Monday Potpourri: Mind the Gap Edition

Having finally put Spring Semester away last week, I have a couple of weeks before taking up the cudgels for my customary summer courses. So here we are, and here we go.

***

My ongoing dental issues are, well, ongoing. This morning, an oral surgeon yanked two of my lower teeth, the site of a couple of root canals and various subsequent abscesses. So I’m home listening to mono mixes of the Beatles while a thing of gauze dangles from my lower lip like Bogart’s cigarette. I took a pain pill when I got home, in an effort to stay ahead of the local anesthetic’s departure., so if this blog turns into “May I mambo dogface to the banana patch,” attribute it to the fact that my grandmother would consider me a lightweight: “I took that much codeine for breakfast, dah-lin.” (To be fair, Granny probably would have considered Tallulah Bankhead a lightweight.)

It’s my hope that I’ll be able to get through this without looking like an extra from Hee Haw, but I guess we’ll see. There are several issues in play, including a lifetime of jaw clenching, a small lower jaw, and the fact that apparently I have the bite force of a Great White Shark. I’m not looking to come out of this with Erik Estrada teeth or anything, but neither do I want to sound like this guy:

Could be worse, though. As I sat in the waiting room this morning, an elderly lady was there with her daughter. The older lady asked me what the UK on my shirt was about. I told her it stood for “University of Kentucky.” (After all, not everyone follows college sports.) As the two of them conversed, I eavesdropped enough to figure out the daughter was showing her mom pictures of a recent family gathering:

“Who’s that?”

“That’s [name.] She’s my first granddaughter, Mama.”

“But who’s that she’s sitting with?”

“That’s you, Mama.”

“That isn’t me.”

“Yes, it is. You wanted to hold her and we took the picture. It was Mother’s Day. I’ll print out the picture and we’ll put it in your room.”

“But who are those people?”

“That’s you and [name], Mama.”

“I think I’m too old to be here. I’m going to die soon, you know.”

“Now Mama, you always said you were going to live to be 140,” the daughter said, laughing.

“And how old am I now?”

“You’re 76.”

“76? Hmph.”

And then the nurse called them back. I heard the older woman’s voice, then a nurse’s, rising in pitch at the end. I heard the daughter’s voice: “Dementia.”

A couple of minutes later, the younger woman — about my age — came back out. We were the only ones in the waiting room. “That has to be hard,” I said. She told me it was, and I heard the catch in her voice. Then I was called to the back. As I sat in the chair, waiting for the drugs to kick in, I heard the dentist say goodbye to the older woman.

“Goodbye,” she said. “Thanks for the pain.” So as I said, it could be worse. Much worse.

***

In better news, I agreed to write a short story for an anthology edited by a well-known editor in the field. That gives me a couple of stories to work on this summer, and I hope to bang out some more of the novel-in-progress while I’m at it.

But the part of it that interested me was from the editor’s announcement on the Book of Faces:

I submitted a list of 30 possible authors I had either already approached or who had expressed an interest in contributing as a result of my posting here and the publisher has highlighted 15 of these they firmly wish to feature in the book and commissioning letters have gone out to them.

Sure enough, I found such a letter in my e-mail this morning. Wait — the publisher had a list of possibilities, and they chose me? I’m startled, and honored.

A few days ago, I was having lunch with a graduating student who is himself a fine writer. He was a pitcher for the college’s baseball team, but his season was truncated by an injury. While he intends to try to pitch in graduate school (he has a couple of years of eligibility left), he said he’s beginning to acknowledge that he may never get to play professionally.

While I was never at that level athletically, I told him, I think I could relate as a musician. When I was younger, I entertained the notion of trying to make a living as a drummer. But (I told him), while my ambitions might be Cooperstown, my talent was (at best) Worcester. (Thanks to the late Robert B. Parker for the metaphor.)

However, I continued, I’ve come to realize over the years that as a writer, maybe I really can play in the big leagues. El Bee (whose memoir you really should have ordered already) told me I needed to stop thinking of myself as “the cheapest house on the nicest street,” that maybe I should recognize that I belong. (Always remember — my Metaphor Mixer has a “Puree” setting.) Making the cut for today’s anthology is exciting, and it’s confirmation that some folks think I’m worth having on the roster.

