Friday, October 31, 2014

Why did the Chicken Cross the Road?

My very clever AP Language students had to adopt a persona of their choice and answer this question as part of an assignment on tone and point of view. Their responses were too much fun not to share.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

RAND PAUL

Why are we questioning the chicken’s right to cross the road? Government regulation is the only barrier that prevents the chicken from freely crossing the road. If our nation continues in this direction, our children and grandchildren may instead be asking: why did the chicken get blown up by a hellfire missile?

PRESIDENT OBAMA

Tonight we come together as one nation to contemplate why the chicken crossed the road, and we will not stop until we do so. But today, I ask us all to step back and reflect, and I think you will see that the road itself, like our union is strong.

Because the government built it for him.

MITCH MCCONNELL

It’s simply not my job to create opportunities to evaluate the chicken’s crossing. There are no roads to cross anyway, but we can fix that.

ALISON GRIMES

The chicken has had 30 years to cross the road. If I’m elected, he’ll actually get to the other side.

FBI

We can neither confirm nor deny that the chicken crossed the road.

STEVE JOBS

He saw opportunities and innovators on the other side. He imagined the operating system, task bar, and interface of the future.

MILEY CYRUS

It’s not my responsibility to know why the chicken does what it does. I’m just trying to enjoy being young and I don’t need anybody criticizing me.

“Because he can’t stop. He won’t stop.”

KIM KARDASHIAN

Uhhhh, I’m not sure what you mean, but I have absolutely got to find him! BFFL!

FORREST GUMP

Mama always said, “Life is like a box of chicken. You never know why it’s gonna cross the road.”

BUBBA

Anyway, like I was sayin’, chicken is the fruit of the road. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, sauté it. There’s chicken kabobs, baked chicken, lemon chicken, ginger chicken, chicken soup, chicken stew, chicken salad, chicken sandwich. That’s about it.

DRAX

The chicken would not cross the road. My reflexes are too quick. I would catch it.

WALTER WHITE

I am the one who crosses the road!

MARC ANTONY

He was an honorable chicken.

EDGAR ALLAN POE
The road was calling, cleaving, clawing and so it crossed to return
Nevermore.

JRR TOLKIEN

The chicken embarked on the journey across Middle-Road to find the ostentatious egg from ancient lore. Pain and tears couldn’t keep the feathered soul from its destiny. One egg to rule them all.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Go Big or Go Home!

One would not expect to find a resort as posh as The Greenbrier nestled in the mountains of wild and wonderful West Virginia, but you round a bend in the road and there it is.



One would not expect to find a teacher and occasional writer in a resort as posh as the Greenbrier, but I guess life is just full of surprises.



My good friend, Linda, has an autistic son who spends part of his summer at Camp Easter Seals in Virginia. About a month ago, she hatched a plan to spend a day and a night at The Greenbrier on her way to pick up Matthew from camp. She needed someone to wallow in the lap of luxury with her, and naturally, invited me.

After being plied with champagne at check-in and assaulted by the Dorothy Draper décor in both the hallway…



…and the room…



…we adopted the motto, GO BIG OR GO HOME!

Seriously, the bold use of pattern stopped me in my tracks on multiple occasions.



Yes, this is the ladies room, but seriously, check it out!

The spaces that didn’t use bold patterns, opted instead for bold color. This is the Café Carleton where we had lunch. When I posted this pic of Linda on Facebook, I described it as tasteful bordello.



The plush red velvet décor was accentuated by photographs of Norman Rockwell and Hillary Clinton during their respective visits to The Greenbrier. The café also included a scenic overlook of the casino. 

When we received our three-figure check for LUNCH we said “Go big or go home!” Actually, we said some other things that I won’t include on a family blog, and then we said, “Go big or go home!”

We decided to work off our gold-plated lunch with a walking tour of the grounds. Strolling through the well-manicured lawns and flower gardens felt like stepping through the looking glass into a world where people routinely eat very expensive sandwiches without a second thought.






We re-entered the building through the billiards room…



…checked out the pool…

I'm doing my best Vanna White.

Linda is doing her best Where's Waldo.

…and then headed to the spa. We didn’t make use of it, but I did note this book for sale. Word to my single friends: The Greenbrier might be the kind of place where you can find a rich, old man (or woman) with a cough.



Late afternoon found us in the bar. I didn’t take any pictures here, although later I wished I had. The painting over the fireplace was part of the set decoration for the 1939 film production of Gone with the Wind. We discovered this note of interest during our bunker tour the next morning after our phones and other electronic devices had been confiscated. (More on that to come.)

We chatted with the bartenders and discovered that the extra 6% added to every purchase is a historic building preservation tax. Our gold-plated lunch was starting to make more sense. With the preservation tax, sales tax and the automatic gratuity added to the check, everything you order actually costs 30% or so more than what is listed on the menu. News to use.

In spite of the hefty surcharge, we ordered a couple of glasses of wine because GO BIG OR GO HOME! We got directions from the bartender to the Presidential Cottage and took another walk. Ridiculous cost aside, the place is truly beautiful. We arrived too late to take the tour of the cottage, but it wasn’t a wasted trip. We sat on the porch where 26 US presidents have trod, drank our wine, and enjoyed the view.







The hour we spent rocking on the President’s porch may have been my favorite hour of the trip. The weather was perfect, the wine, though pricey, was delicious, and the company was the best. We discussed history, our lives, and even sang a little Alanis when a black fly found its way into my chardonnay.



