Tag Archives: History

Making a Virtue Out of Necessity

1 Jul

This morning, I made one of my favorite breakfasts–biscuits and gravy. I made vegan substitutions (tempeh and sage instead of sausage), but it turned out pretty good. But it made me realize that that dish was really an example of making something yummy out of limited resources.

If you go back a hundred years, food was a third to half of your family budget. So you had to stretch out the food you had to cover more than one person. What I made for dinner last night would have qualified: vegetable and lentil soup and “buttermilk” biscuits (soy milk curdled with lemon juice). In 1922, flour was cheap, and most people had a garden. Some people even had a greenhouse to have vegetables into the winter and spring. Even then, you still need to pickle or can your harvested veggies to ensure that you had a supply year-round. So dried beans were cheap (and still are), throw in some of your limited veg, and then add a lot of water. Wheat flour was cheap (still is), so some sort of bread carbs everyone up to feel full and well-fed.

However, due to a series of unexpected events, no one ate my dinner last night, so I had all these biscuits left over. Perfect, I thought, and I made some gravy. What is gravy made from? MORE flour, water, and a fractional amount of sausage. You salt and pepper it and you’re able to stretch a limited amount of food into a yummy breakfast. Coffee falls under dried beans–they last forever, they’re not that expensive, and you can cook them at the time you need them.

So here was a dish that was incredibly easy to make, relatively inexpensive, and yet it’s something I find rare and special. I have made a virtue out of necessity. It’s similar to my theory that all delicacies are “something you ate when you were starving.” It’s only when you’re able to afford steak for dinner or a fish fry on Fridays that you think, “Gee, wasn’t it nice to have biscuits and gravy?”

I love quoting Samuel Johnson (the guy who invented the dictionary) every time I eat oatmeal. “Oats – in England, a food for horses; in Scotland, a food for men.” I do it because oatmeal is very yummy… and I’m at least half or more Scottish. Dr. Sam was making fun of the Scots because they were backward, but really, they were poor. But it grows well in wet ground and/or sandy soil, and it’s high in calorie content, so it keep you’re wee bonny bairns alive. But notice the picture–there’s blueberries in it. Why? Because that was free. You literally went outside, collected berries, and threw them in with what you eating already. Since berries still didn’t stay around forever, it was a neat treat. When you have oatmeal again, and you CAN afford bacon and eggs, you throw some berries in it.

So many recipes can date back to the simple need of, “How do I stretch my cupboard to feed my family?” Can you think of better examples? Let me know in the comments below!

Somewhere Beyond the Barricade

12 Jan

Another lifetime ago, I was asked to review a book, and I promised I would get to it… right after the book on my Kindle. Well, three months later I did and… is it bad? Is it good? The answer was unsatisfying.

The name of the book is Alejandro’s Lie by Bob Van Laerhoven. Now once I got past my knee-jerk resentment of the Dutch, I barreled into the text. Start with the good stuff: the book is incredibly well-written. The characters are detailed and multi-faceted. The setting is… interesting. But every time I read a chapter, I had a hard time starting the next.

Someone once said that being an author is like being a substitute teacher; you have the readers a reason to pay attention. So here are some of the things that threw me off while reading:

1. If it’s Chile, just call it Chile.

Alejandro’s Lie is set in Chile during the end of the General Pinochet dictatorship. Except it’s not Pinochet, it’s Pelaron. It’s not set in Santiago, it’s Valtiago. It’s not Chile, it’s Terreno. At first I thought, “okay, I can accept that it’s a made up South American country.” But it’s not, it’s in the Andes. Everything about this screams “CHILE!” and it’s not subtle about it. You mention America, Belgium, Cuba… why not Chile?

I only have a tertiary knowledge of Chile and its history (mostly from Death and the Maiden), but come on! Why not completely make up a whole country like Parador, where you can invent everything you want how you want it without offending anybody… but he doesn’t. Why just write about Chile and then file the serial numbers off?!

