Smilefest Reunion 2011

I made a trip up to North Carolina last month to see some friends and visit with my family. The primary purpose was to go to Smilefest. This year was my fifth or sixth going to that festival, I believe. I’ve been to it in three different locations now, and the latest one, while still not quite my favorite, is definitely great. My favorite was when it was in Union Grove on Van Hoy Farms. Least favorite was at Deerfields outside Asheville. Of course, I love that area, but that park is not conducive to festivals whatsoever. We bitched the entire time about having to hike our stuff in for miles (even though there were flatbeds to ease the walk if you could catch one). It was still ridiculous, and I’m not a fan of sleeping in a tent pitched on a nearly vertical mountainside. This year, for the second year in a row, it’s been held at Jomeokee Campground in Pinnacle, right at the foot of Pilot Mountain. It’s a beautiful site, and they’ve kept the ticket sales semi-private for people who have been before (hence the “reunion” moniker), so you end up with people who know how not to act a fool, and who are experienced festival-goers and are there to enjoy the music (okay, and also have a little fun).

As usual, we heard a lot of really awesome music and drank a lot of beer and camped and got real dirty for a few days. I live for those weekends. Good times with good friends. Met a lot of awesome new people too. Saw folks I only ever see at Smilefest (another reason why it’s like a reunion). Here are some pictures my good friend Jenny took, since I have none of my own to share because I didn’t take any. You can check out the Facebook page of her photography business (Dancing Lemur Design) here. She is really good, and you should “like” her.

Me and my flip flops on my patchwork quilt, enjoying the band, Doby.

Every year, every location, they always have these cool windows and bottles hung in the trees.

Our buddy Kelly with his friend Laura, enjoying some muscadine moonshine.

Me trying to figure out how I’m gonna get a queen-size air mattress into my 2-man tent. Travis totally did it, and it was like my own private bouncy castle. Awesomeness.

Always love the hula-hoopers and wish I still had mine. Unfortunately not everything can make the cut when you move. I would like to investigate the collapsible options, though.

We had a huge campsite set up, with about eight people camping together, complete with four or five easy-up tents. We basically created an open-air house. One tent was just the kitchen area. One was the sitting room. We dubbed it “Cabanapyland.” The Jerry tapestry provided a little shade and privacy. In this picture, I’m standing in the living room. LOL. We had not one, but two solar showers. And, because we are seasoned veterans and smartipantses, we totally camped right beside a pole with a power outlet and a water spigot. SCORE!

Here’s a nice shot of the main stage with Pilot Mountain in the background. So pretty. Great time. Can’t wait til next year!

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Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness

Ron Swanson, on Parks & Recreation, is truly one of my all-time favorite television characters. Do I agree with everything he says? Not even close. Do I admire his stalwart dedication to his own principles, and his general attitude of “I do what I want, and I get away with it, because I am Ron Effing Swanson?” Absolutely. He is also a decent person underneath it all. If I could get a beer with anyone on the planet, he would be at the top of my list. I loved the “Pyramid of Greatness” episode, and I decided there are probably some Swansonites out there who would appreciate seeing it all listed out, so here it is. Ron Swanson’s Pyramid of Greatness.

Honor
If you need it defined, you don’t have it.

America
The only country that matters. If you want to experience other “cultures,” use an atlas or a ham radio.

Buffets
Whenever available. Choose quantity over quality.

Weapons

Woodworking

Welfare Avoidance

Teamwork
Work together as if your life depended on it…IT DOES!

Selfishness
Take what’s yours.

Haircuts
3 acceptable styles: high and tight, crew cut, and buzz cut.

Greatness Itself
The best revenge.

Discipline
The ability to repeat a boring thing over and over again.

Attire
Shorts over 6″ are capri pants. Shorts under 6″ are European.

Self-reliance
Trust yourself.

Suspicion
Do not trust anyone else.

Skim Milk
That’s right, it’s on here twice. Avoid it.

Cow Protein

Pig Protein

Chicken Protein

Romantic Love

Deer Protein

Fish
SPORT ONLY!!!

Intensity
Give 100%. 110% is impossible. Only idiots recommend that.

Torso
Should be thick and impenetrable.

Old Wooden Sailing Ships
They’re beautiful.

B.O.
Cultivating a manly musk puts your opponents on notice.

Stillness
Don’t waste energy moving unless necessary.

Skim Milk
Avoid it.

Cursing
There’s only one bad word: Taxes. If any other word is good enough for sailors, it’s good enough for you.

Friends
One to three is sufficient.

Property Rights
They exist. Do not let them be taken away from you.

Masonry
Building walls makes you strong. Defending them makes you even stronger.

Cabins
A place to rest that is made of logs.

Perspiration
Only sweat during physical activity or love making. No emotional sweating.

You
You are your biggest ally.

Crying
Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.

Physical Fitness

Frankness
Cut the B.S.

