It took a while — like, until about 15 minutes ago — to remember that today is Columbus Day. It’s a pretty laid-back one around here, because there’s no class today and tomorrow, a custom the U. calendar calls “study break.” (Based on my efforts to find a sitter who can stay late tomorrow night — we want to see Lucinda Williams — everyone has gone home for four-day weekend and is probably not studying.)
Anyway, having the students gone neatly sidesteps the tiresome debate over how to honor a bloodthirsty genocidal blah-blah and shouldn’t we instead be spending our time in contemplation of indigenous peoples blah-blah, and blah de blah de blah.
I will have none of this. Never mind the city of my upbringing; I’m down with my man Chris. The old and new world were on a collision course, and smallpox and bloodshed and all the rest of it was inevitable, given the times and the evolution of man’s thinking on the subject of the differently melanined. Yep, it was a big fat sucky turning point for the natives, but it was one for the world, too, and I can’t say it was an entirely awful one.
Columbus Day also makes me think about my hometown, Ohio’s capital city. When I was in grade school, we were asked to think about the far-off date of 1992, the 500th anniversary of the great voyage of discovery. Our fourth-grade teacher told us to expect the Olympic Games in our very own city, because surely that is how the world would want to honor this wonderful anniversary. Ha. Political correctness, a wave no one saw coming, swamped Columbus’ little flotilla of pride. I remember attending the National Society of Newspaper Columnists convention in Columbus in ’92, and hearing some droning bore of an Indian, name of …I forget his name. He was included on a panel discussion of how awful Christopher was, and he concluded with a ponderous, mau-mauing speech about how the white race introduced — introduced! — murder and rape to pristine, virginal North America, and why didn’t we talk about that, huh? Huh?
Oh, well. Water, bridges, etc. The P.C. wave itself sort of petered out, but the timing was all wrong, and the 500th anniversary was marked not with the Olympics, but an international flower show and a replica Santa Maria docked on the city’s boring, tame riverfront.
The columnists toured the little ship, and that, as much as anything, made me think Columbus is worthy of a minor holiday. The 15th century was not a time when people reached ripe old ages, especially sailors. The ship was impossibly small, and remember, it was the largest of his little Navy. To take such a vessel into the trackless, unknown ocean (during hurricane season!) seems as brave as tying a bunch of weather balloons to a lawn chair, just to see what’s up above the trees.
Me, I’m at work on my screenplay (which explains the frequent blogging today). Half the day is gone, and I’m on page three. I’m struggling with the problems of dialogue — how do you introduce an obscure cultural custom without having the characters sit around talking like the characters in a fourth-grade hygiene film?
“Mom, why is it important to wash our hands after we use the bathroom?”
“Well, Jimmy, eliminating bodily waste can be a messy process, and even if we’re neat about it, we can’t see every germ that might be passed to our fingers when we touch–“
I’m tempted to add a character — Mr. Anthropologist, a small cartoon figure who will pop up while the rest of the actors stand around in freeze-frame.