December 16, 2018
Garrison Keillor returns to Crooner’s with singer Christine DiGiallonardo & pianist Richard Dworsky. Shows at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
New York, NY
December 2, 2018
A mini Prairie Home reunion featuring Garrison Keillor, Rob Fisher, Fred Newman, and Heather Masse and Christine DiGiallonardo.
November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
Her Husband Away on a Business Trip, She Takes the Old Pontiac In for Repairs
by Jo McDougall
The young service manager
comes round to explain,
as if someone were dying,
what will have to be done. “It’s more,”
he says, “than we thought.”
I want to tell him it’s all right,
I’ve heard worse;
we’re all orphans here.
Live long enough,
you might as well be a spider
in a corner of the basement,
year in, year out,
But I like this young man
trying to help me understand
that the car is on its last breath.
“Another hour or so, Ma’am,”
he says. ”I’m sorry for the wait.”
It’s all right; I’ll be home soon,
perhaps to find you unpacking,
the cat murmuring to himself
like a contented chicken, the radio
waffling through its noise, the replenished Pontiac
exhaling slowly in the drive.
“Her Husband Away on a Business Trip, She Takes the Old Pontiac In for Repairs” by Jo McDougall, winner of the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award in Literature from the Porter Prize Fund of Arkansas and Poet Laureate of Arkansas. From In the Home of the Famous Dead, published by U. of Arkansas Press. © 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of Stephen E. Ambrose, (books by this author) born in Lovington, Illinois (1936), who wrote several best-selling books about American history, including Band of Brothers (1992) and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (1996).
He was a longtime professor, and many of the stories he wrote in his popular history books were ones he’d told over and over to his college students, trying hard to entertain them. He said, “There is nothing like standing before 50 students at 8:00 a.m. to start talking about an event that occurred 100 years ago, because the look on their faces is a challenge — ‘Let’s see you keep me awake.’ You learn what works and what doesn’t in a hurry.”
It was on this day in 1776 that a 77-page pamphlet called “Common Sense” was published anonymously, making the case that the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was written by Thomas Paine. (books by this author) The pamphlet sold more than 500,000 copies, more copies than any other publication had ever sold at that time in America.
John Adams would always be somewhat jealous of the attention “Common Sense” and its author received, but even he had to admit that it was “Common Sense,” more than anything else, that had persuaded most ordinary Americans to support independence.
It’s the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1887). He was still trying to figure out what to do for a living when he inherited enough money to support himself writing poetry, so he moved to the coast of California and built himself an observation tower so that he could observe the natural world and write about it.
He was living in his tower, without electricity or plumbing, publishing his books of poetry at his own expense, when an editor chose one of his poems for an anthology of California verse. Jeffers sent the editor his new collection Tamar and Other Poems (1924) as a thank-you gift, and the editor liked it so much that he sent it around to various magazines, where it got great reviews. Jeffers sent all the copies of the book he had to New York, and they immediately sold out.
Within a year, Jeffers was hailed as a genius, compared to Sophocles and Shakespeare and Walt Whitman. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Real estate agents started using his name to sell land in Carmel, California, where he lived. But after his initial success, he began to write long narrative poems that no one could categorize. By the 1940s, Jeffers had sunk back into obscurity. He’s been reassessed in the last three decades as possibly one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century. A new collection of his work, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, came out in 2001.
It was on this day in 1901 that the first oil gusher in the United States erupted at Spindletop, just outside Beaumont, Texas. It was considered the beginning of the oil age or petroleum age.
In 1901, all of America’s oil came from the East, mostly from Pennsylvania, and the experts were sure that Pennsylvania was the future of the nation’s oil. The president of Standard Oil, John Archbold, was amused when someone told him in 1885 that they had discovered oil in Oklahoma — he said, “I’ll drink every gallon of oil produced west of the Mississippi!” Ten years later, Texas had started producing respectable amounts of oil, and some oil tycoons sent in people to drill. But the results were small compared to Pennsylvania, and they quickly gave up and left. At this point, Standard Oil controlled more than 80 percent of the oil in the country.
