Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chicago to Los Angeles by way of San Antonio

First of three parts

Three trains. Five nights. Exactly 4,984 miles. And the most important statistic of all, 32 new manuscript pages for Hang Fire, the novel-in-progress, bringing its total to 162 pages so far. The light at last looms at the end of that tunnel.

So ended my latest railborne writing trip late Friday afternoon, when Amtrak's eastbound Southwest Chief tied up in Chicago Union Station.

Writer's tools: A roomette, a Macbook, an iPod Touch and an electric outlet.

As Alex Haley, that old Coast Guardsman, needed voyages in tramp-steamer cabins to beat writer's block, I use journeys in rolling sleeper roomettes to get unstuck. There's something about a gently rocking long-distance train, even an Amtraker, that loosens the impacted imagination. Or so it seems.

Trains attract me for other reasons, such as the luxury of suspended time and the beauty of American scenery, but I won't go into that, having sung their praises often enough. Here, however, is a trip report for the railfans who visit this blog:

The journey began the previous Sunday in the first-class lounge at Chicago Union Station, where sleeper passengers can loll on overstuffed chairs before departure. It's hardly a Ritz-Carlton lobby, but it is clean and comfortable and boasts a large hi-def TV screen for travelers who are neither readers nor Gameboy addicts. The free wi-fi was down, however, and by the look of the bedraggled sign at the room's sole computer, it had been for quite a while.

Chicago Union Station's sleeper lounge is relaxing -- but wirelessless.

That was disappointing for a traveler who likes to stay connected to news of the outside world, and dispiriting for one who likes Amtrak (and has even written a book about it) and hopes it survives. Too often things are broken and not fixed for a long time.

I told the lounge's desk agent that I was deaf and couldn't hear announcements, and asked when and where Amtrak 421, the Texas Eagle, would board. She was both pleasant and caring, going out of her way to find me just before boarding was announced and making sure I found the right track before she returned to her station.

Because Amtrak has just started using each day's incoming City of New Orleans trainset for the outgoing Eagle with only a 4 1/2-hour break to clean and restock the cars, I wondered how well the job would be executed. My sleeper was in good shape, but the car number displays had not yet been changed from the New Orleans train, confusing some passengers.

First stop Joliet, where the station is as forbidding as the famous prison.

The cars had not been through the wash, but were not terribly dirty, although the windows were a bit grimy. That didn't matter overmuch since the day was gray and rainy and not conducive to photography.

Inside, City timetables and route guides still sat in the room windows. Shortly after departure at 1:45 p.m. on the dot, the attendant, Donald, brought Eagle timetables, but no route guides. (I had forearmed myself with older Amtrak guides available at

Donald was cheerful and always busy, and the waiters solicitous and efficient. I thought it a particularly good crew, even though Donald (presumably on his dinner break) did not show when I called him to make up the bed for an early night -- after 30 minutes of waiting, I did that myself. It's not hard and I've done it often. Not to blame Donald; he probably announced his meal break on the PA system and I didn't hear it.

The next morning Donald was on the job quickly, making up the room for the day while I was at breakfast.

The Amtrak "Cross Country Cafe" diner-lounge combo did not seem so bad.

I did not find Amtrak's newish "Cross Country Cafe" diner-lounge layout all that objectionable, despite grumblings from others that they are inefficient, especially when there is no separate lounge car. There is a different arrangement and shape of tables and seats, some of them facing the aisle rather than outward. That was fine with me; it not only made for a change from the usual tight and rumpsprung quarters in conventional dining cars but also allowed this lipreader to converse more easily with his tablemates.

The Cross Country Cafe's "diner lite" (as railfans call it) cuisine -- prepared off the train in commissaries and baked in convection ovens aboard -- was satisfactory, not terribly tasty but reasonably well prepared. I opted for the "fried" chicken, carefully deskinning it in heart-healthy fashion. The stringbeans were a bit stringy but the rice medley was fine and the Haagen-Dazs ice cream excellent as always. (I shouldn't have had that last but one has to live it up once in a while.)

