The 1998 Summer Guide to light entertainment.
By Scene Writers
MAY 26, 1998: Editor's note: To help you make sense of this long article, we've supplied links to each of the individual stories on this page:
By Nicki Pendleton
In the lazy summers of my youth, I sometimes worked for my neighbor, a florist. She supplied most of her own flowers from her vast gardens, which billowed with pink fairy roses, feverfew, larkspur, and other cottage flowers. Her children and I weeded the flower beds for a penny a weed.
When we were finally able to drive, she occasionally sent us out to pick wildflowers to supplement the tamer flora she used in her ravishing arrangements. It was a pleasant task, tooling around in her old station wagon, radio blaring, to the meadows that still existed in Nashville in the mid-1970s. For Queen Anne's lace, we went to the vacant lot on Belle Meade Boulevard, across Honeywood from Immanuel Baptist. We picked bucketfuls and stashed them in the back of the wagon, stopped for an Icee, then headed for the pastures and fence rows along old Sneed Road in Franklin for other summer wildflowers--majestic thistles, dark-purple joe-pye weed, wild asters, palest sweet rocket, brilliant shasta daisies, musky passion flowers, orange butterfly weed.
If there was a blackberry patch along the road, we'd detour and fill a sack with berries, arriving home chigger-bit, sweaty, and scratched up but laden with goodies.
A lot has happened since then. The meadows and fence rows turned into homes, schools, and shopping centers. I went to college, got married, bought a house, and planted my own gardens.
My first garden was a smashing success. A pair of arc-shaped beds formed a semicircle, with a path between. I designed them to bloom, beginning in March, from left to right--beginning short at the edges, then tall in the middle, then short at the far right--and along a color spectrum, starting with spring bluebells and grape hyacinth and moving through pink stocks and dianthus, columbines and red poppies, purple delphiniums, white daisies and cosmos, yellow rudbeckia, and so on until frost, when all that was left were orange zinnias and nasturtiums hugging the ground at the far right of the garden. It was my living rainbow, and I spent every spare hour in that garden.
In that garden, we shot video, which we watched recently. Younger, slimmer people than we are now wander through head-high cosmos and hip-high daisies and feverfew. Next to them, red nicotiana and poppies are just beginning to open. All around, intriguing foliage catches the eye, even on plants not yet in bloom.
The younger me went to great lengths to accomplish that amazing feat of horticulture. The complicated scheme required a grab bag of foreign flowers: sweet peas, monardas, delphiniums, baptisia, burnet, and chamomile. And the plants demanded to be coddled. I started seeds in January so the stocks would bloom by May. I mixed our clay soil with sand so the baptisia would feel at home. I shoveled peat moss around the delphiniums. I unsentimentally yanked out any plants that bloomed out of sequence or out of color.
A lot happened after that too. I've moved twice and left behind persnickety gardens in both places, gardens that almost certainly vanished within a season, lacking my meticulous ministrations.
I want my garden legacy to be meadows, not vanishing gardens, so I overhauled my latest garden to make it longer-lived and easier to tend. I replaced gorgeous but finicky English flowers with sturdy shasta daisies, purple asters, sweet rocket, and good old Tennessee coneflowers. I planted iris salvaged from a grand old home that was leveled near Seven Hills. A goldenrod appeared in the garden, and instead of pulling it up, I let it grow. It's technically a weed, but when a clump is in bloom, it has a coarse, handsome look, like a real Tennessean.
I won't own this garden forever, I know, but if the next owner lets the garden turn to yard, my flowers will hold their own. Some early summer day, the new owner will look out his window and be surprised by a patch of sparkling daisies blooming in the tall grass. Or maybe he'll catch the greeny-yellow flash of a goldfinch landing on the goldenrod. If he wanders to the edge of the yard on a sweltering summer day, maybe he'll find a patch of blackberries. subhed2:
One work of art, one life transformed
By David Ribar
It is the summer of 1965, and I'm with my family in New York City. Actually, we're in Flushing, site of the 1964-65 World's Fair. It's late afternoon and we've been walking in and out of flamboyantly-designed pavilions all day. For hours we've been thrilling to radiant promises for the future, including space travel and jelly-bean-shaped cars. Like the other tourists, we've giggled and posed in front of the "Hemisphere," the symbol of the fair, positioning ourselves so that it looks like we're supporting the massive globe with our hands. I have never seen so many people of so many sizes, shapes, and nationalities in one place.
And now my four siblings, my two parents, and I are gliding along on a walkway driven by conveyor belts, moving slowly through the heart of the Vatican Pavilion. I've been told by my parents to pay attention, that inside this room is one of the most important things at the Fair, one of the most famous works of art I'll ever see (and I have never seen any such thing before, except an oversized copy of Rodin's 'The Thinker' in front of the Speed Museum in Louisville). The room is as big as a concert hall, filled with winged shapes of darkness bent aside by arcs and triangles of clear light that drop from above. The only sounds I can hear are sniffles and murmurs of appreciation and the discreet noise of mechanized belts.
There is no dazzling technological future in here, no interactive display. There is, however, a sensation that we're all just temporary creatures, straining with a sense of profound respect or understanding to see this fixed object. It's like being in church without the priests, pews, or decorations. Gazing forward, I am mesmerized by a creamy gray-white form that seems stuck on the navel of the world, and then turning around I see we're swiftly journeying past it like pilgrims floating down river past an oracle on the bank.
As we move along together I'm seized by the way Michelangelo not only embodies spiritual grief within an impeccably carved, idealized form, but contains the idea of Mother Church embracing her offspring. His youthful Pietà is a larger-than-life figure of the mourning Virgin Mary holding the smaller, dead body of her son. Though the scene isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible, it became a popular image in Catholic art beginning in the 14th century. Allegedly mocked by some critics as a heretic for carving such a scene, and for carving the Virgin with such a youthful face, he retorted that virgins keep their good looks longer than other women.
