history

To Live And Write In L.A.: Alexander Hamilton on Wheat

alexanderhamilton

By Hassel Velasco

Currently working on: Untitled Beatles Project
Currently listening to: “Hamilton,” Original Broadway Recording

Currently reading: Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton on Wheat

"Hey man, who would you say is your favorite Founding Father?"

That was a question I was asked on the Fourth of July by my "Sandwich Artist" at Subway. Immediately after picking my sandwich, the choice to pick a favorite Founding Father was inherently more difficult than the choice between wheat and Italian bread. At first my response was:

"Can I have a footlong carved turkey on wheat?"

But as he began crafting my sandwich I really began to think and quickly responded,

"Well, it has to be James Madison. The Father of the Constitution."

He seemed to acknowledge my response and thought about it before answering,

"Did you want this toasted?"

"Sure... “ I said. “Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration Of Independence"

"So that's a yes on the toasted?"

Since January I've been on a whirlwind ride of emotions listening to “Hamilton,” the Broadway musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The more I listened to the hip-hop-induced tale of our independence, the more I found myself compelled to read the biography that set this crazy idea in motion. I picked up the book about a month ago, but just recently started reading it as a result of my new friendship with the sandwich artisan.

There aren't many people in the world who would think of turning the West Indies-born Founding Father’s life into a musical as a result of reading Chernow’s bio; let alone use hip hop and R&B influences to tell the story. Miranda has managed to do something every middle and high school social studies teacher has tried to do but miserably failed. He managed to grasp an audience that would otherwise shrug at the thought of learning about our own history. He made it modern. He allowed the sounds of America now, to tell the story of America back then. And let's face it, the bars every character "spits" are as, the kids would say, "straight fire emoji."

Miranda just finished his run as Alexander Hamilton in the show, and tickets for his final performance surpassed $20,000 on StubHub (a small price to pay to watch someone make history by re-telling history). LMM (we're on that friendship level where he doesn't know who I am and I don't know him personally but I still like to call him that), I want to personally thank you for doing something to expand this country's knowledge of its own; I want to thank you for doing it in such a creative way, a way that only a creative genius like you can. But most of all, I'd like to thank you for showing an aspiring Hispanic writer that success is achievable through hard work, perseverance, creativity, and mad rhymes. From the bottom of a theater kid/history geek's heart, I thank you.

So as I continued reading and thinking about the question my "subrista" asked, I felt I had a new answer. Alexander Hamilton is the Founding Father I would most like to be, and therefore, my favorite Founding Father. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury, established the national bank, authored a large portion of the Federalist Papers, died in an old fashioned duel, and spat mad rhymes. Move over James Madison, Hamilton just took your place at the top.

So with my newfound favorite, I went back in to see my friend, the one who set this thought train into motion.

"Alexander Hamilton!" I shouted in rejoice.

The blank stare on his face indicated he wasn't as excited and/or forgot who I was and what he had asked me.

"What can I get started for you?"

I looked at him, hurt and forgotten.

"Actually, I already ate I just came in to tell you who my favorite... You know what, let me just get a footlong carved turkey on wheat flatbread."

He begins the sandwich.

"Did you know Alexander Hamilton died 212 years ago today?" I asked.

Another blank stare.

"Yeah, pepper-jack cheese is fine," I said.

Essays Archive

Foul Pitts: A Fascist Attack on Journalism and the First Amendment

Mike Pitts, proud sponsor of fascism in America.

Mike Pitts, proud sponsor of fascism in America.

By Daniel Ford

I tried really hard to shrug off the legislation put forward by South Carolina legislator Mike Pitts that would register journalists the state found “responsible.”

It’s a Presidential election year; politicians, pollsters, lobbyists, and voters engage in all manner of dopey things. However, Pitts’ bill, ominously named the “South Carolina Responsible Journalism Registry Law,” is so insidious and ill conceived that I’m surprised J.J. Abrams didn’t feature it as a Sith plan in “The Force Awakens.”

You’d have to admire Pitts’ cojones if not for the document’s blatant fascism and disregard for the First Amendment.

I’m not sure where someone born and raised in a democracy would think “rounding up” people (of any race, creed, occupation, etc.) is a good idea. Oh wait, of course I do! We’ve had a bad habit in this country of grouping “others” we don’t agree with (or who are in our way) and shuttling them off into the wilderness. Native Americans had the audacity to want to remain on their land, so our recently arrived ancestors provided enough small pox and whiskey to lull them (aka threaten them with extinction) into the wastelands of Oklahoma and points west. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, so why not incarcerate innocent Japanese-American citizens in internment camps along the West Coast? African Americans want to move to the city after being enslaved for hundreds of years in the South? No problem, we have a ghetto for that!

It’s historically easy to look upon our perceived enemies and reach for an antiquated solution. Journalists are egomaniacal, sensationalist, and should leave poor, well meaning politicians alone so they can run our government and economy into the ground in peace. It’s their fault for exposing that the emperor rarely wears clothes. It’s their fault for asking pesky questions like, “Why are you comfortable waving a flag that symbolizes slavery and hate?” It’s their fault politicians willingly walk into scandals that require a vigilant, watchdog press to keep voters informed.

