Prince thing, which was crystal clear from reading those notes:

That is one conflicted dude! All the stuff about God and thanking God for this and that, then songs like Temptation, about sex and going to Hell.

I’ve endured much in my Prince appreciation:

  • I actually watched “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Graffiti Bridge.” Get the soundtracks. As for the movies … If you need a film review, let’s put it this way: Madonna’s films look good compared to these; Roger Corman looks like Stanley Kubrick; those are not tears coming from my eyes … it’s the blood from gouging my eyes out.
  • I quit caring during his symbol days. It went over the top, even though there are songs I like.
  • Not everything – especially stuff done to get out of the Warner contract – is his best work. He mails it in, on occasion.

But I look past all this to his purple funkiness. Enjoy some clips of a couple of my favorites …

Ballad of Dorothy Parker
The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker (Live at Leno) by CJanssen

Prince Lets Go Crazy / Purple Rain tour 1985 by Recoda321

Check out these great blogs, too, from other happy people.

Happiness Project: This old porch …

20 Mar

Today is the first day of spring, and for the last two days, I’ve eaten dinner out on my porch. On Sunday, it was me and my two girls. Last night, it was just Betsy and me, eating an otherwise forgettable meal of food I now wish I hadn’t purchased at Aldi (a true hit or miss place if I’ve ever seen one … avoid the porcini mushroom ravioli and Alfredo sauce; just a piece of friendly advice). Tonight, we sat outside and painted the concrete with chalk … or as we say, we chalked.

Right now, it’s looks as if something ran through my back porch. The screen has been ripped out of a couple sections. The door – my constant nemesis now for years – is broken. The wood is in terrible need of a pressure washing. My party lights were pulled down by the same wind that left the screen in tatters.

I’ve spent many a relaxing evening on my porch – wine or bourbon in hand, listening to music. I remember several years ago, standing underneath and in the distance, there was lightning in the clouds, coming in bursts every couple seconds. It was exquisite. Red, purple and fiery hues, like fireworks. It was so beautiful and so natural that I can remember them even today. From that porch, I saw the eye of Hurricane Ivan pass over and recent tornadoes in the distance.*

*Of course, I also get to see the lake the forms in my back yard when it rains because the builders did a crap-tastic job of landscaping back there … I’m not riding the bitter bus about this; only watching it make squishy stops next to my air conditioner.

When I had the house built several years ago, I had them extend the porch and leave it unfinished. Doing the porch was my project (plus, I was appalled at what they charged for it). I did almost all the work, but I also let Emma help (Ben wasn’t around then) and my neighbor, Darien (who is now at UNA).

Working in the evenings and on the weekends, it took me about two weeks to finish. Installing the ceiling fan made me invent curse words that had only been dreamt of. And I am now on my third back door.

Someone special recently asked me, “If you could do anything with your life, what would it be?” I answered almost immediately: “I’d sit on my porch, write and be wealthy enough to take care of people who depend on me.”

I don’t know why the porch figures so prominently in my dreams. As a kid, we had a front porch … and not much of one. It had a swing on it, and on cooler days, I like to lay in it and sleep.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been asking myself – no joking here (consider it a snapshot of how the sausage is made) – “Why DO you like your porch so much?” I don’t have a complete answer. It can be relaxing, but it isn’t always. It can be a haven, but not all the time. I compare it to the places I do writing most of the time. My office at work. My computer at home. These are places I’ve ordered to be good for writing.

But my porch is the place where the things that mean something to me often do come together … eating together and enjoying friends and family; thinking and writing; taking in the world; playing and accomplishing something. And just letting the world gently breeze its way onward. It’s the most homey of places in my home.

It’s not a place of perfection. I can also see my terrible lawn and the place on the garage where Emma ran into it. Mostly, it’s the place where all the stuff of life — the happy and sad, triumph, joy and frustration — join hands.

Many of you know that I’ve written a novel. Working on it on and off for about two years, I was sitting on that porch, my trusty old Titanium Mac laptop on the table, when I typed the last few lines of it. It was a week before Ben was born. Writing that novel was easily one of the greatest experiences of my life, not because I made one dime (which I haven’t) but because I learned so much about myself — good and not-so-good — in the process.

There have been parties that lasted way too long on my porch with people who I loved … and who I’d wished would have stayed longer. Discussions about everything and nothing. Drunk people saying and doing things that only the drunk do … And BELIEVE ME, I’d like to naming names and tagging some folks about right now; you know who you are!

