America

The Last Time the World was Supposed to End

A Y2K bunker. Although it doesn’t look like this one was very well-supplied.

So we survived yet another supposed apocalypse.You know, I have never been able to take threats of the end of the world very seriously.  I suppose it’s due to the fact that in recent year, the talk of the end of days has come from the extreme type, those whose religious views are so out there that they may as well be something out of a bad movie about a cult.  I suppose our popular culture hasn’t helped either.  Turn on your average cable channel these days and while you surf through the low- class sideshow it has become (seriously, this is what I begged my parents for when I was a teenager?) you will more than likely come across a History Channel special where faux academics are interviewed about the vague statements made by someone before the flushable toilet was invented, or stuff like Doomsday Preppers.

I am not sure if the shows like these glorify these idiots or ridicule them.  It seems like the fringe is more in the spotlight than they ever were, but it is hard to consider them “legitimate” because there really aren’t any threats anymore.  It’s not like it’s 1962 anymore and we’re all building bombs shelters in our backyards because we are all scared of the bomb.  As advanced as I guess the Mayans seemed, it was an ancient prophecy that seemed as unlikely as the prediction made last year by some dipwad who claimed that The Rapture was upon us (although I always thought The Rapture was not really in the book of Revelation, and instead was manufactured by someone who wanted followers to give him money).  Besides, I had already become skeptical of apocalypse predictions years ago when Y2K didn’t happen.

Now, I’ m sure that most people who may read this remember what Y2K was, but its prominence as a threat to our society seems to have faded over time, becoming a footnote at least or the answer to a trivia question at best.  In fact, the sophomores I teach had no idea what I was talking about when we were talking about the Mayan Apocalypse during some down time on the last day of classes before Christmas break.  So, if you don’t know or don’t remember, Y2K was basically a widespread computer glitch that was going to destroy us all.  The problem, basically, was that most co.puters were programmed with internal clocks that only displayed years with two digits.  So, 1999 was simply 99.  And on January 1, 2000, these computers would all display “00,” and since they didn’t know the difference between centuries, the computers would think it was not 2000, but 1900, and would shut down or something.

I first learned about it in Time when I came  across the article “The End of the World As We Know It,” a title I suppose the magazine’s editors probably thought was hip but was really groan-worthy.  Anyway, I had come across the article when I was in the Honors Program study lounge at Loyola, intending to do what everyone who went to the lounge always did, which was nap on the couch.  Instead I got sucked into the story of the the Eckhart family of rural Ohio, who were among a population of very religious people who were convinced that it was the End of Days and had started to stockpile all sorts of supplies,including weapons, for the coming doom.  They had even gone as far as to make bunkers, just like it was the Cuban Missile Crisis all over again.  I was a typically self-absorbed college senior whose two major concerns were writing my weekly column in the student paper, and having the gas money to get to my girlfriend’s house on Friday night.  Besides, I was set to graduate in May and only pulling 12 credits that semester, so I really didn’t give a crap.

Okay, that’s not entirely true,because I did run a Y2K compliance check on my computer (because my PC was so decrepit at that point that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had exploded that January 1), and I had seen enough science fiction to wonder if it could really happen.  But really, I just went about my business. (more…)

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America’s Pastime

Page 1 of “America’s Pastime” from the 9-11: Volume 2 collection.

We open on a bar on the night of October 27, 2001.  A Red Sox bar, specifically, based on the Boston pennant on the wall above what I believe is a framed Pedro Martinez jersey (although the jersey is #47 and Martinez wore #45, but anyway …), and the big guy in a Red Sox jacket nursing a beer and watching Game 1 of the World Series.  A moment later, his friend walks in and the big guy, Tommy, notices that his friend, Jimmy, is wearing a Yankees hat (more specifically, he asks, “Who crapped on yer head?”).  Jimmy explains that after all New York has been through, it seemed that rooting for the Yankees was the right thing to do, for both New York and for America.  Tommy reminds him that they’re from Boston and that despite what happened, they do not, under any circumstances, root for the Yankees.  He runs down the list of what their team from Boston–“The Birthplace of America” as he calls it–have been through: Buckner, Mo Vaughn leaving, Clemens pitching for New York, Yankees’ fans cockiness, Derek Jeter, and tells Jimmy, “What happened on 9/11–you can’t let if affect you that way, Jimmy, ’cause that’s what they want.  I’m tellin’ you–if you root for the #@$!! Yankees … the terrorists win.”

Jimmy thinks for a moment, puts his hat down on the bar and says “Go D-Backs.”

That’s the gist of a two-page story entitled “America’s Pastime” written by Brian Azarello and drawn by Eduardo Risso that was published in 9-11 Volume 2, a DC Comics-released collection of short pieces that were done as a reflection on the events of September 11, 2001.  Along with the first volume, which was produced and published by several “indie” comics companies, the profits of the sales of this book went to the 9/11 victims funds, and featured many pieces that were done by both minor and major comics creators and for the most part used ordinary heroes in their stories (although there were a few super-hero-related stories in the DC one).

