Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Joisey Joe comes to my small town

The time has finally come to get some siding up on our bathroom/tower extension. Keeping it local is what living in a small town is all about, so we made the 4-block drive to our local lumber yard and found our options for siding that matched our 114-year old clapboard cladding somewhat limited, but satisfactorily within our ways and means.

The fella who helped us wasn't from 'round these parts, as articulated by his dialectally discernible accent, punctuated by his pronunciation of his home state of New "Joisey."

His tale of pomp and circumstances of how he, his son, and old yeller lab made it from the boardwalks of Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and the Sopranos to our little corner of middle Okie heaven involve the 8.3% unemployment rate in his home state (something like 1.6 million jobs lost), and the opportunities for a fresh start, employment in a field of familiarity, and lower living costs.

My entire realm of experience and knowledge of the Garden state comes from listening to Springsteen songs, watching Kevin Smith flickers, and undertaking marathon sessions of Diners, Drive-In's and Dives on the Food Network, yet we communicated on a level unique to immigrants everywhere -- of things missed from back home, and the pluses and minuses of where we are now.

When asked how he's coping with going from New Jersey, which has the highest population density of any state to Oklahoma, which ranks 36th in terms of people per square foot, Joisey Joe commented, "a guy doesn't have to drive very far to be alone with his thoughts out here..."


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quiet, testing in progress...flatulance allowed

A better part of my free daytime hours last week was spent as a TM.

That's Test Monitor to the untrained.

The Oklahoma Core Curriculum Tests (OCCT) are part of the Oklahoma Priority Academic Student Skills (PASS) testing that instigated a few years ago. The third grade tests consist of Math and Reading with the students writing their answers in the actual test booklet (no scantron answer sheets just yet).

My job as TM consisted basically of making sure the teachers don't cheat. That's right, I was responsible for each and every test booklet that was handed out to the class of which I was assigned.

I was instructed not to let a single booklet out of my sight for fear that 1) a test booklet would go missing and end up for sale on eBay, 2) a rogue teacher would fill in the answers for a more academically challenged student and 3) the costs involved with the scandal that would ensue had a booklet ended up in the "wrong" hands, not to mention the financial end of reprinting and retesting test booklets was enough to warrant a full-time test booklet monitor.

Pretty easy duty for a casual observer, who knew and trusted the teacher that I was assigned to monitor. But given that I was not to talk to the teacher or any student during the actual testing, nor was I to answer any questions related to the testing in any way, my shining personality and sparkling school volunteer demeanor had little bearing on my time spent in-classroom.

A few observations on the third graders over whom I lorded over via test booklet monitoring for those three days (I'll reserve my opinion on standardized testing and the whole "No child left behind" issue for a more appropriate forum)...
  • Yawning for third-graders is dangerously contagious, and seems to run in sets of three.

  • I can see why Ticonderoga pencils are favored amongst test monitors. Their hexagonal design with six equally flat surface areas provide for fewer pencil desk roll-offs than the rounded-type available in bulk through the Oriental Trading catalog.

  • Almost across the board, the girls finished the reading sections first, while the boys finished the math first.

  • Out of 17-students, I counted 6 southpaws. This seemed like a higher than normal average of righties-to-lefties to me, but I left my statistician hat back in my college statistics 210 class, so who knows.

  • Student farting is more prevalent than one might think in a classroom of 17 third graders. And while the students were so focused on their tests that they were seemingly unaffected by the momentary passing of the gas by their fellow test takers, us mature Test Monitor's weren't so fortunate as the suppression of silly, immature giggles was borderline painful to endure.
  • Monday, April 13, 2009

    The Commissioners, The Famer and Me

    I spotted the familiar face of a fellow Soccer Dad at his desk in the County Assessors office. Yelling across the vast room to each other like drunk OU fanboys, Soccer Dad pointed me to where I needed to go, quantifying his directions with an inquisitive raised eyebrow and friendly warning to just head for the room where "all the arguing is coming from."


    Three of the five County Commissioners were present (enough for a majority voting quorum) as well as the County Clerk and the County Sheriff ("How those new Chargers working for the Deputies?" I asked him. "Oh, they'll do 120 easy," he replied."). In the back I noticed the editor of our local news rag sitting quietly, notebook in hand.

    I was first on the agenda. Agenda? Just what the heck was I doing at a County Commissioner's meeting?

    Seems the artist who wanted to restore "The Farmer" statue had requested a few dollars from the county to go towards the new bronze version of the 33-year old pitchfork wielding quikrete figure. My presence at this meeting was requested to provide some background (what little I had turned up) on the statue and to help make the case for some of our counties taxpayer dollars to be used for the project.

    The artist had raised the majority of funds for the bronze through private party donations, and considering the statue was originally dedicated to the residents of the county, and the statue itself sat in front of the county courthouse building, it didn't seem too much of a stretch to ask the County for a few bucks.

    So, I got up, did my song-and-dance about how the previous perpetrators of the project originally intended for the statue to be made of bronze, and had they followed through with their original intent, we wouldn't be here talking about needing to revamp the existing statue, since a metal Farmer would have stood the last three+ decades with more fortitude.

    My droning went on as I revealed that my digging a few feet deeper turned up a link to an art inventory catalog conducted and maintained by the Smithsonian Institution. Back in 1996 they surveyed our local farmer and categorized him as constructed of "metal" whose condition was in "need of treatment."

    Even the Smithsonian was led astray.

    I also discovered the original artist to be long deceased, but his offspring are still alive and kicking in various parts of the state.

