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Month: September 2016

The Crash of a Hero

One of my favorite childhood toys was an Evel Knievel action doll. Evel’s diminutive doppelganger was a slim man in a white pantsuit with a deep, dark blue V chest applique that was studded with white stars. He had a matching white helmet and a cape. His white gloved hands were perfectly molded to clamp onto the handlebars of his shiny motorcycle. That motorcycle locked into a plastic hand crank that allowed me to wind him up and set him flying, just like the real Evel Knievel.

The real Evel Knievel was a stud. Even his name was cool, tripping off the tongue with the same fanfare and panache he displayed flying over rows of cars. We all, boy and girl alike, dreamed of doing the amazing stunts that Evel Knievel pulled off. We all dreamed of being the glitzy, famous showman featured over and over again on the Wide World of Sports. To a little girl whose heroes included drag racer Big Daddy Don Garlits and the boys from the Dukes of Hazzard, Evel Knievel was just one more daring flash in the world of fast cars, fast bikes, and reckless behavior. I ate it all up.

Fast forward 30 years, and I’m a middle-aged working mom married to a man who is solid, stable, and reliable. He doesn’t wear a white jump suit with a cape, or race a quarter mile in less than five seconds, or jump his car over creeks in an attempt to evade the law. Thank God I grew up and turned away from crass, renegade showmanship in favor of stability. This man, our child, and I were at a local amusement park last weekend, waiting for the train. We relaxed on a bench in the train station, chatting and watching a large television that promotes various add-ons in the park and features cartoons and trivia. A trivia question appeared about Evel Knievel and how many cars he had jumped during one of his motorcycle stunts.

“Evel Knievel!” I said. “Wow! I haven’t thought about him in ages!” I quickly launched into a tirade to my child, drowning her in my enthusiasm for some weird motorcycle stuntman she’s never heard of and couldn’t care less about. This was another one of my famous “teaching moments.” Wisdom gleaned from my own childhood. M and I reminisced about our Evel Knievel toys, and he’s the one who reminded me about the crank. (I vaguely remember my crank breaking early on, and resorting to wrapping Evel onto his bike, pulling it back to load the wheel spring, and letting him fly with abandon. It didn’t work as well as the crank as I never quite held Evel perfectly vertical before letting him go, but that didn’t stop the fun.) And then I made a huge tactical error.

I googled Evel Knievel. Right there on my phone, while we waited in the train station.

Turns out, for most of his life, he was a real shit. A huckster, a scammer, a ne’er do well who floated from one money-making scheme to another. He dropped out of high school after sophomore year and went to work in a copper mine. He was promoted to earth mover driver, which lasted only until he popped a wheelie with the mover and hit Butte, Montana’s main power line. He was chased by police and crashed his motorcycle. He joined the army and then left the army and got married. He started a semi-pro hockey team, and it’s implied that he swindled the 1960 Olympic Czechoslovakian hockey team out of their expense money. The USOC had to pay the Czech team in an attempt to maintain diplomatic relations. He then started a hunting and fishing guide service, which did quite well until the U.S. Park Service discovered he was illegally taking clients into Yellowstone National Park to poach. After all this, he decided to go legit and started a motocross career. An early injury forced him into less flashy work, and he sold insurance to support his family. Ever the egomaniac, he demanded a promotion to vice president months later, and quit when his request was declined. He opened a Honda motorcycle dealership, then closed the Honda motorcycle dealership and concocted his daredevil show, serving as the promotor, logistics man, PR shill, set-up crew, ticket seller and emcee. The man was not in short supply of energy. He sustained injuries, but kept riding and jumping, adding more and more cars to his jump line when he’d return to a venue in an attempt to get old customers to come see his show again. All this was before the age of 29. He finally scammed his way into jumping over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, by creating a fictitious corporation and hiring three fictitious “lawyers.” He crashed yet again, and earned increasing notoriety.

