Friday, June 27, 2008

Unwittingly Healthy; or, Say Nofu to Tofu

I can't say I'm proud of what I did. I vowed I'd never do it, so diametrically opposed to my worldview was it. I wouldn't call it a despicable act by any means, but just a strong preference.

If it helps, I was tricked.

Shortly after arriving to the in-laws' house in St. Louis tonight, I snapped up a freshly cooked meatball from a plate. It tasted OK. I didn't spit it out. Turns out it wasn't a meatball.

It was a tofu ball.

Tofu. The ultimate vegan food, the health food so often targeted in jokes about non-meat-eaters. Tofu. Ech. But I ate another one, just to make sure I hadn't fooled myself the first time (my wife said after she learned what it was, it didn't taste as good). The second one was barely warm, which didn't help its cause. I concluded that, in this form at least, tofu wasn't as evil as I'd previously thought, but it wasn't something I'd eat again.

I looked it up, and I'm glad I didn't know this before I ate: Tofu is essentially coagulated soy milk. Mmmm, chunky fake milk. Pile it up!

I view this as a reminder to be grateful for the Southern diet I have become accustomed to. Who cares if it's not all healthy. Man, I'm hungry. Somebody get me a biscuit.

Today's Redneck Moment: My son Drew keeps insisting that he "needs" a bigger General Lee car. He might be right.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lining Up for Thrills; or, Manufactured Fun

We got back from vacation in Branson on Saturday night. It was fun – so fun I'm worn out. This seems to happen every year.

I suspect my exhaustion can be traced to the unspontaneous fun I had. Specifically, going to the water park twice. I was whipped last year after two days at Silver Dollar City, so I'm starting to see a common thread.

Theme parks are a product of capitalism, which I've got no problem with. The problem is that they've become products, period. You have to pay a lot of money just to experience a day full of fleeting thrills. Most of the time, you're walking across the oven-hot pavement and then standing in line 30-45 minutes for a 15-second ride.

Our fun, especially when on vacation, is manufactured. It's handed to us in a neat and expensive package. While it is indeed fun, it doesn't feel authentic. I remember as a kid taking a three-week vacation out West. We visited no theme parks, saw no shows. We would drive, stop at a camp site for a few days, and entertain ourselves (and that often involved – gasp! – mixing with strangers).

At home, I'd do things like play ball in the yard or swing over a creek or go bird hunting with my BB gun (shh! Don't tell my mom!). I engaged the world around me. Going to a place like a theme park, while entertaining, feels more like an escape into an isolated world. It has positive aspects – who doesn't like to escape the world for a while? – but I prefer a less rigid, more spontaneous approach to fun.

The most fun I had in Branson? Tossing the baseball around with my brother-in-law, and shooting hoops at the resort where we stayed. Pretty basic, but pretty satisfying. And it didn't cost me a thing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

No Boundaries; or, Redneck Relatives

I'm on vacation this week in Branson, Mo., with the wife and kids, the in-laws, and several relatives from that side of the family. And as I'm reminded whenever I'm around Rachel's relatives, redneckedness knows no geographical boundaries.

In fact, my wife has been comparing and contrasting Mississippi rednecks, such as myself, to Pennsylvania rednecks, such as her aunts, uncles and cousins. They don't have the accent, she noted, and they're still technically Yankees. But we have much in common.

Cousin Frankie – who couldn't make it this year – is a mechanic and Dukes of Hazzard fanatic. Uncle George works 12-hour days in a foundry. The other Uncle George, who I think was raised in Colorado and New Jersey, got in last night after a long trip and promptly downed three beers to take the edge off.

Then there's my father-in-law, Frank, who has been fishing most every morning since we've arrived. He's a big-shot executive, but he's as down-to-earth as they come. Being grounded has long been an admired redneck quality.

Frank's lovely wife, Elvesta, is from Oklahoma (as is my wife, though she grew up in St. Louis). That's the home of Garth Brooks, who still sometimes pretends he's a redneck.

