Thursday, January 18, 2018

Brian Wilson, A student

Not from The Onion: the grade of F that high-schooler Brian Wilson received for his song “Surfin’” has been changed to an A. No word on whether Mike Love (who went to a different high school) will have any of his grades changed.

Thanks, Rachel.

Sardine art

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has Michael Goldberg’s Sardines. Not on display.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has Joe Brainard’s Sardines. Also not on display.

Someone given to making bad puns might say that in Brainard’s collaged drawing the word becomes fish. Looking at Goldberg’s painting should make that pun clear. See also Frank O’Hara’s poem “Why I Am Not a Painter.”

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Eberhard Faber letterhead

[You really should click for a much larger view.]

Sean at Blackwing Pages and Contrapuntalism passed on this scan of the Eberhard Faber letterhead, complete with telephone exchange name, cable address, diamond star trademark, and two-digit postal code. And trailing clouds of graphite, a bright, sharp no. 2 Mongol.

This letterhead gives new meaning to the phrase “leaden sky.”

Thanks, Sean, for sharing this find.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol and pencil posts (Pinboard)

[Notice that the postal code has been typed in: codes for large cities were first used in 1943.]


“A little bit of scratch paper that lives on your Mac menu bar”: Tyke is a free app that looks extremely handy.

A tenuously related post
Word of the day: tyke

Soul Music again

The BBC podcast Soul Music is rolling again, with episodes about Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night,” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and J.S. Bach’s Ich habe genug. I’ve never heard a bad episode of Soul Music. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Clean Plate Club

Dammit, I always assumed that my parents invented it. But no, it was Herbert Hoover.

[Prompted by a conversation in an Original Pancake House.]

The imperfect present perfect

Rex Tillerson, as heard on NPR today: “This is a strategy that has and will require patience.”

But the present perfect verb requires a participle: “This is a strategy that has required, and will require, patience.”

“What you write down, you can see”

[Time Table (dir. Mark Stevens, 1956).]

Railroad detective Joe Armstrong (King Calder) carries a pocket notebook. He digs the written word. There he is, still at it, making notes. Says Joe, “What you write down, you can see. What you see, you can remember.” He likes blackboards too.

Snarky insurance investigator Charlie Norman (Mark Stevens) gives Joe the business: “What’s the matter, Joe? You run out of notebooks?” Joe’s reply: “What you can see, you can remember.”

I recall the detectives of television’s Naked City using a blackboard. Did it happen in real life? I don’t know. But here’s an informed response to the question of whether real-life detectives pin pictures to a board and connect them with string.

Time Table is at YouTube. The film has more than just writing surfaces to recommend it.

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 : Ministry of Fear : 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 : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Monday, January 15, 2018

Gregor Z.

[Zippy, January 18, 2018.]

Related reading
All OCA Kafka and Zippy posts (Pinboard)


From Martin Luther King’s “The Other America,” a speech delivered at Grosse Pointe South High School, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, March 14, 1968, three weeks before King was assassinated:

[W]e will never solve the problem of racism until there is a recognition of the fact that racism still stands at the center of so much of our nation. And we must see racism for what it is. It is the myth of an inferior people. It is the notion that one group has all of the knowledge, all of the insights, all of the purity, all of the worth, all of the dignity. And another group is worthless, on a lower level of humanity, inferior. To put it in philosophical language, racism is not based on some empirical generalization which, after some studies, would come to conclusion that these people are behind because of environmental conditions. Racism is based on an ontological affirmation. It is the notion that the very being of a people is inferior. And the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.
Here is a recounting of the speech and its circumstances from Jude Huetteman, who invited King to speak in Grosse Pointe. Transcripts may be found at Friends’ Central School and the Grosse Pointe Historical Society. I’ve followed the Friends’ transcript in choosing “myth,” not “nymph” (an obvious mishearing: King says “myth” in a 1967 speech); “ the worth,” not “work” (a likely mishearing); and “the ultimate logic,” not “their” (in accord with King’s phrasing in a 1966 speech. I’ve made two small changes in punctuation. In October 2017 the original cassette recording of the Grosse Pointe speech sold at auction for $12,240.20.

