After that conversation, I wandered away from the campfire for a few minutes to get a better look at the stars. The moon had never looked so big. I could hear old-school hip-hop from our camp in the distance, but I was surrounded by absolutely nothing and no one, and I felt free in the universe. It was that moment that I realized I was truly free to do whatever I wanted in this world and it was completely up to me to make it happen. It was my life, and I had to stop caring what people thought about it. If I wanted to bake, I should. If I wanted to write, I should. If I wanted to start a company, I should. If I wanted to do nothing, I should. If I wanted to fuck up for once, I should. I was probably only out there for a few minutes before someone tapped my shoulder to go back to the fire (it was so cold that night your pee froze as soon as it hit the ground), but it felt like an eternity. Maybe I would have reached this conclusion had I stayed in San Francisco, but I really believe it was the magic of being nowhere that did it. Being nowhere forced me to stay silent long enough to hear what I hadn’t wanted to admit: I wasn’t living authentically. When I returned to work, I gave my notice immediately. My explanation of what I was leaving to do (explore some hobbies, work on a few projects, bake more) confused everyone, but they were all fully supportive. Ironically and quite magically, the day I returned (which was also the day I gave notice), an award was sitting on my desk that I had won while I was out: “Most Likely To Build A Start Up In The Next 5 Years.”
I did it. I actually read the old thing again. I suspect that most people who receive a Master’s degree park their bound copy on a shelf — perhaps next to the primary subject matter. For me it was the early fiction of John Barth back in the ’70’s when he was an edgy metafiction writer and I was a lowly grad student. Next to my copies of Giles Goat Boy, The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, and The Sotweed Factor, I stashed my monograph, “The Heroes of John Barth: Mockers of Heroism.” The only other copy sat for awhile on a shelf in the Idaho State University Library. I assume it has been copied since to microfiche and the hard copy recycled. Perhaps by now it has been flushed into the infinite Cloud — just a little more space junk amidst the Twitter tweets and Facebook detritus. I am only mildly curious to know if anyone ever checked out my thesis. I doubt it. The only manuscripts deader than old Master’s theses are senior English papers in high school and all those brilliant essays to all those professors back when — products of the late-hour muse.
I sent an extra copy of my thesis to my father and stepmother. My opus was beyond Dad, the engineer. Judith, a reader, teacher and liberal arts graduate (sometime after the First World War), was flabbergasted that her stepson could be associated with “filthy trash” like Giles Goat Boy. The sodomy was too much for her.
Other than this familial dissemination only I have read it two or three times. For awhile even I wondered why, but now forty-two years later I know. I’m not going to mention the subject matter much. My literary composite of Barth’s four heroes was highly abstract and esoteric in 1970 and now its even more arcane. Barth has written thirteen more works since Giles including his last, Every Third Thought. I have not read all of them by any means and my interest here is more the personal significance of my experience. I don’t know that every English major should revisit his applied intellect of an earlier time, but there has been some personal value in it for me. And I know that John Barth’s work will continue to amuse me.
For me 1968 through 1969 was an exhilarating year of “doing my own thing” which amounted to a late adolescent trip. By 1968 the hippie culture was on the wane and I was removed from the world. I had gone from college into two new bubbles: the Navy and then into the corporate world, but I had a need to “let it all hang out.” By the time I arrived at Idaho State I had visited Czechoslovakia in the wake of the “Prague Spring” after the Russians had squelched Dubcek, I’d passed eight weeks studying French in a joint university program at the University of Pau.
I’d sldo come home to California, rented a cheap studio and dived into making up credits at Hayward State for an English major. I worked as a corral hand and study hall monitor. I had a girl friend in Berkeley, lived on cube steaks, macaroni and cheese — all washed down with beer at 89 cents per six-pack. My transportation consisted of a used Honda Trail bike which I destroyed on the Nimitz Freeway by throwing a rod clean through the crank case; and then I bought a ’61 VW and switched in a ’60 junkyard engine. The old 34-horse power plant got me across the Sierras and Rockies up to Pocatello. These were two unforgettable years and as far as the prodigal son was concerned — welcome and way overdue.
