Date: Sun, 25 Aug 1996 06:56:34 GMT
From: Lawrence Kestenbaum <polygon@KIRA.INTRANET.ORG>
Subject: A few updates
To: Multiple recipients of list WORDS-L <WORDS-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>

Hello, everybody. My vacation put me so far behind on Words-L that I can't possibly catch up, so I'm not even trying. If there's anything (any thread or specific posting) you think I should read, send me mail about it. Mentioning my name in the subject line is not even enough.

This message is going to be long, because I have a lot of items to address and I don't feel like breaking it up into a dozen smaller pieces. I'm going to use an outline format rather than bother with transitions.

<A.> I'm alarmed to read about a fire at the NYPL. I *will* be reading that thread to find updates. I have seen nothing about it in the media. What specifically in the collection is threatened?

<B.> My "Political Graveyard" web page has been expanded and improved. The URL is <>

<C.> Just some brief notes on the Kentucky trip, and some questions.

(1) Elizabethtown. A small town where we got off the highway to look at a cemetery. Its downtown has a central square surrounded by storefronts, with *closed* *corners*. This is a phenomenon I've seen only in very old towns mostly in the East; never in Michigan. A square with "closed corners" (a term I made up) has no streets leading away from the outside corners of the town square; the building fronts simply meet at right angles and create a cozy sense of enclosure. A square with "open corners" is typical where the streets on the sides of the square all extend in a straight line in both directions away from the square. I'd be interested in hearing about other examples of town squares or courthouse squares with closed corners.

(2) Paducah. It's at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Janice has relatives there. The place is just littered with historic markers. Oak Grove Cemetery was a quadruple-header on my interests: it's (a) a historic cemetery of a very archaic style, (b) with a number of famous politicians interred there; (c) the office is a polygonal building (hexagonal); (d) and *also* an example of early-20th century cement block construction. We also visited the national quilt museum there. And I photographed several houses with fake-brick asphalt siding for Natalie.

One of the key events in the history of Paducah was the flood of 1937. Seven-eighths of the city was submerged; old photos show the water plainly six or more feet deep in the downtown streets. Subsequent to this, a flood wall was built between the river and downtown. The buildings in the old photos are still in use today. I see this and I feel a bit angry about how things have changed. A few years ago, there was extensive flooding along the Mississippi and many of its tributaries. Television news footage showed beautiful, well-kept, historic houses with floodwaters halfway up the first story, and it was invariably explained that every building in sight was a total loss, that none of them could possibly be saved. If that rule had applied in 1937, Paducah would not exist today. Or it would look like a WPA housing development, anyway. Why is it that flood-damaged buildings were salvageable in 1937, but not today?

(3) Pleasant Hill. A restored Shaker community, almost too much to tell about. Contrary to their image, the Shakers were not anti-technology; we think of them as being like the Amish, but they were using the same tools and techniques as their worldly neighbors, and even innovated. They were celibate, and their religious services featured wild dancing that plainly substituted for sex. The buildings have separate doors for men and women.

(4) Lexington. Brad has done an excellent report on this already. I wish I had taken a picture of his friend's house. And yes, I should have bought the cemetery book -- can I send you a check? Brad looked almost, but not quite, completely unlike what I expected. Hint: people from Tupelo don't necessarily resemble one another.

(5) Frankfort. Several days later, we went with Janice's parents to the Kentucky state capital, an odd little town. The state capitol building, built in 1910, is one of the largest I've ever seen; it reminds me of Wisconsin's. There's a reception room which replicates Marie Antoinette's drawing room, staircases modeled on the Paris Opera, etc. The materials came from elsewhere, too: Indiana limestone, Vermont granite, etc. But the columns in the state senate chamber are topped with tobacco-leaf capitals (an American supplement to the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Behind the capitol is the Floral Clock, essentially a circular concrete flowerbox 34 feet in diameter, filled with supposedly a hundred thousand live flowers in various patterns, topped with two massive analog clock hands, the whole *tilted* (so you can see it without a plane) and standing on columns within an even larger reflecting pool. It was built in 1961, and I guess it was just the kind of stunt they went in for in those days.

<D.> Car buying and selling. Not long before we left, we had clutch problems with our 1988 Toyota Tercel. In itself this is not surprising, since the car had more than 183,000 miles on it without ever needing the clutch worked on before. But a new clutch would cost $500, arguably more than the car was worth. I pointed out that clutch replacement would probably be cheaper than buying a $15,000 new car, but Janice felt otherwise, so we bought a 1996 Honda Civic sedan, and took it on the Kentucky trip. Janice will be commuting in the Civic, and I'll be commuting in our 1993 Honda Accord.

Meanwhile, the humble old Tercel, the third car in a two-car family, sat beside our house. It was in public view yet bereft of its license plate, and hence technically illegal (we could have gotten a ticket, but didn't). By the time we left, the battery had discharged as well, and so we had to push it out of the way-too-conspicuous parking spot right next to busy Jackson Road, into one next to the house.

We figured that we'd probably have to pay to have it hauled away. A friend of ours with a dead Nissan of similar age found that nobody was even interested in the parts, since who'd ever want to rebuild a ten year old economy subcompact? To our surprise, when we returned, we found a note (dated several days earlier) from someone interested in *buying* the Tercel.

I phoned the person, explained to him all the problems with the venerable car, and to my surprise he was still on the line when I finished. He asked how much we were asking for it; I said, I figured any car that could move under its own power was supposedly worth $500. He offered $350, and I said, "sure". Not exactly a stunning display of bargaining acumen. I told Janice, and she practically jumped for joy at the prospect of getting $350 for the rusted hulk.

On Thursday evening, the buyer came around to see the car. He said that he hadn't been able to come up with $350, and offered $200 instead. Janice told him he'd have to talk to me. Later, when I got home, I phoned him and said $200 was okay. We didn't know whether to feel guilty or ripped off.

Friday morning, another fellow came to the door, asking if the Toyota was for sale. My God, I thought, this lack of license plate business is remarkably effective: we didn't even put a sign on it. I took his name and number in case the first deal fell through.

Friday at 6:30, the first buyer showed up as promised, with $200 cash. The title was signed over, the cash and a reciept exchanged. I cleaned all our stuff out of the car we had owned for nine years; deep in the glovebox, I found a watch that had been missing for some time. I gave him the keys, the owner's manual, the sun shade, and the cassette tape from the dealer that we had never listened to.

He brought jumper cables to start the car; I had warned him these would be needed. His jumper cables soon got hot, and I loaned him our much newer set of cables. As we had our Friday evening dinner, with challah and all, we listened anxiously to the starter grounding over and over, failing again and again to actually "catch". Finally the car started. He gunned the motor mercilessly. Janice winced, and finally said, "well, it's his car now."

After we got back that evening, we found a message from him on the answering machine. Had we had any problem with the alternator? he asked. He went on to say that the alternator had started smoking, and the car had died on the expressway. Shit, I thought, he's going to demand his $200 back. But when I phoned him, he was very gracious. We'd never noticed any problem with the alternator, I said. He explained that he was going to find a rebuilt alternator. He thanked me for giving him a good deal on the car. And that was that.

--- Lawrence Kestenbaum,