Monday, July 28, 2014

Pentel Quicker Clicker

[Click for a larger view.]

I realized some time earlier this year that I’ve been using this .05 mm Pentel Quicker Clicker, on and off, for something like thirty years. There are mechanical pencils with more pizzazz — Alvin’s Draf/Tec retractable for one, the Kuru Toga for another — but there can be few mechanical pencils as durable as the Quicker Clicker. Or as durable at least as this Quicker Clicker. The pencil’s claim to distinction is its “convenient side lead advance,” visible in the photograph. No need to press down on a cap to advance the lead. I like the way this Quicker Clicker has aged: the translucent barrel shows ring upon ring from extra leads knocking around inside.

Traveling to Rachel and Seth’s wedding in April, I dropped this pencil’s eraser cap on a plane. Notice: I did not say that the cap “slipped” from my hand. I dropped it while erasing. The guy sitting next to me understood how much was at stake: he and I took apart our seats to search. No luck. He got down on the floor and searched under his seat using his iPhone as a flashlight. No luck. The people one row back looked around too. No luck. I drew a picture and gave it to a flight attendant with my info. “It’s a thirty-year-old pencil!” No luck. Perhaps the cap is still on board, living out its days as a newfangled Flying Dutchman.

The cap now on the pencil comes from a Quicker Clicker of recent manufacture (made with a textured grip). What distinguishes the new cap from the old: darker plastic and small slits for safety. They lessen the danger of suffocation if the cap is inhaled or swallowed. There’s nothing though to keep me from dropping it.

[This post is the sixteenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real.]

Other Museum of Supplies exhibits
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27 : Dr. Scat : Eagle Turquoise display case : Eagle Verithin display case : Faber-Castell Type Cleaner : Fineline erasers : Illinois Central Railroad Pencil : A Mad Men sort of man, sort of : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Moore Metalhed Tacks : National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint : Pedigree Pencil : Real Thin Leads : Rite-Rite Long Leads : Stanley carpenter’s rule

[Note to self: Use a ballpoint next time.]

Radiolab, “Things”

I’m not much for Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich’s Radiolab : the show’s penchant for quick editing and multi-voiced repetition —

JA: Repetition?

RK: Yes, repetition, the act of repeating things.

Unidentified child: Repeating things!
— well, it leaves me cold.

But speaking of things: Elaine said that I had to listen to the Radiolab episode of that name. Our daughter Rachel, too, said that I had to listen. So I did. What hit me most was the first story, about a candy egg, a tree, and a box. Unforgettable. If you missed it in May, now might be the time.

Here’s a thing that sits on my desk as a token of friendship. I too take things seriously.

[The dialogue is from a Radiolab episode that aired only in my head.]

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bel Kaufman (1911–2014)

[From Up the Down Staircase (1965).]

From the New York Times obituary:

Over the years, Ms. Kaufman was often asked whether the memorandums in Up the Down Staircase were real. Though they were inane enough to look real, she explained, in fact, she had invented most of them. (Ms. Kaufman did include a few actual New York City Board of Education memos, but had to tone them down to make them credible.)

The best indication of Ms. Kaufman’s skill at dead-on bureaucratic mimicry came from one of her former schools. After Up the Down Staircase was published, she wrote, an assistant principal there began annotating his official directives with a stern red-penciled admonition.

I love Up the Down Staircase. The memorandum above comes from my copy of the 1965 hardcover (a library book-sale find). As Sylvia Barrett’s older colleague Bea Schachter explains, Administrative Assistant McHabe is “in charge of Discipline and Supplies.” How Foucauldian.

Up the Down Staircase captures like no other novel the inanities of educational institutions — “the gobbledygook, the pedagese, and the paper miles of words,” as Miss Barrett calls them in a letter — and the always present possibility, despite all the nonsense, of genuine teaching and learning. This novel offers strong reassurance to any exasperated teacher: you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone.

Here’s a 2011 Times article about Bel Kaufman.

Friday, July 25, 2014

From Robert Walser

To people sitting in a blustering automobile I always present an austere face. Then they believe that I am a sharp-eyed, malevolent spy, a plainclothes policeman, delegated by high officials to spy on the traffic, to note down the numbers of vehicles, and later to report them to the proper authorities. I always then look darkly at the wheels, at the car as a whole, but never at its occupants, whom I despise, and this in no way personally, but purely on principle, for I never shall understand, how it can be called a pleasure to hurtle past all the images and objects which our beautiful earth displays, as if one had gone mad and had to accelerate for fear of despair.

Robert Walser, The Walk, trans. Christopher Middleton with Susan Bernofsky (New York: New Directions, 2012).
The Walk (Der Spaziergang) was published in 1917 and again, revised, in 1920. Susan Bernofsky has revised Christopher Middleton’s translation to incorporate Walser’s revisions.

