We pick up the Better Know a Commenter series with the Royals Review commenter from one of the more remote outposts of our readership, RoyalCreole.
Standard dating profile questions: Age? Sex? Height? Hair color? Marital status? Kids?
5' 4", about 140lbs, longish light brown hair, blue-gray eyes. Unmarried but I live with my girlfriend of 3 years. Two cats. I don't need kids: I teach, so I have about fifty new children to take care of each semester.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a village (and I do believe it was called a village on the census) called Pierre Part, way down south in Louisiana. The town is about an hour's drive from both New Orleans and Baton Rouge and about two from the Gulf of Mexico, which meant having to flee for higher ground every time the wind hinted that a hurricane was brewing.
That swampy no man's land between I-10 and the Gulf has always fascinated me. Since you hail from an area with a fair amount of cultural specificity, are your kin of the Acadian/Cajun tradition?
Yep. My father's (the Rodrigues) tide hailed from Portugal and my mother's side was Acadians-Creoles or simple Cajun. My great-grandmother, born in 1900, spoke not a lick of English, only Cajun French, and I remember many Sundays when my parents and the other grown-ups spoke exclusively in French so that the kids would not understand. Sadly, I never learned any of it myself, and the language is close to dead. There was brief moment of revival when it was taught in schools, but I do not know if they are still teaching it. With Bobby Jindal in the governor's mansion, it's probably had its funding cut by 99.9%. But I'll not get into politics because I my passionate hatred for Jindal makes my hate for Mad Bum look like a flashlight shined at a supernova.
I actually suspected that your surname was Portuguese but wasn't sure. What was it like growing up in the bayou?
Honestly, I hated the place growing up. I thought it was boring in all seasons and outright miserable in the summers, when the swamps stank abominably and the mosquitos invaded. (True story: I love horror movies and they don't scare me easily. But there is this B-horror flick about giant mutant mosquitos: Terrifies the shit out of me.) It took going away to realize how special a place it is because of the mix of cultures--and of course the food. Coming back after long stays elsewhere, I can see the beauty in the swamps, and now I miss the musty scent of the bayou.
Where do you live now?
I live in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria with my lady, Dannie, and we both teach at the American University in Bulgaria, a small EU and US-accredited liberal arts college that is really a business school in disguise.
Rural Louisiana to Bulgaria? Not many can say that. I'm guessing there were multiple stops between the two. Where have your journeys taken you?
I got to Bulgaria via Pittsburg, Kansas and Stillwater, Oklahoma (got my PhD at Oklahoma State). I've been to a lot of places in the US, but my most favorite ones were Salem, MA and Boulder, CO. Also, I shit you not, I have fond memories of passing through Metropolis, IL to get a picture with their giant Superman statue. I dig tourist trap shit like that. It's one of the things I love about the US. As for the side of the Atlantic I'm on now, I've been all over Great Britain, Paris, Rome, Venice, Padua, Istanbul, Rome, and all over Bulgaria. Dannie and I will also be headed Berlin in March, and I have my sites set on getting us to Dubrovnik in Croatia and Vienna--two of the cities I most want to see before I die.
On the subject of Dubrovnik, my brother was just there about a year and a half ago and loved it. While we're onto weird tourist trap stuff, I think you probably need to check out Froggyland in Split, Croatia. It's one of my brother's favorite things he saw while living in Europe. It's some weird shit. Any other weird tourist things that you'd urge us all to see?
Man, that is some bizarre shit. I don't think I've ever been to anything that strange, but if you're ever en route to Denver via Kansas, I'd recommend stopping by "The World's Largest Prairie Dog" if only because that drive is long and boring. Spoiler alert: The prairie dog is not an actual prairie dog, but a large statue of one. For some reason, this pissed me off when I found out.
How long have you been in Europe? What are your must-see travel recommendations?
