Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Fauna of Kannapolis














Now let's creep up on a very special animal that's probably only in town for a short visit: the elusive Vacation Bible School Panda. Laurie and I were utterly charmed by this critter.

Look, there it is!

















That is one lovable panda.



But here's my favorite Kannapolis animal:




AWWWWWW.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My Fondest High School Memories and My Gloomiest High School Memories are The Exact Same Memories.

Somehow my high school graduating class (Red Bank High, Chattanooga TN Class of '92) chose "Imagine" by John Lennon as its class song. My Latin teacher (a kind, enthusiastic, Christian woman) expressed her approval. "I love that song!" The original recording got broadcast over the speaker system or something one day while I was in her class, and she smiled happily. In all likelihood I mentioned to someone that the drummer on it, Alan White, would later join Yes. In further all likelihood, no one cared.

Anyway, just before our actual graduation ceremony there were a few other official celebratory gatherings, and at one of them a folk-singin' student got up and sang the song; just his voice and his fascist-killin' acoustic guitar. I was seated in sight of our Latin teacher, and I watched her with interest. I seemed she was hearing the lyrics for the first time, and her smile turned sour; without that pretty piano bit the words came through, and everyone who didn't already know realized that "Imagine" is basically an advertising jingle for militant atheism. I'm guessing a lot of kids who voted for the song had buyers' remorse.

Immediately after the performance a preacher got up and delivered a short message that ended with the hope that "Some day we can realize John Lennon's dream, and live as one." Nice try, dude. Very Hegelian.

#

My main extracurricular activity in high school was Forensics. Dead bodies didn't enter into it; the term "forensics" means gathering evidence in order to reach an informed conclusion. Or something like that. You might want to do some forensics of your own to check up on my hazy memories. Effectively Forensics just meant the debate team plus a gaggle of nominally related competitive performance activities like poetry reading. I was more into the poetry-reading end of things, cuz unlike debate you didn't have to be a sharp, quick thinker. Effective memorization (which I had with enough lead time, like all summer) and a willingness to speak in public (which, let's face it, is little more than a sublimated version of dropping one's pants in public (at least it is with me)) will suffice.

The average forensics tourney consisted of students in business attire going from classroom to classroom (or hotel room to hotel room) and running through their shticks for each other and the crack team of highly qualified parents who got suckered into judging these events. In between rounds, lots of hanging around gossiping/flirting/joking/stealing pizzas from some other team that bought pizzas/etc.

Three rounds, usually, followed by suspenseful waiting as finalist lists were posted, the final round in each competitive category went down, then more hanging out complaining/stealing cold pizza/wandering into places one wasn't supposed to go/etc. until the award ceremony, where cheap trophies made hearts soar.

A few memorable moments:

One mousy girl in a prose-reading competition read an excerpt of "Interview With a Vampire" which I've never read, but I saw the appeal after her performance. She transformed into an erotic madwoman; we practically saw the blood dripping from her fangs, and everyone in the room was flushed and sweaty by the end of the show. Suddenly she was way more appealing than other girls with clearer skin and higher cheekbones. I got to see this demonstration three times; I would gladly have watched it every hour on the hour for the rest of my adolescence. Where were girls like that in my school?

Coming in second place in the Gatlinberg Tournament Prose Reading competition. I lost to a friendly, smooth guy who confessed to me that he disliked the Christian element of his story, but went with it out of cynical judge pandering. When he won I felt like challenging the win on grounds of hypocrisy. I was sincere in my love for my story ("The Golem" by Avram Davidson) and felt that should count in my favor. I kept quiet and took my second place trophy.

BTW the Gatlinberg tourney always had an enormous turnout, because Gatlinberg is the Branson of the South. Forensics team ranks swelled when this thing rolled around; kids who hadn't bothered to show up for boring old local tournaments grabbed the first poem the Norton anthology fell open to and declared themselves contestants. Most of the competition was unabashedly going through the motions in order to hang out in Gatlinberg; I recall one girl who prefaced her performance with "I really suck, ya'll, so just take a nap or something until I'm through". This is why my generation has failed, is failing, and will continue to fail the world: we're so mush-headed we want to hang out in purgatorial bootleg T-shirt outlets like Gatlinberg. Anyway, bear the tragedy of the commons in mind while evaluating the prestige factor of my second place win. Out of a hundred or so contestants in the prose category, mebbe a half-dozen were serious about the art and craft.

The nose thing. A girl from another school told me she had a trick called "The Nose Thing." She offered to do it for me. I asked what it was. She refused to disclose. All her friends gathered around. She instructed me to lean back and close my eyes. I done it. She wrapped her lips around my nose and blew forcefully into my nostrils, making the caverns of my skull buzz. Afterwards her friends all treated me as if I had been selected for something. I couldn't understand why my parents were so upset when I told them about this.

Related to the preceding: girls flirting with me and my not realizing it until after the fact. The actual debate team kids probably picked up on flirting right away, owing to the mental alacrity you need on the debate team and don't need on the prose-reading team.

My slow ascent up the ladder of pretension. As a freshman I did Douglas Adams. A few years later I was doing Kafka and T. S. Eliot, which is a good way to get third-place trophies, the most grudging recognition possible.

Selecting material was a dicey endeavor; for example, kids who read Stephen King always got roses from some judges and the Black Spot from others. It didn't matter how the performance was; all that mattered was how the judge felt about King.

The ongoing Order Debate, the only debate the Debate Team didn't care about. Forensics kids were forever trying to suss out which was the pole position in any given round. Each round consisted of five or six competitors per room. Was it best to be first, last, somewhere in between? The borderline-theological debates over this ate up hundreds of dork-hours.

Every year I triumphed in regional finals, then went to State Finals where legends are born, and promptly got smeared on the wall in the first round by kids from the mysterious and inscrutable land of West Tennessee. My senior year I finally crapped out in the regionals (wassamatter, you don't like Kafka's journal notes?) and I ended my forensics career in a sparsely attended local tournament that had no official competitive reason for taking place. I decided to go out with proper teenage obnoxiousness and chose a new prose passage: the bit from Lolita where Humbert picks Lo up from camp, kisses her in the car, and almost gets busted by a highway patrolman.

The judges in the early rounds liked it okay, and I made it to finals (although the judges would have really needed to hate me to keep me out, such was attendance). In final rounds there are three judges. One I don't remember, but one had brought his infant daughter (who happily ignored all the performances in favor of quietly playing with a toy); this guy stared at me with a face caricatured by theatrical shock.

The third judge went to my church. She had a twelve-year-old daughter whom I had once given a piggyback ride. The girl never spoke to me again, probably under strict orders. It finally dawned on me that some people will take you seriously when you're only playing.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Scenario

You meet an old friend from days gone by. You remember him as smart, creative, funny and kind. He is dear in your memory. He tells you that he's a musician now, an aspiring professional. He is terribly frustrated that he hasn't been signed yet, but he's got a band and he's performing tonight at the Yellow Stain Lounge. It hasn't been a lucrative gig, he says, but they let him play what he wants.

"It's the music I was born to play. No compromises, no pandering."

You eagerly agree to attend the show.

That night your friend takes the stage.

The band strikes up "Brick House."

Then they play "Freebird." And "Stairway To Heaven." Followed by "Margaritaville" and "Play That Funky Music White Boy". The band is ragged, sloppy, lackadaisical. Flubs abound; not charming ones. Lazy ones. Occasional flashes of mild inspiration suggest themselves, but never quite make the gig light up.

After a dishwater rendition of "Louie Louie" the band takes a break and your friend finds you.

What do you say to your friend?