The man’s Wikipedia page lists a litany of bone breaks and injuries, including at least three concussions and a groin injury so severe it landed him in the hospital for nearly a month. He broke his arm, ribs, left wrist, right knee, and more ribs. He crushed his pelvis and femur, suffered fractures to his hip, another wrist, and both ankles. He broke his right leg and foot, his hip again, and his collarbone. He compound-fractured his right arm, broke both legs, his back, his pelvis again, and both arms again. He estimated his broken bones to number 35.

Later, when a former promoter wrote a tell-all book that exposed Evel Knievel as a wife-abuser, child beater, and drug user, Evel attacked the man with a baseball bat. He pled guilty to battery and spent six months in jail and three years on probation.

Who in the hell thought this man was a good role model for children?

My illusions of grand Americana clad in a white leather, star spangled jumpsuit are shattered. The man was a fraud. A hack. A huckster out to make a quick buck while achieving fame and notoriety. He spent more time in casts and braces than out. He swindled where he could, and resorted to physical violence when he couldn’t. I sat there in the amusement park train station, aghast. “Oh no,” I said. M leaned over. “What?” “Evel Knievel was awful.” With that, the train pulled into the station and off we went, while I thought about how I was much better off not knowing the real Evel Knievel. I was happier remembering the toy that represented so much that I hadn’t even realized. Bravery. Heroism. Daring American ingenuity. One of my childhood dreams is now shattered by reality. My superhero stuntman is grounded by super-human faults and foibles. His was a show driven by ego and greed, not by a genuine desire to reach further, go faster, do better. The fall of Evel Knievel in my mind is breathtaking in its severity, and astounding in its absorption of brain space. I am also appalled at my own naiveté for all these years. How could I have not known the real Evel Knievel? Why do I care about this so much?

Because I am stupid and don’t learn from my mistakes, I googled Big Daddy Don Garlits. I’ll be damned if the man isn’t a racist homophobe. Because of course he is. Farewell, Evel Knievel. Farewell, Big Daddy. There’s simply no room in my heart for reprobates and haters.

That’s it. I’m never googling anyone ever again. Next thing you know, I’m liable to learn that the Dukes of Hazzard were nothing but redneck scofflaws with questionable motives, a healthy disrespect for probationary boundaries, and a trampy cousin. I just can’t handle news like that.

Pop Goes The Small Town

We drove to Cincinnati for Labor Day weekend, and on the way home we drove through Brazil, Indiana, population 7,912, seat of Clay County. And no longer, unfortunately, Home of the Popcorn Festival. That slogan, emblazoned upon the tallest structure in all the land (a water tower), is now tragically outdated. We saw the water tower, and in a quirky mood to find fun, new places to visit, I googled it. “Maybe we can come back for the Popcorn Festival,” I chirped, as Zoe dozed in the backseat and M concentrated on not running into the idiots on the highway who camp out in the left lane going 15 mph slower than everyone else.

The first site that popped up is an article from the Brazil Times: “End of a tradition: No more Popcorn Festival.” I sighed and read the headline to M. “Why don’t they do it anymore?” he asked. “I dunno. Lemme read the article.”

There is a rich history of the Popcorn Festival in Brazil, Indiana. Turns out that the popcorn king of the world, Orville Redenbacher, was from Clay County, and a few enterprising Brazil volunteers thought it’d be great to honor him with a fun festival in a local park. The article goes on to explain that after a decade, the volunteers went to the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board with a request. “Hey, like, we thought it’d be cool if we could serve beer at the Popcorn Festival. Wouldn’t that be delicious?” And the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board said, “Yeah. NO. No beer. This is a family event and if there’s beer there people might have a good time and God knows we don’t want that.” And so the fine, beer-loving volunteers went, “Fine. Then we’re taking our Popcorn Festival and going home. NO POPCORN FOR YOU.”

This festival wasn’t just some random dude in an Orville Redenbacher costume poppin’ some corn in one of those fancy moveable popcorn carts. This was a serious festival. It was even, “after some legwork,” a member of the Indiana State Festival Association. These people weren’t messing around. That’s some serious gravitas, being a member of ISFA. They don’t let just anyone into ISFA. You’ve gotta do some serious legwork. They also got ConAgra Foods, which makes Orville Redenbacher products, to donate $10,000 to start the festival. 10k is a lot of popcorn. It grew to a four-day event, drawing around 20,000 visitors. Local and regional talent provided performances and food. There was even a carnival for the children.

