Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why the Lemonade Stand Stood

I was in Texas to visit family as well as run a half-marathon. As I pulled into my grandmother’s driveway I happened to notice a patch of grass in a way I had never noticed it before.You could pull into the circular driveway a thousand times and never notice it. There's no reason to, really. It's meaningless to nearly everyone who passes it, as well it should be. It's a patch of grass as nondescript as any patch you've ever seen. And yet this time when I looked at it, it drew me in and took me back to a time where every memory was worth making and every dream worth having.

We were part of a select club who didn't call her Mrs. Coggin or Carolyn or the pastor's wife or even mom. We were the lucky few who called her Gran. To us, there was no equal. She was, in our eyes, perfect. And though we couldn't have articulated it at the time, we knew God had given her the spirit of a thousand angels and the light of a million suns, and no one in heaven or on earth could ever compare.

And that patch of grass at the edge of the driveway silently tells the story why.

Lemonade stands are not an uncommon part of childhood. Children the world over hang their figurative shingle in front yards and peddle their goodies in the hopes of earning a few bucks to spend as they please.

And if the lemonade stand were the end of the story, or even the beginning of the story, it wouldn't be much of a story at all. But it's not. The lemonade stand stood for something far more than just the table and chairs, the posters and quarter priced drink. It stood for us.

Everyone should be so lucky as to experience the welcome that each grandchild felt upon entering my grandparent's house. No matter what chaos our lives might have been on the outside, when we walked through their door, every problem slipped away and every anxiety vanished. For a child to feel that incredible amount of love only by walking through the door is rare. And to feel that love every single time we did, rarer still.

Spending the night at Gran and Granddaddy's was a paradox of fantastic predictability. We knew what to expect every time. And yet it never once grew boring or redundant or stale. It was our old familiar full of new possibilities.

We knew that we would feast like princes and princesses. We knew every morning upon waking to look under our pillow for a surprise. We knew that every night, before sleeping, Gran would present each of us with a handwritten menu for us to check off what we wanted for breakfast. We knew that every single thing we checked off would be waiting for us the next morning. We knew that we could check off every single thing.

We knew that we'd be given one of my grandfather's oversized shirts to sleep in. We knew that we'd be read a bedtime story. We knew that she'd stay in the room with us until we fell asleep. We knew that we'd try and pretend to be asleep until she left the room. We knew we rarely succeeded in doing so.

We knew that if we asked and she could do it, it would get done. We knew when we had done something wrong simply by the look in her eyes. We knew that we wanted nothing more than to please her. We knew that there was no greater joy than making her proud.

It wasn't the lemonade stand on that patch of grass. It was the thousands of lemonade stands that were built on the bedtime stories told, the menus for meals, the oversized shirts. It was the trips taken to ride the train at the zoo, or the tram at the airport, or the log ride at Six Flags. It was the hidden Easter eggs and the kites flown and the sausage and cherries drowning in sweet sauce at Christmas. It was the pineapple sandwiches and ambrosia.

She's 91 years old and still building us lemonade stands. Yesterday, as I left my grandmother's home for the airport, she handed us a sack lunch that she and my mom had prepared. It had a sandwich, cookies, a banana, and some trail mix. "You don't need to pay for snacks on the plane" she said.

Perfect strangers still clamor to meet her when she's out in public, hugging her neck, moved to tears simply to have met her. She's still the humble servant, the meek minister, the matriarch, the queen, gran, and yes, still the lemonade stand builder.

It's been a while since the last lemonade stand. But from this day forward, each time I see that patch of grass, and my mind's eye recalls that distant yesteryear, I’ll be reminded how my Gran built us a thousand lemonade stands each day by the things she did for us, and continues to this day to do for us.
              And the lemonade stand always - always- stood for us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ted Nugent thinks I belong on an island to die

For a moment let’s forget that, during an interview in 1977, Ted Nugent told a reporter that he took drugs and deliberately shit himself and didn’t bathe and faked passing out while giving blood all in an effort to dodge the draft. After all, Ted has since recanted his story and said the real reason he dodged the draft was a student deferment. Let’s take him at his word. I mean, who hasn’t made up a story about shitting their pants when discussing the draft at least once in their life?

      And let’s forget, for just a moment, that Ted has a thing for young girls. Like really, really young. Let’s forget that he has basically admitted to pedophilia and statutory rape. After all, he’s a warm blooded, American male and he has urges. He’s the Nuge, baby!

      Finally let’s forget that he told the Detroit Free Press  Apartheid isn't that cut and dry. All men are not created equal. The preponderance of South Africa is a different breed of man ... They still put bones in their noses, they still walk around naked, they wipe their butts with their hands ...These are different people. You give 'em toothpaste, they fucking eat it.”  And in the same interview, defended his frequent use of the n word.

       Forget all of that and instead travel with me, if you will, to the Summer of 2000. I was 23 years old living in Fort Worth, Texas. My job at the time was a dream job for someone like me. I produced book signings and in store events for Barnes & Noble.  Some   five months later I would be promoted to do the same thing in New York City.
      One day I was sitting  in my boss’ office when a call came through for me. “Mr. McDonald, I’m calling on behalf of Ted Nugent and was curious if you would be interested in hosting a signing for Ted and his book, God, Guns & Rock’N’Roll.  Ted will be in Fort Worth for a concert with KISS  and would love to be able connect with his fans in a way that he can’t on stage” said his publicist or manager.

