Sunday, March 29, 2009

Moseying around the South Carolina state house

Usually my daughter, Miss Wiggles, and I escape from the house as quickly as possible Sunday mornings before Dragonwife get all motivated about cleaning and reorganizing some aspect of the of a room or closet. Most weekends have us visiting Riverbanks Zoo or the South Carolina state museum in which we both have memberships. Both places are fantastic, offering much in the way of things to do in an otherwise dull area. But with a amazingly bright and sunny day we skipped our usual haunts for a nice walk around the state house.

As Civil War aficionados will eagerly tell you General Sherman burned the city of Columbia and the old state house to the ground. He also shelled this one although construction was not yet finished with most of the damage on the interior of the unfinished building and only light damage on the outside.
Since all that unpleasantness is long past the state house grounds now boasts an almost park-like appearance with beautiful trees and flowers. But Miss Wiggles and I were very surprised at all the diligent public servants we found mingling amongst the common folk on such a nice day. You can see Miss Wiggles and the great dog Sparky close to the statue of George Washington mounted on the steps. No, I would not let Sparky pee on this particular George's statue, all other Georges though I would probably pee on them myself.

We had several brief encounters with various state legislators and senators rummaging through the underbrush of the state house grounds. I'm not certain what section of the state this fellow represents since once he realized I had nothing in the way of food or money to give him he quickly lost interest in me. Now there is an outside chance that this is just a simple squirrel struggling to make a living like the rest of us but whenever on the state house grounds it is always safer to assume that when running across some animal that he or she is some politician. I'm figuring this animal was one of the few Democrats since he wasn't carrying a Bible or foaming at the mouth like most Republicans.

Surprisingly we came across Governor Sanford sunning himself planning his 2012 presidential run. Since Jindal apparently crashed and burned and Palin still hasn't figured out Africa is a continent and gets upset whenever someone asks about her reading habits Sanford is feeling pretty good.

He is always a nice man and it's so special to have someone so worried about the effects of running up the national debt. Little issues like turning down stimlus funds to help state agencies bridge the gap until things get better so they can continue to help those that need it are small matters when you are planning the holy campaign to take back the White House from Godless commies.

None of the encounters with our elected officials lasted long. Sparky would start straining at the leash barking and trying to bite them and they would quickly jump back into the shadowy underbrush. We looked for a few trying to get them back out into the light but all we found were worms and bugs claiming to be members of Cheney, Romney, and Bush families. On a side note I always figured Cheney's undisclosed location was a hole in the ground but I never thought it would be here in South Carolina.

The only scary thing we saw was a fat slug that carried a uncanny resemblance to Rush Limbaugh dragging an empty bottle of Viagra in its slimy trail.

The main reason we came was to see the azalea bushes blooming. My grandfather has several azalea bushes in his yard while I was growing up and I always thought the explosion of color they offered in the spring was at least one sign that God existed. Every year I try and plan a trip down to Magnolia Plantation in Charleston to see the azaleas down there but I just never can seem to make it. And it looks like once again I will not make it, so Wiggles and I dropped by to look at these. And I'll be damned but I didn't get the focus or the light settings right screwing up the picture.

In March of 2001, an event of note took place with the dedication of an African-American History Monument on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. State senator Darrell Jackson called it “a reflection of what can be done when all citizens work together in unity” (Bauerlein, “There are so many things,” 2001, A1, 12). The African-American Monument, the first such structure to be built on the grounds of a state capitol, had its genesis in a 1994 proposal for a state Heritage Act. Republican State Senator John Courson wrote the Heritage Act in an attempt to develop a compromise that would remove the Confederate flag from the State House dome. The legislation passed the state Senate but failed in the House. Two years later the state Senate passed another piece of legislation to create a monument, but the House refused to consider the bill. Two state senators, Darrell Jackson, an African-American Democrat, and Glenn McConnell, a white Republican, then tied the bill to an economic development proposal that Governor Beasley favored. Beasley responded by calling the legislature into special session, and the House passed both bills.
Although each of the twelve beautiful panels on the African-American Monument represents something of significance in the experience of South Carolina’s African-Americans, a visitor will find no words of explanation or captions under each panel. Following a series of public hearings across the state the Monument Commission determined that the African-American Monument would not “represent any actual human being who actually lived” (Davis, 2002). The casual visitor may look at a panel and think of an important historical figure like retired South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney, musician Dizzy Gillespie, or tennis player Althea Gibson. Some of the media even reported that the figures on the panels represent real people (Crumbo, 2001,A8). But the official position of the Monument Commission was that the panels would not be “an official, literal interpretation” of anyone (Davis, 2002). Each viewer should interpret the meaning for him or herself.

