QotD: Uncomfortable Truth Edition

Although I’ve run across his name before, I’m really not familiar with the work of Fredrik deBoer. For all I know, he may advocate tearing down animal rescue shelters and replacing them with baby-punching factories (and if so, he should back off — that’s working my side of the street.)

However, in light of the open letter on free speech in Harper’s and the ensuing freakout on Woke Twitter (and how woke must one be to scorn Noam freaking Chomsky as a tool of systemic repression?), DeBoer offered something really good at his blog, and gets our QotD.

Please, think for a minute and consider: what does it say when a completely generic endorsement of free speech and open debate is in and of itself immediately diagnosed as anti-progressive, as anti-left? There is literally no specific instance discussed in that open letter, no real-world incident about which there might be specific and tangible controversy. So how can someone object to an endorsement of free speech and open debate without being opposed to those things in and of themselves? You can’t. And people are objecting to it because social justice politics are plainly opposed to free speech. That is the most obvious political fact imaginable today. Of course Yelling Woke Twitter hates free speech! Of course social justice liberals would prevent expression they disagree with if they could! How could any honest person observe our political discourse for any length of time and come to any other conclusion?

You want to argue that free speech is bad, fine. You want to adopt a dominance politics that (you imagine) will result in you being the censor, fine. But just do that. Own that. Can we stop with this charade? Can we stop pretending? Can we just proceed by acknowledging what literally everyone quietly knows, which is that the dominant majority of progressive people simply don’t believe in the value of free speech anymore? Please. Let’s grow up and speak plainly, please. Let’s just grow up. [All emphases in the original. — Prof. M.]

I might have to get to know this guy better. But I still have dibs on the baby-punching factories.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt.

Posted in Culture, Politics | 2 Comments

Monday Potpourri

I spent the early part of this afternoon doing some exercises from a book about writing, and as part of a goal-setting sequence, I decided I want to post at least ten times over the next thirty days. So here’s number one.

***

I’ve mentioned in the past that I get uncomfortable setting goals, making New Year’s Resolutions, and such, because I feel as though I set myself up for guilt and failure. However, there was a passage in Mundis’s book that may serve me as a sort of antidote, or at least is something I could stand to hear.

Remember, a goal is not something you have to achieve. It should be neither a lash on your back nor a mechanism of potential failure. It is simply a guideline, a signpost to help keep you moving in the right direction.

I understand this on an intellectual level, as I understand many of my internal challenges. It is far harder for me to learn to understand and accept this internally, in a way that informs my outlook, whether conscious or subconscious. But hard is not the same thing as impossible. We shall see.

***

I learned a few minutes ago that Harvard has decided to offer all of its undergrad courses in online form this year, and no, there will not be a corresponding drop in tuition. Part of this I think is part of the insistence that online instruction is equal to face-to-face class meetings. (I disagree, but that isn’t really the thrust of this discussion.), but I think there’s another factor at play here, one which might prove interesting.

We know that part of Harvard’s appeal has been the fact that it has been a genuinely good school for a very long time. However, I would suggest (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) that a significant component of Harvard’s value is the opportunity for its students to network, building connections with other members of a social elite. In its worst form, it’s the Old Boys Club thing, but even if your child isn’t going to be joining the Illuminati (I kid, I kid — we’re all in the Illuminati; some of us just don’t know it.), we talk about the relationships Harvard folks develop, which will often connect them with different circles than one might join after attending, say, Mondoville.

My question, then, is how many of those connections can develop when college life becomes virtual? Even if, for the sake of argument, the quality of education remains exactly the same, how will the connections develop in an exclusively online setting? And if the students aren’t building those relationships and social capital, then how long will parents be willing to foot the bill for mere (if nicely branded) certification?

While I agree with my dad’s statement that “You can get a good education anywhere — but you have to want it,” I recognize that brands do have value. But if Harvard’s brand value is in part based on networking and connections, does that value take a hit, and if so, how much? And how long until the market decides that it is unwilling to pay the usual price for a diminished product?

***

And since it wouldn’t be a potpourri post without a trip to the garage, here’s a track that I’m actually surprised I haven’t already shared. Little Phil and the Night Shadows existed in various forms from 1956 to 1969, which is like eleven consecutive incarnations with the same lovers in ordinary terms. The Atlanta-based band started as a house band at a skating rink spent years working the frat rock angle (often losing gigs at white fraternities because the frats preferred to hire black R&B/beach music acts — race relations were sometimes very strange in the early 60s South) before turning to a punkier garage feel by the mid-60s. They may be best remembered for the fuzzed-out “60 Second Swinger”, but I prefer this more plaintive track. From January of 1966, here’s “So Much.”

See you soon!

