Tuesday, January 29, 2013

first they quit?

It is of course absurd, unfair, and unoriginal to describe any recent shenanigans in American higher education to anything related to Nazi Germany, but Paul Fain's piece in Inside Higher Ed reminded me of this poem from my childhood.

Martin Niemöller: "First they came for the Socialists..."

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

They've already come for so many different kinds of "nonessential" workers on many different campuses, from adjunct instructors to garbage collectors to a guy I knew whose job with a college degree was to do all the laundry for another school's men's basketball team (20K, no benefits), and, thus, it's not at all surprising that online instructors are being let go. Administrators aren't gassing anyone, it's humane termination, so to speak, and by some criteria the benefits of not working seem to be on the rebound (Affordable Care Act, food stamps, etc.), but it's still a peculiar time we're in, and it's hard to know where it will all end, and what kind of United States we'll be living in when we get there.

And then again, the market is roaring higher, hundreds of thousands of jobs are going unfilled, and if we discount hundreds of thousands falling off the employment rolls then we've had positive job creation for several years. We'll see what this Friday's jobs numbers say. There's some rosy America out there where angry scientists don't need to teach classes at Marist, and adjuncts who quit find rejuvenation in a full-time job beyond the groves of academe. BRIC economies thrive and every discounted European worker flies away to find gainful employment! Perpetual growth is an unstoppable force of jobs and social justice!

Oh. You said, "contraction"?

Well, what else?

Sunday, January 20, 2013


The Betrayal of Times of Peace and Prosperity may not be a peer-reviewed scholarly article, but in a way, this fiction fits the issues at hand, and so to acknowledge the open-access movement, it can be read online for free or downloaded to most electronic reading devices.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

philly's fergie

Jason Fagone's recent story about Fergie Carey in Philadelphia Magazine caught my eye, and reminded me of my own adventures in and around his pub.

Almost all of my early stories were written in Philly, the city of brotherly beer. At Doobie's at 22nd and Lombard, I'd sit and scrawl, and I probably looked like a lunatic if anyone noticed at all. Later, maybe the next day, I'd type my stories on an old Apple IIc computer. I stared at its nine-inch monochrome green screen from the mid-eighties until the late nineties, when a dirt-cheap computer deal, with an agreement to purchase a few years of internet connectivity, finally freed me from old-machine captivity.

Back to the early nineties, at some point Fergie's Pub opened up and that became another place to go drinking and writing, writing and talking, and more writing. I was in these bars a lot, Tangier Cafe and McGlinchey's, too, but wouldn't say I was too much of a drinker. The food menu at Fergie's was part of the attraction for me.

It was a late afternoon or early evening, and only a few of us were at his new pub, and Fergie was tending to the place on his own. I was sitting at the bar, most likely drinking a Yuengling Lager or Lord Chesterfield Ale, and I had a typed story out. It was "Over Fifty Billion Kafkas Served," one of my favorites from that period, and this led to that, and Fergie asked if he could read it, or I offered, and so he was behind the bar reading my story. After a minute or two, I told him it felt weird to see someone reading my story, and so with alacrity, he moved from behind the bar and continued reading behind my back. Literally. I'm not sure if this was just Fergie being the generous guy we all knew him as, knowing our names, pouring our pitchers, etc., or the story was engaging enough, but he took another 10 minutes, and then popped back to the bar and told me with certainty that someone would publish it. That made my afternoon although it wasn't until nearly 20 years later that I found a home for the story.

The last time I saw Fergie, I think, was in the new Borders Bookshop on a winter holiday break between semesters. I was up from South Carolina, staying at my Mom's, and this was possibly Christmas Eve or close to it. Perhaps it would be a more poetic memory if this was at the old Borders at 1727 Walnut Street where I got my start in scribbling on my days off or mornings before the 1 to 10 p.m. shift. But this was the Borders location after they got chased off Rittenhouse Square by Barnes and Noble and opened up at Broad and Chestnut, the one they were in when the whole chain finally went kaput. Anyway, I was headed from the second to third floor, and Fergie was coming down the escalator, and I said, "Hey Fergie," and he said, barely missing a beat, "Hey Alex." I don't think I'd seen him for years, and it was impressive that someone with such an amazing inventory of names in his brain could still remember a customer from so long ago.

So there you have it.

To Fergie.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

working and older working writers

Over at cnn.com, this American life befits the times, or at least the headlines.

In a way, it reminds me of this, possibly paraphrased, Paul Auster quotation about his father:

"work was the country he lived in, and he was his greatest patriot."

Of course, Auster's quotation implies that his father may have believed in work, or even worshipped it, and in his memoir "Portrait of an Invisible Man" we read about an older father clinging to his work, its habits (he quotes Beckett, too, on habit as "the great deadener"), and what seemed to be his entire life even as his real estate holdings were slowly decaying, depreciating, and disappearing.

And in other news, of other writers, America's greatest comic critic of our "Puritan work ethic," Thomas Pynchon, has another novel coming out. It will be interesting to see if The Bleeding Edge is another late long one, a la Mason & Dixon and Against the Day; more or less standard-novel size, a la Vineland and Inherent Vice; or if Pynchon finally succumbs to the short-novel disease that seems to have afflicted more than one novelist late in his years. Roth and Delillo come to mind first for me, and it's amazing that Pynchon, so late in his career, could actually be approaching those two prolific geniuses when it comes to quantity of published pages of fiction. Probably the biggest bullshit measure of a writer one could come up with it, but slightly interesting nonetheless. . .  Roth and Delillo have so many more titles, but I don't quite see that either of them has a Gravity's Rainbow kind of book. At the same time, it seems strange that Delillo hasn't won more awards although he has won some big ones, and my hunch is he appears on more college syllabi than the other writers mentioned in this post.

In my own reading news, the good tweeters at New Directions and Melville House recommended Mating by Norman Rush for something somewhat Bolano-like, and so far, this National Book Award winner has not disappointed. Sixty pages in, and I feel like I'm reading a great novel. . . comedy, politics, detail, Africa, everything. . .

I'll add some links, italicize here and there, correct the typos, and maybe add an interesting sentence or two at some later moment.

Have a reading weekend.

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