On June 25, gymnast Simone Biles was not having the Olympic Trials her fans had anticipated. She had stepped out of bounds, fallen off the beam, and not stuck a landing. She was still brilliant, of course. She is arguably one of the greatest athletes ever and she easily clinched the top spot on the U.S. Olympic team. But she was clearly not satisfied with her performance.
After she finished her floor routine—eye-popping, as usual, but not perfect—the camera followed her to the sidelines. She sat down on the floor, reached into her backpack, and pulled out a long pair of shears to cut off the tape supporting her troublesome ankle. That task quickly dispatched, she reached into her backpack again and pulled out an almost comically large makeup brush. While the camera remained trained on her, she proceeded to powder her face.
My jaw dropped. In the middle of an immensely significant athletic competition, one of the world’s greatest felt compelled to touch up her makeup. Perhaps the sheer ordinariness of that action calmed her. Perhaps it was a way to boost her confidence. But at a moment when she most needed to concentrate on her athletic performance, she was fixing her face.
I was chagrined. Clearly I can’t ignore the fact that many, many female Olympians wear makeup and other cosmetic enhancements while competing. Eyelashes and fingernails of grotesque lengths are common. And how on earth do track athletes—male and female—run with necklaces and chains bouncing under their chins? I doubt these trends started in 1988 with Flo-Jo, but we all paid attention when she positioned herself in the starting blocks, her wickedly curved nails splayed on the track, her hair loose and flowing. This year, media reported as frequently on Sha’Carri Richardson’s flaming orange hair and outrageous fingernails as they did on her speed. Too bad we won’t get to see her perform in Tokyo.
These fashionistas do succeed in grabbing our attention. But don’t they already do that with their athletic feats? Many, like the gymnasts, sometimes appear made up for a performance at the Grand Guignol. Why do they feel so compelled?
As a youngster and a teenager I participated in nearly every sport available to girls at the time. I was notoriously average at all of them. But I loved being active, I loved the discipline it required, and I loved the harmony of a team effort. Being an athlete, no matter how ordinary, made me feel strong. It gave me confidence. But more than that, it allowed me to play a role other than “Sallie,” the socially awkward, too smart for her own good, outsider. Instead, I was the 4’11’’ hurdler or the feisty all-state midfielder or one of eight synchronized swimmers trying bravely to mimic the moves of the more experienced swimmers. I was gutsy, determined, fearless.
As a teenage athlete, I could set aside, however momentarily, the fact that I wasn’t beautiful. I had no idea how to apply makeup to improve my appearance. With those two marks against me, finding acceptance at that age was difficult. But I could disappear on the tennis court or the hockey field. My sweat was worth something. My tenacity had value.
So it makes me sad to see that, in 2021, many of our greatest athletes still view their looks as part of their performance. They have to be strikingly beautiful, perfectly coiffed, overly made up. Somehow they must feel that their athletic skills alone cannot validate their presence on the world stage. Years of training can only get them so far. Perhaps it’s the lure of lucrative promotional contracts that prompts them to make sure their appearance is as perfect as their performance.
I wish young girls could see these athletes as the pure, powerful women they are. They don’t need fake eyelashes and fake fingernails and fake hair color to make a statement. They just need to demonstrate their prowess as heart-stopping, mind-blowing athletes.
As the 2021 Olympics approached, several female athletes and their teams made the news for their attire. An official from England Athletics claimed that Welsh Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen’s sprint shorts—the Adidas official 2021 briefs—were too short. The European Handball Association's Disciplinary Commission fined the female Norwegian beach handball team when they showed up for a match in compression shorts similar to what the men wear rather than the mandated bikini bottoms. Black Olympic swimmers were denied the option of wearing the Soul Cap, a swim cap designed to better accommodate and protect their hair.
Why can’t we just let women compete? Why does their appearance have to play such a large role? This morning I watched a men’s sand volleyball match, the men dressed comfortably in shorts and tank tops. I don’t have to tell you what the women are expected to wear.
David Hoefer of Louisville, Ky., the co-editor of The Last Resort, bids a fond farewell to the Brood X cicadas. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
The cicada bloom is finally starting to wind down in my neck of the woods (which is the Louisville Highlands). It is increasingly possible to hold an intelligible conversation with another human outside the house and to travel the sidewalks without the regular crunch of dead or dying bugs underfoot.
