Paging Andrew Stevens…

Mr. Stevens, would you be kind enough to give me a holler at my prof-dot-mondo-dot-blog at gmail-dot-com address? I’m interested in some Intellectual Chaos, if that remains a going concern.

(And of course, anyone else who wishes to reach me at that address is welcome to do so. That’s why I have it, after all.) And now, grading.

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“Radio is a Sound Salvation”: Gig Report

The Berries found their way into a new venue last night, as we made our debut at Greenville’s Radio Room.

radio-room-calendar

radio-room-stage

We set out on our expedition to the Upstate after a 6:30 load, and reached the venue a few minutes after the door opened at 8. I was proud of myself for managing not to get lost, although I’ll confess that I overshot the club on first approach — there’s not much in the way of signage. We checked in with the bartender, and were told the manager/booker would be arriving pretty soon. Since we had some time, we adjourned to a nearby Taco Bell for some dinner, where I’m sure I counteracted the 5K I had walked that afternoon. (“How do you support your rock and roll lifestyle?” With 5-layer burritos, apparently.)

When we got back, David (the aforementioned manager/booker) was there, and he let us know that we’d be opening, which is what we expected. This meant that we could go ahead and get set up, so we did. The club isn’t very large, so only the bass drum and vocals got miked, and we relied on stage volume for the rest.

As it happens, one of our guitarists (Lex Martin) lives and works in Greenville, so a few of his friends and coworkers showed up, and it’s always good to have some friendly faces in the crowd. We got rolling and blasted through a 15-song set in about 35 minutes. You can see and hear a little of it here. Honestly, it may be the best set we’ve done; we actually do seem to be improving from show to show. The crowd seemed to dig it, and we got a lot of warm applause and congratulations as we broke the gear down and got offstage. We even managed to sell a CD and give away a few stickers, and judging from my post-performance conversations (Hi, Fred, Dana, and Casey!), we made some new friends.

At that point, Joseph (our keyboardist) got a message from home informing him that his lovely wife had locked herself out of their home on the outskirts of Real City, which meant that he and Justin (who had driven them both) had to split. But the two guitarists and I stuck around to catch the other acts.

Next up were Chunx, who launched a mosh pit with their speedy-but-melodic brand of punk. After the first tune, their vocalist said, “I’m glad there were a bunch of y’all in the pit… because when there are only two guys, that’s just called ‘a fight.'” But the pit was a cheerful one, dance as contact sport rather than aggro-fest. And Chunx provided an excellent soundtrack for that. They’re Greenville locals, and I really hope we can work with them again soon.

The headliners were Lost In Society from New Jersey, making their third stop on their national tour. Apparently, this punk power trio were breaking in a new drummer (“Josh learned all our songs two days ago,” they said), but if so, it was a seamless transition, because these guys were a well-oiled machine. They combined bouncy grooves and a Cobainish snarl with a pop sensibility, and the crowd was delighted. The band said it was their fourth visit to Greenville, and it’s clear they’re developing their following the old-fashioned way — by earning it on the road.

Greenville pop-punk heroes The Indoor Kids were closing the show with a speedy set when David the booker/manager told me that he had really liked our set, and that the crowd had been strong, and that they’d be able to pay us more than they had expected to. We hadn’t really even expected to make gas money for the show — we were doing it as much to break into the venue as anything — but this was an unexpected bonus, and I was pleased when he brought the envelope. By then it was around 1:30 a.m., so Larry and I gathered our stuff (CDs and stickers) from the merch table,  made our way to the van, and headed back to Mondoville. I hit the sack a couple of minutes after 3.

So all in all, it was a really satisfactory evening, and I’m already looking forward to next month, when we have three shows scheduled, including one back in the Upstate. I’d love to see you at one of them!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Music, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In Which The Prof Preaches The Gospel According to Sam Spade

Having failed to learn his lesson last time, the campus pastor asked me to deliver the message at today’s weekly chapel meeting. Here’s what I said.

In Arlington, VA, Dashiell Hammett is probably spinning in his grave this morning. He was not a religious man, but I think there’s something in his most famous work that might prove useful to us today. At least it proves useful to me sometimes, and I hope it may to you as well.

