Lowered Expectations

by Akim Reinhardt

Most People are Good | SLC6A1 ConnectPeople are basically good.

God, what a tiresome trope.

It is a desperate and naive sentiment, often advanced by those who can’t bear the truth. I say this as a historian who has studied genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, vast, violent, exploitative colonial systems, and more mundane expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. But if you’ve neither the time nor the inclination to brush up on 10,000 years of human history as a background for this discussion, then allow me to point you towards the present.

More than 70,000,000 people just voted for Donald Trump. Again.

After four years of observing, on a near daily basis, his presidential grotesquerie. The racism, the sexism, the vindictiveness, the endless vitriol, the knee-jerk authoritarianism and ceaseless attacks on and erosion of American constitutional mechanisms and democratic norms.

The number plagues us like a cancerous tumor unfazed by chemotherapy or radiation, and too large for a scalpel to carve away without disfiguring the corpus: 70,000,000. Read more »

Move to Canada If Donald Trump Wins? How About Break Up the United States Instead

by Akim Reinhardt

KEEP CALM AND MOVE TO CANADA | Moving to canada, Keep calm, Canada quotesIs there anything more clichéd than some spoiled, petulant celebrity publicly threatening to move to Canada if the candidate they most despise wins an election? These tantrums have at least four problems:

1. As if Canada wants you. Please.
2. Mexico has way better weather and food than Canada. Why didn’t you threaten to move there? Is it because of all the brown people? No, you insist. Is it the language? Well then if you do make it to Canada, here’s hoping they stick you in Quebec.
3. New Zealand seems to be the hip new Canada. I’ve recently heard several people threaten to move there. News flash, Americans: New Zealand wants you even less than Canada does.
4. Fuck right off then if you don’t want to be here.

As we stare down the possible re-election of Donald Trump, I’ve got a much better alternative: Stay put and begin a serious, adult conversation about disuniting the states.

If, through the vagaries of the Electoral College, 45% of U.S. voters really do run this nation into an authoritarian kleptocratic, dystopian ditch, then instead of fleeing with your gilded tail between your legs, stay and help us reconfigure the nation. It might be the sanest alternative to living in Trump’s tyranny of the minority, in which racism and sexism are overtly embraced, the economy is in shambles, the pandemic rages unabated, and abortion may soon be illegal in most states as an ever more conservative Supreme Court genuflects to corporate interests and religious extremists.

And of course it cuts both ways. Should current polls hold and Joe Biden manage to win the election with just over half the popular vote, those on the losing side will be every bit as upset. So upset that they too would likely open to a conversation about remaking an America. Read more »

The Bitter End and the Forever Now

by Akim Reinhardt

Richard Nixon: The Rise And Fall Of An American President - HistoryExtraThere is a minor American myth about shame and regret. It goes like this.

In the years following Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation amid scandal and disgrace, polls found that fewer Americans admitted to having voted for him than actually did. Apparently many former Nixon voters now realized the error of their ways and were embarrassed to admit ever having pulled the lever for him.

Everything about this story is false, and the truth of it is worse. Nixon’s loyal supporters stood by him the entire way, despite his crimes. His popularity did not retreat behind a wave of shame; it was merely muted by the national embarrassment of his resignation.

What does this tell us about today’s Trump supporters? Partisan divisions are much worse now than they were during the mid-1970s, so Trump voters’ fierce loyalty to this sexist, racist charlatan is unsurprising. But in explaining why, we tend to focus on the Cult of Trump, as if he has special qualities that give him some magical hold over his supporters. True, in many ways Trump is a unique politician in American history. Yet given our history, it seems likelier that his supporters’ undying devotion is less about the spells Trump casts, and more about the constancy of American political partisanship.

