Saturday Potpourri: 16 Dec 17

Woke up to some hard news about half an hour ago, when I learned that one of my first students died last night. I taught Joey Couch at the University of Kentucky, and I wasn’t much older than my students back then. I was one of the youngest in my class of T.A.s, a 21-year-old teaching 18- and 19-year-olds. Joey was a football player from Paintsville, a town in Eastern Kentucky that would play a significant role in my life a few years later, after I met Mrs. M. He was a lineman, even though he was smaller than me, and I suppose he must have been one of those guys who could throw a switch when he stepped onto the field, because he was the nicest, most affable kid I could have hoped for.

I don’t remember what grade he earned in my Freshman Comp class, but I suspect it was reasonably good — if I recall correctly, his mom was a teacher, and he stood out in the class for his hard work, among other reasons. My friend Dennis came down to visit at some point that term, and sat in on my class. Later, he asked me, “Who was that one guy who was sitting in the front, and talked to you after class?”

“Oh, that was Joey.”

“He has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen.” And he did — I think the guy could have palmed an anvil.

We’d run into each other occasionally on campus after that, and even as he became one of the better players in the SEC, he never showed any sign of a big head. He had a brief stab at the pros — arena ball, I think — before injuries led him to get on with his life’s work back in his hometown. We reconnected via the Book of Faces a couple of years ago, and he was enjoying his life with a wife and two sons, with a job in the insurance business. He died last night of a heart attack.

Goodbye, Joey. You were a good student and a good guy. The world is a little smaller without you in it.

***

We had our winter commencement exercise the other day, and one of our majors got her ticket to the big show — congratulations, Jaima! We’re proud of you. The ceremony was marred, however, by some indecorous behavior on the part of some of the graduates.

Winter commencement takes place in the college chapel, which holds about 800 people. The graduates cross the presbytery, where they are hooded and given their diplomas. They shake hands with the President, and then proceed down the center aisle to their seats in the pews as the next person’s name is called and the process begins anew.

This year, a number of the grads decided to engage in elaborately choreographed dancing and chanting as they moved down the aisle. Had it been a football game, they would have been flagged for excessive celebration. This was cheesy enough, but it was compounded by the fact that as they were cavorting (or “acting a fool”, as my grandparents would have said), other kids were taking the walk, and the commotion in the aisle (including their friends and family cheering them on) was a distraction from the business going on “on stage”.

I get that we have a lot of first-generation kids, and that getting the degree is a real achievement, both for the students and their families. It should be celebrated. But the time and place that these grads chose for their self-congratulatory performances was indecorous, and worse, inconsiderate. I’m not sure how the administration will attempt to deal with this in future, but I hope they come up with something.

***

And speaking of semester’s end, the Spawn managed to finish the term on the Dean’s List again, and remains on course to graduate Magna (he said, knocking wood) in another year and a half. Mrs. M graduated Magna, and the Spawn doesn’t want her mom to have bragging rights, so she keeps punching. (The circumstances of my undergrad degree were sufficiently unorthodox that I don’t really know what my GPA was, although I’m reasonably sure it wouldn’t have qualified for any sort of honors. On the other hand, I find solace in the 4.0 I carried in my years at Ball State, and the fact that I did the dissertation in one year.)

So, kid, have I mentioned lately that I’m proud of you? I have? Well, I still am.

***

Well, I have some basketball games to attend this afternoon, and a few things to do before then, so I think I’ll close. But as is my habit, I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music. The Grip Weeds (named for John Lennon’s character in How I Won the War) are a band from New Jersey with their own take on psychedelic pop. This track came from their Summer of a Thousand Years album, which I discovered when I ran across the late, lamented Rainbow Quartz label in my years at Ball State. This is the album’s opener, “Save My Life.”

See you soon!

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In Which the Prof Confesses a Dirty Yuletide Secret

Given that we’re well into Advent (and yes, there will be an Advent devotional coming next week — in the meantime, you can check out this year’s Mondoville crop here), it’s no surprise that I’m hearing both a lot of Christmas music and a lot of complaints about various examples of same.

