Tag Archives: chicago

My Kids Will Never Swim in Nigger Lake

Standard

Last year, I visited my father at his new home in Varnville, South Carolina, population 2,159. I made the trip out of a sense of daughterly duty, because I’m pre-wired to avoid small, southern towns. First of all, I’m not interested in hanging out with anything bred to eat me. The mosquitoes down there are the size of linebackers, instinctively conditioned to track my bourbon-infused high country scent, trap me in some kind of Kafkaesque buzzing halo of wings, and attack. I’m not a fan of brain-crushing humidity either, and on a day when the scale hits ninety degrees and 100% sticky-steamy sog? I’d rather self-service the mercury-lined fillings in my mouth with a pair of rusty pliers than step outside. I’m biased when it comes to the threat of boredom too, but then again, I’ve learned over time that some of us are… biased, that is, and in more meaningful ways than mine.

My dad's barn is the perfect breeding ground for face-eating mosquitos.

My dad’s barn is the perfect hiding place for an army of face-eating mosquitos.

On a deeper level, my discomfort stretches beyond physical borders and into the psyche of my childhood. I’m not exactly from the Deep South, but my entire family hails from Georgia and I was raised in Kentucky. Our roots are planted well below the Mason Dixon line, strong enough to have thrived in an environment of patchy soil, yet somehow growing pliable and firm.

Image via humboldt.edu

The soil I speak of here doubles as a metaphor; I grew up in an era of desegregation, when well-intended county school officials tried to right horrendous wrongs and bring together a black and white landscape dotted by socioeconomic segments of the local population that had always existed too many worlds apart.

On paper, everything looked good. White kids were bused downtown to attend predominantly African-American schools, and black kids traveled tree-lined streets each morning toward polished hallways tucked away in the suburbs. If you took the time to really look…actually peek through the window at my school, though, you’d see a different picture than the one county officials were trying to draw, because statistics aren’t three-dimensional and paint-by-number stories are often incomplete.

Image via tucsoncitizen.com

If you mix red and yellow you get orange, but only when the colors truly blend. That wasn’t happening in my school. We coexisted peacefully but separately, gliding past one another in the hallways like phantom ships; each as unfamiliar to the other as a foreign language. In an environment that was supposed to bring alienated people together, we remained apart. Despite the best of intentions, there was an unspoken sense of “us” and “them,” all depending on who wore the home team jersey.

Image via educationews.org

Even though I was raised in a family that believed strongly in racial equality, bigotry surrounded me like the stench of stale smoke when I was growing up. It was far enough away for me to keep its cancerous tentacles at bay, but always lurked in the shadows; behind a decaying door I didn’t want to open. No one in my family was surprised that the minute I graduated from college I catapulted myself to Chicago. I have many reasons to love my hometown, but I always felt a little out of place, like I was the prototypical boomerang kid destined to wander away with a clear path toward home marked on a map tucked safely in my pocket. Just in case.

I left for college in 1988, and since then have only been back to visit. I can’t pin my permanent move away from my southern roots on racism, but in the busy streets of Chicago I found a place that truly felt comfortable…bursting with people dressed in a kaleidoscope of cultures, ideas and opinions. Everyone was different, which is to say, in many ways, the same.

Image via smartdestinations.com

All I have to do is look in the mirror to see that 1988 was a long time ago. My guess is that anyone who happens to read this post and lives in Louisville would say my hometown has grown and flourished both racially and culturally since I left. I’ll take a preemptive guess, and trust that’s the case.

So what does all of this have to do with Varnville, SC?

On Monday, as I watched President Obama ask America to look forward to the future in his inaugural address, I couldn’t help but think about the recent past. I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of my dad’s neighbors in Varnville last spring when I went to visit him: stalked by mosquitos in the blazing hot sun, and a little bored. Tucked into a backdrop of harmless talk about crops, cows, and kids, he told me that if I brought my children to visit their grandfather, I should be sure to take them swimming in Nigger Lake. The word rolled off his tongue seamlessly, as if it had always belonged right where it sat. Stubborn. Repulsive. Wrong.

No matter how much the world changes, some people, sadly, stay the same. On a day when I should have focused on how far our country has come, I was reminded of where we have yet to go.

