Saturday, September 30, 2006


Greg Boardman, owner of the Lorraine Theatre in Hoopeston, Illinois, shut down for two weeks rather than show Jackass 2:

"The movies are so bad and I don't need the money . . . I just didn't think I should use my high-quality facilities to show people vomiting on screen," said Boardman, whose theaters boast a high-tech, eight-channel digital sound system. . . .

"There are enough theaters carrying movies like Jackass that if people want to see them they can . . . The problem now is that there are too few good movies, movies that transplant you to another place," Boardman said in a telephone interview.
Greg Boardman also owns Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign, Illinois, the best place to see a movie (or film) that I know.

U.S. theater owner shuts down rather than screening "drivel" (International Herald Tribune)
Boardman's Art Theatre
Lorraine Theatre


Friday, September 29, 2006


From Merrian-Webster's Word of the Day:

madeleine \MAD-uh-lun\ noun
1 : a small rich shell-shaped cake
*2 : one that evokes a memory

Example sentence:
The crack of the bat and the sight of his son running the bases were madeleines for Tom, calling up memories of the great times he had playing the game in his youth.

Did you know?
The madeleine is said to have been named after a 19th-century French cook named Madeleine Paumier, but it was the French author Marcel Proust who immortalized the pastry in his 1913 book Swann's Way, the first volume of his seven-part novel Remembrance of Things Past [À la recherche du temps perdu]. In that work, a taste of tea-soaked cake evokes a surge of memory and nostalgia. As more and more readers chewed on the profound mnemonic power attributed to a mere morsel of cake, the word "madeleine" itself became a designation for anything that evokes a memory.

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
The madeleine passage in Proust begins
For many years, already, everything about Combray that was not the theater and drama of my bedtime had ceased to exist for me, when one day in winter, as I returned home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. I refused at first and then, I do not know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines that look as though they have been molded in the grooved valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, oppressed by the gloomy day and the prospect of another sad day to follow, I carried to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had let soften a bit of madeleine. But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening inside me.
From Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002), 45

What was happening? You'll just have to read Swann's Way.
The Way the Cookie Crumbles, Edmund Levin reverse-engineers Proust's madeleine (from Slate)

Related posts
Other Proust posts, via Pinboard

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"[L]ike oxygen"

Izzat Ghafouri Baban is a trumpeter in the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra:

"I can't practice in my house because I'm surrounded by husseiniyas," Mr. Baban, 41, said, referring to Shiite mosques that are named after the martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. "Imagine if somebody hears there's a musician in my home. They'd think I'm against religion."

He squeezes in practice by arriving at the rehearsal hall two hours before his colleagues.

"The only thing that keeps us happy is when we see each other," said Mr. Baban, a stumpy man with gray hair and a grin as wide as a tuba's bell. "It's the happiest moment in our lives."
Ali Nasser is a trombonist:
Mr. Nasser, perhaps even more than others, has proved his dedication to music. A baker in the southern city of Nasiriya, he drives or takes a taxi to rehearsals. That is a four- to six-hour drive each way, and soaring gasoline prices mean the trip sucks up half of his income. Even worse, the road runs through the "Triangle of Death," an area infested with insurgents, militiamen and criminal gangs. Gunmen once shot dead passengers in a taxi just a few cars ahead of him.

"My wife says: 'Please don't go. Life is very bad in Baghdad. There's a lot of death in Baghdad,'" he said. "She tries to prevent me from coming, but I have to come. We can't survive without music. It's like oxygen.”
From a New York Times article on the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra

Link: And the Orchestra Plays On, Echoing Iraq's Stuggles

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Post-it Note post

For students: twenty uses for a Post-it Note

1. Mark your place in a book. It seems so obvious, yet relatively few students seem to do it. When your professor picks up with the poem or short story or chapter of the day, you'll be on the same page.

2. Mark the beginning and ending points for a reading assignment: immediate feedback on your progress.

3. Mark selected readings in an anthology.

4. Mark the notes or glossary at the back of a book for easy repeat access.

5. Mark passages in a library book.

6. Keep several Post-its on the inside cover of a datebook, planner, or notebook: now you're prepared to leave a note anywhere.

