Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More blizzardous

I went looking for John Ashbery’s word blizzardous in Google Books and found this passage:

The word “blizzard” seemed to strike many people here as a good novelty, and many looked upon it as a clever American invention of the moment. And yet “blizzard” has long been in Nuttall’s Standard Dictionary, with its proper definition, “a sudden, violent, cold snowstorm.” A modern humorist has invented a novel application of the word. Where anything is absolutely wretched, disastrous and disagreeable, he speaks of it as “blizzardous.” This makes a fearful and strong-sounding adjective that will probably achieve a very great popularity. As we receive some of our most popular and most expressive words from America, it seems only fair that we should occasionally attempt to send them something in return. I really think that “blizzardous” ought to suit some of your people down to the ground.

J. Ashby-Sterry, “English Notes,” The Book Buyer (May 1888).
So a word in a John Ashbery diary entry also shows up in a column by one J. Ashby-Sterry. Crazy! Ashby-Sterry further glosses blizzardous: “I think it a mistake to call some of these expressions ‘slang.’ Slang very often arises by the adoption of technical terms in general conversation, and what is the slang of one generation not infrequently becomes the refined language of the next.”

The Oxford English Dictionary on the origin of blizzard:
As applied to a “snow-squall,” the word became general in the American newspapers during the severe winter of 1880–81; but according to the Milwaukee Republican 4 Mar. 1881, it had been so applied in the Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa) between 1860 and 1870. It was apparently in colloquial use in the West much earlier.
Which would suggest that blizzard was indeed “a clever American invention,” earlier than 1888. The OED’s first definition for the noun blizzard: “a sharp blow or knock; a shot,” with an 1829 citation from the journal Virginia Literary Museum. The verb, “of snow, sleet, etc.: to form a blizzard,” first appears in 1880 in the newspaper The Idaho Avalanche: “Oh, the snow, The bee-yew-tiful snow! It made last night so jolly, you know, Belating the trains and grounding the Wires, as blizzarding over the land it fires.”

[I can find nothing to suggest the identity of the “modern humorist.”]

Martha Penteel

[Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).]

In a movie full of doors, this one is the oddest. The eye is the doorbell.

A blizzardous Wednesday

From a diary, February 19, 1941. The writer, John Ashbery, was thirteen years old:

Wednesday (written on Wednesday). February 19. Wea. Blizzardous Ther. 16° Today (Wednesday) the weather was extremely blizzardous. The day seemed so much like Wednesday. In English we are reading poems. At noon I walked uptown even though the weather was blizzardous (I think I mentioned that before). I made up the Social Studies which was given on the Friday I was absent. 92%. The marks in the Latin test yesterday were very poor, but I managed to get 100%. For dessert tonight we had a sealtest ice cream cherry pie, a rare treat. After supper I started to illustrate Poe’s “Hop-Frog” But I did not get on very well. I listened to Eddie Cantor and Mr. D.A. Wednesday. Wednesday. I am feeling silly today. Blizzardous. Written (oh definitely) on Wednesday.
This diary passage is reproduced in Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).

Related reading
All OCA Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

[The Oxford English Dictionary has the adjective forms blizzardy, blizzardly, and blizzardous. But no citation for blizzardous.]

“The end of walking”

“There are vast blankets and folds of the country where the ability to walk — to open a door and step outside and go somewhere or nowhere without getting behind the wheel of a car — is a struggle, a fight”: Antonia Malchik writes about “The end of walking” (Aeon).

[Found via Daughter Number Three.]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trump as student

Watching today’s joint press conference with Donald Trump and Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, I thought of characterizations of Trump from associates past and present. These two Trump responses to reporters’ questions put me in mind of a student who comes into an exam with almost nothing to say. Transcriptions from the White House Press Office:

Q: Why would you encourage the U.S. companies to invest in Greece? And how can the U.S. support the Greek efforts to fully turn the page, attract investments, and manage its debt? Thank you.

A: I can say that we have a great confidence in Greece. I think it’s a land of tremendous potential. I know many people are looking to invest in Greece. A lot of the problems are behind it. They’ve had some very good leadership. They’ve really made done a lot of — they’ve made a lot of difficult decisions.