I’d like to blame whatever remains of racism in America on the people who fought for what I consider to be the wrong side of the Civil War. My people. But before posting, I sent this to my super-scary-smart cousin, Barry Paschal, a newspaper publisher in Georgia. The subject matter I’m writing about makes me uncomfortable, and since I generally like to bask in the glow of a warm, rising sun, I wanted to test this rancid water and consider his point of view. He responded with an incredibly thoughtful critique, including a simple Google search that highlighted other parts of our country like Niggerhead Point, VT and Niggerhead Rapids, ID, two areas that clearly aren’t in the south. He helped me see that our problem is pervasive, and exists wherever we, as individuals, choose to let it live. With that thought in mind, it still surprised me that my spellcheck didn’t auto correct the word “nigger” when I proofed this piece. It recognized it. How sad.

The state of New York renamed its own Nigger Lake in 2011. Image via gawker.com

Never Ignore The Little Voice Inside Your Head.

Standard

When I was thirty-two years old, I was mugged.

With ten years of city life in Chicago under my belt, a genetic disposition toward calculated risk (a ticker tape of pros and cons runs in a continuous loop through my head), and a fairly acceptable amount of caffeine flowing through my veins, I raced out the door one muggy summer morning to power walk a few short blocks and sign my son up for baseball. This was during the Mesozoic Era, or pre-electronic enrollment, and I knew I had about a twenty-minute window to make the line before all spots would be taken, thereby denying my son the necessary foundation to learn to hit a ball off a tee, which was an absolute must if he was ever going to claim his rightful spot in the Cubs starting lineup.

That’s the inside of my brain. Image via addamsfamily.com

Apparently, everyone else in my neighborhood had older kids, no kids and were therefore hung over, or happened to be White Sox fans, because on that particular morning, the street was deserted.

Well, almost deserted.

A couple of blocks deep into my line of sight, I noticed someone walking toward me: brisk pace, slumped shoulders, hoodie half-covering his head. He kind of resembled one of my favorite guest stars from 21 Jump Street, but not one of the good guys. More than any fictional character, though, he looked like someone who didn’t want to be seen.

Image via nydailynews.com

Having intentionally exposed myself to a ridiculous amount of 80s trivia-caliber crime shows growing up, I was immediately on guard. But I also had time to think, which, as fate would have it, ended up being a big mistake.

As the sketchy figure approached, I debated the voice inside my head that, at this point, had busted through my ticker tape and was jumping up and down against the inside of my cranium, screaming at me to cross the street.

This is my sixth sense busting through my internal ticker tape of logic. Image, via fandomania.com, not to scale.

The conversation went something like this:

Sixth Sense: “Hey. Are you, like, awake or what? There’s only one other person in the entire city of Chicago who’s outside right now, and he happens to be walking toward you. He doesn’t appear to be stumbling home from a walk of shame and he’s not dressed in a suit carrying a bible. In fact, he looks kind of scary.”

Conscience: “I see him.”

Sixth Sense: “O.K., great. What are you gonna do?”

Conscience: “Nothing.”

Sixth Sense: “Right. Perfect answer, because he’s now about a block away, has yet to look up so you can see his face, and appears to be roughly twice your size.”

Conscience: “I realize that, but you don’t know what he’s about any more than I do.”

Sixth Sense: “I don’t need to know. I can feel who he is, and on a scale of 1 – 100, I’d guess somewhere in the “absolute certainty” range that he isn’t someone who wants to be your friend.”

Conscience: “You’re just projecting fear.”

Sixth Sense: “Exactly.”

Conscience: “Listen, I’m not jaded like you. In case you haven’t noticed, ever since 9/11 there’s been a lot of misguided profiling in this country, and I don’t buy into false labels. I’m standing my ground.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re asking for it.”

Conscience: “You’re stereotyping.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re smarter than this.”

Conscience: “You’re better than this.”

Sixth Sense: “You’re an idiot.”

Conscience: “You’re an ass.”

At this point in my two-sided internal monologue, the partially hooded man walked quickly by, only lightly brushing my shoulder as he passed.

“See?” I said to myself, smug and satisfied as the stranger circled back, and with a rapid-sequence series of moves that could only be the work of a Ninja or a professional thief, attempted to rip my arm off from behind. Because it was attached to my purse.

None of these ninjas mugged me. Image via travelblog.org

Now, since I’d already done such a fantastic job of following the logical, subconscious direction dictated by a vocal minority of my brain, I proved to be equally awesome at thinking on my feet. I did exactly what every cop, teacher, and after-school special tells you not to.

