Sunday, September 14, 2008

Black Warrior Files: Confessions of a Counterfeit Coxswain

cox·swain (kŏk'sən, -swān') noun
  1. A person who usually steers a ship's boat and has charge of its crew.
  2. A person in a racing shell who usually directs the rest of the crew.

At approximately 7:15 this past Thursday morning down on the Black Warrior River, I parallel parked a boat. Not a motorboat or a sailboat or a yacht. Not even a canoe.

At approximately 7:15 this past Thursday morning, I parallel parked a 4-seat rowing shell.

Parallel parking is, in fact, my one god-given talent. I firmly believe that everyone is born with the innate ability to do one thing really, really well—better than everyone else. My sister Weathergirl, for instance, can find a bargain every time she goes shopping and, since shopping is an engrained trait for the women in my family, she goes shopping quite often. As evidence, I offer the time she found me a brand new J. Crew turtleneck sweater on sale for $2. My uncle, the Italian Godfather (no, I’m serious, he’s Italian and he’s my godfather), does even better than Weathergirl—he finds perfectly whole, amazing things on the side of the road and in the “discard” pile at his office job. A modest catalogue: two papasan chairs (with cushions), a snowblower, two solid oak executive desks, a waterfall veneer sideboard, an off cut slab of marble.

Me, though—my talent isn’t flashy, it’s purely functional. Barring unforeseen events or dreadful distractions (like small children or dogs running into the path of my car), I can sink a parallel parking space in one go no matter what I’m driving. Part of this may simply be a result of my learning to drive in a mini-van and an extended bed pick-up truck—compared to that, every other vehicle seems small and maneuverable. Part of it is, I’m sure, just ridiculous overconfidence. But the end result is the same: I can park anywhere. Even with eighteen people watching me. On Manhattan. In the snow. During rush hour.

But for all that, I have never parallel parked a boat.

Technically, I didn’t really do any of the actual parking. The four people rowing the boat did all the work—propelling us toward the dock, compensating for our direction when I asked one of them to stroke while the rest waited. And really, we needed help getting over to the edge of the dock—I misjudged the distance, brought us up a couple of feet away from the edge so that another rower already on the dock had to grab an oar and drag us sideways a bit. But all in all, considering that I am not actually—nor should I ever be—a coxswain, it went pretty well.

Up until three months ago, I never dreamed I would be parallel parking a boat on a random Thursday morning down on the Black Warrior. I never dreamed I would be down on the Black Warrior, period. And then I got that email from the Enthusiastic Creative Writing Professor.

The Enthusiastic Creative Writing Professor is really involved with interesting, athletic pursuits around town. She works with the no-kill animal shelter, runs the odd 10K, and sends emails inviting the rest of the faculty to get involved. Normally, when Enthused sends an email, I scan it, think “that would be fun, but I don’t have time,” and move on. But the email about the Black Warrior Rowing Club got me interested, mainly because I thought, somehow, that Enthused was the ring leader and that this was, somehow, some informal event—you know “show up and we’ll give you an oar.” The time worked for me—6–8AM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was just for the summer. Dues were only $25.

“Only $25?” I said to myself. “Huh. How bad could it be?”

I am not, by nature, a very athletically inclined person. I ran track back in the 8th grade. I played pick-up soccer games (not well) in high school. I once managed a Curves (for Women) gym. That’s about it. But rowing seemed like something accessible for two reasons: (1) I’ve always been into canoeing and kayaking, which also involve propelling oneself across the water with a long stick, and (2) I grew up outside of Boston. Growing up anywhere in a 50 mile radius of Boston automatically predisposes you to be mildly obsessed with rowing crew. It also means that you actually know that rowing exists as a sport and not simply as some quaint pastime that died out in the 1900s.

So that Tuesday, I showed up down at the docks expecting to see Enthused and a handful of other enthusiastic professor-types, which I did. I also saw a whole lot of people I didn’t know being herded by a very tiny, very efficient, very young woman with crossed oars tattooed on her shoulder and a license plate that read USROWING. Enthused called her Coach.

That was my first clue that maybe this was a bit more involved than I’d thought.

