About me

I am writing this in Sweden.

You are most likely reading it somewhere else entirely. If not a different continent or country, then at least separated by some amount of time and space from where I am now. That much is probably true. 

Hang on, I’ll check. 

Indeed, as I suspected, you are not sitting on my couch (though a nagging feeling of someone there remains).  You are in fact somewhere else. If you were indeed behind me, I would probably find it very odd to continue to communicate in this fashion. I would probably just turn and say ‘Hi’, perhaps ask how you got in. Which you might consider rude. So, all things considered, it is probably a good thing that you are not here. No offense intended.

I didn’t start out here either.

I was born in the same, small eastern North Carolina town as the legendary New York Yankee pitcher Catfish Hunter. A man who’s once soaring fame has faded and is fast approaching a lower level almost in line with my own (which is not so soaring at all). When looked at from the proper angle, in the right light, the mirror bell curves of our relative fame form the outline of a shape that (with some tweaking) would be the perfect logo for a sports shoe or an energy drink. This latter fact has no bearing on anything to follow, but is as yet uncopyrighted, unprotected, so feel free. Just saying. 

One would be forgiven for assuming that I was a late delivery, given my current temporal tendencies, but my mother swears that I seemed in a hurry to get started and was actually early to arrive in the aforementioned town. Perhaps the last time either of us was voluntarily on time for anything.

After my birth, my parents quickly whisked me away from the hospital, put the not-so- bright lights of Ahoskie, North Carolina in the rear view, and had me spend my first years in even less populated hamlets around northeastern North Carolina. Do the names Roxobel, Harrelsville, or Colerain ring any bells, conjure any images? No? Apparently, my infancy did nothing to raise the profile of these flat and rural towns, nor did the charms of these crossroad communities seem to find any permanent foothold with my parents, as we moved four times before I was four years old. A trend of constant motion that continued without pause until I wound up in Sweden.

But back to Ahoskie. 

As quick as I was to leave the town, let us not be equally hasty, dear reader, for there are dots to be connected. Ahoskie, the only town in the entire world so named, was christened after a Wyanoke Indian Chief (his name spelled in various ways over the years before settling on the probably still erroneous current spelling). Oddly enough, the now inaccessible website http://www.ahoskie-nc.org/, which Wikipedia still lists as the town’s official site, was entirely in Japanese. Perhaps it has been purchased for some reason. The town, not the site. Perhaps there is a story here. Perhaps not. 

Whatever its current state of ownership, the town reached its peak size of between 4,500 and 5,000 thousand souls some decades ago, and its population has fluctuated only mildly between the 1950s and the present (even if the digits are currently dwindling). It seems that most people from Ahoskie tend to stay in Ahoskie. I did not. 

And while the names of these folk what stayed, the tobacco and cotton farmers, the sharecroppers and ex-slaves, the youth that man the drive-in window at the KFC, may not have made it into the history books, the names of some of those what left are at least relatively well-known in limited circles. There are no Nobel Laureates from Ahoskie, no Pulitzer Prize winners, in fact not a single artist or writer of renown (to the best of my knowledge) that claim the town as their birthplace. There are, however, no less than ten Ahoskians (this moniker of my own coinage) who have made it into professional sports in the last fifty years or so. And while you may be excused for thinking that ten is a relatively inconsequential number, keep in mind that this is comparable to a city high school producing a pro athlete every five years or so. Ambitious athletes, our Ahoskians. And while my interest in American sports has waned over the years, let us pause to give these athletes from Ahoskie their due. 

There’s Kentwan Balmer, defensive end in the NFL, Bobby Futrell, cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sam Harrell, running back for the Minnesota Vikings; we have Jason Horton, NFL, CFL and Arena Football League cornerback, Toran James, NFL, XFL and Arena Football League fullback/linebacker, and Dick Newsome, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Add to that Timmy Newsome, fullback for the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Umphlett, center and right fielder for the Boston Red Sox and Washington Senators, Oshane Ximines, outside linebacker for the New York Giants, and last but not least, Amber O’Neal, a professional wrestler. And, of course, the aforementioned James Augustus “Catfish” Hunter.

