Friday Mental Massage: What Antonella Barba and I have in common

Antonella Barba, at a glance, is a pixie. She’s the girl from your home room class that is pretty and knows it, but doesn’t act like it. She’s the girl that your mother believes would be a good girl to ask to the Homecoming dance. What mom doesn’t know is that Antonella Barba likes to get half naked on war memorials and go topless with her girlie friends. You know, the kind of stuff that makes her more the girl you’d like to date and the kind of girl your mom wishes would develop a bad coke habit and end up in Internet reality porn. No disrespect to anybody that performs in videos on sites like, of course.

Well, now she is one of the unfortunate members of the American Idol legacy who will be remembered more for her “talent” than her talent. I’m no fan either way, nor will I admit actually watching American Idol. Regardless, it’s all got me thinking about the unlikely (read: never gonna happen) event I become some sort of 14-minute celebrity. I’m fairly certain there are no half-naked pictures of me out there, save the one my friends published in the University of Missouri student newspaper The Maneater as a birthday prank. Video, however, is another issue. I’ve tried to go back in my memory and think about existing embarrassing video tape. Here’s the list:

* I’m sitting in a dorm room in Laws Hall at University of Missouri. I’m drinking from a 40 oz. bottle, pretending to smoke a dart (yes, an actual dart that you would throw at a dart board), and telling the story of my friend Marty’s pet eel that died after jumping out of an aquarium. (Humiliation level: Low)

* I’m in a suburban neighborhood and serving as the master of ceremonies over a footrace. This race takes place after dark and in front of a crowd of very intoxicated people. (Humiliation level: Low)

* I’m hosting Bradoween and pretending to speak for the hibiscus bushes in my back yard. (Humiliation level: Medium)

* I’m hosting some other party and singing Rocketman. (Humiliation level: Off the charts)

* I’m hosting some other party and dancing with a friend’s wife. (Humiliation level: Medium)

* I’m at Al Can’t Hang’s Bash at the Boathouse. I’m impaired. I’m standing in a crowd and talking to a friend who also happens to be the wife of another friend. I threaten to–but, mercifully do not–expose myself for the benefit of the crowd. (Humiliation level: High)

* I’m in a diner at the Gold Coast Casino in Las Vegas. I’ve been playing Pai Gow poker and earning a “free” meal of steak and eggs. Pauly offers me $400 if I’ll eat two of the Keno crayons sitting on the table. Without thinking about it, I do it. When asked what it tastes like, I respond creatively, “Crayons.” (Humiliation level: Low)

That list was a lot shorter in my head than it came out here. Such are the dangers of a misspent youth and liberal attitudes on malted hops and barley. Fortunately, only one of those videos has appeared on the internet and, apart from the mild embarrassment at being stopped in public and asked “Hey, are you the guy that ate the crayons?” it’s not been that bad. I’m not sure who is in control of the video from college, but the rest are in the hands of people I trust not to humiliate me or sell me out.


For some reason, I’ve been thinking about 2003 a lot recently. I’m not sure why, exactly. Nothing in particular stood out, other than March of 2003 was about the last time my life was exactly…I dunno…normal. On this Friday, I decided to take a look back at March four years ago.

On March 10, 2003, I wrote this:

It’s hard to write this without seeming falsely modest or overly boastful. So, I’ll leave it at this: I won an award. People tell me its pretty important. I don’t know how much of that is true, but from what I can tell, Peter Jennings won it in 2000 and Ted Koppel won it in 2001.

That was the beginning of the end of my career in traditional journalism.

Six days later, I, for the first–and thankfully only–time, completely blacked out and severely injured myself. The doctors called it orthostatic hypotension. I called it one big hole in my face and my bottom lip nearly being ripped off.

It is sort of easy to let ourselves forget that in March of 2003, we sent our country to war. Now, it’s easy for me to say we’re involved in one of the ugliest blunders of our country’s history. In 2003, I think there was a part of me that saw it coming. As I sat nursing my busted face, I wrote about the pending Iraq war:

I’m wondering if my tete-a-tete with the carpet knocked more than my lower face astray. As hard as I try (and believe me, I’m trying) I can get neither excited nor worried about the possibility of war, retaliation, victory, or defeat. It just doesn’t seem real.

There comes a great burden with being the world’s only superpower. I figure a healthy part of that burden is knowing when to go and when to stay home. I don’t have that answer.

A man of thought (as I like to consider myself) should have some opinion or feeling about his country leading a charge to war. I feel incredibly shallow for feeling very little in the way of anxiety or patriotic fervor.

Perhaps when my as-yet unconceived child turns 20, there will be no need for war.

That’s a nice thought. But, I’m sure when my dad’s buddies were stuck in Vietnam 30 years ago, he was probably saying the same thing about his as-yet unconceived child’s potential world.

On March 19th, as it all started, I had false hope, writing:

Outside my window, the wind screams like an air raid siren. Lightning flashes in the sky. Thunder rumbles in the distance. At times, the entire house sounds like it will implode on itself. It is the first real storm of South Carolina spring.

On my TV set, Peter Arnett is watching the skies over Iraq. The President’s spokesman just announced our nation’s leader will speak to the country and world in about ten minutes.

It seems the rumbles, flashes, and wails will not be limited to my little mountain in the Blue Ridge foothills.

May both storms pass quickly.

Just a few days later, I was writing about people who were dying in Iraq. Rather than quote the whole thing here, I’ll just link to it. It’s not fantastic writing, but I think it was around the last time my head and heart felt young.


That year aged me more than any year previous or since. My dad’s near-death and unlikely survival, the realization I was going to be a father, and the everything else started turning me into someone that I had never been. For the most part, I can admit I have matured and benefited from what I experience that year. Still, I can’t help but miss that young part of my soul, that part that lived in stupid bliss and rarely felt those twinges of true regret.

I wonder if I’m right in thinking our country has aged past its years, too.


So, maybe that’s a little too heavy to end the week.

Try this. Sometimes things, in the face of all logic, just work out. Like when you’re falling from 12,000 feet and your parachute doesn’t work.

Yeah, sometimes things turn out okay.

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Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    As my wife and I walked across the scenic beach in Los Cabos last week, I thought, “brad would really of enjoyed this sand”-fb

  2. Anonymous Su says:

    Brad’s picture in the Maneater, hee hee 🙂

  3. Anonymous Uncle Ted says:

    It’s like I’m sittin next to you, drinkin’ our 7th beer on the porch. Thanks for that.

    Oh, and the video from one of many “last nights of drinking before I move away” should be added to the list…you know the one…