Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crazy Horse

Everything that was bad about Mount Rushmore was good at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
In 1939, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski* to build a memorial to a great Native American, so that "...the white man [could] know that the red man had great heroes, too." I guess the white man was too busy to ask the red man who was who amongst the heroes the white man were slaughtering, subjugating and stealing from. Here is a sculpture of Chief Henry Standing Bear by Korczak Ziolkowski:

Korczak, son of Polish parents who died when he was a year old, grew up in foster homes, at least one of which was abusive. Korczak put himself through school and worked as a ship builder. He trained himself in sculpting, painting and woodworking, and won first prize at the New York World's Fair with this marble bust of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, composer, pianist, diplomat, and third Prime Minister of Poland.Stern looking, puffy-eyed dude, right? Anyway, Korczak quit his then day job, which happened to be working with Borglum on carving Mount Rushmore- will coincidences never cease?!- and went on to dedicate the rest of his life to building a monument that he felt was fit to honor the tribes that peopled the Black Hills. Together with Chief Standing Bear, they decided that the perfect representative would be Sioux Chief Crazy Horse, who defeated the arrogant bastard Custer (more on him later) in the Battle of Little Bighorn, and who famously took up arms against the U.S. government in order to protect the Black Hills and resist being forced onto a reservation. He became a warrior after he saw the Treaty of 1868, which was signed by then President Andrew Jackson, and which promised that "The Black Hills will forever and ever be the sacred land of the Indians," broken. After that, he rallied his brethren with the famous declaration, "It is a good day to fight; it is a good day to die."
Crazy Horse himself never touched a pen or signed a treaty. He explains his militantism thusly: "We had buffalo for our food, and their hides for clothing and for our tepees. We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on the reservation, where we were driven against our will. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to leave the reservation to hunt. We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone." In other words, Popeye's to be exact, "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more!" Crazy Horse was 37 when he died after being stabbed by a guard while in U.S. protective custody.
Unfortunately, the Black Hills were chock full of resources, so peace and a live and let live attitude were not really options. Besides, the Indians were bloodthirsty, sub-human animals, so who cares. Back to the white guy in this story!
Korczak worked tirelessly on the monument, often alone. He built a log cabin for his wife and 10 kids, and a 741 step ladder to climb to the first level of excavation. He told a story of starting his old compressor up, climbing all those steps, getting to the top, and hearing the compressor die before he could start drilling. Back down the ladder he'd go, to start the compressor and climb up again. Mountain goats loved the steps and sometimes he'd have to wait to let them pass. He loaded blasting caps, set them off, cleared the rock and blasted again. In time, seven of his kids and his wife worked on the statue or on the adjacent Native American museum. In addition to the memorial, humanitarian plans for a medical training facility and a heritage preservation center are part of Crazy Horse, as well as a gift shop which supplies work to local tribes and individuals. Korczak never accepted government funding for the memorial, fearing that the U.S. could not be held accountable for upholding their end of any "treaty" negotiated, and he refused to undermine the integrity or scale of his monument. He believed in private enterprise and individual initiative, and the whole project has been and continues to be financed by donations, admission costs and gift shop sales.
McAdams and I were so overcome by the spirit of the place that we paid our admission price with a smile, hired a rickety bus to take us to the base of the mountain at sunset, and spent a shitload of money in the gift shop. I bought postcards and presents and metal replicas of the Crazy Horse stamp the U.S. Postal Service issued. The trinket has edges so sharp that when McAdams put hers on a chain around her neck, she almost gave herself a tracheotomy, so we decided to give them to little kids we know. We bought buffalo head nickel necklaces that we dedicated to each other "in the sacred shadow of Crazy Horse and the Indian Nation." (That's how my dedication began, anyway. It went on for ten minutes or so; fitting for the occasion, don't you think? McAdams said, "Here! Do you want me to put it on you?" She doesn't have my flair for oratory.)