    Had I been an investigative journalist with nothing better to do, my next step would have been to chase down the family lead, along with surveying any surviving American Legion vets from the 70's who may have first hand knowledge of 1) whether or not they did indeed raise the funds for the bronze, and 2) if they did cough of the dough for a bronze statue, were they aware that their promised metal figurine was instead delivered in Quikrete.

    However, seeing the old news hound editor furiously scribbling on his notepad (later asking me which particular issues of "his" newspaper I had found my information in) put my mind at ease that at least somebody would be hunting down leads, and tracking the whereabouts of the missing bronze.

    The next day, this article turned up in the local news rag.

    Funny thing is, the article all but states that I'm the Johnny-on-the-spot, man-on-the-case in tracking down the molds for the original bronze casting, when all I remember saying was that I had uncovered evidence that a mold had been made and that the surviving family of the original artist may have some knowledge of the background of the bronze-that-never-was.

    In an effort to put this "Farmer" to rest, I may make a few phone calls and see what else I can find out about this small town mini-mystery.

    My only fear being, what funny bone this skeleton may be holding onto as I pull it further out of it's 33-year old resting place.

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    OKDad and the Case of the Missing Farmer

    An ongoing project of mine has been to research and write the text for a series of historical markers that dot the sidewalks of my small town's downtown district. It's been a good exercise regime for the research muscles in my brain and has introduced me to the colorful past of my adopted hometown. The experience thus far has also been rewarding in that I'm doing my part to preserve a bit of how we got here and where we came from.

    Although I think the "historical walking tour in-progress" has had little to no impact on tourism, local interest, and citizen apathy, a local artist noticed enough to ask me to contribute to an art restoration project currently underway.

    Back in 1976 when the entire country was scrambling to spend Bicentennial funds being allotted to communities throughout our then 200-year old this-land-is-your-land, a group of "concerned citizens" led by the venerable local American Legion chapter decided to fund a life size bronze of a typical farmer, called "The Farmer."


    The good citizenry rallied around the oh-so-starred-and-striped project, started a fund drive, commissioned an artist from up north to create the sculpture. In the interim, local merchants and volunteers bricked up a pedestal to mount the thing on and a concave backdrop wall was erected behind the entire setup. For good measure they dropped two time capsules into the pedestal and had a bronze plaque mounted on the wall.

    My role in the restoration project would be to research and pen the text for two additional plaques to be placed on a newly constructed pedestal for the statue. Plaque one will tell a little history on the statue itself, while the second one will provide some background on the significance of "The Farmer" to the creation and continued existence of my small town.

    It was while conducting said research that I upturned yet another rock, uncovering yet another skeleton in the closet of my small towns past.

    Every published account from 33-years ago dealing with the creation, erection, and dedication of The Farmer lists the statue as being of bronze construction. Several pictures were taken and published of the artist working on the piece, including one that shows molds being taken of the clay original to be used in the bronze casting process. I even found an account listing the fund raising efforts being made on behalf of the American Legion to cover the costs of the bronze figure.

    Only problem is, The Farmer that stands in front of my small town's courthouse on Main Street is not made of bronze. He's some sort of hardened concrete-plaster hybrid (according to the Artist planning to restore it).

    Had he been made of the brown ferrous metal, no restoration efforts would be needed for another 100 years or so.

    So, what happened to the bronze? He was planned as a bronze. Molds of him were made in preparation for a bronze. Funds were apparently raised for him to be cast in bronze. The papers from July 4, 1976 (the day he was dedicated and unveiled) clearly state he is a statue of bronze stature.

    So, where's the bronze?

    To be continued...

    Friday, April 03, 2009

    A law for everything

    I'll close this week and leave our SoCal Spring Break '09 trip behind with a little reminder, courtesy of the line at one of the great roller coasters at Knott's.

    When an adventurous archeologist from the far flug future, digs this sign up in the dry desert wasteland that our planet is destined to become, what will this artifact tell her/him/it about our society?

    Thursday, April 02, 2009

    Steve Martin and the boysenberry

    According to author Heather Waite, Barbie Dolls, blue jeans, the boysenberry, the pill, white zinfandel wine, the square tomato, natural soda, the computer “mouse,” the wetsuit, and theme parks were invented in California.

    Wait, the boysenberry? Surely you jest.

    In fact, comic genius Steve Martin (okay, I'm not gonna argue with you on this point, but when I saw Steve live at the Anaheim convention center right after the release of his first comedy album, Let's get small, only a comic genius could me me laugh as hard as I did) developed what would become his signature comedy style at the same place where the beloved boysenberry was created.

    Ladies and gents, I give you America's first theme park, Knott's Berry Farm.

    According to his recent biography, Born Standing Up: A Comics Life (a great read, btw), Steve developed his live audience entertaining chops here...

    And expanded his repertoire of magic tricks he learned while working at Disneyland here...

    See page 58-59 of the book mentioned above for references to the Bird Cage Theater or listen to an NPR interview with Steve.

    And the boysenberry? Well, seems old man Knott took some dying plants that were crossbreeds of the red raspberry, blackberry and loganberry, figured out how to get them to grow and named it after the guy who brought him the feeble plants to begin with, Rudolph Boysen. Today, all the boysenberry plants in the world can be traced back to Knott's. Pretty cool.

    These amazing facts and other thrilling adventures awaited the girls and I as we took on the park with my Dad and Stepmom in tow, at the end of our So Cal Spring break trip.

    Yes, I did ride the rides...even THOSE rides.
    Yes, we did eat chicken dinners.
    Yes, the girls did pan for gold.
    And of course, we bought some boysenberry preserves.

    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    Begin the Beguine

    I began the dance.

    The dance made it through the first year.

    And a second.

    To a third.

    To here. Now. 4 years since I changed the lives of my family unit and I.

    And the dance continues.
    Play it Artie...