Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'm not sure I like art. What is art, exactly? Depending on the definition of it, I might like some. I'm not really sure.

This is a response to Liza's most recent post.  Enjoy.

I read Liza's most recent blog post about the characteristics of her tastes in art, and I couldn't help but realize how incredibly hopeless I am when it comes to understanding, or, hell, even liking, art.  I can't look at a painting and appreciate it for anything more than paint on a canvas.  The closest I've come to getting enjoyment out of paintings was watching reruns of "The Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross when I was a kid.  And only because he was so boring, it was entertaining.  I read Liza's descriptions, finding myself becoming more and more frustrated because I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about as I read.  I recognized a few artistic period names...A few famous painters she mentioned...But as for what characterizes and separates those periods or those painters...Not a clue.  I am ignorant when it comes to that kind of stuff.  And what's worse?  I don't really care.

I've never really thought of myself as "complex."  I've never really been creative in the sense of "creating."  Unless you count the period from the time I was about 4-9 years of age.  I would paint with watercolors and draw from time to time.  I have a notebook at home filled with countless superheroes I made up.  My mom has a painting I did at Memaw's when I was about 5.  It's eloquently titled "Spaceship" and looks like a frog with red wings.  I don't know why my parents didn't nurture the obvious gift I had.  I could've been a prodigy.

And now...

I have ideas from time to time about a little project I want to work on, or something I want to build or make.  I'll go to the store and pick out items I think I will need.  I'll get home, start working without much of a plan, then realize I need at least ten more things to even really get started.  I'll go back to the store.  I'll come back and begin again, get halfway through said project, realize how incredibly awful it is.  I'll continue, thinking it will look better once I'm finished.  I will finish, sit back and look at the final product.  I'll then cuss.  Then I'll go back to the store and buy whatever it was I was trying to create, tossing mine into a gas station trash can on the way.  It's frustrating

I've never watched a movie and thought to myself how the the protagonist in the story represented some underlying abstract idea, or how the direction, camerawork, and lighting illustrates a particular "sense" that the director is striving to bring about in the audience.  I've never listened to a piece of music and appreciated it for the "story" it tells, whether it's a lyrical piece of work or an instrumental.  I've never watched people doing a dance routine and thought "those movements speak to me.  The grace and timing is impeccable...You can feel what the piece of music is trying to make you feel."  No, no, no...I've never really done any of those things.

I like movies that make me laugh.  I like movies that have really cool special effects, just because, well, they're cool.  I like movies that are based on true stories, and I like to research the "real" story after I watch them.  I like music that I like.  If it makes me bob my head, or listen intently to the lyrics, or makes me want to sing along...I like it.  I listen to it because it sounds good.  I listen because it illustrates someone else's incredible talent.  I am impressed by a dancer when they do something just looks cool.  When they do something I wish I could do, although I wouldn't even try unless I was alone in my house.

So, what kind of art do I like?  Well...None really.  I don't find artistic beauty in "traditional" forms of art like paintings, sculpture, classical music, or film.  I find it in nature.  I find it in super slow-motion camera shots of a water balloon bursting.  I find it in an outfielder tracking down a sinking line drive in the gap to save two runs.  I find it in a 30-minute drum solo.  And I couldn't really tell you why.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pretty Girl From Waterview (Water View)

Life doesn't make sense.  I realize that sentence is one of the most overused cliches in the history of mankind, but maybe that's because it is so incredibly true.  Because life makes no sense whatsoever.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, seemingly sound and logical people do really dumb things.  Sometimes the harder you try at something, the more difficult it becomes.  And, sometimes, things happen totally by chance, when you aren't trying at all.

That's what happened when Adrienne and I met.  I've never really been a believer in love at first sight, and I've always thought fate was more of a made-up explanation for strange coincidences than something that actually affected our everyday lives.  That is, until I met Adrienne.

I still won't say that it was totally love at first sight...It wasn't.  I say that because I think that's impossible.  You can't love someone that you don't know.  But, I will say the time it took to realize I loved her was short.  Strangely short, actually.  As for the idea of fate?  There's just too many strange circumstances surrounding our first meeting that can't be written off as simple coincidence.  There was a higher power at work that we were unaware of until enough time passed for us to have hindsight.  At least, I think so.

I finally got hired at Metcalfe County in May of 2010 after two years of one interview after another ending the same way.  I was overjoyed to have a job, but I wasn't thrilled to be moving to the middle of nowhere with no friends or family within a two hour drive.  It was a tiny school in a tiny place I didn't even know existed until the day I went for my interview.

It's mind-boggling to me to think about it, now.  In a three year period I probably spent more than $200 on postage to ship out countless numbers of application packets to school districts all over the state.  I spent hour after hour filling out online applications, emailing principles, completing mind-numbingly repetitive paperwork...It never ended.  And of all the school districts in the state (and even a few in Tennessee and Georgia), I got hired at Metcalfe County.  And so did someone else.

I found out about Adrienne just a couple of days after school started.  As it turned out, my co-worker was dating Liza and she had been my academic adviser and one of my graduate school professors while I was a student at UK.  He said she had a younger sister they wanted to hook me up with.  I said no.

More than once.

But, he bugged me for two or three days, gave me her phone number unsolicited, and finally convinced me to go out on a double date with them.  I was extremely reluctant...Adrienne would say the same thing if you asked her.  Blind dates are so awkward and, in most cases, go absolutely nowhere.  But this was different, and it was different immediately.

There aren't many moments in life that we can look back upon with such clarity and vividness that it's as if we are there in the moment.  But the first time I laid eyes on her is one of those moments.  I remember nervously walking down my stairs to the car trying to collect myself; I wondered what I was going to say, I wondered what she would say, I wondered how my hair looked.  The walk down the stairs didn't take nearly as long as I would have liked, and before I knew it, I was in the car.

I had done my fair share of Facebook creeping the night before, so I had seen several pictures of Adrienne beforehand.  But not one of those prepared me for her in person.  I'm sure if you were to ask her how she looked that night, she would've come up with some ridiculous reason to say she looked terrible.  But she was absolutely stunning...The most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I could feel the knot in my stomach tightening.

That first night was fantastic, minus the God-awful movie we were forced to sit through.  It was Step Up 3D and we were the only four people in the entire theater (big shock).  But we had a great time making fun of the movie and making fun of ourselves in our ridiculous 3D glasses.

We hung out a couple of more times as doubles after that;  we all went to breakfast together a few days later, and Liza had us over for dinner at her house one night.  I knew that night at Liza's that I really liked Adrienne, and finally got the nerve to ask her on an actual date that night in the driveway.  I was so nervous I almost didn't do it, but I wouldn't have been able to look myself in the mirror when I got home if I didn't.

That first date was a little different.  We didn't have the safety net of other people to keep the tension down, and it was apparent we were both a little nervous.  I thought the whole evening I was going to kiss her for the first time, and I thought as she was leaving (since it hadn't happened yet) it would be the perfect time.  And then one of the most awkward and embarrassing moments of my entire life took place.

I walked Adrienne to her car expecting her to stop and stand there before getting in to give me time to make a move...But, instead, she immediately opened the door and got in the car.  She had thrown me a curveball and I didn't know how to react.  So, I busted out this little gem:

"Days of the New, huh?" I said in reference to the music playing on her iPod.  Smooth, one, Zach.
"Yeah," she said, obviously impressed with my musical knowledge.  I paused for a moment, not really sure what to say next.
"I have that song on my iPod, too."
"That's cool."

As painfully awkward as you can imagine that exchange was, the main event was what happened next.  We said our goodbyes, and I was fully intent on kissing her goodbye.  So I leaned in, expecting her to reciprocate, but she turned her head slightly to the side.  So, at the last moment, I bailed out and gave her the most awkward, ego-bursting hug imaginable.  It was painful.  As she drove off, I stood inside the door and just shook my head.  She didn't like me the way I liked her, and it was extremely obvious.

But, she gave me another chance and that first kiss did come.  And a lot less awkwardly.  Thankfully.

I remember when I realized I loved her.  We were sitting on my parents back deck after going to dinner in Paducah.  Oddly enough, I don't really remember what we were talking about.  I just remember the thought creeping into my mind.  I remember that feeling you get when you think your heart is going to burst out of your chest.  I've had that feeling a thousand times since then.  Usually at times when you wouldn't even expect it.

Watching her fix her hair in the mirror, trying to look pretty.  When all I can think about is how beautiful she is all the time.  As my mother puts it, "She'd be pretty with a shaved-head wearing a burlap sack."  Yes, she would.
When she's stressing about all the schoolwork she has to get done, or when she gets a 49/50 on an assignment.  I don't think about her complaints...I think about her drive and the excellence she expects out of herself everyday.  And I admire it.  I'm jealous of it.
When she gives me that look...The one where I'm doing or saying something ridiculous.  I'm sure you've seen the photographic evidence of this one.
When she laughs at one of my corny jokes, and then beats it with something even more corny.  Mainly because she said she always hated corny...Until I came along, of course.

I love her frankness.  To a lot of people it can come off as harsh sometimes, but mostly I just look at it as brutal honesty.  And that is an extremely rare quality to find in a person.  As I told Jackie one time, with Adrienne, there is no guessing.  She tells it like it is.  And I love it.

I love her sense of humor.  I can have an odd, sometimes borderline inappropriate, sense of humor.  Sometimes we don't necessarily agree on what is funny and what isn't, but most of the time I'll point something out on TV or on a poorly written billboard, and she will finish my sentence and we'll bust out laughing.

I love how she accepts my faults.  I'm FAR from perfect in so many different ways, but Adrienne doesn't seem to mind.  Sure, she tells me when I'm being annoying, or out of line, or whatever the case is...And in the moment, I will usually argue.  But, as much as it pains me to admit this, she's right most of the time.  Not ALL of the time as she might lead you to believe...But a vast, vast majority of it, she is.