Likewise, my former student has gifts far beyond the ones that have served him on the field (even as those are not yet exhausted.) I have no doubt they will carry him a long way, and I look forward to his realization of those talents as well

***

To wrap things up for the post, I’ll share work from a couple of musicians who celebrated birthdays over the weekend. Robert Fripp, the driving force behind King Crimson, turned 75 on Sunday. Mr. Fripp is no stranger to the readers of this blog, but I thought I’d share a recent live recording of my favorite King Crimson song.

At the other end of the complexity/naivete scale, we have Jonathan Richman, who marked off three score and ten the other day. Richman’s work is often described with adjectives like “wide-eyed” and “childlike,” but it’s been said that genius is the ability to recollect childhood at will, so here you go.

See you soon!

Posted in Education, Family, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Why I’m Laughing this Morning

Margaret Soltan at University Diaries hips us to an article in the LA Times about the political turmoil in a Dallas suburb between moderate and extremist Republicans, some of whom participated in the violent idiocy at the Capitol on 6 January. In a classic case of burying the hook, if not the lede, the report mentions a couple of suburban women who attended the tantrum in DC, although the two friends deny entering the building and have not been charged. Specifically, the women mention having both gained and lost customers as a result of their activism. One of the women is a hair stylist. The other is a dominatrix.

Naturally, I had to find out a bit more about this, and using my Google-Fu skills, I found the website for the less conventional enterprise. It turns out that the woman’s business includes a mobile component. Her customized motor coach apparently includes a dungeon and, um, a specialized massage table, along with heavily tinted windows and blackout drapes for privacy’s sake. She mentions that she can bring her rolling dungeon to clients, or that they can meet her at other locations with large parking lots — specifically mentioning WalMart as an RV-friendly location. (While I respect her entrepreneurial spirit, the idea of slaking one’s masochistic lusts in a WalMart parking lot strikes me as the sort of thing that would make Richard von Krafft-Ebing flinch. (And I apologize for using “strikes me” here — that’s not my kind of thing.))

I must admit, however, that when I saw photos of some of her restraints and other gear, I found myself thinking of a term I hear from my students on occasion:

“Riding the struggle bus.”

And in that spirit, a song from one of my favorite albums (from an equally beloved band, including the amazing Ginger Baker on drums.)

“Sunrise on the Sufferbus” indeed. See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Music, Politics | Leave a comment

Almost Forgot — Happy Bloggiversary to Me!

We interrupt Gradeapalooza to note that I started doing this thing eleven years ago. Although I’ve been going through something of a fallow period here at the blog (with pretty much all of my writing energy going towards online teaching these days), I do hope to get back to having things to say, and indeed to saying them.

In the meantime, I’m now fully vaxxed, and looking forward to getting back in the classroom this fall. But first I have to make it through this virtual semester. In the meantime, here’s a little something for your listening pleasure. Trio Mandili are a group of young women from Georgia (the Tbilisi one, not the Atlanta one) who specialize in the polyphonic singing native to the region. I have no idea what any of the words mean, but I like the sound of their songs, and I also like how happy they seem as they sing it. So here they are with a song about — well, about something, I guess.

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Goodbye to a Good Kid

A young woman’s life came to an end a few days ago. She deserved more time, and so did the people who loved and lost her, including her family – and mine.

Tiffany and Emily met in elementary school, and I think I met her for the first time at Emily’s tenth birthday slumber party, back when we lived on the other side of campus. She was the smallest of the girls who came over, I think, but she put the fun in “fun-size,” and was a bundle of harmless energy. At one point, the girls took turns fooling around behind my drum kit, randomly banging around like kids do. Most of the girls hit the drums as though they were afraid the drums might hit back. Tiffany was much more suited to it.

