Free Magazine Review: Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family

Where did it come from? A loved one recently went on a work trip to Gadsden and brought this back as a souvenir. He knows I love a good free magazine. And because Gadsden just finished its star turn in the national media thanks to senatorial candidate/noted moralist/Tiger Beat enthusiast Roy Moore’s supposed lifetime ban from the Gadsden Mall, I wanted to know more about life up there.

Who publishes it? Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family is put out by Carlton Publishing, Inc. They are based in Gadsden and not to be confused with Carlton Publishing Group, which is a real thing. It’s a larger format publication that seems like it might come out every month. Unlike a lot of free magazines, this one has a mission statement. It says, in part, that the magazine “exists to provide Christians and the community at large with ways to grow and develop as part of Alabama’s Christian Family. The local publication is designed to promote positive living by sharing with readers the latest news on entertainment, healthy living, parenting and inspirational literature as well as what individuals and organizations are doing to try to address the needs of the family.” That’s a lot to get through in 35 pages.

Who’s on the cover? In July, it’s Miss Alabama Callie Walker, shown making a grateful pageant face while another woman places the winning tiara on Walker’s head. The cover story takes up the magazine’s two middle pages and is printed on a distracting color background of roses. The headline is “Taking the Stage with Faithful Confidence,” which made me curious about what unfaithful confidence might look like. The story itself is broken up into “Art Facts,” Faith Facts,” and “Trash Talk.” I did not know this about the job of being Miss Alabama, but evidently one part of it is having a “platform,” like a political candidate. Walker’s seems to be recycling, which the story’s author, Camille Smith Platt, describes as “sustainability.” Walker wants schools across Alabama to adopt recycling programs to preserve the earth, which she says was given to us by the Lord.

Recycling, as it happens, is a particularly touchy topic here in Montgomery, where we’ve recently been told that our local recycling plant – the one that shut down, leaving the city to pay the tab for a giant unused facility that did not expect that people would try to throw dirty diapers in the trash – will be reopened by a new contractor with a plan to use the plant to recycle while turning excess trash into fuel. Yes, that seems like it will totally work.

Meanwhile, the evidence is accumulating that consumer recycling is kind of a scam. China’s not accepting recyclable materials much any more, so there’s nowhere to put stuff, and it’s mostly going into the landfill. Read this article about it if you’ve got some doubts. But having kids recycle has some obvious appeal as a lasting solution to the many problems facing Alabama, so it’s pretty clear why this was a winning issue for Miss Alabama.

According to http://www.winningthroughpageantry.com. a good pageant platform offers a specific solution to a cause that you are particularly passionate about. The author includes a list of causes from recent Miss America pageants to give ideas. These include “Global Awareness” (presumably a rebuke to the Flat-Earthers) and “Internet/Social Media Safety” (Be Best, y’all). You can also pay the site’s administrator money to receive their advice for winning at pageants. As an aside, the pageant Internet is pretty intense – there’s a whole economy of pageant consultants lobbying for money from tiara-seekers. Everything I personally know about beauty pageants I learned from watching The Simpsons, so all of this was new to me.

What else is in the magazine? A number of what seem to be regular features (“Humor in Holy Places,” “An Encouraging Word,” “Kids Korner”) whose pictured authors all seem to be white women. Many of their biographies emphasize the writer’s availability for speaking engagements. My favorite column was “Legal Matters,” whose name makes it seem like you might be getting an update on the law somehow. This month, authors Myron Allenstein and Rose Allenstein, have chosen to cite scripture extensively (including several block quotes) to support their contention that freedom comes from God. They do not mention all of the slavery in the Old Testament. The column itself has a little bit of a Fourth of July theme, but it’s very unclear what this has to do with the law.

Several columns appear on the same page as an advertisement for the author’s local business. This is true for “Healthy Living,” written by the owners of Apple a Day Health World. This column, which offers extremely specific advice about the exact amounts of at least 15 vitamins and nutrients, features a footer that informs the reader that “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.” Evidently the magazine’s commitment to “positive living” does not extend to “scientific living.”

The end of the magazine features a July calendar of events and homemade ads for works by local writers, including for a self-published thriller whose blurb promises that “the details of Pastor Jack Pate’s fall from his lofty pedestal to the depths of sin’s depravity mesmerize readers throughout this suspenseful novel.” Ripped from the headlines.

Who is reading this? Christian families, presumably. And people looking for a coupon for Stevi B’s Ultimate Pizza Buffet. By branding itself as “Your source for GOOD news!” it’s maybe for readers who find the Anniston Star or the Daily Mountain Eagle too gloomy, who want to peruse an endless series of full-color ads for local businesses punctuated by parfait recipes, tips for diabetic foot care, and tips for those with breathing problems. The core audience probably overlaps a lot with the people who enjoy receiving those coupons in their postal box (“It’s like getting money in the mail!”) and who clip and save advice columns to mail, in a passive aggressive fashion, to relatives that they secretly dislike.

Sometimes a free magazine teaches you a lot about a place, or at least about the editor’s vision of a place. Sometimes it gives you a few chuckles while you wait to get your oil changed. And then sometimes it just leaves you feeling a little closer to death, having spent time within its pages. Anniston/Gadsden Christian Family is closest to the latter. Mostly recommended for lining guinea pig confines and lining raised garden beds.

