Monday, March 04, 2013

Thawed-Out Neanderthal

Unfrozen Caveman

A day or so ago, a physicist friend of mine from the Ozarks who works for Beyond Photonics sent an email to me and a lady-friend diplomat, whom I'll refer to as "Dee," also from the Ozarks, saying this:
Hi Bruce and Dee,

I'm sorry, but when I happened across this headline in the local Boulder paper this morning, I was constitutionally unable to keep from making the following connection:

Pope Benedict XVI resigns Thursday, now 'simple pilgrim' . . .

One of my personal all-time favorite Phil Hartman bits [was his 'simple' Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer] (along with his genius take on Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office with the Girl Scouts, etc. . . .)

See you -- Charley P.
I didn't know my name was "Bruce" . . . or am I "Dee"? Whatever. I replied:
Dammit, Pete, are you inferring that I look like a Neanderthal?!

What's that? Don't I mean "implying"? Huh? Just what are you trying to infer? That I can't spell? Well, I may be a simple hillbilly, but I did learn how to spell, and I know that "inferring" is not spelled "i-m-p-l-y-i-n-g."

So, take that and stick it somewhere beyond photonics!
Oddly enough, my physicist friend took inexplicable offense:

Now Jeff, I did not come within 161 km of implying that you look like the Pope, and you know it!!

Boy oh boy, touchy frickin' expat, I tell you what. Jeez! And also, that Pope dude is really quite a handsome old fellow just for good measure, I think. So there.

But seriously, I take any opportunity I can get to invoke the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. (Well, not that it comes up very often, but come on, that was too good to pass up . . .) That Phil Hartman, he was da bomb. I hope he's keeping everybody in stitches, whereever he is.

I like your take on BP's name. I have to call people up frequently to buy things, get quotes, etc., and half the people when I tell them our name, think the company is "Beyond Phonics" -- ha. But I'm getting used to it. Have a great weekend, or whatever weird foreign thing you guys have over there -- Pete
At least, he called me "Jeff" . . . even if he does think the pope is handsome and that I look nothing like the pope (ex-pope). Wonder what that 161 km is about . . . . Anyway, Dee then offered her input:
Lawyers, Popes, and cavemen. Same playbook. Find someone slower and take whatever they've got.
Not very diplomatic of her, so I replied, more bluntly than usual:
I can't speak for lawyers or popes, but my fellow cavemen were the ones truly left behind. I'm the only Neanderthal who's survived, and your modern world frightens and terrifies me. For instance, should I invest my money in Apple . . . or in Samsung? Both companies have been criticized for their business practices, so investing in one or the other is a scaaaary thing. Now, I'm just a simple Neanderthal, but an honest Neanderthal, like me, wants to make the ethical choice. For that, however, I need inside information. Nothing complex, just advance knowledge of a new, breakthrough technology that will send the company's stock sky-high. If I only knew that, I'd know where to put my money, namely, in that particular company, for its business practices are bringing on a better future by bringing in the money. And that fits perfectly with my personal ethics. Buy low, sell high is my moral motto. And with the fortune I'd make, I could secure the future of my family. No one can deny the ethics of that. Plus, I'd be a model for any future unfrozen Neanderthals, an inspiration that they, too, can make it in this frightening, terrifying modern world. Again, ethical. But that's me, I just ooze ethics all over.
There. Honest folks can now see where I stand! Less than honest folks will suffer doubts . . .

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Trailing Korea . . .

Baekdu-Daegan Trail

The wanderlusting Elisabeth Eaves, whose brother, Gregory C. Eaves, lives in Korea (no, I don't know him), recently went hiking with him, his Korean wife, and her own husband along a portion of Korea's Baekdu-Daegan Trail and lived to tell about it in "Along the Trail of Korea's Mountain Spirits" for the New York Times (November 30, 2012):
In height, South Korea's mountains are more akin to the Appalachians than the Rockies -- the highest mainland peak is 6,283-foot Jirisan. They can, however, be jagged in the extreme. We planned to cover just seven miles on the first day, but the steep and constant ups and downs soon had us aching. We often had to climb using our hands, and in many places we used the chains and ropes that the forest service had helpfully attached to the rocks.

