Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dr. Strangelove Changed My Life

Mention of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 black humor masterpiece Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in something I was reading took me back for a moment to the pivotal role the film played in shaping my life.

In 1973, almost a decade after its release, I was deciding where to pursue my Ph.D. Following the advice of two of my St. Cloud State University professors, Dr. Jonathan Lawson and Dr. James Lundquist, I had applied to, and been accepted at (respectively), Texas Christian University and the University of Florida. TCU had made me a better offer (a fellowship that required no teaching), but I had some misgivings about moving to Texas. What would it be like to actually live in Fort Worth, I wanted to know, asking Dr. Lawson for an honest response. "Well, let me put it this way: when Slim Pickens rode the bomb down at the end of Dr. Strangelove, the audience I saw it with in Fort Worth gave him a standing ovation."

The next year I became a Gator. At U of F I would meet my wife. If I had gone to TCU, we could never have met. I might have married someone else, might have had children, but they would not have been these amazing women: Joyce, my wife of 27 years, or my daughters Rachel (26) and Sarah (21). If not for Kubrick's film, I would have gone to Texas and my life could not possibly have been this life.

In 1977, I was given the GTA assignment of introducing Dr. Strangelove to a 300-400 student "Introduction to Film" class at U of F. As part of my remarks, I told a version of the story above. As the film came to an end, as Major Kong again climbed on top of that nuclear warhead that would bring about Doomsday, hollered his rebel yell, and waved his cowboy hat, the class rose in unison and gave him a standing ovation. From my place in the back of the auditorium, I both shuttered and laughed and felt glad I was a Gator.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Heard on The Colbert Report

Heard on The Colbert Report:

"I don't see race. People tell me I am white, and I believe them because I belong to an all-white country club."

"I have no problem with the Gays. What they do in the privacy of my imagination is nobody's business."

"I know we have been together a year America, but I would still so do you" (on the CR's first anniversary).

"Is America ready for a Black President? Who thought Forrest Whitaker would become the last king of Scotland?"

Bonds will Never Break Aaron's Record

The always brilliant Onion has figured out how to stop Barry Bonds from becoming the all-time home run champion.

If only it could be done.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Whedon in Turkey

I hsve just been invited to give the keynote address at

BUFFY HEREAFTER: From the Whedonverse to the Whedonesque:
An Interdisciplinary Conference on the Work of Joss Whedon and its Aftereffects

17-19 October 2007
Istanbul, Turkey

If memory serves, the Bringers killed a Potential there in the first episode of Season Seven, but I was most honored to be invited nonetheless. I even have a title already:

Keeping the Faith: Joss Whedon’s "Religion in Narrative" and Contemporary Television

Website here:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Sad news this morning that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. has died. He was 84.

It would be difficult to describe the tremendous impact his books--Mother Night, Player Piano, Slaughterhouse Five, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Breakfast of Champions, Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle (what a legacy!)--had on us in the 1970s. His cosmically dark sense of humor has stayed with me to this day.

Thinking today about Vonnegut's appearance in the Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School (1986). A "big and tall" store millionaire, Dangerfield's Thorton Melon hires Vonnegut to write his son's college paper on Kurt Vonnegut, and Kurt gets, well, a "D."

I wrote about him in two essays:

“The Tenth Symphony.” Georgia Review 35 (1981): 583-93.

“Dissertations as Fictions.” College English 31 (1980): 675-79.

In Media Res

With Sean Hockett, I have now contributed an entry to In Media Res, the Flow spinoff blog.

Go here to see it.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The High Point of My Life

With baseball season underway in the United States, I thought I would take this opportunity to recall my favorite baseball memory, which, not coincidentally, might just have been the high point of my life.

I started following baseball in earnest in 1960, at not yet 11 years of age. Growing up in Oil City, Pennsylvania, I was naturally a Pittsburgh Pirates fan (the Steel City was some 60 miles to the south). The family even made the trek to the Pittsburgh that summer to see a game, a huge sacrifice on my parents' part, since they dreaded big cities. The Pirates won that game at the now long-gone Forbes Field--won it, as I recall on a home run by Hall of Fame 2nd baseman Bill Mazeroski in a case of obvious foreshadowing.

It was a good year to become a Pirates fan, for Pittsburgh won the National League pennant that year. With the big-swinging "Doctor Strangeglove" Dick Stuart and the distinctly weird Rocky Nelson platooning at First, Maz performing flawlessly at Second, Dick Groat winning the NL batting title at Short, the tough-as-nails Don Hoak at Third, lanky Bob Skinner in Left, the flawless Bill Virdon (or occasionally Gino Cimoli) in Center, my childhood hero, one of the greatest players ever, Roberto Clemente, in Right, the fireplug Smoky Burgess and Hal Smith alternating behind the plate, and a pitching staff that included Cy Young winner Vernon Law, Bob Friend, Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, Harvey Haddix, and the ace reliever Roy Face, a fork baller, it was a solid team.

But they faced the Yankees in the series, and New York countered with the likes of Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, and Mickey Mantle. The series went to seven games, with the Pirates eeking out wins in Games 1, 4, and 5 by scores of 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2, and the Yankees winning by big margins: 16-3 in Game 2, 10-0 in Game 3, 12-0 in Game 6.

The World Series was played back then during the day, which meant that when Game 7 in Pittsburgh came around, I would be in school. It was a difficult time for our family. My father was in the hospital with colitis, but I could think of little else but baseball. As the day wore on, reports trickled into Seventh Street Elementary School's Sixth Grade classroom about the progress of the game. The Pirates had been ahead 4-1 until the 6th, when the Yankee bats came to life, and the Pirates fell behind, first by a run, then by three.

When Mrs. Day reported that the Yankees were ahead by 7 to 4, I knew action was needed. I asked permission for an emergency trip to the restroom, where I succeeded in making myself vomit and being sent home early. I had never done anything like this before and never would again. Like Willow in Buffy, I was "very seldom naughty." Home was three blocks away, and as I came through the front door, Pirate catcher Hal Smith, an unlikely hero, was rounding third after stroking a three run homer that miraculously put the Pirates ahead by two.

I was planted firmly in front of our black and white television minutes later when Bill Mazeroski would lead off the last of the ninth against Yankee reliever Ralph Terry, about to deliver one of the most famous gopher balls in the history of baseball. Repeating the feat I had seen in person earlier in the summer, Maz hit a fly ball that sent Yogi Berra back only to watch as it sailed over the ivy-colored left field wall. It was a walk-off home-run (though we didn't have the term then), still the only one in the seventh game of a World Series.

And my life has been all downhill since. It was the high point of my life. I would never again feel so certain that fate was on my side.