Sunday, December 31, 2017

Scott Gibson

I suppose Lexington's Scott Gibson will be as close to a Renaissance Man as I will ever know.

By that, I mean he was a person with a broad range of skills – in his case, primarily in the arts, and particularly with music – and whose philosophies on life were gentle, observant and rational, even if they came at you from perhaps a slightly shifted angle.

He could make you think about something profound even before you knew you were thinking about it. That was the artist in him. That's what artists do.

I can't remember exactly when I first met him – it might have been years ago after one of his gigs at Sandy Creek or High Rock Outfitters or some other local venue – and it struck me that I could have been talking with folk songwriter Woody Guthrie for what I considered to be his sharp perceptions of everyday living and the lives we lead.

Part of that experience for me included his actual physical appearance: long, whitish hair that touched his collar; a black derby hat, or perhaps a fedora, announcing the troubadour was in the house; a couple days worth of stubble that suggested endlessly riding the hard rails of life in a boxcar. And when he sang, it was with an earthy and gravelly voice that accented exactly the point he was trying to make.

He could play anything, it seemed: guitar, banjo, harmonica, autoharp. He'd occasionally wander into the local coffee shops, sometimes with ukulele in hand, and strum us a free concert. He might have been in the process of composing, for all I knew. You know: folk singer mingling with the folk.

It surprised me that he knew who I was before we even met. He read The Dispatch, and later, my blogs. That caught me off my guard. And it opened a door.

One evening, during an open mic night at HRO, I read a few poems I'd written back in my college days decades ago. Scott was in the audience. Afterwards, he told me I should resume my poetry. Coming from a songwriter of his merit, that meant something to me. Maybe I'll take him up on it.

Scott died on Friday after a long bout with illness, and his passing will leave a gaping void in the Lexington music scene. It will leave a void in many of us.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas fire

In my daily slog through Facebook to find out what my friends are eating, or what restaurant they're going to eat in, or whose birthday it is and what they're going to eat to celebrate, I came across this interesting picture:

It's a photo of Dixie furniture company employees, taken in 1910. The picture is in the storefront window of the Lexington Home Brands Furniture Outlet store on Main Street and it offers a simple, understated tribute to the industry that was the heartbeat of Lexington for generations. Lexington Home Brands, of course, can trace its genealogy directly to Dixie. In the aftermath of Tuesday night's devastating inferno that brought down the 100-plus-year-old walls of the now vacant Plant No. 1, I found the historic picture to be particularly moving.

The iconic smokestack and dust collectors still stand near the main office.
 And it got me to thinking: Who would ever think the workplace could evoke such emotions? Don't we usually go around complaining about our jobs? Don't we always have better ideas about how to run the joint than management does? Aren't we always underpaid and underappreciated?

And yet...

Even while the debris was still smoldering, stories from former employees were rising out of the ashes. Some people spent nearly their entire adult lives with the company, becoming not only artisans in a world-class industry, but the flexible backbone of the local economy.

The plant — the building — was their world. It wasn't only their livelihood, but the center of their society. It's where people and friends gathered to labor over a common conception. When the walls collapsed it released not only long forgotten ghosts, but lingering memories as well. The hard work, the sweat, the routine of it all evolved into a source of pride. It was sad, they said, to see it burn up.

The destruction of Plant No. 1 was astounding.
 I never worked at the Dixie, but when I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lived in its shadow. I caught the tail end of the ride. I remember the iconic smokestack chugging dark clouds into the sky; the whistles that signaled shift changes and a brief spurt of traffic congestion as workers came and went; just the bustle of it all.

The fire that brought the building down is said to be one of the largest ever in Lexington, with flames leaping hundreds of feet into the night sky in front of thousands of spectators.

Nothing lasts forever. That lesson is brought to us every day. An era can go up in smoke, but a legacy is the thing that remains.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas party

Saturday night kicked off our party week.

