In Which the Prof Suggests Some Gardening

… No, not the sort that makes you sweat and have to wash your hands over and over and — wait. That’s just me? Fine. But here’s what I mean.

In the last few days, a meme started going around the Book of Faces:

TAG BS

The enemy.

This sort of junk has been circulating pretty frequently on social media — a similar one deals with Arby’s name being derived from RB for roast beef. (In fact, it comes from the Raffel Brothers, who founded the chain.) And of course, there are similar backronyms for some of our better known obscenities, such as “Ship High In Transit”, “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge/Fornication Under Consent of the King”, and even for such innocent words as posh (“Port Out, Starboard Home.”) When I’ve encountered this sort of thing in the past, I’ve either tended to let it go or to present the countervailing fact in a comment. And in fact, that’s what I did a couple of times yesterday, using the OED entry for the game of tag as my evidence. (The Arby’s thing can be found on St. Wiki.)

But then I thought, what if I take my buzzkilling to a larger stage? So I put up my own post:

Folks, the game of Tag did not get its name from “Touch And Go.” The OED traces the word to at least the 18th C., but notes the origin is pretty much untraceable. You’re mistaking a backronym for etymology. Stop it.

Sincerely,
Professor Buzzkill

It seems to have drawn a fair amount of attention from my online connections, and thus far, that attention has been positive. But this morning as I showered (while washing my hands over and OVER, and… ahem.), I thought, “What if more of us did that?” We all know things that contravene the silliness we see online. We don’t have to be responsible for knowing everything about everything, but there are small things on which the people around us know they can trust us. Why don’t we reply (good-naturedly, and without taking ourselves terribly seriously) with accuracy when we see these things?

Now at this point, I hear you yelling “Snopes! You’ve invented Snopes!” But I think the difference may involve ethos, the aspect of rhetorical effectiveness based on the speaker’s character, both going in and as developed/exposed in the process of communication itself. It’s trustworthiness in expectation and action. And I think this is key.

The Mad Dog is fond of debunking some of the weirder claims we run across on social media with links to Snopes. Alas, much of his audience will then go on to say that Snopes is not an honest broker. Similarly, purported fact-checkers can sometimes be seen as having a thumb on the scale. It’s now a problem of ethos, not one of fact or reason. (Of course, the vulgar postmodernism that infects our culture puts even terms like fact and reason in scare quotes of subjectivity, but that may make ethos even more critical.)

So where does that leave us? We each have people who trust us — people for whom our ethos is established. Further, those people know there are matters about which we have reliable knowledge. So I say, don’t worry about correcting the world. Just tell the truth to your friends when you see nonsense in an area in which they will trust you. Now, there are areas in which we aren’t expert, and there are areas which I think are beyond the discourse I’m talking about — matters of opinion and faith, for example. This is why we have to maintain humility and good humor, and know the limits of our individual gardens of ideas.

But if we tend our own gardens well, and if we can show our neighbors how to deal with the weeds they know we recognize, it might make the whole neighborhood look better.

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Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Literature, Music, Politics, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Potpourri: Revising and Extending Edition

I don’t remember how old I was (probably a pre-teen, because I seem to associate the memory with Nashville) when I discovered that the Congressional Record was something other than what I had been told it was — a verbatim record of what was said in the Capitol that day. In fact, I learned that Congresscritters could “revise and extend” their remarks, adding all sorts of stuff into the record (and the Record) without going to the trouble of saying it from the floor.

In that spirit, here are some more bits and pieces from last week’s adventures.

***

Last Wednesday, as Mrs. M and I were heading to the Mall at Prince George’s, I saw a building with a sign reading “Drums Unlimited.” Mrs. M agreed to swing by there after we did the mall thing, so we did, and she waited in the car while I wandered in. When I was inside, I explained why I was in town and that I was just wanting to browse a bit, but I found out that the company specializes in renting out drum gear for back lines at venues or for studio use, and wasn’t really geared toward the public. However, the guys were really pleasant, and gave me directions to what they told me was a really cool and laid-back music store.