So, being here in the Ozarks, just a few yards from a big lake, and surrounded by loved ones who are more like me than they'd probably be willing to admit, I feel right at home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cultural Richness; or, Of Ghosts and Tire Irons

From my perspective, Southern history and culture have always been colored by legend and intrigue. I find myself most fascinated by such things as French Quarter ghosts, Civil War what-ifs and the psychological footprints left by our many famous authors.

Growing up around here, you hear all kinds of stories from generations past. Like my great-great-grandfather joining the Confederate army at age 15. Or my grandfather, who at one time drove a bus for the city of Memphis, shooting at a thief through the front window of said bus. Or my dad's friend having a paranormal experience in a cotton field.

My life, however, has been devoid of such adventure. The best story I could tell you is when I thought my best friend and I might get beaten to death by a drunk dude with a tire iron. Actually, that's a pretty good story.

We were at a friend's house one night just outside West Monroe, La., when we heard what sounded like a gunshot followed by squealing tires. My buddy, Scott, and I ventured outside and found a guy standing by an old Camaro, which had spun out and come to rest in the neighbors' driveway. He was clearly inebriated, and while he was nice to us, he kept cussing his car and flogging it with the tire iron, putting several holes in the hood and making Scott and I very nervous.

The police eventually came and took both him and his car away.

Anyway, living in a time when the mindless culture of personal celebrity has robbed us of real characters and real stories, makes me feel like I've missed out on something. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong generation. I'm all about indoor plumbing, but I think life was richer when you had to do your business in an outhouse.

Who knows, maybe one of these days I'll write a book about all the cool things in Southern culture that I've missed. That way, they'll never be forgotten.

Today's Redneck Thought: "The education of a man is never completed until he dies." – Robert E. Lee

Friday, June 6, 2008

Outdoor Fun; or, A Big Ol' Front Porch

The wife and I went to the annual Elvis Festival tonight in downtown Tupelo. After a couple of hours of enjoyment, it dawned upon me that a good time in these parts is best had outdoors.

In the city, or where it's always cold, folks go to clubs and bars and domed stadiums or coliseums for entertainment. Sure, you've got that to some degree here, but Southerners have always known how to utilize what God gave us.

Rachel and I sat on a bench for a while, listening to bands on the stage behind us as we watched kids play in the fountain. We people-watched, and visited with the ones we knew. Later on, a friend took us up to the roof of a restaurant, where we could lounge on couches or lean over the railing to watch the festivities from three floors up.

As the sun grudgingly dipped below the horizon, a cool breeze took the edge off the lingering mugginess. No loud drunks or loud music up there, just a couple dozen people enjoying a Friday night in Tupelo. We didn't want to go home.

It's like we were all sittin' on a big front porch. The city folks ought to try it some time.

Today's Redneck Thought: "If the world had a front porch like we did back then/We'd still have our problems, but we'd all be friends." – Tracy Lawrence, "If the World Had a Front Porch"

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mississippi Misconceptions; or, Better Than Advertised

My wife recently blogged about how enlightened she's become about Mississippi since marrying me and moving here.

"Learning about Mississippi from the outside, you never get the whole picture," she wrote. "There's a lot about Mississippi you are not taught in school, which tends to focus on the negative."

No joke. Bill Cosby once said that when he heard Mississippi mentioned, all he thought of was dirty pickup trucks. The Magnolia state regularly fights Arkansas and Louisiana to stay out of the economic and educational cellar. We are No. 1 in something – obesity.

I could go off on a tangent about how many of Mississippi's problems – many of the South's problems – are the heavy residue of Reconstruction. But I'm here to focus on the positive, people.

Bo Diddley just died. OK, that's not very positive-sounding. But the McComb native is one of several musical geniuses from this state. B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Elvis, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Stuart, 3 Doors Down – we've produced them in all genres. Except New Age.

Athletes? Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, Archie Manning, Brett Favre, Chris Jackson, Ruthie Bolton, etc.

Writers? Oh man. Faulkner, Grisham, Welty, Foote, Locke (ha!).

We are a gifted bunch, and we're smarter than we get credit for. Ole Miss churns out Rhodes Scholars like MSU students churn butter (sorry, couldn't resist). And our women are stunning.

Do we have dirty trucks? Of course. And many of them have really big mud tires. The better to run over Yankee snobs.