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Found 8 results

  1. I was watching a baseball video from the Dead Ball Era, and noticed a brief glimpse of a vendor (presumably in Chicago) selling "Red Hot" sausages. You can catch a glimpse of this at around the 5:18 mark (look at the bottom-center of your screen, but don't blink, or you'll miss it). (I think it's pretty safe to say that Barry Bonds would have hit about 9,000 home runs had he played in the 1920s.)
  2. For several years, I was a Big Brother, until my little brother, Ali, his mom Iris, and his sister, Naimah, moved to San Diego to stake out a better life for themselves. I remember taking his family to the airport, and had to pay for their cat to get on the plane because they didn't have the money. I only saw Ali once more after that, a few years later when I went to visit their family out in San Diego. We drove up to Los Angeles because Ali wanted to go to the Spike Lee Store, where everything was overpriced and of questionable quality. I bought him a T-shirt, and paid twice what it was worth - I didn't want to drive back to San Diego without a momento from his hero. A few years before that, I had flown in from Moscow. Exhausted after traveling the better part of 24 hours, I was ready to collapse into bed, but checked my answering machine first. There was a message from Iris: Ali's best friend Frankie was shot and killed in a drug deal gone bad, and the funeral was in about one hour. Somehow, I found the strength to throw on a suit, and drive to Seat Pleasant, where I was the only white person at the funeral. Frankie's mom came up to me, and asked me to say a few words. To this day, I have no idea why - what the heck was I supposed to say? Fighting lack of concentration because of sleepiness, I fumbled through my speech, turned to Frankie lying in his coffin, and told him we all loved him - that won the audience over, and things went as well as they could have under the extreme amount of pressure I was under. Six years ago, I wondered what Ali had been up to, and I searched his name on the internet, only to find his obituary. I posted this. Frankie and Ali were both the finest young men. I loved them and miss them terribly to this day - their premature deaths are 100% attributable to the neighborhoods they grew up in - even though Iris tried her best to escape, it just wasn't enough. She didn't have the money. I did things with Ali and Frankie about once a week, and remember one day asking them where they went to school. "Taney Middle School," Ali said, which meant nothing to me, or to him, or to Frankie. But a few years later, I did a little research, and found that Roger B. Taney was a Supreme Court Justice. 'Okay,' I thought to myself, they had gone to a middle school named after a Supreme Court Justice. Then, I found out that Roger B. Taney was actually Chief Justice from 1836-1864, and was the person who wrote the majority decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857. These children were going to a school that was nearly 100% black, and the school was named after the Chief Justice who tried the Dred Scott case? I couldn't believe it, but over the years, I forgot all about it. Until recently, when it popped back into my mind, and I Googled to see if that school was really named after the same man who wrote the Dred Scott ruling - the ruling that said, blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Fortunately, in 1993, someone had the common sense to change the name of the school from "Roger B. Taney Middle School" to "Thurgood Marshall Middle School": "School May Change Name to Thurgood Marshall" on articles.orlandosentinel.com This column came out today: "Out with Redskins - and Everything Else!" by George F. Will on washingtonpost.com Will mixed up some valid points along with some reductio ad absurdum, as he seems to have a tendency to do - he's a smart guy; I wonder what he would say about Roger B. Taney Middle School educating a nearly all-black student body.