I love her family.  I've never met someone with a family so similar to mine.  The first time I met her family, I felt as though I fitted in like a dirty shirt.  The love and closeness between her and her entire family was apparent immediately.  It made me feel like I was at home.  I've often told Adrienne this...Given the fact I was in a new place with no friends and no family nearby, and the difficulties I faced in my first year teaching, I don't know how I would have gotten through it without them.  The walls of a small apartment can feel very close when you are homesick and alone.  Having Adrienne's house to go to, filled with the warmth and love that exists there (the same warmth and love I feel at home) was the best thing that could've happened to me.

The past 15 months have been unreal.  From the unlikely and unseen beginning, to where we are now...I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.  Adrienne and I have said several times...From day one it was just so easy.  And it was.  I remember the first time I went to her house.  We sat on the porch swing until the wee hours of the morning just talking.  The conversation flowed so easily, it was as if we had known each other for years.  Oddly enough, I don't remember much of what we talked about except for one thing: what cereals we liked the most.  No matter the depth, I knew when I drove home that night that there was something special there.

We've grown as a couple since that time in countless ways.  We've grown as people in even more.  I've grown to love her with every ounce of energy I have.  I've grown to stop thinking in terms of "me" and "I."  It's become "we" and "us."  Every decision I make, every choice I'm met with, is accompanied by the thought, "how will this affect Adrienne and I?"  I don't live for myself anymore...I live for us.

That was the overriding thought that made me realize I was ready to propose to Adrienne.  I had always told myself I would never jump into something like that if I wasn't 100 percent positive I was ready.  Knowing that her life and her happiness was more important than my own gave me the assurance I was absolutely ready.

I went to bed that Friday night not knowing exactly when I was going to propose.  I had given it a ton of thought, and I had already talked to Jackie about it, which was an absolute necessity as far as I was concerned.  So, after that, it basically just came down to me planning it.  I woke up Saturday morning, and as I was driving to work I thought to myself, "I'm going to propose tonight."  I had bought the ring two weeks earlier, and the waiting was killing me.  As Adrienne will tell you, I can hardly stand it when I have a card to give her, much less an engagement ring.  I can't keep surprises to myself because I get so giddy about them, I will at least give her hints.

We went to dinner that night, and despite subtle hints throughout the evening, I don't think Adrienne had the slightest clue.  I had requested she bring Scrabble with her so we could play, and while she was preoccupied with my cat Kirby, I got the necessary letter tiles out of the bag, and put them in my pocket.

Adrienne played a few words, and I did too, but I had no intention of finishing the game.  I took a turn to exchange some tiles and through a very sleek slide of hand, I got all the tiles from out of my pocket to the little wooden stand.  By this point, I was about to jump out of my skin.

When it came to be my turn, I moved very slowly and deliberately, trying extremely hard not to look at Adrienne.  As I completed the spelling of "Marry Me," Adrienne sat there for a moment.  It took her a minute to catch on.

"That's not even a word!  You can't play two words at once!" She exclaimed.  As I pulled the ring from behind a throw pillow on the couch and got down on one knee, I could see the realization start to creep over her face.

"Wait...Is this real?  Is this really happening?"  I just grinned ear to ear and opened the box, watching her reaction.  She said yes.

Here's the Scrabble board:

After 26 years on this planet, I've had a good life and I've learned a lot. But, one lesson I didn't learn until I met Adrienne was just how much my life was lacking.  And now that we are engaged, I won't have to worry about that ever again.  Life is full of ups and downs, full of stress and questions about the unknown...But I can rest each night, now, knowing that I won't have to face those alone.  And that is such an amazing feeling.

I know things won't always be great...I know the proverbial honeymoon will end.  I know we'll have disagreements and arguments...We'll probably have a couple knock-down, drag-out fights.  We'll stress about work and money and bills and everything else that comes with the real world.  We will face sickness (hopefully nothing more than a mild case of the flu), we'll face health, we'll face better and worse...We will face the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.  But, through whatever this world can throw at us, one thing will always remain:  us.  The best of the best is worthless without someone to share it with.  And the worst of the worst is impossible to get through without someone there to support you.  And we will always have one another.  And I absolutely cannot wait to see what the future has in store for us.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Be Loud, Let the Others Know...First a Whisper, Then It Grows

I've never heard my dad sing.

I'm not exactly sure why.  I've never met anyone with as much knowledge about music in my life than my dad, and I've rarely met anyone that loves music quite as much as he does.  It's quite amazing actually.  A few years ago, VH1 used to have a show called Rock n' Roll Jeopardy and I remember sitting in awe as my dad would answer almost every single question correctly, often without hesitation.  My sister and I often tried to convince him to try out for the show, because we were convinced he'd be able to win.  But, he's not exactly the type to show off his talents.  He just liked to test himself.

I get my love of music from him.  I remember as a kid riding in the truck with him, he'd have 99.1 WCBL on virtually all the time, and like clockwork would offer tidbits of information.

"Their drummer left the band after their second album and went on to start (insert band name here).  They never had any big hits though.  This is probably what he's best known for, but the later stuff was way better," he'd say.  Or something like that.  It's that knowledge that blows me away.  He doesn't just know song titles or band names (God knows he knows plenty of those).  But he can tell you life stories of band members from musical groups that have long been forgotten.  It's remarkable.

"Wow.  I didn't know that," I'd say in all sincerity.  I remember wishing he'd change the station and let me listen to some "new" music, but as I look back on it today, I cherish those memories.

I've come home many times to find dad sitting in his recliner with all the lights off, and a Stevie Ray Vaughan live album or some other old vinyl spinning on his turntable blaring through the speakers.

"Sit down and listen to this.  This drum solo is unreal," he'd say, motioning me to sit down.  "Man, he was tough."  He always used the adjective "tough" to describe a musician's playing skills.

He still protects his old vinyl collection like it's solid gold bars.  Technology has allowed him to convert every album he has into MP3 format and put them on CD's.  Mom bought him a vinyl converter a few years ago for Christmas, and he has spent countless hours backing up his collection on their home computer.

And, yet, despite my dad's love for music, I've never once heard him sing.  He claims he doesn't really care about lyrics in songs; he prefers listening to the "music."  My mom used to always ask him why he didn't sing at church, and he'd always say he sang along in his head.  Maybe he did the same thing when he was listening to music at home or in his truck.

Although my dad definitely passed on a love for music to my sister and I, I find enjoyment in music for different reasons and in different ways.  I do appreciate musicians for their abilities to play instruments, but it takes more than that for me to like a particular band or song.  For example, I've never been a fan of Dave Matthews.  Despite his insane popularity, I've never found his music to be enjoyable, with the exception of a handful of tunes.  That being said, I recognize that he and his band are some of the best individual musicians in the world, and can appreciate their music for that reason.  But, I'm not going to go out of my way to listen.

For me, I find more enjoyment in listening to the lyrics of songs; using those lyrics to search for the meaning the artist intended, or, in most cases, creating my own meaning that is personal to me.  In some cases, if I find out what an artist was intending to say in a particular song, it will never have that impact on me.  Obviously, some of the music I listen to is for entertainment's sake only, because not every song that I like has an in depth meaning.  I mean, come on...I like AC/DC.  But, with a lot of my favorite music, it's the lyrics that pull me in.

A week from today, Adrienne, her sister Liza, and I will be going to Nashville to see the Avett Brothers perform live.  We saw them last year (ironically on Halloween weekend also) at the Ryman Auditorium, and although this time around it will be in the much less intimate Bridgestone Arena, I'm still extremely excited.  I can't wait, actually.

But, this time last year, I was preparing to go see them live and had never even heard of them.  And the little exposure I had leading up to the concert (listening to the music in Adrienne's car), had left me with a lot to desire.  I didn't think they were very good, to be honest.  But, as is often the case, after seeing them live, that changed.  I instantly became a huge fan.

If you've never heard of the Avett Brothers, I wouldn't be totally surprised.  They're not a huge national act, although their popularity has increased in the last year or so.  But, you need to do yourself a favor and give them a listen, because in today's watered-down world of music, they are truly a breath of fresh air.

Upon first glance, you'll immediately notice how different they are from anything else out there today.  The two most difficult things to do in the music industry today are to be very good or to be unique.  And it's even more difficult and rare to find an artist that achieves both simultaneously.  But the Avett Brothers do.  They're unique, and very, very good.

Trying to describe their style is a bit difficult.  They're like country, rock, folk, blues, bluegrass, and gospel all rolled into one.  One unique aspect is that Scott Avett, the older of the two brothers, plays banjo but instead of picking it, he mostly strums it.  It provides a totally different, gritty, biting sound that you don't normally hear, especially in popular music.

While I'm typically a guy that enjoys up-tempo, fun music, the Avetts don't have a ton of it.  Their music is not filled with catchy hooks or face-melting solos (although there are some sprinkled in from time to time), but you will find yourself humming the melodies in your mind for hours after listening.  Compared to the rest of my musical collection, they are outcasts when it comes to style.  But there's something that draws you to it, hypnotizes you.

As for what it is...I'm not exactly sure.  As singers, they're not exactly Luciano Pavarotti, but the unique harmony that can only be achieved by family members is apparent from the very first listen.  The music itself can sometimes feel as though scales and logic are being totally ignored, and yet the mood that it creates (whether it's an uptempo romp, or soft, slow melody) is always calming.  It's difficult to explain.

