Monthly Archives: January 2014

Excuse Me, Which Way to the ‘American Way’?

Who exactly does a global economy benefit?  Have you ever really thought about that?

Sometimes, late at night, I ask myself just why the establishment of an open-border, un-tariffed market exchange with any and every pocket of 3rd world humanity should be part of an American agenda.  The rational answers I come up with are a little bit scary.  Actually, more than a little.

Mouthpieces for the global economy among our own elected officials routinely spout rehearsed platitudes.  They tell us how the free market system and competition is the “American way.”  They tell us that competition is GOOD for our businesses here at home, and just look at the benefits, they say, for the American consumer – low, low prices on the essentials of life, stacked on shelf after shelf in your local Walmart.

Blue Bell Employees - 20 Years Experience -1977We used to make blue jeans in Baldwyn, Mississippi – Levis and Wranglers – in two separate, competing plants, Blue Bell and Lucky Star.  I bet my children don’t even know that.  And somewhere down in central Mississippi, along Highway 45, other Mississippians made toasters, I think.  Maybe it was blenders.  You can still see the fading “Sunbeam” letters on the side of the empty, deteriorating factory down there somewhere.  The establishment of a free market with countries where men, women and children were paid pennies for every dollar an American made took those jobs from Mississippians, pure and simple.

But our citizens, better educated, will move to more highly skilled professions, we’re told.  That’s the future for Americans … if we are to compete in the global economy.  “Compete in the global economy?”  Weren’t we on top of the world economy when we started all this?

Lucky Star (2)As for moving every Little Johnny and Little Jane into more highly skilled positions, I’m enough of a realist to say – out loud – that I know plenty of kids that I do NOT want as my brain surgeon, if the day comes that I need one.  We’re not all exactly alike in skill and ability, and the ridiculous, drum-beat contention to the contrary is going to get people killed sooner or later.  I want doctors and nurses who are the smartest kids out there.  I don’t even know if we are supposed to say “smartest” in America anymore.

global economyIf you want to know the real “why” of things, just follow the money trail.  Who truly benefits (translated: makes more money) from a global economy?  Clearly, massive corporations do, those monstrously-large entities that crave the world’s 6 billion consumers for their cell phones, and cheeseburgers, and garbage pickup, rather than the paltry 300 million available in the United States alone.  CEO’s and board members for these behemoths can write campaign checks, election contributions, for $500,000 as easily as you or I could give $100.  Who do you think the politicians are listening to?

In Sunday school this past week, a mother of two young children got up and delivered an impassioned plea for those in our group to take action.  She said that she believed we needed to stop “Common Core” in Mississippi, and she urged us to take a look at it.  I did, and I saw that Common Core’s stated intent was to prepare children to compete in the global economy.  I didn’t really need to look much further.

Feel free to disagree with me, but I have a strong sense that there is a plot – a determined, insidious national/global plot – whose goal is to drive regular humans, like you and me, into a sad sameness for the sake of greed and control.  Doomsday Prepper TunnelIndividual thought and choice are perpetually under attack these days, and the places where we might draw inner strength or find a protective shield – Christian faith, the family, regional autonomy – are being steadily degraded.

I may not be ready to begin “Doomsday Prepping” just yet, but I do admit that I’ve thought, just a little, about how a series of underground tunnels, constructed beneath Baldwyn, might be a good way to avoid attack by government drones.  Just saying.

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12 Angry Men get Jury Duty while Wives Vacation at the Beach

My recent involvement with the community theater group Baldwyn Main Street Players may have unintentionally started a social experiment.

In December, I signed on to direct the classic play 12 Angry Men for BMSP.  This particular show has a 13-member cast, entirely male – twelve “angry” jurors and one jury room guard, who does NOT become noticeably angry during the production.  (So the count in the title comes out right, you see.)

This latest BMSP show opens in the Claude Gentry Theater on Thursday, January 23rd, at 7 PM, and will have a total of six performances.   We expect sell-outs.  It’s a good one.

12 Angry Men - Jak SmithAppropriately enough for this courtroom drama, Jak Smith, a practicing lawyer in Tupelo, has been cast in a featured role – Juror #4.  Expect Smith, a newcomer to our stage, to masterfully deliver the character originally portrayed by E.G. Marshall in the award-winning 1954 film.  He has been doing just that, night after night, for the last two weeks.

As for the demanding lead role of Juror #8, accomplished BMSP regular Bentley Burns more than ably meets the challenge.  Juror #3, a dangerous sadist and the story’s chief antagonist, will be handled, against type, by lovable local ham Anthony “Frog” Buse.  This deadly-serious role will be the first of its kind for the gifted Buse, who’s played the more light-hearted roles of Rodney Dangerfield, Thurston Howell, and Hee Haw’s Gordie Tapp in recent shows.

12 Angry MenBurns, Buse and Smith won’t be flying solo.  Talent abounds throughout the show’s cast.  Veterans Craig Gaines, Steve Collins, David Jenkins, Greg Lominick, and Jonathan Hancock return to action for BMSP in this one, and they’re joined by first-timers Gregg Tucker, Ricky Murphy, Ken Anderson, James Rinehart and Jamie Gray.

BMSP also tapped well-known Booneville native Marshall Dickerson for the role of Juror #10, a harsh and intense bigot, played by Ed Begley in the old movie.  Dickerson told me he expected as much from a “Baldwyn” community theater group.

“Sure, you HAD to put someone from Booneville in the villain role,” Marshall lamented.  “I’ll have to have a police escort to get out of town when this thing’s over!”

12 Angry Men - Stage RightI didn’t intend it that way … but it does seem sort of appropriate, don’t you think?

“So, what about that “social experiment” thing you referred to earlier,” one might ask.

Well, THAT allusion has to do with THIS fact:  I am also directing a “chick-flick” in May – called The Dixie Swim Club – which, ironically, has a cast made up entirely of WOMEN, five of ‘em.   (Auditions for DSC will be held February 9th, a Sunday afternoon, at 2 PM … for you ladies who might be interested.)

I suspect that I will find a significant amount of material for future columns as I compare the two experiences – directing an all-male cast on the one hand and an all-female cast on the other.

Dixie Swim ClubI can already say that directing the men through a holiday-compressed rehearsal process has had a “military” feel to it.  While scripts were passed out in December, rehearsals really didn’t start in earnest until after New Year’s Day – with a production opening night of January 23rd!  That’s tight.  But we all knew it going in, and the guys have worked hard to bring out every nuance of their characters.

In contrast, the ladies of Dixie Swim Club will have more than three months to perfect their show.  The men have brought this point up to me on more than one occasion.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that discussions among the men have generally moved to a conclusion like this one:  “Well, of course, you know men can get done in two weeks what it will take those women three months to finish … because we don’t have to stop and talk about every little thing.”

I look forward to The Dixie Swim Club’s response to a comment like that.  I’ll keep you informed.

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Swing for the Fence

When I look at my second son Gabe, I can’t help but see a “McGee” man, a near-clone of my lovely wife’s side of our immediate family. 

Gabe's Big SwingAt 22, about 6-feet tall, square-jawed, and with a hairline that already recedes just a little, Gabriel McGee Richey fills a mold cast around his grandfather Jerry and his uncle Matt, almost perfectly.  Gabe’s clearly a different kind of cat than his three “Richey-stamped” brothers.  He always has been.

Unlike me, Gabe’s an outdoorsman.  He’ll feel an urge to take up one of his many rifles and head for the hills – literally – often by himself, to hunt deer and wild hogs.  Hank Williams, Jr., would be proud to know that Gabe can indeed “skin a buck,” or a hog, or most any other creature that’s legally hunted in north Mississippi. He’s a tough, gritty son of a gun.  He’ll need to be.  He joined the United States Army in December. 

Tanner, Gabe & CassieGabe heads to Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin basic training on January 21.  He’ll follow that up with Ranger training, which he’s qualified for.  That’s “Airborne” Ranger training.  That means you jump out of airplanes … routinely.  I’ve got plenty of faith in Gabe’s toughness and ability, but I’m going to worry about him just the same.

When he was a baby, Gabe broke his mother’s heart.  His big brother Gardner, who preceded Gabe to life by only 14 months, was a typical “baby.”  Gardner had to be rocked, and held, and fiddled with endlessly to get him to fall asleep.  Gabe, on the other hand, absolutely refused to be rocked – at all.  Gardner was, of course, fine with the arrangement.  Pop, Gabe & MattThat little McGee baby would stiffen up his whole body when his mother tried to hold him in her chair and demand, expressively, to be put down, let go.  I thought it was cool that if you just laid Gabe in his crib – without anything touching him – he’d go right to sleep.  His mother, the lovely but shaken Rothann, did not. 

Gabe’s never been much of a “hugger.”  And it’s a good thing.  Back then, when we’d arrive at grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ homes with our two car-seat-strapped toddlers, a bevy of kinfolk would emerge and descend on our vehicle.  Consistently, they’d unstrap our chattering first-born and carry him inside, held aloft like baby Simba in The Lion King.  Gabe, still strapped, would look to his ol’ Dad to, hopefully, at least include him with the diaper bags and other baby paraphernalia that had to be carried in.  As far as I know, I never left #2 in the car.  And we – Gabe and I – still call Gardner “Simba” occasionally, when we think he deserves it.

Gabe in WadersGabe was the Richey boy who had the “great pleasure” of having his father coach or manage his entire little league baseball career – from age 9 to 15.  That’s a LOT of father-son time, but we somehow survived it.  Our travelling team – originally made up of players from Baldwyn, Booneville and Saltillo – was called the Devilcats.  Gabe’s close and eternal friends are numbered among those boys – especially Brandon “Dino” Woodruff and next-door-neighbor, “buddy-for-life” Tanner Gaines.

The memorable moments from all that sweat and dirt and stinking, sun-burned boys are innumerable.  But there are two that stand out for me.

First, Gabe stepped up to the plate in his first at-bat as a high school senior, after transferring back to Baldwyn from Tupelo where he had played his first 3 years, and he homered, on a full count.  A lot of batters might have cut their swing down with two strikes in what was for Gabe and our family an uneasy, pressure-filled situation.  Gabe swung for the fence.  That’s Gabe. 

For the second one, I go back to a 9-year-old game we played at Guntown City Park.  In that year right after “coach pitch,” kids begin to run around the bases like the big boys.  Unfortunately, the result is that 9-year-old games generally turn into unwatchable, chaotic steal-fests.  Inexperienced fielders will throw the ball around wildly in ill-advised attempts at picking runners off.  It never happens.  This night, Gabe was catching, and an opposition runner broke from second to third.  Gabe rose up and fired a Johnny Bench rocket down the line.  Our third baseman, of course, didn’t catch it, and the base runner, a hefty hundred-pounder, rounded the bag and headed home.  Somehow the ball was scooped up quickly enough at third to hurl it towards home, where Gabe waited, his mask tossed in the dirt.

Gabe with guitarGabe caught the ball like a pro, but a small bull elephant rumbled towards him, head down, 2/3 of the way home.  In that moment of decision, rather than wait for a collision, Gabe raced up the line.  Ten feet off the plate, Gabe threw his entire banty-rooster body into the runner’s chest, ball and mitt extended, and shockingly knocked an elephant to the ground. 

“You out, boy!”  Gabe yelled, standing over him, and the game was over.

Next week, a tough-as-nails, no-hugs, “McGee” outdoorsman will take his place in the U.S. Army.  I expect he’ll compete like a “Devilcat.”

Swing for the fence with all you’ve got, Gabe.  This game’s just starting.

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A Good Life, A Great Uncle

Gabe & JackMy great uncle, Jack Hamblin, Jr., is a World War II veteran.  He saved a dozen or more men from drowning when his ship was sunk in the English Channel during the Normandy invasion.  Jack Jr. and my grandfather Mort Gardner were my employers from the time I was 10 until I graduated high school at their Sinclair, Arco and Phillips 66 service stations here in Baldwyn. 