Arriving in Idaho I bought a nice pair of snow boots and even checked out the slopes — whereupon I destroyed my knees except for cycling.My Master’s marked the culmination of this passage. I immersed myself in intellectual adventures, scholarly masquerade and a second romance — all of it atop the world in Big Sky Country. My mind and spirit was as expansive and free as the Great West itself. In all this time I never popped a pill. I tried pot once. I didn’t need any more for my highs became Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, W. B. Yeats, Ken Kesey, Gunter Grass, Shelley, Keats and of course the Bard himself. Prospero and Lear in particular stirred my imagination. Funny, I seem not to have read a lot of contemporary poetry — too busy meeting the requirements of academe.
When I opened my thesis a few days ago, I leaped over forty-two years, the bulk of my active working career, I was there again on the top floor of the business administration building in a room full of study cubicles. I was with the new woman I would marry; then later I was drinking beer with her at Buddy’s listening to “Hey, Jude.” Down below, some 5000 feet into the real world, the US still continued the social progressivism of the Sixties. Political and economic awareness, particularly the liberty of women were going strong. Opposition to the Vietnam War was growing and on May 4 the Kent State violence occurred. There was hostility to both big business and big government. The first Earth Day happened. The Me decade continued. And one former Naval officer I know sent President Nixon a telegram demanding our departure from Cambodia. The Beatles disbanded. Long live The Who! There was 6% inflation and the average income was $9400, monthly rent $140, and gas @36 cents, The AMC Gremlin was going for $1879. Apollo 13 was aborted. That was the external reality — as seen from 5000 feet in Pocatello, Idaho.
Internally in the imagination it seemed a great time for a John Barth to write an allegory about an innocent boy raised with goats on a farm run by New Tammany College. He is George Giles, Grand Tutor, novelist, avatar, human. It seemed a great time for a fabulous, metafictional allegory in which University=Universe, Founder=God, Enos Enoch=Jesus, New Tammany=America, Chancellor=President, Informationalism=Capitalism, Student Union=Communism, Campus Riot I and II=World War I and II, and Cold Riot I=Cold War. WESCAC and EASCAC are two huge computers representing the West and the East blocs. Ironically they share the same power supply on Founder’s Hill(God’s Hill). Maurice Stoker is in charge of the furnace room which resembles the Inferno. Dr. Strangelove and the Doomsday Machine have their counterparts in New Tammany — and on and on it goes, never ever that simple in total, comprehensive, complicated, sometimes tedious — this fictional reality.
Pervading it all was a haunting sense that if Something Doesn’t Happen, It Will Soon Be All Over. Giles Goat Boy is the Barthian bible, a fabulolus, fabulated romp that never gives up its secret. It gives us no new fact or discovery about what we call reality. It is the work of Prospero and it is good entertainment and like The Tempest, an epic parody. And I haven’t been able to let it go. These days, when I ask around, few have heard of The Giles (The Grand-Tutorial Ideal, Laboratory Eugenical Specimen). We learned about human specimens in the 70’s.
The young man, the graduate student at Idaho State was a little like George Giles: naive, looking for a calling — perhaps even a mission. Most likely he was in literature not for its own sake, but hoping to find philosophical and metaphysical understanding of life itself. Difficult to judge his work in assessing Barth, he was 28, under the pressure of getting a thesis done; plus even Barth had said that the avant garde of metafiction writers didn’t know what they were doing. No one knew whether they were right or wrong; or whether or not the novel as we knew it was truly dead. Besides, in times of economic, social, political and artistic turmoil who really knows how to judge anything? In the late 60’s and 70’s even the University from Berkeley to Kent State groped for answers in matters of curriculum and scholarship. Oh, what to do, what to do! It was a good time and a terrible time to be in graduate school.