But, for me, what made me a fan is their impeccable skill as lyricists.  Every line is delivered with a sincerity that is rare in music.  Every song is straightforward, so the meaning is visible, yet vague at the same time so the listener can develop their own meaning.  The topics of their songs are nothing unique...They talk about life, love, fun for fun's sake...The same topics that virtually every artist writes about.  Yet, they do it in the most unique and clever way.  They are able to express things in a way that leaves you thinking, "Damn, that makes SO much sense...But I'd have never thought to put it that way."

A couple of my favorite lyrical excerpts:

"I wanna have pride like my mother has, but not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad" -From "The Perfect Space."

"If I live the life I'm given, I won't be afraid to die." -From "New Year's Eve Song."

"There is nothing worth sharing like the love that let's us share our name," -From "Murder in the City."

These don't even begin to scratch the surface.  There's at least one lyrical gem in every single one of the their songs...I can't pick a favorite.  These just happened to come to mind.  They have an uncanny ability to affect your emotions in so many different ways.  One minute you may be on the verge of tears, the next you may be losing your mind laughing.  You'll then find yourself sitting in total silence, trying to wrap your head around the message, and suddenly finding yourself singing at the top of your lungs for no other reason than it's just so damn fun.  That's the ride that is the Avett Brothers.

If you haven't taken the time to listen to them, you are doing yourself a disservice.  Go to Youtube and look them up.  Go see them live.  Preview a couple of songs on iTunes.  Just give them a shot.  If you're not a fan after that...I'm not sure what else to say.

I'll leave you with a little video.  This was recorded last year at the show we saw at the Ryman.  Enjoy...And yes, they're dressed as mummies.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

So there…There was two of us in the wolf pack. I was alone first in the pack and Doug joined in later.

In the United States, the bachelor party (or stag night, stag do, stag party, depending what continent you are on...The concept is the same) has long been a tradition for men about to cross into the world of matrimony.  Many would consider bachelor parties a rite of passage in some ways, but I think most just look at it as a good excuse to party one last time with the boys.  The term "bachelor party" didn't even appear until 1922, but the concept of a final night of debauchery for the groom before marriage dates back as early as the 5th century BC...Ancient Spartans held feasts in honor of their friends about to marry and would toast them accordingly.

Now, the stereotypical bachelor party usually brings to mind images from The Hangover...The groom's party flocking to Vegas or some other notorious hot spot, engaging in heavy drinking, hotel room destruction, possible recreational drug use, and likely a trip to a strip club or two.  It would make for a better movie if I could tell you that's what happened at DJ's bachelor party, but his more resembled a marathon tailgate than a bachelor party.  And that was just fine for those of us in attendance.

We rented a cabin on the lake at Moor's Resort and spent all day Friday and Saturday playing cornhole, grilling out, playing beer pong, listening to music, swarpin', watching football, hollerin', hitting golf balls into the lake, and of course, drinking beer.  We got so wild, Saturday afternoon 5 of us walked a couple hundred yards to the Moor Fun Putt-Putt course and got in a round of golf.  We were so crazy, we took our own putters and golf balls and played without a score card.  We didn't even pay the $2 at the resort office.  What can I say?  We walk on the wild side.

The highlights of the weekend were our epic beer pong tournaments.  Stan and I were the most powerful duo, but we fell short of the title both nights...Falling in the finals after clawing our way out of the loser's bracket of the double elimination tournament.

We blasted hits from MC Hammer, Boyz 2 Men, Led Zeppelin, Garth Brooks, and anything else Pandora decided to play.  We went through enough tailgate food (burgers, chicken, dogs, chips, salsa, sandwiches) to last a week (we were there two days), and we made an immaculate resort cabin look like a tornado came through.  It was a blast.

Standing on the threshold of DJ's wedding (it comes in just a little over 4 weeks) and spending the weekend partying with some of my best friends makes it nearly impossible not to reminisce on things.  Late Saturday night, as we all sat around the table playing Circle of Death, an old staple of a drinking game, we stood up and toasted the groom to be.  It got me to thinking about all the things DJ and I have been through together.

Growing up a man in this country can be tough.  There are very high expectations placed on males in our largely patriarchal society, and without a brother or close friend that can understand what you're going through, it can be difficult.  Don't get me wrong, I never had it bad.  My parents always supported me in everything I did, they were great at keeping things in perspective, and they gave me the freedom to make my own mistakes.  My dad has always been the epitome of a role model for what a man should be.  But, despite that, there are things you experience in your critical teen years that hardly anyone (especially your parents that have been there before) can understand.  DJ was the brother I never had, and he helped me get through some very (seemingly) difficult times in my life.  Just as I know I likewise helped him.

We met in January of 1993.  It had started snowing on a Friday afternoon, and we got out of school early.  By Saturday morning, there was already close to 8 inches of snow on the ground with the snow showing no signs of stopping.  My sister Lensey, our neighbor Katie, and I were out playing.  We knew a kid our age had just moved into the neighborhood, so we decided to go see if he wanted to come out.

Decked out in our puffy winter coats, boots, gloves, and ski masks, we probably looked like we were going to try to rob the place, rather than extend an invite to come play.  I knocked on the door and this lanky, nerdy kid dressed in corduroys and a Bill Cosby sweater answered the door.

"Hey.  Do you want to come outside and play in the snow with us?" I asked him.  We didn't even think to introduce ourselves.
"No, thanks.  I think I'll just stay in," he replied.  He was noticeably shy.
"Well, ok.  If you change your mind we'll be back in the woods across the road."

We left and went on our way.  About 30 minutes later, he came bumbling down the hill toward us.  We finally made our introductions.

"I'm Zach."
"I'm DJ." 

We still talk of that first meeting from time to time, and DJ says his mom basically guilted him into going outside to make some friends.  What a loser.

I won't say DJ and I became instant friends, because that wouldn't be totally accurate.  To be honest, we didn't have much in common at first.  I was really into sports, DJ was into dinosaurs.  In fact, he told me in the first few days we knew one another that he wanted to be an archaeologist when he grew up.  I can't say I totally blame him...This was right around the time Jurassic Park was coming out, and I'm sure a lot of kids were intrigued by the field of archaeology.  I just wasn't one of them.  We basically started hanging out because we were the only two boys in the whole neighborhood that were around the same age.  But, we did become very close friends very quickly, despite our differences.

DJ and I were great at two things: laughing and getting into trouble.  We laughed all the time and were total goofballs, something that remains to this day.  And we never did anything that bad...It was more the way we tried to cover things up than what we actually did that got us into trouble.

One time when we were around 10 years old, DJ got a model car to build.  The same week, he had received a brand new dresser and chest of drawers from his grandfather.  DJ and I glued pieces together and painted the body of the car blue.  DJ placed the little jar of paint in the box at the end of the day, and put it on his dresser until we could continue working on it the following day.

I went to his house the next day, and what we found was absolutely horrible.  When DJ went to lift the box, it stuck, as if it were glued to the dresser.  He finally got it free and we were horrified when we saw the silver dollar size blue spot that was right in the middle of his brand new dresser.  We frantically began searching for a remedy.  In our pre-pubescent wisdom, we decided we could scrape the paint off the surface with a pocket knife.  All we did was scratch out a small crater.  Becoming increasingly scared, we grabbed a brown crayon that appeared to match the dresser and began coloring in the crater.  It did nothing but leave crayon residue on top of an atrocious hole in the middle of the perfectly constructed dresser.

Lucky for us, DJ had also recently gotten a new stereo, which was setting on the far right side of the dresser.  DJ moved the stereo to the center of the dresser, towards the front...A totally inconspicuous location for a small boombox to set.  We just knew it would work.  Amazingly, it did...DJ's parents didn't see the spot until years later.

A few years later, when DJ and I were around 15, far old enough to know better, we were tossing a foam football across the living room.  DJ's house had a high valted ceiling with a fan hanging down from the center.  The power cord was about 5 feet long, and dangled directly in the center of the living room.  We threw the ball dangerously close to the cord, with the fan running, several times.  Finally, our luck ran out.  I'm fairly certain I was the one that threw the ball.  The cord was struck, swung upward, and wrapped around the base of the fan.  It came to a screeching stop.  We immediately turned the fan off and just stared at each other.  We unraveled the cord to see about two feet of it fall to the floor.  We were able to mend it, and as I often did, I left to go home before DJ's parents arrived and left him to deal with the aftermath.  I'm a good friend.

Another time, DJ and I were kicking a small soccer ball around the living room.  This time, we were even older...Probably 16 or 17.  DJ lined up a penalty kick aimed directly at the front door, seemingly a safe bet.  But, in a weird twist of fate, the ball hit dead center of the door knob and shot straight up towards one of the two chandeliers that hung in the foyer of the house.  One of the plastic crystal pieces fell to the floor and the small hole at the top that hung on a hook broke off.  We were in familiar territory. 

We assumed this would be an easy fix.  We used clear scotch tape to repair the hole, hung the piece back up on the chandelier, and stepped back to examine our work.

"You know, you won't notice it unless you look directly at it.  And who looks directly at that thing?"
"I know.  I think we'll be fine."

Less than an hour later, DJ's step-father Andy came home.  Inexplicably, he walked directly to the chandelier and stared up at it.  THIS HAD NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE.  Why, on that one day, did he choose to do so?  We may never know.  But, we were caught.  Fortunately, it wasn't that big of a deal and we were off the hook, minus a small butt-chewing.  But the chances...Just hysterical.

I could write a novel about all of the funny things that happened between us.  But it wasn't all funny.  We had our arguments, we both went through rough times occasionally.  But we always had our trampoline talks in DJ's back yard, and we always had one another's back.  By this point, we're not friends anymore...We're family.  And even though I knew I would be the best man at his wedding about 10 years ago, it is still an honor and privilege to be able to stand up there as he marries the woman of his dreams.