  3. Okay, so you're saying to yourselves, "What on earth is Rockwell doing reading a book aimed at children?" One day last year, I was in Sacramento, CA, and visited the State Capitol Building, a beautiful, Classical Revival building that is considered one of our nation's loveliest state capitols - and it is, too, especially when taken as an ensemble with its stunning grounds. Sacramento is not all that far from the bay area, and taking a day trip to see the State Capitol will be a day well-spent - it is a truly stunning building, and the grounds alone are easily worth an hour or two - an abundance of restaurants are within a mile. Anyway, my guide had earlier mentioned the California Gold Rush - a topic about which I know precious little - and also told me of The Donner Party <--- SPOILERS ABOUND: a pioneering excursion out to Sacramento which ended in great tragedy and suffering for many, and a very famous local legend (which also happens to be true). I hadn't even heard of The Donner Party, and when I stumbled across the State Capitol Gift Shop, I saw this little book: "Patty Reed's Doll - The Story of the Donner Party." It looked like a relatively new printing, as it was originally written in 1956 by Rahel K. Laurgaard - then, an English Literature graduate student at what is now Sacramento State. Does that sound obscure enough? Well, apparently, *someone* thought highly enough of this book to print it and sell it, and at least one copy now resides in the Washington, DC area - let me tell you something: I'm glad I read this. It was about 140 quick pages - maybe a 3-4 hour read with charming black-and-white illustrations - and written at a teenage, perhaps even an elementary-school level (many comments that you see about it online are fond reminisces of ladies reading it to their granddaughters - it's that kind of book). So why am I reading a book written for teenage girls? (I confess also, when I visited Prince Edward Island, I bought, read, *and enjoyed* Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery) I have no problem whatsoever with teenage literature if it's *good* teenage literature, and there was nothing condescending at all about "Patty Reed's Doll" other than it was *clearly* toned down, and written by a woman, for young girls (and I suppose also young boys) as its target audience - but it was done so intelligently. SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE REST OF THIS POST --- There's one word that isn't mentioned, or even hinted at, in this entire book, and it's a five-syllable, ultra-taboo word which begins with the letter C. The Donner Party, you see, became stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846-1847 (*), having been given (if you'll excuse the pun) one bum steer after another, especially from Lansford Hastings who wrote a little book about Hasting's Cutoff, a route that was supposed to take 300 miles off the arduous voyage for these brave pioneers, and which ultimately led to this disaster - the book also does not mention that, aside from reports of cannibalism, 48 of 87 people died during passage. The book is told from the fascinating perspective of "Dolly" - 12-year-old Patty Reed's 4-inch-tall, wooden doll which she secretly kept inside her pocket for the duration of the voyage. This ingenious perspective gave Laurgaard the exact literary device she needed to conceal the more gruesome aspects of this tragic voyage from the reader, and to spare children details of consuming human flesh. The fact that Dolly belonged to the Reed party - instead of the Donner party - also gave her one more level of concealment from the horrible fate which befell many of the parties, as the Dinner (I keep accidentally typing that word) ... the *Donner* Party wasn't staying in the same cabin - it was easy to use these conveniences to forego the more taboo subjects of the story. Most people might tell you that this isn't a good "first book" to read about the issue, but I disagree. Going into the book, I knew about the snowstorm, and I knew that accusations of cannibalism had been made, and apparently, because of the sensationalism, these two bits of information are the only things that most people know. Since this book doesn't touch on the latter, you get a real feel for what it must have been like to be a pioneer. In fact, you felt as if you were actually one of the party members, taking part in the passage - you really got the whole story of the trans-continental journey, and a real feel for what the life of a pioneer must have been; if you want the gory details, just click on the Donner Party Wikipedia link at the top - it has extensive references to all the gore and misery you care to handle; personally, I'm glad I read the toned-down version, as there are only so many "disaster stories" I can endure during my lifetime - I just do not enjoy reading about human suffering, and this book conveys the essence of the voyage while sparing the reader the awful realities that accompany it. Yes, you could say it was whitewashed, and it was, but that's because it was purposely written for a young audience. Undoubtedly, in Sacramento, this story was already widely known - certainly by the parents who bought the book for their children - and to rehash its cruelest aspects would be, if you'll forgive the phrase, beating a dead horse. Unless you go to Sacramento - where Laurgaard ended up being an English Professor for over 15 years at the university - or unless you call somewhere out there and ask where to find the book, you're likely never to see it. But you can find it if you look for it; unfortunately, this is something of a "charming relic" from a more innocent era - one in which it wasn't necessary to graphically show or describe every gruesome detail for the viewer or the reader. I appreciated its restraint very much, and *now* I can choose to go in and read about the more difficult realities (I still haven't, and I might not, although now that I'm thinking about it, I probably will). Using the wooden doll as the narrator was brilliant, and afforded the author an elegant solution to a difficult problem. It may surprise you to hear that, despite the "prim and proper" language used throughout (think: the five daughters in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" (whom I can still name in descending order of age: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kit, and Lydia (JEM KILL - that's how I remembered)), I didn't feel like I was reading some Victorian moralist child's tale; I just felt like I was reading a well-written book for teens learning about California history - teens who were spared the gory details of one of the worst possible conundrums human beings can find themselves facing. I recommend "Patty Reed's Doll" for just about anyone, and you certainly will not regret the three-hour investment of your time in learning about this distinctly American tragedy. The actual Patty Reed's Doll is on display at Sutter's Fort in Sacramento (visitor information): 11/13/12 - "Sutter's Fort Offers Visitor Enhancements and Return of Patty Reed Doll" by Tracie Rockefeller Cusack on sacramentopress.com I'll be happy to lend a copy of my book to anyone not able to find it. (*) When you think that this was less than 10 generations ago, it's no wonder we're still so primitive. We've had a lot of industrial and technological advances, sure - too many for our feeble minds to deal with - but we had no electricity, we had slavery, we were fighing the Mexican-American War, the Civil War wouldn't take place for another generation, the western frontier of the U.S. was Independence, Missouri, we had no automobiles, no telephones ... we're not that far removed from all of this.