 

Montgomery Wal-Mart and Guns

I was the guy clutching the six-pack of Haynes all-white cotton athletic socks, a four-pack of vegetarian Italian sausages, a box of LED light bulbs, and the August 2018 issue of Guns and Ammo, that self-describedpreeminent and most-respected magazine in the firearms field, featuring reviews, news, and articles about firearms,” (italics theirs).

I’d picked the black-and-gray cover (Masuser M18: Boom! Shuck! Boom!) from a colorful rack near the car magazines, just near less preeminent and most-respected periodicals touting HEAVY BORE AR-15 PLATFORMS and Buffalo Heavy .44 Mags, designed for super deep penetration on large game, in fonts similar to those in porn mags.

And much ink has already been spilled comparing those two genres, the gun mags and the nudie books, but Wal-Mart sells the one, and not the other, and today I was in Wal-Mart having my masculinity constructed towards violence, and not lust. Besides, Wal-Mart sells the accoutrements for the gun mags too.

Big news in February was that Wal-Mart would no longer sell guns and ammo to people under the age of 21. Three years ago, Walmart ended its sales of modern sporting rifles, including the AR-15. But they still sell guns. And bullets. Bunches of ’em. And a whole bunch of magazines about guns (and toy guns, and movies with guns, and those aren’t what I’m talking about here).

Just like Guns and Ammo is framed as the centrist most-respected part of the gun world conversation, Wal-Mart is seen as the clean retail version of the gun-selling universe of the online world. The digital conversation about guns makes Guns and Ammo look like Mother Jones and the people that are buying assault rifles in parking lots and at gun shows (no background check!) are likely contemptuous of the low-magazine capacities of whatever Wal-Mart is pushing. But Wal-Mart makes them easy to find, just like the socks and vegetarian Italian sausages I was holding.

This isn’t a screed about the public health crisis that we’re obviously undergoing with the ridiculous saturation of guns across our culture. If you want to check out what Moms Demand Action are doing, the link is here, and they’re in the trenches at state capitols across the nation, trying to turn some common sense into law.

I own guns. More than two. And we can debate the merits of that decision just like we can debate whether it’s ethical to even be shopping at Wal-Mart in the first place.

But the thing about gun enthusiasts, paging through the monthly offerings of Guns and Ammo, is that they are under the impression that they are merely looking for a less obtrusive hip holster, or a device suitable for assassinating South Pacific mountain goats (horns that span as much as 60 inches across). The dude in front of you in the Wal-Mart check-out line buying an unusual array of canned catfood and nearly-identical looking tinned salmon and tuna? He may be thinking about a shotgun that can hold an entire box of 2.75″ shells so that he doesn’t have to stop to reload when he goes to kill all of his coworkers tomorrow.

These matters, we are led to believe, are the purview of the police and the security budgets of the private establishments where we shop. The police officer I saw on this trip to Wal-Mart was texting as she and her partner walked languidly towards to electronics department to sniff around someone who was getting a little too familiar with the DVDs and video games. The security guard enjoyed asking random people to produce their receipts as they left the store, as if an allegation of theft was a suitable excuse for detaining people attempting to leave the premises with their own property.

If we think metal detectors and pervasive security guards at every store, movie theater and public event are a) sufficient sacrifices of liberties and b) likely to succeed at stopping mass murders, we may wish to yet further reflect on whether the 24-hour establishment selling us eggs and floor polish and reloadable prepaid credit cards ought to also be selling us guns, as well as the periodicals that let us know about Kel-Tec’s important safety recall on its Sub-2000 rifles due to a heat treatment that could cause the barrel to rupture when a cartridge is fired, causing serious personal injury.

We don’t like to think much about the people that are reading an article encouraging people to buy a magazine-fed shotgun that the author claims saved his live “many times” during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Need a magazine that carries 20 shotgun rounds at once? The Mossburg makes them, and the shooter has a “distinct advantage when changing out loads to meet the need.” What need requires a shooter to maintain an advantage when changing out one 20-round batch of shotgun shells for another? That’s the business of Freedom Loving Patriots™ and likely none of yours.

Gun people have their own magazines, their own websites, their own television shows, and their own political candidates. And those candidates are the ones that currently make the laws. And the people for whom that is immensely frustrating? Those people have likely never spent much time lingering around the gun magazines and ammo aisles at their local Wal-Mart.

 

Don’t Give Up on Montgomery Schools

This morning’s New York Times (I read the paper version, I know, I’m old) brought news of new research out of Stanford that should shape the way we think about what counts as a successful school district. The article linked above, which you should absolutely read, does a good job of breaking down rock star education researcher Sean Reardon’s new study on educational opportunities. Herein, I give you a brief summary of the study, because it’s very clever. This part is a little nerdy. Then I give you the good news. Because I feel like a lot of times when we talk about the Montgomery schools we are full of bad news. Finally, I give you the bad news. Because there’s some pretty bad news in this study. Then I open the floor for discussion, if anyone out there in Lost in Montgomery-land is still listening. I know it’s been a while since we’ve written.