Indeed, the difference between Trump’s and Nixon’s loyal supporters might be more about decibel count than sentiment. And so by looking back at the steadfast support Richard Nixon maintained right through his resignation, we can better understand the misguided loyalty keeping Trump’s reelection campaign afloat. Read more »

How Black is Not White?

by Akim Reinhardt

Today in TV History: Bill Clinton and His Sax Visit Arsenio – TV ...During the 1990s, the impossibility of a black president was so ingrained in American culture that some people, including many African Americans, jokingly referred to President Bill Clinton as the first “black president.” The threshold Clinton had passed to achieve this honorary moniker? He seemed comfortable around black people. That’s all it took.

Because an actual black president was so inconceivable that a white president finally treating African Americans as regular people seemed as close as America would get any time soon.

In 1998, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison brought Clinton’s unofficial title to national attention with a New Yorker essay aimed at discrediting the impeachment proceedings against him. One of Morrison’s rhetorical devices was to check off all the boxes in which Clinton displayed “almost every trope of blackness,” including being raised in a working class, single-parent household, and loving fast food.

By 2003, the idea of a black president was still outlandish enough that it served as common comedic fodder. Chris Rock starred in the film Head of State, a fantasy comedy in which Chicago Alderman Mays Gilliam becomes a fluke president. And Dave Chappelle portrayed an unabashedly African American version of President George Bush in a Chapelle Show sketch. The skit’s running joke was how outrageous and “unpresidential” it would be to have a black chief executive. Read more »

Native Lives Matter

by Akim Reinhardt

U.S. Soldiers putting Lakota corpses in common grave
Burial of the dead after the massacre at Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD. U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in mass grave (1/1891).

Two months ago, a college student in my Native American history class was perturbed. How it could be that during her K-12 education she never learned about the 1890 massacre of nearly 200 Native people at Wounded Knee? She was incensed and incredulous, and understandably so. It’s an important question, a frustrating question, and a depressing question. In other words, it’s the kind of question anyone who teaches Native American history is all too used to.

My students typically begin the semester with a vague sense of “we screwed over the Indians,” and are quickly stunned to discover the glaring depths of their own ignorance about the atrocities that Native peoples have endured: from enslavement, to massacres, to violent ethnic cleansings, to fraudulent U.S. government actions, to child theft and the forced sterilization of women, to a vast, far-reaching campaign of cultural genocide that continued unabated well into the 20th century.

I started slowly, explaining to her that one problem is the impossibility of covering everything in a high school history class. Even in a college survey, which moves much faster, you just can’t get to everything. There’s way too much. A high school curriculum has no chance.

But, I said, that begs the question, both for college and K-12: What gets in and what gets left out? Read more »

The Mythological President

by Akim Reinhardt

Why not try an analogy? | The Floor is YoursViolence : War :: Lies : Mythology

This analogy holds. Violence is central to war, and lies are central to mythology. At the same time, violence and lies often stem from one or a few people, whereas war and mythology exist and function on a social level. One person can be violent to another, but warfare, by definition, involves entire societies. Likewise, one person can lie to another, but mythology, by definition, involves an entire society.

Donald Trump lies. A lot. Clearly more than most people, and probably more than any other president. Arguably professional journalism’s greatest failing of the last several years has been its reticence to label him a liar or to even identify his lies as such. Instead, they almost always play it safe, on the grounds that they cannot read his mind, and settle for euphemisms. He is incorrect. His statements are inaccurate. Respected, professional news outlets almost never state the obvious and the real. He is a liar. He lies. What he said is a lie.  Not all of it, of course.  Some if it is just gross stupidity.  But also intentionally lies.  A lot.

This is very important. Because Donald Trump’s many individual lies allow and the vast army of right wing media to perpetuate the mythology of Donald Trump.

