greetings from the bottomless pit



now playing: michael hedges, “i carry your heart”


so it appears that yours truly may be on the moral majority’s radar this week.

some backstory…

last week, my buddy todd came over here with a newspaper article in hand headlined hamburg: no rock bands in talent program. it went on to say how the hamburg school board was going to refuse to allow “rock bands” to play during the high schools’ talent show this year, for fear that moshing may erupt during the show.

now, for the benefit of those of you who aren’t familiar with the local turf, hamburg is a podunk town about thirty minutes or so north of the sprawling metropolis of reading…small in just about every definition of the word. they have a weekly paper which carries the typical small town gossip as news – fueling rumors about police officers, breaking scandals about teachers who have improper relations with their students, and egging on rivalries between township commisioners…right alongside the church bulletins and bake sale notices.

now, it might further benefit you to understand the stigma surrounding the inner city where i live…

reading, the city, and berks county couldn’t be further apart in the figurative sense…reading is a shithole in many, many ways…dilapidated housing, high welfare rolls and unemployment, and a general air of apathy cast a perpetual gray over the city. it’s a city that offers all the disadvantages of living in a major urban area, but none of the benefits…no real nightlife to speak of, very few cultural attractions, and so on and so forth.

over the years, the line of delineation between “the city” and “the county” have blurred somewhat, but not in people’s minds.

i haven’t lived in this area long enough to know what “old reading” was like, but from what i understand, it’s a night-and-day thing…reading apparently used to be a thriving city, but that hasn’t been the case in the time that i’ve lived here. it’s a vague shell of what it used to be. and those who have lived here long enough to remember “old reading” like to lay the blame for that at the feet of the rather large hispanic population that inhabit the city – since they’re a convienent target. no one wants to look at the fact that urban decay and what some people call “white flight” affects cities everywhere…affluent people seldom stay in urban areas when given the choice to live elsewhere, and that leaves the cities inhabited by low income families of all nationalities who often don’t have the capital (or the dignity or self-esteem) to invest of themselves into their accomodations…and believe me when i say it’s no different here. the flight of affluence (both personal and corporate) from the city to the outlying areas began long before i arrived, and with a few scant exceptions, there aren’t many signs of hope apparent when you drive through the city.

when you leave the city and head for the outlying areas, there really aren’t that many signs (with the exception of the few boroughs where the “haves” have grouped together) that things are much different outside of reading…yet when you talk to people or listen to others’ conversations, the sense of their perceived superiority to the city and its inhabitants is pretty acute. the references to “the city”, for instance…lines like “i had to go to the city for it, i didn’t have any choice”, or “they’re pretty nice, for people who live in the city”, or “why would you want to go into the city?” and the like…it’s “the city” and “those people” – as if somehow saying the word “hispanic” would acknowledge the elephant in the room.

the best place to see an example of this?

go to a sporting event that involves a city school and a suburban school.

i used to go to jayda’s basketball games, and i’d purposely sit close to the middle of the bleachers so i could overhear what other people would say…things like, “holy shit – lookit the size of that one black one over there…” certainly weren’t uncommon. and you could see the look of thinly-veiled discomfort on some of the faces in the stands at the prospect of their perfumed, prim and proper, neatly groomed christian white children having to face off against the racially mixed unwashed heathen bastard children of unwed mothers on the other team. you could actually see some of them squirm…disdain from the parents in the stands, and unmitigated fear in the eyes of courtney and heather on the basketball court as they prepared to square off against laquanda and rosario on the other team.

seriously. all you need to know to get inside the head of the average berks countian on this particular level lies in those two phrases.

“the city” and “those people”.

i know this is a lot of backstory, but if you’re not familiar with the lay of the land, it’s necessary.

anyway, hamburg – arguably the king of the “those people” and “the city” mentality – had apparently just had their high school talent show hijacked by the school board and the “rock bands” had been thrown out on their ear…all due to a fear of moshing.

so, i guess it could be said that todd knew what he was doing when he brought the article over for me to read, because i fired off a letter to the editor that read as follows:

Earlier this month, I had the privelege of providing sound reinforcement for the annual Talent Show at Reading High School. I agreed to do so because my daughter was performing during the show, and after having sat through the entire show, I was incredibly impressed with the variety and skill level exhibited by the students of the most maliciously maligned educational facility in Berks County. There were singers, dancers, rappers, musicians – the whole gamut of performing arts was represented at the show.

The show was held after hours in the auditorium, and the kids played to a packed house, with many more students than parents showing up to support their classmates. Were they loud? You bet they were. But there wasn’t a single reportable incident during the show.

So you can just imagine my surprise when I picked up the paper today to find out that our northern neighbors in sleepy little Hamburg have been quietly cultivating a reputation as the mosh pit capital of the world. I mean, really – whodathunkit? Hamburg?

I think that the kind of paranoia apparent in Hamburgs’ decision to disallow “rock bands” from playing at the talent show is tragic. I won’t pretend for a minute that I enjoy some of what passes for pop music in 2005. I think most of it is crap. But I doubt my current mindset differs much from my own parents’ disposition the first time they saw or heard some of what I listened to as a teenager. But, as a parent, I also realize that their music is their music, and I respect their right to listen to (or sing and play) anything they want, within reasonable limits.

Maybe Hamburg would do well to learn the simple lesson that the pistol-wielding thugs who attend Reading High have already taken to heart – something like this isn’t about the School Board or the Faculty or the Teachers. This is the students’ moment, and it shouldn’t be taken away from them just because we don’t relate to or identify with it.

And, Hamburg – if you can’t control your student body at assemblies, you’ve got bigger problems than rock bands playing at the talent show.

Tom Hampton

off it went, and they printed about sixty percent of it in monday’s paper. i got some jabs from some of the folks at work about it, all friendly, and i didn’t think anything else about it. BUT – in the time since, it’s gone on to become a “story”…it was on the front page of the weekly hamburg newspamphlet, and the reading eagle ran two other articles on the story, one on the front page…and long story short, it looks like the bands are going to get to play now…and thankfully, kevin bacon and dermot mulroney didn’t have to come dancing down main street to make it happen.

sooooo…end of story, right?

well, not quite.

last night, i came home and this envelope was on the “mail table” right inside the door….


inside the envelope was a pamphlet titled ‘the solution” – containing an uplifting message about god’s love and avoiding eternal damnation and the like…and on the back of the pamphlet was scribbled this little nugget of wisdom:


so at this point i guess there’s no more mystery surrounding how i’ll be spending the afterlife, folks.

the only thing i’m really curious about, though…would be what kinda music would be in my buddy mister swaggart’s record collection….

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