The History of College Basketball Happened Here

The Palestra

223 South 33rd St., Philadelphia

The Palestra
The Palestra

The Palestra, located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, opened its doors for the first time on Jan. 1, 1927. Penn beat Yale 26-15 in that first game. A crowd of 10,000 filled the arena to capacity and at the time was the largest attendance ever for a college basketball game.

1886 Penn basketball team
Penn basketball dates back to 1886. This squad dropped a 6-4 nail biter to Temple.
Visiting players at the Palestra
Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin played in the Palestra with visiting teams. Today they each coach their respective alma maters, Georgetown and St. John’s.
Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain played here too. With Overbrook High School.

The Palestra is the home of Penn’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. It also hosts many games of Philadelphia’s Big Five: Temple, Villanova, Penn, LaSalle and St. Joseph’s. The arena has hosted more college basketball games and more NCAA tournament games than any other facility. Fifty-two NCAA tournament games have been played here beginning in 1939. It also hosted the first ever Ivy League championship tournament in 2017.

Big Five
Big Five

Penn and Princeton have played each other 240 times beginning in 1903. Penn has won 126 of those games. Between the two they have won 26 Ivy League titles. Each team has been to the NCAA tournament 24 times. That’s more than schools like Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida. Each has made it to a Final Four. This year Princeton won both games, including a 62-53 victory at the Palestra when these photos were taken.

Penn vs. Princeton at the Palestra
Penn vs. Princeton
Princeton pep band
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Of Cults, Baseball and Equal Rights: Pt. 3, Barnstorming Montana

“Headed by the great Satchel Paige and an all-star cast of colored and white players of world fame, Kansas City Monarchs (colored) and House of David (white) baseball professionals will present Helena’s greatest baseball treat of the season when they clash at 6:15 this evening at the East Helena baseball park.”

That quote from the Helena (Mont.) Independent Record on June 28, 1939, reflects the excitement in towns like Helena when the Kansas City Monarchs and House of David baseball teams came to town.  The Monarchs were a Negro League team that broke away and opted to travel around the country on their own. The House of David was a team composed primarily of members of the Benton Harbor, Mich., based religious cult. With major league baseball nowhere in sight the barnstorming baseballers were as good as it got for local baseball fans.

The Independent Record went on: “Fans are sure to see a great contest between two teams of big league caliber and one of the largest crowds of all time is expected for the game. Every fan in this part of the country will want to see the famous House of David trio, Tally, Tucker and Anderson, with their internationally famous ‘pepper ball game’ a delightful treat well worth the admission price alone.”

The Helena paper went on to preview some of the players who would be participating. From the House of David they included:

“Third base Andy Anderson. Twelve years with the team. Original long haired player and ‘pepper game’ artist. Can play any position on the team and is a reliable hitter and fielder.

“First base. John R. Tucker, manager. This is Tucker’s sixteenth season with this organization. He is noted for his antics around first base and is a member of the famous ‘pepper game’ trio.”

House of David ballplayers

Apparently the game did not disappoint. The Monarchs won a high-scoring back and forth affair 12-6. And the House of David ‘pepper game’ didn’t disappoint either. The next day Independent Record effused: “The great ‘pepper ball game’ delighted the crowd in the seventh when Anderson, Tucker and Tally put on their brilliant show that has made them internationally famous. They were given a fine ovation from the audience.” Paige, who also had a stint hurling for the House of David, did not pitch this game but was held over to the next night when the Monarchs played a local team, thus assuring another big crowd.

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A little more than a decade earlier, the House of David made headlines for another reason, one that has become an unfortunately familiar story involving cults. Several women came forward with charges of sexual abuse against the founder Benjamin Purnell. Some described a ritual in which Purnell paired up commune members and forced them to marry, but only after his “blood cleansing” ceremony that involved him sleeping with the prospective brides. This is going on in a commune where members are sworn to celibacy. Purnell also came under suspicion for financial irregularities after a series of investigative reports in the Detroit Free Press. A Michigan court ordered Purnell to leave the colony in 1927 and he died shortly thereafter.