On the pavement in front of the Monument there is a depiction of a tightly packed slave ship.

It may be hard to believe in this day and age but it is not hard to find someone who will defend what was done to African-Americans during slavery. They wallow in some sort of delusional fantasy about the "Lost Cause" and speak of how the Civil War was about many other things but not really slavery. The fact that other reasons contributed to the Civil War is not in doubt, but what remains is that the South did depend on slavery as its economic backbone that allowed a few to have a rich and pampered lifestyle while many worked under inhuman bondage, for me that can never be defended.

On one of my earlier visits to the state house two visiting Japanese gentlemen asked me to explain why the Confederate flag was still flying so many years after the South was defeated. They wondered about their country, defeated after the Second World War, including the nuclear bombing of two of their cities, and how everything their grandparents held dear was forced to be cast aside.
It was a very uncomfortable discussion since I didn't see them or their grandparents as the victims of American imperialism.
I tried my best to explain how some people in the state feel about that flag although I didn't hold the same opinion. That really confused them and we parted without any understanding. Although I'm sure they now think Americans are far crazier than they ever imagined.

Just when I think I have this state figured out it goes and throws me for a loop. No, I did not post this wanted flier but if I found the guy who did I would buy him a beer. If it was a lady that did it I would ask her out for a nice dinner and ask her to marry me, especially if she was a nice looking hippy chick not wearing a bra.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lost in Suburbia

More vaguely seditious thoughts on modern American life.

By sheer definition, alone I have to admit I lived most of my childhood in a suburb. However, the lower middle-class suburb that I lived in until my parent’s marriage self-destructed, and again after I went to stay with my grandparents had far more in common with what people associated with an old fashion neighborhood. Back then, I remember things being more locally driven allowing a sense of community to take shape. Houses were thought of more as homes and not some sort of financial investment to be used to buy an even bigger house a few years down the road. You didn’t have to drive everywhere for the smallest chore and you viewed those around you as neighbors and less as possible trespassers on your sovereign territory. For some the differences between what I call a suburb and neighborhood might seem inconsequential or an annoyance at best. For me though, it continues to prove the point that I am simply a stranger in a very strange land.

While growing up the local elementary school was very often inside the neighborhood. This allowed something akin to the spectacle of the Israelites leaving ancient Egypt every morning as scores of children walked or rode bicycles on their own to school. Following many of these children were faithful pet dogs who just never understood why they couldn’t following their child indoors to the strange place. It wasn’t unusual to see a small cluster of these patient pets found nearby waiting all day for the kids to be released so they could follow them back home.

I can’t speak for other sections of the country but in my little backwater and from my observations of other locations, getting children to school has become something of a commuting nightmare. None of the nearby schools are located in any neighborhood. Usually they sit at some sort of nexus surrounded by clusters of subdivisions with early morning traffic jams resulting as everyone attempts to drop off their 2.5 children at the same time. After dropping off their offspring, parents then speed off far faster then what is posted. Any poor child walking, or dog following a child, would be a minor bump in the road as the suburban professional begins eating their fast food breakfast, apply makeup, or checking their blackberry for emails on their way to work.

God help you if you have to actually park and walk inside the school with your child. Because having your car blocked by some soccer mom in one of the larger SUV’s trying to back into a tight parking space with one hand while the other holds a cell phone is common. Just for shits and giggles I watched one mom spend fifteen minutes parking her Excursion never taking her cell phone away from her ear. For some reason I cannot fathom she was desperate to back her four-wheeled Titanic into an empty parking space between two other parked cars. Understand that just a few spaces further down were at least ten empty parking spaces that could have allowed her to park whichever way she wanted. After she finally had the behemoth parked two other people waiting in their cars, beside me finally had the chance to drive away.

Even years after I had grown up I remember seeing small gaggles of children migrating like ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers going from house to house playing. The games, at least in my memories, were the usual sort. Hide and seek, tag, much altered forms of kickball, and the now very politically incorrect cowboys and Indians along with war were our unstructured and unsupervised activities. When things got boring at one house by instinct, we would all up and move to another house pretty much playing the same stuff.

When lunchtime approached, debates would begin on which of the tribe member’s parents would make the best lunch for all. It was just taken as neighborly courtesy that when the young wild ones showed up at the door in which one of the tribe members lived clamoring for food that all would be fed. During tough times, peanut butter sandwiches and water would at least be passed out to all the children and during better times, chicken noodle soup and Kool-Aid would be on the menu. In really good times in which the tribe had spending money it would make its way to the neighborhood mom and pop store, nothing like the modern convenience store, and buy sodas, candy bars, and chewing gum.