A myth is full of statements that are “inaccurate” or “incorrect.” Sometimes these are expressed as supernatural impossibilities. Sometimes they are false statements purporting to be fact. Either way, a society can bundle up these individual lies and transform them into a mythological truth. Take for example story of Pocahontas. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 21. Changes: Charles Bradley, “Changes”

Stuck has been a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday since November. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

“Change is pain.” —South African poet Mzwakhe Mbuli

Mzwakhe Mbuli - Change Is Pain - Amazon.com MusicManhattan always has been and always will be New York City’s geographic and economic center. But if you’re actually from New York, then you’re very likely not from Manhattan. Like me, you’re from one of the outer boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island. And as far as we’re concerned, we’re the real New Yorkers. The natives with roots and connections, and the immigrants who are life-and-death dedicated to making them, not the tourists who come for a weekend or a dozen years before trundling back to America.

Manhattan below 125th Street (in the old days below 110th) is a playground for the wealthy, a postcard for tourists to visit. For the rest of us, it’s a job, it’s that place you have to take the subway to. Maybe that sounds like people from the outer boroughs have a chip on their shoulders. Trust me. They don’t. By and large, they’re very confident in their identity. They know exactly who they are. They’re New Yorkers. And you’re not.

However, between the boroughs themselves there can be a bit of a rivalry, and Manhattan’s not really part of that, because Manhattan is just its own thing, leaving the other four that jostle and jockey for New York street cred. For example, hip hop was practically born from tussles between the Bronx and Queens. But generally, it’s really not much of a contest. As a Bronx native, much to my chagrin, Brooklyn usually wins. Or at least, it used to.

The Bronx doesn’t have a lot to hang its hat on, but the things we have are big. The Yankees are the most successful sports franchise in world history. We have a big zoo, if you’re into that kinda thing. We created a pretty cool cheer. And of course we (that’s the proverbial “we,” not me in anyway) literally invented rap, later to be called hip hop, the world’s dominant musical and fashion force for at least a quarter-century now. But when I was a kid, it just didn’t seem to matter. Brooklyn still had a strut that the other boroughs could not match. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 20. Am I a Man?: David Bowie, “Queen Bitch”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for 6 million dollar manI was a minor mess in high school. Had no idea what to do with my curly hair. Unduly influenced by a childhood spent watching late ‘70s television, I stubbornly brushed it to the side in a vain attempt to straighten and shape it into a helmet à la The Six Million Dollar Man or countless B-actors on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. I couldn’t muster any fashion beyond jeans, t-shirts, and Pumas. In the winter I wore a green army coat. In the summer it was shorts and knee high tube socks.

My home life was chaotic. My parents’ marriage was breaking down. My father drank too much, my mother screamed too much. I began spending a lot of time outside the house. I could pretty much come and go as I pleased, which was new and exciting.

I had a solid group of friends that I’m still close with to this day. Good guys. Not exactly Cassanovas. One of ‘em had a girlfriend for a bit. The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Mostly we drank, played pool, played cards, listened to music, and watched sports. I didn’t get laid. I didn’t even come close.

I went to the University of Michigan for college. I’d only applied because my mother’s friend’s son went there; mom told me Leonard liked it and that I should apply. So I did. And I got in. I also got accepted to several New York state schools, which were closer and cheaper, but I chose Michigan, even though I knew nothing about the place except for the funny football helmets. The University of Michigan was never any kind of goal. It was an accident. I didn’t even know it was supposedly an elite school.

I was 17 years old my first semester. Looking back now, I don’t think I consciously understood that I was running away as far as I could from a home life that had been emotionally volatile for as long as I could remember, but that’s exactly what I did. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 19. I’m a Horrible Person: The Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for raccoon garbageBeing a horrible person is all the rage these days. This is, after all, the Age of Trump. But blaming him for it is kinda like blaming raccoons for getting into your garbage after you left the lid off your can. You had to spend a week accumulating all that waste, put it into one huge pile, and then leave it outside over night, unguarded and vulnerable. A lot of time and energy went into creating these delectable circumstances, and now raccoons just bein’ raccoons.

Likewise, we Americans have spent decades challenging the social norms that used to shame us into proper behavior, or at least discouraged us from publicly engaging in bad behavior. That, in turn, has led to our very own raccoon frenzy, so to speak. Our society now actually rewards certain types of nastiness. We live in a world that abounds with what can only be described as Professional Assholes such as Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, Alex Jones, and Simon Cowell.

