Thursday, July 24, 2014

THERE USED TO BE THIS PLACE CALLED "OPRYLAND" (but now there's a mall...)

          If you grew up in middle Tennessee, or if you had kids grow up here, you probably remember the country music theme park known as Opryland USA.  It was an overpriced, overcrowded amusement park, featuring corny country music venues and gift shops, long lines, short thrill rides, and some really impressive stage productions, all in the backyard of the Grand Ole Opry house next door to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  It was a family oriented place, which translates to "you'll be driven crazy by hundreds of children you can't legally snatch up and smack on the butt".  And by god, we loved it.

           I can see some of my friends rolling their eyes at the very thought of confessing affection for the place.  We used to trade horror stories about the insufferable heat, humidity, and crowds encountered there.  But now, looking back, all of that seems insignificant.  Like a lot of other people in the southeast, I miss Opryland and wish it was still operating next to the Cumberland River. 

          It's not that I miss standing in line in ride the Flume Zoom or the Grizzly River Rampage.   And I could happily go another twenty or thirty years without being stung by a yellow jacket while waiting for kids to finish playing in the ball cage or the inflatable hill climb attraction.  But, we've got a little person hanging around with us from time to time now, and finding things to do in a "family atmosphere" isn't as easy as one might think.

           Today I was charged with keeping my wife's eight year-old niece entertained, and knew she wouldn't be too keen to spend another day puttering around in our garden, or watching me take photographs of bluebirds and hummingbirds in the backyard.  No, the kid's summer is almost over, and she's itching to do something different, something she hasn't done before.  That's when I remembered Opryland.

          Now, I knew when I picked her up this morning that I couldn't haul her to the suburbs of Nashville to visit an amusement park, even though the official sign advertising Opryland still stands on the side of westbound I-24.  No, I couldn't take her to Opryland.  But I could take her to visit the shopping mall that replaced the park.

          You see, even though millions of us visited Opryland USA annually, the people who ran the place determined that they could make more money by closing the theme park and replacing it with yet another mall.  And so they did.  Opryland USA closed in 1997, and no one around here could believe it.  How could a place that popular and that much of a cash cow be dismantled in favor of a shopping mall?  

          But the mall is sort of nice, if you're into malls.  There are a some great anchor stores, the biggest and best of which is probably the Pro Bass Shop, a retail paradise for hunters and fishermen.  Coincidentally, that's the store for which I had been given a $50 gift card a few weeks ago.  It's a forty minute drive from our house to that mall, but I figured it had enough attractions to keep an eight year-old busy for a little while.

         I had no idea.

         As soon as we entered the Opry Mills Mall, my niece's eyes widened.  And as she walked past store after store, each more intriguing than the last, she announced, "I LOVE THIS PLACE!"

         And she did have a large time.  She insisted we ride a carousel together thirty seconds after eating a couple of slices of greasy food court pizza, and as it turns out this particular carousel has a twirly-wheel thing a couple of people can sit and spin around in as the merry-go-'round goes merrily around.  And it also turns out that this eight year-old loves to spin around at warp speed, because even my best efforts to slow our centrifugal force were met with a fierce determination to spin us even faster.  For a moment or two I was quite certain I was about to become a spinning fountain of pizza and soda... but mercifully, the ride ended before anything THAT memorable happened.  (word to the wise: if you're ever on a spinning twirly-wheel thing on a carousel, don't look up...)

         But here's the thing.  Even though the kid had a ball, and even though she got to see mounted bears, deer, sheep, mountain lions, elk, and moose in the Pro Bass Shop, and even though she got to watch fish as large as herself in their aquarium, and even though she climbed in and out of at least eight different pontoon boats, amazed at how cool BOATS are (she's never been in a boat on the water), and even though I believe she personally touched every item for sale in every store, I couldn't help but think of how much fun she would have had at that old overpriced, overcrowded, hot as hell in July country music amusement park that used to sit on that very site.

          Maybe I just being nostalgic, or sentimental.  Maybe if Opryland USA was still drawing massive crowds next to the Cumberland River outside of Nashville I wouldn't be so enamored with the thought of spending an entire day there.  I don't know.  But I do know my kids had some great memories at that place, and I'm pretty sure this little girl would have loved to experience some of the things they still remember.

          And the best thing about the old theme park?  The carousel didn't have one of those Vomit Comet twirly-wheel things.  






Tuesday, July 22, 2014

PONDERING MY SIXTIETH LAP AROUND THE SUN (and fighting a serious case of denial about it all...)

            I don't know how this can possibly be happening.  People who turn sixty are old farts, ready for the rocking chair, swilling Ensure and paying attention to Fred Thompson's sorry spiel in those reverse mortgage commercials.  I can't be sixty years-old!  Shit, I don't even know what I want to be when I grow up!

            There's been some sort of mistake.  It was only a couple of years ago I was a "young man with potential."  Sixty isn't "young".  Sixty's like a twelve year-old dog... you don't keep tossing that tennis ball into the lake if your dog is twelve or thirteen years-old, unless you're trying to get rid of an animal that's taking too many trips to the vet.  And lately I feel like I'm diving in after that tennis ball every time I turn around...

             For the past few months I've been doing chauffeur duty for my lovely (young and dangerous) wife's mom, because the nature of her serious medical condition precludes Miss Daisy from doing her own driving.  When you sit in an infusion room for hours every week, you get to know the usual suspects who often show up for their treatments at the same times.  A lot of those people are my age.  Many of them are much younger.  I know that should make me feel grateful for my health, but it doesn't always work that way.  Often I feel like I've just been lucky to get this far along in life without going through anything like the ordeals those good people are facing.  Another thing about spending so much time in that hospital is the sense of embarrassment I get when I look around and see hundreds and hundreds of people fighting for their lives, when my biggest complaint is having to deal with another birthday.  Some of those folks would give anything for another birthday... and here I sit bitching about mine.