So we went down the street a few blocks (in the process crossing into a jurisdiction called Beltsville, MD) and found Atomic Music, which proved to be as cool as advertised. I looked at some used cymbals, all very reasonably priced, and some that were pretty vintage in the bargain. As I looked at an old Ludwig kit in wood-grain finish, the counter guy said, “All wood-grain kits on sale today.” Then I turned toward a sparkle-finished DW set, and he said, “All DW kits on sale today.” Well, you get the joke. They also had an extensive array of old guitars and basses, including a couple of Hagstroms that I’m pretty sure dated to the mid- to late-60s, and a keyboard room, although the coolest keyboard I saw there was a Hammond C-3 with Leslie rig. It may well have been on sale that day, too.

I shot the breeze with the counter guy for a bit — I asked him if they had the guitar of my dreams somewhere in their holdings. His eyes lit up, but he shook his head. “You’re not gonna believe this, but I had one of those for four years, and I just couldn’t put it on sale, because I wanted it for myself. But I finally gave in, and it sold about a month ago.” And when he found out I used to live around Cincinnati, he mentioned having played Bogart’s in his touring muso days. Who knows? I may have been there. After a bit, I thought it would be nice to get back to the car and Mrs. M, so I headed away. But yeah, if my car and wallet were bigger, I think I’d spend a lot of time at Atomic Music.

***

When we went to Ledo’s for our Friday night dinner, I was sitting by the window when a guy who looked like Sam Elliot with a darker moustache pulled up to the curb in a mid-50s MG-TF:

MG TF

While the owner was in the bar section, I watched an assortment of undergrad-looking young men and women walking past, between the car and me. I was surprised at how seldom people stopped and looked at it. Maybe the owner is a neighborhood regular, and the kids are used to it, but gee whiz — as Housman noted, “[…] to look at things in bloom,/ fifty springs are little room” — so when I see something beautiful, I want to notice it.

And no, there wasn’t an oil puddle when the guy drove away after a bit.

***

One of the things I always notice when I’m in the BosNyWash corridor is the human density, even on the suburban level. As we drove around the University area, and on Saturday as we approached I-95, I saw houses that reminded me of the closing credits of All in the Family, with cars parked along the curbs on both sides of the street, narrowing the street to about a 1.5-lane vein of traffic. Even in the relatively working-class burb of Nashville where I grew up, there was land enough for driveways and garages, and room to play ball in the yard. But DC, I’m told, is one of the most expensive housing areas in the country these days — and driveways take up room.

***

As Mrs. M and I were riding toward the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial on Friday, we were having the “Are we at the right stop?” conversation (Answer: “Not yet”), when we were joined in discussion by a couple of women about our age. After a couple of minutes, we found out that they were from Poland. I mentioned that we had driven past the John Paul II shrine on the way to our hotel on Tuesday. They were surprised — “There’s a shrine to him here? We had heard that he was no longer liked here, because of the pedophilia issues.” I told them that I didn’t know, but that although I’m on the other side of the Tiber, I had great respect for the man, and I didn’t think my position was unusual.

We asked which sights they had seen or planned to see — they rattled off a few, and mentioned that they were thinking about going to the Holocaust Museum, but weren’t sure if it was a good idea. Mrs. M (who had gone there while I was at the Folger) said it was a pretty intense experience, but nothing she hadn’t really encountered in school over the years.

The ladies — English teachers, as it happens — said they understood. “We live about 60 kilometers from Auschwitz, and we take classes there every few years.” But then we got to our stop and split up. I wonder if they went, and if they did, how they integrated it with educations they have received and the ones they give.

