Friday, August 31, 2007

Edward G. Seidenstricker (1921-2007)

The New York Times reports that the translator Edward G. Seidensticker has died:

Translating The Tale of Genji, as Mr. Seidensticker later described it, was a labor of love that took 10 years. At the time, the most complete English translation available was by Arthur Waley, published in the 1920s and '30s. Though respected, Waley's translation was lushly Victorian, and it fell to Mr. Seidensticker to produce something sparer. Here is Waley's version of the tale's opening line:

"At the Court of an Emperor (he lived it matters not when) there was among the many gentlewomen of the Wardrobe and Chamber one, who though she was not of very high rank was favored far beyond all the rest."

Here is Mr. Seidensticker's, short and sweet:

"In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others."
Sweet? Not really. Clear? Sharp? Yes.
Edward Seidensticker, Translator, Is Dead at 86 (New York Times

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Time of Day operator, April 1937

A Time of Day operator and an exchange name: Ah! Telephony!

I clipped this "Flashback 1937" item from the Chicago Tribune some time ago. With Time of Day service vanishing, I thought I should share this bit of the past here. (Click for a larger view.)

Related posts
No Time of Day in LA
Telephone exchange names
MOre EXchange NAme NOstalgia
Mike Hammer's machine
"This is the operator speaking"
All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

No Time of Day in LA

Practical reality (the dirty scoundrel!) continues to chip away at the dowdy world, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

It's the end of time, at least as far as AT&T is concerned.

The brief note in customers' bills hardly does justice to the momentousness of the decision. "Service withdrawal," it blandly declares. "Effective September 2007, Time of Day information service will be discontinued."

What that means is that people throughout Southern California will no longer be able to call 853-1212 to hear a woman's recorded voice state that "at the tone, Pacific Daylight Time will be . . ." with the recording automatically updating at 10-second intervals.

"Times change," said John Britton, an AT&T spokesman. "In today's world, there are just too many other ways to get this information. You can look at your cellphone or your computer. You no longer have to pick up the telephone."
No, you don't. But I think King Lear put it best: "O reason not the need!"

Reading about the Time of Day service led me to a wonderful page with MP3s of Jane Barbe, "The Telephone Lady," whose voice I still hear when I use my long-distance card (just 3¢ a minute!).
Time of day calling it quits at AT&T (Los Angeles Times, via Boing Boing)
Jane Barbe (Wikipedia)
The Jane Barbe Collection (Telephone World)

All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


"How different our lives would be if we were newscasters."

All "Overheard" posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Junk sleep

From BBC News:

Too many teenagers are damaging their health by not getting enough sleep and by falling asleep with electrical gadgets on, researchers say. . . .

The Sleep Council, which conducted the poll of 1,000 teenagers, says gadgets in bedrooms such as computers and TVs are fuelling poor quality "junk sleep". . . .

Almost a quarter of the teens surveyed admitted they fell asleep watching TV, listening to music or with other equipment still running, more than once a week. . . .

Dr Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre said: "This is an incredibly worrying trend. What we are seeing is the emergence of 'Junk Sleep' — that is sleep that is of neither the length nor quality that it should be in order to feed the brain with the rest it needs. Youngsters need to be taught a healthy lifestyle includes healthy sleep as well as healthy food. The message is simple: switch off the gadgets and get more sleep."
Get some sleep, kids. But not in class.
Junk sleep "damaging teen health" (BBC News)

Harvey Pekar on life and death

Harvey Pekar, on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations last night:

"When you're dead, it robs life of many pleasures."
Bourdain's trip to Cleveland led to two online illustrated narratives:
Meet the Pekars, Part One, Part Two (Anthony Bourdain and Gary Daum)
The Shoot of No Reservations (Harvey Pekar and Gary Daum)

Related post
Harvey Pekar's The Quitter

Monday, August 27, 2007

John Ashbery and mtvU

The New York Times reports that mtvU, an MTV Networks subsidiary broadcasting on college campuses, has chosen John Ashbery as its first poet laureate:

Excerpts of his poems will appear in 18 short promotional spots — like commercials for verse — on the channel and its Web site (, which will also feature the full text of the poems). . . .

Mr. Ashbery, who was the poet laureate of New York State from 2001 to 2003, was immediately receptive. "It seemed like it would be a chance to broaden the audience for poetry," he said.