Do some journalists make a name with schlock and awe? Of course. Does egotism run amok in newsrooms? Oh, you betcha. However, I’ll take the slings and arrows for those boobs in order to avoid a reality where the press doesn’t exist and politicians inform us by stroking our hair and whispering in our ears, “Everything is okay; just go to sleep.”

Ideas like Pitts’ aren’t only dangerous, they’re lazy. Oh yeah, and they are grossly unconstitutional. Leave the Bill of Rights alone, Mr. Pitts, and try to write laws that might actually help your constituents.

Essays Archive

How My Older Brother Made Me A Lifelong Reader

Readers with wheels.     My older brother Tom and I following the Hartford Half Marathon in 2010.

Readers with wheels. My older brother Tom and I following the Hartford Half Marathon in 2010.

By Daniel Ford

My older brother Tom is the smartest person I know.

(Okay, his wife is probably even smarter, but I’ve known Tom the longest, so he wins).

I loved the fact that he was smart when I was growing up. It made me want to be smart. It made me want to read a book at the breakfast table like he did every morning. His example made me want to do my homework right when I got home and strive to do the best I could do in school.

I remember walking into his room as a kid—always when he was out of the house because I was too afraid to ask him to hang out—and marvel at all the cool stuff he had. His Don Mattingly and Wade Boggs baseball figurines, NFL gridiron comforter, his original Nintendo. It was a nerd nirvana!

More importantly, Tom always had a ton of books arranged beautifully on his bookshelf. I didn’t steal them back then because I was still reading illustrated versions of Robin Hood and Treasure IslandThe Boxcar Children, and any "Star Wars" novel I could get my hands on. I loved knowing his weightier books were there and he had either read them or was planning on reading them. I would go back to my own room and rearrange my less impressive array of titles on my bookshelf so that each shelf started with the tallest book and ended with the shortest, just like my older brother did.

Thanks to my older brother, this is what my life looks like.

Thanks to my older brother, this is what my life looks like.

I read everything back then, but I hadn’t had the moment. You know the moment I’m talking about. It's the moment when someone puts a book in your hands and it hits your mind like a thunderbolt and completely changes the direction of your life.

Tom put several books in my hands one Christmas and I’ve haven’t been the same since. He wordlessly handed me a superbly wrapped present. The box was heavy. Since I was only reading thin paperbacks at that point, I didn’t know that meant it could only contain one thing. Books. Heavy, beautiful books.

Inside the box were three books that transformed me from a reader to a readerTo Kill a Mockingbird1984, and John Irving’s The World According to Garp.

I devoured the first two in short order. My young mind was blown that those two masterpieces came out of someone’s pen. People actually wrote like this? You mean there was more to literature than just pulpy fiction and sci-fi adventures?

Even if I had been a stronger reader at that point, nothing would have prepared me for the opening line to Irving’s classic novel:

“Garp’s mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater.”

Whoa. 

Heavy stuff for a kid who was just trying to survive middle school!

When Tom went to college, I spent a lot of time raiding his bookshelf (and his music collection). He had already made the jump to American history tomes that were way over my head at the time, but which I attempted to plow through all the same. I’m pretty sure I still have his copy of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that I stole back in high school (and finally finished as a college sophomore). He moved out after graduating and took all his books with him, but the bookshelf stayed behind. I relentlessly set out to fill it after immediately moving into his old room.

Me holding said copy of A People's History of the United States   on a trip to Yankee Stadium.

Me holding said copy of A People's History of the United States on a trip to Yankee Stadium.

I had some help thanks to my high school English teacher Pamela Hayward, who consistently handed me books like Crazy in AlabamaSnow Falling on Cedars, and As I Lay Dying, in addition to the required reading for AP English. But the constant was my older brother. Every Christmas, there would be more books. Or gift cards with recommendations attached. Or a loan from his precious collection.

Now, our bookcases are essentially lending libraries between the two of us. He has books on his shelf that I’ve loaned him without having read them, and vice versa. He likes to kid and say that a book has to be on his shelf for 10 years before he reads it (except for Eric Foner’s Reconstruction, which he will never read). If I can’t find a book in my collection, odds are he has it. Some of the best moments of our bonding weekends are spent talking about all the books we have yet to read in front of one of his bookcases (I usually end up taking one or two home with me every time).

His early example also inspires me to buy books for his three kids—as well as all my other nieces and nephews—for birthdays and Christmas. Toys are fleeting and end up as yard sale fodder. Books are a gateway to creativity, curiosity, and fun! I’ll be getting them books even when they think I’m the lame uncle who gives books (including my own someday…don’t judge me) as gifts, because that’s what I learned from my older brother. It has the added bonus of allowing me to rediscover titles from my youth and keep current with today’s children’s literature.

My nephew Jack (top photo)   and my niece Katie giving me hope for future readers.

My nephew Jack (top photo) and my niece Katie giving me hope for future readers.

Tom is now a principal at an elementary school in Connecticut, where he’s inspiring a new generation of young minds.

I follow his Twitter account and couldn’t be prouder when I see something like:

Dr. Veronesi read to both kindergarten classes this morning for Read Across America Day! @KathyVeronesi#rsd13ctpic.twitter.com/ehKB3lFLSI
— Thomas D. Ford (@TFord_LymanCT) February 28, 2014

I sleep well knowing the next generation of readers is in good hands.

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