Before we left, we took a patriotic selfie.

God bless America.

 We stopped by the springhouse on the way back to the main building. This is the White Sulphur spring that gives The Greenbrier’s location its name. This stinky little hole in the ground is what brought the resort here in the first place. The white sulphur tendrils leaching into the spring give the waters restorative power…or so they say. I can offer no anecdotal evidence of my own.



We retired to our daffodil-bedecked walls to rest until dinner.



Dinner was AMAZING! The Greenbrier boasts its own culinary institute, and when I say amazing, I mean order-it-as-your-last-meal amazing. I started with cream of five onion soup followed by cumin seared rainbow trout with curried polenta fries and sugar snap peas. The soup was so rich I wanted to lick the bowl, but the general atmosphere of the dining room discouraged it. Even so, Linda and I ate off each other’s plates like we were at Shoney’s. Her beef tenderloin actually did melt in my mouth, and if I could make fish taste like that trout, I would eat it every day.

I took these pictures of the dining room earlier in the day.




It was even lovelier in the evening with the chandeliers and candles. Linda said she felt like she was on the Titanic. Doomed journey metaphors aside, it was an apt description. I could easily believe it was 1912. All of the diners were adhering to the strict dress code and the strongly-worded notice in the menu to keep cell phones put away. Even the teenage boy at a nearby table was wearing a jacket and using the tablecloth to conceal his texting.

We left the dining room miserable. In spite of being stuffed, we felt an obligation to sample dessert. Five-star meals don’t factor into my world very often, so I wasn’t leaving without ordering my favorite course. I ate a few sinful bites of something with peaches, crème fresh and macaroons and threw in the towel. Linda had her arms raised over her head because she said it was the only way she could breathe.

We sat and listened to some live music in one of the parlors…here we are…but left after a few minutes.



You know you’ve committed the deadly sin of gluttony when you have to lay down because remaining upright is untenable. Even though we spent the rest of the evening watching TV in a food coma, I don’t regret it. I don’t regret it at all.

We finished our time at The Greenbrier the next morning in the bunker. One of the resort’s claims to fame is that it sat on top of the secret relocation bunker for Congress in the event of nuclear war. It was exposed in 1992 by a reporter for the Washington Post and subsequently shut down (although it’s likely that the expose was orchestrated by government officials looking to dump an expensive, obsolete facility).

The tour was interesting, but I have no pictures to share with you other than the ones you can find at this website. We had to relinquish our phones and any other electronic devices we were carrying. We were warned that if we photographed anything, we would be committing a felony. During the tour, our guide pointed out the cameras that were watching our every move. It seemed excessive…all this security for a defunct fallout shelter. Turns out, the security is not for the old bunker, but the data storage by CSXIP…CSX Intellectual Property. Corporate secrets rule the day. Frankly, I don’t know what we could have photographed that would have helped anyone steal something since all we saw were locked doors, but whatever.

About half the space is used by CSX. The rest is open to the public. Interestingly, big chunks of the space always were. Where is the best place to hide something? In plain sight, of course. All that busy wallpaper kept guests from looking too closely at the walls where the blast doors were hidden. The space designated for Congressional offices if the bunker was activated was used as an exhibition hall for conventions. The first event ever held there was a pharmaceutical convention where the anti-depressant, Elavil was introduced. (There was more Elavil stored in the bunker than any other drug.) Even the House and Senate chambers were used as meeting rooms during these conventions. No one suspected as they dozed off during a meeting that they were dozing on the site where Congress would soldier on when the world ended.

The most impressive sight in the bunker was the east-facing blast door. Washington was expected to be the primary target of a nuclear strike, so the door facing that direction was massive. Our guide told us it was the same door they have at the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. More than anything else in the bunker, that door spoke volumes about the true purpose of the space. The closest the bunker ever came to being activated was in the first year of its existence during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although no one wanted to admit it, the plan to relocate Congress to the mountains of West Virginia was obsolete almost as soon as it was completed. Atomic bombs were delivered by planes when the bunker was conceived. By the time it was complete, intercontinental ballistic missiles had reduced the time Congress would have to get to the bunker from six hours to twenty minutes. So that was a problem.

I do recommend the tour if you are interested in history. Also, when the zombie apocalypse finally occurs, you can put West Virginia on your list of possible rallying points to ensure the continuity of the human race.

We left The Greenbrier shortly after the tour and thus ended our brief time in the land of the 1%. It’s a nice place to visit, but you better have the green if you want to live there.

We picked up Matthew from camp and made three ritual stops on our way home: the Dollar Store to add to his umbrella collection, McDonald’s for some chicken nuggets and a diet coke, and Books-a-Million to add to his storybook collection. I like Matthew’s world. At the very least, I can afford it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

You Can Go Home Again

Pic courtesy of Sandi Burns
Some people never leave high school. You see this refusal to “graduate” in adults you meet from time to time. They are still hanging on to old victories and wounds, and their current relationships are driven by who they perceived themselves to be when they were teenagers.

I am just the opposite. I left high school and my home town and never looked back. Until the advent of Facebook, I only kept in touch with a couple of people, and then only sporadically. It wasn't a determined effort to escape anything, at least not consciously. It was just that classic road diverging in a yellow wood. I loved my college town, married my college sweetheart, and as way leads on to way, life never brought me back.

Until Saturday night.

Thirty years have elapsed since I left high school, and we like to mark those zero year anniversaries with reunions. This is the first one I've been to since the ten year mark. The ten year reunion was fun, but none of us had lived enough at that point to let go of whatever cliques and groups and biases we still clung to.