Posted in Culture, Education, Music, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

Steep Climbs and Flat Tires

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs. M’s mom took a nasty fall, breaking her shoulder to a degree that required reconstructive surgery. Afterwards, she was transported from Lost-in-the-Woods County to a convalescent center in Huntington, WV. As one might expect, Mrs. M wanted to go check on her mom, so I played chauffeur and we went up there on Tuesday, returning yesterday.

Mapquest informed us that the 400-mile trip would take about six-and-a-half hours, but with snack stops, leg stretches, and the like, it actually took us closer to eight. A stretch of I-77 through WV was a toll road, a notion that still has a fair amount of novelty for me. I’ve driven a couple of toll highways over the years — there’s one between Greenville, SC and Atlanta, for example, but the WV Turnpike may have been the most expensive I’ve driven, running $12 spread over three booths between Princeton (the southern terminus) and Charleston in the north.

One of the things I enjoy about trips to NC, VA, and the like is the Sheetz chain of convenience stores. I guess I’m easily impressed, but they just seem nicer than most such chains, and on this trip I discovered that I really like their biscuits, particularly with two pieces of sausage and cheddar cheese. That’s a darned fine breakfast sandwich (even if they call it a “shmiscuit”), and of such things good trips can be distinguished from lackluster ones.

After making it to Huntington, we settled in at our base of operations, the Doubletree hotel downtown. My knowledge of the area was quite limited — I knew the city was home to Marshall U, which throttled my beloved Ball State Cardinals on a regular basis when both schools were in the Mid-American Conference. To be fair, I always think that cities look ugly when I pass through them on the Interstate, but I felt like the place had a grungy vibe when I arrived. This proved to be inaccurate, but my initial take was that it felt like Muncie — without the glamour. It probably didn’t help matters any that the hotel was across the street from an abandoned pawn/retail shop. Additionally, while Huntington is a major inland port and rivers-to-rails hub (and indeed, was founded as such for the old Chesapeake and Ohio railroad — now CSX), a floodwall separates the downtown from the Ohio River, which may spare the city from horrors like the 1937 flood (which also devastated my old stomping grounds in Cincinnati and Northern KY), but is less than aesthetically pleasant. Add to that the current COVIDian ghost town effect and my own personal claustrophobic feeling I get in Appalachian cities, and I had a sense of Rust Belt urban depression.

We got there in time for Mrs. M to go visit her mom while I tried to get the kinks out of my arthritic knee. The fact that we came up from South Carolina, which is currently seeing an uptick in virus cases, probably would have rendered us suspect, but we continued our usual masking and sanitation routine, and tried not to mention that we were visiting from vintage-1348 Genoa.

As we were both pretty tired, after Mrs. M returned to the room, we settled for dinner at a Bob Evans a few blocks from the hotel. We chatted a little with our server, and found out she was relatively new to the area herself, having come up with her boyfriend from Mingo County, a place that I primarily associate with John Sayles. We drove by the aforementioned floodwall on our way back to the hotel, and made an early night of it.

In the meantime, I put on my mask and walked a few blocks down Third Avenue, which seemed to be the main drag. I noticed that several of the historic buildings have been renovated/revitalized in interesting ways, including an arts center, a laser tag emporium, a bar/arcade, and a building with a remarkably cool assortment of small shops, patio dining/live music, and food options. Although the website said the building was closed to indoor dining, things have apparently reopened, as we will see later.

But as I walked a little farther, I found a location of a fast-food chain I like a lot, HWY 55. There’s one near Real City, but it’s in an area I don’t visit very often, so I took advantage of the opportunity to get a large cheeseburger and some tater tots, all cooked to perfection. I particularly like their cheeseburgers, which remind me of the burgers I would get as a kid at the grille of the drugstore where my grandmother worked. While the theme of the restaurant is 50s diner, the canned music was anachronistic, but in an interesting way. Most notably, I almost dropped my burger when 1974’s “Tiger Feet“, by British glam merchants Mud came on. Someone in the Muzak programming department earned some righteous geek cred on Wednesday.

After Mrs. M got back from a very pleasant visit with her mom, we walked back to the Market, and had dinner at a nice Greek restaurant upstairs. I had hoped for some pastichio, but they were out, so I had a nice bifteki while Mrs. M busied herself with mahi mahi on veggie pasta with aioli. We talked a little with our server, who is about to begin work on a Masters in Social Work at Marshall. On the way out, we noticed a homemade ice cream place, but decided to save that for another time. (And by “another time”, I mean the following night.) We got back to the hotel, where Mrs. M reported on her mom’s progress to family and friends, and after the middle-aged couple’s ritual watching of HGTV, we called it a night.

The next day, Mrs. M headed back to the hospital while I went to Pullman Square, a 4-block shopping, dining, and theater complex. I was delighted to find an independent book and comic store called The Inner Geek. It was a nice little store, and I picked up a current issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, featuring stories from my writer pals Brendan DuBois and Shawn Cosby, so I was able to support a cool bookstore and some cool people at the same time.