The poems used in the campaign span his career, and the spots are simple: on a white background, black text floats in to a sound like a crashing wave, appears on the screen for a minute, then floats away. From "Retro" (2005): "It's really quite a thrill/When the moon rises over the hill / and you've gotten over someone / salty and mercurial, the only person you've ever loved." From "Soonest Mended" (2000): "Barely tolerated, living on the margin / In our technological society, we are always having to be rescued" . . . .

Though his roots are in 1950s bohemia, Mr. Ashbery is perhaps not the most obvious choice for the iPod generation. He works on a typewriter and doesn’t listen to popular music, with the exception of a chance encounter with the Peaches & Herb song "Reunited" in a cab in the 1980s; it inspired his poem "The Songs We Know Best." ("Just like a shadow in an empty room / Like a breeze that’s pointed from beyond the tomb / Just like a project of which no one tells — / Or didja really think that I was somebody else?")

But Mr. Friedman is optimistic that verse will find its new audience, and mtvU plans to continue the program with other laureates after Mr. Ashbery's one-year tenure is up.
Read the rest:
An 80-Year-Old Poet for the MTV Generation (New York Times)
And look and listen:
Poet Laureate John Ashbery (mtvU)
[Note to mtvU: Didja have to center each line? What's wrong with a left margin?]

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Notebook sighting in Pickpocket

Jules Dassin's Rififi led me to Robert Bresson's Pickpocket (1959), with its dazzling silent stretches of intricate criminal choreography. Pickpocket is my second Bresson film. As in Diary of a Country Priest (1951), a notebook grants access to the protagonist's inner life. A pattern? I must see more Bresson.

[I know that those who have done these things usually keep quiet, and that those who talk haven't done them. And yet I have done them.]

Pickpocket (The Criterion Collection)

Related posts
Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi
Pocket notebook sighting (in Diary of a Country Priest)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Proust: "collective, universal smiles"

Mme Verdurin is displeased:

[T]here was applied to her lips a smile that did not belong to her personally, a smile I had already seen on certain people when they said to Bergotte, with a knowing air, "I've bought your book, it's tremendous," one of those collective, universal smiles that, when they have need of them — just as we make use of the railway and of moving vans — individuals borrow, except for a few ultra-refined ones, such as Swann or M. de Charlus, on whose lips I have never seen that particular smile settle.

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 391

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Remembrance of orthodontics past

I've been told many times that I have a nice smile, and I have to believe that the tellers are telling the truth as they see it. But I don't have nice teeth. Two upper teeth tilt backwards, badly maloccluded, barely visible, giving my open-mouthed smile a gappy (albeit symmetrically gappy) look. So when a shutter snaps, I tend to zip my lips. I sometimes think about getting these teeth capped, but they've been with me so long that I find it difficult to imagine alterations. Besides, I am told that I have a nice smile.

Hearing the word braces the other day reminded me that I had them as a kid, along with "headgear" and elastics and a retainer, though none of it did much good. (I still remember, sitting in the chair during my final visit, wondering about the return on the investment.) I got curious enough to Google my orthodontist and was surprised to see that as recently as 2003, he was still at it, as the New York State Board of Regents documents. And still, after all those years, working with the same integrity and skill:

These are the only references to Sheldon Estrin that I can find online, aside from a current listing in what appears to be a clearinghouse for cut-rate dental plans. I wish Dr. Estrin's current patients better luck than I had.

[January 2008: I had the two teeth capped, and now I'm smiling. Thanks, Dr. Blagg!]

Related post
Crooked teeth?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dowdy farms

Spotted on a bag of Vidalia onions:

Dowdy farms: red-checkered tablecloths, pies cooling for "supper," fedora-wearing men on tractors —

Yes, my dowdy farms are straight outta Calverton, as Elaine immediately recognized. Well, I write about what I know, or what I don't.
All "dowdy world" posts (via Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pocket notebook sightings in Rififi

What can I say? I like these cameo appearances.

Rififi (1955) is an extraordinary movie by then-blacklisted Jules Dassin, director of The Naked City (1948) and Night and the City (1950). I'd liken Rififi to John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950), another story of a perfect crime gone awry. The break-in and get-away sequences in Rififi offer 31 minutes without dialogue or music, only the sounds of a criminal masterpiece in progress.

