Friday, November 19, 2010

In which there is a new NaNoWriMo chapter, with naked ladies!

June 30, 2011 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: The Godiva Riders
By Annabeth Spencer

Like a lot of small towns in America, Skookum hosts many annual parades. There are patriotic parades, like the Fourth of July Parade and the Veteran’s Day Parade. There are seasonal parades, like the Blossomtime Parade in May, and the Turkey Trot Parade in November, and the Jingle Bell Parade in December.

Lots of towns have parades featuring floats built by the Rotary and the Elks, marching bands from the local high schools, clowns and shiny cars and the local equivalent of the Dairy Princesses standing in glamorous gowns on top of fire trucks tossing candy to bystanders.

Only in Skookum is there a parade consisting entirely of naked ladies on horses and bicycles.

The Godiva Parade tradition started more than ten years ago, when then-mayor Robin Redstone was having dinner with a bunch of friends from college. The dinner wasn’t formal, just a salmon barbeque cooked up by one of the roommates and her spouse, and so the guests wandered around the beautifully landscaped backyard with their plates, chatting with old friends and new acquaintances. The conversation turned to fundraisers, and the husband of another of the roommates told a few people standing nearby that he didn’t mind giving money to charity, but he wished for once that the groups would come up with an original fundraiser.

The husband is a Microsoft millionaire, one of that large handful of folks in our region who “called in rich” to his office one day back in the mid-1990’s, and has been living off the proceeds and investments ever since. He is well-known as a generous supporter of the arts, education, and local charities. And yet, he said, it gets boring after a while, attending the same old dinners, dances, charity auctions and parties. He wanted to continue supporting charities that are important to his friends and neighbors, but he wanted to see groups put a little more originality into their events.

“Like what?” asked Robin, who had recently had cause to become interested in research and treatment for breast cancer.

“I don’t know,” replied the man. “See if you can invent something that I’ve never seen, and I’ll throw some money at it.”

The conversation, Robin Redstone remembers, turned to other things: books that people were reading, movies they had seen. And then, dessert was served: a rich, gooey, delicious dark chocolate cake, served with home-made vanilla ice cream and topped with melted Godiva chocolate.

The name of the chocolate combined with Robin's earlier conversation with the Microsoft millionaire to create a crazy idea. She recalls finishing her dessert and then finding the man and his wife to propose her idea for a fundraiser that would be the most unusual event he’d ever heard of: a couple of breast cancer patients, plus maybe a couple of their female friends and family members riding horses in a parade through the middle of town.

Naked.

“It got his attention, that’s for sure!” she laughs in recollection.

Robin thought that there might be three or four other women, horseback riders all, who had been through chemo and radiation treatment, and who might be interested in doing the ride to raise money for research. In keeping with the traditional Lady Godiva story, Robin planned to spread the word about the event, asking men and boys to stay off of the parade route. She was unprepared for the response:

“I thought that there would be a lot of people who would want me to resign as mayor for proposing a stunt like this, and that there might be people who would boycott my restaurant business in protest. I thought that at the very least, I’d get an earful from my mom.

“Instead, I started getting emails, phone messages, letters. Women would stop me in the street. They came into the restaurant. They weren’t angry. They wanted to know how they could help.”

The Skookum Tribune reports that the first Godiva Ride was held on Sunday morning, August 8th, 1999.

Roadblocks were set up, operated by teams of off-duty female police officers from every agency in the county. At daybreak on the morning of the event, trucks pulling horse trailers converged on the Food4Less parking lot, which had been volunteered as the staging ground for the parade start.
Organizers directed the biggest rigs to form a protective circle around the perimeter of the parking lot. Inside the wall of trucks and horse trailers, women and girls from the Skookum High School drama department and the Pilchuck Theatre Guilde offered free body painting to participants.

The thirty women riding in the parade were encouraged to wear helmets and boots in the interest of safety, plus paint, glitter and sunscreen…but nothing else.
Women who wanted to watch the parade were given the option to remain clothed, and a few did. They each paid an admission fee, and promised not to take photos of any part of the event, whether they were riding in the parade or standing on the sidewalks to watch. Many women reportedly donated much more than the twenty dollars admission charge requested by event organizers.

