Living Blue in the Red States
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, Sandy, for her love, and for all the support and advice she provides for my many projects. I am, of course, deeply grateful to all the wonderful and enthusiastic contributors to this book, though I'm particularly in debt to those who embraced the living blue concept very early in...
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On the evening of the 2004 Presidential election, I sat at the computer in my Santa Barbara home and willed the voters in the Cleveland-area precincts to carry Ohio into the blue, Democratic column. I poured all my mental energy into it. If Ohio went for John Kerry, there might be just enough Electoral College votes to tip the balance...
Part One: West
1. Another Way of Saying
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The first time I saw the bear known as Fred, he was pacing along the far bank of McNeil River toward two other brown bears that were consorting. "Consorting" is the lyrical word wildlife biologists use to describe the way bears shadow each other when they're not quite ready to mate. When the female paused, the male...
2. Hauling Water
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For five years, I lived in the cedar-sided hip-roof cabin at the top of Old Wood Way. As Alaskan cabins go, it was pretty deluxe. It was maybe sixteen by thirty feet and had a big deck that faced south and almost a full second-story loft up the steep stairs. At the end of the cabin that was my kitchen, I had a small white table...
3. Red Politics and Blue in Wyoming
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I've spent many years repairing windmills with my father-in-law at his Four Mile Ranch. There are nineteen of these windmills on the broken land that looks west to the Bighorn Mountains and east to Powder River. It's mostly grunt and sweat labor, though we've got an old rig truck that we use to pull the galvanized...
4. Running in the Red
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For five years I have been running the roads of southeastern Idaho, always in the morning, often before sun up, every season of the year. Usually the only others I meet on my route are the dairy farmers calling to their cows with low "hoo-yahs" and the occasional car driven...
Part Two: Midwest
5. Election Season
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The man on the corner, Ed, has a snowblower, and all winter, whenever we get a fresh accumulation, he cleans out his driveway and then the sidewalk as far as my own drive, three houses down the cul-de-sac. I don't know him very well, but when I watch him clearing...
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It's Christmas Eve, 4:00 a.m., and my brother is dead. In some terrible way, it has taken his entire family. They will never think of December without that shiver of dread, like a pulled thread in a very expensive, rare cloth. It is a month, a holiday, that has been ruined forever...
7. Here Was Johnny
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In May of 2003 my wife Sheyene and I moved from Manhattan, Kansas, "The Little Apple," to Venice Beach, California. The move was a remarkable uprooting for both of us. Sheyene is considerably younger than I am, but she had lived her entire life in Kansas, growing up in...
8. America, Where's Your Sense of Humor?
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In the years following the 2004 elections, a remarkable number of remarkably diverse studies appeared, each assessing the reddish or bluish nature of one or another topic. All but one study, the distribution of humorists within the fifty states, which I personally...
9. Control Issues
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I missed my connection from Ljubljana to Frankfurt and had to be rerouted, so on my flight to America, I was placed in the last row by the bathroom. A young man, Arabic-looking, sat down beside me. He looked flustered. "I never in this lifetime," he said. "I am through with this planet. You see, they put me here so the other passengers...
10. A Campaign That Failed
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I talked them into it. I said we could change the course of history. I asked them if they knew how many Democrats there were one hour from where our feet at this moment rested. I said I had figured out the election would be decided by ten electoral votes. Guess how many electoral votes Missouri...
Part Three: South
11. Playing Debussy in the Heart of Dixie
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Ten or twelve years ago, Mark Childress published a novel (Crazy in Alabama) that enjoyed some notoriety and was made into a film by Antonio Banderas. I recall picking up the book when it first appeared, thinking it looked interesting. Then I reread the title: Crazy in...
12. The Kreskin Effect
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It was Friday night. No school tomorrow. I was a kid, and I loved The Tonight Show. Permission requested and granted. Watching Carson with my father is how I got to know his sense of humor, an affinity for slapstick and other forms of silliness. My own sense of humor fell in line. I laughed until I cried. And I learned. It was on...
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Last week at my Aunt Libby's funeral I sat halfway back in the Baptist church in the suburbs of Greenville, South Carolina. The pews were hard and dark. It was a tag-team service that went on way too long. I brooded while the two preachers talked off and on for an hour about...
14. How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Swamp in South Carolina
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The air is bright and windless. In the shade, the temperature hovers in the mid-fifties. But here, in the campus parking lot, in the sunlight behind the magnolia trees, I can imagine it's summer. To me, this is truly amazing. Before today, I'd been south of the Mason-Dixon line only once...
15. Rescue the Drowning, Tie Your Shoe-Strings
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In the spring of 2005, I attended a banquet for a few dozen of our brightest students who'd come to Arkansas on a Sturgis Fellowship, one of our university's most sought-after scholarships. We only award seven to ten of them each year, and so in any semester, we've got about...
16. P Is For...
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"Cheraw, ma'am." Of all the words I've heard spoken in my life, few others---excepting some from loved ones---have stayed so clearly in the foreground of my mind and ear: the foreign-to-me sounds emitted from the white-coated druggist via these three (four?) syllables are difficult to...
17. Minority within Minority: Dynamics of Race and Culture in the New South
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Midsummer came like an armed man, sudden and violent. The doorbell rang. Not long afterwards, my wife, Malaika, shouted up the stairs, "Gordon's here!" I caught up with Gordon on the last step of the staircase. He put his left arm around my shoulder, and we both...
18. Theater of Operations
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1. The teenaged Roman emperor Elagabalus (ad 218-222) sent minions forth into the empire to gather people with the biggest hernias. These unfortunates were then made to compete in athletic events at the palace baths. For his pleasure. See, the leadership isn't...
19. The World Loves New Orleans, but America Has Not Come to Its Rescue
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Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was laced with tropical greens---ferns, banana trees, palms of every sort, rugged grasses like St. Augustine or crab, and ornamental grasses like monkey or blue sliver, plus enormous oaks and evergreens tall and bushy, swamp cypress...
20. Louisiana's New Political Landscape
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A glamorous nine-year-old named Garland got up in the window of Mona Lisa, a funky French Quarter restaurant, and belted out a passionate rendition of Carole King's "Natural Woman." She sang every word of every verse, throwing herself into the high notes, closing her eyes and holding one hand up. Amused, slightly inebriated...
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When I was growing up, the South was hot. Always hot. Day and night. You sweated in the morning, though a little bit less, and you sweated more and more as the day heated up. You didn't go out in the middle of the day unless---everyone in my family agreed---you wanted to pass...
Afterword: Writing the Personal Political Essay
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In "Living to Tell the Tale: The Complicated Ethics of Creative Nonfiction," Lynn Bloom writes: "the writer of creative nonfiction has to play fair. This is a statement of both ethics and aesthetics. The presentation of the truth the writer tells, however partisan, cannot seem...
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Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2007