Goodbye Columbus


Jon Reisman

With Indigenous Peoples Day replacing Columbus Day, Goodbye, Columbus seemed a natural, but I realized that most folks under 50 would not get the reference. Goodbye, Columbus is a 1959 novella by Phillip Roth that was made into a 1969 movie starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. It was Macgraw’s debut just before Love Story in 1970 rocketed her to fame. Goodbye Columbus is also the desired woke outcome of Indigenous Peoples Day.

The novella and movie are about two twenty-something American Jews who begin an affair and deal with their class differences, assimilation, and the sexual revolution.  Benjamin plays army veteran Neil Klugman, a Rutgers graduate who is reasonably content and happy as a poorly paid librarian living with his aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey. MacGraw is 21- year old Jewish American Princess and Radcliffe student Brenda Patimkin, from a wealthy suburban family. Neil and Brenda begin a passionate but ultimately doomed affair that founders on the rocks of class differences and shifting sexual mores.

The title of Goodbye, Columbus actually refers to the college jock remembrances of Brenda’s brother, who misses his athletic accomplishments and nostalgic memories thereof at Ohio State in Columbus. Amongst the modern woke, Goodbye Columbus means good riddance to the racist colonizing villain who is the raison d’etre and founding father for white guilt and systemic racism. To complete the circle between book, movie and cultural conflict, the October holiday often is close to the Jewish Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
Until the 1990s, Columbus Day was pretty much a universal American holiday. As an undergraduate at Colby in the 1970’s, it was the first break in the fall. I remember some stunning fall foliage outings to Acadia, the upper Kennebec and Dead River on the Arnold Trail, and Baxter State Park. (I was active in the Outing Club). In graduate school at Brown, I was introduced to the large Italian community celebration of Columbus Day.

I doubt Columbus’s cancellation is going over well in Providence.

Sometime in the late 90s colleges began calling it “Fall Break” instead of Columbus Day Weekend, and now it is officially Indigenous Peoples Day. So Goodbye, Columbus. There are probably required Diversity, Equity and Inclusion seminars on the evils Chris wrought. I am glad I am retired.

Here is a version of what I was taught in grade school in the 60s:
IN 1492
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
“Indians! Indians!” Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But “India” the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he’d been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Here’s an updated version recommended for lessons today:

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
It was a courageous thing to do
But someone was already here.
Columbus knew the world was round
So he looked for the East while westward bound,
But he didn’t find what he thought he found,
And someone was already here.
The Inuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onandaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.
It isn’t like it was empty space,
Caribs met him face to face.
Could anyone discover the place
When someone was already here?
The Inuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onandaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.
So tell me, who discovered what?
He thought he was in a different spot.
Columbus was lost, the Caribs were not;
They were already here.
The Inuit and Cherokee,
The Aztec and Menominee,
The Onandaga and the Cree;
Columbus sailed across the sea,
But someone was already here.

I am just a Statler and Waldorf intern, but it seems to me that the most diverse, equitable and inclusive curriculum would include both.

Jon Reisman is an economist and policy analyst who retired from the University of Maine at Machias after 38 years. He resides on Cathance Lake in Cooper, where he is a Selectman and a Statler and Waldorf intern. Mr. Reisman’s views are his own and he welcomes comments as letters to the editor here, or to him directly via email at [email protected].

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