We are helping, as you know, with a massive renovation of their air force and also of airplanes, generally, going to Greece. They’re looking at buying additional planes from Boeing. And we are helping — we’re very much involved with Greece and with helping Greece get back on its feet. We have a tremendous Greek population in this country, people whose heritage is Greece. And we love that country, special country, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. So I think it’s got great potential, and we are helping it along.
There’s nothing in that response to answer the question. And really just one specific: Boeing airplanes, mentioned in Trump’s opening statement.

One more:
Q: Mr. President, you praised Greece’s role in NATO with the contribution and in Souda Bay amid the volatile region of the Eastern Mediterranean. What do you see as the potential of Greece being as a pillar of stability in the region? And what would the U.S. like to see happening in order for Greece to achieve its potential? Thank you.

A: Well, I’d just start by saying that I think it has a great role in stability in the area. We have a feeling that it will get stronger and stronger. Very stable people. It's got the potential to be — once it gets over this tremendous financial hurdle that it’s in the process of working out, we think that there will be great stability in Greece, and militarily and in every way we look at it as very important, and very important to the United States.

We have great confidence in Greece as a nation. We have great confidence in what they’re doing relative to their military, because I know they have plans to do some terrific things. And we know they will be an ally for many, many years to come. You know, they’ve always been a very reliable ally, and we’ve always been very reliable to them. So we look forward to that for many years. We’re going to be friends for many, many years, and stability is very important. And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.

Thank you.
Here too there’s just one specific: a financial hurdle. Other than that, it’s all stability, great confidence, and some terrific things. And the emptiest phrasing: “And we look upon that, with respect to Greece, as being a key.” A Greek key!

Imagine these answers not as presidential responses to the press but as responses to exam questions in a college course on foreign policy. I think a D (as in Donald) would be generous.

Separated at birth

[The actresses Bérénice Bejo, as seen in The Artist, and Paula Beer, as seen in Frantz.]

Also separated at birth
Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

Twelve more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Salesman (dir. Asghar Farhadi, 2016). From the director of A Separation (2011), the movie that made me want to see this one. When an apartment building is shaken to its foundations and rendered uninhabitable, two of its tenants, a husband and wife in “the arts” (theater), move to a new building, where their marriage is shaken to its foundations by an assault and its aftermath: the victim’s self-doubt and shame, her partner’s need for revenge. All against a backdrop of Death of a Salesman, whose relevance isn’t always especially clear. A DVD-extra interview with the director helps.


Columbus (dir. Kogonada, 2017). In Columbus, Indiana, a town filled with modernist architecture, Jin (John Cho), the son of an dying architectural historian, and Cassandra, or Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young local, meet and talk and walk and look at buildings, again and again. Their relationship (which begins as they stand on opposite sides of a fence) cuts across barriers of age, culture, and class. The leads are excellent: Cho as a son who professes no interest in architecture and resents the gestures of mourning that will be required of him; Richardson as a young woman obsessed with architecture who sees no way to escape her obligations to her mother and get away to college. The film was too perfect, too pretty for me, with virtually every shot displaying symmetry or pleasing asymmetry. And yes, Jin and Cassandra talk about symmetry and asymmetry. But unlike Elaine, I was able to refrain from checking the time while watching. Columbus has had rave reviews, so consider these sentences a minority report.


Más Pedro Almodóvar

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984). Domestic comedy and tragedy, with three dysfunctional generations in a tiny apartment: a grandmother who keeps her mineral water under lock and key, her cabdriver/forger son Antonio, his amphetamine-addled cleaning-lady wife Gloria, a drug-dealing elder son, and a younger son who’s prostituting himself to men. And Gloria’s next-door best friend Cristal, also a prostitute. This movie felt to me like preparation for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Broken Embraces (2009). A brilliant, richly plotted story of fathers and sons; love, loss, and revenge; and movie-making, informed by the spirits of Audrey Hepburn, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo), and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom). With Penélope Cruz and other Almodóvar regulars. Prerequisite: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I now have three favorite Alomdóvar films: All About My Mother, Volver, and this one.