We moved to Bulgaria in the summer of 2013. Must sees? If you're in Bulgaria, and you have only one place to see, I say skip the capital (Sofia) and head for Plovdiv. There are a lot of well preserved ruins from ancient Roman times there--not as many as in Rome but much of it in far better shape. It's a clean and affordable city, and I have found Bulgarians on the whole are really nice to Americans. There are exceptions, of course, but if you show even the tiniest effort to communicate with them in their language, they will love you forever. Quite a far shot from Parisians who shut that shit down quick and Italians who put on a good-natured, parental smile and say "It's okay" before continuing the conversation in English. (All of this is appreciated, but the way, because I do not speak any of those languages). Other recs: skip Rome, go to Istanbul. The sites in Rome were spectacular, but the city is unnavigable, the food disappointing, and the service largely rude. Istanbul is the opposite of all these things.
How is life abroad, for those of us that are envious of your situation?
Don't envy all of it. It's kind of like a Facebook profile: People only see the awesome parts. A lot of my time is spent doing the same things I'd be doing in the States: working, sitting on my ass watching TV with my lady, and other daily events. The only thing is that some of these events (like grocery shopping) are way harder when you only have a tenuous grasp of the language. But I shouldn't complain. I live in the poorest state in the EU, so the costs of living are seriously low. This means that we can live pretty comfortably on a teacher's pay here. We have a nice flat overlooking the river and the mountain range. There is just no way we could afford that in, say, Colorado. Plus, flights to other places in Europe are seriously cheap when you are already here, and getting around without a car is so much easier here than in the States. So I get to see a lot of Europe without breaking the bank, and I stay pretty healthy because everything I need is within walking distance. Really, besides obvious things like language and cultural differences, that last thing is what stands out the most to me as the difference between loving in the US and living in Europe--the complete absence of the need to own a car. Oh, and nationalized healthcare. And smoking hot Balkan women.
For how long have you been plying your trade?
I've been a college professor for about a year (got the PhD in May 2013), but I have been teaching since last 2004.
What is your educational background/area of study?
I have a BA, a MA, and a PhD--all in English--with a specialty in 17th and 18th Century British lit.
English lit. A man after my own heart. Who are your guys/gals? What did you write about for your senior and Master's theses? How about your Doctoral dissertation? Who, in your studies, chapped your ass off?
My main guy is Milton. I've always been drawn to Satan and Paradise Lost, and I wish it really were true what Blake and the Romantics thought of Milton: that he was a Devil's party without knowing it. So, Milton is my main guy. But I don't like hanging out with Milton scholars; they can be a stuffy and pretentious lot. I'd much prefer to kick it with the Medievalists or the Modernists. They're much more fun at parties. I'm also a big fan of John Donne because of his erotic poems. The guy who most busted my ass: Samuel Richardson. I had to read all of Clarissa for my PhD exams. It damn near broke me. I was looking through my notes from that time the other day, and I found a paragraph that was almost exclusively made of permutations of the word "fuck." Also, sonnet sequences. Even the best ones drive me insane because after ten of fifteen of them, things get repetitive. Samuel Daniel is the worst. Fey, ethereal textbook Petrarchism. Boring. Fuck him.
What are you teaching your charges? What is the make-up of your students?
My students are mostly Eastern Europeans: a lot of Bulgarians, Albanians, Macedonians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and Russians. There are also a number of Mongolians, Azerbaijanis, and "Stan" kids (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan). There are quite a few other nationalities represented (even a few Americans), but I can't possibly name them all. It would be an epic catalog of nations. At the moment, I am showing them the ropes of research writing in English 102. I'd rather not speak too much of it because 102 has been and will always be my least favorite class. A lot of dry material (how to search databases, compiling citation information, etc.) that I've never found a way to make less dry. And this is not for a lack of trying. Last semester, though, I got to teach the first half of American lit. It was my first ever literature survey, and it was awesome. I can't wait to teach it again. I also hope to someday teach a class in adapting novels to films, a Faulkner class, and one on revenge tragedy from the The Spanish Tragedy (1580s) to The Crow (1990s).