Fastforward three months. I now show up on the water three days a week at 5:15. When I’m not pretending to be a cox, I row bow seat (front of the boat) in a woman’s 4+ shell. I row starboard, so my one oar sticks out to the righthand side of the boat, but since I’m facing backwards, to me, it’s the left. Enthused rows port in front of me. We’re looking at maybe going to a Master’s rowing competition some time in November—once we figure out how to get all four of us rowing at once, of course.

I’m not very good.

Coach says I’m getting better.

Here’s the thing: I love it. I love scooting across the water in this boat that moves like a giant waterbug. I love rowing underneath the McFarland Boulevard bridge and listening to the morning commuter traffic clatter far overhead. I love that the river at 6AM is so photogenic it makes runway models look common.

And last Thursday, when I was pretending to be a coxswain because we were short handed, I got to parallel park a boat.

The local paper ran a story on us this morning and had this accompanying video clip on the Tuscaloosa News website. If you’re smart, you can pick me out in one of the boats—I’m in the yellow visor.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Green and Clean . . . ish

So I've been absent for a while. I could tell you all sorts of stories, but really, I'd rather offer the latest installment on Being Green in a Red State.

At our present juncture in homeownership, Expat and I are working towards Green, but we’re not quite there. In all honesty, we’re really more of a Cool Mint. Possibly an unfortunate Sea Foam. Oh, we’ve got the basics down. We’re switching all the lights over to compact fluorescents. We don’t run the air conditioner unless the house is just too muggy to sleep. As our appliances die (like the dishwasher) or get stolen (like the washer and dryer), we’re replacing them with Energy Star. For the eventual remodel of the kitchen, we’re already considering cabinets and countertops made of sustainably produced, renewable resources, and the fact that the flooring in the living and dining rooms will be either bamboo or engineered, reclaimed hardwood is a foregone conclusion. But these things aren’t really Super Green. These things are trendy. In order to really make a difference, Expat and I really want to go beyond trendy.

Take, for example, green cleaning products. I’m a little obsessed with the idea of nontoxic cleaners at the moment. Every time I go to Barnes and Noble (again, Tuscaloosa has exactly zero independent booksellers that sell things other than textbooks and unwieldy Civil War tomes), I gravitate toward the eco-friendly home improvement and renovation books and drool over projects that would be wonderful if I could afford them and let’s face it, I can’t. But right next to the home improvement books, right in the same section, are the green household cleaning books. The first one I picked up, Green This! Greening Your Cleaning by Deidre Imus, was a little preachy, what with opening with those statistics on childhood cancer and all, but hooked me by telling me that most everything I need to clean my whole house could be found in my pantry. The two I’ve decided that I like the best, though, are the more step-by-step “if you can’t do this, then at least do this” guides: Green Up Your Cleanup by Jill Potvin Schoff and my all time favorite, Squeaky Green : The Method Guide to Detoxing Your Home by Adam Lowry, Eric Ryan, the guys who make the Method brand cleaning products that they sell at Target. The Method guys sit down and discuss (quite clearly and irreverently) why carpet is highly unsanitary and how ironic it is that we worry about eating organic foods and then clean our kitchens with pesticides. But to that I say this: can you honestly tell me that some weird mixture of white vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and water is going to zap the mildew colleting behind my kitchen faucet better than Clorox? Really? It might be more healthy, sure, but will it be as effective?

And then there is the problem of the kind of house Expat and I have purchased. There are certain parts of our house—certain key problem areas that have been problem areas since the house was built back in 1972 or 1974 or 1976 (there’s some debate, here)—that simply refuse to be cleaned with anything but, say, full strength ammonia. Like my kitchen floor. My kitchen floor is vintage 1970’s, avocado green linoleum—or at least it was when it was put down over 30 years ago. By the time we moved in, though, it had been waxed and somewhat stripped and waxed and somewhat stripped heaven only knows how many times, and meanwhile it had been scuffed and scraped and stomped on with years of dirty shoes. Add to that the fact that I am pretty sure Verna Smith—original homeowner and product of the 1950s—did her fair share of greasy frying in the kitchen and probably didn’t do such a hot job getting all that greasiness cleaned up (our kitchen cabinets stand testament to this) and it’s no wonder that our floor was now more like scum-colored linoleum with an avocado green undertone.

