Category Archives: General

Another 10

Anyone on Facebook the past few weeks has come across the challenge to list 10  books that have influenced (and presumably been read by) the person in question. A certain amount of sniping has followed, mostly over the number of people who claim to have read Joyce.

No one asked for my list, but I mentally began compiling one anyway — and soon noticed some things even more surprising than how many people are simpatico with Dante. Hardly any of the lists I’ve seen include the Bible, William Shakespeare or non-fiction in general.

Shakespeare wrote plays and sonnets — not, technically, books — but he and the Bible are undoubtedly the two most lasting influences on Western literature.  Non-fiction includes everything from Plato to Glenn Beck.

As I said, no one asked for my list. But here it is anyway, annotated.

1. The Bible. Really, there is no understanding Western civilization or Oklahoma politics without it.

2. The Tower Treasure, Hardy Boys #1, by Franklin W. Dixon. The Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) were how I discovered reading could be fun. Ghostwriters were paid $75-$100 per volume to crank out these books; needless to say, they received no royalties.

3. Harlow’s Oklahoma History, by Victor Harlow. My introduction to Oklahoma history. Pretty dry, in retrospect. Goble and Scales’ Oklahoma Politics, among others, is an easier read, but Harlow’s sparked an interest that has never flagged.

4. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” said historian Jacques Barzun. I would add Huck Finn.

5. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie. My first grown-up book.

6. The Illiterate Digest, by Will Rogers. Still my hero.

7. To Absent Friends, Red Smith. The last and maybe greatest of the old-time sports writers. When asked if writing a daily column was difficult, he said, no, you “simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

8. And Still the Waters Run, by Angie Debo. The part that Rodgers and Hammerstein left out.

9. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. “Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth.”

10. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is bigger and more important, but I happen to like this one better.

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Ferguson and the Boston Massacre

Upheavals like the one in Ferguson, Mo., do not happen all of the sudden. They are not about a white police officer shooting a black teenager. They are about everything that happened before that moment. They are about every real and perceived slight and grievance accumulated over months and years.

The riot we call the Boston Massacre was the culmination of  years of hard feelings between colonists and British soldiers. The colonists resisted import duties by boycotting British goods. This, naturally, encouraged smuggling, which the colonial secretary countered by sending a war ship and soldiers. The captain felt perfectly justified impressing Bostonians into service. Bostonians disagreed. The British soldiers, restless on shore and short of money, hired on for casual labor, which took jobs away from colonists; at the end of the day, often as not, they all wound up in the same taverns, drinking rum and trading insults.

In February 1770, an 11-year-old boy was killed when a customs official fired off a shotgun in an attempt to disperse a mob surrounding his house.

In March, a British sentry struck a boy for insulting an officer. A crowd gathered. Reinforcements were sent to rescue. Snowballs, insults and bits of debris were hurled at the soldiers, until one of them was knocked down by a rock. We all know where it went from there.

This is not to equate the goings on in Ferguson with the Boston Massacre. But the Boston Massacre didn’t just happen all at once, or because of one single event, and neither, I’d be willing to bet, did Ferguson.

 

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Greenwood and Deep Deuce

The best thing about being a reporter and writer is the challenge of constant learning on a broad, almost limitless scope. Subjects today included federal water policy, the vote on a 2008 immigration bill, the state’s drug laws and the date what is now U.S. 169 linked Owasso to Tulsa. I also had occasion to check the spelling of Trixie Belden, dig up the Oklahoma National Guard’s after-action reports following the Tulsa Race Riot and glance over a poll on wind power in Oklahoma.

Anita Arnold is the one who really took me to school today, though. We had two lengthy phone conversations today related to a piece I’m writing for Oklahoma Today about Oklahoma City’s Deep Deuce and Tulsa’s Greenwood district, the historic black neighborhoods in the state’s two largest cities. I’m fairly familiar with Greenwood and its history but know considerably less about Deep Deuce.

Anita is the executive director of BLAC, Inc., an Oklahoma City organization originally founded more than forty years ago to promote music and arts in the public schools, and particularly Douglass, the city’s historically black high school. We talked — or rather, Anita talked and I listened — about the great musicians Deep Deuce turned out in its glory days.

Although now Deep Deuce is applied to an area north of Bricktown east of downtown Oklahoma City,  it was, strictly speaking, only the 300 block of NE Second Street. In that one block was crammed the business district that was for decades the beating heart of black Oklahoma City. Here Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing first made music and Ralph Ellison dreamed of becoming a composer and conductor, unaware his path led instead to acclaim as a writer.

Deep Deuce, like Greenwood, has had something of a revival in recent years after decades of decline. Also like Greenwood, this reawakening is not without controversy and even resentment. There is a feeling among some  African Americans have been pushed aside, that outside money is capitalizing on their heritage.

The irony is not lost on them.

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Wheat harvest

Wheat harvest ended Thursday for Krehbiel Farms.

It was late this year. First it was too dry, then too cold, and finally too wet.  What came up, froze. What didn’t freeze, shriveled. What was left choked on the Johnson grass, bull nettles and sand burs fed by the late rains.

In other words, harvest was pretty normal.

Let’s not leave the wrong impression. Some of the yield’s were okay, especially on irrigated fields, and the rains that came too late to save the wheat were just right to give the peanuts and milo a good start and fill the farm ponds. To a large extent, that’s what farming is: growing as many plants and animals as soil and climate allow in the hope that something will pay out.

My eighty-three-year-old father and eighteen-year-old niece pretty much run the show as far as harvest is concerned. My father is the fidgety one, the one who can’t sit still when rain and high humidity keep the combines from running. He has to be doing something. He’s in his pickup, on the phone, declaring we’ll be able to cut by three this afternoon when he knows we won’t. He has been doing this his entire life and doesn’t know how to quit. He gets up at four or five in the morning, drives around to all the farms, looking for something to do or to have one of the hired men do.

He is eager to cut a series of small patches that he thinks can be knocked out quickly, but the cool moist air lingering behind the June rain keeps the moisture content of the grain far above the fourteen percent that is the maximum allowed. Grain harvested and stored when it is too moist mildews, turns moldy, invites insects. But my father keeps cutting samples, until he’s finished most of one field and decides going on is not worth the effort. The sand burs have taken over. Talk to somebody like Whole Foods, I say. Convince them sand burs are an organic health food, that they can be milled into a nutritious flour. Sand bur cakes. Yum.

My niece wants to run the farm some day and I believe she can do it. She is smart and self-assured and seems to have a feel for what she is doing. She watches and listens. Her father, my brother, was running things until the brain tumor. Like my father, my niece is on a mission. But not the same mission. Not exactly.

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Granny was a serial killer

Nannie Doss did not match anyone’s image of a serial killer. A plain and rather scatterbrained grandmother, she might have never been caught had she not voluntarily agreed to an autopsy of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss, who died in 1954 after eating a bowl of prunes.

The prunes, it turned out, were poisoned.

Tulsa police quickly delved into Doss’ tangled life history, and found that 11 people with ties to her had died under mysterious circumstances. Doss insisted she only killed four of them — all men she had met and married through lonely hearts clubs after divorcing her first husband.

Doss said all four dead husbands had been given rat poison in their food or drink. Her third victim’s last words were said to have been, “I shouldn’t have had that last cup of coffee.”

Doss pleaded guilty to murdering Samuel Doss and died in prison. While she benefited from small life insurance policies on her dead husbands, Doss seems to have killed them mostly because they annoyed her. Samuel Doss, she complained, wouldn’t let her listen to the radio programs she wanted.

 

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