So, first, what is this new study and why does it have me so excited? Two things, really. First, it’s really big. It looks at 45 million students in 11,000 school districts. That’s a lot of data. Second, it’s methodologically innovative. Generally, studies that look at how well schools are doing just look at average test scores. That’s how Alabama decides which schools will be called “failing” for its private school giveaway tax credit.

This study calculated average test scores in third grade, but then went a giant step further and calculated growth rates in test scores from grades 3-8 for twelve different cohorts of students. This is a measure of student improvement over five years, and it’s meant to take a closer look at what, compared to the entry baseline, schools are adding to a student’s experience. Think about it this way: if everything performed as normal, a student should grow five years’ worth of schooling in five years. If a school is excelling, a student could have a higher growth rate. If schools are underperforming, a student would get less than five years worth out of their five years of seat time.

If average test scores were a good measure of school performance, we’d expect growth rates to be correlated with average scores. The thing is that those two measures – growth rates and average test scores – turn out not to be correlated. Which means, in the first place, that we should not be using average test scores to identify so-called failing schools, as they are likely to be simple reflections of socioeconomic status. This kind of ranking fails to incentivize growth and, as Reardon argues, may drive parents into districts with higher socioeconomic status, increasing economic segregation (ahem, Pike Road).

Before we get to changes in test scores, let’s see how Montgomery’s average scores stack up nationally. Here’s where our third graders stand.

We’re ahead of Chicago (the big dot there) but still almost one year behind the national average. Here’s where our eighth graders stand.

We’re almost three years behind the national average now, while Chicago’s getting pretty close to average. So Montgomery students are falling behind, while Chicago’s seeing closer to average test scores. Here’s what the change in scores looks like:

And here’s how to read this chart (all charts from the NYT interactive I linked to in the first paragraph). Chicago students are getting about 6 years worth of test growth out of their five years of schooling – a pretty remarkable achievement. Montgomery students are only getting three years – putting us in the bottom 1% of school districts nationally.

But wait, you might be saying, I thought there was going to be some good news here. There is. This study’s findings contain a few things that should give us hope that MPS can be improved. First, it finds that socioeconomic status is not destiny. A relatively poor (81% free and reduced price lunch) and racially segregated school system (10% white) like Chicago’s can make big gains, even though (unlike Montgomery) it has a large number of English language learners (about 17%).

And it means that big increases in per-pupil spending (while good) aren’t necessary. The Saraland schools spend some of the least in Alabama (only $7,789 in 2016) but saw 4.8 years of growth after 5 years. By contrast, wealthy Mountain Brook spent $12,162 per pupil and saw 4.9 years of growth in the same period. That’s not a lot of return on investment. Montgomery only spends $8,420 per pupil, and Chicago’s $12,000 seems like a lot until you realize that a) the cost of living is a lot higher there, and b) that’s still less than Mountain Brook. Here’s one more chart I pulled showing how we stack up against nearby districts.So we may not need to raise property taxes to get better schools, which is good, because it’ll probably be a cold day in hell before that happens here. And we can stop scapegoating race and poverty, because districts like Chicago do just fine. All of which is good news. It gets us out of the mindset of things we can’t fix and put us into a place to consider the things we can fix. Which is good, because MPS is in serious trouble.

But, there’s still plenty of bad news here. Mostly the part where our students are only getting three years worth of education out of five years of seat time. That’s positively criminal, and it’s something we need to take very seriously. Those years in grades 3-8 sort you out for success or failure in high school, where tracking makes it difficult for students identified as underperforming to break out of the molds we put them into. These are critical times, and MPS is failing at its core duty. We need to be having serious and data-driven conversations about what it means to get students at grade level, and how to increase proven practices like teacher collaboration and principal autonomy. Otherwise we’re failing our children – and worse, our community.

Discussion is welcome in the comments section.

 

The Shots

We’ve been here nine years now.

There are many landmarks and monuments in time, but one of them is the moment when we stopped calling the police after hearing gunshots. Before that point, we were diligent citizens, counting shots as best as we could, offering to speak to the officer that we assumed would be dispatched to the scene, noting the time of the shots and the direction from which the appeared to come. After that point? Just numbness, rolling over, trying to go back to sleep, a tiny prayer of thanksgiving that our house wasn’t hit by a stray bullet.

They almost always come when we’re in bed, but that doesn’t mean much because we’re in our late 30s, now our 40s, and we have full-time jobs, so we’re often in bed by 10 p.m. We’ve heard the shots as early as 9, once in a while during the day, two or three times while standing in the back yard, but mostly at midnight or – like tonight – at 3:30 a.m.

If the dog hears them, she’ll often let out a little growl, but she’s mostly joined our apathy, giving up on any reaction. Ears perk up, then she rolls over.

Sometimes I lay in bed with secret agent fantasies, like maybe one day I’ll get so experienced that I’ll be able to identify the kind of gun by how it sounds, the number of shots fired, the echo of the ballistic ringing. But I never learn anything substantive to add to this fantasy. Usually it’s just crack-crack-crack. Or sometimes crack-crack … crack-crack-crack. Then silence.