Following Purnell’s death there was a leadership struggle between his wife Mary and Judge T.H. Dewhirst who had been the head of the commune’s board of directors. This eventually led to a split. In 1930, Mary left the commune, along with her followers, and created a separate organization, known as the City of David. The split affected the ballplayers as well with some staying with the original group while others left with Mary Purnell and formed a second House of David team. It was the group associated with City of David which barnstormed through Montana with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1939.

The original House of David team stopped travelling the country in the late 30’s. The City of David version played all the way until 1955. In the intervening years there were a number of other House of David teams touring the country, most being the product of promoters who took advantage of the fact there was no copyright on the name.

The House of David still exists and has a Web site. On that site they say “We remain among America’s oldest practicing Christian communities. Working closely with local artisans, craftsmen, and dozens of dedicated workers, we are restoring our most beautiful buildings to their former grandeur and preserving our heritage. As this work is still ongoing, we remain a private residential religious community, we are regretably not open to the public.” But lo and behold, they’ve got a Facebook page.

Part of that heritage is on the baseball diamond. As the cult team traveled from town to town, fans in cities across America, in Canada and in Mexico, flocked to see games that included white and black players and even a female player here and there. And they did so long before the integration of major league baseball.

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See also:

Pt. 1 St. Louis Cardinals vs. the House of David

Pt. 2 The World Series of the West

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Of Cults, Baseball and Equal Rights: Pt. 2, The World Series of the West

In 1934 baseball was segregated. The major leagues were white. All white. Black players played in the Negro Leagues. No one was crossing that line. It was still 13 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the major leagues.

But things were different in Denver at a tournament that has been called “The World Series of the West.” The annual Denver Post tournament invited white teams, They invited black teams. And in 1934 the tournament featured the rarest of all 1930’s American baseball squads, an integrated team.

There were two clear favorites at the start of the 1934 tournament. One was the Kansas City Monarchs, a former Negro League team that broke loose and traveled the country playing in mostly non-major league towns. The other was the House of David, the team of the Benton Harbor, Mich., religious cult.

Kansas City’s black newspaper, The Call, offered this preview of the tournament: “The Monarchs have given the white players some knowledge of the game which the white boys expect to use against the Kansas City team in the tournament. Nor are the white boys a bit prejudiced. They have sent east and Satchel Paige of the once famous Birmingham club but now of the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro National League, will hurl for the House of David team.”

Paige was a legendary Negro League pitcher who started his career in 1924 and finally, at the age of 42, became a major league pitcher in 1948. The “Jesus boys,” as Paige called his House of David teammates, also brought in Paige’s catcher Cy Perkins.

1934 Kansas City Monarchs
The 1934 Kansas City Monarch team that played in the Denver Post tournament.

In the tournament, the Monarchs breezed to a 12-1 opening game victory over the Greeley Advertisers. The House of David followed suit blitzing the Italian Bakery of Denver team 16-0. Paige made his debut in the tournament in the second game, beating the Eason Oilers 6-1. Two nights later, he was on the mound again, striking out 17 batters in a 4-0 shutout win over the Humble Oilers of Overton, Texas.

In their fourth game of the tournament the House of David came head-to-head with the Kansas City Monarchs. Paige took the mound for the third time in five days and recorded another victory, this one by a 2-1 score. A whopping crowd of more than 11,000 witnessed that one.

The same two teams met in the tournament championship. Paige was on the bench for this one. Some say the House of David manager was holding him back for a possible second game, if they had lost the first. Others suggest the real reason was that Paige was getting paid by the win and he could already lay claim to a significant portion of the House of David’s winnings. The House of David went on to win the championship by a 2-0 score in a game described by the Reno Gazette Journal as “fast and devoid of fielding miscues.” Paige was named the tournament’s outstanding pitcher. His prize: a coffee percolator.

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The Benton Harbor, Mich., based cult first put a baseball team on the field in 1913. They initially played local competition. In 1915 they joined the Berrios County League and won it. A year later they expanded their schedule, playing in Indiana, Chicago and Wisconsin. By 1917 they were traveling the country. They bused from town to town sometimes playing as many as three games in a day. At their peak, in 1936, they traveled 35,000 miles and compiled a record of 144-46-5.

The House of David ballpark, Benton Harbor, Mich.

Baseball increased the visibility of the cult and led to the recruitment of new members. It also raised money for the commune. Most of the players were cult members. Chris Siriano, curator of the House of David Museum, claims “they were good players, but they couldn’t play in the majors because they wouldn’t shave or cut their hair.”

