Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Myth Of Lawrence, Kansas

When my most recent ex-wife and I moved to Lawrence for her job at the University of Kansas I was aware of two facts about the town. First, William Burroughs lived here. I found this intriguing. Second, the university was known for its basketball team. This piece of information was gathered serendipitously when I was watching ESPN and a fascinating segment aired that showed KU students spitting into the river as a sign of loyalty and support to the aforementioned team. I found this worrying.

We had, however, been assured by colleagues who had visited the town that "Lawrence isn't that bad," and with this ringing endorsement, moved here with a mix of trepidation and hope.

A brief aside that will become pertinent later... As I write, the older of my two cats, Zoot, is undergoing an allergy attack. He has hay fever. I wasn't aware that cats were allergic to their environment. This is the sort of useful information one acquires by living in Lawrence.

Zoot just threw up. This is not uncommon when the pollen count reaches... nosebleed territory? We're currently under a wind advisory and the gale that has been blowing all day... Well... I guess it must be like an orgy for the trees. An arboreal porn flick. They are shooting vast quantities of pollen in all directions as their limbs bend back and forth.

The younger of my two cats, Rufus, is now fulfilling his beta role and is washing Zoot's ears.

During the first couple of years here I was enjoying a period in which hypomania trumped depression and had decided I was a novelist. I did, however, have moments of lucidity when I remembered I was an astrophysicist, and taught a few classes at KU.

And, of course, that led to me interacting with members of the Physics faculty.

One of whom told me that "The University of Kansas is the Harvard of the Midwest."

I did my best to laugh at the joke, primarily because the comedian was a full professor. Somewhere between the third and fourth forced chuckle I realized with horror that he was serious.

By which I mean that he believed the statement.

Another aside... When the need to write this blog bubbled up like swamp gas, I had intended to lampoon this laughable statement. And thus, employing a pleasing blend of vitriol and honey, produce one of my rants. Which amuse at least two people. (I have kept the e-mails attesting to this.)

But I just realized that my lampoon would inevitably morph into a harpoon and thence into a torpedo. And there are people for whom I have affection who work at KU or who graduated from the place. People who are about to be sufficiently insulted by the remainder of this piece that further observations about the Youth-Club-Come-Sports-Center of the Midwest would be unkind.

Lawrence features many of the classic "town versus gown" conflicts of cities in which a significant fraction of the population works at or attends the university. (I use the word "city" loosely; Lawrence lacks a cathedral and is more properly described as a suburb without an urb.) The "townies" complain that Lawrence is overrun by boorish, intoxicated frat-boys and their SUV-driving bowhead girlfriends, while the gownies (?) argue that without KU Lawrence would be just one more piss-ant, redneck, right-wing carbuncle on the face of The Great Plains.

Being an expert in ambivalence I subscribe, in part, to both views. And wonder why, in this debate, the presence of Haskell Indian Nations University is rarely cited as contributing to the positive attributes of the city.

Actually, I have a pretty good idea why HINU suffers such neglect, but... well my theory is impossible. Because we all know what a wonderfully liberal, enlightened, culturally diverse place Lawrence is.

And in fact the idea that Lawrence is not that bad (for Kansas) is completely true. And the townies point to the artists and writers and vegetarians and LBGT-friendly residents as being responsible for this muted accolade.

To which I reply: the liberals of Kansas have to live somewhere. And, given that the university system was founded along the traditional Midwestern lines in which the University of Kansas was the school for liberal arts whereas Kansas State University focused on the agricultural, it is hardly surprising that the center of Kansas liberalism is in Lawrence and not Manhattan, 85 miles to the west.

The geography is not irrelevant, by the way. Lawrence sits between Kansas City and the state capital of Topeka. Manhattan sits between... Well... it's on the way to Denver.

The townies of Lawrence, besieged by students whose allowances exceed the average townie income, take great pride in the "community" (i.e., the collection of mutually-beleaguered townies) to which they belong. The community, they say, is an extended self-help group in which we all support each other in the face of a common enemy. It's a bit like Canada in this regard; a collection of disparate individuals drawn together and defining themselves through opposition to a perceived monolith. KU is to townies as the USA is to Canada. (They should put that on the SATs.)