Now, I remain confident that the record for Most Hilariously Depressing Christmas Song remains with Red Sovine, and certainly the novelty of songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” wore off a few thousand spins ago — I think nearly all of us can agree on stuff like that. But there seems to be a Christmas music issue about which I’m a rank deviant.

(Breathes deeply. Stares into middle distance for a moment. Resumes typing.)

I prefer Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” to John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” I like the melody, and I particularly like the fact that the melody isn’t a ringer for an old folk song about a horse. Macca’s song makes me smile, while John’s puts the listener on the defensive from the second line (“And what have you done?”) I carry enough guilt in my life for sins of omission and commission as it is — I don’t need it in my Christmas music. (Besides, Greg Lake warned us in “I Believe in Father Christmas” that “Be it Heaven or Hell/ The Christmas we get we deserve.” Enough!)

Both songs are overproduced, but Paul is honest about it. John brings in the Harlem Children’s Choir, but still tries to maintain the earnestness of a bedroom recording. Fauxverproduction? And of course, Paul’s song doesn’t have Yoko, and has the decency to keep Linda nicely submerged in the mix.

So there. I await your scorn, but I’ve been a fan of prog rock for years. I can handle scorn. In the meantime, I hope you’re simply having… oh, the heck with it.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Music | 2 Comments

So Long, Pat DiNizio

I’ve mentioned my fondness for New Jersey power popsters the Smithereens on several occasions over the years, but I learned just a few minutes ago that the band’s vocalist and songwriter, Pat DiNizio, has died of unspecified causes. He was 62. He had several health issues in recent years, but had actually looked forward to returning to the road just a few days ago.

The Smithereens were one of those bands that never quite escaped the second division, but could be counted on for at least one (and often more than one) amazing song per album. At the heart of that was DiNizio, a guy who looked like Maynard G. Krebs, who wore his love of mid-60s Beatles and Who on his sleeve, and who thoroughly understood that pain is an important ingredient of passion. Those songs, and the 4-piece band that delivered them, won a devoted following that should have been bigger, but one which recognized and valued real rock and roll.

Here are a couple of their songs that I’ve covered over the years (including with the Mad Dog), followed by a couple of others I’ve always liked.

So long, Mr. DiNizio, and thanks for writing songs I wish I had written.

Posted in Music | 2 Comments

QotD: SMH Edition

As a graduate of the University of Kentucky (M.A., 1992) who was there when the big basketball scandal broke in the late 80s, I try not to maintain any illusions about big-school sports. (I will say, however, that although I taught a number of athletes in my time there, I was never pressured about their academic performance.) Still, I have to admit taking a certain measure of delight in the recent exposure of the crime syndicate operating under the banner of the Athletic Department at UK’s intrastate rival, the U of Louisville. (Margaret Soltan, of course, can provide refresher courses in both schools‘ offensive actions — indeed, if you like any college sports at all, she’ll keep you humble.)

Ultimately, we’re talking about a branch of the entertainment industry, which we have always known to be sleazy — honestly, who hasn’t expected stuff like the current flood of sex scandals? That it has metastasized through higher education is sad, but not unexpected.

Where I’m going with all this is an article at ESPN’s website this morning. The title tells the story: “How a Midlevel School Became the University of Adidas at Louisville.” Having followed these developments for years, there wasn’t much there that surprised me. Still, I ran across a line in the story that tempted me to reach for a double Effexor neat with a Lexapro chaser:

“I can give $5 million to stem cell research and it’s gonna help stem cell research,” says Dr. Mark Lynn, an optometry-chain owner whose name adorns the soccer complex. “I give $5 million to a soccer stadium and it’s gonna help everything.”

John 11:35.

Posted in Culture, Education | 1 Comment

In Which the Prof Drives, Reads, and Drives Some More

Today is something of an odd day, Gradeapaloozically speaking. My two upper-level classes had take-home finals today, and I’m grading them as they trickle into my e-mail. Tomorrow at noon, my last class of Freshpeeps will take their final, and then I’ll probably plow through the next couple of days and wrap up the semester on Monday. “But Mondo,” you ask, “what’s with the take-home finals?” A fair question.

