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Homelessness in our communities

By Jeff Gross

(Editor’s note: This article is part two of Jeff’s series based on his work with and for people experiencing homelessness in Lexington. In his last piece, he introduced the Catholic Action Center and the Street Voice Council.)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting in Phoenix Park, near the downtown public library at the corner of Limestone and Main. I counted 27 people in the park, most of whom were sitting on benches and carrying on private conversations. Two police officers on bicycles talked to each other and watched the park. All-in-all, the park was a clean and quiet environment. Despite its tranquil atmosphere this particular Wednesday, Phoenix Park is an often-contested space in the heart of Lexington.

Photo by Hilary Brown

Phoenix Park with daytime residents. Photo by Hilary Brown.

The homeless and marginally homed, the vast majority of people who inhabit the park on an average workday, see it as a space for community, a safe place where they can get together to make it through the day.

For some downtown business owners, though, these park users are seen as a threat to business.

In the public discussion over the character and purpose of the park, the problem has been that the voices of the homeless and marginally homed have been the most muted in the struggle over the park’s future. Yet, these are the people the most personally affected by decisions made about Phoenix Park. Continue reading »

 

Superlative Coffee Roasters open on Mechanic Street

By Evan Barker

Size matters at Superlative Coffee Roasters. The tiny shop on Mechanic Street is the latest addition to Lexington’s growing coffee scene, but occupies a slightly different niche than the city’s corporate and independent mainstays.

Part of the interest at Superlative is what you don’t see: an espresso machine flanked by grinders, syrup bottles, blenders, and giant chalkboard menu. A single coffee carafe sits next to a pint of half-and-half. The real attraction is behind the front counter: a shiny red and silver contraption lovingly called “The Little Red Roaster.” Superlative Coffee is not a coffee bar; it’s an artisan roaster which turns green coffee into the aromatic brew Lexington loves.

Owners Jenny Super and Patrick Meyer speak eloquently on the virtues of being little. With at least five college degrees between the pair, opening an artisan coffee roasting business is the latest chapter of two long and decorated careers. Jenny has worked for corporate giants Sara Lee, Hershey’s and PetSmart. Patrick is a combination lawyer, MBA and financial planner. Despite years of experience running multimillion dollar businesses, Super and Meyer are focusing on building a coffee brand eight pounds at a time.

Eight pounds, incidentally, is the peak capacity of the Little Red Roaster. The machine itself is chrome on fire-engine red. The roaster is computer-controlled for the sake of consistency and capable of drawing a virtually limitless variety of traits from raw beans.

When asked how they learned about coffee, Jenny shrugs. “I’m a consumer,” she says. “I’ve always loved coffee.” They’ve been members of various coffee clubs for years, always sampling something different.

She and Patrick have a small-batch roaster at home with which they constantly experiment. When a roast piques their interest, they try to replicate it at scale at the shop, which is how several of Superlative’s varieties came to be. Jenny hints that she’s working on something special for the shop’s official grand opening in September.

For now, it’s just the two of them: Patrick running samples to prospective customers and working the Farmers’ Market stand, and Jenny working the roaster and buying the beans. The objective, however, is what Jenny terms “smart growth.”

She speaks with the eagerness of a chronic go-getter, someone who has seen several major business projects from molehill to mountain.

“This building will always be the headquarters of Superlative Coffee,” she says.

“If we expand, it’ll be into a warehouse,” she laughs. She gestures across the street at a nondescript brick building. “That’d be a good place. If we expand, I’d like to go right there so I could walk across the street.”

Her philosophy of business boils down to “fairness.” When she expands, she’ll “want to pay employees a fair wage. It’s about establishing a relationship with your farmer and with your customer. What can people expect for eight dollars an hour?”

The fact that competitor Third Street Stuff is just around the corner doesn’t faze her at all.

“They have a relationship with their supplier and I respect that.” The implication is that there’s room enough in Lexington for all of them. Superlative’s niche is to be able to roast smaller batches more frequently. A coffee club order that shipped last Monday was roasted the same day; Jenny makes no compromises about the freshness of the product.

Much of Superlative’s business comes from the Farmers’ Market. There, they set up grinders and brewers and make coffee on the spot to sample. They admit to being skeptical about the Market at first, but since their first weekend two months ago, business there has “exceeded expectations.” The market has put them in touch with a core group of downtown customers who come there specifically for quality products.

Not that running this kind of business is easy. The ability of the roaster to run only up to eight pounds per batch means more frequent roasting and more time spent in the shop instead of out selling coffee. Their beans come from distributors in Chicago, Minneapolis, New York and elsewhere – middlemen who visit the coffee growing regions of the world to personally verify the quality of the product and the conditions of the growers. This kind of business costs more and requires more hands-on work on a tighter schedule than simply selling pre-roasted coffee according to corporate recipes.

“We’re not corporate. I’ve done corporate,” says Jenny in response to the observation that she’s chosen a tough row to hoe.

Superlative Coffee intends to become a permanent part of the social and economic fabric of downtown Lexington. Jenny and Patrick say they’ll always be down on Mechanic Street, and will still walk their equipment to the Farmers’ Market. As a business owner, “you want to look back and stand by your decisions,” Patrick says.

For them, it’s about quality and fairness, at any size.