That said, I had a final cicada experience that might be worth relating. I’m currently taking an online birding course through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (an organization whose praises I’ve sung previously on this blog). One of the exercises, called “sit-spotting,” involves sitting outdoors for 15 minutes, observing the immediate surroundings, and making note in a field journal of all that which most impinges on the five senses. In a Kentucky suburban environment, that ought to mean birds, squirrels, chipmunks, bees, cats, breezes, floral scents, etc. I did this a couple of weeks back, when the cicadas were still hot and heavy. Not wise. My entries read something like:
I’ll give the cicadas this: every 17 years they put on what is truly a command performance. I guess part of the diversity of nature that we always go on about, is that sometimes there is very little diversity at all.
As I started working on Next Train Out, I knew that racial conflict had to be a theme of the novel. It seemed clear to me that the trajectory of Lyons Board’s life had to be predicated in part on his role, as an eight-year-old boy, in having a Black man lynched in his hometown, Paris, Ky., in 1901.
As I researched the various cities and towns where my grandfather eventually lived, I found plenty of instances of racial unrest in their histories: mob violence, riots, lynchings, the obliteration of sections of towns where Blacks lived and prospered. Soon I began to better grasp the bigger picture, that the whole country was awash in deadly racial conflict just after World War I, when Black soldiers returned home expecting opportunities and respect in return for serving their country in the trenches in Europe.
Instead, they found resentment and violence stoked by the belief among some white citizens that these returning veterans threatened their jobs and their status in the community. I learned about the Red Summer of 1919, which made me realize how widespread these race problems were. These confrontations were not isolated to the Deep South. They erupted in our nation’s capital, in Chicago, in New York and Omaha—in at least 60 locations from Arizona to Connecticut.
How this anger and suspicion manifested itself in towns like Corbin, Ky., and Springfield, Ohio, are part of Lyons’ story.
As we all now know, an area referred to as Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Okla., waited until 1921 for its turn at center stage. On June 1, after 16 hours of horror, more than a thousand homes and scores of businesses had been incinerated. Somewhere between 100 and 300 people had been murdered. Thousands of Black survivors were then corralled into a detention camp of sorts and assigned forced labor cleaning up the mess the violent white mob had created.
Before June 2020, when President Trump landed in Tulsa for a campaign rally originally scheduled to take place on Juneteenth, few Americans knew the lurid history of Black Wall Street. The facts had been suppressed, kept out of classrooms, out of the news, out of polite conversation. Black families in Tulsa passed down stories of violence and terror and escape—or stories of family members never seen again, their fates unknown. Few public officials dared recognize what had happened to all those people and their livelihoods and their property and their wealth.
This year, on its 100th anniversary, the entire nation has been awakened to Tulsa’s tragic history. LeBron James produced a documentary—one of many. Tom Hanks wrote an op-ed. HBO made its Watchmen series accessible to more viewers. News forums of all types reported on the anniversary. Survivors of the massacre—all more than 100 years old--testified before Congress and met with President Biden. Under the leadership of Tulsa’s young white Republican mayor, G. T. Bynum, archaeologists have resumed the search for mass graves that had finally begun last summer.
How a community like Tulsa now, finally, begins to reckon with its history is significant for all of us. We as a nation, as a collection of human beings, must break the silence we have permitted ourselves for generations and acknowledge how gravely we have wronged indigenous peoples, Blacks, and other minorities. How we blithely destroyed their culture, their history, their identities, and their lives.
Acknowledging the truth is a start. Reporting historical facts is essential. Engaging in respectful, compassionate, and sensible discussion can prompt healing. Some communities—and even the U.S. Congress—are now beginning to discuss what reparations might look like. Other communities first need to simply acknowledge both the shame and the pain that have churned for decades among their citizens.
When I first met with Jim Bannister, the great-nephew of the man lynched because of an alleged incident with my great-grandmother, he made it clear that it was the silence that weighed most heavily on him. He had tried to learn more about the lynching of George Carter, but no one would talk about it. His elders wouldn’t talk about it. The Black community wouldn’t talk about it. Fear and shame and ongoing oppression had kept everyone close-mouthed for generations.