That evening, Mrs. M and I walked back down to the Market, going for a couple of flatbread pizzas at a stand on the first floor, followed by ice cream at the stand we had seen the night before. It was a sunny Friday evening, and a fellow was playing guitar on the patio of the complex. I decided Huntington might have some pretty neat things after all.

Pepperoni, sausage, and banana peppers? Don’t mind if I do!

We got out of town on Saturday morning as some of Mrs. M’s sibs are taking over the visiting privileges. We don’t want to hog all the improvement, after all. I swung by Sheetz again, and then at lunchtime, we stopped at Shoneys, where I was overjoyed to find that they had kept the breakfast buffet open into the afternoon. Patrons were supplied with pliofilm gloves for the buffet, and we wore our masks when we weren’t actually at our tables. On the downside, we were hit for an additional 75 cents in tolls on our way back to the Interstate. Still, it was worth it.

Eventually we made our way back to South Carolina, and stopped for gasoline about 60 miles from home. We had gone about ten or fifteen more miles, putting us squarely in the middle of nowhere, when I heard the dreaded thudthudthud of a low tire. On a Saturday. On July the Fourth. Sure enough, the driver’s rear tire was done. We tried to get the tire off, but the installer had apparently used an impact wrench, and even the addition of my considerable weight to the tire iron wasn’t doing the trick.

Fortunately, Mrs. M noticed a house across the highway from where we were pulled over, and went to see if anyone there could help us. She saw a tractor in a shed, and told me, “That’s when I knew they had tools.”

So that’s how we met Robert and Linda, the kind retired couple. Not only does Robert have tools, but he knows how to use them — he’s a retired general contractor. He brought a 4-way wrench over, and with the additional torque, succeeded in getting the old tire off and putting the spare on. At which point we discovered the spare was not quite flat, but well underinflated, at about 10 psi when it should be at 60 psi. Fortunately, another tool Robert has is a compressor, so we got the spare properly inflated. More accurately, he did that while I was grateful, and while Mrs. M and Robert’s wife chatted in the house.

The car was finally in shape to go, and after refusing some thank-you money, Robert and Linda wished us well for the last leg of our trip. And it must have worked, because we got home around six.

So I’m home again, and it’s the Fourth of July weekend. The country is going through a difficult time right now, with a feeling not unlike the Nixon-Ford-Carter era. Unfortunately, neither of the two major parties are offering anything that looks like positive developments, preferring instead to throw red meat to their increasingly polarized bases. It’s wearying. Like my first impression of Huntington, things don’t seem promising.

But at the same time, I got a reminder this week that while it’s a land of screamers and haters, of Puritans on both sides with no room for Grace, this is much more a country of young people coming from hardscrabble coal country and other harsh places to find their lives and loves, and to build careers where they can help other people. And especially, it’s a country of Roberts and Lindas, who didn’t know us and didn’t have to help us. But they did, just because we needed help, and they gave us their work and cold water in the blistering late afternoon sun. Every drop of sweat that fell from Robert’s head as he twisted that tire tool was a reminder that this country is a place where people help strangers, because they can.

It’s a day late, but Happy Independence Day, everybody.

And Patricia? Keep getting better.

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Saturday Potpourri: Beneath the Saharan Dust Edition

As we move to the end of June, this weekend was supposed to have highs near 100 degrees. However, the Mighty Saharan Dust Cloud (TM pending) has served as a sort of parasol for the Carolinas and Gulf Coast, holding temperatures about ten degrees under that. All the same, I’m thankful for the air conditioner as I lurk down here in the den.

***

And the air conditioner gave us a bit of a start a couple of nights ago. I don’t really know why, but I had an urge to check our mechanical room before going to bed on Thursday evening, at which point I found a sizable and expanding puddle. I grabbed a bunch of towels (ignoring, for some reason, the wetvac sitting in that very room — I never claimed to be good at this) and began to soak things up. My next step was to holler for Mrs. M, who is good at this kind of thing, and she deduced that there was a blockage in the line that carries condensation out of the house.

So we got things cleaned up and got to bed a bit after one. We took turns getting up at two-hour intervals to make sure we weren’t flooding. I had better luck than she did — or more accurately, she found a way to run a line from the pump to our crawlspace (a/k/a the Dead Hobo Smokehouse & Curing Room). This meant that while she had a mess to clean up at two, I didn’t at four.

I left a message at our HVAC people’s phone, and the repairman came out bright and early, running a new line and providing us with a more permanent version of Mrs. M’s fix. Since we happened to have plenty of tubing, there wasn’t even a materials charge, and I’m once again thriving in cool, dry conditions — just like many viruses.