  4. There's a place called Onancock, Virginia? How did this name come about? It's like naming the place Jackoff. "11 Charming Small Towns You Need to Explore on Your Next Chesapeake Bay Vacation" by Joe Sugarman on washingtonian.com
  5. More about this here: "Betty Crocker's Absurd, Gorgeous, Atomic-Age Creations" by Tamar Adler on nytimes.com "It is a dish hard to make sense of: a shimmering vermilion ring of canned tomato sauce, held motionless by gelatin, concealing a coeur caché of canned asparagus and artichoke hearts, the hole at its middle filled to bulging with mayonnaise and sour cream. Called "˜"˜Tangy Tomato Aspic,'' the dish dates from the atomic age, the decades after the bomb was dropped, the war won and a clean, bright American outlook born. It was the age of technocratic make-believe and the early days of the anthropocene. Gastronomically, it was an age that today "” from a perspective admiring of the natural and authentic "” looks shockingly artificial. Nowhere is the era's ethos and aesthetic better represented than in the 1971 Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library. On 648 cards, everything I've ever found intriguing about this segment of American culinary life is on display."
  6. I watched Ken Burns' second documentary on American Life, "The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God" (1984), released three years after his fine "Brooklyn Bridge" (1981) documentary, and while I learned a lot, I thought it was somewhat dull in comparison with the Brooklyn Bridge (which I touch on here). Don't get me wrong: It was worth watching, but for Burns to be able to pick *any* American Historical topic, and to choose The Shakers seems obscure to the point of being odd. The Shakers were, quite literally, "Shaking Quakers," named as such for the ecstatic dances they would perform, falling into an almost hypnotic trance as they sang and worshipped - that, in and of itself, is fascinating, and would have been great to see, but other than one small drawing, and a five-second clip of an aging shaker demonstrating a move, there was absolutely nothing about the dancing - which I found inexplicable. When you hear "Shaker," you think Shaker furniture, and this film reveals why: They celebrated God by trying to achieve perfection in their work, which is why their work was of such high quality. I, personally, have shaker-style (ladder-back) dining room chairs, and I love them (E.A. Clore in Madison, VA, if anyone is interested in artisan furniture, but that's really going off on a tangent). To summarize, while I'm glad I watched the documentary, and while I learned something about Shakers, this came across to me as an opportunity lost. There were too many interviews with aging women (which may be intentional, as the Shakers are dying out very quickly, and may soon no longer exist), but these interviews, after awhile, became painfully dull. This is one of those things like reading "Walden" (1854): Yes, I'm glad I read it, yes, I'm a better person for having gotten through it - and I was largely bored the entire time. For Burns "completists," it's a must, but for someone in search of a great example of what Burns is capable of (and he is capable of fantastic, entertaining documentaries - he truly does have a gift), I would bypass this one - although I've only watched several of his works to date, I believe "The Shakers" will end up being one of his more obscure films. One thing that I vividly remember: a representative of the Shakers went to Washington, DC as the Civil War broke out, went directly to President Lincoln, and requested the right to passive dissent when it came to fighting, i.e., he was a conscientious objector. At first Lincoln declined, saying that these men were able-bodied, but he was finally talked into exempting Shaker males from participating in the war due to their religious beliefs - this is thought to be the first case of an exemption from fighting in a war due to religious beliefs in United States history - an important milestone. And they weren't just trying to worm out; they genuinely were against harming their fellow brethren; quite to the contrary, they would take in total strangers, and treat them as family. Sometimes, knowing full well that these strangers were merely seeking warmth during the winter - these people became known as "Winter Shakers," and you know what? They didn't care - they accommodated them anyway, with open arms. When thieves stole a portion of their crops, do you know what they did? They planted more seeds, figuring that a certain percentage would be lost to those desperate enough to steal food. These were good people who loved their fellow man, and went out of their way to be kind to them. If only the world had more people such as this.
  7. "How Brunch Became The Most Delicious and Divisive Meal in America" by Roberto A. Ferdman and Christopher Ingraham on washingtonpost.com
  8. About a month ago, I was browsing the bookstore at Busboys & Poets, and came across "'De Colored Section," a book of poems by Walter Irving Ray, Jr. published in 2005. I've talked with Mr. Ray and he has graciously allowed me to reprint one of the poems here: his beautiful little jewel, "Ben's Chili Bowl." "'De Colored Section" was published in 2005 by Esoray Publishing Company, Washington, DC 20012, and is copyrighted by Mr. Ray, whose impressive biography is here.
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