Sunday, December 9, 2018

Enough to Drive You Crazy

File this under More Depressing News:  A typical driver, over the course of his lifetime, according to the New York Times, spends some 38,000 hours driving his car.

That breaks down to nearly 1,600 days, four and a half years.  Think of it!  What a waste.

All of which is depressing enough, so I hope I never get related statistics on how many hours I've lost waiting on bank and supermarket lines,  mowing the lawn, and praying to a God that doesn't exist in churches that fleeced me clean.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

It Ain't the Fall Classic Anymore

It's Tuesday evening, October 23, and the Boston Red Sox are squaring off with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of the 2018 World Series.  The Fall Classic.

Temperatures will be in the 40s tonight with a wind-chill factor that will make it feel a lot colder.  Tomorrow night will be colder yet, temps dipping into the upper 30s at game time and the wind-chill factor making it feel in the lower 30s.  And if the series goes seven games, they'll wrap things up in Boston in November--at temps that could drop below freezing.  At the risk of saying the obvious, that's too cold for baseball games.  "Fall Classic" is a classic misnomer.

Of course we began calling the WS the "fall classic" back when it was played and completed in September, when we regularly enjoyed what we called Indian Summer, a late summer warming trend that soon gave way to the much colder weather of October.

But in 1961, the owners extended the season from 154 games to 162, which extended the season by eight games over about a week and a half.  And then beginning in 1969 a second round of post-season play was added, followed by a third round in 1994, and a fourth (the one-game wild-card playoff) in 2012.  And here we are in late October pretending this is baseball at its best--the best of the National League pitted against the best of the American League.  Ridiculous.  Laughable.

The two leagues don't even play the same game.  The AL allows since 1973 designated hitters to hit instead of weak hitting pitchers.  The NL holds on to the game's roots by insisting on pitchers taking their cuts at the plate.  If you were building a baseball team, do you think your roster and philosophy and strategy--your management of a pitching staff, your use of pinch hitters, and your nightly lineup--just to mention a few tactical issues--would be different if you could send up a hitter four times a night instead of a pitcher?  Once again, the situation is ridiculous.  Laughable.

The obvious conclusion is that the two leagues should not play each other at all until they all play the same game under temperature-regulated domed stadiums.  Put the two leagues on an equal standing so they can get back to playing a true World Series once again.  One thing is for sure, this ain't the fall classic anymore.  And it hasn't been for a long time.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Not Exactly an Apology

My new biography of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's love life, Longfellow in Love, has been out about two months.  Every day I have to fight off the impulse to apologize for it.

The first reason is because the paperback book runs to 261 pages (the notes, bibliography, and index swell it up to 287), yet it costs $45.  The publisher sets the price of course, so I'm not at all responsible, but it's clearly steeper than I'd like it to be.

The second reason is a tad more complicated.  I know my friends and relatives would like to encourage me, but if they can get past the price, they are still looking at a nonfiction title that most of them pass up for books on the fiction list.  And the ones who do read nonfiction, probably are not inclined to biography.  And the ones who do read biography might not want to read about a dead white male poet whose reputation took a nosedive in the 20th century.

So I think many of my friends and relatives will read the book, if they can manage it at all, as a dreary homework assignment.  That is very disappointing.  But there is good news too.

I wrote the book as narrative nonfiction, which means it is driven by fiction techniques, like not revealing the story until the end.  Like building suspense.  Like resolving conflicts.  Like developing characters who speak to each other in words taken directly from their letters and journals.  Like building to a climax, two of them in fact. Like consciously trying to entertain in the story telling.  The substructure is built on dependable scholarship, but the book is written in a narrative style, not an academic one.

My hope is that any reader who picks this book up (friends and relatives included) will be pleasantly surprised at how well it moves along from page to page, chapter to chapter, start to finish.

No need for an apology there.


Keep Your Pocket Comb Holstered

This just in from the New York Times:  A five-year study published in 2001 in something called Academic Emergency Medicine, reported "there were an estimated 105,081 injuries related to hair-care products."  It is now nearly two decades later and the mind reels at the casualty figures we are piling up.  A word to the wise.

Friday, October 5, 2018

President for Life

As of today, it doesn't take much of a prophet to foresee that sexual miscreant Brett Kavanaugh will be confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court.  It's a case in point that proves the rightness of women's accusations against men in every other avenue of American life can be canceled out when the subject comes to politics.  The accusations against Kavanaugh by credible women in an open forum should have been enough to bury his nomination.  And his wild, undisciplined anger in response to the accusations proves he doesn't have the controlled presence of mind to be judicious enough to assume a seat on the court.