2. Your protagonist should actually do something.

The eponymous Alejandro, after ten years being tortured in retail hell Chilean Terranan prison for being the lead guitarist of a protest band, finally gets out and has nothing. He runs into a protest that goes violent and saves a rich woman from getting arrested. Okay, good start.

Then Alejandro is whiny for the next hundred pages. He has to be coaxed into everything by Beatriz (the love interest), including sex, to get back down with the cause. Everything that moves the plot is done by either Beatriz or Rene (the Belgian priest). What the hell is Alejandro’s lie? That he’s not really down with the cause? Yeah, we get it.

3. Everybody Hurts

One of my favorite radio hosts talks about he loves War and Peace, so I tried reading it again. I got to Page 250 and stopped reading because I just couldn’t care about any of the characters. They were aristocrats trapped in a cage of their own making. Interestingly enough, he also talked about how he hates Dune, which told me that his tastes and mine and completely different (I’ve read Dune six times–love it).

Alejandro is miserable about being tortured. Fine. Beatriz is miserable because of the oppressive father and oppressive ex-husband in her life. Okay. Rene is miserable because he feels like his life’s work is meaningless and he should have just banged his brother’s girlfriend and been married in Belgium. None of the characters actually want to do anything apart from a vague idea to free Terrano from Pelaron, but they certainly aren’t on fire about it. They’re too far up their own ass to actually fight.

Sure, this is more realistic, but it’s depressing as hell.

So… can I recommend this book? It is good, but it’s not for me. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction for just this reason. I want a story, not detailed character studies, and their interactions. That doesn’t interest me; but if you like War and Peace (or Russian literature in general), go for it. But I got about 2/3rds through the book in three months and it was torture getting that far.

Maybe I’m not the best audience to review your book. *shrug*

The Redemption of Colonization

17 Sep

I only play computer games that are (at least) five years old. So I went back to play Sid Meier’s Colonization–the original from 1994–and thought… how can I play this in such a way that I don’t genocide the Native Americans?

Colonization is a dirty word these days, so it’s not surprising that this game doesn’t get a lot of love. For those of you not familiar with either the ’94 or ’08 remake, the idea is that you play one of the four major colonizing powers (English, France, Spain, or Netherlands), build up settlements in the New World, build up your cash crops, deal with the Indians, and eventually build up a power base to declare independence from your European power… and then win the war and gain your freedom!

You see the problem. In academic circles, this would be called exploitative, early-stage capitalism (and late-stage mercantilism), and terribly, terribly racist. And it is… after all, he only problem is that the most ideal spaces to build a colony are already taken… by the native inhabitants. (Fancy that!) However, this IS what happened in our history, so it should not be hidden or ignored. It is also terribly enjoyable, but instead of playing the “normal” way (wipe out the inconvenient Indians, pacify the convenient ones, and build your Empire), I decided to take (what I’m calling) the Treaty of Waitangi approach.

For most of us, that makes no sense, but it was a treaty signed in New Zealand between the British and the local Maoris that granted (local) sovereignty to the Maoris, in exchange for Brits being able to buy land to put it under that control. Most of this treaty was ignored, the Maoris were exploited, BUT… after several wars and a hundred years, the New Zealand government decided to actually follow this treaty and made reparations, creating a joint government between Anglos and Maori.

So what I do is settle on the land NOT occupied by the natives and give them a wide berth, send out missions to pacify the nearby tribes (yeah, I’m not Christian either, but it works! Think of them as embassies), and agree to every Indian request for food. The result? Peaceable colonies, only ONE fight with the natives, and plenty of room to expand. My current game is in the Pacific, so I only occupied HALF of New Zealand, and I’m still working my way across Australia. No genocide of Tasmania, the aboriginals still control half the country, and I’m still able to exploit most of the subcontinent to my heart’s content.

Usually in my games, the natives get honked off, and I have to fight off Indian attacks until I have to destroy the nearby villages to protect my colonies. However now… we have a good balance. I do wonder what the future of this approach would be for an independent Australasia. My guess is the Canadian model; unequal treaties, intermarriage (half-breeds commonplace or Metis), and smaller and smaller reserves for the Native population. Not genocidal, but just as exploitive. I would PREFER to think that the two populations would blend into a new culture, half-European, half-native… but history tells us that doesn’t happen. Even in places where the native population still overwhelms the European settlers (like Samoa), the native culture still suffers.