When my older neighbors all eventually came over to say "Hi," every single one looked at the floor and said “Oh, those old floors. You’ll never get that clean. You’ll just have to replace them.”

And just like that, it became more than a desire for clean floors. It became a challenge.

Undaunted, I tried lots of things to restore my vintage 1970’s kitchen floor to its full avocado-green glory: regular old mopping, spot cleaning with white vinegar, scrubbing with more traditional cleaners like Soft Scrub (with bleach), straight up Clorox, old fashioned elbow grease. So on the surface, the floor was clean, but the surface was really just old scummy, greasy wax. It wasn’t really clean. It was clean-ish.

Now, I’m not necessarily the world’s most tidy person. I am by nature a Piler. I bring things home and stack them into neat piles all over every flat surface available: the counter, the dining room table, my desk, my dresser, and when I run out of raised surfaces, the floor works just fine. This is not a conscience decision on my part, more of an ingrained trait passed to me from my Piler mother on some strand of DNA, but while my mother’s Piling stops at papers and bills and magazines, mine extends to other mediums. Clothes, for one—by the week’s end I have the dirty pile at the bottom of my closet floor and several clean piles scattered around the bedroom of things I thought I might wear one day but decided not to and then never got around to hanging back up. Then there’s the laundry, which I wash religiously every week and then fold right away, but which then tends to linger in the laundry basket in its neat, square piles while my husband and I pull necessary items from it as the next week progressed.

But what separates me from people who have to sniff their shirts to decide whether they can wear them one more day is that, while my piles are messy, they are most certainly not dirty (with the exception of the dirty clothes, which are supposed to be dirty and which are always put in the same spot, so as not to be confused with the other piles). Besides the differences in denotation and connotation, there is a larger, more cosmic, innate difference between being messy and being dirty. I’ll own messy, sure. But I have never been dirty. Never ever. Dirty is gross.

And the sad truth was that my kitchen floor was deep down, 30-years-old dirty. It wouldn’t matter if I gave up Piling altogether and became the poster child for the organization section in RealSimple magazine, unless I did something about it, that floor would always be dirty. I knew that something more colorful and sanitary lay beneath the scum, I just had to find something to cut through it.

Then my mother mentioned ammonia.

As the Method guys put it, “The problem with ammonia is that the toxic ingredient in it is, well, ammonia.” Ammonia burns your lungs and your eyes and your throat and your skin and can be really awful for people with asthma and is deadly if you’re exposed to enough of it. It’s dangerous to have around the house because it doesn’t come with a child safety cap and it looks just like water. It’s not naturally a liquid—ammonia is a gas, specifically NH3. But you know smart people. Some smart person somewhere figured out how to make it not a gas, bottled it, and there you go, household ammonia. So-called household ammonia is really just a solution of some NH3 dissolved in water; once its opened and exposed to the air, it immediately starts evaporating and turning itself right back into a noxious, stinky gas. But it’s also a really good cleaner precisely because it evaporates—it leaves behind absolutely no residue. Plus, it’s cheap, so lots of frugal homeowners use it because it can clean everything from floors to countertops to windows.

Mom mopped her floors with diluted ammonia for years—she likes the no-sticky-residue trait. And sure, we’re probably all going to die some horrible death as a result of inhaling the fumes, but at least we had floors we could be proud of. The more I looked at my scummy kitchen floor, the more I began thinking that maybe one little bottle of ammonia wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Maybe. Just to get things started.

So I bought it. The first time I used it, I was very careful. I opened all the kitchen windows and the back door. I closed off the kitchen from the rest of the house so the cats couldn’t get in (and to contain the fumes as much as possible). I wore pants and long sleeves and those long plastic gloves that make me feel like a 50’s housewife doing her dishes. I had a paint fume mask—the kind all those residents of Beijing wear when cycling to work to block out all the smog. I bought a scrub brush just for the ammonia mixture. I even had an ammonia-only bucket. Screw green. I was red hot and ready to up my toxicity if it meant not feeling like I had to apologize for my floors. The whole “It’s not my dirt! I swear! It was here when we got here!” routine isn’t going to work forever.