Middle school came soon enough, and Tiffany and Em stayed friends, riding together to school dances and hanging out as they went through high school as well. They were tight enough to refer to each other as “Wifey,” collaborating on class projects, and genuinely liking each other through years that can be desperately lonely. Where Em was focused on writing and art, Tiffany was more inclined to the sciences, and when it was time for them to do a project on lab safety, the video they made (at our home and across the street on campus) allowed them both to shine and to be goofy. God knows you need someone with whom to be goofy at that age, and I’m glad they were able to do that.

As the years passed, the girls both wound up at the college. I had Tiffany as a student in one of my Freshman Comp classes. She told me she wasn’t much of a writer, but like more than a few kids, she was better than she believed. She worked hard, participated in the class, and earned a good grade. If I had more students like Tiffany, my job would be much easier, and more pleasurable. I’m grateful to have taught her.

She majored in biology and minored in chemistry, so she spent a lot of time in the science building, but I’d run into her from time to time when she was in our building for her humanities courses, or just the way one does in a town as small as Newberry. She wasn’t just a hard worker in the classroom either – she held down jobs all the way through college, whether it was taking the breakfast shift at a local fast-food joint or working at the Coroner’s office later in her career. And through it all, she was upbeat and determined to do well both inside and beyond the classroom.

Naturally, she and Em stayed friends. In fact, they were sorority sisters at Newberry – of course they were. It couldn’t have been any other way. They loved and supported each other; they had to be sisters.

Even after Em graduated and moved to Maryland, and after Tiffany graduated and stayed here, she and Tiffany remained friends, staying connected via social media the way pretty much everyone does these days. When Emily brought her girlfriend to Newberry for the first time, introducing her to Tiffany was an essential part of the whole business. Fortunately for us all, Tiffany approved. And that was to be expected as well – she and Em loved each other, and you want the people you love to be happy.

But now, we’ve lost her, and though we know life is tenuous, it feels especially wrong to lose someone who carried so much love and so many smiles, with so much energy and intelligence. And of course, because she grew up with my own daughter, I ache for what is gone, and even more for Tiffany’s family and her other friends. She’s gone and not gone, because even as we mourn her loss, we who knew her carry her smile and her enthusiasm even now, even while it hurts.

She deserved longer – and we deserved to have her longer, but we can only have what we can have, and are forced to carry that as best we can.

Tiffany Johnson was 24 years old. She was my daughter’s friend. She was a piece of our family. She was a student of mine, and she was a gift.

She was a good kid.

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Happy Birthday to the Spawn!

With apologies to Mr. Block, my very favorite writer turns 24 today.

On a very literate picnic in Terpville.

Kid, I’m so proud of what you’ve done, of who you are, of how you’re growing, and of your capacity for passion and creativity. I’m looking forward to seeing it continue this year, and in the years to come.

Happy birthday, Tiger. I love you.

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In Which the Prof Gets Needled, and Thinks of His Great-Uncle

Yeah, I know, I know… but I haven’t given up on the blog yet. So I’ll get to it.

This morning, I got my second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, having received the first one on 6 March. Both shots were administered at a drive-through (Park-and-poke?) at my doctor’s office, with shots and paperwork handled by office staff, and traffic directed by members of the National Guard. Mrs. M got Round 2 six days ago, and while she was a little peakish the following day, she didn’t even miss a day in the classroom. On the chance that I get the couple of days’ malaise some folks report after the second shot, I got a bit ahead on my lecturing.

I’ve talked before about my great-uncle, Charles Nelson Calhoun. He was born about 35 miles from Mondoville, and is buried there as well. He traveled all over the world as a chemist and corporate troubleshooter, and though he never married after having his heart broken in college, he lived with an eye for the ladies and for a good time. His tombstone in the Calhoun family plot reflects that.

He also wanted the silhouette of “a broad” on the stone, but cooler heads convinced him to settle for the Martini glass.

As I said, Uncle Charles was a chemist — he earned his degree at Clemson back in the 1930s before entering corporate life, working for… Pfizer. And as I mentioned above, that’s the vaccine that Mrs. M and I both received. As I began my drive home after my post-jab waiting period, I thought that he’d be tickled that we were able to benefit from the company where he spent his career. (And were he still here, I suspect he’d also be tickled with his company stock, but that’s another story.)