An accurate transcript of this speech belongs at the King Center and King Institute, don’t you think?

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Oil and water

From Cervantes’s Don Quixote (2.10):

La verdad adelgaza y no quiebra, y siempre anda sobre la mentira como el aceite sobre el agua. [While the truth may run thin, it never breaks, and always rises above falsehood as oil does above water.]
Found via Nuccio Ordine’s The Usefulness of the Useless (2017), a book I discovered by way of Pete Lit’s quotation of a comment from Rob Riemen’s recommendations for the best humanist books of 2017. I’ve used Samuel Putnam’s translation (1949), which I prefer to the unsourced translation in Ordine’s book (“The truth stretches and grows thin, but it does not break and always floats on top of falsehood, like oil on water”). Putnam cites similar proverbs in Italian and Portuguese:
La verità può languire ma non perire. [Truth may languish but not perish.]

A verdade e o aceite andão de cima. [Truth and oil rise to the top.]
Also found in this book
“The man that hath no music in himself”

[The sentence as it appears in the Italian edition of Ondine’s book: “La verità si stira e assottiglia, ma non si rompe e viene sempre a galla sulla bugia, come l'olio sull'acqua.” I suspect that the translator for the English edition translated this translation, not the Spanish text. Neither the Italian nor the English edition includes Cervantes’s sentence in Spanish.]

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What’d they do?

Writing in The Washington Post, Philip Kennicott asks, “What did the men with Donald Trump do when he spoke of ‘shithole countries’?”:

This is the dinner table test: When you are sitting and socializing with a bigot, what do you do when he reveals his bigotry? I’ve seen it happen, once, when I was a young man, and I learned an invaluable lesson. An older guest at a formal dinner said something blatantly anti-Semitic. I was shocked and laughed nervously. Another friend stared at his plate silently. Another excused himself and fled to the bathroom. And then there was the professor, an accomplished and erudite man, who paused for a moment, then slammed his fist on the table and said, “I will never listen to that kind of language, so either you will leave, or I will leave.” The offender looked around the table, found no allies and left the gathering. I don’t know if he felt any shame upon expulsion.

The next New Yorker cover

[Anthony Russo, “In the Hole.” The New Yorker, January 22, 2018.]

More here.

Barack Obama and David Letterman

Now streaming at Netflix, the first episode of David Letterman’s six-episode interview series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. It’s a disappointment, in several ways. There’s only the slightest glance at the White House’s new part-time tenant. There’s nothing said about how we got from the one president to the other or about democratic or Democratic futures.

But beyond any particular subject of discussion: David Letterman is not an especially good interviewer, not for this kind of interview, not at this length. He seems like a man attempting to play the role of a serious conversationalist. Imagine — just imagine — what Dick Cavett could do with this opportunity.

The best moments: Obama talking about his children, especially about taking Malia to college. Tear-smeary stuff, at least for me.

[The subject of the White House’s new part-time tenant does come up in an interpolated interview with Congressman John Lewis.]

From the Saturday Stumper

A fiendish clue, from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, 11-Across, three letters: “One of a stack of checkers.” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle, by Frank Longo, is hard, hard. Finishing a Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Inside General Pencil

The New York Times Magazine has a terrific feature on Jersey City’s General Pencil Company. With photographs by Christopher Payne, text by Sam Anderson:

In an era of infinite screens, the humble pencil feels revolutionarily direct: It does exactly what it does, when it does it, right in front of you. Pencils eschew digital jujitsu. They are pure analog, absolute presence.
They are also nice to write with. I so wanted to make this post with a pencil, a General Kimberly (2B).