Good Morning, Miss Dove (dir. Henry Koster, 1955). Something like a schoolroom version of It’s a Wonderful Life, with Jennifer Jones as an elementary-school geography teacher, strict, severe, devoted to duty, and somehow loved by her students and townspeople. In the one extended scene of Miss Dove (no first name) at work in her panopticon, she interrupts the “lesson” again and again, stopping to address every transgressor of the rules. What’s really being taught here? Not just the products of the Argentine pampas. I was made to read Frances Gray Patton’s story “The Terrible Miss Dove” in middle school. What was that about?


L’Argent (dir. Robert Bresson, 1983). “O money, god incarnate, what wouldn’t we do for you?” Bresson’s last movie, all tans and blues, with money as a means not of exchange but of betrayal. A young man passes a counterfeit bill, and that one act proves to have disastrous consequences in other lives, far removed. Bresson works with extraordinary economy, letting the viewer fill in the implications. From a Tolstoy novella, The Forged Coupon.


Deux films avec Isabelle Huppert

Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016). Huppert as a philosophy teacher who finds her life — no spoilers — upended. And then — no spoilers — life goes on. I loved this film, which makes intellectual work feel as everyday as any other kind of work. How could I not love a film that begins with a protagonist grading papers while on a family outing? For advanced grown-ups only.

Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 2016). Huppert as the owner of a video-game company, a woman whose life is saturated in violence, sex, and sexual violence. This film is by turns intensely disturbing and strangely funny. It’s like a comedy of musical beds interrupted by scenes of stylized terror, or a whodunit interrupted by scenes of domestic farce. Excellent, but Things to Come is the film I’d choose to see again.


Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944). Had we seen it before? Yes? No? Maybe? Yes, I think, years ago. Ray Milland plays a man who stops by a village fête and walks away with a cake that was meant for someone else. Trouble follows. An excellent noirish thriller, with a séance, spies, a great scene on a train, and strong overtones of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This film makes conspicuous use of doors — one after another, each opening onto new trouble. My favorite moments: the man crumbling cake, Martha Penteel’s doorbell, light shining through a bullet hole.


The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (dir. William Gazecki, 2014). Sometimes a movie appears to rise of its own accord to the top of the Netflix queue. I became idly curious about Sophie Tucker after seeing her in
an Ed Sullivan clip that evoked a lost world of stage performance. But Tucker, singer, entertainer, the Last of the Red Hot Mamas, was made, really, for these times. She was frankly sexual and frankly fat, a pioneer of commercial endorsements (in English and Yiddish), and an early social networker, collecting names and addresses in her travels and sending out cards when she was about to play a city. This documentary has too little Tucker, too many talking heads, and several awkward moments of digital trickery to put old photographs into motion. (Why?) Fortunately, YouTube is full of Tucker herself.


Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1939). “Garbo laughs,” as the movie poster promises. Ninotchka, Nina Ivanovna Yakushova (Greta Garbo), grim, prim Soviet envoy, comes to Paris to check on the doings of three comrades who have been sent to reclaim jewels from a Russian duchess. Ninotchka proceeds to fall in love with a Parisian count (Melvyn Douglas). The famous Lubitsch touch might now seem like the stuff of a hundred rom-coms since. But those pictures don’t have screenplays by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (and Walter Reisch). “You’re the most improbable creature I’ve ever met in my life, Ninotchka . . . Ninotchka.” “You repeat yourself.” And when Ninotchka asks for raw beets and carrots: “Madame, this is a restaurant, not a meadow.”


Frantz (dir. François Ozon 2016). The vaguely Zweig-like premise made me curious about this film: a young woman who has lost her fiancé in the Great War sees an unknown young man leaving flowers at her fiancé’s grave. There's nothing more I can say about the story without giving something away. I can say that Frantz is a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), an atypical Lubitsch film (which I first learned of from a DVD-extra interview with Ozon). Frantz is a delight to the eye, filmed in rich black and white with occasional elements of color. Paula Beer and Pierre Niney offer understated, deeply moving performances. If I were running the Academy Awards I'd have chosen Frantz (not The Salesman) as the best foreign-language film of 2016.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Media studies: file drawers, notebook, EXchange name

[District Attorney Brander Harris (Hugh Marlowe), man with a notebook. From the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Fraudulent Foto,” February 7, 1959. Click for a larger view.]

The file drawers caught my attention well before DA Harris took out his notebook. Or pocket calendar. Or whatever it is. When he finds the crucial page (whatever it is), he reads a telephone number aloud: “DAkota 6-7054.” There are many ways to enjoy television. Or whatever it is.

More EXchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City 3 : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

A joke in the traditional manner

Where does Paul Drake keep his hot tips?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : How do amoebas communicate? : How do worms get to the supermarket? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite snack of demolition crews? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : What was the shepherd doing in the garden? : Where do amoebas golf? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the produce clerk, the amoebas, the worms, the snack, the toy, the shepherd, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Talia Ivy Raab

[Click for a larger baby.]

Our daughter Rachel and her husband Seth have announced the birth of their daughter, Talia Ivy Raab, born not yesterday but the day before yesterday, Thursday, October 12. Talia weighed in at seven pounds, thirteen ounces. All three Raabs are doing just fine.

[“We’re excited you’re here!”: now the blog-description line makes another kind of sense. Yes, Talia, we are!]

Adjunct lives

A recent article in The Guardian: “Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars.”

The situations described in the Guardian article may be extreme, but if the median salary for adjuncts is $22,041 a year, the general message is clear: there is, for most who would teach, no real future in adjuncthood. And there is something unspeakably mad about teaching critical thinking while having to live in a car.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the exploitation of adjunct labor is the shame and scandal of American higher education.

Thanks, Fresca.

Eyes everywhere

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Friday, October 13, 2017

The art of the con

“The most Trumpian aspect of the executive order is that it makes life easier for con men”: Amy Davidson Sorkin writes about “Donald Trump’s Terrible Executive Order on Health Care” (The New Yorker).

The Odyssey and mentorship

At The Atlantic, Gregory Nagy, classicist, talks about Telemachus and mentorship and Homer’s Odyssey:

In general, the model of stories about mentors is a model of initiation that appeals to the inherent nobility of the person who is being initiated. That’s something that the Odyssey is putting front and center.
When I taught the Odyssey, I always found that student readers are remarkably alert to Telemachus’s alienation. The first time we see Telemachus, he is sitting apart in his household, dreaming of his father, a father from whom he feels utterly disconnected. Telemachus has no older man to guide him, and no friends with whom to commiserate. And then Athena shows up, taking the form of Mentor. You must be Odysseus’s son, she says. Well, that’s what my mother says, he replies. Who knows?

When Telemachus awakens at the beginning of Odyssey 2 (having been put to bed by his nurse!), he is ’Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱὸς, Odysseus’s beloved son — and a new man.

I wish this brief interview had touched on Penelope’s suitors, the elite young men of Ithaca and surrounding kingdoms. What I imagine in the way of their upbringing: “Here, take the keys.”

Related reading
All OCA Homer posts (Pinboard)
Just one look (Odysseus and Telemachus)

[You’d think that the older male relatives of Ithacan suitors must have died at Troy or on the voyage home. But male relatives, including an angry father, are present in Odyssey 24.]

“We’re drowning in filth”

Walking down a corridor in his bank, K. hears groans from a junk room. Curious, he looks in and finds the work of the court going on in his own workplace: the guards who appeared at his arrest are now being flogged. K. talks with the flogger and the floggees, steps out, closes the door, walks away, and walks back:

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

The next day, unable to stop thinking about what he saw, K. opens the door again. The flogging is still going on. “Clear out that junk room once and for all,” K. tells his assistants. “We’re drowning in filth.”

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 12, 2017


The word is trending at Merriam-Webster.

A precipitation question

Out walking this morning, we saw some unusual precipitation: tiny specks of moisture, like miniature snowflakes, very sparse, and so slight that they bounced around on air currents instead of just falling to the ground. Temperature in the 60s.

Wikipedia’s descriptions of precipitation leave me with drizzle as the only name that fits. But that name seems misleading at best. Does anyone know a more specific name?

“Bushy black and large”

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Dreamlike, no? And highly cinematic. The eyebrows make me think of Eric Campbell.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Dunning-Kruger moment

From today’s Vanity Fair piece about Donald Trump’s presidency:

Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment — the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president. When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, “What’s that?”
Related posts
The Dunning-Kruger effect
Dunning K. Trump
Frederick who?
Ties, misspellings, typos

Zippy on campus?

[Zippy, October 10, 2017.]