***

I’m really pleased to have reached this point in the process, because it opens me up for safe travel this summer and for returning to the classroom this fall. I’ll be teaching three sections of FroshComp that term, along with my Restoration/Long 18th C. course (or as I think of it, Milton to Johnson). And I’m really looking forward to getting to some rock and roll shows before long, and maybe even playing some. Bits of life are beginning to return to normal — sporting events have resumed on campus, although with limited seating. But the athletic director has said we hope to have the houses packed again with the new school year, and I’m looking forward to being there.

***

In other news, the Spawn’s birthday is coming in a couple of days, and although we’ll have to wait until summer to get together, she and the Main Squeeze continue to live quite happily in Terpville. She’ll be doing her field study for her Museum Studies cognate/emphasis/whatever they call it up there this fall, and she’s really excited about that. In a little over a year, she’ll be wrapping up her degree, and then we’ll see what happens. I’m excited for her as well.

***

As I mentioned last month, while I am writing — a lot — it has pretty much all been in the form of lectures/lessons for this semester’s classes. All the same, I do plan to produce some creative work in the weeks ahead, and have committed to a couple of projects. More on these as things develop.

***

And at last, I’ll close this with some music. During my sabbatical, one of the stories I wrote was inspired by a couple of things. One was a pen-and-ink drawing my dad did of a sawmill near where my mom’s family grew up. The other was this song, by Mississippi John Hurt. I think I like it so much because it’s just so darned affable. So here’s Mr. Hurt, with “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me.” (And despite the title from the YouTuber, this is clearly not from the 1928 sessions.)

See you soon — and I mean it.

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

Sunday Evening Potpourri: I’m Around Here Somewhere Edition

Wow — almost a month, huh? Sorry about that. As I told the Spawn the other night, I’m writing thousands of words a week, but unfortunately they’re all for the online classes I’m teaching this term. But I haven’t forgotten about the blog, or about those of you who seem to enjoy it for whatever reason. So here we go…

***

I made a trip to the city of my birth a couple of weekends ago; the occasion wasn’t happy (the funeral of my uncle, which leaves my mom’s sister as the last survivor of that generation of my family), but it was valuable for me to see my aunt, my cousin and his family, and other friends and family. Among other things, the weekend provided an opportunity for some open discussion and at least a partial reconciliation with a family member from whom I’ve been somewhat estranged for a few years. As Martha Stewart says, that’s a good thing, and I hope it develops.

I also got to have a quick lunch with the Mad Dog in the parking lot of a Knoxville location of a favorite fast-food chain. The dining room was closed, so we sat in MD’s land yacht. While not a perfect example of social distancing, it really is a large vehicle, and it’s always good to see him. A couple of days later, I had lunch with my friend Carl — we’ve been friends now for nearly half a century. In both cases, it’s remarkable to me how easily we pick things up when we meet. Social media doesn’t hurt that, but I’m not talking about the goings-on as much as I am the rhythms and roles of our friendships and lives. Discontinuities vanish.

I stayed in Nashville a day longer than was absolutely necessary, which allowed me to return to the cemetery and the family plot, where my uncle is now placed as well. Under ordinary circumstances I try to get there a couple of times a year, but of course, the past year or so has been other-than-ordinary, so it had been a while since my last visit. I looked at the markers on the graves of my parents, grandparents, and my childhood best friend. My parents’ has yet to acquire the patinas that the others have, being 25 to 30 more years more recent than the others, but the years have darkened it at least a little.

I was a little tense as I drove back to Mondoville that Sunday; a winter storm was expected across Tennessee’s Highland Rim, its Cumberland Plateau and in the Smokies on Saturday night, and I had to drive through all three. But credit to the Tennessee and North Carolina Departments of Transportation — even when I saw 3-5 inches of snow along Interstate 40, the roads were clear, and only occasionally wet. Nice work, and a good conclusion to a trip I hadn’t wanted to make, necessary though I knew it would be.