 

Fancy Farm with the anti-fascists

By Danny Mayer

Fancy Farm, KY

It takes a worried man
To sing a worried song.

—Woody Guthrie

In June, I began attending meetings for a new group, the United Front Kentucky (UFK), formed to mobilize against what we see as a growing fascist movement in this state. Our goal is both to educate people about fascism’s specific history and to agitate against folks who deploy the term incorrectly as a form of fear-mongering.

As a political movement, fascism has a distinct history of support by populist movements that scapegoat outsiders as a way to make sense of national economic crises. Strong populist rhetoric has historically provided the groundcover for more overt oppressive forms of fascism.

In fascist Germany during the global depression of the 1930s, for example, Adolph Hitler mobilized support by scapegoating outsider groups like gypsies (nation-less immigrant outsiders) and Jews (religious outsiders)—both groups exterminated by the millions using the cold tools of industrial capitalism—as dangers to the nation’s future prosperity. Working alongside his fearmongering of perceived outside threats, Hitler also energized and harnessed the German volk through nationalist appeals to a mythic and superior Aryan German race that needed to be reclaimed by any means necessary.

An umbrella group that includes a diversity of left/progressive political loyalties, UFK wishes to engage and counter-act, through education and agitation, such fasicist rhetoric. While we recognize that the Tea Party is where much fascist rhetoric emanates, our resistance to fascism is non-partisan.

Most of us (myself included) would not define ourselves as Obama supporters or Democrats. We recognize that Obama has continued, and in some cases deepened, a number of Bush era policies that are consistent with the march to fascism: creating a privatized military force of “contractors,” increasing overseas wars intended to facilitate corporate development of other countries’ oil fields, mandating the privatization of human needs like access to healthcare, and using the power and wealth of the state both to enrich bankrupt financial institutions (TARP) and to cover over corruptly inept private sector functioning (BP). We are decidedly not, as has been suggested on some post-Fancy Farm websites, connected in any way to the Democrat party.

Why Fancy Farm?

In keeping with our mission to educate and agitate, we decided our first public action should take place at the Fancy Farm picnic. None of us had been to the gathering, but we knew that the audience we hoped to engage—journalists, Tea Partiers and politically interested groups—would be found in abundance there.

We knew also that the throwback stump-politicking and all-around carnival atmosphere would lend us a measure of safety. This was an important feature; left-based protestors like ourselves have historically borne the brunt of state crackdowns, as anti-war gatherings and G-20 protests are routinely turned into militarized zones by the government. (Right wing agitation, it should be noted—bringing guns to political rallies and preaching on bathing the tree of liberty in blood—gets a relatively free pass from the government.)

Plus, the whole damn thing—the quick trip West to Fancy Farm, the picnic, the hootin’ and the hollerin’—just sounded like it’d be a kinghell of a time.

Prep Work for Fancy Farm

Beginning a couple months before Fancy Farm, we began to develop a handout to provide a brief historical background of fascism as a political ideology. Garnishing it with quotations from both historical and current political figures, we titled the pamphlet “Flirting with fascism.” It was our main educational gambit, a document people could read quickly at Fancy Farm or, fishing it from their trousers hours later, more slowly at home.

Courtesty of UFK

Anti-fascist cover photo

I loved the pamphlet’s cover art: in the foreground, a young white couple, arms clasped and smiling atop a globe, are juxtaposed against a fleet of B-52 bombers in the process of firebombing a city in the background. Below the couple a banner reads, “To protect our way of living.” The couple face forward, seemingly unaware of what to protect really means; from the perspective of the collage, the two appear to lead, stridently, the B-52 fire-raid formation receding into the distance.

In addition to the pamphlet, we also planned, sketched and painted a Fascist Scoreboard onto a slightly re-cut and home-grommeted 6′ x 9′ painter’s tarp that I had sitting in my basement. We planned for the scoreboard to tally both the type and amount of fascist statements made by the politicians during their stump speeches at Fancy Farm. As it turns out, we’ve now got an easily transportable game for any public event.

Initially modeled on old-timey baseball scoreboards and attached to two eight foot tall bamboo poles, the scoreboard lists five traits of fascism in big letters: NATIONALISM, FEAR-MONGERING, SCAPEGOATING, PRO-CORPORATE, and ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. (Among others, MILITARISM and CURRENCY MANIPULATION lost out on space issues.) Alongside these descriptors, we left room to keep score, choosing blue electric tape for our marking system.

We hoped the scoreboard would be an interactive event when, with our banner scoreboard facing the crowd, we imagined keeping track in real time whenever any speakers engaged in, say, fear-mongering, or made knee-jerk big business statements that put the needs of various industries and specific corporations over that of the people of the state. The scoreboard was perfect for Fancy Farm: big, highly visible, fun, explicitly political and, in what we found to be a departure from Fancy Farm protocol, viciously nonpartisan.

Much pork at Fancy Farm

We arrived a little before noon, nine strong and in two vehicles, to the Fancy Farm grounds, 100 degree heat soon turning us, like the surrounding corn fields, a dusty light brown. Our vegan and vegetarian comrades had eaten thirty minutes earlier, at a Taco John’s on the way over, after being informed that there might not be much in the way of edible food for them at the gathering. To their somewhat inconvenience, the Fancy Farm political picnic features some excellent pork and mutton barbecue, but little in the way of clean Vegan fare.