About 16 of us gathered at a neighbor's house to drink in the camaraderie and good cheer. The excuse was an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, but neither Kim nor I had an ugly sweater — actually, neither did about 10 others —but that little exception to the whole purpose of the party didn't disqualify us from attending. Or being allowed in the door.

Kim, usually calm and dignified, wore an item that made her look like she had been shot in the head with a candy cane arrow. She was Steve Martin on peppermint.

Small parties like this one are fun to watch. The dynamics are constantly changing: First, people collect in small knots around the buffet table, sampling the goodies. Then they spin off into conversation cliques (a couple here might catch up with a couple there, especially if they haven't seen each other in a while) to share some time. Occasionally, someone wanders around from room to room in the house, popping sausage balls and pretzels, looking for someone to talk to.

At one point I was aimlessly wandering around after hitting the buffet table to reload on Chex mix when I passed one room where all the men had gathered. Then I (being the outlier) peeked in the kitchen where all the women had assembled. It just happened that way. Amazing. It was as if we'd all received our internal alien messages to gather in separate rooms for gender processing.

Even more amazing was when we — without announcement — all showed up in the living room later in the evening. Happenstance? I don't know. But the best part was when the hostess pointed out that, at this stage in most of our lives, our friends are our family. My throat clenched, my eyes moistened, Kim grabbed my arm a little tighter. I think our hostess was right. I like Christmas parties like this with its understated message. It's when the not-so-obvious suddenly becomes obvious. That was cool.

On Monday Kim and I will be going to a local coffee shop for another party. This one is usually a catered affair primarily for the coffee club crowd that shows up most every morning. Generally, this is an older crowd where most of us are in our 70s or 80s. Or older. We get to let our hair down (if we have any). We'll basically have only one room to wander around in and we'll hear lots of stories about the good ol' days. It'll be local history broadcast live.

Later in the week we'll be attending the neighborhood party. I suspect there'll be something like 50-60 people at this one. I like this party because we each bring something to eat. It's a pot luck deal and the food tends to be exceptional, ranging from handmade cookies to cheese balls to ham biscuits to fancy hors d'oeuvres with fine wines and craft beers.

I don't think Kim will be wearing a candy cane arrow to this one.

Party on...

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Christmas presence

This was Kim's idea actually.

I didn't know what I wanted to write about for today's blog, but whatever it was, I wanted it to be seasonal.

"Why don't you write about the kind of toys you got for Christmas as a child compared to what kids are getting today?" she suggested.

Hmmm. Not bad. Seasonal. Nostalgic. Current. Kim has always been my best editor. This one had potential.

The funny thing about most of the Christmas toys I got as a kid...I don't remember asking for. Remember, we're talking mid-1950's here, so I was probably asking for things like Red Ryder BB rifles (I never got one for fear of shooting my eye out) or Hopalong Cassidy pistols and holsters (I did get a Lone Ranger set of cap pistols, including a really bad red cowboy hat with white stitching — but no chaps).

I vaguely remember going to Hess's Department Store in Allentown, going up to the third floor and sitting on Santa's lap (uh-oh). That's where I got to ask for stuff.

Remember Tinkertoys?
I think my first bicycle (with trainer wheels) showed up at Christmas, even though it was winter and there was likely snow on the ground. Curiously, I actually don't remember asking for a bicycle, but maybe I did.

Other toys I never asked for turned out to be classic. Santa brought Tinkertoys one year, and that was of some casual interest for me. I'd build these creations that had no resemblance to reality and then ask my parents how they liked the airplane I just made. Yeah. Tinkertoys.

In the same vein, there were Lincoln Logs. I can't tell you how many cabins I built. They all looked the same.

Slinkys. Play-doh. Super balls (these were the toys my dad got into). Turns out there was a limit to how many times I could watch my Slinky walk down the stairs. Or reproduce the newspaper comics on my Play-doh before I maniacally stretched them into absurdist art.

Or plastic cinder blocks?
There were also plastic snap-together building blocks — they may have been a variation of Legos — that looked like cinder blocks. I'd put together something that looked like a one-room house, deconstruct it, then put it back together again. That was fun. For a while.