***

In other news, it appears that the bill for the braces my parents couldn’t afford when I was a kid is coming due in its own way. Because my bite is (as the dental professionals say) jacked up, I have several broken lower teeth, which have yielded me several root canals in recent years. Upon my return from Nashville, I began to feel the familiar signs of another damned abscess, and consultations with my dentist and an endodontist indicate that it’s probably time to extract the two worst offenders. It’s not something I await eagerly, but I’ll be satisfied if we can put the fires out once and for all without my ending up looking like Walter Huston.

I don’t even know where I could find a mule named Sairy Jane at this point.

***

But the big news around here, and in the realm of Mondolit in particular, is the Spawn’s first professional fiction sale. Her story “Any Deadly Thing” appeared earlier this month at All Due Respect‘s online venue, and will appear on dead tree at the year’s end. Even if I weren’t brimming with paternal pride, I’d recommend the story — it’s damned good. Check it out.

Because I’m spending so much time writing “lectures” for my classes, I’m not reading as much as I’d like of late, but I’m currently enjoying Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, by Adam Sisman. My colleague and friend Tracy Power recommended it to me, and I think it’s going to be a nice addition to my ever-expanding library of Johnsoniana.

Speaking of writing, I’ve previously mentioned the historical and poetic works of Jeff Sypeck. He’s a super sharp guy, and as nice as he is talented. In any case, he has a new book out and I’d like to call it to your attention. I Have Started for Canaan is the history of the African-American town of Sugarland, MD, which was founded by emancipated slaves in Montgomery County, 20 miles from DC. Proceeds from the book will go toward the preservation of Sugarland’s church and the town’s historical material. If you want to know more about the book, check out what Jeff has to say here. (And Jeff? I’ll try to give you a holler next time I’m in Terpville.)

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t alert you to the latest offering in El Bee’s line of anthologies. Collectibles is a new, well, collection of stories on the titular topic, and it includes work from friends of mine including Thomas Pluck, S.A. Cosby, David Rachels, and the Man Hisself. If you want to check out some excerpts, go here. And God and the Pfizer Corporation willing, I’ll have some writerly info of my own to share before long — I’ve got to keep up with the Spawn, after all.

***

I hope that’s enough to bring you at least somewhat up to date, and I’ll do my best to up the frequency around here. In the meantime, have some music. I’ve been a fan of Alice Cooper since the mid-70s, in keeping with The First Law of Marketing: Eleven-year-old boys will buy anything with a monster on the package. While my teens overlapped with the Coop’s multi-year Lost Weekend, I really discovered the early work when I was an undergrad, and had a poster of Alice from Creem magazine in my office during my grad school days in Lexington. A few years ago, I took the Spawn to see Alice in Real City, making sure her first rock concert was going to be a show. (She still wears the concert T-shirt on occasion.)

As it happens, A.C. remains active, with a new album, Detroit Stories, coming out on Friday, 26 Feb. The album features the surviving original members of the Alice Cooper group, and includes guest appearances from a number of other area hard rockers, from groups like Grand Funk and the MC5. Alice also acknowledges other Detroit musos on the album, including the Motor City’s neo-psych purveyors, Outrageous Cherry. I was delighted to learn that Alice covers an Outrageous Cherry tune, and was even more thrilled when I saw this video. It’s a wonderful example of upbeat rock and disturbing lyrics, which puts it right in Cooper’s wheelhouse. Without further ado (because I’ve adone plenty), here’s “Our Love Will Change the World.”

See you soon(er)!

Posted in Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music | 1 Comment

How Twigs Get Bent: The Prof Gets Regional

The husband of a colleague of mine is the publisher of Mondoville’s weekly newspaper. (It came out three times a week when I moved here, but we all know about the newspaper biz these days.) They came here from the upper Midwest and Plains. The editor of the paper (a former student of mine) has lived here all his life, and apparently there are occasional disconnects.

