Thursday, May 16, 2013

Y.M.C.A. Redux

"I believe in the forgiveness of sin, and the redemption of ignorance".
            -Adlai Stevenson

There’s always so much chatter these days regarding how children must be shielded or protected from every one of life’s little speed bumps.  Their precious self esteem must never be damaged, no sadness or disappointment must ever occur; I suppose what it comes down to is that they should never feel or be challenged by reality.  Our culture’s recent trend towards helicopter parenting of their children, protecting them from anything that’s not been sanitized, literally or figuratively, is beginning to impact even those of us that do not have children.  

When a school district felt obligated to offer “counseling” because a kid chewed a pop tart into the shape of a gun, I laughed at first, but I really had to wonder what the hell has happened to us.   

 Adults seem to have very different ideas about what being a child is like, than the children themselves.  Do we really believe the kids were actually traumatized by the “gun shaped” pop tart, or was it more a matter of politically correct hysteria on the adults’ part, because they have to acknowledge that a child might be aware of guns? 


It is almost as though one, particularly anxious, phobic, neurotic scientist, rewrote all the rules about child rearing based solely upon their irrational hang ups, and somehow, they have managed to become entrenched in our cultural outlook.  Society expects less and less of children, and as a result, they are living down to these lowered expectations.  They are being treated as infants right up until the age of 18, and then suddenly expected to function as adults. 

My encounter with one child in particular, proved to me that kids are quite a bit smarter, and much less fragile, than all the sociology gurus would have us believing.
          There I was, in the very same locker room, where I had only just recently encountered "The Scowler". During the sanctimonious tirade I had endured from her a few weeks earlier,
Read Y.M.C.A. Part 1)
she so eagerly declared, among other things, that she believed that “people with my lifestyle should not be allowed anywhere near children”,  right up until the moment I explained to her that my baldness was a side effect of cancer treatment and not a fashion statement. Not sure why that was better, but I suppose she thought she was shielding children from whatever evil influence and mental suffering  that the sight of a bald head might impart.   Just then, in walks a little girl, about 4 years old, skipping along, holding her mother’s hand.  In her other hand, she was dragging a very long and colorful beach towel.  When she passed where I was standing she dropped her mother’s hand, came to a dead stop, eyes locked on my bald head. Her mother never looked up and kept walking around the corner to the next set of lockers, out of sight.

 My heart sank, because I fully expected some busybody to intervene again, since obviously my mere presence could potentially be causing this child some deep, psychological distress.

That was when she tilted her head like a puppy, furrowed her brow, and in as serious a tone as a 4 year old can muster, asked, “ Are you a boy or a girl”.?

I was instantly relieved.  The only distress my bald head caused her was confusion about whether I was a boy or a girl.

Fair question. 

I answered her in what I hoped was a reassuring tone, “ I’m a girl”.

“Well”, she continued, logically and in the thickest of southern accents, “How come you got no hay-yer”?

Now this answer was going to be tricky.  I stalled around a bit by fidgeting with my locker then I sat down on the little bench.  She sat down on her towel. 

My first reflex, in all things, is to be honest, but how much information is too much for a 4 year old?  I figured her mother could hear our conversation from the other side of the lockers.  I also knew that if I told her that my medicine made my hair fall out she’d probably have a hard time accepting any medicine she might need to take.  Her mother probably would not appreciate me giving such a vivid explanation.  Still, I was not going to lie, to protect her from the truth. 

 So I said, “Well, I was very sick and it made my hair fall out.  I’m all better now and my hair will come back soon.  She nodded with understanding and acceptance and I could see that the answer satisfied her curiosity.  

It was truth enough.

Then suddenly she jumped to her feet and spread her towel out for me to see. It was covered with brightly colored frogs, and she exclaimed, “See my frogs”?

“Yes, I said and smiled at her, They are very colorful”!

She went on, “They are just like you! They got no hay-yer neither!”

Apparently she was not the least bit disturbed about my hair, or my illness.  Once her concerns were addressed, her questions answered,  she accepted that I looked slightly different without the least bit of angst or apprehension.   

No trauma, no foul.  

Same locker room, same circumstances, yet it was a much more mature response than I had received a few weeks prior. 

I have come to understand that in a majority of cases, when someone rants and raves about what people should or should not do,  “For the children’s sake…” it is merely a convenient way to mask their own fears and prejudices in an attempt to pass themselves off as righteous protectors, rather than the dreadful tyrants that they truly are.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Nod to Rick Bragg-Re-Re- Re-Repost

In honor of Alabama playing in the BCS Championship game tonight in, PasadenaNew OrleansMiami, Atlanta... I thought I'd put this out there for everyone again.  And in case anyone is wondering, yes, I'll be watching, and cheering my heart out for Alabama...but I just might be wearing an orange shirt...

