Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 12

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 24th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11

Within seconds of taking the floor, my partner Sally, a middle-aged medievalist from a third-tier state university in North Dakota, had proven herself to be the second best dancer at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and in so doing she leapt upward in my esteem.

How could it be otherwise?

She moved as beautifully as anyone I’d ever seen, with a rhythm and a lithe grace that belied her age and her occupation. Only someone with a native joy in movement and a profoundly deep soul could move as this woman did.

This is why most academics can’t dance, their souls are shallow.

As individuals they’re hysterics. As a group they’re either a lowing herd or a raving mob; nasty and petty conformists of the worst sort. Ask them to dance and they jerk about grotesquely revealing only a sliver of soul.

Yes, I may be a misanthrope…a charlatan…a cynic…a cad…a toady to the powerful, and a bully of the weak, but I have a soul, damn it! And I can dance!

And so could Sally, and I admired her for it greatly.

We had been doing a complicated variation of the Electric Slide, one which I had devised myself, and which Sally was able to pick up and embellish wonderfully. It was joyful and funny, the sort of perfect synchronized improvisation that not one pair in a hundred thousand was capable of doing. And it was, withal, a magical moment.

The music slowed; a piece of Lionel Ritchie drivel. Sally and I moved together, shifting to a slow box step.

“My God, Bo. You. Are. Amazing!”

“And you, my dear Sally, and you,” I replied truthfully, “Where did you learn to dance so beautifully?”

“Ah, that?” Her voice had a grating Middle Western nasality that at that moment I did not necessarily find unpleasant, “I was a showgirl in Vegas.”

As the saying goes, you could have “toppled me with a teewurst“.

“Hä?” I said.

“You don’t believe me?”

Sally disengaged herself, stepped back, lifting her left leg slightly, pointing her toe, and raising her arms in an elegant showgirl posture. Suddenly the years spun back and she looked 24, in the dim light, through two pints of brandy and a large Budweiser.

“I did my doctorate at UNLV,” she said as she stepped close again, “I would research and write in the day, and at night I was in the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana. Topless.”

Well, what could I say, dear readers? When someone presents conclusive evidence of having had a heroic and worthy past a gentleman merely salutes and offers to buy a round.

“How completely marvelous!” I said in all sincerity, which is perhaps my rarest of modes.

The DJ moved to play some piece of bumpkinish Nashville nonsense.

“This music is reprehensible,” I said, hitching my thumbs into the belt loops of my trousers, and starting the opening movements of the Cotton Eyed Joe, “Allow me to buy you a drink.”

“Yes, please.” She took my hand and pulled me through the rabble to the the bar, where I ordered us two plastic tumblers of cheap tequila.

“Here’s to Sally the Showgirl.”

“And here’s to you, the Gallant Korncrake.”

“Von. Von Korncrake.”

“Oh whatever, Bo.”

We touched glasses and drank deeply of life.

Dear readers, I will now spare you the details of the rest of the evening, of the further drinks and the dancing, of my brief and victorious bout of fisticuffs with an elderly scholar of Aquinas and his companion, a trollish lady whom I took to be his wife, and of the details of the unsightly couplings of middle aged flesh.

Instead, I will simply tell you that in the morning I awoke with my head throbbing, two broken fingers, a badly wrenched knee, and a profound sense of my own looming mortality, one brought on by the sight of my sleeping companion. And yet, for all of that, I was able to pack my bag and slip out of my room as quietly as a titmouse.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 12 »


And For My Next Trick…

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 16th, 2007

I shall produce a scholarly work entitled, A Skeleton Key to the Consolation of the Shoes.

Read: And For My Next Trick… »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 11

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 16th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10

Only well fortified by brandy could I confront the Saturday night festivities at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, an unsightly spectacle of several thousand medievalists engaged in a frenzied and arrhythmic St. Vitus, a spastic explosion of flailing limbs and jerking heads (and this was a slow dance).

I had no choice but to fling myself into their midst and show them how it was done.

At the edge of the floor I shoved aside several trollish Anglo-Saxonists, species homunculus academicus, and bumped and strolled my way to the center of the crowd, to that position which belonged to me by right of dancing talent.

For the next forty-seven minutes I held the floor without challenge. Partners came and partners went, and when none were available, I danced alone, ecstatically, beautifully.

The music was mostly old school disco, which meant that I Hustled, New York Hustled, Four Cornered, and Bumped, and as I did so the crowd receded from around me, clearing a space in which I could move freely, spinning and leaping to dances choreographed spontaneously by my inner child.

