Recently I went to a Louisville Bats game at Slugger Field. The opposing team was somewhat irrelevant – let’s call it Bats v Gnats. I was impressed by the diligence of the seat steward, guarding the “diamond club” seats, all ten of them, with pride though the entire section lay empty. I sat at the periphery, the lone fan in my section, near first base. It was also called the “first base club” which I connect with Louisville’s air of innocence. The kissing and hands-on-top-of-blouse section, as it were. When a young barista offered me a “hot passion,” pronounced “pay-shun” I felt the blush push up past my cheeks and through my scalp. Kentucky people are deliberately slow, not to stave off heat or the shadow of oppression as in your deep southern states, but to make sure you know they’re trying really, really hard to please you. They talk like bourbon here, and it makes you want to confess all your secrets and be done with it.
If I looked deeper, if I moved my clothes and my life here (which includes a significant other that looks and talks like he should be here anyway) and settled into a neighborhood outside the candy fleur de lis shell, I do wonder what I would find. Kentucky is at once rich and destitute, a crossroads where horse people meet piss poor. There is a fantasy of wealth in Louisville and a romance that is shocking for a town in a state that borders Indiana, so far my least favorite state in the union – I lived in Valparaiso and no one had ever heard of Mardi Gras – something tells me they know about Mardi Gras in Louisville. In my experience, what lies across the border is in the boring belt. Kentucky, the rolling, pretty bluegrass south, is so far away from the beer gut that is most of the middle of the country. Taking in Kentucky one does not guzzle. One sips.
There are tremendous problems here, just as in the middle and the sides and the bottom and top of our country. There are pockets of poverty and ugliness, there are uneducated, abusive people, there is racism and intolerance, there is probably a serious issue with evolution and terrible corruption. That just makes it normal. There are piles of coal on the river. I could overlook those. Because it’s gorgeous here and the accents just kill me. The architecture is solid. There’s a serious take on preservation, a growing interest in sustainability, and an established dedication to stay local and buy American. People smile here, and there has been little reason to smile lately. I will admit I am still clueless about the complexities of life in this state. But I leave wanting to know more.
When I was thirteen I had a mysterious encounter under the blazing hot New Braunfels sun. There was a black bottom reservoir, a green eyed bathingbesuited boy a few years older than me (and about a foot taller) and an opportunity. We had this silly and polite adolescent-intellectual conversation under a tree for an hour, and I took his picture doing a swan dive into the deep water. I never saw him again but I will always be able to recall with great accuracy the romantic buzz I had for the rest of that muggy Texas summer. He had this funny southern accent I didn’t recognize and touched my hair and cheek sweetly and kissed me goodbye, first base nowhere in sight.
Kentucky sorta makes me feel that way.