Growing Up in the South – Bad People

Note: Here is another little snippet of true story to show what it was like to grow up in the South. This is the bad side. Tomorrow, the good.

Dad and I had gone to the shopping center to drop Sis off for her accordion lessons. She went inside, crammed into a tiny practice room with a cranky old geezer named Mr. Sylvestro. I remember from my own music lessons that he made coffee from tepid tap water and instant coffee. He usually stirred a small pinch of Bromo Seltzer in with each cup. The stuff bubbled and fizzed and formed a horrible frothy, brown scum on top.

We walked around to kill time while we waited for Sis. We strolled past the windows at Rice’s department store, into the Woolworth’s, and back out into the sweaty midday sun. I raced ahead from store to store, hiding in building recesses and jumping out each time Dad reached me, screaming BOO! at the top of my lungs. As I rounded the corner at the Fanny Farmer candy store (always a favorite stop), I saw something I’d never seem before. Hundreds of people were walking through the parking lot carrying signs and wearing white sheets. Each person wore a tall pointed hat with a hood over the face.

I stood in front of the candy store in awe. Was it a parade? Why were those people wearing costumes? Why were they surrounded by a police escort? If it was a parade, why did people run in front of them in a hushed and hurried effort to get out of the way?

I stared up at Dad in slack-jawed fascination. I felt his grip tighten on my tiny shoulder and felt him gently pushing me toward Farmer’s. Under his breath I heard him whisper, “the Klan,” more to himself than to me. I asked him who those people were and he suggested we go into Farmer’s to get some chocolate, something he never was of a mind to do before.

Inside the cool, white-tiled store I drank in the heady aroma of chocolate and peered into the tidy cases. He encouraged me to take my time shopping, again quite out of character. I finally chose my prize and watched through the glass of the counter as the white-sheeted procession went into the Woolworth’s we’d just left.

“Time to go get Sis,” he said. We hurried to retrieve her from Mr. Sylvestro, trundled her big black accordion case into the car, and drove off. I sucked at my candy prize and watched through the back window of the car as the procession came out of Woolworth’s and went back to their cars under the watchful eyes of the police.

When I asked Dad again who they were, he said simply, “Bad people.”

Going to the Movies With Garbo

Note: We’re presenting here a story about a real incident that happened to us when we were young and not yet omnipotent. We’ll warn you right here, this is not our usual fare – for one thing, it is written in the first person. So if you read a little and it isn’t your cup of tea, there is no reason to feel obliged to stick around. If you like it, you’re more than welcome to stay.

There are events in everyone’s life that sometimes take on an emotional importance spectacularly out of proportion to their physical limits. When they happen, they start as innocent affairs, sneaking up on you without the slightest warning.

Sometimes they begin with a look, sometimes a feeling, sometimes a smell or sound or stray thought. They sit there in the cob webby back corner of your mind, unimportant and nearly intangible, before suddenly blossoming into something very important. It happens frightfully fast like one of those time lapse photographs of a flower suddenly blooming in the bright spring sun. They start with a wonderful tingling sensation at the back of your neck and end with the certainty that this is a moment, a memory, that will stick with you until you die.

For me, most of those moments seemed to have come when I was in my twenties. Perhaps they require a nimbleness of mind and presence of emotion that becomes dulled by the passing of time. But, there are one or two that I remember to this day as clear and as fresh as the day they happened. Whenever I feel low, I pull them out and live them again. And for a time, feel renewed.

In my early twenties I was a student at the University of Kentucky. I was a burly guy, old beyond my years, with a great shaggy beard and shoulder length hair. I was markedly out of step with the svelte disco kings and queens – resplendent in polyester and teetering on six inch heels – who were beginning to replace the old line hippies on American campuses. I took a wide variety of courses, from biology to journalism law to philosophy. Though the world was moving toward an emphasis on specialization, I was steadfastly plodding along in the other direction. My curriculum was heavy with courses in literature, film, and political science. All subjects that I enjoyed and could excel at without really trying. I avoided, whenever possible, the sciences or any other courses that relied on rote and memorization. Though I had some intellectual interest in them, I mostly hated them and ditched them at every opportunity.

One of my favorite courses was a film criticism class. It was taught by a pompous graduate of that bastion of film criticism, the University of Alberta. His critical method was to watch a film over and over until every moment was imprinted indelibly on his mind. Then, like a cross-eyed man squinting too close to a mirror, he would concoct a completely new reality of what he saw.

He conjured up the most amazing critical theories. Every one was obviously a complete fantasy, but enjoyable if you took them for the harmless fictions they were. My favorite pastime was to invent incredible theories of my own and introduce them to the discussions in his class. Without fail, he seized upon them and took off like a shot, inflating them with his own overwrought ideas and expanding them until they collapsed of their own faux intellectual weight. I was having the time of my life.

One of the movies assigned that semester was Anna Karenina. It was playing in a large auditorium classroom late on a cold winter Wednesday. As usual, I found a stage-center seat against the back wall of the auditorium. I sank down into my uncomfortable institutional seat, pulled out my notebook, and began to watch without the slightest intention of actually taking the first note.