At the end of this period, when the DJ stopped the music to take a break, I reluctantly left the floor and made may way to the bar for refreshments, the envious eyes of my fellows upon me.

Around me swirled the clumsy social interactions which pass for normal among medievalists, individuals who typically and vastly overvalue their own attractiveness. Indeed, every dowdy and dumpy 13-stone woman there believed she was the second coming of Audrey Hepburn, just as every short and garrulous fool in tweed believed he was Gregory Peck.

This led to innumerable hilarities as women who couldn’t have got a date in a men’s prison rejected the advances of ugly men who felt they were slumming.

And all of it was accompanied by a buzz of tedious feminist hand-wringing about gender inequity, a topic which spawned spirited debates among female professors and graduate students about why one should not dance with men who are more powerful, even as one realizes one isn’t attracted to those who are less powerful, which leaves as dance partners only those of exactly the same status, but they’re all gay.

Did I mention that I ordered two big plastic cups of Budweiser? One for each hand.

“My God, Boethius, you can really dance,” piped a low feminine voice from behind me, causing me to jump several inches from the floor and pirouette in mid-air. I landed on the balls of my feet, nose-to-nose with Dr. Sally of North Dakota.

“You just tore up that floor out there, Bo.”

Her admiration was genuine, as it naturally would be, but there was a slight quaver in her voice and a predatory shininess in her eyes, signs familiar to any lifelong bachelor, especially one who was as adept as I was at reading the tokens of creeping disaster.

But, as so often happens, dear readers, I am a victim of my own vanity, and I am never so vain as when my dancing is being praised. Thus I lowered my defenses at exactly the moment when I should have been sprinting for the exit.

“Thank you,” I replied, bowing slightly at the waist.

“Come on, Bo, let’s boogie.” The dreadful woman grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the floor, pushing aside a passel of minor Pearl Poet scholars, onto whom I “accidently” dumped the remaining cup of beer.

“Hey,” they shouted in unison, waxing wroth as such simple-minded dolts are wont to do. But, before I could properly reply, the music started again, and I was swept up in dance.

Sugar,
Oh, Honey Honey.
You are my candy girl,
and you got me wanting you.
Honey,
Oh, Sugar, Sugar.
You are my candy girl
and you got me wanting you.

Say what you will about the mid-west and the comparative drabness of the middle-aged lady scholars produced there, but this one could dance.

To say I was impressed would be an understatement. I was flabbergasted. As boney-assed as she was, Sally could still throughly shake that booty, and even more impressively, shake it to that most insipid of genres, bubblegum pop!

At this point you are probably asking yourself, “Is von Korncrake above a romantic tryst?”

To which I can only reply, “of course not.”

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall conclude this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 11 »


By Way of Reply

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 10th, 2007

I shall conclude the story of my adventures in Kalamazoo later this afternoon.

In the meantime, please allow me, by way of reply to my acquaintance Msgr. Padraig Ó Fhlannchaidh, S.J., to present to you this video.

Read: By Way of Reply »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 10

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 8th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9

I must now confess that I had never been to a medievalist dance.

In my younger days, at Patrice Lumumba in Moscow, I had attended more than my share of student dances, events which began with great pronouncements of international revolutionary brotherhood, but ended in vodka riots, the Africans and Cubans standing back-to-back fighting off the hoards of jumped-up Russian peasants who in those days made up the bulk of the student body.

Such wonderful spectacle! And, as I would later learn, excellent training for faculty meetings.

So of course I love dancing, all kinds of dancing–tango, samba, mambo, salsa, merengue, foxtrot, waltz, polonaise, schottische, minuet, polka, swing, jitterbug, clogging, line dancing, square dancing, dicso, rock–I love them all equally, with a passion unseemly in a dignified man of late middle age. But, I cannot help myself, for I never feel so emphatically alive as I do on the dance floor.

In Bitterfeld, among my colleagues at the Institut, my dance exploits are legendary.

I once mazurka-ed for three hours and seventeen minutes without stop. In tap I had advanced to the point where I could do a very credible Maxiford (drop shuffle pickup change toe heel). My tango has been praised by Argentines as being “muy empático y conmovedor”. And, once, in a weak moment, I enrolled in several weeks of Irish step-dancing instruction.