The small tribes I remember migrating around a neighborhood appear to have largely disappeared. The advent of video games, fear over what monster might be lurking around looking for some unguarded child, and the predisposition of some parents for the need to structure every aspect of their child’s life have ended such nomadic behaviors. However, what has often replaced it: indoor kid’s gyms with structured classes, and scheduled play dates are a far cry from what I would wish for a childhood.

Still though with all these structured and planned activities I am often chagrined now at how often I hear various parents complain that some child was brought over to their house for a scheduled “play date” in which they ended up having to feed him or her because they hadn’t had lunch yet.

My biggest separation from those around me appears to involve the matters of lawn care. As much as the religious right likes to suggest we are Christian nation with the worshiping flocks marching off to church every Sunday looking for forgiveness our true places of worship have moved off to newer locations. The first is the modern walk-in shopping mega-mall. It is there that every social and economic level of American society can be found worshipping the great god of consumerism. The second for those inhabiting suburbia is the lawn.

Like many just last Saturday, the warm sunny weather forced me to shake off the winter-induced apathy and pull out the lawn mower, weed-eater, edger, and the damn leaf blower. My son, Darth Spoilboy, was soon cutting the early spring weeds while I used the weed-eater to trim the various over growths on the sidewalk and the curb. In the old days that would be the end of it. My grandfather would help me cleanup the mower after I was finished, then we would drive off for grape soda for me and an ice cold beer for him.

After my son and I were done last Saturday, I had to crank up the loud and vibrating abomination of a leaf blower doing my best to blow all the cutting into my yard. I do my best to both ignore the actions of those that live around me since I would generally like them to do the same for me but it has not escaped my notice how hard they attempt to keep the curb along the street sparkling clean.

For several years I have observed how that when the least little bit of biological trash falls from the trees or is blown in from the wind one of those fancy riding lawn mowers/vacuum mulcher comes flying out to either grind or vacuum up the offending material. Whatever falls on the curb is assaulted with newer and louder leaf blowers that guarantee hurricane strength winds to blow away the most stubborn of dead leaves clinging to the asphalt of the street.

While I have nothing against those that put so much time and effort into keeping their yard a deep green with a carpet-like clean appearance for me such behavior borders on the anal. I may pull out the weed-eater and leaf blower two more times during the spring and summer months. While I am sure it can be debated, particularly by my wife, but I feel I have far better things to do with my time than be enslaved to a lawn. Several times it has crossed my mind that compulsive lawn care behavior is not much different from old-fashioned selfdom. Standing in for the Lord of the manor would be some bank holding the mortgage on the overly large McMansion that the poor serf works frantically to make the payments on and keep up to prevent the home owners association from threatening some action.

It should be ridiculously clear that the last place I need to live is any suburb, but that is where I find myself. Some might ask why don’t I up and move my family if I find such an environment so not to my liking? There are two main reasons.

The first reason is that for my wife the lack of real privacy and the need to drive several miles to shop for the smallest of items or drop the kids off to school is old hat to her. Apparently, this type of suburb emerged years ago in the more built-up areas of Virginia she grew up in. The second is that for my kids, and most of their friends, this restrained atmosphere along with structured activities and supervised play dates are normal to them. At times I believe that if they were in a neighborhood like I grew up in, able to roam around freely, none of them would know what to do.

As I grow older and the kids move on there is only one action open for me. The only place that I will be able to live with some comfort is someplace well away from the planned and structures existence that all of America seems so happy to sell their souls for. Expatriation is the most likely avenue to obtain this goal with the more desolate areas of Australia, New Zealand, Chile, or Argentina my possible destinations. Really any place generally devoid of large numbers of people, planned suburbs, rabid American consumerism, and tank driving soccer moms. Some place away from city lights so that I can see the stars at night and never, ever have to hear another damn leaf blower as long as I live.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A brief moment of genuine patriotism, for no real reason.

