Troublemakers

ARKANSAS
BY
Richard Mason
Troublemakers
Yes, I’ve been called a troublemaker, actually a ****troublemaker, and I know that has a bad ring to it, but maybe the folks who called me a troublemaker needed to hear some words of direction from a troublemaker. Of course, I’ve had more than a few comments worse than just “troublemaker”, and you might think I’d hang my head in shame, but if you believe those comments bothered me, you’d be wrong. Yes, I’ll admit it. I am a chronic troublemaker, and at times, my reactions have been a bit above just a troublemaker. But I believe the world is a better place to live because of troublemakers. If we look back at the early history of our great country, you’ll have to admit troublemakers are the ones who gave us our independence, and I sure don’t mind being put in the same category as those troublemakers who signed the Declaration of Independence. Ever since our countries early beginnings troublemakers have forced us to make changes in inequality, bad laws, slavery, gender discrimination, and a list of other positive things too long to list. In 1920, when women finally received the right to vote, it was the troublemaking women who got the job done, and yes, some of those women actually spent time in jail because they were troublemakers.
Yes, it has been the troublemakers in our country who have made it a better place to live, but the works of troublemakers aren’t finished. In our complicated, polluted world of today, we need troublemakers more than ever.
Since I been tagged ‘troublemaker’ more times than I can remember, let me give you some insights into the life of a chronic troublemaker. Yes, I have shouted down some pompous bureaucrats, carried picket signs, and even took a few shoves and punches because I was “troublemaking”. But let’s get right to the point, why was I out there being a troublemaker? The answer is very simple: I believe a troublemaker only makes trouble for people he or she believes are the root of bad laws or policy. All of us have an inherent nature to oppose things that we perceive are wrong. It’s our Judo-Christian heritage. But the majority of us either try to ignore wrong-headed decisions by our elected officials or just mutter to our friends how bad he or she is. I guess you could consider this column a call for folks to have some backbone, and maybe go to a town hall meeting and yell down one of our worthless politicians, who have a lower approval rating than a cockroach or pond scum. (Several polls have given them that ranking.) Or as I did once, when the state was going to destroy the Diamond Mine State Park near Murphreesboro, by allowing commercial mining, organize a protest and picket the park. Yes, we had a couple of dozen “troublemakers” from around the state picketing the park entrance one Saturday morning when it opened, and numerous families walked away. They wouldn’t cross our picket line. The Park is still a national treasure because of troublemakers.
And today, there are folks in El Dorado’s City Hall who are probably calling me a troublemaker because I’m trying to get proper crosswalk striping painted on Main Street. So there is always work to do for troublemakers, and for example, if the Buffalo National River is kept from being turned into a hog farm sewer, it will be the troublemakers who will stop it from happening, and you should thank the troublemakers who stopped the worthless Corp of Engineers from making the Ouachita River a ditch for barges. Today, because of the work of a large dedicated group of troublemakers from Arkansas and Louisiana the river won’t have 28 bends cuts. Troublemakers saved the river from becoming a ditch. But troublemakers haven’t finished with the river. We need to pull the pins on the Thatcher Lock and Dam and let the river return to its 1960s state where Pete Wilson’s Slough and Wildcat Lake will once again be the best fishing in the Mid-South, and the water-clogging moss will be gone. Yes, that’s a good idea since possible barge traffic on the river is right up there with space travel. Of course, if the river returns to its 1960s state it will be the troublemakers who will make it happen. And it will happen; so when it does, and in the late spring and the pecan worms are falling, and you are up in Pete Wilson’s Slough pulling in those big pan size bream, thank a troublemaker.
So the next time you hear someone being called a “troublemaker”, check out why, and maybe you’ll join the troublemakers and make a difference.
.