Meal companions can be hit or miss. A number of times I've dined with folks just off the farm and frightened about eating with strangers, or louts whose mothers never taught them manners.

But my dinner companions the first night out were both convivial and interesting. One was a Washington TV broadcast reporter bound to San Antonio and the other a Navy lieutenant commander traveling to Palm Springs. Both had come in on a "bustitution" from Ohio owing to a freight derailment the day before that stalled the inbound Capitol Limited for nine hours and caused them to miss their connections to the Eagle. Amtrak put up all the stranded travelers in a hotel and found them seats (and in some cases bedrooms) on the next day's Eagle -- which may explain why the train was listed as "sold out" the night before departure.

On Monday morning I was first into the shower on the lower level. The water pressure was the wimpiest I'd ever seen in a sleeper car, but it sufficed -- just barely. At first call for breakfast I stepped to the diner, unfortunately sharing my table with a scruffy young man who said a perfunctory hello and never looked up from his iPhone.

Afterward I repaired to the roomette to write, getting in six pages before arrival in Dallas. There I had lunch again with the Washington newsman, who had been a young broadcaster in Dallas in 1963. He pointed out the Texas School Book Depository and Dealey Plaza as the train rolled past those landmarks of the Kennedy assassination on the way to Fort Worth and a long stop. The sprawling transportation center in Fort Worth features a preserved interurban coach from the 1930s, and the old station has been restored to its former glory.

Amtrak's Texas Eagle tarried for more than an hour at Fort Worth.

Though I'm not a vegetarian, I had the "veggie burger" for lunch -- a surprisingly delicious chipotle-flavored black bean-and-corn concoction, one I chose instead of a beef burger because of the ongoing controversy over the cleanliness of ground beef. I will have that dish again, but I'll skip the softball-sized bun, full of empty calories.

Speaking of the dishes, they are disposable lightweight hard plastic, not very elegant but a lot better than the Styrofoam of the 1990s. (Amtrak saves by not having to pay a dishwasher.)

The Eagle ran On Time all the way through the early afternoon, often reaching a stop well before the advertised and tarrying until official departure time. If Amtrak were king it could easily have knocked two hours off the schedule, but the need to allow for freight train traffic requires leisurely timekeeping.

The lead service attendant, once called the steward, came around at 3 p.m. to take dinner reservations at 4 and 4:30. When I asked why they were serving so early, he replied that the dining car crew gets off at Austin at 6:30 and needs to clean up before then.

Dinner was OK, the salmon a tad rubbery and fishy -- but just a tad.

The night in San Antonio was fitful because the train sat stationary on its 10-hour layover waiting for arrival of the Sunset Limited from New Orleans rather than rocking me to sleep. Some time before dawn I was awakened by the vigorous switching out and coupling up of my sleeper and one coach onto the Sunset.

Train 1/421 departed San Antonio right at 5:40 am. My through sleeper was now the last car in the consist, and next in line was the through coach from Chicago, coupled on with the seats facing backward. The riders, I thought, can't be happy about that.. Then came two coaches from the Sunset facing the right way, then the lounge car, then the diner (a conventional one), then a sleeper and a dorm-sleeper, then baggage, then two P42 locomotives. That is a long train.

I kept my breakfast virtuous and small: a little apple juice, half a cheese omelet (one of the few dishes prepared aboard, not reheated), half a biscuit, coffee.

Back to the sleeper to write for a while. When I took a break at 10 a.m., the conductors were flipping the seats in the Eagle coach to face forward. People looked happier.

To this admittedly ignorant rider the west Texas desert displayed a striking if sere beauty that soon grew wearying. You seen one tumbleweed, you seen 'em all. It's the perfect place to keep one's head down to write.

Alpine, Texas: That's a loooong step to the stony "platform."