In desperate and shitty times it is best to take refuge in the core values that made America such a great country. After doing a Parrothead version of Diogenes I find that no group holding truer to these values than the Muppets. Which should scare me but right now but I have a fairly nice buzz going and don't want to spoil it. Tomorrow though I may look back up on how to immigrate to Australia or New Zealand. One final question, where is that great American patriot Randal?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

25 Empty beer bottles and 25 important authors

Friday night's collection of empty beer bottles, bowls with salsa residue, and chip crumbs surround me as I sit here at the computer trying to organize the extremely weak synaptic discharges going on in the moldy sponge-like material I call a brain. Because my friend Randal has tagged me with the meme to figure out what 25 authors that have influenced my writing. But before the cynical lurker floating wraith-like in the cyber-ectoplasm has time to postulate the idea in their narrow little head that I consider myself a writer let me be the first to state that I don't.
My little rants, flights of fancy, and recollections of begone years is just my way to deal with the asinine collection of deluded, power hungry, and greedy hairless primates running human civilization and its increasingly steep spiral into the abyss. So what is a mostly harmless Southern boy to do in the face of the near certain apocalyptic circumstances of human extinction and running out of beer? Why I sit down at my computer and write, but to write you have to read and while I freely admit I am but a subatomic particle compared to the following gods and demigods they at least have had a profound effect on me.

1.) Michael Suib: For some reason I have always had an affinity with Key West. This started long before I ever heard the first song by Jimmy Buffett on the radio. Maybe in the forgotten recesses of my mind I remember stories told by my dad's brother who served in the navy and was stationed there or maybe in a past life I was a pirate who passed by its shores.

Whatever the the case when I discovered Micheal's columns from Key West I found someone who could capture the basic humanity of a place and its people. He helped me to discover that if you only stop, look, and listen a whole new world can open up around you. This new world is not often pretty but it is far more real and honest than the prepackaged homogenized reality most of us willingly accept. For more see his book which is a collection of his columns: Confessions of a Key West Cabby.

2.) Fred Reed: Simply put Fred is not in any shape or fashion politically correct. The best way to describe his columns comes from a review of his books: "Neither a liberal nor a conservative—he describes these as 'twin halves of the national lobotomy'—he is just Fred. He figures it is enough. Anything more would be multiple-personality disorder."

Fred is an expat living in Mexico and I have enjoyed his columns about as long as Michael Suib's. At least until, like Michael, Fred recently called it quits and went off to travel the world. Many will find Fred a racist, sexist, and probably nutter than grandma's Christmas fruit cake but he has never minced his words and has been completely honest about how he feels. It would do society well for a few people in the position of power to copy his tendencies. I truly wish I had the time and balls to write as honestly as he did.

3.)Pat Conroy: Even with all its faults and sins the South use to be a special place to live. Whether black or white the people that lived down in this humid, mosquito and alligator infested place dealt with life in a whole different manner that was both heaven and hell. Now the South is one huge theme park filled with echos of what once existed but has been replaced with urban sprawl, the rat race lifestyle, and the true places of worship in modern America the enclosed mega-shopping mall. Conroy has the unique ability to transport the reader back to that simpler time exposing both the heaven and sheer hell only the South could be. My two favorite books of his are "Beach Music" and "The Prince of Tides". I have stupidly tried to follow his lead in writing about what the South was like when I was a kid and all my efforts have failed completely.

4.)Carl Hiaasen: One of my biggest issues with American civilization is that once the country was so big and the people so relatively few that we were not all jammed up together and could spread out. Of course the Native Americans never wanted us around and quickly learned that once a few Europeans show up the neighborhood takes a quick nose dive to hell. But now we are way over three hundred million strong with our national pastime pissing each other off. Hiaasen's novels explore the absurdity of what we have wrought along with putting his characters in very special positions all in the Sunshine State. I just wish we had a few real Skip Wileys and Skinks around.

5.)Mark Twain: Its very late, or very early on your point of view, and my daughter will be up in a few hours wanting scrambled eggs so I'll wimp out on Mark. Beside from letting me ride down the Mississippi with Huck anyone who said: "Faith is believing what you know ain't so," and "If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be -- a Christian." Is someone I would definitely like to open a few bottles of whiskey with, smoke a few cigars, and lament about the numerous assholes running around claiming to be a Christan and that odd mutant, the modern Conservative.

6.) John Steinbeck: I've been racking my brain trying to think of something dignified to say about the man that I recently just rediscovered. But no matter what I do it is all worthless flotsam so I will just leave it to the great one to explain for himself.

Steinbeck wrote to an aspiring writer from Salinas: “Don't think for a moment that you will ever be forgiven for being what they call ‘different.’ You won’t! I still have not been forgiven. Only when I am delivered in a pine box will I be considered ‘safe.’

the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
Steinbeck Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

7.) Charles Dickens: Once again trying to put into words how this author influenced me difficult. Sort of like describing a color to someone who is blind. I just don't have the ability. All I will try to say is that Dickens pulls you into his world. My favorite work of his is "Great Expectations" which I read the first time in middle school.