A New York Snapshot

ARKANSAS
BY

Richard Mason
A New York City Snapshot
A middle-aged woman pushing a baby carriage passed us as we walked down 51st Street, and I glanced down at the carriage. I looked at Vertis, my wife, with a puzzled look.
“Did you see that?” I whispered.
“Yes, that’s hard to believe.”
It was a rather fancy baby carriage, but the occupant was a little unusual—a fair sized, black poodle with its front hair over its eyes bleached blonde, sitting there in a dress—like a baby—enjoying the ride.
“Well, we’re in New York,” I said to Vertis. She smiled.
We travel to New York because my idea of a vacation is to do something, or be somewhere that is completely different from where we live. New York City fits the bill perfectly.
We left Little Rock at 6:45 a. m. on an American Airlines flight, and arrived in New York’s La Guardia Airport at 12:05. Our flight was smooth and soon we had grabbed our bags and were headed into the City. It was time for a late lunch, so our immediate destination was Grand Central Station to dine at the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar—a great seafood restaurant. A visit to Grand Central Station should be on everyone’s list of to-dos in the city, even if you don’t eat at the Oyster Bar.
After a great lunch, of fresh seafood, we headed for the Michelangelo Hotel, an Italian owned hotel, just a block off Broadway. It advertises itself as the best location in the city—and it is. Two block south of Rockefeller Plaza and a short few blocks to most of the Broadway theaters. You can walk to more of the “must see” and “must eat” places from this hotel than almost any other hotel in the city, and if you want to take a subway, a station is right around the corner. The Michelangelo is a little pricy, but there are hundreds of reasonably priced hotels scattered around Times Square, which seems to be the area that most people gravitate to, and little restaurants with delicious lunch or dinner specials are there by the score. Venture off the main streets and stop in the small restaurants, and you will find restaurants that serve everything from catfish to Afghanistan kabobs—at a reasonable price. However, if you want to splurge, try Le Bernadine, a French three star restaurant that can easily cost $200 per person, or have the best seafood in the city, at Milos, a Greek Restaurant on 56th Street, or if you’re in the mood for an out-of-this-world Italian meal go to Del Posto down on 10th Street. Still hungry? Well, check out the delis, and if you want to save a few bucks, order one entrée and split it. Don’t worry: It will be plenty.
I have found it is always a good idea to have a list of ‘do and don’ts’ when you’re in New York. If you don’t, you’ll waste hours trying to decide where to go and what to do.
Now let’s cover a few of the more obvious dos: (1) Eat a corn-beef sandwich from a deli on Broadway. (2) Go to one of the many concerts at Carnegie Hall. (3) Ditto for Lincoln Center. (4) And if you love Jazz, go to Birdland or Blue Smoke for a live performance. (5) Jog or walk early on a Saturday morning in Central Park and check out the dogs, cute girls, and guys, and marvel how New York managed to keep this beautiful park from being developed. (6) Walk down Broadway to Times Square at night to see the overwhelming light and advertising display signs. (7) Take your walking shoes and window shop up 57th Street until you are tired and then up and down 5th Avenue with a stop at the Plaza Hotel food court. (8) Go to the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum, and the American Museum of Modern Art—even if you hate museums. (9) If you’re there on Sunday, go to either Calvary Baptist Church on 57th Street or to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
However, there are a few things I recommend you skip, and I will start by knocking one of the most obvious. (1) Don’t go to the top of the Empire State Building. That is unless you want to stand in line and fight the crowds for several hours just to see the skyline you looked at on your flight in. (2) Don’t buy knock-off goods from the hundreds of street vendors. The stuff they sell is a shoddy imitation and worth almost nothing. (3) Don’t ride the buses that the tour guides on nearly every corner are hawking. It’s a slow way to see the city, and by the time you’ve made the trip you swear to never ride one again. (4) Don’t attempt to actually go up to the top of the Statue of Liberty—(see the Empire State Building above for the reason.)—view it from the Staten Island Ferry. (5) Don’t go in any of the discount electronic stores on Broadway or 7th Avenue—trust me on this one. (6) Don’t rent a bike and try to navigate it through New York traffic—(If the weather is nice, you’ll be hit up on every corner.) You do want to come home, don’t you?
Well, what’s the bottom line on New York City? I think the city can best be described in a statement made by my son when he was 13. We had a family trip planned to New York, and it started the day after Ashley returned from a wilderness trip on the Buffalo River. As soon as we arrived, we walked up to 5th Avenue, and he looked out at the throng of people coming up and down the sidewalk, heard the fire trucks, horns honking, and the general overwhelming noise of the city, and he said to me, “Dad, I think New York is a visiting city, not a living city.” I certainly agree with my son, but I would add one thing to it. You will enjoy a trip to New York, eat a lot of good food, and marvel at Times Square. However, the bonus will be when you return home. You’ll have a new appreciation for the life we have here in Arkansas.

Are You “Of the South?”

ARKANSAS

By
Richard Mason

Are You “Of the South”?