***

For the first time in a few years, I watched an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 last night. It was from the original run with Joel Hodgson, and it reminded me that Joel was probably my favorite of the hosts. Part of that may be because I discovered the show during his run, and part may be because in the show’s early years, there was more low-hanging fruit in terms of Grade-Z movies to parody. But I also think Hodgson brought a kind of goofy sweetness and sincerity that reminds us why in comedy duos, the straight man usually got the big end of a 60/40 split. I think I’ll watch another one tonight.

***

One of the more interesting entertainment companies these days is Numero Records, based in Chicago. They specialize in compilations that are a obscure, off the beam, or otherwise odd. I have a few of them, including the Bonehead compilation I mentioned last time. Obviously, this puts them in my wheelhouse. However, I find myself particularly interested in some of the conceits under which Numero has worked lately.

The first edition of the Warfaring Strangers series (itself a play of Numero’s Wayfaring Strangers folk collection) came with a D&D-themed board game, with players in the roles of the assorted bands on the compilation. You can still get the game separately, but it’s the pop-cultural understanding that makes it special for me.

Similarly, the company’s new release is a compilation of downbeat mid-60s jangle and low-key teenbeat, not necessarily remarkable in itself — I certainly have a large number of CDs fitting the bill. But Numero has built a mythos around this collection. They have imagined that all the acts attended the same high school (the fictitious “Louis Wayne Moody High”, and the music is the soundtrack to the Class of 1967’s yearbook. By looking at the yearbook, listening to the music, and reading the various “student inscriptions”, apparently one can solve a murder mystery: “What happened to Cheryl?

Numero refers to these items as its “Cabinet of Curiosities” series, and I think it’s a remarkable development, in that it encourages us to think of albums as albums, as coherent works of art, rather than the playlist model that may be themed, but that always comes to us as a list of discrete units. So good for Numero — I hope they can keep this going.

***

And I’m going to close this installment with a track from yet another of the Cabinet of Curiosities that I listened to yesterday. The Numero folks posited a nonexistent film, a 1964 desert neo-noir. The imaginary film is entitled You’re Not From Around Here, and they’ve presented us with its soundtrack album. First, the “trailer.”

And here’s a track from the “soundtrack.” Dick Campbell was a songwriter (he composed the backing music for Ken Nordine’s Colors album, for example) who released a folk-rock album in 1966 meant to cash in on Bob Dylan’s recent success (and using many of the same backing musicians.) This track predates that album, and it sounds so much of a time and place that it approaches the objective correlative. Listen to it, and you’re driving across the Southwest while newspapers mention the sending of “advisors” to Vietnam. Here’s “Like the Wind That’s Free.”

See you soon!

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

Tuesday Night Potpourri: Still Here…

Sorry I haven’t posted of late, but between some dental issues, various anniversaries related to the murder of my folks, the summer minipalooza of grading, and a general sense that we should be checking Bethlehem for rough beasts, I just haven’t had the desire to say much. I’ve been writing several thousand words a week this month, but they’ve been in the form of online discussions of the writers and works in the summer term’s BritLit survey, and this blog has served primarily as something else to feel guilty about. But tomorrow is the final day of my summer classes, and I’ll likely get the grades in by Friday, and then presumably I’m off to new horrors.

***

Technically, I suppose my sabbatical doesn’t start until August, but from a practical standpoint, I guess it really gets going once I turn in the grades I just mentioned. And I’m unnerved.

I’ve said in the past that there are few things that terrify me quite like an opportunity. One never knows how many of those one gets, after all, and so when I have one, I fear that I’m going to waste it, and I fear that the sin of wasting my opportunity or my talent will humiliate me in front of the world, or at least that portion of it that I encounter. I try to reassure myself with the quote attributed to Bear Bryant, that win or lose, “There’s 800 million [Chinese] who don’t give a shit.” Indeed, these days, I guess it’s more like 1.3 billion or so.

And it reminds me again of Dr. Johnson, who wrote Rasselas in a week, composed the Dictionary almost singlehandedly, wrote the magnificent Lives of the Poets. . . and constantly reprehended himself for idleness and wasting his gift:

Sober is a man of strong desires and quick imagination, so exactly balanced by the love of ease, that they can seldom stimulate him to any difficult undertaking; they have, however, so much power, that they will not suffer him to lie quite at rest; and though they do not make him sufficiently useful to others, they make him at least weary of himself.

I’m no Johnson, of course, but I can see parts of myself in him. And part of me already fears that I’m going to screw this opportunity up somehow. I try to remind myself of the times I have accomplished what I set out to do: I finished the Ph.D.; I earned tenure; I’ve done creative work that has earned positive attention from people I respect. Most importantly, I’ve helped to get the Spawn to the point where she can make her own promising life. If I can do those things, I should be able to do this, right? RIGHT?

Ahem. Sorry.