8.) Theresa Foley and 9.) Allen Meece: I stumbled upon a collection of short stories put out by what is apparently a defunct association called the Key West Author's Coop. Both of these authors short stories are crisp, very descriptive, and write at a level I hope one day meet.

10.)Stephen King: The master of horror as far as I am concerned whose sheer output is astounding. "The Stand" and "Cell" are my two favorite works of his. The only drawback I have with his work is that he is often a little too dark for my taste. I write this because the world is dark enough in its own right.

11.) Dean Koontz: On the other hand is Dean Koontz who delves in the darker aspects of humanity but finds something greater than ourselves and hope along the way.

12.)Peter F. Hamilton: An English science fiction writer who is the master of the space opera. Despite the financial success of George Lucas' Star Wars saga as science fiction it leaves something to be desired. He borrowed heavily from existing concepts with weak characters populating his works but in Hamilton's case he created whole new concepts along with juggling scores of highly developed characters and keeping it all straight.

13.) Ernest Hemingway: Duh!

14.)David Brin: A hard science fiction writer that takes real trends and cutting edge concepts working them into a hardcore story. His characters are real people (when there not aliens) with real human strengths and weaknesses coming to grips with a cold, indifferent universe.

15.)Mickey Spillane: What can I say? Had a very brief meeting with him once when I was very young in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. His writing is some of the best crime stories I have ever read, but that should go without saying.

16.)Jim Webb: I'm a big fan of the Senator Webb's especially after he almost punched Bush right after his narrow election to the senate sending punk ass George Allen home. I have a few short story ideas involving military combat but I simply don't have the talent to turn those ideas into words just yet. His works are what I am reading to get to that point.

17.)Edgar Allen Poe: Just because "The Telltale Heart" scares the hell out of me.

18.)George Orwell: "Animal Farm", "1984", and a book of his essays I found once while browsing the library. He is sheer genius, although his political beliefs are a little hard sometimes to get around.

19.) Herman Wouk: "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" are two of my favorite historical fiction novels. Along with "Don't Stop the Carnival" which hold a place in this Parrothead's heart.

20.)Harper Lee: "To Kill a Mockingbird" Her descriptions of the South early in the twentieth century are very accurate and show both the heaven and the hell I spoke of earlier.

21.)John Updike: As Randal said "Duh, partie deux". I'm getting tired.

22.)H.G. Wells: For his ability to ask questions about the nature of man that are just as important now as they were during his life.

23.) Jack London: "The Call of the Wild" was one of the few classics I was made to read in high school that I enjoyed. Enjoyed the hell out of Buck's adventures and the question of what is civilized and uncivilized behavior.

24.) Paul Theroux: "The Happy Isles Of Oceania", an unbelievable book I go back and read every couple of years.

25.)Peggy Pendleton : An inspiring author full of imagination and depth. Hope I can develop just a quarter of the talent she has.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Community College Doldrums