Other Robert Walser posts
Microscripts : “The most unimportant things” : On reading : On stationery stores : On staying small : On youth

[I suspect that Daughter Number Three and l’astronave will enjoy this post.]

Shoeshine boy

[Henry, July 25, 2014.]

Every boy has a shoeshine kit in his room, right? Not right? Not anymore? Oh.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

[While we’re — or is it I’m? — thinking about shoeshining, here’s a great Count Basie recording.]

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Richard Hendrickson, weather observer

The CBS Evening News had a lovely feature this evening about Richard Hendrickson, a 101-year-old weather observer. He has been observing since 1930. The highlights of this piece for me:

Mr. Hendrickson’s checked button-down shirt and solid tie. He looks pretty spiffy — and rightly so. He’s on the news.

Mr. Hendrickson’s desk, complete with rotary-dial telephone (Henry Dreyfuss’s model 500).

Mr. Hendrickson’s ’30s weather notebook. It looks like a five-year diary, a few lines for the same date year by year.

[I struggled to avoid titling this post Weather 101.]

An introvert call to action

If Elaine hadn’t shown it to me, she might have been the last person online to see this poster.

Related reading
Jonathan Rauch, Caring for Your Introvert (The Atlantic)

Pen, not dead yet

The New York Times has given Nick Bilton the space in its Fashion & Style section to announce that the pen is dead. Yes, linkbait.

This is the same Nick Bilton who doesn’t like e-mails that say thanks, who thinks you should use Google Maps to get to someone’s house rather than ask for directions, who communicates with his mother “mostly through Twitter,” and who taught his father not leave voice mails for his son.

I guess Nick Bilton doesn’t believe in thank-you notes either. Or love letters.

I found my way to the Times piece by way of MK’s Taking Note Now. I like what MK says about Bilton and paper and pens:

Obviously, he himself has no need for such things. But why should unfashionable people follow his shallow approach to writing and living?
Related reading
All OCA paper and pen posts (Pinboard)

Hollow Triumph, solid noir

Frederick Muller (Eduard Franz) recalls the youthful criminality of his brother John (Paul Henreid) and John’s now-dead crony Marcy:

“I remember Marcy, the way the two of you went running around. I remember his big cars, his fancy suits, his haberdashery.”
“His haberdashery”: they don’t write them like that anymore. How could they? I find it telling that the first-page results of a Google search for haberdashery returns only one establishment selling men’s clothes, Heimie’s Haberdashery in Minneapolis. The rest is definitions. What’s a haberdashery? And where have all the haberdasheries gone, and the haberdashers with them?

The dialogue above comes from the film Hollow Triumph, aka The Scar (dir. Steve Sekely, 1948). The film’s noir premise, which I won’t reveal here, requires that one suspend disbelief — and leave it there, dangling from a frayed cable above a pit of famished crocodiles. But the effort is worth making. As in many B-ish films, the rewards are the bits of local color: John Quale as a goofy dentist (a cross between Barney Fife and Wally of My Dinner with André), George Chandler and Sid Tomack as Tweedledum and Tweedledee in a camera shop (are they supposed to be life partners? brothers?). There’s also a brief scene on the Angels Flight Railway and a poignant moment with an aspiring dancer. Joan Bennett’s Evelyn Hahn, a slightly used secretary, gets the best lines, in an exchange with Henreid’s Dr. Bartok:
“I'll tell you something: in all my life I think I’ve only had one beau I was really willing to trust.”

“You should’ve held on to him, married him.”

“I wanted to, but I couldn’t. He was twelve years old, and I was nine.”
They don’t write them like that anymore either.

The real star of this film is John Alton’s cinematography, which makes for beauty and mystery and dramatic contrasts of light and dark in scene after scene. Film noir et blanc, really.

Hollow Triumph is unavailable from Netflix but is available at YouTube and as a cheap DVD transfer. I’ve already suggested the film to the Criterion Collection.

[If the name George Chandler rings a distant bell: he played Uncle Petrie on Lassie. The aspiring dancer, I suspect, owes something to Sam (Tom D’Andrea) in Dark Passage (dir. Delmar Daves, 1947), the cabbie who wants to buy a pair of goldfish for his room: “It adds class to the joint.” As for haberdasher: “Middle English: probably based on Anglo-Norman French hapertas, perhaps the name of a fabric, of unknown origin. In early use the term denoted a dealer in a variety of household goods, later also specifically a hatter. Current senses date from the early 17th cent” (New Oxford American Dictionary).]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spam follies

With word verification turned off, the spam comments are rolling in. If you’re in the market for luggage, tramadol (yes, uncapitalized on the Internets), or tooth-whitening equipment, I’m your guy.

I’d rather delete these comments — about thirty so far — than have Orange Crate Art advertise Android apps. No thanks, Google.

[If you’re wondering, I’ve encoded the name of the drug so that search engines won’t find it. I used this handy service to do so. Highly recommended if you put an e-mail address online, as I do in the sidebar.]