Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Makes Us Human

Last night I volunteered at the Special Olympics Virginia Winter Games Opening Ceremony. It's my third year working the souvenir stand as a "SOVA" volunteer. Nearly everyone there, with the exception of a few exhausted parents, was walking around with a huge smile. Every year I am impressed with all that these athletes can do. For these Winter Games, the athletes figure skate, speed skate (!), bowl, and do gymnastics -- and pretty much all of them are better at those sports than I am. When they come to the souvenir stand, they communicate well, properly count money and use credit cards, and are just teeming with charisma.

I have a cousin, Patrick, with Down Syndrome. He loves to dance, bowl, and watch the Three Stooges. He was the life of the party at our wedding, staying on the dance floor even when everyone else was taking a breather. Growing up with Patrick as a part of the family showed me not to be afraid of someone who was different. But not everyone has that advantage.

When I hear of someone who is considering terminating a pregnancy only because the fetus has tested positive for Down Syndrome, it makes me very sad. I recently read that over 90% of pregnancies are terminated when a fetus tests positive via amniocentesis for Down Syndrome. If the potential parents had ever known someone with Downs, I think they would be much less likely to make the decision to end the pregnancy. With good education, health care, and support, many kids with Down Syndrome live a normal life, or close to it. And it's worth mentioning that a fetus that tests "normal" may have far worse issues down the road -- there is no way to know. It's never a sure thing.

In the wild, a sick or abnormal animal is typically abandoned by the pack. Nature is hard, and life is cheap. What makes us human is that we have the ability to rise above nature's cruel reality.

Whether we choose to do so is another question.

More information on the Special Olympics Virginia
More information on the Special Olympics international organization

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's Not Christmas Without Midget Wrestling

On the way into my in-laws' town of Kosciusko, Mississippi, for the holidays, we noticed an odd sign at the Coliseum: "DEC 25 - ALL PRO WRESTLING." We wondered what kind of pro wrestling that might be. Steve's mom filled us in soon after our arrival at the family farm -- the local news was reporting that midget wrestling would be featured on Christmas night.

(Disclaimer: I fully respect the politically correct term of "little people" -- but here I present only what they've named themselves for this event.)

The lobbying began. Steve's sister's husband Skip, his daughter (our niece) Claire, and I were determined to attend. How many times in your life do you get a chance to see something like that? And what the heck else were we going to do Christmas night?

Nobody else seemed to want to go, but they also didn't want us to go without them. So on Christmas night we piled into two cars and headed into town for the show.

After paying my $10 admission, I bought a program for $2. It was clearly a cut-and-paste job, and badly stapled. (See photo at left.) It was five sheets of printer paper full of poor-quality photos, few of which were labeled, and few of which appeared to be relevant to the six fights listed on the last page of the program. The font on the last page was reminiscent of Print Shop, circa 1988. The fight card indicated that the little people would fight in the second match, a tag team bout, based on the names of the athletes: Midget Kid J & Chris Kilgore vs. Midget Little Devil & J.D. McKay.

Lining the side of the auditorium where we came in were some of the apparently more popular wrestlers, all of whom were of standard height. They were charging fans to take a picture with them, and selling t-shirts and hats. We skipped the merchandise and made ourselves comfortable in the bleachers to wait for the show. A large line formed for the 50-50 raffle. I bought a couple of lukewarm hot dogs for myself and Claire, and some sketchy nachos for Steve.

The first fighters each came out to a blast of theme music. I'm not sure which guy was which, and one guy was a substitute, but I do recall that one of the guys came out to Snoop Dogg's "What's My Name." One guy seemed to be a crowd favorite, and the other guy seemed to be much-loathed. About 10 seconds into the match, I realized what we were attending -- basically the "single A" version of WWE. There was a good guy and a bad guy, a la Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. But these guys, the first ones on, were really bad at faking the hits. It was painful to watch. Luckily it was over quickly, and as we waited for the midget match, you could sense the heightened anticipation across the audience of 100 or so local fans. Skip, Claire and I ran up to the front row so we'd be able to get a good look when the guys came out.

