Friday, September 18, 2009

State Memories Project: Oklahoma

Two of my all-time favorite students, Katelyn and Sarah, qualified for Nationals in Student Congress at the University of Oklahoma in 2001. On the Sunday before the tournament started, we went to the Alfred P. Murrah Building memorial downtown. It was gorgeous in its simplicity…168 empty chairs…19 of them a little smaller than the others. I’d have to say it’s more impressive than any similar memorial I’ve ever been to.

The day we happened to visit, however, was the day before Timothy McVeigh’s execution. Therefore, quite a few family members seeking closure were visiting, heading out to their lost loved ones’ chairs (only family are allowed off the paths to touch the chairs). Additionally, there were TV crews and cameras from around the country crawling all over the joint.

I remember a woman from somewhere in the Caribbean leaning in front of a camera and saying something like “Barbados says hello! Hello from Barbados!” when the cameraman very professionally and politely replied “Excuse me, ma’am, could you please step aside so I can film the family member down there?” (Paula, my coach at Columbine and one who knows something about media hordes descending on tragedy, later told me that the woman was doing the family a favor by keeping the camera off of them.)

Katelyn, Sarah and I then wandered along the mourners’ fence, where people leave tokens of remembrance for the victims. I was most moved by a Columbine HS discount card…perhaps left by a CHS debater? As we were wandering, occasionally talking about some items we saw, we were interrupted by a professional-looking young woman.

“Hi. Would you guys mind wearing this microphone? Just keep walking and saying what you’d normally say, but would you wear this microphone while you do it?”

Turns out she was from the local Fox station in Boston. We were going to be on the news back there.

If I had it to do over again, I’d have refused the microphone, but I wore it, and Katelyn, Sarah and I wandered the wall, perhaps over-aware of what we were saying, but trying to act normal and appropriately reverent—while miked for an audience of strangers.

It is a testament to the memorial that the dignity of the place won out over the circus atmosphere.

State Memories Project: Ohio

I’m not a fan of the “best years of our lives” label, since there are so many ways to measure that. Nonetheless, Kenyon is #1 in many of those measures. I learned so much, pushed my mind more than at almost any time since, and made friendships that hold strong 20 years later. It is for that latter reason that my best memory from Ohio is not from my actual time at Kenyon, but from a reunion in May 2001.

Chasers, the a cappella group I was a part of, has reunions every four years or so. The only one I’ve been able to attend was that year. Most of the key representatives from my era (which I classify as the classes of 1988-ish to 1996-ish) were there, albeit with a dearth of women. One tenor buddy of mine, brought a camera to record stuff. I showed him my belly button lint. We rehearsed like bonkers, partied like crazy, and put on a concert where I sang my big hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” As another buddy put it, “I can’t remember ever getting so little sleep—and wanting so little sleep.” It was basically a 3-day-long party.

On Sunday, after all official reunion activities had ended, we gathered at a married Chaser couple's house in nearby Mount Vernon. I caught up with a lot of people who genuinely cared about what had gone on in my life. One, an English teacher at Mount Vernon High, listened to the latest political travails from my school. Another, a guy who graduated in 1988 and therefore had never shared a day with me at Kenyon or as a Chaser, listened to a particularly difficult life era of mine (the Pitt saga) and nearly cried. That’s how close we were.

But what I’ll remember most is the laughing. The amount of laughing that transpired actually put me in physical pain, but we just couldn’t stop. Almost none of what was funny will translate well here, but I’ll try to highlight the biggest laugh of the day..

We had filmed a really-god-awful Christmas special for the recording studio that we used (the largest studio in Pataskala, Ohio!). Libby Benson, the star of that recording label, was almost unwatchably cheesy that day. The conversation moved forward, and suddenly we wondered…what was she up to?

Hello, Google.

Libby had a website (which I cannot find right now, I'm afraid) that was so hilarious that we couldn’t stop laughing. She had contributed the theme song to the “In Memory of Pets” website, singing about people’s late, lamented Fidoes and Fuzzballs. She received a letter of commendation from Norman Schwazkopf for sending her Christmas special to the troops in Desert Storm. (Fortunately not our Christmas special…I couldn’t have that on my conscience.) And she wrote poetry so bad that we invented a game: the challenge was to read one whole Libby Benson poem, called “Touch Someone,” without laughing. Anyone who could make it through the 25 lines of lamentable free verse without cracking couldn’t get through the last lines, which had a fantastic typo: “if you/really and truly/took the time/to youch someone.”

The whole weekend had been amazing, and it ended with uncontrollable laughter and deep love. I love Kenyon. It fostered friendships deeper and more intense that any I’ve had the privilege of knowing.

State Memories Project: North Dakota

I took the train across North Dakota on my big 1993 trip; I traveled all the way from Elyria, Ohio (the woman who was the high point of that summer lived there) all the way to East Glacier Park, Montana, (where my sister lived) with some intermediate stops for friends and baseball. North Dakota was not one of the stops.

As I headed eastbound, back to Ohio, a young woman sat next to me. She was 18, and I was 23 and very much on the prowl, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I noticed she had fantastic breasts. We talked for hour after hour as I tried to keep my eyes somewhere above her neckline. I even recall us talking about her breasts at some point, and her saying that some of her friends called her “big-titted bitch.”

The train stopped in Minot, where we could get off for about a half hour to stretch our legs. We did so, and I stood there and cracked corny jokes. She paused at one point out on the train platform, looked at me through the twilight, and said something like “You’re weird.” It felt affectionate.

She got off the train to start her new life with her boyfriend sometime in the middle of the night. I recall getting a hug. I don’t remember her name, but I remember the breasts. God, am I ever a stereotypical male. But that’s my best memory of North Dakota.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The health care debate. It's personal, damn it.

My wife goes public with our story.

If a government bureaucrat helps someone else avoid this evil afternoon we had to endure (and evil is the only word for it), then please, let's start socialism immediately.