And then the killjoys at the Brazil City Parks and Recreation Board ruined everything.

I related all of this to M, which wasn’t really newsworthy but helped pass the time as we drove through the oblivion of mid-western Indiana.

And then…and then I clicked on the comments link.

The Popcorn Festival debacle has engendered much debate in the sleepy community of Brazil. Some people support the Board’s decision because alcohol is evil and should be banned from the earth and those thoughtless and selfish festival volunteers were endangering children with their reckless suggestion. Other people point out that a golf course that neighbors the park serves alcohol all the time and there doesn’t seem to be a problem. The more I read, the more I laughed. I shared with M, and he stopped cursing at the slow drivers and started laughing, too. Here are some of my favorite comments offered by the citizens, present and past, of Brazil, with my comments following in italics (I left the comments unedited to retain the…ah…colloquial voice of Brazil, Indiana):

I have come to really dislike the annual rotary festival. It has gotten so lame over the years. I really looked forward to the popcorn festival.

Slamming the rotary festival won’t bring back the popcorn festival, dude. Plus, those party cats at the rotary probably serve beer, so maybe tie one on and you’ll have a good time.

Somehow Orville Redenbacher does not strike me as a beer drinker. Besides, We have enough idiots in this town without allowing them to get drunk at our park.

I think Orville Redenbacher loved beer. I mean, c’mon. He’s German.

the reason to not allow alcohol sales is bunk.the city lost their ***** with the forth of july due to rain,and when you figure in the expense of the new skate park and the expense of the new nature trail at craig park and the upcoming expense of the ALLEDGED four million for street repairs which will never happen,city hall forced the popcorn fest out.personally id rather see fourth of july fest gone,but the city hall knows better than take on rotary

Again with the Rotary. I’m starting to wonder if those party cats at the Rotary weren’t behind this whole thing.

[T]he decision to dissolve was for other reasons than the beer/wine tent. We knew the board would say NO. It was what happened after that which showed the ugly side of Clay County. Trust me, you can call any member and get facts of what happened about many scary and threatening calls and the actions of disgruntled festival members who left.

Okay, some serious shit was going down in Clay County. Scary and threatening calls? Damn. These people take their Popcorn Festival seriously. Someone might want to check into whether the Rotarians are into burner phones.

I cannot really believe in the backwardness of this city and its officials for letting this to come to happen, I for one believe that mayor was just like our governor and the only causes he believes in is his own and what he can gain for his own agenda,,,, this is just another step in local dictatorship and to hell with everyone elses ideas to foster new ideas in our community,,, also for all of you church goers throwing out all those scary and threatening calls I am sure our lord is looking upon you in disgust,,,, for those of you who forgot jesus did make wine and hand it out to everyone…..also stop worrying about everyone else and take care of your meth head kids and mulletheads as you described them in other posts because the real problems lie in your own home and so called virtues,,,,,, this is my vent to you all that know all but know nothing

“Meth head kids and mulletheads” is now my favorite phrase.

I believe they should paint on the tower BRAZIL HOME OF BACKWARDNESS DON’T STOP HERE

But that won’t attract 20,000 people to Brazil, so you’re totally losing a four-day boost to the local economy. No, better to paint something like, “Brazil: Don’t mess with the Rotarians.”

There should not be alcohol where are kids and grandkids are present. There is not enough in brazil for families to do, and yet you do away with one of the functions everyone enjoys. It is to bad we have to go out of town to eat, shop and enjoy ourselves, I guess people can go to the corn festival in Sullivan, and give our money to Sullivan.

Great news, there’s always the Corn Festival in Sullivan! A great alternative to the drunken, evil Rotary Festival. Woot!

I live very close to the park and the last thing I want to see is drunk people on my lawn or driving cars.

