Archive for November, 2007

  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Nov
  • 07

Rex and I had a new Martin guitar in the backseat and the agriculture economics report on the radio. We were swinging back to Barber County by way of Greensburg, a small town in Kansas that was deleted this past May by a tornado. We were there to check up on some relation, but really on how effective the response has been. He prepared me for a fair amount of shock. I’m not sure how well anyone can be prepared to see a city not be there.

On 4 May, the F5 descended at 9:45pm and took with it 95% of the town and eleven lives. On the ground it was nearly two miles wide and sustained over ten minutes and twenty-two miles. The parent system was a supercell combined from two front masses each with a twenty degree difference on either side. It was hot, small, and sustainable -- the definition of the nightmare scenario.

Greensburg is (or was?) just another poor Kansas town. Two towns over from the one in which I grew up, per capita average income is $18,054 with 12.4% of the local population below the poverty line. A 1A school, they only had enough kids in school for an eight man football team. Average age: 46 years old.

We were well inside the city limits before I realized we were even there. The splintered limb trees and rubble were still a bit downtown, the first giveaway for me was the sudden increase in steel buildings. Hastily thrown up sheds more than buildings really, they were now the local auto repair and church at the edge of town. Nothing on the west side of that city had any wood or fiberglass. All that had been destroyed by the F5.

Main Street was the snapshot of a trainwreck. What once had been the stereotypical Midwestern residential area was now a spooky vista of leafless trees jutting out of the earth like skeletal palms around foundations in various stages of con/destruction. Pieces of plywood driven into freshly plowed lawns stood like grave markers for the recently deceased pieces of the American Dream. Comical graffiti injected defensive humor into a thoroughly depressing scene.

Knowing Kansas folks like I do, I have no doubt a lot of labor has gone into rebounding from this disaster. A lot of fight is left in the insurance companies and federal agencies they are battling against, and waging a war heartbroken is what these people do. I was looking at a city empty for over six months now and I know it wasn’t from lack of local labor.

95% of this town constitutes less than a square mile, perhaps 40 homes at the most. 40 single story homes probably less than 2,000 square feet a piece. After six months, merely ten were nearing completion.

If Greensburg, Kansas were selling overpriced lattes and luxury handbags in California, 80,000 square feet of building would be exactly a six month project. If this town were in California, these people wouldn’t be spending Thanksgiving in FEMA trailers.

And if this town were in California, you’d hear someone complain about it.

Flickr:

F5

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 26
  • Nov
  • 07

Unsure whether or not it was spam, I clicked open the email with the suspect subject line. But after a careful inspection, it appeared that it was in fact legitimate. It must have been the kids talking during Thanksgiving or perhaps the college students rapping about it during the birthday party on Saturday afternoon. Where ever she picked it up, the email quickly confirmed it.

My mom was on Facebook.

She, of course, doesn’t yet have a photo or a status or any custom apps or any of the things that make Facebook Facebook, but she has joined the “Web 2.0″ revolution by doing this thing called social networking. Alarmingly, she already had eleven friends in as many hours.

I was okay with my mom being on Facebook right up until the time she discovered the concept of the Wall and, subsequently, a joke left by my boy Keister that read as such:

Hey man, speaking of public restrooms, how is your escort business faring? I shipped that box of antibiotics you wanted, but you maybe should stay outside of the family tree until you get one more generation between you and them – you know, for the padding against the double recessives. Best of luck. Oh, and I should mention this since last time you had that awkward experience with the 3 weeks of bowel distention, the antibiotics are to be taken ORALLY.

Convincing your mom that you aren’t having sex with your cousins is pretty easy.

Convincing your mom you aren’t running a male escort service in San Francisco – a little more difficult.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 25
  • Nov
  • 07

Traffas hooked up a show at the local Drink n’ Fight over the Thanksgiving holiday. In his usual charity, he invited the usual crew of jokers to join him. It turned into a high school reunion of sorts, and naturally another opportunity for the natives of Barber County to talk a little more shit about the smartass with goofy hair who now lives in California.

The only bar in the town in which I was raised, it is our usual annual meeting place. Traffas and I were in a band when we were in high school and have connected to play at least one show each year since we graduated. While I left Kansas and never returned, he stayed and never left going through college and building a career in Northern Kansas. Still making it back to Barber County for harvest and the occasional show, he’s been playing in this backwoods neighborhood for over a decade now. In a state where one bad storm can wipe out a city, he’s as close to an institution as a Kansas town can have.

From the loud gasps and stares when I walked in, I knew instantly I was in the town in which I grew up. It’s a dimly lit joint that’s gone by a number of different names over the years, but most recently is owned by a friend of the family. Mike greeted us with a firm handshake and a cold beer. From there, the night was full of reconnections.

Moving from the skinny on one’s new marriage to the record of this year’s Quiz Bowl team, a particularly loaded shitneck pulls me aside and asks me, “Where are you from?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well, I just wanted to know.”

“Where do you think?”

He rubbed an ill-kempt red beard, “Well, I don’t reckon you’re from around here.”

“That’s no lie,” I replied.