Most people might think just living in the South makes you a Southerner…but they’d be wrong. You are not a true, dyed-in-the-wool Southerner unless you are “Of the South.” Okay, now let me be real upfront with you. My definition of a Southerner and the South is going to hack off some folks, because just living in the South doesn’t make you a Southerner. I lived in Libya for a couple of years, but I sure didn’t think of myself as a Libyan, and if I had lived there another 50 years I still wouldn’t consider myself a Libyan. I’m a Southern because I am “Of the South”. Here’s my definition of a Southerner.
But first, let me give you a quick overview of what is actually the current landmass called the American South. Nope, it’s not the old Confederacy. Certain sections of the South have lost its identify, and can no longer be called part of the South. Just because a 100 years ago a section of land was populated by true Southerners doesn’t make it part of the South today. If the majority of people who now make up its population aren’t “Of the South”, then that place can no longer be part of the South. Yes, we’ve lost some of the South, but it doesn’t mean that some Southerners don’t live there. It means that migration into an area of the South has changed the Southern nature so much that it no longer can be called part of the South. Examples? Northwest Arkansas, Dallas, Houston, and the south half of Florida. (Those places were marginal to begin with.) New Orleans? Actually, New Orleans fits in another category, but I don’t know what to call it. Southerners love New Orleans. It’s a little wicked, dangerous, and the food is great, but Southerners don’t really think of New Orleans as part of the South. It’s really an appendage attached to the South, and we go there as a relief from the boredom, which is the real South. But back to my definition as to who is a Southerner.
As an example, of who can call themselves a Southerner, and who is “Of the South,” let’s go to a typical Southern back porch and listen in to a friendly conversation between neighbors; Billy Ray Davis and his wife Carol and John Ralf Moniz and his wife Laura Lee. The men work at a manufacturing plant in Fairhope, Alabama.
“Say, John where do y’all go to church” (Billy Ray, who asked the question, gets a point for asking a very Southern question and another point for having a Southern name, but that’s not enough to make him “Of the South”.)
John answers, “Well, I was raised Episcopalian, but Laura was brought up Baptist. Laura is still a Baptist, and I show up when the Episcopalian have a social event. (John is off to a slow start. He loses 2 points for having a very un-southern last name and loses another point for not calling his wife Laura Lee, loses another point for being raised Episcopalian.) Laura picks up a couple of points being Baptist, but so far we don’t have enough info to say any of the four are true Southerners. But the next question will shed a lot more light on who is “Of the South”.
Laura Lee, who, in her spare time, works for the local genealogy society, teaches Sunday School at First Baptist, and sings in the choir, asks, “Billy Ray where’s home?”
“Well, I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
“What? You can’t be serious, you sound as Southern as anybody I’ve ever been around,” she replied.
“Well, my dad and his family had always lived in and around Birmingham, but after he met and married my mother, who was from Pennsylvania, my dad tried Pennsylvania for a few years. He couldn’t stand the cold winters, so he moved the family back south.” (You might think being born outside the South would kill any chances of being “Of the South” but no; a true Southerner transcends a physical location. Yes, Billy Ray is “Of the South”—barely, but Carol, his wife, isn’t, even though she has lived in the South for 15 years.)
Now, John speaks up, “I’m a transplanted Yankee. I met Laura during a Spring Break trip to Florida. My family has always lived in New Jersey, but I’ve lived over half my life in the South so you might say I’ve become a Southerner.” (No, John you are not an “Of the South” Southerner.)
“Well, I guess I’m the only true Southerner here,” said Laura Lee. “My family has always lived in Georgia, and my middle name, ‘Lee’ is for General Lee, who my great grandfather served under during the War.” (Laura Lee racks up Southern points right and left. Referring to “The War,” named for a Southern Saint, General Lee, and being part of a family who has always lived in Georgia makes her about as southern as you can be. Topping it off, she teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir. Yes, Laura Lee is a true Southerner. She is “Of the South.” and actually fits into a special category called “Ultra-of the South”. She is about as Southern as you can be.)
Before we close, I think it is imperative that we classify residents who live in the South, and don’t qualify as “Of the South” but have lived in the South for a ‘coon’s age, (for you non-southerners that is about 10 years.) I think the first 10 years a person lives in the South is rather like a person without a physical identity. He or she sure can’t be called a Southerner, but after 10 years or so living in the South that person has picked up enough Southern habits to fit into another category, Southern-Lite. However, “Of the South” can only be bestowed on his or her children’s children. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
But, if now, you understand, that unless you are “Of the South” you are not a full-fledged Southerner, take heart; remember, you live in the South, so enjoy your life in the best part of the good old USA. You might have been born an American, but you’re “Of the South” by the grace of God. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.