Saturday, September 25, 2010

Horses, International Guests, and....Buffalo?

My part of Kentucky is all aflutter. The World Equestrian Games start today. The opening ceremonies are tonight, and according to the local hype, promise to be pretty amazing. While not as well known in the U.S., the games are a big deal in other parts of the world that revere the horse. It's fitting that Kentucky welcome the first ever U.S.-hosted Games. No one reveres the horse more than we do.

But this is not a blog post about the glory of the horse, or the pageantry and history of the Games, or even the new international flavor of my small town (Team Belgium was in WalMart the other day.) No. This post is about a different kind of glory, a strange pageantry all its own, and the flavor...Wild West meets small town USA.

Important, prestigious events like the WEG attract important, prestigious people. They also attract less important, less prestigious hangers-on, much like barnacles on the underside of a majestic ocean liner.

While the finishing touches were being put on all the shiny, new venues at the Kentucky Horse Park, my local outlet mall was preparing for a very special guest as well. Unlike the guests down the road at the Horse Park, this guest was neither equine nor international.

Enter Henry the Buffalo. Yes...a buffalo.

The buffalo (actually the American bison) once roamed the open plains, and according to the National Park Service numbered 60 millon when Columbus landed. They were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century. Now only 15,000 live free in the wild. Another 350,000 are held in herds by private farmers. And, of course, Henry, now in residence at my local outlet mall.

Georgetown is home to a small outlet mall whose fortunes have declined in recent years. Most of the good outlets have closed, and only a few thriving businesses remain. Jazzercise is among those thriving businesses, and so I have been privy to the preparations for Henry.

Grandstands and stalls line the small grassy area between the parking lot and I-75. Actually, after a long, hot, dry summer, the grassy area is more of a dirt lot. A large section of the parking lot has been painted green. I wonder if it's supposed to represent grass. I wonder if it has been so long since Henry has seen grass that he wouldn't know the difference.

Large, wedding-style tents have been erected in the parking lot as well. I have no idea what's inside, but the "Fat Man's Barbeque" booth between the tents leads me to believe it involves fat men and barbecue.

Henry arrived yesterday. One of my fellow Jazzercisers said he was accompanied by what looked like a SWAT team. Really. Visitors from all over the world, and the buffalo gets a SWAT team escort.

Our instructor, Leanne, was invited to a meeting of outlet mall business owners to let them know about the disruption to parking and such. It was from her that I learned why a buffalo is taking up residence in the parking lot of a struggling outlet mall.

Henry is going to jump through a ring of fire every night for the duration of the World Equestrian Games.

Buffalo are shaggy, and in my mind, more flammable than your average mammal. I said as much when Leanne was telling us about it. I just felt sorry for Henry. Imagine tying several large mops to your head and then being forced to jump through a ring of fire.

In an attempt to make us all feel better about it, Leanne said, "Oh no! It's okay. Henry's trained. Apparently, he was in Dances with Wolves or something."

Dances with Wolves??? Really? Do you know how old that movie is? I do. I was seven months pregnant with my oldest son when that movie hit the theaters, and he'll be 19 in two weeks. (Funny story about a crazy, hormonal, pregnant me and that movie that I'll save for another day.)

Doing the math, Henry would have to be more than 20 years old. What the heck is the life span of a buffalo anyway? I looked it up, and the sources vary, but it's anywhere from 15-20 years in the wild, and 25-30 years in captivity. Either way, Henry is freakin' old.

So...They are not just making a ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire....they are making an old, ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire.

Oh, the glory and pageantry of sport! Let the Games begin!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Loudly

Banned Books Week starts in six days. Read about it here and here.

If you think we live in a world where a celebration of the freedom to read freely is an anachronism...ancient history...a problem long solved, you are sadly mistaken. I've posted about this ad naseum, I know. But censorship just won't die. It keeps raising its ugly head.

Laure Halse Anderson's young adult novel, Speak, has been called "pornography" by a man in Missouri, Wesley Scroggins, who is looking to remove it from classrooms and school libraries.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For those who haven't read Anderson's novel, it is the story of a girl who is raped in the summer before she enters her freshman year of high school. She spends her freshman year struggling with the physical, psychological, and social aftermath. She struggles to find her voice so she can SPEAK about what happened to her.

Because of the two rape scenes in the book, Scroggins says the book is filthy and immoral. Anderson responded better than I could when she says:

The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that’s possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book.

Click here to read Laurie Halse Anderson's entire post on the issue. She includes links for her readers and supporters to speak loudly against Scroggins' efforts.

