Monday Oct. 6, 2014


We used to call it the boob tube,
but I guess they don’t use tubes anymore.
Whatever, it serves a small purpose after waking
and before falling asleep. Today’s news—
but is there such a thing as news,
or even oral history? Yes, when you want to go back
after a while and appraise the accumulation
of leaves, say in a sandbox.
The rest is rented depression,
available only in season
and the season is always next month,
a pure but troubled time.

That’s why I don’t go out much, though
staying at home never seemed much of an option.
And speaking of nutty concepts, surely “home”
is way up there on the list. I feel more certain about “now”
and “then,” because they are close to me,
like lovers, though apparently not in love with me,
as I am with them. I like to call to them,
and sometimes they reply, out of the deep business of some dream.

"Composition" by John Ashbery from Where Shall I Wander. © Ecco Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this date in 2007 that Jason Lewis and the Expedition 360 team completed the first entirely human-powered trip around the world. Steve Smith first had the idea while sitting in his office in Paris, so he invited Lewis, a college friend, to accompany him. They had a pedal boat built, which they called theMoksha, a Sanskrit word that means "liberation." They set off from the Meridian Line in Greenwich, England, on July 12, 1994. They headed southeast, pedaled their boat across the English Channel, and cycled through France, Spain, and Portugal before embarking on their crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean crossing took 111 days, and they landed in Miami, Florida. They biked and skated across the continental United States. Steve Smith left the project in Hawaii to write a book about the first leg of the journey.

The team had to stop from time to time to raise money to fund the trip; Lewis took odd jobs at cattle ranches and funeral homes. About a year into the expedition, his journey very nearly ended altogether. He was rollerblading along the side of a Colorado road when he was run over by an 82-year-old drunk driver. Both of Lewis's legs were broken, and he narrowly missed having one of them amputated. He spent six weeks in the hospital and a further nine months recovering before he could resume his journey. There were other low points, like being arrested in Egypt as a suspected spy, contracting malaria, having two hernia operations, and being robbed at machete-point. He only returned home once during his journey, to visit his ailing father, before resuming the trip from where he left off. He crossed the Meridian Line on this date in 2007, more than 13 years after he left it.

Lewis followed the definition of circumnavigation set forth by Explorer's Web: he started and finished at the same point; he crossed two diametrically opposite points on the globe; he crossed the equator at least twice; he passed through all longitudes; and he traveled at least 40,000 miles. He was assisted by a team of volunteers after Smith left, but the entire journey was made on human power alone, with no help from motors, animals, or even sails to capture the wind.

Today is German-American Day. On this date in 1683, English Quaker William Penn brought the first group of German settlers to America. He was granted the territory — a parcel of land nearly as large as England itself — as payment for a debt that the crown owed to his father. The king dubbed the land "Pennsylvania," meaning "Penn's Woods," in honor of the senior Penn. Penn the son called Pennsylvania his "Holy Experiment," and he set about to find a group of righteous men to form a new society founded on Quaker ideals of nonviolence, freedom of religious worship, and equality for all. "Freedom of religion" and "equality" were conditional terms, however. While other religious traditions were tolerated in Pennsylvania, participation in government was restricted to Protestants; Catholics, Jews, and Muslims could not vote or hold office. And Penn's promises of equality didn't really extend to everyone: women couldn't vote, and Penn himself was a slave-owner.

He advertised his new colony in the Free Society of Traders, writing, "The air is sweet and clear, the heavens serene, like the south parts of France, rarely overcast." He found one group of suitably righteous men, 13 in all, in the lower Rhine Valley. They lived in the town of Krefeld, and most of them were Quakers or Mennonites. He brought them, with their families, to America aboard the Concord. They were the first German immigrants to the Colonies, and they founded the settlement of Germantown. Germantown became the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in America five years later, when several town leaders sent a two-page condemnation of slavery to the governing body of the Quaker church.

German-American Day was first celebrated in the 19th century, but fell out of favor due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. President Reagan reinstated it in 1983 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the arrival of the settlers in Philadelphia.

On this date in 1945, Greek tavern-owner William "Billy Goat" Sianis was ejected from Chicago's Wrigley Field for attempting to bring a goat to the World Series. The details of the story vary, but the tavern's version goes something like this: The Cubs were up two games to one over the Detroit Tigers, and they were about to play Game Four. Sianis, whose tavern was across the street from Wrigley Field, hoped to bring his team luck, so he bought two tickets: one for him, and one for his pet goat, Murphy. The ushers wouldn't let him bring the animal inside, ticket or no. Sianis appealed his case all the way up to the team's owner, P.K. Wrigley, who said the man was welcome but the goat was not, because "the goat stinks." According to the legend, Billy then cursed the team, saying, "The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field." The Cubs went on to lose the next three games of the World Series to the Tigers, and Billy promptly sent Wrigley a telegram that read, "Who stinks now?" In spite of multiple attempts to placate the ghosts of Billy and Murphy in recent years, the Cubs haven't won — or even appeared in — the Fall Classic since.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®