Robbers and cops alike use pocket notebooks in Rififi. Robbers plan their heist ("Florist delivery 5:50"). Cops check for voitures volées (stolen cars). (Could traction be short for traction avant, front-wheel drive? A grey car with front-wheel drive?)

Rififi is available in a beautiful digital transfer from the Criterion Collection:

Rififi (The Criterion Collection)

Related posts
The dowdy world on film
Moleskine sighting
Pocket notebook sighting

Reading in the news

One in four U.S. adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. . . .

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who had not read any, the usual number read was seven.

"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos, a habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos, a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in his backyard pool.
Read the rest:
Poll: 1 in 4 U.S. adults read no books last year (International Herald Tribune)

Related post
American reading habits

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A pencil parade

Charless in Tallahassee left a link to this photograph in a comment on a pencil-related post.

The BBC explains: "Sue Grant snaps participants entering this year's pencil parade at Moniaive Gala in Dumfriesshire." Wikipedia tells us something about Moniaive, a village in Scotland:

Every year a number of festivals are held within the parish: Moniaive Horse Show, Gala Day, Arts Association exhibition, Beer and Food festival, Comedy nights, Moniaive Folk Festival, Horticultural show, to name but a few. In 2004 The Times described the village as one of the "coolest" in Britain.
I'm unable to find any suggestion of Moniaive's connection to pencils. But when has one needed a special reason to dress up as a pencil?
Your Pictures: 27 July–3 August (BBC News)
Moniaive (Wikipedia)
Moniaive (Village website, now empty)
(Thanks, Charless!)

Slow down and read

When it comes to reading, lifehacking tends to focus on speed — more words, fewer minutes. That might be fine if reading is understood as a matter of moving information with maximum efficiency from the page to the brain. The faster the connection, so to speak, the better.

But there are other kinds of reading. No one can race through a poem by Emily Dickinson or a short story by James Joyce and take away very much from the experience. Therein lies a problem for students reading literary works. On the one hand, there's the impulse to get through an assignment, to knock off a poem or story and move on to another task. On the other hand, there's the poem or story, the kind of text that invites and rewards patient attention.

My advice: slow down. Here's what the poet Ezra Pound says about reading literature: "no reader ever read anything the first time he saw it." Or consider this exchange between Oprah Winfrey and the novelist Toni Morrison: "Do people tell you they have to keep going over the words sometimes?" "That, my dear, is called reading." Or as the poet William Carlos Williams says in the poem "January Morning,"

I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can't understand it?
                       But you got to try hard —
And here's the novelist Zadie Smith, in an interview, likening the reader of literature to a musician learning a piece of music,
an amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don't know, who they probably couldn't comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you. That's the incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading, and you work at a text, it can only give you what you put into it. It's an old moral, but it's completely true.
Taking the time to slow down — marking a passage, pondering a detail, looking up a word, writing down a question, changing your mind, looking at the page in a way that allows you to begin to notice what's there — might change, for keeps, your idea of what it means to read literature. Slowing down will also help you begin to understand how it is that some people seem to see so much in what they're reading. They know that reading well sometimes means taking your time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rorty on Proust

The late Richard Rorty had some wonderful things to say about Proust. My hunch is that Rorty too would be skeptical about the promises of a Proust tour. The novel's the thing, not the Guermantes way, not Combray, not Balbec:

Proust succeeded because he had no public ambitions — no reason to believe that the sound of the name "Guermantes" would mean anything to anybody but his narrator. If that same name does in fact have resonance for lots of people nowadays, that is just because reading Proust's novel happens to have become, for those people, the same sort of thing which the walk à côté de Guermantes happened to become for Marcel — an experience which they need to redescribe, and thus to mesh with other experiences, if they are to succeed in their projects of self-creation.

From Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 118

A related post
Richard Rorty on the value of literature

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pages (iWork '08): How to make a drop capital

When I switched from Windows XP to Mac OS X, I decided not to install Microsoft Office on my new computer. I chose instead to go with Apple's sleek and beautiful iWork. iWork is not an Office-clone or Office-killer; it's a set of three elegantly-designed programs: Pages, for word-processing and document design; Keynote, for presentations; and Numbers, for spreadsheets. I spend most of my time in Pages and plan to keep my gradebook in Numbers. I am happy.