***

Yesterday, Mrs. M and I headed down to Real City to do a little shopping, and she dropped me off (appropriately masked) at the used media emporium. I picked up a couple of books, and read one of them — Donald Westlake’s The Ax — last night. Westlake was known for writing both ultra-hardboiled crime fiction and funny caper novels — The Ax may be both, or neither.

The book’s protagonist is a fellow who has lost his longtime job due to downsizing, and he eventually realizes that there are things he has to do in order to maintain his family, his career, and even his sense of identity. Upon reading it, I realized that it covers similar ground to a recent story of mine, but does it with a lacerating sense of satire that I think Swift would have appreciated. And as we see the current pandemic-connected recession eat through our society like a canker blossom, and as we remember that the Schumpeterian “creative destruction” of capitalism does indeed involve collateral damage, the book may be more appropriate than ever. Because too many of us live in a Red Queen’s Race where we run as hard as we can merely to stay in place, the middle-class suburban dystopia of Westlake’s novel may feel a little too current, although it was written 22 years ago. It’s worth your time.

***

On the upside of things, I’ve started to do music again, with two other former Berries and a colleague from the department. We’ve gotten together a few times now, and things look promising. Details as the develop.

***

For Father’s Day, I received the second set of Numero Records’ collection of what my middle and high school peers called “acid rock” (as in, “I like hard rock, but I don’t like that acid rock.”) These days, that particular subgenre of music is called stuff like proto-metal and (my personal fave) “bonehead” rock, and Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares gives us 18 slabs of the stuff. From a review of the similar Brown Acid compilations, this blogger offers a decent definition:

If it sounds like the band was listening to Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, MC5, and/or Led Zeppelin, and the band released a single without the backing of a big label between approximately 1968 and 1980, it’s ripe for inclusion. 

Without the intent to fulfill the requisites of a genre, what compelled these bands to sound like this? Drugs, mostly. But there were other, structural factors: the dashed hopes of the counterculture; the failures of the antiwar movement and the desolation caused by the US war in Vietnam; the coming of the vast shift in political economy away from unionized, manufacturing jobs; the successes of the civil rights movement; second-wave feminism; and the rise of the new Right. On the whole, if I had to slap a label on this music (of course I have to), I’d call it the music of the disorganized white male working class. If anything organizes it, it must be the loss of the possibilities of the counterculture and short-lived hopes of hippiedom. For their gender-bending appearance, communal living, anti-establishment politics, and interracial and queer social and sexual mingling, hippies faced strong and widespread state repression—as well as retaliation by regular folks who might have just as easily joined their ranks. What followed was either a wish to have been a part of the action by those who missed out or a wish for what might been by those whose routes to new dimensions of libertine ecstasy were thwarted. Hence the comedown. Hard drugs and motorcycles offered recompense.

This track is a pretty good example of what we;re talking about, and a pretty good example of why I didn’t date much. The “nice girls” I knew couldn’t have stood this stuff, and the “hood girls” who might have dug it scared me to death. The Purple Sun were a four-or-five-piece (Apparently, the four guys in the band occasionally brought in a girl to sing and play organ.) from League City, TX, who released one single during their run from 1969-72. This track is “Doomsday.” Black light not included.

See you soon!

Posted in Education, Literature, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 1 Comment

So Long, Jasmine

We lost the Hound of of the Basketballs yesterday. It wasn’t really a surprise — a recent visit to the vet had revealed a tumor and some other issues, and while a prescription of steroids might, in fact did, give her a few more good weeks, she crashed overnight on Thursday. We (Mrs. M, Jasmine, and I) were at the vet’s office as soon as the door was open yesterday morning, but we were told any remaining time would be so unpleasant, and so unlike the dog we had come to know, that we should probably let her go. And so yesterday we did, but we still are letting her go today, and I suppose in some ways we always will.

The many faces of Jasmine (2006-20), from puppy to apex predator to elder statesdog.

At this point, I have to admit that I’m the weirdo of my family. Admittedly, that’s true in a lot of ways, but in this instance, I’m talking about the fact that I’ve never really been a “doggie person.” Honestly, I tend to be nervous, if not outright frightened, around dogs. And so, sixteen or so years ago, when the Spawn wanted a Boston Terrier like my parents had, I wasn’t really big on the idea. But I heard from the rest of my family that “a kid should have a dog”, and so we told Em that if she could come up with the money, we’d match it. And the Spawn called our bluff, saving birthday and Christmas money in a plastic container. She had two or three hundred dollars when we said okay, and she picked Jasmine from the new litter at a local breeder — that’s the first picture in the array above this. Em named the dog after the South Carolina State Flower, but we varied between her given name, “Jazz”, “Jazz the Spaz”, “the Hound of Heck/Pup of Perdition”, and of course, the Hound of the Basketballs.

When we first brought her home, the campus radio station had just gone on air, and I set up a radio so she had something to listen to during the day, while she stayed in a kennel in the house. I mentioned this to a friend who helped operate the station’s automatic feed, and so for a while, there was a station ID that went like this: “You’re listening to WNIR-LP, 95.5, Newberry. Hush, Jasmine. Good dog.”

