27 December 2007

Chicago, Chicago...that lit-conf'rence town...

Ah, the MLA. A time to smell the fear on besuited job supplicants, among whom I alas will not be, as my fifty plus applications fell on deaf ears.

Therefore my sole responsibilty during this annual theorizing bacchanal will be to moderate a panel that the organizing committee buried with a late night weekend time slot. With any luck the participants will outnumber the audience. I suppose that would be bad luck.

I've been to Chicago a few times in my life, nearly each time for a literature conference of one kind or another. It's a great town, but I've generally had the (bad) luck to be here either in the chill winds of winter or the humid swells of summer. Spring and fall have eluded me in the Second City, much like job interviews this go round.

I'm waiting for the conference to kick off proper-like, because it can be pretty amusing watching academicus literarius in their equivalent of mating season: there's a great amount of preening and opportunistic grovelling alongside a healthy dose of self-promotion. And of course drinking, and one of my favorite things about literary scholars getting drunk is that talk at one point generally devolves to arguing over the deeper meanings of the songs that float across the bar's jukebox.

So let's see where it all goes...

20 December 2007

Langston doesn't live here anymore.

Langston Hughes, one of the great American poets of the 20th century, spent a few years in D.C. in the mid-1920's, working at various service positions as well as helping Carter G. Woodson compile his Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830. Hughes' family wasn't exactly wealthy, and they bumped around a few rented rooms in the District over the course of about 14 months, after which Hughes went off to Lincoln University.

It was in DC, while working as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel, that Hughes received some lasting free publicity by leaving a few poems at the seat of Vachel Lindsay, who gushed to the press about his "discovery" of the Negro busboy poet (hence, by the way, about 80 years later, the establishment of Busboys and Poets down on 14th and V). The photo of Hughes from that event is fairly popular, and easily found in biographies about him or histories of the Harlem Renaissance (although I did several internet searches and couldn't pull it up):

Of course, it was Hughes himself who set the photo-op up, but who cares?

Nearly every weekday, I pass by one of the places Hughes lived while in the District. It's on S Street NW, just around the corner from the Rosemary Thyme Bistro.

It's the white house with red trim, 1749 S Street. Hughes, his mother, and his step-brother rented two upstairs rooms there beginning around January 1925. He lived here when he worked for Carter G. Woodson, and it's where he was living when he revised The Weary Blues for publication at Carl Van Vechten's urging.

It's a pretty unassuming house, but I'm sure it's no "shabby apartment," as Arnold Rampersad calls it in The Life of Langston Hughes (vol. 1). A dozen years ago, that area was still full of affordable apartments and group houses populated by students; now three-story houses just across the street often list for a million plus change.

Hughes didn't live here long, and he didn't care much for DC, what with the allure of New York City and the ingrained segregation in the nation's capital, but he's an integral part of that network of African American intellectuals and artists who either lived in or passed through the District in the early to mid twentieth century.

19 December 2007

This post is not about sports.

I finished Zadie Smith's White Teeth last night. This remarkable task was made possible by a marathon (for me) 3 hour reading session the night before, leaving me a mere 40 pages from the finish.

The book is the sort you don't want to put down, the sort that after you've read a good piece of it, and you're going about your daily business, your mind sometimes comes back to a character or situation and it takes a moment for you to remember it was in a book and not someone you met or something you remember from real life.

In many ways, it's similar to the novel I struggled through just before beginning White Teeth: Thomas Pynchon's V.: the narrative threads pull apart and come together throughout the novel, and both novels are concerned, to a greater (V.) or lesser (WT) extent, with sleuthing through history. However, the characters in White Teeth were far more compelling to me, more complex and rounded (and yes, I know that the flatness of the characters is more or less Pynchon's point; I've read my Jameson, etc. etc.), and that propelled me through the book. I was happy to finish it, but also a little depressed...I sort of wanted it to keep happening to me.

Now, I have a choice for my next read. Someone has lent me John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, a book that has been recommended to me by several people over the years. So I have that one. Or I have Richard Russo's latest, Bridge of Sighs, purchased at Politics and Prose the night said author gave a reading at the store. So it's signed by him and it's hardcover. Very thick. Very much a book I don't want to damage by stuffing it into suitcases (the MLA is at hand, after all). Finally, I have none of the above, a decision to be made by looking over the bookshelves and picking out a book that either I've bought but haven't read or my wife has read and I haven't (which is pretty much most of the British lit outside Jeanette Winterson -- speaking of whom, my son and I are now reading her children's novel Tanglewreck at night...it's great -- and the now completed Zadie Smith novel).

