Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Trip to the South

J and I drove down to the Ohio River on Saturday--a short jaunt from Lebanon, really, but one that ended up consuming our entire day as we wound up and down the Ohio and Kentucky banks. For J, this trip into Kentucky was his first venture into "the south except for Disney World," and for me, I hoped it would be a confirmation of my love of the raw and unrefined relics of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. In between the rusting, abandoned hay balers and the darkly weathered tobacco barns, I wonder how I grew up only forty minutes from another world stuck in another time.

Our first stop was on the Ohio side of the river--Ripley, Ohio. A quick Google search told us that Ripley offered us two sure-bet stops.

First, the Rankin House, a home-turned-underground railroad stop whose reverend-owner helped over 2,000 slaves to freedom over forty years. After two missed turns, one settler cemetery and two wild turkeys later, we found our way to the startling top of a ridge where the little home teeters at its peak.

From the home's modest front steps, you can see the Ohio-Kentucky border carved for miles in either direction by the river. I stood at the crest of the hill with November wind licking at my face, imagining the people who stood on that very spot 150 years before me and wondered what they thought as they faced south from this summit, whether they too looked at the landscape as a map and saw it as if it charted their lives--at the bottom of this hill was their past to the south, and through the threshold of the door behind them was their future in the north.

It was not easy to keep these lofty thoughts in mind as J and I entered the museum/house itself. Neglect in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had worn the floorboards and walls thin, and a stuffy, self-important 30-something curator was droning in contemptuous monotone to a couple with two anxious kids in what used to be the family's dining room and now served as the gift shop. J and I opted to do the self-guided tour, which was a pretty quick one since there weren't many signs to read and the family's original furnishings have all gone on to posterity. We hit up the gift shop on the way out, paying our $3 each to the curator who seemed miffed that we handled the house without him.

On our way out of town, we made our second stop at a Ripley, Ohio winery (they exist!) for a wine tasting. While I had expected the rolling hills of the river valley to house a picturesque olde-tyme Gothic Revival farmhouse with rows of faded fall grapes around it, I was dead wrong. Instead, John and I rolled up to a 1970s Ranch house three blocks behind a McDonalds in a totally residential neighborhood.

WINE TASTING, proclaimed a sign to reassure us that we wouldn't be knocking on some poor old lady's door if we dared approach it. After I parked, J and I took a good look around us and then at one another.

"Are we going in?" J asked.
"I guess so," I shrugged, checking out the middle-aged ladies decked out in faux fur coats and home perms who were carrying two cases of bottles each.

When we did get the courage up to leave the car, we discovered that the house had been gutted. Where floor-to-floor carpeting and La-Z-Boy furniture should have greeted us, concrete floor and dozens floor-to-ceiling barrels consumed the room. We opted for the $6 wine tasting option--two glasses with the winery's insignia and tastings of four different bottled wines. We mingled with only one another, avoided bumping into other tasters for the obligatory chit chat that might follow, and scarfed down crackers and Kraft cheese. It was awesome. At the end of the fourth glass, we decided to buy their new release, a 2005 Petit Verdot, fermented right there in those barrels. And we kept the glasses.

As we crossed into Maysville, Kentucky, J took a shot of the WELCOME TO KENTUCKY sign, commemorating his first trip "south." Appropriately enough, Maysville appeared totally shut down for the day (it was about 3 P.M.) and nothing seemed open. We did, however, drive by the town's theater which displayed a plaque that boasted Rosemary Clooney's childhood in the town.

A few miles down the road, we hit up Augusta, another town that claims Rosemary Clooney (this time with a Rotary International clock in her honor). More exciting Clooney claims lie in a house just off the state highway in Augusta, where George grew up. (We hoped to glimpse him at home for the holidays, but we didn't have any luck.)

Having been driving for several hours in what felt like a haze of November gray, I realized my body would shut down in a matter of minutes without a dose of caffeine.

"There has to be a Starbucks here."
"There's a cafe over there," John pointed to a quaint, hand-painted sign that did, in fact, say CAFE.
"Do you think they have Starbucks?"

