Friday, February 28, 2014

Charles Ives’s workroom

On display in Manhattan, Charles Ives’s workroom, complete with pencil sharpener and shavings.

An -itis I have known

Speaking of -itises: have you heard of rhinitis medicamentosa? I contended with that -itis this week, after using Afrin for several days. So I tried taking two Benadryl and two Sudafed before going to sleep, and I woke up feeling fine. And now I know that nasal sprays can be dangerous toys, especially when used correctly. No more nasal sprays, ever.

I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on the Internets. This post is a matter of anecdote not advice, with a fleeting reference to Joan Crawford.


“I went to the doctor — I have some kind of -itis.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Handwritten Bresson

[This story is true. I present it as it is, unadorned.]

[Dear Mother, I am in the M prison.]

Based on a memoir by André Devigny, Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956) tracks the plotting of Resistance fighter Fontaine (François Leterrier) to escape from a Gestapo-run prison. Like the three other Bresson films I’ve seen, A Man Escaped has moments of handwriting. And like the other three, the film is completely compelling.

Related posts
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne
Diary of a Country Priest

[The film’s title in French: Un condamné à mort s’est échappé, ou Le vent souffle où il veut : A condemned man escaped, or The wind blows where it will. The translations in this post are mine.]

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

iPads, iPods, Pat Quinn

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, speaking about the creation of a digital-manufacturing lab in Chicago: “When iPads came along and iPods, they helped transform music.” And so too, this initiative will help transform manufacturing.

Okay. But have iPads and iPods transformed music? No. Nor did they arrive in that order. It’s iTunes and the iPod (the app is older) that have transformed the music business. Repeat after me, Governor: “When iTunes and the iPod came along, they helped transform the music business.”

Shouldn’t a governor know such stuff?

Income disparity in higher ed

Inside Higher Ed reports on proposals to reduce income disparity at several American colleges: The President and the Paupers.

Related posts
Income disparity in higher ed
Inequality v. disparity

Google Glass on the road

Reuters reports that “Google is lobbying officials in at least three U.S. states to stop proposed restrictions on driving with headsets such as Google Glass.” The states named: Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri.

I can already hear the argument: How can we attract high-tech companies to our state unless we embrace the latest, &c.

Over my dead body, says I. And if it becomes legal to drive with Google Glass, the result will be dead bodies.

[Found via Daring Fireball.]

Gauloises Bleues

[Robert Rauschenberg, Gauloises Bleues. “Aquatint and hand-torn collage of Gauloises cigarette label on white wove Dutch Copperplate Etching, 1968. 253x138 mm; 9 7/8x5 1/2 inches, full margins. Signed and numbered 61/75 in pencil, lower margin. Published by ULAE, West Islip, with the blind stamp lower left. A very good impression. Belknap 33.” Image and description found here. The context for this post, here.]

Darn that cigarette dream

I stopped smoking on October 8, 1989. And still — to borrow a line from Brian Wilson — I dream of it. Last night I dreamed that Elaine and I were living out of suitcases in a large house with its own cigarette machine. I bought what I thought was a pack of Merits, a brand I never smoked. What came out was a pack of unfiltered Gauloises, a brand I did smoke, with pleasure. This pack was tan not blue. The rest of what I remember: holding the pack, walking around the house, thinking that it wouldn’t be so bad to smoke a few cigarettes, thinking about how to acquire matches, realizing that I would have to go outside to smoke. But I didn’t smoke. In all the cigarette dreams I’ve had, I’ve never smoked.

I can think of two elements from life that may have shaped this dream. From Monday, lines from Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951):


    says this particular
    cigarette machine.

Others take a quarter straight.
And from Tuesday, a conversation with Elaine about the rise in heroin addiction.

Reader, if you smoke, quit. It will never get easier. And you can always dream.

Related reading
All OCA cigarette posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Naked City mystery guest

[“Without Stick or Sword,” Naked City, March 28, 1962.]

That’s Maung Tun, a Burmese sailor in New York. But who is he really? Your best guesses are welcome in the comments.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

A Gregg Toland moment (Naked City)

[“Without Stick or Sword,” Naked City, March 28, 1962.]

Jack Priestly, the principal cinematographer for the television series Naked City, was an ace. The cockatoo in this shot must be one master’s homage to another.

[Citizen Kane, 1941. Cinematography by Gregg Toland. Click either image for a larger view.]