At first, I tried using a standard 1 part ammonia/2 parts water ratio. It moved the scum a little, but not much. Then I tried 1-to-1. Again, not much luck. It was as if my house was taunting me: “You think a little water is going to do it? Awwww, you think your little eco-conscience hocus-pocus is going to work on me? Screw you, hippie. I was built back when DDT was legal! You ain’t got nothing I haven’t seen. Mmmmmwaaahaahaaaaaa.”[1]

But no DDT-era house was going to get the best of me. Annoyed at the scum and at the previous owners and at myself for introducing miles of noxious fumes into my already less-than-stellar indoor environment, I finally just splashed a little full strength ammonia right out of the bottle onto the floor and let it sit there for a minute while I stepped out onto the carport for a little not-so-noxious air. When I came back inside, I gave the patch a half-hearted swipe with my scrub brush, fully expecting to just pack everything up and call it a day when the scum didn’t move.

Here’s the thing: it came clean. There, shining up at me, was a funny, splash-shaped patch of pure, unfiltered vintage avocado.

I sighed, uncapped the bottle, and set to work dousing patches of floor with full-strength ammonia. The difference was so startling that, indoor air pollution or not, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. I worked on my hands and knees for two hours and got through 2/3 of the kitchen floor. I took lots of air breaks. I set up a fan to pull the bad air out through the windows. I spent a fair amount of time standing under my carport gasping the cool Alabama spring air like a fish. And at 10PM that night, I called it quits. I had found the true linoleum. I knew how to get to it. That was enough. I’d get back to the other part or the floor later, after my lungs and eyes had some time to recuperate. I packed it all up, rinsed everything, tossed all my cleaning cloths and my clothes into our Energy Star washer, and put myself into the shower where I rinsed all remaining fumes and bits of floor scum off with my all natural, biodegradable olive oil soap, and scrubbed my hair with our sustainably-produced Aveda shampoo (with natural flower essences).

I felt like a phony. Like a trendy eco-consumer. That night, as I crawled into our 100% cotton sheets, I was definitely an unfortunate shade of Sea Foam.

So far in my personal battle for Greeness against my house, House=1, Sparky=0.

[1] DDT was outlawed for general use in farming in the United States in the year 1972, but it wasn’t banned for use in agriculture worldwide until the 1995 Stockholm Convention. So technically, lots of houses were being built until fairly recently while DDT was still legal somewhere, but really, we’re going for the spirit of the thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Black Warrior Files: Blast from the Past, or, Ann! Scoot Over and Make Room for that Meteorite!

In addition to cliché, a portion of this post title reeks of double entendre: (1) I’m writing about the Alabama Museum of Natural History; (2) I have had this post sitting on my computer, half-written, since, um, February. But as with all things past, it’s best not to dwell. Onward!

So my locavores and I have been embarking on a series of walking field trips this semester. Under the clever guise of “learning,” we’ve been fleeing the Island of Misfit Desks (a.k.a., Morgan Hall, Room 305) and taking advantage of the nice weather and the vast amounts of neat stuff practically oozing out of Flagship State U’s pores. Just across the quad from our antiquated classroom facilities are real antiques—thousand-year-old antiques—well-maintained and sometimes cleverly displayed by the archeologists right here on our very own campus.

Our trips to the campus museums have all been unguided, impromptu descendings-upon more so than organized events. I like to keep things interesting for the person manning the front desk by turning up with fifteen freshmen and letting them loose because, you know, they’re adults. The people at the front desk are not always convinced of the whole Freshman/Adult Phenomenon, but the woman at the Museum of Natural History was far more zen that the woman at the Paulbreabryant Museum, so I felt pretty good about the whole affair. And I don’t really just turn them loose. We do, after all, have to think about something vaguely constructive. Typically, we walk to a destination and I dole out a few questions for the group to think over and consider carefully before shooing them off to take notes and think deeply. I had intended to give my students their questions on the front steps before going inside.

“Hey, gang, let’s gather up here on the steps for a minute—”

“Why?” Mark cut in before I could get any further, shifting his backpack on his shoulder and grinning. “So you can get a picture?”

Truly, it’s amazing how much my students humor me. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until he said it, but of course, I did have my camera . . .