***

An aspect of urban life that I’ve come to enjoy is the rise of the food truck. Even though I didn’t actually take advantage of any of them during this trip, I enjoyed seeing them along the streets downtown. The bright colors and energy they bring to the streetscape (as well as the aromas of the various foods) give me a sense of vitality. Heck — that’s even true of the few we have here in Mondoville, but they always make me feel oddly sophisticated. That’s ironic, I guess, given their history of providing cheap food to working folks, but I still get a kick out of them.

***

I think that pretty well covers this particular set of addenda, so I’ll throw a little music at you and get on my way. Here are DC twang-rockers the Highballers. Check them out!

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Family, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

Potpourri: Mr. Mondo Goes to Washington

So, Clan Mondo went on another grad school scouting trip last week, setting out for College Park, MD, on Tuesday and returning home yesterday evening. Forthwith, a random recap, vaguely chronological in order.

***

We got on the road about nine Tuesday morning, and spent nearly the entire drive on the Interstate (26 E to 20 E to 95N, if you’re wondering). Mapquest said it should be about an eight-hour drive, which troubled the Spawn not a bit, as she downed her Dramamine when we set out, and spent the bulk of the drive  in suspended animation. Mrs. M laid claim to the back seat, and in the glorious tradition of summertime dads, I did all the driving, claiming my traditional prerogatives of control of the AC and stereo. The drive itself was pretty uneventful, with the exception of one panicked lane change on my part. By the way, there is a driver in North Carolina who really needs to get his brake lights checked. Or maybe installed.

As it turns out, we got to DC somewhere around 4:30, and because I missed a turn, we wound up going through the guts of town during rush hour. A lot of stop-and-go traffic as I tried to orient myself and pay attention to the mapbot on Mrs. M’s phone, but the upside is that the girls and I got to drive past the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and within sight of the Capitol. I also noticed numerous buildings that headquartered law firms, unions, and assorted other bits of the governmental ecosystem. Eventually we came out of a tunnel and a minute or so later, discovered that we were in Maryland. Shortly thereafter, we found our base camp, the College Park Marriott, conveniently placed on the UMD campus.

By the time we got unloaded and unpacked, I felt about driving as the Lady of Shalott felt about shadows, so Mrs. M piloted us to a nearby Italian restaurant. It took us a couple of passes before we a) noticed the restaurant and b) realized we were supposed to park at the garage next door, but we eventually managed, walked in and sat down, to realize a few minutes later that we were in the bar section, and that if we wanted food service, we needed to go to another area. The Mondoville Hillbillies, we. Still, we enjoyed our dinner, and I hope you do as well, because you’ll be hearing about it a lot. (When we find a place that serves stuff the Spawn likes, we tend to go there regularly.)

We got back to the hotel about nine, and since the next day was the Spawn’s day to investigate the campus, we went through our nightly ablutions and slept as though we had been poleaxed.

***

The next morning, Mrs. M and I made a breakfast run, picking up a waffle from IHoP for the Spawn and some sausage biscuits for Your Genial Host. Mrs. M then drove the Spawn to her meeting with a professor in her preferred program, and then to a campus tour, while I lounged around for a bit. Once the Spawn was safely delivered, Mrs. M and I drove around campus, and to a nearby shopping center, where I had lunch at a Jamaican restaurant, enjoying spicy beef patties and a ginger-pineapple drink that may have been even spicier than the patties. From there, Mrs. M hit assorted department stores at The Mall at Prince Georges while I contented myself with people watching. Having said that, might I suggest to the mall’s proprietors that turning up the AC a bit might not kill them?

After that, we swung by the University’s Student Union for what we had read was a don’t-miss feature of campus visits, a trip to the on-campus ice cream parlor, the Maryland Dairy. Mrs. M went for a variety of toppings, while I, being a relative purist, went for the simplicity of a vanilla sundae with hot fudge, feeling that to be a better standard for evaluation. The student staffers were friendly and patient, and the ice cream was in fact excellent and inexpensive. Eventually, we met up with the Spawn (who reported that her interview had gone well, and returned to Ledo’s for dinner before getting back to our HQ. We wanted to start the next day early, so we called it a night in fairly short order.