Image by Lindsay Letters

For example, the publisher posted on the Book of Faces last night, expressing some befuddlement about the term “meat-and-three,” both in regards to the meal and as a descriptor of the sort of restaurant that serves it. In the ensuing discussion (which strongly implied that the term is chiefly Southern, I mentioned that my favorite restaurant in Kentucky offers a meat-and-three on its menu (although I prefer another item, the Hot Brown.) This in turn led him to ask if Kentucky is Southern. I replied at length, and figured, why let it go to waste?

While the term “meat-and-three” is a regionalism (particularly when used as a descriptor for a restaurant), the concept itself isn’t particularly different from a “blue plate special.” As for the question about whether KY is southern, it varies, and is still in flux. I grew up in KY’s northernmost region — my house was 18 miles from downtown Cincinnati. In the cemetery behind my house, a Confederate soldier is buried; my high school mascot was (and remains) the Rebel. (Kentucky declared itself neutral during the Civil War, and supplied men and materiel to both sides, though it never actually left the Union.) A restaurant four miles from my home served a meat-and-three, and called it that.

However, by the time I moved there in the late 70s, that area (especially Boone, Kenton, and Campbell counties — I grew up in Boone) had chiefly become a set of suburbs/bedroom communities for Cincinnati. In fact, the Cincinnati airport is in Boone County. If anything, it’s even more culturally Cincinnati now. The culture there is increasingly Midwestern, although most longtime residents insist on identifying as Kentuckian. Louisville (80 miles to the West, along the Ohio River), I would argue, is essentially a Midwestern city as well (That region is often called “Kentuckiana,” as it is across the river from IN as Northern KY is across the river from Cinti). There tends to be rivalry between Louisville and the rest of the state, and “Southernness” (as well as the more general urban/rural divide) is a factor in that.

On the other hand, 80 miles south of Cinti, Lexington (where I did half my undergrad and 5 years of grad school) is very much Southern in character and culture. It’s chiefly New South, but the character is dramatically different. This is also true of the rest of the Bluegrass and Bourbon regions. East of Lexington is Appalachia, and a good portion of the general population and culture are Appalachian diaspora as well. Once you get out of the Louisville area, the regions around Bowling Green (now essentially exurban Nashville) tend to be New South as well, though of the small town semirural variety. Waffle House, not IHOP.

Ultimately, I’d argue Kentucky is a border state between the South and Midwest, with the South dominating most of the state. It’s a diverse place, and I think that diversity is pretty cool. Likewise, quirks of dialect like “Meat-and-three” vs. “blue plate special” are bits of culture that one might dismiss as odd or inappropriate, or that one might embrace as sites of regional and cultural character that keep every place from becoming every other place. That’s probably more than you wanted to know about any of this, but that’s also part of Southern heritage — we’re proud of who we are, and interested in discussing how we got here.

Posted in Culture, Pixel-stained Wretchery | Leave a comment

Put Down the Ball; Pick Up the Book

From today’s NYT “This Morning” newsletter:

[A]thletics are not the best route to a scholarship for most students, Ron [Lieber, finance columnist and author of the new book, The Price You Pay for College] writes. Academics are. “Each spring, I hear from otherwise well-informed parents of high school seniors who had no idea that this so-called merit aid existed, let alone how to predict where good grades might yield the lowest price or the best value,” Ron told me. “I wanted to make sure that families knew all about it, much sooner.”

A full article is here.

As it happens, Mondoville has built its own enrollment numbers largely through athletics — the majority of our students are members of one varsity squad or another. There are benefits to this, both for the college and the kids (who get to continue playing a sport they love), but there are also problems. When I meet my students, I often ask them why they chose to come here. A disheartening amount of the time, they respond “To play [name of sport.]” And while nearly all our coaches over the years have emphasized academics — something I selected for when I served on an athletic hiring committee — the kids will frequently tell me that their scholarship is ultimately contingent on the coach’s decision, and so the need of the sport will take precedence over things that we on the faculty may ask the kid to do.