Early in 1990 two things were certain as I watched the months count down to the end of my enlistment in the United States Army. The first was that given the post Cold War draw down being planned with the size of the army being cut substantially it would be best for me to reenter civilian life. I had achieved a measure of success in the active army with a real chance to further it but after four years I realized that making a career out of it was not for me. The army had allowed me to do and see many things that I otherwise never could have done but in my four years serving I had changed greatly from the gung-ho kid planning a lifetime wearing the uniform. The order and discipline that at one time seemed so attractive was now stifling and restrictive. The second was that I would be attending college as soon as I could get home and registered. Luckily one of my most brilliant mistakes was signing up for the GI Bill at the beginning of my enlistment, something that I originally had not planned on doing.
Hindsight being what it is I now figure I under shot what I should have done because I did not attend a four-year college coming away with a bright and shiny bachelor’s degree in some field but I enrolled in Horry-Georgetown Technical College looking to earn an Associate Degree in Electronics. Being fair here but I never gave any real sign of being the sharpest knife in the drawer while growing up. So the two-year degree was my best bet to successfully further my education and get a job doing something other than manual labor for the rest of my life. While my little technical school was a straightforward affair, it did offer a few surprises and insights on higher learning.
Several decades ago South Carolina found itself transitioning from an agricultural based economy to one of industry leaning heavily on manufacturing. The only problem was that South Carolina lacked the trained work force that these new businesses needed. To correct this problem the state government established a county based technical school system that at least in its early years catered more to adults already working but wanted a chance at a better job. By the time classes started for me in August of 1990 that had significantly changed. What had once been a technical school system geared toward adults had evolved into more of a constellation of statewide community colleges with a far less motivated and younger student body.
Walking into my English 101 class for the first time I literally thought I had returned to high school. I was twenty-five years old and excluding the professor easily the oldest person in that particular class. Looking up at me already sitting at their desks was a room full of eighteen and nineteen year-olds each with their own reason for being in class but all primarily boiling down to one simple statement.
“Damn dude, my dad said I either had to get a job or go to college.”
At the start of each semester this collection of America’s finest would jam the student parking lot with new and shiny graduation gifts in the form of all manner of sports cars, big-wheeled trucks, and motorcycles. Only to have it thin out over time leaving plenty of parking spaces and many former classmates asking me if I wanted fries with my Big Mac.
I wasn’t the only one in his or her mid-twenties attending school, but we were a minority. There were other veterans like me in school because of the GI Bill. Many single moms dealing with the demands of classes, the needs of their children, and a full time job. And a few grizzled men in their thirties and forties tired after years of doing exhausting labor wanting a chance at something a little easier on the body.
For those of us older and, excluding myself, wiser the antics of our fellow students fresh out of high school was often like watching a cast of kindergartners in some comical soap opera taking themselves far too seriously. What none of us realized was that other people, whom we never gave any thought of were watching us as well and thinking about the same thing.
Around March of 1992 I had a damn good grade point average and was just two months away from graduation. My fellow classmates that had not flunked out and succumbed to the siren call of fast food employment and I could often be found discussing future job possibilities. Two small problems though were throwing a monkey wrench in our plans. There was a relatively minor recession going on making entry-level jobs hard to find. The other one was that a flood of experienced electronics technicians had just left the various active services due to the post Cold War and Persian Gulf War draw downs making the job market even tougher. The irony that I was still affected by the planned reductions in military forces even though I had left the army did not escape me.
Most of my classmates just planned to graduated with their degree and enter the job market hoping for the best. On the other hand I still had a large amount of GI Bill I could use and began making plans to branch off into the Computer Science program offered at my school. During the last semester for my electronics degree I began taking a data base management class for the Computer Science program which for some reason was only offered on Saturdays.
The class was rather small with twelve people total attending with only two of them about my age. One was a world-weary single mom who I already had several classes with and knew held men in utter contempt. The other was a friendly but geeky guy who I accidentally insulted one rainy Saturday by turning down his offer to share his umbrella while walking to the school cafeteria. The rest of the class was the usual suspects of high school age kids but with the distinction of being more motivated just by taking a class that required getting up on a Saturday.
The most interesting person in the class was our instructor Professor Davis who in appearance looked like a cross between Albert Einstein with crazy hair and Ben Stein with a patented disapproving sour look. While more than competent in teaching the class it was easy to tell he wanted to be somewhere else far, far away. He would often drift off the computer related subject and start lecturing on economics, what he mainly taught during the week, or history, which was easy to tell, was his true passion. However, it was uncomfortably easy to see that he was a very unhappy man for the most part.
Little friendliness was ever displayed between the students after class was over when we collectively walked out to the deserted parking lot empty except for our cars. Most everyone seemed slightly embarrassed to be seen in the presence of the others and did their best to be the first ones in their cars driving away from the campus. The only exceptions were four girls that I often heard talking together as we left for the day.
It stayed this way until the last weekend in March when we dismissed the usual way. The day was overcast and gloomy matching most of our moods. The four girls who were the liveliest of our sullen group were laughing about something when one of them, a girl named Natalie, started singing out loud the Jackson Browne song “Lawyers in Love” much to the surprise of the rest. I looked up to see her step a little ahead of her group doing something akin to a ballet jump landing softly on her knees and throwing up her hands. She had everyone’s attention now and after looking around to make sure she stripped off her shirt and with an agility I frankly admired removed her bra with one hand throwing it up in the air.
Most would think such a stunt was fraternity related but this being a community college we only had a prudish, civic orientate organization that prided itself on its straight lace behavior. The nineteen-year old topless girl that had now started running around the parking lot was definitely not the archetype for such an association. Had it been I’m sure the membership would have been far greater, Hell, I would have joined myself.
Curiosity being a curse for me I tore myself away from the running topless girl and looked to the others to see what the reactions of everyone else were. The stunned looks of the girls she had been walking with suggested to me that they had no idea Natalie was going to do such a thing. The single mom who I don’t think had cracked a smile the entire time I had ever been around her was fighting back snorts of laughter as if she might injure herself if she did. The geeky guy stared in awe at Natalie leaving me to think that might be the first time he had ever seen a partially naked female. I realize this geeky guy probably now is a retired multi-millionaire living in the Caribbean married to his third supermodel after having sold his software company to Microsoft. The other kids about her age were hooting and hollering screaming for her to take the rest of her clothes off. Professor Davis just looked on with that disapproving frown he never could shake. Natalie finished two laps around the parking lot, collected her loose clothing and then got in her car and left. With the only interesting thing now driving away like lemmings the rest of us followed suit and went our separate ways.
Never one to waste any chance to sit next the ocean I drove into Myrtle Beach and on a whim found my way to a small open air bar facing the ocean that was situated beside the now torn down Myrtle Beach Pavilion. Sitting on a barstool nursing a cold beer I looked out at the ocean hidden in a heavy haze easily imagining rampaging sea monsters, derelict pirate ships crewed with zombie pirates, or worse of all sleazy real estate agents looking to sell condo timeshares scooping up the stray person walking the beach. I probably could have stayed that way for hours had not a familiar voice outside the bar penetrated my mental haze that was about as thick a what was over the ocean.
The place was empty except for the bartender who was watching some talk show involving infidelity and chair throwing on a small television behind the bar and me. The voice was male so I had no interest in seeing who it was but after several minutes my curiosity again got the better of me so I left the bar and stepped out to see who it was.
I saw Professor Davis with three other guys all late middle age gathered around listening to him several feet further down the deserted boardwalk. Davis was incredibly animated describing the events that had just happened back at the campus actually jumping up and down with his hands up in front of his chest jiggling much the same way Natalie’s boobs had been in her semi-naked run around the parking lot.
Seeing an unhappy, middle-aged Einstein-looking man jumping up down describing nineteen year old boobs bouncing around had a surreal aspect that normally would have had me laughing myself but I had no desire to surprise the guy. For once he seemed like he had broken out of whatever doldrums that held him prisoner and I wasn’t about to possibly embarrass him back into such a condition. I paid my for my beer and drove off looking for further adventures while thinking of Natalie’s boobs. Hell, I’m a guy too and they were spectacular.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Music to remember, a weekend to forget