***

Sure enough, we were up by 6:30 Thursday morning, and took the hotel shuttle to the College Park Metro station, taking the train to L’Enfant Plaza. I have to admit that I always get a kick out of taking subways — they make me feel sophisticated in a way that taking a bus just doesn’t. And again, it makes for good people watching.

One of the things I like about trips to bigger cities is that I get to see people reading. That’s much less common in areas without significant public transit — when you’re driving, it’s poor form to peruse Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example. But even in coffee shops and the like, I saw people tucking into books ranging from bodice-rippers to Catch-22 and various chunks of non-fiction. Emerging aboveground at L’Enfant Plaza, we all went our separate ways, with Mrs. M heading to the National Zoo while the Spawn went to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and I stopped at a Starbucks, then walked a couple of blocks to the Air and Space Museum, where I hadn’t been in nearly forty years.

As I wandered around the building, looking at the aircraft and the exhibits on the history of flight and the exploration of space, I felt a mix of emotions — admiration for the pioneers, the Curtisses, Yeagers, and Armstrongs; pride in the quest for the moon that was one of the imaginative foci of my childhood; and sadness that so many of my people and our governors (a term distinct from leaders) have chosen to look inward instead of to the worlds beyond ours. I spent a long time looking at the lunar lander display; I hope that one day my daughter or her children will get to see something like it in action.

***

From there, it was back to the Metro, where I caught a ride to the Capitol South Station and walked to the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Spawn caught up with me along the way, and we relaxed in the lobby for a few minutes before we were greeted by Curator of Manuscripts Heather Wolfe, who was gracious enough to take a few minutes out of her day to talk to us about her job and what she looks for in the people she works with and chooses for internships (ahem.) I think the Spawn scored a point or two when she mentioned her awareness of the U of VA’s Rare Book School, as well as her hopes of attending same at some point. And after Dr. Wolfe went back to work, I looked at a nifty exhibit on codicology and restoration in the library’s Great Hall and chatted a bit with a docent, whom I greeted with one of my favorite bits of doggerel:

The decent docent doesn’t doze;

She teaches standing on her toes.

Her student dares not doze, but does — 

And that’s what teaching is and was.

She parted the curtain and let me see the Reading Room, where scholars were doing their things. She also showed me portraits of the founders, and mentioned that the ashes of those founders are immured behind the pictures as well. I can think of worse disposals.

After that, I walked a few blocks and had lunch at a place called Burrito Brothers, where I had a chorizo burrito the approximate size of a ’52 Plymouth. From there, it was getting a bit late in the afternoon, so I trekked back to Air and Space, where I caught up with the ladies, and from there to the Metro and back to College Park.

***

Side note: I did a pretty fair amount of walking and standing about over the course of the trip, and I discovered that a) the cortisone shot I received in my arthritic right knee has likely worn off, b) the anti-inflammatory I’m taking will only do so much, c) ingrown toenails do not spontaneously fix themselves, and d) limping with both legs is slow, difficult, and probably silly looking. Nonetheless, it is sometimes necessary.

***

The combination of late lunch, heat, and tired legs persuaded me to skip dinner that evening, but the girls went to the usual location and stopped along the way back to bring me a few bottles of Gatorade before bedtime and another early rising on Friday morning.

***

While the Spawn again had her own trails to blaze, Mrs. M and I stuck together for the morning on Friday. We got breakfast at a nifty little buffet by the L’Enfant station, and then started our peregrinations. This went pretty well, as Mrs. M had discovered a public transit route called the Circulator, which swings by all the popular attractions around the Mall and Tidal Basin. The electric buses are comfortable and efficient, and even come with USB chargers and onboard wifi. So we took advantage of the service and went to the stop between the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, where I had some family business.

My mom’s cousin, James Michial “Jimmy” Moore, was killed on 13 Nov 69. He was younger than my daughter is now. My brother is also his indirect namesake. As I had been named for my dad and paternal grandfather, my folks wanted to recognize my maternal grandfather for the next kid. However, they didn’t really want to call him Milton — my grandfather’s name — so they kept the initials M. E (for Ernest)., and went with a more standard spelling of our cousin’s middle name, since Jimmy had been killed just three months before Mike’s birth. Hence, Michael Ernest Moore.

As it happens, there were several James M. Moores who died in the conflict, and we went to the wrong panel at first, before I eventually found the correct one. While I did that, Mrs. M went to the Lincoln Memorial to drop in on a fellow Kentuckian who made good. I don’t remember Jimmy — I was four when he died, after all, and may not even have met him, as he would have gone into the Army when I was even younger. But I knew several of his brothers, too many of whom also left too soon, and I’ve seen his grave, in the cemetery where many of my maternal relatives rest, and now I’ve seen his name at the Memorial as well.

***

After Mrs. M and I caught back up, we got a bonus. William Harris, my friend from undergrad, and his wife were in DC on a trip with their kid, and we were able to meet up for lunch (and to celebrate their anniversary — way to go, kids!). We went to a BBQ place near the National Archives, and spent about 90 minutes getting caught up on family, our trips, and the other niftinesses of life.

***

After that, and since we were in the neighborhood, Mrs. M and I went by the National Archives to look at original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. From there, Mrs. M decided to go take a gander at the White House, but I was in the mood for a deeper dive and spent the rest of the afternoon ambling around the Archives, checking out the exhibits in the Public Vaults. The exhibits include digital displays of various aspects of U.S. history, with supporting documents. It appeared to me that the most popular of these was the one on Project Blue Book, but I was actually more tickled by the one on the juvenile delinquency hearings of the 50s, including a recording of Al Capp arguing that perhaps the medium most deleterious to the nation’s youth was the Congressional Record.

The Archives were hosting another exhibit as well — this one on the Vietnam War — and I found myself wondering a bit at the synchronicity of it, given my morning’s travels. The Universe provides. But I was running low on time, so I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wished before meeting back up with the girls at L’Enfant.

Upon our return to College Park, it was one more run to Ledo’s, where I got a medium carnivore’s special pizza, with crust and cheese providing a useful substrate for a number of pork products — fitting for the DC area, I think. After that, the Spawn and I chilled at the hotel while Mrs. M explored a local Wal-Mart, not realizing that she had once more crossed into DC, although she had only traveled four miles. Her return concluded the day.

***

Saturday morning, we packed our bags and my leftover pizza and set out for the eight-hour drive back to Mondoville. Alas, a traffic jam of indeterminate cause between DC and Richmond added two hours to our journey, so we wound up rolling back into our home driveway around 7 last night. I finished my pizza, read a little bit, and went to bed around eleven, waking up again at 11:30 this morning. And here we are, and I realize I have other stuff I haven’t mentioned yet, but there are other blogposts in my future, I hope.

***

So, for the TL;DR version. The Spawn was greatly impressed by UMD’s program, and it may well now be her top choice. It would not be difficult to spend a great deal of time exploring the museums and galleries of DC, so if the Spawn winds up at UMD, I likely will. As it is, I saw the merest fraction of a sliver. The food at Ledo’s is pretty good.

And beware of I-95.

And for some appropriate music, here are DC-based garage revivalists The Hall Monitors.

See you soon — likely tomorrow!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Education, Family, Music, Politics, Why I Do What I Do | 3 Comments

Scattered, Smothered, and Wedded

Mondoville is a small Southern town, and the foci of our community are the places a lot of these towns have in common: churches, youth sports, Wal-Mart (where Mrs. M and I may as well hold office hours, so likely are we to encounter students and parents). . . and Waffle House.

I don’t go to Waffle House that often — it’s been at least a couple of years, probably longer — but my students do on a regular basis. After all, the restaurants keep my students’ hours, so when college kids want a snack and a a place to hang at 2:30 a.m., it’s the place to go. Indeed, the town 22 miles from Mondoville — another college town, the home of our former archrivals — once housed the busiest Waffle House in the country. (Incidentally, the restaurant solved that challenge by building another location next door to the busy one.)

But as I said, and as I’ve said before, the chain is a part of the cultural fabric down here. So I probably should have seen this coming, but I was amused and surprised last night to learn that in the Atlanta area, one can hire a Waffle House food truck, or bring in a full Waffle House catering team. We’re told the caterers are available for the usual sorts of events, including business meetings and the like. But my favorite fact is that if you have the funds and desire, you can have Waffle House cater your wedding.

It makes sense to me — Waffle House veterans know that when they want traditional hash browns, they order them “in the ring.” Why not get them with a ring as well?

Posted in Culture | 1 Comment

Saturday Potpourri: The War On Squirrels Edition

We’ve reached the time of year where I can take a comfortable shower without turning on the hot water, but it’s reasonably cool here in the downstairs, so why not deal out some potpourri?

***

I spent the afternoon in Real City yesterday, having chauffeured the Spawn to her first (and we hope, sole) crack at the GRE. The test took her about 4.5 hours, plus a half-hour check-in process, so I had plenty of time to hit my favorite low-budget Chinese place before making the rounds of the local used media emporia. Afterwards, the Spawn told me about her adventure in standardized testing over burgers at her favorite restaurant.

The test has changed somewhat since I last took it, some twenty years back. The scoring system has changed, and the administrators have gone hardcore about test security. Not only was the Spawn’s ID checked, she was wanded, her glasses were checked over for electronics, and she had to empty her pockets — she wasn’t even allowed to carry her good-luck charms (a Toronto Maple Leafs keychain I carried when I took the GRE, and one of the U of Kentucky socks she wore home from the hospital as a newborn) into the testing area. Even absent the juju, she did a fine job on the exam.

I, meanwhile, went to the local comic store after lunch, and while they haven’t yet received my next target, they did have a copy of a John D. MacDonald collection I’ve wanted for a while for a mere $2.50. And they also had a couple of trips down Memory Lane on the shelves.

I’ve mentioned before that I played pen-and-paper roleplaying games in high school and undergrad (most notably AD&D, Runequest, and Champions), but before that, I had played some of the nerd’s gateway drug — Avalon Hill wargames. The first one I encountered was one my cousin Jack had received when he was ten and I was eight. We were a bit young for the games, but had plenty of fun noodling around with them anyway. A couple of years later, I got copies of PanzerBlitz and Air War, and even though I didn’t play them that much, I had a ball reading the manuals. So I lit up when I glanced at the shelves of the comic store and found Jack’s game that started it all for me:

luftwaffe

(And Panzer Blitz next to it? Nerd-vana!) I didn’t buy either of the games, but I did text the picture to Jack — he said he likely still has his copy somewhere in his house. Who am I to hoard the nostalgia?From there, I swung by a CD store and my usual used media spot before sensing that the Spawn was probably finished. I got back to the testing center about five minutes before my phone rang. “I’m ready to go,” the Spawn said.”I’m already in the lot.” Score one for the psychic connection. From there, we hit the mall and had dinner before our return to Mondoville, just in time for a thunderstorm. Not a bad afternoon, that.

