Archive for July, 2012

I happen to live in a very small town. I lived in a much smaller town when I lived north of the Mason-Dixon line, but that’s another story altogether (and another lifetime altogether as well).

This small town probably isn’t very small by some standards in the state in which I reside, knowing, as I do, that many of my students come from towns so small they had 12 classmates in their graduating classes. And that, my friends, is claustrophobically small.

But to me, for all intents and purposes, this town of 18,745—give or take—qualifies as small. But remember, it’s south of the Mason-Dixon line, so things are different here. Things that, even after 17 years here, I still am not completely comfortable with, still don’t completely understand, still shake my head in wonderment about.

Dr. Pepper is one of those things.

But—as I tend to do on a regular basis, a habit I am trying to break—I digress.

There may be advantages to living in a small, southern town, but for this particular one I haven’t been able to figure out what that might be. There’s not much to it except traffic and trains (please don’t try to get from one side of town to the other unless you’re not in a hurry and have plenty of time to spare) and traffic signals that are never coordinated, not even at 3 in the morning.

This town may only have 18,745 souls, but last time I looked it up, there were 71 churches listed.  That’s one church for every 254 people. Do we need that many? How many different Baptist denominations are there anyway? I guess you could go to a different church every Sunday for fifteen months (give or take) and never repeat yourself. That might be interesting.

I guess it’s probably me: I don’t understand this need for so many churches, each one bigger and better than the next. I’m not sure that’s what God had in mind when he handed the commandment down to Moses instructing his Chosen People (who were the Israelites) about dealing with the Sabbath Day. Simply put, He said to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy. I guess all this church-going stuff is what man decided he had to do in order to “keep it Holy.”

And that’s fine. I’m not complaining about that (even though it sounds like it) I’m just trying to understand all this church-going stuff. And especially the need for 71 of them in a town that doesn’t even have 20,000 souls.

None of the churches in my small town look like this, nor do we have vast mountainsides with ravines like this, but it sure would be nice. I guess they wouldn’t consider building one that looked like that for only 254 people.

Amidst all these churches, spread out all over the town, the train tracks stretch. One goes pretty much north/south, dissecting the town in two; the other kind of goes from southeast to northwest. It, too, dissects the town. No matter where one lives in the town, one can always hear the sound of the trains—not a soft, rhythmic clack-clack-clack, but some overbearing engineer laying on the almost-as-loud-as-the-tornado-siren horn. Some of these trains move slowly; some of them move quickly. All of them are long and all of them disrupt traffic with an efficiency that is mind-boggling. There are fire stations on each side of the tracks, but the Hospital is located on the east side of town, which is probably an inconvenience to anyone on the west side, in an ambulance, trying to get to the hospital quickly whenever a train approaches.

Trains. Churches. Lots to see and do in my little town.

Not really. I was kind of lying/fibbing/stretching the truth.


Now, multiply the length of what you see here by about 10 and you get the idea. They come through town on a regular basis, night and day, horns blaring all the time. It just gets old, but I guess they have to do it because people still try to “beat the train,” people still get their cars hit by trains, and people outside of their cars get hit by the trains.

There’s no easy solution to the trains. So we turn to whatever else there is in Our Little Town.

Perhaps people who have lived here their entire lives are more enlightened than I. That’s a possibility that I’m willing to embrace, because on the surface, I don’t see much. There’s the “Expo” where they mostly have rodeos and other things concerning horses, or during basketball season, the local college’s basketball teams play there, not even half-filling the stands with student spectators. Both men and women’s teams seem to do quite well, but the student body, on the whole, doesn’t care much for going down to watch them—even though it’s free.

Next to the “Expo” there is the “Rec Center” where regular people can play basketball, swim, run laps in an indoor track, or jockey for position around the weights and weight machines. It always seems to be crowded. I could go there, but I can’t find a good time in my daily routine to fit in “sweat-with-lots-of-other-people-in-a-small-building.” Maybe next year.

We have stores, very tiny versions of large box stores, like JC Penney (or I guess they are now called JCP) and Stage (and if you aren’t from around here, you have no idea what that is. I went inside once, glanced around, and turned around and left. That’s sufficient to describe Stage.)

Of course, there’s the crappy grocery store and the less crappy grocery store. The less crappy grocery store resides in a building that leaks every time it rains. They put up “caution” cones around the lakes that form in some of the aisles. It’s always interesting to get dripped on when you are trying to pick out a new flavor of salad dressing that doesn’t include Ranch.