Yes, dispensing with some of those old social norms was actually the right thing to do. Some of them were restrictive and oppressive. Some of them were used to keep LGBT people in the closet, minorities “in line,” and women “in their place.” Reform was needed.

But we were sloppy. We needed to separate the good social norms, the helpful ones that promote stability, maintain reasonable standards, and discourage people from being assholes, from the old junk norms that repress women and minorities of all stripes. We needed to sort the garbage from the recyclables. But we tossed them all out at once. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 18. That Fleeting Moment: Screaming Trees, “I Nearly Lost You There”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for parking lot basketball hoopThere was this one moment. A sunny June day in Nebraska. No one was around. I dribbled the basketball over the warm blacktop, moving towards a modest hoop erected at the end of a Lutheran church parking lot. I picked up my dribble, took two steps, sprung lightly from my left foot, up and forward, my right arm extending as my hand gracefully served the ball to the white backboard. Its upward angle peaked, bounced softly, and descended back through the netless hoop.

And then it dawned on me. It had never been this easy. Not just dribbling and shooting a basketball, but anything. Any physical movement. No turn in the dance of life had ever come so naturally, had been so close to effortless. It felt good. I smiled to myself and called it a day.

I was 29 years old.

Ten years later, I was running down a dirt path along a creek in my Baltimore neighborhood. I’ve never been much for jogging. I find it an exercise in boredom so profound as to make me question the point of life. Instead, I was running some wind sprints. You sprint full out for a hundred yards, then walk the next hundred. If you’re on a track, sprint the straightaways and walk the curves. Keep doing that til you can’t.

The previous summer I’d done wind sprints at a local high school. When I started, I could only manage two sprints before collapsing in a gasping heap. A month later I was churning out a dozen of them a couple times a week. I was suddenly shocked at how good a shape I was in. My libido was disturbingly high, which was kind of annoying given I was recently single. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 17: Lost: Blind Faith, “Sea of Joy”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for vast oceanThere should be more.

This song has been with me, quite thoroughly, for two weeks now. There should be more to talk about. Such as Blind Faith, rock n roll’s first super group, cobbled together from members of Cream (guitarist Eric Clapton, drummer Ginger Baker), Traffic (singer/keyboardist Steve Winwood), and Family (bassist Ric Grech). How they sparkled brightly and burned out after just one album and tour. Or Winwood specifically, author and singer of this particular song. A child prodigy of pop, he joined the Spencer Davis Group when he was only 14 years old, soon penning and singing two hit singles: “Gimme Some Lovin’” (later covered by the Blues Brothers) and “I’m a Man” (later covered by Chicago). Or I could talk about the song itself. Over five minutes long, it is at turns coarse and lush, rigid and ethereal, intense and contemplative and euphoric. Or perhaps I could share something about who I am. Stories about being on the water, relatively few in number, yet still rich in moments of bonding with family and friends, of self-definition, of living without time, of killing with rods and hooks.

But instead, all I have is this one lyric.

Waiting in our boats to set sail

Days upon days of obsession hang upon this short, taut thread. Guitars, organ, drums, bass, vocals spinning round those seven words. One small dot, dark and unmoving amid the raging, whirring maelstrom of all things, demanding my senses heed and bend to it.

Waiting in our boats to set sail

The quiet anguish of gently rocking between blue skies and placid water for want of summer wind. The holy promise, too great to speak aloud, of sailing into all that is vast and open and free, already so complete and perfectly oblivious to my bow, should it ever come to slice through air and wave. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 16. Who We’re Not: Prince, “Purple Rain”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

Image result for cold war cultureMost people associate the Cold War with several decades of intense political and economic competition between the United States and Soviet Union. A constant back and forth punctuated by dramatic moments such as the Berlin Airlift, the Berlin Wall, the arms race, the space race, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon’s visit to China, the Olympic boycotts, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and eventually the collapse of the Soviet system.