I couldn’t do the traditional finals today because I was driving back from Durham, NC. Yesterday morning after my other bunch of freshpeeps took care of their final, I dropped off the drum hauler at the local car rental place, and aimed a nicely appointed Toyota Corolla in a northeasterly direction. I was scheduled to take part in a Noir at the Bar reading in Durham, and between the college and my department chair, I had enough funding to make the trip. I stopped for lunch at a burger joint in Charlotte that is a favorite destination when the Spawn and I go up there for HeroesCon. The counterman said he hadn’t seen me in a while, so I reminded him that I actually live a couple of hours away, and was just passing through. Frankly, I was impressed that he seemed to remember me at all, even though I’m pretty easy to spot in a crowd.

The chili cheeseburger and fries were terrific, but they always are, and on the way out, I told the man that if I was passing through at lunchtime on the way back to Newberry, I’d stop back in. It seemed to please him.

I made it to the Durham Marriott City Center at about 4 yesterday afternoon. I had actually driven a couple of laps around the hotel before I went in, but I couldn’t find a parking spot. It turned out there’s a good reason for that — the hotel uses valet parking exclusively. After checking in and saying goodbye to the rental car, I made my way to my room, which was nicely appointed, with plenty of electrical outlets and even a sofa/chaise upon which I could stretch as I got caught up on e-mails, student requests for mercy, and the like.

I had never stayed at the hotel before — as I’ve noted previously, my travel arrangements over the years have tended toward the Spartan — but this one happened to be just a couple of blocks from 106 Main, the bar  that was hosting the evening’s reading. So I gathered up a bag of my books and got there fairly quickly, only getting bewildered once thanks to Mapquest.

NatB7Dec17AD

When I arrived, some of the other writers were already there, and Eryk Pruitt introduced me around, befitting his role as organizer. I had a coke and chatted with Shawn Cosby, who kept the stories coming at me until it was time to get rolling. Tracey Coppedge was our emcee, and warmed up the crowd nicely for Katy Munger, who led off with a selection from one of her Casey Jones mysteries, telling a tale of two vertically challenged strippers known as the “Tiny Dancers,” and their not-very-high jinks at a Christmas Day show. Although Katy was under the weather, she delivered her bit with surprising vigor, and was rewarded with lots of laughter and applause.

Then it was my turn, and since the evening had a Christmas theme, I broke out “Night Visitor“, a story that ran a few years ago at Out of the Gutter. Later in the evening, several of the attendees and other writers told me, “I liked your story — it was funny, but man, it was dark.” Mission accomplished.

Me at 106 Main

Getting my read on. (Photo: Peter Rozovsky)

Durhamite and blues harpist extraordinaire David Terrenoire gave us a nod to literary history and con artistry with “The Grift of the Magi,” a tender tale of a pool hustler, her fella, and an unlucky college student.  Then we heard from the abovementioned Mr. Cosby, who rocked the house with the story of a man determined to recover a stolen Christmas ornament from a houseful of crack dealers.

Crimefic blog hero and king of the noir photo (and N@tB founder) Peter Rozovsky even came down from Philly to take pictures and tell a quick story about how at Christmas, not even Santa can count on quality help. Help of another kind was the subject of “Killing Krampus” by Nik Patrick, whose story of a young woman recruited by paranormal investigators (who were exactly as I would have imagined them — extra points for the “M’lady”, Nik!) was funny and exciting. It was a story the Spawn would have enjoyed reading — or writing.

J.D. Allen gave us a blend of reading and performance art as she delivered the story of a woman whose predilection for present peeking brings her information that makes Christmas less than merry for some people in her life. Her line, “Does this crappy town even have a SWAT team?” may have been the big laugh getter on the night.