7. When you sit down to work, make a small-scale to-do list on a Post-it and stick it to your desktop.

8. Leave a Post-it on your alarm clock or inside doorknob as a reminder.

9. Avoid fines and late fees: put Post-its with due dates on library books and DVD rentals.

10. When there's no Scotch tape, cut the sticky edge from a Post-it to use as fake tape.

11. Use the sticky edge as a temporary label for a folder.

12. Fold the sticky edge into a hinge to hold a piece of paper or a postcard on a wall.

13. Wrap the sticky edge around a cable to identify it.

14. Use the sticky edge to clean between the keys of your computer keyboard.

15. Jot down less familiar keyboard shortcuts on a Post-it to keep by your computer.

16. Which way does the envelope go when you feed it into the printer? Draw a diagram on a Post-it and stick it on your printer.

17. If you drive an older car that doesn’t remind you that you've left your headlights on, use a Post-it as a reminder. When you put your lights on in the daytime, stick a Post-it note on the driver's side window (in a spot where it won't impede your vision. When you leave your car, you'll see the note and remember why it's there.

18. Keep a Post-it on the refrigerator and jot down what you need from the supermarket.

19. When you go to the supermarket, remove the Post-it from the fridge and stick it on your wallet. At the store, stick the note to the handle of your cart and have both hands free for shopping. Toss the note when you leave the store.

20. Splurge! Use a whole pad of Post-its to make a flip book. (Thanks to my son Ben for this last tip.)

[The photograph above is of my Penguin paperback of Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way, the third volume of In Search of Lost Time.]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Teaching, sitting, standing

For a long time I fell into the habit when teaching of sitting on the edge of the "teacher's desk" at the front of the classroom. Last semester I decided to make a change -- to honor, in a modest way, the memory of the best teacher I ever had. Twenty-odd years ago, when I was an M.A. student and graduate assistant, Jim Doyle, whom I've written about elsewhere on this blog, asked if I'd like to teach one of his classes (on "Lycidas"). I sat behind a very large and very wooden desk with Douglas Bush's edition of Milton and a cup of coffee and somehow talked about the poem. "It was very good," Jim said afterwards, but he advised me to stand: "Some people do better sitting; some people do better standing. You would do better standing." I can still hear these words as very likely exact. In "Spring" 2006 (that is, January 2006), I started standing while teaching. With the exception of a small seminar, during which I almost always sat, I've been standing while teaching ever since.

Thinking about Jim Doyle's words makes me recall how little useful guidance I received when I began teaching. The only institutional effort to address the graduate assistant's role as instructor came in the form of a workshop about writing instruction that devolved into an arch discussion among professors of what color ink to use when "marking" (that oddly primitive word) papers. One professor's suggestion was to switch colors from paper to paper, to keep students guessing -- a pretty clear indication of how seriously he took this whole business of thinking about how to teach writing. With no clear model of what I was supposed to be doing, I resolved simply to give my students their money's worth and mark their essays as fully as possible. I would mark everything, and thereby really help them with their writing. I cringe when I think of it. My students recognized, at least, my dedication.

Back in the day, I was quite grateful for Jim's plain, pragmatic advice. I'm not sure when I moved away from it and began sitting on desks. That casual-looking posture is less comfortable than it might appear -- getting down to write words on the blackboard (which is still black, not green or white) or reaching across the desk for a supplementary book can be slightly ungainly, the desktop being almost as great an impediment to easy movement as the stools upon which folksingers once perched.

So I'm standing again, with notes (which I only occasionally use) on a lectern and a book in hand, sometimes behind the lectern, sometimes moving around the front of the room. It occurs to me that instead of falling into a habit, I've made my posture when teaching intentional. Standing when I'm teaching makes me think of Jim Doyle -- not a bad idea for anyone who teaches.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jedi Concentrate

A nice aid to concentration: Dana Hanna's Jedi Concentrate, a freeware Windows application that dims everything but the currently active window (hit Ctrl-/, F12, or Win-J). As its creator explains, "The purpose is to dim everything on all of your monitors when you need to get to work." I've been looking for a program along these lines for several months and am very happy to find it. Jedi Concentrate is one result of Hanna's An App A Day project -- writing one application a day for thirty days.