The emotional damage accrued. The human damage. The not knowing. The not understanding.
With her book In the Courthouse’s Shadow, Tessa Bishop Hoggard provided the key that Jim needed to open the door to his family’s history. She pulled his story out of the shadows. Jim has told me repeatedly that he feels an extra spring in his step now that he knows the facts. He has found a peace that had eluded him all of his eighty years.
In her interview with Tom Martin on WEKU’s Eastern Standard program this week, Tessa said, “As we peer into our history, hate crimes were a common daily occurrence….Accountability and consequences were absent. There was only silence. This silence is a form of complicity….Today is the time for acknowledgment and healing. Let the healing begin.”
(Listen to the 10-minute interview.)
We have to acknowledge our difficult history. We have to face what happened. And then we have to consider the steps, both small and large, that we can take to heal the wounds that will only continue to fester if we stubbornly ignore them.
This year, on the morning of Juneteenth (Saturday, June 19), I’ll have copies of Tessa’s book and my novel available for sale at the Lexington Farmers Market at Tandy Centennial Park and Pavilion in downtown Lexington, Ky. In August 2020, the citizens of Lexington agreed to rename Cheapside Park, the city’s nineteenth-century slave auction block and one of the largest slave markets in the South, the Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park, honoring the freed slave who did masonry work for many of Lexington’s landmarks, including laying the brick for the nearby historic Fayette County courthouse, built in 1899.
One of the organizers of the “Take Back Cheapside” campaign, DeBraun Thomas, said at the time: “Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park is one of the first of many steps towards healing and reconciliation.”
Fittingly, I’ll be at the Farmers Market as part of the Carnegie Center’s Homegrown Authors program. Tandy had a hand in the construction of Lexington’s beautiful neoclassical Carnegie Library on West Second Street in 1906, now the home of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.
If you’re in Lexington that morning, stop by and we can continue this conversation.
David Hoefer of Louisville, Ky., the co-editor of The Last Resort, examines our latest plague. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
They’re here. In fact, they’re everywhere—gazillions of them. They’ve come up from holes in the ground, where they spent 17 years sucking nutrients from plant roots in the dark, biding their time until nature called them to invasion.
With their cellophane wings and bulbous red eyes they look like something out of an Old Testament plague or maybe next-of-kin to the “Bug-eyed Monsters” (BEMs) that infested the covers of science-fiction pulp magazines from mid-20th century America.
And the racket—an incessant loud thrumming from high in the air, as though alien spacecraft were massing behind tree cover or Saruman the White was working up his war engines, as described by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Reportedly, that racket can raise noise levels in neighborhoods up to 100 decibels.
What am I going on about? Why the 2021 vintage of Brood X cicadas, of course.
You likely know the story by now. Brood X is number ten of 15 groups of periodical cicadas resident in eastern North America. It consists of three species and is the largest and most widespread of its kind. Brood X nymphs tunnel up from their underground lairs every 17 years, once soil temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. They shed their exoskeletons, briefly taking on a final adult form. What follows is a furious few weeks of them discharging their Darwinian duty—flying, mating, laying eggs in the trees, and dying. And, yes, all that noisemaking—the male’s monochromatic version of a mating song. Brood X cicadas are estimated to emerge in the trillions, and species survival depends on it, because these defenseless insects make easy prey for a variety of birds and other hungry creatures (including my dog, who wolfs them down like a human chomping on potato chips—a protein supplement, I suppose).
In the meantime, cicadas are as common as hydrogen, and getting into everything. You name it and they‘re on it—clothing, hair, cars, furniture, rugs, sidewalks, houses, and every other manifestation of human culture. Their weird insect noises and alien ugliness make them unwanted guests, but the fact is, unlike last year’s virus, they’re perfectly harmless. Brood X cicadas may be the ultimate proving ground for the philosophical notion of “live and let live.”
Kentucky is not actually at the epicenter of Brood X, but the bugs are certainly present and accounted for in the Bluegrass State (including in great numbers in my treelined yard). Entomologists see this North American version of a locust visitation in effect until mid-July, when the survivors will begin a new 17-year cycle of root-sucking and apocalyptic emergence and transformation. The best we can do for now is batten down the hatches and learn to live with one of nature’s stranger life utterances.