In The Maltese Falcon, the book that brought us Sam Spade, Hammett lets Spade tell a story to a client. This is that story, only lightly abridged.

       A man named Flitcraft had left his real-estate-office, in Tacoma, to go to luncheon one day and had never returned. He did not keep an engagement to play golf after four that afternoon, though he had taken the initiative in making the engagement less than half an hour before he went out to luncheon. His wife and children never saw him again. His wife and he were supposed to be on the best of terms. He had two children, boys, one five and the other three. He owned his house in a Tacoma suburb, a new Packard, and the rest of the appurtenances of successful American living.
Flitcraft had inherited seventy thousand dollars from his father, and, with his success in real estate, was worth something in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dollars at the time he vanished. His affairs were in order, though there were enough loose ends to indicate that he had not been setting them in order preparatory to vanishing. A deal that would have brought him an attractive profit, for instance, was to have been concluded the day after the one on which he disappeared. There was nothing to suggest that he had more than fifty or sixty dollars in his immediate possession at the time of his going. His habits for months past could be accounted for too thoroughly to justify any suspicion of secret vices, or even of another woman in his life, though either was barely possible.
“He went like that,” Spade said, “like a fist when you open your hand.”
“… Well, that was in 1922. In 1927 I was with one of the big detective agencies in Seattle. Mrs. Flitcraft came in and told us somebody had seen a man in Spokane who looked a lot like her husband. I went over there. It was Flitcraft, all right. He had been living in Spokane for a couple of years as Charles – that was his first name – Pierce. He had a automobile-business that was netting him twenty or twenty-five thousand a year, a wife, a baby son, owned his home in a Spokane suburb, and usually got away to play golf after four in the afternoon during the season.”

Spade had not been told very definitely what to do when he found Flitcraft. They talked in Spade’s room at the Davenport. Flitcraft had no feeling of guilt. He had left his first family well provided for, and what he had done seemed to him perfectly reasonable. The only thing that bothered him was a doubt that he could make that reasonableness clear to Spade. He had never told anybody his story before, and thus had not had to attempt to make its reasonableness explicit. He tried now.
“I got it all right,” Spade told Brigid O’Shaughnessy, “but Mrs. Flitcraft never did. She thought it was silly. Maybe it was. Anyway it came out all right. She didn’t want any scandal, and, after the trick he had played on her – the way she looked at it – she didn’t want him. So they were divorced on the quiet and everything was swell all around.
“Here’s what happened to him. Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up – just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn’t touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek. It only took a piece of skin off, but he still had the scar when I saw him. He rubbed it with his finger – well, affectionately – when he told me about it. He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.”
Flitcraft had been a good citizen and a good husband and father, not by any outer compulsion, but simply because he was a man most comfortable in step with his surroundings. He had been raised that way. The people he knew were like that. The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things. He, the good citizen-husband-father, could be wiped out between office and restaurant by the accident of a falling beam. He knew then that men died at haphazard like that, and lived only while blind chance spared them.
It was not, primarily, the injustice of it that disturbed him: he accepted that after the first shock. What disturbed him was the discovery that in sensibly ordering his affairs he had got out of step, and not in step, with life. He said he knew before he had gone twenty feet from the fallen beam that he would never know peace until he had adjusted himself to this new glimpse of life. By that time he had eaten his luncheon he had found his means of adjustment. Life could be ended for him at random by a falling beam: he would change his life at random by simply going away. He loved his family, he said, as much as he supposed was usual, but he knew he was leaving them adequately provided for, and his love for them was not of the sort that would make absence painful.
“He went to Seattle that afternoon,” Spade said, “and from there by boat to San Francisco. For a couple of years he wandered around and then drifted back to the Northwest, and settled in Spokane and got married. His second wife didn’t look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes. He wasn’t sorry for what he had done. It seemed reasonable enough to him. I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

So why are we thinking about Sam Spade and a man named Flitcraft on a Wednesday morning in Chapel? I think the answer to that question has to do with how we connect with God, or rather, how we allow Him to connect with us.