This open-source application has already been improved by another programmer, Joe Chrzanowski, who added -- within a day of the program's release -- options for screen opacity and fade speed. Keep that in mind when Microsoft warns that open-source software is an unreliable, unworkable model.

I found Jedi Concentrate via Lifehacker, always a great source for useful stuff.

[2020: This app disappeared some time ago.]

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Myth and mixed metaphors

In this morning's paper:

Wildcats chip away at Trojans' Achilles heel
There are so many ways in which this high-school football headline goes wrong. Wildcats don't use chisels. (Gnaw, though gruesome, would be an apt metaphor.) The body part in question is the Achilles' heel. And there's an unintentional (I think it's unintentional, given the rest of headline) comedy in the idea of the Trojans, their city ultimately destroyed by Achilles' fellow Achaeans, having an Achilles' heel.

This headline, as we would say in the heartland, "needs revised."

Friday, September 22, 2006


From Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day, now featuring words related to pirates:

avast (uh-VAST) interjection

Stop (used as a command to stop or desist).

[From Dutch hou vast (hold fast), from houd vast.]

"The best part, though, is the music. It dips and swells in the game right along with the action. Avast, there's treasure here!"

Vance Jordan and Melissa L. Jones, "Madden NFL Steps Up the Play," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug 27, 2006.
The word avast furnishes the name of avast!, an excellent anti-virus program.

Link: A.Word.A.Day

Link: avast! Home Edition, free for home and non-commercial use


From Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day:

lotusland \LOH-tus-land\ noun

*1 : a place inducing contentment especially through offering an idyllic living situation
2 : a state or an ideal marked by contentment often achieved through self-indulgence

Example sentence:
With its white sands, stunningly blue water, and beautiful sunsets, the island is a lotusland for beach lovers.

Did you know?
In the Odyssey, Odysseus and his men discover a magical land of lotus-eaters. Some of the sailors eat the delicious "lotus" and forget about their homeland, pleading to stay forever in this "lotusland." (It is likely that the lotus in question was the fruit of a real plant of the buckthorn family, perhaps the jujube, whose sweet juice is used in candy making and which has given its name to a popular fruity candy.) The label "lotusland" is now applied to any place resembling such an ideal of perfection, but it also carries connotations of indolence and self-indulgence, possibly derived from the way the sailors refused to work once they reached the original lotusland. The dreamy unreality of a lotusland is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Except if you'd already eaten the lotus.

Link: Merriam Webster's Word of the Day

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Yellow pages

From an essay by Suzanne Snider on the history of the legal pad:

Explaining the origins of the yellow legal pad is as difficult as explaining consumers' attraction to it. But the attraction does seem to be there: The yellow-to-white sales ratio can be as high as 2 to 1, as it is at University Stationery in New York City, near New York University and The New School University.
Link: Old Yeller: The illustrious history of the yellow legal pad (via Armand Frasco's Notebookism)

Breakfast with Pandora

Last week I discovered David Frauenfelder's blog Breakfast with Pandora ("For a Diet Rich in Myth and Logos," says the subtitle). One post that I found particularly engaging comments on a passage from Iliad 1 as translated by Stanley Lombardo and Robert Fagles. Achilles is promising Agamemnon generous compensation if he will return the captive woman Chryseis (whose father is a priest of Apollo and has asked that god to send a plague upon the Achaean forces). Here is the passage in Lombardo's translation:

All right, you give the girl back to the god. The army
Will repay you three and four times over -- when and if
Zeus allows us to rip Troy down to its foundations.
And here's Frauenfelder's comment:
Robert Fagles' translation was trumpeted when it came out in the early nineties, but it looks like a tricycle next to Lombardo's Ferrari.

Fagles cannot resist retaining just a little of that formal diction that makes readers go cold. . . :

      So return the girl to the god, at least for now.
      We Achaeans will pay you back, three, four times
      if Zeus will grant us the gift, somehow, someday,
      to raze Troy's massive ramparts to the ground.