I live close to a park, which has a bar right on the other side of it, and I’ve never seen drunk people on my lawn. Well, I’ve never seen drunk people I don’t know on my lawn. Just sayin’. Also, no one wants to see drunk people driving, regardless of where they’re coming from. The Popcorn Festival doesn’t corner the market on people behaving badly.

I don’t believe, as stated in some of the posts, we would have seen people walking around with beers, drunk. It would have been a beer garden just like at Terre Haute’s Octoberfest or the Little Italy Festival in Clinton. Yes, there are some small minded people in Brazil who don’t like change, but please don’t tar all the people here with that brush.

Oh, now we’re throwing around even more festival names. That’s right, give the people more places to spend their money outside of Brazil. Keep screwing those blasted Rotarians. And I’m sorry, but ya’all tarred yourselves with this awesome comment section.

I vote to eliminate all of the park board members and start from scratch!!

Great idea! I nominate the cool people from the Popcorn Festival. They’ve got loads of spare time now.

I know others will disagree, but in all the years I went to the popcorn festival I never got free popcorn. I was always charged.

Perhaps my most favorite comment. In the midst of a fervent debate involving drunken debauchery, volunteers, popcorn, politics, and meth head kids, this guy is whining that he didn’t get free popcorn, dammit.

All because of no alcohol? What a major cop out!!! That’s okay, I will go to the REAL popcorn fest in Valparaiso, Indiana where the ORVILLE REDENBACHER factory is located, that one is SOOOOOOOOO much better then this little cheesy festival anyway!!!! I HATE BRAZIL more and more each day!!! It has become the armpit of Clay County!

Dude, there is no reason on God’s green earth you have to stay in Brazil. Move already. Move out of the armpit. I hear Valparaiso is nice. Also, if Brazil is the armpit now, where was the armpit before? And how did they dig out of that? My guess? Popcorn and Beer Festival.

I can’t wait untill my house is sold so we can move out of this rat hole town…This town will NEVER amount to anything…

Good luck selling that craphole with all this negative publicity. Who in the hell wants to move to the town that drove out the Popcorn Festival but kept the meth and the mullets?

Wow! It looks like the decision to end the Popcorn Festival is having some unintended ripple effects. According to a tweet I got from one of the TribStar’s writers, it looks like there is already a Twitter campaign to come up with a new slogan for Brazil’s water towers. The Twitter account for the campaign is @BrazilH20Tower (Brazil Water Tower)

Okay, there is a lot to work with here. First of all, what should be an O in the handle is a 0, which isn’t right. It’s O for oxygen, people. Water is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. H20 is twenty atoms of hydrogen. Which, last time I checked, isn’t water. But of course you know I went out to Twitter to find this. Last post was in February 2015. The Brazil Water Tower hates Tom Brady and redneck hunters. My favorite tweet is, “Thought I’d take a moment this evening to remind you all that I still have something about that old popcorn festival tattooed on my ass.” The tower has also taken credit for several water main leaks, demanding action in the form of a repaint in exchange for stopping the chaos. Genius.

I am sorry this has happened. The popcorn festival is a whole lot cleaner then the 4th of July festival. Since Johnny United left we have crappy festivals. My daughter said she is gonna start taking her kids to the Terre Haute festivals they are cleaner and cheaper. At least the popcorn festival was a clean one to go to. But that is the Brazil way, sorry folks Brazil does not know how to grow it is just a welfare town.

Everyone gets a festival…except Brazil. I’m feeling more and more sorry for the bloke trying to sell his home in Brazil.

I was raised there and am very glad I no longer “exist” in that backward area of a meth lab.

Seriously, real estate values have got to be plummeting here. Might be a good investment, though, if you’re still into mullets. Or meth.

I’ll just go to the park with my own popcorn.

Yes! Finally! A real go-getter! Way to show initiative! Watch out for the meth head kids and the drunks from the neighboring golf course, though.

