Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One way mirror suit.

Tex got his feelings hurt really badly by two of the neighborhood boys on Saturday.  They treated him unfairly after an unfortunate wrestling incident.  Tex was so hurt, his normal wall of bravado crumbled into choked back tears, which is a terribly sad thing to see in a child, especially a child of the boy persuasion.  Eric distracted him by offering him a job:  two dollars to move two pieces of sod from the back of his vehicle to the back yard.  This acted as a distraction for about seven minutes, until the job was done.  As Tex was eating his Flavor Ice and counting his hard earned cash, he muttered the following words, "I wish I had me a one way mirror suit.  That way, I could see out, but no one could see in."  The poetry and pain of those words almost made me cry.  And the poetry and pain of those words almost made me go find those boys who hurt him just so I could give them a good hard pinch.

"After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but will never afterwards be quite the same boy."  J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Monday, July 30, 2012

Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine

Photo used with permission, copyright Eric Wright.

After scoring some serious poetry finds at McKay Book Store in the Chatty (Komunyakaa, Plath, Angelou, Heaney), Eric and I decided to take Highway 11 back home.  Hungry, we began searching for some Thai or Indian.  We found Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine in Brainerd.  They had a special called the Lunch Box.  As you can see, the Lunch Box was a sampling of a little bit of everything delightful.  The box held miso soup, avocado rolls, nam sod (spicy pork salad), green curry with chicken and a scoop of rice.  And, of course, we started off with an appetizer of fresh basil spring rolls, which, when we make them at home, always turn out to be much heavier than they should.  The atmosphere was so soothing, the staff so quietly attentive, and the food so perfectly delicious, we decided to nap in the booth after we finished eating.  Just kidding!  But don't think for a minute that it didn't cross our minds, though.

Photo used with permission, copyright Eric Wright.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The day Benny Campbell saved my life…

The day Benny Campbell saved my life was the same day that Benny Campbell hand-delivered flowers to my house.  It was sometime near Christmas last year, and I had run home from work for a quick lunch.  About the time I plunked a spoonful of dill pickle relish into my egg salad, I heard a knock at the door.  As I walked through the dining room, I could see what appeared to be the fronds of some gorgeous holiday floral arrangement and…oh, my God…the face of Benny Campbell through the diamond shaped window of the door (I’m certain that there was someone else with him on the porch, but the radiance of Benny Campbell’s visage totally eclipsed this other person).

My breath caught in my throat as my legs almost failed me from the sheer excitement of being the recipient of one of Benny Campbell’s legendary floral arrangements.  I forced my feet to keep moving, and as I did so, I carefully chose words of gracious thanks that I would speak to him…”Why, Mr. Campbell, you do such fine arrangin!’  I’ve been admiring your floral design skills since I moved back to Gadsden five years ago and saw your commercial for Attalla Florist…hands of a master, indeed!”

But when I opened the door, the handsome and talented Benny Campbell asked, “Is Ms. Mildred or Ms. Brannon home?”  Again, my breath caught in my throat as my legs almost failed me from my hopes and dreams of EVER receiving some gorgeous holiday floral arrangement, or any arrangement for that matter, created AND hand-delivered by BENNY CAMPBELL were dashed upon the narrow oak planks of the living room floor.  I pulled myself up as tall as I could, smiled like the beauty pageant contestant I never was, and never will be, and said, “Oh, no!  Ms. Mildred sold the house to me a year ago when she moved in with her daughter over on Turrentine!  I’m so sorry about that!  But I have their address in my Daytimer!  Let me get that for you!”  And I turned away before Benny Campbell could see the tears in my eyes.

When I returned, with address in hand and smile back on my face, Benny Campbell said (and I wish that I had this on tape, because I would probably play it every morning as my devotional), “I’ve always thought this house was cute and had lots of potential.  I REALLY like what you’ve done with it.”

Now, I don’t know if Benny Campbell was just being nice to me because he has the impeccable manners of a true Southern man, or that he was aware that I was about to have to be put on 24-hour suicide watch because of the unfortunate near-delivery of two of his floral arrangements that were not mine, but when he said those two sentences to me, he saved my life.

To read more about Benny Campbell (and you should), read this Gadsden Times article from October 2012:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Micky Dolenz & The Holstein Shuffle

Much like that time or two I blogged about Boxcar Willy (here & here), I STILL have more to say about The Monkees.  And then I’ll stop.  Until I think of something else that I may have forgotten. 

Although Davy Jones was hands-down the undisputed favorite Monkee for most girls in the U.S. (and I agree that he was pretty darn dreamy, God rest his soul), I was more of a Mike Nesmith kinda gal.  I appreciated his underplayed and intelligent sense of humor, his Texas accent (which someone on the internet recently compared to Jim Parsons' accent, which is totally true...Parsons plays Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory), and his bold choice of head covering.  Later I would be thankful to Mike Nesmith for coming up with the idea that was behind one of the greatest time-sucks of my life between August 1, 1981 until approximately August 19, 1987...MTV.  And I’d also be thankful for his sweet momma Bette Nesmith Graham for coming up with the utterly brilliant Liquid Paper, which would save me much time and money in the typing up of my early college papers (yes, I had to use an electric typewriter until I could afford my first computer).