It was here that I realized I am a city dweller. I grew up in a town that got its first Wal-Mart when I was nine and its coffee shop my junior year of high school, and where, up until recently, the only shops on our main street (other than the 200-year-old Golden Lamb and staple Ice Cream Parlor) were antique markets, and this whole daytrip, I had been explaining the art of tobacco making and covered bridges to J. But here I was--in a town of 1,200 people where between the antique shop and general store on Main Street there is literally a trailer home parked in an empty lot--and all I want is generic coffee, in a thick paper cup that I can carry.

We parked the car ("Look, J! No meters!") in front of the cafe, and peeked in. A friendly woman with dirty blonde hair swished up, carrying Christmas decorations.

"Oh!" she smiled, surprised (there was no one else in the restaurant). "Y'all just caught me puttin' up the Christmas decorations! It's that time of year alrea'y. Now, y'all want somethin' to eat?"

"Um, actually," I said, becoming increasingly aware of my cheeks flushing in embarrassment, "do you have coffee? that we, um, can carry out?" I glanced nervously at the white-washed chairs and bead board walls, well aware of how my conscience was yelling at me to be polite and sit down for a whole meal since, after all, it was Saturday and she had no business.

"Oh, of course! I just finished a pot!" she smiled again and proceeded to describe what amounted to Starbucks grinds in a coffee pot in back with such a flourish that it sounded like she had grown the beans herself and my mouth watered.

"Sounds wonderful," I said and then poked around the Christmas decorations and handmade soaps while we waited.

Some minutes later, her high school-aged daughter reemerged from the back, carrying my coffee and J's peppermint hot chocolate, her eyes locked on J with a shy smile on her face. It occurred to me that probably not many 20-something guys pass through Augusta on vacation, and I smiled too--partly for the feeling of knowing exactly how that girl felt, and partly because that home-brewed Starbucks was the best damn coffee I've ever tasted. We walked down to the river bank one last time, and then got in the car, ready to head back home.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I love the 90s, Jerry

I want Jerry Seinfeld to go away.

Don't get me wrong. I think that he embodies comic genius, and his dead pan delights me. In fact, I'm a huge, huge "Seinfeld" show fan. But that is just the problem.

After Seinfeld the show ended back in 1998, Jerry disappeared with it in attempts to separate himself from the phenomenon that bore his name. But for someone like me--a young teenager whose television consciousness first awoke at age six with Seinfeld and developed in that sacred Thursday 9 P.M. EST time slot--Jerry's disappearance even more embedded him with the show.

As Michael Richards ventured into a spin-off that lasted for two episodes, Jason Alexander jumped from one TV special to the next and Julia Louis-Dreyfus had more luck with her New Adventures of Old Christine, I learned to accept their faces in new roles--even if I did still refer to them as Kramer, George and Elaine. ("Hey! Elaine is giving the commencement speech this year!")

But Jerry continued to embody "Seinfeld"--a human time capsule of the 90's, a reminder of better times when the news was defined more by what constitutes "sexual intercourse with that woman" and less by extremist violence and inept, corrupt government leaders. Jerry Seinfeld's face means prosperity, insularity, boy bands and bad movies. In short, in the lines and curves of Jerry's face lies my childhood.

So when I see Jerry now, on HP commercials and late night talks shows with his endless Bee Movie plugs, I want to grab him from the screen and shout: Get out of here! You don't belong! Don't you SEE what is wrong with the world? Don't drag the good old days into this mess! Stay where you belong--on TBS reruns and DVD box sets!!

As long as I don't have to see Jerry out and about today, I can turn on those reruns and snuggle into my couch. I can pretend to be 10 again, knowing that I'm pretty sophisticated for watching such high brow, adult NBC Must See TV, and feel optimistic about a world where the biggest concerns are close talkers and man hands, long division and chapter books.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

omg lol rentz

When we bought our hulking Windows 3.1 Gateway computer in 1992, my mom was first to take lessons on how to use it. Where my dad shies away from the ever-changing world of technology, my mom jumps in head-first.

Because of that, I owe my mom a great deal for what I know now about computers. After she took CompUSA's basic training course, she taught me how to master the C-drive. When she bought Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, she encouraged me to learn and soon I was the fastest typing 8-year-old I knew. I sat alongside her as she explained that on this new thing called the Internet, I could press on the blue underlined words to go to (gasp!) a new page. Afterward, she and I signed up to receive daily update emails as the men and dogs of the Iditarod mushed their way across Alaska that March. As a privileged member of the Internet community, I brought the emails into my fourth grade class for our teacher to read aloud.

So that my mom would send me a text message two weeks ago should not have surprised me, but it did. Computers my mom had mastered, but cell phones are another story. While my parents have had a cell phone for over ten years, it was not until they accidentally hit a combination of buttons last month that they knew there was a speaker phone function. I've spent several minutes explaining how to change the headset volume to my mom. We've spent more time together changing her ring tone, and even more minutes poring over the alarm clock function. How, without my help, did my mom send her first text message:

"Did u know eric clapton lives in columbus bye"

Having never received a text message from my parents before, I wondered. Did my parents really mean to send this? Maybe it's one of those text spams? Had Mom and Dad always been such Clapton-o-philes, and why did they think this fact was so important that it needed to be texted to me immediately?

I shook my head with the airs of T9 superiority and threw my phone back into my bag. And while I meant to ask them about the text message, I completely forgot their text the next time we spoke. Then, today they gave me reason to remember with another one. This time, they sent a different kind of message:

"hang in there"

There still wasn't capitalization or punctuation marks, but it really didn't matter. It meant the world to me, and I texted back: "thank u--love u guys."


Monday, November 5, 2007

Gender and Sexuality Through the Lens of American Baseball Advertising...and Dane Cook.

America’s favorite pastime is baseball. And during this year's playoffs, I learned a few things from it. For example, did you know a woman’s favorite pastime is bitching at her husband? And that all husbands are just total idiots? It’s true—just look at the latest bout of Fidelity Investments commercials that ran during the WS07.

Unfortunately, YouTube doesn’t have more of these commercials posted, but I know them pretty well, so here’s a summary smattering:

-The one with the husband who can’t wait to go scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef, dude, but his wife is such a joy-kill and makes it clear—they’re going to Paris, godammit, and who told this guy he could make decisions?

-The one with the token black couple who bicker for 30 seconds about how neither of them knows what’s going on with their investments, but who the hell cares and whose turn is it to feed the dog, anyway? (For the record, I found this video in a Google/YouTube cache with comments about its racism, but the clip had been removed.)

-The one with the husband who meekly explains to us his investments and how they work (apparently THIS old white guy was paying attention, right Fidelity? High five, my WASPy brothas!) while his wife interrupts several times in acidic tones: “I don’t care.”

It’s not as if Fidelity has discovered some new approach to marketing—namely the approach of Choosy Moms Choose Jif and do all the laundry with only the help of their imaginary friend, Mr. Clean, while Lazy Husbands Drink Bud and vegetate in front of the television while visions of bikinis dance in their heads.

And yeah, sometimes America succeeds in exaggerating the shtick and poking its consumer-driven finger at itself while laughing with the belly of, say, Captain Morgan-infused frat dudes who heist the Sororitastics at a Halloween party in their gender-specific, sex-joke-laden costumes. (Personal favorite: the bunny and the carrot!)

But sadly for us, or maybe even more sadly for the legal folks over at Fidelity, their Bickering Couples ads fall short on the side of satire while crossing the unyielding line of political correctness. And after 30 seconds of gender stereotypes bordering on sexism and racism, we’re left wondering what the marketing division at Fidelity was thinking. Of course, this campaign is coming from the company that has not yet divested out of Sudan, so misogyny begets bigotry, I guess.

As a Colorado Rockies fan’s girlfriend, I can tell you that World Series 2007 could have only been worse if Fidelity had had as many ad plugs as Frank TV. I’m still emotionally reeling from Dane Cook yelling at me during every half inning, so another dose of Fidelity pegging me as a soon-to-be wrinkled-and-nagging wife could have only dragged my self-confidence down farther.

Thank God there’s only one October.