Their loss was Martin Mudd and mine’s gain. After bumping into some KFTCers pamphleting for the re-enfranchisement of Kentucky felons and setting up an interview with the Murray NPR affiliate, we dropped our gear and split to survey the food. With the Knights of Columbus buffet line stretching outside the group’s grounds, our choices, essentially, became pizza, pork or mutton. We both went for the pork, one pound of it apiece at $8 per, a styrofoam box packed so full that our collective weight in purchased pig, Mudd and I surmised, was actually somewhere nearer six pounds.

No buns, no napkin, not even a fork. I would eat on the swine throughout the day, scooping up the last scraps with my thumb, index and middle fingers while crossing over the Cumberland River on our return trip to Lexington eight hours later.

They’re all sons of bitches

At Fancy Farm, the name of the game is loud and brutal. I now understand why I had to sneak my flask of Svedka onto the picnic grounds. The people there went temporarily frothing mad. Not necessarily in any physically violent sense…it was more ritualistic, like regimented daily market calls on the floor of the Dow, a verbal assault that started casually enough, moved to a rush at 2:00 with the national call to God and undercard speakers, peaked rabidly during the great Conway/Paul (7 minutes) debates, and—like that—became calm, presumably for another 365 days.

As it turns out, we had dropped our gear and set up right next to a contingent of Conway supporters, mostly members of Kentucky Young Democrats and one NeanderPaul man, a brainchild of the Conway camp who dressed in cave-garb and intermittently shouted out “Abolish all taxes! Abolish all government! Abolish all education!” while raising a plastic club. A couple of Rand Paul supporters and a cluster of locals who came to see their loved ones receive various pre-game civic awards, rounded out the set.

We stood stage right, clustered in and around a bleacher half-located in sun, just about even with the stage, allowing us an upclose profile of each of the day’s speakers. Though we couldn’t see them, I think we faced most of the Paul supporters, who cloistered around stage Left, some grown men snazzily dressed in white pantyhose, tight-fitting blue jackets and pointy hats.

The undercard featured a strong cast of Kentucky politicians: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) and Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R). The year before, Jack Conway had proclaimed that he was “one tough son of a bitch,” which had prompted the picnic’s sponsors, Saint Jerome Catholic Church, to create a new rule for this year’s edition: no cussin’, the penalty for which would be a strike-up of Rocky Top by the band at stage left. This prompted a number of puns off the phrase, both complimentary (from Beshear) and derogatory (McConnell, Grayson).

For the main event, Conway won the coin toss and elected to receive. He had clearly rehearsed his call and response with the crowd, one guesses via burned and delivered cd roms to the Conway Democrats near us. They were all ready for the jokes, when to laugh, when to be quiet, when to get rowdy happy. Conway scored several points—both on our scoreboard and with his compatriots.

Finally Paul spoke. The person even the Conway folks seemed most jazzed at seeing, Paul was largely underwhelming and easily the worst of the five main speakers at the picnic. His quiet, whiny tone, what one journalist has generously described as his “elusive accent,” was awfully matched to the white populist fire of Fancy Farm.

Mudd was kept busy scoring points during Paul’s talk, a lot at my urging and most of them based off his speech, but some marks also came out of the generally primitive courtside reactions to the game unfolding before us. The Conway kids to my right and behind me were vicious. Paul mentioned tax code, and they chanted boring (so much for the pretense of intellectual engagement); he moved to Pelosi, and they exploded with boos. In front of me, a College Conway kid and a white-haired Tea Partier in mesh baseball cap jousted Conway and Paul signs, while tucked next to them NeanderPaul Man, part of Team Conway, continued to belch out Abolish all government! Abolish eduction!, brandishing his plastic club like Captain Caveman. To my left, I glimpsed my UFK comrades, swept up, their hands also over their mouths, shouting I couldn’t hear what.

It all blended together. A huge explosion of sound with only faint echoes of Rand Paul whining stupid about the tax code and how heavy it weighed, a 2010 heaping of that same stale capitalist mutton basted in free market populism, his prattle a weak backbeat no louder than some taped over analog.

It wasn’t until later that I could figure out what the scene reminded me of, and then it hit me, around the time I finished the last of the Fancy Farm pork on the way home. It reminded me of the great Tea Party shutdowns at the healthcare town halls. Except, of course, at Fancy Farm verbal shout-downs are so part of the game, they are the game.

 

The city, its neighborhoods and our public art

By Danny Mayer

After a ten-year hiatus, in mid-July Lexington experienced the return of Horse Mania, a public art project described as “a citywide display of fiberglass horses extravagantly decorated by local artists.” Horse Mania finds local artists decorating one of three models of horse actions: standing, striding or eating. The artists are sponsored by patrons (mostly businesses), and the horses are eventually sold at auction. Proceeds are split between regional charities and public art programs.

The money generated from Horse Mania 2000 reached in the several hundreds of thousands, a figure that the LexArts organizers surely figure to match this year. As a fundraiser, Horse Mania should be a success, a sorely needed, locally rooted stimulus for both the arts and regional non-profits.

Beyond fundraising, the logic behind public art events like Horse Mania goes something like this: public art events draw people into town, downtown, in such a way that they help showcase, to both long-time residents and first-time visitors, the essence of what their city has to offer.