***

The Midcentury Mondohaus sits on a 1.25-acre lot with a fair number of trees, providing us with a corresponding number of birds and squirrels. Mrs. M has hung a few bird feeders within sight of the kitchen and dining room, but as we all know, squirrels see bird feeders as fair game, and for years we’ve seen them plundering the seeds.Mrs. M has tried to combat the rodent invaders both here and at Spackle Manor, but all that wound up doing was raising the Darwinian ante. So this past week, she relocated the feeders to arms branching off a metal pose, which she then Vaselined. This resulted in the lunchtime entertainment of watching the furry marauders leap onto the pole, scurry a bit, and then slide to the turf, reduced to scavenging whatever seeds the birds drop. Still, I just know that one day, I’m gonna see a gang of the little weirdos carrying a bottle of detergent.

***

Once again, I’d like to remind everyone of the coming Mystery in the Midlands crime fiction gathering in Columbia on 28 July. I’ll be just one of numerous authors talking to writers and fans, and there’ll be signing opportunities as well. I’d love to see you there!

***

And last but not least, a bit of music to wrap things up. Montreal’s The Haunted achieved garage immortality with their “1-2-5”, a happy little ditty about a naive young man encountering a hooker. But the band had more depth than many of their peers, and put out an album and several singles over their run from 1965 to 1971. Here’s an… interesting (but faithful!) cover. You likely know it.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | Leave a comment

In Which the Prof Encounters the Paladin of the Lost Hour, and Is Content

One of the library science programs the Spawn is contemplating for grad school is the one at the U of Maryland — College Park, and as we did with the U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last year, we’ll be making a road trip up that way before long. That of course will put us in proximity to DC, so we’ll make a mini-vacation of the trip and see a few sights while we’re there.

I haven’t been to the area with an opportunity to sightsee in nearly forty years — since I was there for the National Spelling Bee in the summer of 1979.

Dad and Me in DC 1979

Publicity still with Dad, from “I Was a Teenage Mondo”, 1979

So anyway, one of the places I want to visit is the Folger Shakespeare Library, and as part of that, I e-mailed the staff in the hopes of seeing something of a personal Holy Grail. As I’ve mentioned over the years, my dissertation focused on the Seven Deadly Sins in the old Morality plays. For my money, two of the most important examples of the genre are Mankind and The Castle of Perseverance, both of which are found in the same volume, the Macro Manuscript. (That’s pronounced “muh-CROW,” by the way, not “MACK-row.” The MS was owned by a Scots cleric named Cox Macro.) The plays occupy a significant part of my diss, and I teach them with considerable frequency; in fact, I’ll be teaching them this fall in my Seven Deadlies class.

Castle_of_Perseverance_staging

Oldest known English staging diagram, for Castle of Perseverance, ca. 1405-25.

Well, in any case, the Macro MS is held by the Folger, and I’ve always wanted to see it. I wouldn’t even need to touch it necessarily, but I just wanted to bathe in the aura, as it were. So I asked the nice people at the library if I might be permitted a viewing, establishing that I actually value this thing, that I have legit professorial cred, that I wouldn’t show up with an open bag of Cheetos, and so on.

But alas, even as near-600-year-old manuscripts go, the Macro is in extremely fragile condition, having become disbound, and is only brought out for scholarly questions involving the particular-book-as-artifact, even beyond its contents. So I have been politely refused.

And you know what? I’m fine with that, and in a way, even grateful. And my reasons for that can be found in works from Lawrence Kasdan and Harlan Ellison. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (screenplay by Kasdan), there’s the sequence in which Indiana Jones threatens to blow up the titular relic if the Nazis don’t hand it over. However, his rival, Rene Belloq, calls his bluff, knowing that Jones would not harm such an important artifact. (Don’t worry, though — it turns out OK.)

And in one of Ellison’s later stories, “Paladin of the Lost Hour” (also adapted into a teleplay for the revival of Twilight Zone in the 80s), a man named Gaspar is the keeper of a magical timepiece that will keep the time for the final hour of the universe. Gaspar, like the keepers before him, is charged with keeping the watch from running through those final sixty minutes. But Gaspar (played in the show by Danny Kaye) is very old, and has to pass the watch to a new guardian. Having found an apparently suitable candidate, Gaspar — now dying — asks Billy (the prospective new keeper) for a single minute from the watch, so that he might see his beloved wife, who has been dead for many years.