After forty-two years though, as I read slowly and thoughtfully through the ninety pages of my thesis, I felt that the amateur scholar who wrote this tract knew his material. To the walls of my basement cell I said aloud, “I can’t believe I wrote this. It even sounds intelligent. Feels like someone else wrote it. Nice job.” And given the fact that I now know more about Barth than I did in 1970, the old thesis held up pretty well — considering the nature of the universal floating opera itself.
S. David Milliken
A competitive mind-set is productive only to a point. It’s important not to lose sight of value defined by other metrics. Peter Thiel’s argument for monopoly may provide an alternative framework. More . . .
April 23, 2012
Some skills of a monopolist (one who dominates in a “distinct market, niche and identity”) are “alertness, independence, and the ability to “reclaim forgotten traditions.” Brooks would also have the young re-examine the “status funnel,” a lemming-like obsession to compete for the best colleges, banks and companies.
Brooks does not develop his idea of reclaiming forgotten traditions. However, I would suggest that he hints at discretion being the better part of valor as one of them. If a pitcher has just suffered three home runs in one inning, for example, it might behoove him to take his bat and glove elsewhere. Perhaps he should find a blank space where everyone else isn’t. Take your sophisticated urban skills to a smaller community and make change where you have a chance or might be more appreciated. You might not even need a Stanford MBA.
American tradition honors wealth and success, but not always has America revered the drive for celebrity. Americans are an egotistical lot, but we have not always been narcissistic. There have always been people who wanted their photo and name in the newspaper, but not until the age of television, Internet and the plethora of electronic Media did we drool at the prospect of ten minutes of fame. Time was when a man or woman could feel wholly content and successful having tended well a relatively private garden in life.
Today we measure our own self-esteem against the best, the brightest, the “seen”ones. Often parents regarding the “status funnel” expect and often drive their kids into inappropriate careers and expectations — resulting in nothing but heartbreak. Some teachers belong in public school classrooms. They are called to it. One doesn’t have to be a university professor to be a good teacher and worthwhile human being. Life at the little end of the funnel is not necessarily a happy place. But, as Brooks says, when “the intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value, that’s what happens.” Knowing one’s self is very much a traditional value and that means knowing one’s league and being happy in it.
Steadfast and cautious,
The Tortoise in his plodding way set out to understand liberalism and laissez faire. But Tortoise, slow and steady, steadfast and cautious, got very angry when he read that “In nature, survival of the fittest is the rule [at least according to Herbert Spencer, 1802-1903 in The Gospel of Social Darwinism]. Well, this he could accept, but he could not tolerate that “the weak and the effete make way for the strong and the swift.” That was it for Tortoise who knows a lot about survival, the strong and the swift. “Why,” he asked, ”do the strong and the swift have any better claim in the pursuit of happiness than the slow and the steady, the prudent and the deliberate? What’s the big deal about muscles and speed, especially if most of them are on steroids? Does everyone have to win a frickin’ bowl game to be worth a damn? Why with some luck a tortoise can live 100 years!”
Tortoise, my friends, is furious. Any way this is what Herbert Spencer thought in the late 19th Century and things haven’t changed much. We all know who’s expendable, don’t we, Mr. Job Creator.
R. Strinivasan has written a superb paper on “Liberalism.” The article or Position Paper–16, appears at Indian Liberals(Group) in Vol.2. For those who have ever cared about such things as the evolution of liberalism from the 16th Century to the present, this is a readable article and mercifully short. This matters, friends, this matters. Liberalism isn’t socialism. The article clarifies why today’s American Conservatives are really 19th Century Liberals.