Here in Lexington, that general statement gets translated like this: Horse Mania is successful because it helps hype the coming World Equestrian Games and further supports Lexington’s branding of itself as the horse capital of the world. The colorful and artistic horses help showcase Lexington’s vibrant art scene to out of state visitors unfamiliar with Lexington when they arrive for the Games—potentially with the intent to come back and visit, dine, perhaps even buy a farm on the outskirts here.

For local residents, most of whom don’t have much of a relationship with downtown, the horses provide an attraction that brings people to town and allows them to see firsthand that downtown Lexington is both vital and enjoyable. It also gets them to value and interact with local artists and art.

Real world example of this translation: “It’s clear to anyone who has been downtown this summer that Horse Mania 2010, featuring 83 decorated fiberglass horses, has been enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.” (“Horse Maniacs,” Lexington Herald- Leader, Wednesday August 18, 2010, B-1)

As with other city public art projects—pigs in Cincinnati or Bulldogs in Athens—Horse Mania locates nearly all of its public art in the city’s downtown core. Of the 82 horses listed in the Herald-Leader‘s Horse Mania 2010 guide, a total of 71 reside in a narrow strip of land centered somewhere around Vine Street and Rose.

Horse Mania on High Street

Horse. You've seen 'em.

The strip runs three blocks above and below Main Street between Jefferson on the west and Winchester on the east. Roughly speaking, UK and 3rd Street provide the strip’s southern and northern borders, with horse battalions grouped at Gratz Park/Transy (7 statues), Isaac Murphy (2 statues) and Thoroughbred Park (5 statues) seemingly defending this downtown Horse Mania Zone.

The other downtown

I live on 4th and MLK and travel through downtown to work often enough to encounter many of the horse statues of Horse Mania, but many of my neighbors have no need to cross 3rd and enter into the downtown commercial zone. That part of the city, after all, does not offer much beyond financial planning, city government, eating establishments and bars. Though I haven’t asked, I’m guessing that a good many of my neighbors, who theoretically live downtown, have had little direct interaction with Horse Mania.

Though a small (and speculative) example, it highlights a more general conundrum: downtown has been so narrowly defined to fit within a safe, tourist-friendly and brand-enhancing space, that it has, perhaps unintentionally, sidestepped a majority of Lexington’s downtown residents.

So while the Gratz Park area, one of Lexington’s oldest and richest downtown neighborhoods, gets five horse statues, the Living Arts and Science Center (LASC), located three blocks away on MLK at the corner of 4th, was not allowed to participate in the public art program.

LASC has been a mainstay on the north side for a long time now. It offers a blend of science/art programs to the public, mostly children, and has been a regular patron of Lexington arts. It puts local artists in classrooms with kids of all socio-economic classes, races and ethnicities. It uses its grounds as a sort of public art park and sends student volunteers to London Ferrel garden for hands on learning/work experiences. It is a regular participant in the Gallery Hop. In short, the LASC is a downtown community treasure, one deeply invested in both the arts and its diverse public.

But LASC doesn’t get a horse, and as a result, the public that passes through its grounds on a regular day—artists, students from throughout the neighborhood, city and region, and me and many of my neighbors across the street—gets benignly excluded from a public art project celebrating the city. Ditto for residents on 5th, 6th, Breckenridge, Loudon and points beyond.

A view from the suburbs

But don’t let me get too parochial here. There’s nothing at Living Arts and Sciences Center, but there’s also nothing at La Roca on Limestone, the Co-Op on Southland, or Charlie’s Fish Shack on Winchester. Five horses patrol Thoroughbred Park, but none are to be found at Elizabeth and Douglas Parks. Three in a vacant lot on Vine Street menace bus-travelers and two more cower around a construction site at the southeast corner of CentrePointe; yet no horses roam Cardinal Valley or Kenwick, Castlewood or Clay’s Mill.

If you want public art, Horse Mania’s geography suggests, you must travel to the art; it will not travel to you.

That is of course one model, the corporate one, of public art: put the art where you get the biggest bang for the buck, literally. Centralize, and by all means, seize control of the image. Patrol the borders, plan the city.

But doing so seems perverse, an act difficult to jive with the everyday city. Lexington has a number of micro-neighborhood centers that are the historical remnants of its continued affection for suburban growth. Over the years, these neighborhoods have developed their own distinct geographies, centralized around small corner commercial centers like Romany Road at Cooper and Liberty Road at Winchester.

Right now all these small places need our support—our business. We are in the early moments of what appears to be a long depression, and things are most likely going to get worse. We must begin to get to know each other, our environments, as a precursor to building trust.

A major city event like Horse Mania could have been used to let city residents get to know each other and our different city neighborhods. Instead it required us all to leave our own neighborhoods and visit a narrow city slice that is mostly not representative of Lexington. We learned little, and saw little, of our public.

Considering that it has become a sort of public art hunt, perhaps a better idea—and one we hope is considered in the near future—would be to place Horse Mania’s sculptures throughout Lexington’s many neighborhoods. People might choose to retrace Austin’s bike paths, go have a sandwich at Charlie’s Fish Shack, play a round of disc golf at Shillito Park, drop on by the Kids Cafe on Seventh, shoot some hoops at Douglas Park. Surely some downtown horses could be spared to do that.