I think Zippy must be touring a college campus.

Expectations vary, natch, but for me, “We’re excited you’re here!” rings of corporate insincerity. Unless the excitement is about seeing dollar signs.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Nora Johnson (1933–2017)

The writer Nora Johnson has died at the age of eighty-four. Johnson is best known for the novel The World of Henry Orient (1958). She and her father Nunnally Johnson co-wrote the screenplay for the 1964 film adaptation.

I read The World of Henry Orient for the first time in 2011 and wrote to Nora Johnson to tell her how much I liked it. In her reply she said that she thought the novel “would go stale very fast — but seems I was wrong.” The novel now feels like a sweet, sad evocation of a lost New York.

Related posts
An excerpt from the novel
Elizabeth T. Walker speaks (The film’s Val)
Nora Johnson on falling in love at seventy-one

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

David Brooks and SNOOTs

Writing in The New York Times today about a forthcoming book by Alan Jacobs, David Brooks mentions David Foster Wallace:

Jacobs notices that when somebody uses “in other words” to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team. David Foster Wallace once called such people Snoots. Their motto is, “We Are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else.”
No, Mr. Brooks, no.

In the essay “Authority and American Usage,” Wallace glosses SNOOT (all caps) as his “nuclear family’s nickname for a really extreme usage fanatic.” The acronym stands for “Sprachgefühl Necessitates Our Ongoing Tendance” or “Syntax Nudniks Of Our Time.” SNOOT has nothing to do with caricaturing other people’s arguments and winning favor with a team. The acronym applies to those who obsess over matters of grammar and usage, those who know how to hyphenate phrasal adjectives and who sneer at “10 ITEMS OR LESS.” As Wallace points out in the essay, “the word may be slightly self-mocking.” Wallace identified as a SNOOT, and his spoof of the USMC slogan (“the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else”) is further evidence of self-mockery. He wasn’t calling other people SNOOTs. He was writing about himself.

And as Wallace said in a radio interview, “to be a SNOOT is a lonely, stressful way to be.”

Related reading
All OCA David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

[“Authority and American Usage” appears in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2005). The essay appeared in a shorter form in Harper’s as “Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage.” The examples concerning phrasal adjectives and supermarket signage are from the essay. Using Amazon’s Look Inside tool to search How to Think returns no results for david foster wallace or snoot, so I’m ascribing the error to Brooks. And yes, I’m sending a correction to the Times.]


When one reads online, it’s so easy to miss something that’s plainly there. Replying to a comment this morning, I made up an acronym for this phenomenon: OOPS, Online Oversight in Processing Syndrome. And then I improved it: OOP, Oversight in Online Processing.

OOP, not OOPS, because the S is missing.

[Inspired by a discussion of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) in the “Technobabble” episode of Helen Zaltzman’s podcast The Allusionist.]

Thelonious Monk centennial

[A helpful label. My son Ben made it when he was five or six or so. Explanation here.]

Thelonious Sphere Monk was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, one hundred years ago today. Forty-odd years ago, as a commuting college student, I heard a radio newscaster mention Double Ten Day, and I thought, “Oh, yeah, Thelonious Monk’s birthday.”

Here are my favorite Monk compositions, as performed by the composer and his colleagues:

“Crepescule with Nellie” : “Monk’s Mood” : “Pannonica” : “Reflections” : “Ruby, My Dear” : “Ugly Beauty”

I can play four of these tunes passably well on the piano. The other two, someday.

Other Monk posts
T. MONK’S ADVICE (1960) : Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane : Thelonious Monk in Weehawken : Thelonious Monk, off-balance : Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington

[“Ruby, My Dear” has Coleman Hawkins, not John Coltrane, on tenor.]

Hi and Lois SWODNIW

[Hi and Lois, October 10, 2017.]

There must be a new trainee on the Hi-Lo Amalgamated assembly line. Yesterday, a a color fail. Today, wrong-way window-writing is back. These strips will be receiving recall notices.

Sometimes Hi-Lo gets windows right. Here, for instance, and here, and here. But again and again, passersby in this comic-strip world see signs for ECNARUSNI, ETATSE LAER, and KCIUQ TRAM. And in Beetle Bailey, NUB N’ NUR. Sheesh, guys, DAERFOORP!

