The Contemptible State of the Fourth Estate

I don’t even know where to begin with this because when I try to conjure examples of fair, unbiased, ethical, and relevant media reporting, I’m at a loss.  The past two weeks has seen everything from the anointing of the new Queen of the Big Switch-a-Roo to the lopsided reporting of a pool party gone awry in Texas.  While the world is still sanctimoniously applauding the courage and bravery of a publicity whore who has timed his transformation from a him to a her to coincide with the announcement of his E! Network reality show, police officers—regardless of what actually resides within their individual hearts—have been once again vilified for dirty deeds done to the African-American community.

bjwheaties

So a former Olympian changes his name to Caitlyn—a moniker that didn’t exist in any 1953 book of baby names—and lands on the cover of Vanity Fair looking like a woman.  What were you waiting for, Bruce?  You could have had that thing lopped off years ago, called it a day, and spared all of us this drama.

Don’t get me wrong.  In the big scheme of things (since Bruce is neither my husband, father, brother, nor son), I couldn’t care less what he plans to do with his shriveled junk once he actually does the abracadabra and makes himself into a woman.  It’s his right to do whatever twinkles his toes, so have at it, Bruce.  My objection to his transformation is that it has been shoved down our throats by none other than the liberal media as such a brave, courageous, and progressive move on his part.  To suggest or even think anything to the contrary means that you are no better than a thoughtless Neanderthal, a knuckle-dragging cretin who does not support the LGBT community.

Really?  Thank you, Thought Police for telling me what I think.

Consider this:  Maybe it just means that Bruce’s entré into the world of hot flashes, mammograms, and sagging boobs does not qualify as news, as in, maybe this should be a private affair between him and his family.  Maybe it means that most of us have an entirely different definition for the word ‘courageous’.  Or, maybe it means that I’m jealous because I will never, ever, no matter what I do, get Annie Leibovitz to take my picture and slap my swimsuit clad self on the cover of Vanity Fair.

Then there’s the McKinney, Texas pool party debacle.  Hey, news outlets, here’s a tip:  Get the story straight before you report it, like, maybe rely upon more than the adolescent narrative of the 15 year-old who shot the video clip with his iPhone 4.  Report the story in its entire context, and for once, just try to widen your perspective.  Instead, we’re fed this mudslinging, murky, and misguided medley of news stories that have resulted in a flurry of haters tweeting, posting, and yelling from the rooftops that all police are racist and that those poor children were just trying to have a good time.

Sure, they were trying to have a good time, but did anyone stop to think why the police were called in the first place?  Or did anyone bother to interview any of the neighborhood residents to get their take on the day’s events?  I will concede that a police officer throwing down a 15 year-old girl looks really, really bad–okay, it is bad no matter how you slice it–but until you’re in that particular situation (as I have been as a teacher), you really don’t know the whole story.

Note to the media:  It’s your job to get the whole story in an unbiased, non-prejudicial manner.

I will say this for the progressive media:  They have mad SEO (Search Engine Optimization) skills.  Just for fun google ‘McKinney Pool Party’ and observe the positioning of the anti-police stories versus the page two or page three positions of the “other side of the story” stories.

Meanwhile, in other news:

  • A river cruise boat sailing on the Yangtze River in China carrying 450 passengers capsized and sank, killing at least 97 people.
  • Vice President Joe Biden lost his son Beau, an Iraqi war veteran, to brain cancer. What makes this news particularly heartbreaking is that the vice president also lost his first wife and a daughter in a 1972 car crash.  President Obama delivered an extraordinarily stunning eulogy at Major Biden’s funeral.
  • Chinese hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing the identifying information of at least 4 million current and former federal workers.
  • Ninety-two year-old two-time cancer survivor and classical pianist Harriet Thompson finished the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in seven hours 24 minutes and 36 seconds.
  • Eight of the ten men who attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai were set free–and may never have been convicted in the first place–by a secret Afghani military court that found that some of the evidence against the eight men might not have been solid.

Instead, we get Bruce-Call-Me-Caitlyn Jenner and the progressive media’s cockeyed coverage of a Texas pool party.

I would say that all I want is fair and balanced reporting, but to use Fox News’ tagline is somewhat preposterous given that–though it may be what I’d like to hear–it’s hardly unbiased reporting.  Everyone has an agenda.

All I need are facts.  Just the facts, ma’am.

The Insidious Nature of Hatred

Today is Good Friday.  On this day, Christians all over the world commemorate the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ and anticipate His resurrection.  It is a solemn day and a good day to remember what a tenuous grasp we have on our right to Christianity.  Today also marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish celebration and commemoration of the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt and decades of slavery.

