Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Book Review and Goofy Stuff

I finally got a chance to read The Cincinnati Subway: History of Rapid Transit by Allen J. Singer, cousin to the illustrious Nathan Singer. I've heard of the subway system for years (Mike Resnick even incorporated them into his science fiction) but never had a context of them in Cincinnati history. My only criticism of the book is the font size; it's incredibly small and blurs for us old geezers with weak eyes.

A few weeks ago, I checked out What Ifs of American History, edited by Robert Cowley, in which various historians examine what might have happened if historical events occured differently. Some were border-line stale (what if Washington had been soundly defeated at the Battle of Long Island, what if Lee won at Gettysburg, what if the Cuban Missile Crisis led to WWIII, what if JFK hadn't been shot, what if Watergate never happened). Others were familiar with new twists (what if John Wilkes Booth's complete plans had worked, killing not just Lincoln but key members of his cabinet; what if Power's U-2 flight never flew; what if the Pilgrims landed in Virginia).

The ones that interested me the most were strange but possible. Apparently in 1896, the U.S. and England came close to war over colonization of South America. Andrew Roberts envisions a victorious U.S. (given Quebec as tribute) emerging in an early New World Order.Victor Davis Hanson imagines if Lew Wallace hadn't got lost on the way to Shiloh. He probably never would have written Ben Hur, rearranging American publishing and pop culture.

The most interesting was "The Revolution of 1877," which looks at a potential second Civil War that nearly started over poor working conditions. Literal class warfare could have torn the country to pieces. Thanks to the unsung Rutherford B. Hayes, it never happened but Hayes only became president after an election that made 2000 seem normal and clean.

Overall Eisenhower came out the best in assorted scenarios (it's left clear that without Joe McCarthy and his gang of idiots, Ike would have been a greater success) but John Tyler and William Pitt the Elder also come out smelling like roses.

All this gave me an idea about The Cincinnati Subway. Years ago, I read a parody by Phillip Jose Farmer that considered what Edgar Rice Burroughs's character of Tarzan would have been like if written by William Burroughs (it was first published in a porn magazine and Farmer estimated that less than 0.01% of the readers got the joke). But what if, instead of Allen J. Singer, Nathan Singer had written about the subway?

A Prayer for the Cincinnati Subway


Wednesday, January 28, 1920: This is truly a glorious age—a steam-shovel bites into the earth, and, to roaring applause, the Cincinnati Subway is born.

Cincinnati Subway, "Why couldn't I be someplace cool?"

Every joy, every sorrow, every wonder, every terror, every desire of the city lies hidden in its tunnels, in its history, in its construction, in its darkness. Do we embrace its glory . . . or do we simply lock it away?


1905: Boss Cox gloats over his personal playground which is the city of Cincinnati. More than a mayor, Cox is a living maelstorm—all greed and lust flows through his pockets, swept into power by the unfortunate events of nearly twenty years ago.
Subway, "What has this got to do with me?"
Just wait.


1884: Cincinnati riots. Following the conviction of one William Berner on a lesser charge of manslaughter, mobs convene on downtown Cincinnati, thirsting for blood.
Gatling guns tear into civilian flesh.
Fire licks into buildings, public and private.
The mob roars bloody anthems:

"Tear down the jailhouse! String up Berner!"
"Hear, hear!"
"Set City Hall afire!"
"Hear, hear!"
"Tear apart the jail brick by brick!"
"Let's blow up Mt. Rushmore."

[uncomfortable silence]

"Um, it hasn't been built yet."
"Oh, right. Well, what about the Tyler Davidson Fountain in the square?"
"Not until 1929."
The morning after the great Cincinnati Courthouse riots, 56 men lay dead, blood congealed in fly-covered puddles, ashes and shards of glass mingled in the gutters. All was a lull until—


1929: KER-BOOM!!!
"Oh dearest God! The fountain!"
The old Boss Cox Republican machine has fallen dead. New politicians vow to clean up the cesspool of corruption. Lost in the revolution was the Subway.
Subway, "Hello! Cars! Traffic! Don't worry about paying for things in the future. Just put some money in private accounts and the stock market will provide for everything."


1962: After decades of plans and dreams, defeats and schemes, the fathers of the city bring a use to the Subway.

"If the Reds nuke us, we'll all go down and hide out."

Subway, "Even I think that's fucking stupid."

The provisions of the underground fallout shelter drift away with dust and vandals and erosion and time.


2003: The Cincinnati Subway is alone, defaced, dismissed and largely forgotten, its tunnels still span the downtown streets, its doors bolted and barred, a dusty hell in a world of immortals. Press your ear against the asphalt and—if you're not run down by a bus—you'll hear the Subway's subterreanean wail.
Subway, "Wahhh!"
Forever incomplete, the Subway is an eternal child, but a child so hideous and deformed, her parents buried her beneath the earth, never to gaze upon the sun.
Subway, "Wahhh!"
No more shall the once—
Subway, "Hey, I just figured it out!"
What are you talking about?
Subway, "You're me! Me from the future."
Bet you didn't see that coming. Heavy mind-bending shit, huh?
Subway, "It's kinda like Titanic , how the old woman in the present is Kate Winslet in the past."
No, you stupid fucking idiot, it's nothing like Titanic . That was a crude narrative framing device, already dusty when Chaucer used it in Canterbury Tales . This is a post-modern thrash reinterpretation of not just the narrative process but the very nature of story-telling itself.
Subway, "Oh. You know, I really like Kate Winslet's breasts."
So do I. In fact, in a sense, they symbolize the situation here. Being an unfinshed construction, it should be easy to see that—


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