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[ETATSE LAER runs across one line of lettering; KCIUQ TRAM and NUB N’ NUR are split up. You read LAER before ETATSE but KCIUQ before TRAM and NUB before N’ and NUR. I am beginning to like these “words.”]

Monday, October 9, 2017

Josef K. in motion

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

So cinematic. It’s so easy to imagine such a scene as the stuff of silent film.

When I was in high school, Borges and Kafka were my passports to real literature. How I found my way to their work, I’ll never know. What I didn’t understand back then: Kafka is funny. I’m glad to have figured that out.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Hi and Lois watch

Dot Flagston has just wished that it were possible to celebrate “the holidays” earlier. Because right now the world is a carousel of color, sort of:

[Hi and Lois, October 9, 2017.]

Today’s Hi and Lois makes me think of the first sentence of a poem I made from remarks of my then-very-young daughter Rachel: “The colors are / broken.” They are, indeed. And I’m certainly not going to take the time to fix them. Tinkering with what’s in the balloon makes things dumber and funnier:

[Hi and Lois, altered, October 9, 2017.]

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Good cop, bad cop

This metaphor for a Tillerson–Trump North Korea strategy is, let’s say, faulty. And not merely because there is no evidence of a coordinated strategy. The metaphor is faulty because it doesn’t fit the circumstances. Good cop–bad cop works, when it works, because the options available to a person being held for interrogation are few. Those options, typically, do not include the use of nuclear weapons.

Domestic comedy

[Talking about roads not taken.]

“That program? It would have been like galley slaves, but with grading instead of oars.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[I finally got it right, or wrong: I thought I’d said “freshman papers” and “oars,” or “grading” and “rowing.” But no, it was “grading” and “oars,” not parallel, I know.]

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Recently updated


The figure on the left is from Rudolf Modley’s Handbook of Pictorial Symbols (New York: Dover, 1976). I removed the hat, lampshade, and typewriter and added a laptop to make the image on the right. For a faux-industrial coffeehouse look, you could always put the lampshade back in.

[I draw a line at the hat. No hats indoors.]

Friday, October 6, 2017

“Bob & Timmy & Lassie”

Fresca, l’astronave, has made a photo-collage to go with my story “The Poet”: it’s “Bob & Timmy & Lassie.”

[All of this silliness reminds me of something the owner of a corner grocery in Brookline, Massachusetts, said to Elaine and me one night in the mid-1980s: “It’s good to get away from reality once in a while.” Confirming what we already knew.]

“A radiance behind it”

Once a year, Robin travels by train to Stratford, Ontario, to see a Shakespeare play:

Alice Munro, “Tricks,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Also from this book
One Munro sentence : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling”

Thursday, October 5, 2017


The New York Times, from a story about Rex Tillerson:

Although he insisted he had never considered resigning, several people close to Mr. Tillerson said he has had to be talked out of drafting a letter of resignation on more than one occasion by his closest allies, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff. And they said he has regularly expressed astonishment at how little Mr. Trump understands the basics of foreign policy.
I’m astonished that he’s astonished.

Nancy rain

[Nancy, September 26, 1950.]

I’ve been waiting for the chance to identify with Nancy. We had less than a quarter-inch of rain in September. Today, it’s raining, for real.

Rain or no rain, you can read Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy six days a week at GoComics.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Stoner movie

The Hollywood Reporter reports that John Williams’s 1965 novel Stoner is being adapted as a movie, directed by Joe Wright and starring Casey Affleck. A press release from the companies behind the movie describes the novel as the story of

the hardscrabble life of William Stoner, a dirt-poor farmer turned academic, who emerges as an unlikely existential hero while making his way through the first half of the 20th century.
Key elements in that description — “hardscrabble,” “dirt-poor,” “unlikely existential hero” — are lifted from the back cover of the New York Review Books paperback edition. But the press release still manages to get something wrong: Stoner is not “a dirt-poor farmer turned academic”: he’s the son of a farming family.

I’m sure I’ll see this movie, though I’m prepared to be disappointed.

Other Stoner posts
John Williams on Stoner and teaching : On “the true nature of the University” : Stoner and adjunct life : Stoner FTW

[And what’s with the producer’s claim that the novel is “not well-known”? It is. In 2013 NPR reported that the novel was a bestseller through much of Europe.]

