Morning of irony. I was attending the parent orientation for middle school in the library. It was crowded with parents and I prefer the back any way — quick exits, no forcing volunteering.
In any case, I was standing back by the book cases listening to the principal deliver the overview, drop a few jokes and take ernest parent questions. I’ve done this routine for my older son so I was zoning out and in that boredom, I glanced at the shelf in front of me out of curiosity.
I was in the biography section and more specifically the A shelf so lo and behold, there was Sally Jenkins and Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike. This autobiography — which respected cycling writer Samuel Abt recently called a work of “fiction” — was flanked by biographies on African American poet and author Maya Angelou and world famous jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong.
I had to smile with that amusing threesome, Lance wedged between two people who have retained their good names while he himself has fallen so far and landed so deep in disgrace.
By comparison, Angelou has not been stripped of her National Book Award, her Tony award for her acting role in the 1973 Play Look Away (not a bad title for Lance’s situation) or her three Grammys for her spoken word albums.
That’s not to say that Angelou didn’t have her dark moments. She was raped and later acted and business manager and pimp for prostates. Which sounds almost as sordid and exciting as what went on inside the US Postal team bus.
To quote her wiki entry, Angelou’s awards include “the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Lincoln Medal in 2008, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Nobody has stripped her thirty honorary degrees. She rests on the bookshelf in a nice American middle school library with her reputation in tact.
On the right side of Armstrong was another Armstrong, a Louis, not a Lance. The Jazz trumpeter is credited with being one of the fathers of Jazz music and his musical influence is still strong to this day.
Back in the Twenties, he was one of the few black entertainers who could “cross over” in a time of great racial prejudice. He is in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and there he will remain unless the United States Jazz Music Anti-Doping Agency decides that back in 1927, Armstrong might have smoked a joint — which, in truth, he often did.
Duke Ellington said, “If anybody was a master, it was Louis Armstrong.” In other words, like Lance, Louis Armstrong was the boss, the only difference being that Satchmo is still the boss while Armstrong is now the former winner of seven Tours de France.
Lance Armstrong was in good company on the biography bookcase at our Norcal middle school. However, perhaps Maya Angelou and Louis Armstrong wish they weren’t so closely associated on the shelf.