The cockatoo turns up in Libby Kingston’s apartment in another episode, off to the side, perched on a shelf.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)
King’s Row, another Toland homage

[Yes, the Kane cocaktoo is eyeless. It’s a glitch.]

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Atlantic on social fraternities

The Atlantic has a long report by Caitlin Flanagan, The Dark Power of Fraternities. An excerpt:

Clearly, the contemporary fraternity world is beset by a series of deep problems, which its leadership is scrambling to address, often with mixed results. No sooner has a new “Men of Principle” or “True Gentlemen” campaign been rolled out — with attendant workshops, measurable goals, initiatives, and mission statements — than reports of a lurid disaster in some prominent or far-flung chapter undermine the whole thing. Clearly, too, there is a Grand Canyon–size chasm between the official risk-management policies of the fraternities and the way life is actually lived in countless dangerous chapters.
The student whose story begins this article, the guy who tried to shoot a bottle rocket out of his — well, he made a cameo appearance here in 2012.

Related reading
All OCA colledge posts (Pinboard)


[Click for a larger view and you’ll see the apostrophe: LADIES’.]

The Oxford English Dictionary dates retiring room to 1621: “The Prynce came and wente into his retyringe roomes, and having putt on his roabes went and mett the King.” The term first denoted “a room set aside for seclusion, rest, or quiet.” And “(in later use also) a public toilet.” Retiring room is a polite way to say powder room.

These words appear on the inside men’s-room door in the Orpheum Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. In 1994, the building got a new life as the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum. Our fambly had a private tour many years ago, courtesy of a former babysitter working at the museum. The lobby area then housed the museum, which we called Heather’s Museum. The theater itself was then a pre-restoration wreck. I remember paint peeling from every surface. We stood on the stage and climbed to the projection room and felt very privileged indeed. Thank you, Heather.

This past Saturday the Orpheum Theatre was the setting for a terrific concert by the Prairie Ensemble. The theater itself is now restored — beautiful details everywhere. I am glad that those responsible for the restoration had the good sense to preserve the lettering on this repurposed door.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dropbox and the plain style

Dropbox has announced changes to its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. From the announcement:

We care about having Terms of Service that are readable, give the right amount of context, and avoid unnecessary legalese, so we’ve updated our language to better match the permissions you give us with the features you use. For example, to provide you with document previews, our automated systems need permission to access and scan your stuff for those previews — so we explain this in the new Terms.
And from the new Terms:
When you use our Services, you provide us with things like your files, content, email messages, contacts and so on (“Your Stuff”). Your Stuff is yours. These Terms don’t give us any rights to Your Stuff except for the limited rights that enable us to offer the Services.
I like the plainness, and I like “Your Stuff.” This writing inspires trust.

If anyone would like to try Dropbox, here’s a referral link. An extra 500 MB for you; an extra 500 MB for me.


March 2, 2014: Dropbox’s plain Terms of Service ispired more trust on my part than they should have. Here is a good explanation of why a user should opt out of Dropbox’s arbitration procedures. To opt out, click this link and sign in — and soon. After accepting the new Terms of Service, a user has thirty days to opt out.

“Something is missing”

Mr. Compson speaking:

“We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable—Yes, Judith, Bon, Henry, Sutpen: all of them. They are there, yet something is missing; they are like a chemical formula exhumed along with the letters from that forgotten chest, carefully, the paper old and faded and falling to pieces, the writing faded, almost indecipherable, yet meaningful, familiar in shape and sense, the name and presence of volatile and sentient forces; you bring them together in the proportions called for, but nothing happens; you re-read, tedious and intent, poring, making sure that you have forgotten nothing, made no miscalculation; you bring them together again and again nothing happens: just the words, the symbols, the shapes themselves, shadowy inscrutable and serene, against that turgid background of a horrible and bloody mischancing of human affairs.”

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
This passage is a compact reader’s guide to the novel: you read and re-read, and, yes, “something is missing.” Something happened: what? In the final 200 pages of the novel (what a novel), Mr. Compson’s son Quentin and Quentin’s Harvard roommate Shreve McCannon will take up the work (or play) of bringing Judith, Bon, Henry, and Sutpen together and providing what’s missing, making something happen, making their own story from the bits of fact and conjecture that have come into their possession about Thomas Sutpen and his family.