Then you can sit and wait for how long between the cracks and the sirens. Sometimes the sirens never come. I’d say it’s about half and half, maybe less than half the time that you hear a flicker of one, usually further away than the shots. Sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes fifteen. Once in a while you hear the helicopter. There’s never any roaring motor of a high-speed chase, although sometimes I imagine one of those too, with people shooting from car to car as they flee the police.

Most often though, I imagine a social scenario about what led to the shooting. Maybe it was anger over something that happened today at a high school – someone was discovered talking to someone else’s girlfriend. A short burst of shots might be unidirectional, aimed at a house while the people inside were sleeping, just a warning message. Sometimes there’s return fire. Maybe a deal went bad.

The number and order of the shots can really help you sketch out a scenario. Bang-bang. Was there arguing before? Bang-bang-bang. Was that return fire, or perhaps a few more shots from the first gun? Time passes. Bang. Was that a shot at a retreating car? Did it take someone a moment to find their gun? Were their fingers fumbling and bloody by this point in the exchange, making it hard to pull the trigger?

You can sketch scenarios about the quiet aftermath too. Maybe there is imperceptible yelling. Maybe there’s a baby crying. Maybe someone is alone, feeling the life slowly leaking out of them. Maybe the last thing they hear is some stupid TV show.

I’ve only seen a dead body once, at a gas station near our house. Ever since, we’ve called it The Murder Chevron. It was a guy laying face down in the parking lot while I waited at a red light after a super early morning airport run. I knew he was dead as soon as I saw him, and I read about the killing in the newspaper the next day. It felt really meaningful, seeing this guy’s body. The newspaper said he was from Selma, and they think it was about drugs and money. I used to know his name, but I forgot it.

I’ve never gotten gas at the Murder Chevron, even though it’s pretty close to my house.

Usually there’s nothing in the newspaper about the gunshots, which really reinforces the idea that there are two cities called Montgomery. In one, people shoot guns in the middle of the night (rarely in celebration or target practice, probably mostly at other human beings). In the other, the Chamber of Commerce is having some kind of event, or someone is raising money for some disease.

If we ever do see something the next day about the gunshots, we always feel a little connected to it. The sound of them unites everyone who is within hearing distance. We may not know the heart-racing exhilaration of having been the shooters, nor the pure terror of having been the targets, but we’re still witnesses, whether we roll over and go back to sleep or not.

It’s always a little surprising how far the sounds of gunshots will carry. At 2 a.m., the crack-crack-crack-crack-crack-crack-crack sounds pretty close, but you see in the paper the address and you’re always a little surprised that you could hear it from inside your house from several blocks away. Guns are loud. Our city’s nights are usually so quiet.

The other thing about seeing it in the paper or on the TV is that you start to get names, which really help you sketch out your little imagined scenarios. But those names fade, and you’re never at the funeral, never feel the loss of a newly-empty bedroom, or the pain of seeing someone who can’t really walk anymore because there’s a bullet in their hip. It’s just part of the fabric here, something that would freak out some European town for months, but is just part of the cheap cost of life here.

Only once were the shots really close, but they were really, really close. They were right across the street, and I’ve never been awakened by anything quite like that. It was a drive-by. It was more of a CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK and underneath it were a few pop-pop-pops. My stupid movie-trained-never-been-in- war brain told me that someone was emptying an automatic (maybe an AK from the clanking sounds of the bolt) while someone else fired a few shots from a pistol.

Nobody died.

The street was littered with shell casings, which the police came and collected. They said “the grandma” had been hit in the head but was OK. They said it was a domestic violence thing, where the dude was mad about something or other and wanted to send a message to his girlfriend, ended up hitting her grandma by accident, and punching holes in the windows of the nice little house across the street from ours. Our neighbor, who was a cop at the time, said later that he asked about the case and said that the girl didn’t want to press charges against the guy, even though she knew it was him. So I guess nobody got arrested, and those people moved away shortly thereafter, and we were glad.

That was several years ago, though, and nothing that dramatic has happened close to us since. Mostly it’s several blocks over. Mostly we never learn anything about what happens. They’re just the gunshots – punctuation marks in the night, waking you up, reminding you of the violent world just around the corner, of the fragility of life, of the ever-presence of firearms.

We have guns too.

The imagination does not confine itself in the way that residential poverty segregates our neighborhood from the ones giving birth to all of the gunshots. No, the imagination runs wild, and I imagine someone trying to kick in our front door, a different kind of pow-pow-pow, one that the dog would not ignore. And I imagine pulling out the gun and trying amid panic to squeeze off a few shots, at least to let the intruder know that this home invasion would involve threat to life and limb. And maybe that’s what they’re thinking in those other neighborhoods too. They just want to protect themselves and their property. They just want to be safe and sleep at night.

State Capitals Recycling

Alaska – Juneau – Has curbside pickup and multiple dropoff centers

Arizona – Phoenix – multiple kinds of curbside pickup and the city of Phoenix has a goal to divert 40 percent of trash from the landfill by 2020; and to achieve zero waste by the year 2050.

