Personal Revelations Of Invasion Of MLA In Hopes Of Making Off With Knowledge.
Failure As A Possibility Looms Heavily.
by Richard Benyo
Rich Benyo as Mark Twain
Twain Twice Appears At '98 MLA
Disappears As Quickly As He Came
Serious Questions of Intellectualism.
Rumors Of Homosexuality Spread Heavy On Thin Evidence.
Taint Of Alcohol In 19th Century America Shocks Audience.
YERBA BUENA, California--It is doubtful there is anything so depressing as a city being pressured into Christmas gaiety. The daily trials of vertical living are festooned with colored lights and bejewelled with glittering tinsel--and declared festive. Parking meters and cash registers clang and ting and the coins of beggars shaken as bait in wax Big Gulp cups emit a spirited but muffled come-on, gimme, or I'll break your arm.
It has traditionally been our policy to avoid at all costs the communal hemorrhoid of big city existence. Our only indulgence in that direction is the occasional perverted tuning in to AM radio during Rush Hour to eavsedrop on the merry automotive mayhem 75 miles away.
So it surprised us when our adverse ardor was reversed by a call from our editor, wondering if we would venture into San Francisco over the Christmas Holidays to report on several presentations on Sam Clemens/Mark Twain scheduled for the Modern Language Association's 114th annual convention. We admit to a long-festering fondness for the Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope, and were inclined to momentarily throw off our usually blunt common sense.
Nothing comes without its complications, however. But complications are what spice if not outright fulfill a journalist's life. The complication: the editor's pass to the MLA was in Nevada and we were not. We inquired of one and all, by old means (phone) and new (e-mail), how we might secure a ticket to the Mark Twain sessions in order to apprehend and then spread the knowledge about to be dispensed under the dimestore umbrella of academia.
The MLA, as is well known, is a 30,000-strong mob founded in 1883 to facilitate the sharing of research and ideas in the areas of language and literature. Booked at the San Francisco Hilton, more than 800 discussion groups would be presented between Dec. 27-30. Nearly all the MLA members are teachers and scholars affiliated with colleges and universities, which allows them to be free of productive work between those dates. We phoned the MLA headquarters in Manhattan about purchasing tickets for the Mark Twain sessions and were informed that that was unheard of, utterly impossible.
Knowledge was apparently not available for sale in small portions; one must either buy the smorgasbord or starve. We were told by a sympathetic MLA staffer whose name shall remain safe behind the journalistic screen that tickets for specific sessions could be secured by family or friends of the speaker, but alas, it was much too late for that approach. (We were to learn that the way the MLA phrases this in print is: "A convention speaker may obtain a pass for a family member or friend who has no professional interest in language or literature to hear a paper given by that speaker." Apparently the deeper one is interested in language or literature, the more the knowledge is forbidden him. In other words, if you don't want it, you can have it, but if you want it, no way.)WE'VE GOT IT & YOU CAN'T HAVE IT
We discussed this paradox with our editor and came to the conclusion that the MLA is an organization dedicated to denying knowledge to the hoy-poly. We discussed rushing past a guard and apprehending as many handsful of literary knowledge we could and devouring same before being subdued, but decided that we were too old and slow, and might be gashed to bloody death by a misplaced sharp word or two.
We decided to employ the American plan: we bought our way in. Before leaving on this perilous expedition, we discussed with our editor our journalistic status. As a semi-special correspondent, we were told, our M.O. was as follows:
- Dispense to your readers only as much truth as they can stand; remember that an onion served sparingly elevates a meal and even kills off the occasional bacteria while an onion served enthusiastically merely makes people cry.
- Make the story only long enough to fill the space left after advertisements are placed.
- Allow yourself to become part of the story only when nothing important is happening; serve as a bridge, not a bastion.
- Make liberal use of the editorial "we" in order divert criticism and to confound grammarians.
- Keep it clean--unless #1-4 fail.
Armed with those marching orders, we began the expedition to The City, fretting along the way that should a Saddam Hussein germ bomb be secretly trucked in to the obscenely-expensive underground parking garage at the San Francisco Hilton in order to disrupt the Christmas Holidays, language and literature as we know it in modern America would be extinguished except for that used by everyday people in everyday life throughout the rest of the nation.
As it was, there seemed instead to be a plot to extinguish interest in Mark Twain; his first of two sessions was scheduled for nine o'clock on a Sunday night, a time better spent reading Mark Twain while sipping eggnog.
We brought the smallest vehicle we owned in order to drive defensively in The City. Turning off Van Ness toward the Hilton on Sunday evening, the streets took on the appearance of "The Night of the Living Dead": hulking spectres flitting from shadow to shadow, those less nimble embracing streetlamps while clenching signs declaring HOMELESS. HELP ME CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS. and WILL WORK FOR BEER. Considering the helium-fueled economy, it seemed a sordid statistical conspiracy that so many able-bodied young men were denied fulfilling or at least productive work. Obviously another plot against the holy downtrodden was afoot.
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Email: Rich Benyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
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