Someone once said that he writes to figure out what he actually thinks about certain subjects. My friend Randal tagged me with a meme that asked what the most significant albums were in my life. So going through the dark cluttered rooms in my mind I actually had to think about what artists and their works that influenced how I look at things. This meme was very fun but if asked again to do this my list might be very different. Especially after this past weekend which contained massive amounts of suckage.

Several funny things happened on the way to writing this meme which I thought I would have done Saturday night. First, I had to deal with a real batshit crazy coworker all day Friday whose self aggrandizing and egotistical delusions are only surpassed by his talent to implant knives in the backs of others. Second, I picked up Miss Wiggles at daycare who promptly notified me that she had a note from the principle saying I should speak with her about hitting little boys over the head with heavy books. Third, Battlestar Galactica has only four new episodes left and I didn’t want to take any chance I might miss a scene in which Tricia Helfer might get naked. Sadly she didn't shed any clothes and because I had to work early the next morning I called it quits for the night.

Saturday night I had to deal with the five teenagers that my son invited over for a “sleep over”. This more accurately was an all night X-box party complete with a pizza dude ringing the door bell at 12:30am. Making matters worse after coughing up both the money for the pizza and the tip for the driver the little shits had the pizza upstairs and gone before I got a slice. Retreating to the kitchen to write on the laptop was out since my wife wanted to do something really strange and talk. Now if she had wanted to talk about page 151 in “Kinky Sexual Positions for Dummy’s” as we got all sweaty that would have been okay, but I have no interest whatsoever in Oscar fashions. Enough with the whining here are the fifteen most significant albums in my life. The significance of these works might be hard to discern at times so use hefty amounts of nuance.

· Blue Hawaii by Elvis Presley- Way, way, way back in the dark past of my elementary schools days I had a teacher named Mrs. Spears who was the first older woman I had the hots for. She was my second grade science teacher and she and her husband were the first people I knew of that took a trip to Hawaii that didn’t involve Uncle Sam. She was gone for about two weeks and when she returned she brought back tons of souvenirs, pictures, and stories of the people she had met. She set up the mood by playing the Blue Hawaii album and to this day when I hear those songs I think of her.

