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Seattle Confidential: Thursday at the OAH

March 27, 2009, 3:53 am

Day One at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting is done, and much has been accomplished. The Radical got to bed way too late last night, having drunk far too much wine. I suspected by the time I arose at 6:30 AM that there was a hangover on the way, something I have not experienced for a very long time. Those who have known me since forever will chuckle knowingly. A few of you will even recall those evenings, back at Oligarch in the 1970s, when my roommate and I would cap off an evening of drinking by howling Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” at the top of our lungs as the pre-med who lived upstairs, Irish-American snub nose glued firmly to the grindstone, would weep with frustration. When it was clear that her tears only moved us to greater paroxysms of derision, she would send this lovely man downstairs to reason with us, and when that failed, in desperation, she would send his roommate, this dear friend of mine. So there is more than one reason I try not to fall into the hands of Demon Rum, and hangovers are but one of them. Can you imagine how unpopular this behavior would be in the Sheraton?

Anyway, where was I? Everyone is agreeing that it seems like a smaller conference than usual this year. Whether people have cancelled appearances (a few have, but for all the ordinary reasons), or whether a lot of people who would normally come without having a panel to present on, comment on or chair are staying home and saving their money is not clear. But everyone is discussing on what seems to be a recessionary attendance figure. “It’s a very long expensive trip,” one Eastern scholar said to me helpfully. Well yes, but not for those who live in the West, and the Midwestern people would not be deterred by distance in any case, since it takes them approximately the same amount of time to get everywhere.

But many people are here. Last night, after returning from a long, pleasant evening with relatives who plied me with a number of excellent bottles of Walla Walla wine, I was heading for the elevators when I ran into UC-Davis’s incomparable Clarence Walker, formerly of Zenith. Clarence insisted that I return to the bar with him to have a glass of champagne. You are never too old to accept mentoring, that’s what I say. In fact, earlier in the day I had actually gone out of my way to seek mentoring. As I was chatting with Phil Deloria in the Detroit airport, he was suddenly awarded a seat in first class. Upon arrival in Seattle, he leaped off the plane fresh as a daisy and explained, as I had my legs professionally straightened, that he was signed up as a Silver member of an airline club. Wondering why no senior colleague has ever advised me to do this, I got on it straight away and also became a Starwood Preferred Member when I checked in at the Sheraton.

After my panel this morning, where I had the pleasure of meeting Beveridge book prize winner Scott Kurashige for the first time, I met up with your heroine and mine, Historiann. We strolled a few blocks to a restaurant in the Pike Street Market called the Athenian Inn. (Note: breakfast was also in the Pike Street Market, at Lowell’s, with Leslie Harris. I’m recommending the blueberry pancakes, although Leslie’s scrambled eggs with salmon looked pretty good. Both Lowell’s and the Athenian look out over the water and are very restful, particularly if there is a low-level ache extending from behind your ears and wrapping itself like a snake around your forehead.)

Historiann and I were seated in the bar, and over several mugs of local beer, chowder, and a double plate of ice-cold, shucked Pacific oysters, we solved most of the problems our profession presents and put the finishing touches on our plan to control the world. We noted that just across the street there was a 24 hour strip show, and that it has an amateur night on Wednesday, which we had missed due to poor scheduling the night before. But we agreed that it was probably best that amateur strip night had not coincided with the arrival of the majority of our colleagues, since you never know when a scholar will throw caution to the winds and try to build a new career Riding the Pole. Historiann also helpfully searched her purse and came up with two Advil which, along with the food and the beer, allowed me to face an afternoon of shopping, a swim in the hotel pool, and the Opening Night Reception. From there it was a burst of inspiration that took me to Chinatown for dinner, and then home to bed, avoiding the hotel bar altogether.

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