But he will.

Of course he is supported by the Trump-man himself whose record as a vulgar womanizer did not keep him from subverting the will of the people in the 2016 election, which he lost by a whopping three million votes--and still became president.  These are strange times when women's rights are being upheld and advanced in every corner of American life except partisan politics, where the old boys-will-be-boys defense hangs on as though it were still 1960.

One other prophecy while I'm looking into the crystal ball:  If some kind of magic keeps anti-Trump voters out of the voting booths in 2020, and if the moron president should thereby win a second term, he will begin early in that term to repeal the Twenty-Second Amendment which restricts presidents to two terms.  He will try to become President for Life, a modern-day Roman Emperor.  You wait and see.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

To Borrow a Phrase, "Be All That You Can Be"

Years ago, when I fell by accident into the profession of college English teaching, I assessed the future I imagined for myself.  The year was 1965.  And somehow through the magic and mystery of history, there were at that time far more openings for teachers than there were teachers to fill them.  I saw for myself a lifetime of moving up from school to school, "professing" to eager students, and ending up at some very comfortable liberal arts college where my duties would never be terribly demanding and I would become beloved and crotchety, a shaggy-headed, tweed-wearing, old-man-on-campus.  A legend.

In short, my limited imagination allowed only for this dreary cliche of my future self.

The market for college English teachers dried up almost immediately after I entered it, which condemned me to a lifetime of junior college teaching.  I was still in the profession, but just barely, and so I worked hard to launch myself back into my dream position.  To that end, I picked up a hard-earned Ph.D. from NYU and determined to become a publishing scholar, a track that led me to writing scholarly books and journal articles--and then to branch out through movie reviewing into a more popular style that gradually seeped into my academic writing.  The goal was to be scholarly without being academic.  I found some success along those lines too.

I tried to be all I could be in my chosen field, and even though I never (thank God) reached my movie script image of being a college professor, I did do some good work with under-prepared students who were reinventing themselves into successful college graduates.  It was wonderful work with wonderful students I came to love.  I did become all that I could be--and was damn proud of it.

As to the writing, well, I haven't become as good a writer as I wanted to be, but here and there I did come close enough to satisfy my imagination.  And being all you can be is, after all, a lifetime challenge, so, and I'm very happy about this, I'm still working at it.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Females for Felons

The New York Times reported this week that Alan Abel at age 94 died--for the second time.  He first died in 1980, the Times running his obituary and calling him at that time a "satirist."  Which was true.  For his second death, the Times called him an "Ace Hoaxer."  Which is also true as he had hoaxed his first death.

His first major hoax was his 1959 campaign to clothe animals through the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, SINA, which eventually boasted chapters throughout the country and a slogan that got lots of national attention:  "A nude horse is a rude horse."  Time magazine exposed the hoax in 1963.

In 1964 he backed a presidential candidate who was never actually seen, Yetta Bronstein, a grandmother living in the Bronx, he said, who supported National Bingo Tournaments and truth serum in congressional drinking water.

The list of hoaxes went on like  Omar's School for Beggars, "which claimed," according to the Times's Margalit Fox, "to teach the nouveau poor the gentle art of panhandling."  Then there was the Topless String Quartet that Frank Sinatra reportedly wanted to schedule a recording session with, and the Ku Klux Klan Symphony Orchestra that one-time Klan Grand Wizard David Duke offered to conduct.  There were also Euthanasia Cruises "for people who wanted to expire in luxury."

Abel's crowning hoax was the one he called Females for Felons, "a group of Junior Leaguers who selflessly donated sex to the incarcerated."

I'm hoping for a third death.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Booming or Failing?

Most measures of our economy have to do with corporate health like the Dow Jones Industrial Average that is resting today at just under 26,000.  Or the unemployment rate that is currently less than 4 percent.  But at the same time corporations are showing billions of dollars in profits, working men and women are receiving average raises of 2.7 percent, less than the 2.9 percent rate of inflation, as reported by William Falk, Editor-in-Chief of The Week magazine (September 14, 2018). 

The reason, according to Falk, is an unbalanced accountability.  Corporate profits are directed to stockholders and management, not employees.  "On Wall Street, rising wages are seen as proof of bad management."

