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Rollin’ on the River(s) and Other Doings of the Summertime Sheas

The old wonker is back, after a very busy summer of traveling. I think the Long-suffering Diana and I—or at least I—were gone more than we were home, and I appreciate Matt’s having suggested that I take the summer off.* It was a good break, but I look forward now to banging out more wonks, teaching my classical tropes course, and, since Albuquerque persists in turning into Phoenix, getting a break from the summer heat.

So park y’r carcass right here for a bit and I will regale you (if you have lost your gale…hahaha.)

Briefly, I went to Kentucky for the annual Advanced Placement Reading; then the two of us drove out to SoCal to see Dan and our Laguna Beach friends, Bob and Brenda; then we spent a couple of nights back at the earth ships (see “Sailing the Mesa”) northwest of Taos with our daughter and her family; and then (drum roll!) we cruised the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg (sandwiched between a stay with Diana’s folks on Cape Cod). Whew.

I (heart) Louisville, and the thought of going back June after June warms my cockles. I had never been there before. In fact, I had never been in Kentucky before, and the first reaction from friends was, “Poor you: Kentucky in the summer!” Not so.

But a word first about the reading. I had not been a table leader for about a dozen years and was nervous about that. But I had a wonderful table of readers (when will I get the “reader from hell” that is part of AP lore?) and got back up to speed pretty quickly. And the question was good if not great. Essentially it asked if humorists, who seem to be able to get away with saying things that the rest of us can’t, serve a vital role in society for that reason. No surprise that most of the comedians the kids cited I had never heard of (I’m not just old; I don’t even get cable). I was too embarrassed to ask why none of these youngsters mentioned Bob Hope or Milton Berle or Jack Benny. And I realized that I really must wear my hearing aid next year. The years go on and so does Shea.

Yes, it was hot and humid, but the convention center and our suite in the Galt House were air conditioned. Bobby Caughey, a friend of my son’s, was there (Bobby is a sometime bartender and full-time high school teacher north of San Diego) and we took a short run one evening in Waterfront Park. The humidity was actually a nice novelty, although the salt sweat really burned my eyes: next year, a headband. Special thanks to Bobby because his group, the Literature and Comp people, have been there for three or four years and he was happy to show me around town.

Louisville is on the Ohio, a serious river. It is about a half mile across to Indiana and deep enough to float real boats (unlike the Rio Grande here in Albuquerque, which often comes up only to your ankles). Educational Testing Service sprung for us table leaders to have a dinner cruise on a genuine riverboat. The Belle of Louisville was built in 1914 and is still a steam-powered stern wheeler. It was a grand evening aboard that grande dame. We churned about ten miles up the Ohio and back down. I wondered what it must have been like on a real river journey when young Sam Clemens was learning the ropes, or, rather, the shoals. “Mark Twain,” as they used to call out.

There is probably not twice as much to see and do in Louisville—Churchill Downs, the Mega Cavern, scads of museums and good restaurants, etc.—as in a comparable city, but the tourist board certainly makes it seem so, and I would like sometime to spend a real vacation there.

But there is more to Kentucky than Louisville and I had an old friend to see. So one evening I borrowed a car and went off to visit Judy Moffett (aka “Sally”) out near Lexington. At her suggestion I left I-64 and dropped south on KY 395. There is green and then there is…Kentucky, I thought, as I rolled through Waddy and Harrisonville and past the graveyard where generations of Baptist Moffetts await the final trumpet. Two lane and twisty, it was the perfect introduction to where Judy lives with her two dogs, Fleece and Feste, hidden away at the top of an impossible long driveway. I firmly believe in visiting old friends every forty years or so and after an awkward Stanley and Livingstone moment, we remembered why we were such good friends and fell to finishing each other’s sentences on into the evening. Judy Moffett is another excellent reason to get back to Kentucky year after year.

*Note: that’s “Matt’s having suggested,” not “Matt having suggested.” My latest peeve is that hardly anybody uses the possessive case with the gerund anymore. What’s up with that?

Postscript. I’ve been advised that Unmlive will no longer be posting my selected wonks, which they deem not academic enough. Well, it was a good run, and I am told that I will live forever on You Tube—a cheesy sort of immortality but the only one that your wonker expects to have, so he’ll take what he can get.

Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is


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