Changing All Those Changes

 Here They Played, and Still Play, Rock and Roll

At midday on Friday, June 19th, 1987, while en route to a convention in Minnesota, Barb and I stopped in Clear Lake, Iowa. I had just started writing my second novel, Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, and Clear Lake was a logical place to take some pictures and do a little research. It was the town where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson had played their last concert on February 2, 1959.

At the Clear Lake Public Library, a helpful librarian told me a story about Buddy’s glasses. It seems that someone (the county coroner?) from Mason City (the county seat) had taken the glasses from the site of the plane crash . . . and as far as the librarian knew, they were still locked up in a desk at the courthouse. Buddy’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, had even asked for them – and had been refused. The county, for some odd reason, thought they should hang on to them . . .

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Amen

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

“It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

“It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

“We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”

                                                                              — President-Elect Barack Obama

                                                                                   November 4, 2008

                                                                                   Chicago, Illinois

                                                                                    U.S.A.

As If You Needed Another Reason

I got this in an email.  Pretty certain the gas prices are photoshopped in, but also pretty certain that they’re accurate.  I’ll be back tomorrow with my traditional Election Day exhortation to vote or else, but in the meantime–go fill the tank, why don’tcha.

I must also add that my Father designed that Arco logo sometime in the sixties.  Nice to see it’s still in use.

The Twin Provenances of Sin and Courage

I want to confess something I’ve never told anyone before.

Occasionally I meet someone with my surname, and when that happens, we often wonder together whether we are relatives–whether somewhere in the past we share a common ancestor. We compare notes about our families. Are we related?

Here’s the confession part: I am white, and have never met a black person with my own surname. And I have always had low-grade anxiety over what I would do if I did. Because slaves often ended up with the same surnames as their owners. And I have ancestors in the south, so it seems likely that there are descendants out there of slaves that my ancestors owned.

What could I say to this person? Certainly not: let’s compare family histories and see if my great-great-grandpa owned yours. In short, I am ashamed of my slave-owning roots. (And no, I’m not certain I have a slave-owning ancestor. But it seems likely, knowing what I know of my family’s history on that side: where they lived [Virginia starting in the 1700s] and what they did for a living [farming]).

This is something that has percolated in the back of my mind for years. But I’ve never said anything to anyone about it. It’s been my dirty little secret.

So, I had a conversation with my mother this weekend. My niece is about to wed, and folks are coming into town for the wedding, and family stories often surface around these kinds of events. My mother mentioned that I had an ancestor, a great-great-grandmother in Michigan, whose husband fought and died in the Civil War. It turns out this ancestor of mine was a member of the Underground Railroad, and had a home with a secret underground room. She helped runaway slaves cross over into Canada.

As my mother told me this, I felt relief. Yes, I almost certainly have some truly oppressive assholes for ancestors. But I am thankful that I also have one who had the moral courage and good judgment to be on the side of the angels.

So, in commemoration of those who–

  • Lived and died in bondage (we recall your suffering and grieve for your hurts at the hands of your oppressors);
  • Had the chance, and took their courage in their hands to flee (we rejoice that you found your freedom); and
  • Participated in the Underground Railroad, and aided escaping slaves (we honor your willingness to do what was right).

here is a multi-media site with maps, information, photos, and recordings about the Underground Railroad. Celebrate freedom. Click the pic and enjoy the ride! (And PS, Thanks, G’G’Gramma, for giving me something I can be proud of, from an ugly time in our nation’s past.)

Who Do You Love?

What Mr. McDaniel Made 

On Tuesday, I had lunch at my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in the world, which happens to be located five minutes from my house. My favorite barbecue joint is maybe another minute beyond that. There’s a terrific pizza-and-burger joint nearby as well. Manchaca, Texas is a near-paradise in this regard. And we just got a deli, so I’ll have to check that out. If it’s any good, I may never leave this ZIP code again.

In the booth next to mine at the Tex-Mex joint, two gentlemen were having an animated conversation in Russian. One of them sounded pissed-off about something, but I could be wrong about that. Anyone speaking Russian always sounds a little pissed-off to me. (Ditto if they’re speaking German.) (Or English.)

I had never heard anyone in Manchaca conversing in Russian before. Our two most common languages around here are Spanish and GoodOlBoy. So as I was leaving, I thought about pausing beside the two gentlemen and welcoming them to Central Texas, since they obviously weren’t from around here. But at the moment when I might have done that, one of them was gesturing with a crushed quesadilla. So I kept walking.

Now, if I had actually stopped and spoken with them, what would I have said after welcoming them to this small chunk of the world?

Well, I might have asked the same question the restaurant host had asked as he’d seated me. He’d seen that I was carrying the new issue of Rolling Stone with B.B. King, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Carlos Santana, Buddy Guy, and a few others on the cover — and he’d asked me:

“You know what happened yesterday, right?”