Related posts
Faulkner on peace
Faux Faulkner
A Homeric Faulkner simile
Punctuation marks in literature

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Roger Angell, “This Old Man”

Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker about old age:

People my age and younger friends as well seem able to recall entire tapestries of childhood, and swatches from their children’s early lives as well: conversations, exact meals, birthday parties, illnesses, picnics, vacation B. and B.s, trips to the ballet, the time when . . . I can’t do this and it eats at me, but then, without announcement or connection, something turns up. I am walking on Ludlow Lane, in Snedens, with my two young daughters, years ago on a summer morning. I’m in my late thirties; they’re about nine and six, and I’m complaining about the steep little stretch of road between us and our house, just up the hill. Maybe I’m getting old, I offer. Then I say that one day I’ll be really old and they’ll have to hold me up. I imitate an old man mumbling nonsense and start to walk with wobbly legs. Callie and Alice scream with laughter and hold me up, one on each side. When I stop, they ask for more, and we do this over and over.
Roger Angell is ninety-three.

[“This Old Man” shifts in tone again and again, so any excerpt is unrepresentative of the whole. Read the whole.]

More on hyphenating phrasal adjectives

More from Bryan Garner on hyphenating phrasal adjectives. The first installment appeared last week. Helpful, helpful, helpful.

Phrasal adjectives are why I browse in used-book stores.

Domestic comedy

“I wonder if there’s a word for soupmaking, other than soupmaking.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ballad of the spam mail

I taught Langston Hughes’s “Ballad of the Landlord,” walked back to my office, checked my mail. In the spam folder: two eviction notices. That’s a new low in spam.

Why is it the ballad of the landlord, when twenty of the poem’s thirty-three lines are spoken by a tenant? Because it’s the landlord’s story that the poem tells. It’s the landlord’s world, so to speak: we just live in it, or get evicted from it. The poem's primary speaker ends up in a newspaper headline as a “Negro” serving ninety days in jail. No headline about the dilapidated condition of the landlord’s property.

And by the way, landlord is such a strange word for use in a democratic society, isn’t it?

“Ballad of the Landlord” has a famous place in the history of American teaching: in 1965 the writer Jonathan Kozol was fired from his job as a Boston substitute-teacher after teaching the poem to fourth-graders. According to Kozol’s principal, the poem “could be interpreted as advocating defiance of authority.” The principal also deemed Kozol lacking in “the personal discipline to abide by rules and regulations, as we all must in our civilized society.” That’s the language of the Boston Public Schools in quotation marks. Kozol tells the story in his first book, Death at an Early Age (1967).

Adam and Libby (Naked City)

[“Portrait of a Painter,” Naked City, January 10, 1962. Click for a larger view.]

As Detective Adam Flint (Paul Burke) gets the latest info on a murder investigation, his girlfriend Libby Kingston (Nancy Malone) is — is doing what, exactly?

The phone call runs for two minutes and forty seconds, the scene shifting between Libby’s apartment and headquarters. The call is interrupted three times, when Detective Frank Arcaro looks for an eraser (!) and talks with Lieutenant Mike Parker, and when Mike takes another call. Finally, Adam asks, “Honey, I don’t mean to be nosy, but what are you doing?” And Libby explains:

“I was a seed. And I grew up through the earth into a beautiful flower. And I lived through the summer, and I let the sun soak through me. And I let the rains wash my face. And then autumn came, and I grew cold, and then winter came, and I went back into the earth again to become a new seed and to wait for another spring.”
That’s one mystery solved, utterly unrelated to the plot, utterly wonderful. There’s nothing else like Naked City.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Naked City mystery guest

He plays a painter, Roger Barmer, in the Naked City episode “Portrait of a Painter” (January 10, 1962). Can you identify him?

I don’t want to make things too difficult. One more:

[Click either image for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

“Greenwich Village Today” (Naked City)

[“Portrait of a Painter,” Naked City, January 10, 1962. Click for a larger, artier view.]

I’m unable to make a positive i.d., but I’m confident that the man in the white shirt is the show’s producer, Herbert B. Leonard, in beatnik drag. None of the people in this opening shot are credited on the episode’s IMDb page.

I love the screen title. And notice the painting of the thumb. Someone was having fun here.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ambassadors are us

The news that President Obama has nominated major (and majorly unqualified) donors for ambassadorships is disillusioning. It seems to be business as usual, or worse than usual. You can read more about it in this PBS NewsHour report.