Not everyone was surprised that there was oil in Spindletop, which most people from Beaumont called the Big Hill. Native Americans had been using it medicinally for centuries. Spanish explorers used it to waterproof their boots. And one man who lived near Spindletop was convinced that there was enough oil there to shift the focus from Pennsylvania to Texas, and even to replace coal as the primary energy source. His name was Patillo Higgins, and most people thought he was crazy. He was a determined, wiry man who had lost one arm in a gunfight. He finally convinced some local entrepreneurs to invest by promising them millions, but when he tried to drill, he came up totally dry. After that, townspeople sarcastically called him “the millionaire” and stopped taking him seriously. So Higgins ran an ad in a trade journal in New York City, promising the same thing. He only got one response, but that was all he needed. The Croatian-born oil explorer Anthony Lucas signed on, and they started drilling in late 1900. Finally, on this day in 1901, they hit a depth of about 1,200 feet, and natural gas started shooting out of the ground, followed by crude oil.
The oil gusher reached a height of 200 feet straight up in the air, and produced about 4.2 million gallons of oil every day for nine days. Over the course of those nine days, about 50,000 people observed the gusher. Within the year, the town of Beaumont went from 8,000 people to 60,000. That first Spindletop well produced as much oil as 37,000 Eastern wells combined, and by the end of 1910 there were more than 100 wells on Spindletop. Before 1901, oil and petroleum had been mostly for lamps — suddenly, it was the cheapest fuel, just three cents a barrel.
It was on this day in 49 B.C. that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and launched a civil war.
At the time of Caesar’s birth, in 100 B.C., the Roman Republic was falling into political chaos. It had only nominal control of its provinces, which were really under the command of their powerful governors. A few wealthy individuals were becoming increasingly corrupt, and they found it easier to settle political issues with the military than to try and honor Roman law. Caesar was born into a wealthy and well-known family, but one without much political clout. Caesar became the head of his family at the age of 16 after his father died, and he worked his way up quickly through various official positions and appointments — he was an assistant to the consul, a chief priest, a governor of Spain, and then consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He formed the “first triumvirate” with Pompey and Crassus — Pompey was a military hero who was frustrated with the politics of the Republic, and Crassus was one of the richest people in the Republic, and is still considered one of the wealthiest people who has ever lived. Even though Pompey and Crassus hated each other, Caesar convinced them that it was worth getting over their differences, because the power and wealth that the three men had together made them hugely influential. The Triumvirate was secured when Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia.
Caesar was appointed governor of Gaul — what is now France and Belgium, but at that point was part of the Roman Republic. There, he recruited soldiers and conquered most of Western Europe, all the way to Britain. But back in Rome, his political alliances were falling apart. Crassus was killed in battle, hating Pompey until the end. Pompey turned against Caesar, and after Julia died, Pompey got remarried to the daughter of one of Caesar’s enemies. Pompey had been appointed the temporary leader of the Senate and was turning the Senate against Caesar, declaring him an enemy of state.
In 50 B.C., the Senate announced that Caesar’s term as a governor had ended, and demanded that he disband his army and return to Rome. According to Roman law, if a general was accompanied by a standing army when he entered the official Roman Republic from one of the Roman provinces, he would be considered a traitor. Caesar was afraid that if he obeyed Pompey’s orders and disbanded his army, he would be prosecuted by the Senate for abusing power in the past, and would have no one to defend him.
The Rubicon River formed the border between Gaul and the Roman Republic. According to legend, even when Caesar got to the river with his army, he had still not made up his mind about what he would do. With the famous phrase Alea iacta est, or “the die is cast,” he decided to cross.
Because of Caesar, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has entered popular culture, meaning “past the point of no return.” And it is used in all sorts of contexts. In various articles written last fall, Google was “crossing the Rubicon” for the online shopping industry by making it possible for shoppers to see which local stores carry the products they want, in their store, at that very moment; Subaru was “crossing the Rubicon to sedan-hood” with its switch away from a hatchback for one of its models; Joe Biden said, “I crossed the Rubicon about not being president and being vice president when I decided to take this office.” Rubicon is the name of a recently terminated conspiracy thriller TV show, and Crossing the Rubicon is the title of an album by the Swedish band The Sounds. The Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Sometimes you don’t know if you’re Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line.”