As we limped into our second morning, we decided to rethink our itinerary. Instead of sticking religiously to the trail for six days, we would weave our way on and off, stopping at villages and temples along the way. Things immediately improved. For one thing, the sun had come out. For another, we were going downhill. Soon we were following a stream, broken up by waterfalls and pools through a deciduous forest of maple, hazel and birch. We stopped to talk to a pair of Korean hikers on their way up. I would hear Gregory explain our presence so many times over the course of this trip that I began to pick up the words for sister and brother-in-law. "People look at you differently when you’re traveling with family," he said to me after another encounter with fellow hikers. "You're not a suspicious bachelor."

Two nights later we found our way to another park shelter, this one just below 5,282-foot Hyangjeok-bong. At sunset we climbed to the peak and had the 360-degree view to ourselves. To both east and west, mountain ranges in shades of gray, blue and black, each one silhouetted against the next, stretched away like waves on an ocean.
This is one of the things I love about Korea, the accessible mountains. Though they're generally twice as elevated as the Ozarks, they help make me feel at home. Clannish families also remind me a bit of my home, though we hillbillies aren't hierarchical, unlike Koreans, but I get along with Sun-Ae's kin, who all accept me for what I am . . .

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

As long as I'm feeling sorry for myself . . .

Golden Triangle
(Image from Wikipedia)

I received such an outpouring of sympathy yesterday, I feel I ought to go fishing for more of the same today, so I'll open this entry with an intervening comment by my friend 'Sperwer' over at the Marmot's Hole:
Globalization anyone? I'm now sipping the local hootch sitting in a French hotel, managed by an American company, that is perched in the mountains overlooking the junction of the Mekong and Ruak rivers and the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. The staff comprises peeople from 5 different hill tribes and some down river Thais. The menu has dishes from Thailand, Southwestern China, France, Italy and Japan, all expertly prepared by local sous-chefs under the supervision of a French owner of three Michelin stars. Entertainment during lunch was provided by a three piece band -- guitar, bass and banjo -- played by Thais in check shirts, jeans, straw cowboy hats and shitkickers, who expertly played a mixture of American hillbilly country music that would have made Gypsy Scholar nostalgic for Arkansas and adaptations of local music -- interestingly the banjo is the perfect western analogue of the gamelan. 40 years ago, you might imagine something like this if you didn't have your mind fixated on something else -- after ingesting a significant quantity of the local opium, assuming you lived long enough to score some. I'm going swimming now.
I know little more than Sperwer about that hallucinogenic local crop. All I require to reach seventh heaven is a Mason jar of moonshine and that aforementioned hillbilly music . . . though the hillbilly allusion incidentally reminds me that my cantankerous Ozark character has often acted as the brake on my career -- better than careering out of control, I suppose, which does happen to some. But anyway, since 'Sperwer' mentioned my online persona over at the Marmot's Hole, I figured I ought to offer a comment:
Sperwer, I wish I could show up and hear that hillbilly music . . . but somebody's always gotta pay the fiddler. I'm up to my ears in student homework, proposals, essays, and bibliographies.

And to think, I spent all those years working on Coptic, Greek, and Hebrew when I could have just been getting a TESOL degree and working for the same salary!

I guess I'm still paying the fiddler for all those years of following my own interests . . .

But all the same, you have a good time.
And that goes for all you readers as well. You'uns go on and have a good time. I'll pay the fiddler for this here barn dance, so drink that hootch and enjoy the hootenanny.

Oh, and I hope that one and all reading today's entry know the crucial idiomatic distinction between "'little more" and "a little more" . . .

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Folk Liar of the Ozarks: "Rolland Burdick" and other Tales of Places Real and Imaginary

Downtown Hardy, circa 1950

From looking further into Mr. LeRoy Tucker's writings posted on his blog Folk Liar of the Ozarks, I discovered that you can read a masterpiece of backwoods writing in his short story "Rolland Burdick," which was posted almost exactly one year ago and relates the tale of an unfortunate, misguided man, a resident of the Ozark hills not far from the obscure Fulton County community of Climax, Arkansas. The story is an appropriate one for this church-going Sunday morning, and it begins as follows:
Indifference was the sum of Rolland's posture in the matter of religion. An open and unabashed sinner, he obsessed on accumulating money. By chance, he was influenced by a man, a preacher by avocation, whose specialty it was to inspire irrational fear of God's final judgment. The preachers name was Az Bronson. He was a Campbellite of some note in Climax. In other localities, widely separated, encompassing the Ozark regions of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, he was variously known as a Methodist, a Baptist or a Campbellite. His scare'em to death discourses were not restricted to any particular sect or restrained by concern of unintended consequences. His competence was proven, unquestioned.