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“The Poet”

This post contains the text of a second short piece of fan fiction, by me: “The Poet,” a Timmy and Lassie story. Featuring a Major American Poet! This story began as what if and quickly turned into why not. Why not?

“The Poet” assumes a working acquaintance with the Lassie world, “outside Calverton,” and with some poetry. Click on each image (left, right, and again) for a readable page. Whistling the opening and closing Lassie themes is optional. In its Martin-farm form, Lassie was a major part of my childhood.


Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard) : “The ’Clipse” (more Lassie fan fiction)

[Sources for the old poet’s words: “The Figure a Poem Makes” (1939), “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923). Suffice to say that the old poet of this story is a figment of someone’s imagination.]

Proustian music

In 2008, I wished for “a CD or two assembling Proust-related music: likely inspirations for Vinteuil’s sonata, songs by Reynaldo Hahn, all in period recordings, if possible.” And lookit: violinist Maria Milstein and pianist Nathalia Milstein are releasing a CD, The Vinteuil Sonata, with music by Claude Debussy, Reynaldo Hahn, Gabriel Pierné, and Camille Saint-Saëns.

The Milstein sisters suspect that Gabriel Pierné’s Sonata for violin and piano in D minor, op. 36 is a source for the Vinteuil Sonata, the imaginary composition with the “little phrase” that so moves Charles Swann in In Search of Lost Time.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard) : “One phrase rising” : Swann’s little phrase : The “little phrase” again

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Garner quiz

Bryan Garner offers a quiz in minimalist editing: “Eyes for Errors” (ABA Journal). How many errors, glaring and venial, can you spot?

Related reading
All OCA Garner-related posts (Pinboard)

Muriel who?

[Henry, October 3, 2017.]

Henrietta is not pleased. Muriel probably wouldn’t be pleased either. If Henrietta and Muriel decide that Henry isn’t worth fighting over, they could argue about which girl’s name is more remote for early-twenty-first-century readers.

But Muriel may be a lost love. Perhaps she has left town. If so, and if Henry (whose own name remains popular for early-twenty-first-century newborns) could sing, he might offer these words: “Muriel, since you left town, the clubs closed down, and there’s one more burned-out lamppost on Main Street, down where we used to stroll.” But he can’t.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)
Vic loves Muriel / Muriel loves Victor

Monday, October 2, 2017

Shimkus fail

My representative in Congress, John Shimkus (R, Illinois-15), has offered nothing more than this tweet. He hasn’t even mentioned the now-obligatory “thoughts and prayers.”

Shimkus has an A lifetime rating from the NRA. He leads Illinois Congressional Republicans in total contributions from the NRA. Truly, his concern about “the destruction of human life” seems limited to prenatal life.

I called Shimkus’s office this afternoon to suggest that while violence and hate are never “the answer,” legislation concerning gun-ownership would be at least a large part of an answer to the problem of gun violence. No hunter needs an assault rifle to hunt. No hunter needs a “bump stock” or “gat crank” to turn a semi-automatic rifle into a homemade machine gun. No modern industrial nation knows the levels of gun violence that we in the United States know.

Have you called your representative and senators today?

Other john Shimkus posts
At work and play : No town halls (1) : No town halls (2) : Shimkus on prenatal care and men’s health insurance : Shimkus and the telecommunications industry : Shimkus unwittingly likens an Illinois gubernatorial candidate to Benito Mussolini

“The Weight”

After the Boston Marathon bombing, and in other times of sorrow since, I have watched and listened again and again. It’s never made me feel better, but it’s made me feel. That’s the best explanation I can offer. Maybe you will find it helpful too. Mavis Staples, Nick Lowe, and Wilco rehearse Robbie Robertson’s “The Weight.” Filmed by Zoran Orlic at the Civic Opera House, Chicago, December 2011.

Too early?

Is it still too early to be discussing gun-ownership rights? As it has been for a long time now?

“A private queer feeling”

Alice Munro, “Trespasses,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Details like these are wonderful stuff.

Also from this book
One Munro sentence : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?”

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nineteen hours

“The hallucinations began around 4 a.m.”: a New York Times critic attends a performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations.