Category Archives: Holiday History

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.


P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”

Year of the Sheep

Pic: Phil McClean/solentIt’s the Year of the Sheep!  Step back!

This is my year.  The Chinese restaurant paper place mat told me so.  And I’m gonna own it.

I used to be sheepish about my sheepiness.  I used to mumble when people asked me what my Chinese sign was.  I used to suffer with silent envy when someone else mentioned that they were a Horse or a Tiger or, gasp, a Dragon.

Why couldn’t I be a Monkey, I thought to myself.  Monkies are comic gold.  Or a Rooster, giving me a handy excuse to say Cock! in polite company.  Even a Rat would’ve been better.  Much hated, sure, but they’re crafty survivors.  And living here in Baltimore, they’re like the unofficial Spirit Animal of the city.

A snake’s badass.  I woulda loved to be a Snake.  I’m a Scorpio in Western astrology, so I know the pleasure of being badass and  having the deadliest sign.  In quiet moments I dreamed of being a Scorpio-Dragon.

I dunno. Maybe it’s too much to have the coolest sign in both, to be a Scorpio-Dragon.  Maybe the world just can’t handle that.  Maybe I’d be too badass.  Anything else, though, would’ve been better.

Rabbits are cute.  Pigs are tasty.  Dog’s are better than people.

But a Sheep?  Dumb mutton.  Something to be ordered around and shorn of its self-respect. Continue reading Year of the Sheep

Tchotchkes and Latkes

davenportsI still remember the first time I heard it.  It was back in the late ‘90s, when I had cable.  There was this openly gay guy, bald, a little overweight, a beard I think.  He had some design show about sprucing up your house.

There weren’t a lot of openly gay men on American TV back then.  They were just breaking through into mainstream culture.  There was the sitcom Will & Grace, and those five gay guys who taught you how to dress.  Anyway, this guy, whose name I can’t remember, was enough of a national sensation that Saturday Night Live spoofed him for a while.

I was sitting on my velour davenport watching cable TV.  I flipped by his show.  He was pointing out all the bric a brat cluttering a room and said: “I’m in tchotchke heaven.”

Except he didn’t say it right.  He said choch-kee.  Kinda rhymed with Versace.  I cringed. Continue reading Tchotchkes and Latkes

State of the Blog Address: My 500th Post

WWII celebrationThis past Monday I hoisted my 500th post to this blog.

Wow, that went fast.

My first post was only three and a half years ago.

But while 500 in 45 months is a testament to what at times has been a dizzying pace, there are also signs that I’m slowing down, at least for now.  And so I thought this benchmark might be a good opportunity to take stock of the website.

Back in 2010 I was looking for a way to market a book manuscript about the decline of American communities.  My friend/agent at the time (he’s still a dear friend, though no longer my agent) alerted me to the harsh realities of modern publishing.  The industry had been ravaged by the internet and that creepy monopolist Jeff Bezos.  It was harder than ever for a first time author to get a book deal.

Yes, yes, I had already written an award-winning book, but it was an academic book, based on my doctoral dissertation and geared towards a scholarly audience.  That kinda stuff didn’t count.  In the commercial world I was still a first time author.  And first time authors needed to build their own audience ahead of time, my agent/friend told me.  You had to prove to publishers that you had a loyal following that could be counted on to buy your book.

“Get on the internet and make some noise,” my friend/agent suggested.

For the record, my dear friend is arguably even less technologically inclined than I am.

How would I get on the internet?  How would I “make some noise?”  Neither of us actually had a clue.

Around this time, I’d been talking to another dear friend out in California.  Rae had been generous enough to not only read the book manuscript in question, but she had also offered very insightful feedback.  And it also just so happened that Rae knew a little bit about making noise. Continue reading State of the Blog Address: My 500th Post

2014 New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve never made any New Year’s resolutions before.  Boring me, I long ago decided to live everyday as best I can, engage in thoughtful self-reflection from time to time, and incorporate positive changes as they occur instead of waiting until the New Year.