At promptly ten a.m., the ladies mounted up. They were young and old. Some were saggy, some were wrinkled. Many bore surgery scars, or had heads still-bald from treatment.

All were naked.

All were smiling.

The circular route had been evacuated by request of the mayor, who rode at the head of the parade. Only the women and girls who were part of the event lined the streets to cheer and clap as painted, waving, smiling naked ladies rode their beloved horses through town. At the end of the parade back at the Food4Less parking lot, horses were tied to trailers and the party continued with impromptu music and food provided by parade participants.

At noon, when the parade was scheduled to disperse, the women got dressed and opened the circle of rigs to invite the men and boys of their families inside to join the festivities. As a result, the party lasted most of the afternoon, and the “donate here” jar was passed through the crowd, accumulating even more cash.
People couldn't wait to do it again the following year.

In 2001, a contingent of non-horse riders asked to ride in the parade on bicycles. Robin agreed, thinking that this would allow even more women to be part of the event. The bicyclers brought even more friends and relations with them to line the parade route and to dance to the music at the party afterwards.

The Annual Godiva Ride for Breast Cancer Research has grown from thirty women on horseback in 1999 to a crowd of nearly two hundred women on horses and bicycles, plus nearly nine hundred spectators to watch the parade in 2010. The post-parade party as well as the start and finish line of the parade route have been moved to the Pilchuck County Fairgrounds to accommodate the crowd of more than two thousand friends of the Godiva Riders. Live music is now part of the event, with performances donated by several local bluegrass and rock-and-roll bands.

The Godiva Parade has become an annual community tradition, held each year on the second Sunday of August. The Microsoft millionaire has continued to support the Godiva Riders as well. He donated ten thousand dollars to breast cancer research in 1999, and an additional ten thousand dollars each year since then. Donations by participants and spectators (and their families) nearly double that amount. Parade award ribbons, adorned with the figure of a nude woman riding a prancing horse, are given annually to the oldest rider on a horse or bicycle, the youngest rider, the best-decorated horse, the best-decorated bicycle, and the best-decorated naked lady.
2011 entry forms for riders and spectators will be published in the Skookum Tribune during the month of July. Vendors and artisans wishing to participate in the after-parade party at the fairgrounds may contact Robin Redstone at the Red Robin Café in downtown Skookum for more information.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In which there's a new NaNoWriMo chapter: Clifford, the big red dog!

September 10th, 2010 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
“It’s all Okay”
Meet Clifford, the library dog
By Annabeth Spencer

Newcomers to Skookum maybe surprised when they investigate the city library, located behind City Hall on Salmon Street. From the outside, the library appears to be an ordinary, moderately-maintained Carnegie building, with large bay windows decorated with children’s drawings. Indoors, the antique furniture is oak, the recently-replaced carpeting is understated, and the hand-wound grandmother clock opposite the librarian’s desk chimes reminders of the hour in the key of C. There is nothing immediately evident in the physical space of the building to alert a new library patron that this library is anything but stereotypical.

The Skookum Public Library, now a member of the Pilchuck County Library Consortium, was organized and built in 1904 by a number of civic-minded women who wanted opportunities made available for men’s entertainment as alternatives to drinking themselves into oblivion at the Skookum Public House and drinking themselves into oblivion after availing themselves of the other services available at Miss Melba Mae’s Evening Star House of ill-repute on Cedar Street. The Social Betterment Society, as the ladies called themselves, requested and received funds from the newly-formed Andrew Carnegie Foundation to build a library near the center of town, to purchase up to 100 edifying volumes of literature and nonfiction, and to hire the town’s very first librarian, Miss Marion Dodson at the generous salary of fourteen dollars per month. Miss Dodson’s duties included maintaining order and peace in the library, taking care of the books, organizing the shelves, and splitting and hauling wood to keep the library woodstove burning at a comfortable temperature to encourage readers to stay.

Miss Dodson ran a tight ship: cigars were not allowed in the library unless they were unlit. Drinking and drunkenness of any kind were not permitted. A special shelf of “ladies literature” was maintained, so that women need not bother themselves with the political nonsense that interested men. The initial library collection also included several books intended for use by children, with uplifting themes and vocabulary to stimulate growing minds and spirits.