Arkansas – Little Rock – has curbside recycling

California – Sacramento – has curbside recycling

Colorado – Denver – you don’t even have to ask

Connecticut – Hartford – small city, free curbside pickup

Delaware – Dover – website sucks, but they offer recycling

Florida – Tallahassee – Yes. Garbage and recycling containers can be placed at the curb (no earlier than) the day before your scheduled pickup and need to be returned to the storage area near your home no later than the day following your service.

Georgia – Atlanta – curbside in a cart

Hawaii – Honolulu – mobile and permanent dropoff centers

Idaho – Boise – they pick it up, nice “CurbIt” campaign and branding

Illinois – Springfield – Abraham Lincoln does it personally. Just kidding. Curbside, but they charge for it. “Residents living in single family homes of 3 units or less in addition to residents who live in multi-unit buildings may now obtain recycling service on site from their waste hauler at the monthly rate of $3 per unit.”

Indiana – Indianapolis – curbside and drop-off

Iowa – Des Moines – Another “Curb It!” program covering municipal Des Moines and Central Iowa curbside pickup.

Kansas – Topeka – The county does it. Forty tons a day.

Kentucky – Frankfort – Even Franklin. “Franklin County incurs the cost of residential curbside trash and recycling collection. This service is provided by Legacy Carting.”

Louisiana – Baton Rouge – Yes. And it’s surprisingly robust.

Maine – Augusta – Their website is ironically itself rubbish. Appears they stopped curbside recycling pickup on May 1, 2017. But there are still four city-maintained drop-off sites.

Maryland – Annapolis – It is MANDATORY.

Massachusetts – Boston – “You can mix recyclable materials together and place them on the curb outside of your home on your recycling day.” Great website.

Michigan – Lansing – Curbside. Funded by a fee. With virtual tour of their MRF.

Minnesota – St. Paul – Weekly collection. As if you had to ask.

Mississippi – Jackson – Even Jackson has curbside. Mississippi.

Missouri – Jefferson City – Yes.

Montana – Helena – Even Helena.

Nebraska – Lincoln – Seems like the city provides 23 drop-off sites and a bunch of companies offer curbside pickup. Doesn’t seem efficient to have a bunch of companies competing to do the pickup.

Nevada – Carson City – Curbside recycling is available through Waste Management. They can be reached at (775) 882-3380.

New Hampshire – Concord – Live Free or Die … and curbside recycle.

New Jersey – Trenton – Even this place has it.

New Mexico – Santa Fe – This is hilarious and on-point. Of course they have rolling curbside.

New York – Albany – Manages one of the region’s largest single stream recycling programs with a 50.1% diversion rate.

North Carolina – Raleigh – Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services launched its first downtown recycling program in 2006. Today more than 130 downtown businesses recycle materials with Solid Waste Services. The City’s residential curbside recycling program began as a pilot program in 1989.

North Dakota – Bismarck – Even North Dakota. Curbside.

Ohio – Columbus – Yes. RecyColumbus is really cool.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma City – They have Russell Westbrook. And curbside recycling bin pickup.

Oregon – Salem – Duh.

Pennsylvania – Harrisburg – Yes. And they want to do more.

Rhode Island – Providence – Cubrside bins in the capital of the nation’s smallest state.

South Carolina – Columbia – Strange wizard. They have curbside bins.

South Dakota – Pierre – Both Dakotas have curbside recycling in their capital cities.

Tennessee – Nashville – Curbside pickup and a well-designed site.

Texas – Austin – Duh.

Utah – Salt Lake City – Bins and drop-offs and landfill tours.

Vermont – Montpelier – Recycleables have been banned from the landfill in Vermont since July 1, 2015 as part of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law. So … yeah.

Virginia – Richmond – Yes. Curbside covering 13 cities.

Washington – Olympia – Obviously. Curbside carts.

West Virginia – Charleston – Even West Virginia’s capital. Curbside.

Wisconsin – Madison – They publish a “Recyclopedia.” So, obviously.

Wyoming – Cheyenne – curbside recycling program was first implemented as a pilot program in January 2008. Service was first provided to 1500 residents in the Sun Valley area. The results were extremely favorable and city-wide recycling began in August 2010.

That means that we are the only state capital with no program. This is the link on the city-run site, that says that you can drive to one of two sites in the city to leave your recyclable materials with one of two private for-profit entities. So, just let those jugs and bottles pile up in your house for the weeks at a time that it will take you to have the time to drive to one of the two locations in this city that can recycle. We are the only state capital in this entire nation that is this pathetic at recycling. The only one. Every single other capital city has figured something out, whether they are larger than us, smaller than us, richer than us, or poorer than us. Everybody has figured it out except for us, and we have a giant empty shuttered recycling plant that was a bad idea before it was ever built and we just keep pumping our landfills more and more full every single day that goes by. All links current as of early May 2017.

Rock You Like a High Energy Folk Rock Hurricane: Free Magazine Review, RSVP Mar/Apr 2017

As the soon-to-be-butchered Ghost in the Shell points out (1), human memory is particularly fickle and ephemeral. It may make us who we are; at the same time, its existence may mask a deeper epistemological conflict. We certainly don’t get to choose what sticks in our memory. As we get older, this becomes more and more frightening. We try and hold on to things like anniversary dates, first kisses, an especially significant bit of moonlight. Sometimes we find that there are things in our minds we’d rather dispense with: distasteful happenings, random detritus. And then there are the bits we love, the odds and ends that we haven’t memorized on purpose but that have stuck with you for decades, each time seeming fresh and new. Such a memory, for me, is Sideshow Bob’s remark about air shows.