These holy days are following a couple of quite tumultuous weeks here in Indiana.  The entire nation has been focused on the RFRA signed by Governor Pence last week, who, after the hue and cry, sent the signed legislation back to the customer service department for a refund rewrite.

I have no idea what the hell it says now.

But here’s what has happened in the meantime.  In Kenya, 147 people were murdered by radical Islamists who stormed a university Thursday in Garissa near the Somali border.  In the carefully planned and executed attack, the gunmen flung open doors asking if there were Christians inside.  Those answering in the affirmative were shot on sight.  An Al Qaeda-linked terror group Al-Shabaab has taken credit for the attack, depending upon what news outlet you watch.  I’m sure that Hillary Clinton will want to blame it on a YouTube video.

On Wednesday, a South Bend television station reporter looking to make her nut on the backs of unsuspecting small business owners trolled through Elkhart county until she found a family-owned pizzeria to ambush:  Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana, a small community with a large Mennonite population, was the target of this reporter’s particular zeal for fame.  After thrusting her microphone in the face of the unsuspecting restaurant owner and asking if she would cater a gay wedding, the young lady replied that while everyone is welcome in their restaurant, catering a gay wedding reception did go against their Christian beliefs.

I submit to you that pizza at a gay couple’s wedding reception might also infringe on the gay couple’s beliefs, but that’s beside the point.

Jess Dooley, a teacher at a local high school—a TEACHER, for crying out loud—tweeted, “Who’s going with me to burn down Memories Pizza?”  Guess all those diversity workshops that Jess attended as a teacher required her to be tolerant of people who share only her particular set of beliefs.

That, or she just started tweeting and doesn’t understand how social media works.

When I was teaching my eighth grade students about the Holocaust, I began the unit with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.  That treaty stripped Germany of practically everything, and the result was that, starving and with their country in utter shambles, the German people were willing to listen to anyone who promised them an easy solution.  So they listened to Hitler.  And Hitler’s solution to Germany’s problems was simple:  Eradicate the Jews.

As an aside, if anyone ever asks why the U.S. is involved in nation building, go back and read about the history of Germany following World War I.

The persecution of Jews in Europe didn’t begin and end with the concentration camps.  It began with a more insidious cancer—suggestions, remarks, statements, and finally proclamations that painted the Jewish population in Europe as the festering sore that created all this turmoil.  Kind of like how some people are beginning to paint Christianity.

Placing ourselves in tight little boxes, surrounded only by the people who share our beliefs, is a crummy way to live life.  To wit:  I have the most wonderful neighbors across the street from me.  They are kind, generous, and helpful—the very embodiment of the word ‘neighbor’.  The most curious thing about our friendship and mutual respect is that we do not share the same political beliefs, which in today’s world most often is the difference between a polite nod and a true friendship.  Not so for us.  Every time I talk with my neighbors, I learn something new, and our friendship grows that much stronger.  No, I’m not going to suddenly become a supporter of the other side, but our friendship reinforces, for both of us, I’d like to think, the idea that we don’t all have to live in the same little box.

While it is true that we are commanded to love one another, it is also true that we are endowed with the right to choose for ourselves our core beliefs and live our lives accordingly.  How we act upon those beliefs—whether we choose to love our neighbors or hate our neighbors—is our great challenge, but it makes all the difference.

Not only has history taught us this, so have current events, which are, unfortunately, serving to reinforce the fact that hatred is insidious.

The State of Indiana Needs Olivia Pope

pope 2

Recently, I started watching Scandal, that ABC über-slick drama (and I do mean drama) about Washington, D.C. mess cleaner-upper Olivia Pope.  That woman can put a spin on an anvil.

The State of Indiana needs someone like Olivia Pope who can take what appears to be really, really crappy, bigoted, right-wing nut job legislation and put a more realistic spin on it.  Or, maybe everyone just needs to read the actual bill and try to look at it from both sides.  Now.  And up and down.  And in and out.

I really don’t know clouds at all.

But I digress.  For my non-Hoosier friends, our governor, the wooden-headed Mike Pence, is about to sign into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which has everyone here in Indiana quite agitated.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a nutshell, the law states, ““Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”  This means a couple of things to those of us who don’t speak legal-ese:  It means that if you own a business or provide a service, it will be more difficult for individuals to take legal action against you if those individuals feel that they have been the target of discrimination.  It means that religious groups, such as the Catholic Church, are not required to provide certain health care services to individuals under their employ if those services — birth control, for example — go against their core beliefs.  It means that if a bakery owner is a devout conservative Christian whose belief in a strict Biblical interpretation of marriage doesn’t include marriage between two people of the same sex, that bakery owner reserves the right to decline to make your wedding cake.