Thirty years is time to experience success and failure in careers, in relationships, and in just being human. We know who we are, and most of us have left those old biases behind. We've watched each other’s lives play out on Facebook. We've known each other in different contexts and changed our perspective. The popular girl I only interacted with in passing in high school provided exceptional nursing care for my mother in the last months of her life. I hugged her with real appreciation last night.

Yeah...thirty years is enough time. Things are different now. I’m different now. So why was I conflicted about even going and nervous as I got ready Saturday night? I’m not one to obsess over clothes, but I took three outfits with me when I left for my dad’s house Saturday morning…a dress, two different blouses, and two pairs of black pants in different sizes, just in case I was feeling fat.

Seriously.

My stepmom helped me decide which outfit to wear, and then I made her promise she was telling me the truth about how I looked. The whole time I was asking myself why I cared so much. I don't stress like this when I go out with my friends at home. I hadn't seen most of my classmates in 30 years, and it was unlikely I would see them again anytime soon. The people whose opinions mattered to me wouldn't care or notice if I was wearing my fat pants. They would just be happy to see me.

But there it was…I did care, and I was nervous. Sigh…

Maybe none of us leave high school.

As usual with worry, it was wasted effort. When I arrived, I immediately saw people I knew and found myself hugging everyone and genuinely smiling. The boy who aggravated me almost to tears our freshman year said hello to me last night by proclaiming he wanted to marry me when we were in school. And just like that I was laughing. The annoying boy has become a bombastic and hilarious man.

When I realized I wasn't the only one who had aged, I became more relaxed. Some people were easier to recognize than others. Thank god for name tags. A couple of times, I looked at my friend, Lisa, and said, “Holy shit!” when I figured out someone’s identity. Other people recognized me because I was attached at the hip to Lisa and Stacey just like I always was.



I had no trouble recognizing Chuck.



He has been my friend since we roamed the halls of West Louisville Elementary School. Our moms took turns carpooling us places because we lived close to each other out in the middle of nowhere. Later, when we had driver’s licenses, we drove each other around. Everyone landed at his house after prom, and once, his awesome mom took a whole group of my girlfriends to Evansville to see Rick Springfield because our moms wouldn't let us drive that far by ourselves.

I should have recognized the guy that sat down across from Lisa, Stacey, and I while we were eating (Dinner included mutton sandwiches from Moonlight BBQ. You’re jealous. I know.), and proceeded to make us play twenty questions to figure out who he was.

He stared at me. It was disconcerting.

“I’m looking at your face, not your name tag, and I know exactly who you are.”

I glanced at Lisa, but it was clear she didn't know either. Don’t judge us. Seventeen and forty-seven are a far piece apart.

“Why aren't you wearing one?”

He grinned. “Because I didn't pay my $25.”

That made me laugh. “Okay, give me a hint.”

“I’m a firefighter, but you would have never guessed I would be one in high school.”

Not helpful. “Did we have classes together?”

“All of them. I was in the advanced classes with you.”

“So you are a really smart firefighter?”

He clutched his heart dramatically. “I think I love you more now than I did then.”

I was stumped. I had lots of friends in high school, but I was never the belle of the ball, and I absolutely didn't have lovesick boys chasing me around. I was quiet and tended to feel awkward around boys back then.

“Did you ever ask me out?”

“No, but we were in a car wreck together.”

And then of course I knew. Lisa whispered his name as his 17 year old face materialized in my head. There were six of us in a Honda built for four. I was straddling the stick shift between Darren, who was driving, and Lisa, in the passenger seat. There were three more guys in the back seat, including Mike, whose name I had just remembered.

“We were coming back from Pizza Hut, and Darren missed the curve!”

"Yep."

Darren’s car crumpled like a tin can, but all six of us walked away from it with no injuries. We must have had an angel on our shoulder that night because we were acting like fools.

“So if you loved me so much, why didn't you ever ask me out?”

“You were all about Darren. There was no point.”

I suppose there was some truth in that statement, but not in the way he thought. I posted my Darren story a couple of years ago, and you’re welcome to read it here. In chatting with people last night, I was surprised at how many people never knew who Darren really was. I was also happy to hear that a group of guys had gone out and visited his grave. I would have liked to have paid my respects as well. I did love that boy.

Some of my friends were missing simply because life got in the way. I see them on Facebook, but I would love to see them in person.

Speaking of Facebook, it provided great conversation starters. I knew that Kevin lives in Chicago, has beautiful dogs, and is a connoisseur of fine beer. Sandi lives in Arkansas and rides a Harley. Jeff still lives in Owensboro, but he just started a new job.

I knew my classmates had interesting talents, and last night I got to experience some of them. Molly sang.

Pic courtesy of Sandi Burns

And Teresa danced.


Pic courtesy of Sandi Burns

She is a bonafide belly dancer and has a studio in Lexington. After she and her male counterpart danced for us, they invited people to dance with them. I couldn't do the belly thing, but I did get my hips going for a minute.

Pic courtesy of Sandi Burns

Teresa invited me to check out her studio, and I’m thinking belly dancing for beginners might be fun.

The DJ’s set was heavily skewed to the 80’s, and we danced to Kool and the Gang, AC/DC, and Prince. He did throw a few current songs in and when “Blurred Lines” inevitably started to play, my bombastic friend yelled “SHE WAS A GOOD GIRL” repeatedly in my face.