I know that on quite a few occasions, I’ve told kids (generally male athletes, rather than women, who tend not to harbor dreams of playing beyond college), “Use the game; don’t let the game use you.” More than a few of them damage their bodies in the athletic pursuits that they see as paying their way through college, but then they’re too busy with the sport to take advantage of the college for which they’re paying.* (Remember, by the way, that Mondoville is an NCAA Division II school, the lowest level with athletic scholarships. Most of those scholarships are partial, many minuscule, but enough for a kid to say he’s here “on an athletic scholarship.” In my time here, four kids have made it to the NFL, and some basketball players have played for money overseas. We’re not a pro sports factory, is what I’m saying.)

How might things be different — both for the kids and for the schools — if the parents who are now pressing footballs and field hockey sticks into their kids’ hands in hope for the future were pushing grades instead? It might be nice to find out.

* In the interest of fairness, I can tell you that there are non-athletic kids who misallocate their passions as well. In particular, I’ve grown accustomed to the phenomenon of music majors or theater kids who are bright, interesting people, but who quit showing up for classes once an ensemble or production picks up. Kids are gonna kid. After all, one of the reasons it took me five years to get that two-year Masters was that I was trying to be a rock star. But I made it to class, even if I was gigging the night before.

Posted in Culture, Education | 2 Comments

Tuesday Afternoon Potpourri: Paternal Pride Edition

I used a hand sanitizer at the supermarket a while ago, and now my hands smell faintly of band-aids. But that’s not important right now.

***

I’m pleased to report that the Spawn has made her professional bones. Her Appalachian crime story “Any Deadly Thing” will be appearing in All Due Respect‘s online magazine (a genuine paying market) in February, and will manifest in print form at year’s end with the publisher’s anthology. I’ve read it — it’ll be worth your while. I’ll make sure to point you in that direction when it comes out.

***

I made a run to Real City a few days ago, and picked up a copy of The Getaway Man, a 2003 novel by Andrew Vachss. The Mad Dog introduced me Vachss’s Burke series in the early 80s, not long after it had started. I read it through Down in the Zero, the seventh in the series. He’s done eleven since then, but I wandered off in other directions. Maybe I should get back to them.

Getaway Man is a standalone, and as the title suggests, it’s the story of a man with an obsession with driving, and with the moral code he develops in the reformatories and prisons along the way. With the possible exception of a couple of sex scenes, the book could have been written in 1963 as easily as 2003 (which is a compliment), and Vachss’s style remains terse without crossing the line into Ellroyesque gnomic telegraphese. I almost get a Paul Cain vibe from it at points. I have to admit that I caught a couple of the cards Vachss palms during the novel, but it was still an enjoyable read. Recommended for a quick afternoon.

***

Another couple of books I’m reading at the moment are more oriented to my life in the professoriate. They are How the University Works by Marc Bousquet, and The Adjunct Underclass by Herb Childress.

One of my favorite colleagues has announced his retirement this summer, and it reminds me that at this point, I’m closer to the end of my career than its beginning as well. I used to think I’d do this until I was 70, but Mrs. M has suggested that may not be necessary, and an eight- or ten-year timeframe might be a better one. At the same time, my department will be hiring for a tenure-track gig this semester, and I have students and former students asking about the profession as well.

If you’ve read “Alt-AC”, my story in LB’s Darkling Halls of Ivy, you’ll have a pretty good idea of my take on that idea. I’ve said elsewhere that I suspect that I’m among the last or nearly last generation of the professoriate. Bousquet’s and Childress’s books do a pretty good job of explaining why. Bousquet is a commie, but he offers a pretty sound explanation of the theory behind the decline in tenured positions and the rise in the administrative class in academe. Childress (whose book is much more recent) offers a more accessible look at the current scene and what it has cost both in educational and more general human terms. I may start lending it to my more promising students when they ask me about getting into this racket.

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Well, I think that’ll tide us over for a bit, so I’ll close. The Vipers (not the Irish ones, the ones from NYC) were at the forefront of the ’80s garage/psych revival, and this track (along with their “Tears (Only Dry)”, both of which are included on the Children of Nuggets box set) shows us why. The triplets leading into the key change never cease to thrill me. From 1984, here’s “Cheated and Lied.”

See you soon!

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