The film was glorious, the first of the season that I truly enjoyed. Each time Greta Garbo filled the screen she reflected an intense white glow that bathed me in the astonishingly cold water from a Russian mountain lake. It took my breath away. As I was going down for the third time I glanced forward and to the right two rows. There, bathed in the same incredible white glow, I saw the luminescent outline of a woman’s face. It seemed to glow with the same fantastic intensity of Garbo’s. It framed her soft cheeks and eyes and made the highlights of her long dark hair sparkle like so many diamonds. I spent the rest of the film staring down two rows and to the right. To this day, Anna Karenina ends for me with a kiss between Fredric March and Greta Garbo somewhere in the middle of the film.

As the film ended, I watched closely trying to get a look at the woman whom I had spent so much time staring at. When the house lights came up, I was quite surprised. Instead of a cool, Teutonic beauty ala Garbo, I saw a woman with long shoulder length brown hair. She was not beautiful in the conventional sense, but somehow combined several features that would best be described as “pleasant”. Yet, I was entranced. Those plain features and that soft brown hair seemed almost more than I could bear. I angled for the exit, trying to place myself somewhere close to her.

We both stepped out into a bitterly cold wind, tearing at our clothes and bringing tears to our eyes. But inside, I was somehow warm and comfortable and she seemed the same. We started out across the campus, her in the lead and me just a few steps behind. Snow crunched softly under our feet. Our breath combined into a big swirling cloud of steam. I stole glances her way at every chance and suddenly realized that she was doing the same. She looked back occasionally with a tiny perfect smile and I realized that in that split second I had fallen in love.

Like a bumbling schoolboy, I thrilled at being near while secretly fretting that I had no words for her. Her delicate smiles must certainly have been invitations, yet I was at a near panic trying to come up with something, anything, to say.

We walked on for a while in silence, my panic slowly subsiding into an unusual sort of happiness. Our paths took us the long way round to no place of particular importance. Somehow walking to nowhere, while electricity crackled between us, seemed just enough.

As if in some weird movie script, she stopped, slowly turned to me, and said, “Good night.”

Tagging and Chain Letters Must End

We were tagged by Spork in the Drawer several days ago. The invitation came along with a plea that we not “hate” them for tagging us. While our first impulse when we see tags and chain letters is to mutter about nutcases and vow not to comply with them for spite, we were asked nicely and they did throw themselves on our omnipotent mercy.

Just remember, THIS IS AN EXCEPTION! So don’t anyone else feel free to tag us because we’re omnipotent, and dammit, we have other things to do.

That last bit isn’t literally true, but let’s just keep that between you and me.

Herewith, our seven:

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

  1. Come up with an air-tight plan to cheat death.
  2. Make enough money to take over a large multinational corporation and fire the CEO for the hell of it.
  3. Win the lottery. See number 2.
  4. Think of a fourth thing to do before we die.
  5. Retire.
  6. Get a really cool electric train.
  7. Meet Dubya in person to see if he is really as stupid in real life as he seems.

Seven Things I Cannot Do

  1. Be stable.
  2. Sing.
  3. Vote Republican.
  4. Eat parsnips or liver.
  5. Follow a recipe.
  6. Be wise.
  7. Convert base metal into gold.
  8. Restrict ourself to a list of only seven things we cannot do.

Seven Things That Attract Me to…Blogging

  1. We can say anything we want – no matter how daft, offensive, or stupid.
  2. It gets us out of the virtual house and keeps us off the virtual street where we would surely be stirring up more trouble than necessary if given the chance.
  3. The opportunity to meet people who are dumber than us, thereby giving us the opportunity to feel superior.
  4. The opportunity to meet people who are much smarter than us, thereby giving us the opportunity to be in awe. See our blogroll on the right for confirmation.
  5. It is something one can do with a minimum of talent and a maximum of impact.
  6. It’s a funny word. Think about it…”blogging”? Come on!
  7. It’s free and we’re cheap.

Seven Things I Say Most Often

  1. “Oh shit”.
  2. “Asshole”.
  3. “Asshat”.
  4. “Dill hole”.
  5. “Dick With Ears”.
  6. “Ass wipe”.
  7. “Where’s the goddamn number for the Tourette Syndrome Association“?

Seven Books That I Love

  1. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.
  2. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson
  3. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Carlos Cataneda
  4. Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, Hunter S. Thompson
  5. The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, James S. Kunen
  6. First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple, Cameron West
  7. The Fermata, Nicholson Baker

Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over Again

  1. King of Hearts
  2. My Man Godfrey
  3. In Like Flint
  4. Gallipoli
  5. Operation Petticoat
  6. The Big Sleep
  7. African Queen

Seven People I Want To Join In Too

  1. Anyone who would like to volunteer.
  2. Anyone who has ever sent a chain letter.
  3. Anyone who has ever been associated in any way with Amway.
  4. All former, current, and future members of the Church of Scientology because they need something to get their minds off L. Ron Hubbard.
  5. Scooter Libby.
  6. God.
  7. Anyone with a morbid fear of the number seven.