Thursday, November 22, 2012

ON THE AVENUES: Faux thanks and reveries, remixed.

ON THE AVENUES: Faux thanks and reveries, remixed.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

New Albany’s bicentennial program template seems firmly established as we approach Year Zero, and that’s unfortunate.

Apart from the solitary tangible gain of a laughably over-priced, wrongly situated and generically designed public area, variously known as Somnolent Estates, Rent Boy Park and Caesar’s Folly, we’ll have a carpetbagger’s coffee table book to remember the rare old times, as well as a whole slate of events priced primarily to recoup the book’s lamentable costs, wherein the local Romney demographic wears period costumes, dances the minuet, and recites the enumerated hagiography of the historic preservation code.

It’s all safe, white-bread and conservative, and fully appropriate for the buck-a-day extras at yet another Lewis & Clark expedition commemorative film, but it remains that the problem with making our bicentennial entirely about the city’s past, and not at least in part about our future, is that doing so begs a rather embarrassing question.

Why were our urban forefathers adept at city building, but their modern-day ancestors able to muster little more in terms of achievement than decay management?

You might react defensively.

Haven’t we come a long way during the past few years?

(We have. But what about the three decades before that?)

Downtown is revitalizing, isn’t it?

(If eating and drinking’s your thing, yes it is. If retail gains, residential enhancement or complete streets interest you, then welcome to our default condition of stasis)

But Roger, don’t I look great dressed up as a Scribner?

(You needn’t ask me. I’ll be sober in the morning, but we’ll collectively experience this bicentennial hangover for the rest of our lives. You might inquire of that child over there, assuming he’ll relinquish his iPhone)

And so, the travesty wrought by the Coup d’Geriatrique is upon us. An empty liquor bottle meets pavement, and River View plans are recycled as Bazooka Joe bubble gum cartoons.

Somewhere in the city, a dog barks.


Enough about tragedies we can’t avoid, but only resolve to withhold our financial support from the general direction of. The hallowed committee will get the money it needs, anyway, from a city council determined never to ask the same questions of self-identified movers and shakers as it would routinely demand of a homeless shelter or copier paper requisition request.

After all, it’s Thanksgiving!

A couple of years ago, before those lowly field hands laboring on behalf of humorless Alabama retirees demanded my newspaper platform be dismembered as punishment for the audacity to seek local office, I made an observation: There’s never any better time than Thanksgiving for an iconoclast’s thoughts to be made public.

(As a side note, it remains somewhat futile to expect anyone to read my outpouring of words on Thursday, the holiday itself. Given the inability of many New Albanian readers to wade through my pages without scratching their heads in vocabularic confusion, it strikes me as impolite to expect them to waste valuable football viewing time in what surely would become a frustrating, household-wide search for seldom-used dictionaries and thesauruses. But alas, I am nothing if not stubborn. It’s why they pay me the big money, after all)

Let’s revisit the notion of “iconoclast”:

1. A breaker or destroyer of images, esp. those set up for religious veneration (like the bicentennial junta’s year-long fixation on the year 1872).

2. A person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition … rather like your humble correspondent.

While others grew up idolizing athletes and rock stars, my own heroes have always been iconoclasts. From Socrates through Tom Paine, and not exempting 20th-century polemicists like H. L. Mencken, there’s nothing quite like an iconoclast taking a headlong swipe at unexamined assumptions to make me take notice.

Consequently, it is my duty to remind you that Thanksgiving, while perfectly enjoyable from a hedonist’s standpoint, and wholly conducive to this bibulous trencherman’s standards, actually stands for something more than gluttony and sports.

But that certain “something” isn’t the prevailing viewpoint that the Puritans and Natives once merrily gathered for a quaint New England picnic, pausing only occasionally from the consumption of corn chowder and non-alcoholic cranberry wine to pray to their respective deities for continued prosperity and happiness.

Rather, it is this:

The need for Christian apologetics aside, and whether or not Squanto miraculously facilitated a peaceful first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, the subsequent history of the white man on the North American continent boasted the unabated slaughter of Native Americans, incessant pillaging of the environment, and an exculpatory doctrine of “manifest destiny” interwoven with prevailing Christianity, as intended to ease the consciences (if any) of those pulling the triggers.

We’ll leave the approval of African-American slavery emanating for many generations from Southern pulpits for another day of faux “thanks.”

In the context of genuine American history, and to the exclusion of mythology and wishful thinking, the holiday we term “Thanksgiving” is ironic, to say the very least. I prefer reflections on all human history to be in accordance with the record, and as events actually occurred, without the tidying impulse to obscure and sanitize them.

I accept that people in all places and times do what they can with what they have, and believe that the best we can hope for is to learn from the past in the hope of learning worthwhile lessons and avoiding mistakes. In my opinion, the worst error of all is to misrepresent the historical record to justify theological needs. Or, conversely, those of a bicentennial committee.

Yes, I observe Thanksgiving, too. It’s just that I do it realistically.


America’s Christmas shopping season now commences on Labor Day, and it will reach a crescendo tomorrow, on November 23, which frenzied pop culture vultures have dubbed Black Friday. Pavlov’s overworked and fever-ridden mutt can be expected to salivate continuously as university economics school analysts seek to determine if holiday season retail sales will be sufficient to keep Wal-Mart, Best Buy and their many splendored suppliers in China solvent for another year.

At least there’s food on Thanksgiving. As oft times before, this means a short drive across the as yet untolled Sherman Minton Bridge to Louisville’s South End and transformative dining at the venerable Vietnam Kitchen. Iconoclasm aside, I enjoy the traditional Norman Rockwell spread as much as anyone, but cooking it at home simply isn’t an option for us, and this year, it’s already been deconstructed for me at Bank Street Brewhouse by Chef Matt Weirich.

Our Thanksgiving preference is to indulge in crisp spring rolls, exotic peppery noodle dishes and the occasional clay pot catfish, with French coffee for dessert. After all, to each his own “tradition” – and may yours not be harmful to others.

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