For the first time on a rail journey I took along my GPS receiver, a Garmin hiker's model once used as a backup navigation instrument when I owned an airplane. It was nice to know one's location, especially in the small dark hours, and it was priceless to know exactly where one was along the railroad and when the next station would be looming ahead. (The GPS had to be rested on the roomette window ledge to catch enough satellites for the instrument to do its thing.)

Just before lunch came a half-hour smoking stop at Alpine. The station platform is very short, so most of the train loomed just above the roadbed, making quite a drop to the ballast for an old guy like me. I also used the time to get off a couple of e-mails. I could find no wi-fi at the stations along the route, but at Alpine at least two unsecured wi-fi nodes lay within range of the train. Of course using other people's unpassworded wi-fi is illegal, and I would never encourage anyone to break the law.

Tracks, tumbleweed and a big sky looking back from the last car.

Lunch was a boring iceberg lettuce salad with three lonely strips of chicken, but it was palatable and reasonably healthful. At my table a painfully shy young man read a book all through lunch and ignored my attempts at conversation.

The writing went well -- a dozen new pages that day, and a solution to a knotty structural problem I'd been having.

Mare's tails over the beautiful but enervating Chihuahuan Desert.

The afternoon between Alpine and El Paso was a long slog across barren Chihuahuan desert, mountains and mesas far to the north, hours and hours of mesquite and cactus and the occasional juniper, with vultures circling in the sky and in one location tearing at a dead cow near the tracks.

El Paso and its curiously forbidding Texas Gothic railroad station.

The outskirts of of El Paso featured a long maze of junkyards and orchards. At the station half the passengers fired up cigarettes on the windless platform, resulting in a cloud of smoke so choking I returned to the train to escape it. Sad as it is to say, the average American train passenger seems hell-bent on shortening his life with tobacco, sugar and fried food.

In fact, a skinny British couple at dinner remarked nastily about the corpulence on the train. True, two immense men in my sleeper had to struggle to squeeze through the narrow corridor, and I feared one would get stuck on the twisting stairs to the lower level. In the coaches, three people -- two women and one man -- were wide-bodied enough to occupy two seats each. I wondered if Amtrak is willing sell two seats to one passenger for this purpose. I don't see why not. For many Americans too large to fit into an airline seat, train travel is their only recourse. Two long-distance coach seats on Amtrak is still a lot cheaper than first class on an airline.

Dinner was a steak that tasted decent although gristly; it was so big I ate only half, and half the baked potato as well. One Amtrak dinner serving, like those of most road-food emporia, could satisfy the average older couple.

Early morning the third day near Pomona in the Los Angeles Basin.

The combined train's three-person waitstaff, like that on the way to San Antonio, displayed an esprit often absent in previous years. Their dark blue uniforms all were neat and pressed, their shirts blinding white. Only a harassed coach attendant (who seemed to be in charge of three coaches) seemed a trifle cranky, notably when passengers took over seats reserved for large groups down the route.

My sleep that third night through New Mexico and Arizona was lousy, thanks to repeated and long siding stops that put the train two hours behind going into Yuma -- my roomette must be rocking if I am to sleep.

The third morning the shower wouldn't work at all, and breakfast was cardboard French toast -- I will not have it again. But my seatmate was a delightful Californian who had raised a deaf daughter and knows American Sign Language. She was evangelistic about Deaf culture, and we had to agree to disagree about hot-button issues like cochlear implants in infants. As always, for every annoyance on the train there are at least two fine experiences.

Our arrival at Los Angeles Union Station was just 20 minutes late, thanks to the schedule padding.

NEXT: The 10-hour layover in L.A.