Yes, Brad. Yes, I was.

Pic courtesy of Lisa Rice

The night ended with more hugs and promises to keep in touch. Facebook will help, but I’m guessing it’ll be a while before we see each other again. I won’t stress over it next time. The memories we made this weekend are warm. We've made lives for ourselves. High school is small in the rearview mirror, and the only direction you can go is forward.

Pic courtesy of Sandi Burns

**Sandi was extremely gracious in letting me use her pictures. She has a blog that you can check out here.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Something to write about

I’m staring at the blank page, and I want to write.

I don’t have anything to write about.

I applied for a new job next year. I had to write a resume and interview for the first time in 14 years. No big deal for a veteran teacher, right? I worked for entire days on my resume and portfolio. After the interview, I replayed it 100 times in my head, breaking down each answer I offered up to the hiring committee. After the 100th time, I knew every word that had come out of my mouth was drivel.

Then I got the job.

I don’t have anything to write about.

I’ll be teaching four different courses to sophomores and juniors. I taught sophomores during my student teaching semester 17 years ago. I’ve never taught the junior courses. I haven’t read any of the books in either curriculum for at least 17 years…some of them ever. I can teach the freshman curriculum blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back. I can answer my students’ questions before they get them out of their mouths. Next year, kids will ask me questions to which I do not immediately know the answers.

And that is awesome.

I want to write, but I don’t have anything to write about.

I spent four days interviewing 12 different lawyers. See, what’s even more awesome about this new job is that it’s in a career and technical school unlike any other in Kentucky. I’ll be teaching English in the new Law and Justice Village. I’ll be working with a Social Studies teacher and a lawyer-turned-teacher. The Social Studies teacher and I are on the hiring committee to find the lawyer, so I’ve been interviewing lawyers. Lawyers approach interview questions differently than other prospective teachers. Almost to a person, they talked around the questions instead of answering them directly. I was beginning to think this might be a soft skill we’ll need to teach in our Village. To cure someone of this affliction, you put them in front of high school students, so we did. Have you ever tried to avoid a persistent 15 year old with a question? Hehehe.

I need something to write about.

I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet for the last time…at least for a while anyway. It’s always been my favorite unit. I’m keeping a list of the things the kids say. You know, like the kid who left my classroom the other day asking a girl if she would ope her lap to saint-seducing gold. She smacked him. A little Shakespeare goes a long way, but you have to know how to use it.

I’m writing about that later though. What to write about now?

I saw Lincoln last night. Spielberg, man… He can make a movie. I loved the narrow focus. I loved the way the movie pulled back the curtain to show us that the legend was a human being with the same problems and struggles as the rest of us mere mortals. I was struck by the moral courage demonstrated by not only Lincoln, but by the members of the House, and I was struck by the seeming absence of such men and women today.

I don’t have anything to write about.

Of course, moral courage necessitates an open mind and a willingness to hear the other side. I wonder if anyone else is dismayed by the extreme political polarization I see everywhere. Some days, my Facebook feed looks like one long fist-shaking screed. The sarcastic posters, pictures, and angry links never stop. In this week of national tragedy, you would expect it to lessen, but no. It’s worse. I don’t understand “in-your-face” messages on Facebook. You know who’s reading them? Your friends. 

“Ha ha, Person-I-enjoy-following-and-spending-time-with-in-real-life!! I just made you feel like an asshole for your point of view! Boo ya!”

Surely, there’s something I could write about.

I struggle constantly with what to put on Facebook myself. My teacher-self is always in conflict with my writer-self. Like this morning, I discovered an awesome poem on The Rumpus. They’re sharing a new poem every day for National Poetry Month. The best part of the series is the audio of the author reading his or her poem. This poem drops the f-bomb and contains graphic sexual imagery, and it is everything I love about poetry…smart and musical. The author’s reading is mesmerizing. My writer-self called my public school teacher-self a coward for not posting the link, but I did post it here. Somehow, the extra click to get to my blog is a doorway in my mind. You have entered the domain of writer-Kathy. Yes, I am aware there is no logic to that reasoning.

I really feel like writing.

My youngest son is graduating from high school next month. He’s been accepted to college and has signed his letter of intent to play football.


I let him go to Florida with his friends for Spring Break, and we both survived unscathed. Prom was also a success.


Where we are now compared to where we were two years ago is not just separated by time. It’s a whole different universe, and I’m still too close to it to write about it. I’ll simply say this. I’m proud of him.

Some days the muse is silent. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

It's Raining....or Attitude Adjustment


“It’s raining.”

These words are disheartening when you’re in Florida. When people come to the Sunshine State, they damn well expect sunshine. They are entitled.

“I planned this vacation. I spent money to come to this state, now give me my sunshine!”

Never mind that oranges and grapefruit and a hundred other agricultural products we expect to be readily available need rain to grow. Rationality plays no part in it.

“I want my sunshine! It can rain when I leave!”

In truth, it’s only rained one afternoon and evening…yesterday…and although it was supposed to rain all day today, I’m currently writing this on the deck in view of an angry sea under mostly sunny skies. But man, when it clouded over yesterday, and then the rain started, it felt like a personal insult.

Cue Matthew.

Matthew is Linda’s 25 year old son. He is autistic, and he has a deep and abiding love for umbrellas. It’s anybody’s guess as to why, and really, who cares? Some people love cars, some clothes. Me? I love collecting books. Matthew loves umbrellas. Last summer while he was away at camp, Linda cleaned and organized his collection. She stopped counting at 350 umbrellas.

Matthew loves WalMart and the Dollar Store because of their relatively cheap umbrellas. Similarly, gift shops and any kind of store aimed at getting tourists to spend money on objects stamped and screened with cheesy logos are Mecca for Matthew. Linda only allowed him to bring seven umbrellas with him from Kentucky because there were seven of us on the trip, but before yesterday’s clouds came rolling in, he had already acquired three more.

Watching him turn Linda’s “No more umbrellas, Matthew!” into an “Ok, we’ll go back and get that umbrella, Matthew” is a thing of beauty. The kid is funny.

Quick side story: Matthew also loves bookstores. We have that in common. Unlike me, though, Matthew is always looking for a couple of very specific books. We passed a Barnes and Noble going to the grocery last Sunday, and Matthew wanted to go in. Linda put him off until she learned that the same bookstore contained the only Starbucks for miles…or blocks….around, so we went in.

“Matthew? We’re going in Barnes and Noble, but we’re going fast, ok? Go fast.”

Matthew holds up one hand, and says in a Jack Black-esque voice, “Slow down!”

The kid is funny.

So anyway, just as my good mood threatens to go the way of the sunshine yesterday, Matthew starts opening sliding doors all over the house. He sticks his arm out tentatively, and then steps out for a moment. Not yet. Not yet. His pacing becomes more pronounced, and he leaves an air of expectancy in his wake. It’s like the night before Christmas. You know it’s coming, but it’s taking forever. Then finally, after hearing his bedroom’s sliding door open for the hundredth time….

“It’s raining!”

And it was! And somehow, I wasn’t pissed off about it anymore. How could you be in the face of such unadulterated joy?

“It’s raining!”

A couple of hours later, when we went to dinner, joined by Linda’s in-laws, who live down here, Matthew had umbrellas for everyone. He passed them out with such deliberate consideration that we didn’t dare trade. I got a red and blue striped umbrella with the Kansas Jayhawks’ logo on it. I carried it with pride.

Linda got one with horses printed all over it, and the adults broke into a chorus of “Horse with no Name.” Vicki, Matthew’s aunt, got one from Alaska with polar bears on it. Everyone else got a solid color, but each was still chosen with care. Uncle Charles’ umbrella matched his shirt. Sydney’s was pink.

Matthew saved his obvious favorite for himself, a black umbrella with the green Wicked logo on it. Linda picked it up when she was in New York. He held it up and simply said “wicked witch.” You could almost hear the unspoken “bitches” on the end of his statement.

We went outside and everyone opened their umbrellas to walk the three feet from the door to the cars. It was an awesome moment.

“It’s raining,” Matthew said, and four adult and four teenagers grinned and repeated it with him. “It’s raining!” The kids danced around with their umbrellas, but Matthew went directly to the car because after all, only a fool stands out in the rain when he doesn’t have to.

Later, when we returned from dinner, Matthew paced for another 15 minutes, clutching the recovered umbrellas and smiling. It had rained, and he had been there, umbrellas on the ready. All was right and good with the world.

This morning, the sun peeked through the clouds. Yay! But there is a 100% chance of rain later in the afternoon. I am fine with this. I get my sun early, and Matthew gets his rain late. One thing is certain. We will all stay dry.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Zombies


I’m in Florida for a week with my good friend and partner-in-crime, Linda. Vacationing with friends can be a double-edged sword. You obviously enjoy spending time together or you wouldn’t be friends, but do you like each other enough to live together 24-7 for a whole week? This isn’t the first time Linda and I have vacationed together. Heck, it’s not even the second or third time. I’ve spent time on the shore of Lake Michigan with Linda. I’ve lived in a tiny cruise ship cabin on rough seas with Linda. I’ve paddled past glaciers in a canoe with Linda.

You think you know somebody. You think a week on the beach is going to be cake, but then after 12 years and multiple vacations, you find a fundamental crack in the foundation of your friendship. A philosophical difference upon which all else is a house of cards just waiting to crumble.

Religion? Nope…we are of a mind on that. Politics? Nope…we’re both generally on the same side of Center in those matters.

What could divide us after all these years?

Zombies.

No, Linda is not a zombie. She is quite articulate, doesn’t sound like she’s hocking a perpetual loogie, and I’ve never seen her take a bite out of anybody. Well…literally anyway. I’ve seen her chew people up and spit them out intellectually. I actually like that about her.

Linda is a Walking Dead aficionado. A Walking Deadhead. She lives and dies…metaphorically…every week with Rick and Darryl and the gang.

How do I know these characters' names?

I’ve spent 72 hours in the company of people who HAVEN’T TALKED ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE!

Linda’s daughter and three of her friends are also in Florida with us. Linda’s daughter and the two boys are also rabid Deadheads. Friday night before we left Georgetown, they made me watch an episode. Saturday night after we got here, they made me watch an episode. Apparently, there has been an all-zombie, all-the-time, all-day, all-night, round-the-clock, 24-7 freaking zombie marathon on AMC. Every time the TV was turned on it was zombies. I’m having nightmares about zombies.

All of this, of course, was leading up to the season finale last night. Watching the finale was AN EVENT. It was planned more precisely than D-Day or the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Everything from grocery shopping for JUST THE RIGHT snacks to when dinner would be served centered around when The Walking freaking Dead came on.

Being the instigator I am…Linda used a different word…I couldn’t help but mock my Deadhead traveling companions.