Jack told me a funny story several weeks ago.

Jack Hamblin Jr. & Charles Sidney SpainWhen he was a boy in the early 1940’s, Jack worked at the Union Drug Store, for Len Rowan and Archie “Fat” Frost, on Main Street in Baldwyn.  One day a local man named Bishop came in and approached Frost at the counter.  Archie, who was nearing 40 and balding, had had a long day.  He was seated behind the counter with his arms propped up, leaning forward. 

Bishop thought there was a little fun to be had.

Walking over to Frost, he clapped his hand down on top of Archie’s head, and loudly proclaimed “Archie, that feels just like my wife’s butt.”  And he laughed it up.

Archie Frost made no immediate response except to reach up and pat the top of his own head a couple of times.  Finally, he brought his hand down, looked up at Bishop, and dead-panned, “Damned if it don’t.”

Jack said Bishop never came in the Union Drug Store again. 

Certainly, Jack thought that was a pretty funny story.  In fact, he thought it was funny enough to relay it to his nephew more than 70 years after it happened.

Jack Hamblin, Jr., & Clark RicheyAs I debated this past week whether or not to write up the tale Jack had told me – I’m not sure the Baldwyn News will even publish the word “butt,” which is not really the term he used anyway – I realized I’d forgotten something.  Jack had told me what the Bishop man’s name was.  It was Claude, or Clarence, or Carl – something that started with a “C.”  But as I prepared my column this week, I couldn’t think of it for the life of me.  I had jotted it down on a piece of paper at my office, but that was months ago.  That scribble’s long since been discarded.  But I know that Jack knows it.  And I can get it from him later. 

Jack Jr. will be 90 this spring, I think.

Before Christmas, I sat with Jack at my niece’s wedding, and we talked about how he and my grandfather had started their service station business.  It was after the war, and they bought someone out – I can’t remember who he said – but he said they only had one tire tool in the place.  He told me one of the guys who had the station would wash someone’s car and then take the money and go straight to the pool hall.  He gave me the person’s name.  I can’t remember it.

Jack told me that when he and my grandfather thought about going into the service station business, people around town told them they were crazy.  Their competition – Brownie Coggins and Harless Rutherford, who in typical small-town fashion were also their brothers-in-law – had the gas business “sewed up” at Blue Top and Standard Oil. 

“But we did it anyway,” Jack said.  “Mort said, ‘I think it’ll be all right.’”

Jack Hamblin Jr., Claire & Hallie Goodson, Reggie RicheyJack told me how they saw that no one in town offered credit to black families in those days … and how he and my grandfather decided that they would.  He said they went to several solid men in the black community and told them directly that they wanted their business and that their credit would be good with “Mort and Jack.”  He called the men’s full names.  One was a Stewart, and I just can’t remember who else he mentioned.  Jack said when he and my uncle Dan closed the station 50 years later they had more business than anyone in town and that it had been basically 50/50 black and white all the way from the start.  I had never heard any of that before.

I’ve talked a lot over the past couple years with Jack Jr. and other elder statesmen around Baldwyn – Annie Laurie Arnold, Jimmy Cunningham, Wallace Pannell, Taylor Lindley, many more.  These golden souls are the ones who put flesh and bones on historic local names like Archie Frost for me.  They called him “Fat,” Jack told me.  I try hard to remember the details, to capture it all.  I don’t think I can.

But I called Jack back on Sunday anyway.  It was “Roy Stewart.”  He was the man Jack went to in the black community, in the fall of 1946, to offer credit.  He worked for the railroad.  And “Clarence” Bishop was the man who thought it’d be funny to pat Archie Frost’s bald head.  That was in 1941 or ’42, Jack thought.

At my niece’s wedding a month ago, my great uncle Jack Hamblin, Jr., told me, “You know, I’ve lived a good life.” 

Damned if he hasn’t.

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