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“Fucking cornbread, man.”

http://observer.com/2014/07/montanas-trail-house-brings-morally-hazardous-appalachian-cuisine-to-brooklyn/

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This is an historic occasion, y’all – the day I wish The New Yorker had been a little more condescending, a little more dismissive, toward the South.

As it is, Reeves Wiedeman’s 2012 profile of Paul Finebaum – titled “King of the South,” without the mercy of an archly placed question mark – is far too generous toward Finebaum and the yahoos he enables on his massively popular radio show.

I’d heard of Finebaum (and heard the show, once, when driving from Montgomery to Mobile) before I married into Alabama, but didn’t start listening to the live stream on a semi-regular basis until the autumn happiness of my household depended on how well the Tide was rolling.  I’ll admit that during this time of year – from last week’s SEC Media Days, until the season itself begins – I listen to Finebaum and to WJOX in Birmingham almost every day, for the simple reason that I’m jonesing for college football before, and more than, most others up here in this Carolina.

Finebaum’s is the most frustrating sports show on the air.  His enormous audience gets him the best guests a college football fan could ask for, and gives him the juice to ask them the pointed questions few other hosts would dare.

In between those, though, a listener has to slog through the ravings of the regular callers who’ve found a sad sort of celebrity through the Finebaum show.  Half the time their rants aren’t even directed toward the Tide or the Tigers, but at another Finebaum regular with whom they’re feuding.  It’s pandering passed off as populism, of the kind we’ve so loved in this country ever since its founding.

Since this New Yorker piece first appeared, Finebaum left WJOX and signed a big contract with ESPN (though his show still airs on JOX in the Birmingham market), which moved him and his show to Charlotte, where ESPNU is based.  Finebaum’s base gave him hell for moving up to ACC country; one of them told him – as a Georgian once told me – that he didn’t trust any state with “North” in the name.

To shore up the base, Finebaum made a few gratuitous jabs at the ACC, jabs that weren’t really answered by Florida State’s beating Auburn for the last BCS Championship.  Finebaum’s new book, co-written with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski and coming out in a couple of weeks, is called My Conference Can Beat Your Conference.

 

Three other notes:

– Can we require all who mention Harvey Updyke from now on to mention that the looney-tune isn’t even from Alabama?  He was born in Texas, raised in Florida, worked in Louisiana and Texas as an adult.  He’s one of the many Southerners – many Americans – who jumped on the Bear Bryant bandwagon.  Here, let Wright Thompson explain it.

– Can we also make more of the fact that Updyke spent most of his adult life as a law enforcement officer? Why is this not the most remarked-on (and terrifying) plot point in the whole sad story?

– Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News is quoted in the article, summing up well a point many others have made, that the core appeal of football to the South is this: “The North is bigger and stronger and they have more industry, but, if you just take our eleven boys and their eleven boys, we’re gonna whip ’em.”

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(Many thanks to my friend Sheryl Monks for posting this poem this morning.)

“Pastoral” by Natasha Trethewey

In the dream, I am with the Fugitive
Poets. We’re gathered for a photograph.
Behind us, the skyline of Atlanta
hidden by the photographer’s backdrop —
a lush pasture, green, full of soft-eyed cows
lowing, a chant that sounds like no, no. Yes,
I say to the glass of bourbon I’m offered.
We’re lining up now — Robert Penn Warren,
his voice just audible above the drone
of bulldozers, telling us where to stand.
Say “race,” the photographer croons. I’m in
blackface again when the flash freezes us.
My father’s white, I tell them, and rural.
You don’t hate the South? they ask. You don’t hate it?

— from NATIVE GUARD

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In case you’ve ever wondered about the exact boundaries of Braves Country:

 

Happy Opening Day, y’all.

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I need to post this in a hurry. A guy from a tree service is coming this morning to give me an estimate on bringing down a tree in my front yard, a tree mangled by the crew hired by Duke Energy to protect their power lines.

I’d say that I’d be willing to pay higher rates for Duke to bury their lines, except that it seems like that would be a smart investment on their part, one that would save them millions of dollars over time. Right now they’ve got crews out all over my part of the state, trying to restore power to the tens of thousands of customers who lost it during the most recent ice storm.  I don’t begrudge those crews their overtime pay – I’ve paid for it already.

