Saturday, January 17, 2009

47 Years, 2 Months, 18 Days After the OK Corral Gunfight

On October 26, 1881 the most famous gunfight in all of American history occurred. 47 years, 2 months, 18 days later Wyatt Earp put his six guns down forever, cinched up Old Paint and rode off to join brothers Virgil, Morgan, and James at that big cat-house in the sky. I’m watching My Darling Clementine for the umpteenth time when I realize that I had forgotten to post by three days the 80th anniversary of the death of Wyatt himself.

Why would I remember that Wyatt Earp died here in Los Angeles on January 13, 1929? Beats me but any more questions as to why and I go for my pig irons! The knowledge of this fact haunts me; yet, is it worth any more sessions of hypnotic regression to discover the reason? I’m still trying to resolve why everyone in high school gave me the wrong date for our prom.

My Darling Clementine is not my favorite John Ford western. I much prefer The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Darling is chock full of historical nonsense and downright idiocy about the Earp boys. Brother James did not die at the hands of the Clantons as portrayed early in the film; he died an old man several years before Wyatt. Linda Darnell, singing up tempo pop ditties to Victor Mature's, coughing and wheezing Doc Holiday irks me even more. When I lecture today's students, I warn them never to confuse what they see on the big screen with what real library scholarship will uncover. Never, for instance use rustler dialogue as primary source material for college term papers. Professors will horsewhip your grade point average and friends and acquaintances will hide their prize cattle from you.

The calendar calculations took longer than I thought. I was comforted during this arduous process by the same sort of medicinal tonic that the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday fortified themselves with before heading down those streets of Tombstone. It wasn’t sasparilla.

For a truer history of the Earps, Doc Holiday, the Clantons, and the rest of the varmints of Tombstone , check out Casey Tefertiller's book, "Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Manning the Barricades One Last Time

Does this man not deserve his own Wikipedia entry?

Ever since I first discovered the tubes and piping called the Internets, and with it the invention of Wikipedia, I’ve waited for someone with knowledge of the man to write up an entry for Harvey Goldberg. Is it important to recognize him in this fashion more than two decades after his death? I think so, otherwise why would I bring it up?

Could the oversight be due to the paucity of his published materials? Certainly his politics would not have precluded an entry, nor would the intellectual quality of his lectures. Isn't there one hero worshipper out there who knows enough about the man to write an article? Other immortals from my days as a history student at the University of Wisconsin have their free encyclopedia links: the forever provocative William Appleman Williams, the Arthurian legend George Mosse, and the American icon Merle Curti. So why not Harvey?

Countless other UW-Madison professors are listed amongst the millions of Wikipedia entries, but I sat in on classes with these four. Recurring 60s flashbacks allow for only so many memories about that time on campus. I have been told I did not take any courses with Frederick Jackson Turner.

I entered the University of Wisconsin with one goal in mind: to become a history professor. I dreamt of standing in front of an audience packed solid with adoring students, enthralling them with a masterful presence and a clear certitude of righteousness. My words and phrases would be thundering tours de force, a secular evangelical romp, weaving the intricate fibers of 5,000 years of human inheritance into a crisp 50-minute piece of oral acrobatics.

I fancied myself rushing pell-mell down Bascom Hill, class notes, like my long strands of coal black hair, madly flying in the wind; beautiful acolytes following behind me, retrieving from puddles and snow drifts my discourse for the day. I would overwhelm academia with research of such stunning contrarian insight textbooks would have to be rewritten each time I published my brilliant insights. The world would be at my feet, and I would no longer be addressed by my parents as “Hey You.”

The rest of the time I would kick back and play hearts in the Memorial Union , or drink brew at any one of the dozens of beer joints around the campus, while preparing my thoughts for the next day’s classes. Life would be so sweet I would develop a chronic sugar rush. Then I woke up and discovered it was a dream. I heard Harvey Goldberg throw down a lecture and realized the only part of my fantasy that would come true was the tossing of hearts at 2 AM and the drinking of slosh at the nearest pub. I also remembered my hair was brown.

Goldberg’s grasp of history was so prodigious and his mannerisms so entrancing that even the asbestos flecks that form the foundation of the Humanities Building refused to fall during his lectures. One could imagine Harvey rushing UP the Odessa Steps to confront the Czar's troops; leading the members of the Estates-General into the streets towards the Bastille; manning the Parisian barricades in 1870; taking that fateful bullet in 1914 that would claim the life of Jean Léon Jaurès.

For a quarter of a century, Goldberg's reed thin voice never faltered; he danced out his words from memory, a verbal misstep was as unheard of as a yawn from the audience. He spun rhetorical gold, his oratory soaring over the stellar landscape of the University of Wisconsin History Department, stimulating the standing room only crowds to ponder, if only shortly in their undergraduate lives, the march of the common man over that of common stocks.

Before lunch, we paraded the Parisian streets, rallying against the Bourbon dynasty and the Ancien Regime, an emotional cataclysm made comprehensible even though the names today are better known for flan than for flames. The lives of long dead and all but forgotten men and women crackled with high tension, for individuals, even the most seemingly insignificant, lead and bleed movements. An hour of a mystical Harvey harangue would have turned even the drones, clones and fem-bots at Fox News into the proleteriat, Googling and Mapquesting in search of the closest barricades to man.

My encounter with Professor Goldberg has already been journalized for embarrassing posterity. I have no qualifications to work up a Wikipedia entry for Harvey. My skills are limited to doing dishes once every three months and signaling when I turn right at a red light. I would hope that one of his grad students or a current professor who worked a PhD under the Master would think Harvey worthy of such an entry.

