Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Say It Isn't So

I am afraid of birds.  All birds, from hummingbird to ostrich.  I like to say that I have a bird phobia; it sounds a little more dignified than saying that I am frightened of sparrows.

I don't know why I have a fear of birds.  I was never attacked by birds as a child and I was already petrified of them long before I saw Hitchcock's documentary, "The Birds."  Yeah, I know most people think it's only a movie but in my world it is far too real.

So here I was today, reading the New York Times, a reputable newspaper, when I came across a story that has left me shaken and disturbed.  Somewhere in Argentina, paleontologists have discovered the fossil of the largest known bird. 

How large?  Ten feet tall, around 400 pounds and with a head the size of a horse's head.  Did I mention it had a beak like an eagle's, only bigger and that it was a carnivore?  It was flightless but paleontolgists theorize it was fleet of foot based on its skeletal structure.  They compare it to the ostrich.  Ostriches can reach speeds of 45 miles per hour.

I know that they are extinct, but no matter how many times Godzilla was buried under a ton of rocks he always came back. 

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Good Time Was Had By All

I realized after the last entry that I wasn't done with funerals. 

I was reading my email yesterday and a friend sent me a very funny list entitled "A Black Funeral."  Not your typical topic for humor, but it made me laugh out loud.  I don't think that my people have any particular ownership of, shall we say, extravagant behavior at funerals, but the first rule of writing is write what you know.

In addition to visiting funeral homes, my grandmother also attended quite a few funerals.  This was different from her visits to funeral homes as she only attended the funerals of people that she actually knew.  On occasion, I accompanied her to a funeral.

Invariably, it would be in the summer; you could see the heat rising from the asphalt as we rode along the highway.  In the age of the megachurch, it's hard to conceptualize that there was a time when churches did not have a/c, not even in the south. 

In an attempt to make the heat bearable, all of the church windows would be open; however, none of the windows had screens.  Flies, bees, and the occasional wasp would freely engage the congregation in a frenzy of hand waving and flailing about that culminated in a loud swat every now and then.

The deceased, displayed in an open casket at the front of the church, was not spared assault by the kamikaze insects.  Sometimes one of the church ladies would take it upon herself to fan the corpse if it was under vigorous attack.

I was absolutely fascinated with the church ladies. There would be several women at the funeral dressed like nurses. This was in the days when nurses wore only white and a Florence Nightingale starched hat on their heads. 

They would station themselves at the front of the church, near the family, looking very competent and professional as they stood on alert.  Sometimes their duties began with the procession of the family of the deceased into the church. Generally, the family members line up outside and enter the church two by two after the other guests have been seated.  This allows the guests to get a good view of all family members which comes in handy when you are discussing the funeral after everything is done.

"Did you see that skirt?  If it had been any shorter, you could have seen her draws!"

"I can't believe that she had the nerve to line up with the family.  Just because he was her baby's daddy did not mean she should have shoved her way in front of his wife!"

"Somebody must have lied to her and told her that hat looked good!"

In the course of this solemn procession into the church, some family member (always female) would become emotionally distressed, manifested by shouting the name (or nickname) of the deceased very loudly and calling on the name of the Lord.

"Big Boy...Big Boy...Lord oh Lord...Big Boy...Lord!"

The ladies in white would move in to action, catching her before she hit the floor, grabbing an elbow on each side and escorting her to a seat of prominence on the first pew of the section reserved for the family.  One would continue to pat her shaking shoulders while another provided her with a cool breeze courtesy of a fan on a wooden stick with Jesus on one side and the funeral home logo on the other.

After the pastor delivered a stirring eulogy, others would be invited to provide testimonials as to the good character of the deceased, a sort of church house open mike.  At one funeral that my mother attended, the long time companion of the dead woman had a few drinks before the 11:00 am funeral.  Holding on to the podium he proclaimed that the deceased was a real bitch most of the time but,"She was my bitch and I loved her!"

The ringing testimonials would often elicit loud wailing followed by a fainting spell. The church nurses, ever vigilant, would swoop down and provide comfort and fanning to the distraught. 

But the real mettle of the church nurses was tested at the grave side service.  In the hushed silence of the cemetery, the pastor would begin to offer a few final words before the unfortunate soul was finally laid to rest.  As he continued to speak, the sounds of audible crying would crescendo and then wane repetitively.  Then someone would continue to get louder, never waning, evolving into a wail.

"Grab her, somebody grab her!"

Whipping into action, the ladies in white would surround the target, who by this point was shouting and struggling to reach the open grave.

"I want to go with him! Lord, Big Boy, I can't live without you.  Let me go with him! Lord Jesus!"

The church ladies would hold on tightly, wrestling the wailing woman to the ground if necessary.

As a child, I innocently believed that they were real nurses.  It was only when I got older that I discovered that none of them had ever been near a nursing school.  Still, they were very good at their jobs. I've always wondered what would have happened if they would have simply turned her loose. 

Saturdays with Grandma

My father's mother had a particular fondness for funerals.  She read the obituary page on a daily basis in an effort to keep current on who was deceased in her community.  My sister tells me that she also reads the obituaries on a regular basis.  She's a middle child and has always walked to the beat of her own drum.

When we were growing up, we spent a great deal of time with my paternal grandmother.  She lived in town and we could walk or bike over to her home in a matter of minutes.  My mother's parents lived in the country and it was a 20 mile drive.  We saw them frequently but we saw my dad's mom daily.

She didn't want to be called grandma so we referred to her as Mama Reid.  Now that I've reached 51, I understand.  I'm thinking about asking everyone to call me Young Thing.

On Saturday's, the daily newspaper arrived in the early afternoon.  Mama Reid would read the paper with a particular focus on the obituary page.  Then it was time for our Saturday afternoon ritual.  She'd load my sister, brother and me into her aqua blue Chevy and we'd head for the hot dog shack. Sticking our arms out of the open car windows to catch the force of the wind, we were filled with the bottomless joy that only exists in childhood.

The hot dog shack was actually part of a service station.  You could get gas and food.  The hotdogs were a southern delight of chili, onions, mustard, and coleslaw washed down with an ice cold NuGrape soda, and followed by a moon pie for desert.  Mama Reid always joined us in this repast except her beverage of choice was RC Cola.  As the hot dog shack had no seating area, our feast was eaten sitting in the car.

With all of us well fed, it was time for the next stop, one of the local funeral homes.  Mama Reid would select our destination based on the obituaries that she had read earlier.  It didn't matter whether or not she knew the deceased; her selection criteria was a bit more macabre. If there had been a particularly bad car accident where the victim required extraordinary reconstructive skills from the undertaker in order to make him or her presentable for viewing, it was certain to make her visitation list.

She never made us come into the funeral home, always giving us the option to remain in the car until she returned.  My sister and brother wisely chose this option; I, on the other hand, let curiosity get the best of me.  

Funeral homes are unnaturally quiet places.  You step through the door and it's as if all sound has been suddenly sucked from the universe.  It was a bright summer day when I elected to follow my grandmother into the funeral home.  When the door shut behind me, I suspected that I had made a big mistake. 

We weren't the only visitors and Mama Reid immediately entered into conversation with the other two ladies who stood staring at the woman in the casket.

"She looks real good, very natural," observed one of the women.

My grandmother nodded in agreement, "You can't even tell that her head was torn clean off in that accident."  

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

No Fiction Needed

Last week I received the same e-mail from several people.  The subject line proclaimed, "Racist White Girl Group on Billboard Charts."  The article goes on to reveal that Lamb and Lynx Gaede, 13 year-old twins known in white supremacist musical circles as Prussian Blue, have released their third album, End of A Black World, to the acclaim of their fan base, selling 91,000 copies in the album's initial release.  The unprecedented album sales earned the duo 4th place on BillBoard's music chart for the week of September 22, 2006.

THE FOLLOWING WARNING IS FOR MY PEOPLE:  Before your blood pressure goes through the roof and you feel compelled to slap somebody, it is NOT, I repeat NOT true.

A search of BillBoard's official web site does not reveal any signs of the singing sisters.  They did not make the BillBoard Charts.  I also visited the official Prussian Blue web site and it appears that Lamb and Lynx have only released one complete album to date and are working on their second album. 

ANOTHER WARNING: Do not visit the Prussian Blue web site unless you have taken your blood pressure medication for the day.  My Aunt Dorothy, in response to learning that I planned to attend law school, warned that my head was in danger of exploding from too much book learning.  Up until now, my head has survived just fine but I did feel a certain throbbing of the temples as I explored little Lamb and Lynx's web site.

I'm not clear as to why anyone felt the need to create controversy around Prussian Blue when the reality is enough to frighten not only small children but a middle aged black woman. Lamb and Lynx Gaede, under the tutelage of their mother, April and April's father, are self avowed White Nationalists.  They define themselves as a White Pride Band.

Unfortunately, their race pride comes at the expense of demeaning all non-white folks.  The White Nationalist movement hides behind the pretext that the White race is in danger of obliteration and all that they are trying to do is preserve their race.  I might give them some leeway if their goals were innocent, like ensuring that NASCAR gets its props; however,it goes well beyond preserving so called white culture.  White Nationalism finds white pride in an obsession with race purity, which tends to mean isolating and/or eliminating all non-whites.  By the way, non-white appears to include people of Asian, African, Hispanic, Jewish, and Native American ancestry.  It appears that gay people, be they white or non-white are also included in the list of undesirables. 

Lamb and Lynx espouse the basic holocaust denying, race defilement garbage that characterizes the White Nationalist movement.  Lamb, a budding lyricist, includes tributes to Nazi Rudolf Hess and Neo-Nazi Robert Matthews in a little ditty included on their first album. I try and take some comfort in the fact that she is a really lousy songwriter.

Sacrifice by Lamb Gaede

Rudolf Hess, man of peace
He wouldn't give up and he wouldn't cease
Remember him and give a pause

Robert Mathews knew the truth
He knew what he had to do
He set an example with courage so bold
We'll never let that fire grow cold

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Icebergs and garbage

I should be happy.  The polls report that GWB's approval rating is at an all time low and that the Democrats are likely to reclaim power in the House and the Senate.  But I'm not happy.

According to an AP report for October 10, 2006, 2,750 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq since the war (military action?) began in 2003.  A soon to be released report, from a study primarily funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates that 600,000 Iraqi citizens have died since the conflict began.  Of course, this number is already generating controversy.  More conservative estimates put the civilian death toll around 44,000 to 50,000.  Clearly, someone did not do well in math; I'm just not sure who can't count.  I recently read that there is a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean that is double the size of Texas.  Another headline was about a severe storm that occurred in the Gulf of Alaska in October 2005 that generated an ocean swell that broke apart an iceberg floating more than 8,300 miles away near the coast of Antarctica.  Scientists speculate that global warming may have played a role in this.  To top it all off, North Korea claims to have detonated a nuclear weapon.  Condoleeza Rice says it may not be so!

I worry about these things.  However, it appears that none of these things have much to do with the possibility of Democrats taking a record number of seats in the November elections.  The Democrats owe their potential victory to former Rep. Foley.

Please don't misunderstand; I have no sympathy for Foley.  The man is an idiot, controlled by an overactive libido.  What bothers me is that the issue that has grabbed the attention of the American public, that has made that public stand ready to turn on GWB and his party, centers on a pathetic man with a perverse fascination with boys young enough to be his grandchildren.

Certainly, the Foley scandal is of concern to the young men whose innocence and trust he violated, and their families.  It is appropriate that the rest of us should be outraged at his betrayal of the trust invested in him by virtue of his office and position as a servant of the people.  But I find it frightening that were it not for Foley's horny nature, the majority of American voters would be content to maintain the status quo in Congress.

We no longer debate issues of significance such as environmental concerns like global warming, or the never ending war in Iraq.  We barely notice the rising costs of health care, the increase in the number of uninsured and under insured Americans, but we get really riled up about one congressman's salacious behavior. 

Foley was wrong; there is no defense for his actions.  Anyone who knew of his predilection for children and did nothing is just as wrong and should be dealt with accordingly.  However, I find it disturbing that the only thing that seems to rally voters to pay attention is some sleazy scandal involving an elected official.  Barring such scandalous behavior, we float along, surrounded by the garbage and never noticing the iceberg dead ahead.