Man-oh-Manischiewitz, what a sculpture it is! It is the largest in the world, and once completed it will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet wide, which is about 8 feet taller than the Washington Monument, which is real tall. This makes ol' George nervous, so he's always looking over his shoulder at Mt. Rushmore, to see what "those crazy Injuns are up to now!" He tries to look calm, but I can sense his fear.Crazy Horse's 63 foot arm points over the Black Hills. 4,000 people could stand on that arm. The horse's head will be 22 stories high. All four of the Mt. Rushmore heads could fit in Crazy Horse's cranium. In the words of Brittney Spears, "Dang, y'all! That's just a whole lot of head!"
It's magnificent. It's inspiring. It's a testament to human ingenuity, vision and promise. I hope I am alive to see it completed.

Last night Glenn Beck held a rally to take back honor for America. He honored America in 2009, when he said that President Obama was a racist.** He said restoring honor could only be achieved by a religious rebirth, and that his role, as he sees it, is to "wake America up ...most of all [to] God." He also said, according to the NYT, "We are a country of God. As I look at the problems in our country, quite honestly, I think the hot breath of destruction is breathing on our necks, and to fix it politically is a figure that I don't see anywhere." I don't really know what that means, but thank goodness we have Glenn Beck as an example of what America should be. Otherwise, we'd have to look elsewhere for inspiration, like to the memorial, which was created by godless heathens like Crazy Horse and long-haired, hippie, non-conformist Poles, like Ziolkowski.***

*And you thought I made up the name Guzton Borglum! I guess when you give your kid a wacky, zee-heavy name, you just kind of expect he'll end up doing some massive mountain sculpture in South Dakota. It's kind of like naming a kid Velvet Lushbottom or Klyde King Klansmann - what career choices do you really think they have?
**Beck has since amended his statement. Now he says Obama isn't a racist; "he's just a guy who understands the world through liberation theology." As with many of Beck's pearls of wisdom, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I had to do some digging. The New York Daily News explains that liberation theology, which was founded in the 1950's in Latin America and based in Christian beliefs, involves the idea that the poor need to be freed from economic, political and social injustice. Beck claims that this is "Marxism disguised as religion" and that it is at odds with what most Christians believe. "That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about." http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2010/08/29/2010-08-29_glenn_beck_i_shouldnt_have_called_obama_racist_hes_really_just_a_liberation_theo.html
Not being the scholar that Beck is on what most Christians believe and WWJDology, I will have to look that up too, as I was under the mistaken belief that JC was cool with the poor and believed in helping others. All I know is this: the only way of righting America's wrongs is by a religious revival, but we have to be really careful it's the right kind of religion, and we need to listen to the voices of righteous like Father Beck and Sister Sarah, who will lead us away from equality for all and give it back to those who really deserve it. Here's more, if you want it, from America Magazine, which is a Catholic weekly.
*** Another notable hippie-Pole? Mike Stivic! They're everywhere!BONUS: OK, this one is truly worth watching! I didn't add it in sooner, on account of I didn't want to be disrespectful to the Crazy Horse legacy, but check out this crazy horse shit! Keep watching! Really, this one is ...somethin'!

Did he say his name was "BM"? Is he speaking English? What the hell is that all about? And wait, did I just embed? Oh, HELLZ YEAH!!!! A new day has dawned! Yeah!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back In Black

Clouds Over Corn, from somewhere in South Dakota, June, 2010

The dark, full clouds of doom have gathered and knit themselves into a suffocating, itchy sweater of despair and desperation that drapes itself over my shoulders and hangs from my neck, pulling me inextricably down into the peculiar abyss of chaos, greed, incompetence and clusterfuckery that is the public education system in my metropolis. That's right - school is starting again.

I find the metaphor of the homicidal sweater particularly fitting; even as I feel my job is choking the life out of me, it is employment, which keeps me warm and shelters me from the harsh realities of life without a job, like 999.3 thousand people in my state, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, or, more specifically, like hundreds of thousands of teachers across the nation who are being sacrificed in massive reductions in force because of budget deficits. Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimates that approximately 300, 000 teacher positions will be imperiled in the 2010-2011 school year, and that is on top of the thousands of jobs, programs and schools that have already been cut, terminated or closed. When President Obama signed a bill this month that is designed to secure the jobs of 160,00 teachers, as well as save or create positions for fire fighters, nurses and police officers, he faced sharp criticism from Republican leaders who blasted the bill as "an irresponsible union giveaway." I'm lucky to have a job, even if not everyone respects its value or sees it as a necessity.