(I suppose I should stop here and explain that I really do get it even though I don’t watch it. To be transported by characters into another world, to be invested in those characters, to live and die with them like they are real people in the world that you know and love or hate….that is a beautiful thing. That is story. That is why I’m a writer and an English teacher. Story is everything. It’s how we make sense of the world. It’s how we define the past and shape the future. Story is EVERYTHING. And when you find a good one that you connect with, well that’s just magic right there. I’ve been every bit as rabid about other stories as Linda and the kids are about The Dead, so yeah….I get it. Zombies just don’t resonate with me for some reason. My son loves it and tried to get Bruce and me to watch with him, but it was in the middle of the second or third season or whatever, and there was just too much backstory we didn’t have. And we couldn’t get past the ever-present loogie hocking noise. We kept looking at each other, wanting to burst into laughter at the most dramatic parts.)

So if I understand all this stuff about story and connection and characters and such…why was I mocking my friends? Because I’m an instigator…or that other word Linda used. Because it was funny to watch those kids turn on me like zombies snacking on newly dead flesh.

“See? It’s not really about zombies. It’s about the people…the survivors…and how they are moving on in a lawless world. How they react in the face of terrible decisions. Who tries to keep order and who tries to create a new order? Zombies are mindless shells that just shamble along looking for something to eat. Aren’t there a lot of people like that?”

“Why, yes there are. Where was this level of analysis when you were in my class two years ago?”

Boy suddenly remembers I was his teacher, backs off and starts apologizing for contradicting me. He just really loves the show and I’m not mad at him am I? Hehe…not until you started apologizing for good analysis. Second boy and Linda do not apologize. They barrel ahead guns a-blazing.

“Why do I find vampires interesting and not zombies?”

“Vampires are about immortality….parasitic relationships…they seduce to get what they want, but underneath the illusion of beauty, they are monsters. Unless they are sparkly vegetarians, and that’s just stupid.”

“Yeah…but how is that more interesting than zombies?”

“Do I have to explain that immortality and parasitic seduction are more interesting than shambling, flesh-eating mindlessness? Then I think we’re done here.”

When I reached the point where people were actually getting pissed off, I backed off. I committed a sin that I don’t have a lot of tolerance for in others. I believe in story and clearly there is story in The Walking Dead. Freedom to tell or connect to any story you want should probably be added to the first amendment. Oh wait. I think it’s already there. I have less patience for story intolerance than for religious intolerance, so I reined it in.

I sat through the whole finale. The reviews were mixed. The body count wasn’t high enough for some. The daughter admitted she just watches it for the blood and guts. I like that about her. Others were happy that there was a sense of resolution. I like that in a story myself, so I would have sided with that camp if I cared. Everyone was in agreement that the people still with the governor were idiots for not shooting him when they had the chance. I’m always in favor of shooting the bad guy. Bad guys who open fire on their own people in a fit of childish pique aren’t generally redeemable. Although, in one of the episodes I was forced to watch on Friday, I could see that the governor had issues…keeping your zombie daughter on a leash and feeding her brains qualifies as issues in my book anyway. (I can’t unsee the images I’ve been forced to see this week.)

And then they watched an hour long talk show rehashing the episode. I went to bed.

I’ve had nightmares….actual freaking nightmares about zombies for TWO nights because of this mess. Yesterday, we were watching a guy windsurf and Linda was narrating his story. She made him a zombie windsurfer. I argued that the salt water would be highly corrosive to dead flesh and that he wouldn’t have enough left to stay harnessed to his parachute. This is the vacation conversation to which I’ve been reduced!

Thank god the finale has come and gone. Maybe now we can get on with sun and sand sans The Walking Dead.

Addendum…when I read the blog draft out loud to the gang, the apologizing boy reminded me that something called “Hannibal” comes on later this week. Lord, help us all…..

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On a Rampage!


Three years ago, if you had told me I’d be running through a creek while it was snowing, I would have been certain that my future held a serial killer in a hockey mask. Or a bear with rabies. And then if you had told me no, I’d be doing it willingly while dressed like a leprechaun, I would have recommended a good rehab center so you could get help for your apparent crack problem.

And yet, there I was yesterday, splashing through thigh-deep water for no other reason than someone pointed an arrow and said, “run that way to the finish line.”

This is what happens when you get in shape. Because you are stronger, both mentally and physically, you gain confidence, and when your friend says, “I’m putting together a team for the Extreme Rampage. Are you in?” You say, “Sure. That sounds like fun.” And I’m not gonna lie. Until I had to step into that frigid water for the third time, I was having fun.

The morning started with a group text. Angie, our team leader, texted us to make sure we were still in. At 7:00 am, it was a balmy 28 degrees, and her husband had just wimped out. The rest of us, however, were hardcore…and even if we weren’t, none of us was willing to risk the derision of our teammates.

I sent this to the group. “You know it’s going to be a great day when you start by putting on your son’s football cold gear!”

The only guy on our team sent this in return. “You know it’s going to be a great day when you’re doing bourbon shots at 7:15.”

A distressed text from Angie. “My son plays an indoor sport, and I don’t have any bourbon!”

Not to worry, though. She is our high school’s cheerleading coach, and she had enough innate enthusiasm to keep her warm. She actually did cartwheels after we low-crawled under the cargo net.