(Ranch dressing is ubiquitous, and people here put it on everything. Yes, everything. Even pizza. They dip their pizza in it. I have nothing more to say about that other than to note that Ranch is the epitome of nasty.)

“But,” you want to ask, in anticipation, “is there not a Wal-Mart?”

Oh, of course. Isn’t there a Wal-Mart in every single town south of the Mason-Dixon line?

And that’s pretty much what it looks like, except there’s an entrance on either side, so more people can all get in at the same time.

What else? Oh, the usual: hardware stores (three), antique stores (12+… I lost count), a couple of liquor stores (they close at 9.00 p.m.) one music store, gas stations (six or seven-ish), and the trashy dollar stores.

I’m not sure why, since there already is a Wal-Mart that sells just about every piece of junk they can possibly import from the Chinese, but I guess that’s not enough, the town needs more junky dollar stores because you can never have enough crap to buy for a dollar (except that most of the crappy junk in the crappy dollar stores costs more than a dollar, unless it’s the Dollar Tree, but our town doesn’t have one of those).

I guess having three of those crappy dollar junk stores wasn’t enough because they just approved construction on yet another one, on the corner of a residential street, where the curb cut wasn’t out on the State Highway, but right there on the residential street. I was so excited to see construction start on that empty lot, wonderful what would be built, having all sorts of good, wonderful ideas about what could be coming so close to home.

It never crossed my mind it would be another crappy junk store. (There are also lots of storage places, you know, where you can store all the junk that doesn’t fit in your house, located throughout this town, because I guess when your house is full you are required to continue to accumulate this crappy junk and rent a storage place for it.)

Really? More crappy junk? Maybe we should just donate all of it to one (or more) of the churches. Maybe they can put it to good use.

There’s no good way to end this story, except maybe to answer the question posited in the title: so far, it takes four. But I have a feeling that won’t be the last one. Like jello, I guess a small town always has room for just one more.


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Last week, the Belfast City Council announced that Lennox the dog had been “humanely put to sleep. This was in accordance with the Order of the County Court which was affirmed by the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.”

What it meant was that they had killed the dog. It doesn’t matter if it was a lethal injection or if they shot him in the head: they killed him and all the euphemisms in the world isn’t going to change that fact.

After two years of legal wrangling, the announcement came after the Council refused to let Lennox’s owners to see him one last time. They refused to return the body to them so they could mourn and bury him. They said they “might” give them some of his ashes.


It doesn’t matter if you like dogs or not, the inhumanity involved in this whole situation is heartbreaking. The poor dog, who for two years had no idea why he’d been removed from his loving home, no idea why he was being locked up, kept away from those who loved him, who had no idea who those strangers were who mercilessly killed him.

They killed Lennox even though there were options open to them. Worldwide voices rose up in protest against how the Belfast City Council was acting. Offers were made to re-house Lennox in the United States, so he would no longer be in Northern Ireland, but for unknown reasons the BCC refused to do so.

They released a video allegedly showing Lennox acting in a menacing manner, but people who have seen that video cannot find menace in the dog. To me, it is surprising that the dog was not crazed after being locked up for two years, in conditions we can only imagine.

(But you can imagine them–go to your local pound or shelter and chances are you will see the cement floors that the dogs sleep in, the cages they are kept in. Imagine what it would be like to be penned up like the for over two years. Two years.)

I believe the reason why the BCC refused to back down, refused to let Lennox see his owners one last time, refused to return the body is simple. They killed that dog a long time ago and couldn’t let anyone know.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I could be–and hope that I am–wrong. Maybe I just haven’t read every single bit of information out there about Lennox. It’s too dispiriting to do so. Many times, after reading about another attempt to free Lennox, I would have to go away from the page, and cry.

Man’s inhumanity to man is a horrible thing. But man’s inhumanity to the animals we purport to love is another thing entirely. What did the BCC get out of standing its ground and refusing to bend one inch? Nothing except the undying hatred of so many people, people who could have been shown the capacity for human kindness and understanding if the BCC had just said, “alright, we’ll let Lennox go to America.”

So many of us held onto that hope for such a long time, only to be dashed, only to be anguished by a killing that never had to be.

Shame on the people of the BCC, shame on anyone who could have done something to stop this but refused. If this is what you do with your power, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

I hope Lennox can now rest in peace. I can see him, beyond what many call the “Rainbow Bridge” happy and free, running about in the grass, playing with other dogs and cats and animals who have gone before him. He’s no longer caged and unhappy. I have to believe this. It’s difficult to look into his beautiful eyes and not see the kindness and the love that the BCC insisted was not there.