There are parts of my work that I love. My students are terrific. They teach me things, make me smile, and shower me with kindnesses every day. Being a teacher gives me the opportunity to feel like I am helping, like I have added to the good in the world, and am pitching in to create happy, healthy futures. This satisfies me and makes me feel important and worthy. I respect and admire many of my colleagues, and am inspired by their compassion and willingness to toil against insurmountable odds, rather than give in to the inevitable tides of time, trends and circumstance.

But right now, I am in mourning. Soon my garden will dry up, fry or freeze, until the black stalks that once held treats and bounty have to be pulled up and cleared away. No more road trips, no more time to read or write or ride my bike around the lake. Showers will become mandatory. Instead of sunshine, wine and song, buzzing florescent lights and blaring bells, crappy essays, absurd, time-wasting directives, and Lunchables await. I'll look forward to doctor's appointments, just because they are a break in my routine. That's right; sometimes peeing in a cup, having my breast folded, spindled, mashed and photographed, and repeatedly being jabbed by needles and speculums are the highlights of my day. School sucks.

Let's pretend it isn't happening. Oh, Denial, old friend, take my hand and whisk me away!
The next post will take us back to South Dakota - you didn't think I was finished, did you? Don't worry! There's more, so much more! I haven't even gotten to Deadwood yet, cocksucker!* Stay tuned!
*Fuck! I said it again! Sorry E.D.!

Bonus: This picture from 2009 was taken just as a storm was rolling in and the sun was setting. The whole sky turned bright orange; I guess you can see that, huh? It was scary, surreal, and beautiful. Yay, Nature! You're so awesome!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

McAdams Goes Mobile

Before I continue with the South Dakota saga, a word or two - knowing me, it's more likely to lean towards the two- about my travel companion, McAdams. We met several years ago when she came to my school, an enthusiastic and over-educated new teacher, excited to implement innovation, fling open the doors of opportunity, and make students' dreams become realities. As this fresh-faced approach had already grown tiresome to me, I ignored her until she insinuated herself at the lunch table I share with my partner in gloom and defeatism, a man whose real identity I will obscure by making him Asian and giving him the name Chi Toh. Chi loved her instantly, as he is drawn to blonde women with open smiles and a nice rack. Or really any women who will sit at his table. Anyhoo, she came, she sat, she ate, and one day, a few months later, we discovered that we had both been chosen to go to Arizona with our principal and some other teachers for a boring educational conference. We decided to room together, and the rest is history.
Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona. Painting by Steve Simon http://fineartamerica.com/featured/bell-rock--sedona-steve-simon.html
The Sedona trip became our first adventure together, and it was complete with unexpected drug trips (we got dosed by our principal), rampant nudity (it's awful hot in Arizona), a precedent-setting hiking excursion that culminated in McAdams proving her willingness to carry me down scary, steep, rocky switchbacks, and an almost total disregard for the agendas of others. (It's hard to focus on a boring educational conference when you are busy focusing on the way your thumb can be used to totally block someone's head out of your field of vision. Did I mention that I did not intentionally ingest the drugs? Well, at least not the first time, anyway.)
Traveling with McAdams is great, unless she is hot or hungry. Then she's cranky and bearish, like a grizz, not a Berenstain.