We arrived at the course and took a group photo. In addition to my son’s Under Armor leggings and undershirt, jazzercise leggings and thermal running jacket, two pairs of socks, gloves, and a sock cap, I wore the team leprechaun shirt and Lucky Charms face tattoo. Why? Because Angie told me to?? Our bright green did make us easy to see in the mud on a gray, dreary day.

Anyway….we were a cute group.



As we made our way from the parking lot to the starting area, someone asked us who we were supposed to be. Angie replied that we were the special ed department at our school.

I added, "I'm the reg ed teacher that makes this whole ARC legal!"

The lady gave us an uncertain smile and jogged on by, but we were giddy and laughed uproariously at my education humor.

We had to sign a waiver promising not to sue anyone if we died. Then, we had to attach a chip to our shoes, presumably so they could find and identify our bodies if we never crossed the finish line. My fingers were already so cold, I could barely sign the waiver, and I couldn’t quit laughing. Somehow it seemed hilarious that we were agreeing to participate in something in which death was a possibility. Even more hilarious was the idea that I might spend my last moments on earth in that obnoxious green shirt.

Our hilarity almost made us miss the start of the race. We danced to the music blaring across the field, posed for the official race photographer, and vowed to leave no man or woman behind. Then, holy crap! The guy yelled go! We charged across the start line and our one guy promptly left us all in his dust. I would call him by his name, but after he left us and we didn’t have his help or encouragement on ANY of the obstacles, we gave him a different name. This is a family friendly blog, so I’ll simply refer to him as “that Y-chromosome.”

The first few obstacles were not particularly difficult…a mud pit, some tires, the low crawl, and a sandbag carry. They seemed more designed to get you muddy than to slow you down. The worst things on the front side of the course were the dang fences. We had to climb over three of those classic Central Kentucky three-rail white fences…no problem for my teammates with longer legs. For short legs like mine it was more of a challenge. I bruised some of my more tender bits pushing myself over the top of those things.

The real fun started when we hit the first wall. You had two choices: use a rope to climb a sheer wooden face or use a rope to climb a wooden face with two 2x4’s placed at intervals too far apart for short-legged people. I chose option 2 in spite of my short legs. Angie pulled herself over first, and her success gave me some measure of hope. I grabbed the rope, pulled myself up to the first 2x4, held for a fraction of a second, and then went cursing and flailing because of the snow built up on the edge of the boards. The guys monitoring the obstacle laughed at me.

Game on.

I put one foot up on the 2x4 before I pulled myself up the second time, and this time I stuck. The problem was that the second 2x4 was too far up to move my foot first. I had to use my upper body to pull myself up enough to gain the second board. Honestly, that was the scariest moment of the course. Upper body strength has always been a problem for me, and in that moment when I pulled up and took my foot off the lower board, I thought I might fall. Even worse, I thought those guys might laugh at me again. I HATE to fail at anything, so I didn’t.

As soon as my foot hit the second board, I pulled again and grabbed the top of the wall. I held on for dear life and slung my leg over. Twelve feet off the ground on a snow-slick wooden board, the waiver didn’t seem funny anymore, but both the laughing guys and my teammates applauded, so Yay Me! Bolstered by my success, Susan and Mandy followed, and Tina unapologetically walked around.

The high I got from climbing that stupid wall was euphoric. A hard-won victory is the sweetest. A big shout-out here to every Jazzercise instructor who has made me do push-ups and that infernal Calvin Harris arm routine. It paid off!

We ran some more, clamored around in a dry creek bed, and laughed about the fact that we were obviously last in our wave. (A new wave left the start line every half hour.) But we were a team! No soldier left behind! Girl power! Stupid Y-chromosome! Who needed him anyway?

Turns out we did at the next obstacle. It was another wall, not as tall as the last, but with no ropes or 2x4’s. The goal was to take a running leap, grab the top and pull yourself over. Baaaahahahahaha! Yeah, that wasn’t happening. Angie tried it once and bounced off. After we stopped laughing, we devised a strategy. The nice couple in front of us stayed at the top and we gave Angie a boost. They grabbed her arms and pulled her until she could get over. I went next. It was not pretty, and I’m sure there are pics because the course photographer was snapping away as I struggled, but I made it over. Since there were two of us at the top now, the nice couple left, and it was up to me and Angie to get the rest of the girls over. Mandy and Susan also flailed a bit, but made it without incident. Then it was Tina’s turn.

Lord.

The photographer put his camera down to boost Tina from below. We pulled from above and I managed to lock arms with her. Mind you…I’m standing on the edge of a slick 2x4 which served as the ladder to get down on the opposite side.

She screamed in my ear, “Don’t you let me go, dammit! Don’t you let me go!”

I was reminded of that scene in Backdraft where the firemen hold each other over the flaming pit and voices straining, say, “You go…we go!” Because if Tina went, there was a strong possibility I was coming back over the top and going with her. I’m typing this now with no major injuries, so yeah, we got her over, and it was awesome. We jumped around and high-fived like we’d just won the Super Bowl.

We were energized. We ran down the course whooping and hollering. Extreme rampage? This wasn’t even hard. So what if we were last? We owned this race! We weren’t even cold anymore!

Oh pride…you do like to go before a fall. See this map?



It’s the Extreme Rampage course. Notice how the first part of the course is on that open brown pasture? That’s the part we had completed. Now, notice how the second half follows that green tree line? Yeah, there’s a creek you can’t see under that tree line, and that tree line wasn’t green BECAUSE IT’S WINTER!