This town is slowly dying, and I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for that news. We long ago stopped going to the Rotary Celebration, and quite frankly, Forest Park altogether. And the other parks(Wheeler, Craig) are populated by punks and questionable adults. You would have to let me drink a beer to tolerate some of the behavior I’ve witnessed in this town! Even on a trip to McDonalds, we hear foul language and see disrespect. We just take our $ and spend it elsewhere, as I suspect others do also. BRAZIL IS DYING(slow but sure)

I hate to break it to you, but the world right now is full of foul language and disrespect. Brazil isn’t anything special in that regard. Also, ya’all gotta quit piling on the poor Rotarians. Seriously. This is starting to look like you’re eating your young. The town isn’t that big, so how many innocent Rotarians have you upset with your boycotts and your Doomsday predictions? Those people are old. Cut them some slack.

Let me ad, we do have grandchildren and we know that the town pride we felt growing up will never be shared by them. We take them out of town for shopping, eating out, swimming, playgrounds, movies, etc. etc. the list goes on and on. We recently needed a wrench for a plumbing job, and had to go to Terre Haute to buy one. (Couldn’t find one in town)

No Popcorn Festival and no wrenches?! To hell with this piece of shit town!

what good things are in our town,none that I see of a police force that cant solve crimes unless they have a traffic stop a mayor that keeps adding on tax hikes and rate increases and hasn’t done anything for a good job in this town, a park where if you have a family gathering you have to pay thru the nose,,,,by the way my brazil city tax dollars help pay for it and I still have to pay streets and storm sewers and even city sewers flood and a mayor that doesn’t even consider hiring in house help, did you even know when he got in office he let the past administration help go

I’m beginning to think Brazil has way bigger problems than the Popcorn Festival. Call me crazy.

Top 10 slogans to put on the water tower

  1. Welcome to Brazil: Home of 4th of July Carnival. Where teeth, shirts, and deodorants are optional, but we don’t like beer.
  2. Welcome to Brazil: Come to Jesusfest in the Forest Park. He may actually show up.
  3. Ahh Brazil…disagreeing with evolution since 1913.
  4. Brazil, Indiana. Where prohibition never died.
  5. Brazil Indiana: where the park board supervisor can make 105 by adding 103+2+1.
  6. Brazil: Where the Park superintendent can be a citizen, then an official, then a citizen, then an official.
  7. Brazil: If you’re gonna murder a teenage girl, this is the place. We haven’t solved a murder in years.
  8. Brazil: Where we believe in Jesus, but even the cows sleep with one eye open.
  9. Brazil, Indiana: we’re nowhere near as open-minded as that country in Europe or wherever it is.
  10. Brazil, Indiana: Where we spell “park”: C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N!!!

No comment necessary.

And to the “citizen” that states that Brazil can’t solve murders…I suggest you go back and do some simple research. I can only think of a couple that have yet to be, and know of many that were resolved.

Um. How many murders are there in a town of 7,912?

The only threat those golfers pose is having to look at those stupid pants they wear. As long as they keep their booze in that building that no one worth their salt goes into anyway, I am good! If I see someone drinking booze in the main park area, I WILL report them. I hate liquor and I do not want my kids around it. It does not belong in the park. If you want to drink, go to one of the many stupid bars in town. That is what they are there for.

So, to be clear, in this comment section we’ve insulted the Popcorn Festival volunteers, the Parks and Recreation Board, citizens of Brazil, the mayor, the police force, bar owners, and golfers.

As for the water tower…my question is, how did it get painted the way it is to begin with? Who made that call? I don’t remember any public input or public meetings where this would have been discussed.

Okay, now we’re really getting to the heart of the matter. Forget the threatening calls, the unsolved murders, the wandering drunken golfers in bad pants. WHO APPROVED THE WATER TOWER PAINTING ANYWAY? WHO?

I don’t understand what the big deal is about the Water Tower, Why do you think it should be painted at this time..just leave it alone. It will be alright.

Finally, a voice of reason.

Why can’t we have fun sober?

This here article and comment section is undeniable proof that we can indeed have fun sober.


Thank you, Brazil Water Tower, and the citizens who live in its shadow. You are awesome. All of you. Even the Rotarians.