The grand waiting room at Los Angeles Union Station. The bagel shop on the right offers a free wi-fi node for its customers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ridin' the Eagle

My Grandaddy was a railroad man
When I was young he took me by the hand
Dragged me to the station at the break of dawn
Said, "Boy, I got to show you somethin' 'fore it's gone"
She was blue and silver -- she was right on time
We rode that Texas Eagle on the Mopac line
We had some sandwiches that Granma packed
We rode to Palestine and hitchhiked back
Home in time for supper with a tale to tell
That night I dreamed I heard that lonesome whistle wail

When I got old enough to take the train alone
I rode that Texas Eagle down to San Antone

Nowadays they don't make no trains
Just the piggyback freighters and them Amtrak things
They shut the Eagle down awhile ago
Sold it to the railroad down in Mexico
But every now and then that whistle's on my mind
I ride that Texas Eagle 'cross the borderline
-- Steve Earle, Texas Eagle

Tomorrow I'm puttin' on my engineer hat and ridin' that Texas Eagle -- all right, one of "them Amtrak things" -- down to San Antone, thence to Los Angeles on the connecting Sunset Limited from New Orleans.

The original Texas Eagle was the marquee streamliner of the old Missouri Pacific and the Texas & Pacific, both now part of Union Pacific. It first ran in 1948 between St. Louis and San Antonio (with through cars to other parts of Texas). Although not as celebrated as the Broadway Limited of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the 20th Century Limited of the New York Central and the Super Chief of the Santa Fe, the Eagle had enough cachet to be serenaded by a noted bluegrass artist.

For me the trip will be a five-day working joyride. For reasons I do not quite understand, my best writing often gets shaken loose in a snug sleeper compartment aboard a train speeding through the night. Somehow movement through space and time inside a private place liberates the faculties.

I'll be aboard the Eagle for three nights, one of them a 10-hour overnight stop in San Antonio station waiting for the Sunset to arrive from the east. There will be an 11-hour layover in Los Angeles, where I'll hook up with the railroad photographer and writer Carl Morrison for lunch and a short tour of the town's landmarks.

After that, I'll catch the eastbound Southwest Chief (successor to the Super Chief) for the two-night return to Chicago.

One of the things I'll be looking for on the Eagle is general tidiness. Because of a shortage of cars owing to fire and accident, Amtrak is now using the inbound City of New Orleans trainset, arriving in Chicago at 9 a.m., for the outbound Eagle, departing at 1:45 p.m. Four hours and 45 minutes isn't much time to clean, strip and restock the cars -- let alone wash the windows so that onboard photographers can get good pictures.

There will, of course, be a full trip report, with photographs. You have been warned.

[Later Saturday. Amtrak reports all seats on Sunday's Eagle are sold out, except for one roomette, available for a $611 premium plus the $180 fare, total $791 -- one way. "Them Amtrak things" seem to be in great demand these days.]

Route of the Texas Eagle

Route of the Southwest Chief

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Deaf" or "hearing impaired"?

The recent foofaraw over Harry Reid's use of the terms "light-skinned" and "Negro dialect" and everyone's later realization that he was just being accurate, if thoughtless, has got me thinking about the terms members of the minority I belong to -- people who cannot hear -- use to describe ourselves.

Twenty years ago I interchangeably used the terms "deaf" and "hearing impaired" to describe everyone in the state of not-hearing-at-all or not-hearing-very-well. But today many deaf people take such pride in American Sign Language that they do not feel handicapped in any way, hence detest the term "hearing impaired."

Indeed, "hearing impaired" is not the best choice of words to describe a group of people who do not in any way consider themselves physically disabled. Any group has the right to be called what it wants to be called, even though ignorant outsiders might employ other terms. Using capital-D "Deaf" for those who identify with the culture of American Sign Language seems to me a reasonable accommodation to diversity.

But what about "small-d" deaf people like me, those who lose their hearing in childhood or adulthood and choose to stay with spoken English as our language of preference and remain members of the hearing culture?

This is a more difficult question to answer. "Hard of hearing," a term the Deaf seem to prefer for us, isn't really suitable for those, like me, who are profoundly or totally deaf. And "deaf" alone doesn't seem to be a precise description for those with mild hearing loss.

"Hearing impaired" seems to be the most accurate term for people like me. After all, my hearing was impaired into nonexistence when I was three years old. This is why I think of my deafness as a disability, not a culture.