Public art for the public

Horse Mania is a wonderful project. Not only does it operate as a fund-raiser for local charities at a time when social services are getting slashed, it is also a much-valued paycheck for artists who are also struggling to get by.

But it is also a manifestation of Lexington’s current failures. The inordinate focus on downtown has diminished all of our own neighborhoods. This applies to urban north side neighborhoods seemingly located downtown and university south side ones, older inner circle suburbs as well as their newer outer rings.

Horse Mania can’t fix Lexington’s failures, but we can ask that its focus on public art be made more available to the public.

 

By Troy Lyle

The Bluegrass Disc Golf Association (BDGA) was at it again. The tireless organization seems to have something for area disc golfers every weekend. Most recently, it was the Beware the Beavers IV tournament held at the Riney B course in Nicholasville on August 7.

Beyond the shear enjoyment of competing in 48 holes of disc golf, entrants managed to pad their pockets with some cash and their bags with a few new discs. The BDGA doled out more than $500 in cash and merchandise, with $205 going to first place in the pro, or open, division.

Of the 51 entrants, 13 were professionals and 38 were amateurs. Everyone took home at least one disc. Merchandise prizes included everything from Glow Champion Orcs to Glow Champion Gazelles and even a UV mini disc marker that changes color in the sun.

“None of these discs are available in stores,” said BDGA president Drew Smith, who pointed out that part of the allure of competing in a BDGA event are rare and cool prizes.

Smith said he was very pleased with this year’s turnout, up from last years, especially considering the event was contending with another tournament in Louisville. Part of what attracted so many entrants was the fact that the Riney B course was in great shape, thanks to the help of the Nicholasville Disc Golf Club and the Nicholasville and Jessamine County Parks and Recreation.

Beyond cash and merch, four entrants managed to snag some additional prizes for their efforts in the closest to the pin competitions, one for each of the events divisions. Holly Williams won the pro division on hole 20, Evan Bennett the advanced on hole 9, Jeff Worley the intermediate on hole 8 and James Key the recreational on hole 21. These four took home another couple discs and a Beware the Beaver shirt and hat.

Up next for the BDGA is the Super Summer Slammer scheduled for September 11 at Veteran’s Park. The 36 hole event will once again award cash and merch prizes. The first 50 amateur entrants will also receive player’s packs with extra discs and markers. If you’re interested in competing in the event visit www.bdga.org for more information.

Here’s a breakdown of the top three scores in each division of this year’s Beware the Beaver tournament:

Pro

Jay Embree, 135, $205

Jeff Eades, 144, $145

Sean Turner, 145, $95

Advanced

Evan Bennett, 139

Dillon Nickell, 149

Zach Skees, 155

Intermediate

Thaddeus Highbaugh, 146

Charlie Cavalier, 153

Colin Nickell, 155

Recreational

Matt Partain, 158

Eric Kopser, 163

Damian Roddy, 165

 

Aging action stars: “Will work for food”

By Stan Heaton

Sly Stallone is back as the grizzled hero of The Expendables, a testosterone-charged action flick about a group of mercenaries hired to eliminate a brutal dictator on some arbitrary South American island.  During the job, Stallone encounters the dictator’s daughter, Sandra (Giselle Itie), a beautiful woman trapped by the misfortune of her country and the power of her evil father.  In an effort to save this woman and his own soul, Stallone assembles his crew of bad-asses and attempts to liberate the island.

In many ways, The Expendables resembles action movies of the 80s.  The stars (and there are a lot of them) have almost as many muscles as the cast of Predator (1987).  The most sinister villain in the film, played by the always sleazy Eric Roberts, is really an ex-CIA operative, mirroring the corrupt officials in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and so many other 80s action movies.

And most important, The Expendables is much more about how something happens, rather than what is happening.  In other words, the focus of the film is not that the Expendables are guns for hire who take the law into their own hands.  Instead, the focus is whether or not Jason Statham’s knives or Stallone’s guns killed more bad guys.

Each scene is simply a vehicle that allows Stallone, who directed the film, to show us the next exploding body part, dangerous car chase, or old man wrestling match.  There are a small number of scenes in which we actually get a pinch of character development; any time Mickey Rourke is on the screen, we know we’re about to get some exposition.  But for the most part, the movie is all about the action.  The entire plot revolves around who is going to get beaten up next.

For many movie-goers eager to see the old guard of Hollywood action films back in the saddle, the explosions and gunfire will be enough.  However, for the rest of us who need more than automatic shotguns and obnoxiously loud motorcycles, The Expendables has another, more intelligent layer.

I’ve been following the production of this movie for many months, and when I heard that the cast of a movie called The Expendables included Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis, I immediately thought of the trend in Hollywood to use action stars to make gobs of cash before tossing them aside to usher in the next wave of tough guys.

It seems that this film is so much about movie stars that using the names of the characters is pointless.  In fact, many of the character names, such as Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), seem like bad jokes meant to point out the farce of giving big action stars character names at all. I find myself writing Sylvester Stallone’s character or Jason Statham’s character, underscoring this subplot about macho men getting work in films.

No one embodies the struggle of the action star in The Expendables better than Dolph Lundgren.  In the film, Lundgren’s character gets kicked out of the Expendables because of some questionable morals.  Out of work and down on his luck, Dolph joins the bad guys and squares off against his former team.