             I have no idea why this one seems more daunting than the others.  I know, it's just a number.  You're only as old as you smell, right?  But something's different about "Happy Sixtieth!", and everyone knows it.  Sixty is that demarcation line in the chronological chain of events... the one right before you start getting Social Security checks in the mail, along with those AARP promotions.  Sixty is the birthday with the black balloons.  Sixty candles on a cake melts the icing and sets off fire detectors.  Sixty is way too old to be considered "funny", but not old enough to be deserving of "Wow!  You're 90?  You don't look a day over 60!"

             I don't want to look a day over 60.  And tomorrow when it's official, I'm going to do my best to shrug it off as if I don't really mind officially being eight years away from the age of my own father at his death.  

             Picasso once said, "One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it's too late."

              I'm in denial about this one.  Stop the world, I want to get off.  Someone slow this orb down, because the years are going by like slats on a picket fence.  I can remember when it took FOREVER to get from Christmas to my birthday.  Everything's at hyperdrive, going by in a blur, and no one else seems to notice how fast it's happening.

              There's that bucket list of things I wanted to do, places I wanted to visit... and when I bring it up, others tell me "you still have time to do all of those things!"  But they don't believe that shit any more than I do.  I don't think the Great American Novel is in the cards, any more than that trip to Barbados or Tahiti.  I'm reaching that point in life where I'm happy if I can remember where I've left my damn glasses and car keys.

              So do me a favor.  Don't bring this birth anniversary up, if you can help it.  Follow my lead and pretend it's not happening.

               I can't possibly be sixty years-old.  I had plans.


Sunday, July 20, 2014


          This is a photo being pushed around on social media, a song being sung to the conservative choir, many of whom are genuinely ashamed of the behavior of like-minded bigots on our southern border.  Mobs of angry people have been blocking the paths of buses carrying frightened children, banging on the sides of the buses and shouting for those refugees to "go home!"  And the negative backlash film footage of those "protests" has evoked is now making some conservatives leery of allowing the truth to be told.  Many conservatives have been shocked by news reports of teabaggers scaring unaccompanied children, and a lot of charitable folks are beginning to find fault with their allegiances to such hateful behavior.

           And the right simply can't allow that to happen.

           So they're pushing this photo, purportedly showing the "children" everyone is so concerned about.  In truth, the photo shows images of the thugs those kids are trying to evade by coming to America.

           Most of us can recognize and call "bullshit" at a glance.  But never underestimate the ignorance and gullibility of people inclined to believe whatever their crazy rightwing uncle sends them in an email.  You'll always be disappointed if you do.  People believe this sort of thing, and unless it's challenged it soon becomes their truth.

           Don't ignore blatant attempts to twist facts.  Speak up.  Challenge obvious lies whenever they're passed along as facts, or they become realities for those who don't know better.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

WHEN TRAGEDIES BECOME "DISTRACTIONS" (how dare disasters interrupt good talking points!)

A big ol' distraction in the Ukraine                      

           It doesn't take long for incredibly tragic news to be labeled a distraction these days.  Almost as soon as the first reports of the downing of the Malaysian airliner hit the airwaves, certain pundits were suggesting the possibility that it was an event designed to "distract" from the refugee crisis on our southern border.  Others were predictably quick to blame the incident on President Obama's weak foreign policy.  Still others warned that unless we fixed our borders, or put a halt to gay marriage, or repealed Obamacare (insert the meme du jour here) we'd suffer hurricanes, tornadoes, plagues of locusts, or a deluge of frogs raining from the sky.  

            Sean Hannity, ever the bastion of restraint, asked on-air if Obama would command all golf course flags to be lowered to half-mast.  Isn't that clever?  

             There's a phrase conspiracy theorists (we used to them as cranks and crackpots, but now they have a much nicer label, one that almost suggests the possibility of lucidity) like to use these days, whenever one of these horrible "distractions" occurs, and that phrase is "false flag".  They point to verifiable crimes such as the Sandy Hook massacre or the Aurora theater shooting and deny they ever happened, calling them inventions of a liberal media doing the President's bidding in order to distract from his various scandals.  It used to be the IRS "scandal".  Then it was the Benghazi "scandal".  Now it's the flood of undocumented minors crossing our southern border seeking asylum.  

             For the most part, we listen to these asshats with bemused scorn.  They're almost too funny to be taken seriously.  But a disturbing trend has begun to develop.  It's not worrisome that Faux Noise Channel sock puppets like Hannity or O'Reilly spout their usual bullshit, because we've long ago concluded that those who are swayed by their rhetoric can't be reached by pesky ol' facts.  No, the troubling thing is that certain (again, very predictable) prominent politicians are now taking up these insane claims.  

             Senator John McCain, the guy who tried to put Blunder Woman one heartbeat away from the presidency, calls the Obama administration "cowardly" for not providing arms to the Ukrainians.  He said the same thing about the administration's failure to arm rebels in Syria.  And Iran.  And anywhere else that might need the help of our military arms manufacturers.  McCain is the Archie Bunker of the American right.  Archie wanted to solve the problem of airliner hijackings by passing out handguns to all of the passengers on the planes.  McCain thinks more "good guys with guns" would stop all of the bad things from happening around the globe, disregarding the fact that groups such as ISIS in Iraq are basically armed with confiscated American weaponry... in the same way that the Taliban in Afghanistan was able to match Soviet military might with American surface to air missiles.  He's a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment right of everyone to purchase and bear American arms.

             So the downing of a Malaysian airliner is a distraction from the border.  Or a distraction from Benghazi.  Or a distraction from the mythical IRS scandal.  


               Send in the clowns.  Oh wait... they're already here.