In a way I wonder if I should keep a weather eye out for my slim academic career hopes by reading something that will help lead me to a published article, since my 56+ applications have thus far yielded about six rejections and a lot of silence.


18 December 2007

Comparing apples to oranges.

So I'm stumbling around espn.com today following up the Rich Rodriguez hiring at Michigan and I find a story about Florida State and Jimbo Fisher, Bobby Bowden's heir apparent. Florida State is so excited to sew up this guy that they've promised him 2.5 million if he isn't hired as head coach in 3 years. However, more interesting was the paragraph on current head coach Bobby Bowden's salary:
Florida State also released Bowden's one-year contract that has a nearly $2.2 million base salary, including a $200,000 signing bonus, a series of incentives that could add at least $600,000 and a $1 million "lifetime achievement" bonus upon retirement.

Not bad for coaching football. It hammers home how much college sports (and here I'm talking about football and basketball, really) are amazing moneymakers. Not only that, these sports also serve as the most public face of the university in many cases and fuel alumni giving.

Penn State was recently forced to release Coach Joe Paterno's salary after a long court fight. Paterno has been head coach at Penn State since 1966, a position he attained after 16 years as an assistant coach. Paterno's contributions to Penn State beyond football are considerable:
Paterno is also renowned for his charitable contributions to academics at Penn State. He and his wife Sue have contributed over $4 million towards various departments and colleges, including support for the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, which opened in 2003, and the Penn State All-Sports Museum, which opened in 2002.[15] After helping raise over $13.5 million in funds for the 1997 expansion of Pattee Library, the University named the expansion Paterno Library in their honor. [16] [Wikipedia]

In addition to that, the English Department also contains the Paterno Family Professor of Literature position (Paterno was an English major at Brown), currently held by Michael Bérubé, which is kind of funny, since Bérubé is on the Left and Paterno is quite visibly a Republican. Bérubé in fact was named one of the "101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" by protofascist David Horowitz, whose sad attempt at a blacklist petered out when it turned out no one really believed him (Horowitz's well-publicized attempts to demonstrate Left-wing bias and indoctrination in academia have led him to some embarrassing moments, like the Pennsylvania legislature's hearing in which no one was able to come forward with evidence of what Horowitz claims is widespread intimidation of conservatives).

But I digress.

Penn State recently had to reveal Joe Paterno's salary. It was $512,664 base. Not bad for the second-winningest coach in major D-1 football history who consistently fields teams among the highest graduation rates in the country.

14 December 2007

Rockets don't burn regular fuel...

Roger Clemens, a dominating pitcher who according to the Mitchell Report was helped to his dominance via chemicals -- better statistics through chemistry! --, of course has never touched steroids. Never.

Here's the CNN report on his lawyer's statement:
"Roger Clemens adamantly, vehemently, and whatever other adjectives can be used, denies that he has ever used steroids or ... improper substances," Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin said Thursday.
Dude. "Adamantly" and "vehemently" are not adjectives. They are adverbs.

So please, shut up, because you're making it worse. As in "You and your client are rapidly driving nails into the coffin of Major League Baseball."

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Mitchell report is the information regarding Mark McGwire, the short-lived home run king who was the focus of all sorts of speculation after 1998, when a reporter noticed a bottle of androstenedione sitting in open view in McGwire's locker. McGwire was famously called out by Jose Canseco in Canseco's "tell all" about his own steroid use, but according to Mitchell, corroborating evidence is in short supply:
During the course of this investigation, we interviewed a number of coaches, club personnel, former teammates, and other persons who know McGwire. Only Canseco, who repeated the allegations from his memoir, said he had knowledge of McGwire’s alleged use of steroids. Through his personal lawyer, I asked McGwire to meet with me for an interview about these issues, but he declined to do so.

You have to think that if McGwire was shooting up in bathroom stalls with Canseco, as Canseco claims in his book, someone else would have known...someone would have known the supplier...somewhere more information would come out. However, McGwire's reticence to come clean (in fact, his public testimony only leads observers to believe he was doing steroids for a considerable period of his career) isn't helping his case.