Today Rolland had driven to Hardy, sold a wagon load of cross ties and was returning to his home. Now, at twilight, he was again passing through Climax. His body was sore and his team needed a rest. "Ho boys -- whoa now," said Rolland, halting the team. Then, without the steel on gravel noise from the wagon's wheels he heard singing, blended voices singing LEANING ON JESUS, LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS. He passed his hand and forearm across the horse's rumps. He spoke to the team affectionately, "you boys needs to blow awhile." And he strolled away, down to the church yard, too tired and too dirty to actually enter the church. He seated himself near the entrance. There, braced by a century old white oak, he dozed. Before leaving Hardy, he rewarded himself with a half pint of good, government whiskey and consumed it along the way. He was by no means intoxicated, only tired, "plumb wore out" thought Rolland, as he commenced to doze . . .
If you want to read more (and you ought to so want), then follow the link and read to discover that surnames just might be destiny -- though I don't believe that this was precisely Mr. Tucker's point.

What was his point? Maybe this little bit directs us to his point, though it prefaces a different story, "Cadillac Pie," set in the small community of Saddle, Arkansas:
All fiction, except the place and some of the characters are based on real people. Even my wife Patsy is in this story, as a child. Saddle still exists, much changed but it's still there in Fulton County Arkansas. To me, Saddle is a lot of memories. I hope someone out there sees this and enjoys it.
From perusing Mr. Tucker's writings, I see that an explicit concern with memory plays a large role in his motivation for writing. I remember Saddle, too, but not as well as Mr. Tucker does. Further on memory, he tells us in "Note to My Readers," posted January 18, 2009:
Each of my stories will stand alone but they all relate to one community, one culture. Most of them are set in Fulton County Arkansas, circa The Great Depression or earlier; much earlier sometimes. That is when it becomes fiction and that makes me a liar. But the Possum Trot community was and is real. The Kittle store is a long time gone. Even the people are gone. There are new people but it is not the same. When I walk there I walk with ghosts. I want to tell about them. I posted a picture of myself when I was eighteen. Later if I gain some followers I will be honest and post a picture of the old grizzled man that I am now. I am somewhat disabled. I cannot walk far or stand for long. I read, exercise a little and write. I used to be a big "whuppin' boss" for General Motors. I have been retired for a very long time. Always wanted to be a writer. Tough deal. I was kicked out of the third grade for not shaving. I try to write. It is a compulsion to me. Tuck the Liar
His writing is about memories reconstructed in imagination out of a compulsion to write and reconstruct, for in "A Blending Imaginings," an entry of some reminiscences about his forefathers, posted on May 27th of last year, he mentions a bit about the real and imaginary community of Climax, Arkansas:
Jess Martin, my maternal great grandfather, lived at Climax, the real Climax that died in 1918 and stayed dead: the Climax that I attempt to imagine back to life.
Except for Climax, I know these places that Mr. Tucker is reconstructing, this world that he wishes still existed . . . or that its values yet did (though he says that he's grateful for what he doesn't know). His own values become clear in his story of how General Motors failed, "Walter and Me," posted January 28 of last year and told from the perspective of a man who'd worked for the company both on the assembly line and in management:
For years supervisors were painted as the bad boys of the industry. Local TV stations and newspapers represented those blue collars, union members, as industrious, hardworking, nose to the grindstone victims of overbearing, bull of the woods supervisors, who were merely puppets of the heartless policy makers in Detroit. Union propaganda spewed from such people as Michael Moore and the lesser Ben Hamper, who wrote Rivethead, parts of which were published in Mother Jones, The Michigan Voice and The Detroit Free Press. Read objectively, Rivethead tells the story. Today Rivethead is topical and revealing. When new, it was just a pack of lies. I bat from the right side of the plate. Hamper hits from the left. Moore is so far left he is somewhere up in the cheap seat in the left field grand stands. People are getting wise to him now but he has done a lot of damage while making himself a multimillionaire. But Hamper is a fairly entertaining writer and lots of folks love an underdog, even a whining little socialist failure like Hamper. Inadvertently he told the truth about GM but he lied about the UAW.
This is brilliant stuff, whether one agrees entirely, in part, or not at all, for it demonstrates the complexity of Mr. Tucker's understanding and the breadth of his reading as well as his willingness to take a position even while granting some points to those whom he opposes.