Most of the time she's pleasant, easy-going, and willing, which is perhaps my favorite attribute about anybody, ever. She wakes up in the morning, does her thing, and makes me coffee. She tunes in to the Today show, because she likes to watch Kathy Lee Gifford get drunk in the a.m., and then it's off to whatever the day has in store. She's game for just about anything, unless it involves people - not much of a fan of humans, that one - but once we have a plan, she likes to stick to it. She will accept almost any challenge, and is STUB-BORN once she makes up her mind to do something. Whereas I like to consider myself "adaptable to alternate and less demanding options," she is not what she would term "a quitter." She sees beauty everywhere, but hates being duped by hype, like when we saw the Space Needle in Seattle. "That's it?" she cried, dismayed. "It's tiny; nowhere near space!"
Oh yeah, and she's hilarious.
Lots of time she doesn't speak, so I obligingly fill in any gaps with an almost constant and never-ending commentary on anything of import; what we are looking at, how I feel about modern geopolitical theory as it relates to post WWII literature, TV shows I've seen, songs that have the word "moon" in them, the fullness of my belly or bladder, how I slept the night before, how I think I may be falling out of love with Paul Rudd and more in love with Jason Bateman, and how one time I thought I was in love with Justine Bateman, back when she was Mallory Keating...you know, things like that. Every once in awhile, McAdams breaks in, and when she does, often she cracks me up. The following is a sampler of things she said during our recent South Dakota journey:
On packing: "All I need is this fishing shirt, some underwear, this bag of chips, and some green hummus. That's it. Priority. And this salad dressing."
On liberty: "If you're not free, man...bummer." (Deep, right? Sometimes, and for several reasons, travelling with McAdams is like traveling* with Matthew McConaughey. Alright, alright, alright.)
On being entertained in the car: "We went through a drive-through wildlife park once. There was a lot of screaming, crying, and flooring the gas. Man, those emus get pissed!"
On passing a sign for Round Up Weed and Grass Killer: "Mmmmmm, weed."
Going past large rock formations in Custer State Park: "Those rocks look like dicks. Our forefathers' dicks. Our forefathers' foreskins.There's Jefferson's dick..."
"Oh, deceiving blue sky!" This was sorrowfully whispered to the windshield during a brief rainstorm.
"Remember that move? 'Foggy Chimp Mountain'? Oh yeah, right. It was 'Gorillas in the Mist'."
On being stalked by a mountain lion: "What can you do, but laugh and walk a little bit faster?" (I suggested we not walk at dinner, Northern Mountain Lion Time)
And finally, the last word on a decade of American music classics: "Ooh, Fifties music! I hate it! So scary and creepy, right? Let's get outta here!"
I just love McAdams. She is a true friend. I hope we road trip together forever.

* I hereby exert my right to spell travelling with either one or two L's! Who's gonna stop me, huh?

QUIZ: Who do you think would win in a fight to the death for my affections, McAdams or Mallory? McAdams is big and relentless, but Mallory is a scrappy little badass....


BONUS: New words! When you blog incessantly and narcissistically about yourself, just to hear yourself blog, it's bloggerbation. Reading bloggerbation can lead to blogravation. Conversely, when you have nothing to blog about, you are suffering from blogstipation.
You're welcome for the free of cost vocabulary increase.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Three wows

Here are two things that made me say "Wow" when I read them:2. http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/johnson_10_09/

The first is an article from The Sun Magazine by a retired teacher in New York named John Taylor Gatto. He is anti-school and pro-learning, and this is his acceptance speech upon being named New York's Teacher of the Year in 1989. You can also check him out on YouTube.
If you are unfamiliar to The Sun, as I was until my sister turned me on to it a couple of years ago, check it out. I love it. It has essays, interviews, poetry, short stories and unique, interesting sections, like one that's made of quotes from famous and non-famous thinkers, and another called "Readers Write", where the magazine puts out a topic and readers respond with their personal stories. So cool! Other facts about The Sun: it's been around for 30 years and Lily Tomlin's a fan. Buy a copy. Enough said.

The second is a short story my friend CHM sent me. Clarkesworld Magazine is a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine. Personally, I'm not so into that stuff. I enjoyed Stranger In a Strange Land, by Heinlein, A Wrinkle In Time by L'Engle, and the short story "Harrison Bergeron"
by Vonnegut, but none of those were written after 1962, so I guess I might want to revisit the genre before I make an opinion about it. But, really, you know, why try to be well-reasoned before you speak, and especially prior to putting stuff in writing? A waste of time, if you ask me, so I'll just go on and say it...mostly, I think that stuff blows. However, this story by Kij Johnson is disturbing, psychologically stimulating and well-written. It's also about alien sex, which is a definite selling point. And it's short. Nice.

Another thing that wows me - and most of America, I s'pose - is AMC's tv show "Mad Men". (Personal Note to Mad Men: Oh Mad Men! I love you so much! I look forward to you every Sunday, and I don't think this season is slow at all! You make sitting on my couch eating sardines and green beans out of the can in my boxer shorts sexy! Thanks for just being you!)

Thanks to REL and CHM for providing me with stuff to talk about! Keep those cards and letters coming!