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

Friday, January 12, 2018

Margie King Barab (1932–2018)

Our dear friend Margie King Barab has died at the age of eighty-five. For years, Elaine and I visited Margie and her husband Seymour Barab every summer in New York. And after Seymour died, we visited Margie. Margie was a singer, a teacher, and a writer. She appeared on television in the early days of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as Miss Margie Nebraska and later taught music to children in a Montessori school. One of my last memories of visiting Margie: it was around Thanksgiving, and we were walking with her to her ATM before we had to head off to the subway. It was cold and wet and windy. And somehow the three of us were singing “Tea for Two.”

After Alexander King, Margie’s first husband, died, Margie received a letter from Marianne Moore (November 16, 1966) that included this line: “What was, never ceases in the soul, does it?” I used to share that line (with Margie’s permission) when I taught Moore’s poetry. And I’m sharing it now.

[Our friends Seymour Barab and Margie King Barab, New York, May 2012.]

GrandPerspective icon

For Mac users: it’s a replacement icon for GrandPerspective, an app that creates a visual display of disk contents. (Useful for finding and zapping humongous files.) The icon is the work of BlackVariant (Patrick). Stylish and orange — I’m in.

“In other news”

This headline sums it up: “In Other News, Your President Is Still Racist.”

One, two, three

[Talia Ivy Raab. Montage by Rachel Raab. Click for a larger baby.]

How big is Talia? Sooo big! Talia is three months old today.

[Reposted to get the day right. In my grandfatherly excitement I posted these photographs yesterday.]

Thursday, January 11, 2018

“Pink protest hat”

[Hi and Lois, January 11, 2018.]

“Pink protest hat”: well, I wouldn’t expect Dot to say “pussyhat” either. The surprising thing is that Lois Flagston owns a pussyhat, which would strongly suggest that she participated in last January’s Women’s March. But you’d never know it from the strip itself: on January 21, 2017, the day of the march, Hi was taking Dot and Ditto out for pancakes. On January 22, a branch was scratching against a window. If Lois was marching, she was keeping quiet about it. Or relatively quiet: Dot knows about that hat.

And soon everyone else will know: the hat is for a snowwoman who holds a sign that reads equal rights. But Lois and Dot should know that the “pink protest hat” is no longer in favor.

Here is an explanation of what’s coming later this month, in life, not comics: “What You Need to Know About the 2018 Women’s March.”

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[“Can I borrow your pink protest hat?” would have been a great start for a John Ashbery poem.]

Recently updated

Failsonry ? Now with an explanation.

“That’s better”

We might still think of Wi-Fi as fracturing family life, with each member of the group off in front of a screen. Here’s an earlier story of improved technology and one family’s response. Ben Logan (1920–2014) recounts what happened when his father bought an Aladdin kerosene lamp for the dining-room table. “The new lamp gave more light,” Logan writes, “opening up the corners of the dining room, letting us scatter away from the little circle we’d always formed around the old Rayo.” And then one night Logan’s mother announced, “‘I’m not sure I like that new lamp’”:

Father was at his usual place at the table. “Why not? Burns less kerosene.”

“Look where everyone is.”

We were scattered. There was even enough light to read by on the far side of the stove.

“We’re all here,” Father said.

“Not like we used to be.”

Father looked at the empty chairs around the table. “Want to go back to the old lamp?”

“I don’t think it’s the lamp. I think it’s us. Does a new lamp have to change where we sit at night?”

Ben Logan, The Land Remembers: The Story of a Farm and Its People. 1975. (Minnetonka, MN: NorthWord Press, 1999).
“I don’t think it’s the lamp. I think it’s us”: exactly. As I’ve written more than once in these pages, technology makes it possible to do things, not necessary to do them. Logan describes what followed in his family’s farmhouse:
Father’s eyes found us, one by one. Then he made a little motion with his head. We came out of our corners and slid into our old places at the table, smiling at each other, a little embarrassed to be hearing this talk.