Now, having said all that, my second favorite Monkee, the one who I could really relate to because he acted so darn spastic sometimes (much like myself) was Micky Dolenz.  His songs were my favorites.  If you watch Dolenz sing Randy Scouse Git (words which sounded cool, but held no meaning for me until I looked them up not long ago) in this episode, you will know what I mean.  The image of Dolenz scatting during this song very nearly makes me wet my pants every time I hear it.  Clearly, this is a guy who just doesn’t take himself very seriously and enjoys having some fun.  But he is sincerely a talented singer.  And when Dolenz sings the song Goin Down, well, I just want to get up and start dancing like he does in this live performance, doing that crazy jazz shuffle that I’ve only ever seen one other time in my life being danced by a man for whom I have great respect and admiration, a man with whom I would travel for a two-week anthropological-college-course-credit camping trip in the Four Corners area of the Southwest back in the early 90s...that man being the legendary JSU archaeology professor Dr. Harry Holstein who, when in his cups would dance a dance so jazzy, nay, so shuffly, all of his students (myself included) would forever dub it The Holstein Shuffle.  You can't ever undo seeing The Holstein Shuffle as performed by the Holsteinizer himself...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We’re Too Busy Singin’ to Put Anybody Down Part II

Now, although I first started listening to The Monkees when the Vietnam War was still going on, I was too young to make any connection between the fact that these guys were on TV singing and being sweetly goofy for us adoring girls when they could have or should have been soldiering in Vietnam.  No, all that mattered to me and my sister was that Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, and Micky Dolenz looked endearingly cute in their groovy outfits and sang songs that we could sing along with so that we could nurture our school-girl crushes on them.  We did not care about their opinions concerning the Vietnam War.  We had no opinion about the war ourselves.  But now, I want to know what their feelings were about the situation…

I’ve been nosing around the internet, trying to find anything connecting The Monkees to the Vietnam War, and I discovered some things that may or may not be true about the group, like the following:  1)  that Last Train to Clarksville (The Monkees’ first hit song), written by Boyce & Hart is about a young soldier who is being deployed from Fort Campbell army base in Clarksville, TN to Vietnam, AND that the refrain “Oh, no, no, no…Oh, no, no, no” is “a response to the Beatles famous ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah;’"  2) that in 1967, British-born Monkee Davy Jones was ordered to report for a medical examination that could have resulted in his being drafted into U.S. military service, but was excused because of his short stature and being underweight (NOT on the grounds that he was the sole supporter of his family, which is reported on several sites); 3) that Micky Dolenz was also drafted in 1967 and that due to being underweight (not because of Perthese disease, again, reported on numerous sites) he was excused; and 4) that the FBI mentioned The Monkees in two different files, one file for anti-war activities, the other file so redacted as to be unreadable.  

I have found few interviews in which the guys talk about where they stood politically or personally on the Vietnam War.  But in an interview that Davy Jones granted to Spinner, posted July 13, 2011, we can see a glimpse of Jones’ stance when the following question was asked:
“Spinner:  Even though 'Last Train to Clarksville' was secretly about Vietnam, the Monkees strayed from controversy. Why?

Jones:  The world was changing, and they were trying to hide the fact that it was. We were told never to talk about politics, never to talk about the war and never to talk about the marches. If I've got any regret whatsoever, it's that I didn't march to Washington with everybody when they did have the civil rights march.”
If what Davy Jones said is true, and we have no reason to doubt him, then we can assume that all four of the band members kept their opinions to themselves for the sake of their careers.  But at least one Monkee, Davy, wished that things had been different...that maybe if he had had more of a voice during a time when so much change was going on in the world and in America that he would not have had that regret.  Wonder if any of the other band members felt that way?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We’re Too Busy Singin’ to Put Anybody Down Part I

Allow me a moment to backtrack a bit and return to the month of May, 2012, a month during which I was working on and/or supporting several of our Gadsden Reads programs for Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  One of the programs scheduled for our series was on the music of the Vietnam Era, presented by friend/conductor of the Etowah Youth Orchestra/musician in local band Leftover Ego, Mike Gagliardo.  After I listened to Mike’s engaging presentation, I got in my car and headed back to the library, all the while listening to a compilation CD of The Monkees’ greatest hits.  I had obtained the disc a couple of weeks before to honor the recently-late Monkee Davy Jones, who had died back in February, and I had been listening to CD almost nonstop since it had arrived in the mail.  As I drove along, a realization crept over me, the realization that The Monkees as a band had been created during the Vietnam War, and consisted of four draft-age young men.

The Monkees were sort of America’s late 60s answer to The Beatles.  They literally existed as a commercial venture for a TV show.  They were a band whose members were initially not allowed to play the instruments that they pretended to play on screen; they were only allowed to act and sing songs that were written for them.  But they were musicians, all of them, accomplished musicians, and they wanted to play the music they were pretending to play.  So, they eventually fought for the right to write, play and supervisetheir own music, all with the studio producers’ backing.  And they would eventually tour with much success.