Yep.  That’s the one that has everyone in a tizzy.

The law does not mean that Indiana will revert to “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” entrances to public buildings.  It does not mean that African-Americans will now be relegated to the back of the bus.  It does not mean that LGBT individuals are now considered second class citizens. It does not mean that any one group will become the target of hatred, discrimination, and will have all of their civil rights abandoned because they belong to a protected class.

Historically, the initial bill was introduced into federal legislation by Chuck Shumer (D-NY) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. However, the Supreme Court deemed the law unconstitutional as it applied to individual states.  Would it make you feel any better if you knew that the law was sparked by a Native American tribe’s desire to continue smoking peyote as part of their religious rituals?

Sparked.  Get it?

Or, would it make you feel any better that the federal law, the one introduced by a Democrat and signed into law by a Democrat, was opposed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia?  He stated, with regard to the Native Americans who wanted to continue with their peyote ritual, that the law “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”

For those of you not familiar with Justice Scalia, he’s about as conservative as they come. He’s so far to the right, I’m surprised he doesn’t fall off his bench.

So you see, the outrage over Governor Pence signing the RFRA into law is mostly coming from those who believe that their rights will be violated.  But what about the rights of the other side?  Why should their rights be compromised?

Back to Governor Pence.  Earlier this year, the governor launched what he called a “state-run news service”.  Really? Whose idea was it to call it that?  The Soviet Ministry of Propaganda?  It was a bad idea that was introduced to the public in the worst possible way. Luckily for him, he ditched it after a few days.  “JustIN” became “JustOUT”.

Then there was his run-in with the overwhelmingly elected “little engine that could” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.  Pence had the audacity to sign legislation that stripped Ritz of her role as leader of the State Board of Education.  Then, in a half-baked attempt to soften that blow, he truncated the ISTEP test by a couple of hours so that third graders wouldn’t have to spend 12 1/2 hours on the test–a test that measures the competency of their teachers but doesn’t do a damn thing that’s good for students.  I don’t know a parent alive who gets up the first Monday of March and exclaims, “Yippee!  My child gets to take the ISTEP test this week!”

Let’s not even mention Pence’s ulterior motives, here.

That’s why Pence needs some Olivia Pope.  Whether you agree with him or not, his delivery sucks.  I’m not asking him to be a strictly populist governor, but for crying out loud, can you at least listen to the people who elected you?  And if you feel so strongly about something, would it hurt you to take out an op-ed in the Indianapolis Star that would support your argument?  You have a captive audience; however, these days, most of that audience would like to see you captive somewhere other than the State House.  Like in the zoo.

The takeaway from all of this should be and hopefully will be this:  Hold firm to your beliefs. Be kind to everyone.  God loves all of us, regardless of who we are.  If you own a business or provide a service, examine your conscience very carefully before you deny anyone the fruits of your labor or your particular talents or gifts.  Maybe in the long run this will teach us all to be more tolerant and understand that the greatest gift we as Americans enjoy is the fact that–at least for now–we’re free to hold fast to our beliefs.

And when I say tolerant, I mean tolerant.

Blowing Out My Candles

Tomorrow marks another year I’ve blessed this planet with my presence—what year, you ask?  Silly you, I’m no good with numbers.  Let’s just say I’m somewhere north of 39.

Satisfied?

So today, I’m taking this opportunity to write down my birthday wishes in no particular order.  Know that, since all but one of these are wishes and not hard and fast goals with a clear purpose and a timeline, I reserve the right to embellish and, well, dream a little.

So here they are, the five things I’d like to do before my next birthday:

  1. Build a time machine. Once I’ve programmed the time machine to transport me back to the mid-1960s, I’ll travel to New York City’s Madison Avenue where I, dressed and coiffed in my best Pucci-designed mini-dress, white go-go boots, and bouffant hairdo—accentuated by aquamarine eye shadow and frosted white lipstick, of course–will walk in front of the building that houses Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and wait for Mad Men’s Don Draper to emerge from its monolithic edifice for no other purpose than to light my cigarette.  I don’t smoke, I am not planning on taking up smoking, but before I die, I want to hold upright between my pink lacquer-nailed fingers an unlit cigarette and watch Don Draper whip out that old school Zippo and light me up.  That’s all.  After a long and thoughtful inhale, I will look up smolderingly through thickly false eyelashes and thank him in my best sultry 60s voice, and without taking my eyes off the candy, be on my way.  Once I’ve turned a corner and know that he is no longer looking back at me, I’ll carelessly toss the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grind it out with the toe of my boot.  It is the mid-1960s after all.
  2. While I’ve got the use of a perfectly good time machine, I want to go back even further to 1924’s Downton Abbey and shake some sense into that Droopy Dog of Downton Edith Crawley. Poor Edith (Do we ever utter Edith’s name without prefacing it with the modifier ‘poor’?) bears a bastard child and has to watch it being raised by the farmer in the dell and his shrill-voiced wife while sister Lady Mary (who really is no lady, let’s be honest) has not only ****** a Turkish diplomat to death (To the death!), but has just recently taken poor Lord Gillingham out for a test drive and found him to be somewhat unsatisfactory. That Lady Mary had enough foresight to protect herself from the fate of her sister (what her Granny calls “an unfortunate epilogue”) doesn’t endear her to me at all.  She practically forced her lady’s maid Anna to go into CVS, embarrassed and shamefaced, and buy the rubbers she used on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (you see now why Julian Fellowes didn’t allow us to be privy to that scene), which further proves that she has no intention of marrying the poor bastard.  Mary wasn’t even woman enough to take a chance on making another baby.  Edith, hold your head up high, girlfriend.  While your less than virtuous sister looks down her nose at you—even without knowing your shame—she herself is busy breaking every rule of Edwardian society.  Be a woman and go get your baby back.
  3. Sit down with Lena Dunham (writer-producer of HBO’s Girls and author of an awful memoir) and tell her the things her mother should have told her years ago, like, “Lena, you’re somewhat on the chub-chub side.  No one wants to see your naked body.”  Or, “Lena, no one cares about your twentysomething angst.  You really don’t know what angst is,” in addition to, “Just because you were drunk and high and he didn’t call you afterwards doesn’t mean that it was rape.”  And most importantly, “Lena, some things are better left unsaid.”  You see, whereas I think Lena Dunham is somewhat intelligent and may have talent as a writer, apparently no one’s loved her enough to tell her that most of the country doesn’t want to see or hear about her weirdness, her “unwanted sexual encounter” at the hands of a made-up boogeyman, her courageous “alternative-ness”, or her dabbling in pedophilia.  Give it a rest.  You don’t seem to realize that the east coast salon society is but a thimble-full sampling of the rest of the country.  This goes for all you other creatives out there who think it’s cool, it’s hip, and it’s a thing to wallow in multiple sex partners and be proud of it, live off your parents, experiment with bisexuality, cry rape when a random hookup doesn’t go your way, and chronicle it all because people will think you’re so “brave”.  It’s not a thing.  It really isn’t.  It’s just disgusting.
  4. Become a software engineer.  I won’t go into too many details, but just understand that if I became a software engineer, my day job would be a whole lot easier.
  5. Now this is a real goal, not a dream or a wish, and the one thing that I want most to actually happen:  Have someone out there in the world of publishing read The Gym Show and see it for what it is—a compellingly good and solidly written story that should be published by a mainstream publisher.  A story that could potentially be made into a movie that people will actually want to see.  Maybe an indie film?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  How do you get the powers that be to read your work—do you have to be a Lena Dunham? Because if that’s the criteria, forget it.  Write a better episode of Downton Abbey than Julian Fellowes?  At this point, it wouldn’t be that hard, let me tell you.  Don Draper is a marketing and advertising genius, maybe after he lights that cigarette for me I can pitch him my novel. Bottom line, it’s going to happen, and I intend to make it happen before my next birthday.

So wish me luck.  And a happy birthday!

Quest for Rhinestones, Part II

crown

As promised, here is my follow-up piece to the first “Quest for Rhinestones” I published last month where I chronicled the various Misses Crawford County that my mother Susan Abercrombie was privileged to pimp mentor and later chaperone through their various public appearances and during their collective shots at the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant.  I must first, however, correct some inconsistencies that appeared in my earlier post.

Kathy Stevenson, from lil’ ol’ Harmonsburg, PA, was the first Miss CC from our area (and right down the road from chez Abercrombie); however, neither my sister nor I remember if my mother had any responsibility for her crown.  Regardless, she did the area proud.  Additionally, Sandy Steiger was a runner up at Miss Pennsylvania and I know this for a fact because she told me so, and not in a “Did-you-forget-that-I-too-was-also-almost-Miss-Pennsylvania?” way, but more like a “Good-grief-I-was-so-relieved-not-to-win” way.  Apparently the quest for rhinestones carries with it some measure of burdensome responsibilities, because I recall a conversation with my friend Jane who was a First Runner-Up at the Miss Indiana Pageant in 1980-something.  I had asked her what was going through her mind as she stood on that stage after the judges had carved away the Indiana contingent to just two, and one of them was about to become Miss Indiana.  She told me she kept thinking, “Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me” and was hugely relieved to not be the one going to Atlantic City that September.