I am acutely aware of what I lost to meningitis: the melodies of Chopin and Berlioz, the sigh of wind in the trees, voices on the telephone, the murmur of my wife and children, the siren of a rapidly approaching fire engine out of my sight, the rumble of a freight train down the tracks, the warning roar of an airplane engine starting up down the ramp. At these times deafness is definitely a handicap.

I've come to agree, however, that "handicapped" or "disabled" are not useful terms to describe those who don't feel they suffer from not hearing. If the Deaf don't miss what they've never had, where's the disability? The real handicap, they will argue--and not without justification--is not within themselves but in the obsolete and benighted views many ignorant hearing people have of the deaf. Not for nothing did the existential philosophers declare that hell is other people.

Another view might be that "disability" is a relative term. Most of the time deaf people of all kinds are not handicapped. We walk happily through most ordinary days, going to work and talking with our friends and families, without thinking about our lack of hearing.

Once in a while we are painfully reminded of it. When that happens, it can be devastating. In 2006 Tara Rose McAvoy, an ASL speaker and Miss Deaf Texas, was walking along railroad tracks, rapt in her text pager, when a speeding freight train, its horn blaring, struck her from behind and killed her.

Not long before, I had been walking down an airport ramp to my airplane, my eyes to the right admiring the other planes lined up on the tarmac, when I suddenly looked forward and saw uncomfortably close up the whirling propellers of a big twin whose engines had just been started. A few more seconds of inattentiveness and I would have been hamburger.

On those occasions both Ms. McAvoy and I were definitely handicapped by our deafness, but I was luckier.

Perhaps a good umbrella term for us might be "Deaf and hearing-impaired"? That might work for those who know all about us, but it'll only confuse the ignorant public, who'll just think the phrase is redundant.

So go the vicissitudes of identity politics. We can't please everybody. But we can respect their choices, whatever they may be. Over the years, simple usage may shake better words out of the bush of language, just as "journalist" has replaced the quaintly sexist "newspaperman," which I used with abandon twenty years ago.

Just call me a "journo" for short.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Marching for the branches

This afternoon I joined some 300 demonstrators of all ages on Central Street in northwest Evanston, Illinois, my winter residence, to protest the cash-strapped city's proposal to close its two branch libraries and save about $425,000 -- really a drop in the bucket for a city with a population of 80,000.

Champions of the libraries argue that the proposal would likely result in two unintended consequences:

First, it would insult the ideal of literacy for the children of five schools -- four public, one parochial -- who live within walking distance of the Central Street Branch Library and patronize it heavily. (There is no school near the main library downtown.)

Second, it would remove a major attraction for the business districts in which the branch libraries reside. Many shoppers would take their dollars elsewhere, such as the Wilmette commercial district near its public library a mile north of Central Street.

The protesters are asking that the city allow the library supporters a year to come up with alternate financial plans that would keep open both branches. (A similar march was held at the South Branch.)

Of the several proposals, the one that sounds most sensible to me is to remove the entire library system from city ownership, instead forming a separate library district that would be an entirely new taxing body. (Most other Chicago suburbs operate their libraries in this fashion.)

The event was a remarkable turnout of book lovers young and old, and it gave me strong hope that the aldermen will vote to keep the branches open past March 1.

By the way, no buses were overturned or cars torched during the pointedly cheerful demonstration. Looting was limited to the hot chocolate machine at the Linz & Vail coffee shop, which generously provided free cocoa to sore-footed children, and at the Great Harvest bread shop, source of free cookies.

There wasn't a cop in sight, either. This was an exceedingly peaceable protest march -- it was Martin Luther King Day, after all -- and I was delighted to be in the middle of it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


One of the benefits of visiting Rochester, N.Y., last week was a short tour of the city's storied Mount Hope Cemetery, where two of the world's most illustrious troublemakers are buried: Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Inspiring.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Night Train to nowhere

The new locomotive lodging at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. (Click for larger view.)