How things have changed at Skookum’s little library. The old 1904 Carnegie Library building still stands in the same place, although the original brick siding is now protected by stucco, in an attempt to keep rain and wind from entering the building. The building was built of inferior brick materials throughout, which have caused endless headaches for generations of library board members faced with ongoing bills to shore up the leaky, crumbling, and poorly-built structure. Yet the citizens will never hear of tearing down their beloved library, even when promised a shiny new library with modern lighting and more efficient heating. Whenever the budget is threatened, volunteers emerge from everywhere to patch the roof, repair the plumbing, and even exorcise the occasional library ghost.

Leading the old library full of traditions is a librarian who could not be further removed from the legacy of Miss Dodson. Abigail Anderson looks like one of her young patrons, with her tie-died t-shirts, multicolored hair, skinny jeans, and flip flops. “It took some people a long time to get used to my appearance,” she told this reporter, “and I had a tough job convincing older patrons that I really was old enough to be a librarian.” She waves a casual hand at the Washington State Librarian’s Certificate displayed prominently in a frame behind her desk. “But once people got to know me, and learned that I love Steig Larsson and Danielle Steel and Shakespeare and Doctor Seuss just as passionately as any of my patrons, they’ve gotten used to the hair and everything. They seem to enjoy some of the more unusual ideas I’ve brought to the library.”

One of Abbie’s “unusual ideas” is Clifford. Clifford is an Irish Setter, standing about 30 inches tall at the shoulder, and Clifford nominally belongs to Abbie herself. However, a few years ago, one of the teachers at Skookum Elementary School asked Abbie if her class might take Clifford along with them on a field trip to the local salmon hatchery. Abbie joked that she’d be happy to loan Clifford, as long as they checked him out properly and returned him on time…and from that joke, the most unusual library collection in the state was created. A photograph of Clifford’s jaunt with the school kids was published in the Skookum Tribune, with the caption, “Library dog loaned for special event.” Soon after, other citizens began to ask to borrow Clifford, for walks, for picnics, even for weekend camping trips.

Sensing an opportunity to market her library’s services to non-traditional library users, Abbie Anderson sewed a barcode onto Clifford’s collar, and let it be known that Clifford could be checked out from the library for up to three days at a time. Checking out Clifford is not a simple affair: he comes with a leash and a little suitcase containing a small package of doggie poop-pickup bags, ziplock bags full of dogfood, and a book about basic dog care. People now reserve Clifford for dates and family vacations. They take him for walks in the park. The senior center has a standing reserve on Clifford’s time for their Wednesday evening bingo game. During this event, the big friendly red dog wanders between tables, chairs, and wheelchairs, greeting old friends and politely offering a paw when introduced to new people.

Are there any drawbacks to having a dog as a circulating library item? Abbie laughed when I asked the question. “Sometimes I forget to reserve him for myself!” Although Abbie has three other dogs at home on her little farm outside city limits, Clifford is clearly her favorite companion for the long horseback rides she takes into the foothills. “He’s such a great dog,” she says, pulling his ears back and forth as the dog grins a sloppy dog smile up at her, “I’m just glad that other people can borrow some of his greatness from the library.”

The Skookum Public Library is open from 1pm to 9pm Mondays through Wednesdays, 1pm to 6pm Thursdays through Saturdays, and is closed Sundays and most banking holidays. To get a library card, citizens must be able to write their name legibly or be accompanied by another person who can write legibly on their behalf, and present some acceptable form of identification and proof of address. Clifford the big red dog is available for checkout by adults and children (with adult permission on file), and must be returned in good condition within three days of checkout. Abbie Anderson says that the dog has been known to return to the library unaccompanied on his due date, rather than allow himself to become overdue.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In which there is a new NaNoWriMo chapter about a drummer

November 19th, 2010 Skookum Tribune issue number whatever, volume whatever
Meet: The Different Drummer
By Annabeth Spencer

Tall black letters written in Sharpie onto the up-ended plastic cat litter containers read K-E-N-N-E-T-H.