DJ's bachelor party was a great time for all of us to hang out, but for me it was a time to look back.  Friends like that don't come around too often, and I'm extremely lucky to have one. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Friday Funny: Those Pizzas in the Freezer Are Mine

I apologize for not having a Friday Funny last week...But, I'm back this week before I head to Lexington for the Battle for the Governor's Cup...So without further ado...

In my post two weeks ago, I talked a lot about college and making friends.  I mentioned my old roommate, Clay Johnson, and how we came to live together freshman year.  All of that got me to thinking about how different living with roommates is compared to living at home with your family, or living by yourself.  I've done all three at different points in my life, so I have plenty of comparisons to make.  And one thing is for sure: living with roommates is a unique experience where making memories and lifelong friendships (or enemies) are both unavoidable conclusions.

While I lived in Lexington, I moved a lot.  In the 7 years (2003-2010) that I lived there, I had 7 different addresses, including three in the span of 4 months.  I had a lot of different roommates: Clay, Matt Dowling, Lance Lucas, Tyler Mays, Steve Quattrocchi, Kenton Lanham, Noah Burton, Stan...Moving to a new place and getting a new roommate or two in the fall was about as predictable as registering for classes before each semester.  I don't have anything bad to say about any of those guys...They are all my friends, and were good roommates.  Sure, we all had arguments and got under one another's skin at one time or another.  But, all things considered, living with those guys was always a good experience.  Sometimes you realize, though, that just being friends is better than sharing a bathroom.

That being said, all of the different living situations I had during my years in Lexington offered up a lot of experiences for lifelong memories and some hilarious stories.  I probably don't remember half of them, but I would venture to say that if all of those guys and I worked together, we could write a book that would sell millions.  But, for now, I just want to share a few of the funny moments with you.

One of the things about living with roommates is that, like it or not, their drama becomes your drama.  It's unavoidable.  Most of the time, arguments with girlfriends or things like that occur while they are at home, and since you live in the same place, you will likely have to deal with at least some of it.  One instance took place my freshman year.  It's not really an instance, but more of the culmination of events that occurred over several months.

Our senior year of high school, Clay began a very short and insignificant relationship with a girl named Jenna that was a few years our junior.  The couple dated for about two weeks, and Clay ended the relationship.  Part of it was because he was moving to Lexington and the long distance would be extremely difficult.  Part of it was the fact that Jenna was borderline crazy, and I got to witness that firsthand very shortly after we moved into Blanding I at UK.

The late-night calls began the first week of school, as best I can remember.  She would call almost every night, and every night the conversation was essentially the same.  Jenna would beg for Clay to take her back, Clay would adamantly say no (and he would be nice about it) and then she'd hang up.  She'd undoubtedly call back at 3 or 4 in the morning, and considering I slept just three feet away, I usually heard the phone, or at least heard Clay saying, "Jenna, it is 4:00 in the morning...I have a test in four hours.  STOP CALLING ME."

After a couple of months of this, Clay and I were both getting fed up.  He had switched gears in how he dealt with it, and would be as mean as a human can possibly be to this girl, and it still didn't do any good.  It almost seemed the meaner he got, the more she tried.  It was ridiculous.  So, I finally reached my boiling point and told Clay that the next time she called at 4 AM I was going to answer the phone and go off.  I had had enough.

Well, the time came, and according to Clay, he came over to my bed and tried frantically to wake me up before she hung up.  He said I mumbled something, rolled over, and went right back to sleep.  To this day, I am so mad at myself for not waking up that night.  And, as best I can remember, I never got another opportunity.  The calls stopped shortly thereafter.

Sophomore year, Clay, Matt Dowling, Tyler Mays, and I moved out of the dorms and into an off-campus apartment.  Most of that year, our apartment was THE place to hang out.  We had someone at our apartment that didn't live there literally every night for about 6 months straight.  It got old, sure, but for the most part, it was a fun year.  Here we are as freshman (from left, Matt, me, Clay, Tyler), donning our Halloween costumes we purchased at Goodwill:

Tyler, admittedly, took a lot of abuse from the rest of us.  It was all in good fun, and a lot of it was deserved, but we always sort of ganged up on him.  Around Christmas, Matt, Clay, and I decorated a tree and put up Christmas lights.  Tyler, on the other hand, made fun us and was just being a total Scrooge.  So, after Tyler went to bed that night, we all waited a while.  Then, at around 2 in the morning, we got him back.

We had printed off the lyrics to some of the most timeless Christmas carols and stood directly outside of Tyler's door and sang carols as loud as we possibly could.  We would get through a song, die laughing for a while, stay silent to make him think we were done, and then bust out in a different song.  We did this for about half an hour.  For some reason, Tyler never came out to tell us to shut up.

Tyler also had the uncanny ability to leave his stuff in every place except where it needed to be.  He'd leave his backpack in the living room floor, his shoes and hat in Clay's room, dirty plates on the coffee table...If he could get it out, it wouldn't be where it needed to be.  I can't say much, because I know I've done the same, but in my own defense, I'm not nearly as bad as Tyler was.  One evening, the rest of us got fed up with it and decided to throw all of Tyler's stuff into a box, then, we threw open his bedroom door, dumped the box out all over the floor, then slammed the door shut.  Tyler could be heard saying, "Thanks, guys."  I think he got the point.

Our junior year, Clay, Matt, Lance Lucas, and I all lived in an old house on Woodland Avenue.  I mean, the place was a total dump.  There were countless code violations, and any inspection by the city of Lexington surely would have left the place condemned.  But, it had a great back deck, off-street parking, and was within walking distance of all the classroom buildings and Commonwealth Stadium.  Plus, it was a great place to have parties because you literally couldn't screw it up more than it already was.

One random weeknight, the four of us were up late sitting on the front porch.  It was about 2:00 in the morning, so traffic was light.  But, at one point, a car drove up the street from Euclid Avenue towards Columbia and the library, and then circled back around.  Their windows were down, and we could easily tell at least four of the five guys in the car were heavily intoxicated.  A minute or so later, we saw the same car come back up the street with one of the idiots hanging out with a baseball bat hitting the sideview mirrors off of every car parked on the opposite side of the street.  We all sat stunned.

We watched as the car stopped at the end of the street, and one of the guys got out and began jumping from car to car, running down the street on the tops of them.  Then, right in front of our house, he jumped up and with both feet, kicked the windshield out of a parked car.  We immediately knew we had to call the police.

The car then left and came back a couple of minutes later, parked ON THE SAME STREET THEY HAD VANDALIZED, and they all got out and walked up towards the south campus dorms.  A few minutes later, the police arrived.

We explained the situation and one of the officers shook his head and simply said, "(Screw) it.  Let's tow it."  The cops thanked us, and left.  The next morning, the car was gone.

Our senior and fifth years, Clay and I lived in a townhouse off Tates Creek Road.  The first year, Kenton Lanham was our roommate, and when he left to go to law school the following year, Noah Burton moved in to replace him.  I'd like to introduce you to Noah.

Noah is an interesting guy.  He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.  He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and really has that typical midwestern persona about him.  Great friend, great roommate...But, Noah definitely had his quirks.

Noah was always in the kitchen making something, and typically it was something strange.  And, most of the time, Noah wasn't 100% sure what he was doing.  He didn't have a whole lot of common sense, and while he was a good guy, socially he was a bit awkward.  (Note: I do not mean any of that in a mean way, I'm just trying to describe him.  I like Noah.)

I just want to give you a few examples.  One time, Noah decided he would try his hand at making meat loaf.  Now, I'm not totally sure what he did...I've never made meat loaf.  But, I have never in my 26 years seen so much grease outside of a deep fryer in my life.  There was a huge slab of beef floating in the pan with a small lake of grease.  I could hardly look at it, and Noah somehow ate it.  And said it was good.  I don't know.  Once he was grilling chicken, and asked me what chicken looked like when it was done.  He did the same with hamburgers.

One time, Noah decided to do dishes, which was awfully nice of him.  He did dishes a lot, so I can't complain.  But, on this particular night, we were out of dish detergent that one would put in the dishwasher, so Noah decided to use liquid dish soap as a substitute.  You can imagine the result.  I was not at home when it happened, and only got to see the last bit of it being mopped up, but according to Clay...There were soap suds about a foot thick all over the kitchen.

One of the most hilarious things that ever happened (at least to Clay and I) you will probably think is dumb, but I'm going to tell it anyway.  It was a random winter evening, and Clay and I were watching a Georgetown/Syracuse basketball game on ESPN.  Noah got home and walked into the living room and sat down and watched with us.  Neither Clay nor I had any rooting interest at all in the game, we just liked watching basketball.  At the end of the first half, Georgetown hit a jumper at the buzzer and you would have thought we were watching Kentucky sew up a national championship.  Noah's reaction (with accompanying fist pump):


Clay looked up with half a boneless chicken wing hanging out of his mouth, and I stared at Noah like he was the elephant in the room.

"You a big Georgetown fan?" I asked Noah.  Clay and I both busted out laughing.
"No, I just hate Syracuse."
"Well...It's only halftime."

Probably not funny to you...But, Clay and I still talk about that one from time to time.

These few instances don't even begin to scratch the surface.  There are literally countless stories I could tell about my experiences with the roommates I had in college.  Not all of them are funny, and some of them are even bad because of fights or arguments we had.  But, in the end, we all grew up as people and we are all friends to this day.

Living four hours away from my parents, those guys became my family.  And, you could see that in our interactions.  Despite our differences and petty arguments that would arise, at the end of the day, we had each other's backs.  I guess that's the beauty of having roommates, isn't it?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

There are many things that make the United States unique in this world.  There is no country on Earth as culturally, racially, religiously, or otherwise diverse as the U.S. of A.  And despite that diversity, there are times in this nation's history that bring all of those different races, age groups, religions, and ideologies together under one cause.  At those few times that dot our historical landscape, we are no longer Kentuckians, or whites, or blacks, or Jews, or Protestants, or Catholics, Hispanics, Southerners, Northerners, Indians, or anything else...We are all Americans.