What kind of country fried rube indeed? I spent my youth at air shows, the easily impressed daughter of a Navy pilot. I remember that the SR-71 Blackbird was one of my earliest ideals of beauty. I saw multi million dollar planes come close enough to touch, risking in-flight collisions with colluded grace. Their force and variety impressed me. Sometimes I even got to sit in the cabin.

Now that I’m an Alabamian (going on a decade, sans buzz cut) I ask myself what I once thought was so great about these dangerous displays of government might. I can see my childhood wonder, my love of a spectacle, the gee whiz-ness of it all. What I can’t see is appreciating them as an adult. They’re incredibly loud and extraordinarily wasteful. They’re basically in-person recruiting pitches that don’t mention the free college, citizenship and health benefits (2). That’s not even to talk about the ways that they’re basically sound bombs designed to quiesce the working class so they don’t think about troublesome things like military spending. No need to look at that 10% budget increase, people – over here these two planes that your taxes pay for doing this all the time are maybe going to crash into each other! And there will be colored smoke!

Which might as well be the cover of RSVP’s new edition – a whiff of colored smoke. That would be nicer to look at than the existing jet plane promotional picture (3). It would have the added benefit of accurate advertising for the inside matter – puffs of colored smoke, largely punctuated by the occasional brute force reminder of what counts for some people as “fun.” But it’s the 70th birthday of the U.S. Air Force, an institution created to wipe humanity off the planet with nuclear weapons, and the show’s themed “Heritage to Horizon: A Century of Airpower since WWI,” and it features both the Thunderbirds and some trick French outfit, and it’s at Maxwell next month, so that pretty much guarantees that local journalistic bastion RSVP is going to feature the event on their cover.

Once upon a time we used to write a lot of free magazine reviews (4). We’d recently moved to town and were curious about the representations made by these magazines. Who paid for their journey into our hands? Who advertised within? What stories did the advertorialists tell about Montgomery and its denizens? Over time, the endless arrays of glossies beat us into submission. There were always new profiles to read, fresh rankings of orthopedic surgeons, of the moment photo shoots of events by the Mystic Krewe of whatever having their Thing White People Like in a Renaissance conference room dressed up to look like Undersea Paradise or what have you. From the beginning, these stories did not match up with our lived experience of the place. As we stayed longer, our skepticism metastasized from giggles to eye-averting shame. There came a point where, as the kids say, we couldn’t even.

But all good things deserve to be rescued from memory’s fickle tar pits, so we’re going to give this another try. Welcome back, readers, to Lost in Montgomery’s Free Magazine Review.

What’s it called? Montgomery RSVP: The River Region Guide for All Things Social. Notice the “all” in there – a bold claim, a “look no further” attitude. If you click that link above, you’ll see that we have reviewed RSVP plenty of times, and said enough about them to ensure that we’ll never, ever make “The List.”

What is it? This is not our first rodeo (but March 16-18 could be yours, as the events calendar informs us that the 60th Annual Southeastern Livestock Exposition Rodeo is coming to town: “Grab your cowboy boots and hat”). Indeed. So we know that RSVP isn’t just a publishing house. It’s also (and largely) an event planning firm whose lady employees pose every two months for some kind of photo of them being fashion-forward. This photo is usually attached to the “from the GIRLS” column that introduces each issue. The editor’s name is Peyton Flowers, a name that somehow could not be more perfect if a thousand Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduates slaved away on the matter for a thousand years on a thousand MacBook Airs. Peyton is evidently about to give birth. If you did not know this from the column, it might make you wonder why her co-workers were each touching her belly, besides to point out its impeccable drape in a bold printed tunic.

Where’d we find it? Where do you not find RSVP? Have you ever played that game Plague, Inc.? The goal is to engineer a virus that will kill all of humanity before a cure can be found. One winning strategy is to infect as close to 100% of the population before you begin to manifest deadly symptoms. This works because you (the virus) get taken for granted, just another thing to put up with, no need to worry about a cure. And then one day you (again, the virus) evolve the ability to dissolve organs through aspiration and it’s all over. Puny humans. About all we can say for sure is that RSVP Magazine has not yet evolved the ability to transmit by air.

What’s the deal? Oh, Montgomery, you’re so much more sophisticated than you seem – at least according to the folks at RSVP. Their vendors have hashtags and muted colors. Their models have no pores, and you don’t need to either, because they’re offering a 15% discount on something horrifyingly called a “chemical peel.” Sometimes their ads have an illegible black font on dark purple background, but maybe they’re just sophisticated like that. Mostly, RSVP’s advertisers are betting that their readers have pets (check), wear makeup (nope) and are looking for a home – preferably of new construction (double nope). And yet, we read. Like a moth to the flame, we read.