Kenneth is surrounded by the resonant plastic boxes, arranged in a semi-circle around the chair-box. Some are partially full of water. Others contain aluminum cans, empty plastic water bottles, and other items that Kenneth the Different Drummer has found along the side of the road: ping pong balls, plastic buttons, a bicycle chain. A pyramid of boxes behind him provides a backdrop and acoustic rear wall for this street musician who performs in the round at Salmon Run park near the heart of the town of Skookum. Sometimes he reaches into the pyramid and selects a new box of trash to add to the percussion instruments ranged in front of him, a new sound to add to the music he creates for the people walking by him.

His rhythm today is cheerful, skipping, and infectious. Even the people who studiously look away from the sight of a shaggy-bearded man in ragged camouflage clothing making music with garbage unconsciously alter their gait to move in time with the gallimufried beat he provides for the morning.

Kenneth is a regular here on the busker’s platform in this tiny green space surrounded by streets and shops. He has a regular audience, as well: business people and shoppers who steer towards him when they hear the music, who dig into their pockets and wallets and purses for money to drop into the plastic cat-litter container painstakingly labeled with a dollar sign.

More than anything else, this madcap percussion attracts children. They stream towards him, released from cars and strollers and the restraining hands of adults. They gather in a semi-circle outside of the boxes that spell K-E-N-N-E-T-H.

The children dance.

They spin, they skip, they hop. They clap. They shout nonsense words that become lyrics for music of the one-man symphony on the performance platform. One little girl, just learning to walk, plunks down on a fat diaper-padded bottom directly in front of the Different Drummer, and bangs together rocks that she has found on the ground there, harmonizing her sounds with the sound of the ultimate street musician.

Some children, usually boys, approach the plastic semicircle as if to bang on it themselves. This is strictly not allowed. The Different Drummer doesn’t break his rhythm, doesn’t lose his distant smile, but somehow incorporates a strong “bang!” of the box near an intruder into his song. His message is as clear as the warning stomp of a she-elephant: Stay back. This is mine. Go get your own garbage.

The children understand the message, and they return to their dance.

Some people greet him by name, which he acknowledges with a nod of his head, still not blinking the unfocussed gaze, still not breaking the rhythm. The music continues.

The rhythm gradually changes, and becomes slower. From outside the circle of dancers, a young woman approaches the busker’s stage, carrying a flute case. She catches Kenneth’s attention by lifting the case ever-so-slightly. He considers for a moment, and then gives a vigorous nod. Within seconds, the flute is out of the case, assembled and perched at the woman’s lips.

She does not begin to play immediately. She pauses, listening, and nodding her head in the way that little girls nod their heads in time to a jump rope being turned, readying the music within her as rope-skippers ready their bodies to enter the thwacking beat of a skipping rope.

With a deep in-breath and a strong up-nod, the flute music joins the cat-litter drums in a boisterous flurry of notes. The little girl with the rocks squeals in delight and throws her rocks above her head in a joyous salute. The dancing children raise their hands above their head, twirling now, around and around. The smaller twirlers get dizzy quickly and fall sideways to the ground, grinning broadly. The older kids form a circle of dervishes, jumping and spinning and jumping again, each time with a shout of triumph.

The music continues. With the flute to carry the song for a while, the percussionist takes an occasional break now, drinking water from a gallon jug placed within reach of his plastic box-chair. When the flute player takes a break, an older man with the demeanor of a priest lifts a guitar-case over his head and waggles it back and forth like an Olympic figure skater performing an axel-lift with a featherweight skating partner. Kenneth waves the guitarist onto the stage, and the music continues, thrumming, chirping, and thumping.

The children dance, the adults stand in amazement, and the music surrounds them all so strongly that the hearts of all the people are beating together, with exactly the same cadence.

The music builds into a mighty crescendo, an icy tsunami wave of irresistible sound, the flute twirling, the guitar pounding, the garbage banging louder and louder. The musicians are watching each other closely now, and Kenneth rolls his head in a long circle and then lifts and drops his head into a fierce and final stop. After a pause, he raises his hands aloft in triumph.

There is silence for one second. Two seconds. Three seconds. And then: applause.

Kenneth "the Different Drummer" Baker served twenty years with the United States Army before retiring in 1995. He spent time in some of the most beautiful parts of the world—and some of the most horrible. He spent nearly a year in the “sandbox” of Iraq following Gulf War I, and he refuses to talk national politics with anyone anymore.

