Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dead Pool

250px-RosaparksarrestedAs everyone should know by now, Rosa Parks passed away this week at the age of 92. A seamstress and department store worker, Parks served as secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and sparked the year-long bus boycott that inaugurated the modern civil rights movement. Although everyone remembers Parks' arrest and the subsequent emergence of Martin Luther King as the spiritual leader of the boycott, few Americans recall that the Montgomery protest was made possible only by the extraordinary efforts of working class women like Parks. In the end, the boycott succeeded only because thousands of African Americans -- mostly women working as domestic laborers and in light manufacturing jobs -- refused to ride a public bus system that degraded them utterly. Few Americans also recall that while the bus boycott succeeded, both Rosa Parks and her husband lost their jobs as a consequence; after dozens of death threats, and fearing the ubiquitous firebombings endured by civil rights activists across the country during the 1950s and 1960s, Parks and her family left Montgomery in 1957 and relocated to Detroit, where she lived until her death earlier this week.

To my enduring shame, I wagered $1 that Parks would die before January 1.

Casting my lot with one of the thousands of "dead pools" organized each year by karma-defying Americans, I recovered $10 in change from the seat cushions in my car and submitted a list of ten people whose time I believed was near. My particular pool -- organized by house-sitter extraordinaire and occasional Axis co-conspirator DBM -- consists of thirteen (yes, yes, I know, I know) people, most of whom are fellow academics who should, one would think, have better things to do than this. As of this writing, I am the unofficial occupier of second place, having predicted that George Kennan, Pope John Paul II, and William Rehnquist would be plucking harps as well by the end of the year. At the moment, the as-yet blank tombstones of John Wooden, Lady Bird Johnson, Eugene McCarthy, Augusto Pinochet and Charlton Heston await further clarification. As the year descends into its final two months, I am one croak behind the leader, whose fireplace mantle currently boasts the mounted heads of Rehnquist, Luther Vandross, Hank Stram, Gene Scott, and Max Schmelling.

In my own defense, I should note that my list is considerably more humane than what some of my colleagues have submitted. While most participants have enumerated reasonably safe lists -- e.g., Stephen Hawking, Claude Levi-Strauss, Courtney Love -- other folks have clearly stepped beyond the faint, thin line that divides expectation from desire, distinguishing those who predict death from those who hope for it. How else might we explain the degraded inclusion of Christian Slater and Tiffany Amber-Thiessen on the same list? Or Mary Kate Olsen? 50 Cent?

Perhaps I'm snipping hairs here. As the dear departed Curtis Mayfield once cried out, "If there's a Hell below, we're all gonna go."

With Mayfield's terrifying prophecy in mind, I hereby announce that if by some bizarre stroke of fortune I win my pool's $130 bounty, I will donate my wretched gains to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum at Troy University-Montgomery.