Most of all, it shows that he is a writer in a way that Michael Moore is not a filmmaker.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ozark Vacation: Final Hillbilly Get-Together

From my wife comes now the last in the series of Ozark images, this batch from a family gathering in my brother John's house that included all my brothers and their wives. I have to admit that they hardly look hillbilly anymore, what with their successful careers and the context of John's new home . . . but I don't doubt that if we could listen in, we'd discover that their lives have been tough and their voices still hillbilly. But before we get to photos of any brothers, let us just quickly note that a younger female generation is rising, and their voices shall be heard lecturing the older generation, as you see in the case below, where Baby Brianna is obviously instructing her parents -- a laughing Crystal and Crystal's abashed husband J. T. -- on why she needs that cookie:

My daughter, Sa-Rah, looks astonished to hear such an articulate infant discuss the finer points of how the cookie crumbled onto the tablecloth spread upon Sandy's shoulder:

Meanwhile, another infant, Baby Laura, is lecturing to a smiling Shoshanna's as the proud parents -- my brother Matthew and his wife Rebecca -- listen along:

Baby Laura soon needs some rest from such exertions -- and finds it on Aunt Ann's lap, though even in quietude, the baby has Sa-Rah's undivided attention:

Time to go to sleep, you little babies . . . as we turn to other images. We see here in the foreground En-Uk and Cousin Grace intent upon something off screen, while Brother Tim and Brother Shannon sit on a couch in the background and discuss metaphysical issues raised by an educational program showing on television:

Or the less hirsuite Tim and Shannon could be observing that Brother Pat and Brother John have too much hair for good old boys around the mid-century mark:

I certainly agree on that . . . but I wasn't present, so I shouldn't intrude myself. Instead, I'll see what the overly hirsuite Pat is up to with my son, En-Uk. They seem to be involved in a game of 'Mercy':

From Uncle Pat's expression, I'd say that En-Uk is getting the better of him. I think that Pat had better head down to nearby Southfork River to pray for some of that promised mercy. Or perhaps he'd best just find some food for En-Uk, who seems to be getting hungry:

Fortunately, food is in preparation . . . for we see Aunt Donna drenching a salad with its dressing:

And obscured behind that counter, the womenfolk -- with my mother centered and dressed in purple -- are preparing more food than you can shake a stick at:

But not for long . . . as Tim and Shannon, having abandoned their metaphysical discussion, now direct their attention to physical needs:

Such needs being eventually satisfied, a postprandial discussion again ensues as the shades of night descend:

And that's where we leave the kinfolk, with Sandy, Donna, Tim, and Ann in our final image of this past summer's Ozark trip as my missing wife and kids prepare to fly away back to Korea.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Speaking of hillbillies and music . . .

Hillbillies Jammin'
German-Funded, American-Filmed

Shot on location in the Ozark Mountains, generally southwestern Missouri, but also in Lawrence, Kansas, this looks like a good film about hillbillies and hillbilly music even if it is a documentary largely set in the state of 'misery' rather than the great state of Arkansas.

The film is already getting some international attention:
Rick Minnich's Homemade Hillbilly Jam . . . [is] a portrait of dying musical traditions in rural Missouri, which also makes its UK debut in Sheffield. The third feature-length documentary by the US-born, Berlin-based director is another quirky insight into an America that most Americans would barely recognise.