But more important, although the American election is not Strinivasan’s subject, his scholarship provides an historical perspective for the 2012 Debate in the U.S. — currently playing out in our mindless, Media circus. If you want to take the extra time in this paper, you can also appreciate the differences in British, French, German and American liberalism. In each nation the philosophy grew out of the unique experiences of these peoples. From other reading(Edmund Burke), I know that the French Revolution and Robespierre, for example, gave the French a strong desire for a strong state. Watching that revolution from across the English Channel profoundly affected the British way.
Read this paper and you will understand how much demagoguery inundates us this political season. A plague on all thelr houses!
Here’s one last quote from the paper. Read “Liberal” as “Job Creator:”
“Apart from this, there was an unfeeling attitude to the problems of the proletariat. The British economists were impressed by laws which they held to be immutable. Malthus was to argue of the impossibility of improving the lot of the poor – they tend to have an excessive birth rate. The subsistence theory of wages argued that the wage tends to be at a level which would allow the labour to exist and perpetuate itself without increase or decrease of their numbers. Any legislation which would augment the wage of the labour will result in a population increase which would offset the gain and poverty would continue. Also, increase in wages would eat into profits, reduce investment into production, increase unemployment and perpetuate misery. Nassau Senior advocated a view that legislation to shorten the hours of labour would militate against the profits; for profits are made only in the last hour of the working day. If one were to shorten the working hours, it would lead to the closing of the factories and mines. He was dubbed as ‘Last Hour Senior’. The Liberals were described as creating a science for wealth rather than a science of wealth.”
Steadfast and cautious,
for The Tortoise
In a year’s time current high school seniors will have been striding through autumn leaves for two months at the college of their dreams, whether first, second, third or fourth choice. I think of them wistfully, nostalgically in thoughts of my own college days. But for now the question for the next batch of frosh is where to go. It’s crunch time for high school seniors.
Though my college years are ancient history, I marvel frequently at the differences then and now. For me there simply was no question where I would go to college; oh, for awhile I idly wondered what it would be like to follow a girl friend to Bethany College. But I was destined to be an Ohio Stater like my entire family before me and that was really fine with me. And I would pledge a fraternity, too. I was destined be a Buckeye and a Beta, kicking leaves while crossing The Oval to the chimes of Orton Hall. Ohio State was just too enticing for a kid from a village of five hundred.
Out of curiosity and for the purposes of blogging, I have been researching a little. One writer makes a lot of sense to me. He says the greatest waste of money is spending exorbitant tuition and housing money just to get a silly degree. By that he means a major in women’s studies, sociology or medieval German. (To show you how relative this judgment is, I have never regarded my two majors of international studies and English as silly. My father had other opinions.) Some folks, the writer says, are coughing up $200,000 for this sound, quality start on a glowing career from inflated base camp — Boston. If the individual has a million-dollar trust fund, here is a good choice. The more sensible and just as effective decision would be grabbing the street car across town to the local, public institution. For such a degree the writer maintains, any old place will work. Go cheap, get a taste of college and then get serious.
Other than the expectation that I would uphold and advance the family’s upper, middle class station in America, my parents did not hover over me. Oh, I knew they worried about my interest in liberal arts because they knew that I had always had “nice things and trips” and would want at least those amenities to continue. They worried about my opposition to “materialism” or whatever I thought it was and my desire to “do something for others.” Our family had never produced a minister, social worker, professor, diplomat or career public school teacher. We have been industrialists, engineers, business people and lawyers. Nothing made my parents happier than the day I left for U. S. Naval Officer Candidate School. It was my choice and my decision. It seemed the perfect solution for me at the time. They were thinking long range and I was thinking adventure. To them I was set. I was seeing the Pacific for the first time. In my high school yearbook it was prophesiedthat I would be a history professor at Ohio State. I must have said that to someone.
Because I was “second generation college” the assumption was that I knew the purpose of a university and higher education. I loved learning, even more than football (and that was to be an individual at Ohio State). I loved university life so much I wanted it to go on forever in an endless sequence of majoring in everything. That’s not the purpose of a university. I didn’t think international studies was silly at the time. I was interested in globe trotting. Naval life was the first trot.