But on the home front, the Cold War was often less about politics and economics and more about culture and society. It was a time of Us vs. Them, of Right vs. Wrong. Certain cows were sacred, others were evil, and woe be unto those who milked the wrong teat. The Cold War was about American society demanding conformity, and persecuting those who did not play along.

The Second Red Scare (ca. 1947–57) was the most dramatic example of persecuting non-conformists. People were hauled in front of Congress and, on national television, subjected to reputation-destroying and career-ending interrogations. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts weren’t just about politics; they also disciplined the society and put dissenters on notice: get in line, or at least shut up, or face dire consequences. And the popular culture followed suit.

Americans reacted strongly to the dominant good guys/bad guys narrative. Fears of a possible World War III and accompanying nuclear holocaust were widespread. The culture was soaked through with an Us vs. Them mentality, with a heavy emphasis on choosing up sides. It could be seen in everything from the ubiquitous white hat/black hat Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s to the Rock vs. Disco antagonism of the 1970s. Everyone had to be on the right side. Picking the wrong side marked you as the enemy. And refusing to pick a side at all? That was so strange as to almost be incomprehensible. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 15. What We Become: Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for charles lutwidge dodgson
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson ca. 1856 – 60. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was an odd fellow who eventually became someone else.

Born in 1832, he was the fourth of twelve children, and descended from a long line of English soldiers and priests all named Charles Dodgson. His parents were first cousins. He stuttered. A childhood fever left him deaf in one ear. As an adult he would suffer from migraines and epilepsy.

At age 12 he was sent away to school. He hated it. Still, he aced his classes and went on to Christ Church College in Oxford. He did not always apply himself, but nonetheless excelled at mathematics and eventually earned a teaching position. He remained at the school for the rest of his life.

Dodgson was conservative, stuffy, and shy. He was awed by aristocrats and sometimes snobbish to his social inferiors. He was mildly self-deprecating and earnestly religious. He had a reputation for being a very good charades player. He invented a number of gadgets, including a stamp collecting folder, a note taking tablet, a new type of money order, and a steering device for tricycles. He also created an early version of Scrabble. He liked little girls.

Dodgson enjoyed photographing and drawing nude children. He never married or had any children of his own. Whether his affection for pre-pubescent girls was sexual, or merely tied to Victorian notions of children representing innocence, is still debated. In the prime of his adulthood, one girl in particular caught his fancy: eleven year old Alice Liddell.

Dodgson spent much time with the Liddell family. A favorite activity was taking Alice and her two siblings out on a rowboat, where he would tell them stories. Alice so enjoyed the stories that she begged Charles to write them down. He presented her with a handwritten, illustrated collection in 1864. He called it Alice’s Adventures Underground. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 14. Finding Lemmy: Motörhead, “Ace of Spades”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for ace of spades album coverI first heard Motörhead in 1988. I was a DJ at WCBN-FM, the student-run college radio station in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During my late night shift, someone called in a request for “Ace of Spades” from the band’s 1980 self-titled fourth album. I shuffled through the station’s categorized, alphabetized library and found the record. Its cover featured three guys in the desert, sporting black motorcycle leather and cowboy hats. One of them wore a bandolero across his chest. Another was casually draped in a serape.

Maybe they’ve got a ZZ Top kinda thing going on, I thought to myself as I slapped the album on the platter and dropped the needle.

No. They did not sound like ZZ Top.

Motörhead was more like the rockinist rockety-rock any rockers ever rocked. As in, pure rock-n-roll, extra rock please. Hold the bullshit.

Bass, guitar, drums. Period. Turn it up and spit it out.