With the understanding that obviously baseball and the Royals are an area of interest for you, what other hobbies and interests do you have?
Other than baseball, I get my kicks from finding new music to listen to and new TV shows to watch. I really dig pop culture of all kinds (but especially of the late '70s and the '80s), so I take every opportunity I can to down multiple pints of beer with people who have a fond appreciation for Twin Peaks, Magnum PI, Archer, Adam and the Ants, The Psychedelic Furs, The Karate Kid, or whatever the hell else. I really dig horror films, but I don't watch many these days because the lady can't handle them. I'm also especially fond of learning about post punk and New Wave. Other than that, I spend a lot of free time cooking Cajun food and listening to music. When healthy and not lazy, I'm a fair-to-middling distance runner; my personal record is ten miles. I have delusions of completing a marathon one day, but as I hit my mid-30s and start feeling new tweaks in my knees and back weekly, I wonder about that goal.
What albums have you been obsessing over of late?
Lately, it's been Gang of Four's Entertainment and Das Racist mix tapes, but that all stopped the moment Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love came out. It's been that and Dig Me Out all this week. I saw SK open for Pearl Jam in New Orleans some time in the early aughts. Blew me away. Instant fan. The rocked a tired Pearl Jam and an Eddie Vedder who was more interested in the upcoming election right off the stage. But I'll give Vedder this: He did a kickass version of "Rockin in the Free World" with SK. Anyway, the new album doesn't sound to me like a band that's been dormant for ten years. That energy is still there.
What's the best thing you've read in recent memory? Describe it as though you were trying to convince someone else that they should read it.
You catch me fresh off a winter break during which I read about a book every two days. The best of that lot are Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and a collection of HP Lovecraft stories. I'll give the nod to American Gods. You can find any number of observations on the American land and the American soul, but I've encountered few that take up this topic with such creativity and insight. The premise in brief: Gods are real, and they are everywhere in the modern-day US, and new ones are brought into being all the time. Brought here by people who came to the North American continent and then forgotten, the old gods linger on in sad, mundane lives until one of them (Thor) decides to wage a war of ancient gods against their modern rivals. Symbolism abounds. Into this conflict steps the main character, Shadow, who has a role to play that only Thor knows. American Gods was a page-turner, but what most impressed me was Gaiman's encyclopedic knowledge of the peoples who have come the North American continent and of their gods (though some of this he makes up). The book is like anthropology, history, mythology, social commentary, and great fiction wrapped up into one. It's a magnificent piece of writing from a guy who I honestly thought was only a graphic novelist.
Yeah, American Gods is really good. Bryan Fuller (the showrunner on Hannibal) is finally bringing it to the small screen on Starz after Gaiman's failed attempt to bring it to life at HBO. It should arrive sometime in 2016. Give us a few more, only this time no need to sell it. We trust you.
I'm glad to hear American Gods is going to be a TV show. I'll definitely watch that. Other books? I just read a serviceable but not great history of popes (John Julius Norwich's aptly titled The Popes: A History) and have just put down after seventy pages the immensely disappointing Oxford History of Christianity. I was expecting more from a university press of Oxford's standing. So, now I'm going through Carl Sagan's Cosmos for the third time. Love that book. I don't think any one person has had more of a profound influence on me than Sagan has. If you haven't read it, do so.
We all have a long list of stupid shit that we've done. What's the dumbest thing you've done?