If you’re inclined toward more active observation, I can suggest an interesting application that is downloadable to iPhone and Android devices. Developed by an academic at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and called Cicada Safari, it enables Joe and Josephine Test-tube to take on a citizen-scientist role during the Brood X interval by documenting local cicada activity with photographs and videos and posting them to an ever-growing database curated by the application’s sponsors. I’ve enjoyed running around my neighborhood looking for interesting shots, once I got over my initial repulsion.
Just remember: the cicadas probably find us at least as hideous to contemplate.
There is no mention of cicadas in The Last Resort, which makes me think that John Goodlett didn’t observe them in the Lawrenceburg environs during 1942-43. Brood X outbreaks would have occurred in 1936 and 1953, outside of the journal’s timespan. But there are other broods on different schedules, waiting for long periods to climb into the light and then share the world with us, if only briefly.
On count 1: Guilty
On count 2: Guilty
On count 3: Guilty
And I sobbed.
I had been sitting in my backyard intending to read, but all I was really doing was staring at the electric pink blossoms still gripping the redbud trees and watching the wind ripple the water on the lake. I had a lot on my mind, so I never even cracked open the book.
When the clouds moved in, I got a little chilly so I went inside and absentmindedly turned on the news. I saw that a verdict in the Derek Chauvin case was expected momentarily, so I sat silent, my heart racing.
When the judge walked in the courtroom, my anxiety rose. I told myself I couldn’t expect these jurors to do what so few others had ever done before.
But they did. They found Officer Chauvin guilty, in the eyes of the courts, of murdering George Floyd.
I am not Black. I’m still trying to grasp the reality of systemic racism. I have never been followed by the police or interrogated for suspicious behavior. I have never lost a family member to police brutality. But I sobbed like a baby after Chauvin was convicted.
The last couple of weeks have been so difficult. First it was Daunte Wright. Then Adam Toledo. Multiple mass shootings.
Even for a privileged bystander, it never, never seems to end.
But today we got a little relief. A brief glimmer of hope that something, something could change. That justice was possible.
Many are telling us not to read too much into this one verdict. It doesn’t change the family’s grief. It doesn’t change the fact that more Black lives were taken by police today. It doesn’t diminish the fear some parents have each time their child leaves home. It doesn’t change the flagrant racism and hatred we continue to witness in our country.
But maybe this will help us find the strength to keep fighting for right. Perhaps it will prevent us from giving in to despair.
I am relieved. I am even a little hopeful. Perhaps Mr. Floyd has indeed changed the world.
Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, Ga., questions her governor's support for the Election Integrity Act of 2021. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
“Are you a politician or does lying just run in your family?”
― Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
― Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Oh, Brian Kemp, you never cease to disgust me with your strident attempts to misrepresent voter suppression as some sort of election protection. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: You are likely the governor of Georgia because you assumed the roles of both player and umpire in that political game. I know of no other instance, in a democracy, where the candidate has also been the officiant of the race. Even former Georgia Representative Karen Handel, who has her own record of supporting right wing policies that hurt a vast number of her constituents, resigned her position as Georgia Secretary of State to run for governor in 2010.
Maybe signing this legislation to limit access to voting is an attempt to show 45 that you really do believe the Big Lie—and get back into his better graces. After all, when you refused to reject Georgia’s results of the 2020 presidential race, 45 did threaten you specifically with retaliation during your upcoming re-election campaign. Honestly, Governor, I think you hurt yourself more than 45 ever could have by passing that Voter Suppression Law in a private signing while having Georgia House Representative Park Cannon unlawfully arrested for knocking on the door of the signing room. I mean, did you watch the cell phone video(s) of her arrest?
Don’t you know that the best way to motivate proud, hard-working people to sure as hell go out and do something they have a right to under the law is to try to tell them they can’t, or that you are gonna make it harder for them to do it? Oh yeah, you do, you are a gun rights supporter. Well, let’s just say you and Georgia’s Republican state legislators have motivated the weary opposing team more than any half time Super Bowl coach’s pep talk ever could. I’m willing to bet that you’ve moved some of your moderate supporters to switch sides to save democracy as we know it, imperfect as it is. Georgia’s new Voter Suppression Law has pushed voter protection, and hopefully passage of H.R. 1, the For The People Act, to the forefront of federal legislative priorities for pro-democracy Congress members. So, thank you for that!