The bad guys came in first -- that was Midget Little Devil and his standard-height partner. Little Devil wore a flaming mask, and his partner was what I can only describe as a flamboyant redneck, wearing a faded pink and black striped women's leotard, biker shorts, and black motorcycle boots. (See cell phone photo, above right -- apologies for poor photo quality.) The big guy goaded the crowd, drew out some hecklers, and preened around the ring.

Suddenly, the strains of Big & Rich's "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" blasted over the scratchy PA system, and Midget Kid J and his partner swaggered in. The partner was stuffed into very tight, faded yellow trunks with old-school iron-on felt letters across his butt that said: SOUTHERN THUNDER. They took a lap around the coliseum; as they rounded our corner, Skip gave a high five to the tall guy and a low five to the little guy. Above left, Kid J strides past the concession table right after low-fiving Skip.

These guys were much better at putting on a show. It was a great act, and the hits looked plausible. They played out a simple storyline and the good guys won in the end. Below, Kid J prepares to body slam his rival from the right corner, while his partner exits the ring to the left. If you look closely at the partner, you can almost make out the words on his butt.

We stayed for the next match, but it made us all uncomfortable. In this good guy/bad guy match up, two skinheads in white robes, one draped in the Confederate flag, fought two black guys. The storyline here was that the skinheads played dirty and won the match by cheating. I assume there will be a triumphant good-guy-wins rematch at some subsequent show. Regardless, we won't be there. We left before the fourth match. But I had no regrets. I can't imagine a more memorable Christmas evening.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The King of All Icky License Plates

I almost forgot this one. On Monday morning, sitting in traffic, I saw a bright yellow sedan heading north through Fair Oaks. I noticed it only because of the really rich yellow hue. And then I noticed the license plate:


Combined with the color of the vehicle, only one thing came to mind: pee stain. If that's not what the owner intended, s/he has some serious communication problems. If it was what s/he intended, I can only ask: Why? Why would you do that to yourself? What's your motivation?

Maybe a bad decision like this one is just one of the perils of cheap vanity plates.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hey, Isn't That Massanutten Mountain?

This evening I was blessed with another opportunity to drive home with the windows cracked in spite of the calendar. When I crossed over Route 50 going south on the Fairfax County Parkway, I noticed the awesome sunset to my right -- orange and red streaks yawning up from behind the Blue Ridge. It used to pain me that I could see the Blue Ridge on my commute -- I mean, I used to work in Manhattan. Today, because the sky was so clear and the sun was illuminating the west, I realized I can see not only the easternmost mountains, but the ones behind those too.

Meanwhile, I acquired a baritone ukulele from Steve's family (it was Grandma Sara's) and have been trying to play it. Actually, playing it is not a problem. Getting it to stay tuned is where I'm going wrong. But seriously -- a ukulele?

My life is currently the opposite of "we're not in Kansas anymore."

Monday, January 7, 2008

Kids These Days and Their Music

I'm wondering if my musical tastes are becoming irrelevant. My 12-year-old niece made her disdain clear for my music when we visited family over the Christmas holiday. She named Akon, Sean Kingston and Soulja Boy as her faves these days. She even did the Soulja Boy "Crank Dat" dance, which I hadn't even known existed until that point. And to me, Sean Kingston's voice makes me think "busboy," not "Grammy winner."

Tonight, driving home in the balmy evening weather, I found myself rocking out to the following grab bag of songs as I channel surfed around XM:
  • The Way I Are, Timbaland -- this may have been cool six months ago, but I'm pretty sure the kids are over it.
  • Boondocks, Little Big Town -- funny how I started listening to country music when I lived in New York City.
  • Lady, Little River Band -- I enjoyed this far more than I should have, considering it was a hit around my kindergarten year. But this reminds me, I need to download Lady and a few other LRB songs to my iPod. And yeah, I'm not ashamed to admit that "The Night Owls" is one of them.
It's official -- I'm old.