Cheesecake snapshot secured, we waved at the bright red OPEN sign, climbed the steps and shoved our respective ways inside, coming face to snout with a big brown bear, neatly preserved and standing freely in the front foyer, begging to be touched. Of course, we all respected the sign urging us not to touch it, but I really, really wanted to. Really. Just a quick pat on the head. Deep down, all large-scale taxidermied mammals are definitely, definitely begging for a pat on the head.

What wasn’t begging for a pat on the head was the giant, room-filling skeleton of the zeuglodon, or the Basilosaurus cetoides (there’s some debate about what it “should” be called) on the museum’s second floor. Turns out that Alabama is home to several impressive, complete skeletons of prehistoric whales. Whales! Because pretty much the whole of the southeast was well and truly covered with water. And whales. And sharks with pointy teeth.

Anyway. The zeuglodon hanging out on the second floor is almost a complete skeleton and he’s mighty big. He’s also a fine specimen of Alabama’s Official State Fossil. Until the moment that the very earnest woman at the museum’s front desk uttered that phrase, I hadn’t known that state’s had Official State Fossils. Everyone know that states have nicknames (Heart of Dixie), and state birds (yellowhammer) and flowers (camellia), but fossils? Come on. I know that we all like to thumb our noses at other states and make out like things are so much better on our side of the invisible boundary (road conditions and highway maintenance notwithstanding because, dear god, we all have better roads than Mississippi and Eastern Tennessee; Eastern Tennessee should secede and nickname itself the Orange Construction Cone State) but really? We’ve digressed to fossils? Surely we have more pressing things on which to pass official legislation. The fairly pressing water shortage in the Southeast, for example. Or possibly that pesky war we went and started in someone else’s desert.

Of course, our zeuglodon kicks my old home state of Massachusetts’ ambiguous “dinosaur tracks” three times around the block. Just, you know, as long as we’re digressing.

The museum itself is somewhat impressive for what it contains: a large collection of pottery from the Mississipian Native Americans who lived in Moundville; a handful of impressive skeletons from all over (including a mammoth skull from Beloit, WI!); a gorgeous collection of beautiful hand drawn native Alabama fish illustrations; the authentic Studebaker wagon that Professor Eugene Allen Smith used to traverse the state and catalogue it’s wonders in his mid-1800s geological survey; and, my personal favorite, the only meteorite known to have struck a living person.

Imagine, if you will, lying down on your living room couch for a nice afternoon kip when suddenly, a chunk of space rock a little bigger than a softball comes flying through your rental house’s roof, hits your giant old-school 1950s wooden radio, and ricochets toward the couch you happen to be lying on, whacking you in the arm and very much disturbing you nap. Welcome to the life of Ann Hodges, a Sylacauga, Alabama, resident and the only person known to have been struck by a meteorite. It caused quite a scandal. Lots of seizing of the meteorite by various official bodies and landlords, a lawsuit, a few newpaper articles. And now, it sits on the second floor, somewhat eclipsed by the suspended zeuglodon, safe behind Plexiglas, preserved for anyone who wanders in to see.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? Anyone who wanders in. Aside from school children and families, who really wanders in to the Museum of Natural History? Who really cares about Professor Eugene Allen Smith or the building (Smith Hall) that bears his name and houses his Studebaker wagon? Would my students, for instance, have ever gone into the museum were it not for our walking field trip or some other class that used the museum as a teaching tool?

More to the point—perhaps more uncomfortable to consider—would I?

Maybe. Eventually. Probably not.

But hey, look what I can say since I got to go: my Official State Fossil is better than your Official State Fossil.

Now go find your Natural History Museum, wander in, and prove me wrong.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

You Can't Always Get What You Want

(Aside: I wonder how many hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts have started with that same overused but apt title.)

So you've probably noticed the comics I occasionally usurp and use here on Scooter Nation--my dear friend and fellow ex-desk hostage the Cooking Junkie turned me on to Married to the Sea and Natalie Dee a while ago. It's this husband and wife team in Ohio and I have to say, I'm glad CJ pointed me in their direction because hitherto, in my opinion, the only good things to come out of Ohio were the Wright brothers and my MFA thesis adviser (not at the same time, obviously). Not only do I find some of their comics terribly apt and wickedly funny in that not-laughing-out-loud-but-will-chuckle-to-myself-all-day sort of way, but I also love their T-shirts and very much want to own several of them (note to Expat: my birthday is in April. Hint, hint).

