Archive for September, 2010:
There are all kinds of things strange in Oak Ridge. In fact I would argue that something usual would be odd there. We even managed to make the normal, well, strange.
The old timers in our town don’t tell about the time before the land around the city was all subdivisions. No, these guys tell about the time before we understood about mercury poisoning.
The labs still remain in Oak Ridge, and they still do top secret government work, just as they have since they were built. In one of these labs, the old timers say they used to have pools of mercury. About 3 feet deep! And ‘in the days before we understood about inhaling it and getting it on our skin, we would just pull on our waders and go in.’ It seems they were just a bunch of good old boys, in back woods Tennessee, getting in their gear and their waders and going in to catch . . . strange diseases?
Every summer the local lake would get the public swim area shut down due to toxic levels of mercury. Us kids didn’t think anything of it. Isn’t mercury poisoning why any public swim area would be shut down?
While those of us in Oak Ridge didn’t seem to understand how odd we were, the people in the surrounding areas sure did.
Even today, with all the sprawl that occurs in most urban areas, Knoxville will only come so close to Oak Ridge. A good look at Google Earth shows that the other nearby towns are wary of us, too. Clinton, Harriman and even little Oliver Springs don’t want to get to near. Yes, the aerial view will tell you: this town has the cooties.
I didn’t know that all the neighboring cities referred to Oak Ridgers as ‘night lights’ – because we glow in the dark. I never even heard the term until I was in my twenties when someone finally got brave enough to say it to my classmate’s face. Think about it, we were the kids at the state schools who ate up all the scholarship spots. We came in as sophomores because of all that AP credit. We weren’t on the football teams as a general rule, but we ruled debate and Psi Chi . . . so it was a while before I heard anyone refer to me this way.
Maybe I didn’t hear it, because I didn’t really pay attention like I should. I also didn’t read the newspapers like I should . . . or I would have seen the headlines “three legged frogs hopping out of Oak Ridge” every time there was a slow news day. I didn’t know that the shaved edges on the trucks meant they were missile trucks. I just thought about half of all trucks looked like that. (See “Lather, Rinse, Repeat” in the archives for more fun missile truck facts!)
At this point, you’ve probably already figured out that I have always been weird. I was raised this way. It’s not just the fact that my father is a nuclear physicist working in the Appalachians and my mother is a lawyer who would make us kids argue points and win cases to prove it was not I who left the towel on the bathroom floor. (There was a version of ‘if the glove does not fit, you must acquit’ in our kid-court long before Dershowitz used it for OJ.)
Though that surely would have been enough to turn me to the geek side, I got an even bigger dose: I grew up in Oak Ridge.
Alright, I admit that if you don’t know about Oak Ridge that last statements lacks gravitas. So let me explain how this helped warp young little me.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is best known as ‘the town that built the bomb’. Yes, THE bomb, dropped on Japan, ending WWII, blah blah blah. Though that’s the phrase most use ‘THE town that built the bomb’ is a misnomer – there’s also Oak Ridge’s sister city Los Alamos in New Mexico. Los Alamos built the hardware and Oak Ridge did the software. So it was really two cities that built the bomb, but the citizens of each claim to be from ‘The town’ that did it.
There has long been a running joke about the ‘Fashion Police’. There’s even been the occasional TV comedy skit dedicated to the premise . . . these go all the way back to the ‘Candid Camera’ days. Women’s magazines bring on the Dos and Don’ts and even black bar the eyes so that supposedly no one recognizes your fat ass in the too-tight clothing. Now, in the days of the internet, no one is so kind. Faces aren’t blurred, and ‘Only at WalMart’ – which features the ‘Oh, my God!’, mouth-agape kind of fashion blunders – has posts from all over. Unfortunately, the thing most wrong with the ‘Only at WalMart’ site is that those things aren’t only at WalMart.
Another great place to find the faux pas is at amusement parks. I know that upper crusty folks would never do something so plebian as to play on roller coasters and such. But my family loves it. Still, these places are bastions of safety for the fashion challenged crowd. If you want it to get even worse, go to a water park. Yes, come see the masses in their bathing suits . . . oy!
My friend Jason says when he looks around an amusement park he is reminded of why he doesn’t have female friends. Who can trust a woman? Look at the groups of girls that go out. It was their ‘friends’ who told them they looked good. Clearly, there are too many cases where the ‘friend’ wanted to look better than the girls she was out with, so she says, “oh yeah, wear your jeans three sizes too tight like that. It looks great.” Jason points out that the alternative is that women are just stupid, and in spite of everything men say, they think it’s better to squeeze into a size 4 and bulge around the edges than to wear what fits regardless of that tiny little number on the tag . . .