There's a funny illustration I remember now from the old National Lampoon magazine: a photograph taken in 1972 of the poor, crazed man who smashed the face of the Virgin and broke her nose with a hammer. He's pictured with the tool raised in mid-strike over the sculpture. He looks out at the photographer with an amazed expression. The caption reads: "Pietà? I thought you said Piñata!"
In the background of the photo you can see Michelangelo's signature, prominently carved into a strap across the Virgin's breast. I read once that Michelangelo was mad when many people in Rome doubted who'd actually done the work. He allegedly stole into the Vatican at night to make sure no one ever doubted him again. Apparently, it's the only full signature he ever left on a finished sculpture, and though it may "deface" the work for some, I remember looking at it in 1965 as if it were an advertisement or an epitaph on a tombstone.
Michelangelo Buonarroti was only 6 when his mother died. His father remarried, but that wife died too, when Michelangelo was 22. In the year 1499, he was just 24 years old when he received his first major commission, a Pietà to be placed inside Saint Peter's in Rome. He chose the white marble block for it himself from the quarry at Carrara. Around 1540, when he wrote a love sonnet to Vittoria Collona, a close female friend, he spoke of how all the blocks he chose for carving contained within them the images of his finished sculptures.
At 11, I was too young to know that this work is the image of any grieving mother who's tended a dying or sick child, that it also speaks explicitly about protection and comfort for the vulnerable and weak, the needy and desperate. I was too young to know it's one of the few works of art in history where beauty and gentleness so much outweigh the pain that the pain seems pale in comparison. It's only a few years ago that I connected this Pietà and what Nietzsche meant when he said, "We have beauty lest we perish from the truth."
For my birthday in the Spring of 1966 my parents bought me an expensive book from Phaidon Press containing lavish reproductions of Michelangelo's work. I didn't understand until recently how much of a loving, perceptive thing that was for them to do. The head of the Virgin is reproduced on the cover, bent in reflection and reverence.
Simultaneously recalling myself as an 11-year-old boy and gazing leisurely at the book, I realize again there's something called art that goes beyond an historical time or place, past ownership and display, somewhere well past any dollar value. There is always the artist of course, but there is something else that accrues to a great work of art, something composed of all the wondrous gazes, the fixed stares and the longing; the desire to remember eagerly plucked from its presence. A great work is charged like a battery with these things, and it gives off the excess like an aura. I know I saw it there for the first time, my first art epiphany, an aura simple enough for even a child to understand. That aura reverberates now as I look at my souvenir blue-and-orange World's Fair flag, faded to gentle hues, tucked in a neat cardboard box marked "childhood stuff."
If you'd have been there in 1965 at the Vatican pavilion you'd have seen a sweet-faced little boy with a buzz-cut and a big nose and ridiculous short pants who looked lost in the ozone. If you'd been able to get him to articulate his feelings, he'd have told you he was not only dazed about how dense and unfathomable the world looked at the Fair. He would have said he couldn't imagine someone turning his life inside out to create something like the Pietà.
And pressing that boy further, you'd have heard him try to explain that he could sense a kind of solitude beyond relief linked hand and arm by passionate serenity. You'd have wondered how that boy could imagine this last sentiment, forgetting that children are deeper and more sensitive than we think. Perhaps you'd have wanted to buy him and his siblings some ice cream then, for it was blazing hot outside. If you had done so, the boy would also have told you about a guide who'd told everyone how the Pietà was shipped from Italy inside a special crate that would float if the boat that carried it had sunk at sea. And he'd have told you he'd vividly imagined riding inside that crate with the sculpture until he was rescued, resting on miraculous layers of Styrofoam and a big Italian flag.
Hits from the REALLY big screen
By Jim Ridley
Of all the freaks who used to frequent the Marbro Drive-In in Murfreesboro--dope smokers, beer drinkers, cheating couples in rocking vans--I was the biggest freak of all. I actually went there to watch the movies. Sure, I liked hanging out beneath the stars and the 50-foot screen--and beneath the radar of my parents. What's more, I liked the food, even if the concession-stand pizza had the taste and texture of a manhole cover. But more than anything, I went to the Marbro for steady fixes of the unwholesome thrills only drive-in movies could provide.
Drive-in movies weren't simply the dregs of the industry. They were a genre unto themselves, offering doses of sex, violence, and anti-authoritarian attitude mainstream fare couldn't match. They were frequently absurd, consistently cheap, and occasionally surprising--especially when a director of considerable talent, a David Cronenberg or a Sam Raimi, managed to spring visionary themes or techniques on an audience primed only for meat and mayhem.
The psychotronic B-movies that once bounced off outdoor screens now line the shelves of video stores--and they're cheaper and duller as a result. What's more, the few surviving drive-ins show standard Hollywood issue, which isn't nearly so much fun. To get the true drive-in experience these days, you have to return to the movies themselves.
Here's a list of Marbro-tested drive-in classics--some obscure, some easily found in video stores, all stinking of exhaust fumes and unclean intent. Any one of the following 10 movies practically supplies its own squawking car-speaker sound:
The Losers (1970) Five Hell's Angels, led by B-movie vets Adam Roarke and William Smith, are recruited by the CIA and turned loose in Cambodia with armor-plated choppers. Bikers versus V.C.--hot damn! Every Harley owner in Rutherford County turned out whenever this one rumbled through town, and the downbeat ending always provoked a hail of bottles, cans, and grunts. One burly mother even tearfully whipped out a lug wrench and pounded his speaker into metal sculpture.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) The film that defined the term "legend" as "hard-to-see hunk of walking carpet." Based on a "true story" about a manbeast terrorizing the townfolk of Fouke, Ark.--like anyone in Fouke could tell the difference--this inexplicable box-office smash was the first of many early-'70s documentary-style shockers that sucked in rural audiences by the carload. "Sucked" is the operative word: The movie offers about two minutes of Zapruder-quality "legend" footage and endless downtime with a vanload of shaggy wimps. Director Charles B. Pierce, the Hitchcock of Little Rock, made films that were best enjoyed at a drive-in--where you didn't have to watch them.