But I am sadsadsad at the fact that I will really never be able to own or wear even if I did own (and really, what's the fun in that?) this shirt.

Our dear friend the Fabulous Public Sphere Theorist refers fondly to all musicians who pay the bills with church work--myself and her own organist husband included--as "whores for the Lord." It's true. I haven't attended a church as a member or a parishioner since I was about 17 and started getting paid to show up and sing. This doesn't cause me any spiritual angst and it hasn't yet motivated any existential crisis. But this . . . this T-shirt changes things. In all my years selling my voice to churches, I've never really felt that my wardrobe was restricted, mainly because you can wear a choir robe over anything. Yet in this incarnation of my church job, I'm not the director of an adult choir. I'm the director of children's music. Imagine, if you will, the questions from a hoard of 10-year-olds if I showed up wearing this shirt. And then imagine the hoard of parents. The phone calls. The emails. The moral outrage of suburbanites who feed their kids McDonald's on the way to soccer practice. "This is Alabama. We take God seriously here. We do not want our children exposed to cartoon people gallivanting in champagne saucers. On a Wednesday."

But beyond the simple logistics, the sad fact is, no one at my current church job except maybe my friend and boss, THE Tenor, and quite probably all the other voices for hire, would get it.

Maybe I could wear it on a Thursday.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nation News: Really, I Just Want to Show You My Laundry Room

First, let me preface everything by saying that our house was a definite steal thanks to the abysmal housing market (thank you, W--couldn't have done it without you). We have way more space than we ever thought possible in a first home; a great lot with a wonderful yard; and very nice, quiet, largely retired and elderly neighbors who have all come by and offered to let Expat and I borrow (1) a chain saw, (2) a pressure washer with a 40 foot hose, (3) a full-sized pick-up with a cap, and the people across the street are coming by sometime next week "when it's convenient for y'all" and (4) bringing us dinner. I'm not entirely sure if this warm welcome is due more to our neighbors having naturally giving natures or if it's more relief to see that the house on the corner is inhabited once again, but either way, I'm not one to turn down a free dinner. After waiting 4 months for this house, I feel like we've earned it.

The Elderly Shyster whose
house we now own went bankrupt sometime before we started negotiating a contract. The thing is, he didn't tell anybody, at least, not right away. As I hinted several months ago, we were supposed to close in December, then they asked to move it to January so we said "Sure." But then we got home from Christmas Down Under and found out that (a) they were bankrupt, (b) we were now buying from the bankruptcy court, and oh by the way, (c) someone had "found" the hidden key that the seller's real estate agent had left out for the pest inspection folks and "stolen" the washer and dryer that we were supposed to be getting as part of our contract.

I ask you, what kind of opportunity thief steals a washer and dryer? Particularly a washer and dryer from 1976? The house was still full of all their other stuff, like the antique writing desk in the front hall or the crystal in the china cabinet in the dining room. Crystal and writing desks will fit in a trunk. But a washer and dryer? That takes planning. If they were really stolen by mystery thieves, well, I'll eat Expat's Fluevogs.

Anyway. We had to wait 23 days for the case to go before the court and for the court to approve the contract. You wait 23 days because the courts have to list the property as being for sale for that long to give potential buyers the chance to scrape some cash together, etc. Mr. Bankruptcy Lawyer, who was now acting as the trustee for the Elderly Shyster's assets, assured us that these things almost always go through and could Expat and I just get dressed up and troop down to the courthouse for a few minutes during the hearing? Of course we could. Why not?

Court went well. We showed up, looked earnest and responsible when we waved to the judge, and were set to close on Valentine's Day. Turns out the Elderly Shyster actually owned lot 22 and a sliver of lot 23. Mr. Lawyer hadn't realized that the Elderly Shyster had 2 deeds--one for the house and one for this piece of land. Never mind that knowing these things is Mr. Lawyer's job: even I had to acknowledge that the Elderly Shyster must be one of the World's Most Frustrating Clients.

So where
is lot 23 and what does it have to do with the house? Ah, grasshopper, lot 23 is the strip of land by the street running the entire length of our lot--where our driveway sits. What's so big about the driveway? Well, aside from being ridiculously steep, the bank wouldn't give us a loan on lot 22 until we had the deed situation with lot 23 sorted out because otherwise, technically, we would have no entrance or exit (egress) to the property, so technically we couldn't use the property, so technically they couldn't loan us the money.