Jet Li’s character is also motivated by work.  In one of the movie’s funnier moments, he tells Stallone that he deserves more money because he is smaller and has to work harder.  These characters, then, don’t just kick ass for thrills: they do it to eat.

Stallone and Statham, actors for hire.

In the 80s, action movies often put characters in revisions of the Vietnam War so that they could “win” it and help ease the pains of a culture that had just lost a war.  The Expendables takes the same approach to our current economic recession.  Have you been laid off from your job?  Have you lost your home?  Are you struggling to feed your family?  Well come watch how REAL men solve those problems!

That’s not to say that this film is brilliant for its dissection of American culture.  Much like those 80s movies The Expendables emulates, the solution to America’s problems is escapist and kind of stupid.  I doubt highly that bigger muscles, louder guns, or quicker punches will help families rebound from such a depressed economy.

But, to be fair, that’s not quite the purpose of the film.  It’s abundantly clear from the funny dialogue, the all-star cast, and the elaborate stunts that The Expendables is meant to be fun, which might be just what unemployed, out of work, or struggling people need to reduce the stress born from realizing that they too are expendable.

 

By Colleen Glenn

Spoiler alert!: read at your own risk.

Romantic comedies often get a bad wrap. They’re described as “chick flicks,” their loyal viewers considered to be occupying the space just below Jane Austen fans on the ladder of art and literature. But a romantic comedy, like a comedy of manners (that’s Austen’s genre, for all of you haters out there), can teach us quite a bit about society’s customs concerning love, marriage and sex.

Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who brought us Blades of Glory in 2007, teamed up again to bring us The Switch (2010), a comedy that deals squarely with our current society’s changing customs concerning love, marriage, sex and children. No longer does our heroine seek a marriage contract that will bring her financial security and sweet companionship. Financially secure, independent, and not in love, the 2010 heroine is seeking to do it all herself.

Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston pair up in this feel-good flick about two long-time friends who’ve put each other so squarely into the “friend zone” that any chance of romance is too weird to consider. But when Cassie (Aniston) declares that she’s looking for a sperm donor, Wally (Bateman) feels surprisingly jealous and protective, objecting to her plan to become a mother without a man in the picture.

Wally, an endearing neurotic, worries about everything, especially Cassie’s bold decision to inseminate herself. “What if you meet someone 6 months from now and fall in love?,” Wally questions, launching protestation after protestation to her plan. Fed up, Cassie calls for a time-out in their friendship, and doesn’t see him again until the night of her insemination party.

What follows is hilarious. Suffice to say that several drinks and one “herbal supplement” later, Wally switches his semen for the donor’s. But so intoxicated is he that he has absolutely no memory of making the switch.

Seven years later, when Cassie returns to New York City with her six year-old son, Sebastian, the similarities between Wally and Sebastian seem uncanny…That is, until Wally begins to remember what he did at Cassie’s party seven years ago.

Bateman shines in this film as a charmingly phobic “man-boy,” a role not too far from the adorable Michael Bluth that Bateman played in Arrested Development. Aniston delivers a genuine performance as a woman who lets go of the “First comes marriage…” fairytale and takes matters into her own hands. Bateman and Aniston have great comic timing, and good chemistry to boot.

A solid cast of supporting actors, including Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, round out the film. Goldblum, in particular, steals the spotlight with his captivating charisma and comical wit.

Thomas Robinson, the child who plays Sebastian (Cassie’s son) is engaging and not as annoying as most other child actors. The film could stand to trim a few of Robinson’s scenes (when did it become “cute” to give children overly sophisticated dialogue? Was it in 1990 with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone?) as it is really the story between Cassie and Wally that we wish to see unfold. Overall, however, the movie does a nice job of developing its characters while focusing on the primary tension of the plot.

The Switch is not bad. Not fantastic, mind you, but pretty good. The Switch might even encourage you to stop waiting for life to happen and make it happen for yourself.

Now, who says rom-coms aren’t important?

The Switch is currently playing at several theatres in Lexington.

 

By Troy Lyle

The Lafayette Brawlin’ Dolls.

That’s who it all came together against for the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky (ROCK) earlier this summer. Lafayette is where ROCK started to show everyone this year’s league is better at every facet of roller derby: skating, blocking, jamming, scoring.

And score ROCK did.

For the first time in the team’s three year history it managed to completely impose its will over another derby crew. When the final whistle blew, ROCK had banged, bruised and burnt its way into the record books, landing its first ever 100 plus point victory: ROCK 215, Brawlin’ Dolls 100.

If you were one of the more than 600 people present at the Lexington Civic Center on August 14, you may have been lulled into thinking such a feat was common place, even ordinary. Don’t be fooled. ROCK was so on its game this night that every jam, every skate and every block appeared effortless. How far have these women come in a very short period of time? For ROCK, roller derby is fast becoming instinctual.

“The Brawlin’ Dolls were very competitive throughout, but I think we played a smarter game than they did,” said ROCK Captain Ellie Slay. “We had this mindset of ‘We Will Win This!’”

That opening mindset clearly laid the foundation for the team to communicate and execute its strategy to perfection. Not only did ROCK perform flawlessly, it managed to do so for 40 solid minutes, the length of time a derby bout lasts.

“For every one good blocker they had, we had two,” said Slay. “And our blockers made it easy for our jammers to take the lead and often. From there it was score, score, score.”

By the half ROCK already had 100 points on the scoreboard (another first), but that didn’t stop them from coming out in the second refocused and reignited.

“We started the second as if we had zero points, not letting up on any of the intensity or momentum we had gained,” said Slay. “When we started to get frazzled, from fatigue or over excitement, our coach Ragman would call a timeout and we would quickly regroup. He really kept us focused and pushed us hard to kill, kill, kill.”

Slay said at one point the bout was going so well that not even a penalty could set ROCK back.

“Ryder Die had fouled out in the second half and I had to take her place in the penalty box as jammer. When I came out of the box, I was in and out of the pack and lead jammer before the Brawlin’ Doll’s blockers even knew I had hit the track,” she said. “My blockers kept their jammer busy and their blockers frustrated, causing the pack to slow way down. It was probably the easiest jam of the bout for me, every time I approached the pack my blockers made a huge lane and I skated through unscathed. It was spectacular.”

ROCK assistant captain Rainbow Smite had her own version of a bout highlight. Hers centered on punishing the Brawlin’ Dolls jammers, blockers and one particular pivot.

“I was really proud at one point in the second period when I put their pivot on the floor as soon as the whistle blew,” said Smite. “It was such a vicious blow I could hear the crowd go OOOOOOOOH.”

Smite said ROCK has been training to be more aggressive, and it’s beginning to show–and not only for Slay and Smite.

“There was one point in the bout where Sharon Moonshine kept beating the crap out of Psycho Socializer,” said Slay. “She’d give her a little space on the inside line, which is the most tempting thing if you’re a jammer, and just as Socializer would attempt to passWHAMShine would knock her down.”

“I remember one insane quadruple grand slam that Ragdoll Ruby had,” said Smite. “She was juking all the Brawlin’ Dolls blockers and staying in bounds on a single skate on about 3 inches of floor space. It was a thing of sheer beauty.”

Beyond the bone crushing blocks and deft, sidewinder skating, ROCK managed it all in style. Sporting their new uniforms provided by Julie Butcher’s Law Office and UK Orthopedics, the team not only played but looked the part.

“These new uniforms are so awesome,” said Smite. “We look more polished and streamlined, and I think that helps with the mental aspect of the game as well. Plus, they flatter everyone, so that’s always a positive.”

New uniforms. New mentality. New aggressiveness. Watch out derby world, ROCK is on the way up, as one fan put it.

With only a few bouts left on this year’s schedule, Smite said ROCK’s main focus will be on consistency.

“We have to bring it like this for the last three bouts of the season,” she said. “I think we’ve got such a taste for blood now that we’re all fired up.”

Slay echoed Smite’s sentiment.

“We have to skate smart, and execute our strategies automatically as a group,” she said.

Slay also pointed out that ROCK has big plans for its future as well. The league intends to apply for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association’s (WFTDA) apprentice program. The governing body for women’s flat track roller derby, over seeing the WFTDA oversees all professional derby team rankings and tournaments.

But there are still a few hurdles in ROCK’s near future, one of which is finding a new location for the team’s three or four practices a week. If anyone knows of a location or can connect the team to an interested party, please contact ROCK at www.rocknrollergirls.com or www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5827970811.

Up next for ROCK is another home bout set for September 11 against the Black n’ Bluegrass Rollergirls (BBR). In the two teams’ last meeting, BBR barely edged out a 10 point victory. ROCK looks to avenge the loss, this time on its home turf. Doors open at 7 P.M. at the Civic Center. Bout is set to begin at 8 P.M.

 

Thursday, August 26

Kill the Noise: Loaded Nuns, The Downtown County Band, Lee G, & the Charlie Parker Sextet

Al’s Bar, 9 P.M. All ages. Free.

Something like an educational seminar on musical diversity, this free series pairs up often exclusive niches in the Lexington scene.  Not everyone is going to end up friends, but everyone will respect one another.  Anyway, that is the hope.

This week will see the Loaded Nuns, The Downtown County Band, Lee G and The Charlie Parker Sextet take the wood-paneled stage.  Shit talking punks, Owenton Americana, the self-proclaimed Ladykilla himself and some 50s flavored bebop.  Something to please the whole family. —Megan Neff

Friday, August 27

Appetite for Destruction w/ The Greatest of These

Buster’s, 9 P.M. 18+. $10 adv., $12 at door

There’s a certain sort of person who gets pretty fired up about the prospect of going to a Guns N’ Roses tribute band show, even if you  saw Adler’s Appetite just two weeks ago, and if you’re such a person, you know what this thing is all about and I don’t have to write a word of explanation. Go forth ye and rocketh.

If you’re not that sort of person, then I won’t write a thing to persuade you of the error of your ways except to say that you ought to go anyway to check out local four-piece The Greatest of These, who will probably lose to the headliners in number of choruses passionately belted by audience members but may leave the more lasting impression: you can’t deny “Rocket Queen,” but the openers have something to say with a loud guitar too. —Keith Halladay

Saturday, August 28

Lexington Music Academy: Battle of the Bands

Natasha’s Bistro, 6 P.M. $5, of which four dollars goes to God’s Pantry.