By boiling down "raze Troy's massive ramparts to the ground" to "rip Troy down to its foundations," Lombardo saves only one word, but over the course of the poem these add up. Plus, who wants to read "raze" when "rip" will do just as well or better? And why would you put "massive ramparts" unless you wanted someone to read the translation in a Monty Pythonesque voice ("HUGE tracts o' land")?

I'm biased, yes. Maybe there are Fagles enthusiasts out there. I came from Richmond Lattimore's translation, which is very close to the Greek, but which, as my mentor used to say, always sounds better after you've gotten through the better part of a pitcher of beer.
These paragraphs are a great example of how to characterize tone in a persuasive way: the clichéd loftiness of "massive ramparts" becomes instantly clear.

I'd add that "somehow, someday" is a very strange (intentional? unintentional?) echo of "Somewhere" from West Side Story.

Link: Comments on Iliad Book One (from Breakfast with Pandora)


That sign was out again in the supermarket last night. This time my son was with me, and he took a picture with his cell-phone. (Thanks, Ben!)

Monday, September 18, 2006

My son's getting older

"Dad, have you ever heard of a poet called Charles Bukowski?"


From the BBC:

The distant world whose discovery prompted leading astronomers to demote Pluto from the rank of "planet" has now been given its own official name.

Having caused so much consternation in the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the object has been called Eris, after the Greek goddess of discord.
Enchiladas, anyone?

Link: Astronomers name "world of chaos" (BBC)

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dopyeras for sale

Twelve stringed instruments made by John and Rudy Dopyera, along with two workbenches, are being offered are for sale as a collection. From the Elderly Instruments website:

The Dopyera brothers were born in what is now Slovakia, and came to the U.S. with the wave of Eastern European immigrants around the beginning of the 20th century. (In fact, the word "Dobro" is both a contraction of "DOpyera BROthers" and the word for "good" in their native tongue.) Engineers, tinkerers, businessmen, and accomplished musicians (their family had a history of violin making going back centuries, and Rudy was by many accounts an exceptionally talented and soulful Gypsy-style violinist), the two Dopyera brothers combined their Old World skills and traditions with the booming technology and futuristic tastes in art of pre-WWII America. Who else thought that spun aluminum might be a good material for sound projection? Who else engraved beautiful Art Deco designs on the bodies of their guitars? Only the Dopyeras.

The unusual, experimental, and mostly one-of-a-kind instruments in this collection – John’s unusual (and spectacular sounding!) resophonic violin, Rudy’s balalaika-inspired Lullabyka, the Art Deco-influenced steel body uke and tenor guitar, even the actual workbench on which John perfected the fabled tri-cone resonator system – are uniquely American (and uniquely Dopyera) innovations.
The instruments shown on the Elderly website are fantastic - i.e., "so extreme as to challenge belief" (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). Who could resist something called the Troika Resophonic Balalaika? Best of all: the Dopyera Resonator Violin, its body looking like a pair of metal colanders painted gold.

Link: The John and Rudy Dopyera Collection (from Elderly Instruments)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Words from James Baldwin

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.
James Baldwin, "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind," in The Fire Next Time (1963)

Tea and health

Seen on the side of a box of teabags (Lipton, I think):

Tea is not a substitute for fruits and vegetables.


Two years ago:

"If you're going to be this uptight and worried about it, you're not going to be a very happy blogger. Just say 'This is my new blog; I’m trying it out. Thanks to my son and daughter. I hope it works out.'"
Orange Crate Art is two years old today. I will say thanks once again to Rachel and Ben for showing me that I could learn a little HTML. And I will say thanks to Elaine, who listens to posts in the making. I'm grateful, always, to Van Dyke Parks, whose beautiful song gave me "a place to start" and who was gracious and enthusiastic about my use of his title. (If you've never heard "Orange Crate Art," you can find it here and here.)

And thanks, always, to everyone who's read or commented or e-mailed, ever.

Total posts: 570.

Most visited post: How to e-mail a professor.