My students love this book. Anderson writes realistic fiction with which real teenagers identify. (Heck...I identified with it. I know the teachers she creates in this book. I am one of them.) Anderson SPEAKs to teenage readers, especially a certain kind of reluctant reader. Our library almost always has a waiting list for this book, and we have multiple copies. Kids are lining up to read it.

I want to shake people who advocate pulling high-interest books off the shelf. Their political/religious/social agenda is more important than creating a society of readers and thinkers. They are the modern day equivalent of High Inquisitors.

Even worse than the potential loss of a high-interest book is the potential loss of a book that might help a kid who has been raped. Anderson wrote an amazing poem pulled almost entirely from the letters of kids who have read her book. I've pulled the video from her blog. It's powerful, and it demonstrates that books can give kids the courage to SPEAK and to heal.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guest Blog -- In Remembrance: My Story of 9/11

September 11, 2001 was a day none of use will ever forget. We all remember where we were when we heard the news. We all have a story. My sister-in-law, Emily Happell Williams, who was living in New York at the time, graciously agreed to let me repost hers here. Following is her account of that day.

I loved my brief time as a New Yorker. I was totally out of place there having been raised in the south, but I seemed to fit right in, or else I just wanted to fit in so badly because I absolutely fell in love with the city. It was everything I wanted Nashville to be. The concerts/clubs, culture, food, attitude, subways, etc. After a few months, I considered myself a New Yorker & never wanted to go back to the south. I suddenly had no fear, a confidence I had never had before, & often wouldn't think twice about riding the subway & walking through dark alleys at 3 or 4 in the morning. I definitely put myself in situations that my mother would have had a heart attack if she'd known.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

In the summer of 2001, I went on tour with some friends of mine in a band called BOTTOM. I sold merchandise & helped roadie. They were on the second stage at the Vans Warped Tour & also played clubs at night, sometimes playing 2 shows a day. We lived in a van & traveled all around the country. It was truly one of the best times of my life. I saw some great sights, great bands, met some awesome people, and especially loved hanging out with the girls in the band. The scenery was incredible. It made me miss TN a little.

When we got back, I was in between jobs & places to live, couch-surfing in different places. On the morning of September 11, I was staying at my friend Dan's apt. in Brooklyn. He was a Tower friend & dated a good friend of mine. He lived very near the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. I had a part time job that a friend hooked me up with & was getting ready for work when I started hearing sirens. Dan lived right across from the fire station, so this was normal, but the sirens had been going off for what seemed to be like 10 or 15 minutes. After realizing that this was really odd, I turned on the tv just to see if there was something going on. Boy, was there. A picture of the World Trade Center with a plane sticking out of it. As I stood there dumbfounded, a second plane hit. I didn't even know what to think. I went into Dan's room & woke him up, saying, "Dude, 2 planes just hit the WTC!" He turned over, rubbed his eyes & mumbled, "wow, they held up well" (I'll never forget that line!) It just DID NOT dawn on us what was happening. I watched the TV for a couple more minutes, then went back in there & said, "dude- really... you better get up... this is fucked up!"

Well, for some reason, we decided to go check it out. I realized I was probably not going to have to go to work. As it turned out, the subway that I would've taken runs directly under the WTC. It is a very good thing I was running late. So, Dan grabs his camera, and as we're getting ready to leave, we look over at the tv before we walked out the door- the first building fell. HOLY. SHIT.

I'm thinking, OK, it's probably not a good idea to go down there... But we'll just walk down to where we can see from the foot of the bridge. And it's our duty as amateur photographers to document whatever the hell is going on, right? And we still had NO IDEA what was going on.

So we're walking, as Dan snaps pictures here & there of the flooding of people coming into Brooklyn. You can see the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge, and both were packed with people with a look on their faces of, well, I'm not sure how to describe it. Like I said, no one knew what happened yet, the severity had not sunk in. At least for me- and yeah, I admit I'm a little spacey, but in my mind I was thinking- surely with all these people in front me- SURELY everyone got out in time, right? Right?... It was just so surreal. People were eerily calm. We walked up onto the bridge about 1/4 the way up. We were the only ones walking against the flow. There was one other person there taking pictures. We felt bad taking pictures of such a horrible event. But we did anyhow. We knew we weren't doing it for money or anything (and it still sickens me that people did and still do). We stood there quietly watching when the second building started to fall & I heard the biggest, loudest, simultaneous GASP... I just stood with my hand over my mouth in shock. And then I heard some weeping here & there. Dan didn't want to take a picture of it, but I said "just take one & we'll go back". So he did & we did.