Governor, please stop referring to voter suppression laws as a means of ensuring election integrity. This idea is built on The Big Lie and it’s an insult to your intelligent constituents. It’s a show of your desperation to hold on to power, and of your lack of personal integrity.
On May 25, 2020, Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer in his mid-40s, evidently decided that 46-year-old George Floyd’s alleged infraction of passing a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill should cost him his life. Three other officers watched as Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds—even longer than we had originally understood.
Despite exhortations from the other officers and the citizens standing nearby, despite Floyd’s pleas to let him breathe and his invocation of his recently deceased mother, Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck until he was no longer breathing. And then he kept his knee on his neck for another three and a half minutes.
Chauvin’s defense attorneys have posed a number of counterarguments during the initial days of the trial, including that Floyd had illicit drugs in his system, that he had a heart condition that contributed to his death, and that his physical size made him a threat to the officers even after he was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground.
Over the past 10 months we have learned a bit more about George Floyd and his family. We know he was a college athlete who struggled to stay in school and struggled with addiction. He spent some time in prison. We know he had moved from Houston to Minneapolis to try to turn his life around. During the trial, we saw his fiancée describe his kindness when he had first approached her at the Salvation Army where he was working security. For months we have witnessed the courage and the oratory and the passion of Floyd’s siblings and his cousins. We’ve seen the confusion of his bright-eyed young daughter whose father is now famous.
He has come to feel like someone we knew, like someone we might encounter joking around at a corner market just like Cup Foods.
That’s what Tessa Bishop Hoggard has accomplished in her book In the Courthouse’s Shadow. Through diligent research, she has fleshed out the story of one heretofore anonymous young Black man who was lynched in Paris, Ky., in 1901 after being accused of a minor crime. Like George Floyd, George Carter had previously run afoul of the law but was trying to settle down with his young family and build a good life. Like Floyd, Carter never had a chance to claim his innocence or plead his case. A group of white men with power in his community decided that he should pay with his life for a crime that we have no evidence ever even occurred.
We also learn that others who endured a fate similar to Carter’s were described in the press the same way, whether accurate or not: “burly negroes over 200 pounds.” As in Floyd’s case, physical size—or perceived physical size—justified illegal actions.
In Hoggard’s book, we learn about Carter’s family, their hopes and their dreams, and what happened to them after he was killed. We learn the fate of his two young daughters. We also learn about the family of the white woman who identified him as the man who had assaulted her, a crime that was originally reported as an attempted purse snatching. We learn about the fate of her eight-year-old son, who witnessed the assault and helped the sheriff identify Carter as the assailant.
We learn that George Carter, like George Floyd, was a father, a son, a brother—a human being. He was not just a statistic of early 20th-century racial injustice. Just as George Floyd was not merely another victim of 21st-century police brutality.
This is a problem our nation obviously has not solved. On March 18, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on anti-Asian American violence and discrimination, Republican Congressman Chip Roy of Texas said, “We believe in justice. There are old sayings in Texas about find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. We take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys. That's what we believe." Afterwards Roy refused to apologize for his choice of words and doubled down on the language.
As columnist Charles Blow recently wrote in the New York Times: “It is hard not to draw the through-line from a noose on the neck to a knee on the neck. And it is also hard not to recall that few people were ever punished for lynchings. Motionless Black bodies have been the tableau upon which the American story has unfolded…”
Those who witnessed George Floyd’s murder have testified about their sense of helplessness at the time and the enormous guilt they still carry. Some videotaped the crime and shared it with the world in horror. Those who discovered George Carter’s body hanging in front of the courthouse on that cold February morning tarried at the scene and took photos, seemingly proud of the town’s latest trophy and the message it sent.
Is that a sign of some progress in the last 120 years? Are we finally beginning to push back on these unforgivable acts of oppression and subjugation? What would we do if we found ourselves witnesses to such a crime? Would we simply stand by and watch, as the two doormen in New York recently chose to do as a 65-year-old Asian American woman was being assaulted on the sidewalk in front of their building? Or would we find the power to act?