My sister and I were HUGE Monkees fans during the mid-1970s, which was after the show had already been cancelled (it ran from 1966-1968), but while it was still in rerun mode.  Mom allowed a thirty-minute episode of The Monkees, along with a Little Debbie Snack Cake and a glass of milk, to be part of our after-school treat.   Many an afternoon, Vicki and I would carefully pick our way past usually-good-natured-but-potentially-volatile-bus-ruffian Jeff Partee, shove ourselves through the sea of knees blocking the isle, and rush off of the school bus almost before it came to a full halt.  With ponchos flying and book bags spilling along the driveway, we’d dash into the house and plant ourselves in front of the TV, which mom already had turned to the proper channel so that we could catch the opening strains of the theme song, “Here we come, walking down the street.  We get funniest looks from everyone we meet…HEY, HEY, WE’RE THE MONKEES!  PEOPLE SAY WE MONKEE AROUND!  WE’RE TOO BUSY SINGIN’ TO PUT ANYBODY DOWN…”

In 1985, I visited London on a school trip.  I brought back with me a souvenir that I still cherish to this day (with its’ seven pounds, ninety-nine Virgin Records price tag still affixed to the front):  a prized double album of The Monkees Greatest Hits…vinyl.  Vinyl, I say!  Both records were on heavy rotation in my bedroom for months after I returned to the States, which only acted as a primer for the following year, 1986, when MTV began airing a marathon of back-to-back episodes of The Monkees old show in a series entitled Pleasant Valley Sunday.  Vicki and I once again found ourselves glued to the TV, and The Monkees found themselves caught up in a second wave of Monkeemania.  Yes, Mike’s knit cap, Davy’s British accent, Micky’s one-man-circus antics, and Peter’s sweet-but-stupid act were still appealing…

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Professor & the Madman by Simon Winchester

The Professor & the Madman by Simon Winchester, subtitled A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, is a sensitive and thoughtful book about the remarkable friendship of James Murray and Dr. W.C. Minor.  The two men, eerily similar in appearance, yet dissimilar in all other respects of their lives, were brought together through their love of words, and their commitment to the making of the OED; Professor Murray as the devoted long-term editor of the massive undertaking, Dr. Minor as the assiduously fastidious contributor of over ten thousand submissions of words, definitions, and provenances.  For over twenty years the two men corresponded without ever meeting.  And when they did finally meet, well, they found that they liked each other, that they respected each other.  And from that first meeting, they would forge a friendship that would last until death separated them. 

I suppose that one of the most remarkable parts to the story is the fact that Dr. Minor made all of his contributions as an inmate at the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane.  Dr. Minor had been found innocent of committing a murder which he had clearly and undoubtedly committed because he was incapable of telling right from wrong…he was insane.  For the sake of not spoiling the book for potential readers, I will not give details about the murder, nor details regarding the potential reasons for Dr. Minor’s break with reality which led to the murder (genetic predisposition, coupled with the stress of witnessing the atrocities of the Civil War from the front line), but I will go so far as to agree with the author in his assessment that had Dr. Minor been alive today, he would have more than likely been diagnosed with schizophrenia (triggered by post traumatic stress disorder) and would have been prescribed a regimen of medications and psychotherapy to control his delusions.  But then, a medicated Dr. Minor would probably have not been able to contribute the painstaking wealth of information that he was able to contribute in his unmedicated state.  A rather sad catch-22 that sets one to thinking about other great writers, artists, and thinkers who probably suffered similarly.

For me, The Professor & the Madman was an emotional read, the mark of a good writer. Clearly Winchester was as emotionally devoted to telling this story as Murray and Minor were to the completion of the OED (neither men lived to see its final publication).  Winchester came to the telling from a very personally place (read the Author's Note at the back of the book if you doubt me) and did a great deal of research to get the facts right (especially debunking the dramatic myth of the initial meeting between Murray and Minor).  I dare say I was deeply touched by this book.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Faces of Cyclocross...it's not too late!

If you have not yet seen the amazing photography exhibit entitled Faces of Cyclocross that is currently on display at the Hardin Centerfor Cultural Arts (and you don’t have a good excuse like living hundreds of miles away),  then shame on you!  Photojournalist Eric T. Wright shot all of the images during the 2011-2012 Bamacross season, which means that he schlepped cameras, lenses lights, sandbags, flashes, sheets for makeshift backdrops, extension cords and whatever else he may have needed to a fair number of the races in Birmingham with a vision of athleticism and mud captured on a stark white background.  The results are stunningly detailed.

Would you like to catch the show before it comes down?  You still have time.  The exhibit will remain up at the CCA until the 31st of August.  For more information about the exhibition, please go here.  After the exhibit is taken down, I believe that selected images from the show will be on display in the Back Forty Beer Co.'s tap room.

For additional information about Bamacross, please visit here.