Mother sat down with us and nodded. “That’s better.”
[Thanks to Chris at Dreamers Rise for pointing me to The Land Remembers.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

“The man that hath no music in himself”

Not long after watching our president’s half-throated attempt to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I turned to Nuccio Ordine’s book The Usefulness of the Useless (2017) and found these lines from The Merchant of Venice (5.1). Lorenzo speaks:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
Aye, mark.

Knowing the words to “The Star-Spangled” is of course not proof that one is “moved with concord of sweet sounds.” And one could have a deep feeling for music without knowing the words to this song. But “treasons, stratagems, and spoils” — I rest my case.

Maurice Peress (1930–2017)

The conductor Maurice Peress has died at the age of eighty-seven. The New York Times has an obituary. Peress was known especially for his work with Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington. In 2007 Elaine had the good fortune to play under Peress’s baton in an orchestra performing several of Ellington’s longer works. And I had the good fortune to be a member of the audience.

One Kafka sentence

Frieda is asking the schoolboy Hans Brunswick some questions:

Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken, 1998).

In a preface to this translation, Mark Harman cites a passage from Kafka’s diaries:

Omission of the period. In general the spoken sentence starts off in a large capital letter with the speaker, bends out in its course as far as it can towards the listeners and with the period returns to the speaker. But if the period is omitted, then the sentence is no longer constrained and blows its entire breath at the listener.
Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[In a store. A security guard was headed in our direction.]

“I was afraid they thought you looked suspicious.”

“I thought I looked fetching.”

“Suspiciously fetching.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Failsonry ?

Failsonry ? This word appears to exist only in Josh Marshall’s tweet and subsequent retweets. Any idea what he meant to type? Or if he meant failsonry, what he means by it?


January 11: Some smart OCA readers figured it out, or at least I think so. “Intergenerational failsonry” seems to be meant to suggest the International Order of Freemasonry. Thanks, Fresca and Chris, for seeing a masonry and Masonry connection. And thanks to everyone who suggested a meaning. The full story is in the comments.

A Google search for trump and freesmasonry suggests to me that Josh Marshall might have done better to skip the pun.

[Josh Marshall is the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo.]

LA to Vegas (representing)

Tonight on Fox, 9:00 Eastern: LA to Vegas. The New York Times picks LA to Vegas as one of ten shows “we’ll be talking about in January” and describes it as a “snappy sitcom that’s part workplace comedy, part Love Boat-like compendium of travel anecdotes.” Last week’s first episode snapped, crackled, and popped. Fast and funny. Our son-in-law Seth Raab is one of the show’s writers. Go Seth!

The Stool of Repentance

Another letter to the Junior Eagle Game Club. Little Gladys Banning must have been the toast of her block:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 17, 1915.]

The Stool of Repentance should be familiar to any teacher who’s read through a packet of student evaluations.

See also the game of Tin-Tin.

[Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library, whose Brooklyn Newsstand made this post possible.]


“You know how to play Tin-Tin?” So asks a character in Shirley Jackson’s novel The Road Through the Wall (1948), which has a long passage devoted to this game. The novel’s narrator says that Tin-Tin is “probably as old as children.” I managed to turn up exactly one description of Tin Tin (no hyphen) in a letter to the Junior Eagle Game Club, a feature of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 17, 1915.]

In Jackson’s novel the game is a bit different: the tin seller is “It”; the buyer is “Victim”; there’s no husband/wife element; and the name is “some familiar word or name or nonsense syllable.” Missing from this 1915 description, I think, is what gives the game, at least in Jackson’s novel, a point: the answer to every question must be the player’s assigned name. As for the game’s name, there seems to be no relation to Hergé’s Tintin, at least none that I can suss out.

As you might guess, every letter to “Aunt Jean” is signed by a “niece” or “nephew.” You want your name in the paper, kid, you play along with Aunt Jean, see?

[Thanks to the Brooklyn Public Library, whose Brooklyn Newsstand made this post possible.]

