Light it up, blow it up for the holidays

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Winter wonderland, or portal to a special aesthetic hell? You be the judge.

Last year, I took minimalism to the limit when it came to Christmas decorations. Our furniture and possessions were crammed into a 576-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment in south Florida, so the best I could do was an 18-inch felt Christmas tree from Target, adorned with small red pom-poms as ornaments, perched on the ledge by the kitchen sink. This year, in Mississippi, I have borne witness to the opposite Yuletide extreme.  Continue reading

Walking in Memphis — a travelogue

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It has taken us seven months, but at long last, we’ve visited Memphis, Tennessee, for reasons that don’t involve using the airport. This is a good thing because, among the city’s various claims to fame, some of its welcome signs bill it as “America’s Distribution Center,” and the airport terminal has all the ambiance of one. It would have been tragic if the airport and its environs were the only things we ever experienced in Memphis, the closest major city to Tupelo.  Continue reading

Dispatches from Cowbell Nation, Part 2

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Oh, the humanity. The Famous Maroon Band marches through The Junction.

It’s a miracle of science that I still have my hearing. I forgot to bring earplugs for my second Mississippi State home game of the season, a conference game against Louisiana State University, which started the weekend ranked No. 12 in the AP Top 25. This meant sitting through nearly 3 1/2 hours of unfiltered cowbell during a contest that ended in a 37-7 upset.

This week’s observations are impossible to stitch together into a cohesive narrative. Instead, here are some random thoughts, in no particular order, to shed some additional light on the Mississippi State game day experience:

  • Like any rural state university, Mississippi State has a sizeable agriculture and food science program and has found a way for it to make money off the general public. The MAFES (Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station) Sales Store, which sells cheese, ice cream, jellies, and juices, is a mere stone’s throw from Wade Davis Stadium. It’s generally open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but it also will happily take your money on Saturdays when the Bulldogs play at home. If you don’t want to drive all the way to Mississippi to find out what cheese made in Mississippi tastes like (and really, who could blame you?), you can order online at www.msucheese.com. Unlike Penn State University’s Berkey Creamery, which I’ve also visited, the less catchily named MAFES Sales Store does not sell its ice cream online, however.
  • Because we arrived three hours before kickoff, in addition to visiting the MAFES Sales Store, we also took in the sea of humanity tailgating in a vast area of green space in front of the stadium known as The Junction. The name is derived from the school’s proximity to the now former Mobile and Ohio rail line and from the traffic congestion that ensued on campus once roads supplanted the rails — the intersection came to be known as “Malfunction Junction.” The standard activities were in effect: playing games of cornhole, grilling, drinking (duh), blaring TVs and radios, scalping tickets, begging for tickets, the occasional preening of certain young women who looked like they were destined for the club, a frat party, or perhaps their shift on a downtown street corner after the game, and one random guy hawking T-shirts out of a knapsack that likely were not licensed by the university or the SEC. In addition, I noticed a discarded beer bottle on the ground with a corn dog sticking out of it, which struck me as something resembling a redneck bouquet.
  • From the top of the ramp that goes up to the 300 level, I watched the pregame parade that is yet another game day ritual. At more than 330 members strong, the Famous Maroon Band, as the marching band is known, is a pretty impressive sight. About an hour before kickoff, they march through the center of The Junction and into the stadium. Their halftime show isn’t bad, either. As much as I hated life during my first year of high school marching band, I came to appreciate the payoff of a performance executed well on the field or in a parade, so this ritual makes me feel a tiny bit nostalgic.
  • Before the third quarter begins, Cowbell Nation is treated to a performance by the “Pom Squad.” The Pom Squad is a “spirit group” of 20 dancers that is an entirely separate entity from the cheerleading squad. Their presentation is a few notches flashier (or sluttier, depending on your view of these things) than that of the cheerleaders. For about a minute or two, this ensemble of white girls gyrates and twerks to hip-hop music in the end zone in front of the student section. Arguments about cultural appropriation, feminism, whether your humble carpetbagger is being a prude, etc., aside, I suspect that this is somehow OK in collegiate athletics because they wear long pants instead of hot pants or skirts. Ironically, they don’t use pom-poms here.
  • Because my husband insisted on staying for all four quarters this time, we were treated to the beginning-of-the-fourth-quarter ritual of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” being played over the PA system. Cowbell Nation is encouraged to sing along; the lyrics are helpfully displayed on the scoreboard. And at long last, I was finally able to disabuse my husband of his erroneous but stubbornly held belief that the chorus references “street life” instead of “streetlights.”
  • Unfortunately, this meant a much longer wait this time for the shuttle bus back to the parking lot of the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park when we were ready to leave. While waiting in line, I was entertained by a small group of 20-somethings behind us who were intensely debating burning questions such as whether it’s possible to do girl push-ups while performing burpees during your workout and whether Chance the Rapper is a “man of God.”

Fortunately, the schedule now gives me a reprieve until October 14, when Brigham Young comes to Starkville, or Stark Vegas as it’s sometimes called. Go, Mormons!

 

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Clearly, no one with a marketing background was involved in naming the cheese store.

 

 

 

All cowbell, all the time

 

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My vantage point from the upper deck of Cowbell Nation, population approximately 54,000.

Somehow, I survived my first Mississippi State University football game, an event that merges two objects of my enduring contempt: sports, and the Deep South.

Regular readers of this blog will remember that when we last left our intrepid carpetbagger, she was furiously making preparations for this blessed event. This included purchasing earplugs that her beloved spouse reminded her every day that she was going to need to withstand a full season of Bulldog football.  Continue reading

Yearning to break free

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This man wants to “help you break free.” For several inmates in Mississippi and Alabama, that’s been a do-it-yourself project.

One of the worst local TV commercials in heavy rotation – it’s too difficult to narrow them down to just one, which is a blog post for another day – is for a criminal defense lawyer who cares deeply about helping you beat the rap if you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law in northeast Mississippi.

Even when you consider the sleaziness that’s to be expected from ambulance chasers, this ad takes the genre to a new, sub-basement level. Kerry M. Bryson, of the Bryson Law Firm right here in Tupelo, is so committed to helping you avoid the ignominy and perpetual unemployability wrought by a criminal record (or as he puts it, good people who find themselves in “unfortunate situations”) that he winds down his 30-second pitch by declaring that he wants to “help you break free.” He stands just outside the perimeter fence of what appears to be the Lee County Jail, brandishing a bolt cutter for added subtlety.

In the nearly six months I’ve spent in the Magnolia State, I’ve seen numerous examples of individuals here and in neighboring Alabama whose desire for freedom was so strong that by sheer force of will and the desperation of those with nothing left to lose, they achieved it without Mr. Bryson’s help, if only temporarily. Jail breaks, most commonly from county facilities or local lockups, are a staple of local news.  Continue reading

What a nothing burger really tastes like

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Behold the nothingness of the slugburger.

I have eaten my weight in hamburgers and then some during my lifetime, but up until this past weekend, I had never consumed a slugburger. The city of Corinth, less than an hour north of Tupelo near the Tennessee line, was hosting its 30th annual Slugburger Festival, so I decided it was time to blaze a new trail in experiencing Mississippi culture. Continue reading