Thursday, October 28, 2010

I Choose Charlotte, North Carolina

My son asked me today if I would even consider retiring to Florida if they didn't live there. "No," I said, "not in a million years".

"So where would you go instead if you decided to leave Indiana, Mom?"

The reality is that I'll probably never get out of Indiana. Where else could I go and duplicate a 3-bedroom, 3-lot house for $409 a month? Where else could I go out to eat at any restaurant in town and be hailed by at least half the people who are there on any given night? Where else would I get gas at a local oil company that gives me a swipe card and bills me monthly....and that let's me go three months without paying them in full when my company didn't reimburse me for mileage because the state held up my grant, saying "don't worry about it, Vic, we know you'll pay us." Where else would I vote where I actually know the candidates and so, push the button for people rather than Republicans or Democrats? All those homely qualities are comforting when you're in your 60's.

The other side of that is: do you want your life to just wind down without at least one more adventure?

If I could choose a place to move and could get there without all the stress and hassle of 1) selling the house, 2) getting rid of 3 decades of stuff, 3) packing what I want to take 4) hiring a moving company, 5) finding a new place and 6) getting settled in there - if that could all happen by magic - I'd move close to Charlotte, North Carolina.

For me, Charlotte the best of all possible worlds. First, it's the center of NASCAR, which has become my passion. I could visit the race shops. I might even be able to get a part-time job working for one of them or maybe, the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I'd probably volunteer to work for nothing if it was at Hendrick Motorsports. I'd see the transporters hitting the highway taking the cars to the next track. I could get involved in all the race weeks stuff in Charlotte. I might see Jimmie Johnson in the grocery store!

The land around Charlotte is green, like the Midwest. The absence of the kind of greenness that characterizes Indiana is one thing that turns me off about southern Florida. Oh, don't get me wrong. The Keys have green trees and various green plants and if they water, they can even grow grass. But left to its own devices, that part of the country is the beige and gray of sand and gravel.

And the plants around Charlotte are familiar ones. The trees and flowers look pretty much like the ones here at home instead of disturbingly  exotic flora like the ever-expanding mangrove islands in southern Florida. (Does North Carolina have kudzu? I hope not).

And those trees in North Carolina sometimes grow on hills instead of the flatlands of the Keys. In fact, if you go far enough west, the hills become mountains when you reach the wild, scenic country around Asheville and Cherokee and Maggie Valley.

The best thing about southern Florida is the water. I love Big Water but go east from Charlotte and you're plenty close enough for a day trip to where the miles-long beaches of the Outer Banks meet the Atlantic Ocean.

And North Carolina has seasons, not as extreme as the Midwest perhaps, but seasons with definite distinctions. Springs come earlier and winters come later and milder but seasons just the same. I can handle some picturesque but quickly disappearing snow. As compared to the Keys which basically has just two seasons: warm and hot.

These are probably just what-if daydreams. I'll probably remain a Hoosier, the status quo being the path of least resistance, but if I could just wiggle my nose and be would be Charlotte.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Geez, America!

Well, by God, we showed'em, didn't we? We proved that Americans are tough and when we mean business, we get the job done! It seems The Gap, a collection of innocuous stores selling mostly boring and probably Chinese-produced apparel, had the nerve to change its logo, going from a bland square with GAP in center to an even blander GAP with a small blue box above it, never expecting in a million years that all hell would break loose.  A Facebook site protesting the change sprung up almost immediately. Customers complained vociferously that they'd never buy another GAP item unless they got their beloved logo back. And, sure enough, the Gap cracked in the end and returned to the old format.

When I first read about this, I thought it was a joke. A satire perpetrated by MAD Magazine or, maybe,  The Onion. I've had my doubts about America's collective sanity for a while now. We go blithely through life unconcerned about torture, unprovoked wars, unreconstructed hurricane-stricken cities, and unauthorized electronic surveillance while we obsess instead about the pathetic lives of no-talent celebrities and watch with fascination as sad people humiliate themselves in front of millions on t.v.

But spending our passion on a freakin' logo has to take the prize in the "Americans Have Lost It" sweepstakes.

Is it because life in general just seems so out of control now? The economy is in a pit and, though it shows some signs of life, for many of us jobs are still hard to find and mortgages are still being foreclosed and medical care is still impossible to afford. We gave Barack Obama almost two whole years to fix it and he hasn't. In spite of the change mantra he pushed during his campaign, nothing much has.

And look at the candidates in which we have to put our faith in future improvement. Ex-witches and prevaricators about their Vietnam service and Governor Moonbeam.... Actually, Jerry Brown proves I'm not above being shallow myself. I rather liked him when he was young and handsome and sometimes goofy but now that he's old and bald and sometimes goofy, I don't. So, obviously, the new American disease is contagious although I'm, thankfully, not yet so advanced that I can get exercised about a logo!

