Monday, December 1, 2003

Jay Fleming, Artist (Arts Feature)

All I need to say about Jay Fleming is that he has an abundance of talent and a geniunely whimsical way of looking at the world that you want to share. I have a few of his signed prints that I'm proud to own.

Jay Fleming is one of Jackson’s more unique artists. During the last several years, he has begun to cultivate a strong following among collectors who enjoy retro scenes of the 1950s and 1960s and his work tends to sell out quickly in the galleries and shops that carry his work.

“I really focus on that early era of technology; on the optimism, energy, and exuberance of the times,” he said. At first glace, Fleming’s work – pastel-hued, clever, and bright – is the definition of retro. Bathing beauties in swim caps dive into kidney-shaped pools. A three-wheeled car waits in front of salmon-colored shops for a female passenger. Huge motel signs jut into pastel-blue skies.

“All my paintings depict scenes from the 1950s and early 1960s,” Fleming said. “It was a time when man didn’t seem to have any limits, due to breakthroughs in science, medicine, and unlimited new products; there was so much energy, excitement, and optimism about the future and that was reflected in the architecture and design of the products of the era. There were products that seem a little wacky today, like the three-wheeled Messerschmitt cars.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Rugby Gets in Your Blood (Sports Cover Story)

This was undoubtably the hardest story I ever had to write - and I blame them. You see, the only way they would be interviewed is if I would come join them at a house party and drink with them. Now I am a drinker, so I said I would. But I brought my micro-cassette recorder and three tapes, and the last two tapes were useless. I couldn't tell what I was asking, let alone what any of them were answering. Though, in moments of some lucidity, I could tell we were discussing Iraq, the tax base, Canadian girls, and the NFL. But, as God as my witness, everything in the story had to come off the first tape (and most of that was off the first side of the first tape). These guys say they've never lost a party. They're not lying.

It has been said that soccer is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans, but that rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. It is a violent game, fast moving and dangerous, immortalized by the bumper sticker that reads, “Give Blood. Play Rugby.” In Jackson, those gentlemen who participate in the hooligan’s game are known as the Jackson Rugby Football Club.

Though the majority of local sports fans are not even aware that the club exists, the Jackson Rugby FC began in 1974 and has been active since. The club competes nationally with 365 different teams in their division. Currently the team plays their matches at Chastain School, at 4650 Manhattan Road.

"Where the Hell Are Them Chemical Weapons?" (Column)

This column was responsible for my first two death threats. Yep, when it was published, I received my first two within two days, each one coming via email, and each one telling me how I was going to die and for what reasons (the usual - anti-American, unpatriotic, liberal, and so on...) Upon reflection, I think they mistook the term "hate mail" at the bottom of my blurb for "death threats." At the time, people hated everything I wrote (not the columns - just my opinions), and were happy to send in four or five pieces of hate mail a week. I decided to mention hate mail that week. The results were death threats. I never again mentioned hate mail; it seemed a bit short-sighted to do so. But I never backed off my anti-war position and I never toned it down. I also didn't live in fear. I turned over the death threats to the sheriff's department. I received four or five more (I honestly can't remember how many it was) and didn't worry about it. None of these twerps ever killed me, so I got that going for me, which is nice.

The US people can feel proud. We’ve put one in the “Dubya” column, against a third-world enemy with antiquated weaponry and an army made largely of non-soldiers. Dozens of American and British soldiers have lost their lives in this illegal war, but hey! That’s okay, since it means cheaper gas for all of us, right? Now, all that’s left to do is to send our POWs home, install our own puppet government, and make sweeping trade agreements for millions of barrels of cheap oil.

Oh, yes. And find those pesky chemical weapons. These weapons are important to the White House, more important than some people realize. These weapons, which were labeled “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” are the reason for this war. These weapons, not yet found, are the justification that the Governor of the United States used to attack Iraq. And nobody’s found a single one yet.

Right now, most of the world’s population hates us, because of this insane war we’ve undertaken. But there are some who are waiting, giving us the benefit of the doubt, wondering where the chemical weapons are. If we don’t produce any, we will have been proven wrong; and we will find it harder to hold onto allies.