P.S. I'm not done with South Dakota, so you can look forward for more from "The Great Faces, Great Places" state soon! Woohoo!!!!!
BONUS: http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html It really is a great story, and it's short, I promise!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Dizzy Miss Lizzy


I have been getting bouts of dizziness for years. They come and go and range in severity. I used to think they were fun. I would first feel funny, both strange and ha ha, in my legs and low back, like my blood was giggling. To put it more technically, I suppose one might say it felt like my veins were constricting and it left a tingly sensation. Then, I would hear that blood,whooshing in waves to the beat of my heart in my ears, or more like in my skull, and then my eyes would feel wonky and then focused and stuck, like a drunk staring at his shoes, and then woo-dee-hoo, dizzy like when you were a little kid playing with big kids on the merry-go-round, and everyone was laughing, and you were too, and then all of a sudden, you got very quiet, quiet enough to hear a tiny voice from inside you say, "Uh-oh. I think I'm gonna have to tell 'em to stop... Real soon... Maybe now... Yep, now's the time," and then another voice, thin and more little kid than you'd hope, scream-whined, "Stop! I can't take it! Stop this crazy thing!" What's not to like about that?
Since I'm older and cooler now, and there's nobody around to stop the spins, I usually try to focus on something in front of me and just walk through it. Sometimes this works. Sometimes I have to stop and hold on to someone or something. Once I had to sit on a curb because I was afraid I would fall into the street. One time I had to lean in the doorway of a liquor store with my head down until the manager came out and told me to move along.
I told my family about it, and my doctor, who was very briefly worried and ran some tests. She called back and told me she didn't know what caused "the spells", but that I was fine. Good enough for me.
Recently, she got fired, or dis-barred, or whatever happens with doctors. I was sad to see her go. She was a nice lady who sometimes talked to me about some of her other clients who were strippers. We talked a lot about our vacations, too.
The new doctor is very thorough and apparently read my charts. We'll call him Dr.X.
"It says here that you complained of dizziness about seven years ago. Whatever happened with that?"
"Oh, Dr. Y ran some tests and said that I was fine."
"So you don't get dizzy anymore?"
"Oh yeah, I still get dizzy. Especially in the summer. I got real dizzy in my classroom and almost fell off a desk! My students thought it was hilarious, especially this kid named Deonte whose head looked like a butt..."
Dr. X cut me off. He's a very busy man.
"What tests did Dr. Y do?"
"Ummm...I don't know. Blood was drawn. Urine was sampled. Insurance was charged. I don't remember. She said I didn't have a tumor."
Dr.X referred me to a specialist - a dizzy doctor. He told me I had to make an appointment before school started.
So I went to South Dakota and climbed a really high mountain...but I'm getting ahead of myself.
When I got back from South Dakota I went to the appointment.
The appointment was at noon, but a lady on the phone told me not too eat after midnight the preceding night, so in the morning I had some coffee. And a peach. An about three of those spicy pickled green beans people put in Bloody Mary's. Dang, those things are delicious, y'all!
Prior to actually seeing the doctor I was going to have to fill out papers and take some tests. Fair enough. Turns out there were TWO HOURS of tests! That's right! Two hours! I should have waited until school had started and then taken a day off to spend two hours at the doctor's! Stupid Dr.X and his telling me what to do!
So yeah, lots of tests. Hearing tests with all kinds of little tricks to them: "...press the button as soon as you hear...would you call this a rattle or a hum?...repeat the words in the order that you hear them...is that a beep or a buzz?...what about now?...stop trying to read my lips!" There were eye tests where I had to wear these weird glasses that had cameras in them that recorded how my eyes responded to light and movement. The glasses were strapped so tightly to my head that all I kept thinking about was Marty Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein, and how much pressure it would take to pop my head like a zit. "Follow the dot with your eyes...and now up....and down...use your eyes, not your head...and now the dots as they come out from the left side of the screen...and now faster...faster...and faster...you're going to give yourself whiplash! Use your eyes, not your head!"
Finally the nurse said we were almost done. "This will be the last test. It is a little uncomfortable, but it won't take long. I am going to make you very dizzy..." She put a small kidney shaped bowl in my hands. "Just in case, " she nodded knowingly.
Really, this dizziness thing was getting less fun all the time.
She put goop on my head, face and neck and stuck receptors into the goop. I had to lay down on the examination table and get connected to a computer. She spindled, folded and mutilated me into the exact position she wanted me in and told me to relax, but not to move a muscle. She put a clamp thing on my finger and the camera glasses over my eyes. Then she put these cuffs around my ankles so that I would be still, and she could be sure that my reactions were all neurological and not physiological. Before I could begin to panic, she flipped a switch and the exam table lurched into motion, whipping me around and around like a chicken strapped to a ceiling fan!

