Monday, June 30, 2014

Domestic comedy

[While watching The Kennel Murder Case (1933). ]

“Did you see that dress she’s not wearing?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

“No One Was Like Vermeer”

My friend Stefan Hagemann alerted me to a song relevant to today’s post: Jonathan Richman’s “No One Was Like Vermeer.”

“Vermeer was eerie, Vermeer was strange. / He had a more modern color range”: I love it. Thanks, Stefan.

A guest-post by Stefan Hagemann
How to answer a professor

Tim’s not Vermeer

One’s abilities are also one’s limitations: to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Tim Jenison, the hero of Tim’s Vermeer (2013) is a technologist, the co-founder of a company that produces software for visual imaging. When Jenison looks at a Vermeer, he sees a special effect, a reproduction of the real: he even refers to Vermeer’s paintings as photographs and likens them to video images. This documentary, the work of Jenison’s friends Penn Jillette and Teller (the latter directed), tracks Jenison’s effort to crack the secret of Vermeer’s paintings (the use of optics) and recreate The Music Lesson by staging its scene and painting with the use of lenses and mirrors. Thus the film’s title.

But Tim’s not Vermeer (as he would readily acknowledge), and Tim’s painting is not a Vermeer. As seen on DVD, Tim’s not-Vermeer appears to be a doggedly literal and lifeless facsimile.¹ It seems likely that Vermeer’s paintings owe something to optics. But a painting is not merely a transcription, a reproduction of the real by mechanical means. Vermeer may be, as Jillette suggests, the greatest artist “of all time.” But why? Because his paintings look like photographs? The idea of art that runs through Tim’s Vermeer is sadly naïve.

I like what William Carlos Williams says in Spring and All (1923), a book of twenty-seven poems and a prose commentary on matters of imagination and representation:

The only realism in art is of the imagination. It is only thus that the work escapes plagiarism after nature and becomes a creation.
Art is not a transcript, not a copy, Williams says, again and again, in a various ways. His prose has a curious relevance to optics-based art: reversing the instruction that Hamlet gives the Players — “to hold as ’twere, the mirror up to nature,” Williams insists that Shakespeare “holds no mirror up to nature” in his work. The power of imagination, rather, “is to give created forms reality.”

“Plagiarism after nature”: that’s what Jenison seems to think Vermeer is all about. What’s missing is a consideration of the artist’s imagination. The Music Lesson is, after all, a composition of Vermeer’s making, not something that he happened upon and transcribed. What elements went into the composition? What’s compelling about it? What might it suggest to a viewer whose interest in art goes beyond how-did-he-do-that?

What my relatively unlearned eye sees in The Music Lesson: an arrangement of planes, contrasts of light and dark, a variety of textures, a deeply quiet scene (despite the music-making) that has much to do with decorum and intimacy. The figures in the painting are alone and not alone: an artist’s easel is visible in the mirror. I am pretty sure that if I were to travel back in time to Delft, I would not see anything resembling this painting — except this painting.

An excellent site for learning more about Johannes Vermeer: Essential Vermeer. Here is that site’s page for The Music Lesson. For Vermeer and optics, start at this page: Vermeer and the Camera Obscura. And for a large version of The Music Lesson, try this one.

¹ In truth, a facsimile of a facsimile. Jenison received permission to view the painting (part of the Royal Collection of Great Britain), but he worked from reproductions.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Whitney, yecch

This exhibition will be the artist’s first major museum presentation in New York, and the first to fill nearly the entirety of the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building with a single artist’s work. It will also be the final exhibition to take place there before the Museum opens its new building in the Meatpacking District in 2015.
The Whitney Museum now hosts Jeff Koons: A Retrospective, a gesture that says much about art and money and fame. As the Museum explains, Koons has “transformed the relationship of artists to the cult of celebrity and the global market.” Well, yes — and what a sad farewell for the Whitney.

Getty Publications Virtual Library

The J. Paul Getty Museum makes its backlist publications available to read online or download as free PDFs: Getty Publications Virtual Library. That’s generosity.

My big catch: Judith Keller’s Walker Evans: Catalogue of the Collection (1995).

[In my mind, I’m still in California.]

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Re: corrupted files

For readers arriving from Boing Boing: please read this post, and this one. And think twice before sending a corrupted file to any instructor.

Watts House Project sign

[Art by Tina Villadolid, 2010. Photograph by Michael Leddy. Click for a larger view.]

When I saw this produce-crate-art-inspired sign, I had to take a picture.

The Watts House Project is “an artist-driven neighborhood redevelopment organization” that seeks to “promote and enhance the quality of residential life in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.” This sign by Tina Villadolid hangs outside the Platform, the WHP’s base of operations, across the street from the Watts Towers:

Tina visited the Platform back in the fall of 2009 and wanted to make a hand-painted sign that would speak to the artistic legacy of the Watts Towers neighborhood and WHP’s vision. She searched the grounds and found an old piece of slightly warped plywood, weathered by many seasons of the elements. She packed it in the back of her car and half a year later returned with a painting that marked the Platform as a site for neighborhood change.

“I chose the dahlia as the main image when I discovered that not only is it the national flower of Mexico, but that when Christopher Columbus brought the dahlia to Europe it became wildly popular in the Italian ornamental gardens of the renaissance. I thought it was a great link between Simon Rodia and the neighborhood he immigrated to. Also, the dahlia symbolizes dignity and splendor, which I thought was perfect.”
Related posts
Watts tiles
Watts Towers

[Nuestro Pueblo (our town) was Simon Rodia’s name for the Towers.]

Watts Towers

[Watts Towers, Los Angeles. Photographs by Michael Leddy. Click for much larger views.]

In a post about things to do in Los Angeles, I wrote, “Realize that photographs won’t capture the startling beauty of the Towers, which rise out of all proportion on a narrow dead-end street of one-story houses. Take photographs anyway.” Thus this post.

A related post
Watts tiles

Watts tiles

[Details of the Watts Towers, Los Angeles. Photographs by Michael Leddy. Click for much larger views.]

During working hours, Simon Rodia was a tile setter. And at home too. These photographs represent the tiniest fraction of the work that went into the making of the Watts Towers.

Related posts
Things to do in Los Angeles
Watts Towers

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Paint samples

[“Laboratory worker at the research laboratory at the C & NW RR’s 40th Street yard, examining paint samples used on freight cars and coaches of the railroad, Chicago, Ill.” Photograph by Jack Delano. December 1942. From the Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

Looking at the pages of Robert Ridgway’s Color Standards and Color Nomenclature made me think of this beautiful Jack Delano photograph.

Related reading
All OCA Jack Delano posts
Color dictionaries
Condiment challenge

[C & NW: The Chicago and North Western Transportation Company, whose devotees maintain an impressive website.]

Orange tree art

[Chinotto oranges. Huntington Library, Los Angeles. Click for a larger view.]

According to the Wikipedia article Citrus myrtifolia, the fruit of the myrtle-leaved orange tree is an ingredient in amaro, Campari, and various sodas called chinotto. This tree is flourishing in the Huntington’s herb garden.

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 soda-label 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

Color dictionaries

[Robert Ridgway, Color Standards and Color Nomenclature (1912). Available from the Internet Archive.]

In Smithsonian Magazine, How Red Is Dragon’s Blood?, a piece by Daniel Lewis on color dictionaries, with emphasis on the work of Robert Ridgway. A sample:

Color dictionaries were designed to give people around the world a common vocabulary to describe the colors of everything from rocks and flowers to stars, birds, and postage stamps. . . .

These color dictionaries have a deep, personal and complicated history — even though they emerged from a strong desire to quantify the world, as taxonomic publications tried to do in the 19th and early 20th centuries. . . . We don’t use them anymore because in book form they would be impossibly unwieldy: There are now more named colors than you can shake a dragon at — far more than would fit into a single volume. But Ridgway’s legacy lives on — his book evolved into the Pantone color chart relied upon by graphic designers, house paint creators, interior designers, fashion mavens, flag makers, and anyone looking to identify colors.
How accurate the colors in the Internet Archive scan, I can’t say. But the colors are at least distinguishable. In the Google Books scan, Mikado Orange and Cadmium Orange are nearly identical.

A tenuously related post
Mug shot (Pantone Orange 021)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Freedom Summer

“For 10 weeks during the summer of 1964, over 700 students from the North joined activists on the ground for a massive effort that accomplished what had been impossible so far: force the media and the country to take notice of the shocking violence and massive injustice taking place in Mississippi.” Tonight, on the PBS series American Experience, Freedom Summer.

Los Angeles palimpsest

[November 2012, June 2014. Click for larger views.]

This sign caught my eye in 2012. It’s still being revised.

[Palimpsest: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain” (New Oxford American Dictionary).]

Recently updated

Persian salad Now with less salt. (And perfect for summer.)

Things to do in Los Angeles Now with more art.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Things to do in Los Angeles

[An incomplete list.]

Arrive from elsewhere. Meet key associates at LAX. Go to Luna Park for two-for-one appetizers and pizza. Crab cakes and mango salsa, great. Meatballs arrabbiata, great. Seared ahi tuna, great. Gnocchi, extra great. Affirm the recently acquired belief that ordering many appetizers is a good way to go to a restaurant. Wonder if the woman walking across the room is Claire Danes. Realize that she’s staff. Go to the Culver City Symphony. Admire the conductor Frank Fetta’s taste: Barber, Copland, Haydn, Ravel. Agree that the chamber-orchestra audience is virtually the same as in Illinois, but with lighter-weight clothing. Have a drink.

Have some bread with Kerrygold Butter at breakfast. Yes, it’s delicious. Go to Farmers Market. Admire the design of the trashcans: a metal bar across the opening keeps trays out of the trash. Eat lunch at Moishe’s: meh. Go to the Watts Towers. Take the tour. Learn that the property forms a triangle — a ship, headed east, back to Simon Rodia’s Italy. Learn from the tour that Charles Mingus grew up nearby. Talk with a man who has been working at the Towers since the age of fourteen. Learn from him the expression “bird class” — an easy class, one you can fly through, something he disdains. Realize that photographs won’t capture the startling beauty of the Towers, which rise out of all proportion on a narrow dead-end street of one-story houses. Take photographs anyway. Go to Amoeba Music. Feel badly out of practice at navigating the inventory of a genuine record store. Try anyway. Find several CDs. Research Vietnamese restaurants. Settle on Absolutely Phobulous. Bad pun. Excellent bánh mì. Good pho. (For bad puns, there’s also 9021PHO.) Discuss the washing of round plates and square plates. Round is better: you can begin anywhere. Square: too many choices! Go to Milk. There is no line. Watch the final episode of Game of Thrones. Have no idea what’s going on. (Others do.) But recognize various mythic elements in the narrative. (As others do too.) Watch The Next Food Network Star. Figure out that it’s a culinary version of professional wrestling. Toast Rob Zseleczky.

Go to the Social Security office with a tradition-minded newlywed who’s taking her husband’s name. Settle in for a long wait — on the sidewalk, in the sun. Feel the time breeze by while talking with with the two wonderful women right behind us, Angela and Cynthia. We are now a party of five. Listen with slight alarm as two of the five sing the theme song from H. R. Pufnstuf. Drive to Boyle Heights — which is not East LA. Go to Guisados. Eat incredible fish tacos. Eat more fish tacos. Look at serious Stetsons at El Norteño de Savy. Discover an unsuspected father-daughter taste for mindless wallpapery piano music — but only as wallpaper. Go to a Walgreens for a cold drink. Look at the sushi bar. Yes, the drugstore has a sushi bar. It’s Los Angeles. Go to The Last Bookstore. Cool, sure, but not if you’re looking for a particular book. Pass the Chateau Marmont, where stars go to do whatever. Go to Book Soup. Here is a serious bookstore, with particular books. Go to Mystery Pier Books and gape. An eighteenth-century Othello. Bleak House in serial form. Nicholas Nickleby in serial form. Prince Albert’s Golden Precepts, inscribed by Queen Victoria to the Countess Blücher. The Great Gatsby with James Cagney’s bookplate. Two shelves of Faulkner first editions. A first-edition Catcher in the Rye. Thank you, Louis Jason, for showing some self-confessed non-customers such treasures. Buy a straw hat for $5: “100% PAPER.” It works. Go to Nate ’n Al’s. Fine food. No sign of Larry King. Walk — skeptically — past the Beverly Hills stores. Do not pose for photographs with the stores. Walk down the staircase from Clueless. As if! Watch Her. Realize that commercials misrepresent the film, which is dark and sad and nearly the case.

Visit an elementary school. Think about inequality of resources: in a better nation, what one school has, all schools would have. Walk to Wilshire Boulevard. Eat lunch from the food truck Báhn in the USA, the successor to Cali Báhn Mì and just as good. Go to LACMA. Spend time in the exhibition Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Record unfamiliar names to look up: Lyonel Feininger, Harry Kessler, Aristide Maillol, Jean Metzinger, Christian Rohlfs, Richard Seewald, Paul Signac. Go to the exhibition Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic. Wonder if our friend Seymour Barab knew Calder: they have a similar playful wit. Lean about Abbot Kinney, mastermind of Venice. Drive to West Hollywood. Think about the miserable life a homophobe would have in Los Angeles. Think again about inequality of resources: in a better nation, what one school has, all schools would have. Go to Fresh Corn Grill. Go to Yogurt Stop, frozen yogurt with a lewd logo and the catchphrase “Pump It Yourself.” Watch The Little Couple. Watch TINY. Fail to realize the awkwardness of that sequence. Watch the “Flo” episode of Girls. Feel greater respect for Lena Dunham, ungrudgingly. Watch local news, hilariously dumb and an hour long. Wonder whether the anchor is imitating Ron Burgundy or comes by that manner naturally.

Study graffiti. Go to the Huntington Library. Get lost in the Tea Room trying to get back to the outdoor tables. Think about Messrs. Frick and Huntington: the latter seems to have had better taste. Guess that he was also the better person. Gape at the greatest hits. Among them: a Shelley notebook, a Twain manuscript. And Chaucer, Shakespeare, and a Gutenberg Bible, of course. And a Nicholas Nickleby, just like the one at Mystery Pier. Think about the idea of the book, especially in pre-print form, an object to treasure, non-ephemeral. Look at many paintings. Walk through many gardens. Smell dozens of herbs. Develop an urge to use aftershave. Go to Genghis Cohen. Determine its connection to Seinfeld. Agree that the food is, yes, New York-style Szechuan. Agree that the mustard is very hot. Watch 20 Feet from Stardom: such voices! “Rape, murder. It’s just a shot away.” That’s Merry Clayton. Merry Clayton.

Go to the Getty Museum. Remark (again) that the setting would be perfect for a James Bond escapade: thrilling views, vertigo-inducing staircases, squint-inducing white walls and pavement. Look at the work of Yvonne Rainer. Dig the notebooks. Be less impressed by the dances. Acknowledge that one’s openness to whatever might be called avant-garde has diminished over time. Ponder illuminated manuscripts, profoundly moving in their patient effort. Be amazed by Ethiopian texts with African evangelists, written in Geez. Look at the work of James Ensor. Distrust the museum cards. Decide that he must have suffered a crack-up. Sniff at eighteenth-century furniture, but covet a desk with secret compartments. Realize that museum stores are an excellent source of titles to get from the library: a history of paper, a history of science, a biography of Henry Darger. Browse a book of Vivian Maier self-portraits: she’s there in mirrors and as shadows. Break sunglasses. Go to CVS. Go to K-Mart. Buy new sunglasses, same as the old sunglasses. Go to Grub for comfort food: potato-chip chicken, Greek salad, BBQ pork, tuna melt. Endless blueberry lemonade. Endless iced tea. Go to Yogurtland. Notice that beggars in Los Angeles often sit by drugstores and supermarkets. Watch Clueless. Get jokes for the first time. Everything in Los Angeles is twenty minutes away, given Cher’s limited sense of the city’s limits. Notice the staircase in Beverly Hills. Notice the freeway. It’s all come true.

Wake up early. Sigh. Go to Pann’s for a last breakfast. Notice a signed picture of Jack LaLanne on the wall. What was he doing here? Perhaps enjoying Uncle Bud’s Mississippi Cheese Eggs. Think of Blind Willie McTell’s “Travelin’ Blues”:

Then I begin to hear him tell me
’bout those cheese and eggs,
how he want ’em fixed.
I heard him say, “Scrambled down.
Scrambled down. Scramble ’em down.”
Make a note to look up Uncle Bud. Go back to LAX.

Thank you, Rachel and Seth, for a wonderful week in your sunlit city.


June 24: One I forgot: At Book Soup, admire art by Karlin Collette.

A related post
Things to do in Los Angeles, 2012

Friday, June 20, 2014

From Robert Walser

That early time was certainly wonderful. I lived entirely inwardly, almost all in my mind and own head. Nonetheless, or maybe precisely as a result, everything external had a thoroughly joyful ring to it.

Robert Walser, “From My Youth,” in A Schoolboy’s Diary, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2013).
Other Walser posts
From “The Essay”
From “Reading”
From “Spring”
Robert Walser, Microscripts
Staying small

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Carter’s Proust

“The first volume of the Yale project, published to coincide with the centennial, clearly aspires to become the new pedagogical standard. The project’s start, however, is less than auspicious.” On William C. Carter’s annotated edition of Swann’s Way: Leland de la Durantaye, Style Over Substance: Translating Proust (Boston Review).

[I’d have bought this book not long ago, but it would never have fit in the suitcase. Now I think I might pass.]

Chan Is Missing

[Gadget storage. Click for a larger view.]

Jo (Wood Moy) speaks:

“I went home to get a bite to eat. There was only a piece of leftover pizza. Chan Hung used to always talk about how Marco Polo stole everything from us. First pasta, then pizza. Too bad the Chinese didn’t have tomatoes. But I shouldn’t complain. The only thing I use my oven for is to store gadgets. I guess I’m no gourmet Chinese cook, and I’m no Charlie Chan either, although I did start watching some of his reruns for cheap laughs.”
I should have seen Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing years ago — in 1982 to be exact. I saw the trailer again and again at Boston’s Nickelodeon Cinemas. Now I think I know what must have come between me and this film: the end of the spring semester. There was work to be done, to be done.

Chan Is Missing is a wonderful film, filmed for next to nothing ($22,000). Think of it as social commentary in the form of a detective story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Domestic comedy

“I’ve done that inadvertently.”

“You should do it vertently.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Bix to Yoko in three or four Now with two paths.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bix to Yoko in three or four

I like thinking about degrees of separation, which seem to work — always — in dizzyingly unpredictable ways. E.g.: Barack Obama – Buddy Guy – Son House – Charlie Patton. Guy played at a White House function; Guy and House played together on the television show Camera Three. And then we’re back in the Mississippi Delta.

How many degrees of separation are needed to get from Bix Beiderbecke to Yoko Ono? There’s at least one way to do it in four moves, and at least one way to do it in three. And there may (I hope) be ways to do it that have not occurred to me. Each person after Bix, including Yoko, counts as one move.

Can you solve the Bix to Yoko challenge? Leave your solution as a comment. If no one gets it, I’ll reveal my solutions tomorrow.

A related post
Six degrees of Richard Nixon

[My having met Barack Obama gives me four degrees of separation from Charlie Patton.]


June 18: One Bix to Yoko path is now in the comments. Here’s the in-three that I thought of: Jack Teagarden played with Bix and with Chuck Berry. (Really: Teagarden was part of the Newport Blues Band on the stage with Berry at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.) And Berry performed with John and Yoko on The Mike Douglas Show. Bix to Teagarden to Berry to Yoko.

Monday, June 16, 2014


My friend Rob Zseleczky died a year ago. The one thing I have learned about losing a friend — or losing anybody — is that the losing goes on for a long time, taking different forms at different times. In other words, you keep losing.

How many times in the last year have I read or noticed something that I’ve wanted to tell Rob about? Many.

I wrote these words for Rob last year. There’s a poem of his there too that I love.

Bloomsday 2014

It is Bloomsday. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922) begins on June 16, 1904, and stretches into the early hours of June 17. Here is a passage from “Ithaca,” the novel’s catechitical next-to-last episode. Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in Bloom’s kitchen, sharing the sacrament of Epps’s Cocoa.

What relation existed between their ages?

16 years before in 1888 when Bloom was of Stephen’s present age Stephen was 6. 16 years after in 1920 when Stephen would be of Bloom’s present age Bloom would be 54. In 1936 when Bloom would be 70 and Stephen 54 their ages initially in the ratio of 16 to 0 would be as 17 1/2 to 13 1/2, the proportion increasing and the disparity diminishing according as arbitrary future years were added, for if the proportion existing in 1883 had continued immutable, conceiving that to be possible, till then 1904 when Stephen was 22 Bloom would be 374 and in 1920 when Stephen would be 38, as Bloom then was, Bloom would be 646 while in 1952 when Stephen would have attained the maximum postdiluvian age of 70 Bloom, being 1190 years alive having been born in the year 714, would have surpassed by 221 years the maximum antediluvian age, that of Methusalah, 969 years, while, if Stephen would continue to live until he would attain that age in the year 3072 A.D., Bloom would have been obliged to have been alive 83,300 years, having been obliged to have been born in the year 81,396 B.C.
Other Bloomsday posts
2007 (The first page)
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (Leopold Bloom, “water lover”)
2011 (“[T]he creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)
2013, 2013 (Bloom and fatherhood)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father’s Day

[Photograph by Louise Leddy. Union City, New Jersey. November 28, 1957.]

I looked up the date: it was a Thursday. What we were doing posing for pictures on a weekday? And then I realized: it was Thanksgiving.

I am very thankful to have Jim Leddy for a father. Happy Father’s Day to him and to all fathers.

Friday, June 13, 2014

From Robert Walser

I always walked along the same path, and every time it seemed entirely new. I never tired of delighting in the same things and glorying in the same things. Is the sky not always the same, are love and goodness not always the same? The beauty met me with silence. Conspicuous things and inconspicuous things held hands with each other like children of the same mother. What was important melted away, and I devoted undivided attention to the most unimportant things and was very happy doing so. In this way, the days, week, months went by and the year ran quickly round, but the new year looked much the same as the previous one and again I felt happy.

Robert Walser, “Spring,” in A Schoolboy’s Diary, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2013).
Other Walser posts
From “The Essay”
From “Reading”
Robert Walser, Microscripts
Staying small

Recently updated

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech Now with added technology to prevent plagiarism.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Visualizing our solar system

Worth the scroll: If the Moon Were Only One Pixel. I’m with Pascal: “Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m’effraie.”

[Found via Creative Good’s newsletter.]

Darger and Maier

Watching Finding Vivian Maier (dir. John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, 2014), I thought again and again of Henry Darger. The similarities between these Chicago phantoms are unmistakable: years of low-paying work, secret lives of creativity in multiple media, a strong inclination to collect and hoard, a fascination with violence, and a devotion (both tender and cruel) to children. (It’s reasonable to speculate that both suffered abuse in childhood.) There are uncannier similarities too: Darger and Maier both claimed to have been born abroad (Darger in Brazil, Maier in France), and both have last names whose pronunciation is uncertain.

But the contrasts between Darger and Maier are just as unmistakable. Darger labored in the Realms of the Unreal (to borrow from the title of his master narrative) and lived in near isolation. Maier documented urban dailiness and lived in relation to her employers and her charges. She seems to have been at home anywhere, traveling the world, even interviewing strangers in the supermarket (tape recorder running) to get their opinions on current events. I can imagine Maier walking up to Darger, microphone in her hand, and Darger shuffling away and muttering.

What Darger and Maier ultimately have in common is a dedication to their work for its own sake. I like what the photographer Joel Meyerowitz says about Maier in the Maloof-Siskel documentary: “She didn’t defend herself as an artist. She just did the work.” So too with Darger. These artists are fortunate, I think, that their work became known only after their deaths, when public attention could not violate their privacy, when no one could ask anything more of them. Their stories make me wonder how many other secret artists might be at work in our cities.

[Multiple media: Darger: visual art, narrative fiction, autobiography. Maier: photography, home movies, tape recordings. Darger’s name is said to be pronounced with a soft g, though I can no longer recall who says so or what the evidence is. Finding Vivian Maier settles on a long i : my - er .]

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Naked City agriculture

From the Naked City episode “Spectre of the Rose Street Gang” (December 19, 1962), sounding like a voice from the future:

“I got a wife, two kids, a nice business — produce, organically grown, no sprays.”
The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition for organically : “In the manner of or with regard to organic farming or gardening.” The first citation is from H. J. Massingham, The Wisdom of the Fields (1945): “What I did not expect was to see a farm, organically husbanded and thus faithful to the old spirit of the country.”

The OED dates to 1942 the use of organic to describe farming or gardening: ”using no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. Also designating a farmer or gardener utilizing such a method, or a farm on which the method is employed.”