What sections do they have? Mostly, if we’re honest, when we read RSVP we want to see who made The List. The List is RSVP’s bi-monthly curated compendium of the intentionally integrated, “young” and well-dressed. These folks may be artists, chefs, or account executives. They may be especially well-rounded nurse practitioners. What unites people in The List is their willingness to pose in affordable-to-reach clothing against some kind of reclaimed wood or slate background. In flattering light. This month, it’s slate. And we’ve got people who are passionate about their “fur babies,” CrossFit, and God, perhaps in that order, perhaps not. Some are pretty in pink, others have a kind of Vampirella thing going on. What’s important is not who they are, but what The List says about Montgomery. It says that we’re a place with dessert menus, a choice of gyms, modern couches and upbeat positivity-drenched consumerism civic pride. And air shows.

What’s interesting in this issue? The best part of this issue is the list of coming attractions (here titled “what? when? where?” as if by some kind of dementia victim). Beginning on page 74, the listing promises that we can “BE IN THE KNOW … AND IN THE NOW” if we follow these listings and sign up online to RSVP’s own newsletter, “full of weekly SPECIALS, PROMOTIONS, LIVE MUSIC and more!” Let us leave alone for a moment, because we are feeling especially generous, the matter of the erratic all-caps behavior (see also: Facebook conversations with screaming Libertarian/racist family members). This will allow us to focus on the substance of the matter – who and what will light up our local experience across the next two months? Among what manner of delights shall we choose? However shall we plan our busy social calendar?

A surprising number of upcoming events involve cruises on the Harriott II – a vessel whose dining room our MML correspondent Jesseca Cornelson once described as “straight out of The Shining.” Then there are the ASF and Cloverdale Playhouse productions. Some seem cool – we are definitely in for The Tempest and The Crucible, the latter of which we are certain will only be about Salem and will have no bearing at all on contemporary world events. Afterward, we’re left with a number of one offs whose collective impact is to make our poor city seem about like the air show lover that it is. There’s trivia at heavy RSVP advertiser Blackfinn Ameripub. Plus side: Winner gets a $50 gift card. Minus side: You have to go to Blackfinn. Not gifted with either a knowledge of the arcane or especially defined cheekbones? Doug’s 2 has you covered with Contouring 101 ($55, March 15 & 22). Maybe if you go the first night (and don’t wash), your face will still look super-narrow when you go see a culture warrior, “Tater Salad” Ron White, perform at the MPAC the following evening.

March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, so newspapers everywhere are offering hot takes on corned beef, and bartenders everywhere are preparing for amateur night (unless they are, wisely, offering “Saint Practice’s Night” at other times). RSVP recommends that you go to “Dinner with Sugarcane Jane” at the Capitol City Club. It’s at 6:30: “Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with dinner and a show. You can expect an incredible performance with this high-energy husband-and-wife folk rock duo while enjoying a five-course meal…” The meal is $100 for non-members, $85 for members. Remember that value is not the only way to represent the worth of your soul.

If that isn’t dark enough for you, Blackfinn will reveal the winner of its “Best Leprechaun” contest at midnight. See, someday your prince will come.

But wait. There’s more. This is spring, the end of accursed Daylight Savings Time, the rebirth of Our Lord, the rolling back of the rock to expose … commodities values! That’s right, MPAC will host “The Price is Right! Stage Show” on March 24. We assume that either Drew Carey or his contractually obligated genetic clone will be there to help your peers guess the market price of a box of detergent. To attend this spectacle, you’ll pay $35 to $55. And then, of course, the piece de resistance – the arrival of the Easter Bunny. Leaving alone the weirdest of weird brand synergy between “I just died” Jesus and “I hid someone’s eggs” Bunny, can we all marvel for a minute that the rabbit’s arrival will be on ice? At the mall? With escorts from the Eastdale Mall “Teen Team?” If it seems like this is a setup for the next Friday the 13th movie, you can just put your pen away slowly – we’re wayyyy ahead of you (5).

Reader, the buffet stretches forth endlessly. You’ve got a Jamboree at Faulkner, a Troy Festival, a tennis tournament for the almost-dead … so much to look forward to, and that’s not even till the temperatures top 90. So for this and so much more, we salute RSVP. Without you, we’d never suspect exactly how banal active our beloved community could be.


Endnotes

(1) Save your time; the sequel isn’t really worth it, even though the animation is stunning. The characters spend a bunch of time saying quotations to each other on the order of “The ape wandering through the forest must step on many leaves.”

(2) Lest you say that we are in some way “anti-military,” consider that both of us have parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents who served in the military. Also maybe consider why being anti-air show might make someone anti-military, unless that makes your brain hurt too hard. In which case, probably go ahead and delete your comment.

(3) And for those who are going to pursue writing their comment anyway, I’ll just say that the Blue Angels are better than the Thunderbirds anyway. This is dogma. I was raised to believe this in the same way that some people are raised to believe that God made the world in seven days. Neither idea may be correct, but both are largely unfalsifiable as matters of belief.

(4) Okay, maybe “a lot” is a wild overestimation. We wrote some. That’s better than most people did.

(5) Easter Bunny no longer played by Sean Spicer.

Lost in Montgomery, Literally – Airport Version

Have you ever left something on an airplane?