No, that part didn't really happen. But all the rest is true! After I was hooked up and plugged in and clamped down, she made me shut my eyes. She said she was going to blow cold air on my ear drums for sixty seconds, and I would get really dizzy, and then she would say, "Open your eyes," which was my signal to open my eyes. Then maybe I'd puke, and then she'd monitor my reactions and help me get focused again, and then she'd repeat the process with warm air.
"Yay," I said, but I think she could tell I wasn't really happy.
When someone aims a jet of cold air directly at your eardrum for sixty seconds, it is loud. Then it is uncomfortable. In the last twenty seconds, it is nauseatingly dizzying. Vertiginous, if you will.
It's very surreal and highly disconcerting. You want to cry, but your tears are too dizzy to make their way to your tear ducts. To make sure that I wasn't slipping into the void, she made me tell her girls' names that started with different letters of the alphabet. My eyes were desperately trying to focus on a large dot on the wall that kept jerking towards the ceiling. I couldn't remember how to make me lips form words. Thinking seemed too far a stretch to attempt.
"Come on!" she yelled. "A name that starts with 'A'!"
My name starts with 'A', but I couldn't remember it. I was trying to locate my hands to see if I was still holding the barf bowl. Let's see... I used to keep my hands right next to my arms...
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!", she screamed. (Perhaps I am remembering this a bit more dramatically than it actually occurred.)
"Althea. Araminta. Anastasia. Ahuva. Anayeli. Alcestra. Amberlyn. Antoinette. Aquaneshia."
"Wow, " the nurse said. "Ready for the other ear?"

The doctor said I have fluid in my inner ear that sometimes "leaks" to my middle ear and wells against my eardrum, which makes me dizzy. I told him this was hard to believe, since I never swim and seldom bathe. He assured me that we all have fluid in our ears, but that I produced excess at certain times, because of allergies and stuff. The dizziness could probably be cured with medication, which he would prescribe. He was much more worried, he said, about the hearing loss.
"What?" I asked.
"Good one, " he said. "But I've heard it before."
"No, really!" I exclaimed. "What hearing loss?"
"Do you shoot rifles often?" he asked.
The doctor explained that I'd lost the highest range of sound in one of my ears. Losing this frequency is relatively common in the elderly (RUDE!), but he couldn't figure out how I'd lost it in only one ear. The fluid ear has perfect hearing. We will have to do an MRI to see if all the signals from my ear are being sent to the brain, but I am definitely scheduling that for a school day. And I'm eating first, too.
I'm pretty sure my hearing loss is caused from all the bad, loud music I have been subjected to. I specifically blame the Grateful Dead, and even more specifically fault this one guitar lick I was forced to endure repeatedly, at unimaginable decibels and in the dim light of one candle and some glowsticks. It was excruciating, and even the memory of it blanches my skin. That lick, and Sarah Palin's voice. I must never hear them again, not even for a moment.

I'm a little sad to be deef, even though I don't notice it, because nobody uses those extreme high pitches in daily conversation. My sister keeps testing me, squeaking nasty things about me to her husband in the voice of a dolphin. He yells at me like Garrett Morris in the old Weekend Update skits on Saturday Night Live. The upside is that when my school calls me to tell me it's time to come back, I can be late and tell them I couldn't hear what time they said. I can guilt my students into being quiet while I tell them interminable stories about the history of Mount Rushmore. And if I ever meet a handsome gentleman who strikes my fancy- and believe you me, my fancy could use some serious striking- I can say, "Hey, why don'tcha come a little closer and whisper in my ear...I can hear you better that way!"