Walking Tall (1973) Phil Karlson's blunt instrument of a crime-drama gave the South its own Dirty Harry: beefy Joe Don Baker as McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser, romanticized into a God-fearin', peace-keepin', skull-crackin' exemplar of law-abiding citizenry. In these parts, the popularity of this gripping, reactionary biopic approached hydrophobia--perhaps because Pusser himself appeared at local drive-ins and theaters, signing trestle-sized "Buford sticks."
Caged Heat (1973) In the early '70s, women-in-chains flicks satisfied goons who wanted to see strong women stripped and slapped around, even as the movies made token nods to feminism (i.e. the naked babes inevitably overpowered the males for the big bust-out). If this one's a bit funnier and better filmed than the norm, thank an offbeat cast (horror queen Barbara Steele, Russ Meyer vet Erica Gavin, '70s cult fave Rainbeaux Smith), a John Cale score, and a promising young writer-director named Jonathan Demme, who cut his teeth transcending disreputable genres like this one.
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) There's nothing like watching a real muscle-car movie--whether it's the mystical Vanishing Point or the aptly titled Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry--while you're sitting behind the wheel of a big-ass American junker. This demolition derby is the lasting achievement of one H.B. Halicki, a junkman turned auteur who boasted he wrecked more cars onscreen than any other moviemaker. I believe him. The last 40 minutes, in which Halicki's car-thief hero uses a yellow Mustang to evade an armada of pursuers, is like Crash, but with no sex and five times the wreckage.
Death Race 2000 (1975) Directors such as Demme, Martin Scorsese, and Brian DePalma used exploitation as a ticket elsewhere, but Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul) made this subversive flick strictly to satisfy ozoners. This rabid Bartel comic-strip concerns a cross-country road race that awards points for killing pedestrians. The shots of leering spectators, who applaud the splattering of little old ladies (and ultimately the U.S. president), show us exactly what the director thinks of his audience. How prescient of Bartel to cast Sylvester Stallone as a contestant.
Poor White Trash Part II (1976) After Deliverance came a flood of mid-'70s Yankees-in-peril movies that had city slickers (usually vacationing coeds) stumbling into some godforsaken hillbilly hornet's-nest. This scenario didn't always play as intended in the hinterlands. Many years ago, while watching this tawdry potboiler--the ostensible sequel to a 20-year-old slab of rube-baiting with Peter Graves--it became obvious the beer-stoked audience resented the outsiders from the word go. They cheered the tormentors lustily and sulked menacingly when the tables eventually turned. Leaving the parking lot was like running a gauntlet.
Satan's Cheerleaders(1977) Demonic-possession movies were blacktop blockbusters, as were soft-core pompon sex comedies. Here's your chance to experience both genres in one jaw-dropping Greydon Clark extravaganza, as the varsity squad's wayward bus is commandeered by backwoods devil worshippers (among them Sydney Chaplin, Yvonne DeCarlo, and John Ireland as Sheriff Al Z. Bubb). Their plans are foiled when they learn a high-school cheerleading team isn't the best place to look for virgin sacrifices.
Galaxy of Terror (1981) I don't remember much about this confusing Alien clone except that it has a sex scene with a woman and a giant maggot, and Joanie from Happy Days gets squeezed until her head pops off. I spilled an entire bucket of popcorn in the front seat of my '64 Dodge Polara, kernels of which I found for years afterward. Oh yeah, and the production designer was some clown named James Cameron.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982) No drive-in fest would be complete without one slasher movie, and this Roger Corman driller-killer oddity--scripted by novelist Rita Mae Brown, who must've accepted this assignment one step ahead of repossessors--is among the fastest, cheapest, and most senseless of the batch. Escaped maniac with drill (but no cords) visits slumber party. The girls order a pizza. A knock at the door. Rrrrrrrr! In falls the slaughtered pizza man, still clutching the girls' delivery. What to do next? The girls must decide--but first, they eat the pizza.
How best to view these sleaze epix? Graphic designer Elvis Wilson once screened old 16mm movies on a sheet in his backyard. If that isn't feasible, try anything that will add that blacktop-bacchanalia feel. Put on a record of dragstrip sounds. Have a neighbor wander through with two flashlights every so often to simulate headlight beams. Better still, get some actor friends to stage mock lovers' quarrels or broadcast concession-stand updates. At the drive-in, the show that's going on around you is always as good as the show onscreen. subhed2:
Page turners for the time away
By Marc K. Stengel
Anybody knows that the single most important piece of luggage for a week at the beach is the rumpled cardboard box stuffed with too many must-read books. You've got a whole week off, right? Whassat come to...maybe three, four books a day? You've only got seven days; gotta make the most of each one to tide you over for the next 51 weeks of bookless drudgery.
Don't worry if your eyes are bigger than your attention span. Putting together a proper peck o' deckled papers for the ol' family vacation absolutely demands that you overpack the book box. After all, who knows what mood you'll be in when you finally nestle in and start thumbing pages?