So, as you can imagine, dear readers, I was very much looking forward to shaking my Teutonic white-boy booty to some funky music, an anticipation heightened by the lubricating effects of a pint and a half of mediocre brandy.

Sadly, I, who had danced with Masai tribesmen, was unprepared for the spectacle which awaited.

Imagine, if you will, a place where the unsavory human detritus of life has accumulated; a sort of basement sump, into which has drained all of the pasty, pudgy, goggle-eyed, greasy haired, knock-kneed, buck-toothed specimens unfit to appear in public with the productive members of society.

And the saddest thing is that they all, to a man, woman, and ungendered being, believe they are hot, hot, hot.

Oh Fortuna! Imperitrix Mundi!
Sors immanis,
et inanis,
rota tu volubilis
status malus
vana salus
semper dissolubilis
obumbrata
et velata
michi quoque niteris;
nunc per ludum
dorsum nudum
fero tui sceleris.

Lady Fate had dealt me yet another cruel blow.

But there was now nothing for it. I had come to dance, and dance I would!

I pulled the bottle of brandy from my pocket, uncapped it, downed its contents in a single draught, and launched myself into this writhing mass of unsightly medievalists, grinding and bumping my way to the center of the floor.

You can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm. I’ve been kicked around
since I was born.

Tomorrow, dear friends, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 10 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 9

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 7th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8

As I had predicted, my presentation was a rousing success. But then, academics are like swine. As long as the farmer with the slop-bucket seems confident of himself they’ll happily eat up any sort of swill and grunt for seconds. Thirds if the farmer is named Foucault.

To confirm this theory, several members of the audience came up at the end of the session and presented their compliments.

“I just want to tell you,” started a dumpy young woman in a J.C. Penney’s twin-set, her name badge indicating a second-tier liberal arts college in the northeast, “that was one of the best presentations I’ve heard here. You really understand…”

Blah, blah, blah.

Of course she wasn’t at all interested in my “work”. They never are. It’s all about personal status, these questions and comments, all about jockeying for position through the ostentatious display of intellect.

“..don’t you agree?” the young woman concluded her lengthy statement/question.

“Yes. Quite. Please excuse me.”

I broke free of her dull gaze and made my way across the room to bid farewell to my host, the distinguished Professor X, who stood in a small group of admirers.

“Ah, Professor von Korncrake, a marvelous session. Will you be joining us at the dance later this evening?”

“Yes. I am very much looking forward to it,” I replied truthfully, “I am quite fond of dancing.”

“Well, save a place on your card for me,” said Professor Sally of North Dakota, who’d somehow slipped up alongside of me unnoticed.

What could I say, dear readers? I couldn’t tell her that I’d prefer to be dragged behind a speeding roadster, not with Professor X standing there smiling like a fool. Graciousness, well feigned, that was the only proper reply.

“Yes, of course,” I lied, adopting that idiotic American smile as my own, “I’d be delighted.”

And then I fled, the taste of bile fresh in my mouth.

The rest of the afternoon I spent in search of a liquor store, a place where three small bottles of brandy–one for each coat pocket, and an extra for the road–might be acquired. A successful completion of this task, and it was back to my hovel for a sulk.

“Good afternoon, boy-o,” said Father Ó Fhlannchaidh as I rounded the corner into the dormitory, “and what might ye be having in your pockets there?”

Like all religious drunks, the old Jesuit had a keen eye for the hidden bottle. I produced one of the brandies, twisted off the cap, took a drink and passed it over to the priest.

“You’re fine lad, von Korncrake, none of that high-handed Kraut nonsense about ye.” He crossed himself and took a long draught, the gin blossoms on his cheeks turning bright red, like a coke fire when the bellows pump.

He made as if to pass the bottle back. I waved him off.

Back in my room, I set about the second bottle, mixing the brandy into a plastic cup with a delightful carbonated elixir known by the unlikely name of “Dr. Pepper”.

“Wunderbar! The best Amerika has to offer,” I said to no one, “Herr Doktor Pepper, I salute you!” From the next room I could hear Father Ó Fhlannchaidh starting the second chorus of “Whiskey in the Jar.”

By nine o’clock, I and the half bottle of brandy that remained were ready for the dance. My social inhibitions had been sufficiently lowered and I was light of foot and feeling melodious.

Tomorrow, dear readers, we dance!

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 9 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 8

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on May 4th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7

Finally, Saturday afternoon, the date set for the delivery of my paper, arrived. Still feeling the baleful effects of too much karoke and too many Schlitz, I found my way to the conference room, where a small group was already gathered.

“Ah, you must be Professor von Korncrake,” said a bearded old coot, whose badge identified him as Prof. X, the prestigious scholar who had invited me, “Welcome!”

He was dressed in a tatty suit of tweed and twill in clashing colors, and his thinning grey hair was combed over into a respectable academic bowl cut.

“Good afternoon, Herr Professor X,” I said, bowing to him slightly in that stiff Mitteleuropean manner I sometimes affect, “It is my great pleasure to at last meet you, and to thank you for your many kindnesses. I cannot tell you how honored I am that a scholar of your reputation has asked me to present my work at this respected conference.”

Never let it be said that old von Korncrake cannot polish the apple to a high sheen when necessary.

“My pleasure, sir. Truly, my pleasure. Please allow me to introduce you to your fellow disscusants.”

He turned and presented an aging academic diva from a large midwestern university, a woman whose work (which I sadly knew) was nearly as unintelligible as mine, but freighted with a white-hot feminist anger that rendered everything she put to paper comically overblown and subject to ridicule in the popular press.

“Charmed,” I said, clicking my heels, taking her hand and bowing forward just far enough to make her worry that I might kiss it, “your reputation preceeds you.”

The old bat smiled, faintly, her ethnic-inspired earrings and bangles rattling with a barely suppressed fury.

I had no doubt that I, or at least a thinly disguised version of me, would eventually appear in her work as a villainous example of the European patriarchy. Happily, no one would ever read it, not even those lucky men, her three ex-husbands.

“And this,” said Professor X, “is Daniel P.”

Standing before me was a wan-looking young graduate student, dressed in that ironic manner — second-hand tweed jacket, blue jeans, and cheap plimsoles — which so many of these mewling dolts have taken as their own.

“Good afternoon,” I said.

It was like shaking hands with a cod; limp, wet, and cold.

Mein Gott, how I longed to slap him, to shout at him, “Flee this place, young man, before the academy eats your soul!” But, it was already too late, the boy had given himself over to it, and any spark he may once have had had already been leeched away by the stultifing inanities of the “life of the mind”.

After that, the actual reading of my masterwork, “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis”, was anticlamatic.

I droned on in as perfect a monotone as I could manage, safe in the knowledge that such a reading would give my work the proper gravitas. When it was time for questions at the end, I filibustered, turning my first answer into the only answer time allowed.

Without doubt, it was a masterful performance, one which left many members of the audience, (which unfortunately included that pestiferous example of the female academic, Professor Sally of North Dakota) agape with admiration.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue the story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 8 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 7

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 23rd, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6

I still don’t remember exactly how I made it back from the Tick-Tock to my tiny bunk in my shabby domitory room on the campus of Western Michigan University.

The last event I can recall clearly is admirably holding up my end of a Karaoke duet of Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light. The other half was sung by a redheaded spitfire who went by the name of “Sassy”, who though well into her seventies could still put many a woman in her sixties to shame.

As I said, how I got back remains a mystery, although the next morning Father Ó Fhlannchaidh, the Jesuit professor with whom I shared a bathroom, regarded me with new esteem.

“Boy-o, ye had a bit of it last night,” he said in his nearly unintelligible brogue, the veins in his nose throbbing in time to the pounding in my temples, “and ye have a voice on ye. That was as fine a version of Danny Boy as I’ve heard.”

I nodded my thanks to the old sot and headed out the door to drink as much of that terrible coffee as I could stomach.

It was Saturday, and the presentation of my paper, “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis”, was scheduled for the first afternoon session, which meant that I would have the morning to recover.

In the cafeteria I was ambushed again by an excessively cheery Professor Sally from North Dakota. The woman must have her lair near the coffee urn.

“Good morning, Professor Korncrake. It’s nice to see you again.”

“Von Korncrake.”

“Pardon me?”

“It’s von Korncrake. As in Herr Professor Doktor von Korncrake.” My head hurt. It was all I could do to keep from dashing my coffee into this drab’s face.

But the woman was indominatable, her response was to laugh merrily.

“Well, Boethius, we won’t stand on formality. Just call me Sally.”

And so began another day in America.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 7 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 6

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 22nd, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5

I spent two very satisfying hours trolling the publishers’ booths, eavesdropping on conversations and thumbing through tedious books on subjects in which I had no interest. And when those meagre entertainments were exhausted I decided it was time to see what the town of Kalamazoo offered.

A few long blocks away from the campus of Western Michigan Univeristy, and I began to feel more comfortable. Scruffy buildings, post-industrial blight, and the generally depressive air of the residents made it seem like Bitterfeld, my aptly named hometown.

Ah, how well I know the signs and ways of failure, not merely personal, but civic and regional as well, and Kalamazoo fairly stunk of it. My friends who’ve been there more recently than I say it’s changed, it’s become a more pleasant city, but I doubt that. Cities like Kalamazoo and Bitterfeld never really have it so good, even in the best of times, which are always short and not so sweet. Then, when the prosperity dries up, it’s the long slide into irrelevance.

I walked on, cheered by this knowledge. And eventually, I found what I was looking for, a bar.

It was not easy. I had rejected as unsuitable three or four student bars, on the grounds that they would be filled with students, a species of human I cannot abide. Likewise, a little further on from campus, I would not go into a faux-Irish pub. The real Irish are bad enough. I will have no truck with the fake Irish.

At last, however, perserverance paid, and I found a workingman’s bar called the Tick-Tock. It was dark, smelled of cigarettes, and had a plastic sign that promised “Friday Night Karaoke”. It was early Friday evening, and I am devoted to the art of Karaoke, so I went in and sat down at the bar.

“What can I get you?” asked the bartendress, a comically buxom, middle-aged bottle blond in a tube-top.

“I would like a beer, please, a large beer. One of these.” I pointed to one of the taps. It had a good German name, Schlitz.

A few seconds later she put a large glass of a clear amber liquid in front of me, “Here ya go, Hon.”

“Thank you.”

“Where ya from?”

“I am from Germany.” I took a long gulp of the beer. It was very weak, but also cold, crisp, and exceedingly refreshing after the long walk.

Certainly, though, one of these beers was not enough, and so I had a second and then a third, and perhaps a four and a fifth, if not a sixth and a seventh. And then I dined like a king on the finest fare in the city, pickled eggs, bar-b-que potato chips, pickled sausages, and the most wonderful dish, a pickled trotter.

After that, it was Karaoke! Von Korncrake and Karaoke!

“Danke Schoen, darling Danke Schoen,” I sang in a smooth baritone, “Thank you for all the joy and pain.”

“Korny! Korny! Korny!” chanted my new close friends, the patrons of the Tick-Tock.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 6 »


Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 5

Posted by: Herr Prof. Dr. von Korncrake on April 20th, 2007

Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4.

Since the presentation of my opus, “Cultural Semiotics, Semi(n)ology and Semiotics: scientia omnis aut est de signis aut de rebus significatis: Text, Textuality and Semiosis”, would not take place until Saturday afternoon, I abandoned the second Friday afternoon session, a tedious discussion of Carolingian numismatics I had wrongly thought would be good for a few chuckles, and stolled over to the exhibit halls.

Here I found the booths of the academic publishers, around which were gathered knots of supplicant scholars.

Finally, a spectacle worth watching!

Shabby academics, the stench of publish-or-perish desperation clinging to their ratty tweeds, threw themselves at the feet of the well dressed representatives, fairly begging for sweet release from their misery.

“I’ve just finished the fourth revision of my dissertation,” said a young man in a leather jacket, Converse All-Stars, and hipster glasses, “it’s about the hermeneutics of transgression in the Geste de Garin de Monglane.”

“Ah, interesting,” said the representative of a major university publisher, by which he meant not at all interesting.

“I’m at the stage now where I’m starting to look for a publisher,” there was a sad but insistent rising inflection in his voice.

“Well, the market has shifted,” the representative edged slightly away, “but here’s my card. When you get home drop me a note.” By which he meant, go away, and send over someone who can write the scholarly version of the Da Vinci Code.

Of course, the economics of publishing demand that the suavest of publishers’ representatives must be polite to the scruffiest of scholars, for that soon-to-be-rejected-as-unpublishable hipster doofus assigns the books to the undegraduates. Thus, academics who’ve written manifestos that are less intelligible and less entertaining than the screeds handed out by street corner prophets are not rousted from the premises by the security guards.

So, I pretended to browse through the stacks of the dreary books at the publishers’ booths while secretly listening to the minor-key squeaking of the minor scholars.

And the blackened coal of my heart vibrated in time to the music.

Tomorrow, dear readers, I shall continue this story.

Read: Von Korncrake in Kalamazoo, Part 5 »



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