In 1901, George Carter was only 21 years old when he was lynched. I wonder if he, in his final moments, silently called for his mother.
Murky Press is proud to offer In the Courthouse’s Shadow: The Lynching of George Carter in Paris, Kentucky through Amazon or by contacting Murky Press directly here. We encourage you to recommend the book to others or post a brief review on Amazon to help spread the word.
Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, Ga., reflects on her experience raising a family in a multi-cultural community. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
Daoyou Feng was 44 when she was shot and killed in the Asian hate crime spree in Atlanta on March 16. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she had only been working in the spa a few weeks when she was murdered. She was a Chinese citizen with no known family in the United States and no family able to travel to the U.S. to bury her. She was one of six Asian American women out of a total of eight victims shot to death during the multi-site killings.
For 17 years I lived in a suburb of Atlanta that has a very large Asian and Indian population. My children had friends, classmates, and neighbors from Pakistan, India, South Korea, and Japan. Their elementary school displayed the flags from the countries of students’ families. The technicolor array of banners encircled the entire cafeteria. The PTA staged an international night each spring that included a smorgasbord of delicious authentic dishes lovingly prepared by many of these families. Warm friendly smiles animated their faces as they proudly served up, and showed off, the delicacies of their home lands. The high school had a similar event that featured native dress, dances, and other performing and cultural arts.
When my son entered college at the University of Kentucky, he said, “Mom, it just feels a little weird being around so many white people all the time.”
When my daughter was young, I co-led a 12-member Girl Scout Troop with a mix of Asian, Indian, and Caucasian girls. They were as varied in personality and temperament as any group of girls could be—because they were all individuals, of course, not just because they had ancestry from different continents.
Moving to Georgia from Kentucky, I’m glad fate drew us to our particular neighborhood so my family got to know, and appreciate, the richness of many cultures, and to work, learn, and socialize with people from so many different backgrounds. Whether they were from Houston or Hyderabad, Seoul or South Carolina, we are better humans for knowing them.
Just like I’m sure there are people who are better humans for knowing Daoyou Feng.
Can we stop hate that’s planted and nurtured in dehumanizing otherness? Can we find a way to instill in every heart and mind that human beings are all, first and foremost, fellow human beings—all valuable, all equally entitled to live life with respect and dignity?
I haven’t given up hope that we can cultivate compassion for all of humanity. Impossible as it may seem, I also believe that we must. I guess the most important question is, how?
My name is Sallie, and I am a basketball fanatic.
I blame my mother. About the time I was entering my early teens, I recall how surprised I was to find my serious, book-reading mother occasionally watching University of Kentucky basketball games on TV. I don’t remember her talking about basketball much, but she had taken me to a few high school games, where my cousins starred. Up until that point, though, I hadn’t thought of her as someone who watched sports on television. At the time, I was devoted to Wide World of Sports and broadcasts of the Olympic games, but no one in my household was a fan of professional sports. I couldn’t imagine how my mother had the patience for such a tedious, and to me at the time boring, pursuit.
But I took notice. Basketball was not frivolous. Her interest had given it a certain heft.
When I was in college, UK won a national championship. Shortly afterward, so did the University of Louisville. My interest was piqued again. When home for the holidays, I watched what games were available. I started developing loyalties and interest in the players.
By the time I went to graduate school in Chapel Hill, N.C., I was hooked. While there, UNC and N.C. State won championships. I adored Jim Valvano. Some guy with an unpronounceable name had just started coaching at nearby Duke, trying to pull that team up from the bottom of the heap. Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, and Brad Daugherty wandered in and out of the foreign languages building where I taught. I was mesmerized.
Settling back in Kentucky after school, there was almost no way to avoid full basketball fanaticism. It was all around me. It was what I had in common with the majority of people I encountered. Some were suspicious of me because I rooted for both UK and UofL. But I was a pure college basketball fan. If a team was on TV and the players had signs of talent, I was interested. I was awed by their athleticism. By their tenacity. By their skill.
If you know me at all, you’ve probably heard me say, “God gave Kentuckians basketball to help us through our dark, dreary winters.” Why else would the typical college basketball season begin when the time changes in November and end in April, just as we’re all busting to get back outside?