If you're looking for a method behind the madness that inspired the following book list, sorry to disappoint. Basically, these are recommendations for grown-ups, since little Buster and Squeak will no doubt have their summer reading mapped out for them by dear Miss Grundy back at the schoolhouse. Whatever you do, however, make sure to take something--anything--along to read, 'cause, sure as there's sand in every sandwich at the beach, when you travel without a book, you can bet the locals will soon be saying, "Gee, tough luck about all this rain. You shoulda been here last week--prettiest stretch in 20 years."
McFictionBallad of Frankie Silver, by Sharyn McCrumb (E.P. Dutton)
As the latest of her "ballad books" hits the shelf this very month, Sharyn McCrumb travels to the remote Appalachian highlands with an account of the first woman to be hanged for murder in North Carolina. Before her arrest in 1832, Frankie Silver managed to murder and dismember her young husband, then bury his remnants under three different headstones. From the skeins of a melancholy mountain ballad, McCrumb weaves this tale of obsession and suspense in her latest piece of historical fiction.
In this concluding installment of McCarthy's quirky, captivating "Border Trilogy," John Grady Cole returns from All the Pretty Horses to catch up with Billy Parham from The Crossing. The setting is borderland New Mexico in 1952; the crisis is the disappearance of the rancher's world, the wide-open range that has shaped the lives and spirits of both men in separate but equal ways. For all the eccentricities and implausibilities that McCarthy typically laces through his plot lines, the chief pleasure in reading the fiction of this native Tennessean derives from the sheer, unpredictable power of his prose.
For 750 pages, the prolific Colleen McCullough takes readers through what is arguably the most captivating period of Roman history: the conquest of Gaul, the repulse from Britain, and the showdown at the Rubicon of republican-become-autocrat Gaius Iulius Caesar. As Mary Renault brought Alexander the Great to life decades ago in The Persian Boy, McCullough thoroughly humanizes the great dictator who became, despite an all-too evident mortality, Rome's first man-god.
Busmen's (and Buswomen's) HolidaysThe Bear Book: Survive and Profit in Ferocious Markets, by John Rothchild (John Wiley & Sons)
A week away from it all is the perfect time to ponder the market meltdown that may well greet you upon your return to the office. Just the same, Rothchild has a way of making the inevitable seem palatable. His blend of caution, opportunism, and calm in the investment markets should help more than one lazy sun-tanner avoid getting burned.
Some business types collect Drucker books the way kids collect baseball cards. In this latest volume about, and partially by, Drucker himself, Jack Beatty offers a summary of the life and work of corporate management's patron saint. Some call this a Cliff's Notes synopsis of the 20th century's greatest managerial mastermind, but anyone who knows Beatty's work as senior editor at The Atlantic magazine will expect better than that--and get it.
What's left to say that the title of this April '98 release doesn't already suggest? If any book should strike a nerve while the kids are enjoying their romp on the beach, Hewlett and West have written it. Predictably, the case for parents' "beleaguerment" is persuasive, even if the recommendations for fighting back are sometimes over-generalized and idealistic. Ironically, it's non-parents who would be best-served by reading this book, unless they'd prefer instead to strike out on a 400-mile road trip in a minivan full of toddlers under 5.
Yada Yada YadaTruman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, by George Plimpton (Doubleday)
Stop right there! There's nothing serious about a family vacation, and that includes the books you're reading. Put down that business management book; get rid of that historical fiction. What you need is a good, old-fashioned dish; and George Plimpton has served up a tasty one just for you. Voilà. A compote of Capote reminiscences by erstwhile members of his entourage who no longer have anything to fear for stabbing their squeaky little acquaintance in the back.
Never one to disappoint, Elmore Leonard's latest rip-read transforms the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor into the unlikely starting point of a Western-style suspense thriller set in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. From the pen of any other writer, a book with a character named Boudreaux might set off warning bells; but Leonard is a consummate pro, with more than a little tongue in his cheek. For lolling in a beach chair just inches above the lapping surf, Cuba Libre makes a mighty tasty cocktail of a read.
Who wouldn't want to spend the week indulging a prurient fascination with the sex life and scandals of the president of the United States! No Primary Colors-style roman à cléf is this recent historical account by John Marszalek. The Petticoat Affair is, shall we say, a full-skirted examination of the sex scandal that rocked randy Andy Jackson's administration and prompted duels and assassination attempts. Instigator Peggy Eaton actually receives a sympathetic hearing in Marszalek's examination. Just the same, the conniving excesses of finger-waggers and rumor-mongers in 1830s Washington will reassure every reader that scandal lust is uniquely exempt from the ravages of time.
Impossible DreamsTecumseh: A Life, by John Sugden (Henry Holt & Co.)
Even today, his innate generalship earns the Shawnee war leader Tecumseh an unchallenged reputation as the native Napoleon of North America. Sugden's new biography tells the story of aboriginal North Americans' last best hope to weld their interests into a common cause against upstart trespassers from a fledgling United States. Like Hannibal some 1500 years before him, Tecumseh was both beneficiary and victim of providence; and he bore his stern fate with such honor and resolve that his memory may finally be said to have vanquished even his most obdurate enemies.
Because he is today's paradigm of genius, Isaac Newton is thoroughly unapproachable. But because he is Michael White's magical alchemist, Newton comes to life in this latest biography as never before. Rarely has the line between genius and madness appeared so fragile. Although Newton's most influential bequest to later generations is the predictability of a rationally ordered world, it's clear that randomness and chaos had an even greater impact upon his own life and work. That makes him no less admirable in White's sympathetic and enlightening treatment, but he is certainly easier to engage and understand as a fellow human being.
