Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Halloween! Let's Hoot 'n Holler! (a.k.a. A Clampitt Halloween)

For those of you who of have noticed my conspicuous silence regarding all things Clampitt related, allow me to fill you in on the goings on for the past few months.

In the short time we've lived here, the house across the street has been temporary home to several branches of the convoluted Clampitt family tree, all related either by blood or common law union to the old man who has lived there for over a decade. We call him Common Law Butch. At the time of my first blog posting, Butch was sharing the place with the Alabama Clampitts, whose seventeen year old daughter we met for the first time when she asked Matt for a ride to the gas station to buy cigarettes. Their dog, who promptly brought forth an enormous litter of puppies, was part wolf, they told us with pride. They sorted through their family problems by screaming insults at each other in the front yard. You know, the usual.

Several months ago, the Alabama Clampitts hastily loaded up Common Law Butch and most of their belongings--including the panels from the wood privacy fence, which Matt helped to place in the moving truck--and retreated to Alabama. I'll be honest. We got a little bit excited. We even considered bidding on the house when it went into foreclosure, which was what the Alabama matriarch had told us they planned to do with it. I began to mentally renovate it, paint it, and plant ornamental grasses around it. And then God said, "Not so fast!"

Enter the Corsicana Clampitts, who began showing up in force a few days later, stomping around and cursing and tying the house's remaining furniture to the sagging roofs of old Buicks. Turns out, the house was actually in the name of Common Law Butch's old lady (may she rest in peace), and they were going to get it back.

So we are basically back where we started. And it's been really entertaining. Like the Clampitts before them, this particular group prefers to cook alfresco. At suppertime, they cut a limb off the tree in the front yard, light it, and throw on the meat. Consequently, when we hear the buzzing of a chain saw, we start salivating. We have been classically conditioned by the Clampitts. Now that's disturbing.

Based upon our super-duper observation skills, we can tell you that the universal hallmarks of Clampittdom include the above mentioned front yard tirades, visitors who park their pick-ups on the tiny front lawn, and debilitating cases of emphyzema (sp?). They all have this distinctive cough that reminds me of visits to my Aunt Jo and Uncle Larkin when I was a kid. Uncle Larkin was pushing eighty and possessed neither teeth nor hair. His ears had grown with each passing year. Picture a white Yoda, but instead of a Jedi robe he's wearing a stained wife beater and a truck driver hat with the slogan "Life's Too Short To Dance With Ugly Women." He had "the cough," which always directly preceded "the spit."Uncle Larkin's been gone for years now, but Aunt Jo and her own version of "the cough" are still going strong. A few years ago she decided it was finally time to quit dipping snuff, her habit since she was 12 years old, I think. For this reason, the sound of a Clampitt cough induces these odd feelings in me--part queasiness, part nostalgia. "Whatever you do, don't knock over that Folgers can. That ain't coffee in there." Ah, memories. And now, back to the topic at hand...

If front yard finery is an accurate indicator, Halloween is the highlight of the Clampitt calendar year. They pull out all the stops. Two weeks ago, the whole front of the house was festooned in a dungeon-themed plastic banner. Poles adorned with shrunken heads littered the yard, and they seemed to multiply by the day--that is until Halloween Eve, when we heard a ruckus in the front yard. The present tennants and their son (who was living there with his family at this time last year) had a falling out. Alas, it was he who had purchased the grisly decor. The closing remark must have been something like, "Fine, I'm leavin'. And I'm takin' Halloween with me."

No more cobwebs. No more skeletons. No more severed heads. The Clampitts wiled away the day painting their new decorative rocks (don't ask) the hue of Pepto-Bismol and looking pretty sad. But when evening came, nothing could squelch their particular brand of Halloween spirit. Picture Larry the Cableguy and family leering at trick-or-treaters and doling out candy from his plastic chair on the front porch. For sheer volume and enthusiasm, this group had no peer.

"Oh my gawd! It's Spider Man! C'mon over here kid and let me look atcha."

Insert expletive-filled argument over where to hang a picture in the living room. Pause for long swig of beer.

"Oh, my gawd! It's a princess! Give 'er some candy."

Little Hispanic girl is frozen like a deer in the headlights.

"Dontcha speak English, princess?" Hmm...what to do? Let's try again, slower and louder this time. "DO YOU WANT SOME CANDY?"

Girl's mother finally ushers her away from the porch.