Most visits in a day: 2,477 (June 23, 2006), most of them going to Cool laptop, a post on using bakeware to cool a laptop.

Most unexpected side effect: Being asked by the Wall Street Journal to comment on the new Proust translation. (See this post for an explanation.)

Longest post: Letters from Aldo, excerpts from a dear friend's letters. I'm happy that this post has more comments than any other: it's a strange and wonderful thing to see people gathered together and remembering someone in this medium.

Link » A place to start, first post, September 15, 2004

Link » You say it's your birthday, blog post, September 15, 2005

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Banned books

From Google:

Google Book Search is our effort to expand the universe of books you can discover, and this year we're joining libraries and bookstores across the country to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week – a nationwide initiative to help people learn about and explore banned books. You can start by browsing these 42 classics – books we couldn't be more pleased to highlight.
The three American novels I'm teaching this semester - Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath - are all on Google's list of 42 "challenged" books. You can see the list via the link.

Too bad Google censors itself for China.

Link » Explore Banned Books (via Boing Boing)


"Hotel rooms usually come with coffee, don't they?"

Link » "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Multitasking: "not paying attention"

From Jared Sandberg's column "Cubicle Culture":

Multitasking, a term cribbed from computers, is an information age creed that, while almost universally sworn by, is more rooted in blind faith than fact. It's the wellspring of office gaffes, as well as the stock answer to how we do more with less when in fact we're usually doing less with more. What now passes for multitasking was once called not paying attention. . . .

"Multitasking doesn't look to be one of the great strengths of human cognition," says James C. Johnston, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It's almost inevitable that each individual task will be slower and of lower quality."
Link » Why Multitasking Doesn't Work (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)

Related » Multitasking Makes You Stupid

Also related » Clutter

Monday, September 11, 2006

Words from Walt Whitman

The poet Edwin Denby called him "Brooklyn Whitman, commuter Walt." Whitman's words seem appropriate today:

Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross
      from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and
      west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south
      and east,
Others will see the islands large and small,
Fifty years hence others will see them as they cross,
      the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred
      years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sun-set, the pouring in of the flood-
      tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky,
      so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one
      of a crowd,
Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river,
      and the bright flow, I was refreshed,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with
      the swift current, I stood, yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships,
      and the thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
These and all else were to me the same as they are
      to you,
I project myself a moment to tell you - also I return.
Walt Whitman, lines from "Sun-Down Poem" (later "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"), Leaves of Grass, 1856 edition

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Above, a scan of Art Speigelman's "9/11/01." As Spiegelman explains, this image "can really be seen only in its printed form." The towers of the World Trade Center, "printed in a fifth, black ink, on a field of black made up of the standard four color printing ink," might be barely visible on your screen.

Link: Re: Cover. How It Came to Be, Art Spiegelman's commentary on his cover

Saturday, September 9, 2006


We live in a world in which men can buy a Philips Norelco Men's Bodygroom to meet their "unique grooming needs." "[T]rim and shave all body zones - not for use above the neck," the ad copy says. Yikes. Here's a defender of hirsuteness:

Plenty of hair gets in my eyes and shadows
My shoulders like a grove. Don't think it ugly
If my whole body is covered thick with bristles:
A tree is ugly without its leaves, a horse
Ugly without a mane, and birds have feathers
And sheep have wool, so beards and hair on the
Are the sign of a man.
Of course, he goes on to say
                                    In the middle of my forehead
I have one eye, so what? Does not the Sun
See all things here on earth from his high Heaven?
And the great Sun has only one eye.
Yes, it's the Cyclops Polyphemus speaking, in Ovid's Metamorphoses 13 (translated by Rolfe Humphries, 1955).

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Proust: Norwegian fjords

This Proust post is for my friend Norman in Norway:

Well, at this point in the social calendar, when anyone invited the Duchesse de Guermantes to dine - with great urgency, in case she was already engaged - she would turn down the invitation with the one excuse that no society person would ever have thought of: she was about to set off on a cruise - "Quite fascinating, my dear!" - of the Norwegian fjords. Society people were thunderstuck by this, and, without any notion of following the Duchesse's example, nevertheless derived from her project the sense of relief you get when you read Kant, and when, after the most rigorous demonstration of determinism, it transpires that above the world of necessity there is the world of freedom.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, translated by Mark Treharne (New York: Penguin, 2002), 474

Link: Proust posts, via Pinboard

Tuesday, September 5, 2006


Q: If you could live forever, would you, and why?

