A Nice Civilized Family Meal At The Kitchen Table… With a Toddler

The Real South: More Like Andy Griffith, Less Like The Beverly Hillbillies

Because I’m used to talking to hundreds of people every week at work calling from all across the country, I can usually correctly figure out what state the person is calling me from based on their accent over the phone. American accents fascinate me. Because everyone’s got one. Even if it’s simply the official “flat accent” (covers the area from Omaha, NE to Des Moines, IA to Peoria, IL) which is how news broadcasters are taught to speak. Since I am so keen to pick up on a person’s accent, I’ve noticed an odd thing about movies and TV shows. A major lack of Southern characters and the Southern accent.

First I thought it was no big deal. That maybe less people speak with a Southern accent than any other accent. Wrong. According US Census Bureau, more people live in the South than any other particular region of the country. To be exact: 36%.

It’s official: More people speak with a Southern accent in our country than any other accent, even those who have “no accent”.

Most TV shows take place in the Northeast and California. So I understand the lack of the Southern accent because of that. But if most people live in the South, why not simply make more shows that take place in the South? Is it because the other 64% of the country won’t be able to see past the stereotypes they have in their own minds? When a show does have Southern character or setting, it’s completely written into the script as a unique feature in of itself.

A few movie exceptions come to mind: Reality Bites takes place in the country’s 4th largest city: Houston, TX. And amazingly, no cliché Southern references to be found. They just made a good movie that just happens to take place in the South. And one of my favorite movies of the 2000’s is Big Fish. It takes place in Alabama, yet if the Southern accents were removed, the movie would still be the same movie. In other words, the fact it took place in the South didn’t add or take away from the movie. And that’s what I want to see more of. Just simply make more movies in the South, not movies about the South. Why not cater to the majority every once in a while?

With TV shows, this concept of “being Southern but not being blatant about it” is much rarer. The Andy Griffith Show (Mayberry, NC) and King of the Hill (Arlen, TX)l are rare examples. Take away the accents and they’re still a charming shows pointing out the quirks of life in a small town.

I will give credit to LOST. Sawyer is from Jasper, AL. He’s not portrayed as a “dumb Southerner”. In fact, his con artist lifestyle shows he’s actually a pretty clever guy.

While the Southern accent and its many unique features like “ya’ll” and “fixin’ to” may sound ignorant to others, if the Southern accent (and language) is the majority then why must it continue to be treating like the minority?

We Southerners breed the rocket scientists that send people to outer space and the moon. Florida, Alabama, and Texas contain the headquarters for our country’s space programs. We also have Atlanta which blesses the nation with fine networks including The Weather Channel, The Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. Plus, we don’t like unions, so we build foreign cars here providing jobs for our residents: Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, and BMW.

“White trash” societies are everywhere, as the Jerry Springer show proved well. But somewhere all the way because of our racist past and slower speech patterns the South has become a believable stereotype of lower class of people to many onlookers.

In my version of growing up in the South, the only racist tension I experienced was the fact that the illegal Mexicans were taking the jobs the rest of us didn’t want. And that’s everywhere. As for a different way of talking, it’s just as easy to pick on the accents of Midwesterners or New Englanders.

Beyond the branded ideas of Elvis, Dolly Parton, fried chicken, and beat-up old pick-up trucks, there lies the Real South. In closing, I have provided a tip of the iceberg list of non-stereotypical Southern people and companies:

Abraham Lincoln: born and raised in Hardin County, KY until age 21
Brad Pitt: born in Shawnee, OK; raised in Springfield, MO
Johnny Depp: Owensboro, KY
George Clooney: Lexington, KY
Dave Matthews: moved to Charlottesville, VA at age 19 (from Johannesburg, South Africa)
Jason Mraz: Mechanicsville, VA
Ed Helms and Brian Baumgartner (“Andy” and “Kevin” from The Office): Atlanta, GA
Stephen Colbert: Charleston, SC
Courtney Cox-Arquette (“Monica” from Friends): Mountain Brook, AL
Owen Wilson: Dallas, TX
Renee Zellweger: Katy, TX
Ben Folds: Winston-Salem, NC
Justin Timberlake: Memphis, TN
R.E.M.: Athens, GA
Better Than Ezra: New Orleans, LA

American Idol has been dominated by Southerners. Not only is host Ryan Seacrest from Dunwoody, GA, but for all except two seasons (the Season 9 winner was Lee DeWyze from Mount Prospect, IL, and the runner up was Crystal Bowersox from Elliston, OH), the winner and/or runner-up was from the South, and the one only who ended up during Country Music was Carrie Underwood:

Season 1: Kelly Clarkson (Fort Worth, TX)
2: Ruben Studdard (Birmingham, AL), Clay Aiken (Raleigh, NC)
3: Fantasia Barrino (High Point, NC); Diana Degarmo (Snellville, GA); Top 3 Finalist, Melinda Doolittle (Brentwood, TN)
4: Carrie Underwood (Muskogee, OK); Bo Bice (Huntsville, AL)
5: Taylor Hicks (Birmingham, AL); Top 6 Finalist, Kellie Pickler (Ablemarle, NC)
6: the exception- Jordin Sparks (Glendale, AZ)
7: David Cook (Tulsa, OK)
8: Kris Allen (Jacksonville, AR)

Coca-Cola: Atlanta, GA
Dr. Pepper: Waco, TX
Fed-Ex: Memphis, TN
UPS: Sandy Springs, GA
Wal-Mart: Rogers, AR
Disney World: Orlando, FL

Red Foxes are Majestic, Magical, Medieval Creatures; Especially When It Snows in the South

When people from outside of the South think of the weather down here, my guess is they probably assume we hardly ever get snow. And while our precipitation amount doesn’t compare to New England or the Midwest, every year I’ve been alive it’s snowed at least once during the winter season. (It even snowed once in April of 1988; I got out of school early that day).