I am an unreconstructed rail buff, as everyone who frequents this blog knows. I'll take an overnight train trip at the drop of an engineer's cap, and long slow freights at grade crossings delight rather than irritate me.

But there are limits to my enthusiasm. I have no desire, for example, to pay a premium to spend a night in a caboose lodging at a railroady resort hotel.

Much less a night inside a locomotive, as in the new hotel room built into a retired F45 diesel freight engine at the Izaak Walton Inn in Montana, one of my favorite hostelries. Two hundred ninety-nine bucks a night, three night minimum stay? No thank you.

But who am I to gainsay another railfan's pleasure? If three nights inside a gutted choo-choo floats your boat, to coin a terrible mixaphor, go right ahead.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Off to Rochester

Today I'm heading to Rochester, N.Y., to give a talk and workshop on how a deaf guy writes for the "mainstream" (as the hearing world is known in that of the not-hearing). The lecture is to students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, one of the colleges at Rochester Institute of Technology.

It'll be the first time I've trod the quarterdeck of a classroom since 1982, when freshmen at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism made up the boisterous but loyal crew.

This ought to be interesting. Are college students still eager and demanding? Do I still have the chops for teaching?

We will see. Back Saturday.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why didn't we think of this before?

"Europe Slapping Rich with Massive Traffic Fines".

What a wonderful idea! If we in Illinois linked the relative pain of a speeding fine to the miscreant's net worth, we could plug that scheme into half the Republicans in Lake County, arrogant scofflaws with hot BMWs and Jags who habitually do 80 and 90 on Interstate 94.

Before you knew it, we'd have enough in the state coffers to adequately fund our struggling inner-city schools.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Why I love reading small-town weeklies

Here is last week's entire crime report from the Cook County (Minn.) News-Herald. It gives me continued faith in the doughtiness of small-town America as well as offering further evidence that all news is local.

Monday, Dec. 28

12:18 a.m., Grand Marais: Report of a man walking along the highway between mile markers 99 and 100, trying to get a ride. A deputy found that his car had broken down, and gave him a ride to his home on County Road 7.

12:59 a.m., Tofte: Fire department cancelled after it was discovered an alarm was set off by a fireplace that backed up, filling the room with smoke.

11:19 a.m., Tofte: Deer struck by a vehicle, causing damage and injuring the deer.

3:05 p.m., Lutsen: Ambulance requested at the ski slope for an 18-year-old man who ran into a tree and lost consciousness.

11:45 p.m., Grand Marais: Deputy requested to help a homeowner get her dog back into the house.

Tuesday, Dec. 29

8:08 a.m., Grand Marais: A deputy spoke with a truck driver whose vehicle was parked in a downtown lot, leaking some type of petroleum product. A pan was put underneath to catch the fluid.

10:45 a.m., Hovland: A tow truck was needed to pull a vehicle out of the snowbank on North Road. No injuries reported.

12:41 p.m., Lutsen: Ambulance called to the ski slope for a 20-year-old man who was unconscious.

2:46 p.m., Grand Marais: Complaint that unsupervised kids were screwing around with a mailbox again. The caller said there was mail on the snowbank and the kids were jumping up and down on the mailbox. A deputy spoke with them, but they weren’t doing anything wrong when he arrived.

7:04 p.m., Grand Marais: Caller requested a welfare check on a man he believed was living in his truck. The truck was plugged into a building.

7:43 p.m., Grand Marais: A local bar reported that a woman came in and started yelling at everyone inside, and they were now afraid to go outside.

Wednesday, Dec. 30

9:54 a.m., Grand Marais: Caller requested assistance in getting back into his house after he got locked out while taking out the garbage.

8:58 p.m., Grand Marais: Multiple power outages at Pine Mountain Trailer Court. REA notified.

Thursday, Dec. 31

3:05 p.m., Tofte: Holiday reported a $35 gas drive-off.

3:43 p.m., Grand Marais: The hospital staff reported that someone hit the dietary door with a vehicle, causing damage to the building. It was not known who or what vehicle did the damage.

