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Of Honor and Dishonor

The story fired a lifelong yearning in the child. An uncle tells the boy about the heroism of a West Point graduate at World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. A West Pointer through and through, the man tells the boy.

For the young man, the yearning becomes a search for what is true and good and pure in a world that seems to be spiraling out of control. It’s the late 1960s and the fighting in Vietnam is escalating. Men walk on the moon as anti-war demonstrations rage in the streets.

These are the times of Phil DeAngelo’s admission to West Point. It is also the subject of David Crocco’s first novel, Of Honor and Dishonor, published by AmErica House, Baltimore.

The novel roughly parallels Crocco’s own search for meaning in life after graduating in 1974 from Pitt with a degree in English literature. He worked briefly as an elementary school teacher, then taught transcendental meditation for many years. He also struggled briefly with drug and alcohol abuse problems.

Today, Crocco says he has found peace in his other profession, working as a plumber in New Palestine, Indiana.

— Kris B. Mamula

The Last Days of St. Pierre

It may have been on a tropical island, but the French Caribbean outpost of St. Pierre was hardly deserted. Built on exports of exotic fruit, sugarcane, and rum, St. Pierre boasted streets lined with palm trees and handsome new buildings. Fashionable gowns from Paris arrived regularly by ship. The opera house compared with the best in Europe. Some 30,000 people lived in an oasis of gentility amidst a lush paradise.

Few of them were aware of the monster lurking nearby—Mont Pelée, the dormant volcano four miles away.

The monster awoke 100 years ago last May. The people, the buildings, even the ships in the harbor were incinerated in a blast that was like an atomic bomb going off, says Ernest Zebrowski Jr. (EDU ’82), author of The Last Days of St. Pierre, published by Rutgers University Press. Superheated air and poisonous gases, traveling at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour, vaporized everything in their path.

Before the eruption, Zebrowski says most scientists assumed the danger from volcanoes was from lava, ash, and flying projectiles, so St. Pierre residents thought they were safe. One of Zebrowski’s goals in writing the book was to explain how scientific theories evolve. Disasters are an ideal illustration, he says, because they’re the place where science overlaps humanity.

—Jason Togyer

The Road Taken

Unlike Route 66, Route 45 has inspired no songs. Barely 100 miles, it traverses towns with names as quaint as they are anonymous—Seven Stars, Pine Grove Mills, Rock Springs. Joan Morse Gordon (CAS ’88) (FAS ’00) was looking for a shortcut between her home in Pittsburgh and a vaca-tion cabin in New York when she found the highway.

Few outsiders travel the road. Even fewer stop. But Gordon did. More than a decade of uncovering the stories along this highway led to The Road Taken: A Journey in Time Down Pennsylvania Route 45, published by the Local History Company in Pittsburgh.

Inside weathered homes and barns, she met residents whose families have lived along the road since the Revolutionary War, when this fertile valley on the edge of the frontier proved irresistible to immigrants like Aaron Levy, an Orthodox Jew who fled religious persecution in Europe. Though he hoped to become wealthy as a land speculator, Levy set aside prime land for his Christian neighbors to build churches and schools.

In Gordon’s hands, the road and the diverse mix of people become a metaphor for the forces that shape America.

—JT

The Roll-Call Vote

As a teenager, Richard Trackler spent one summer covering his Cleveland neighborhood with little flyers asking for support for US Senator Robert Taft. At home, he’d dine with his parents, listening to his Republican father and Democrat mother debate the economy, defense, social security, anything, really. Trackler enrolled in the University of Michigan, studying political science, devoting much of his time to the school yearbook and newspaper. He always loved writing, and these activities provided a forum. After his sophomore year, he switched his major to premed and transferred to Pitt. Being two years behind in his studies confined Trackler to the rows of books in the library, and in the bowels of the science labs. He had to neglect his love of writing, but it helped him graduate twice (CAS ’57) (MD ’61).

For the next 30 years he worked as a radiologist in his own practice in San Diego. He loved reading X-rays, staring at those black and white human maps, probing each delicate line and shadow for problems.

After retiring, Trackler returned to his first loves—writing and politics, blending them into a novel, The Roll Call Vote, published by Pentland Press. The book traces a president’s struggle in getting a controversial nominee confirmed to the Supreme Court.

—Meghan Holohan

Working like a Homosexual

It began as a PhD dissertation. Matthew Tinkcom wanted to take camp in cinema seriously. Although he received his PhD from the Pitt film studies department in 1995, his research continued.

He searched film vaults in Hollywood. He screened movie after movie, catching the subtleties of Vincent Minnelli’s films, listening to the score of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, seeing the surprise of the character in Andy Warhol’s Bike Boy, and searching for Divine’s pain in John Waters’ movies.

His focus on these four directors led to his book, Working like a Homosexual: Camp, Capital, Cinema, published by Duke University Press.

These directors celebrated their personal differences and sexuality through film and, at the same time, Tinkcom notes they created cinematic traditions still evident today. Anger, for example, was the first director to score a film with pop music, a convention employed in today’s films.

In researching and writing this book, Tinkcom discovered an idea for his next book—a volume exploring those who collect movie memorabilia—which he’s working on while teaching film and English classes as an assistant professor at Georgetown University.

—MH


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