Her talent?  Jane is a musician.  Not a gymnast.  Hm.

For me, though, growing up inundated with the whole Miss Crawford County Culture was intoxicating.  During our youth, my sister Becky and I were more than just fascinated with the pageant; we, in fact, lived it every Sunday afternoon in our bedroom with our Barbie dolls and one or two of my brother Jamie’s GI Joes that we had lifted from his closet.  First, we had to set the stage for the pageant.  This involved making a mock-up of the real Miss Crawford County stage, which was, in reality, picnic tables lined up in a ‘T’ festooned with linen skirts to hide the fact that they were picnic tables.  This runway was situated adjacent to a flatbed trailer that was also decorated thusly to hide the fact that it, in all likelihood, had served as a conveyance for some manner of farm implement in its off-season life.  The picnic tables and flatbed trailer were placed in the middle of a dirt racetrack that would, in the days after the pageant, host a stock car race and various harness races.

Once Becky and I had constructed our pageant stage, it was time to dress our Barbies in their evening gowns for the Evening Gown Tableau.  This was reminiscent of the first “Tableau” of the actual pageant where each contestant, in her evening gown and white gloves, would be escorted out of the Cadillac convertible that had ferried each prospective queen to the Crawford County Fairgrounds.  Thus the need for the GI Joes.  I only had one Ken doll, and he was too refined to do anything but serve as Master of Ceremonies. The camo-fatigued GI Joes did the heavy lifting.  Among our toys, we didn’t have anything that resembled Cadillac convertibles, so there was much imagination to be rendered during that portion of the bedroom Barbie pageant, though during one make-believe pageant I think I had each girl arriving on horseback, courtesy of our collection of Johnny West horses.

During the actual pageant, which began with the contestants alighting from their vehicles, the Evening Gown Tableau introduced the the waiting crowd to each contestant, and it was at this point that the more savvy and serious-minded audience members could begin their own process of elimination, whittling the contestant number from 20-25 down to the top ten.  Those top ten girls would get to perform their talent.  For Becky and me, this was a waste of time because we already knew who the top ten were going to be because, you see, the Sunday paper the previous week had included an enormous spread featuring all of the contestants, their bios, their talent, and a senior-picture quality portrait of each young lady who was vying for the title.  Becky and I would painstakingly pour over each girl’s CV and make our initial list.  My dad also took this opportunity to weigh in with his pronouncements of who the losers would be by pointing to a picture of an unfortunately un-photogenic or just genetically sorry-looking young girl and call her a “poor soul”.  He also had a knack for picking runners-up and winners by virtue of their last names, which was a puzzlement to me at the time.

But it wasn’t until Mum took us with her to the two pageant rehearsals during “Pageant Week” that we would know exactly who was going to be on that top ten list.

The pageant rehearsals took place at the fairgrounds (which is how I know what the stage and runway really looked like) before everything was decorated for the big night.  Miss Arita Lee Blair, as director of the pageant, was in charge, and with her cat-eye spectacles and skunk-striped hair, she made more than one girl cry during the rehearsal process, so much so, that I’m surprised any of them ever made it to Monday night without peeing in her pants.  Becky and I would watch in rapt fascination as Arita Lee, her wrecking-ball-like demeanor frightening the ugly out of everyone in her midst, would halt the proceedings–usually at the point where the girls would traipse awkwardly down the runway for the fourth or fifth time–and screech into her bullhorn using her best whisky-tenor voice “Do it O-ver!”

Note:  For those of you who are having trouble visualizing what Arita Lee looked like, rent the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  She’s Baby Jane.

Arita Lee even managed to scare the tinkle out of Becky and me.  Late one afternoon during rehearsals and tired of sitting, we stood watching from the first rail of the grandstands whereby Arita Lee loudly and emphatically shrieked into her bullhorn in what I can only imagine was a fit of unbridled frustration at the audacity our failure to promenade properly, “Will the Abercrombie girls please sit down!”

Back in the safety of our bedroom, we acted out the contestants’ talents, all of which were, of course, some type of gymnastic floor exercise, in what was known as the Talent Tableau portion of the pageant. This was followed by the Swimsuit Tableau.  Owing to a lack of proper pageant wear, each Barbie contestant modeled either in her talent togs or bare-naked during the Swimsuit Tableau.  Everyone was a winner here because doesn’t Barbie look good even when she’s naked?