"It's a culture that is fading but putting up a good fight," Minnich says. "Maybe there is more of a movement of people finding these subcultures within their own culture. The response in North America to Homemade Hillbilly Jam has been, 'Wow, are there still people like that?' They don't necessarily want to live that way, but they are glad that way of life exists."
That's from Stephen Dalton, writing "What’s up? Documentaries" for UK's Times Online (September 29, 2008). In an online interview -- "Homemade Hillbilly Jam: Q&A with director Rick Minnich" -- by Nigel A. Messenger for Phase 9 Entertainment (October 23, 2008), the filmmaker, Rick Minnich, responds to some questions:
What was the basis for the idea for your film?

I met the guys from the band Big Smith through the making of my previous film Heaven on Earth in Branson, Missouri several years ago. They seemed like the antithesis of the pseudo-hillbilly showtown Branson. After drowning in Branson's flashiness, I was eager to discover what lie beyond the town's borders. What I discovered was Big Smith and the extended Bilyeu family.

Did a particular incident/event inspire it?

The husband of one of Big Smith's cousins Joy Bilyeu gave me a copy of the band's debut CD. I listened to it once, and didn't think much about it. But when I gave it another shot about a year later, I knew immediately that there was more to the story than meets the eyes and ears. I had to meet these guys, and once I did, I was hooked. The deciding moment was meeting Grandma Thelma on her deathbed, and filming her and her grandson Mark singing together only days before she died. I knew at that moment that I had to make a film about this family. One-and-one-half years later, I was doing it.

What aspect of the filmmaking process was most enjoyable/challenging and why?

Hanging out with Big Smith was loads of fun. They're a bunch of ordinary guys with a ton of musical talent. Whenever they get together, they can't help but break out into song. The Thanksgiving dinner scene was one of the highlights, and definitely the most wonderful Thanksgiving celebration I've ever been a part of. The most challenging part of the film was trying to find a way to mould my fascination with hillbilly culture into a tangible form with somewhat of a storyline. Most of this happened in the editing room thanks to the help of my co-writer and editor Matt Sweetwood (also an American residing in Germany).
The interviewer, Nigel Messenger, adds these words describing the film:
The brothers and cousins who make up the band Big Smith are proud to consider themselves Hillbillies. They combine traditional roots of Scots-Irish jigs, church music and folk songs handed down over generations, with more modern elements of country and western and a sensibility they describe as 'neo-hillbilly'. Minnich's beautifully shot film celebrates Missouri's Ozark countryside and the way music can transcend conflicting attitudes, to bring and hold generations together.
There's also a good interview by Melissa McCarthy in her "Bulletin Message" column for Shooting People, in which she catches Rick Minnich at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival UK Tour. I especially liked this remark by Minnich:
Audiences in the South (such as at the US premiere in Hot Springs, Arkansas -- about four hours from where we shot the film) felt that the film is very much about themselves, and made comments such as, "Finally someone made a film about us!"
That 'us' would be people like Mark Bilyeu, of Springfield, Missouri's hillbilly band Big Smith, which appears in the film. Here's what Christianity Today has to say about Bilyeu and that band in an article by Jeffery Overstreet, "Watch . . . and Listen," for his column "Through a Screen Darkly" (October 21, 2008):
We meet 34-year-old singer/songwriter Mark Bilyeu of the popular folk-rock band Big Smith, and he invites us to his family's Thanksgiving dinner -- several generations of Ozark tradition gathered around one table on a brisk autumn day. They hold hands for a prayer, expressing their hope that the next generation will "learn to love Jesus in the same way."

The scene may seem foreign, or as familiar as canned cranberries. But what is likely to surprise most viewers is what happens after dinner, when the Bilyeus gather in the living room with mandolins and electric guitars. Have you ever heard "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" sung to washboard percussion? "Any family can get together and watch football," says Mark, "but not every family can get together and play five guitars at once and make it sound halfway decent."

He explains that the drive to keep Big Smith together has everything to do with preserving the traditions of his elders. "There's so much about our everyday existence that's not worth keeping. When you come upon something that is worth keeping, you really want to hold onto it . . . . There are some things that are timeless, and we'll hold on to those things." And, as if to prove it, he sings a song of his grandmother, from memory, in an empty chapel.
I think that I've got to see this documentary, which will probably never come to South Korea but which will eventually appear on DVD, I reckon, and we can then all learn about jammin' with Ozark hillbillies.

Of course, I already know a little about that.

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