And according to Duke’s CEO, I can look forward to paying for them to clean up the ash ponds they were supposed to clean up years ago.

So far, at least, Duke has said they will pay for cleaning up the Dan, which is getting even dirtier (but not dirtier enough to be another violation, so the river’s got that going for it, I guess).

But I don’t believe them.

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This is the time of year when, without any waning of my love for college football (though, this year, my college football love has waned like a space-age waning machine), I start to see visions and dream dreams:

Tobacco fields east of the fall line, lying fallow, frost-topped, and like to endless out into the dusk; the white concrete of I-40 through RTP, crowded and hurtling on the edges of rush hour; the Uwharries in winter, gnarled as an old man’s knuckles; the smell of cured brightleaf pervading Winston-Salem; the steel and glass of Charlotte’s skyline, lit up triumphal; the climbs and turns of certain roads across the Blue Ridge.

In the air of all these places, holding them together, are exuberant voices, the squeak of rubber soles sprinting and stopping and cutting on hardwood, and the bounce of the ball. All this is what I think of first when you say ‘ACC Basketball,’ even before I remember all the courts where I’ve watched the games, even before I think of Greensboro Coliseum or the LJVM. (And yes, I’m one of those dreaded Big Four snobs.)

So I’m especially honored to be debating the great sportswriter Dan Collins about his new book The ACC Basketball Book of Fame, over on his blog. The idea of me debating ACC basketball with Dan is a bit like the idea of me playing basketball against David Thompson, but I’m having fun doing it.

Please feel free to jump in and share your thoughts on the ACC’s greatest, and be sure to check out Dan’s book.

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I’m Dixie Babbling in New York City this week, which isn’t as disorienting as you might think.*  Our first night in the city (again), my wife and I met some friends in the East Village for a dinner of “Ukrainian soul food.”  As we left I noticed a big BBQ sign down the street, and told how I once came to NYC for meetings and was taken for lunch to a place in Midtown offering “authentic Southern barbecue.”

It was a gracious, if misguided, gesture, and I wondered then – and again to our friends – why in New York you’d try to offer “authentic” barbecue.  To which our friend Matt replied, with great wisdom, “All I can say is there’s a Chinatown here.”

He could have reminded me that we just walked out of a Ukrainian restaurant, because the concept applies.  New York is not a city of immigrants; it’s THE city of immigrants, and that includes great waves of immigrants from within, from “flyover country,” from all those places that are most definitely not New York City.

So my Dixie Babbles aren’t that foreign in Manhattan.  No one has looked at me funny when I speak.  Mine is far from the only drawl in the borough.  I’ve known so many who have left the South for New York and, while retaining much of their Southernness, never looked back.*  An old and grand and thriving strand of American fiction rests on the notion.

And though there is no “Dixietown” or “Little Hicksville” neighborhood, New York City does have its own old enclave of transplanted Southerners: Harlem.  The African-Americans who left Dixie and found a home north of 110th Street rarely self-identified as Southerners – for damn good reasons – but the South’s culture was integrated long before its water fountains.  Try to imagine the South without front porches, okra, and the banjo – all of which have African roots.  If you find yourself in Manhattan and want a meal that will remind you of home, skip the Midtown barbecue and head to Harlem.

* I’ve been to New York more times than I can count, but still, every time I arrive, I have a momentary disruption that runs something like this: “Dear God, the people; all these people.  How can there be this many people, and how can they all be in one place for anything other than a football game?  And, oh Lord, this is only a tiny fraction of them.  Oh gracious God, please set me down in the middle of a nice quiet swamp before I go out of my mind.”

* Harold Hayes, the editor who turned Esquire into a cultural force in the 1960s, was the son of the Baptist preacher who was pastor of my great-grandparents’ church in my hometown.

Postscript: I’d written this post in my notebook during a break from sightseeing, then walked through Chinatown to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.  In the midst of a fascinating if somewhat overpriced one-hour tour, the guide made reference to the South’s current struggles with Hispanic immigration – the South’s first experience with mass influx of non-English speakers since the 1700s, and one we haven’t handled especially well; we should own up to that.  She mentioned she’d lived in the South, but then hastened to add, “Don’t tell anyone that.”  Ha ha.  So glad to know we can still condescend toward the South and Southerners, even in a discussion of the evils of discrimination.

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