Monday, January 8, 2018

Tim Rollins (1955–2018)

A New York Times obituary describes Tim Rollins as “an artist and educator whose mural-like paintings inspired by literary classics brought 1980s art stardom to him and his collaborators — a shifting collective of at-risk South Bronx teenagers.” Together they were known as Tim Rollins + K.O.S., meaning Kids of Survival. The Times describes the way they worked:

It was a demanding process, which Mr. Rollins oversaw from beginning to end. The authors he selected were challenging and included Shakespeare, Daniel Defoe, Lewis Carroll and Malcolm X. Digesting their writings could take weeks, and arriving at a suitable motif, a process they called jammin’, could take months.
Among the group’s other source materials: Franz Kafka’s Amerika and Duke Ellington’s The River: A Ballet Suite. Here are two samplings of the work of Tim Rollins + K.O.S.: one, two.

“A few days of living with K.”

In the schoolroom/gymnasium that doubles or triples as living quarters for K., who works as the school’s janitor, and Frieda:

Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

If the book fits

[Photograph by Rachel Raab.]

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Items in a series

Honesty. Integrity. Quality. Trust. Premium Onions.

[As seen on a bag of, yes, onions. I suppose that if onions are your everything, this series makes sense.]

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with the American Dialect Society’s pick.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Stating the obvious

A “very stable genius” would not be tweeting in the pre-dawn. How do I know that? Because I’m, like, really smart.

A related post
Dunning K. Trump

[Context: here and here.]

From the Saturday Stumper

From today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, not a tricky clue, but one I learned from. It’s 46-Across, eleven letters: “Word from the French for ‘stir up.’” No spoilers; the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle, by Lester Ruff, is at least semi-tough. Either these puzzles are getting easier, or I’m getting better, or both.

NPR, sheesh

From Weekend Edition Saturday, spoken not someone in the story but by the reporter: “Me and people my age are redefining what it means to travel by car.”

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[I object not only to the object pronoun but to putting me first. But at least the reporter didn’t say “me and my friends.”]

Friday, January 5, 2018

Andrew Sullivan on a year of insanity

“It seems possible, after a year of this insanity, to entertain some measure of hope that it will some day be over, and the country and the world not irrevocably damaged in the process”: Andrew Sullivan explains why he has hope.

“Not irrevocably damaged”: that’s the kind of resolution I’m hoping for.

Poor K., poor Frieda

K., who has come to the Castle to work as a surveyor, is now working as the school janitor. K. and Frieda and K.’s two assistants are living in the schoolroom. Frieda has shown that she can make any room comfortable to live in, but there’s little she can do here.

Franz Kafka, The Castle, trans. Mark Harman (New York: Schocken, 1998).

Yes, the schoolroom doubles as a gymnasium. When K. and Frieda, sleeping late, are surprised by the arrival of schoolchildren and the schoolmistress, they throw their blankets over the parallel bars and pommel horse to make themselves a changing room.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

“Do you read?”

Joe Scarborough asked Donald Trump a question: “Do you read?”

Thursday, January 4, 2018


From a New Yorker report on Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House:

Confirming long-running news accounts, Wolff reports that Trump often retires in the early evening to his bedroom, where he has three television screens, and interrupts his viewing only to converse by telephone with his friends and cronies, some of them fellow-billionaires.
That hyphen between fellow and billionaires? I think it’s The New Yorker being The New Yorker. I see two ways to think about how the noun fellow functions in the phrase fellow-billionaires.

The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the noun fellow can be used to form “a virtually unlimited number of compounds.” The dictionary calls the word (“designating a person or thing that belongs to the same class or category as another specified person or thing”) an “appositive, passing into adj.” An appositive is a noun or pronoun that stands next to and serves to identify another noun. In the movie title My Friend Irma, for instance, Irma is an appositive. The OED notes that compounds formed with fellow
are usually formed with a hyphen or as two words, although in early use single word forms also occur. From the 20th cent. formation as two words is more common. [My emphasis.]
And lookit: the OED has a 2008 citation from The New Yorker with the same fusty hyphen: “Pearl has been enlisted . . . to spy on her fellow-employees.”