“For me, for now, it’s all about local,” he says. “I spent a career thinking about the Big Picture, taking orders from on high, from people half a world away from where we were stationed, from people who had no idea what would really happen to their orders when the rubber hit the road. I was,” he sings, “hip deep in the Big Muddy, and the Big Fool says to push on, and I’m just not going to do that anymore. These days, I don’t work for anybody but myself. I do whatever work needs doin’, and I get paid because I do good work: building stuff, repairing stuff, trimming trees. I even milk cows once a week for a fella who needs to take his wife into town for chemo treatments. That job doesn’t pay much, but it needs to be done, and I’ve got the skills to do it, so I do. And when I’m not working, I’m thinking about music, and how to make some more of it.”

Kenneth was born and raised on a dairy farm outside of Skookum. On graduation day, 1975, he walked out of the high school gym and into the army. He likes to finish what he starts.

He was engaged once to a girl in Germany, but the girl decided that she didn’t want to leave her hometown to follow a soldier around the world, so they never did get married. “When I was sorrowing my broken heart about that,” he says, “a guy in my unit gave me a set of drumsticks. That guy played in a pick-up Dixieland band on the base, and they needed a percussionist. I hadn’t had drumsticks in my hands since middle school, but I didn’t have anything better to do except mope around the barracks. So I went with him to a gig, and they put me on the drum set, and for the first time in months, dang, I had some fun. We played a lot of old-timey music, you know, “Basin Street Blues,” and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” a lot of Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke tunes. Here we were in freakin’ Okinawa, playing Dixieland music, and the people loved it. I didn’t know much but the guys let me play along, and I learned what to do. The bandleader, Bob, he wrote some original stuff for the band, but since guys were coming and going in the group, he gave up writing down the tunes. He’d just sing us through them once or twice before the gig, and then we’d go out and play in front of an audience. We’d hang around after the gig, and he’d say, like, ‘Kenneth, next time we do “Riverboat Shuffle”, when we get to the break, I want you to do like this,’ and he’d use some pencils to tap out a rhythm on the table and the salt shakers and the beer glasses, to show me how he wanted it to sound. It was fun. It was more fun than I’d had since I joined the military. And I started thinkin’ that after I got out, maybe I should just keep up doing the music thing.”

Music gigs were hard to come by in the mid-nineties when Kenneth returned to civilian life. “Grunge was really big, but I didn’t want to do any grunge. And one day I remembered Bob using those salt shakers and beer glasses and whatever else was handy as drums to show me what he wanted, and I thought, “why not?

“I walked around with drumsticks in my hand for a week…maybe more than a week. And I drummed on everything I could find. I drummed my way through the Food4Less, and I drummed my way through the hardware store. Then I got to the feed store, and I found all those buckets, for livestock and stuff. And those buckets, they had such an amazing sound!

“The containers the kitty litter comes in were the best—not when they’re full of cat sand, but after they’re empty. I put up a sign asking people to give me their empty containers, and that first week I got about twenty containers. Then I started experimenting with stuff inside the containers, trying to find all the different sounds I could make. Then I started adding trash to the containers, and that made even more, even better sounds. And it suits me, too: I make music from stuff that somebody else threw out. I love that entire concept.

"I never stop trying new stuff, never stop experimenting with new sounds. The time that I spend on stage in the park is the best part of my day. Hell, it’s the best part of my whole life.

“At least, it’s the best part so far.”

Kenneth the Different Drummer can often be heard at the busker’s platform in Salmon Run Park on Monday and Thursday mornings. A CD recording of Kenneth’s music can be purchased at Original Piñatas, the Skookum Drug and Hardware store, the Red Robin Café, and from Kenneth himself. Proceeds from CD purchases are donated to CLEANUP, the non-profit river and wetlands restoration organization.

The Park’s performance platform was built in 1907 by the founders of the town after the unfortunate incident of the rats and the bagpiper. Parks Department rules for this stage state that performers may not be hired to play music in this location, but buskers may collect an unlimited amount of tips from passersby. The park and stage are open to during daylight hours and occasionally after dark by special permission.