Is McGwire doing the noble thing, refusing to testify because it's his right under the Constitution to refuse to answer these questions, or is he simply afraid of pulling a Palmiero?

13 December 2007

Another one bites the dust.

Another of my regular reads has taken the internet superhighway over the cliff. Fictional Rockstar has joined the ranks of Rock Creek Rambler, Heart Tribute Band Super Fan Page, Washington Cube, and others. And one of the very first blogs I ever read in my entire life, which has ceased to exist to such an extent that the actual blog site is no longer, Kentucky Fried Adventures.

It's all very disturbing.

Look, even if you no longer have anything to say, or maybe feel like you have nothing else to say, just keep saying it. Look at me, I'm a living example of someone who's run out of ideas.

12 December 2007

Because in every boom the old rules don't apply.

Remember the tech boom? Remember how everyone (i.e. market analysts, industry shills) told us that in the New Economy, things like P/E ratios and actually making money didn't mean anything, because it was all new -- except apparently it wasn't, and when the house of cards collapsed people who hadn't been lucky enough to cash out on time were stuck holding stocks so worthless they might as well have papered the walls with them? But back then, it was all different, and things were never going to go back down...brilliantly asinine books came out with titles like Dow 4o,000...

Remember the housing boom? Oh that's right, we're sort of still in it -- we're on that precipice when the ground sort of starts downhill and then suddenly disappears. Everything changed then, too...houses weren't things you lived in, nice names for a necessity called shelter; no, they were investments, and despite the fact that you couldn't liquidate your investment without risking your shelter, people seemed to believe that the ATM machine called their homes would never run short of cash. We bought houses with interest only loans. We bought houses with ARMs that were only logical if you believed, against all logic, that interest rates would stay at historic lows forever.

But of course they would...because everything had changed.

Well, it's changed again. But we've known that for about a year and a half now, haven't we? It's just that the chickens, to borrow from Malcolm X, have come home to roost. Fairfax County, one of the wealthiest counties, now projects a $220 million shortfall tied to the housing crisis. Local builders are desperate. At least once a week I'm checking out Bubble Meter to follow the latest tidbits -- it's almost as good as a certain website tracking the tech collapse was back in the late 1990s (anyone remember the heyday of this site?). Housing Panic is also very good.

I'm convinced we are a lazy, complacent society that has little interest in examining ourselves. The whole of our culture is now disposable and meant to last no longer than our next paychecks. Even most otherwise intelligent adults have no interest in debating the merits of plans but are rather caught up in the latest fad, the latest "disposable policy," and the utterly unconvincing belief that we live ahistorically: that everything has changed.

11 December 2007

The lost years of our youth and the lost causes.

When I was a kid it seemed like forever between Thanksgiving and Christmas. That span of 30 days dragged on for at least 60, culminating in the delicious rush of Christmas Eve and Christmas, which was then followed by the sweet denoument of the lazy week between Christmas and New Years.

However, once you have kids, there's no such thing as time expanding between holidays -- time compresses until you no longer have 24 hours to yourself to do the shopping, wrapping, cooking, and cleaning necessary for the end of year festivities. And for all of those years (except for a year or two we skipped), my wife and I have also been jumping ship right after Christmas to head on our annual pilgrimage to the festival known as the MLA Conference.

This year in fact is doubly complicated (maybe triply...who knows) by the fact that both my wife and I are on the job market, a most depressing fact hammered home to us by every rejection letter that flutters in. The math is not particularly pretty: let's say an average job opening attracts 200 to 400 applicants (I'm not kidding). About ten will be selected for an interview at the MLA.

So already your chances are somewhere between 5 and 2.5 percent per job.

After the MLA interviews, generally three candidates will be invited to the campus for follow-up interviews. So even if you've made the first cut, the odds are once again against you for making the second cut.

But let's leave the campus visits aside for a time, since at this point I'm just angling for an interview. Just one, perhaps, to validate my 50+ applications. I've got one rejection in so far, but my wife has received around ten. Of course, she's also received one interview, so I think I would gladly take the ten rejections for one interview ratio myself.