Their music wasn’t punk or heavy metal, and it couldn’t be bothered to actively defy or coyly mimic either of those genres. No, Motörhead was just simple, angry, ornery, hard, fast, stripped down, straight head, pumped up, rock n roll with just a dash of levity. They were a hard crack to the chops that made you smile. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 12: What I Don’t Wanna Be: July, The Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for star trek originalDuring my late 1970s New York City childhood, repeats of Star Trek aired every weeknight on channel 11, WPIX. The original 79 episodes ran about three times per year, which means that, allowing for the occasional miss, I’d seen each episode about 10 – 12 times before reaching high school.

And so when I was 14 years old and my friend Erik suggested we attend a Star Trek convention at the Penta Hotel across the street from Madison Square Garden, I jumped at the opportunity. Shit, Leonard Nimoy was gonna be there.

I didn’t really know what to expect as Erik and I rode the bus downtown. But after a half-day traipsing through the convention, I realized there was something going on. It was more than just a bunch of people who really liked Star Trek. Throngs of hardcore fans obsessed over the show’s minutiae, and some even wore Star Trek costumes. I loved the show too, but I felt no sense of kinship with these super fans; in fact, it all made me uneasy.

This was the early 1980s, and the clichés about “Trekkies” were just beginning to develop: men who lacked social skills, couldn’t get a date, and lived in their parents’ basement back when a grown man living with his parents was considered a spectacular failing at adulthood. Today they are derided as geeks or maybe nerds. Back then they were simply losers. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 11: The Virgin Hairs: The Association, “Never My Love”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Forever is a long time.

When I was 8 years old, I vowed that I would never smoke a cigarette. Had my first one when I was 19 and smoked steadily for several years. Camels unfiltered.

At age 10, I made a pact with my best friend: under no circumstances would we ever do drugs. I don’t even know where to begin with that one; it’d be a whole separate book.

Circumstances change. People change. Everything within you changes, as does everything you are within. Oaths are so hard to keep that their ultimate meaning perhaps lies in the breaking. That life is not about our hopes and dreams, but the ways we turn them into lies.

At the alter of a Lutheran church in North Carolina, my paternal grandparents married forever in eyes of God. A couple of decades later, they got divorced. Then they married each other once more. Followed by yet another divorce.

The oath as a sling shot. The oath as a yo-yo.

No less than three times has Sean Connery sworn he was done playing James Bond. Beginning in 1962, he did five films in five years. He burned out, was unhappy with the pay, and worried about typecasting. So he quit the franchise for the first time in 1967 after You Only Live Twice. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 9. Fame and Oblivion: Big Star, “My Life is Right”

by Akim Reinhardt

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

Image result for muteBack in 2014 I circled the country. It was a very long trip. From late August to early November I drove over 9,000 miles, all of it by myself. For many people, perhaps most, that kind of marathon driving day after day, particularly without someone to talk to, is only made bearable by listening to music. And given my own background, which has includes stints as a radio DJ, music critic, and rankly amateur musician, most everyone I know assumes I fall into that camp. Which is why they’re often shocked to find out that I don’t.

In fact, I do most of my long distance driving in silence. No mp3s, no CDs, no tapes, no radio, no singing outloud. Just the sounds of the road.

I love music as much as anyone I’ve ever known, but there is a time and a place for everything. And for me, the open road at 80 miles per hour is usually the time and place when I breath easily and clear my mind. I settle into the groove of the engine and the hum of the rubber rolling over the blacktop. I stare calmly at the world passing by. After a while, driving the contours of America becomes meditative. There’s no knowing what will pass in and out of my mind hour after hour. And when I finally pull over with a few hundred more miles on the odometer, I feel mentally refreshed and damn near at peace.

Often in my travels, there is no space for music roaring from the car speakers. Instead, I mostly crave the quiet, ambient sounds of the road and the magnificent machine that transports me over it.

When I tell people this, they often look at me in horror. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 8. The Other America: The Domino Kings, “Walk Away if You Want to”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

Image result for us highway mapThis song got caught in my head as I circled the country in my 1998 Honda. Leaving New York City, I drove west into the heart of America, up to the Dakotas, out to California, down the Golden State, and then back along the Southern route before angling northward to Baltimore. I saw nearly all the America you can see. But of course there’s not just one America. There are many.