At this point, the White House is so desperate to uncover chemical weapons that any substance in Baghdad which cannot be readily recognized as sugar, salt, or Tabasco sauce is being sent off to be tested for chemical content. They have to. If we are unable to find any chemicals, then we have to admit that the reason we went to war is bullshit. This will not go over well with the Europeans, Arabs, Asians, or in fact with our allies – the few we have – who genuinely believed our intelligence.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

"Deserve vs. Desire" (Column)

I received a lot of notice for this early column - not all of it good. Whereas the many praised it, others called me a socialist and anti-American. Of course, not knowing me, they didn't realize I couldn't care less what they thought. I will say it's becoming clear to the populace that the economy that we are dealing with right now is not the fault of the poor, and that maybe those rich people who deserved the platinum cards and tax breaks really are to blame. I feel pretty prescient about this. A little wistful, too. This is one of my personal favorites.

I saw the commercial again last night. An assured, masculine voice tells me that they could help me get the credit I deserve. That’s great; we would all like credit. But do I really deserve it? I can’t say that I do. I’m a fairly good credit risk, but I’ve never deluded myself into thinking I deserve credit.

According to recent commercials, I also deserve a refinanced loan, a new car, and a cozy little home for my family and me. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria is, but I’m fairly certain I don’t actually deserve any of this. I’d love to have it, but I don’t think I deserve it.
I’ve noticed over the past few years a tendency for people in this country to go from “I would like this” to “I deserve it.” It took me some time to figure out, but I think I know what’s brought us to this point.

The conservatives are in power. If ever a single group encapsulated the entitlement mentality, it is they.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Magic on the Court (Sports Cover Story)

This was one of the first pieces I did that I was thoroughly proud of. It was a hoot hanging out with these guys, and I did my best to make sure their personalities came out in the piece. Ever since, it became a standard in my pieces to do that.

It’s a typical Thursday night at Champion Johnnie Community Center in Jackson. Four men are playing a fast pickup basketball game. Shouts ring out: “Go to the net!” “Right here!” “Shoot!” Their voices echo off the walls, mixing with the squeak of rubber against the floor. The ball travels from hand to hand before James Clayton grabs it and takes a quick shot. The ball bounces off the rim and back. Clayton and another player, Bob Woods, grab for it. Both barely touch it, but the ball bounces past and out of bounds.

Clayton and Woods both race to the ball and immediately start arguing about which of them, if either, touched it and who touched it last. Clayton finally ends the argument by simply throwing the ball inbounds to his teammate. Woods races by and yells:

“He’s a cheater! Put that in the story!”

Thursday, May 1, 2003

"Run, Rudolph, Run!" (Column)

This was one of my 'angry' political columns that attracted me attention from a certain fringe group I'll call neo-conservatives. They're the ones that sent in letters, demanding I be 1) fired or 2) killed. They went online and bravely called me anti-American, communist, and all that noise. At this point, I'd had half a dozen death threats, and I was enjoying pissing them off every week. I will say, though, that when this story broke, it infuriated me like little else had since the war started.

“People around here, they take care of their own. You can't put a price on a man's head, and I don't know anybody who would have given him up, even for a million dollars.''*

This person is speaking of whom? Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, you might say? You would be wrong. This person, Sarah Greenfield of Marble, North Carolina, is referring to Eric Robert Rudolph, the alleged Olympic Park bomber. Rudolph is suspected in four bombings between July 1996 and January 1998. He also is reported to belong to the fringe religion, Christian Identity, which is outspokenly opposed to abortion and homosexuality and is vehemently anti-Semitic.

The Christian Identity religion stresses that northern Europeans are the “true” Israelites and that all other races are “mud people.” They also espouse the idea that the Holocaust never happened.

Rudolph has been in hiding since the end of January 1998 in the Appalachian Mountains, avoiding any and all attempts by federal agents to bring him in. In western North Carolina, he has become a mythic figure, featured famously on the “Run Rudolph Run” t-shirts and supported outwardly by some of the region’s fundamentalist conservatives.