In the actual Swimsuit Tableau, each Miss Crawford County contestant was outfitted with a modest, matronly one-piece solid-color Jantzen swimsuit (most likely purchased in downtown Meadville at Mayfair or The Crawford Store) featuring an armor-like front panel that erased any suggestion of the 1960s-1970s version of a camel toe.  In real life, at that time, girls were wearing bikinis to the beach, but at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, the goodies beneath the swimwear were just as cleverly disguised as Barbie’s were–with or without clothes.

Of course, the highlight of the real-life Miss Crawford County Pageant (as well as in our bedroom Barbie version) was the crowning of the queen.  But first, the previous year’s winner had to take her final walk down the runway as Miss Crawford County to the dulcet tones of K.K. Roberts singing, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”.  K.K. Roberts, whose most indelible feature was his prolifically long and wiry eyebrows, served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Miss Crawford County Pageant, and in my six, seven, and eight year-old mind, I imagined that he was Arita Lee’s boyfriend because he was the only one she was nice to during the whole rehearsal ordeal.  In reality, she was probably nice to him because he was the only one in Meadville who knew the words to any Broadway tunes.

Once the real pageant was over, my dad, usually in a state of inebriation equal to his bagful of sarcastic remarks about what he considered to be the most wasteful hours of his life, would take us home, reveling only in the glory of his innate ability to have, once again, picked the winner and the runners-up.  Too bad he wasn’t a betting man–over the years, he could have changed the fortunes of our family with the over-under.

As for the bedroom pageant, all things came to a screeching halt once Jamie discovered the missing-in-action GI Joes or Becky and I collapsed in a fit of giggles over the pitiful pageant performance of the one Barbie whose hair Becky had cut off the previous summer (in retrospect, I should have dyed a skunk stripe in that doll’s hair and made her pageant director).  Then my dad would come in our room threaten us with an ass-beating for having a giggle-fest when he had to get up and work in the morning.

For us, time seemed to stand still until the next August when we could once again bask in all things Miss Crawford County and dream of the days when we would begin our own quest for the rhinestones.

.

Quest for Rhinestones

sharonstoneharpersbazzar

I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be Miss Crawford County.

There was a time, oh, about forty or so years ago, when the whole idea of being Miss Crawford County was a mainstay of my childhood fantasies. That and having a horse. And blue hair.

For the uninitiated–those of you who did not grow up in Crawford County Pennsylvania in the 1960s and 70s–the Miss Crawford County Scholarship pageant was held the first Monday of the opening of the Crawford County Fair. Young ladies between the ages of 18 and 23 were eligible to be nominated as a contestant in the scholarship pageant, a precursor to the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant, the winner of which would go on to the Super Bowl of beauty pageants, Miss America. You see, to the Abercrombie girls, Miss America was the only legitimate beauty pageant. Forget your Miss Teen Something or other, or Miss USA, or even Miss Universe. For us, the only real pageant was Miss America, and to get to the Miss America pageant, you had to first become Miss Crawford County.

My mother, little go-getter that she was, became involved in Miss Crawford County when she pimped some of her former students as contestants. When I say, ‘pimped’, I don’t mean it in the literal sense (c’mon!), for Mum made absolutely no money for her involvement, but her machinations toward getting her girls to wear the crown were no less committed. She was the original pageant coach before anyone had ever heard of such a thing.

I forgot to mention that other thing that set the whole Miss Crawford County to Miss America Pageant experience apart from the others: The Miss Crawford County contestants had to have a talent. They had to perform. My mum’s girls’ talents? Duh. Gymnastics. And, unless you’re one of the twenty or thirty people on the planet who haven’t read The Gym Show by yours truly, Linesville-Conneaut-Summit High School was the only game in town featuring a gymnastics team.

Her first successful queen was one Sandy Steiger who became Miss Crawford County in 1965. Her talent? Gymnmastics. Then it was the 1969 queen Connie Williams–again, gymnastics. She followed that with the 1970 queen Cindy Styborski. Now, here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. Cindy Styborski was an outlier–she was from Cambridge Springs High School, but her talent was still gymnastics. Don’t ask me how that all came about–I was only seven–but I distinctly remember Mum sitting at our kitchen counter gluing silver glitter onto a pair of canvas gymnastics slippers as part of Cindy’s costume. Who knew that girls from Cambridge Springs could tumble?