Walking back- a blank look on faces, some worried about how they were going to get home & what a bother it was. No trains, no cabs, no cell phones, nothing. Lines at every pay phone. Ironically, the voting places were still open for some local election. We went to the grocery store, bought some beer & went back to his apt. where we filled a buch of pots up with water, still not knowing what the hell had happened, or what was going to happen next. We climbed up to the rooftop & just sat there. We watched the trail of smoke drift closer & closer to us until we could smell it. Indescribable. Disgusting. Sad.

I finally got a hold of my Mom. It was her birthday. "Uh, happy birthday Mom..." :( She said, "Are you ready to come home yet?" I said, "yeah- maybe". I didn't really want to leave NYC. I had been struggling the whole time there, but I loved it so much & I didn't want to give up. I had put my Mom & Dad through so much worrying. I owe them everything for putting up with my ass & loving me unconditionally throughout the whole time I was a mess. So, after a couple of days, I realized there was nothing there for me except my friends. No real job, no place to live, negative amounts of $, and an asshole named Sean who... was really mean to me a few days before the 11th & I never wanted to see again unless he was dead (that's another story). So as much as I loved my friends there, I gave in & decided to move back to Nashville.

I took a Southwest flight out that next Saturday with one my best ex-boyfriends & good friend, Fernando seeing me off after going to the hospital to say goodbye to his beautiful mother, Aida (RIP- much love). I cried so hard on the plane flying by the tip of the island. The smoke trail still burning. The Southwest girl handing me kleenex. They were so sweet. I got home & didn't talk to anyone except a few close friends for 2 months. Just sat in my mom's garden & cried. And sat. And cried. Couldn't watch TV- it was all over the place. Couldn't even look at the magazines in the grocery checkout.

I'm very glad that I moved back. After all, I wouldn't have met Allen if I hadn't! And Tennessee's not such a bad place after all. I've discovered all kinds of cool places I never knew were here. Fall Creek Falls for one. That place is incredibly beautiful!

I still sorely miss NYC, but I have a new appreciation for Nashville. It's getting better here. Night life is slowly getting better, more bands are playing here, and I got back in touch with some old friends. But most importantly, I'm with my family & I got to be with my grandparents before they died. Pop was so cool. Great stories he told me when we were alone, but unfortunately in my state of mind & having been given all kinds of happy pills from a shrink, my brain did not think to write them down. I am still kicking myself for not recording my family history.

Below are the pictures that Dan took that day. They are not easy for me to look at still & my heart continues to go out to all those affected, especially a sweet girl named Joyce Carpeneto, who worked at Tower & had just gotten a job in one of the towers. I'm sure some of you reading this knew her & how wonderful of a person she was. I wish I could have gotten to know her better. She was one of the good ones.

And there you have it

Looking across to the Brooklyn Bridge. If you look closely, you can see the people walking across into Brooklyn.
looking across to the Brooklyn Bridge
me on the Manhattan Bridge
on the Manhattan Bridge
after the 2nd building fell
outside of a church
She was waving for people to come into the church.
outside a church
Brooklyn intersection
waiting to use the pay phone

On the rooftop watching the trail...
On the rooftop. And yes- I used to smoke.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer's End

I woke this morning feeling melancholy.

Maybe because the college football season is starting without me this year. The Tigers open in Florida today, and I stayed home to watch my youngest play last night in his high school game.

Maybe because my youngest lost last night.

Maybe because I let my youngest go to an after-game party, I got up at 3:45am to go get him, and I'm really freakin' tired.

Then, I turned my iPod on shuffle while I was messing around the house this morning. The Foo Fighters (who I love) began to sing about summer's end, and I realized that was it.

I'm mourning the end of summer.

"But, Kathy?" You say. "School started four weeks ago. Your summer ended then."

Not really. School or no school, August is still summer, especially when the temps are hitting the 90 degree mark every day. I was working, but it still felt like summer. Plus, I started back to work the week after RWA. I was still on a high from my Orlando adventure.

Labor Day weekend and the opening of the college football season mark the end of summer for me. Warm summer nights spent with friends are swept away by autumn's cool breezes, and I can't help thinking that cold winter winds aren't that far behind.

Change is inevitable, and every ending marks a new beginning. I am tired of the suffocating heat, and you can't truly appreciate summer's carefree days without living through the responsibilities of winter.

I wish you a happy Labor Day. It's beautiful here, so I'm going to leave you with the Foo Fighters while I go out to enjoy the last weekend of summer.