QUERY: The other day, Tuesday to be exact, 78 people looked at my blog. I can account for about 30 of those hits myself (I can't help it! I think I'm fascinating!), and at least 10 of them were probably searching for that Blue Meanie I used that one time, but still and all, that's a lot of people! Who are you? How did you get here? What are you looking for?
I can only figure it's because I said 'cocksucker'. You like it when I talk dirty, don'tcha?! Who's a Naughty Ned or Nancy?! You are, dirty bird!
Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you're reading, thanks. Don't cyberstalk me and steal my identity, ok?
NOTES to folks: Smurp, Jono and Kari - I'm so happy we've reconnected! Thanks for being so nice to me! I'm looking forward to getting to know you all over again!
E.D.B. - Doh! I said it again! Sorry about the potty talk!
KB - Welcome back!
Jenn- I love you. Let me know if I can help.
For LSD: A topless bikini photo



Monday, August 2, 2010

More than you ever wanted to know about...

MOUNT RUSHMORE!!!!!!!

It stormed the day we went to Mount Rushmore. Great rivulets of water dyed the gray stone black.The presidents looked considerably less grand and dignified with pools of liquid roping from their mouths and nostrils.
A fellow visitor and his family stood next to me at the floor-to-ceiling windows in the huge Rushmore cafeteria. They all wore fanny packs and t-shirts that boasted other family trips to various national monuments. "Tourists, " I mentally sniffed, as if I had been born and raised just next door in the gift shop.
"Look, kids. The mountains are weeping."
Instantly I was shamed. The man I had written off as the Ugly American had the soul of a poet. He cleared his voice and went on, a little louder this time, so that all of us that stood around could hear the truth and beauty of his words. I leaned in more closely.
"That's because Obama is in the White House! Har, har, har!"
Mount Rushmore has an interesting history, much of which doesn't speak of what is best about Americans. Part of a range originally known as "The Six Grandfathers", the mountain was considered sacred to the Lakota and Cheyenne, and had been deeded in perpetuity to the tribes, along with the rest of the Black Hills region, in 1868. (The Six Grandfathers includes Mount Harney, which I'll talk about later. I know how much you guys like continuity, so I wanted to be sure to alert you, and tip you off to digging my flow!) That was before miners discovered the lucrative value of the land and its resources, which included timber that could be floated down the Cheyenne and Missouri Rivers, and a multitude of minerals, including, of course, gold. (And lithum! Yum!) The rush was in full swing and growing when a "negotiating" committee went to "talk" to tribal leaders about just giving the Black Hills back, on account of that would be the "right neighborly thing to do, cocksucker." (NOTE: While I was not actually at this meeting, and therefore had to fabricate this quote, I am assured by HBO's Deadwood series that the language I am employing is realistic and authentic. Far be it from me to curse gratuitously or to risk offending my readership with obscenities; I'm just all about accuracy, and as such, I seek only to inform you with the utmost respect to veracity and verisimilitude. Plus, if you say it enough, as I found myself compelled to do throughout South Dakota and particularly in the actual town of Deadwood, you find that after awhile the word just rolls off the tongue in a rather pleasing manner...) Colonel John E. Smith recognized the importance of the Hills to the Lakota; in fact, he said that they were the only portion of the reservation "worth anything to them," and that "nothing short of their annihilation will get it from them." (NOTE: This quote is real, and comes from a letter from the Colonel to his commanding general, General Ord. It would have been a lot spicier if I had made it up, but as I told you, I'm all about truth in journalism. General Ord was a known cross-dresser and often worked in the saloons of nearby Wyoming. Not really. I made that part up. Interesting though, right?)
I guess I don't really have to tell you what came next. We waged war and destroyed the indigenous people, stole their land, and called it progress, as it advanced our economic goals. After the land was raped and resources were depleted, the Gold Rush disappeared as quickly as it had begun, and Homesteaders were paid to take the land and farm it. As I mentioned before, many of those claims, and claims of the miners, are still honored today. The mountain that had been known as 'Cougar Mountain' 'Slaughterhouse Mountain', and Keystone Cliffs', among other names, became Mount Rushmore, in honor of a lawyer from New York who came on a prospecting mission in 1885. (And do you know who else was on this mission? David Swanzey, who was married to the boring Little House on the Prarie sister, Carrie, who lived in Keystone! See how it all comes back around and ties together?)