Frankly, I don’t know how I could have been more earnest than I was at the time. I roomed with two geniuses and that was a good influence, but I was intimidated by their minds: both Phi Beta Kappas and Wilson candidates. I knew I wasn’t that “smart.” So, I did what made sense at the time.
And that’s where kids are in their twenties — doing what makes sense at the time. I do not think any helicopter parent can change this. So what I might say to any twenty-something or high school senior is this: “You don’t know how self-defining experience is yet. You do know what pleases you more than something else. You don’t know how experience will change your perspectives. The plodding old tortoise does. The necessary in your life will change with living, especially if you are living to make life meaningful. Most likely you don’t know what meaningful is and no one can tell you; if someone could tell you, it wouldn’t be your discovery. Only your discoveries will stick. Meaningfulness shifts and changes. Pragmatism in many ways is a gift from the gods, but it can be learned.
About the materialism thing. Be careful what you jettison. I mean, regardless of how creative or altruistic, you may be, you will still have car payments, rent and/or mortgage payments, grocery bills and on and on. The material amounts to a lot in survival. Most of what we must do is either physical and material. Now, if your minimal acceptable standards require a Volkswagen Passat, a decent wine with dinner, a vacation every now and then, athletic and or concert tickets, then to that degree YOU ARE A MATERIALIST. You are going to be busy. You cannot shake it off. Deal with that to which you have grown accustomed — likely the incontrovertible gift of your parents. No one, except Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the starving artist escapes materialism — especially in America. Having good things is part of American culture — with which the smart citizen never trifles. It’s the law.
Steadfast and cautious,
Yesterday on a blog, I found a father’s concerns about his daughter wanting to become an English professor. Memories of career dreams poured over me and my own idealization of the English profession. I once fancied myself Mr. Chips.
Immediately I pondered several questions. Does the young woman want to teach English as an end? Does she have a passion for writing and see the profession as the perfect solution, even a hide, for one who loves to read, write and expostulate on literature, its meaning, value, significance, et cetera? Is she open to other teaching opportunities: community college, trade/tech schools, secondary schools, overseas and especially teaching in the boondocks? Would she drop back and get the lowly secondary teaching certificate for high school — IF she could even find a slot there; or even in a prep school? Is English professing a means or an end?
More cynically I wondered if she might, all sexism aside, be attracted to a particular professor. (I could wonder the same about a male student under the influence of professorial charisma.) Good professors are actors and romancers.
The points are that the cushy university, tenured position, if it ever existed, has become incredibly difficult for the best of candidates. Professors are under much administrative pressure to publish and also to carry significant committee and university duties. Funding shrinks, especially in the Humanities. Universities still need indentured teaching assistants to teach English composition — so that the senior professors can pursue their career dreams and play the effete aesthete. Universities cannot or will not afford Master’s scale to teach these courses. Teaching the frosh is anathema to many Ph.D’s.
As far as a livelihood that will support a writer is concerned, they are whatever a person can find to survive and/or starve in pursuit of discovery. One could join a military service, for example, and manage to find time to write. I think of Fred MacMurray playing the novelist on the USS Caine (fictional) and Alex Haley in the Coast Guard (real). The passionate would-be novelist/poet can do as Hemingway and go into journalism (not an easy slog by any means). Melville went to sea as a seaman. He was a better writer for it. Nothing has changed in the artist’s world. One could go into PR, but that demands a huge compromise. I found being a public information officer rather pleasant, but low-paying. PR people are usually among the first eligible for cutting. Working at Starbuck’s will work for some.
My heart says, “You go, Girl! Live your dream. Stake your will, talents and skills against all odds. Do it now while you’re young and have lots of time and resilience to recuperate and re-invent yourself, two, three, four times over. I want to say that; really I do. Regretting a road not taken gnaws at the soul.