 I think that was the year I got a battery powered Remco Bulldog army tank that shot plastic shells. I created war scenes with my building blocks, then have the tank crash through the war-torn house, just like in the news reels I saw of World War II, which had ended just a decade or so earlier.

I don't know if there was a theory of child rearing behind these diversions. Both the Tinkertoys and the building blocks suggest the development of imagination, hand-eye coordination and creativity.

It was all pretty vocational, looking back on it. Maybe I could have become a carpenter or a brick mason. But I became a sportswriter instead, even though I never asked for a typewriter. Clearly, something went horribly wrong.

Looks real, huh? I refought World War II with this toy.
 The army tank could have sent me into a military career and the Lone Ranger pistols could have directed me into law enforcement (or cattle herding). I don't know.

Kim and I don't have children of our own, so our gift buying is limited to a couple of nieces. That usually has meant jewelry or personal grooming items. Girl stuff. Hard for me to relate.

But just looking around me, it appears kids today are getting iPhones and computers and other electronics that I could have never imagined back in my childhood. The skills needed to operate these devices are the skills they'll need in the real world, so in the end, I guess nothing has really changed.

We're still getting lost in the fun of it all.

What gifts didn't you ask for?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Fitness phase

For the longest time, I had it in my head that the only two places in town to get some serious exercise done was the J. Smith Young YMCA and Accelerate Fitness (previously Forum Fitness) on Talbert Boulevard.

When I say "serious," I mean the works: the weight machines, the free weights, the exercise machines (like treadmills, recumbent bicycles, etc), Zumba and yoga rooms and personalized service.

I was actually a sporadic member of The Forum for a while. I even bought a book to show me how to use the machines and chart my progress. I wasn't intent on becoming muscle bound — I just wanted to be able to open ketchup bottles. 

I'm sure there might have been other places around, but I just never saw them. The Y and the Forum were the high profile outlets. I'm sure somebody could have been working out in a small cubby hole in some strip mall or in a church basement or perhaps even pumping iron on their front porch.

Then, two years ago, I turned 65 and that made me eligible to join Silver Sneakers, a program offered by the Y along with my health care provider. I don't pay a penny out of pocket. Just sign your name and start sweating. It's a great deal.

Almost as soon as I joined the Y, things started happening around town (I'm not implying that I had anything to do with that). The old Farmers' Co-op on First Street was being updated to house the state-of-the-art City Fitness and that was causing some excitement with the workout crowd.

About the same time (maybe earlier), CrossFit Hog Town opened (I get the idea behind identifying Lexington with hogs, but it still paints a picture for me of overly corpulent people roaming the streets looking for barbecue). Anyway, CrossFit was operating out of a small facility on Church Street and is now in the process of moving to its brand new building on South Main, which no doubt will increase its exposure.

A few months ago a rumor floated around town that a Planet Fitness was coming. And, indeed, work is underway at its Plaza Parkway location just off Highway 8. In fact, I got a flyer in the mail yesterday letting me know that I could join Planet Fitness for 25 cents down and $10 per month. Wow.

Suddenly, Lexington was becoming the capital of straining grunts and groans. Not bad for a city with a population (according to the 2010 census) of 18,931. The rapid appearance of all these calorie burners would suggest that not only about 17,000 of us need to be doing jumping jacks, but there's a real market for it.

Curiously enough, about the same time all these exercise meccas are going up, so are some new bakeries. Huh?

We already had iconic Fancy Pastry, but within the last two years — about the time of Lexington's fitness explosion  — we not only got a Bagel Shop, but Red Donuts. We also picked up a bakery called Sinfully Delicious, which is almost directly next to Fancy Pastry. And now I see where there's another bakery getting ready to open on North Main Street, opposite a convenience store/gas station that offers Dunkin Donuts.

That's not to forget the near frenzy we had in Lexington of finally getting a Chick-Fil-A a month ago.

 I don't know. Maybe Hog Town works after all.