Apparently, the Miss Crawford County Scholarship Pageant director Miss Arita Lee Blair, the dance doyenne of Crawford County, felt that Mum’s success at pimping pumping out queens was a talent that would be best served as the Official Chaperone for Miss Crawford County. You see, Miss Crawford County, as ambassador to the entire region, was often called upon to make public appearances. No young lady of such sterling virtue as a Miss Crawford County could be seen out at the Kiwanas or Jaycees without a proper chaperone. Who knew what manner of dirty old Rotary Club men were going to ogle our virtuous Queen? That’s where Mum came in. Arita Lee (who by that time in her life was certifiably batshit crazy) felt that if Mum was good enough to turn out winners, she would be good enough to make sure the winners were properly behaved and the beastly male-dominated environs in which our queen were subjected to were on notice: Don’t mess with Miss Crawford County.

Nineteen seventy-one ushered in the first of Mum’s queens to be chaperoned, Janet Mead from Conneaut Lake. Her talent? She played the piano. While it wasn’t gymnastics, evidently my mother felt she could work with Janet (even though I’m sure she privately felt that piano playing–a lesser talent–was best left to the buck-toothed and the cellulited-thighed, neither of which Janet was). Apparently her chaperoning talents paid off–Janet was second runner-up in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Not bad for the tri-state area.

The 1972 Miss Crawford County was Jan Amboyer. I don’t recall what her talent was, probably because she wasn’t a gymnast (and probably the reason why she didn’t place). The following year, Becky and I were big enough girls to attend the 1973 Miss Pennsylvania Pageant. Our girl Lori Doutt from Conneaut Lake didn’t place, but she was cute and perky, and I wanted to wear my hair all the time the same way she wore hers that night–piled on top of her head in big, loopy curls.

sharonstone

The 1973 pageant experience was Mum’s last, and I don’t know if Miss Crawford County was ever the same after that. Ask Sharon Stone–she was Miss Crawford County 1976. Sharon’s talent? A dramatic reading of the Gettysburg Address. I was there and in my naivete I thought she was perfectly awful. Another of my mother’s early protégés Alice Gillette was, in a cruel twist of unfairness, first runner-up and I still to this day think she should have won. Her talent? The perfect trifecta of gifts–she sang, played the flute, and performed a gymnastics routine.

Sharon didn’t need to be Miss Crawford County to go where she was headed.

In Part II of “Quest for Rhinestones”, I’ll outline Becky’s and my humiliatingly hilarious experiences with Miss Arita Lee Blair and the Miss Crawford County Pageant fantasy. Stay tuned.

Sixteenth and Martindale

Is there a difference between perception and reality?

The story I am about to tell is true. It describes an event that took place early in my teaching career, and it is one that I will never forget.

First, some background.

I taught sixth grade at IPS School #26 beginning in November 1986. School #26 was predominantly Black. I did not have much experience working with Black students; I didn’t have much experience working with any students. I also did not have much experience working with Black teachers and para-professionals–teachers’ assistants, if you will. I had recently graduated from Penn State, hardly a bastion of diversity when it comes to Black and White.

Eventually, though, I became better at recognizing and appreciating the differences between me and my African-American students and colleagues, and an easy symbiosis evolved among us. In the spring of my third year at IPS School #26, I was on playground duty with another staff member, the venerable fifth grade teacher Mrs. Edwards. Mrs. Edwards was at least 70 years old if not older and had more seniority in the entire IPS school system than any other teacher. She was also the most beloved member of our staff, and rightly so–her students were well behaved, her classroom was immaculate and thoughtfully organized, and her bearing was formidable if not intimidating. She dressed each day for work as if she were attending church–sky-high heels and all–minus the hat. And she never, ever was seen without a Bible in her hands. She often used it to beat children who got out of line while waiting for their breakfast, intoning, “Oh, I do so hate to hit you with my good Book!” One swat with the Bible for every word in the aforementioned sentence. I loved her. And she scared the hell out of me.

Mrs. Edwards had a cloak hall in her classroom–not everyone had a cloak hall. Her cloak hall was used to store coats and boots and backpacks and naughty children. Mrs. Edwards also had a paddle–nothing special, just a paddle with her name emblazoned on the handle in perfect Palmer penmanship. If you had a student who needed paddled, Mrs. Edwards was your go-to lady. Don’t judge: This was 1989.

Back to playground duty or, rather, I should call it “parking lot” duty. Because we didn’t have a playground at IPS School #26. We had a blacktop parking lot. We had some balls–a couple of basketballs and a kickball, and in the past we had had some jump ropes, but they were lost somewhere along the way. There wasn’t much for the kids to do, and there were a lot of kids to keep busy. Three sixth grade classes, one special education classroom of fifth and sixth graders, three fifth grade classes, and another all-fifth grade special education class. Remember, it was 1989, just before Inclusion.