· Sentimentally Yours by Patsy Cline- Around that same time back before many of us were dominated by 500 channel satellite television with 200 channels showing reruns. In addition to video games whose only purpose is to let middleclass white boys spray virtual bullets in some urban hood they would never enter, people enjoyed simpler things. I remember my grandparents sitting underneath their open air garage during a thunderstorm listening to this album. The sound of the rain, thunder, and Patsy Cline somehow meshed naturally and along with drinking a glass of my grandmother’s ice tea while all the sounds of nature played everything seemed right with the world.

· John Denver’s Greatest Hits by John Denver- I’ve never been impressed with flashy performers. John’s simple down home style and, for me, his love of what he did made all of his songs a great comfort.

· Moondance by Van Morrison- After a summer numerous army field training exercises and being unable to get leave to come home because of the possibility of being ”volunteered’ for another I was surprisingly offered leave late one September. Since I had told my family I didn’t think I would make it home that summer they all went ahead and made other plans. Like a dummy after getting a great deal on airfare I flew home without calling anyone and promptly realized everyone was on vacation and long gone. Through sheer luck I did get a hold of one of my uncles, who was less than an hour away from leaving for a cruise, who let me stay at his beach house but I was alone. While walking a very deserted beach I met a college girl staying at a nearby beach house herself who I found out was taking a semester break from classes to “clear her head.” A few days later after getting to know each other she and I made love to the music from that album. Enough said on this one.

· Seven Wishes by Night Ranger- As much as my high school comrades were listening to the likes of Kiss, Twisted Sister, and the Beastie Boys I never got any deeper into the long hair stuff than Night Ranger. I’ve always been a little to philosophical for my own good and listening to those songs while looking at the stars would always get me wondering about the nature of the universe and the lint coming from my belly button.

· Greatest Hits by Don Williams- Okay I admit it, I like country music but most of the crap produced these days under the heading of country music is anything but. Much of country music is just pop music seeking refuge from the grunge, hip hop, and other elements that are too wild for my taste. Yes, I’m a hopeless dinosaur who even now is turning more and more to easy listening stations when I can’t find NPR. Don’s easy style and strong ballads will always be some of my favorites. His songs told stories of real people and how they went through life.

· My Girl by The Temptations- This album symbolizes the beach and the old freedoms that are now long forgotten. One time kids could build a fire on the beach and gather around it listening to good music, cook over the flames, and sleep under the stars. This was before the massive invasion of yuppies and the hysteria of property owners who get uptight seeing the local riff raff hang around spoiling what they see as their expensive seaside view. In all fairness it was also before kids got too crazy leaving mounds of trash on the beach the next morning and making too much noise during the night.

· Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude by Jimmy Buffett- Did you really think that with a blog like “Carolina Parrothead” Buffett wouldn’t be in here somewhere? Moreover, why is this significant? Well, when all sorts of crap is being flung in my direction this album has the power to transport me to some far off tropical island away from the insanity.

· Beach House on the Moon by Jimmy Buffett- This is an excellent album but one song: “Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling” will have me rolling on the floor laughing for reasons I just don’t feel like explaining right now. In addition, the song “I Don't Know and I Don't Care” allows me to say screw it for a few minutes.

· Banana Wind by Jimmy Buffett- The great appeal of Jimmy’s music to me, beside its ability to soothe my mental health, is how it largely tells the rest of the world to go screw itself and all its rat race self indulgence.

· Barometer Soup by Jimmy Buffett- Just because I really really like it.

· Lawyers in Love by Jackson Browne-As if my stories, the more factual ones, can’t get any stranger this one might be jumping the shark. It was about noon on a Saturday in the parking lot of Horry-Georgetown Technical College and a girl I only slightly knew did something I will never understand. Everyone, including myself, had just finished a Saturday class and this girl was walking with several of her friends. She was laughing and joking with her little group when out of the blue she started singing “Lawyers in Love”, stripped off her shirt and bra and did two laps around the parking lot. Her friends looked surprised to the point that I have some doubts whether they knew what the hell was going on with her. After she finished she put her shirt back on, got in her car, and drove away with the same song blasting out the speakers.

· Hotel California by the Eagles-Come on, any American that doesn’t list one of the Eagles’ albums in something like is this is obviously a commie bastard and needs to be shot like the dog they are.

· Desperado by the Eagles-It goes double for this one. Moreover, I’m running out of albums I give a damn about.

· Stars Wars Soundtrack by John Williams-Yes, before all the episode crap and long before that abomination Jar-Jar Binks I also dreamed of having a lightsabre. Moreover, I dreamed about bumping uglies with Princess Leia.