And thus the economy booms for investors and fails for workers.

It makes no sense, but Donald Trump claims credit for the business boom and claims at the same time to be the standard bearer of America's undervalued working men and women, and even though he has done nothing for average wage earners, his political base after all, they continue to stand behind him.

One would think that reason will eventually be returned to her throne.  That Trump's political base will eventually see they've been sold a bill of goods from America's slickest snake-oil salesman.  Surely they will come to their senses sooner or later, won't they?


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

A Sure-Fire, Double-Your-Money-Back Guaranteed Method to Develop Patience. . .

Never ever look at the clock on your car dashboard.

Accept the fact that you are going to be late.  Stay within the speed limit.  Come to a full stop at all stop signs. Never speed up through yellow lights. And never, ever look at the dashboard clock.

The first time you are actually able to do this, you'll want to call me up to say thank you.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A News Item. (No, Really. It's Florida, but Still. . .)

As reported in The Week, September 7, 2018.
     "A Florida security guard was fired from his job after his bosses discovered that he'b been posting videos of his thunderous flatulence on Instagram for six months.  The man, who goes by the name Paul Flart, began recording his farts after noticing that the hospital lobby where he worked the night shift had 'really great acoustics.'  Flart soon accumulated 52,000 followers, but was sacked after his employer became aware he was videoing himself while he was on the job.  Flart says he's since been contacted about hosting a flatulence-based TV show.  'There's a whole new opportunity out there for me now.'"

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Last Word on Longfellow--My Last Word, That Is

In the summer of 2002, I got a phone call from the editor of Signet Classics asking if I would be interested in writing a new preface to a book that had originally been printed in 1964, Evangeline and Selected Tales and Poems.  I said yes, of course--the pay was good and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow fell generally under the umbrella of subjects that interest me, American poetry and literary history.

But Longfellow had never been a favorite of mine--because of the dip in his reputation during most of the 20th century, not because I had ever read enough of his work to draw my own conclusions.  I thought it would be fun to read in bulk one of the most prolific and popular poets of his generation, and I was right.  Great fun, in fact.

It was so much fun that I continued to research his life and to read his poetry until 2016, when I couldn't resist writing the book that was published two weeks ago, Longfellow in Love:  Passion and Tragedy in the Life of the Poet (McFarland & Company Publishers).  It wasn't sixteen years of continuous work because I took six years to write (and then rewrite) a long memoir, but that still leaves more than a decade of work on a poet who got more interesting to me by the year.  And as I got involved in Longfellow studies after I had retired from forty-odd years as an American Literature professor, I came to think of the work as my "end of life project."  And with its publication I have felt an exquisite joy because I couldn't be sure at any point in the many years of work that I would be able to see it through to publication--to find my subject, my voice, my publisher.  And as I got older every year and the work resisted its final form, I truly did wonder if I would live long enough to complete it.

I won't try to trace all the ups and downs of the many years of work, but I will say that originally I had hoped for about a 100,000 word book.  When I finished it, however, I didn't like the end at all, so I rewrote it until it came to nearly double the original size.  When I tried out the new length on a few publishers, it was far too long--if they were interested at all in a book about another dead white man from the 19th century.  I picked away at the manuscript until it came in at 140,000 words, which is the size editor Layla Milholen at McFarland saw the manuscript in November 2017.  She liked the book, but asked if I could trim another 20,000 words.  I managed 15,000 and we struck a deal.  There was a great deal of additional work to be done--permissions, manuscript format, page proofs, chapter notes, bibliography, and index--but all that was fast-tracked and the book was released on August 9, 2018.

One's goals should always be beyond what a person thinks he can accomplish.  Mine have always been--a Ph.D. in American Studies, and three books that have made small contributions to American literary history--on an obscure 18th-century poet, David Humphreys; on the popular 20th-century poet and Dante translator, John Ciardi; and now on the once-sainted 19th-century poet (and Dante translator), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  Each book presented enormous obstacles that I eventually learned how to overcome.  Every step of the way I persevered, a quality I learned that is far more important than talent.  It has been a great journey, and if I am lucky, there may yet be a little more to accomplish.  I just came across a C.S. Lewis quotation:  "You are never too old to set a new goal, to dream a new dream."  I think he may be on to something there.

Enough to Drive You Crazy

File this under More Depressing News:  A typical driver, over the course of his lifetime, according to the New York Times, spends some 38,00...