(I seldom stay up late enough to watch Charlie Rose on PBS, but when I do I am always reminded of how much I’ve been missing. Charlie is an excellent interviewer, I think because he has a genuine interest in his guests and in ideas and events. He is definitely and definitively connected. Add in that dulcet North Carolina accent and you have a real treat. His guests the other night were Tom Brokaw and Calvin Trillin—Charlie doesn’t traffic in the usual Tinsel Town fluff—both pushing their latest books. No surprise that I slipped into the following reverie.)
(Yes, this is Moxie, Part Two, in which your intrepid wonker faces his fate!)
At this point, nostalgia turns mean. My Moxie reminiscing had followed a docile pattern, predicated on the sure assumption that the Moxie enterprise had gone belly-up in the late ‘40’s, that this elixir of the Puritans had gone to join the shadows. But ten minutes’ research revealed that the Moxie makers were alive, well, and now based outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the soft drink capital of this country. I did not rejoice.
(I hope you will indulge me once again, my friends. This essay was written over twenty years ago, but I hope it has stood the test of time. Also, it is long enough that I have chosen to break it in two. Here’s the first part.)
One morning a few months ago I caught myself saying, to no one in particular and about whom I can’t recall, “You know, that took a lot of moxie.” The expression surprised and delighted me. Moreover, it set me on a digging that tunneled its way to the roots of nostalgia.
While I was writing about the Neanderthals, something else kept flitting through my mind: that mysterious and startling line in Genesis 6:4. “There were giants in the earth in those days.”
What’s up with that? Well, just a few hours’ research shows the Neanderthal story to be simple and straightforward compared to this particular tangled web.
Let me back up. Here (KJV) are verses 1 through 4:
Neanderthals may have been—or perhaps are—the hardiest critters to have ever come down the pike. They live on in books, in movies, and in our imaginings, tens of thousands of years after they presumably checked out. But more to the point of this wonk, they seem to keep popping up in the (hairy) flesh! The two most famous examples are Bigfoot (aka Sasquatch) in our Pacific Northwest and the Yeti or Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas. And these are only two examples.
So Neanderthals fascinate us, for reasons both silly and serious. We have had our share of schlocky, forgettable movies, often with hunky “cave men” and their scantily clad, big breasted mates battling not only wooly mammoths but dinosaurs (yeah, right!). There have been many depictions of Neanderthals or putative Neanderthals in books, too. Three come to mind, one that is mainstream entertainment and two that are more serious and—as far as possible—realistic depictions.
An excellent article on Neanderthals in the current issue of The New Yorker (August 15 and 22) got me thinking about this creature from the dawn of our history. That’s easy to do. I don’t know anyone who can resist imagining these very early humans—for humans they now appear to have been—and speculating on what they were like, what became of them, and—on the fringes—whether they still survive somewhere.
Time to give summer a nudge. Or maybe, since it’s close to triple digits most afternoons, a shove. Fall won’t be here until late September, but I’m already ready for it. I’m also ready for the routine of fall. Twenty students have signed up for my classical tropes course, and this old hambone can’t wait to get back behind the lectern.
In a typically brilliant Gary Larson cartoon, we find a deer behind a tree, hiding from a hunter in the near distance. Panicked, the deer is saying to himself, “He is definitely shooting at me! I’ve gotta think: do I know this guy?” We laugh because we seldom see it that way—a hunter has no personal grudge or vendetta against a deer that he kills. But in fact random killing is a fact of life—or rather, death—and nowhere more so than in war.
This was supposed to be a lark, an easy summer wonk. Perhaps an account of my week in Louisville reading the Advance Placement essays, and then of our road trip to SoCal to visit son Dan and some old Albuquerque friends who recently moved to San Diego.
And then the fecal matter collided with the oscillating device.