Despite whoever owned this dive on the southern edge of town, it has always been called “the bar.” It’s not like folks are going to get confused – it is the only spot serving beer in town. It is the home for all the pool and poker tournaments, the pop country karaoke, and the raucous fights for sharecroppers during harvest. It’s where all the Medicine Lodge High alumni meet during holidays to remember the wonder years and where all the Barber County alcoholics go to forget them. It’s concrete floors and folding chairs. Where old farmers complain about breaking even on wheat while leaning over on the same kind of plastic tables they lean over to complain about breaking even on wheat during Sunday afternoon potlucks.

There are always a few hostile faces in this room for me and mine. But, as ever, there are the ones I love coming to see. Some folks with surprising new hand hardware, others with the conspicuous lack thereof. Folks who have moved to some new astonishing locale, and others who are still working for the same roustabouts as when we were in high school. In the quick exchanges of information over the PA, they take stock in their own lives as you take in their own, and nearly always we depart grateful for the respective places we ended up and that which happened to take us there.

When Traffas invited me up on the mike, I told them that they gave me shit in California for playing country music. And they gave me shit in Kansas for playing punk rock.

And anybody who had a problem with it was welcome to meet me outside whatever dive I’m at, and I’m sure I’d have an answer for them.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 23
  • Nov
  • 07

Holidays for families fractured by tragedy serve usually as reminders rather than distractions. Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular when popular culture and local tradition dictate the American Dream in the form of turkey, stuffing and persistently cordial company. Where love can be served as easily as mashed potatoes and heartache handled with a side of cornbread.

Of course in the America of this bold new century few dining rooms are filled with this fictitious mirth. Most are awkward affairs with choked back tears and carefully crafted small talk. Everyone finds out in whispers what matters and in voices loud and proud what doesn’t. New beaus shuffle aimlessly between the beer fridge and the ham trying to figure out if Thanksgiving at home instead of with the new girlfriend would have been more or less weird. Ex-girlfriends arrive at the insistence of the chronically insensitive, firmly believing that no one should be without family on Thanksgiving. It is this ritual that keeps us talking, this ritual that keeps the hope that something close to this American dream is still alive.

For Rob’s family in the middle of bumfuck Kansas, we had as close to a “normal” Thanksgiving as I think we’re going to get. Our family and friends just as close got together, ate too much, drank a little, and played guitar with the practice of folks who have spent the year since we were apart doing anything but. The tears we shed for those we lost were heartfelt and mercifully brief.

It was as close to normal as I think we’re going to get. We had the minor miracle of a full plate and the comfort of family. And for that, I give thanks and wish the same for those who have neither.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 21
  • Nov
  • 07

In the morning I found on Pitchfork that the screening I was catching in downtown Frisco of the latest creative output from Sigur Rós was actually a retrospective tour film. As with most things on this earth, I was skeptical initially. After getting stuck on a CMT marathon of no-talent pop country assclowns literally every time I visit my mom for the holidays, the skepticism came easy like a Tenderloin crack whore.

Musicians visiting home are not particularly magical affairs. These kind of tour films have a well established formula. They play a few local shows for the cameras, go out doing [insert locally appropriate pastime here], carouse while drinking [insert locally appropriate beverage here], and gratefully receive gifts of [insert locally appropriate syrup / meat / ballcaps here]. While passably interesting in the middle of the boondocks with a red beer to keep you company, I had better things to do with my evening than see that same formula executed even for a band I love.

As with all things produced by Sigur Rós, the strong execution of fundamentals results in real art.

After their world tour from the commercially and critically successful Takk… they played a series of unannounced free shows all around Iceland, the only publicity upon which they relied being the natural word of mouth of living in Iceland. They played venues and cities large a small, from living rooms to ampitheatres while describing this concept of heima – Icelandic for home and the feeling of being at home.

Carefully selecting native cinematographers to avoid the sweeping Lawrence of Arabia like scenery overload of the BBC set, the film was more a photography exhibition than a film. Presenting this singularly beautiful music within the context of the dirt that spawned it, tight frames confined the surreal landscape to a very human capacity. This film felt like it was first person. Capturing on film as accurately as one can the dwarf impulse this place must compel, Sigur Rós took the tour film and made it an oil painting.

Released the following day on DVD, the film was screened at an intimate rock venue in a format that defined punk rock. Shitty folding chairs lined the GA floor while latecomers either stood or made due with foot stools from the VIP rooms. Some patrons were foreigners, like the pair of girls from Belarus with whom I swapped tales about St. Petersburg. Most were living the Frisco bohemian metrosex stereotype.

Imagine my surprise, then, when in a place like this surrounded by people like those that in the middle of a poignant acoustic rendition of the first track off of ( ) some fuckstick wrecks what could have been a special rock and roll moment by lighting up a joint. In the midst of a minimal interpretation of what was my favorite Sigur Rós tune, I have to endure the final three movement with Hippie McJackass’ finest Noe Valley schwag.

These goddamnable hippies are wearing me thin. I can’t go anywhere in this town without enduring the smell of a fat guy’s armpit.

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