Monday, June 29, 2015

Dreams of Weldon


I had the dream again last night. It's been recurring at least on a monthly basis, taking place primarily in the small town of Weldon, IL, at the former home of my great-uncle and great-aunt Robert and Betty. The plot of the dreams are always loosely the same: I am there at the house. Robert and Betty are not. Sometimes, I have invited folks from Champaign to come visit the abode in Weldon (roughly 40 minutes away), and am hosting a party there.

The house is almost always bigger in the dreams than in reality. In the real world, it's a fairly standard structure. There's a living room, main bedroom on the ground floor, kitchen, bathrooms, front porch, upstairs area with more bedrooms, and then.... an addition was built on (with help from my dad), and it consisted of a huge family room and attached garage. A wooden porch runs along the back of the house. I remember it was home to a plethora of stray kitties, as Betty would always gladly put out food for them. Behind the house were railroad tracks, and behind those the rest of Weldon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ever Decreasing Circles



Musical artist Taylor Swift has been in the news, along with Apple, for making waves in regards to the latter's forthcoming streaming music service. For its first three months, Apple Music is going to let folks try their service for free, and was planning to not pay artists any royalties during this free trial period. After said period, folks would have to pay $10 a month to keep the service and then artists would be paid some royalties. Swift complained and, well, Apple relented. Artists will now receive income during the three month free trial period.

I mention the Apple/Swift debacle because it brings to mind, yet again, an issue that remains all too prevalent in our society -- paying folks very little (or nothing) for their work. And I don't just mean musical artists. We see this everywhere, from fast food workers to folks in China making our phones, from kids in sweatshops making our clothes to people making the music we enjoy listening to. People seem to want something for nothing (or very little), and it has an impact.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sister, You've Been On My Mind



"Come with me, Matt. Your dad has something he wants to tell you."

Mom made the quiet statement when I was roughly twelve years old, coming to get me from another room in our brick house on John St. Several things went through my mind at the time: I hadn't done anything bad recently, so it couldn't be that, could it? The notion of divorce was one that always lurked in the back of my head, though it wouldn't become realized for another year. As mom led me into their bedroom (an odd choice of venue), I honestly couldn't think of what it was dad had to talk with me about.

Entering the room that he and my mother shared, I found Lewis sitting, looking more solemn than he typically did. Through lots of obvious angst, pauses and sighs, he told me that I had two older half-sisters, Valarie and Angie. They were from a previous marriage, his first. You can imagine how this news might shake someone who, for their initial twelve years of life, only knew of his father being married to his mother, and who had been raised as an only child. There were questions, I'm sure, though now it is difficult to remember what they were.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Divide and Conquer


The Internet is aflutter with news of how Rachel Dolezal, head of the NAACP chapter of Spokane, Washington, is not African-American. The uproar isn't -- we're told -- caused by Dolezal's race, more that she seems to have actively promoted herself as black, all the while being a person of Caucasian heritage. While the deception is noteworthy, I can't help but feel there's some genuine disdain for a woman who isn't of color heading a chapter of the NAACP. Perhaps I'm too cynical?

It is unclear what drives a person of one ethnicity to go to great lengths to pass as another but, more than anything, I feel sorry for anyone who does. It's obviously they're unhappy with themselves in some regard. Whatever caused Rachel Dolezal to pull an opposite of Soul Man, I hope she is able to find some sort of peace and self-worth that isn't derived from ethnic origins. Indeed, letting our ethnicity consume our identities would seem to be folly of the highest order.

It's no secret that racial/ethnic divisions are -- and have been -- as common to our human struggle as the rising and setting of the sun. For whatever reason, we fear the 'other.' If one ethnicity is able to gain a foothold on the rung of the power, then it typically spells rough times ahead for the other ones. While it's true that there can be some biological difference between races (one race may have a higher propensity for high blood pressure or cholesterol), it ultimately doesn't matter who we are ethnically or what we look like.

Or, it shouldn't matter. And there's the rub.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Real World


Perhaps a year or so ago, I was standing in line at a local Subway restaurant, and the lady ahead of me was chatting with the guy behind the counter. It seemed to be one of those customer/server relationships that had developed over time -- not too close, yet friendly enough. The employee excitedly told the woman about a new job he was starting in the near future, to which the woman cheerily responded, "It'll be nice for you to have a real job!"

It's not an exaggeration to say that there was a palpable pause after the woman made her remark. The guy behind the counter blinked a couple times, his face went slack, and then he responded with a meek, "Yeah, it will." I, myself, had done a sharp intake of breath. The customer seemed oblivious to any of this, and went on about the business of completing her order, even going on to wish the employee "Good luck!" in his new venture.

The Subway Incident, as I've jokingly dubbed it, was notable for a couple of reasons. One, it opened my eyes to the apparent fact that anyone who works there has an imaginary job. All these years, I've been making my own sandwiches. The folks I thought were working behind the counter were figments of imagination. Second, it's okay to openly pass judgment on a fast food worker's job status, however well-intended. To the latter point, I see this occur on at least a weekly basis.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Deep Impact


The concept of home video entertainment is forever woven into a physical reference point for me. True, I've 'moved with the times' and listen to most music digitally these days, but somehow cannot find the ability to enter the 21st century and watch movies via streaming. I'll stick with DVDs and Blu-rays, thank you very much. This is why I always took such comfort in the existence -- despite the odds -- of That's Rentertainment DVD/Blu-ray rental store, nestled in a small(ish) space in the campus town of our fair twin cities. Alas, that is soon to be no more. After 30 years, the store will be closing later this summer.

It was three decades ago that my parents brought home our first taste of home video entertainment. They situated the VCR (VHS, not Betamax) next to the television set, and had rented a few videos to watch. For them, Alfred Hitchcock movies. For me, some episodes of the Transformers cartoon series. It boggled my mind that it was possible to watch Transformers on any occasion other than the set time it was aired on television. This, and the first occasion I had to use a smartphone, was when technology really wowed me.

Over the years, the home video format changed. We went from VHS to DVD, then to Blu-ray, and now we're in the age of streaming. Sure, some folks -- including yours truly -- still muddle about with physical copies of movies and TV shows, but a lot of people (a majority?) now have no need of venturing somewhere to procure a bit of audio/visual entertainment. Netflix can do that for them just fine. I've lamented this of late, not only for feeling behind the times, but not going unnoticed that it's another bit of childhood chipped away.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Alabama Shakes



The Alabama state senate recently passed SB377, by a 22-3 vote, which seeks to end the practice of state-licensed marriages. For everyone. Period. A blog known as the Tenth Amendment Center reported favorably on the measure, and as this is an issue near and dear, I wanted to take a moment (or two) to go over their thoughts on the subject, and then offer mine in return. I don't normally like to do this here, but felt it was necessary in order to clarify a few things.

Here we go...