Fair is fair: if the Obama administration is rewarding major donors in this way, it should be willing to recognize donors of modest means as well. (I write as one of them.) Time-share ambassadorships, a week per year per donor, are the obvious answer. Each share-holder would bring a fresh perspective to the work and learn in the best of all possible ways — on the job.

To anyone at Se habla español, despacio. And I’ve never been to Argentina.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Thank you, local news

On the television just now: the local news informs me that salt will work to melt ice but only on treated roads. In other words, if there’s no salt applied, the salt won’t work. Thank you, local news.

Also from the local news
Anglers, getting eaten : People, getting older : The sun, setting

Orange soda-label art

Howdy was the brainchild of Charles Leiper Grigg, who went on to create 7 Up. Yes, before there was a Seven-Up Company, there was a Howdy Corporation.

I found this label (dented, discolored, slightly torn) in an antiques “mall.” This label spoke to me. It said “Certified Artificial Color.” And then it said “Howdy.” Or “ ‘Howdy.’ ”

Howdy, reader.

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange flag art : Orange manual art : Orange mug art : Orange newspaper art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange stem art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

[Or is it orange-soda label art? Your choice.]

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Word of the day: nivosity

The Oxford English Dictionary ’s Word of the Day is nivosity. A new way to hate the weather!


February 18: Alas, the OED no longer keeps these links active. There’s more about nivosity in the comments.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Henry, television

[Henry, February 15, 2014.]

This is what a television looks like.

I like Henry for its clarity of line, quiet comedy, and bold anachronism. Gum machines line the streets. Shoes get fixed while u wait. Drawers have no slides. People buy liverwurst and Magic Song Restorer. And they get their vacuum cleaners from door-to-door salesmen.

Today’s Henry shows a world that includes television. But the strip must be from the early days of TV, before people (or parents) determined that sitting too close to the set was Bad For Your Eyes. (How often I heard that warning as a kid.) Then again, sitting close may pose no special danger for cartoon children. Linus van Pelt was sitting up close in 1970, with no apparent harm. And it’s a good thing, because cartoon children must sit close to the screen: sitting up close, in profile, establishes the scene with perfect economy, as stylized as ancient Egyptian art. If Henry were to sit farther back, there wouldn’t be much room left for a story. Look:

[Henry revised, February 15, 2014.]

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

[I read Henry online via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Blogger’s fuzzy-image problem

Blogger has an annoying habit of turning images fuzzy. In my experience, the problem is most noticeable with larger images of text.

I found a solution in a comment on a post about the problem: to remove the fuzz, find /s400/ in the code for the image and change it to /s1600/. Smaller images appear to load with two instances of /s1600/; larger images, with one /s1600/ and one /s400/. Look at the difference. First, with /s400/, notice the fuzziness of the letter forms:

With /s1600/ twice, everything’s clear:

It’s disappointing that Google would set a default that degrades images. But I’m happy to have found a way around the problem.

Something odd: the fuzz is much worse when previewing a post:

Odder still: if you click to enlarge a fuzzy image, you get a clear one. Go figure.

A related post
Google, auto-enhancing images

[Clicking to enlarge won’t sharpen the image of Yeats’s name: that’s a screenshot from Preview, permanently fuzzed. Clicking will sharpen the first image of the poem.]

A poem for the day, sort of

Elaine and I went to the store, and on the way home we began talking about the plural forms of beefbeefs and beeves. And then this happened:

As Yeats once wrote, “There is always a phantasmagoria.” Always! Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

Related posts
Breakfast with William B. and Edna St. V.
Meat whats?
Mitt Romney: the soul of a poet

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Everything’s Coming Up Profits

[Steve Young and Sport Murphy, Everything’s Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals. New York: Blast Books, 2013.]

The now-vanished industrial musical was a form of capitalist celebration, a show extolling corporate products and services, performed for internal audiences only. O, the titles: Diesel Dazzle. Follow the Road: Highlights from the 1975 Dominion Road Machinery Announcement Meeting. Got to Investigate Silicones. Lucite, You and ’72. My favorite: The Bathrooms Are Coming!

I’ve had a vague acquaintance with industrials via selections from The 365 Days Project. This book, with 425 illustrations, has deepened that acquaintance. If only the songs could play as one turns the pages. But there is a website, with sample recordings. Don’t miss “My Bathroom”: “the only place where I can stay, making faces at my face.” A little Prufrockian, that.