Capitalism
God’s way of determining who is smart and who is poor.

Facial Hair
Full, thick, and square. Nothing sculpted. If you have to sculpt it, that probably means you can’t grow it.

Living in the Woods
Live off the land.

Rage
One rage every three months is permitted. Try not to hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

Security
Secure the land.

Poise
Sting like a bee. Do not float like a butterfly. That’s ridiculous.

Handshakes
Firm, dry, solid. 3 seconds.

Body Grooming
Only women shave beneath the neck.

Movies: Secretariat, Cedar Rapids, and True Grit

I avoided watching Secretariat for a long time, even after it became available for free on my Netflix Watch Instantly. The previews made it look completely cheesy, and it is a Disney movie. I finally broke down and watched it last weekend, because I just needed a distraction from some current stress in my life, and sometimes Disney movies are useful for triggering a good cry. Okay, it is completely cheesy, but it was so enjoyable. I love horse movies — I’ve seen Seabiscuit countless times. I think this is because it reminds me of how excited my mom gets on Triple Crown race days. She used to show and ride horses when she was young, and she knows all the small details to point out before, during, and after the races that make watching it a lot of fun for people who don’t know that much about the sport.

Secretariat is a great underdog movie, like a lot of Disney movies tend to be. Overcoming obstacles, staying true to your convictions, strength in the face of adversity. As cliched as it might be, these are still things that inspire me, and things I need reminders about sometimes. I was a little perplexed at first by the casting of John Malkovich as the trainer, but he turned out to be great and more lovable than just about any other character he’s ever played. I would have appreciated it if Diane Lane’s character (the horse’s owner) had been a little less one-dimensional. She was portrayed like the greatest saint who ever lived, who could do no wrong. I would have sympathized with her character’s difficulties more if she had come off like more of an actual human. And this is what you would expect from a Disney movie, and one of the reasons I had avoided it. But I was actually really moved by the race segments of the movie, when Secretariat came from last place and won by distances so great that no other race horse has ever come close to touching his records. He is, to this day, THE GREATEST RACE HORSE THAT EVER LIVED. During the race scenes, I was yelling from the couch and freaking out my dog, and when he won, I cried. Even though I knew the story, and I knew he was going to win. I admit it; I still cried. And you know what? I would totally watch it again.

Cedar Rapids…meh. I love Ed Helms, and I thought he was great in it, but it wasn’t quite as funny as I had hoped. Yes, it was quirky, but the characters were all a little silly. The plot was not that interesting when it came down to it. I liked the outcome/ending, and I was smiling when it was over, but it felt like a long time of waiting for that to happen in the last ten minutes. Also, Anne Heche? She’s still alive? Really? She should go back into hiding.

Oh, True Grit. I’m really not into Westerns, but I try to watch the Best Picture Oscar nominees every year. I love Jeff Bridges. But Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger…weird. The little girl was annoying as hell. I could not get into the plot at all. Again, the last fifteen minutes of the movie were good, but leading up to that it felt extremely slow. Maybe it would have helped if I had seen the original. Maybe not. It had pretty cinematography, and the costumes and sets were pretty amazing. And maybe it’s a testament to my adult ADD that I have trouble sitting through a movie anymore, but this one was just not for me. I was still holding out hope for liking it until they shot a horse. Can’t handle it!

 

Fourth of July 2011

Yes, even though I post misanthropic things about government and politics at times, I still celebrate the Fourth of July. Well, sort of. I mean, I go to celebrations, and I enjoy them. I don’t feel particularly patriotic about it, and never have, with the exception of July 4, 2002, when everyone was still feeling patriotic on a daily basis after the events of 9/11/01. I bought a Boston Pops CD then, and the music made me cry. It was a good release. I still have it on my iPod, and I listen to it every Fourth of July, but it hasn’t stirred the same emotion since then.

This year was my first Fourth of July in Alabama. One of my friends’ coworkers invited us out to her house at Lake Martin for a get-together involving grilled meats, tossed footballs in the driveway, and jubilant children passing out tiny flags for waving. As it turned out, the husband of said coworker has family and roots in North Carolina, although they came here via Michigan most recently. We had a great time talking about differences in barbecue and between the Deep South and the “regular” South. How people are mistaken when they call a cookout a “barbecue,” how we both get challenged on whether North Carolina is even “the South” on a regular basis. (Seriously, have you people never heard of the Mason-Dixon Line? Can you not hear the way I speak?) There were some other coworkers of theirs present with their families and some neighbors from the street passing in and out.

I am a big fan of being near any body of water, no matter how large or small. So, I was very excited when we decided to caravan from their house on a small peninsula down to the neighborhood docks. What a beautiful spot of Earth! We sat out over the water, drinking beers, watching the sunset, craning our necks up at amateur fireworks being set off all around us, and watching kids and dogs swim merrily in the lake nearby. It was breezy and balmy and felt amazing. I can totally see why people dig living out there in the heat of an Alabama summer.