I told them that technically, the house has more than the carport entrance and that technically we could just park on the lawn or the street and I promised to technically only use the front door, even for the moving truck.

My very good-natured banker just laughed and it was like I could hear the voice of that woman from
Little Britain, "Computer says no."

We rescheduled the closing for the 22nd. Mr. Lawyer worked some lawyer voodoo-magic and pushed the snippet of lot 23 through in less than a week.

And this time, finally, it happened. We closed. We even got the driveway.

In celebration we spent that entire weekend and the first part of the week ripping up carpet, taking down wall paper, and slaving like mad to get the laundry room cleaned and painted in anticipation of the delivery of our brand new, bought-'em-with-reimbursement-money matching Kenmore high efficiency washer and dryer, a.k.a. the Miraculous Machines.

They came a week ago. These are the sexiest pieces of plastic and steel you've ever seen. They are so silent that even James Bond could learn a thing or two about working in stealth from them. The washer has a time-delay cycle in case I want to load it the night before and have it kick on in time to ave clean clothes in the morning. The dryer has a setting called "Hang Dry" for clothes that aren't supposed to go in the dryer. Even on the normal setting, when my clothes come out of the dryer, they aren't hot like they have always been at the laundromat, they're just dry. Forget sports cars and yachts: my washing machine can wash 12 bath towels at once in under 45 minutes. We don't even have 12 bath towels, but if we did, I would wash them. All of them. Just because I could.

So the next time you visit, we'd love to have you stay with us here in the 1970s (and really, the wall paper is getting it's very own post soon). Oh, and
bring your laundry. I really don't mind.

The laundry room before, with their junk and the machines that got "stolen."

The laundery room after (ignore the vintage linoleum). Sexy, sexy!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Black Warrior Files: Bama’s Pluck and Grit

Type “college football museums” into Google and inside the first five hits, you get two for the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana, and three for the Paul W. Bryant Museum located right here in good old Tuscaloosa, Our Fair City, right next to the Flagship State U conference center. The shadow of Paul William Bryant, known of course as Paul Bear Bryant (in local parlance, pronounced always as one word: Paulbearbryant, or phonetically, Pawburbri-an, with a long i), hangs over everything that is Bama to the point that I sometimes feel, walking around, like I’m living with a walking ghost. It’s a very different vibe to being on a campus with that other winning college football coach at Big State U in Pennsylvania. That other coach is no ghost, he’s a living legend. Literally. When you see him walking on campus, he smiles at you as you rush past to teach your next. He donates money to the English department and the library. He still runs out onto the field with the football team. Sure, he’s got a full-sized bronze statue to him out in front of the stadium, but he’s alive.

But Paulbearbryant’s ghost is bigger than any figure any living coach might cut walking across any campus to date. Case in point: Big State U has an All-Sports Museum; Flagship State U has the Bryant Museum. Granted, the Bryant Museum does cover the entirety of the Alabama football tradition, but the video at the heart of the exhibit is about Bryant’s life and his legend, about 1/3 of the museum space is dedicated to Bryant pictures and memorabilia (like his entire office right down to the Green Bay Packers mug on his desk), and shrines to Bryant appear around practically every corner. My personal favorite? The Paulbearbryant Coke bottles and the crystal replica houndstooth hat on the velvet revolving turntable in the lighted display case. I’ll bet the hat is even the right size. Nothing says “overkill” like crystal that would fit on your head.

I take a class to the museum every semester, partly because its very existence is bound to inspire a little writing, mostly because pretty much none of my students have ever been. This semester, I went with my Honors freshman comp class, which is focusing on living locally (I’ve cleverly titled it “Think Globally, Write Locally: Locavores, Rhetoric, and You”), among other things. Only one of my fifteen students had been before. I asked them to go, to take notes, to think about what it means or what it says about Tuscaloosa, Our Fair City, that we have a museum dedicated to the Bear. Some of them might write about it on their blogs. See, we’re trying a little experiment this semester: each student will keep a comprehensive blog in place of a final paper. We’ll see how they work out. I’ll have them all linked to Scooter Nation by tomorrow. And I’m not going to lie. I’m shamelessly using my own blog space to (ideally) spur my students on to a little writing of their own. We’ll see how that will work out, too.