After she became housebroken, she spent more time out of the “crate”, and would careen around the house at full speed. At first, when we took her outside, we’d leash her to a stake in the back yard, and somehow I got the night shift, so I’d sit in a patio chair while she scrutinized her surroundings and eventually did what she had to do before I could bring her back in. To pass the time, sometimes I’d whistle, usually whatever songs were on my mind, and occasionally weird medleys of Bizet and the Village Stompers. She used to flip out when I’d do that, but eventually she got used to it. But as time went by, we decided to fence the back yard at Spackle Manor and install a dog door so she could expand her territory. And when we moved across campus to the Mid-Century Mondohaus six years ago, the first order of business was to fence this yard as well.

Jasmine treated the yard as her personal game preserve, occasionally presenting us (well, specifically Mrs. M) with trophies, as you can see above. Squirrels were fair game, but so were birds that had the bad luck to collide with our sliding glass doors, and honestly, Jazz never saw another critter that she didn’t see as a fair opponent, even when they were out of her league. Even within the last few weeks, when Mrs. M would take Jasmine into the front yard and the neighbor’s big, goofy Golden named Jake would come galumphing over, he would defer to Jazz as they played.

When we first came to this house, we figured Jazz would stay downstairs in the uncarpeted part of the house, and she did, during the day. But in the evenings, aided and abetted by Mrs. M, she wound up staying upstairs, and eventually migrating from the dog bed we had provided for her to our bed, where she would wedge herself against either Deb or me. Usually it was Deb, though, and as the years went by, it became clear that while Jazz was technically Em’s dog, Debbie was Jasmine’s person. My dad used to say that if was reincarnated, he’d want to come back as my mom’s dog, and Jasmine got the same level of royal treatment from Mrs. M. She might not serve the dog melted ice cream as my mom would occasionally, but if Deb was having a hard-boiled egg, some yolk might top the dog food every now and then, and Jazz was no stranger to bits of leftover chicken either. (My contribution was more likely to take the form of bits of potato chip or whatever that landed on the floor as a result of my awkwardness. The dog ate well, is what I’m saying.)

As Jazz grew older, it began to show, as it does for all of us. The Spawn and Mrs. M both thought she was going deaf, although she would still respond to my voice or a handclap. Maybe it was because my voice is deeper; I don’t know. She also developed a cataract in her last couple of years, but again, seemed quite content with her lot. I don’t think she was ever genuinely ill until the end of her life. She remained cheerful, excitable, and attached to the family. It was easy to track her from the tick-tick-tick of her claws as she would trek across the tile or wooden floors, and I think I learned to recognize it even in my sleep so I’d know when she needed to go out.

Not long ago, she began to drag one of her rear paws in a manner known as “knuckling”. That’s when we learned about the tumor on her hip, and we knew that we wouldn’t have her much longer. Fourteen is a long run for a Boston, and she spent most of it running indeed. Over the last few weeks, we learned to help her onto our chairs, and Mrs. M bought splints for the leg and baby socks to protect the foot from scuffing. Since the schools switched to online teaching, I’d get up each morning to find Mrs. M and Jazz comfortably ensconced in the den watching TV — or Deb would watch as Jasmine snored.

But as I said, the time was good, but an Indian Summer, and the frost fell on Thursday night, and concluded yesterday morning around ten. I held her a while before we went to the vet, and Deb held her as we said goodbye, and at the end. So Jasmine died peacefully at the end of a very good life, in the arms of her person, and now I’m sitting here with my teeth clenched and my eyes watering, which I know seems weird because of that “Not a dog person” thing I said before, but is true nonetheless.

Yesterday, of course, was also the eleventh anniversary of the murders of my mom and dad, and while I know it’s sentimental foolishness on my part, there’s a part of me that wants to believe they’ll take care of her for the next however long.

One of my dad’s favorite Twilight Zone episodes was written by Earl Hamner, who would go on to create The Waltons. Entitled “The Hunt,” the episode — well, I’ll let Wiki handle it:

Hyder Simpson is an elderly mountain man who lives with his wife Rachel and his hound dog Rip in the backwoods. Rachel does not like having the dog indoors, but Rip saved Hyder’s life once and Hyder refuses to part with him. Rachel has seen some bad omens recently and warns Hyder not to go raccoon hunting that night. When Rip dives into a pond after a raccoon, Hyder jumps in after him. Only the raccoon comes up out of the water. The next morning, Hyder and Rip wake up next to the pond. When they return home, Hyder finds that Rachel, the preacher, and the neighbors cannot hear or see him, and are tending to the burial of both him and Rip.