Who knows, perhaps in the future some kid looking for a plastic surgeon or a podiatrist or a brain specialist stumbles instead onto the Goldberg Wikipedia article and rummages around long enough to click onto the Harvey Goldberg Center link. This could lead a future scholar into a world where teaching became more than a dry syllabus full of irrelevant facts and unremembered figures.

Harvey Goldberg and George Mosse discussing Marxism and Fascism for all eternity at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Note: The above photographs were taken at my behest in 40 degrees below zero temperatures by one of Madison's top bloggers and the class historian of the late and much missed Madison Central High School. She had the wherewithal to e-mail me the pictures before wandering off into the snow drifts, muttering something about "Fugu for Foodies." She was last seen between the Conrad Elvehjem marker and that of John "Snowball" Riley. Only the spring thaw will give us the truth.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Little Bit of Wisconsin in Oz

As coroner, I must aver
I thoroughly examined her
And she's not only merely dead
She's really, most sincerely dead!
You know when you reach a certain age and there's no one to help locate your walker or find the pills necessary to make you pee straight (any bowl in the storm will do), and sleep is nigh impossible because the bedroom has been misplaced, a 2 AM viewing of "The Wizard of Oz" sets everything straight. Well mostly everything.

And when it comes time for the Munchkin coroner to warble the above Arlen-Harburg verse, I press pause and croak out On Wisconsin before resuming play; for as everyone knows, Meinhardt Raabe '37 is a University of Wisconsin alumnus.

As of this writing, Meinhardt is still with us at the age of 93, his longevity, no doubt, due to all the Oscar Mayer wieners he consumed while serving as the company's Little Oscar spokesperson for several decades.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Metaphors Are My Friends

Several weeks ago, we residents were given an early 2009 bonus: notification by a budgetary official in Sacramento that California could be in the "Brother Can You Spare A Dime", riding the rails category within two months.

The Golden State has now become so bankrupt the Pacific vacations elsewhere. We're so broke we can't afford a dust bowl. Times have become so tough the Grapes of Wrath are served at The Four Seasons as blue plate specials. Los Angeles is so depressed it no longer wants to waste time asking for an NFL team. Metaphors are so cheap, they're found littering the ground next to hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Imagine an entire State "shutting shop and buggering the customers" as my Cockney mother might have said. A "For Sale" sign" hung out from San Diego to Crescent City. A whole world of 401K wounded, scuffling mindlessly along in their Jimmy Choos, Manolo Blahniks, Miu Miu, and Le Coq Sportifs, clogging up the I's, both 5 and 15. All glory bound elsewhere than here. Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 monumental thesis of Westward Expansion comes in 2009 with reverse gears.

Our biggest concern is no longer who wins the Rose Bowl, but whether the float roses are edible over an unlit Coleman stove seasoned with dirt. Today's big question is one of practicality: Is it more viable to live over an underpass or under an overpass? The opening lyrics of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" have now been changed to "This Land's Defaulting on You and Me."

We've been terminated, decimated, eradicated. So now it might be time to rethink our State Motto of "EUREKA" and maybe change it to "WTF."

The new year is starting off great. Poupon goes well with rock salt.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Nights Are Best Served with Cheese

My refrigerator before tonight's little adventure

It is late. I cannot sleep. The walls shake and the cupboards rattle. At any minute I expect blood to drip down from the ceiling. I am suddenly paying rent to live in The House on Haunted Hill, the classic 1959 William Castle version and not the gimmicky 1999 remake. The couple next door continues to celebrate their wedding night, though I swear they first met earlier today during an unfortunate fender bender that has now turned into another sort of bender, both ear piercing in lustfulness and downright objectionable in its intensity. The unusual sounds of squealing pot bellied pigs seeping outward from their apartment walls confuse me, for our units have a strict “No Pets” clause.

Faux Southern California earthquakes make me hungry for cheese. Wisconsin dairy products clog my arteries with abandon. I have a wide variety of brightly colored cheese packages lying around on the floor, thanks to spasmodic movements of my refrigerator. Many are from Brennans Cellars of New Glarus, Wisconsin. I have a friend in Madison who, throughout the year, sends me various cheese blends for she believes I have written her into my will. I have, but only for my eight tracks and early 1980’s Walkmans.

I’m a certifiable cheesehead, so I gobble my bacterial cultures raw from the package. If alfresco dining means eating on the floor with crackers found under chairs, the use of broken plastic knives with things walking on them, the carpet as a napkin, and a Hamm’s beer found from last weekend’s party, then I’m living a tailgater’s life. Thank goodness the Wi-Fi works so close to the litter box, or I wouldn't be able to write this post at all.

It appears tonight will go on forever. Damn the young and their silly endurance games! When I was their age, I spent my Saturday nights playing Guts behind the Big Red Gym with normal reprobates who went on to become lawyers and judges. Now that sweat-inducing activity took stamina! Today's kids have no inkling the difficulties of playing poker in blizzard conditions.

Tonight's edible delicacy is something called Pesto Jack. The wrapping says it can be wonderfully melted on baguettes. Baguettes! You must be joking. I don't eat French unless its fries or toast. The last time I ate something called a "fromage", I was arrested in Paris for brutalizing the language.

As I listen ever so closely to the hanging and banging next door, I offer Cheeseman: The Movie, a hard-hitting piece of cheddar from a very talented young American animator, Thomas Crook, living, I believe, in England and thus, far far away from this madding crowd.