I briefly mentioned this particular piece last year when I wrote about “This Too Shall Pass,” the Marv Wolfman-penned story that starred Raven of the New Titans, and did say that it is one of my favorite pieces in the book because Azzarello’s script gives us a little bit of levity in a volume that can often get heavy-handed.  But looking at it a little more closely this year as I reread this and other pieces, I wanted to write about it because it made me think of one of the very first posts on my very first blog (which was called “Inane Crap”).  Dated October 24, 2001, it was called “I Guess I Hate New York” and is more or less a rant that is similar to the one in Azzarello and Risso’s story, as I expressed my frustration with the idea that suddenly the Yankees were America’s team and that rooting for them to win the World Series was somehow the “right” thing to do: (more…)

Get Out the Map

What is American is one of those things that is so hard to determine that at this point, it’s almost like a philosophical dilemma rather than a physical entity.  Many have tried to define or capture it; in fact, it seems that the right wing has sought to trademark it for the last couple of decades.  But pinning the answer to that question to one definition is never successful, and it seems that the journey to find that answer is just as if not more important.  Such is the case with Shainee Gabel and Kristin Hahn’s Anthem: An American Road Story.

In the summer of 1995, the two women, fed up with their jobs, decided to interview as many people as they possibly could under the auspices of looking for the definition of our country, of American heroes, and of the American Dream.  The result was a chronicle of that trip told through both a book and a film.

I am not sure if either the film or book were very popular upon their release, as I came in after the fact, getting the book as swag in the summer of 1998 when I interned for its publisher, Avon Books.  I was quite possibly the worst intern in the history of publishing because aside from free books and the ability to fix a five-way copier jam in under a minute, I took nothing away from my experience except for the desire to not work in publishing and to not spend my life commuting into Manhattan via the Long Island Rail Road.

But my ultimately unrewarding experience aside (which, by the way, is compounded by the fact that I turned down an interview for an unpaid internship with a major comics publisher because this internship was paid and I didn’t want my parents to be upset that I was working for no money), I got some very good reads out of it and Anthem was one of them.  During my time in editorial, the book’s editor, Jennifer Hershey, had a large poster of the cover to the paperback edition (Gabel and Hahn standing in a road holding their recording equipment) on the wall of her office and a huge stack of the hardcover edition by her door.  I either asked for a copy or swiped one (probably the former) because the concept of two people taking a road trip to interview people intrigued me, as it was a huge risk for someone to take with her life and I was one of the most risk-averse people in the world (still am to an extent).

I read Anthem on the train, taking it in kind of passively.  I don’t think that’s the type of reaction that the authors were looking for from a reader, but it’s not their fault; at that time I had the perspective of an overprivileged white college student who really knew nothing about the world beyond beers on Saturday.  Oh sure, I had service learning in classes that had me volunteering in sketchy areas of Baltimore and there was a professor or two that required a subscription to The New York Times, but the atmosphere at Loyola was very insulating; I went to college for four years and really didn’t take the time to look very much beyond myself or my own shit.  So really, it’s not their fault. (more…)

Liberty Enlightening the World

So a week or two ago, I was cleaning up some stuff in my basement and in a huge Rubbermaid tub that was full of old VHS tapes found an old tape labeled “Liberty Weekend.”  I don’t remember grabbing it from my parents’ house when I moved away, but that’s not a surprise considering I grabbed quite a few things from their basement that I am sure they were happy to get rid of.

Still, I had to wonder why we had a tape labeled “Liberty Weekend” (not why I grabbed it–that’s explained by my love of having random crap) and then I noticed that the handwriting on the label was neither mine nor my parents’.  It was that of my dad’s old friend, Chuck, or “Uncle” Chuck as we used to call him.  He was the guy who once copied the entire Star Wars trilogy from laserdisc to VHS for me, so that meant that he’d probably put something together either using the footage from Liberty Weekend or for Liberty Weekend.

After realizing what it was, I had to wonder why he had put together the tape to begin with, unless he had been trying out some sort of editing equipment and decided to have a little fun.  Then, I actually started to watch the tape and remembered how huge the Statue of Liberty centennial celebration was twenty-five years ago.  So much so that not only did I decide to take the time to reflect on the weekend but a lot more.

Because in all honesty, it was very hard to escape the Statue of Liberty’s 100th anniversary, especially if you were a kid living in the New York City area.  The weekend of July 4, 1986 was a four-day party in and around New York City (especially New York harbor) and it was quite possibly one of the hugest things I had seen at the time, or since.  But the story really starts a few years earlier and encompasses more than a fireworks show and a concert that wound up in my basement in Virginia a quarter century later.

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