Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

So long, Fotomat. We hardly knew ye still even existed anymore.
Rest in pees, Edward Rondthaler.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Buffalo was a young city when Grover Cleveland arrived in 1855: The children of its first non-indigenous settlers still walked the streets, and they remembered well (and bitterly) how the British had burned the city to the ground during the War of 1812. After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, Buffalo became a boomtown, for it was where the waterway met the Great Lakes. From crops headed east to heavy equipment going the other way, everything passed through Buffalo. Between 1830 and 1860, the city’s population grew tenfold, from 8,000 to 80,000.

And, like most boomtowns, it was a pretty wild place, teeming with brothels, saloons, and gambling halls. An old canalhand named E. E. Cronk later estimated that “60% of the buildings on both sides of Canal Street from Erie Street to Commercial were houses of prostitution, 30% were saloons, and 10% grocery stores, etc.” “The lowest houses of prostitution both in level and quality were those lining the tow path in back of the Canal Street buildings,” Cronk remembered. “The prostitutes operating on Canal Street considered themselves ‘ladies of the evening’ and the towpath women ‘dirty whores.’”

Not surprisingly, it was a dangerous place, too. Police patrolled Canal Street in threes, one in front, two in back. When the canal was dredged every spring, it wasn’t unusual for eight or more human bodies to be discovered.

The canal itself was a frothing, stinking bouillabaisse of garbage, human and animal waste, agricultural and industrial runoff, and offal (not to mention the bloated corpses). The effluent would occasionally produce giant methane bubbles that would rise to the surface and explode, unleashing a stench so foul it sickened some people for days. It practically goes without saying that disease was rampant. Periodic outbreaks of typhus, typhoid, and smallpox killed hundreds annually.

Yet, for all its faults – and there were many – Buffalo was also an exciting, vibrant, bustling place, filled with practically limitless opportunities for an ambitious young man. There were fortunes to be made, and you could have some fun there, too. One imagines 17-year-old Grover Cleveland strolling down Canal Street’s wooden sidewalks for the first time, smelling the fetid canal, hearing the beckoning calls of the ladies of the evening and the rollicking piano music emanating from the saloons. It must have enthralled the minister’s son from rural Fayetteville.

He resolved to stay.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, Allyson and I didn't win Italy's record-setting lottery jackpot last night. Disappointing, yes. But I really can't complain. You see, yesterday I received an e-mail from the U.K. National Lottery Loard [sic], informing me that I have won 1,000,000 British pounds ($1,647,316.36). It was a bit of a surprise, since I've never actually played the U.K. National Lottery. But why ask questions - I mean, it is a million pounds! So I've gone ahead and e-mailed them a bunch of really sensitive personal information. Now we're just sitting back and waiting for that certified check to arrive! (Actually, we're not even waiting: We've already spent a good chunk of that million, believe me!) So I may not be posting much for the next few weeks, you know, while I'm sorting out the various tax implications, etc. of this unexpected windfall.

Finally, I can quit my job!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Washington Post reports that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty continues to drive himself around the city, even after being involved in a minor accident. This calls to mind something I discussed in my book: When he was president, Harry Truman would occasionally take the wheel of his own limousine! By the way, my book gets a very nice mention on Write Kudzu, a blog by Mississippi writer Keetha DePriest Reed. Thanks, Keetha!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yesterday, Allyson and I went to Viterbo with our friends Lillian and William. Viterbo is a lovely town in the mountains about 90 minutes from Rome. Its most famous for being the home of several popes in the thirteenth century, including four who are buried there (although nobody is exactly sure where one of them is buried). The town has a pretty amazing medieval section, but the best part was that it was practically deserted. Where do the Italians go in August? Underground tunnels? Caves in the mountains?

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Not much to report from the home office. I still have to wear the neck brace for another week. It's still hot in Rome. I (finally) started working on the next book. (Thank you to John Cabot University for allowing me to use its library.) Allyson has started bidding on her next job. And the cats are driving me crazy.