"You watch out for them witches and that grim reaper...Oh my gawd! Look, Wayne, it's a vampire! Don't suck our blood, 'er we won't give ya any candy."

The final Clampitt image of the night was the lady of the house, resplendent in yards and yards of shimmering blue housedress, chasing Matt and the baby down the sidewalk.

"Come back here 'n get a sucker for that baby! Caintcha see he wants a sucker?"

Fact: This woman has a grandson the same age as Miles (around 18-20 months). His mother told us he tipped the scales at 65 pounds at his last check-up. They call him Fat Boy. As in, "Fat Boy! Git outta the street! Come on over here 'n get you somethin' ta eat."

We're not really all that into Halloween for the usual Christian reasons, although Matt did take the girls trick-or-treating (but with a grimace on his face) and I did hand out candy this year. Still, I have to say it was fun watching the Clampitts in their element.

Miles really did enjoy that sucker, too.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I think, therefore IB

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend a reunion for former Garland High School students who had participated in the International Baccalaureate Program, which has now been offered for twenty years at GHS. What's that, you ask? Well, imagine the Advanced Placement program on steroids...and with the British spelling of words like programme and colour. That's not exactly accurate, because the goal of AP is to earn college credit, while the goal of IB is to produce a certain kind of thinker, as best I can understand, with the added bonus of possible college credit. If you're really interested or have nothing better to do, you can check out the program at

I loved being an IB student, even though the curriculum was so rigorous and time-consuming that I look back on the last two years of high school as the most stressful and draining time of my life. Even now, I blame the IB folks for the fact that no matter if I'm dog tired, I can't fall asleep before 11:30 p.m. All those midnight biology lab study groups have irreversibly altered my circadian rhythm, it seems. As one responder to the IB survey quipped: You know you're in IB when your heart beats in 7/8 time.

So today I trotted on back to Garland to attend the little reception, wondering who I might see and how much things have changed. Several of my favorite teachers had moved on to other schools, several had retired, and some had even found other careers--for example, the Theory of Knowledge teacher has heeded her own famous admonishment to "follow your bliss." She has found bliss as a public defender somwhere in Oklahoma, I think. She had a big heart, so I can see how this is a good fit. There are those who could argue, on the basis of personal experience, that teaching high school is ideal preparation for a career dealing with criminals. But as usual, I digress...

I discovered within five minutes that the vast majority of attendees were very recent graduates. I was one of only three who graduated in the 1990s, and I'm guessing that most of the other attendees are still college students. There are several possible reasons for this:

A. The reunion project was organized by students who needed CAS (service) hours for their IB diploma, and they sent the invites to our old high school addresses, so most people had never recieved them.

B. Most of the other I.B. diploma recipients are high-powered D.C. attorneys or doctoral candidates or brain surgeons or poker players (I saw online that one guy I graduated with has won over 28 grand) who couldn 't forsake their previous commitments in order to dine on cheese cubes and cafeteria cookies in the GHS library.

C. I'm the only person in her thirties who is still seeking the approval of teachers who have long-since graded their last test (I pulled out pictures of my children so they could evaluate them).

Even with the changes in personnel, the IB ethos (sorry, Audra) feels the same today as it did way back when. The kids are telling the same jokes about sleep deprivation, caffeine dependency, and rabid overachievement that characterized my two years in IB. Against that backdrop, the changes in myself were glaringly obvious.

Since I didn't know anybody but a few teachers, I milled around eavesdropping, just for funsies. The room was filled with little clusters of kids commiserating over college classes, degree plan requirements, and what they really want to do with their lives. I passed a group of scruffy-faced boys engaged in an earnest discussion of utilitarianism, each sporting the goatee that advertises, "I'm a sophist." It reminded me of a scene from La Boheme except instead of featuring starving artists, the main characters had their fill of free cookies, and nobody died of consumption or belted out Italian arias. (Aside: Did anyone ever buy the idea of a man of Pavarotti's gerth living on crumbs?)

I remember those discussions and how much I wanted to make an articulate contribution. Today, twelve years later, I just had to laugh. I think I have reached the point in my life where, for the most part, theoretical banter must give way to practical action. It was always understood in my family that I would go to college. Looking back now, I realize that what I perceived as merely a prescribed stage in life was actually a great luxury. Five years (Music ed + English) of extended adolescence, when my only jobs were to study and perform.