One disappointment though: Pages has no option for creating an initial, aka a drop capital or "drop cap." That omission seems surprising in a program that offers so many tools for page layout. It's relatively easy though to make drop caps in Pages '08 (or '06). Once you have some text to work with, here's what to do:

1. From the Pages toolbar or from Insert, choose Text Box.

2. Replace the words "Type to enter text" with the capital letter of your choice.

3. Highlight the letter that you've added and choose an appropriate font and size. Doing so will probably involve some trial and error.

4. Left-click outside and then inside the text box to show its borders.

5. Resize the text box. Here too, expect some trial and error.

6. With the borders of the text box still showing, open the Inspector (from the Pages toolbar or from View > Inspector) and choose Wrap Inspector, the third icon from the left.

7. For Object Placement, select "Inline (moves with text)."

8. Check "Object causes wrap" and select the icon on the far left.

9. For Text Fit, select the icon on the left. Change the Extra Space setting to 0. (You might experiment later.)

10. Now position the text box in your document. Depending upon the letter (or numeral) you're dropping in, you might need to tinker by changing Object Placement to Floating and moving your text box (then switching back to Inline). Or you might need to change the Extra Space setting. Getting things right here may prove tedious. But I think that the drop-cap effect is worth the effort.

Drop numerals look great too. I like to use them in materials for my students. Here's an example:

[Line spacing: 1.1. Text: 9 pt Lucida Sans. Drop-cap numeral: 36 pt Lucida Sans. Text box: .29 x .51. Extra space: 8 pt.]

Saturday, August 18, 2007

On the radio: Memory and Forgetting

A one-hour broadcast, from the series Radio Lab. Includes a segment with Jonah Lehrer, author of the forthcoming Proust Was a Neuroscientist.

Listen online:

Memory and Forgetting (Radio Lab, WNYC Radio)

Visiting balloons

I discovered these balloons in the backyard this morning. Was someone trying to brighten our empty nest? No.

I discovered these balloons in the backyard this morning. Was someone trying to brighten our empty nest? No.

The card attached was addressed to the "Bus Garage Office": "Thanks for another smooth start." As I learned when I called the flowershop, these balloons were delivered yesterday.

The schoolbus company has its office on the outskirts of town. These balloons must have traveled about four miles to show up in our backyard.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Nest to let

Elaine has posted a photograph.

I remembered yesterday an exchange that took place nineteen summers ago. I was at a gathering for participants in an NEH seminar and their families. As my daughter Rachel, then one-and-a-half, toddled around, a fellow seminar member said to me, "They're such a nuisance, aren't they?"

No, they aren't.

Question Garners Local Man Coupons

[That's how the local newspaper might put it.]

The so-called lemonade that I wrote about about last week has continued to occupy my thought process. So I e-mailed Supervalu to ask (politely) how the words "old-fashioned recipe" apply to the product in question, a blend of water, chemicals, and dye. Days went by without a reply, so I tried again and was told that my comments had been forwarded to the manufacturer and that I could expect a reply soon. In today's mail, a polite non-answer ("Your comments are being forwarded to Our Own Brands Product Developers for their consideration"), along with $4 in coupons.

These coupons may be applied to products from an extended family of store brands: Flavorite, Foodland, Shoppers Value, Super Chill, Yotastic (there's a snappy name for yogurt), and many more. Super Chill Cola, a decent cola in three-liter bottles, and a sentimental family favorite, seems to promise the most bang for the buck. (Or four bucks.)

Related post
Lemonade and lies

On the radio

"The staff at Owens Funeral Home invites you to join them . . ."


". . . in supporting public radio."


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sensosketch challenge

My son Ben asked for a family game of Cranium before heading off to college. The picture to the left comes from that game, from a Sensosketch challenge, requiring the player to draw with eyes closed.

Ben drew, no peeking allowed. His sister Rachel had the answer at once. Ben embellished the picture a bit in the post-game hubbub.

The score of the game: Kids: 1, Parents: 0. (Humph.)

What answer was Ben's picture meant to elicit?

Fifty — no, make that one-hundred bonus points and a free extra turn for the first commenter to get it.

The hint accompanying this Cranium challenge: band.

Max Roach (1924-2007)

Max Roach, a founder of modern jazz who rewrote the rules of drumming in the 1940's and spent the rest of his career breaking musical barriers and defying listeners' expectations, died early today in Manhattan. He was 83. . . .

Over the years he challenged both his audiences and himself by working not just with standard jazz instrumentation, and not just in traditional jazz venues, but in a wide variety of contexts, some of them well beyond the confines of jazz as that word is generally understood. . . .