Walking along the road, Hyder and Rip encounter an unfamiliar fence and follow it. They come to a gate tended by a man, who explains that Hyder can enter the Elysian Fields of the afterlife. Told that Rip cannot enter and will be taken to a special afterlife for dogs, Hyder angrily declines the offer of entry and decides to keep walking along the “Eternity Road,” saying, “Any place that’s too high-falutin’ for Rip is too fancy for me.”

Later, Hyder and Rip stop to rest and are met by a young man, who introduces himself as an angel dispatched to find them and take them to Heaven. When Hyder recounts his previous encounter, the angel tells him that gate is actually the entrance to Hell. The gatekeeper had stopped Rip from entering because Rip would have smelled the brimstone inside and warned Hyder that something was wrong. The angel says, “You see, Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!” As the angel leads Hyder along the Eternity Road toward Heaven, he tells Hyder that a square dance and raccoon hunt are scheduled for that night. He also assures Hyder that Rachel, who will soon be coming along the road, will not be misled into entering Hell.

Furthermore, my dad always said that (Thomas Aquinas notwithstanding) he was sure that any Heaven made by a loving God would include dogs, as they were the most loving creatures to be found on earth. Even for someone who isn’t a dog person, I saw that in Jasmine, in my own nervous, awkward, standoffish way. And I believe that the life she had and the love of this family were all she might have wanted as well.

You were a terrific dog, Jasmine. We miss you.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Family, Music, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments

In Which the Mondos Get Their First Amendment On

A few days ago, a colleague of mine sent an e-mail to the faculty.

I mentioned it to Mrs. M, and we agreed that it was a good way to spend part of our Sunday afternoon. As a middle-aged fat guy, I was concerned about the ‘Rona, but I decided to wear my mask and attend all the same. (As it turns out, volunteers distributed masks to folks who didn’t have them, and we were encouraged to maintain social distancing, which led to a crowd that was more like a gathering of clumps. At least in my area, everyone seemed to have space. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

It’s a June day in South Carolina, so the temperature and humidity were both around 90 when we parked the car near the Newberry Opera House and walked a block or so to the downtown park that was the staging area. Volunteers (including my keyboardist) were helping get the crowd in order, while Carlton Kinard (a former student of mine — now the county NAACP chair) led some chants on a bullhorn. I saw some current and former students here and there in the crowd, as well as some of my colleagues. Mrs. M encountered at least one former student of her own, and got a quick hug from the little guy.

I’d estimate the crowd at somewhere between 200 and 300 people, about 65-75% African American. There were signs with messages memorializing George Floyd, calling for work against racism, and exhorting folks to vote. (There was a voter registration table at the courthouse parking lot, which was our destination.)

The march proper covered a couple of blocks between the park and courthouse. Mrs. M and I were toward the back of the pack — I walk pretty slowly under ordinary circumstances, and my knee has been acting up lately. But I managed to amble along the route until we reached the parking lot at the Newberry Courthouse.

I worked on my farmer’s tan as a number of speakers did their thing. The speakers included the city police chief — the first African American chief in Newberry history — the county sheriff, the mayor, a couple of local clergy, and Carlton Kinard’s brother, who told his own story of an encounter with police when he was a teen that nearly resulted in disaster. Speakers called for members of our community to work together to improve economic opportunities, to take part in the political process (not merely by voting, but by holding representatives accountable regardless of party), and to stay informed and look for opportunities to make things better.

There was praise for the willingness of our local police to use body cameras and to train in de-escalation, and acknowledgment that political and police leaders have been willing to engage in dialogue with members of the minority communities as well. There was also a call for an end to the concept of qualified immunity, and while most of the crowd didn’t seem aware of that particular issue, I applauded.

As the event came to a close, Mrs. M and I made our way back to the car. The people I had seen weren’t firebrands (with one possible exception, a young white woman dressed in black with a homemade “F12” in glitter on her T-shirt sleeve. Not much in the way of revolution in Mondoville, and I’m sure she was disappointed. Thank God.) They were just people who want to live safe and productive lives. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, and although I’m not Harlan Ellison, who marched at Selma, I’m glad I showed up to support it.

Posted in Alternating Feet, Education, Family, Politics, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

Where I Am Today

Dr. Benjamin Spock, having achieved fame for his work as a pediatrician and author of child-rearing manuals, became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s, campaigning against nuclear weapons and the Vietnam war. He said, essentially, that he didn’t want the work and love he had spent on children to get blown up or shot to death in Southeast Asia.

My politics are not those of Dr Spock, nor was my approach to my daughter his. But I understand.

My work is the intersection of two kinds of love. As Sir Roger Scruton noted, great teachers aren’t great (nor am I great, though I can aspire to that) because they love their students. They are great because they love their subjects, and are determined to pass their knowledge of those subjects to another generation. But I love my students as well. I teach at a college that serves a significant percentage of African-American kids, a significant percentage of poor kids, a significant percentage of first-generation students (as you might expect, there’s a fair amount of overlap on that Venn diagram, but it isn’t entire.) In that respect, I teach at a college whose student body largely mirrors the demographic makeup of my state. And because I love those students, and because I love my subject, I want the knowledge to keep moving, and I want to give them the skills and wisdom to make their lives better.