This is one of those things where you’re sitting around reading this paper, you read this paragraph, and you think to yourself, “you know, there’s no way that that’s not gonna be a good time.” So you call up some friends and pitch them the idea, like you were pitching a movie script, because you want to make sure they understand what you just understood, which is that there’s no way this isn’t going to be a good time, and even though you think that they didn’t reach your level of enlightenment, they all agree to join you because you really just wore them down with your true-believer enthusiasm, and you go and have a great time and you remind your friends that it was your idea and even get a little obnoxious about it.

So here’s the deal: six teenage bands vie to be named the very best. Friend, these will be some motivated youngsters, and they will do what it takes to earn your approval. And they can really play. And 80% of your money goes to God’s Pantry. Make that call. —

Naked Karate Girls
The Roxy, 9 P.M. $10.

For years now I’ve told anyone who would listen that the best live act I ever saw was the Supersonic Soul Pimps in 1996 at Berbati’s Pan in Portland, Oregon. That night they wore their silver spandex bodysuits and played hard funk and rock so uptempo and infectious you were exhilarated trying to keep your dancing from being left behind. Since I live in Kentucky now and can’t go see SSP, I do the smart thing and go see Cincinnati’s NKG instead. —KH

Monday, August 30

Greg Ginn

Cosmic Charlie’s, 9 P.M.

One evening in 1988, I crammed myself and the thick fiberglass cast on my ankle into Bernie’s run-down VW Rabbit and rode 40 minutes to the next town north to watch my high-school basketball teammates play our arch rivals, or whoever it was. On the way we smoked a joint and listened to Black Flag’s Damaged. At some point we noticed that the cassette case was cracked and splintering, and we giggled like schoolgirls that an album called Damaged was actually damaged. Misspent youth. Meanwhile, Greg Ginn kept making kickass post-punk records, and he’s Greg freaking Ginn, so get off yer ass. —Buck Edwards

Tuesday, August 31

Psychic Steel w/ Fielded and Tiny Fights

Al’s Bar, 9 P.M. All ages. Free.

If you happened upon Ga’an at WRFL’s Boomslang Festival last year, you have encountered the combined efforts of these two solo projects.  As separate entities, however, the respective Chicago-based drummer and vocalist branch into strikingly distinct realms.

Psychic Steel is Seth Sher.  He loops synthesizer, vocals and drums into a hypnotic swirl.  His strength as a drummer undercuts his sound, which centralizes on building up intricate rhythms into progressive industrial soundscapes.

Lindsay Powell of Fielded blends vocal-based ambience with hyperactive pop.  If the forces of Kate Bush and Grouper’s Liz Harris combined in a musical supernova, this would rise from the ashes.

Local experimental shape shifters Tiny Fights round off the bill.

The show is free and happens to fall on two-for-one drink night, so go ahead and plan on watching the new episode of “Secret Life” online later. —MN

Wednesday, September 1

Soul Funkin’ Dangerous

Cosmic Charlie’s,  9 P.M.

Guitarist DeBraun Thomas attacks his instrument with startling ferocity and yet manages a soulful articulation and deep-funk feel. Since there aren’t many players around with quite that combination, and since that combination is pretty much what Hendrix and Eddie Hazel had, and since Thomas plays his lines over a swinging, sinewy rhythm section, well, you pretty well ought to go see Soul Funkin’ Dangerous. —KH

Saturday, September 4

Chris Knight

Buster’s, 9 P.M. 18+. $20.

Sometimes a whole mess of personal bullshit goes wrong at once, and it’s raining, and the world’s pretty much going to hell, and on top of it all you’re pretty sure you have an infestation of bedbugs. So you tie it on one night to remind yourself that the booze doesn’t work anymore, then cut firewood all afternoon to bleed off the hangover and all those regrets. Lucky you have Chris Knight to help you though. —BE

 

By Megan Neff

It is Sunday night, August 22.  I finished my radio show this afternoon and ate the ritual #6 with barbecue chips afterward.  And after four years at UK, I felt out of place again as I walked to Jimmy Johns and back to WRFL alongside so many golden tans and carefree faces.

It made me think about my first semester.  About how I would rather be back there and not another recent college graduate who was unprepared for not being able to find a job in their field of study.  Or just a job that pays above minimum wage and has health benefits.

But on a positive note, it made me think about my introduction to the local music scene that semester.  About my first noise show and how John Wiese’s performance made me think of a painfully slow airplane crash.  The now defunct Icehouse and feeling the slight of the higher cover charge for outsiders.  And my very first show in Lexington, which strangely enough was at UK’s Student Center Spectacular four years ago.

It seems it is that time of the season again.  This year, I am not a freshman intimidated by the hipness of the WRFL crowd.  I’ve done this a hundred times before and know most of the people here.  Some of the magic is lost, but I can sense it in the crowd around me.

Real Numbers begin as the sun starts going down with a brand of straight forward punk-edged rock.  Vicious Guns continues with the trend but adds a dash of black leather, lace and some slightly drunken theatrics.  And Matt Duncan closes out the show with his unfailingly perfect blend of soul and buoyant pop.

So much has faded away in four years, but so much has grown.  And whether apparent to my disillusioned eyes or not, it will continue to grow around me.  Be it in a bug-infested lawn on UK’s campus or in another seedy basement.  And that in itself is some kind of magic.

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