Rent bikes for the kids and send 'em packing. Stack two beach chairs, and ask your wife to join you down at the water's edge. Ask her to bring along the copy of Billy Collins' wry poems, Picnic, Lightning. Read the poems aloud to one another, alternating as you go. Re-introduce yourself to fine, fun poetry that makes no other demand beyond, "Isn't this nice?" Collins isn't beyond sharing insights; but you needn't go digging for them. Eventually it dawns on you that there is poetry in clever conversation and that Collins is talking to you in an utterly charming way. One moment you are reading to one another at the edge of the sea; the next moment Collins slyly suggests, "I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat, and my life is the breeze that blows through the whole scene stirring everything it touches--the surface of the water, the limp sail, even the heavy, leafy trees along the shore" (from "My Life"). And for a while longer yet, perhaps the vacation spirit remains aloft. subhed2:
By Marc K. Stengel
I certainly do not know the face of God, but I have seen the face of his watch. A most miraculous watch it is. I have decided to spend my summer learning to tell time again, and I am borrowing this watch.
Six months ago, I was scarcely aware such a watch existed. During the winter, a matter of professional research introduced me to the methods early explorers used for making the first, rudimentary maps of uncharted North America. Specifically, I chanced upon the trail of a few lost European souls who preceded Lewis and Clark into the Dakotas at the close of the 18th century. The maps of one of them, John Evans, actually guided the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River to the settlements of the Mandan Indians.
Evans, and a decade later Meriwether Lewis himself, depended primarily upon "dead reckoning" to track their progress. With some surveying skills and proficiency using a compass, they estimated their changes of location with remarkable precision. Daily, they audited their plottings to detect and then to compensate for errors. For this task, they resorted to a set of skills and traditions identified generally as "celestial navigation."
Suddenly I found myself adrift in a rolling sea of arcana, surrounded by ancient mariners serving as priests of the sky. For celestial navigation--the process of locating heavenly bodies at a precise spot in the sky at a specific moment in time--is perceived today as an exclusively nautical skill, and a declining one at that.
The sailor has it easy in at least one respect. Given a technique that depends upon measuring the exact "height" of the sun, moon, planets, or stars over the horizon, the open sea affords the purest horizon line on our globe. For the celestial navigator on land, the purple mountain majesties of the far distance are just so many devilish inconsistencies bent upon provoking error.
Nothing could be more simple in concept and more painstaking in the execution than the "reduction of sights" for celestial navigation. Armed with scarcely more than a protractor and a timepiece, the navigator traces the elaborate choreography of mysterious heavenly bodies, interpreting the complex spaces between them until they divulge simple, elegant lines upon a map.
Celestial navigation as practiced today requires two deceptively simple instruments and two obviously complicated books. The sextant is essentially a protractor wearing mirrored sunglasses. When the navigator looks through a dark sunshade at a direct reflection of the sun and brings that brilliant circle into tangent with the straight line of the horizon, the sextant records the precise angle at which the sun hovers momentarily overhead. The timepiece freezes that precise moment for all eternity. For the landlubber, a simple device called an "artificial horizon" substitutes a reflective surface of water for the true horizon line. Because water always finds its own level, this flat, still surface is as trustworthy as a true meeting of sea and sky.
A Nautical Almanac contains the precise locations of heavenly bodies above Planet Earth for every fraction of every second of every day for an entire year. The other book, actually a set of volumes called The Tables, is as permanent as pi. The Tables represents literally millions of precalculated trigonometric equations, resulting in row upon row of decimal numbers. Hidden within these furrows of figures are the answers to when and where. These unwieldy tables are nothing more than a precursor to the modern handheld calculator. A single set of them will serve the contemporary navigator as well today as they will serve his seventh son's seventh grandson.
For the precise moment at which the navigator "captures" the position of a planet or star, the almanac provides an exact reference to that body's heavenly address. The process of "reducing a sight" is actually a matter of working backwards, using geometry to deduct the precise triangle at whose third corner the navigator happens to be standing. In theory, it takes two distinct "sights" to fix the latitude and longitude of the observer anywhere on the globe; in practice, three different sights will achieve a bare minimum of reliability when they are transposed to a map.
Ultimately, however, it is not so important where my sextant finds me in the summer of 1998. I prefer to ponder when it will find me--at dawn or dusk, at sparkling noon or inky midnight. For just one moment I happen to be here, now here; in a blink I am there. I am riding through the heavens in the palm of the sweep second hand of Time. This summer, I am learning to tell Time face-to-face with an amazing watch and its maker.
By Alex Sniderman
No one is really innocent.
Even the most rule-respecting, line-toeing, goody-two-shoes has stories. He just might not tell. At one time or another, everyone has committed at least a small act of vandalism, out of either boredom, curiosity, rebellion, or just the ebullience of youth. Summertime, in particular, always seems to bring out the vandal in teens. There's no schoolday or homework to give structure, and many parents are working, leaving teens to their own devices or in the care of older siblings who have devices of their own. Summer is the perfect time for idle young minds to dream up the silliest, most obnoxious pranks.
My best friend, Eric, lived in a subdivision a couple miles' bike ride from my family's house. A lot of the kids in our school lived out near him, so we had plenty of friends to hang out with--and get into trouble with. We were curious know-it-alls, and in the summers before serious girlfriends, jobs, drugs, or sex, vandalism was enough to keep us amused.
Prying parents were easily dodged. We all knew we were loved, but we also knew they didn't really want to be bothered with having to punish us. They expected us to entertain ourselves and stay out of trouble while they worked at keeping a full fridge and a roof over our heads. So we never breathed a word of our marauding. It was easy for Eric and me to sneak out at night, undetected. His parents both worked year-round, unlike mine, who were teachers and home in the summer. His folks were usually in bed by the time The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson came on. It was then we were able to begin.
Knowing Eric's parents had retired made my blood pump with excitement at the thought of our impending adventures. Our favored target for supplies was the Kroger near his house. It was less than a mile away, and being the badass bicyclists we were, we could ride no-handed the whole way back while carrying shopping bags filled with toilet tissue and shaving cream. Upon our return, we hid the supplies quietly in his garage.