The monument was created in order to build tourism for South Dakota. This was the vision of Doane Robinson, a lawyer from Wisconsin, who later became South Dakota's State Historian. He originally wanted to depict a sort of scope of history thing that would show steps in America's progress, but that was vetoed when he found his sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. (NOTE: I know it sounds like I made this name up. It is, in its own way, as fantastic a fake name as McLovin. However, I can't take credit for this one. Somebody actually had an adorable little infant, took one look at him and said proudly, "Gutzon! You are, and shall forever be, Gutzon!") Mr. Borglum, well-known, respected sculptor and sassy-assed diva, refused to sculpt something with unnamed personages on it, and said that if he had any part of this endeavor, it would have to be of the national and historical significance that was befitting of his work. Borglum himself chose the four presidents who would grace Mt. Rushmore, all of whom were in office during the acquisition of Native American land.
A moment here to speak of ol' Gutzon. Born in 1885 in St. Charles, Idaho, Gutzon Borglum was proud to be an American, which he defined as being born of American parents. This was a bit ironic, as his own parents were Dutch immigrants. Not only that, they were Mormons, who, in the 1800's were being jailed left and right for their practice of polygamy. According to a website devoted to Mormon missions, Dearelder.com, http://www.dearelder.com/index/inc_name/Mormon/title2/Mormon_Polygamy, "The Lord recognized that the Church would not be allowed to progress while it still practiced Mormon polygamy. So in 1890 the Lord commanded the people of the Mormon church to stop practicing polygamy." Mighty obliging of the Lord, right? Unfortunately, that was too late for Papa Borglum, who had two wives, Gutzon's birth mother and her sister. Eventually, the senior Borglum tired of Mormonism and of polygamy, or perhaps just of Borglum's mother. He moved to Omaha, where polygamy was forbidden, and ditched Borglum's mother, upon which she was never mentioned again. (NOTE: This info came from an ep of PBS's American Experience, so you KNOW it's true!) Gutzon, an uber-patriot nativist, proved himself once again to be on the side of the right when he immortalized heroes of the Confederacy on Stone Mountain in Georgia. He was an active Freemason, and an active member of the Klan, who were major financial supporters of the Mount Rushmore sculpture.
Funding was always an enormous obstacle for the Rushmore project. Though Doane Robinson had been advocating the idea of the monument for years, it wasn't until Calvin Coolidge was persuaded to vacation in South Dakota in 1927 that the concept began to look concrete. (Get it? Good one, huh? Mt. Rushmore is actually granite, but who cares.) South Dakotans gifted the president and Mrs. Coolidge with many things, including boots and a cowboy hat, in which Coolidge took to swaggering around the porch. He climbed - but didn't summit - Mount Harney (What a wussy! Stay tuned for STILL more to come about Mt. Harney! I know! I can hardly wait either!), and tried fly fishing, at which he was an immediate pro, largely because the good Dakotans stocked the lake with fat trout from the local fish hatchery. When Coolidge dedicated the site and presented Borglund with ceremonial drill bits, Borglund asked him to write a 500 word explanation of the site that would also be carved into the mountain.* In 1930, Borglund released a version of Coolidge's "Entablature" that Borglund had edited. It was widely mocked by literary critics, and though Borglund later admitted that he had changed the presidents words, a rift between Borglund and Coolidge developed. Towards the end of his life, someone asked President Coolidge about Borglund.
"About how far would you say 'tis from here to the Black Hills?" Coolidge asked.
The questioner said it was about 1500 miles.
"Well, y'know....that's as close to Mr. Borglund as I care to be." (NOTE: PBS again. I don't make this stuff up, people!**)
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush officially dedicated Mount Rushmore as a National Monument. Until then, it was known officially only as Giant White Heads on Black Hills.
I tell you what, visiting Mount Rushmore really opened my eyes. Proud to be an American? You betcha! Just not so much at Mt. Rushmore. Good snack shop, though.
*Except of course when I actually do make this stuff up.
**Borglund originally intended to write the Entablature in three languages, English, Latin and Sanskrit, so that future generations would be sure to understand the monument's import. Unfortunately, by the 1930's, Sanskrit and Latin were already dead languages, so I guess only REAL Americans (and some Brits, Canadians and Irish folk - I don't think Scots actually speak English, though they say they do) really needed to understand anyway.