Friday, Jan. 1

12:16 a.m., Lutsen: Papa Charlie’s requested a deputy in advance of a possible fight between four guys in the parking lot.

9:21 a.m., Tofte: AmericInn reported that there was someone in a room they were not supposed to be in; they could hear whispering but the people would not answer or come to the door. A deputy found no one in the room.

9:23 a.m., Grand Marais: Two callers reported problems with off-peak heat.

12:28 p.m., Grand Marais: Report of a snowmobile accident with another, a head-on collision with only minor injuries on the state trail south of Devil Track Lake.

7:26 p.m., Grand Portage: Chimney fire reported on East Highway 61. The fire company and ambulance responded. Both were called back to the scene just after midnight when the occupants woke up to clicking and popping, and saw flames from the walls.

Saturday, Jan. 2

8:05 p.m., Grand Marais: Birch Terrace requested a deputy to remove an unwanted intoxicated woman who was causing problems.

Sunday, Jan. 3

1:25 a.m., Grand Marais: Caller said it sounded like someone was stealing wood near the property. It has happened before.

12:20 p.m., Grand Marais: Lino Lakes man, 19, cited for no seat belt.

9:02 p.m., Grand Marais: The PUC was called out to investigate a power outage and arcing lines in the vicinity of the dental office and car wash.

The Record-Herald, by the way, is a deep woods weekly, and therefore devotes some of its column inches to reports from Department of Natural Resources conservation officers. Here's one:

CO Darin Fagerman (Grand Marais) took a snowshoe trip in the BWCA. The CO followed tracks for about four and a half miles before hearing a rifle shot. The CO walked a bit further and saw a man fishing out on the ice. The man explained that he had not caught any fish for a couple of days and that he needed some meat. He proudly held up a red squirrel that he was going to eat for dinner. The CO explained that he was going to have to cut the conversation short because the CO wouldn't make it out of the BWCA before darkness set in and that it was bitterly cold. The man then told the CO that he had an extra sleeping bag and that the CO was welcome to spend the night in his tent. The CO looked at the red squirrel and decided that there wasn’t enough for the both of them and decided to take his chances with the slush and darkness.

With folks like that, the Republic will stand forever.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Kirkus may live on

It looks as if Kirkus Reviews, the excellent (if somewhat snarky) advance book review service, is getting a reprieve, according to Sarah Weinman of Daily Finance.

I wrote about its (then) impending demise last December 10.

Editor and Publisher, the journo's bible, might live on, too.

My favorite neologism for 2010

Snailpaper (n). What arrives on your doorstep every morning with news that is 12 hours old.

-- With thanks to Schott's Vocab.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The WHAT of the 'Narcissus'?

WordBridge, a conservative Christian publisher based in the Netherlands, has issued a reprint of Joseph Conrad's The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' -- with a slight change: It's now The N-word of the 'Narcissus'.

What's more, every instance of "nigger" thoughout the collection of stories has become "n-word."

WordBridge proudly claims it "has performed a public service" by removing an "offence to modern sensibilities," one that has made the book "neglected."

This action sounds suspiciously like a cynical right-wing attempt to co-opt liberal "white guilt" where there is no earthly reason to do so.

That offends my sensibility. We're not mature enough to handle execrable language? We're not mature enough to read great literature -- in the historical context in which it was written -- without feeling guilt?

Don't those people ever learn?

Recall the silly but recurring school-board ruckuses over Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? In it Mark Twain used "nigger" in the casual and unthinkingly cruel way of his times, not the deliberately savage and cutting fashion of ours.

A friend said WordBridge's action reminds him "of a certain Christian website that replaced every occurrence of the sprinter Tyson Gay's name with 'Tyson Homosexual.'"

Fortunately, if you want to read The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' in the original version, sells a clean, unsullied edition as well as WordBridge's inane abomination. (This morning Nigger was No. 230,852 on Amazon's best-selling list. Not a blockbuster, but "neglected"? Ha!)

With thanks to Gawker for the heads-up.