Many nights we would make plans to go out with friends and make several hits. If chased by cops or irate homeowners, we could fan out in all directions to avoid capture. Preferred targets were girls whom we liked, or boys we didn't. Like all good little sociopaths, we selected our victims as some kind of ill-defined, yet personal, revenge.
We had heard that rolling a house was a misdemeanor, each roll of toilet paper bringing a $75 or $150 fine, but no one really seemed to know for sure. Faced with the potential for great economic risk, we almost never hit the house of anyone we didn't know. It wasn't worth getting caught just hitting someone with whom we had no beef. Besides, we could never know how crazy or defensive a homeowner would become faced with a half-dozen middle-school-aged boys armed with a supermarket aisle's worth of toilet supplies. We had to be especially careful not to trip the sensors on any outdoor lights. A roll of toilet paper held by a kid in black catburgler threads still shows up very clearly in the blinding white light of outdoor halogen bulbs.
One particular night run involved about six of us strapping young vandals, making several stops and using different types of ammunition. First, we ran through backyards to an unfamiliar house and pelted the porch with eggs. Lights came on outside, and we ran for our lives. The thrill of the chase made the sprint easy, and the cool night air filled our young lungs with mischief.
Once clear, we were all standing together in front of the house of a girl we all knew. Boys being boys, it didn't take much time for a contest to start. We all tried to throw a toilet paper roll over the 100-foot-tall oak in her front yard. The arc of the sailing Charmin was a strange beauty to behold--like the smoke streaming from the engines of a supersonic jet. Once the tree was covered in flimsy white garlands, we began a game of catch, throwing rolls over the house's pitched roof until it was covered in white. We finished the job by writing obscenities in exquisite shaving cream scrawl on the cars, the driveway, and the mailbox. (We read on the outside of the mailbox that we were committing a federal offense. It only heightened our fervor to a fever pitch.)
When the deed was done, we were all dead tired. We'd been gone from home for over an hour and had wreaked havoc on two separate residences. We shared a laugh at our handiwork, and agreed to meet the next afternoon to survey our latest installation in the early afternoon light. The next morning at breakfast over the sickly sweetness of Honeycombs, Eric's dad mentioned he'd seen a house that had been hit the night before.
"You boys don't know anything about that, do you?" he asked.
"No, sorry," we replied.
I'm not saying what we did was right, but it taught us more about how to be good politicians than all the history lessons in the school system. Sneak out late, behave like boors, and the next morning, if the subject comes up, deny everything with a winning smile.
Our system only backfired once, when Eric's dad's bright-orange Econoline sidled slowly up to us as we rode our 10-speeds no-handed, each arm loaded down with brown paper bags filled with Kroger Cost Cutter Toilet Tissue.
"So what are you doing with all the t.p., guys?" he asked.
"Oh, there was a sale," we said. "We just wanted to take advantage of it."
He smiled and rolled his eyes knowlingly. The jig was up. "Uh, Eric, I think you're grounded," he said sternly, "and it's time for your friend to go home."
By Randy Horick
The shouting man with the shiny black hair wants to know where I will spend eternity.
"Are you ready to meet Jee-sus?" he thunders, his eyes burning holes right through me.
The Bible-gripping man with the blue suit strides across the stage, a thousand pairs of eyes fixed upon him.
"What if you died tonight?" he inquires, still shouting. "What if you were in a wreck on your way home from THIS VERY SERVICE, and you died tonight?"
The powerful man with the penetrating stare pauses and softens his tone. "What if you died tonight? Do you know for certain, do you know for absolute certain, that you would be with Jesus?"
I cannot tell him, or Jesus, precisely what would happen if I were in a wreck, or the football stadium collapsed from under us, or a meteor fell on my head.
I think I know. I know, probably. But the knot of doubt deep inside my stomach writhes and wrenches and grows into an enormous tumor.
Fear and terror apprehend me. My heart beats faster. What if, in spite of my faithful church attendance and public profession of faith as a 10-year-old, I am on a course for hell?
The man with the coal-dark eyes pulls a white handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his brow. He offers the invitation to come down the stadium aisle, to come down and receive the hand of mercy. Fear tells me to go.
I don't want to go. I don't want to expose myself, in front of all these people, as a rank, sad sinner.
But the man with the suddenly gentle voice will not accept no for an answer. Come down, he pleads softly. If sin is strangling you, come down and accept Jesus tonight as your personal lord and savior. Come down now. Don't wait.
People stream down the aisles. Many are crying. Some appear entranced. I still hesitate.
The man with the searching gaze looks up and speaks only to me. "Come down. The counselors are waiting here to meet with you. The choir will sing 'Just As I Am,' for as long as need be, as long as people come.
"Jesus is calling you," he implores.
"What if you died tonight?" my fear insists.
I stand up and walk uneasily down the stadium steps, looking at no one. The volunteer choir begins another verse: "Ju-ust as I a-am and way-ait-ing not/To ri-id my soul of one dark blot...."
It has been nearly 25 years, but I can still remember the hot June night when James Robison scared the bejeezus out of me.
The man with the shiny black hair and fiery presence conducted revivals all over, like a second-tier Billy Graham.
But Robison was more intense and frightening than Graham--more like Elijah and John the Baptist and John Brown rolled into one terrifying trinity. He was an exceptional practitioner of the old revival preacher's art: Deliver the good news, but never before sowing the fear of hellfire.
In the tiny Texas farm towns where I grew up, summer was revival season. Perhaps ministers sensed that climatic doldrums opened the door for spiritual ones, and that preaching should heat up with the weather. In June, July, and August, the whole area became a battleground against Satan.
