kaasirpent: (Music)
Thursday, September 18th, 2014 03:19 pm
I'm about to show my age. Not that I don't freely admit I'm <blur>ty-<blur> years old. I mean — What? You couldn't read that? How very odd. You should probably have your eyes checked. First sign of old age, you know.

Anyhow, back when I first got interested in music, it was The Eighties. I know! It actually existed! It wasn't just some improbable, magical realm of freaky hair and clothing conjured up by John Hughes as a world in which it actually made sense for Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club to exist.

Granted, I was well past my larval stage and headed into pupa at this point. Meaning that my musically formative years happened in late high school and college rather than in childhood, which occurred, for the most part, in The Seventies.

Which didn't actually exist, unlike the Eighties. Well, at least not musically, for me. I lived in a tiny town in rural Alabama, and pretty much the only stations we got that I was aware of were all country stations. So while I was aware of (and had probably heard, briefly) hard, acid rock groups like The Osmonds, The Carpenters, The Jackson Five, and The Three Dog Night, most of what I actually heard on a daily basis was Tammy Wynette, Roy Clark, Loretta (pronounced LOW-RETta, thank you) Lynn, George Jones, and Charlie Pride. Why? Because I wasn't in control of the radio. I wasn't driving.1

The summer of the year after tenth grade (I think; it was a long time ago, and I've slept since then), I registered at Livingston University (now known as The University of West Alabama) for an introductory level college chemistry course.2

What? Yes, this all relates. Jesus, you're impatient. Another sign of age. Hmm? Nothing. Really. Now, where was I?

So I registered for this chemistry course, because my high school chemistry class had been a joke. Not because the teacher wasn't any good, but because she simply wasn't there. She had a sick child, and we had substitutes and such a lot, and . . . well, not everyone in the class was college-bound and our pace . . . reflected that. We (my mother and father) felt that although I had good grades in chemistry, I needed to actually learn the topic.

I know! Crazy talk.

Anyway, I got to drive (in my own car!) from Eutaw to Livingston three times per week (or whatever it was) to take the class. And on that twice-daily hour-long drive to and from school, in my two-door, 1976 Chrysler Cordoba, by myself, I discovered that the radio picked up stations that . . . that weren't country.

I mean, like, totally not country. Do you understand what I'm telling you? They had, like, people who pronounced "well" as one syllable and "thing" didn't rhyme with "slang." These were people who had probably never heard of Ricky Scaggs or Jeannie Riley. Who probably thought a steel guitar was just a really heavy, metal guitar. As opposed to a heavy-metal guitar. Because that's totally different.

Was this what music was?

I liked it! I really liked it!

I remember the song that "turned the corner" for me. Every single morning on the way to Livingston, whatever station it was that I tuned into played the song "Time" by The Alan Parsons Project. I would also have heard songs by Blondie, Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang3, Sprick Ringfield . . . you should picture angelic chords playing here. They would probably sound something like "Time" by The Alan Parsons Project.

Fast forward a couple of years. 1983. Graduation. Going off to college. Buying cassette tapes for the first time. I seldom bought whole albums because I was one of those people who only liked one or two songs, and didn't want to take the chance with all those other ones. Because on a cassette tape (back in the old days before newfangled things like fire and dirt), there's no skipping around. You pretty much had to listen to music in the order it was on the cassette.

So I bought two compilation albums called Hit Explosion4 and Dancing Madness5 from K-tel. They both had some awesome hits from the previous couple of years. Coincidentally, during the time in which I had my own car and could listen to what I wanted to listen to. Go. Figure. :)

I must have listened to those cassettes hundreds of times. Straight through, in order.

Now, let's fast forward through the 80s (Don't we wish that had been possible at the time?) and the 90s. And most of the 2000s. To, in fact, a few months ago.