While the OED identifies fellow as an appositive, Merriam-Webster has the word as “noun, often attributive.” An attributive noun is one that modifies another noun and functions as an adjective. Think apple pie or sock drawer. If one thinks of fellow as an attributive noun, a hyphen looks more than a little strange. No one eats apple-pie, though some people insist on having everything in apple-pie order, even the sock drawer, in which case the pie has been turned into a phrasal adjective. Fellow-billionaires looks as odd to me as fellow-Americans would.

What’s odder still, for me, is trying to understand how one might decide between between seeing fellow as an appositive and seeing it as an attributive. Maybe a fellow thousandaire can help.

Related posts
Bad hyphens, unhelpful abbreviations : “Every generation hyphenates the way it wants to” : Got hyphens? : The Hammacher Schlemmer crazy making hyphen shortage problem : Living on hyphens : Mr. Hyphen and e-mail : Mr. Hyphen and Mr. Faulkner : One more from Mr. Hyphen : Phrasal-adjective punctuation

[It hit me only after writing this post: The New Yorker seems to be following H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (2nd ed.), which offers a puzzling take on fellow: “All the combinations of f. with a noun (except f.-feeling, for which see below) would be best written as two separate words without hyphen, and they all are sometimes so written. But, owing to the mistaken notion that words often used in juxtaposition must be hyphened, the more familiar combinations are so often seen with the hyphen that they now look queer and old-fashioned without it.” That’s hardly the case in 2018. At any rate, Fowler’s recommended forms seem arbitrary: a hyphen for fellow-countryman, no hyphen for fellow traveller. There’s no recommendation for fellow and billionaire.]

An Infinite Jest assignment

Just for fun: my waking self wants to defend itself against my dreaming self. Here, reformatted for readability, is what I once gave out to begin Infinite Jest. You can click on each image for a larger view.

Related reading
All OCA David Foster Wallace posts (Pinboard)

Teaching Infinite Jest

I was about to begin teaching David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in a one o’clock class. But I couldn’t bring myself to go, so I retreated to the library and sat down to watch the clock. At two I left to walk to the classroom, and the students, five of them, were still there waiting. I told them that I had lost track of time in the library and that we were now going to begin Infinite Jest. And then, if we had time, we’d dip into The Pale King. I had a copy of Infinite Jest with me but no notes and no reading assignment to hand out. I decided to say a few things about the novel. No chapters, but sections marked with a moon-like ❍. And subsections. Highly autobiographical: “I am in here” is one the first sentences, but not a retelling of the writer’s life. And there are endnotes, which you have to read.

When I tried to show where the notes began, my paperback Infinite Jest turned into my hardcover Modern Library Ulysses, and I was paging through the “Ithaca” episode. Class dismissed. After which several new students showed up, and I went through my flimsy introduction to the novel all over again. After which I walked back to the library and found yet another student who had just signed up for my class. He wore a blue dress shirt and sat at a table. An Eagle Scout stood by his side, serving, it seemed, as a bodyguard. The new student explained that he had signed up for the class because there was a spot open. “But do you want to put in the time to read Infinite Jest ?” I asked him. “That’s my decision!” he shouted. “Of course,” I said. “I’m just wondering if it’s something you want to invest time in.”

I then walked out to a parking lot to call Elaine for a ride home. But I needed numbers to stick on my phone to make the call. I tried to buy some at a newsstand, but they were sold out.

This is the eleventh teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. None of them have gone well. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

[Elaine identified some likely influences on this dream. “Ithaca”: DFW’s time in Syracuse. The Eagle Scout: the Honeymooners episode “The Hero,” in which Ralph claims to be an Eagle Scout. The numbers: the pages of stickers that came with my 2018 Moleskine planner. I can add one more possible influence: looking up Modern Library logos last night.]