Because we are blessed enough to live when and where we do, with the opportunities we have, we don’t live in a world where beams fall. Until they do, in the form of accident, disease, lost love, or human negligence or malice. When they do fall, they may mark us dramatically, or like Mr. Flitcraft, perhaps only slightly. But we are reminded of the tenuousness of things, and then we seek the permanent and powerful. It is during that seeking that many of us turn toward God. More crassly, the comedian Dennis Miller has observed that nobody finds God on prom night – it’s only when no one else wants anything to do with us. It’s only when the beams fall.

But the beams only fall rarely for most of us, even though the echoes of their clangor may remain at the backs of our minds. And then what do we do? Well, like Flitcraft, we adjust ourselves to a world in which the beams are not falling. We become distracted by our work, our hobbies, the ever present glamour and clamor of media, and like Flitcraft, we return to versions of our old lives. There may be cosmetic changes – the new wife may not look like the first, but they are “more alike than they are different.”

The writers of the Bible recognized this pattern – not surprisingly, as the story of the Hebrews incorporates this episode on several occasions. Thus we find the writer of Proverbs 26:11 reminding us, “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.” And we see Peter express the same simile in his second letter (2 Peter 2:22.)

But that’s not our only option. Peter points that out to us a little later, when he tells us to “be diligent.” (3:14). Likewise, Paul tells the Hebrews that we are to run our race with steadfastness (11:1). Other references to steadfastness and perseverance abound in the Bible, and as your calculus textbook says, may be left as an exercise for the student.

While most of those urgings to be steadfast and faithful refer to facing persecution, I think in our world, the greater danger may be Flitcraft’s. Yes, we turn to God when beams fall. But we need to remember Him and rely on Him, even when the beams stop falling. Will you pray with me, please?

Heavenly Father, thank You for sparing us from falling beams of whatever form, and keep us strong in our faith even when no beams are falling. In the name of Your Son, Amen.

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

How’s That for Relevant?

In today’s Seven Deadlies session, we were talking about the sin of Pride and its near relative, Vainglory. As part of this, we read a chunk of Prudentius, and a couple of questions from Aquinas’s Summa Theologica. During the discussion of Vainglory, I mentioned that Aquinas was writing in a pre-mass media culture, and that this particular sin was ubiquitous in our 21st-C. American culture.

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At this point, a student asked if entertainers were vainglorious by definition. I thought it was an interesting question, and broached the topic of the Kardashians and other folks who seem not only to want to be famous, but to do so without any remarkable merit of their own. And from there, we moved to the issue (issue-in-law?) of Kanye West. The same student said that he didn’t think Mr. West wanted to be famous as an end-in-itself (We had mentioned that accruing glory as an unsought side effect of disinterested virtuous behavior was fine, and even a plus in the very long view.). “I think he’s trying to make a change in the world,” he said.

I noted that it could be a mixed bag, and another student pointed out that one of Mr. West’s self-selected personas is “Yeezus.” (His album of the same title also contains the track “I Am A God“.) That seemed to settle things dispositively, at least as far as the class was concerned.

From there, we moved to other aspects of our culture. A lot of our students do sports, so we talked about the cultural change in regard to trash talk, and how Muhammad Ali was something of a bright line separating the attitudes of one era from that of another. And while we noted that some of the distaste for Ali’s braggadocio was undoubtedly due to the fact that he was an African-American man saying these things, some part of it was also due to the prior cultural codes of sportsmanship. (We didn’t get into the idea of those codes themselves being class-derived in important respects, but there’s only so much time in the day.) These days, we noted, while we still expect players to play for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the one on the back (an expectation seen more in the breach), we also have a much higher tolerance for trash talk and self-aggrandizement, to wit, Vainglory.

“Now of course,” I said, “You might reply that if you don’t do these things, you won’t get noticed in this world.” But think back on Castle of Perseverance  [which we read last week]. Mankind throws in his lot with the World for much of the play, but is that what he’s supposed to be doing? If you’re a Christian, is this the world about which you’re supposed to be worrying?” Headshakes.