In youth we always think we will be the exception to the naysayers. That possibility exists, of course it does. So, go out, be a hammer rather than a nail. You surely would, if you only could as Simon and Garfunkel sang; but write yourself a note, young lady, a note that says, “I shall never become bitter if what I choose in full knowledge of the world doesn’t work out.” Laminate the note and tuck it into your purse. That’s a tough one, too. It’s T. S. Eliot’s “shadow that falls between the motion and the act” (The Hollow Men).
Finally, the universe of arts and letters far transcends and dwarfs the individual artist, professor, college, and university. In the chance that a youth will choose the mundane pragmatic over the romantic challenging, I say to that person, remember that the academic approach to literature, even teaching literature, is only one approach. Writers do not write for professors, scholars and critics. They write out of desire, passion and native wit. They direct their own study. Art was invented by more creators without degrees than with them. When there are no longer bookstores either on the corner or on the Internet, when there are no longer libraries, when there are no more writers and readers groups and publishers, then I will despair. Besides, academe can stultify a lot of passion and creativity — not always. The artists are the first heroes in this epic. You can even find them in your cellar hide.
God bless youth!
Steadfast and cautious,
P.S: For an interesting story of twenty somethings, literary types all, making their way in New York City, see this NYT article on Literary Cubs.
I stumbled upon comments by Francine Prose in The Atlantic. She expresses her thoughts about being among academics who somehow did not share her interest in literature in quite the same way and with quite the same passion. She was among people who study “texts.” She terminated her doctoral program and left.
Prose’s words have taken me back some thirty-eight years to my own similar moments and feelings in grad school. Unlike Prose I hung around to exhaust my last option because I wanted to feel I had done my best in face of the odds. Those three years were not wasted, but only, only because of the reading, thinking and writing I did for myself. Now that I have forgiven the naiveté of a thirty-one year old, I have no regret — finally. After several livelihoods I find that the friends I made in my books are still there for me.
If you have stumbled upon this blog and you are facing similar decisions and feelings, I urge you to click on the link above. (The reference is the third from the last question on page three.) Francine Prose is the author of twenty books including novels, children’s stories, novellas and short stories. Elsewhere on this site in the Career category, you will find my experience with the PhD Octopus.
Your comments are genuinely and fervently requested.
Steadfast and cautious,
I cannot win this argument. Nevertheless and being an English major, my soul is troubled, my conscience pricked. Since the Sixties and probably even the beat generation of the Fifties, the English major has come in for some easy scapegoating. Remember the image of the beat “poet” donned in beret taking a hit of pot, then standing up extending his drooping arms in mime, saying, “I am a tree.” That was and is the stereotyped English major. Actually Krauthammer would probably extend this image to psychology, history and philosophy majors, i.e. the liberal arts contingent. I wonder if he would include political science and economics majors who as everyone knows are highly productive contributors to the GDP. Alas, the old, Seventies images of Allen Ginsberg and Paul Simon, as pied pipers and troubadours wither. That millions of successful English majors wind up in education, communications, public relations and the law lies beside Krauthammer’s point.
Krauthammer pricked my conscience because in my time I have been a bit disaffected, not from capitalism, the pursuit of success and the American Way, but rather the way many conservatives would bully our culture. The United States without a doubt has been the most materialistically productive nation in history and in the world. Because of this we had the might to save that world from the Nazis. We’ve been trying to top our glory ever since.
And, of course, it makes sense that the absolute business of America would be business. Business dominates and towers hundreds of stories above all while it supports everything else — no question here. I am grateful for it, but not everyone is totally motivated by financial profit. Ayn Rand is not everyone’s hero. Must we forget that the economy has sectors which include government, education and not-for-profit enterprise — all of which provide jobs? Traditionally these three sectors have ameliorated bad times in the profit sector. They involve millions of productive people doing necessary work out of passion and commitment. The arts and humanities are legitimate endeavors. People pursuing them do not expect to be rich. Right now a malaise lies over all.
I am as put off as anyone by the recent interviewee at Occupy Kansas City, when he said, “I’m looking for a job, somewhat.” His counterpart shows up at Tea Party demonstrations as well. This is a disaffection of sorts, but it is not mine. Mine admittedly, comes from what my father would have blamed on “too many books.” Truthfully I cannot say that my disaffection came from reading Marx and a bunch of French writers, Keynes or John Kenneth Galbraith. Whitman, Thoreau, Melville and Henry Miller only gave me different views of life and the human condition. My reading has been far more an effort to understand the madness than to vilify America. And yes, at times the books have set me adrift from moorings.
My disaffection has other sources. True, my reading of William Dean Howells’ “The Rise of Silas Lapham” affected me profoundly as did “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead.” And I have read Hayek and Barry Goldwater. I listened to William F. Buckley on a regular basis. Pat Buchanan seems fair-minded to me these days. Above all, I like Pat’s sense of humor — a healthier view of the absurd than the bleakness held by too many “liberals.” For years my stepmother railed against FDR and lionized John D. Rockefeller and GM. I am still unconvinced that a corporation is a “person” except in the law. I have never found large institutions affectionate.
So I majored in English to immerse myself in all that seemed to matter. At that time it was the life of the mind — still very important to me. I am older and hopefully wiser now. I take more time to ride my bike, tend to home maintenance and watch the passing scene. The world belongs to others now, but the beast still slouches toward “Bethlehem” as it always has. The falcon again is out of touch with the falconer. The center has lost its grip and the next best step out of this mess is an end to stereotyping in all its guises. “Somewhat interest in a job,” Occupy Wall Street and the “disaffected” English majors are an old, old story just come around again in new clothes.
Your thoughtful comments are genuinely and fervently requested.
Steadfast and cautious,
It was a beautiful day in Kansas City, an October day when the temperature reached the eighties. Under the cloudless, blue sky I concluded that October is Kansas City’s finest month. I work from my home now; thus I was free to watch Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC at noon. She was interviewing campers at Occupy Wall Street. I heard about Occupy Wall Street in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere. I wondered when it might happen in Kansas City. Indeed, it has already started, I picked up from the Internet. Twenty-four people have been showing up near Liberty Memorial and its neighbor, the Federal Reserve Bank.
This is the way it starts then. Next I went to Facebook, just to see what I might discover in the nature of an “Arab spring,” so to speak. Sure enough, a leaderless throng develops right here in Kansas City. Of course and how appropriate — Liberty Memorial next to the Fed! The throng grows.
I was in the Navy when the Free Speech Movement started in Berkeley. In May of 1968 when French students rioted, I had just left the Navy, my heart and mind full of feelings and doubts about the war I had just participated in. The student rebellion in France almost brought down the Fifth Republic and President DeGaulle with it. The times, the conditions, the rhetoric of now and then are eerily similar and full of admonition. The major difference I see is the makeup of the throng. Now the assembly redressing its grievances is young, old and middle-aged, full of students, surely, but a genuine cross section of the American middle class. Nothing, when it finally takes hold, can be more powerful than angry, unemployed people from across the socio-economic spectrum. And they have nothing but time on their hands. This time they are “leaderless” — at least for the moment. The resemblance to Lybia cannot be missed.
The epithets are there: fascist-Leninist, anarchists, spoiled kids, Commies, radicals, et cetera. More likely they lean toward being anxious human beings. For sure they have witnessed job loss in their fifties and no jobs in their twenties. Many have been foreclosed. Others have health costs out the ying yang. They probably have friends, brothers and sisters who have already headed West to Asia where, at least for awhile, there was a boom. There’s not enough boom in North Dakota natural gas to give everyone a job. Some have a kid in the service who won’t find a job after doing his/her duty. The great promise of the service industry that was going to replace manufacturing has died. This is the way it starts then. As the poet Yeats said, “the center cannot hold” and the “falcon cannot hear the falconer.” Will “mere anarchy be losed upon the world?” The global dimension is there — what with Europe slumping.
And it will not matter whether or not we speed up deregulation in order to free entrepreneurship — besides the normal capitalistic process pours out like molasses in a Kansas winter. We have fiddled too long. If Congress doesn’t act now, and it may be too late already, somebody is going to act. Something will happen, because it must happen. This is the way it starts.
As in life some people change tires because they are preventive types who follow regular maintenance schedules or because they note tread wear and decide to bite the bullet and to buy new tires and tubes, but not so in my case. I was eking the last millimeter of wear possible from my tires — false economy at best. I did notice that the tire was a little spongier than usual before I cycled last Saturday; nevertheless I pumped up the tubes to eighty PSI and mounted up. Joyfully I shoved off, but alas, halfway down the trail, I heard “Pfft” and steering turned sluggish and ultimately lumpy. On the rim I was — thanks to a sharp, penetrating stone, I think. A senior should be much more aware of tread wear in life.
I had a little repair kit containing useless dried up rubber cement. A man should always check his rubber cement before taking risks. My wife was at home and lying in the sun. It had been years since I’d had a flat and needed her to rescue me, yet she was not mollified. After a frustrating search for me requiring the aid of a clerk at Seven Eleven, she finally found me sitting on a rock playing with my repair kit. See how our little negligent indulgences impinge on the lives of others?
I’m blessed with good woman, though. The next day, when I was taking a break from cutting grass, she said, “Hey, why don’t you go get what you need to fix your bike. You need to ride tomorrow.” So I left the mowing to her. I do not deserve this woman.
I went to the bike shop which like bookstores and nurseries always have the nicest people to assist. We fussed around and found the right tire size. I bought two tires and a tube. The nice people at Trek gave me five bucks off the tire that had been marked up. While they searched I watched the female twenty something hefting bikes up and down from the repair rack and wielding her tools deftly. Thinking of things unisex these days, I marveled at how boys and girls work together in such equality and I wanted to be one of them in this new age. Are there any sissies anymore, male or female, gay or straight? At least in the bicycle shop everyone had muscle tone.
But I went home, took a nap, opened a beer and set about changing tires. I always worry about getting the chain back correctly on the cassette (or mass of gears on the rear hub). This time I took note of the sprocket last used. I suspect this was unnecessary as I believe chain and sprocket find each other like lovers.
The philosophical element here is making sure that one’s tread design hits the road effectively in the advancing direction of life. One must remember always to find the little arrow marked “Forward Direction >>.” It is difficult to pick out from all the other information such as brand name, tire dimension, inflation pressure and a bunch of other numbers on either side of the tire and understood best by Bontrager and the folks at the bike shop. Experience with tractor tires, believe me, has inestimable value here. When the tread has a v-shape, the single, convergent point must dig into the earth for maximum traction. A man has to attack life with the tip of the arrow, not the feathers.
Then one must remember that the clamping lever on the hubs goes on the left side of the bike. In the end one notes that a successfully mounted tire also has the brand name on the right side. It all fits and matches when fitted right. As in life it helps to know port from starboard. And like life, inflation is crucial. I mean how much air we blow into the tube or skin of life matters: enough, just enough, too much? You can’t just count on the same pressure you put into the old tires. The secret lies in all those variable dimensions which determine the surface area of the inflated tire. Even here leverage matters — pounds per square inch. In this case sixty PSI did what it took eighty PSI to do on my last set of tires and tubes. It’s a matter of time, design and change. One must adapt to his pressures, internal and external.
In the end I did as good a job as anyone at the bike shop. The tires held firm and I joyfully cycled my whole route the next day. My wife got her sun bath, too. With a little more care and foresight, I’d have had an additional fifteen or so miles on the trail that weekend and a tanner spouse.