As for the museum, well, even an Auburn fan like yours truly has to give credit where credit is due. Bryant more than just defines the sports tradition here in Tuscaloosa. In a way, Bryant’s legacy defines the best of Southeastern Conference football: a sense of history, of pride, of deep-seated tradition that’s handed down from family member to family member. It’s the sort of stuff we like to trot out when we’re making fun of the South, and admittedly, the parents who name their children “Bryant” or saddle some poor unfortunate kid with the middle name “Bear” really do need to reconsider their priorities (and to be fair, so do those Auburn fan parents who name their kids “Aubie”). Tradition and custom in the South are a catch 22. On the one hand, let’s all agree that any state that does not make an effort to recycle glass and that, in response to recent school shootings, is considering allowing students and teachers to carry guns on college campuses (because obviously arming more unstable young adults is a good way to ensure everyone’s safety) is not the most “with it” of states. On the other hand, there’s something comforting about settling into a place where barbeque sauce recipes are handed down from one generation to the next, where family names get passed along like hand-me-downs and everyone who’s anyone belongs to the DAR or the United Daughter of the Confederacy or both, and where one man’s legacy has the power to inspire thousands long after he’s passed. Southerners are fearless in their pride. Then again, I guess it doesn’t really take a crystal houndstooth hat to tell you that.

Crystal you could wear on your head.

Gen-u-ine Paulbearbryant Coke.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Local News Tuesday: Fat Only Feels This Good Once a Year

Attention, attention! We at Scooter Nation have a very important PSA: Mardi Gras started in Mobile, Alabama. That's right. The Zulu Krewe might be strutting their stuff over in NOLA, but over in Bienville Square (could we sound more Frenchy?), the Mystics of Time are sending throws and moon pies out to the crowds, too. Not only that, but in case you're not from around here, Mardi Gras doesn't just stop with the big cities. Mardi Gras is part of the Gulf Coast identity. Every small town from Texas to the panhandle of Florida and beyond gets into the action. Public schools give everyone a four day weekend. The local Mardi Gras societies throw balls. The whole region buzzes with a collective on-your-second-beer-and-don't-you-feel-good vibe.

And before you turn your mainstream Mardi Gras nose up at those small town parades, consider this next point very carefully: Mardi Gras is not about getting drunk or even about flashing your boobs at every Tom, Dick, and Bubba--Mardie Gras is about catching free stuff. Never mind that you don't really need two pounds of silver Mardi Gras dubloons; purple, green, and gold thong underwear; inflatable bananas the size of a German shepherd; or piles of moon pies of varying quality (good = Lookout; so-so = small foil-wrapped no-name ones; stellar = Lookout double-decker moon pies zapped for 20 seconds in the microwave. Amazing). Mardi Gras isn't about need. It's about glut and decadence and catching obscene amounts of cheap plastic shiny beads that smell like motor oil because let's face it, whatever they're coating those things with can't be good for the environment and yet we allow small children to chew on them anyway.

Catching obscene amounts of beads that smell like motor oil requires focus and strategy. You can get drunk on cheap beer and show your boobs to random men any day of the week, but that's not going to help you map out a smart way to catch the Knights of Ecor Rouge parade four times in one night or make the crucial dive at just the right moment to scoop up that one perfect strand of elusive aqua blue beads. And in small towns, you can find a place to park and you can walk to the parade without the fear of being shot or mugged and no, I'm not exaggerating. And at the end of the parade, when you've caught more than you can hold and you don't really need or want any of it because where will you put it when you get it home and what could a grown person possibly do with beads that smell like motor oil, you can hand your entire plastic grocery bag stash to the nearest passing grade schooler and he will smile shyly and take it all and you can walk back to your car whistling to yourself, sated. The thrill of Mardi Gras is in the hunt, the chase, the perfectly timed dive.

But save a few moon pies. And try them in the microwave, just once (unwrapped on a plate, people). And if you get a banana one--one of those ones with the impossibly orange coating--mail it to me. God knows I love a banana moon pie.