Might as well write in "My College Years," during which every story begins "This one time, we were drunk . . ." Add into that that we were often drunk AND stoned or rolling or tripping and that we were a group of dudes in our early 20s, and you do not have a recipe for MENSA recognition. One that jumps out at me from memory is the time when my friends and I were out in the woods dropping acid. The parents of one of my friends owned a plot of land that they had cleared and somehow managed to get an old broken down school bus back there. They had ripped out the seats and put in some bunk beds. I can't remember much how it started, but at some point I was convinced there was a light following me (always behind my back or under my seat, so I kept stooping mid-sentence to look behind and below me) and that the bus was alive--and breathing--and we were on the inside of it. Picture yourself in a lantern-lit, hollowed-out school bus seeing the walls swell and contract like a cartoon whale and you're the cartoon Jonah inside and you'll see what I saw. This distressed me somewhat. So, I dash out of the bus and up a nearby oak tree, to which we had tied one of those really thick rope swings. I am so high that I get to thinking I'm some kind of Indiana Jones and that swing is my whip and my lifeline to safety (from what and to what I have no idea). I grab hold of the rope and swing a half crescent right into the side of the bus. I busted my left brown open pretty bad and the collision left two deep gashes in my cheek. I tried to explain this all as a cycling accident. My friends would have no complicity in these lies and disabused anyone who would listen.
What Royals Reviewer would you be most interested to meet in person? Why?
It would go to one of the folks I most exchange messages with, so that means Nighthawk, Farmhand, OMD, or 1040X. I'd add KCK and Phil to that list. However, I think I'd most like to hang out with Nighthawk. It seems like we kick it on a similar wavelength, and he reminds me a lot of a guy I used to hang out with in college. This guy was a bit older than the rest of and a fair shot weirder and smarter and had the best music collection I have ever seen. I owe it solely to him that I know who Tom Waits is, and I think the Wait's reference in Nighthawk's handle most draws me in.
Strangely enough, Nighthawk's handle was what got me to jump into the community, as a big Waits fan myself. Can I assume, given your background, that Will was what drew you to Royals Review in the first place?
Oh yeah, it was Will. When I first started lurking at RR, Will loomed large. Basically, he was RR. That was around 2005 or '06, and I had just started paying attention to baseball again, so I had never seen writing on sports like the stuff he was putting out. He had a gift for turning the misery of being a Royals fan into gold. His Royals Bibliomancy feature will always be a RR HoFer to me. So, yeah, it was definitely that sarcastic and beautifully written anguish that drew me in, and once I got to commenting on the game threads, I was hooked. You could say that RR was pretty instrumental in me becoming and staying fan of the Royals. So, thanks to all you guys!
While we're all much more than just being Royals fans, it is the tie that binds us. What brought you to the Royals' front stoop knocking on the door to be let in? Perhaps more importantly, why did you stay?
How'd I get into the Royals? I moved to Pittsburg, Kansas in the summer of 2005 to get a Master's at Pitt State and stayed there until mid-2007. That was the closest I've ever lived to a Major League stadium, so I made quite a few trips to The K in those years. I've told the story about three times here but my first game was on in that 19-game losing streak in '05--the one where they blew a four- or five-run lead to the Indians in the top of the ninth with a number of embarrassing errors. I started lurking here not soon thereafter, and a combination of proximity to KC and enjoying the articles and the fellowship here kept me plugged even when the team was just fucking terrible. I've been committed (apt choice of words) ever since, though the postseason run showed me how connected I am to this franchise. I honestly did not expect the intense emotional investment it incited. There were moments in the WS when Hunter Pence and Mad Bum whipped me into a blood frenzy that could only be soothed by a Royals win or a stream of spittle, obscenities, and incoherence.
Describe yourself in three sentences or less.
Do compound sentences count as one sentence to two? Did that previous question count as one, and does this one count? Either way, you could call me a weird, nerdy dude who likes beer and talking about sports, pop culture, and art while good music plays in the background and who has a severe habit of imposing meta-commentary on innocent conversations.
What have I missed? What would you like to put out there for the world to digest?
Well, I have nothing to say for myself. But if you haven't played Gang of Four's Entertainment!, do it. Great album. And harken to the words of Sagan: "Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another" (Carl Sagan, Cosmos).
Or to put it more plainly: Be excellent to each other. And, party on, dudes.
Meet you all further along up the road.
¡Muchas gracias, RoyalCreole!