But what if I took that holier than thou stick out of my ass and gave it a try?

Here we go then . . . My 10 for 2014:

  1. Watch More TV.  I haven’t had cable for more than a decade, and as the internet becomes ever more seductive, I find myself watching very little live television.  This is tragic.  As a professor, I should be relying on broadcast television to keep me in touch with my youthful charges.  True, my students don’t watch much television either, instead choosing to bury their heads in the sand of smart phonery, but television can provide me with good fictional examples of what late teens and early twentysomethings think, believe, and do.  And if I absorb more of that, then perhaps the next time I try to “crack wise” with today’s hip youngens, they’ll recognize that while I’m woefully out of touch, I have given it the old college try.  Kids still respect that, right? Continue reading 2014 New Year’s Resolutions

The True Meaning of Christmas?

What’s Christmas all about?  Honestly, I have no idea.

I grew up half-Jewish with non-observant parents, and my Christian relatives were on the other side of the continent.  The holiday’s half a mystery to me.

My parents were rebellious and hated the commercialism.  They made some effort, but not much.  We had a few Christmas trees along the way.  There was this sickly aluminum thing.  You wouldn’t think an aluminum tree could be sickly and shed, but somehow this one did.  My mother can endure nothing that sheds, so she tossed it and we got an actual pine tree.  Turned out my kid sister was allergic.  That was the end of Christmas trees.

I haven’t decorated one since I was about 10.  Can’t say that I miss it.  Got drunk and absolutely demolished one when I was about 23.  That was fun.  Stomped the shit out of it, then dragged it outside and beat a car with it.  A ’75 Plymouth Valiant, cream with a beige interior.  Couldn’t hurt that car. Continue reading The True Meaning of Christmas?

Batman, Black Pete, the Washington Redskins, and Modern Minstrelsy

Black Pete and SinterklaasHave you heard about Black Pete?

Black Petes, or Zwarte Piet as they are known in Dutch, are Siterklaas’ (Santa Clause) sidekicks.  But instead of elves, they’re black midgets typically played by white people in black face.

I’m not making this up.

The Dutch version of St. Nick works his Christmas season magic accompanied by an army of little Jumpin’ Jim Crows, diminutive, black face helpers who look like an unholy cross between Al Jolsen and Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

If that ain’t a goddamn freak show, then I don’t know what is. Continue reading Batman, Black Pete, the Washington Redskins, and Modern Minstrelsy

7 Tips for Getting Through Thanksgiving

Some people host Thanksgiving, drawing loved ones to their home.  Others eschew traveling to family affairs, and instead congregate with friends at local, low stress gatherings.  But most are among the millions who plod near and far to spend it with their ragged clan.  For them, I offer some tips on how to make the most of it and avoid the worst of it.

1. Stand near the deviled egg plate.  Like most every other human on the planet, you love them more than you care to admit.  If you try to play it cool, they’ll be gone before you know it.  And then you’ll cry.  Don’t cry on Thanksgiving because you missed out on the deviled eggs.  Just scarf them up til your heart’s content.  Or until its cholesterol level maxes out. Continue reading 7 Tips for Getting Through Thanksgiving

No Labor Day

Why should life all labor be?
          -Alfred Lord Tennyson

This is not work.  These are just words.  Any words will do.  They do not need to serve a purpose or accomplish a goal.

Pleasant words to make me happy, maybe you too.  Idle words to pass by with nary a glance.  Frivolous words to frolic irresponsibly in the face of pressing needs and urgent demands.

Maybe some pictures.  Scribbles and scratches smattered and smeared.  Art for no reason.  Captions optional.

No decisions.  No deadlines.  No worries, no threats.

A day for the grasshopper to laze in the sun and chirp and hop and sing.

A day, and a night, to forget what lurks ahead. Continue reading No Labor Day