I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.
Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)
I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.
Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.
“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.
Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.
I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.
What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)
Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.
Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.
I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.