The environment shifts dramatically along the way. So too do the people. From densely packed cities to sparsely populated rural areas. From little towns dotting the countryside to sprawling suburbs that fade into forest or desert or grasslands. It is a vast expanse, the world’s third largest nation in both square mileage (behind Russia and Canada) and population (behind China and India). When I was a kid there were 200,000,000 people. Or so a Burger King commercial told us. Now we’re closing in on 350,000,000.

It takes all types. But of course some types get more attention than others. Mass media consistently highlight white people, the major exception being black entertainers (mostly athletes and singers) and criminals. Men continue to dominate positions of power and prestige. The coasts boast most of the population, and sneeringly refer to the middle as “fly over country.” And the cities and suburbs, home to the vast majority of Americans, largely ignore the small towns and rural areas that actually makeup most of the physical landscape.

My own life illustrates many of America’s different faces. Read more »

Stuck, Ch. 7. Bartender Bookmarks: Thin Lizzy, “Rosalie”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

A latter day incarnation of Harper's
A latter day incarnation of Harper’s at W. 231st St. and Albany Crescent.

During high school, my friends and I used to drink at a local Irish bar. And when I say Irish bar, I don’t mean some contrived yuppie shit hole with an Irish name, a bunch of Gaelic tchochkes splattered across the wall, and overpriced pints of Guiness poured poorly. I mean a working class bar in the Kingsbridge section of The Bronx where Irish immigrants drank, mostly bottles of Bud emptied into small, stemmed glassware. Whatever’s cheap.

The place was called Harper’s. The clientele was mostly old men, with a cacophony of younger people occasionally crowding in on the weekends. Me and my friends started drinking there when we were 16. The legal age in New York was still 18, and neighborhood bars usually didn’t care so long as you were within a couple of years. I didn’t bother buying a fake ID until I went away to college in Michigan. At corner bars in The Bronx, no one even bothered to ask.

Harper’s was the kind of quiet hole in the wall where nothing was happening, but anything could happen and it wouldn’t surprise you. Like out of the blue one night, some guy setup a guitar and small PA, and started singing sad sap Irish folk songs like “I Wish I Was Back Home in Derry.” Harper’s never had live music, but suddenly there he was.

No one paid attention. He never came back.

At some point you were also sure to have someone come into the bar and try to sell you something. Maybe a woman hawking black market movies on VHS, or a huckster pretending to be deaf and mute, collecting money for a fake charity, or some guy peddling roses that you could give to your lady.

None of us ever had a lady. All we ever bought was booze. Read more »

Stuck, Ch 6. Nowhere to Run: Bob Seger, “Night Moves”

Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.

by Akim Reinhardt

Image result for saturnWhen a song gets really stuck in my head, I break it down. I learn how to play it and even ponder ways to fiddle with it and improve it. In the throes of involuntary obsession, it gives me something to do. It’s a coping mechanism, a way to retain my sanity. And for this project, it also means writing, at least a little bit, about the song and artist. To create some context.

But I don’t need to talk about “Night Moves,” or any of a dozen other radio staples by Bob Seger. Why? Because Bob Seger is already a part of you, me, and everyone else. Bob Seger has sold over 50,000,000 albums.

Jesus, what kind of figure is that? 50,000,000. Is that a real number? If it does exist, where would I find that number? Somewhere between the Sun and Saturn, I reckon.

But even if you’re not among the many millions who’ve purchased a Bob Seger album during the last 40 years, he is still woven into every American’s existence. Even if you don’t listen to “classic rock,” or you’re a younger person who can’t put his name to his songs, you still know his music. You know Bob Seger even if you don’t know you know Bob Seger. Because if you’ve ever walked down the aisle of a supermarket, loitered in a 7-11, or simply stood there and pumped your gas, then you’ve heard more Bob Seger than you could possibly imagine. He’s had so many successful songs that simply listing them all would be tedious. Read more »