So I’m still being exploitive, but with the best intentions. What do you think? Is there a way to redeem Christopher Columbus (there’s a whole sci-fi book written on this topic)? Or do we just plow through the way history actually happened? Or do we just assure ourselves, “It’s a game, it’s NOT history?” Let me know in the comments below!

Grandparents and Strawberries

21 May

He was a farmer, a fisherman, an ice harvester, and a gin runner… but by the time I met Chester, my great-grandfather, he was an old man who liked to make jokes, lived in the house he built, and loved his kids. And in his 80’s, he still grew a field of strawberries.

I was lucky in the fact that I remember six of my great-grandparents. Chester is probably the most colorful of them all. All eight were farmers; all of them moved away from their parents and bought their own farm. I didn’t know his wife, my great-grandma Helen, because she was 5 when she died of cancer. We were living in Kansas at the time, and I don’t remember going to her funeral, so if my mom went, I wouldn’t know.

That branch of the family is the most settled out of all the clans. The Crosses moved out to Illinois in the 1850’s and as their kids grew up, married, and farmed themselves, they only spread out in a eighty-mile radius. Not an easy visit, but completely do-able from the histories I’ve read at the time. When I went to visit Cordova, I found I accidently ran into my fourth cousin! I make a big deal about this because every other branch of my family moved to hell and gone away from their family. I don’t think this was on purpose–it’s just where the affordable land was.

My family didn’t tell stories of how Chester and Helen got together, but they did, and settled on land right on the Mississippi River. It wasn’t the best place to farm; it would flood every five to ten years. Even the nearby city dikes weren’t built until the “hundred year flood” back in 1965. (I once filled sandbags at that property.) They were poor… really dirt poor, and he had three daughters, one of which was my grandma. During the Great Depression, she told us kids about the time when they made biscuits, but cheese was expensive, so they would hide a bit of cheese in one of the biscuits and it was a game to see who got the cheesy biscuit. That was the treat.

When you’re a poor farmer, you do what you can to get by. During the winter, he would join the gangs of men who would chop ice blocks out of the Mississippi River. Before refrigeration, insulated ice boxes were what you used to keep your food in, and that required harvesting and storing ice in ice houses for the rest of the year. Going to the ice house during the summer was a big deal, especially in places like Texas, but Illinois can be just as humid.

He was also known to do a little petty theft here and there. He probably helped run booze during Prohibition across the river, but he didn’t talk much about it. Chester was always great with a joke and loved to laugh. His three daughters married well–my grandma was the oldest and became a farmer’s wife… until they couldn’t afford to farm any more, and became a factory secretary. My great-aunt Doris married the publisher of the local paper, so she did well, but made the grievous faux-pax of marrying a Dutchman. (gasp) They built a house right next to her dad and hated every minute of her country estate living right next to a moldy old shack. But she watched out for her dad in his old age, but tore that place down the week after he was buried. The third daughter, great-aunt Nancy, had the misfortune of outliving four husbands… she’s still alive and living in a nursing home in my hometown.

Chester didn’t have much, but he loved his family, and did everything he could with what he had… even if it wasn’t legal. But I remember him taking us out to the strawberry fields, looking at Helen’s collection of spoons and tchotchkes, and being fascinated by what an older man could see in his great-grandson. I hope you have some good memories of your great-grandparents; share them in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

When Do I Get to Be the Mom?

19 May

In the flight to the suburbs in the 50’s, Americans didn’t just leave the city behind, they left their parents behind as well. Grandparents had frequently lived with their grandchildren throughout American history… until we could afford not to.

I was reading a article about how Sun City, Arizona was created as one of the first retirement communities. (I pick up the weirdest articles–which if you read this blog, you already knew.) Now older people had been travelling to Arizona for sometime, but usually because they had tuberculosis, and the dry environment helped them live longer. My own great-aunt Josephine moved out to Tucson for her husband’s TB.