Eryk wrapped things up with a short story about revenge porn and revenge porn revenge. He just wrapped up a tour to promote his latest novel, What We Reckon, and he demonstrated once again that he has an amazing command of the voices of “Rough Southern” fiction. After that, we sold a few books, signed some autographs, and took a few pictures:

NatB7Dec17 group

Clockwise from top left: David Terrenoire, Katy Munger, Mondo, Eryk Pruitt, Nik Patrick, S.A. Cosby, Tracy Coppedge, Peter Rozovsky, J.D. Allen. (Photo: Lana Pierce)

But since I had a long drive ahead of me today, I headed back to the hotel (finding a new and different way to misdirect myself, but getting there eventually), had a snack at the hotel bar, and called it a night.

This morning in Durham was chilly with some clouds lowering, but I got on the road before the snow started. There were flurries along the way, but by the time I got to Charlotte, it was just cold rain. But it was also lunchtime, and well, I was in Charlotte, so back to Chubz. The counter guy saw me come in, and said, “On your way back to Newberry!” He paused for a second, and then said, “I don’t know why I remembered that.” Neither did I, but I thought it spoke well of him, and the food was just as good as it always is, so when I left, I told him I’d see him the next time I was in town. And I certainly plan to.

There was another pleasant surprise at lunch. Newberry’s mayor, the Honorable Foster Senn, put out a tweet:

Warren Moore gets glowing review of his short story in NYTimes book review. Congrats

Thanks, Your Honor!

But now I’m ensconced in my favorite chair in my den, and another final exam rolled in a few minutes ago. Once again, I want to thank the good folks at the college for making it possible for me to develop this part of my career. And for the folks in Durham — y’all were great. Let’s do it again soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

Weekend Potpourri: A Man of His Times Edition

Sorry for the radio silence, but I’ve been making my way through Gradeapalooza, and I’m about at the halfway mark. However, I figured I’d treat this as the eye of the hurricane and say a few words in a moment of calm. So…

***

On Tuesday, I got an e-mail from the publisher of Alive in Shape and Color. (I wonder if it will be Alive in Shape and Colour in Commonwealth countries?) The text was simple: “Well done, Warren!” I’m always happy to receive compliments, but wonder sometimes how — or even whether — I’ve earned them. When I looked at the attached PDF file, I saw that it was an advance version of an article in the New York Times Book Review.

I really wasn’t expecting that. I’ve always thought that mentions in the NYTBR were for Writers of Stature — me, I’m just a guy who writes sometimes, probably less frequently than I should. I mentioned how last year I was floored to meet Joyce Carol Oates, how honored I feel just to appear on pages with folks like her, or Lawrence Block, or Robert Silverberg, or, or, or…

Well, you get the idea. As I’ve said, the universe seems to be telling me to write more. I don’t think I’ll ever be a WofS (to borrow a term from Harlan Ellison), and I wouldn’t even know how to behave if I were one. But for a guy who writes sometimes, this is pretty heady stuff, and I’m grateful.

***

And speaking of writerly stuff, I’d like to remind everyone that I’ll be at 106 Main in Durham, NC, on 7 December for a Noir at the Bar reading. This one is Christmas-themed, and I’ve got one that might be a little out of place, but it fits the bill. With luck, I’ll even have copies of Broken Glass Waltzes to sign and sell. I’d love to see you there.

***

One of the highlights of the last week or so was getting to spend an afternoon with William Harris, an undergrad classmate of mine who is now Professor of Mathematics at Georgetown (KY) College. He was in Atlanta for the holiday, so we got together in Greenville last Saturday. I had the pleasure of introducing him to the Pita House (where I also scored some of their legendary hot sauce) and Mr. K’s used media store, where I picked up a few novels and a CD by the Posies. William is as much a music buff as I am — we both spent a lot of time at the campus radio station, and that’s one of the places where our friendship bloomed. He writes small slices of autobiography disguised as music posts at his blog, which you should bookmark.

***

On a far more serious note, blogger David Salmanson lost his wife a couple of weeks ago. In a blog post from 24 November, he discusses his movement into his Big Noise, and along the way says something I found both true and beautiful.

