Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Washington Irving

I was doing some resale shopping over the weekend, and I came across some very old books. I love collecting old books, especially classics. While I was perusing the books they had at the Ann Arbor Re-Use Center, I came across an interesting book titled "A Knickerbocker's History of New York."

Intrigued, I flipped through the pages. I was astounded to find, at the beginning of the book a segment called "Author's Apology."

The author wanted readers to know that his work "was to begin an historical sketch; to be followed by notices of the customs, manners and institutions of the city; written in a serio-comic vein, and treating local errors, follies and abuses with good-humored satire."

Instantly, I felt as though I had found a kindred spirit across space and time. My copy (which I promptly purchased) was well loved and I was a bit confused as to whom Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker was, but I was sure I would find out.

Upon typing into Google, the title of the book, I kept getting hits for a book written by Washington Irving. Frustrated, because clearly Irving and Mr. Knickerbocker are two separate people, I continued my search, when to my surprise, I found that Mr. Irving enjoyed writing under pseudonyms, and that this book was in fact a piece of his own fiction. After a good laugh at my expense, I looked further into the life of Irving and into the history of this book.

A young Irving (portrait taken in 1809)

While I'm admiring the man for this work, most people are familiar with both his stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". When considering Knickerbocker's History, Wikipedia tells us an interesting bit of information regarding the release of the text:

"Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax akin to today's viral marketing campaigns; he placed a series of missing person adverts in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a crusty Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the ruse, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel's proprietor—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.

Unsuspecting readers followed the story of Knickerbocker and his manuscript with interest, and some New York City officials were concerned enough about the missing historian that they considered offering a reward for his safe return. Riding the wave of public interest he had created with his hoax, Irving—adopting the pseudonym of his Dutch historian—published A History of New York on December 6, 1809, to immediate critical and popular success. 'It took with the public', Irving remarked, 'and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable and uncommon in America.'"

So not only was he a humorist on paper, but also a trickster in society. While I would never have the gall to do such a thing, I do appreciate his gusto.

Irving is considered the first American Man of Letters, and most historians/literature people consider him the first American writer to earn his living solely by writing. It's also interesting to note that the name Kickerbocker went on to be a term used for Manhattan residents in general, and is also seen as the basketball team the Knicks. He also is credited for creating the character St. Nicholas, at least in how he is represented in stories and artwork today. Lastly, in his writings, Irving used the phrase 'Goat's town' or 'Gotham' for New York City; obviously this then went on to be used as the ill fated city in the Batman stories. Clearly, Irving wasn't thinking his work would have such deep meaning in our society today (200 years later) but it is one hell of a legacy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Top Ten Nemeses (pt 2)

Just as in all things, I like to be unique, so in life I didn’t pick nemeses who were obvious. Clearly most sane people would consider Hitler or Stalin to be on the top of their list, so since that’s a “gimme” answer, I didn’t pick them. Here are my last five picks for nemeses

6. William Henry Harrison

Why Harrison? I ask myself that every day. Why was he born, why was he evil, why didn’t he die sooner? Really. Most people aren’t familiar with Wil-Hen-Har and that is why his evil is able to flourish. It is only through our ignorance of historical figures that they can continue to spread cruelty like cream cheese on a gently toasted bagel. Educate yourselves! Here, let me do it for you. So after a short lived career as a rap “artist” Wil-Hen-Har went on to co-star in the low budget limited release film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m sure none of you saw it. After his film career died faster than his rap career, Wil-Hen-Har turned to a life of violence and crime, which was very acceptable at the time. He became a military leader who slaughtered more Native Americans than I would be willing to admit and then utilized their dead bodies to construct a vessel that would propel him into politics. Even with his earlier failings in film, his political films Tippecanoe and Tyler, and then the sequel Tippecanoe and Tyler 2, led to him landing the position of the President of the United States of America.
On the day of his inauguration, he decided that he was tired of being known for how short his pursuits had been, and he decided to give the longest inauguration speech in history. During his speech he preformed some of his rap songs, acted out several “key” scenes from Wolverine and talked on end about the needless use of coats, hats and other outdoor gear when faced with winter weather. And yet, the Presidency proved to be his shortest career yet, as he died after 31 days in office. Some people think it was the cold and wet weather that did him in - other people think it was the bullet in the back of his head. I claim ignorance just as I did when the secret service found me standing over his body, pistol in hand.

7. Shakespeare

I like to poke fun at Shakespeare a lot. Probably more than would be advisable by most sane people, but this comes out of a place of genuine admiration with a solid base of hatred. Shakespeare and I have been friends for a long time, we spend a terrible amount of time together which ultimately leads to feuds. Not your everyday run-of-the-mill feud, but where families are slain just for looking at each other feuds. How is it that Shakespeare and I can still be friends while our families are at war? I don’t know. I don’t make the rules people! Stop asking intelligent questions so I can move on with my diatribe against Shakespeare. Okay, so Shakespeare’s worst fault would have to be the fact that he constantly pretends like his characters are real and that he has a real relationship with them. How obnoxious, how does that? Like the other day he was saying to me about how he and Hamlet went out to meet some ladies and I was like Shakespeare! Hamlet is dead! Frankly, he’s not even real! How can you claim to be chillin’ with him on the reg? Gosh!
Even if he wasn’t so weird and oddly attached to fictional/dead/combination thereof characters, he also has a knack for singing off-key, making jokes no one understands, and being a Grumpy Gus just to get his way. All these reasons are why he’s on my death list.

8. J. Geils Band

Two words: Freeze Frame. Worst song ever made. They must be evil. They will be stopped. Due to some considerably ingenious (if I do say so myself) tom-foolery, I was able to make the band disband in 1985, unfortunately, those that are not aware of their evil keep trying to get them back together, the most recent occurrence was in 2010, when they opened for Aerosmith at Fenway Park. It’s said that the concert was sold out, which is true, because I purchased all the tickets, but filled none of the seats, so that the band could see that no one was interested in their “music” and maybe they’d quit once and for all. Unfortunately Aerosmith was also targeted (an innocent victim) in that attack, and I think that might be what created the depression that then forced Steven Tyler to join American Idol. I’m not taking responsibility for that, I’m just pointing out the coincidence.

9. Dolphins
People often ask me, “Jenny, why do you think dolphins are so evil?” Usually, I don’t have an answer, maybe they were made that way, maybe it’s in their genetic code, but ultimately they are evil and it is up to those of us that can see that evil to stop them. Sure, they are cute and they laugh, but they are laughing at you!

Dolphins think they are so funny and that they are so smart, if they’re so smart why can’t they live outside of water? And if they’re so funny, then why am I only laughing when eating a can of non-dolphin safe tuna? My therapist suggests that I feel this way because I was bullied ruthlessly by a gang of dolphins while growing up, and that all dolphins aren’t that bad but I know the truth.

10. Lots of Other Fools
I tried to think of a specific person to be my last nemesis, but no single entity comes to mind that enrages me enough to write about at length. I guess Chaucer is partially right when he says “A nemesis relationship only works when there is an overflowing of passion between two people to thrust that relationship into a true rivalry. Yes, there needs to be passion, sweaty, sweaty passion.” Ignoring the sweaty part, here is a list of people that could have made it in the last slot if I had more passion behind my anger towards them.
To name just a few:
Nicolas Cage
That lady who wrote the Twilight Series
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Spiced Gum Drops
Ann Coulter
John Williams
James Patterson