Dig it — Gaspar, we have learned through the course of the story, is a fine, noble, lovable old man. Danny Kaye’s performance is at least equally ingratiating. And all he asks is this favor before he heads into the Long Dark. But the choice falls to Billy, and even as it breaks his heart, he tells Gaspar that no, not even a single minute can be spared. At which point Gaspar smiles, and tells Billy he has passed the final test, proving himself worthy of his duty as new Paladin.

And so I understand — even though my heart is pure (in this particular case, and relatively speaking), the Ark shouldn’t be risked, the minute shouldn’t be ticked away. To cop a line from Belloq, I am passing through history. The Macro MS is History. And so, even though I’m personally disappointed, I’m also glad that the Paladins of the Folger Library are keeping it safe. It’s okay, and there will be plenty of other things I can see there, and I will. I’ll also bring the Spawn along — apparently the Folger offers internships.

Besides, all hope is not lost; the librarians inform me that construction of two new underground galleries is set to begin in 2020, and that by 2022, the MS should be on semi-permanent display. I guess I can be patient a few years more.

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Medievalia, Why I Do What I Do | 3 Comments

Independence Day, 2018

fireworks

It’s quiet right now in Mondoville. In about three hours, Mrs. M and I will park at a strip mall a few blocks from the high school, where the annual fireworks display will originate. We went to the high school itself some years ago, but the combination of the heat of a South Carolina July and the wisdom of age have led us to opt for the air-conditioned comfort and quick return home that the car provides. And it’s not like we’ll be the only ones watching from there — we usually have a few other cars and trucks pulled alongside us, with truckbeds full of kids and the occasional adult. We’ll celebrate.

And there is still much to celebrate about life in my country. Many voices in our media and political culture, both on left and right, seem bent on having us forget that, in the hope that we will surrender our wills to theirs. Our world of instant communication and the far range of social media calls us to the anonymous and self-righteous comfort of the mob. “We’re at one another’s throats!”

But that’s not true. If my car were to run off the road this evening, I’m morally certain that the people who pull over near me would want to help me, not to take advantage of my situation. The people I see when I donate blood don’t care whether their blood goes to someone rich or poor, to someone gay or straight. They just give. When I go to a convenience store, there’ll be a jar on the counter, raising money for someone’s sick family member. Folks who have never met the beneficiary, and who likely never will, put in a dime or a dollar. They don’t ask who voted for whom. I believe in my neighbors, and I hope they believe in me.

And even when we look at the shortcomings of our present and the worst moments of our history, I marvel at the standards — liberty, justice and equality before the law — that we’ve professed, and that we’ve believed in enough to strive for them — or to feel guilty when we haven’t lived up to them.

I’ve spoken before of my own family’s rise, from a housing project on one side and from dirt farmers on the other to where I am now, and from near third-world levels of Appalachian poverty to self-sufficiency and better on Mrs. M’s side. Neither of my grandfathers made it through high school. My father didn’t earn his B.A. until my senior year of high school, getting his higher ed in bits and pieces over the decades. My mom didn’t go to college. Mrs. M’s parents had similar, harsher stories of lives of limited opportunities. But now, both Mrs. M and I work to give other people the opportunities to enrich their lives as well. Neither of us were to a manor born — but the country in which we live gave us the chance to earn a better house than our parents and grandparents had. And every fall, I meet a new group of young people trying to rise. I’m proud to be in a country where they can, and where I can help them while doing things I love, and things that I chose to do, that weren’t decided for me by someone in a faraway capitol.

My country is not perfect — nor can it be in a fallen world. But the world is a better place for its presence, and if we are wise enough to think beyond the cacophony of those who benefit from our fear and confusion, we can make our immediate worlds and the larger one better for a long time to come.

Happy Independence Day. God bless America.

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