I don’t do that work to see it squandered, either by my students’ bad decisions or by the bad decisions of the agents of our society. Usually, when I talk to students, I focus on the first part. But it isn’t the only part. I don’t want to share the wisdom of Johnson, the ribaldry of Chaucer, the toughness of Housman, only to have it crushed on a sidewalk.

I’m not one of the nincompoops who believes that my way of life could continue in the absence of law enforcement, and I know that every necessary encounter with a law enforcer bears the possibility of violence. (This may in turn be a reminder that every law we pass bears the cost — financial and human — of enforcement, and cause us to wonder if every law we pass is worth that cost. But that’s a discussion for another day.) The police apprehended the killer of my parents, and provided the evidence to serve justice insofar as it could be served. I’m grateful for the police.

But my brother had also been a cop. I know about bad apples. And I don’t want to see the wisdom (not mine, except perhaps by inheritance) and the love that I spend on my students squandered.

Which brings us to this. Yesterday, as I was having dinner, I saw this image online.

I can’t really speak to the second of these points — I don’t know how practicable the process is in a split-second situation, and I can see room for human weakness. But I believe the other three are eminently reasonable, and that transparency and accountability are essential.

Will this bring justice? No. I quit believing in justice on earth when my best friend collapsed and died when we were thirteen years old, and the lesson was reinforced to me almost eleven years ago. And I don’t believe in the notion of social justice, as I think justice is a retail concept, not a wholesale one. If there is justice, it can only be justice for individuals, each x that makes up the larger y.

But it might bring less waste of life, of effort, of love. That’s not a bad start.

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Saturday Potpourri: Incongruities Edition

Yes, there are awful people in the world, doing horrible things to each other and to the civilization in which we live. Yes, there is a plague upon the land, and we don’t know when — or even if — that will get better. But at the same time, I felt joy this afternoon as NASA and private enterprise put a couple of guys into space. And there are other goodnesses to report as well. So why not?

***

Like a lot of people, I’ve been keeping an eye on the SpaceX launch this week, but I haven’t been following it as avidly as I might have in the past. As a result, until this afternoon, I was unaware of the fact that the drone ship that served as a landing pad for the rocket’s first stage is named Of Course I Still Love You. When I heard that, I both laughed and fell in love. There’s just something so screwball about the whole thing, and it feels absolutely perfect for the weirdness in us — the people who reach out and want us to outgrow our cradles here on earth. I think Delos Harriman would have approved.

And of course, there’s the wonderful pop culture link in that our two astronauts are named Bob and Doug. Godspeed, Hosers.

***

Closer to home, tomorrow marks the official release date for The Darkling Halls of Ivy, El Bee’s new anthology, gathering stories with an academic bent, and some of them are pretty bent indeed. Thomas Pluck wrote a very gracious review of the book, and as always, I’m glad to be part of such a fine group of writers. While the Subterranean Press limited edition is probably unavailable, you can chase down copies via Amazon as well.

***

And speaking of writerly stuff, I’m happy to report that the Spawn will be appearing as part of a Virtual Noir at the Bar on Thursday evening.


The other writers include such stalwarts as Jordan Harper, Eryk Pruitt, and Todd “Big Daddy Thug” Robinson, and Dennis Tafoya is hosting, so a good time should be the order of the evening. To register or drop in, click here.

***

All right — my summer courses (taught online) begin on Monday, so I’d best close.But as usual, let’s close with some music. In this instance, it’s the title cut from one of my favorite albums, a space-rock concept album from Klaatu. I got the album for my twelfth birthday, and I still find some reassurance in it. This is “Hope.”

See you soon.

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Poetry Corner: “Theirs Is Not Yours”

Like many people, I’ve spent the last couple of days in a dark space. Even a sense of humor as dark as mine can be fatigued, I guess. I find myself asking Wilfred Owen’s question at the conclusion of “Futility“: “O what made fatuous sunbeams toil/ To break earth’s sleep at all?” I lived through a Long Hot Summer when I was very young. I don’t relish the reboot I see coming.

And the odd thing is, I have reasons to be glad, and I will write about them, likely this weekend. But not tonight. Tonight I weary of the chaos and the liars and the self-assured righteousness of the wrong and ignorant, including the wrongness and ignorance that is surely within me, even — especially — when I don’t see it. Tonight is a night for Robinson Jeffers.

Be Angry at the Sun

That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new. That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope
    and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people,
    those warriors,
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies,
    the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar. You are far
From Dante’s feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds.

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes
    to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

See you soon.

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