Our daughter Rachel gave us this wonderful book. Thank you, RL.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sid Caesar (1922–2014)

The New York Times has an obituary.

This sketch is a good destination. Pure delirium.

Meat whats?

I made a snappy joke this afternoon about a miracle involving meat loaves and fishes, and it set off a discussion at our kitchen table: what is the plural of meat loaf?

Garner’s Modern American Usage notes that some nouns ending in -f change to -ves to form their plurals (scarf, scarves), while others add an -s (roof, roofs). Garner gives loaves as the plural of loaf. And when we’re speaking of baked goods, loaves sounds just right. But I’m not at all sure that meat loaves sounds right. It sounds, to my ear, exceedingly odd. But then so does meat loafs, though I’ve tried to hear it as comparable to still lifes:

I painted six still lifes and baked six meat loafs.
Oaf, by the way, becomes oafs.

Reader, which do you prefer? Meat loafs? Meat loaves? Oafs? Chicken?

[The Oxford English Dictionary seems rather British in its definition of meat loaf: “Minced or chopped meat moulded into the shape of a loaf and cooked; generally eaten cold, in slices. Usu. with qualifying word, as beef loaf, ham loaf, meat loaf, veal loaf.” The Dictionary notes that the entry for loaf  “has not yet been fully updated (first published 1903).”]

Hyphenating phrasal adjectives

Bryan Garner explains the art of hyphenating phrasal adjectives. In other words, when to hyphenate and when not to.

And there's more here.

[Orange Crate Art is a Garner-friendly site.]

Ratner’s (Naked City)

[“The Face of the Enemy,” Naked City, January 3, 1962.]

I like the awning: “1½ HOUR FREE PARKING.” Very practical: two hours would be way too much for a meal.

Ratner’s was a celebrated dairy restaurant. That is, no meat:

[From Harold H. Hart’s Hart’s Guide to New York City (New York: Hart Publishing, 1964).]

The theater next door was to become the Fillmore East. Here’s a photograph of worlds colliding, or merging.

There are eight million screenshots in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Also from Hart’s Guide
Chock full o’Nuts
Greenwich Village and coffee house
King Karol Records and The Record Hunter
Le Steak de Paris
Mayflower Coffee Shop(pe)
Minetta Tavern and Monkey Bar

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Alice Babs (1924–2014)

The singer Alice Babs has died. Here is an obituary from a Swedish source.

Alice Babs was a child star, a musician of extraordinary range, and perhaps the unlikeliest Ellingtonian. She provided many bright moments (I’d say the brightest) in Duke Ellington’s Second and Third Sacred Concerts. For instance: “Almighty God,” “Heaven,” and “T.G.T.T. (Too Good to Title).” If you choose one, make it “T.G.T.T.” But if you do, you’ll miss the sheer joy with which she listens to Russell Procope and Johnny Hodges in the first two.

Shirley Temple (1928–2014)

[From the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.]

To our fambly, she will always be Little Miss Broadway, as in the 1938 film of that name: “I’m here and you’re here, and thousands more here, but where — is — Broadway?”

Degrees of separation: not that many. My distant relation Tess Gardella appeared in the Shirley Temple film Stand Up and Cheer!

Verlyn Klinkenborg on the English major

Verlyn Klinkenborg on the decline and fall of the English major:

Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.

They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
I like that phrase — “ventriloquistic syntax.” Making the right noises, so to speak, is one way to make it through the English major. In Is There a Text in This Class? (1980), Stanley Fish has a quintessential description of how it might be done:
A student of mine recently demonstrated this knowledge when, with an air of giving away a trade secret, she confided that she could go into any classroom, no matter what the subject of the course, and win approval for running one of a number of well-defined interpretive routines: she could view the assigned text as an instance of the tension between nature and culture; she could look in the text for evidence of large mythological oppositions; she could argue that the true subject of the text was its own composition, or that in the guise of fashioning a narrative the speaker was fragmenting and displacing his own anxieties and fears.
The cynicism that underwrites this description — performing in codified ways, whatever the object of inquiry, so as to “win approval” — makes me despair. What’s missing is an acknowledgement that works of the imagination challenge our ability to think about them, that they are things to live with, struggle with, and have reverence for. They are not unsuspecting saps on which to run our routines, whatever approval those routines might win.