Mr. Roach explained his philosophy to The New York Times in 1990: "You can't write the same book twice. Though I've been in historic musical situations, I can't go back and do that again. And though I run into artistic crises, they keep my life interesting."

Max Roach, a Founder of Modern Jazz, Dies at 83 (New York Times)
If you've never heard Max Roach, try Money Jungle, with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Proust: Wednesdays

Mme Verdurn is no everyday salonnière:

Mme Verdurin did not give "dinners," but she had "Wednesdays." Her Wednesdays were a work of art. While knowing that there was nothing to equal them elsewhere, Mme Verdurin introduced fine distinctions between them. "This last Wednesday wasn't up to the one before," she would say. "But I think the next'll be one the most successful I've ever given." She sometimes went so far as to confess: "This Wednesday wasn't worthy of the others. In return, I've got a big surprise for you for the one after that." In the final weeks of the season in Paris, before leaving for the country, the Patronne would announce that the Wednesdays were ending. It was an opportunity to spur on the faithful: "There are only three Wednesdays left, there are only two more," she would say, in the same tone of voice as if the world were about to end. "You're not going to let me down next Wednesday for the closure." But this closure was a sham, for she would warn them: "Now, officially, there are no more Wednesdays. That was the last for this year. But I shall be here all the same on Wednesdays. We'll have Wednesday among ourselves. Who knows? These little intimate Wednesdays will perhaps be the pleasantest. At La Raspalière, the Wednesdays were necessarily restricted, and since, according as some friend had been met with when passing through and had been invited for one evening or another, almost every day was a Wednesday.

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 251

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto (1917-2007)

"Rizzuto's cultural status was further elevated in 1993 when editors Tom Peyer and Hart Seely published O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, a collection of Rizzuto's on-air monologues and ramblings, transcribed and reformatted as found poetry. Rizzuto donated his royalties from the book to a variety of children's charities." (Wikipedia)


Fly ball right field
It's gonna drop in.
No it's not gonna drop in.
Happy 46th wedding anniversary
Thomas and Mary Anne Clearwater.
That's it.
The last three, six, nine, twelve Yankees
Went down in order.
So that's it.
The game is over.

                         [June 4, 1991
                         Toronto at New York
                         Tom Henke pitching to Pat Kelly
                         Ninth inning, two outs, bases empty
                         Blue Jays win 5-3]

From O Holy Cow!: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto (NY: Ecco, 1993)

Phil Rizzuto, Yankees Shortstop, Dies at 89 (New York Times
Phil Rizzuto (Wikipedia)
Apodosis (Wikipedia)


Spotted last week in a New Jersey supermarket:

[Photograph by Rachel Leddy.]
Oikos (οίκος) is one of my favorite ancient Greek words. Its meanings include house, dwelling, household, and family (as in "the house of Atreus"). Oikos is the source of ec- and eco-, as in ecology and economics. It's a key word in Homer's Odyssey, which is about finding one's way back home.

The cover of Stanley Lombardo's translation of the Odyssey makes this point beautifully, with a cropped version of "Earthrise," an Apollo 8 photograph of our one oikos, taken as the astronauts orbited the moon. When the Odyssey begins, Odysseus may as well be on the moon: stuck on Calypso's island, he has been removed from all possibilities of human culture.
Earthrise (NASA)
All Homer posts (via Pinboard)
(Thanks, Rachel!)


A suggestion for improving the quality of life: add air to your car's tires by using a pump.

Consider the advantages: No waiting for the gas station's air hose. No arduous maneuvering to get close enough to the air hose. No quarters. No racing from tire to tire as time runs out. No driving off with grimy hands. And a modest addition to the day's physical activity.

Of course, you need a good pump, something better than what's found in big-box stores. I use the Goldenrod pump, purchased from a local "farm and home" store. The Goldenrod is not cheap. It's also not semi-disposable. Manufacturer Dutton-Lainson gives a detailed description of the Goldenrod's features:

All steel joint intake valve.

Produces 200 pounds of pressure.

Intake valve designed to permit cylinder to fill with air on upward stroke with no back pressure.

30" hose with storage clip.

Hose features easy thumb lock connector.

Zinc die cast top and bottom caps.

1 3/8" x 20 3/8" heavy gauge steel cylinder, with copper bronze finish.