The American Revolution...World War II...The Cold War...Putting a man on the moon...The 1980 Olympic Games...Regardless of their historical significance, they all have one thing in common:  they united the people of this great nation together for one goal.  Whether it was gaining independence, destroying suppression and tyranny, being the world's greatest military power, planting an American flag on the moon, or winning a hockey game...It was US vs. Them...Whether for better or worse.

My dad could tell you where he was and what he was doing when Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words from the surface of the moon.  He could tell you where he was and what he was doing when a group of young, American college students defeated the mighty Soviets at their game.  My grandparents could likely tell you where they were when they heard the news that Nazi Germany had fallen, and Japan had surrendered.  For those that experienced them, those few instances are engrained in their memories forever.

Today is September 11, 2011.  It's hard to believe it has been ten years since that fateful day when radical terrorists highjacked four commercial planes, flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and (due to the heroic acts of a few brave passengers) a Pennsylvania field.  More than 3,000 lives were lost that day, and the entire country watched in horror as the events unfolded before our eyes on national television.

Like my father with the moonwalk and the 1980 Olympic hockey semifinals, and like millions of Americans across this country, I remember where I was and what I was doing that day.

I remember driving to school.  The sky was a crystal blue, without even a hint of a cloud anywhere to be seen.  There was that first bit of a fall chill in the morning air, but the perfect weather for driving with the windows down.  Which I did.

I hung out in the commons area at school when I arrived, just like I did every morning that I wasn't running late.  The first bell rang, and we all filed down the halls to our respective classrooms.  My first period class was Mr. Leeper's junior English class, one of my favorite classes ever.

We took our seats, awaiting morning announcements to come over the intercom.  I sat in the far left row, second seat from the front.  Mr. Leeper took attendance, and then we heard the familiar "ding" from the intercom, expecting the announcements.  Only this time, all we heard was, "Teachers, please check your email."  Then nothing more.  I didn't think twice about it.

Mr. Leeper walked over to his computer, checking his email like he had been instructed.  I remember watching him intently, and to this day I'm not really sure why.  Things like that happened all the time, but for some reason, I was interested in his facial expression.  His reaction to whatever it was he was reading.  You could see the concern and surprise on his face, but he didn't say a word.  He turned around, reached up, and turned on the television.

I will never forget the first images I saw.  It was a live video of the first tower, it's upper quarter engulfed in flames, with thick, black smoke billowing out the top of it like a stack from an Industrial Age factory.  The commentators were saying how it appeared to be a tragic accident.  A few gasps could be heard around the classroom, but besides that, it was total silence.

About that time, they cut to a news anchor who was standing across the bay in New Jersey with the World Trade Center in the background.  I don't remember what he was saying, but while he was in mid-sentence, the second plane could be seen in the background flying into the tower, a huge fireball as the gas tanks exploded, and his shock as he turned around at the sound of the explosion.  At that moment, we didn't need the news reporters to tell us what we were seeing was no accident.

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, at that moment, I knew things would never be the same.  There are very few moments in one's life where they understand the significance as an event is happening, but that is one of the few times that I knew what I was watching and experiencing was something none of us would ever forget.

For the rest of the day, we did nothing but watch news coverage in every class.  In the hallways and at lunch, it was the only topic of conversation.  When I went home that afternoon, I watched more coverage.  It was the most important event I have ever witnessed.

The tragic nature of the events that day cannot be understated.  I could write forever and not be able to do it the justice it deserves, especially for those who were directly involved or who lost family members.  So I won't even try.  But, like the other significant historical events I mentioned, September 11, 2001 united this country in a way I had not previously seen in my lifetime, and likely won't see again.

People from all walks of life, all religions, all cultures, were drawn under one banner.  One cause.  After air traffic returned, after baseball and football continued to play games, and after the first American troops landed in Afghanistan, this country was no longer a breadbasket.  We were united as one, and fighting the same battle.  Whether we were wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, hanging an American flag in the yard, or just exhibiting a sense of pride and brotherhood, we were all on the same team.

That's what I remember about September 11.  I absolutely wish the events that took place that day had never happened.  I wish the thousands of families that lost loved ones still had those people sitting around the dinner table with them.  I wish the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had never taken place, and I wish the American lives that were lost fighting those wars were never taken.  With that being said, seeing the pride the American people embodied, seeing the attitude and ideology that made this country so great was inspiring.  Despite all of the violence, racism, and hatred that has tarnished the history of the United States, we proved we could come together and put our differences aside, if for just a short time.

Unfortunately, those events didn't unite us for long.  And, in some ways, they helped divide us.  They helped illustrate the darkness that can exist in all humans, and that part is extremely disheartening.  I want to share something that occurred last year in one of my classes while I was teaching at Metcalfe County to help illustrate my point.

We were covering World War II in my U.S. History class, and as part of the unit, we were discussing the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during the war.  At one point during the discussion, a girl piped up and said, "We ought to do the same thing to all the Muslims."  I stopped speaking, completely frozen.  I didn't even know how to respond.

I asked her, "Why exactly should we imprison all the Muslims?"
"Because they attacked the World Trade Center.  We ought to put all of 'em here in jail, and nuke the rest," she said with all of the sincerity as possible.

I couldn't believe my ears.  The exact thing that had caused all of it...Hate...Was now rearing its ugly head after the fact.  I tried to explain to her that the act of a few radical psychopaths was no reason to collectively label every Muslim on the planet.  I tried to use the Westboro Baptist Church as an example.

"Is it fair to say every Baptist in the world is as heartless and misguided as those that protest military funerals?"
"No, but it's different.  I hate Muslims, they're awful," she said.
"Have you ever actually met one?" I asked, knowing she hadn't.
"No, but I've seen them.  I saw three or four at a Waffle House with my dad once, and they were making fun of Americans," she said.  I almost laughed.
"Ok, so, three people?  That's enough to say you hate a group of millions?"

It was like talking to a brick wall.  I could've offered any counter-argument imaginable and she wouldn't have budged.  Hearing that was saddening.  Just like anyone else, I hate what the terrorists did and continue to do on a daily basis.  But I also realize that millions of Muslims around the world, and virtually all of them in this country, denounce what terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda stand for.  Make sure you remember that, as well.

I challenge you to reflect on the events that took place that day in 2001.  I challenge you to remember those that serve our country, those that put their own lives at risk everyday to protect us at home, and to protect this nation.  Say a prayer for them and their families.  Shake the hand of a soldier.  If you know one, call them up and thank them.  Say a prayer for the leaders of this country, that they'll make sound decisions and bring our troops home.  Remember where you were, what you thought, how you felt.  But don't let those feelings fuel hatred.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Never forget.

Tell me your story in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

That's Life...That's What All the People Say

Over the weekend, Adrienne and I went to my parents house so we could go to the lake one last time before the boating season winds down.  When we first arrived, I noticed a box in my closet labeled "Pat and Betty's Letters."  Betty is my dad's mother, Memaw.  Pat is Dad's father, but tragically, he passed away in October 1957 when my dad was just six months old.  I had heard my Dad talk about the letters before, but I had never actually seen them, so I was intrigued.  But, we had just gotten to my parents' house, so I had to go visit with them for a while.

The next night, I couldn't sleep so I decided what better time to take a look at the letters.  I retrieved the box from the closet, sat down in the floor, and placed the old shoe box held together with a shoestring on my lap.

I sat there for a few moments, I'm not really sure how long.  For some reason, I was frozen.  I couldn't immediately open the box.  Perhaps I was nervous about reading them, although I'm not sure why I would be.  Maybe I was just overcome with a feeling of solemnity.  I was about to see my grandfather's handwriting for the first time.  Finally, I took a deep breath and opened the box.

I was astonished at the vast number of letters.  There had to be at least 100 of them in the box, or at least it seemed like it.  They were in chronological order, running from August of 1951, to September of 1956.  I started reading from the top of the stack, and was immediately intrigued.

In all reality, I don't know that much about Daddy Pat (as he is affectionately known among our family).  My dad obviously never got the chance to know him, and has only relayed things he's heard from Memaw and the rest of the family.  I did know he was a Military Policeman in the Air Force, and I knew he had lived in Detroit for a while.  I knew he and Memaw lived in South Dakota for a while, and I knew he died of a brain tumor.  Other than that, I didn't know much.  So, getting a contemporary look inside his life was very intriguing to say the least.

The first letters were nothing of much significance.  In fact, if you had no connection whatsoever and were simply reading the letters for reading's sake, you might think they were relatively boring.  The first letter was written right after he had moved to Detroit, just three months after graduating high school.  Virtually every letter at the top of the stack talked about how he was trying to find a job, how he had just found a place to live.  How he would need a good winter coat, because it was already beginning to get chilly in Detroit.  He talked about Memaw too, and how they "always had a good time."  On Sundays they would go eat at a relative's house (I can't remember who it was) and watch television.  He even talked about how he was hoping the Army had forgotten about him.  Can't say I blame him.

I didn't read all of the letters...By this point, it was already about 2:00 AM and I was beginning to get sleepy.  So, I jumped ahead to the later letters.  One of which was amazing.  This one was well after Memaw and Daddy Pat were married.  It was the second to last letter in the stack, and in Memaw's handwriting.  She was writing to Daddy Pat's parents and she told them that Karen and Patty (my aunts) were doing well, and they were waiting to get clearance to leave the base.  Daddy Pat was in the Air Force by this time, obviously.  She also talked about how he had been to see several doctors.  He had already begun to get sick.  Seeing that part was painful, but there was light amongst the dark.  She said she had been feeling ill for a while, and she was pretty sure why.  "Looks like you are going to be Grandparents again," she said.  "After two kids, I think I know the symptoms pretty well.  If I'm pregnant, I think I'm about 2 months along."  The letter was written in September of '56, and my dad came along the following April.  Exactly seven months later.  She was right on the money.  Oddly enough, she said Dad was born on the exact day he was due.