It’s no fun being a ventriloquist’s dummy. You spend a lot of time stuck in a suitcase, where it’s awfully hard to breathe. There’s the real unsuspecting sap.

Other posts with Verlyn Klinkenborg
On e-reading
On “the social value of reading”
On writing

[Imagine a musician whose thinking about performance resembled Fish’s student’s thinking about interpretation. Who would want to listen?]

Monday, February 10, 2014

George Burns and Tess Gardella

Trekking through DVDs of The Dick Cavett Show, I stopped in my trek as George Burns was speaking. From December 15, 1971:

“I love all kinds of songs, but I make a lot of money by not singing popular songs. Irving Berlin pays me twenty-five dollars a week not to touch any of his numbers. In fact, during the holidays I’m not even allowed to whistle “White Christmas.” But there's a Berlin song that I sing that he wrote and he doesn’t know it. He wrote it for Aunt Jemima a thousand years ago — for Tess Gardell, and she was a great blues singer. And she was a very heavyset girl, and she used to dress up like Aunt Jemima, and she had five musicans on the stage that were dressed up like bakers. And he wrote her this special piece of material. And I played on the bill with her in Montreal. I did an act then called Gary and Smith, Sid Gary and Charlie Smith. I was Charlie Smith. “Fifteen minutes of songs and fun for everyone,” that was our billing. . . . Anyway, I played with Tess Gardell and Jessel, Jessel was on that bill too, George Jessel. . . . Anyway, Tess Gardell was singing this Irving Berlin song. . . . It’s the greatest song:
Hello, everybody, don’t you know my name?
I'm Aunt Jemima of the pancake fame.
You see me in the subways here and there,
In fact I’m on the billboards everywhere.
The pancake business it was slow,
So I got my pancake bakers and went out to get
    the dough.
’Cause I’m Aunt Jemima and my five bakers,
They’re all ragtime shimmy-shakers.
We got kind of tired of the place that we were
We all walked out and left the pancakes flat.
The boys are good at bakin’, also shimmy-
That you must —
Anyway, that's the song.”
Too bad Burns didn’t finish. ASCAP’s ACE Index returns 498 Berlin songs, but not this one.

Billed as Aunt Jemima, Tess Gardella (1894–1950) appeared in vaudeville, in the musical theater, and in film. She was an Italian-American blackface performer, best known for originating the role of Queenie in Show Boat. She is my distant relation, my great-grandmother’s cousin.

Despite her stage name, Gardella had no connection to pancake mix or syrup. But she did indeed perform with a band of bakers. A 1920 issue of Variety lists Aunt Jemima and Her Five Bakers of Syncopation as a new act. Here from 1924 is a review of a performance with two-piano backing:

[Variety, September 9, 1924.]

Tess Gardella is still “‘in’ as a pop song specialist.” Listen to her 1928 recording of the song she introduced in Show Boat, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” beginning at 15:23.

The strangest thing that I know about Tess Gardella: the photograph below appeared in the 1974 edition of The Black Book, identified as “Lois Gardella, the original Aunt Jemima, 1933.” A review of the book in Ms. magazine celebrated Gardella as “a beautiful woman!” — presumably African-American. A Gardella cousin (Frank) wrote to the magazine with a correction.

The photograph is missing from the 2009 edition of The Black Book. It seems reasonable to infer from the absence that the book’s makers at first mistook Tess Gardella for African-American.

[Tess Gardella. From The Black Book, ed. Middleton A. Harris (New York: Random House, 1974).]


June 18, 2020: An interesting perspective on Tess Gardella, suggesting that her success
was owing not to her perceived “whiteness” but instead to her ethnic positioning between white and black. Like both Jewish and African American women, Italian women have historically been portrayed as matriarchal nurturers – domineering precisely in their excessive capacity for affection — and so Gardella could be hailed as a natural delineator of black womanhood, while allowing the audience a comfortable distance from actual African American and Jewish women alike.

Doris Witt, Black Hunger: Soul Food and America (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2004).

More Tess Gardella
“Didn’t I Tell You (That You’d Come Back)” (1928)
“C’mon Folks” and “Hey Feller” (1929, film footage from Show Boat)
“Does She Love Me”/“My Idea of Heaven” (1927, with Mal Hallet and His Orchestra)
“I Ain’t Got Nobody” (1932, with Howard Lanin and His Orchestra, from Rambling ’Round Radio Row #3)
“I’m Laughing” (1934, from Stand Up and Cheer!, dir. Hamilton MacFadden)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Vollkorn, updated

I’m not sure what just prompted me to look at the page for Friedrich Althausen’s typeface Vollkorn. But I’m happy that I did, because three days ago Vollkorn received a significant update.