However, with wealth came separation. The affordable car allowed people to live further away from their workplace, so instead of living in a cramped row house or apartment in the city, why not move out to the suburbs? Land was cheap, construction was available, and so they moved. However, they still had the place in the city, and often parents didn’t want to move, so… leave them there. Often there was one of many adult children who took care of them. Suddenly there was a mind shift. Americans now didn’t live with with their parents, making it the exception, not the rule.

Once I watched the movie Avalon (1990), and although it’s something I’ve never watched again, it’s a really cool film about three generations of the same family coming to, then adapting to living in America. However, in the story, the second generation takes their parents with them to the suburbs. Although this cuts them from their extended family, the daughter-in-law gets annoyed watching her mother-in-law undercut her authority with her own daughter. So the daughter-in-law goes to her husband and asks, “When do I get to be the Mom?” The next scene, the parents are moved out to a retirement home.

So… unwanted by their families, we developed a culture of nursing homes and retirement communities. My own grandfather (dad’s dad) made his entire career building nursing homes across the Midwest… and then lived his retirement in his own home and died there. Of course, my family is weird that way. My mom’s parents lived on their own, sunbirded down to Texas during the winter, until they couldn’t any more. When my grandpa died, then grandma injured herself and couldn’t stay alone. She spent the last ten years of her life in a nursing home, barely present.

We tried to do the right thing with my wife’s parents–they had four kids, so the single one lived with them and helped take care of them. But sooner or later, the work of caring for them became more than one person could do simply by living there… it became their full-time commitment. Then two kids’ commitment. Then finally, it was too much for all of them. My in-laws were moved to a nursing home; my father-in-law died within six months. My mother-in-law was moved to Texas to be near two of her daughters… but still in a nursing home.

With extended lifespans, it seems almost inevitable that we will grow more isolated as we get older. There’s a price to be paid for living longer… and man, is that a depressing thought to end this post on. However, there is a whole culture and a whole industry built around the elderly. I’ve skirted around it going to veteran’s bars where I’m the youngest guy in there at 45. The beast adapts. But what’s your story? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you still have time on this earth, check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 cuts into your retirement fund, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’d appreciate it.

Harpo’s Harp(s)

15 May

File this under “things you never think about”: what ever happened to Harpo Marx’s harp? His nickname came from the harp he played, (actual name Adolph, changed to Alfred) apparently during a card game. But what happened to the harp?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not very conversant in the Marx Brothers–wrong generation, I’ll have to say– so it’s something that never occurred to me. You’d think that a major comedy figure’s instrument would be in some museum somewhere. But no, it gets weirder. According to Wikipedia, he willed his harps to the State of Israel, where they are still used in an orchestra.

But that wasn’t good enough an answer for me. Which orchestra? Is it still there? Thankfully, someone put a link to justify this claim, so I followed that to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews website (which my grandparents-in-law were members of, being both… well, Christian and Jewish). They have a link to another blog post that says that the instrument is still at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

So… mystery solved, right? No. The story gets more interesting. You look through the pictures and the saga of finding the harp at JAMD, and then you get to the comments. Since the harp is not a… popular instrument, those that play it are passionate about their harps. So let a harpist from Yosemite, California tell the next part of the tale:

“Harpo’s TWO harps were donated to the state of Israel, and not by Harpo, who didn’t “will” his harps to anyone. His widow Susan was VERY explicit in this and told me first-hand; in her own words, “no, he didn’t will anything to anything.” In a nutshell, after Harpo’s death, Susan was invited to judge the first International Harp Festival in Israel. She – as she told me: knew nothing about harpistry and asked if their son Bill (who’s a pretty brilliant musician and had worked extensively with his dad) could come along and judge in her place. And then SHE decided to donate those TWO harps of Harpo’s to the state of Israel, with the proviso that they NOT be kept in glass cases, but that they be used by students; she told me she wanted one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv. But when they were being unloaded from the plane in Israel, Susan was presented with a bill for 100% duty – which she told me, was a total of $12,000 (and this was in 1965.) She was furious and said, “Forget it! I’ll send them home!” And she then told me it took (so she claimed) intervention from the highest levels of government to arrange for those two harps to be “allowed” in as nothing had ever been admitted to Israel duty-free. But that’s the story, straight from Harpo’s wife, as told to me. Two harps, not one!”

So where’s the second harp? The comments continue to be revealing. Apparently it was donated to the Tel Aviv Music Academy, which today is the Buchman Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. Cool. Mystery solved. But then if you’re a Marx Brothers fan, you know there was a third harp that was used in an episode of I Love Lucy. Apparently this harp has a lot of provenance, It was owned by Harpo and he used it playing with Milton Berle, on a Pepsi commercial, and played with Louis Armstrong. He sold it in 1962, three years before he died.

So instead of a simple answer, I found a whole epic tale about different harps and a chain of events throughout history. It’s amazing what you find down the rabbit hole. Have you ever run into this before? Let me know in the comments below! While you’re there, go ahead and pick up one of my books! However, if you’re not ready to commit to my epic tales, go ahead and download one of my stories. You’ll be glad you did.

And the next president is…

7 May

…no one you know. We’re still three years out from the next presidential election in America, but that doesn’t keep people from placing bets on it. However, I know that all of these are sucker bets.

Just for the record, you can’t bet legally in the US on political races. Lawmakers put that under the list of “bad things” that casinos can’t do, but the UK has no such scruples. The belief that voting odds can change elections is… not unprecedented.

Of course, the big question will be “Is Joe Biden running again?” The smart money says no, because he’ll be 81 and is already looking like he’s not sure where he is. So common belief is that he will step aside in favor of his VP, Kamala Harris. Despite all the hoopla that she gets for being the triple threat (black, Asian, and a woman), she’s not that impressive when she’s actually running. She didn’t even make it to Iowa. So despite the great step-up that gives her, she’d get trounced in the primaries.

The next question is… is Donald Trump running again. Despite his massive negative backlash, he’s still got a solid positive rating among Republicans. Compare to him to the list of “who cares” in the Republican primary and he wins easily. Whether he could win the big race depends on whose running against him. However, Trump himself will be 77 years old, and he’s starting to look his age. So I doubt he’s going to do it again.

Then this UK list hits names that are exciting, but doubtful. Nikki Haley is exciting, but front runners rarely win the primaries, because they appeal to a wide range of voters… not the diehards who vote in the primaries. Mike Pence appeals to Christian fundamentalists, but only in a “yeah, he was VP to Trump, right?” sort of way.

But the list gets more difficult to put your finger on. Ron DeSantis (governor of Florida) I believe could run, and he’s got a good track record, but he’s not very exciting. Alexandra Osasco-Cortez certainly has a huge Twitter presence, and shouts a lot, but I think she will fail in more conservative places like Iowa and New Hampshire.

Then you get the first ladies–why on Earth would they run? They know what a presidential campaign is like. Then they list celebrities; again, they have enough money to run, but the second they announce, every single bad mistake in their lives will be scrutinized. I think Dwayne Johnson likes being everyone’s favorite uncle; why would he give that up? Jeff Bezos would have to give up his comfortable billionaire lifestyle to have people yell at him for being a rich bastard? Nah…

The ones at the end of the list are the most likely. Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, recently making a name for herself among Republicans. Tim Scott, senator from South Carolina, a black Republican who gave the response to the presidential address… very articulate. For the Dems, Pete Buttigieg, current Secretary of Transportation, might make another shot. He’s more experienced, gay, and Midwestern. Not quite the same triple threat as Kamala, but a lot more appealing on the stage.

But it’s just as likely at that point to be some governor or senator you’ve never heard of, which is why it’s foolish to speculate at this early in the process. But election pollsters have to eat just like the rest of us. What do you think? Is my analysis missing a critical point? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with you wallet and buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too much for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I’m Marcus Johnston and I approve this message. 🙂

Hang ‘Em High

3 May

Here’s a weird topic; despite all the films to the contrary, legal public executions went out of fashion over a hundred fifty years ago. It’s much easier to kill someone in private. So a lot of the technical details behind them has been forgotten.

Why does my mind go to places like this? Well, I came across an article about Mary Ball, the last person to be publicly executed in Coventry, England. She had murdered her husband by poisoning him, because he had been sleeping around, and had confessed to it. It was August 9th, 1849, and more than 20,000 people showed up for her hanging… which kinda tells you that it was such a rare occurrence that people came from all around to see it.

In this case, they build a gallows for the event–usually it’s a temporary structure that is simply a platform with a sturdy place to hang the rope. It’s important to be high above the ground so that the trap door will open and snap the person’s neck… which is actually what kills them, not strangle them, which takes a lot longer and becomes “cruel and unusual.”

The picture I found for this gallows come from the historic site in Fort Smith, Arkansas and it’s a replica. In the Wild West, where there wasn’t as much law and order (and there was a “hanging judge” by the name of Parker), this was a quasi-permanent structure. However, even in this lawless area, it was considered an eyesore, and torn down in 1897.

Because I love local history, I always try to find out about the town I’m living in. In my hometown, they actually planted a “gallows tree.” Because it is the county seat, that’s where executions would be done. They only ever used it once; a man named Christian Riebling in Lyndon who got drunk on Christmas Eve 1883, had a shouting match with a younger man, and mortally wounded him. On May 6, 1884, Riebling was sentenced to death and got a crowd of 350 people who watched his execution. The tree was cut down the next year; apparently it was one of those things that sounded better than it actually was. In nearby Carroll County, they simply dug up their tree in 1878 and stored it in their courthouse, saying that it would grow again if you planted it.

It was there as of 1960; I’m very curious if it’s still there.

I found it interesting that there is a lot of tradition behind a gallows tree. In Scotland, they called them dule trees, and sycamores tended to be preferred, because they could hold the weight of a man being dropped from it. However, it could be any type of tree. However, gallows trees–or gallows in general–went out of fashion because of the “oogie” factor. People believed that nothing would grow where a gallows stood, So as people became more “civilized,” they didn’t want that constant reminder of their barbarity.

Okay–this was a rather dark subject, but I was curious. What do you think? Should we restore public executions? Is lethal injection more humane? Let me know in the comments below. I don’t execute characters in my books, so you’ll enjoy them. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Once We Win, Kill Our Allies

2 May

After winning any revolution, the new victors first step is to kill their allies. Not all of them, but enough that they don’t have to share the power with them all. If they can’t, this leads to civil war. This is also true in any election, though not as bloody.

What do I mean? Let’s start with the bloody examples first. In Germany, Hitler came to power on the backs of his party apparatus and his paramilitary, called the SA (Assualt Division) but better known as the Brown Shirts. It was the SA that beat up people at opposing political rallies, caused Kristallnacht, the destruction of so many Jewish businesses, and the Reichstag Fire, which finally gave Adolf his emergency powers. How did Hitler reward them? With the Night of the Long Knives; where he sent his more trusted goons (the SS) out to kill every single leader of the SA on charges of sodomy (which were true) and treason against the state, and then dismantled the SA entirely.

Why? Because Ernest Rohm was a threat to his leadership; an alternate charismatic leader with whom he didn’t want to share power. So he and hundreds of his followers had to go.

When you don’t do this, you get something like the Irish Civil War of 1922-3, where the former revolutionaries, united on the cause of Irish independence, suddenly couldn’t agree on the form that independence would take. Eamon De Valera and his Fianna Fail refused to accept the “limited sovereignty” that Michael Collins and his Fine Gael had negotiated from the British. So Eamon withdrew his support, and eventually, his followers (the second version of the Irish Republican Army) started fighting the Irish Free State. Collins was killed, De Valera was defeated, and Ireland… eventually became a republic anyway ten years later.

On the whole, it seemed like a pointless exercise–except it wasn’t. They winners couldn’t afford to let their allies get in the way of ruling. They didn’t want to, but egos get in the way, and… well, as James Madison once said, “If men were angels, there’d be no need for governments.”

On a less bloody version, voters often wonder why politicians go back on their campaign promises once they get into office. The truth is… because they can’t. They promise so many items that they can increase their voter bases, because something they say will have to appeal to you. However, once they get into office, they finally understand the limits of their rule. So when a politician gets elected, they can either a) conveniently ignore that promise, b) give lip service to that promise, or c) fulfill it to some degree, because that ally’s support is still useful.

So “killing your allies” in the modern sense is simply cutting them off from your support. Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, was perfectly happy to let the Antifa protestors burn his city to the ground… until the election. After all, they were on his side, right? But once he was reelected, defeating the opposition (who said, “I am Antifa”), suddenly the protests weren’t as charming anymore. After the New Years’ Eve Riots, they are being put down a lot more harshly. He didn’t need them anymore AND he realized that they weren’t on his side. BLM is getting tired of Antifa at their rallies, the moderate Democrats are tired of the progressives, and the whole cycle of purging your allies begins all over again.

Of course, I could just be talking about speculation, not facts. What do you think? Are the parties more unified than I believe? Is there coalitions that stay functionally together after victory? Let me know in the comments below! Then vote with your pocketbook and get one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your vote, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. I am Marcus Johnston and I approve this message.

The Legend of Mike Mannion

22 Apr

While I was to college, once a year, a frat would take out chalk and write fun sayings all over the quad like: “And when I had no legs and could not walk, Mike Mannion carried me.” Who was Mike Mannion? And why were so many good deeds attributed to him?

I can’t find any references to this still happening at my alma mater, Illinois State University (or “I Screwed Up”), which I find sad. This was a great tradition. However, for a place that started out (and is still has a strong concentration in) as a teacher’s college, times change, and traditions get forgotten. The quad where I attended is unrecognizable from the quad today. They rebuilt the buildings, added some statues, and generally made it a much better place. We’ve never had a decent athletics program. Both dorms I lived in are demolished, so apart from my memories, I have little connection with the place any more.

On the ISU quad, facing Schroeder Hall (pronounce it “Shray-der”) and the library.

Everything about the ISU administration in the late 90’s implied “Shut up and give me your money.” This changed in the next decade dramatically to a student-service focus. So for those of us who attended then, those moments of quirkiness were great. The Disco Revolution party, the Armchair Anarchists, Support Your Local Beholder Week… and of course, the legend of Mike Mannion.

Who was Mike Mannion? Well, as you might guess, he was a member of that particular frat. Somewhere along the way, someone thought this would be funny to write “The plane was going down, there was only one parachute, and Mike Mannion said, ‘Take it, my son.'” However, by the time I got to ISU, Mike had already graduated. However, his younger brother was attending… I knew this, because his younger brother had been part of the “frat” party that won the student elections.

What has he done since? It’s not certain–it’s a relatively common name. He either became a lawyer in Chicago, or a military officer, or… whatever. Doesn’t matter. Making a legendary figure that could be remembered even after you left means attributing stuff to them that doesn’t necessarily make sense. In the early 1800’s, when a man decided to write a book about the American Founding Fathers, he made up larger than life stories to make them seem legendary. George Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac… never happened. He also never cut down a cherry tree and said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.”

Sometimes we need legends to inspire us, or to boost up a particular belief, or whatever bias the creator has. Davy Crockett did not go down shooting at the Alamo; he was sick in bed. In Mike Mannion’s case, it’s fun, it lets students who walk back and forth to classes laugh a little at the ridiculousness. Because at a time when you were just a cog in the college machine, we needed a patron saint, and Mike Mannion was there.

We didn’t have a Touchdown Jesus (Notre Dame) or an Alma Mater (U of Illinois), we had Mike Mannion. But what do you think? Do we need to bring down legends or do they still have purpose? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books, where you can read about future legends. However, if $1.99 is too much for a simple story, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

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