The letters stopped after the next one, because the family was getting packed to move back to Benton.  Daddy Pat had gotten discharged from the Air Force for being permanently unable to perform...The cancer.  Just over a year later, he was gone.

Reading those letters, and hearing stories about their lives for years, got me to thinking about my Memaw and the incredible and painful life she has led.  Memaw was the youngest in her family, and both of her parents had passed away by the time she was only six years old.  Her father was killed after getting hit by a car, and I'm uncertain how her mother died.  But, she was essentially raised by her older sisters.  Even though a couple of her sisters were married with children at that time, I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up without "real" parents.  That's just the start.

Memaw and Daddy Pat were married in 1952, and they had three children together.  My dad, and my aunts Karen and Patty that I mentioned earlier.  They obviously knew Daddy Pat was very sick, even before my dad came along.  The incredible fear that she must have felt with two young daughters and a third child on the way, knowing they would grow up without their father, must have been unbelievably devastating.  Then, when the time came, she faced raising two daughters and an infant son on her own.  And through it all, she was steadfast.

Despite the unspeakable pain, she had to move on.  She married my Papaw who had dealt with an equally difficult situation in his own life.  He and his wife had a son, my uncle Darryl, and an infant daughter, Sheila, and were driving in his old Studebaker one night when a drunk driver swerved into their lane, hitting them head on.  His wife was killed, and he too was left alone with two young children.  From what I've heard, Daddy Pat's mother (Granny Edwards) introduced Memaw and Papaw to one another and the rest is history.  They are a real life Brady Bunch.

There was more tragedy in Memaw's life.  Her brother lived in a small trailer behind their house for a while and in very mysterious circumstances, committed suicide one night.  When he didn't come to the house for meals the following day, Memaw became suspicious and went to check on him and found his body.  I can't imagine losing a sibling in that manner, but I definitely can't imagine finding their body.  Memaw has endured so much in her amazing life, that I can't even fathom it.

What is most amazing about her, is that despite all of the hardship and pain she has dealt with in her life, she is one of the most caring, loving, and compassionate people I have ever met.  If there was ever a person who deserved to be cynical or bitter, it is her.  But she is anything but.  She loves her family with unwavering constancy, and if she has ever been in a bad mood, I've not seen it.

I like to think that I'm her favorite grandchild.  She'd never say so, and I'm not sure why I would be the favorite, other than the fact I'm totally awesome.  But, Memaw and I have always had a special bond.  She was stricken with breast cancer when I was little, and while our house was being built, we lived with her and Papaw for a few months.  She says having Lensey and I there helped her get through the treatments, and ultimately, beat the disease.  Perhaps that's why we have that bond, but I'm not really sure.  Nonetheless, it's there, and always has been.

Lensey and I used to spend afternoons there after school.  I'd spend hours sitting on the dishwasher door, watching Memaw clean or cook dinner.  The door was permanently damaged from it, but I don't think she minded.  Or I'd sit at my table she set up in the living room so I could watch Nick Jr. and wait for her to bring me a ham and cheese sandwich with the crust cut off, with a tall glass of chocolate milk.  Memaw's chocolate milk was always the best.

In my 26 years on this planet, I only remember her even remotely getting upset with me one time.  I was about five or six years old, and Memaw decided to make some brownies and I wanted to help.  I asked her if I could break the eggs, and she reluctantly agreed.

"You can break the eggs, but be very careful and don't make a mess."

It was like telling a dog not to eat out of the garbage.  I really didn't mean to, but I slammed the egg down on the edge of the counter like I was driving a nail.  Of course, egg went all over the place.

"Zachery!  I told you not to make a mess!"  I stared up at her, in total shock.  I immediately began crying and ran back to the bedroom.

After a few minutes, long enough for her to clean up my mess I'm sure, Memaw came back into the room to console me and apologize.  She didn't really have a reason to apologize...I had done exactly what she told me not to do, and she didn't even yell at me.  I was just a fragile little boy, and it felt like she had.  But since that point, she has never even come close to doing it again.  Not even after I ripped the hook off the door in the bathroom because I was trying to climb up Papaw's belt that he always hung there.  Not even after bugging her hundreds of time to take me to Wal-Mart because "Suzy probably needs some food."  I knew Suzy (their dog) didn't need food.  I just knew she'd buy me a G.I. Joe.

I look at Memaw's life, and see how she is as a person, and I can't wrap my head around it.  She raised five incredible children, has been an amazing grandmother to 11 grandchildren, and now, as a great-grandmother, she continues that tradition.  She's the most genuine person I know and hasn't deserved such pain and anguish throughout her life.  But she lived it, and dealt with it, all the same.  The strength she embodies on a daily basis is something that I can't even begin to comprehend.

I feel guilty.  My life has been a cake walk compared to some of my closest friends and relatives.  I've never had to endure even one significant loss in my life, and Memaw had to endure losing both parents, a husband, and a brother long before that should have even been on the radar.  Adrienne and her family have had to endure losing a father, husband, brother, and a friend to hundreds of people much too soon.  DJ's father was fine and healthy one day, gone the next.  What have I had to go through?  Any problems I've had in my life have been so temporary and pointless, the fact I ever worried about anything sickens me now.

Trust me, I'm EXTREMELY thankful for the hand that I've been dealt, and I realize how incredibly blessed my life is.  Or at least I try to realize it.  But it doesn't stop me from thinking that it isn't fair.  Memaw, Adrienne and her entire family, DJ...They're all better people than I am, in so, SO many ways.  And yet, they've had to endure more in their lives than I could even begin to think about.  I don't want to know that pain, no more than they ever wanted to.  They're stronger than I could ever strive to be, and I have nothing but respect and love for all of them. 

I look back on times where I felt like my life was falling apart and, now, I just laugh.  I don't laugh because it's funny, I laugh because of how ridiculous I was.  I've been blessed, there's no question.  And having those people in my life (Memaw, Adrienne, DJ) has given me even more blessings because of the inspiration the provide on a daily basis.  If I'm ever able to become even half the person any one of them are, then my life will have been a good one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Have We REALLY Come to This?

For as long as I can remember, or at least since I've had the capabilities and resources to use, I've been a big history buff.  It began at an early age with baseball.  Baseball was my first love and one of the things that is unique about the game is its attachment to tradition and history.  You can catch a glimpse of this by watching just a few minutes of any telecast of a Major League Baseball game.  Without exception, there will be a totally ridiculous statistic brought to the viewer's attention...Just as an example:

"Wow, John.  This is only the fourth time since 1891 that a team has recorded a single, double, triple, and homerun in three consecutive innings."

I honestly have no idea if that statistic is correct, but I can guarantee that baseball stats are so in depth, that the right researcher could tell you how many times it has happened, what two teams were playing, and what players recorded each hit.  Having that tradition and depth is what drove me to research baseball.  My dad always talked about some of his favorite Cardinals growing up: Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Torre.  He talked about Stan "The Man" Musial, and made sure I watched Ozzie Smith's spectacular glove work at shortstop.  I got my hands on a few books detailing all-time great players, or historic stadiums.  Granted, it wasn't much of a research base, but my love for history started with researching baseball.

As I got older, my love of history only grew.  I majored in history at UK, and had about 50 credit hours worth of history classes, ranging from Colonial American history, to the ancient Mycenaeans, Victorian England, Medieval Europe, post-Roman Russia, Ancient Greece...I touched on a little bit of everything.  And I loved it.  Not only did I get to learn about other cultures in lectures, but I also had to do a ton of research on my own.  Now, I don't love research...In fact, it can get extremely tedious and mind-numbing.  But, the end result makes it all worth it.

I'm not just a history nut, though.  I'm an information nut.  I'm a research nut.  You can ask anyone of my friends.  Just in the past few months I've researched things as useless and pointless as the life span of a lightning bug, why cats purr, NCAA Football champions since 1940, the word "feral" and countless others.  If something comes up in conversation that I don't know about, or if I just think of a question, I will immediately log on to Google and look it up.  I'll research anything, but historical topics are by far my favorite.

It kind of goes without saying that I watch the History Channel often.  Pawn Stars, Mysteries of the Bible, Modern Marvels, Cities of the Underworld, American Restoration, any of the countless documentaries they show about a variety of topics...I love them all.  But, I have to admit, HC has taken a very strange turn in the last few years.  Much like every other major network on television today, it is important for them to keep viewers watching.  They have to draw you in with something.  Apparently, presenting facts about historical events wasn't getting the job done anymore.  With the dreaded year 2012 swiftly approaching, the History Channel has turned to fantastical doomsday prophecies and theories in an attempt to stir up hysteria that already exists in a society that is constantly being told what to think by the media.  And how do they get people to watch this nonsense?  They present it as fact.

Take a look at this trailer for History's hit show, Ancient Aliens.

Now, I realize they very carefully word it so it's not EXACTLY factual.  Key words like "a new theory","perhaps", and others cover their tracks.  But, if you watch the show (and you really, really should, at least once) you will see that theories and presumptions go out the window.  Experts that tell you why our civilization can be explained by alien encounters will go to the furthest depths to convince you they are right.  And, when presented with evidence to the contrary, it is simply brushed off as coincidence or not even addressed at all.