While declutterizing my home office, I found my old box of cassette tapes (Have I mentioned I pretty much never throw anything media-related away? Books, cassettes, CDs...). I had maybe sixty of them. Most of which I'd already replaced by buying the album on CD and then ripping to MP3 to put in iTunes. But I missed Hit Explosion and Dancing Madness. And I don't even own a cassette deck.

My, how times have changed.

And then it dawned on me that I could make my own damned compilation albums using playlists in iTunes.

Well, duh!

I already owned a good many of the songs. Twenty minutes and maybe $8 later, I had reassembled both albums from 1983 as playlists in iTunes.

Last night, I felt the need to escape writing code for a while and just not be bothered. The call of 1983 was too strong to resist. "If I haaaaad a photograph of YOU-oo-OO-oo-OOOOH, as something to remiiiiind meeeeee..."

Which is what I meant by "The Small Pleasures."

  1. My mother, were she to comment on this, would no doubt interject, here, and mention in passing how there was this one particular trip in the mid-70s up to West Virginia to visit my grandparents for Christmas where "we" (my parents) were "forced" to listen to an 8-Track (look it up) of Dr. Seuss stories, pretty much back to back, all the way from Alabama to West Virginia. My mother still shudders when someone says the word "ooblek." This one, isolated, singular incident (this is my blog) notwithstanding, she and/or my father ("we") controlled the radio and what got played thereupon.
  2. Whereat I saw the single weirdest misspelling of my name, ever. The college admissions people had me down (until I corrected them) as "GARX HEMBERSON." Really? Garx? Really? Oy. In an unrelated note, my handwriting really sucked back then.
  3. I would later come to loathe Kool & the Gang because of my next-door-neighbors in the dorm during my sophomore year at the University of Alabama. These boys would listen to Kool & the Gang at a volume that made my bed frame vibrate in the next room. Until 3 AM. On nights before tests. And we (I) wanted to kill them. But since murder is wrong, I just learned to hate Kool & the Gang along with my next-door neighbors. That, and I moved into a room across the dorm from them the next semester. Jerks. I assume they're both prematurely deaf, now.
  4. Side 1
    Mickey / Toni Basil
    Vacation / The Go-Gos
    Steppin' Out / Joe Jackson
    Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl) / Haircut 100
    Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) / Joan Jett
    Young Turks / Rod Stewart
    Abracadabra / Steve Miller Band
    Side 2
    Shadows of the Night / Pat Benatar
    Gloria / Laura Branigan
    Hold On / Santana
    Space Age Love Song / A Flock of Seagulls
    New World Man / Rush
    Keep the Fire Burnin' / REO Speedwagon
    Eye of the Tiger / Survivor
  5. Side 1
    Come Dancing / The Kinks
    Fascination / Human League
    Always Something There to Remind Me / Naked Eyes
    Cool Places / Sparks
    Whirly Girl / Oxo
    Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You) / A Flock of Seagulls
    Side 2
    Electric Avenue / Eddy Grant
    Time (Clock of the Heart) / Culture Club
    Pass the Dutchie / Musical Youth
    Juicy Fruit / Mtume
    Don't You Get So Mad / Jeffrey Osborne
kaasirpent: (Holidays)
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 04:44 pm

Background Information

A couple of weeks ago, I agreed that this weekend would be The Weekend™. The one where I bring home The Cats™. Nanny and Granddaddy's cats. Matt & Lucy. But we had to have them sedated because, having done the "unsedated cats in the car in Atlanta traffic" schtick before, I want no part of it. Ever. And neither do you. Trust me.

Along a totally unrelated subject but also a couple of weeks ago, in an email correspondence, I arranged with my cousin Jim Roebuck not only to attend the 110th Henderson Reunion (of which he was the organizer), but to enter the Brunswick Stew contest.1 The reunion was on July 4.

