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The open roadIn February the word came in. My brother-in-law had a job offer in Orange County.  He and my sister would finally be giving up the little apartment in far northern Manhattan and heading for the West coast.

“Lemme know if I can help,” I told my sister.

“You wanna drive the moving truck across the country with Noah?” she asked.

“Sure, I can do that,” I said.

Monday, July 21

With luggage, I make the 20 minute walk to the light rail station.  Train shows up, and the ride to the airport is uneventful.  Not like last time when I had some drunk fool trying to pick a fight with me at 9:00 in the morning cause he thought I was “gay lookin’” at him.  Goin’ on about how he did a dime in prison and he’d kick my ass, except he’s either about 60 years old or a very rough 50, and already lit, drinking tall boys out of paper bags, so no, he can’t actually kick my ass.  After not engaging, I finally had to tell him to shut the fuck up already, but that didn’t help.  Didn’t make it worse either.  Just kept on prattling his belligerent, drunken shit.

Nothing like that this time. To the airport, all good.  Until you walk in to find your flight’s been delayed two hours.

After what passes for a nice meal at BWI (decent beer, cured olives, mixed salad with goat cheese; actually, that’s a nice meal anywhere), I mosey over to the gate. My gate’s jammed, so I go to something a bit emptier.  I open up Murdering McKinley by Eric Rauchway, a history prof up at UC Davis. He’s a good writer, which isn’t a given for a historian.

I mean, just look at this pablum.

About thirty pages in, this terribly annoying extended family sits next to me.  Not a decent one in the lot.

I move on to a quieter spot. Then the guy behind me starts slurping the straw of his empty Dunkin’ Donuts cup.  And he won’t stop. On and off for 20 minutes.  I look behind me.  He’s about 50 years old

Truly, there is no sense of decorum left in this country. Read more »

Thomas Hickey, “An Indian Lady” (1787)

Thomas Hickey, "An Indian Lady" (1787)

In Memoriam: James Garner

James GarnerWhen I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for me to come home after school, plop down in front of the TV, and watch cartoons.  I favored the Loony Toons stable of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and their wild-eyed cohorts.

By 1980, I was in the 8th grade.  And while my love of Bugs Bunny has never diminished, during junior high school, my after school TV habits shifted to reflect my uneven, lurching path towards manhood.

There was the 4:30 movie, which often featured Japanese monsters or Elizabeth Taylor.  There were repeats of various sitcoms from the 1960s, sporadically in black and white or color on our 19″ Zenith, which seemed really quite large at the time.

And then came Jim Rockford. Read more »

Emmanuel Mudiay: From Zaire to Dallas to . . . China?

Red Rubber in the Belgian CongoYou’ve probably never heard of Emmanuel Mudiay.  After all, he’s only 18 years old and just graduated high school down in Texas.  But he’s already had an interesting, and at times quite difficult life.

Mudiay was born in Zaire.  Remember Zaire?

Central Africa, often called the Congo for the mighty river flowing through it, was a Belgian colony from the late 1800s until the mid-20th century.  During that time, Belgium amassed one of the most ruthless colonial records anywhere in Africa.  Common practices included slavery, whippings and beatings, mass murder, rape, genocide, and the mutilation of children; a practice known as “red rubber” included chopping off the hands of children to encourage their parents to work harder.

The Congo finally achieved independence from Belgium in 1960.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had emerged from the horrors of colonialism, but the transition was rocky as Belgium continued to meddle in the affairs of its former colony, abetted by the United Staes.  Violence plagued the new nation.

In early 1961, Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was executed.  Belgian forces oversaw his murder, initially blaming it on angry villageers.  The United States was complicit, having previously tried and failed to assassinate Lumumba.  Belgium finally issued a formal apology in 2002.

A Congolese army colonel named Joseph Désiré Mobutu had been instrumental in the coup against Lumumba.  In 1965, again backed by the Belgians and the CIA, who saw him as a loyal Cold Warrior, Mobutu took over completely.

In 1971, he changed the name of the country to Zaire.  The following year, he changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko, and quickly established himself as a ruthless dictator. Read more »

William Klein, “Veruschka with Cheetah” (1967)

William Klein, "Veruschka with Cheetah" (1967)

Buying The Public Professor

PayolaFor some time now, I’ve been getting offers to run commercial content at this website.  Once every few months or so, a marketing company will contact me about the possibility of paying to publish a “guest blog.”

Typically they dangle an undisclosed amount of cash in front of me, with promises of  serving up guest content that will be “consistent” with my site.  They also assure me that I’d have final say about the content.  As if they’re doing me a favor by letting me decide what goes up on my own website.  So kind.

Of course it’s a quasi-scam.  They’d give me nothing more than a thinly veiled commercial to run.  And for that, how much are they willing to pay?

I don’t know, I’ve never followed up.  Whenever one of these offers pops up in my Inbox, I just trash it.  If they’re persistent, and some of them are, I spam it.

Recently, however, a new kind of commercial offer came my way.  Something a little more insidious, perhaps, than supplying material for the website.

I’ve been offered a form of payola. Read more »

Gerald Nailor, “Untitled” (1937)

Gerald Nailor, "Untitled" (1937)

Americanizing Soccer

The following is an edited version of my most recent article for 3 Quarks Daily.  The longer version can be found here.

World Cup USA 1994Twenty years after the United States hosted a World Cup and Major League Soccer made it’s debut, professional soccer remains an extremely marginal product in the marketplace of U.S. spectator sports.

There are many obstacles to soccer becoming substantially more prominent.  However, I believe most of them can be overcome, and the key is better marketing.

Let’s begin with a quick rundown of perceived major obstacles to soccer becoming more popular in the United States.

  • The U.S. marketplace for spectator sports is already saturated
  • Soccer is low scoring and Americans hate low scoring sports
  • Most Americans don’t really understand soccer
  • Most Americans won’t embrace soccer because they perceive it as “foreign”

Read more »

Hans Hofmann “Self-Portrait” (1902)

Hans Hofmann "Self-Portrait" (1902)

In Memoriam: Eli Wallach

Eli WallachI was writing about Eli Wallach just the other day.  I’m co-authoring a coffee table book about America in the 20th century (more on that in a future post), and was working on the Marilyn Monroe entry.  It’s not easy to encapsulate someone’s entire life and career in 500 words.

So when looking to briefly explain that Monroe was a talented actor despite being typecast as the ditzy blonde, I mentioned her performance in the Arthur Miller penned movie The Misfits, in which she co-starred with Clark Gable and Eli Wallach.

The implication is clear.  If you could hold your own alongside Eli Wallach, you could really act. Read more »

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