In the scholarly world, Ancient Aliens is pushed aside as a crackpot theory, as well it should be.  It is called "pseudohistory," which, as the name suggests, is nothing more than partial history.  Basically, pseudohistorians take widely accepted historical fact and attempt to refute them, or change them.  Often, they will take history and instead of disproving it, they simply give an alternate route.  This is the case in Ancient Aliens.

On the show, they look at everything from the Pyramids of Giza, ancient Mayan culture, Stonehenge, and even Renaissance art looking for evidence of alien life on earth during antiquity.  Is it far-fetched?  Absolutely.  Is it ridiculous?  Without question.  Borderline insane?  Ha, well, watch one episode and you be the judge.  I think it is.

The fallacies in the show would literally take months of research and writing to fully document.  So, I'm just going to focus on a few.  First of all, let me introduce you to Giorgio Tsoukalos, who is the primary "expert" the show uses.  He appears in every episode, and if you visit his website you'll see this little gem in his SELF-WRITTEN bio:

"Giorgio A. Tsoukalos is the star and Consulting Producer of ANCIENT ALIENS - THE SERIES (2010) and publisher of Legendary Times Magazine, the only Ancient Astronaut publication in the world. Giorgio is the real-life Indiana Jones and he is changing the way the world thinks about the Ancient Astronaut Theory."

He is referred to as the "real-life Indian Jones" but when he is the one calling HIMSELF that, it loses any meaning it MIGHT have had otherwise.  Let's try an experiment.

"Zach Edwards is the coolest guy on the planet.  He knows everything there is to know about everything.  He is the Easter Bunny.  He is Santa Claus.  And he is changing the way the world thinks about what a man is, and should be."

Do you believe one word of that hogwash?  Neither do I.

Let's go back to Tsoukalos.  One of the things that any real researcher looks at when examining a source, is the credibility of the source.  For instance, when writing a research paper, the internet can be a great tool.  Using websites with extensions like .gov, .edu, or .org are usually extremely credible.  They are operated by the government, educational institutions, or legitimate organizations that may specialize in a particular topic.  Likewise, using written sources can be tricky too.  It's best to use scholarly journals as sources, because they are written by experts on the particular subject.  Obviously, the best to use are contemporary authors who saw an event first hand, obviously not the case on Ancient Aliens.  In the case of Tsoukalos, let's take a look at his "credentials."

Tsoukalos graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Sports Information Communication.  After that, he worked as a bodybuilding promoter for Gold's Gym until 2005.  He travels, and runs the website that I referenced above, but does that make him an "expert"?  Absolutely not.  In reality, it makes the fact that the History Channel uses him as an expert all the more laughable.  How can a television network that supposedly produces programming about historical topics use a guy with a background in Sports Information as their primary expert?  If the show was about the history of bodybuilding, I might be more inclined to trust his judgement.  But when it's based on a theory that human civilization has been fully set in motion by aliens coming to earth?  Sorry, I can't believe a word he says. Not to mention, this is what he looks like:

If his lack of credentials aren't enough, you should hear some of the theories he whole-heartedly believes.  Just a few:

-The Babylonians had nuclear weapons.
-Every "god" in every religion was actually an alien.
-The whale that swallowed Jonah was actually an alien spacecraft.
-The ancestral foundation of the halo is light reflecting off of alien helmets.
-Humans are descendants of an alien civilization from a distant galaxy that was in the midst of a major war.  With their civilization on the verge of total destruction, they traveled back in time and across galaxies to Earth, where they implanted clones of themselves to build a new civilization.  This one is my favorite.
-The Annunciation to Mary was actually a spacecraft that made her pregnant.  He references a painting that records the event, saying the artist "Saw this spacecraft over Mary, and recorded it in this painting!" Problems: The painting is a Renaissance painting, produced roughly 1,500 years after Mary would have been alive.
-Science-fiction staples like tractor beams and time travel were extensively used by these "aliens."
-He constantly uses the term "exra-terrestials" instead of "extra-terrestrials."  This one isn't a crackpot theory, but it bugs the crap out of me.

Tsoukalos is little more than a salesman trying to get you to buy his product.  He does no scientific examinations, and has been accused by a group of similar scientists from Cal Tech of stealing their research findings and plagiarizing them as his own.  Nothing but controversy surrounds this guy, and unfortunately, that may be why so many people tune in to watch.

I just don't understand why the History Channel has sunken to the level of putting this garbage on television.  Don't get me wrong, it's extremely entertaining, but they truly present it as legitimate historical study, and it is anything but.  I challenge you to watch an episode or two, just so you can see the hilarity that is Ancient Aliens.  But, don't watch anymore than that.  If you do, they may keep it on the air and that would be the worst possible conclusion to this issue.

As an historian myself (albeit a poor one), I take offense to the lack of credibility underlying this show.  I'm all for revisionist historical study, because the ultimate goal is to find out the truth.  But, there is a fine line between revisionism and insanity.  And with Ancient Aliens, the History Channel sprints up to that line, and long jumps over it.  Key thing to remember...Don't believe everything you hear.  And don't feed the hysteria.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Friday Funny: Please, Sir...I Want Some More

Family.  That word strikes a chord in everyone, doesn't it?  No two people will have the same things come to mind when they hear that word, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that isn't profoundly affected by the word.  For some, it speaks of love, some hate.  For some, it brings on warm memories and a smile.  For others, it might bring forth pain and sorrow, or a sense of longing.  Every person's experience with their family is different from everyone else.  Here's my family...

For me, one of the things that always comes to mind is my parents, my sister, and I all gathering around the table for dinner.  Growing up, we were always busy with something.  I had countless baseball practices and games in the spring and summer, football practice in the fall, and basketball in the winter.  My sister played softball, ran track, was a cheerleader and in band.  With the changing seasons came changing obligations.  Not to mention the fact my dad often worked 12 hour days six or seven days a week to keep our family afloat.  But, regardless of how busy we were, my mom always seemed to find the time to cook a delicious meal, and gather her family around the table for dinner.  Sure, it didn't happen every single night.  And yes, we ate enough meat loaf and hamburger-potato casserole to last a lifetime.  But, despite all the great experiences I had with my family (and my family is fantastic), I remember dinner time above all else.  I surely didn't realize how profoundly that hour each evening would impact me now, and I'm sure I complained about the salisbury steak or taco salad on multiple occasions.  But, sitting around the table and sharing the goings-on in each of our lives is something I will cherish forever.

Family.  Has a nice ring to it, and it makes a lot of us think of home and smile.  If you add just one little word to it, though, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Family vacation.  Changes things a bit, doesn't it?  Now, I love my family and we've had some great vacations over the years.  But family vacations can be like the perfect storm.  Most families take them so they can get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  So they can spend some time together, getting to know one another better, making memories.  Then, seven days later, the family goes home together and cannot wait to get anywhere else.  It gets bothersome being cooped up together, always having to do what everyone else wants to do...No freedom at all except for a set of head phones.  And that's all before you cross the Alabama line.

Don't get me wrong...I love my family, and I loved going on vacation with them when I was a kid.  But you know just as well as I do, when you mix two teenagers (one in college, and one on the verge) with their parents, and throw in a 12-hour drive...Well, it can be a volatile mix.

It was early August, 2003.  I was just a few weeks away from starting my freshman year at UK, and to say I was ready to get out of the house would be a gross understatement.  I was so close to freedom I could taste it.  That whole summer, all I thought about was getting to Lexington.

My mom, on the other hand, had a totally different view.  To her, she was losing her baby boy and would be left with an empty nest for the first time in 20 years.  I can understand her anxiety now, and to an extent, I could then.  But, that didn't change how ready I was for the next chapter in my life.  But, anyway, Mom decided it would be a good idea to plan one last family vacation before I moved to Lexington.

So, we all piled in the car and headed for beautiful Gulf Shores, Alabama.  Mom had booked a great condo right on the beach...It really was a beautiful place.  But, this story isn't about the sparkling white sand, or the crystal clear water.  This story is about...You guessed it...Family dinner.

If you know my mom, you know how hilarious she is with all of her little quirks.  Just as some examples, my mom still wears a sun visor.  She can't pronounce "shrimp" (srimp), "milk" (milnk), or "Cracker Barrel" (Crackle Barrel) properly.  When describing the sound of something, regardless if she's talking about a car backfiring or a small pebble being dropped off of a bridge into a creek, her sound effect is the same.  It sounds something like "chi-comp!"  She eats ketchup on saltines and cheese, and has the most hilarious collection of night gowns this side of the 10:00 news.  She's a character.

When on vacation, though, my mother turns into Mr. Bumble from Oliver Twist.

For some reason, my mom feels it is necessary to skip lunch if one is to eat dinner that night.  This is especially true while on vacation.  We had stopped for breakfast around 5:00 AM, and by about noon, Lensey and I were starving.  Dad had to be, and why he didn't agree with us, I don't know.  But he didn't.

I begged Mom to let us go get some lunch.  She said, "Why?  We're going to dinner tonight, just eat then.  Besides, we've got crackers and Snickers you can have to tide you over."

By Snickers, she meant the mini Snickers that aren't even a whole bite.  Not even the Fun Size kind.  We hadn't even gone to the grocery yet, so there was no lunch meat or bread.  Snickers and crackers were it, and trust me...They can only hold you over so long.

So, finally that evening we got ready and went to eat an actual meal.  By the end of the 14 hours between meals, the hashbrowns and waffle were long gone.

Since we were on vacation at the beach, it sort of goes without saying you would want to eat good, fresh seafood.  So, we stopped at a place that looked like a fun place to eat...Great atmosphere, sort of small, but obviously popular.  The hole in the wall places are always the best.  And it was.

For the people that were eating, at least.  The projected wait time was somewhere around an hour.  We waited for about fifteen minutes, hoping that things would be faster than expected before my dad, in his infinite wisdom, decided we should try another place.  I didn't want to wait, either, so I was happy to move on.  I didn't know how much I would regret that.

The next place, another seafood joint, looked amazing.  Had a similar feel to the first place, great nicknacks on the walls, and the smell from the kitchen was fantastic.  Wait time:  Hour and a half.  Dad, once again, said we're leaving.

Now, retelling this story doesn't really do it justice.  You have to take into account travel time, and my dad's driving pace.  If people drive slower when they get older, then my dad will soon be idling down the interstate.  He's definitely not known for his speed on the roadways.  So, although we had only been to two places that were relatively close to one another, it had already been about an hour since we left the hotel.

So, we started driving up and down the beach front road where there were literally countless seafood places.  But, just like the others, every place was packed to the gills with people waiting outside.  We passed at least five places where Dad wouldn't even stop, because you could tell there would be a long wait.  Some of the places we passed two and three times.  It was like rubbing salt in an open wound.

By this point, you can imagine the scene taking place inside our 2002 Ford Windstar.  The hunger had taken over, and we were bickering back and forth.

"Just pull it in somewhere, Dad!  God, we could've been done eating by now!" -Me
"Well!  You want to wait forever?" -Dad
"I don't even care at this point!  I just want some food!  We've passed this place seven times!"
"Seriously, hon, just pick somewhere." -Mom, always the peacemaker.
"We'll find a place in a minute!" -Dad

He didn't lie.  We finally found a place just before 9:00 PM.  About two hours after we had left the hotel, and about 16 hours since our last meal, we sat down at a beautiful Dairy Queen to dive into chicken strip baskets and cheeseburgers.  Isn't that what vacation is all about?  Exotic foods that you just can't experience at home.  Gotta love it.

I tell this story often, and have probably not seen anyone laugh as hard at it as Jackie did one night when I told it.  And, admittedly, without the pleasure of impersonating the bickering, the story loses some of it's luster.  But, despite how miserable it was to drive around for two hours finally to settle on Dairy Queen, it is a great story to tell.

As my mom always says, "Making memories."  Memories, indeed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Don't Care...Just Tell Me

Developing a blog without a niche or direction is more difficult than you might think.  On the one hand, without an overall topic, there's literally countless possibilities for entries.  I could write about anything, and considering the fact I don't have a specific area of focus, it wouldn't matter.  But, I'm not totally convinced that the few that actually do read this would always be in tune to a bunch of rambling and pointlessness.

It's with that in mind that I ask you all to give me some ideas for topics you'd like to see.  It can literally be about anything...If there's something you would like to know about me, let me know.  If there's a particular story you want to hear, that would work.  Want to hear about my day?  Why not?  Literally anything you can think of, just post it in the comments section and I'll get a post up about it before too long.  This can be an ongoing thing, because my creativity is very limited.  I've got a few ideas for the next couple of days, but I want to hear from you.

If you like the blog, share it with your friends.  Encourage them to become followers.  The goal is to have 10 followers.  Then 20.  Then 30.  Then 20,000,000.  We can do it.

So, again, thanks to those of you that have been reading and I hope you continue to do so.  Take some ownership and post some ideas and I'll do my best.  Thanks again!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

By the Time We Got to Woodstock, We Were Half a Million Strong

Aren't concerts great?  Over the weekend, Adrienne and I went to Owensboro to see Chris Knight live.  It was my second time seeing him perform, the first coming in Lexington a few years ago.  For those that don't know of him, I'll give you a brief rundown, thanks to the greatest research tool on planet Earth...Wikipedia.  Knight is a native of Slaughters, Kentucky, and released his first full-length album in 1998.  He is more famous as a songwriter than a singer, having written songs for acts such as John Anderson, Randy Travis, Confederate Railroad, Travis Tritt, and others.  "She Couldn't Change Me" by Montgomery Gentry is probably his most famous work.  I, for one, appreciate the songs he actually performs...Here's an example of one of my favorites.  Give it a listen:

It was great to see him play live again.  It's funny, because just a few years ago, I wouldn't have been caught dead at a country show.  My taste in music has changed several times throughout my life...I remember being a huge country fan when I was little, then my dad turned me on to Motown and classic rock when I was a bit older.  He didn't like country music, so I decided I didn't either because I wanted to be like him.  In high school, I listened to emo rock almost exclusively and thought I was more mature and aware than anyone around me.  I wasn't.  While I still dabble in it from time to time, it's not something I'm proud of.  Then in college, I started listening to classic rock more in depth and got tuned back into country music as well.  I started using Pandora to find acts I had never heard of.  My friend, Eric, played a Chris Knight song for me once, and when I created a Chris Knight station on Pandora, it opened me up to a whole new world of acts that I fell in love with.  Knight, Micky and the Motorcars, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Ryan Bales, Tyler McCumber...Great Texas country acts that aren't well known in this part of the country, but are just amazing song-writers and performers.  Basically, my music collection is a microcosm of my life, and literally has something for every taste.  Hit shuffle and you might find Led Zeppelin, then some Frank Sinatra, followed up by Dr. Dre, and then the Temptations.  I know everybody says this, but my music collection is eclectic to say the least.

Most concerts you go to, the vast majority of the people are there to see the headlining act.  But, this was not one of those cases.  John Capps, a Burkesville native and the brother of Adrienne's best friend, was the biggest draw.  Most of the folks there were from Burkesville or the surrounding area, and were there to support John.  While on stage, John said Chris Knight was his inspiration to become a songwriter, and the similarities between the two are unavoidable.  But, if you want to be a songwriter in the country genre, there are few people better to emulate than Chris Knight.  Even without the personal and emotional ties that most of the audience there share with John and his music, I can recognize a great musical talent when I see one.  And, without a doubt, he's extremely talented.  It was a joy to watch and see his family and friends enjoying the moment with him.

While I was there listening to the music, drinking a cold beverage, and people watching...I got to thinking about a phenomenon that is as American as apple pie and baseball...The outdoor music concert.  Now, I know they occur in other countries; and despite the fact that I have yet to leave the borders of this great country, I think I can say with a strong amount of confidence that nowhere else in the world is the outdoor concert so engrained in the culture as it is here. 

You have the obvious huge festivals that dot the calendar every year in this country:  Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, Bonnaroo.  Woodstock started it all in 1969, and is one of the most recognizable cultural events to ever take place in the U.S.  They have even tried to resurrect Woodstock in 1979, '89, '94, and '99, but none have even come close to matching the enormity of the original.  You've got live music at every state fair in the country, smaller festivals that often take place at huge amphitheaters or race tracks...Outdoor music is all over the place.

But mixing the outdoors with live music certainly doesn't stop there.  In fact, it probably hits closest to home for most people...At small, community or county-based festivals.  Every small town has one.  I've personally witnessed multiple Octoberfests, Court Days, the Persimmon Festival, Burkesville's Bicentennial, and my hometown's claim to fame: Tater Day in Benton, Kentucky.  Other than flea markets full of junk and cart vendors selling anything from stink bombs to funnel cakes, these all have one thing in common:  Music.

Outdoor concerts are fantastic places to hear great (or mediocre) music, to socialize with friends and family, or to just relax.  But my favorite thing to do is people watch.  Because, you will literally see people from EVERY walk of life...Even walks of life you didn't know existed.

As an example, let's look at last night.  For one, I'm fairly certain the stage was a flat-bed trailer.  Secondly, the venue was a small patch of grass on the grounds of a local distillery.  Third, you were instructed to bring your own lawn chair.  From my perch, just by moving your head 180 degrees you could see rednecks, good ol' boys, frat guys, slutty women, cowgirls, average joes...It was a cornucopia of people.  We saw couples holding hands, dancing, standing with their hands in each other's back pockets.  I really wish I had photographic evidence of this, because it's one of my biggest pet peeves when I see that.  There were at least three fights that we actually witnessed, probably over nothing of any importance whatsoever, and a guy sitting in a plastic chair that looked like it was about to explode.  Honestly, the people watching was worth the price of admission alone.  And it's like that every time, no matter the artist, no matter the venue.

You know what the bands are going to play before they even begin.  You can tell by just looking at the crowd.  There's a certain ratio of Nascar and wrestling shirts that must be present for a country show.  The same can be said for a has-been band from the 70s or 80s that's trying to hold onto glory.  When I was in high school, my friend Blake and I went to the Paducah riverfront one Friday night to see Skid Row live.  Why?  Because it was only $5 a ticket.  And it was SKID ROW!  I mean, a real band!  And what was even better?  The opening act called themselves Slut Magnet.

Let me say that again.  Slut.  Magnet.  You simply cannot make this stuff up.

I don't even have to tell you about Slut Magnet.  I think you can picture their amazing talent for yourself.  But, even if you had never even heard of "18 and Life" or "Youth Gone Wild," you could have taken one look around at the crowd and known exactly what you were going to hear.  It's like that everywhere.

When I was younger, my family used to camp at Hillman Ferry Campground on Kentucky Lake every summer and on Saturday nights they always had bands come play.  Most of the time they played mediocre covers of popular country songs, but they always mixed in some surprises like "The Wall," "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," or "Hotel California."  Poorly equipped, and lacking in talent, they were never great performances, but, looking back on it, it's like an American social experiment laid out in front of you.  You see familial structures, social circles, expression through music, verbal and non-verbal communication, social rituals, food...Everything that defines us as a culture.  And one of the biggest aspects of our culture, music, is always at the forefront.

Perhaps the clashing of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles like there were last night isn't that odd after all.  This country was built on it.  Perhaps mixing different people, music, food and drink, and throwing them outdoors isn't totally unique to the United States.  Perhaps it is.  Perhaps I'm just being over-analytical.

But, no matter what they do elsewhere, to me, there's something inherently American about it.