Vollkorn is one of my two favorite serifs. Palatino is the other. Unlike Palatino, Vollkorn is free, licensed under the SIL Open Font License.

[Correction: I am sure what prompted me to look: purposeful procrastination.]

Friday, February 7, 2014

Richard Feynman and close reading

Richard Feynman speaking:

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “Look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. And he says, “You see, I as an artist can see how beautiful this is. But you as a scientist take this all apart, and it becomes a dull thing.” And I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people, and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean, it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting: it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery, and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
I find in this passage a helpful argument for the value of close reading. Flower: poem. To look at a poem closely is to deepen its excitement, mystery, and capacity to inspire awe.

Here is Feynman speaking. I found my way to this clip via a Jason Kottke post unrelated to poetry. The transcription and punctuation are mine.

Related reading
All OCA poetry posts (Pinboard)
Richard Feynman on honors

Domestic comedy

“I would have asked you, had I said something.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[It was very late.]

Any port in a storm

“Five-hour-energy-dot-com. This is NPR.”

More disturbing even than Lifestyle Lift’s sponsorship of the CBS Evening News.

Adjuncts on the PBS NewsHour

“I’ve been on food stamps for, I think, about six months”: from a PBS NewsHour report on adjunct faculty.

The spokesmen for officialdom in this report remind me of tobacco-industry reps: Smoking is an informed adult choice. Nobody forces someone to become an adjunct.

Related posts
The Adjunct Project
Adjunct teaching and health insurance

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Henry, vacuuming

[Henry, February 6, 2014.]

This is what a vacuum cleaner looks like.

[Henry, February 6, 2014.]

And this is what a door-to-door salesperson looks like.

You can still buy a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesperson, at least in areas that have such persons. But the machine’s price is very un-Henry. Very.

And this is what a doorbell sounds like. But be careful: there may be a vacuum-cleaner salesperson at the door.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WCW’s stars

From poem XII in William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All (1923), a cubist rendering of a catch-all box and its contents:

But the stars
are round
with a tin edge

and a ring
to fasten them
to a trunk
for the vacation —
These lines seem to puzzle close readers. Marjorie Perloff, writing in The Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage (1981):
Finally, and most confusing, are the “stars” made of “round / cardboard / with a tin edge” inside the box or do they decorate its surface? How and why would one fasten “them” as opposed to “it” (the box) “to a trunk / for the vacation”?
It’s not that confusing. The stars are inside the box. A office-supplies-minded reader will recognize them as paper key tags. These objects must have served as luggage tags back in the day.

To say that the image is not confusing does nothing to detract from the work of the imagination (the work of “seeing-as”) in these lines. Recall William Blake, who saw a world in a grain of sand.

Related reading
Other OCA WCW posts (Pinboard)

Glenn Gould on watching television

Glenn Gould, in a 1959 interview:

“I don’t approve of people who watch television, but I am one of them.”

Quoted in Kevin Bazzana’s Wondrous Strange: The Life and Art of Glenn Gould (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2003).
Bazzana reports that Gould pronounced himself a “vidiot.” One of his favorite broadcasts: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Related reading
All OCA Glenn Gould posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Naked City smile

[No smile, start of smile, smile, no smile. From the Naked City episode “The Tragic Success of Alfred Tiloff,” November 8, 1961. Click for larger views.]

As Elaine and I travel through the streets and alleys of Naked City, we like to watch for interesting moments in the background. The small crowds that assemble in many scenes are conspicuously mannerly: they stand back and let the police — that is, the actors and crew — do their work. Every so often a pedestrian in motion will stop and stare.

This young lady’s self-conscious smile at the camera is the most enjoyable background moment we’ve seen. And it’s fleeting — there and gone in a fraction of a second. Get back in character, young lady! This is the Naked City.

In the foreground, Jan Sterling and Jack Klugman as Myrtle and Alfy Tiloff.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Snowplow parents

Would that this news were from The Onion:

“Helicopter parents,” already ubiquitous in undergraduate admissions, are invading the graduate-school process, too, driven by the rising cost of advanced degrees as well as by hard-to-break habits of coddling.