Lake Martin is about 40 minutes from where we live in Auburn, mostly two-lane back roads with nary a house in sight. It always sort of amazes me at how rural everything is here as soon as we get out of the city limits, particularly going west. I don’t feel like I live in the middle of nowhere, but it only takes driving for fifteen minutes to discover that in fact, I do.

According to my research, Lake Martin is actually a lot bigger than I thought it was when I was there. It’s about 40,000 acres and is actually one of the largest artificial lakes in the United States. I’m guessing I thought it was smaller because of the way it’s shaped, dipping in and out of many small peninsulas. I kept thinking I was looking across to the other side of the lake, but I think I was just looking across to other peninsulas. In a way, it reminded me of Lake Lure, which I grew up near in North Carolina, but without the mountains. Only Lake Lure is about 800 acres. Okay, so really not at all the same except they’re both lakes with houses and boats and docks.

Very interestingly, both Lake Lure and Lake Martin feature a rock formation called “Chimney Rock.” Here’s where I get to brag about mine. Alabama’s Chimney Rock is about 60 feet tall, and people jump off it into the water. Which sounds really frickin’ fun. But our Chimney Rock, in North Carolina, is 315 feet, and sits at a mountain-top elevation of 2,280 feet. You do not jump off that. You stand at the top and survey your 75-mile panoramic view. And yes, while a couple people have died jumping off Alabama’s Chimney Rock over the years, and it’s always possible because shit happens, I guarantee you if you jump off our Chimney Rock in North Carolina, you will absolutely die. No two ways about it.

Here’s a pic of Chimney Rock in Alabama:

Here’s the Chimney Rock I grew up with in North Carolina:

Incidentally, I think the North Carolina one looks a lot more like a chimney than Alabama’s. Although for years I’ve thought it looked more like a penis than anything else. Juuuuuuust sayin’!

The Question of Independence

In the first verse of the national anthem, which is the only one we ever sing, these are the last two lines:

“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It never occurred to me until this year that we usually stop there, with a question mark. The music at the end of the verses sounds very final and triumphant, and not at all questioning. Maybe that’s because Francis Scott Key wrote a patriotic hymn about a battle and set it to the tune of a popular British drinking song. Fun fact: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was only made the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931. Before that we used “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which I can remember having to learn in elementary school, and “Hail, Columbia,” which sounds way more anthem-like and is now used as the Vice President’s official entrance, like “Hail to the Chief” for the President.

But back to that question mark. The question in the song is regarding the outcome of the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 — have we won? Does our flag still wave? Today, it seems the question mark has taken on a whole new meaning, when thinking about our country’s place in the world and who we want to be as her citizens. Now, the question seems to (or maybe ought to) be, “Are we really all that brave or all that free?”

In the “home of the brave,” we collectively put actual brave men and women in harm’s way because we’re greedy. Most people are too lazy to recycle. The majority of Americans do not own hybrid vehicles or residential solar panels, myself included because I can’t afford to, because I haven’t had a job in nine months, but that’s another rant altogether. Alternative energy sources are not exactly highly touted by corporate honchos who stand to lose money when their technology is replaced. I don’t care what you say about major petroleum companies’ spun magazine ads of wildflower meadows and ethereally-narrated dream-scape television commercials, where they showcase the best (the one? lol) engineer they’ve put on the job of eco-do-gooding. Show me a year without an oil spill and I might start to give half a crap. As my Maw Maw would say, these are people with “more money than sense.”

So, we’re okay with sending people off to be killed in the name of some vague Medusa-headed terror cabal whose snake tendrils grow back as quickly as they are lopped, when we all know deep down that if it weren’t for the oil, we would not still be occupying the region. To me, this is not brave. This is greed, laziness, ignorant acceptance. Money and convenience before lives.

What about the “land of the free?” “We” have some freedoms. But “we” are not entirely free. Not until all the laws apply to all people equally. Not until the Patriot Act is repealed. Not until the Supreme Court stops making unconstitutional rulings like May’s Kentucky vs. King. Not until our Presidents stop signing executive orders giving themselves powers that our system of checks and balances expressly forbids. Not until you can lobby congress or run for office (realistically, people) without a cent to your name and still be taken seriously. As Georgiana Cavendish, former Duchess of Devonshire once remarked, “One is either free, or one is not. The concept of freedom is an absolute. After all, one cannot be moderately dead, or moderately loved, or moderately free. It must always remain a matter of either-or.”

I wish every year that people would use Independence Day as a time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, where we want to be, as a people. Instead I think it ends up being rote enthusiasm for a system we hate, because it’s tradition, and because we *think* we’ll always be on top, as if it’s our rightful place. I wonder what the first 4th of July will be like after the economy completely collapses (if that happens). Thoughts?