Some of my friends still have trouble reconciling that someone who loves a good book and a classical music concert also loves college basketball. Thankfully, I have a handful of cousins who are just as diverse in their interests as I am. During this strange basketball season and the unexpectedly exciting men’s NCAA tournament, my cousins and I have connected from our homes in two different (rival) states. It’s been sheer delight watching their take on the games: the scientist who’s crunching the stats in real-time; the former player who’s questioning the coach’s call or the offensive set; the UofL and IU grad who’s trying to remain loyal to his alma maters and the Big Ten while honoring his Kentucky roots; and me, the simple-minded humanist who’s interested in the characters and the drama that’s playing out on the floor. While my cousins are breaking down plays, I’m texting “Woohoo! What a pass.” I don’t see the intricacies of the game; but I do see effort, determination, teamwork, and joy.
Another basketball season is about to end. I have a favorite team in the Final Four whose players unexpectedly earned my love and devotion only a month ago. The two teams I followed all season never even made it into the tournament. Initially I thought that meant I’d have a March free to do other things, but I surprised even myself. I adapted. I watched the games because I find beauty in the athletes’ ability. It makes me happy. And these days, that’s the only reason I need to invest some time in front of the TV.
P.S. Before you ask, of course I’m an equally avid fan of the women’s game! I’ll pull for our SEC arch-rival South Carolina in the Final Four, even though it hurts just a bit.
Vince Fallis, of Rabbit Hash, Ky., recalls a previous nationwide vaccination effort. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
On March 9, I received my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a well-organized assembly line managed by St. Elizabeth Medical Center, also known as The Empire around these parts. I was in the old folks group because I am one. Everyone seemed eager, yet somewhat reserved, as we went through the process. I profusely thanked the vaccinator, since I understand most are volunteers. I think we should have a parade for them when this is over (if it is ever over).
I felt somewhat elated as I drove away. Barbara and I will now be able to see the granddaughters. That has not happened since last fall. Excruciating.
The whole experience also brought back the memory of a day in 1955 when I stood with my parents, Leonard and Virginia, and my brother, Dave, in a long line outside Beechwood School to receive the Salk vaccine. I knew very little about polio but remember seeing on our black-and-white TV the images of dreary, hopeless hospital wards filled with iron lungs with only the heads of the pitiful victims visible.
In our minds the polio vaccine was a miracle that would keep us from the fate of those we saw in those terrifying hospital scenes. However, as an 8-year-old standing in that line, I was experiencing what I would now recognize as an approach-avoidance conflict. Some years before I had undergone the painful series of rabies shots after a dog bite, and I wasn’t sure how closely this vaccination would match up to that somewhat traumatic memory. But I survived, and we were thrilled to do our part to eliminate the dreaded virus. Drs. Salk and later Sabin became national heroes.
Fast forward to the present day. With over 550,000 of our fellow Americans already struck down by the novel coronavirus, many of my surviving fellow citizens have now made shunning the vaccine an emblem of personal freedom, tribal politics, or general disbelief in science. Substantial numbers of adults—many with higher education and, I must assume, a reasonable level of intelligence—have chosen to decline the vaccine.
Barbara recently said that if polio threatened us today, it would not be eradicated. I agree. Perhaps more disturbing is our total inability to come together for the common good. We see other acts of humanity: volunteers handing out boxes of food to long lines of people who have lost their livelihood during the pandemic; donors generously opening their wallets to help those in areas stricken by natural disasters; yellow-vested volunteers walking through Chinatown to deter criminals who are attacking people of Asian descent. Many choose to participate in these acts of compassion, but protecting each other from a deadly virus is, for some, a bridge too far.
I’m coming close to going off the rails, but I must say one more thing. We should all be outraged when we see white males wearing clothing displaying Nazi images. My uncle, John C. Goodlett, the father of my dear cousin, Sallie Showalter, walked through one of the death camps during World War II. We have a handwritten letter in which he describes the experience. I often wonder how he did not see those images every night when he was trying to sleep.
This country yearns for a new call to the real meaning of Patriotism, not one based in hate and exclusion, but one that lifts us up by working for the common good of everyone in this country. Will this happen? You may be skeptical. But I remain the eternal optimist. Peace be with you.