Kentucky -- From the waiting lounge in the airport I watch empty cars climb to the top of their endless cycle and drop in to the first loop of some 6 Flags rollercoaster ride. The big American flag billows in the wind as the rides continuously churn in the Kentucky heat -- operationg full steam with or without the crowds they were built for.
The rest of Kentucky is very much the same. Large spaces and empty places waiting for the next Kentuckian to be born to inhabit them. Or the next convert to give up the other lands of the lost and take up residence atop a riding mower in the Bluegrass State.
Kentuckians' light-hearted nature is belied by their fervent relationships with their lawns. Lone houses sit in fields of pritine, immaculate and religiously cared-for lawns. Lone trees reign supreme over millions of tiny, well-groomed minions. Irrigation systems, devoted lovers and God himself work year-round to ensure the success of the Lawn. The most successful lawns, of course, are the ones that look most casual -- as if nature simply deemed *that* house in *that* neighborhood the most worthy.
If the lawns could talk, they would tell tales of bored generations growing up amongst the finely cut blades, finding comfort in the familiarity of all of that open space, and settling in to create bored offspring of their own. The ones who escape the clutches of the grass clearly remember the dirt beneath the surface. "FAG BAR" is indelibly etched into the concrete outside of an establishment that had the audacity to encourage people to celebrate themselves. On a similar stretch of sidewalk in another part of town, children use multicolored chalks to write "Jesus Loves You." (But not if you're queer.)
On the nearby lawn a man wearing Levi's and a white T-shirt with a slicked pompador and a Shure microphone sings karaoke praises to all who walk or drive by. "Find Jesus, he is waiting to save you," he croons over an indistinguishable rock accompanyment. Across the street pretty boys ignore the religous ruckas and focus on more important matters: caffeine, gossip, and flirting with each other. Equivalents of watching the grass grow, but for heathens.
Home is but a memory in Kentucky, a recollection that the sun tries to burn out from behind your retinas. Sitting on a porch with all of your kin looks stereotypically stupid, until the gentle sway of the swing and the soft caresses of the afternoon breeze in the shade gently lull you into submission. "Stay a while," the grass whispers as breeze flow through it, "life is easy here..."
Easy to find a place to live, judging from the plethora of "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs lurking among the weeds.
A two-bedroom bachelor pad will set you back $435 a month in Louisville, lawn not included. Lawns start at $20,000 in the best parts of Louisville, box not included. A big lawn with a 6,000 square foot box for you and your bored offspring will set you back $300,000 -- and all rememenants of domicile individuality.
There are two types of houses in Kentucky: brick, and colored brick. But only one type of lawn.
Not everyone in Kentucky is under the lawnspell. Nathan, a lawngnostic, spent six months living in various cities around the U.S. before planting his roots in Louisville. A scientific method for arriving at a subjective opinion, we nonetheless question his results.
Over Austin? Portland? San Francisco? Kentucky won? Home of Kentucky Fried Chicken? Home of Wild Turkey, Jim Beam and a dozen other high-proof pain killers? Kentucky? Home of UPS? Nathan seemed to enjoy affordable housing, little traffic, and owning his own business: a stereotype- shattering vintage clothing shop called "Cherry Bomb."
Browsing through the amazing selection of duds, another patron fills us in on the local dance scene. He makes elaborate claims of a huge disco that rolls all night, and kicks off Saturday night with a drag queen show in an adjoining theater. His claims are verified at Best Records by the DJ for Connections -- who also sells us his latest mixed CD for $10.00. We forget to ask him to put us on the list, but show up at 11:30pm, feeling right at home amidst a sea of sweaty boyz happily being themselves.
Standing at the urinal, a boy next to me declares in a disgusted tone, "There's piss all over the floor!" Dick hanging out, urine stream on full, he proceeds to fish out a cigarette, his lighter, and put them both to use.
Bored with watching the grass grow, the majority of Kentucky can't wait to be 6-feet under it.
The government is in no hurry to tell its citizens how not to live. Smokers light up everywhere, motorcycle riders rumble around with the wind in their hair, and children bounce about moving vehicles unbelted. Penalties for posession of drugs that compete with tobacco, however, are stiff. A marijuana bust gone awry leads to the fatal shooting of a police officer by a criminal made desperate by fear of extended jail time. Television newscasts soaring over thousands of acres of growing tobacco blame the evils of marijuana for the death of one police officer.
No-one mentions the hundreds of thousands who are killed by cigarettes annually. Ever. That grassfire hasn't spread to Kentucky yet.
We leave the club at 3:00am, eyes burning from the lit smokes on the dance floor, ears aching from the endless tedium of happy happy house house. Dripping with sweat, we are shocked to find it hotter outside than in, where the smokey stench in our clothes is magnified.
A few short days ago we couldn't wait to get to Louisville, now we can't wait to get home. The grass is always greener before the plane ride...