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Whose whom?

From New York magazine’s excerpting of Michael Wolff’s forthcoming Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House:

He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate.
From Donald Trump’s statement today about Steve Bannon:
Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books.
Those tidy hyphens, that complex syntax, that whom — I’d bet a Happy Meal that Trump didn’t write this statement.

It was though written by someone adept at channeling and stroking the executive ego. Notice the demotion of Bannon to a “staffer,” the celebration of Trump’s primary victories, the references to the “base” and “our historic victory,” and the claim that “Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.”

I suspect that Trump thinks of all books as phony, except of course those written by his ghostwriters.


January 4: The Daily Beast reports that “Trump personally dictated key parts of the statement bashing his former chief strategist to senior communications staff” and that he was “emphatic about including put-downs,” among them the assertion that Bannon had little to do with “our historic victory” and the line about making winning look easy. I would note though that insisting on put-downs isn’t the same as creating them. And more importantly, dictation isn’t writing. (“One hyphen on hyphen one?” Really?) I still cannot imagine Trump writing the sentence I wrote about in this post.

Related posts
Another tweet with a hyphen
Donald Trump’s spelling
Who’s tweeting?

Recently updated

Van Dyke Parks in The Honeymooners The episode with VDP as Tommy Manicotti is back online.

The GRamercy Five

I’m still listening my way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins, Clifford Brown, Dave Brubeck, Joe Bushkin, Hoagy Carmichael, Betty Carter, Ray Charles, Charlie Christian, Rosemary Clooney, Nat “King” Cole, John Coltrane, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis, Matt Dennis, Doris Day, Blossom Dearie, Paul Desmond, Tommy Dorsey, Billy Eckstine, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli, Bobby Hackett, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dick Hyman, Harry James, Hank Jones, Louis Jordan, Stan Kenton, Barney Kessel, Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, Peggy Lee, Mary Ann McCall, Susannah McCorkle, Dave McKenna, Ray McKinley, Marian McPartland, Johnny Mercer, Helen Merrill, Glenn Miller, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Gerry Mulligan, Red Norvo, Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Joe Pass, Art Pepper, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell, Boyd Raeburn, Django Reinhardt, Marcus Roberts, Sonny Rollins, Jimmy Rushing, Catherine Russell, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.

And now, Artie Shaw, about fourteen hours of Artie Shaw. What a band. I had no idea. But also: what a small group, the Gramercy Five, its name inspired by Shaw’s telephone exchange. Here are two Gramercy Five sides:

“Special Delivery Stomp” (Artie Shaw). Recorded in Hollywood, September 3, 1940.

“My Blue Heaven” (Walter Donaldson–George A. Whiting). Recorded in Hollywood, December 5, 1940.

The links will take you to digitized 78s from the George Blood collection at (The RCA Bluebird Complete Gramercy Five Sessions presents the music with much cleaner sound.) On both sides: Artie Shaw, clarinet; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, harpsichord; Al Hendrickson, electric guitar; Jud DeNaut, bass; Nick Fatool drums.

“Special Delivery Stomp” puts me in mind of Raymond Scott. On both recordings, the electric guitar and harpischord (which sounds at times almost like a pedal steel guitar) make me think of Western swing. Seventy-seven years after the fact, it’s amazing music. Ralph Waldo Emerson had the explanation, even if he didn’t get to hear the Gramercy Five: “This perpetual modernness is the measure of merit in every work of art.”

Artie Shaw was a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon. On the difference between Benny Goodman and himself: “I played music. Goodman played the clarinet.”

Also from my dad’s CDs
Mildred Bailey : Tony Bennett : Charlie Christian : Blossom Dearie : Duke Ellington : Coleman Hawkins : Billie Holiday : Louis Jordan : Charlie Parker : Jimmy Rushing

[Another ensemble whose name may have been inspired by an exchange name: the Stuyvesant Quartet.]