Catfish wasn’t actually ‘from’ Ahoskie, however. He was, like yours truly, only born in the Ahoskie hospital. His Momma brought the about to burst forth James in from nearby Hertford, much as mine did me in her belly from Roxobel. Young James played football before his brothers taught him how to pitch, and his nickname was, I am sorry to say, not coined in some colorful Southern story, but merely a PR affectation invented by his first manager, said marketing genius thinking that a southerner should have a colorful nickname, that it would help his image. And so it did. 

Catfish overcame a debilitating childhood accident (his brother shot him in the foot), and went on to pitch for the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees (the irony), was a member of five World Series championship teams, and became the first “big money free agent” in professional sports. He was the first pitcher since 1915 to win 200 career games by the age of 31 and the last pitcher to win 20 consecutive games five years in a row. Catfish was inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 1987. Bob Dylan wrote a song about him. No shit.

Catfish and I were born in the same delivery room. And while I did not inherit his skill at baseball (I did pitch in my little league team as a child, though it was a Tee ball team, again, irony), the diabetes he famously suffered from was apparently contagious enough to catch me on the shores of southern India, its homing device accurate even over years and oceans. His team-mates spoke of him as an honorable, loyal, and humble man. I hope these traits were at least mildly contagious too. He was also, by all accounts a great storyteller. As, I hope, am I.

Catfish died at the age of 53 of Lou Gehrig’s disease (again, irony), and was buried beside the very field where he played high-school ball. And so, he remains in Ahoskie. As I have pointed out, I do not. After being swaddled away from the potentially diseases inducing hospital, I was raised in various spots in North Carolina, ranging from the picturesque colonial capital of Edenton on the Atlantic coast to the capital city of Raleigh, and various points in between. Our family’s many moves, not due to IBM or the military, merely following parental careers and multiple separations.

I was made an honorary member of the Eastern Cherokee tribe when I was nine (an act which I fear holds no legal benefit and does not entitle me to any cultural or casino claims), narrowly missed a sky-diving trip in which the plane crashed and all the passengers perished, attended high-school in Raleigh, NC, university (briefly) at UNC and NCSU, was deeply involved in local theater and even considered pursuing a career as a thespian, but had no desire to wait tables for a living (retrospectively, not as practical a decision as it seemed at the time).

I moved to London at the age of twenty with a one-way ticket and 200 dollars, perhaps the first Ahoskian to reverse their ancestors’ evolution and do so, perhaps not. In London, I found work ordering remainder titles for a chain of bookstores, learned English slang, and lived in a house just down the street from John Cleese (I was a huge Monty Python fan). I learned to love warm, flattish beer, prawn cocktail crisps, and European women. I shared a town house with five girls from Australia and New Zealand, the room I rented made recently vacant due to the previous tenant falling to his death from the third-floor kitchen window of the house three weeks prior. A door closes and a window opens, or something.

With the exception of a two-and-a-half-year return to the States, I have lived all my adult life in Europe, moving from London to Paris, back to London, then to Palma de Majorca and Fuengirola, Spain before finally moving to the university town of Umea, Sweden, 250 miles south of the Arctic circle. There I attended university, froze my ears, and learned to eat (but not like) rotten herring. In the far north town of Kiruna (90 miles north of the arctic circle), I fell from a three-story window, book-ending my welcome to Europe, fortunately managing to only repeat the action, not the result, of the previously foreshadowed tumble.

picture of Flb

I have travelled extensively throughout Europe, North Africa, Asia, and the Mid/Near East and have held far too many jobs to count – assistant nurse, grape picker, baggage handler, English teacher, bar-tender, bouncer, bookstore purchasing agent, janitor, chef, translator, marketing head, and construction worker to name a few. In recent years, I have supported myself primarily as a copywriter and now reside in Sweden’s second city, the port of Gothenburg, where I own and run a small creative advertising agency.

I am an amateur musician, photographer, and painter, a compulsive reader, an avid cigar smoker (in a virtually no-smoking country), and a great consumer of media of all kinds. I have survived hurricanes, muggings, shootings, various medical emergencies and relationships, and all manner of things that eventually morph into ‘interesting’ stories.

 And I have no plans whatsoever to move back to Ahoskie.