Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County

The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County

Oftentimes, human beings act and react without undertaking a thorough analysis of the entire situation and circumstances extant at the time, and in the place, of the event. We take things out of context or place them in the wrong context or ignore context altogether. Worse, we fail to consider the consequences of making casual errors of omission or commission because of our shortsightedness. I am as guilty of this as any other schmuck, maybe more guilty, actually. I could benefit from heeding that old saw that it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool rather than to open it and prove it beyond all shadow of a doubt. In this case, I fell victim to a clash of cultures. As a student of Cultural Geography, I should have known better.

In the autumn of my senior year (1972-73) of college, I realized that I was not ready for the work-a-day world and on the advice of one of my favorite undergraduate professors (Jim Barbato) I began exploring the possibilities of graduate school. Through a series of Aristotelian accidents, I found myself at Western Kentucky University (WKU) in Bowling Green, Kentucky in August 1973.

Bowling Green was a classic central place, a crossroads of sorts, at least for south-central Kentucky. There wasn’t much in the way of urbanity to the east until Virginia or to the west until Missouri. It was 100 miles to Louisville to the north and 65 miles to Nashville to the south. For a graduate student without any spare cash or an assistantship, Bowling Green was Gotham City and you had to delude yourself into being Superman. (On my last trip through town in the mid-oughts of the 21st century, it appeared that not much had changed and that Virginia, Missouri, Nashville and Louisville had not gotten any closer.)

Early that first semester in 1973, it became readily apparent that I was quickly running out of money. My parents could not help and the economy in fair Gotham sucked. While contemplating a food-free existence, I found a job answering the telephone from 11 PM to 7 AM at the information desk of the very dormitory where I was living. The pay was minimal, but I calculated that I could eat, drink and be somewhat less miserable until December. I avoided any thoughts of paying for the spring semester.

The most important aspect of the job was to sound the alarm if there was an incident requiring an evacuation of the dorm and to alert the proper authorities. During my tenure, there were no such incidents at Bemis Lawrence Hall. I did, however, answer many calls from students trying to locate each other. The most memorable call was from the 1973 Sorghum Queen of Hancock County Kentucky.

I cannot remember her name. The sound of her voice escapes me. But I remember our brief “relationship.”

It probably was 2 AM when she called the dorm, asking for the telephone number of some guy who was in her math class. She could not remember his name his name, but she knew he lived next door to some other guy whose first name she did know. Somehow I figured out the last name of the guy she knew, called him, got the name of the fellow next door and relayed that information back to her. About an hour later she called back to thank me for helping her. She seemed rather sweet in a Southern Belle sort of way, with that fetching, enslaving accent women in Kentucky have. And she was intrigued with my accent!

“Where are you from?” she inquired.

“Rhode Island,” I replied.

“Where’s that?” she asked. “Back east somewhere?”

“Close to Massachusetts, near Boston,” I answered.

“Massatusetts?” she questioned. “Keep talking because I like the sound of your voice,” she implored.

I should have known right then that something was amiss (Massatusetts????), but I was 1000 miles from home, lonely, and lusting after that sweet syrupy voice. She was from Hancock County, near Owensboro, and had been elected the Sorghum Queen of Hancock County the previous summer. I’m sure I acted impressed, but being a rock-ribbed Rhode Island Yankee, I had no clue whatsoever what sorghum was beyond some kind of plant. I assumed that she must have been somewhat attractive being a Queen and all, so I kept on exuding my Yankee charm. We talked until 4 AM, finally agreeing to meet in a day or two at the campus amphitheater.

We met, we talked and neither of us was dissuaded from a second meeting. It did not dawn on me at the time that the competition for Sorghum Queen must have been rather weak in 1973, but that voice had me mesmerized (I confess to being desperate at the time, also). I can’t remember what we agreed to do for our first date, but it must have gone OK.

Homecoming was fast approaching and a Rock N Roll Revival show/sock hop was scheduled for the Diddle Arena. Jerry Lee Lewis, Freddie Boom-Boom Cannon, Chuck Berry, Gary U.S. Bonds, a couple of Girl Groups and a host of others were on the bill. My new buddy Ken had secured a date and suggested that the Sorghum Queen and I join them for the show. The SQ was amenable, tickets were purchased, and plans were made.

A sock hop…fifties/early sixties music…blue jeans…poodle skirts…Hush Puppies (the wearing kind, not the eating kind)…sneakers…stupid dances that I did not know all that well…liquid refreshments…some tasty snacks…good times!

On the magic night, I dressed for the sock hop, hiked to the SQ’s dorm, met her at the door and joined Ken and his date. Something seemed amiss, but I chalked it up to excitement and nerves.

The event started poorly. It seems as if no one had bothered to sign either Jerry Lee or Chuck to a solid contract, so the emcee stated that it was hoped that “…Jerry Lee and Chuck are one their way.” They never made it. The show, however, was very good, especially Gary U.S. Bonds and Freddie Cannon.