As he grabbed, I flexed. When he pulled, I hung on, pitting us in a five-second tug-of-war that felt more like the time it would take to tread water through a football field of quicksand in a pair of Christian Louboutins.

Image via shoeblog.com.

Finally, my strap broke, he grabbed my purse, and sprinted away. I ran in the opposite direction, but not before stopping to pick up my wallet, which had fallen to the sidewalk during our fight.

In the end he stole a 37” Samsonite Comfort Travel umbrella, a list of people who had sent gifts to my newborn daughter, and some thank you cards. I have no idea who was on that list, but now, ten years later, if you sent a present and didn’t hear from me? I’m truly sorry, but it wasn’t my fault, so please stop ignoring my friend requests.

Image via mnandp.files.wordpress.com

Although I’m attempting to highlight the humor as I tell this story, my experience was the exact opposite. It was horrendous. I suffered from insomnia for months, pacing the floor in my bedroom as I played, replayed, and overplayed the virtual Rubik’s Cube combination of decisions I could have made that day but didn’t, not to mention the potential outcomes. I know there are countless people who’ve been in similar situations with worse results. In the end, I was lucky.

Getting mugged isn’t exclusive to my gender. I have male friends who’ve been robbed (and thankfully not shot) at gunpoint, which has to be a harrowing experience. But when a man enters a woman’s personal space, uninvited and intending harm, it’s a violation that’s difficult to shake, with a magnitude of future influence that’s even harder to define. The physical odds are beyond unevenly stacked when it comes to defense, and the moral implication behind the intent has the potential to be, and often is, life-changing.

And that’s why I think women have developed a 6th sense. Because we need it.

Women often try to be everything to everyone else, paying little attention to our own inner voices. We’re a nurturing gender, and want to believe, sometimes contrary to the preponderance of evidence presented, in the power of good.

In those few moments when I talked myself out of doing what was right and inevitably made decisions that were completely wrong, my intent was honest even if my execution poor. I didn’t want to label someone. I wanted to be nice. I didn’t want to judge. I wanted to walk by that man and feel justified in the knowledge that I hadn’t bought into stereotypes. I didn’t want to run. I wanted to be fair.

I made a big mistake.

A couple of hours after I was mugged, the police officer showed up to file a report, and told me there was a series of shootings that morning about ten blocks from my house. They happened earlier, and all involved robbery. Was it the same guy? I’ll never know. They didn’t catch him. But I’ll always wonder.

When your 6th sense tells you to do something, listen. I didn’t, and I was fortunate to get the chance to try again.

The Other Side of David Versus Goliath or Why I Actually Feel Bad for Duke Fans and Will Cut You for My Team

Standard

Everyone loves a Cinderella story unless you’re the older, more experienced stepsister who, even though you’ve been around the block one too many times, are a little passive-aggressive and decidedly OCD, is used to getting your way.

Like you, I prefer to take the underdog’s side in just about everything in life. Except college basketball. That’s where I draw a really clear line.

I grew up in Louisville, KY, better known as ground zero for NCAA hoops. You won’t find any native of the state who says, “I really don’t care who wins when Louisville and Kentucky play each other every year. I’m just out here for the five-way chili cheese dogs, a mint julep, and a little bit of fun.”

Wrong.

Basketball in Kentucky is a blood sport, right up there with cockfights and whatever Michael Vick was doing in his backyard with innocent dogs. Veins course in either a bright shade of red or electric blue, and there’s no chance of a transfusion between the two. You’d rather die on the table than risk being infected with vital fluids of a fan from the other team. The Great Wall of China might as well be running along the rolling, bluegrass-covered hills of our sidewise state, because loyalty is embedded so deeply below the earth that not even Sarah Palin in a bikini with a machine gun could loosen it up.

This is not a real picture. But oh, how I wish it was. Image via politicalhumor.about.com

As I watched in disbelief when Lehigh University took it to Duke in the final minutes of the game last Friday night, I couldn’t help but flash back to a David and Goliath moment of my own, when Louisville played no-name Morehead State in the NCAA tournament last year. The game was in Denver, and having convinced my husband, Scot, that we should blow the money we’d set aside for a new washer and dryer on box seats, I was actually there. Front and center.