I don't know what I would've contributed to that conversation were I still a career student living on scholarships and the charity of my parents and grants provided by you, the taxpayer, but the older I get the more "utilitarian" doesn't seem like such a negative word. Sometimes the usefulness of something must necessarily trump everything. If you don't believe me, head on down to Babies R Us and check out the strollers. You'll find out that the eye-catching designer models, which at first glance seem to exclaim "Buy me! I'm adorable! I'm like a giant purse!" will in fact take you ten minutes--with some deep breathing exercises and the assistance of a spotter--to collapse. In this instance, I'll take drab but functional. It'll be covered in graham cracker/slobber crust within a few months, anyway.

I think the human mind can reflect this phenomenon, as well. Let me put it this way: if everyone spent all their time filling their pockets with all the "isms" there are to contemplate in the world, who would take the trash out? (Fact: Back at the GHS library, I snapped out of a dissociative trance, realizing I had collected a stack of dirty plates that had been left lying around and was looking for somewhere to deposit them. Because I am a mom? Because I am thirty? Who knows?) Hopefully, I am finding a balance in my own life of common sense and academia. Of course, it's also entirely possible that a man in a giant purple dinosaur outfit wiped my slate clean of all intellect 4 years and two children ago, and everyone has been kind enough not to point this out to me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Men in Tool Belts

My best friend in high school was a girl named Stephanie Wong. We met on the bus in sixth grade, and we were like yin and yang. You might have noticed that I like to talk. A lot. Stephanie preferred to listen, so it was a match made in heaven. Her mom owned a travel agency, and she gave me my first summer job (I got in trouble for reading the brochures instead of filing them).

Because her mom was a travel agent, Stephanie was quite the world traveller. Her favorite place in the world was London, and her locker was tastefully decorated with magazine clippings of Hugh Grant and Kenneth Branaugh. She just had a thing for Brits, and that locker was like a crystal ball. Fact: Stephanie has now been a Londoner for years and has even picked up her own clippy British accent and British boyfriend.

My locker? Well, it was a disaster, and there weren't any pictures in it because, to be honest, few of the men I found attractive were splashed across magazine covers. While everyone else was swooning over Brad Pitt's character in Legends of the Fall, I was thinking, "Well, sure, he's beautiful enough, but look what a mess he made. Are brooding eyes and a flawless complexion really worth that headache?" My fantasy guy was more like Bill Pullman in While You Were Sleeping--just a regular, nice, down-to-earth guy with a handsome face that you never get tired of. I guess even then I was thinking about what I really wanted in life. Or I was just an old lady trapped in the body of a 17 year old. I mean, Adonis is nice for fancy restaurants and days at the beach, but I just can't see him cruising along in the driver's seat of a Honda Odyssey or dragging three preschoolers and all their belongings through airport security...although, come to think of it, Brad Pitt has probably done both of those things now. Anyway, since I was no Venus, my usual function in relationships with Adonis-types was as the friend-girl-confidante reassuring them that, yes, the cheerleader/model/pageant girl would go out with them if they asked. Sometimes I wondered if these guys noticed that I was, indeed, a girl. A few years of that finally purged any incidental romantic longings for this type from my system.

Some girls like guys with huge muscles and glowing tans or rock stars or bad boys or rich guys, etc. Me? I like handy guys. If I were in high school today, I'd have a big picture of Tom Silva from This Old House or Norm Abram, the New Yankee Workshop guy, in my locker. Lucky for me, I snagged a guy who crawls under the house to fix the plumbing and looks awesome in a minivan.

I mentioned my affinity for guys in toolbelts--and Matt's many manly virtues--in a Sunday school discussion a few months ago, and a few of the guys in the class laughed out loud at the idea(admittedly, I set them up to do this by momentarily forgetting that the male mind is a sewer). Their view of manhood, it seems, is embodied by the big, beefy athlete or the type A aggressive man, or...I don't know...the guy with the most weapons and dead animal heads above the fireplace. They laughed, good-naturedly of course, at my glowing description of Matt the Manly Man because he's not all that big or aggressive and he isn't bothered in the least by acting uncool in public. In fact, he thrives on public displays of dorkiness. It's like crack to him. Our kids love it, but they'll hate it someday.

"But Matt was a cross-country runner", I said.
"What's that got to do with being manly?", they joked back.
"Well,in the most important areas of life, endurance bests brute strength every time," I replied pointedly.

And somehow nobody could argue with that.