Saturday, 23 November 2013

This Old School

In roughly seven months....my old junior high school (Anderson, Bama) will shut down finally.

I attended there for nine years, and then passed onto another local school for the final three. The school's best years have come and gone.

It was the small school that tended to operate without any threats on the kids there. The teachers were typically level-headed (some exceptions). You got a four-star education in a small town atmosphere.

Anderson is a unique place. It's in the middle nowhere, where rural life meets up with rural expectations. Cursing wasn't allowed. Excitement could be achieved by discussing last night's episode of the Six-Million-Dollar Man. If anyone went off to the Smoky Mountains for the summer vacation....that was big time stuff to discuss. You wore five-dollar jeans from Sears, and Chuck Taylor tennis shoes that you bought for seven bucks (they are sixty to seventy now, and made in China).

As the 1920s came....the glorious era after WW I.....so came Ford and the vehicles. Farming reached a point where you made an actual income and had money left over at the end of the year. The town of Anderson survived off a couple of Mom and Pop shops, a church or two, and a sawmill. Along came the cotton gin, a real doctor, a theater, and Anderson started to boom in the 1920s and 1930s. Depression may have come to Anderson in some form after 1929, but it wasn't the same thing as you would have noticed in Chicago or New York. They made money in Anderson, and spent money in Anderson.

By the end of the 1930s.....the locals had deemed the necessity of putting up a real school....bricks and all.....like other towns in the area were achieving. Two families donated up property in what was "new" Anderson, and the county agreed to put up a five-room brick school with a gym.

It's safe to say in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.....the town was connected to the school. The Halloween carnival was a four-star affair where just about everyone showed up for at least an hour or two. The Thanksgiving meal? You'd typically see three hundred folks for that dinner at the school. The basketball games could draw a crowd of two hundred on a good night.

The school building was part of the community.....part of it's drawing card.....part of it's success.

Somewhere in the 1980s....modern culture arrived at Anderson, and it ran through an odd period. To some degree....things would never be the same. 

By the early 90's....the general store was mostly run-down. The gas station business had hit absolute maximum and bumping against new environmental regulations. Booze arrests and fines paid a bigger draw for the cop hired to keep things quiet and simple.

About a decade ago....the school board noted things were getting tight on the budget. It was the hint of things to come. Two or three years ago....they got to the decision of making Anderson's school into a six-year deal. That virtually changed the perception of parents and the school forever. Numbers decreased, and the county board made their decision that this is the final school year for Anderson. 

The property? Well....it gets interesting because there's some agreement by the county back in the 1940s era about it reverting back to original ownership if they ever shut down the school. Some judge will sort through this.

There are four basic pieces to the property. The ballfield has limits......maybe the town will buy it and keep running softball out there.

The new gym? It's got potential as a church, or as some business operation.

The property out on the road? Maybe residential property.

But the main building....the brick building of some seventy-years old? It's hard to say. Heating the old brick building costs a ton of money. Renovating it.....revolves around money and what purpose could you dream up? An antique shop?

There are five or six thousand folks who floated through Anderson Junior High School over the years and still living. Most everyone has some vivid memory. It's the kind of thing that three folks will gather on a porch....sip ice tea and chomp on gingerbread cookies....reminiscing about some teacher's explanation of 'banana juice', the boring English classes with the diagraming mess, and the Halloween carnival episode where someone sat on a cake by accident.

We were young, naive and innocent once. And it was a good feeling.

The Beer Solution

My brother has a couple of theories in life....which tend to be concreted down.  One of those....is that we need to revert back to the 1970s hard-eight-hour-physical-jobs, where a guy wrapped up things and was just too tired to get into much trouble after work.  Today, there's all these guys who have no employment.  They start to drift around, turning into thugs, and getting themselves into trouble.

This is the same group who gets mostly wrapped around the axle on politics, NCAA football, affairs with the neighbor's wife, spending a bucket of the wife's income on some garage project, doping up, and stealing stuff from their friends and associates.

I came across this interesting Dutch article this week, which suggests a solution for such problems.

Up around Amsterdam, there's this park.....Oosterpark, where the unemployed guys....the homeless guys...and those just out to cause trouble...would meet.

They'd meet up at the park and drink heavily throughout the day.  Naturally, this led onto issues for the neighborhood, and frankly.....some folks just said 'enough'.

The solution?  Well, it's an odd one.

The city had this foundation group who stepped in.  They had some cash.  The park needed minor maintenance and cleaning.  So a deal was worked out.

The deal is simple.  You show up as just a guy on the street....around nine in the morning.  The deal starts with two beers (yeah, I know it's early but real drinkers drink this way).  Then you have to perform some clean-up work.  You can't just disappear.....you have to pick up a rake and do some actual work.

Around lunch....comes a warm meal, a half-pack of tobacco for rolling cigarettes, and two more free beers. Then in the mid-afternoon....comes the ten Euro ($13) and one final free beer.  The guys conclude things, and typically walk home after that.

Fights?  Well....they kinda stopped.  Arguments in the park?  They stopped.  Guys laying around the park in midday from a surge on booze?  It doesn't happen now.

It's not clear about success in this episode.  It appears that most of the guys still drink....after work.  But they tend to be more physically tired....so the frustration level is lessened.  Arguments?  The locals will say that they don't hear the big talk like they used to.

The guys admit....it's regular beer (the five-percent type), and not the heavier stuff (eight to ten percent).  Getting drunk off two beers is a bit difficult.

My brother would say this proved his philosophy on this business....hard work cures life's ills.  I'd tend to say that it proves the promise of a beer....might be a better solution in life than social programs, political gimmicks, and million-dollar homeless foundations.