Air travel can be hectic, sometimes confusing and harried, with flights delayed and high levels of fatigue. Although experienced travelers, this was our first time getting off the plane without getting one of our bags from the overhead compartment. But surely this sort of thing happens all the time. Right? A phone in the seatback pouch? A wedding ring? A coat forgotten in an overhead bin? Some paperwork from your job, left in there with the Skymall catalogue?

Ours was a paper shopping bag from Powell’s Books, full of treasures that we had acquired on New Year’s Day in Portland’s most famous bookstore. We also had acquired a few other books from Portland’s super-cool Cameron’s Books and Magazines. Seriously, if you are ever in Portland, do NOT miss that place. Our flight from Oregon brought us home to Montgomery, but first we had to go through Atlanta. Our precious books made it to Atlanta with us, and we purchased a pair of pants from the airport Brooks Brothers (the sale was too good to pass up) and we stuffed those into the bag with our books.

Our flight to Montgomery from Atlanta was delayed four to five hours. We were tired from New Year’s Eve and cross country travel. Although our bag of books went into the overhead, we got off the plane in Montgomery without it. We even left the airport without it. We realized what happened as soon as we pulled into our driveway, sometime around midnight.

If you’ve ever been to the Montgomery Regional Airport at 11 p.m. or midnight, you know that it’s pretty shut down. When there are no longer any outgoing flights scheduled, the last arriving flights are greeted by a complete skeleton crew. Exhausted, we decided that our bag would have certainly been found by the people cleaning the airplane, and decided to contact the airport first thing in the morning. Huge mistake. Huge.

The next morning, the Delta desk in Montgomery said that the plane had already returned to Atlanta, where it was cleaned. The Delta rep in Montgomery said that although they didn’t clean the plane until it returned to Atlanta, that there was no Powell’s bag in the lost and found in Montgomery. He was confident that the bag would have been discovered in the plane’s overhead compartment in Atlanta, and would be placed in a lost and found there. Here’s where the story begins to fall apart.

We were given a phone number for Delta’s lost and found in Atlanta, and encouraged to file an online claim for a lost item. We did that. Keep in mind, losing a personal item on the airplane is not the same as losing a checked piece of luggage. They track your checked bags with a number issued when you get your boarding pass. Lost carry-on items are given a claim number after the fact. This number makes it seem like Delta is paying attention to your bag. Though we’ve always been able to locate our checked bags with Delta, our experience with our lost carry-on makes it clear that they’ve got a ways to go before their system for finding lost bags passes even a basic muster.

A few questions we’ve been asked since we lost our bag:

Why did you leave the bag on the plane? A rare lapse in judgment. We’d been traveling for more than 15 hours when we finally got on our flight to Montgomery, itself delayed by more than 4 hours. We were pretty fried, and we’re lucky we remembered to grab our coats.

Couldn’t a fellow passenger have stolen the bag from the overhead compartment after you got off the plane? Yes. Technically that’s possible. But we were close to the back of the plane, so it’s unlikely.

Couldn’t the cleaning crew have seen the bag up there and stolen it? Yes. Technically that’s possible too. At this point we should mention again that there was nothing of real value in the bag, which looked like a beaten-up paper sack of books.

If you are one of those well-regarded high-status frequent travelers, does Delta give you any better customer service? Evidently not. One of us has had high Medallion status for years, and conversations mentioning this fact on Twitter with Delta have gotten us nowhere. Well, that is, they’ve gotten us the number for Hartsfield’s lost and found office. Where nobody ever answers the phone.

Would someone really steal a bag that contained a few worthless pulp paperbacks about UFOs, a bunch of critically-acclaimed but invaluable volumes of modern fiction, and some old issues of Doctor Strange comic books, plus a pair of pants that don’t fit? Seems unlikely. I mean, it’s not like we left a Rolex or iPhone on the plane. This paper shopping bag from Powell’s ought to have held minimal appeal for unscrupulous opportunists. This is why we think that the bag was probably turned in at some kind of “lost property” desk within the greater Delta hierarchy.

What’s going to happen next? One of us is going to be flying through Atlanta this week. She’s going to see if it’s possible to get access to what we imagine is a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style room of lost personal property. This may not work, but it’s worth a try. Since we’ve already left messages at all of the relevant numbers and hit up Delta repeatedly on social media, we’ve not got many options left.

Here’s the cold reality, folks: If you leave something on a plane, you don’t have a chance of getting it back. People leave TONS of stuff on airplanes all the time, and it’s clear that Delta (at least) does not seem to care at all about getting these things back to their owners. If they did, they’d have our paper bag full of books (and pants). We didn’t leave something nondescript like a blue coat, a cell phone, or key ring. We left a paper bag with a very specific logo on it. We can describe all of the contents. We were the last flight into ATL from Montgomery that night, so we know the flight was cleaned before people got back onto the plane. We are pretty sure that nobody would have let the plane take off again with a mysterious paper bag on board. Ergo, our bag is somewhere at Hartsfield. But there is nobody at Delta who’s willing to take our case or even speak to us as humans about this matter.

The lesson? Don’t leave anything on the plane. You’ll probably never see it again. And even if you’ve got a decade of Delta loyalty, they’ll probably treat you just like everybody else.