Click here for the rest. Read about parties! Food! Cats! Torn corneas! Alcoholic beverages! Family hymnals! Fireworks! )
kaasirpent: (Eutaw)
Sunday, February 8th, 2009 03:53 pm
For those of you who have never lived in a small town, you're about to get an object lesson in what it's like. I opened the Greene County Independent (the "white" paper in my hometown (Eutaw, AL), as opposed to the "black" paper, The Greene County Democrat) and saw the headline that is my subject line. As I read, I found myself laughing, and then finally just lost it at one point. I highlighted that point in bold, red letters. Come with me now and enjoy the bizarre alternate reality that is Small Town America!

[Reproduced entirely without permission. Kaa is not responsible for injury caused by extreme laughter. You have been warned. Editorial comments in square brackets, because I just couldn't stop myself.]
by Betty C. Banks
Independent Editor & Publisher

Watch out for flim-flam artists! They paid Eutaw a visit last week.

Several men made an unannounced visit [And really, don't you just hate it when flim-flam artists don't announce their visits?] to a residence of [sic] on Boligee Street last Thursday, January 22 claiming to be floor-covering salesmen.

According to the victim, two men rushed into her house about 4:30 p.m. when she opened her front door. The white men claimed to be acquaintances and happy to see her after such a long time. They held up a sheet of linoleum pretending to display it for her to see. The linoleum blocked her view while others burglarized her home.

The homeowner told the strangers, "I don't believe I know you."

"I am Hardy," one of the men said.

"I still don't believe I know you," she continued. They stayed approximately one hour.

That night, when she went to the bathroom to take her medicine, her medication was missing. Then she looked in her purse and found her money and keys were also missing. No one had been in her house that day except the so-called "floor-covering salesmen."

A station wagon was seen nearby with a Florida tag about the time the theft took place. The owner said she had seen a strange station wagon or van close by for the last two mornings prior to the incident.
And that's where it ends. We are left to wonder (perhaps forever), "Owner of what? Owner of the station wagon with Florida plates? Owner of the home that was burglarized? Owner of a lonely heart? The world may never know.

But the real gem of this article is that the victimized woman probably considered it the height of rudeness to throw them out, in spite of the fact that she didn't know them. And one thing We Do Not Do™ is be rude.

Because that would be, you know...wrong.

This has been a Report from Small-Town America!
kaasirpent: (Eutaw)
Wednesday, February 6th, 2008 10:40 am
[This post is dedicated to [livejournal.com profile] jost.]

So, I was at my mother's house in the small town of Eutaw, Alabama, not that long ago. Maybe over Thanksgiving. My mother smokes, but she knows I can't stand it, so she goes outside to smoke. She has a carport (it's not a garage because it's not entirely enclosed) with a low brick wall at which she stands, looking out over the neighborhood.

One particular time she was out there for a long time, and when she came back in, she told me that she thought she knew what had been eating her flowers that she had planted around her mailbox. We had suspected a deer.

My mother was on the carport smoking when she saw a woman approaching, walking her two dogs. One was a blue-tick hound like any hunter would be intimately familiar with, but the other one was a breed my mother wasn't familiar with. A large, black mutt that was walking rather oddly, like there was something wrong with its legs. They were both on leashes.

As they approached even closer, she was amazed to find that the second "dog" wasn't actually a dog.

Behold, the Eater of the Flowers (Maybe):

Behold! )
kaasirpent: (Eutaw)
Wednesday, December 26th, 2007 11:04 pm
I came to an overdue realization this weekend:
I may be from Eutaw—it is my hometown, and I have many fond memories of it—but I am not of Eutaw. Thomas Wolfe was right: you can't go home again.
There are many reasons why I would never consider moving back to Eutaw unless some drastic life-altering event required it. Among them are the isolation, the lack of intellectual stimulation, the fact that the streets roll up at 6 pm, the total lack of any computer-related jobs in the area, and the complete absence of any of my friends. To do anything remotely entertaining requires a drive of at least 35 minutes to one of several neighboring cities with more to offer: Tuscaloosa/Northport, Demopolis, or Meridian, Mississippi. To some of the smaller communities around Eutaw, Moundville and Greensboro would probably also fit the bill. (Greensboro has a Mexican restaurant! Owned and run by real Mexicans!). The nearest decent airport is a good two hours' drive away. As for me, I found myself having to go to Birmingham, sometimes, because even Tuscaloosa didn't cut it. I guess it's only natural that I ended up in the largest city in the southeast.