In fact, after I divorced a few years ago, one of the things I was left without was a kitchen table and chairs. They weren’t “mine.” I’d given them as a gift. Today, my go-to table and chairs are outside on the porch.

This year, we had the first Thanksgiving meal of my lifetime in which my Grandfather wasn’t there. I can still remember his sometimes downright depressed blessings … “Thank you, Lord, that things are as well as they are …” My kids were all home, and my parents and grandmother came over, as did my neighbors Sam and Biz Stowe. I cooked – turkey and other trimmings. We ate outside on my porch. It was something new, bittersweet and wonderful at the same time.

The more I work on this — and I guess I have to blow a kiss in the direction of Amy Bickers and Erin Street for this insight — is that I’d always looked happiness as, well, about being happy. I’d always seen it as that positive, fuzzy feeling. But even as I’ve worked on this project and read the tender, touching words of people I’d never known before, I see happiness a different way.

Today, I see it for the whole that it is. The hardest memories I have in a difficult past year — deaths, disappointments and stressful relationships — are always … eventually … balanced by sweet memories, new opportunities and hope … They come together.

Which might explain why I’m always having to fix my porch … the good comes, the bad comes. Happiness and my porch take a licking, but I want to be out there on it, and I want it to be there for me. I’m going to have to make myself fix it, go buy the supplies and sweat.

Then some time later, I’ll toast myself with a super-cold one, on a blistering summer day, and laugh about how the winter of 2012 tore my porch to pieces.

If you haven’t already, visit some of the other great people who have taken the happiness challenge … Here are links to their blogs:

Happiness Project: To all the words I loved before …

20 Mar

I like to think of myself as a complicated man (it’s been my experience that most people think they are, too … but no, really, I AM). I grew up in the country and have fought dirt clod wars, wormed cows and baled hay. At the same time, I studied medieval literature and swore off Bette Midler for the last 20 years.*

*I tried telling Bette to leave me alone. Yes she’s brassy, but CLINGY. I just said, “Enough woman, I banish you for the decade of the 1990s” … and it just has seemed to carry over.

I’ve hit a stage in life – a nice one – in which I’m old enough to know better but sometimes I’m too old to care. And at the heart of it all, I will admit to being a geek. A word nerd. I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake.

Thus, words make me happy. I love them. I’ve been accused of thinking too much, but some of these words give us a refreshing, summer-like view of life and why we’re spinning on this planet.

Like the people who’ve passed in and out of my life (and I feel like I should be breaking out in Willie Nelson/Julio Iglesias “To all the girls, I’ve loved before …”), I have words that have left a lasting impression on me. I think about these words, because in various areas of my life, they have spoken to me. They have spoken of the interconnectedness that we all share, because they sometimes give deeper meaning to something. They remind me that to hold two disparate ideas at the same time is more fascinating than insane.

Or maybe I like them just because I think words are cool.

  • Communicate – the same root word, “commune” is at the heart of the words community and common. It’s cool to me that the word we use for where we live is also the word for the process of exchanging information and ideas. When you add in that the word communion is also connected to this, it points to something other-wordly and un-defineable in how we communicate. Words themselves become the connection between people. It really is a mystery that we have specific words that mean specific things — like dog being a dog. But somehow, it’s like we have a connection we can’t explain, understanding where its unexpected and a yearning to be … connected with others.
  • Remember — Memories are sometimes all the happiness that we can tap into. But if you’re like me, I can’t say I have some catalogue in my head and can tap into those ideas and feelings at the drop of a hat. I have to remember them. I’d not thought much about what that means until someone pointed out to me the word is a combination of “re” and “member.” That’s awesome, folks! Memory isn’t about a little snapshot; it’s actually a process of making us whole again. It returns the displaced part of us, of our lives to a wholeness.
  • Adventure — A word used in the Christian church to evoke awaiting, anticipating something (advent) is the same word that we use when we talk about something exciting, heading into the unknown. The meaning seems to have evolved: one meaning before it happens and the other the entirety of the experience. And in the end, they both point to how we are changed and readied for something bigger and more important by walking boldly into the future.
  • Value — Not too much on this one, but I do like that it means both something that I place a worth on and at the same time, it means what is intrinsically important about something. It kind of points to the importance of the action of placing value on something … but at the same time, maybe not. It’s complicated.

There are other words. But you may have some of your own. Feel free to leave any you love in the comments, because they are likely to have made both of us happy at some point.

If you haven’t already, visit some of the other great people who have taken the happiness challenge … Here are links to their blogs:

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