We pulled up short at the edge of the creek. The nice couple who had helped us at the wall was standing there, apparently in denial about the direction of the course. It was 30 degrees and snowing, and the course monitors seemed to think it was hilarious that none of us wanted to wade into the water.

Angie had taken the lead up to this point, but I stepped into the water first. This seemed to spur the couple in front of me, and they took off as well. I said something not repeatable on a family friendly blog, and ran like hell across the creek. The water wasn’t deep, only shin-high, but daaaaaammmmmnnn. That water was cold.

My psychotic sprint motivated my teammates, and they followed. We all got across and congratulated ourselves only to realize that the course continued down the creek for the length of a football field. We tried staying on the bank, but it was steep and muddy. I held on to roots and small trees for as far as I could, but a large tree had fallen across the creek. On the bank, the unearthed roots created an intricate mountain to cross, but further out in the creek, it was fairly simple to slide over the trunk.

Angie and Susan chose to fight with the roots. I decided to suck it up and take the “easier” route…aaaannd found myself in thigh-deep water. Oh holy cow it was cold! Heart-stopping, suck-the-breath-out-of-your-body cold! I climbed up on the tree trunk and crawled back to the bank and the root mountain. We still had 50 yards of creek to traverse, but this time I followed them up the steep, muddy bank and crawled through the brush with them.

I heard a distant curse, and when I looked back down the creek, Tina was on her hands and knees in the mud with her nose an inch from the water. Mandy was trying to help her up. Angie didn’t stop. I had to scream at Angie to make her wait for me to catch up. She had crawled through the mud on that bank like a rabid bear really was behind her, and Susan was right on her heels.

“Shouldn’t we wait for them?”

“They’ll catch up!”

Somehow, the cold water had dampened our leave no soldier behind vow, and I said as much. Angie said, “No. We’re wet. We have to keep moving. If a wild animal is chasing you, and you wait for your friends, after a few minutes, you have to assume the wild animal ate them.”

I sincerely hope I never have to rely on Angie when a wild animal is chasing me, because I’d be lunch. I gave her grief over it as we worked our way through a wooded area and a maze of bungee cords. She kept trying to justify it as hypothermia protection, and I couldn’t argue too much with that. My legs were stinging like they were covered in fire ants and my feet felt like bricks on the ends of my legs. And truthfully, I didn’t stop either.

We came out of the woods to find a mud trench with barbed wire over the top. I was glad my hair was safely tucked under my cap, and for once, I was glad I had short legs. I was able to squat walk across the trench without getting stuck in the wire. After the creek, the man-made obstacles didn’t seem like a big deal. Mother Nature is more extreme than anything the course designers could invent.

And of course, we crawled out of the trench and had to climb back down the creek bank. This happened two more times with a pile of logs, another wall, and a 20 foot net in between. Even rolling across that cargo net twenty feet above the ground seemed insignificant compared to my cold, wet feet. Susan and Angie did everything possible to avoid running through the water, but climbing through the brush on the bank was harder and took longer. My feet were already wet, so I followed the guys from the 9:00 wave who had lapped us right through the creek.

One guy smiled as he passed me and said, “I thought this was the Color Run.”

“My language has been colorful.”

He laughed. “So is your shirt.”

That moment of rampage camaraderie made me forget about my feet long enough to get through that last stretch of creek. Angie, Susan, and I crossed the finish line arm in arm, with a blazing 5k time of one hour and 18 minutes. By comparison, the fastest finish time was 29 minutes, so we were only a tad off the leaders’ pace.

Tina and Mandy crossed the finish line 10 minutes later, and we celebrated the fact they hadn't drowned or been eaten by a wild animal. We collected our medals and t-shirts and Y-chromosome who had been warming himself by the fire for 45 minutes. He couldn’t leave because his car keys were locked in Angie’s car. Ha! He did acknowledge that he totally sucked as a teammate, so we forgave him. We’re generous like that.

Some creepy dude took a picture of Angie’s ruined Nikes and offered to buy them from her. Because Angie is certifiable, she took them off and gave them to him right there in the middle of the field. Susan and I felt it a bad idea to encourage creepy dudes, but whatever, Angie is kind. Well, mostly kind. If a wild animal is chasing you or her feet are wet, you’re on your own.

We barely paused for an “after” pic on the way out because we were wet and it was still 30 freaking degrees out, but here it is…sans Y-chromosome who had grabbed his keys and hightailed it out of there.



I had my heater on full-blast for the 10 minutes it took me to drive home, but my feet still felt like bricks. It took me another 10 minutes to peel off layer after layer of wet, muddy clothes to get in the shower, and then my feet burned with the white hot fire of a thousand suns. It took most of the day yesterday for the tips of my toes to stop hurting. I’m reasonably convinced I was in the beginning stages of frostbite. I don’t recommend it.

Another group text last night revealed that we’re all sore and bruised. Susan said she looked like she had been in a car wreck and had hives on her face, and that the waiver hadn’t said anything about GETTING YOUR FACE MESSED UP! I reminded her that I ran through the creek instead of crawling through the bushes, so my face was just fine in spite of my brush with frostbite. Tina was going to a concert at Rupp Arena and was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to climb the steps. Y-chromosome’s feet still hurt, but felt better with every shot of bourbon.

I’m writing this today with some aches and pains, but I don’t regret my rampage for a minute. I have never laughed so hard in spite of physical pain. Our team was dead last in our wave, but every single one of us finished, and most of us did every single obstacle. I’m proud of that, and I’d do it again!

Next time, though, I’ll rampage in the summer.