Which sounds okay in theory until you discover that the townie community is comprised of the same spectrum of individuals as any other, ranging from the caring to morbidly mean, self-obsessed assholes. And that's just fine. Except that the community fails, for the most part, to recognize and acknowledge just how dysfunctional it is. And when one has been seduced by this myth of a caring, supportive community, and then peeks behind the curtain and sees the rats and the puddles of piss, it's... Well... For historical reasons I have "issues" when I am informed, righteously and indignantly, that a reality is one thing, when it is clearly quite another.

But to question the Utopia of this community is regarded as heresy. And the primary reason that heretics are reviled is that those following the dominant orthodoxy fear (perhaps know) that the heretics are right.

All of which gets me back to Zoot puking.

Several years ago I was in love with a woman who was in love with me. Typically this is a good start to a story, but ours was plagued by multiple problems that included both of us undergoing a transition from booze to prescription medication to even out some of the bumps in our brains.

We were both nuts.

And frequently unpleasant.

Really quite destructive.

And during a period in which She was being particularly vociferous on the topic of how we could never be together, She also mentioned that She drove past my house every day. Because She liked the purple irises that were in full bloom.

Nuts, unpleasant, destructive, and in spectacular denial.

Irises propagate by roots that spread out unseen and underground. This makes them ideal plants for allegory, particularly when viewed with the benefit of hindsight.

And so it was, when She committed to someone who was not me, I dug up the irises from the front of the house and moved them to the back where She couldn't see them. And replaced them with bleeding hearts.

From which I have concluded that my unconscious has a strong horticultural component. I hope to obtain a Federal grant that will help me found the Martinian school of psychoanalysis. I envision it being similar to the Lacanian one but with a greater emphasis on manure.

I really am getting back to Zoot puking.

Last fall I decided that I was going to make the effort to produce a spectacular garden this year. This included feeding all my perennials including my allegorical irises. (With blood meal, sweat and tears, obviously.)

How they thrived! I've never seen them grow so tall nor produce so many blooms on each stem. Blooms which started... well, blooming, just in the last few days.

And the gale that is indirectly responsible for Zoot puking flattened these beautiful irises, snapping the stems and driving the flowers into the dirt.

I saved a few. I've brought them inside, away from the wind, and the eyes of the much-lauded Lawrence community.

And I have locked the door.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Excerpts from The Sunday Swish I: The Genesis Of Omaha

Many of you will be aware that The Swish was recently given exclusive access to the Dead Draw Scrolls that were discovered in a grain silo in Nebraska in 1986. Our main task at this time is to translate The Book of the Holy Quaternity. Members of TSS/Omaha Division have been immersed in this sacred text for weeks like mudskippers that have totally miscalculated the rate of tidal influx in a mangrove swamp. It is anticipated that a complete translation may take several years since the Scrolls include the lengthy gospels of Saints Ciaffone, Cappelletti, Zee and Hwang. However, we are in a position to provide a preliminary translation of a few verses from the preamble to this work which we hope will be enlightening to our readers.

The Book of the Holy Quaternity (Trans. TSS/OD (c) 2009)

1. In the beginning the number was Two and the possibilities were flat and without form.

2. Our Lord Pogos [1] looked down upon the felt and saw that it was not good.

3. For man did mucketh about with The Two interminably and often blindly like the beasts of the field when the weather shifteth unexpectedly from warm and sunny to dense fog.

4. And angered by the monotonous regularity of the stealing of the blinds from late position Pogos did unleash upon the felt two plagues. [2]

5. Thus man did experience suck-outs that runner runnereth straights and flushes for seven years till they were coming out the wazoo.

6. Then followed seven years of eighty-twenties going tits up on the flop except when the shekels got in on the turn in which case the underpair would spiketh the set on the river.

7. And there was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth and laptops flying through windows like that dove with the twig when it raineth a great deal.

8. But through these plagues man continued in the ways displeasing to Pogos.

9. And Lord Pogos said: for fucketh sake, I thought I buggered up the game when I invented the draweth of the five but this is the stone cold pitzorz.

10. Thus Our Lord frowned upon The Two and since both did lacketh a spare rib said: presto!

11. And The Two became The Four.

12. YaY!

[1] Due to the lack of vowels in ancient Nebraskan the original is simply "PGs." The translation "Pogos" strikes us as easy to pronounce and pleasantly punk.

[2] It has been suggested that we may be missing a few plagues here since two falls far short of the constant misery inflicted by deities of other faiths.