Revivals lasted five nights, Sunday through Friday. When a congregation would sponsor one, denominational lines blurred. The Baptists and the Methodists dismissed their own Sunday and Wednesday services to attend each other's revivals.
Always there was a guest preacher. And, inevitably, there was a prolonged altar call, which often included two complete run-throughs of "Just As I Am"--12 verses in all. To me, the singing itself became a foretaste of everlasting torment; I wondered whether some tortured sinners finally straggled to the altar simply to get the choir to shut up.
The fieriest summer revivals occurred when Baptists and Methodists joined forces and attempted a spiritual arousal of the entire community. To accommodate the crowds, the proceedings invariably took place in the high school football stadium, with a makeshift stage on the field. Guest evangelists like Robison were traveling spellbinders who knew how to bring quavering listeners down the aisles.
With an expert in charge, a five-night revival comes at you like a tornado. The scariest preachers, like the scariest storms, begin with an eerie calm that fills you with tension.
I remember especially one preacher who presided over a community revival during a sweltering August week in 1973. He had a deep voice and the white presence of an angel. His hair was white; his suit was white; his shirt and tie were white; his shoes were white. Only his Bible was black.
On Sunday and Monday nights, the evangelist talked of God's love and Jesus' call and never uttered the word "hell."
On Tuesday, he began stoking the furnace with warnings of fiery punishment. The August temperatures--that remained above 90 degrees long after sunset--made the threat of judgment seem more real.
On Wednesday and Thursday, hellfire raged. Like Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Future, the preacher painted a frightening picture of what lay ahead, unless....
He told of a visit to a steel mill and of his conversation with a God-fearing foreman. "Brother Preacher," the man told him as they watched the pouring of molten steel, "they gonna serve that for ice cream in hell, ain't they?"
By the time he issued the altar call, the preacher had shed his white jacket. "If you're not saved, come down now. If you're not sure whether you're saved, come down now."
"What if you died tonight?"
The choir began its inescapable refrain: "Just as I a-am witho-out one plea/But tha-at Thy blood was shed for me...."
The pious and prodigal alike came in dozens down the warped wooden stadium steps. The pious, who had volunteered to serve as counselors, conspicuously toted Bibles so that no one would confuse them for the heathens and backsliders.
By Friday evening, the preacher returned to a gentle message of love. He never even raised his voice. He extended an invitation of course, but almost no one ever came to the altar on Friday.
This revival, like Robison's a year earlier, left fear in my heart, but I stayed in my seat. Especially in a small town, it doesn't look right to repent too often.
After you've been singed by hellfire preaching, you develop a certain immunity to it. Fear, unlike love, possesses little lasting power.
You'd wake up and realize you didn't die the night before. You'd realize you probably wouldn't die tonight either.
Once I got over being scared, I started thinking about the preacher's conspicuous omission. He never mentioned long-term commitment, only the need to say once that you accepted Jesus. Perhaps because I was a young teenager during the Vietnam years, I came to suspect that revival preachers, like the Pentagon, were preoccupied with "body count."
Just as the network news broadcast weekly (and inflated) estimates of enemy dead, the evangelists tallied the number of newly saved. But no matter how many of them we killed, the Viet Cong kept crawling out of the rainforest to shoot us.
Even if scorched-earth preaching delivered impressive numbers, the war against Satan in Central Texas did not end. After the revival preachers left on Saturday mornings, sin grew back like dandelions. Its presence again became as enveloping as the jungles of Vietnam.
The storm would subside, fears would recede, and repenters would go back to backsliding. In my little towns, people turned their minds toward fall, football season, and a merciful end to 100-degree days. Life, at least until next summer and the next preacher, would slowly, inexorably return to normal.
By Ben Taylor
When the air gets thick in June, and our lungs strain to breathe, it's dangerous to be a man. The human mind needs oxygen, and the less oxygen a brain receives, the closer a human is to being brain dead. Men have enough trouble as it is getting oxygen to their brains year round.
I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but thick air doesn't appear to affect women at all. Over the years I have noticed that the summer months give the female of the species a certain power. They sense the male's weakened state of mind and go in for the kill.
Plus, I think women derive power from the sun. That's why they migrate toward pools, oceans, and lakes in the summer. There, in their bikinis, they reduce the blood flow to men's brains, crippling the medulla oblongata even more. If you don't believe me, maybe you need a prescription for Viagra.
I haven't come to this theory by happenstance. I've seen it proven many times. During my youth, several of my friends had parents who owned boats. Our summer days were often spent on those boats, cruising, skiing, drinking beer, and smoking cigarettes. Except for the fact that we might have been laying the groundwork for emphysema or skin cancer later in life, I can't remember anyone coming in harm's way.
But talk often leads to thoughts of the other sex, so girls were eventually invited to partake in our boating afternoons. And that's when things get treacherous for a man, because when women are around, a man becomes convinced that he has to prove something. A leisurely day of boating on the lake soon turns into a battle to the death for the possibility of nookie.
We jumped off the backs of moving boats, tried to swing from a rope onto a moving boat, and, more often than not, busted our asses skiing. Someone suggested that my friend Matt and I hook an inflatable bullet-shaped child's toy to the back of the boat. Although it said plainly on the underbelly of the toy that it was not to be used as a flotation device, there was something about the way the girls smiled when we talked about trying it.
The boat started slowly, dragging us underwater. The girls frowned. Tom, our driver, turned up the speed, planing the hot dog out and skipping us along on the water. When we rounded a curve, we smacked the water like two flat stones. Still, we made trip after trip, each time smacking the water harder than the time before, until the hot dog exploded out from under us.
Calamities like that didn't stop us; neither did they seem to concern the girls. Over and over again, we pulled asinine stunts. Like dimwitted mutts, we persisted until somebody needed stitches.