Then a little later, we mentioned that Aquinas lists Praesumptio novitatum, literally “presumption of novelties”, but translated in our text as eccentricity, as a daughter sin of Vainglory. The desire to be the most fashionable, the desire to stand out and be cooler than those around you — these are modern specimens of that sin, and (as I realized in my lecture prep last night) more or less the definition of hipsterism.

So, are Williamsburg and Park Slope the new Sodom and Gomorrah? Only time will tell, I guess, but entertaining as the thought may be, what really pleased me was that for a little over an hour in a nondescript classroom in Mondoville, some kids found out that maybe the Middle Ages aren’t that far from here after all. Soli Deo Gloria… but give an assist to Aquinas.

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Birthday Wishes and Other Saturday Potpourri

Yesterday marked a couple of anniversaries that I find personally rewarding. In 1988, Tom Browning pitched the only perfect game in the history of my beloved Cincinnati Reds:

I remember that, however, because it was also the Mad Dog’s birthday, as it was again yesterday. So for eleven (now ten) days, I get to harass him about being a year older than I am. In a couple of weekends, the Mads will be coming down for a co-birthday celebration and hangout. Looking forward to it.

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Meanwhile, I’m heading to Real City here in a little while to do a bit of  window shopping for my own birthday. (As it happens, the Spawn has used some of her hard-earned cash to buy something for me already — I don’t precisely know what it is yet, but I’m honored.) Doubtless a report will follow.

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On the music front, the Berries will be debuting at a venue in Greenville this coming Friday. From a business standpoint, the show will be a loss leader, but it’s a venue and scene we’ve been wanting to crack for a while, so there you go. Rehearsal the other night was a challenge — we had not one, but two different instruments fail on us, and only one had a backup. With luck, however, everything will be back in working order by the weekend.

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Meanwhile in New Orleans, Bouchercon has been going on. Sorry I’m missing it, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s, which just happens to be in my favorite city. Meanwhile, I’m excited about my coming trip to Philadelphia’s Noircon. Hope to see some of y’all there!

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I did get some walking in this week, though perhaps less than I might like. Again, life gets in the way. Still, I hope to get back to it in the coming days.

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And I’ll close with a noirish bit of music. I’ve mentioned before that Stan Ridgway is one of my favorite songwriters, and this is a tune from the early part of his solo career. From 1986, this is “‘Drive’, She Said.”

See you soon!

 

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Family, Music | 2 Comments

In Which the Truth Is Confirmed

Yeah, I’m a dork.

I mean, I know this — I tell my students that a professor is simply a geek who has given up his or her amateur standing. Nonetheless, I occasionally give myself reminders that flood me with self-awareness, and perhaps a tinge of abashment.

Take this morning, for instance. My Seven Deadlies class was finishing up Castle of Perseverance today, but when I got to my office, I realized (a few minutes before class) that I had left my copy of the play at home. “Fine,” I thought. “I’ll just use my EETS edition while I lecture.” Except a quick survey of my office shelves failed to turn it up, and time was running short.

So I grabbed my less portable copy of David Bevington’s Medieval Drama, which also includes the text of the play, and made it through my lecture without much of a hitch (except for occasional differences in line numbering.) Still, as I lugged the tome to the classroom, I asked myself, “What kind of person has three different texts of The Castle of Perseverance?” But I knew the answer.

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Suddenly, I’m afraid to count my copies of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, lest I be compelled to take my own lunch money.

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

Movin’ On Up

Well, maybe not to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky, but the annual rankings from US News and World Report are out, and Mondoville has made a dramatic — even startling — upward move in the rankings. We’re now the 16th-ranked college in the South, up from 41st last year. This is easily the highest the school has been ranked in my time here, and while I’ve always believed we do a pretty darned good job, it’s nice to see other folks recognizing it.

A particular point of pride is that we were ranked #8 among schools for veterans in the region, and the #3 best overall value among colleges in the region. Also, per a college press release:

Newberry College earned high rankings for its low student-teacher ratio (12 to 1) compared to peer schools, high alumni giving (14 percent) and high percentage of small class sizes (64 percent less than 20 students), among other criteria.

So, if you happen to know a young person interested in a very good small-college experience in a warm-weather location? Give us a holler. I hear the English department is good — even if some of the profs are curmudgeonly.

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