         “I’m sure that would be ok. I would need to check with our corporate office in New York but I don’t think it would…”
         “No need. We already checked with them and they said it would be ok. So can we count on you, Mr. McDonald?”

        “Well then I suspect corporate will call me soon and let me know. Usually I can ok these sorts of things without their input but given the book and Mr. Nugent’s recent comments at concerts, I really need to get the green light from them before I commit to anything”

         “Great. It’s set. August 23rd. It will have to be in the afternoon since the concert is at night. We will do publicity on our end and expect you will do the same”

          “Actually, I don’t think you understand. I can’t do anything until New York tells me, via email or a phone call, that we can host. And I’ve not heard from them yet“ I said.

          “Great. So call them. And then call me back. Ten minutes enough time?”

         “I’ll call you back when I call you back”

           I called New York and, just as I thought, no one had heard from Nugent’s reps. However they did give me the go ahead and we moved forward.

       The day of the signing I showed up at the store in downtown Fort Worth and there were people who had camped out overnight for the signing. I had called my counterparts from all over North Texas as back up and had 17 booksellers assigned to the signing, an unheard of amount for signings.

       Nugent arrived with his gorgeous wife and his equally gorgeous son, who said he was a model, but who the hell knows. I briefed Nugent on how the signing would transpire. He was friendly enough but wasn’t really paying attention. Nonetheless I explained how there would be a press conference and then we would move to the signing. Since there was no room for several television cameras upstairs where the signing would take place, I explained that the conference would take place by the newsstand downstairs. So far, so good.
At this point I should point out that just a few months prior to the signing, Ted had received a lot of heat for some comments he made concerning the English language. Specifically, he said at a concert, “If you can’t speak English, get the fuck out of America.” Rumor was that this nearly caused riots and the mayor of San Antonio or Houston or some other large Texas metropolis banned Nugent from ever playing in their city again
         However, what he said coupled with what I had read and studied about Nugent left me with a sick feeling for ever agreeing to host a man that stood for everything I was against. But I had a job to do and I just wanted to get it over with. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to have some fun while I was at it.
The press conference was well underway when his wife ran up to me, visibly upset. “Why is he giving this press conference in front of the Mexican books?’

           What?” I replied, smiling on the inside. You see, I deliberately placed Nugent on front of the Libros En Espanol section, so that every camera shot was forced to capture the signage right above Nugent’s shoulder.

         “He’s in front of the Mexican books! Why?” she persisted.

          “Oh, well that was pretty much the only place where we had room. The newsstand area is open and there is ample room for the cameras. It just so happens that that is where the Libros En Espanol section is. Sorry.”

         On the elevator ride to the signing, his son told his father. Nugent didn’t  care.

When we arrived at the receiving area, one of my counterparts who was also a gay man and close friend paged me. I had assigned him to the front door of the store.

       “Jon-Marc, there are people out here that want to bring in guns and antlers! What do I tell them?” Christopher said.

       “Guns? They’re bringing in guns?”  I said certain I had heard wrong.

         “AND ANTLERS!” Christopher exclaimed.

          “I’ll be right down” I said as I hurried downstairs before the signing started to see what was going on.

         Sure enough, people were stretched down the block and many had guns, antlers and other things they wanted Nugent to sign.
         “Will he sign my breast?” a woman screamed from down the line.

          Poor Christopher. He was the one that had to tell them not to bring in the guns and antlers and, sure enough, they were pissed.

         The signing got underway and it was something to behold. It was by far the largest signing I had hosted up to that point in time. Hundreds of people bought books and hundreds more brought posters and records and CDs and some even managed to sneak in their guns. And the woman who wanted her breast signed, well, she got it signed.

         When it was all said and done, I felt as though we had made it through relatively unscathed. I was relieved and ready to put it behind me. The Nuge had other plans.

         The next day while I was working on an event report about the signing, I received a call from a bookseller telling me Nugent and his wife were in the cafĂ© part of the store. I rushed downstairs, wondering why they were back.

          One of the store managers went with me and, interestingly, we found the Nugents at the newsstand, perusing magazines.

“Hey Ted, how’s it going? How was the concert?” I asked, unsure of what exactly I was doing.

“It was great. We’re just here relaxing. Getting some fresh air out of the hotel” he replied.

“Great. How long are you in town?”

       At this point the store manager piped up. “Have you had a chance to explore downtown?” she asked.
“You know”, Nugent replied, “what I don’t understand is homosexuals. I mean I feel bad for innocent kids who get AIDS, but homosexuals deserve it. We should send all homosexuals to an island. Let em die off in a few years’ time from AIDS and not being able to reproduce.”

       I was stunned! I was absolutely speechless and stunned. The non sequitur was one thing, but the bile that he spewed was so gross, so upsetting, so dangerous, that for one of the few times in my life up to that point, I felt physically threatened. And, for the first time in my life, I looked into someone’s eyes and I knew what it was like to look at evil.

“Well, Ted, I’ve got to get back to work. Have a great day” I said as I walked away.

        As I made it back to my office I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I didn’t have the courage to stand up and say something in the face of such evil. Instead I cowered and slunk away. And I vowed that I would never, ever stay silent again. And I won’t

       That’s why Ted Nugent being invited to the State of The Union matters. It matters because this man represents everything that goes against the very thing this country stands for. And the fact that an elected official in our government invited him is so disturbing, it literally makes me sick to my stomach.

        I will never forget looking into Ted Nugent’s eyes that day. I will never forget how I felt when I didn’t speak up. I will never not speak up again.  
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