Overall length is 24 1/2".

Large, comfortable solid wood handle.

Replacement hose complete with thumb lock connector and hose clamp available.

The Goldenrod pump is made in the States. It lists for $56.99 ($37.99 from Amazon).

Dutton-Lainson Company (Since 1886!)
The Goldenrod Pump (Dutton-Lainson)
Goldenrod pump (Amazon)
[Update, 2.7.08: As Rich Stewart notes in a comment, this pump is no more. I called Dutton-Lainson to confirm that it's no longer manufactured. The reason: the company couldn't compete with imports on price.]

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mister Rogers and self-esteem

Family Communications, the organization that brings us Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, has a succinct and convincing reply to the assertion in a recent Wall Street Journal article that Fred Rogers is to blame for runaway self-esteem among young adults.

It's All Mister Rogers' Fault? (Family Communications)

Related post
Blaming Mister Rogers

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The real Mr. T

How exciting (to me, anyway) to discover that a pencil manufacturer employed a cartoon spokescharacter. Meet Mr. T, who represented Dixon Ticonderoga pencils.

I found this image (from a 1957 magazine ad) in Warren Dotz and Masud Husain's Meet Mr. Product (San Francisco: Chronicle, 2003).

To corpse

"The difference on this program is that everybody corpses, and there's no one worse than Ricky."

Shaun Williamson (aka "Barry from EastEnders"), commenting on the BBC series Extras
Watching the extras on an Extras DVD (second season), I learned a bit of acting slang. The Oxford English Dictionary traces its history:
corpse, v. Actors' slang. To confuse or 'put out' (an actor) in the performance of his part; to spoil (a scene or piece of acting) by some blunder.

1873 Slang Dict., Corpse, to stick fast in the dialogue; to confuse or put out the actors by making a mistake.
In 1993, the OED expanded the definition:
[2.] b. intr. Of an actor: to forget one's lines; = DRY v. 2 d; to spoil one's performance by being confused or made to laugh by one's colleagues.

1874 HOTTEN Slang Dict., Corpse, to stick fast in the dialogue. 1958 News Chron. 23 May 4/7 There's a new word, too, from drama school. When anyone forgot their lines in the past they had dried. Today, they have 'corpsed'. 1972 A. BENNETT Getting On I. 32 Mrs Brodribb: When Max —. Geoff: Max (He corpses). Mrs Brodribb: (silencing him with a look) — pauses by your doorstep he is not just relieving himself. He is leaving a message. 1987 Observer 8 Feb. 11/2 Gambon said his dying line ('Oh, I am slain') in the mode of a different theatrical grandee every night — a display of 'suicidal nerve', all to get his co-actor to corpse in the dark.
It's the most recent meaning of the word that's relevant to Extras, though here it's the corpsing performer him- or herself who takes the blame for failing to keep a straight face. The short feature The Art of Corpsing features Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and company corpsing — in take after take after take — and talking about corpsing. One realizes, watching these efforts, how much dedicated work goes into what appears to be the most casual, low-key kind of comedic acting.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Proust tour

Odette has alerted her readers to a Proust tour to Paris, Illiers-Combray and Cabourg (the novel's Balbec). It's too late for this year's trip, which took place in June. Interested parties might begin saving for next summer ($3,675).

Had I but cash enough and time, I'd like to make such a trip. I'd especially like seeing Proust's notebooks at the Bibliothèque nationale. I'm not sure though that I believe in the likelihood of the "magic moments" that the tourgivers promise:

Reading the madeleine excerpt from Swann's Way while you sip tea and take a bite of your madeleine in Illiers-Combray. Standing in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Cabourg (Balbec) with a view of the beach. Unforgettable experiences that bring Proust's prose to life.
Well, maybe. What brings Proust's prose to life for me is recognizing the Proustian workings of memory and perception in my own life. Eating a madeleine would bring me no closer to Proust than eating red beans and rice would to Louis Armstrong.¹ But drinking a glass of water and being reminded of my grandparents' kitchen — that, for me, is a genuinely Proustian moment.

There's a wonderful anecdote about Joseph Cornell that helps me to understand my uneasiness about this promise of "magic moments." David Saunders, a high-school student and fan of Cornell's work, once brought the artist a box of items from childhood:
There were glass shards, chandelier crystals, a sheriff's badge, old coins, wind-up metal toys from early in the century. Knowing how much Cornell loved such objects, Saunders plunked down the box on the kitchen table, removed its contents, and generously said, "You can have everything!" Cornell appeared astounded. "Oh no, Mr. Saunders," he protested, "I couldn't take these. This is your marvelous collection."

