7500 Miles, Part II: The Big Stare Down

faklemtAfter stumbling half-way across the continent, I settled into the northern Great Plains for a spell.  Determined to visit a variety of archives, I cris-crossed South Dakota to the tune of a thousand miles.  It’s a big state.

First I spent some time in the East River college towns of Vermillion and Brookings.  A hop, skip, and a jump from the Minnesota border, this here is Prairie Home Companion country.  It’s a land of hot dishes (casseroles) and Lutheran churches.  Of sprawling horizons and “Oh, ya know.”

There’s lots of tall people.  Lots of blond people.  Lots of tall, blond people.  I like it.

But after a week of researching and visiting old friends, I left behind the Scandinavian heritage and Minnesota-style niceties of eastern South Dakota.  I made my way west across the Missouri River and then headed north.  Actually, I crossed the line into North Dakota; Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Reservation is actually in the No Dak town of Fort Yates.

I’m happy to give the tribe some money, so I spent a night at the tribally owned Prairie Knights hotel and casino.  I had a mind to play some poker, but when I went downstairs to investigate, I found the card room was already in the thick of a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament.  So I bought a sandwich, returned to my room, and watch Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee Stadium.

After Standing Rock, the plan was to go straight down the gut of central South Dakota to Rosebud Reservation, which sits near the Nebraska border, and then westward to Pine Ridge Reservation in the state’s southwestern corner.

If you were to plot my herky-jerky route across South Dakota, I suspect it would create an exciting new shape that mathematicians would get wide-eyed about.  And then they’d come up with a cool name for this strange but essential new shape.  Maybe something like an “akimus.”  The akimus will shed new light on our understanding of trapezoids.  And of course it will have some mysterious relationship to Pi.

I can imagine this because I haven’t passed a math class since the 10th grade. Read more »

7500 Miles, Part I

the rusted chariotI’m currently circling the nation in a black and orange ‘98 Honda Accord, my rusted chariot.  About 7,500 miles in a little over two months. T hat’s the plan.  As far north as North Dakota, as far south as New Mexico, and as far west as California before closing the circuit by returning to Maryland.  Roughly 26 states in all.

How?  Why?

It’s a massive research/conference trip.  I’m on sabbatical.  A full year at half-pay.

A single semester at full pay is the more common sabbatical leave.  For a full year sabbatical, the typical approach is to get a research fellowship that makes up the lost salary and provides academic focus.

But I usually end up doing things my own way.  I’m not bragging.  It’s as much a blend of chaos and neurosis as anything else.  But in this case the result is, no research fellowship.

Instead, I’ve rented out my house during the semester, and this past summer I took on a freelance writing project.  I co-authored a coffee table book, which will come out next summer.  More on that in future posts.

At the end of August I hit the road.  And thus the journey begins. Read more »

In the Shadow of Mo’Ne Davis

Mo'ne DaivsI.
While not terribly big, my father was nevertheless a super-stud athlete at his high school in Fresno, California during the mid-1950s.  Captain of the football team (he played end on both sides of the ball), member of the track, field, diving, swimming, and basketball teams, he was popular enough to be voted president of the class of `56.  And he was good enough, despite being only 145 pounds, to earn a football scholarship to Redding College in northern California, although he would soon lose it in a gambling scandal.  True.

So you’d think I grew up in a household that paid attention to sports and that I learned it all from at my father’s knee.

Quite to the contrary, not only didn’t the old man watch sports, he didn’t even understand the appeal.  To him, sports were something to do, not something you watch other people do.  I think he looked at it like drinking: he liked drinking, especially with others and alone if need be, but why on earth would he turn on the TV to watch someone else drink?  Or drive across the city and pay for parking and admission to watch people drink.  It didn’t make any sense to him. Read more »

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), “Palette” (1985)

Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), Palette (1985)

In Memoriam: Betty Bacall

Lauren BacallIn the late 1960s, when my father was just starting Ken’s Home Improvements, the contracting business he decided to get up and running now that he had a young son *cough* he relied on recommendations to get his first customers.

An early break came when someone recommended him to New York Times film critic Rex Reed.

Reed was by then one of the nation’s top critics and bestselling author, and had landed himself an apartment in The Dakota, the landmark Manhattan building on Central Park West.  It would later become infamous as the home of John Lennon, when he was shot in front of it in 1980.

The Dakota is hard to describe.  How many apartment buildings do you know that have their own Wikipedia entry, complete with a list of notable residents and cultural references?

It’s the only building I can think of that’s had the distinction of being jarringly out of place not once, but twice. Read more »

Robert Walter Weir, “Embarkation of the Prilgrims” (1844)

Robert Walter Weir, "Embarkation of the Prilgrims" (1844)

Baltimore > Boston > Binghamton > Columbus > Lebanon > Groom > Chamber > Needles > Orange

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 »

%d bloggers like this: