Mar. 12, 2005

The State of the Economy

by Louis Jenkins

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Poem: "The State of the Economy" by Louis Jenkins, from Sea Smoke. © Holy Cow! Press. Reprinted with permission.

The State of the Economy

There might be some change on top of the dresser at the
back, and we should check the washer and the dryer. Check
under the floor mats of the car. The couch cushions. I have
some books and CDs I could sell, and there are a couple big
bags of aluminum cans in the basement, only trouble is that
there isn't enough gas in the car to get around the block. I'm
expecting a check sometime next week, which, if we are careful,
will get us through to payday. In the meantime with your one—
dollar rebate check and a few coins we have enough to walk to
the store and buy a quart of milk and a newspaper. On second
thought, forget the newspaper.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jack Kerouac, born in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922). He's best known for his famous novel On the Road (1957). He wrote the novel in just three weeks on a single long ream of paper. He also came up with the label "Beat Generation." He said, "To me, it meant being poor, like sleeping in the subways... and yet being illuminated and having illuminated ideas about apocalypse and all that..."

It's the birthday of newspaper publisher Adolph Simon Ochs, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1858). He owned the New York Times and was also the director of the Associated Press from 1900 to 1935.

Ochs started off in the newspaper business when he was 11 as an office boy for the Knoxville Chronicle. He bought the Chattanooga Times in 1878 when he was only 20 years old. In 1896, he bought the failing New York Times right before it went bankrupt, and he was its publisher for 40 years up until he died. Ochs never gave into the competition of yellow journalism, but he did lower the cost of the paper to one cent to keep sales up. He was committed the sticking to truthful, non-partisan reporting instead of sensational stories, and that decision turned the Times into one of the most trusted papers in the world.

It's the birthday of poet and children's author Naomi Shihab Nye, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1952). She has published several books of poetry, including 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East (2002) and Hugging the Jukebox (1982).

Nye says, "Since my father was Palestinian, from Jerusalem, and my mother was American, our house in St. Louis held rich fragrances of cardamom, garlic, and olive oil. Shihab means shooting star in Arabic. I liked that. Languages danced together in our rooms and interesting people drifted through our doors. I used to think, 'We're still waiting for a dull moment.'"

It's the birthday of novelist and columnist Carl Hiaasen, born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (1953). He's best known for doing investigative reporting that exposes the political greed and corruption behind the destruction of Florida's wilderness. He's also the author of the novel Strip Tease (1993).

Hiaasen received his first typewriter as a birthday present when he was six years old. He ran an underground newspaper in high school called More Trash. After college he worked as a reporter for the paper Cocoa Today before being hired by the Miami Herald.

Carl Hiaasen is the co-author, along with writers like Elmore Leonard, Edna Buchanan, and Dave Barry, of Naked Came the Manatee (1997), a book that is a series of independently written chapters where each writer takes up where the one before left off.

It is the birthday of playwright Edward Albee, who's recorded as being born in Washington D.C. (1928). Albee was adopted when he was two weeks old, and the terms of his adoption stated that he could never know where his real birthplace was or who his biological parents were. He went to several private schools, and he finally left home for good when he moved to New York City.

Edward Albee worked several odd jobs to support himself, but his favorite was work as a Western Union messenger, which he did for three years. He said, "It kept you out in the air, and it was a nice job because it could never possibly become a career." In between jobs he would see plays, especially those considered part of "the Theatre of the Absurd," and these inspired him to seriously work on his own plays. He quit his job at Western Union, and sitting at his kitchen table, he wrote a play as a 30th birthday present to himself. Albee said, "I have a fine sense of the ridiculous, but no sense of humor."

Albee is best known for giving us the plays The Zoo Story (1958), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962, filmed 1966), and Three Tall Women (1991). Albee has won three Pulitzer Prizes.

It was on this day in 1901 that Andrew Carnegie offered the City of New York $5.2 million for the construction of 65 branch libraries. The money came from the sale of his company, U.S. Steel, from which he made more than $300 million. Carnegie believed that the first half of someone's life should be spent making money; the second half, giving it away. He paid for the construction of library buildings in both small towns and large cities, and he expected each community to work together to supply the books for them. He financed about 2,800 public libraries across the country.

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