Monday, November 13, 2006
Spreadin’ the danger
Whew. I’m back home, having wrapped up the fabulous and glamorous Dangeral Studies Tour 2006. Thanks to everyone who made it such a fabulous and glamorous success!
The Chicago trip was especially spectacular, even scrumtrulescent. It marked the first time that Janet and I traveled together during the school year—that is, without Jamie, who took care of a babysitter from Thursday through Saturday when he wasn’t in school himself. And we celebrated in fine style! Janet spent Thursday night and Friday day throwing up once every fifteen minutes for just over ten hours, after developing a severely allergic reaction to the down pillows and bedspread in our fabulous and glamorous room in the Palmer House (which really was quite fabulous and glamorous). I left her retching at a quarter to one on Friday afternoon so that I could go have lunch with David Horowitz and reporter Tom Bartlett of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I had the steak; David had the halibut. He will no doubt try to claim that he had the steak, but trust me on this one. Tom Bartlett barely touched his food, and I just think that’s wrong.
Janet rallied in time to come to dinner Friday evening and have some nice soothing soup (not with Horowitz—with MMLA President Kevin Dettmar). But all in all she had a Very Bad Day, spent Friday night on the down-free couch, then flew back on Saturday morning.
On Saturday I saw her off, did some work in the morning and early afternoon, then went with Danny Postel to the Chicago Cultural Center to hear Samantha Power and Azar Nafisi. That was great. And you know what? we talked about you the whole time. That little get-together, by the way, was the only social arrangement I did not screw up this weekend. Everything else I screwed up. I apologize to everyone.
But to gauge by comment 25 in the previous thread (thanks, Anne!), at least my talk on Friday night went OK. The film clip from Toy Story caused me no end of anxiety, though, because (a) I was pretty sure it would be the highlight of the first half of the talk (the facetious half, before I got around to the serious subject of academic blogs) and (b) I was absolutely sure that Jamie owned the film on VHS and so did not worry about getting a hold of one, and Jamie himself assured me that his copy was in the upstairs bedroom, and Jamie is never, ever wrong about such things, but this time he was, because the Toy Story box was upstairs but not the movie, which meant that I left for Chicago without the crucial film clip queued up, which meant that I had to hope that I came across a DVD of the film someplace, and I did, buying the tenth-anniversary edition at a store in the Philly airport for the low low price of $32, but of course that meant I would have to fiddle with the DVD and all its front matter while giving the talk, and because it was the tenth anniversary edition it had, as I learned ten minutes before the talk was to start, about eighteen or nineteen different features and promotions to wade through before you hit “play,” so that was a pain in the ass, but I think it all worked all right in the end and it turned out that I was right about (a). And then a cranky old man got up at the end of my talk about academic blogging, announced that he didn’t hear very well, and asked me if he had heard correctly that I was among David Horowitz’s Most Dangeral Professors. When I said yes, he replied that I had made his day, which led the ballroom of people to break into applause, and at that point they—and I—thought they knew where this “I have a question that’s more of a comment” was going. We were wrong! It was going someplace else. The cranky man then segued into a disquisition about his red cap, which, he said, he wore only when he was on the attack, and he claimed that no one was further right than he, except for perhaps Lynne Cheney, “who,” he said, “sleeps with the Vice President.” “So I hear,” I replied. “Well, then,” the cranky man said, “I have a question for you. How do you feel about Israel?”
“Well,” I said, thinking of the Toy Story clip, “I think it was implicit in my talk,” thereby attempting to remind him that he had, in fact, attended a talk. It didn’t work. He followed up with questions about “The Israel Lobby” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and about the various calls for the boycotting of Israeli academics and also about fragging. It was fun. “You must get that all the time,” a friend said later. “No, not really,” I answered. “This was a first.” As it turned out, I got off light, because the cranky man was eventually persuaded to sit down and allow people with questions about the talk to ask them; he had also haunted Janet’s panel the night before, and when I met Jerry Graff later on Saturday night he told me that the cranky man had simply made a speech at his session, a speech he (Graff) timed at just over eight minutes.
I learned a couple of things about the Palmer House, by the way. First, that although I have long lamented the $25 breakfast common to conference hotels—two eggs, $11.95, coffee, $3.95, convenience fee, room delivery fee, gratuity added (insufficient, thereby requiring supplementary tip in cash)—it appears that the Palmer House is breaking new ground with the $35 breakfast by setting the price of two eggs at $24 and working up from there. I did not sample the $35 breakfast. I went around the corner to Dunkin’ Donuts for a fine $4 breakfast. Gotta keep these taxpayer-funded junkets within reason, you know, regardless of whether they’re actually taxpayer-funded. Janet, by contrast, ordered a room-service salad on Thursday night while I was speaking at Northwestern, and reported that it was the finest $44 salad she had ever consumed.
Second, whenever I’m in a conference hotel I have a funny habit of checking out whatever conference I’m not part of. You know, just to see. And I have a minor obsession with miniature TV screens installed in elevators, taxicabs, minivan seats, and the backs of people’s heads, because they give me the impression that the Lidless Eye of CNN is watching me wherever I go—or, perhaps, that I should never walk for more than 30 or 45 seconds in a major US city without consulting a video screen for the latest news on missing white women or the adventures of the irresistable Ryan Philippe. The Palmer House managed to combine my habit and my minor obsession in one neat little move. The hotel was hosting not only the Midwest Modern Language Association but also the American Heart Association, which meant that the lobby and the ballrooms were full of the usual literature-professor suspects as well as people with some real money to spend: cardiologists, and even more important, representatives from pharmaceutical companies. Indeed, the latter group was such a large part of the Palmer House Imaginary that for Friday and Saturday, the hotel suspended its broadcasts of CNN in the elevators and replaced it with advertising for the anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor. What was especially strange about this was that Lipitor (or Pfizer, or, more accurately, whoever has Pfizer as an ad client) had apparently designed the video advertising specifically for this conference: it consisted entirely of still photos of various Chicago landmarks and those three-ringed Lipitor logos arranged so as to suggest that “Lipitor” was a verb synonymous with “heart,” as in “I Lipitor the Windy City” and “I Lipitor the Buckingham Fountain.”
Well, folks, I did not Lipitor my time in Chicago, though I think Janet might have done well to Zyrtec hers. And how was your weekend?