It was one of the summer's most thickly hot days. We had gone to Lake City to use our friend Robert's boat. When we arrived at the boathouse, there was a pleasant surprise--a double tube, an invention of pure genius. The pair of tubes was held together by a stiff nylon mesh, distributing two people's weight evenly and making it harder for them to fall out. Robert's boat was powerful, though, and it wasn't long before a girl's smile had us trying to throw each other off the double tube.
The challenge was simple. Robert would drive the boat in an erratic fashion, flinging us into his own wake and causing the tube-riders to bounce out. Of course, when the girls rode, he drove in a straight line.
We ignored the true sign of danger. Robert had a crush on one of the girls who was with us that day. Love is the final nail in the coffin for an overheated man; it cuts off all circulation.
Our good friends Tom and Sharif were the victims that day. They managed to hang on to the tube longer than anybody else, leading Robert's would-be girlfriend to beam with admiration. Robert was infuriated.
As we rounded a corner, a yacht passed on our left. The size of its wake was enormous, at least six feet high. It has been contended since then, but never confirmed, that Robert's crush winked at him at that point. That's the only explanation for the final blurring of his logic as he steered Tom and Sharif right for the yacht's wake, sending them airborne. Tom could be heard yelling, "You son of a b...," before they both smacked the water. All of us on the boat leapt to celebrate his success. Robert's crush was all smiles until we turned around to pick the guys up and saw the blood streaming from the top of Tom's head.
I think Tom received five stitches in his forehead that day. But the one thing I really do remember is that we never again tried to impress our female companions. Lake days have been largely uneventful since then, and that's probably for the best.
By Beverly Keel
Summer is vastly overrated.
It's the season that has perhaps been the most romanticized in literature and in life. Summer is a season that "hath all too short a death," wrote Shakespeare. Wallace Stegner described it as "days dripping away like honey off a spoon," while Henry James said "summer" and "afternoon" were "the two most beautiful words in the English language."
They obviously never spent a summer in Nashville. May--which doesn't technically qualify as summer--is the only part of summer that meets our expectations. The next three months bring not only Fan Fair and out-of-town relatives, but unrelenting 90-degree temperatures coupled with withering humidity. It's spring that brings excitement, marking an end to winter, while fall brings a sense of new beginning. Summer is merely about survival.
In theory, summers encapsulate endless, timeless stores of unforgettable moments, a reprieve from everyday life. The days are filled with watching your beautifully behaved children frolic happily near the water; the nights are spent dining over candlelight at a quaint outdoor restaurant where romance hovers on the cool breeze.
But in reality, summer is a time of unrelenting heat that drains you of all energy and patience. To enjoy a dip of Baskin-Robbins, you must first face the stifling heat of a car that has been parked for hours. As the sweat beads gather above your upper lip, a white circle forms around your mouth as the makeup comes off along with the sweat that you wipe away. If the seat isn't burning your legs, the steering wheel is blistering your fingers. Endless summers are only for children, and even they get bored and whiny when they're not allowed to go to the Wave Pool
There are no cool summer breezes here; only cruel gusts of hot air. Too tired after working to whip up something light and exotic, evenings are spent eating Domino's pizza at the kitchen table. Only after 8 p.m. is it cool enough for the patio, where conversations are lost in the din of a nearby lawn mower and--an added treat this year--the constant hum of cicadas. As the sun sets, you can forget about romance. The last thing you want is to be touched by another sweaty person.
So how do Nashvillians reward themselves for surviving another season of purgatory? They wait until August and pile everyone into a packed minivan for an eight-hour drive to Destin, where it's only hotter. Even there, you can forget about escaping from Tune Town. You'll bump into half of Davidson County at the outlet mall.
Summer is for the young and thin, for the petite and tan. The trauma of shopping for bikinis and little sleeveless dresses is only worsened by pasty pale skin. We big white girls fade into the background, waiting patiently to reemerge in October.
The only adults who can truly enjoy the season are the rich, for whom "summer" is a verb. I've never "summered" anywhere in my life. My summer home is also my winter, spring, and fall condo. Each summer is a cruel reminder of the vacation I can't afford to take--with the boyfriend I don't have--to the beach I'll never see to get a tan I could never achieve.
Summer is a shocking annual revelation of my inadequacies. Not only will I never be young again, but I'm another year older and still no closer to achieving success in work or love. At least for me, summer is the season of discontent.
After exhaustive research, I have come to the conclusion that my summer happiness is in inverse proportion to the size of my stomach and wallet. The more broke and flat-bellied I was, the better my summer was too.
With the exception of a few sunburns that left me bedridden, my childhood summers were wonderful. Oblivious to my pale skin and undeveloped body, I ran wild through the neighborhood with my dirty feet and hand-me-down shorts. It wasn't until eighth grade that I became painfully aware of my flat chest. Suddenly swimsuits became the enemy, and they've never gone back to being my friends.
To be honest, I've only had one really good summer in my adult life: the summer after my freshman year at MTSU. That was the summer when I gave up my part-time job at a clothing store and only accepted temp jobs sporadically through the summer, and then just to short-circuit my mother's nagging. (See, it works: No money plus flat stomach equals great summer.)
I was mad for a boy named Kelly; I felt I would die if I didn't see him. Since we went to different colleges, summer was the only time we could be together on a regular basis, so we made the most of it. It didn't matter what we did, as long as we were together. I wanted summer to last forever.
I haven't felt that way since--about a man or about a summer.
A great summer is but a distant, 13-year-old memory, and it's likely that nothing I do for the rest of my life will be as exciting. As I reach for the SPF-loaded sunscreen that allows me to weather another summer, there's only one thing that will give me the strength to survive the next three months: Fall fashions hit the stores in July.
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