Oh, yeah. I knew. So he and I commiserated over it for a few minutes.

And later, as I left the restaurant, I found myself profoundly satisfied to live where I live.

It ain’t perfect, and there are too many born-again churches and Bush/Cheney bumper stickers for my personal taste. But on the other hand —

It’s a place with tremendous brisket and chimichangas. It’s a place that now has at least three conversational languages (four, if you count Baptist). It’s a place where the veterinarian knows the names of all your dogs, both living and passed-on, and buys your books to boot. It’s a place where harp legend James Cotton sometimes shows up at the local bar just to jam with whoever’s playing that night. It’s a place where black buzzards stand guard on cell-phone towers, protecting the community from the Evil Dead. It’s a place where the volunteer fire department serves breakfast five days a week.

It’s a place where we’re glad there was a Bo Diddley.

You know what happened Monday, right?

And if you answered “Yes” to that question, here’s another one to answer just for yourself:

“Who Do You Love?”

A Wild and Crazy Truth

Let's Get Small 

I usually dislike books labeled as “memoir” (though I occasionally read them), because I’ve always known they can’t be trusted.

In fact, when the whole Million-Little-Pieces debacle unfolded a few years ago, I was bemused by the “Shocked! Shocked!” reaction it provoked. Seriously, now: Were daytime-television bookclubbers really surprised to discover that “memoir” is French for “big fat self-serving lie”?

Besides, even if a memoirist endeavors to be as truthful as memory allows, he or she will still get something wrong. I myself, the earthly avatar of Honesty and Cub-Scoutiness, have discovered that I often just flat misremember things. Last year, for example, I wrote an essay for Eat Our Brains in which I described a childhood game that I said had no name, but that I would refer to as “Dizzy Idiots.” Then, a few months ago, my Baby Brother (who could now crush me ‘twixt his thumb and forefinger like an overripe grape) reminded me that the game I had described did have a name. It was called “Tornado.”

[Well, Baby Brother would have a better memory of that game than I would. He was the one who wound up in the Emergency Room because of it.]

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Extreme Arcade

I don’t normally post here about the tech deals that I so compulsively shop for, but I’m making an exception today.

It’s the Extreme Arcade Home Arcade Model 9900 on sale at Sears for $599 + $65 shipping.

It’s a stand-alone game machine that loads fifty of the classic arcade games from the Eighties. I have no idea how many quarters I wasted on these games during those years.

Certainly more than this unit costs. If only I’d known to wait…

Centipede!

Super Breakout!

Space Invaders!

It’s got Pong!

And Asteroids!

OMFG! It’s even got Tempest!

Get yours before they’re all gone!

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Sometimes You Just Have to Shoot the General Land Office

 BLAMMO!

On the west side of Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, between Sixth and Seventh Streets, stands a statue of a lady in her nightgown . . . firing a cannon.

This statue (which you can see in its full downtown-Austin context via Google StreetView) depicts a real person and event. The lady was Angelina Eberly, and modern-day Austin probably would not be the capital of Texas were it not for her cannon shot – which was the only shot fired during the so-called Archives War of 1842.

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Okay–Just Once More

I wrote about this back in 1990. From Chapter 13 of Jumper:

“One of the problems with American public policy on terrorism is that our government insists on blurring the line between armed insurgence against military forces and installations and attacks on uninvolved civilians. Now, obviously attacking unarmed civilians who have no involvement with a particular political issue is terrorism. But an attack on an armed military force occupying one’s homeland? That’s not terrorism. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying that if you call that terrorism then the U.S. is also involved in financing terrorists in Afghanistan and Central America. See what I mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that the proportion of American dead from terrorism is way out of proportion to the response it generates. We did nothing to stop the Iraq-Iran war because we perceived it in our interests that damage be done to both of those countries. Personally I think that’s inexcusable, but I’m not in the position to make government policy. Certainly both leaders were crazy with a long-standing personal grudge, but their people paid a horrible price.”

“I wasn’t aware that there was a personal grudge.”

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Pessimism — Part Three

Here’s a great new video for all of us pessimists:

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It’s the full stream of the History Channel’s recent ‘Life After People’ production. It explores what will happen to the planet after we all check out one shiny morning. It’s 88 minutes long, and I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m lovin’ it so far. Great eye candy of stuff falling apart. David Brin is an early speaker in it.

Here’s the official web site, with short clips about the different ways we’re gonna go extinct and other bonus sections and links.

Have fun!

Just remember that I and Rachael and Jesse will be surviving all of these unfortunate events while enjoying apocalyptic music like this at the rave with all the hot Icelandic babes.

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EDIT: Wow. Looks like there’s some synchronicity happening. National Geographic broadcast a show with an identical premise just last month. Here’s the official web site for Aftermath: Population Zero. Again, it has some vids with cool eye candy of big structures falling over and such.