Happy Labor Day

While you’re lighting up the barbecue or getting ready to amble off to the mall, stop to think about the people who made this weekend—and every weekend—possible. Don’t forget that organized religion came up with human sacrifices, while organized labor came up with the five-day work week.

My favorite organizer is this woman to your right, who Teddy Roosevelt believed was “the most dangerous woman in America.” He was forty-five, she was seventy-two. She

The Most Dangerous Woman in America

looked like someone’s nice grandmother, but that didn’t win him over; neither did her parade of children who marched, somehow, from Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay. A perspective: Thoreau was thirty when he went to jail for a few days in Concord, she was seventy-five and sentenced to a twenty-year stay in the West Virginia state penitentiary (she served 85 days under house arrest before an Indiana legislator started a senate investigation of the coal mine bosses).

Who is “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” these days? Not anyone who is interested in reasonable work hours or fair compensation or keeping the lives of our children and workers safe and comfortable. Certainly no one who looks like your friend’s nice grandmother.

Spend some time today reading Mother Jones, even if you have to do that online. If you do get to the mall,  just “walk on by ” Walmart. At least this weekend.

The vex: Not enough people take white-haired women seriously.

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Like all blogs, this is a work in process . . .

I plan for this to be a forum for exchange, not simply a series of personal essays about annoyances, not that I don’t have enough material to keep me writing in perpetuity. So please respond as you are so moved (but know that a group of thinking people moderate what you send in. More or less). Know, too, that we are looking for regional Vex stringers.

The photography is mine (except for the obvious insertions of photo clips that support the work of others), so try not to borrow it without asking. You shouldn’t borrow any artist’s work without asking, or at the very least, crediting.

So: while you’re thinking of what to add to these posts, give some thought to Laurence Sterne’s words up there in the upper right hand corner:

What is the life of man! Is it not to shift from side to side? From sorrow to sorrow? To button up one cause of vexation! And unbutton another!

I don’t know which work this came from, and anyone out there who does is encouraged to help me get the attribute right.

Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sterne died at fifty-four, which is young to me, these days. When he checked out—”weakened,” as they said in 1768—trouble was brewing in the Thirteen Colonies, and Londoners gave attention to acrobats who balanced on the backs of horses cantering about in the first “modern” circus. Sterne’s work is often verbally and visually acrobatic and certainly circus-like. He was writing three hundred-forty (340) years before Cage, Pynchon and Wallace. Probably all of them would have done what they did, no matter (I’m not really sold on the “shoulders of giants” approach to history), without having read Sterne, but I’m sure they did. Read Tristram Shandy and discover some of the best acrobatic wit in the English language—the best writing and the most interesting a/anti writing.

And look up “learned wit,” with which many of us have lost touch. That’s mostly because of the “learned” part.


Sterne’s body was claimed by “anatomists” for study; I imagine that what was left of him ended up in a trash can—even then, physicians exploited artists. I imagine the writer would have found the idea of someone’s wielding a barber’s knife in an attempt to understand the man, amusing. Too bad we don’t have a funereal shrine to visit, some sort of whacky blank black gravestone, maybe, or one carved, top to bottom, with asterisks.

Today’s Vex/es: A lack of American wit and the sad literary situation of no-DFW. I have nothing against circuses, but they make me nervous, so I’m counting those, too.

What vexes you?

Please be nice and ask permission before you borrow words, pictures, or music from an artist.

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