And yes, it only takes an inch or two to shut down the whole town because most cities only own one snow plow, if that. Plus we’re not used to driving in it. There’s no shame in that.

Yesterday as I walked through Aspen Grove Park to Border’s as I do every day during my lunch break, I noticed that my footprints were the only ones in the snow. This mental image popped in my head of a Red Fox. Evidently I associate Red Foxes with snow and woods.

A little while later as I walked back through the park to my office, I saw animal footprints I wasn’t familiar with. I was used to seeing people walk their dogs there, surrounded by all the squirrels on their apparent cocaine highs. So I assumed these were raccoon prints.

About 45 minutes later back at my desk, one of my co-workers who was on the phone at the time, started pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows we have as walls in our office. It was a big Red Fox. Less than a 100 feet away. Coming from the park I just got back from, journeying all the way around the building with its glass walls.

There is just something truly mesmerizing about a Red Fox. It’s so rare to see one in real life, especially right around the corner from a Starbucks. Watching that fox make his way around our office made me feel like I was in a magical medieval movie like The Princess Bride or something. Watching a fox trot through the snow in a business development is enchanting.

I can’t stop thinking about that beautiful, rare, red creature. I want to tame it. Make it my loyal pet. Man’s best friend. The Red Fox.

In fact, I’m having trouble thinking of a more beautiful animal in this whole world. Magnificent and majestic. It’s no coincidence that Red Foxes have been a part of folklore for centuries.

And in more modern culture like the recent movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox. And the 1973 Walt Disney Robin Hood cartoon (where Red Foxes took the place of people). And Star Fox for N64. And in the ‘80’s cartoon show, David the Gnome, he rode on Swift the Fox, who was always getting a splinter in his paw.

Looking at a Red Fox in real life can be confusing. Am I actually looking at a real fox or is it an anthropomorphic clone that escaped from Chuck E. Cheese’s? Yes, foxes are that awesome.

Deviled Eggs are the Sushi of the South East

There are really only two ways to get authentic deviled eggs. A) Go to a “covered dish” church supper. B) Go to a family reunion. Deviled eggs are a delicacy, the sushi of the South. The key is finding a Southern woman who is willing to not only take the time to prepare them, but who also has the appropriate deviled eggs dish plate that keeps them from sliding around and tampering with the integrity of their presentation. And of course, as any deviled egg connoisseur knows, without the red paprika sprinkled on top, they’re simply just boiled eggs.

The Technicalities of Buffalo, New York and Louisville, Kentucky (and Middle Born Children)

If it were possible for a human being to have a sister city, mine would be Buffalo, New York, recently featured on The Office as the location of Jim and Pam’s wedding. To remove that city from the story of my life would totally change my existence. That’s my mom’s hometown. Her family moved to Alabama in 1973 when she was 15.

That’s the thing with Italians living in the South. They haven’t been here very long. Ask an Italian living in the South and as the story unfolds it is revealed that they moved only a generation ago from somewhere in the Northeast, or Chicago, or Ohio at worst. (Southerners are English, German, Irish, Scottish, African-American, and most recently, Mexican. Any nationality outside of those is exotic.)

As I researched Wikipedia to learn how the Midwest got its name (because I was annoyed that the Midwest is not really the Midwest but instead makes up the mid-central-northern area of our country), I learned that there a few cities that though they are literally not in the Midwest, they have the culture of a Midwestern city because of their proximity to that region. These cities are Louisville, KY; Eerie and Pittsburgh, PA; and fittingly for this writing, Buffalo, NY.

I wasn’t surprised by Louisville; I’ve been there enough to know that Southern accents are not common in that city. And Eerie and Pittsburgh are close enough to Ohio for me not to question. But Buffalo caught me off guard. What makes it Midwestern as opposed to Northern?

Buffalo is sandwiched in between two of the Great Lakes- Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Closeness to the Great Lakes is a Midwestern trait, whereas being near the Atlantic Ocean is a Northeastern trait. And because the city is removed from the too-close-for-comfort culture of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, it has a friendly reputation, more comparable to those Nebraska corn growers.

So it is confirmed, Buffalo is a technically a Midwestern city.

Last week while writing Manspeak, Volume 12, I refreshed my memory of the fascinating world of Birth Order and how it affects our personalities. Even if a person doesn’t know much about it, he or she can easily pick up on it and relate. So after explaining the basics of how it works, I always like to ask the person what they think my birth order is. Over 80 percent of the time, people guess that I’m a middle child.


Which is a great guess. The middle child often is artistic, laid-back, and had the worst trouble deciding on their college major (which I definitely did). But I’m not a middle child. I’m the first born child. I should be more uptight, more controlling, more motivated, and more aggressive. But I’m not. I live the life of a middle child.

So why, like Buffalo acting like a Midwestern city, do I act like a middle child?

I was raised by middle born parents, who also were raised by middle born parents. And my behavior is only encouraged, being that I married a middle born (who ironically was raised by two first-borns). When I am in a situation where I need to take charge, I can and I do. But what I prefer is to just go with the flow. Not surprisingly, it’s a middle born trait to analyze their identity and purpose.

Technically, Buffalo is a Midwestern city and I am a middle born child. And somehow that makes me wonder, if a sister city could have other siblings, would Buffalo would be a middle child too?