I could bear all of that, I suppose. If I had to. There's NetFlix and IM and TIM and LJ and road trips. There's books and podcasts and satellite TV. But there's one thing I cannot bear about the town or its people: the casual, institutionalized racism. It's omnipresent. It's omnipotent. It's omni-malevolent.

The whites hate the blacks, the Jews, the Mexicans, and the Arabs (anyone who is dark-skinned who isn't either black or Mexican is, by default, an "AY-rab"). The blacks hate the whites, the Mexicans, the Arabs, and probably the Jews, although I doubt there are any left in Eutaw to be hated. For all I know, the Arabs, Jews and Mexicans hate the whites, blacks, and each other with equal fervor. I even hear tell that <looks around nervously, lowers voice> there's Asians in town. I doubt they've been around long enough to harbor any full-on hatreds. But it's only a matter of time. The town is sick, and the disease is racism.1 And it's contagious.

I'm sure it's the same all over. Being a white male, it's easy for me to say I never noticed it and not be lying. I was born white, male, and middle class, then sheltered from the worst aspects of life outside my limited scope. I should thank my mother for this.

When I went off to college (the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa), I had roommates (serially, not all at once) of wildly divergent backgrounds. Dwight was a good-ole country boy who went to bed at 9 pm and got up at the ass-crack of dawn. Robert was a jazz-loving, pipe-smoking big-city (NOLA) radio DJ who seemed totally bemused by me, but loved introducing me to weird stuff like Monty Python, the B-52s, George Carlin, and his own twisted sense of humor. Albert was an astounding artist who could draw anything, but who was majoring in Electrical Engineering. Jerry was an unbelievable asshole who spoke to me exactly twice in a three-week period before I begged Housing to move me to another room. Butch was in the ROTC and the military way of life flavored his every action. After that, I got a private room, but by then I was friends with a wide variety of people who broadened my horizons. Heck, I was good friends with a Puerto Rican, the student rabbi at the B'nai B'rith Hillel house, several black people, and yankees! <insert shocked, scandalized gasps of Eutaw residents here> Looking back on it, I think that by the time I was a Junior, there's no way I could have ever gone back to Eutaw for any length of time.

To show you how naïve I really was at the time, there was a boring weekend where my friends and I had absolutely nothing to do, so I offered to take them to Eutaw and show them my hometown. I had a car; they didn't. Three of them took me up on the offer. One of them was my friend Cedric, who is black. So we set off down the Interstate talking amongst ourselves. Three white boys and one black boy. When we drove into town, we drove in on the "black side" of town. I drove around a while and showed them the town, and then eventually stopped at the house of my best friend from high school, and they all met her and her parents. I think we ended up over at my mother's house for a while, and then went back to Tuscaloosa. I noticed that Cedric was very quiet, and I asked him what was up. He then told me about the looks he'd seen directed at him on the "black side" of town for being in the car with us, and said he felt extremely uncomfortable meeting my friends and family. While none of them gave him any reason to be self-conscious, he said that his hometown was very similar to Eutaw, only he grew up on the "black side" of town. I was stunned. I think that might have been the first time I realized that there is no such thing as "reverse racism"; racism is just racism, no matter who's hating whom.

That being said, Granddaddy has always used the n-word...let me pause for a moment.

I use the phrase "n-word" not because I'm afraid of the word "nigger" or want to "give it power" or whatever. I had heard it used all through my childhood and I knew it was a "bad word" that I was told never to use, even if I heard other kids or adults use it. It wasn't until I had friends at whom it was aimed with such venom and hatred that I realized just how nasty it is when spoken by people in whom hatred is practically genetic. To this day, I don't use it except in reference to the word itself, as above, or when quoting other people. So, back to the point I was about to make.