The bottom line is that English Departments are incredibly disfunctional places (as any graduate student could probably tell you) where no one wants to do administrative work but where everyone likes to fight over whether administrative work is being done properly. So even if the deadline for the job announcement was November 1, chances are the committee hasn't even met to discuss the stack of applications they've received. Apocryphal stories concerning applicants being notified on Christmas Eve (Dec 24) about interviews at the MLA (beginning Dec 27th) abound, which is annoying for those people who would only go to the MLA if they had an interview.

I'm already going, so I don't care if they come grab me out of a panel to interview me. Just interview me.

07 December 2007

Seriously, a little more shameless shilling.

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 8, marks the first day of my son's school's Christmas Tree Sale at Dupont Italian Kitchen, 17th and R. We have trees ranging from two foot tabletops to ten foot firs, and 50% is tax deductible, because we've built the school donation right into the price! Isn't that nice of us? The trees are beautiful -- we've got plenty of fraser firs that are the perfect size for many city apartments -- and everything goes to the school.

We'll be at the patio of Dupont Italian Kitchen, 17th and R Streets NW, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and did I mention we offer free delivery to reasonable points in the District?

While you're at it, take in some of Dupont Italian Kitchen's great food -- I like the mussels and the chicken parmigiana, though for brunch I'm partial to the various flavors of eggs benedict.

It's fun for the whole family.

05 December 2007

Coming up for air.

It's been a busy week around here. Preparation for the big Christmas Tree Sale. School open house. School picture day. Holiday shopping. MLA preparation. The MLA job search. This thing called work. However, even with all that, I've still mown down about half of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, because it's so damn good. She knows how to write dialogue, and what's more, the narrative voice is fresh and witty. Bemused even.

Meanwhile in the world outside, I find:
  • Crazy missing Canoe Man story...apparently he and his wife were getting sloppy, what with getting their picture on a site dedicated to getting other Anglos to move to Panama...I don't know. If I'm going to fake my own death to get some insurance money, I'm going to lay low, maybe even change my name...of course, after a few years on the lam I might get sick of going to bed every night wondering when I'm going to get caught...
  • Bizarre MySpace Hoax and Suicide Scandal...Apparently, adults who impersonate children on social networking sites in order to befriend then mock and insult real children aren't guilty of anything, except bad judgement. These fuck-ups lived four houses away from their victim, and the dumbass prosecutor says he can't even file harrassment charges...
  • Deus Ex Machina Sports Outcome that keeps the "unbeaten" Patriots unbeaten...I don't watch the NFL, so I caught up with this story via the paper and the internet, but it appears the NFL needs a new storyline, so they're working on keeping their unbeaten team unbeaten. Oh yeah, now I remember why I don't watch the NFL.
  • And by the way, how about Bush taking it in the groin from his own intelligence agencies on Iran? Cheney is probably pissed as hell that he didn't get a chance to "massage the data" before this stunner got released. On the other hand, you'd think Bush would be playing up the fact that Iran appears to have dropped their nuclear program in the aftermath of Bush's Iraq Adventure...so maybe Bush could recast his failed oil grab as a deterrent against Iran (you know, "we destroyed one country so we wouldn't have to destroy another..."). But no, Bush must, as he always seems to do, fly in the face of all established evidence and harp on his old talking points. It's like he's simply unable to alter his worldview to fit new realities. In other words, in a Piagetian model, he's all assimilation and no accomodation. Except he doesn't even bother to assimilate the new data into his model. He simply ignores it. So I guess that's closer to psychotic.

03 December 2007


So you haven't bought yourself a Christmas tree yet, have you? You really need one, though. And you want to feel good about it, you want to turn it into a symbol of your giving nature and bring happiness to others through your participation in the commodification of the holiday season. After all, it hasn't happened if you haven't bought something to commemorate it, right?

December 8th and 9th and again December 15th and 16th, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (or maybe later), you should come down to 17th and R Streets NW to the most excellent Dupont Italian Kitchen, have yourself some brunch, and buy a tree. My son's elementary school is selling trees at that location to raise funds and 50% is tax deductible. We even offer free delivery to those of you who reside within realistic range (we will not cross the Potomac or the Anacostia, nor are we interested in driving up through Palisades or beyond North Capitol for that matter, but Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Howard University, Georgetown, Mount Pleasant, etc., and of course Dupont Circle are all in play...maybe more, who knows...).

If you don't want a tree, buy a wreath. If you don't want a wreath, just leave some money. It all goes to the school.