Friday, January 02, 2004


Three views of Nashville at Christmas

the fourth set of threes

The Republican's parents are older than mine, and from a different social class than mine. This means that they are from the last generation to grow up during segregation, and that they were affected greatly by the social change that followed the legal defeat of that system. They are good people, kind to others, present at charity events like many of their contemporaries, and generally regarded well by their peers.

They also own Nashville's only albino lawn jockey.

The Republican's parents had always had a lawn jockey. A lawn jockey (for those of you who didn't grow up in the South, or are too young to have ever seen one) is a small statue generally about two and a half feet high. It's a black man or boy dressed in riding gear or a caddy outfit, and he's got one arm to his side and one arm outstretched, often holding a brass ring. When people rode horses still, this is where your visitors would tie their horses when stopping in to say hello. Lawn jockeys are usually made of concrete or cast iron, and often they are caricatures of black men or boys falling under the category of Sambo or Uncle Tom.

Lawn jockeys became redundant decades before desegregation and political correctness, but people still enjoyed them in a nostalgia sort of way. I remember the first time I ever saw one as a little girl in Augusta, I remarked to my mother about the large ugly garden gnome. My mom explained what it was, and that most people found them offensive nowadays, and that personally she thought it was rather tacky but if people wanted lawn jockeys by their mail boxes or in their rose beds no one could do much about it. People once had affection for their lawn jockeys. They named them. And The Republican's parents were of that generation that owned a lawn jockey for decades, and probably never thought anything negative about it.

Until one day not too many years ago, when The Republican's parents had a black businessman friend coming over for dinner. Suddenly the realized their landscaping might offend. So his dad, short on time, and in a move that would only make sense to other men from his time and place, simply painted the jockey's hands and face white. Not flesh colored "white", but rather a stark, ghostly wall flat white that he probably had laying around in his basement. The businessman friend made fun and light (what the hell would you do?) and it was all considered well, this literal whitewashing of the lawn jockey.

As I went up the steps to greet The Republican's father for the first time, a kind older gentleman who was happy to meet me and showed nothing but affection towards his wife and son in my presence, the albino lawn jockey stared at me, his face and hands catching every hint of light in the December night.

My sister is sixteen, and into musicians. My parents love that she hangs out with musicians; everyone wants their child to end up with someone like themselves, and Sara's current guy-friend-that-she-hangs-out-with-but-who-is-not-her-
boyfriend could not be a better match in their eyes. A is a second generation professional musician, and at 16 is already playing venues in town with some degree of success. When he's not drumming he works in the cafeteria of an elderly home. I like him, and Sara wanted me to take her to one of his shows last week. I didn't want to go, but she persuaded and I folded. After all, it had been a few years since I had been out to see a band play in Nashville, and it's almost always worth my time.

The band was very good. I had expected a bunch of teenagers who didn't practice enough; instead I found their sound far more polished than many college bands. Of course, being 17 years old, they called themselves Money Shot.

"Oh good god." I mumbled, head in hand, as one of Sara's friends told me the name of the band. I started laughing.

"What?" asked my little sister. "Why are you laughing?"

I explained the porn terminology to Sara and she just looked puzzled; I kept laughing for the rest of the night because I was surrounded by drunk 17 year olds. This club, which I'll call 3L to avoid libel, wasn't carding anybody. The kids were very young, between 15 and 19 but most under 18. And they drank a lot, and they were stupid.

As we got in the car to go, I put on my crotchety old lady voice. "You know, back in my day, we had to hide our underage drinking! There was none of this out in the open, in bars! WE had shame! And hiding! We had to sneak our drinking like decent folks!"

Sara just shrugged. "Those drinking were mostly the rich kids. You know my friends and I can't afford to drink in bars."

I sighed, and knew she was safe, because it was true. I like this drummer boy, A. I told my parents Sara should go to more shows because all the girls are there for the guitarists, and none for A, who is really a decent guy and should have his own little table of friends and followers.


I was going to write about the village here, but I'll save that story for unlucky number 13.

Instead, let me tell you about East Nashville. With one story about desegregation already on this page, I might as well put up another.

In the 1960's, the idea of desegregation and interstates happened to Nashville at about the same time. The answer to city planners seemed quite clear; they used the new interstate to neatly bisect the black part of the city from the white. And with a great roaring of machinery and black asphalt, East Nashville (which is rather sort of north of town, but never mind the vernacular) was cut off from most city dweller's everyday experience. One could now live in Nashville for decades - and indeed many did - without ever driving or walking the streets across the Cumberland river, just within eyesight of the state capitol.

Consider the interstate a river that is 20 times harder to cross. One hundred years ago, there were ferries from one part of Nashville to another, back and forth across the Cumberland, which even back then was something of a biological dump full of factory pollution. Now think of an interstate, which can only be crossed by one of two bridges in your car, bridges most impractical for walking. Big concrete walls - sound barriers - went up along this divide, for the good of people living on
either side.

Get the picture?

Things had changed for the better when I was in Nashville last though. The stadium (which is horribly ugly) now lies just across the river from the 2nd avenue district, down where the Shelby Street bridge used to be. Since the stadium is there, the neighborhoods have picked up some respect; young professionals are moving into East Nashville and (whisper it) they are white. East Nashville is "the new Hillsboro", and neighborhoods full of gently rotting Victorian architecture got a
boost a few years ago when a tornado ripped through, injecting wads of insurance money into the streets it left wrecked. City officials were able to use this wreckage as an excuse to get out there and rip up a lot of old shacks that were unstable before the natural disaster, and were now at precarious angles in the aftermath.

Of course, bereft of attention for years, East Nashville has its problems; it's very easy to get lost on roads planned out for a streetcar city. I had to be careful as I drove out there one night to pick up my friend Skeet. I was proud that I did not get lost on the way there. We did get lost trying to get back over the river. Confident in
my knowledge of Nashville streets, I told Skeet I knew how to get downtown faster than he did.

"We'll just take the Shelby Street bridge" I said. I knew this bridge was right beside the stadium. You could even see it in the night. I even knew where it came out on the other side of the river.

When we got there, the bridge was closed. A quick stop at the gas station had the attendant laughing at us. "Shelby Street Bridge has been closed for a few years now. Opens back up in April, but I'm not counting on it."

"So it's the Jefferson Street Bridge or the interstate or nothing?"

"Yup" said the man, smiling, all teeth, laughing.

Navigating to the Jefferson Street Bridge would be a pickle for me with no map. Did I mention how easy it is to get lost in East Nashville? Skeet and I sighed and got back on the interstate. Skeet lives in East Nashville, and knows no other entrance or exit to the rest of the city.

But they are opening old bridges, up in Nashville. Things are changing. And everyone will move, and shift, and with any luck welcome back a piece of the city cut off by bad decisions so long ago. After all, the stadium is in East Nashville, and most of the city's champions who play there would be able to tell you how important it is, this exchange and release of old restrictions, and they would laugh hard at the idea of an all white game of any sort at all.

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