Some of these parents have become so aggressive that they’ve required a new moniker: “snowplow parents,” for their impulse to push obstacles out of their adult children’s way.

“It’s the new norm,” Thomas P. Rock, assistant dean for enrollment services at Columbia University’s Teachers College, says of parents’ involvement in graduate-school admissions. “It’s the Gilmore Girls phenomenon. Moms want to stay best friends with their daughter and all her friends.”

Mr. Rock has fielded calls from more than one set of parents about the status of a student’s application. A few times, when he asked why the student couldn't have called herself, the parent said she was out shopping at the mall.

Parents call Teachers College professors to complain about grades. They descend on weekends set aside for visits by prospective students who have been admitted. One student’s family came dressed in matching plaid Burberry jackets.

“It’s just something we’re not used to,” Mr. Rock said.
The article is behind the paywall: Parents Now Get Themselves Involved in Graduate Admissions, Too (The Chronicle of Higher Education).

[I hadn’t realized how much embarrassment we’ve saved our children.]


[Life, November 2, 1942. Click for a fresher view.]

The guy seems more interested in the paper than in the sandwich. But heck, it’s Waxtex!

The Menasha Corporation is still going.

Related posts
The dowdiest wrap in the kitchen
From the Wax Paper Institute, Inc.

From the Waxed Paper Institute, Inc.

[Life, January 26, 1948.]

It sounds like a Bob and Ray creation, but it was real. A 1962 court ruling describes the Waxed Paper Institute as “a trade association which published reports of aggregate industry sales, prices, and product statistics for the benefit of its members.” Though the Institute seems to have vanished, waxed paper lives on, protecting freshness.

A related post
The dowdiest wrap in the kitchen

The dowdiest wrap in the kitchen

It is wax paper, for several reasons. It is a kind of paper. It is far older than aluminum foil. It may bear the quaint name Cut-Rite. And it appears in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939):

At noon the tractor driver stopped sometimes near a tenant house and opened his lunch: sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, white bread, pickle, cheese, Spam, a piece of pie branded like an engine part.
“Wax paper,” to my mind, is dowdier than “waxed paper.” (Older too: 1844 v. 1853.) “Wax” recalls wax beans, one of the dowdiest canned vegetables — and one of the most disturbing.

Related reading
All OCA “dowdy world” posts (Pinboard)

[For most American consumers, Cut-Rite is wax paper. When I make a sandwich to go, I always use Cut-Rite and foil. And yes, that tractor driver is destroying people’s livelihoods.]

Word of the day: Velox

[“From Dingburg to Palookaville,” Zippy, February 3, 2014.]

From Photographic Memorabilia:

Kodak VELOX paper was a very slow printing paper, producing a blue-black image, suitable for contact printing only, where the negative is placed in contact with the paper to produce a print of the same size. Kodak discontinued the manufacture of Velox paper in 1968.
The Oxford English Dictionary (which includes proprietary names) has no entry for Velox.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jim Leddy tells it like it is

After a stretch of time in the hospital and a longer stretch in rehab (not that kind of rehab), my dad is back home. One might think “Just in time for the Super Bowl,” but my dad takes no interest in football. He is indeed his son’s father.

And my dad is a gentleman — always. So I was amused and enlightened when he described the disorder of life in rehab like so: “Have you heard people use the expression ‘fucked up’?” Yes, Dad, but I never before heard you use it. That’s the measure of a place where a request for hot tea at breakfast brought iced, day after day after day.

Welcome home, Dad, and thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes his way.

[Dialogue used with permission. And notice that my dad was quoting.]

Saturday, February 1, 2014


While reading in a café: “I don’t hate you — I just couldn’t tell you that I was upset."

And a couple of minutes later: “I don’t hate you — I just couldn’t tell you that I was upset.”

And then again.

Aha: they were running lines from a play, or from an episode of Girls, or something.

Related reading
All “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

The Doomsday rule

BrownStudies explains the Doomsday rule, a nifty way to figure out the day of the week for a given date. Such stuff holds an irresistible appeal for the ten-year-old secret agent in me. Because say you were like stuck on a desert island or something, and you didn’t have a calendar, and you needed to figure out the day of the week that something was going to happen — well, you get the idea.

Last night I challenged my spouse to test me: pick a date, any date. And yes, June 23, 2014, falls on a Monday. It’s the rule.

See also Super Minimalist Micro Calendar.