Granddaddy has always used the n-word casually. Not like you or I would use the words "table" or "Buick," but the way we might use the words "pedophile" or "leper." He means it in the worst possible way it can be meant. And if he's especially riled up, he'll precede it with "damned." As in, "That's just like a damned nigger." It always really bothered me, but it started to seriously grate on me when he directed it at friends of mine. I had my friend Rodney help me move a large couch, and Granddaddy was there because he's the one who brought it to me in his truck. Granddaddy was as nice as he could be to Rodney, and I heaved a heavy sigh that he hadn't said something really embarrassing. I'd been worrying about it for days.

Later, he was trying to remember Rodney's name, and his way of asking was, "Who was that nigger that helped you move your couch?" That may have been the first time I ever truly realized just how...disgusting the n-word can be. Yes, it's "just a word," but so is "cunt."

In every instance when I've been thrown back into socializing with Eutaw folks, I've immediately gotten uncomfortable, because it's not long at all until the racism starts flowing. Like bile. Family reunions, Thanksgiving, Christmas, funerals (yes, funerals), high school reunions...even when former high-school classmates would visit me at my first apartment in Tuscaloosa while I was a grad student. They knew I didn't drink, so they'd bring beer...and racism. It wore me down to the point that I quit socializing with them at all.

The town is > 66% black, but the government was mostly all white until just a few years back. It was a world-class scandal when Eutaw had its first black mayor and an all-black council. You'd have thought Armageddon was nigh and the four horsemen were galloping hard towards Eutaw, swords drawn.

It's probably a good thing that none of the white population have really given much thought to how unlikely it is that Jesus (and Mary, of course) was Caucasian. Wanna see a riot in the streets? Suggest to the Eutaw white churches that Jesus—if he existed at all—would have had dark skin and been Jewish. Sadly, I'm dead serious.

Eutaw has moved on in some ways, though. The all-white school is now a religious school, so they take anyone of any race...as long as they're Christian. The all-white pool closed, so the only public pool is now the one on the "black side" of town. The Junior Food/7-11/Jiffy Mart/whatever on the "white side" of town is now run by one of the town's Arabs. The once all-white neighborhoods on the "white side" of town now reflect the 70/30 race distribution, and at least some residents (even Granddaddy) realize that a good neighbor is not defined by the color of their skin, but the contents of their character (to paraphrase Dr. King).

But, as I said before, Eutaw is sick. It's so consumed by hatred that it makes me sick. And it makes me realize that while home is where the heart is, my heart is no longer at home in Eutaw.

And this makes me sad for some reason I can't put my finger on. It's like...my childhood home burned down and I lost all my mementos.

The sickness has been there for years—probably decades. But it's finally taking its toll. Crime is rampant to the point where people can't do yard-work without being armed. There was a gang fight in the public high school the other day and two high school students were sent to the hospital with razor wounds. A few days before that, two girls got into a fight in the cafeteria and one stabbed the other with a steak knife. There are drug raids, dog fighting, illegal hunting, car thefts, murders....

Eutaw is a town of around 1900 people. The median age is around 43. Young people leave the town as soon as they are able, and they don't come back. The ones that stay face a life of poverty (the median household income is around $23,000/year), and at least some of them turn to crime as a way out.

Unfortunately, I don't think Eutaw can be healed. The sickness is a cancer, and it's metastasized into every organ. The only thing left to do, now, is make the patient comfortable while waiting for the inevitable.
  1. Lest you get the impression that all the hatred is "simply" racial, the Arab guy (we think he's from Yemen) who owns/runs the 7-11 tried to buy a house for himself and his family, whom he's trying to bring over from their home country. He really liked one house and tried to put an offer down and was told that the owner didn't want to sell it to him because it needed to be sold to a Christian. Yep. Welcome to Eutaw, Ahmed (his actual name, not a slur). Now leave.