People keep asking me what they can do for me, and I keep answering that I don’t know yet. People also keep telling me that I seem so composed and that they cannot believe that I can write and think through all of this, but I can. Indeed, I’ve been training my whole life for it, for it’s times like this that the value of a liberal arts education is revealed. Since boyhood, I’ve read and watched Shakespeare and Rostand’s Cyrano and The Bible.  I’ve studied history and art and literature.  I’ve done science in the labs and in the woods and I’ve stared into the deepest recesses of the universe in the dark of night with astronomers and I’ve stared into the darkest recesses of my own soul with philosophers.  So when the unthinkable happened I was ready.  I have 10,000 years of human history providing me examples of how to handle myself in the worst times.  It’s a handy thing to have on your side.

This, then, is the true purpose of education.   We are, again, in one of those moments in history where the liberal arts is under attack for being irrelevant.  The calls for job training and “useful” majors is on the rise again.

Majoring in business cannot teach us how to deal with the unthinkable.  It may be a path to money, but it will leave you forever poorer.

David, I don’t know if you read this blog. But if you do, I thank you for saying this, and I’m so sorry you had the occasion.

***

The Spawn and I did the blood donation thing yesterday — we both have an uncommon blood type, so when I get the cards and phone calls letting me know they need me to come in, I encourage her to come along. I got done before she did, so I made a point of heckling her as I waited, telling her that I’ve been doing this for more than a year, and I’ve only seen one person lose an arm — stuff like that. She handled this with her usual aplomb, and as we left the “Blood Vessel” (Yes, that’s stenciled on the front of the bus) with our matching bandages, I was reminded of how proud I am of her.

***

Well, I still have grading to do, so I’d best close, but as is my habit, I’ll leave you with a bit of music. I had an urge to listen to the Doors this weekend, and I was reminded of the fact that for all the hype about shaman-poets and such, for my money one of the coolest things about the band was their command of dynamics. This track is as fine an example of that as one might ask — the volume drop after the solo still gives me chills. I hope you like it as well.

See you soon!

Posted in Broken Glass Waltzes, Culture, Education, Family, Literature, Music, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | Leave a comment

In Which Blessings Are Counted

It’s Thanksgiving morning. Mrs. M is getting ready to toss the turkey breast into the oven and then take her morning constitutional. The Spawn is claiming the time-honored right of the college student to sack in, and I’m in my usual spot in the den, thinking about doing some grading as the swell of Gradeapalooza draws nearer.

But before I do that, best to acknowledge the purpose of the day. While I tend toward a Housmanesque or Robinsonian view of life’s larger picture, that doesn’t mean that I’m unaware of beauties and blessings as they arise. Housman also wrote “Loveliest of Trees,” after all. And so…

First of all, I’m thankful for my family, the one I had and the one I have. Each member has given me gifts of one sort or another, and even the burdens that come with loving people are weights that have made me grow in order to bear them.

I’m grateful for my job. I know the odds against getting to do what I do, and I know how few people get to have jobs they enjoy. As I approach the end of a semester in which I’ve developed a new course, I’m thankful that I’ve had students who have been able to rise to the subject, and who remind me that the big questions of life have value, even if we never entirely agree on the answers.

I’m thankful for art, music, and writing — for the day I spent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last December, for the nights I got to spend making music with the Berries and helping people have a good time, for the stories I’ve been able to write and the people who value them. I’m thankful for the music and writing I’ve discovered this year, and for the songs and stories to which I return time and again over the years.

I’m thankful to have turned away from the madness of politics as much as I can. I’m thankful that few people behave in life as they do on social media. I’m grateful for friendships, for connections, whether obvious or inscrutable, that draw and bind us together.

And I’m grateful to and for each of you reading this — for you who take a few seconds or minutes to listen to what I have to say, for those of you who comment and those who don’t. Our world contains so much noise that it’s a miracle that we have any attention to share at all; I’m humbled that you choose to share some with me.

May today and every day bring you things for which to be thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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