I might be willing to jump on a Facebook page that was protesting un-inspected imported food products - products which are sprayed with poisons or infested with rat feces. I could get upset about foreign cloth goods hiding huge populations of bed bugs in their folds so that when you hang them in your closet or put them on your bed (or the hotel where you're staying does), they instantly settle in and make themselves at home. I might sign on to complain about banks foreclosing on mortgages they don't even own. Or our soldiers continuing to die in places where it seems we don't have a clue what the end game is. Or our change president who doesn't have the nerve to come down loud and clear on the need to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Maybe he wouldn't prevail but Clinton had guts enough to try it even though the old bulls in the Senate, even in his own party, beat him to a pulp which is how we ended up with DADT in the first place.

I'm a child of the Sixties. The protests then were about civil rights and women's rights and reproductive choice (both pro and anti) and peace and eventually, gay rights. Whatever side you were on, these were at least big, powerful issues, worth of energy and high emotion.

Is it because we've come close to accomplishing most of those things that it doesn't seem as if there is anything of much importance left to man the battlements about? We have a Black president, multiple female Supreme Court justices, legal gay marriage advancing, legal but restricted abortion (allowing both sides to think they won a partial victory) and if not peace, at least, two wars that may be winding down.  Is that why we can now turn our attention to matters of total insignificance?

Or is it that the problems that are left seem so insoluble that we take our tiny victories where we can, like forcing the Gap to return to its old, familiar logo?

Or have we just become spoiled and weak? Our grandfathers and fathers fought, and even died, to join unions to bargain for better pay and working conditions but this generation gave them up without a struggle. Handed them over happily, in fact. Now, our wages are down, our pensions are disappearing, the health benefits we were promised are shrinking but, hey, just so you leave us our beloved logos, we'll be happy little campers.

A fight over a logo is a small thing but it says something about this country and what it says does not bode well.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Twilight Series and Other Books

Okay, I gave up and read the first in the "Twilight" series of books by Stephenie Meyer.

When the girls at work asked if I was Edward or Jacob and I said, "huh?", they gave me contemptuous looks as if I was so far from being "in", I couldn't even glimpse it from where I was at. (This was, incidentally, the same reaction I got when I admitted I'd never read a Harry Potter book back when Harry was all the craze).  They explained a little about the Twilight phenomenon to me. A series about vampires (Edward) and werewolves (Jacob) written for teens. It didn't sound like my cup of tea and I blew them off.

Then I had lunch with my friend, Donna, during which she asked, "Edward or Jacob?" This time I did at least know what she was talking about but I confessed to not having read the books. She told me that she started the series (there are now seven books) because her granddaughter was a great fan and she wanted to see what the kids were into. Turned out, she loved them on their own merits....and she's an Edward kind of gal.

"Read them, Vic," she encouraged, "I'm dying to know if you go for Edward or Jacob!"

So, I ordered the first book, Twilight, from Amazon.

Before I go into that, let me make clear here that I lean toward graphic everything - graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic language. I like my heroes to be a little twisted and deeply cynical like Ed Loy (Declan Hughes) and Hank Thompson (Charlie Huston) and Burke (Andrew Vaschss). I love the black and white characters of Josh Bazell and Adrian McKinty and Andrew Grant and Ray Banks. Even among the more mainstream authors, I like wounded heroes like Gabriel Allon and Micah Dalton and well, I could go on and on.

Furthermore, I generally avoid books with female narrators.

You can see that I approached Twilight with a certain amount of skepticism.

They are essentially romance novels written for teens. Although the main characters are vampires and werewolves, which might normally put them in the genre of horror, they aren't very horrible. The vampire clan in Twilight have turned away from human prey and live on the blood of animals.  They are characterized both by their beauty and their integrity, integrity not being a quality you normally associate with the children of the night.

I had a little trouble with Bella and Edward falling in love. Bella is the normal teenage girl who comes to town. She's inordinately klutzy and both smarter and braver than seems realistic although this is the way it usually is with the heroines of romances. The author explains that the attraction Bella has for Edward has its roots in her smell, which it seems he can't resist. I didn't find that quite believable. I mean, after all, Edward is really 104 years old. He is perfection in spades - fabulously gorgeous, brilliantly intelligent, sophisticated, courageous, honorable and of course, with physical capabilities miles beyond human. So why would be be drawn to a naive 17-year-old high school girl? Well, because that's what has to happen for the story to proceed, I guess.

And it does proceed and is entertaining enough to keep your interest. Bella and Edward and his clan have to take on the bad guys. After some twists and turns, they win, naturally....or there wouldn't be six sequels.

What Stephenie Meyer does best is draw an appealing picture of her vampires, Edward, in particular. She bathes him in descriptive adjectives. He is sensual and beautiful and muscular with a feline grace about him....well, all the various terms with which any reader of romances is familiar. Because, romances are about the men. Those wonderful, sexy, strong perfect heroes that women....and teenage girls, can safely lust after. Meyer handles the physical part carefully so that only the most priggish of parents could find it unacceptable.

I ordered the second book. Because, of course, I still have to discover whether Edward or Jacob is my guy and Jacob wasn't in Twilight enough to make a judgment.

And, heck, I'm not above wallowing in pure masculine beauty and sexuality every now and then.