But they also brought in guest players, like Paige. In 1934 they signed Babe Didrikson, a winner of two gold medals in track and field in the 1932 Olympics and an accomplished basketball player. Didrikson was the most famous female athlete of the time. A year earlier the Davids had sent a 19-year-old woman pitcher, Jackie Mitchell, to the mound to face the St. Louis Cardinals. (see Pt. 1, St. Louis Cardinals vs. House of David.)

From 1931 to 1935 the House of David manager was Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. He occasionally took the mound for a relief stint with the cult team. He was easy enough to spot in the dugout; he was the one without the beard. There was even a point when Babe Ruth was considering signing with the House of David as his major league career was winding down. One suspects that one side or the other came to their senses and realized the no sex, no alcohol, cult lifestyle was not going to be a good fit for the Babe.

The cult team was one of the first to play night games on a regular basis, hauling their own flood lights across country with them. And they invented the game of pepper which was to become a widely used warm-up exercise for baseballers. As played by the House of David, “the pepper game” as they called it was a spectacle. Presented as some between-inning entertainment, the House of David players would throw the ball between their legs, over their shoulders and behind their back.

The Davids played local baseball clubs, semi-pro teams, the occasional major league team and teams from the Negro Leagues. In his book “J.L. Wilkinson and the Kansas City Monarchs,” author William A. Young notes, “Often the Monarchs and House of David team traveled together. The Monarchs toured an area, defeating local teams, followed by the House of David team, who bested the same clubs. Then the Monarchs and House of David staged ‘championship games’ in the same little towns, guaranteeing large crowds.”

The House of David players not only shared the diamond with black teams, they traveled, dined and lodged with them as well. And if some promoter objected to that arrangement, well he could just pass on the payday of the large crowd that a House of David game was certain to attract.

In next week’s post, I’ll catch up with the House of David barnstorming with the Monarchs through Montana.

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Of Cults, Baseball and Equal Rights: Pt. 1, St. Louis Cardinals vs. House of David

On the night of Sept. 12, 1933, the St. Louis Cardinals took the field for only second night game in the history of Sportsman’s Park. This Cardinals team included eight players who would ultimately be elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame. They included Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch, Rogers Hornsby and Dizzy Dean. In the visitors’ dugout was a squad of celibate, vegetarian guys with long beards and even longer hair. Except for the starting pitcher that is. On that night the House of David team sent to the mound a 19-year-old Chattanooga woman, Jackie Mitchell.

House of David baseball team

Here’s how the St. Louis Star and Times of Sept. 13 described Mitchell’s appearance: “The 19-year old blond southpaw went through her ‘act’ in grand fashion. She wore a white uniform while her mates were clad in traveling grays and her first move upon reaching the mound was to bring out her mirror, rouge stick and powder puff and delay the game for a brief period while she applied the cosmetics.”

But “the feminine star encountered no difficulty in disposing of the big leaguers.” Star reporter Ray J. Gillespie added: “The 19-year old miss…didn’t have enough speed to break a pane of glass, but she cut loose with a dandy ‘hook’ and a fine cross-fire delivery.”

MItchell left after one inning. The score for that inning: House of David 4, Cardinals 0.

Jackie Mitchell first achieved notoriety as a 17-year-old who signed for her hometown Chattanooga Lookouts, a double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. In a 1931 exhibition game against the Yankees, Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in consecutive at bats. While some commentators have questioned the efficacy of those at bats, there is video evidence that they did in fact happen. Shortly after that, Mitchell’s contract was voided by Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis who apparently opined that women weren’t tough enough to play baseball.

In an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the day after the game, Mitchell said: “I believe I could qualify and might be signed by a major league team and might someday get to play in a World Series if Judge Landis hadn’t ruled against my playing in major league ball. He doesn’t give any reason for his ruling either.”

Following the loss of her contract Mitchell signed with the House of David touring team. In that interview she commented on her teammates. “Look at their record: won 17 and lost four since I have been with them. They are all fine, clean living athletes and so nice to me. I never really have heard what you might call a cuss word from one of the them, and when an opposing player forgets himself they are quick to remind him that there is a lady present.”