[Deborah Solomon, Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell (NY: Noonday, 1997) 356-57]
So too it's Proust's marvelous madeleine, the trigger for his involuntary memories. Yours, or mine, might be found closer to home.

¹ Red beans and rice was a signature Armstrong dish. He often signed letters "Red beans and ricely yours."
Proust in Paris, Illiers-Combray and Cabourg (Balbec) (Travel-by-the-Book)

Related posts
Joseph Cornell on collecting
All Proust posts (via Pinboard)

American highway signage

American highway signage is changing:

Highway Gothic conjures the awe of Interstate travel and the promise of midcentury futurism; Clearview's aesthetic is decidedly more subdued. "It's like being a good umpire," [highway engineer Martin] Pietrucha says, suggesting that one of Clearview's largest triumphs will be how quietly it replaces Highway Gothic sign by sign in the coming years. "It will completely change the look of the American highway, but not so much that anyone will notice."
Driving east in Pennsylvania last week, I noticed the Trebuchet-like curl in the lower-case l (i.e., el), but I didn't realize that the change was more than local.

Read all about it:
The Road to Clarity (New York Times)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Vegan Restaurants Master List

Erin at Vegan Restaurants Master List is contacting the corporate headquarters of restaurant chains to ask "What's vegan?"

Erin's blog is a great resource for anyone who's vegan (or aspires to be). But it's good reading too for anyone with an interest in seeing how corporations respond to friendly questions from customers and potential customers. The responses range from helpful and well-informed (Chili's) to highly evasive (Jimmy John's).

It's remarkable how little the people who run restaurants sometimes know about what they're serving. A few days ago, when I asked the manager of a Taco Bell if the rice was vegan, she laughed and said she had "no idea."

A related post
Is Jimmy John's bread vegan?

Lemonade and lies

In a Dashiell Hammett story, the Continental Op looks at a sign in a bar — "ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE" — and begins to count the lies. I thought of that moment when examining a bottle in the supermarket today. The beverage inside is distributed by Supervalu Inc. The label reads:

Old Fashioned Recipe

The old-fashioned recipe?
How many lies do you count?

Update: A response from the manufacturer:
Question Garners Local Man Coupons

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Homer then and now

The Nation has an extensive report on the experiences of American veterans of the war in Iraq. An excerpt:

We heard a few reports, in one case corroborated by photographs, that some soldiers had so lost their moral compass that they'd mocked or desecrated Iraqi corpses. One photo, among dozens turned over to The Nation during the investigation, shows an American soldier acting as if he is about to eat the spilled brains of a dead Iraqi man with his brown plastic Army-issue spoon. . . .

The scene, Sergeant [Camilo] Mejía said, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins.
A reader of Homer's Iliad will find nothing surprising in such accounts. Achilles' character is undone in the course of the Iliad; the warrior who once displayed the greatest concern for his comrades and the greatest compassion toward the enemy descends into self-absorbed brutality. Here is Achilles speaking to the Trojan warrior Hector, before killing him and dragging his body behind a chariot:
               "I wish my stomach would let me
Cut off your flesh in strips and eat it raw
For what you've done to me. There is no one
And no way to keep the dogs off your head."

(Iliad 22, translated by Stanley Lombardo)
Standing on Troy's wall, Hector's father and mother witness Achilles' treatment of their son's body, groaning and screaming as they watch.

And here we are, twenty-seven centuries later, in the same story.
The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness (The Nation, via Boing Boing)


Another quality adding-a-URL-to-Google experience:

Enrico Fermi (

Related posts

A noisy little "privilege"

One more thing I learned on my summer vacation: in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a historical marker at the birthplace of Laura Ingersoll Secord notes that her father Thomas Ingersoll had privilege on the nearby Housatonic River. Meaning? The Oxford English Dictionary explains:

A (section of) river capable of powering machinery, as for a mill, factory, etc.; = water-privilege.
This watery meaning is American in origin and now considered obsolete.

The OED gives three sample sentences. This one's my favorite, from C.M. Kirkland's Western Clearings (1845):
He paced the bank of the noisy little ‘privilege’ that turned the gristmill.