“Who are you for?” is usually one, of the first of two questions a person is asked, when they relocate to Alabama from out of state.  If you reply with an SEC team other than Alabama or Auburn, you may or may not meet with approval, but you are automatically granted a degree of respect.  Mentioning a team from up north like Syracuse, Nebraska or Oregon will get you a head tilt and some cocked eyebrows, but folks will at least know where you stand. 

Answering with “Well, I didn’t go to school in this state and I don’t really care much about football ”, is a common, though ill advised, answer.  Alabama folks have heard this before from multitudes of displaced Yankees, who seem to get some wicked thrill, pretending not to notice that down here, football is important.   It’s not an original answer.  It is, however, equivalent to declaring atheism when asked the second of the two questions, which is usually, “Where do you go to church”?

If you declare an SEC team, that’s at least like answering the church question with Baptist, Methodist or A.M.E.  It may not be their church, but they know where you stand and will honor your beliefs.  Proclaiming loyalty to a team from an “up North” conference will buy you slightly more suspicion, say on the order of claiming that you are either Jewish or Mormon,  but you will still be welcomed with open arms to the brotherhood of Monday morning quarterbacking.

I know this from personal experience.  I used to be that ugly Yankee that feigned ignorance to the phenomena of southern football.   After a while, it just becomes tiresome for everyone involved.  What I’ve also learned, is that it’s much more fun, to join in the fun. 

I’m going to pass along a little personal advice to any future Yankees that may be locating to Alabama in the future.

Pick a team. 

You don’t have to run out and buy season tickets; just be polite.  

Pick a team.  Any team.

 I know you probably don’t care, not yet anyway.  It doesn’t matter.   Watch a game, or at least pay attention to the highlights on the news at night.  Be able to name a player or two, and the coach.   Pick a team whose colors you wouldn’t mind adding to your wardrobe, then wear those colors to work on Friday with everyone else and talk a little trash.  Who knows, after a while, you might find yourself at a local sports bar watching the game with a bunch of rabid fans.

 You will tell yourself that you are not really there for the football. 

You will rationalize your presence by noting that the place does have a really good selection of your favorite microbrews. 

Oh and by the way, the game is on and you are wearing the right colors.

That’s how it starts…

Talking about football is the sacred, social grease in the wheels, down here.  In most places, people talk about the weather when they need to break the ice with a stranger.  Down here, weather is no benign, neutral topic.  People live with constant, tragic reminders of deadly tornadoes and storms. No one opens a conversation with a stranger by saying, “nice weather we’re having lately?”.

No, they ask each other how they think their team is doing, they question whether or not the coach made the right decisions the previous week, or they may even ask for prayer to heal an injury to a key player.   I have seen shared football stories, memories of triumph on the gridiron, or even playful needling by rivals, create smiles, in the saddest of times and places.  

After living nearly 20 years down here, I’ve learned to fit in.  I love Alabama.  Nowadays, when someone asks me “who I’m for”, I tell them Auburn.  They don’t have to know I picked Auburn merely because their colors happen to be similar to one of the teams I left back home, the N.Y. Mets.  I like orange and blue more than I like crimson and white but that’s ok.    I suppose if any of the team uniforms in Alabama had pinstripes, this N.Y. Yankee would have to, “be for them”, as well.

In a recent article in ESPN magazine, Rick Bragg remarked that “In order to understand football’s place in the south, you first have to see it from the inside”. 

He’s right.

 I have also discovered that in order to understand Alabama’s place in the world, you have to see it from outside the United States.    

10,000 miles away at about 14,000 feet of elevation was where I caught that glimpse. On the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 2 degrees of latitude below the equator, one of the Tanzanian guides asked me where, in America, I was from.  Back then, I wasn’t completely comfortable with the notion of saying that I was “from” Alabama, but I didn’t want to have to launch into a long, complicated explanation about the difference between where I was born, versus where I currently live.  I also figured he’d probably never heard of it and so it would be something unique to discuss.

I was wrong. 

The word “Alabama” had barely finished resonating, when the guide punched his hand in the air and yelled, "Rolllllllllll Tide!" with perfect inflection.  I was stunned and amazed as tears suddenly filled my eyes.  In that instant I became proud of my adopted home.  Several days later a security agent at the airport in Amsterdam, struck up a conversation with me at the gate access.  After asking me where I was heading, she sealed the deal for me right then and there by launching into a lovely, a cappella, version of Sweet Home Alabama.  

For outsiders, I could see that it might get a bit confusing, because sometimes the word “Alabama” refers to the State of Alabama, and at other times, it is a reference to the University of Alabama, and more specifically, the football team. 

In my travels around the world, I managed to learn what the rest of the world somehow already knew about Alabama.  It just took me a little longer than most, to figure out. The whole world knows that down here, Alabama is football, and football is Alabama.

Auburn fans understand about that.
They smile and forgive it.