Dec. 1, 2011

The Bull Moose

by Alden Nowlan

Down from the purple mist of trees on the mountain,
lurching through forests of white spruce and cedar,
stumbling through tamarack swamps,
came the bull moose
to be stopped at last by a pole-fenced pasture.

Too tired to turn or, perhaps, aware
there was no place left to go, he stood with the cattle.
They, scenting the musk of death, seeing his great head
like the ritual mask of a blood god, moved to the other end
of the field, and waited.

The neighbors heard of it, and by afternoon
cars lined the road. The children teased him
with alder switches and he gazed at them
like an old, tolerant collie. The women asked
if he could have escaped from a Fair.

The oldest man in the parish remembered seeing
a gelded moose yoked with an ox for plowing.
The young men snickered and tried to pour beer
down his throat, while their girl friends took their pictures.

And the bull moose let them stroke his tick-ravaged flanks,
let them pry open his jaws with bottles, let a giggling girl
plant a little purple cap
of thistles on his head.

When the wardens came, everyone agreed it was a shame
to shoot anything so shaggy and cuddlesome.
He looked like the kind of pet
women put to bed with their sons.

So they held their fire. But just as the sun dropped in the river
the bull moose gathered his strength
like a scaffold king, straightened and lifted his horns
so that even the wardens backed away as they raised their rifles.
When he roared, people ran to their cars. All the young men
leaned on their automobile horns as he toppled.

"The Bull Moose" by Alden Nowlan, from What Happened When He Went to the Store for Bread. © Thousands Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1955, Rosa Parks (books by this author) refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. The Montgomery bus segregation policy at that time dictated that the black and white sections were fluid based on need; whites were guaranteed at least the first four rows, but the boundary between the sections was wherever the dividing sign was at any given moment. If the bus was crowded with a lot of white passengers, the black section was pushed farther back toward the back of the bus. Sometimes the driver would eliminate the black section altogether; whenever this happened, the black passengers were forced to leave the bus and wait for another. Also, if there were white passengers in the front of the bus, black passengers weren't allowed to walk past them to take their seats; they could board the front of the bus to pay their fare, but then had to get off and board by the back entrance, and it wasn't uncommon for the bus to pull away before they had a chance to do so.

On this day, Parks, an African-American seamstress, sat down in the front row of the black section on her way home from work. All was well until the bus became more crowded with white passengers, and the driver moved the divider back; now Parks was seated in the white section. The driver demanded that she give up her seat to a white man, and she refused. She was tired from working all day, but she was also fed up; this had happened to her several times before. Years later, she recalled, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." She refused to give up her seat. "When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, 'No, I'm not.' And he said, 'Well, if you don't stand up, I'm going to have to call the police and have you arrested.' I said, 'You may do that.'"

Parks' arrest was the catalyst that the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association needed to organize a boycott of the city's buses on December 5. A 26-year-old pastor named Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as the protest's leader; on the first night of the boycott he came forward and said, "The great glory of the American democracy is the right to protest for right." The boycott continued for over a year, and ultimately the United States Supreme Court ruled that the segregation policy was unconstitutional.

Today is the birthday of filmmaker Allen Stewart Konigsberg, better known as Woody Allen (1935) (books by this author). He legally changed his name to "Heywood Allen" when he was 17, to pay homage to clarinetist Woody Herman. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and New York City often figures prominently in his movies. It's getting harder, and more expensive, to film on location there, so lately he's taken to setting his movies in Europe, but he always comes back to the city he sees through a romantic lens. He told USA Today: "Guys like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee depict New York very often very realistically. Very, very beautifully and very correctly. I don't. The New York I've shown over the years is the New York I got from Hollywood movies."

Though he's become a movie icon, he consistently refuses to appear at the Academy Awards. He's always claimed that the ceremony conflicts with his standing gig playing jazz clarinet at Michael's Pub in New York, but he's also said, "The whole concept of awards is silly. I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don't." He made one exception, showing up unannounced at the 2002 ceremony; he made a brief speech asking filmmakers to continue to make movies in New York City in spite of the attacks of September 11, 2001. "I didn't have to present anything," he explained backstage. "I didn't have to accept anything. I just had to talk about New York City."

He wrote in New York Magazine: "I still fantasize that a million interesting stories are occurring in those apartments on Fifth Avenue and in those redbrick houses on Bank Street and on Central Park West. You know, it's still so vibrant that I've never felt any diminution of intensity for the city. It's always Manhattan, this little, compact island, where everything is going on. The cosmetics have changed. You know, it's a computer world now, and terminology changes, and styles of psychotherapy changed to a degree, and the protocols of relationships go in and out. But the fundamentals have not changed."

Today is the birthday of paranormal investigator Joe Nickell (1944) (books by this author). He's been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes" and "the real-life Scully [from The X-Files]." He's a senior research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and travels around the world investigating mysteries and exposing hoaxes for The Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He's worked as a stage magician, a private detective, and an academic; he's also tried on more than 250 different "personas," as he calls them, ranging from bingo caller to genealogist to "sweetheart of the FHA." To avert the inevitable identity crisis, he's always thought of himself as a writer, first and foremost. He's written 30 books about his experiences, among them Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past (1992); Real or Fake? Studies in Authentication (2009); and Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More (2011).

He's also a historical document consultant, and was called in to determine the authenticity of a diary purported to have belonged to Jack the Ripper (it was a hoax). He was also one of a team put together by Henry Louis Gates Jr. to investigate a manuscript that appeared to be a novel written by a fugitive female slave. The Bondwoman's Narrative, by Hannah Crafts, was thought to have been written in the 1850s; Nickell analyzed the physical materials as well as references in the narrative, and dated the manuscript as being written no later than 1861. Gates insisted on including the entirety of Nickell's report when he published the book, saying, "It's like a work of poetry."

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