On the other hand, the SQ was not happy. Then, I noticed that she was rather overdressed for a Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival sock hop-type of affair. It quickly became apparent that she expected more of a show from me (like a suit on me and a corsage from me on her!!) since this was Homecoming Weekend. Sensing that the evening was not going to get any better, I quickly agreed to get her back to her dorm where I said good night to a cold, cold glare. I knew better than to call her again!

Soon afterwards, I lucked into a teaching assistantship for the rest of my tenure at WKU and was able to quit my position at the dorm. I never did speak with the SQ again, although I was very pointedly ignored the two times that we subsequently (and literally) bumped into each other on campus.

Two years later, being in the third year of an 18-month program, I answered the telephone at my apartment one evening to hear a charming female Kentucky voice. Stating that her name was Allyn, she said that she had heard from some unnamed friend that I was a Geography graduate teaching assistant and that she (Allyn) wanted to know more about Geography as a major. Being me, I obliged her for the better part of an hour. After hanging up, I dimly recalled hearing some muffled giggling in the background on her end of the line. On a hunch, I grabbed the WKU Directory (this was 1975 – we had no online resources) and began trolling for women named Allyn. Lo and behold, there was none with that first name. (Digression: I had a classmate in grammar and secondary school in Woonsocket whose first name was Allyn. So, I knew that it was, indeed, a female name and how to spell it!) There was, however, a woman whose middle name was Allyn and damned if her roommate wasn’t the SQ!!

I quickly dialed Allyn’s number, addressed her by her real first name, told her who I was and that I knew that her roommate had put her up to this. I dared her to ever take a Geography course at WKU.

At least I learned what sorghum is!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The right to be a stupid racisct punk

The New York Daily News cartoon depicting a prone monkey killed by police is shameful, racist, despicable, and just plain wrong. I defend the right of the cartoonist to draw it, the editor to approve it and the newspaper to publish it. Whatever negative feedback, back flash, protest, contempt, lost subscriptions, ill-will, and other rhetorical kicks in the reproductive apparatus that News Corp and Rupert Murdoch receive come with the territory. If either you don't think that the cartoon is racist or you think that it is funny, then maybe you should educate yourself by reading the history of The Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights in this country despite the 13th and 14th Amendments.

The rancid whipped cream and moldy cherry atop this sundae of excrement and vomit (the cartoon) is the News Corp statement that offers an apology IF you were offended by the cartoon. Note that News Corp did not state that they apologize FOR printing a racist, shameful cartoon; they only apologize to those they offended. To my knowledge, I do not purchase any News Corp journals, magazines or newspapers. I admit to watching "The Simpsons" and "House" at times on Fox TV. I suppose that I can boycott all that is Fox, but that would have to include "Slumdog Millionaire" which was distributed by the Fox Searchlight division of Fox.

Most boycotts do not work as they are most often symbolic protests with little economic effect. Now that I am off that hook, I'll state that I will irritate News Corp in what little ways I can. If I succeed in any way, I'll let you guys, youse guys and y'all know!

RI Yankee on Mental Vacation

I have been attempting to refocus this blog. In effect, I am trying to think but nothing is happening. I have started a series of memoirs, the first one being The Sorghum Queen of Hancock County. It's not complete, so I have decided to continue my nonsensical anti-Bush Republicanism, anti capitalism lunatic ravings for the time being.

Let's calculate: 8 years of Reaganomics; 4 years of Poppy Bush's kinder, gentler Reaganomics, 8 years of Clintonomics (moderate Republicanism with a Democratic Lite label) and 8 years of oil-field cheney-bushonomics equals 28 years of rendering of the gains working people made after WWII. Many of us no longer have good jobs despite our college educations; many of us have houses underwater in drought conditions; our 401k has become out of date Special K; crude oil prices fall and retail gasoline prices have started rising again; don't eat the peanut butter cookies; don't give your baby anything from China; my mattress is safer then Citi or BOA; Both get federal subsidies from us/US but neither will help us by lowering their usurious credit card interest rates.

Last night President Obama gave a rousing pep talk and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) responded with the usual far-right-rhetoric, blaming all of the world's fiscal problems on Obama's stimulus package, somehow forgetting 28 years of trickle-down fiscal fiction and war-mongering fiscal excess at his own party's blood-stained hands. Just had to love how Jindal bloviated that Louisiana had financed its own post-Katrina recovery, somehow ignoring the some $175bb of Federal help. Jindal sounds suspiciously like Barbara Bush who thought that the accommodations of the Astrodome were quite comfy. Maybe the Gov. has been snorting some of the formaldehyde in those FEMA trailers.

As I write this, the DJIA is down 155 points. Thanks to all of those traders who have further destroyed our retirement funds for a quick profit after yesterday's 200+ point rise. I am so happy that the Bush plan to churn our SS money into 401K plans did not happen. Watch out, however, there is a bipartisan plan afoot to ditch SS for another rich-people-win scheme: see The Nation for 3/2/2008 - "The Man Who Wants to Loot Social Security ("