A: I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.
Exchange between an interviewer and Miss Alabama, from the 1994 Miss USA Contest

Monday, September 4, 2006

Proust, overheard

The narrator is in a Paris restaurant with Robert Saint-Loup, late on a foggy night:

A remark made by one of the diners behind me made me turn my head for a second. Instead of the words, "Yes, I'll have the chicken wing and a little champagne, too, but not too dry," I thought I had heard, "I would prefer glycerine. Yes, hot, that's right." I was anxious to take a look at the ascetic who was inflicting such a diet upon himself, but I quickly turned back to Saint-Loup to avoid being recognized by the man with the strange appetite. It was simply a doctor I knew whose advice was being asked by another customer, who had taken advantage of the fog to pin him down in this café. Like stockbrokers, doctors use the first person singular.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way, translated by Mark Treharne (New York: Penguin, 2002), 404

Link » Proust posts, via Pinboard

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Hallway sprawl, down and out

When I began teaching, students tended to stand in the hallway, close to the wall, in the few minutes before entering a newly-emptied classroom. At some point they began to move downward, sitting with legs crossed, still close to the wall. Then they began to move outward, sitting with legs extended toward the middle of the hallway. Now when I walk to class there's often only a small channel in the middle of the hallway for foot traffic, barely enough room for two people to walk past each other without one having to yield. Students are sitting, legs out, on both sides of the hallway, even right up next to the men's-room door.

Now everything is again moving downward: I notice more and more students lying on their backs while waiting to enter classrooms. Students who lie down keep themselves parallel to the walls — they thus claim less of the space that can be used for walking but more of the space that their peers might have used for sitting (or even standing). And just this past Friday I noticed a new variation — someone lying in the hallway on his side, reading a book, head propped up by an arm.

I don't understand hallway sprawl. It seems to be partly about living large and privatizing public space, partly about refusing to grow "up." Nobody knows you when you're down and out.

Have profs or students elsewhere noticed hallway sprawl?

Friday, September 1, 2006

The doctor's bag

I have dim Brooklyn-childhood memories of housecalls from the doctor, Dr. Freeman (first name Charles, perhaps). Dr. Freeman's overcoat would go over a chair (these visits, as I remember them, took place in cold weather), and his doctor's bag would sit on the bed.

I wish I'd looked inside — I've wondered on occasion what "the doctor's bag" held (aside from the otoscope, stethoscope, and prescription pad that seemed to come out during every visit). The Internets have given me some answers.

The Doctor's Bag  A grim-looking photograph of a smallish bag and its contents. "Every museum dealing with medicine needs a doctor's bag for completeness. Insisting on electricity would just make the search more difficult." (Why that sentence about electricity? Because the page is from The Bakken, "A Library and Museum of Electricity in Life.")

Photographs of doctors' bags and their contents  From the Oregon Health & Science University Digital Resources Library.

The Doctor’s Bag — What to put in it  Advice for British doctors on what to carry: "GPs working in remote parts of the Highlands of Scotland will obviously have very different requirements from those working in inner city Birmingham."

The Doctor's Bag  Dona Barnett writes about the contents of a bag owned by Joseph E. Osborne, a doctor/dentist in Rosman, North Carolina. The bag is now in Special Collections at the University of North Carolina's Ramsey Library. "Some of the contents are self-explanatory like the forceps. Intriguing as they are, occasionally hospitals even today have them in use. But the cyanide tablets? Why would a country doctor carry those alongside tongue depressors?"

My Black Bag  Joseph Friedman, MD, on carrying a traditional black bag: "I'm hoping that the bag outlives my career so I won't have to worry about choosing between an expensive leather bag and a cheap, efficient canvas one."


February 4, 2009: Here’s a photograph from Life.