The first sign of trouble reared its head before the game actually began. As I settled in with a five-way chili cheese dog and ginormous Coors Light, I searched my section for a friendly, painted face, and noticed that nobody but me was wearing the requisite red and black. Since I was clearly gonna be responsible for leading section 148 in the U of L fight song, ushering the arena toward the cheers my mom sang to me when I was a baby, and starting the wave, I shotgunned the entire $20.00 beer I was holding and went back for another before the players even hit the court. I was literally buzzing in anticipation of the action, and in hindsight, blowing my t-shirt money on alcohol before it all started was a big mistake. Leadership can be stressful though, especially when you’re drunk.

Was Sarah Palin drunk or sober during the Vice Presidential debates? You be the judge. Image via http://www.americantimes.org.

The second problem that day was the fans, and not just the annoying guy with the big bobble head sitting right in front of me in a Vandy hat. More on him in a minute. I’m talking about an arena full of thirty-something generation X whities in their khaki Dockers/Steinmart golf shirts/receding hairlines who’d kicked off work for the day because their buddy scored a free set of tickets. They didn’t even know who was on the court.

Morehead State? Is that, like, right next to Russia? Image via backseatcuddler.com

If I was drinking a beer every ten minutes? Everyone else was doubling down as they high-fived each other and screamed with the wild abandon of 5th graders off their ADHD meds, “MORE HEAD MORE HEAD MORE HEAD!” Get it? More head? As in “Morehead State” chanted in a dirty way and nothing like the cheers my mom sang to me as a child. I mean, how do you compete with that? Nobody, and not even the ushers, were spelling C-A-R-D-S with me in my upper body, pseudo-Village People dance moves, and my team was handicapped right out of the gate.

So I got louder. I had the monumental task of carrying the entire arena, and probably city of Louisville for that matter, as the other guys scored basket after basket and that dude who now plays for the Nuggets started the painful process of taking us down. Destroying a team with multiple NCAA titles, a rock star coach who can get away with wearing white pimp clown suits on occasion, and an almost unpayable mortgage on a state-of-the-art arena isn’t easy. Being the only person under the glaring lights at an away game who’s cheering for the anointed ones (who everyone in the state of Colorado apparently now hates) isn’t easy either, and that’s where the bobble head guy comes in.

Image via nbcuniversalstore.com

Vandy dude, with his invisalign braces and baseball-cap turned backwards in an “I’m not as old as I look” pathetic play on youth, was in the fortunate position of occupying the seat right in front of me and my big mouth during the game. As I ratcheted up the volume for my hometown team, he turned it on for that other school in Kentucky where you go when your grades aren’t good enough to get into WKU. Even though he was there for the next game being played and had no real skin exposed, by halftime he was turning around and nodding at me in an exaggerated white man’s overbite, can’t find the beat to the song expression of glee whenever the back-and-forth on the court went in the direction of Morehead State.

So I did what any self-respecting, organic produce buying, kettlebell throwing, member of the local library coalition, forty year-old, mother of three would do in the same situation.

I got in a fight.

Sarah Palin uses any words she can find, in random and non-sequential order, in a fight. Image via http://www.palingates.blogspot.com

Before the Louisville-Morehead State game, the last fight I started was at a bar in Chicago. I was about thirty and my husband and I were there with friends to see a Neil Diamond/Abba impersonator band: Thunder and Lightning. Thunder was this ancient dude with Grecian Formulaish hair and awesome, sparkly shirts, and Lightning was the girl/grandma, wearing machine gun jubblies and some kind of Renaissance Festival hat and gown. Anyway, you had to knock down about 34 drinks or so to really get into it. So I did.

Before I knew it I was dumping a full beer over some guy’s head who told me I looked like Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs. I have no idea why that bothered me at the time because I think she pretty much rocks. But whatever. Somehow aware in the shaky neuron misfiring of my brain that I was once slated to go to law school and naturally possessed the rabid mind of an attorney, I didn’t actually crack the glass bottle onto his head. Instead, I poured it over him with an exaggerated motion: like I was slugging a clogged bottle of ketchup. I had pretty much emptied the whole thing and was going back for round two when the bouncer threw me over his shoulder and dumped me out the door and into a cold, dark alley. But at least I wasn’t in the back of a cop car. I didn’t even get to hear the Cracklin’ Rose/SOS duet.

It felt like déjà vu as the clock ticked down at the Pepsi Center, the six true Morehead State fans in the house plus 20,000 drunk pharmaceutical salesmen erupted into deafening applause, and the Vandy dude turned around and pointed his finger in my face. Yes. He was in my face in the same way that you would nail a dodgeball at your lab partner’s head in 4th grade and yell, “In your face!

I turned to look Scot in the eye, he shook his head back and forth in a “please do not embarrass me again” appeal toward any shred of rational thought left in my body as he rolled up his sleeves to defend me, I shrugged my shoulders, bared my teeth, and attacked.

Sarah Palin uses a lot of whitening products. Image via the immoralminority.blogspot.com

Luckily my husband was sober, grabbed me by the hair as I flew, no, tumbled into the air in an Angelina Joliesque cat move intended to crush the dude with the big head, and took me down. My dream of connecting my heel to Vandy dude’s face was destroyed by Scot’s quick reflexes, and instead I ended up flat on my back as he commandeered the keys to the SUV. I had to be in carpool line within the hour to get the kids and nobody really wants to deal with a drunk, crying basketball mom crashing onto the sidewalk and taking the kindies down one-by-one.

So what am I trying to say? I’m not really sure, except it sucks a lot more to go down as Goliath than David.  Lehigh University and Morehead State were just happy to be at the dance. Teams like Duke, Kentucky, and Louisville are supposed to be the prom queens, and when you lose to that girl who stole your boyfriend? It hurts.

An Interview You Will Never Read in the Local Paper

Standard

For reasons I don’t quite understand, a kind friend asked to interview me for the neighborhood paper.  My responses, written at about 11:30 p.m. last night, are listed below.  I realized immediately upon waking that these will never see the light of day in actual print, so I thought I’d share them with you.

What is your background?  

I was raised in Kentucky, which is both the college basketball and weed capital of the world.  Incidentally, the majority of Colorado’s medicinal marijuana is imported from my home state.  Just kidding.  I made that up.  It’s actually grown in your neighbor’s creepy basement.  Those blackout shades were installed for a reason after the house went back to the bank.

creepy basement cat

creepy basement cat (Photo credit: ~!)

I spent twelve years in Chicago post-college (Miami of OHIO. Please don’t confuse my alma mater with that football International Baccalaureate of thugdom in Florida), where I met my husband, popped out three children, taught myself to parallel park one unfortunately placed car at a time, and carried a shiv pretty much 24/7.

peppermint shiv

peppermint shiv (Photo credit: Rakka)

How long have you been in Colorado?

After getting mugged more often than the Cubs scored runs, we packed up the family seven years ago and descended on the sunny suburbs of Colorado, where, until our creditors catch up with us, we’re here to stay.

What are the ages of your kids and what did you do before becoming a parent?

Our children are 11, 9 and 7, and before they came along I did everything in my power to avoid having them.  Just kidding…again!  I was a commercial real estate broker, which totally prepared me to be a stay-at-home mom because I dealt with selfish, immature, whiny little people every day.  Nobody peed in my face when I was changing a diaper though, so that element of motherhood was kind of a surprise.

image by anatanasia_valeria

What made you start writing and why did you start your own blog?

I started writing my novel about a year ago because, with the ankle-biters in school (finally!), I had way too much time on my hands.  When you earn VIP status at Kohl’s and they’re calling you every day for Franzia and queso parties (that you regularly attend), something’s gotta give.  I started my blog this past Christmas so I could avoid working on my novel and feel good about it.

nasty queso Image via flickr

Tell me about the book that you are working on.

My novel is middle grade fiction focused on a friendship triangle that includes mystery, major BFF friction, love gone wrong, and dodgeball Pom girls. I promise there’s nothing like it on the shelves, and if I were honest with myself, I’d acknowledge there’s a reason for that.

What has been the reaction to your blog?  Do you have a lot of followers?

The reaction to my blog has been surprisingly positive, especially from the people who stay awake long enough to get to the bottom of my posts.  It’s completely random, and for me, super-fun.  I’ll never admit how I got my followers, but the word “bribe” is pretty prevalent in my daily lexicon.  Well, that and the phrase “your image has been captured on film.”

CCTV cameras

Image via Wikipedia

I love to write, the most rewarding part being that I’ve finally convinced my therapist I’m not a schizoid.  At the end of the day, I really do believe in a balanced budget, the tooth fairy, and unicorns, and all of the voices I channel are (scary to say) real.