Recently updated

Close the door Now with a comment from Anton Schwartz noting the death of Alan Bleviss, whose voice is heard on the PSA.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

LA to Vegas (all in the fambly)

LA to Vegas premieres tonight on Fox, 9:00 Eastern. Will Ferrell and Steve Levitan (Modern Family) are among those involved in bringing the show to television. Good pedigree. And our son-in-law Seth Raab is one of the show’s writers. Excellent pedigree. The trailer suggests that the series will be genuinely funny.

Our household will be watching. Go Seth!

Talking like a Raymond Chandler novel

[Zippy, January 2, 2018.]

Someone’s been reading Raymond Chandler.

The Big Sleep (1939): “The air was thick, wet, steamy and larded with the cloying smell of tropical orchids in bloom.”

Farewell My Lovely (1940): “Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

Raymond Chandler had strong responses to figures of speech. He famously faulted Ross Macdonald for describing a car as “acned with rust.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Peggy Cummins (1925–2017)

The actress Peggy Cummins has died at the age of ninety-two. She is best known for her performance as the sharpshooter-turned-criminal Annie Laurie Starr in the deliriously twisted Gun Crazy (dir. John H. Lewis, 1949).

Where to see Gun Crazy? Amazon is streaming it. Netflix finally has it as a DVD.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year’s Eve’s morning

A charming idea: the Orpheum Children’s Museum’s Noon Day Drop, a celebration of New Year’s Eve that began at 10:30 a.m. on December 31 and ended at 1:00 p.m. that same day, with party hats, crafts, and thousands of balloons dropping “at the strike of noon.” Here is an eyewitness report.

Our fambly has special affection for the Orpheum, which, as its name suggests, inhabits an old theater. A babysitter for our children worked at the museum for a while after college. Thus it was Heather’s Museum, or as Ben then pronounced it, Hevverd’s Muhceeum. Heather gave us a tour of the Orpheum many years ago, onto the stage and up to the projection booth.

A quick Google search suggests that a noon New Year’s party for children is a common practice, common enough to have a familiar name: Noon Year’s Eve. I still like the awkward David Foster Wallace-esque multiple possessive New Year’s Eve’s morning.

A related post
LADIES’ RETIRING ROOM (As seen in the Orpheum)

Isaac Barrow on bookishness

Isaac Barrow (1630–1677), mathematician and theologian, on learnedness, or what I’ll call bookishness:

It is a calling that fitteth a man for all conditions and fortunes; so that he can enjoy prosperity with moderation, and sustain adversity with comfort: he that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counsellor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.
I spotted an inscription with the final clause (“he that loveth”) high on a wall at the Chicago Cultural Center years ago and finally got around to looking up the source: a sermon entitled “Of Industry in Our Particular Calling, as Scholars,” found in The Works of Dr. Isaac Barrow, Volume Three, ed. T.S. Hughes (1831), available at Google Books.

[I’ve borrowed bookishness from George Steiner.]


I’m thinking about resolution, as a frame of mind, as “determination; firmness or steadfastness of purpose; the possession of a resolute or unyielding cast of mind.”

Not “Drink more water,” though that’s probably always a good idea. Not “Binge more,” as heard on a T-Mobile commercial yesterday morning.

I’m determined to be resolute in 2018, to not yield to cultural or political despair, to maintain a sense of humor and irreverence as appropriate, to maintain a sense of reverence as appropriate, to speak up and out when the occasion calls for it, and to do what I can in my very limited sphere of influence to make a better world. How about you?

And with regard to American democracy, I’m thinking about another kind of resolution:

the subsiding or cessation of a pathological process, disease, symptom, etc.; spec . the termination of inflammation, esp. without suppuration or permanent damage to tissue.
See? Still a sense of humor and irreverence. Happy New Year.

[Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary.]