Mar. 9, 2009


by David Shumate

I am seduced by trains. When one moans in the night like some
dragon gone lame, I rise and put on my grandfather's suit. I pack a
small bag, step out onto the porch, and wait in the darkness. I rest
my broad-brimmed hat on my knee. To a passerby I'm a curious
sight—a solitary man sitting in the night. There's something
unsettling about a traveler who doesn't know where he's headed.
You can't predict his next move. In a week you may receive a
postcard from Haiti. Madagascar. You might turn on your
answering machine and hear his voice amid the tumult of a
Bangkok avenue. All afternoon you feel the weight of the things
you've never done. Don't think about it too much. Everything
starts to sound like a train.

"Trains" by David Shumate from The Floating Bridge. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1776 that Adam Smith published An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

It was 50 years ago on this day, in 1959, that the Barbie doll first appeared, at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. A woman named Ruth Handler noticed that when her daughter, Barbara, played with dolls, she liked to give them adult roles. At the time, most dolls were baby dolls, and only paper dolls were made to look like adults. Ruth's husband, Elliot, was the co-founder of a small toy manufacturer named Mattel, and Ruth suggested to her husband that Mattel make an adult doll for children to play with, but he thought it would be a failure. Then, on a trip to Germany, Ruth found exactly what she had imagined: a doll called the Lilli doll. Ruth didn't realize that Lilli was based on a prostitute in a cartoon, and had been created as a toy for adults. She bought three Lilli dolls, brought them back to America, and Mattel changed the doll's design, renamed it Barbie (after Ruth's daughter), and debuted it on this day in 1959. In the last 50 years, Mattel has sold more than 1 billion Barbie dolls.

It's the birthday of chess player Bobby Fischer, born in Chicago, Illinois (1943). He grew up in Brooklyn. When he was 14, he became the youngest person ever to win the United States Championship in chess. Bobby Fischer did more than win games — his moves were creative and dramatic, and his matches rarely resulted in draws. People loved him. But the better he got, the more erratic he became. He backed out of tournaments, complaining about lighting and noise, and he refused to play when there wasn't enough prize money.

In 1972, he finally made it to the World Chess Championship, in Reykjavík, Iceland. He played against the defending champion, Boris Spassky. The match was for the best out of 24 games. The men played 21 games, beginning on July 11, 1972. Fischer lost the first two games of the match, but then he started winning. Their last game ended on September 1st, and Fischer won the match and became the world champion.

After that, Fischer quit playing in tournaments. He had paranoid delusions. In 1992, he came out of retirement for a rematch with Spassky, and he won again. But the match turned him into a fugitive because it took place in Yugoslavia, in violation of U.S. sanctions. He received political asylum in Iceland, where he died in 2008.

It's the birthday of the writer Vita Sackville-West, (books by this author) born in Knole, England (1892). She got married, and even though she was a lesbian and her husband was gay, and they each had many affairs, they had a compatible marriage and remained good friends. Vita Sackville-West's most famous affair was with Virginia Woolf.

It was on this day in 1933 that newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt called a special session of Congress and began the first hundred days of enacting his New Deal legislation. In those first 100 days of the New Deal, he created many new federal programs, including the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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