What did the kids do for thirty minutes of what was supposed to be recess? Some kids played with the few implements we had available for them, but most of the kids–pre-adolescents–stood around and talked, or stirred some unseen neighborhood pot they had dragged to school, full of hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness. As you might have guessed, then, on this particular beautiful spring day, a fight was brewing. The antagonist, an African-American student named Glenn, started posturing in front of another male student, also African-American. Mrs. Edwards, heels and all, started toward her student, the one who was being confronted. I managed to get myself between that student and Glenn.

In the back of my mind, all I could think of was, “She’s wearing heels! She’s going to get shoved to the pavement and break a hip! She’s old!” I, on the other hand, was dressed in a t-shirt, jean skirt, bobby sox, and white Keds. I positioned myself in front of Glenn–a young man the same size as me–and held him by the shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, “Not today, scooter.”

Apparently, that pissed him off enough that he decided to take a swing at me–in the ensuing confrontation, he managed to relieve me of a rather sizable chunk of my hair, tore off my necklace, and ripped my t-shirt enough so that my bra was exposed. That pissed me off enough to turn him around, get his arms behind his back, kick him in the backs of his knees, and force him onto his belly. Whereby I sat on his butt, pinning his arms behind him until the paddy wagon came. I am sure I surprised him with my chutzpah.

Between the time I forced him to the ground to when the paddy wagon (IPS Security, not IMPD) arrived, I do remember telling him that he f***ed with the wrong person. Yep, I tossed the f-bomb at a sixth grader. Countless times.

After IPS Security relieved me of my duties as butt-sitter and f-bomb tosser, I found myself in the principal’s office, giving a statement to one of the officers. I did not wish to press charges, but I did want the kid suspended for the remainder of the school year.

After IPS Security left, my principal unleashed a torrent of fury against me that stunned me speechless. I had just saved Mrs. Edwards from a dangerous situation that could have hurt her, and I broke up a fight that would have most certainly disrupted the educational environment for the rest of the day if not for the rest of the school year. And here was my principal ripping me a new one for doing what any sane person would have done. Through the roar in my ears, all I could hear was him saying, “Racist, racial, race, relations.”

The rest of the day was a blur–I do remember my students’ ooh-ing and ah-ing when I returned to the classroom; I summarily I turned off the lights and read to them from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor. None of my colleagues came by to ask if I was okay, no one asked me if I was hurt. No staff member talked to me for the rest of the day.

The next day a fellow teacher who happened to be White pulled me aside and whispered, “You’d better be careful. The paras (teachers’ assistants–all of whom were African-American) have told everyone that you whipped Glenn with a jump rope then tied him up with it.”

Jump rope? WE DIDN’T HAVE JUMP ROPES!

It got worse. The para-professionals had spread the lie that I called Glenn a ‘n*****, that I was indeed whipping him with a jump rope, and that after I was finished whipping him, I tied him up. They knew this because they were all watching out the window while it was happening.

Another staff member, also White, pulled me aside and told me that Mrs. Edwards had stated that she was disappointed with me. When this staff member, who had also watched the entire tableau the previous afternoon, asked her why she wasn’t standing up for me since she was right there and saw everything that had happened, apparently she replied, “I will always stand with my race.”

That was my first experience with racism. Moreover, it was a lesson in perception. What those para-professionals perceived and what Mrs. Edwards perceived were one in the same–even though what Mrs. Edwards saw was what really happened. And she knew it.

I’ll never know why Mrs. Edwards’ and the para-professionals’ perception of the incident was so different from the reality I experienced that day. In my mind, the only thing I did that I should not have done was swear in front of a student. To them, though, I did everything wrong. I was the privileged White girl asserting my authority in the way that, historically, they remember White people asserting their authority over Black people.

Why tell this story today? While I don’t agree that the officer who shot Michael Brown in August 2014 was guilty of any wrongdoing, I also understand that others’ perceptions might be different. This is because my experience with Glenn at IPS School #26 located at E. 16th and Martindale on the near eastside of Indianapolis in 1989 was perceived by others as a racist act of aggression when I know in my heart that all I was trying to do was to protect Mrs. Edwards. It broke my heart that she sided with those who made up the story about the jump rope, but then again, I had not lived her life, I had not experienced her experiences, and I had never walked around in her skin, so from her vantage point, what I did was just another instance of a White person beating down a Black person.

I learned that day that you don’t have to agree. Just understand.