Tenuously related post
Things I learned on my summer vacation (2007)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Things I learned on my summer vacation (2007)

Solvent cups are great for packing vitamins, meds, and other small items.


Ashland, Ohio, claims to be "the world headquarters of nice people."


Jesse's Café (139 Brighton Ave, Long Branch, New Jersey) is a wonderful mostly-vegan restaurant. The baba ghanoush is spectacular.


Ratatouille is a noun made from two verbs: ratouiller (to disturb, shake) and tatouiller (to stir).


Manhattan Special is an espresso soda from Brooklyn, New York, bottled since 1895. It is everything Coke Black wants (and fails) to be.


Older wine — a 1989 Bordeaux, almost brown in color, earthy in taste — is very different from the 2005, 2006 stuff I buy.


Fuller's earth is a special-effects material used in simulating explosions. When you see the dirt flying up in a big plume, that's Fuller's earth.


Desert Spring is a house-brand imitation of Poland Spring.


"Oprah and her friends are just a call away." (Slogan on a cell-service kiosk in a New Jersey mall.)


Rob Zseleczky can play a note-perfect guitar part for "Scarborough Fair."


My sister-in-law Susie can draw manga characters.


Most events in one's life happened "fifteen or twenty years ago."


KARL BUSH EATS HOAGIES. (Painted on an overpass in Pennsylvania.)


Singing along with Pete Seeger while driving lightens and brightens all moods.


Coming back is so much nicer when the house is decluttered.

Related post
Things I learned on my summer vacation (2006)

Proust and the piano

If reading Proust is a habit, I've been clean for a week (while on vacation). But I'm going back on the stuff tomorrow morning. For now, a passage that I stashed away last week:

People, even those that we love the most, may, it is true, become saturated by the sadness or irritation that emanates from us. There is one thing, however, capable of a power of exasperation to which no human being will ever attain: a piano.

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 187

All Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Proust habit

Chris Power on Proust:

Spend any length of time reading about Proust and you'll hear that his writing is addictive. In fact, the ubiquity of this claim was something I found off-putting. Novels aren't heroin or peanut M&Ms, after all. To me it sounded like so much hyperbole, and as a book reviewer I've sprayed around too much of that myself to fall for anyone else's. But after reading The Guermantes Way I'm beginning to see some sense in the claim.
Read the rest:
Getting the Proust habit (Guardian)

All Proust posts (via Pinboard)
(Thanks for the link, TH!)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tom Waits on parenthood

"I didn't want to be the guy who woke when he was sixty-five, and said 'Gee, I forgot to have kids.' I mean, somebody took the time to have us, right?"

From a 1999 interview, quoted in Jay S. Jacobs' Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits (ECW Press, 2006)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Out of This World

Decluttering my workspace and reading about the Collyer brothers led me to a 1953 book by Helen Worden Erskine, Out of This World (thanks, library). Erskine was a New York reporter who seems to have started working in the mid-1920s. She developed a niche as a chronicler of the lives of urban recluses and in 1938 "discovered" the Collyer brothers. The lives collected in Out of This World are those of men and women whose wealth enabled them to live on their own odd terms, in brownstones, mansions, and hotels; in dust, clutter, and unopened mail. Here's one passage, from the story of Gertrude Tredwell (1840-1933):

Mr. Van Nostrand walked over to a framed floral arrangement. "This is seaweed. Aunt Gertrude used to have it sent in from the Jersey coast, then she arranged it in the form of flowers and pasted it on heavy drawing paper."

"You'll find them all over the house," commented Mrs. Lonnberg.

"Making flowers out of seaweed was Aunt Gertrude's life," said Mr. Van Nostrand.

Related post
Decluttering: a book recommendation

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Decluttering: a book recommendation

Reading Merlin Mann's post on clutter last month inspired me to see and clean up my clutter. Something that has helped tremendously: Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, a book with significant psychotropic power. The most important point Walsh makes is that "organizing" stuff — by buying more boxes and bookshelves — never solves the problem. The real solution is rethinking one's relationship to stuff, an activity that can feel quite freeing.

My own efforts in this regard are ongoing. But already my workspace, our house, and life in general are a lot more comfortable and inviting.

It's All Too Much (Amazon)
Peter Walsh Design

Related posts, on items rediscovered while decluttering
Covering v. uncovering
Notary Public