The Post-Dispatch reporter added: “Jackie is decidedly feminine in appearance and weighs 132 pounds. She wears her cap at a jaunty angle and is meticulous about her uniform. Some of the male members of the House of David team chide her about stopping ball games to powder her nose. Miss Mitchell is accompanied on all of the House of David trips by her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Mitchell of Chattanooga.”

Why would the major league team interrupt their National League season to play an exhibition game against these barnstormers?  Some 10,000 people turned out for the Cardinals game against the House of David. During the 1933 season the Cardinals averaged just over 3,000 a game for their major league schedule. The final score of the game: House of David 8, St. Louis Cardinals 6.

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The House of David was a religious cult based in Benton Harbor, Mich. It was founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in 1903. Benjamin hyped himself as the “seventh messenger of God.” They believed that Jesus was coming back and he would restore the Garden of Eden. By the end of the decade they had attracted several hundred followers and controlled 1,000 acres. Followers of the House of David turned over all their possessions to the cult and lived in the commune in Benton Harbor.  They swore off sex, alcohol, meat, haircuts and shaves.

House of David baker
Baker at House of David commune

They built out the commune with its own electric plant, cannery, bakery and carpentry shop. They sponsored an orchestra and a jazz band and erected an amphitheater for them to perform.

Among the innovations that the House of David has been credited with are veggie burgers, sugar cones and bottled spring water. They operated a zoo and amusement park called Eden Springs that was a major tourist attraction by the 1930’s. To support the tourist business they opened a hotel, a motor lodge and some cabins. But what this bearded cult is most known for is its baseball team.

In next week’s post I’ll tell the story of how the House of David added a legendary Negro League pitcher to its roster to compete in a rare baseball event for 1930’s America: an integrated tournament.

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Thinkers, Makers, Dreamers — The MIT Museum

Lightproof Suit
Lightproof Suit, Luc Courchesne

Gestural Engineering

The Sculpture of Arthur Ganson

Imagined Communities

Photographs by Mila Teshaiewa

Neuroscience at MIT

Large Tuning Fork
Large Tuning Fork, Wen-Ying Tsai
Glass canes
Glass canes
Modular rhythm machine
Modular rhythm machine
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Hopper and Other Favorites from the Whitney Collection

Where We Are

Selections from the Whitney Collection, 1900-1960

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Edward Hopper

Hopper's Railroad Sunset
Railroad Sunset, 1929
Hopper's Apartment Houses
Apartment Houses, East River , 1930
Hopper's Early Sunday Morning
Early Sunday Morning, 1930
Hopper's Seven A.M.
Seven A.M., 1948
Hopper's A Woman in the sun
A Woman in the Sun, 1961

Looks Like Hopper

Winter Twilight
Winter Twilight, Charles Burchfield, 1930
Death Avenue
Death Avenue, Reginald Marsh, 1927

The Others

Music Pink and Blue No. 2
Music Pink and Blue No. 2, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918
New York - Liberty
New York-Liberty, Florine Stettheimer, 1918
Strike Scene
Strike Scene, Louis Lozowick, 1935
The Louisville Flood
The Louisville Flood, Margaret Bourke-White, 1937
The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme
The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, Joseph Stella, 1939
State Park
State Park, Jared French, 1946
Poker Night
Poker Night (From A Streetcar Named Desire), Thomas Hart Benton, 1948
Bathroom
Bathroom, Roy Lichtenstein, 1961
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The Five Best Books I Read in 2018

These are the five best books I read in the past year (which has nothing to do with when they were written or published). They are presented in no particular order. Since I had surgery that laid me up for a few weeks this year, I had an unusually large number to pick from. Maybe this will become an annual feature of offtheleash.net.

The Radium Girls, Kate Moore

The Radium Girls

A brilliant book about a very dark chapter in the history of industrialization in America. Hundreds of working class teenagers and young women were poisoned by an industrial process that would eventually lead to an excruciating debilitation ending in death.

The radium girls were dial painters. They painted numbers on watch dials with an illuminessent paint that contained radium. At the start of the 20th century, radium was thought to be some kind of wonder substance which was given credit for everything from curing cancer to immortality. But in fact it ate through anything that came in its path and attached itself to human bones. The dial painting process involved “pointing” the brush with the girls’ lips. Before long some of them would be lifting their jawbones out of their toothless mouths.

It happened in New Jersey, in Connecticut and in Illinois. A few different radium corporations were involved and they all acted the same way. They denied there was any link to the girls conditions and their employment and when they found evidence to the contrary, they hid it. They hired doctors to lie about what they found when they examined the girls. And they hired lawyers to keep them from having to compensate their victims.

The story has many heroes. There’s the Chicago lawyer who agreed to represent some of the Illinois girls even knowing they had no way to pay. And there was the New Jersey doctor who identified the radium poisoning and where it came from and who went public with his findings, knowing the corporations and their hired experts would try to impugn his reputation.

But the biggest heroes were some of the women themselves who fought for recompense and justice, pretty much against all odds. One, who weighed no more than 70 pounds because of the poisoning, had to be carried to the witness stand but stood tall when the bullying corporate lawyer tried to undermine her credibility. Their legal battles played a role in changing industrial workplace rules and in increasing the world’s understanding of the dangers of radioactivity.

Kate Moore is a great writer who could not have told this story in a more interesting and compelling manner. Five stars is not enough for this book.

The Earth Gazers, Christopher Potter

The Earth Gazers

A fascinating book. Couldn’t be more interesting. Potter’s story begins with Charles Lindbergh in Cape Kennedy watching the launch of Apollo 8. That scene describes the range of the book, from Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic to the Apollo missions to the moon.

The Lindbergh story alone makes the read worthwhile. Most of us know about the Spirit of St. Louis, the kidnapping and murder of his son and the World War II era speech that forever after tagged him as a anti-Semite. But I knew little else about him. In later life he devoted himself to saving endangered species. He became something of a recluse, although that didn’t stop him from visiting Europe to see the two or three families he had produced with German mistresses.

Rocketry and space exploration needed war to advance. The rockets that would launch both American and Russian spaceships were derived from advances made by the Nazis during World War II. While the scientists responsible may have had visions of visiting the Moon or Mars, the Nazis paying the bills were looking for weapons to knock out England. After the war, the German scientists were divided up between the U.S.and Russia like the spoils of war. One, Wernher Von Braun, was to the become the engineering rockstar of the U.S. space program.

Many of these scientists were an important part of the two countries space advancements. The Cold War fueled the space race and was the reason that the U.S. and Russia made billions of dollars available to their programs. Von Braun for one knew who to play this game, dredging up the frightening prospect of being behind Russia whenever approval or funding was needed. And as Cold War fever cooled in the late 60’s and 70’s, so did government interest in space programs.

Potter goes beyond the dates and accomplishments of the various noteworthy and record-breaking flights and focuses on the experience of the pilots, astronauts and cosmonauts. For example, Lindbergh, toward the tail end of his trans-Atlantic flight, described feeling that the fuselage behind him was filled with ghostly beings “vaguely outlined forms, transparent, moving, riding weightless with me in the plane.”

True to the title of the book many of these astronauts put into words what it was like to see the earth from a perspective that only a few dozen have ever had. Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman, a member of the first space crew to leave earth’s gravitational pull, said, “We were the first human beings to see the world in its majestic totality. This must be what God sees.’” Gemini astronaut Mike Collins described his sighting of his home planet as follows: ”The little planet is so small out there in the vastness that at first I couldn’t even locate it. And when I did a tingling of awe spread over me. There it was shining like a jewel in a black sky.”

For some it was a religious experience. Many returned home and became environmentalists. I doubt that few if any of these explorers of the heavens would buy into Trumpian climate change denial. They came back to earth feeling the need to protect it and in spite of the nationalism that often surrounded the space program the experience left them with a more global view.

NASA was a micromanaging sort of organization and one of the aspects of this story that I enjoyed was the stories of the astronauts who as a group were not that keen on being told what to do. When John Glenn heard that NASA didn’t want their astronauts taking “tourist photos” from space, he went out and bought a $20 camera to sneak on board with him. Another of the astronauts hid a corned beef sandwich in his space suit to better enjoy the flight.

As a baby boomer who came of age during the space race, I always sort of figured that NASA had everything under control before they zapped a man or two up into the cosmos. Wrong. There were a frightening number of failed tests and problems associated with many of these flights. When Frank Borman’s wife Susan was advised by a NASA official that he had a 50/50 chance of returning safely she actually began planning his memorial service.

This is not my usual reading fare. I doubt that I ever would have found my way to the shelf where this book is placed in most book stores. I got it as an unexpected premium after making a donation to a listener-sponsored radio station (thank you WFMU). Sure glad I did. Potter tells the story brilliantly and has crammed in as many interesting facts and anecdotes as you could possibly fit onto 400 pages. It may seem weird to describe a book about aviation history as a page-turner, but trust me on this one.

News of the World, Paulette Jiles

News of the World

A 71-year-old veteran of two wars makes his way through post Civil War Texas armed with…newspapers. Captain Cody, bankrupted by the Civil War after being forced to invest in Confederate bonds, makes his living traveling from town to town, booking the local meeting hall and reading selected stories from newspapers from around the country and around the world. He charges ten cents a head.

This is a tale of humanity. Cody is accompanied on his weeks long journey from Wichita Falls to San Antonio by a 10 year old girl. The girl is the daughter of German immigrants, kidnapped by Native Americans after her parents were killed. She grew up in the Native American culture with a Native American mother but was sold back in return for a few blankets. Cody has been engaged to return her to her closest living relatives. She not only cannot speak English but has no interest in coming to grips with things like wearing shoes and eating with a fork

There are a good number of adventures along the way but the compelling part of this story is how two people with nothing in common and seemingly incompatible cultural norms influence and move each other. News of the World is a period piece about Texas after the Civil War. It is lawless and chaotic. It is bitterly divided and the economy is in shambles. Folks are suffering.

Giles has written a moving story. It is historical fiction but with clear connections to the bitterness and hatefulness in 21st century America. Both suspenseful and thoughtful, it is a quick and engaging read.

Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers

Heroes of the Frontier

The leader of this band of heroes is a 40-year-old dentist named Josie. The troop includes her 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. The frontier is Alaska. Josie is fleeing Ohio, a place she describes as “birthplace of most of the country’s presidents, now home to most of its assholes.”

More importantly she is escaping from three people. There is the husband who abandoned her and whose most distinguishing characteristic seems to be that he shits six times a day. There is the old woman and former patient whose lawsuit brought down Josie’s dental practice. And there is the memory of a teenager who was killed in Afghanistan and whose enlistment Josie had encouraged.

So she finds herself running away with her kids in a beat-to-crap old camper, drifting through Alaska with no particular destination nor much knowledge of where she is. Along the way she gets caught squatting in some angry dude’s cabin, she gets caught by her son riding the proprietor of an RV park and gets caught up in wildfires drifting across Alaska. Josie greets each situation alternately with horror and euphoria.

Eggers tells the tale with his usual combination of human insight and a touch of humor. I’ve yet to read one of his books that I didn’t enjoy, fiction or non-fiction. This one is a tale of escaping from ordinary suburban life. And more important than the geography, what this band of “heroes” escape from is concern about tomorrow.

Nomadland, Jessica Bruder

Nomadland

It is one of the foundational precepts of the American narrative that if you work hard you can make a living, raise a family, own a house. If you work harder you can get more. And conversely if you can’t make ends meet, it’s probably your own fault.

Twenty years ago Barbara Ehrenreich wrote what would become a classic book that blew a hole in that myth. In “Nickel and Dimed” she set out to discover first hand whether you could make a go of it by working full time as a house cleaner or a waitress or a Walmart “associate.” She traveled the country taking these jobs then trying to find the cheapest available housing. The subtitle of her book “On (Not) Getting By in America” tells you what she found.

Now in the 2010’s, another journalist author, Jessica Bruder, set out to discover Nomadland. She spent three years living with these “houseless” as opposed to “homeless” folks. For part of the time she lived in a van and took on jobs at the sugar beet harvest and as part of the “Camperforce” at an Amazon warehouse.

The inhabitants of Nomadland are living in vans, campers, trailers. Most of them are far from new. They are not druggies or alcoholics, nor are they societal dropouts. Most are in their 60’s if not older. They were laid low by the 2008 financial crisis, some by divorce settlements, others were bankrupted by medical bills. Some had pretty good careers but were then aged out of the workforce and found the only jobs available to them were minimum wage, seasonal or temporary gigs. The only way they can get by is by eliminating the cost of housing. 

One of the people Bruder meets had a 45-year career at McDonalds, an executive who at one time was their director of product development. He and his wife lost all of their savings during the Wall Street crisis, had their home foreclosed and are now living in a 1996 National Seabreeze motorcoach.

Bruder befriends Linda May, a woman in her 60’s, who is living in a tin can of a trailer hitched to the back of her car. In the summer she goes to the forests in California where she works as a camp host, doing everything from registering guests to scrubbing out the outhouses. Then for the Christmas season she enrolls in the Amazon Camperforce brigade where she is pushed to work 10 hours a day like a robot on steroids. The pay is minimal, but they get a parking spot.

One of the people she meets says of her fellow vandwellers “After a lifetime of chasing the American dream, they have come to the conclusion it was nothing but a big con.” What is remarkable about the inhabitants of Nomadland is that they don’t spend their time whining and complaining. They are a personable lot, anxious to help each other and looking for ways to improve their ‘homes.’ Many head to the desert in Arizona each year for a gathering called the Rubber Tramp Rendevous. One offers a seminar demonstrating how he tripped out his Prius as a home on wheels.

But in the end, as Bruder says, “Wages and housing costs have diverged so dramatically that, for a growing number of Americans, the dream of a middle-class life has gone from difficult to impossible.” Pretty hard to take a look at the future for these folks.

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Let’s Pretend It’s 1965 and We’re in the East Village

Save the Village
The Velvet Underground Experience
All photos from the Velvet Underground Experience on Broadway in the East Village

The Band

The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground with Andy Warhol

The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground
Performing as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable
Cale, Reed, Warhol
John Cale, Lou Reed, Andy Warhol
John Cale, Lou Reed
Cale and Reed many years later (1989)

The Shows

Velvet Underground at Summit High School
The Velvet Underground was the first warm-up band in a show at Summit High School in New Jersey in 1965

The Music

The Velvet Underground and Nico
The Velvet Underground and Nico, the first album, 1967
Velvet Underground album
White Light/White Heat, the 2nd album

Some Greenwich Village contemporaries

America, Allen Ginsberg

It’s the 1960’s

Cafe Bizarre
An early Velvet Underground venue
Vietnam War protest
Death March of the Bread & Puppet Theater protesting the Vietnam War
Hippie poster
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Big Art

City on the High Mountain
City on the High Mountain, Louise Nevelson

Storm King Art Center

a 500-acre outdoor sculpture park in Mountainville, N.Y.

Three-Fold Manifestation II
Three-Fold Manifestation II, Alice Aycock
Lockport
Lockport, Lyman Kipp
Adonai
Adonai, Alexander Liberman
Suspended
Suspended, Menashe Kadishman
Gazebo for Two Anarchists
Gazebo for Two Anarchists: Gabriella Antolini and Alberto Antolini, Siah Armagani
Gazebo for Two Anarchists
Gabriella Antolini and her brother Alberto were imprisoned for transportation of explosives in the Youngstown Affair of 1918.
Five Modular Units
Five Modular Units, Sol LeWitt
Richard Stankiewicz sculpture at Storm King Art Center
1979-4, Richard Stankiewicz
Free Ride Home
Free Ride Home, Kenneth Snelson

Five Swords

Five Swords, Alexander Calder

One
One, George Sugarman
She, Mark di Suvero
She, Mark di Suvero

Pyramidian, Mark di Suvero

Pyramidian, Mark di Suvero

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Backyard Bird Feeder Bedlam

I have a bird feeder encased in a narrow cage opening cage. That works out well for the sparrows that we share our backyard with. Since these little guys apparently don’t migrate, so I’ve been trying to keep the feeder stocked as the weather has gotten colder. That has attracted the attention of some unexpected visitors.

Here’s how things usually look:

Sparrows at bird feeder
Sparrows at bird feeder

This blue jay would like to crash the party, if he could only fit.

Blue jay at bird feeder
Blue jay at bird feeder
Blue jay at bird feeder

The squirrel doesn’t fit either. But being a true bottom feeder, he discovered that by hanging upside down he could scrape off the crumbs.

Blue jay at bird feeder
Blue jay at bird feeder
Blue jay at bird feeder

 Pecked clean!

Bird feeder
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