I feel pity for those people, who cannot see the goodness, who cannot bend when they are wrong, who hold onto their power to do whatever egregious things they know they can do. I hope the people of Belfast, or who ever is in charge of the BCC see to it that these people do not remain in their positions long.

It’s the least they can do in memory of Lennox. They can do what the BCC refused to do. They can do the right thing.


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I could have just called this “The Trouble With Garage Sales” but that was too simple. For every person who loves garage (or yard or tag) sales, there has to be 100 who stay away from them with fear and loathing.

I haven’t decided which side of the fence I really want to rest on, (because if someone is going to sell old bookcases, I’m definitely there); but the bottom line, I think really, for me, is that there’s something about garage sales that make them just too plain creepy.

I took part in a garage sale just once, when friends were getting ready to move from Oklahoma up to Pennsylvania and since they were moving themselves, taking along six years’ worth of accumulated stuff wasn’t conducive to a streamlined move. I went over to “help” and brought a few things I had in the closet that I knew I wasn’t going to use any more.

It wasn’t an awful Garage Sale, I suppose, but I didn’t have anything to compare it to, never having participated in one before. People drive up, come and look at your junk—sorry, treasure—pick it up, look it over, put it down, move on, pick up more stuff, maybe ask you a question. Meanwhile you’re sitting there, trying not to look anxious, trying not to be pushy, trying to be helpful, and just hoping against hope that you can unload that stuff and that someone else will see the value in it, give you a dollar or two, and haul it away from your driveway.

Okay, it was an awful Garage Sale. I remember it being very hot and moving around to try to stay in what little shade there was, drinking as much water as I could get my hands on, and wishing more people had showed up so it could have been over with sooner.

I realize—or I have come to the conclusion—that there are two types of people when it comes to Garage Sales: those who love them and are experts, and those who hate them and stay away (unless they are being run by friends or family, in which case they are rather obligated to make an appearance and get a paperback for a quarter so they can feel like they helped.)

I know I belong to the second category. And it’s too bad because I often hear from people how they find such amazing stuff and get such good deals. These are the people who know where to go and know what they are looking for, but who aren’t opposed to taking a chance and looking under the chaffing dish to see what treasures are hidden there. I’m not one of those. I’m not much of a shopper, either, so I guess it makes sense that for someone who insists on leaving the first store if they don’t have what she is looking for, who doesn’t like window shopping, and who would prefer a sharp stick in the eye to going anywhere in the country on the day after Thanksgiving, it makes sense that person isn’t going to be a Garage Sale aficionado.

I admit to purchasing two things at a Garage Sale—and the only reason why I went to it was it was directly across the street from me, and I knew the woman running it. I got a bookcase—a tall one, with five shelves—for only $10 and I was so very happy. (Anything involving very inexpensive bookcases makes me happy—and if you have one, let me know, because I still have about 300 books needing shelf space.) And then there was the large, wooden coffee table for $20 that was still an excellent deal, because it was real wood—not a speck of particle board anywhere near it. It has grooves around the edges that trap every little particle of dirt and crumb, but that’s a minor price to pay. Both were good deals.

Why, you ask, don’t you try to get good deals at other Garage Sales? Yes, that IS the big question, Why don’t I?

Because going through other people’s junk–excuse me, TREASURE–while they sit there, watching me, hoping that I’ll buy something, making me feel as if I SHOULD buy something, knowing that it’s all junk and I really don’t want it, well that just makes me inhumanly uncomfortable. I’m going to miss good things, I suppose, but that’s a small price to pay, the way I look at it.

I don’t want to feel as if people are rejecting my “treasures” and because I project (always) I don’t like to feel as if I’m rejecting someone else’s. To walk up, walk around, look at stuff, then say “thanks, have a nice day” and leave makes me uncomfortable. I know, I’m weird. That’s how I am. When things make me uncomfortable, either for myself or for other people, it’s best for me to stay home. I’m the kind of person who can’t even watch television shows where the main characters are making fools out of themselves—I feel uncomfortable for them and have to shut it down. That’s how Garage Sales make me feel.

Uncomfortable. Unwashed. Judgmental. Creepy.

So I won’t be the one to find the Picasso that’s been hiding in someone’s attic for 70 years. I’m okay with that.

I think.  But like I said before, I really haven’t decided exactly which side of the fence I want to be on. I’ll keep you posted.

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