The OED ’s first citation for organic as a word that describes food (“produced without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals”) is a 1960 New York Times advertisement: “Fruit and vegetable juice. Natural. Organic foods. Energy vitamin and minerals. Catering to special diets.”

Why a reference to organic farming in a Naked City episode? Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published on September 27, 1962. Sprays — pesticides — were in the air and on people’s minds. This line of Naked City dialogue was (and is) food for thought.

Related reading
All OCA Naked City posts (Pinboard)

[The OED Identifies the author of The Wisdom of the Fields as A. J. Massingham. But he’s H. J.]

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Good advice from Seth Godin

Good advice for anyone who does anything:

Do your work, your best work, the work that matters to you. For some people, you can say, “hey, it’s not for you.” That’s okay. If you try to delight the undelightable, you’ve made yourself miserable for no reason.

Mark Trail recycles

[Mark Trail, June 10, 2014.]

Today’s Mark Trail made me think of Bob and Ray and Mark Backstayge, Noble Wife, whose cast members would repeat a key word or phrase in a variety of tones:

“We’re going to the Dry Tortugas.”

“The Dry Tortugas!”

“The Dry Tortugas!?”

“The Dry Tortugas?”
And then the strip made me think of a Specials song: “Where did you get that — blank — blank expression on your face?”

The answer: from May 15’s strip.

[Mark Trail, May 15, 2014.]

It reassures me to see that James Allen, Mark Trail ’s new cartoonist, has preserved Jack Elrod’s practice of recycling old art. Copy, paste, tilt, make slight alterations.


Seeing Mark’s repeating face made me think of Cherry Trail, Cherry Trail, Cherry Trail, Cherry Trail. I had to do it:

[Mark Mark Mark Mark, June 10, 2014.]

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)
Orson Trail (Same face, recycled twice)

[Mark Trail? Mark Trail!? Mark Trail!]

Monday, June 9, 2014

Recently updated

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech Now with a penalty.

Strunk and White and Kalman

At Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Maira Kalman: The Elements of Style, an exhibit of Kalman’s paintings for the 2005 illustrated edition of The Elements of Style. These paintings, which illustrate everything from sample sentences (“It was a unique eggbeater.”) to points of usage (“Illusion . See allusion .”) to glossary terms (“sentence fragment”) to index entries (“Lincoln, Abraham”), work well to celebrate the cheerful eccentricity of The Elements.

As I wrote in this 2012 post, I would like to see what Maira Kalman might do with the Elements sentence “Is it worth while to telegraph?” That sentence first appeared in the 1918 Elements. It has never left — which helps to explain both the book’s charm and its awkward position as a guide to writing in the twenty-first-century.

Related reading
All OCA Strunk and White posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech The principal’s defense disappears.

Thomas Merton, T-Ball Jotter user

[Detail of a photograph by John Howard Griffin.]

That’s a Parker T-Ball Jotter in Thomas Merton’s hand, no question. The photograph is here. And there’s another, also by Griffin, here.

Related reading
All OCA Thomas Merton posts (Pinboard)
A 1963 Jotter ad
A 1964 Jotter ad
Five pens
“Make My Jotter Quit!”

[You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or even a theist to love Thomas Merton.]

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Recently updated

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech The principal takes to his school’s website to defend himself.

Recently updated

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech Now with a surprising detail about the principal’s education. Surprising, at least, to me.

Another school principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech

Another high-school principal has been caught with his hand in the David Foster Wallace cookie jar. Principal Matt Sanger of Garden Spot High School, New Holland, Pennsylvania, gave a commencement address lifted, almost in its entirety, from David Foster Wallace’s now-celebrated 2005 Kenyon College commencement address.

Says Principal Sanger, “The inspiration came from his speech. I found it to be very moving and inspirational.” And: “Looking back on it, in hindsight, I should have probably cited [Wallace] in my speech.”

Well, no. The inspiration didn’t come from Wallace’s speech. The speech came from Wallace’s speech. And there could be no plausible way for a speaker to acknowledge that. I like, by the way, “Looking back, in hindsight.” Was it that difficult to figure out beforehand, in advance?


Sanger stressed that he didn’t simply copy and paste portions of the original in an attempt to pass off the work as his own. He said he retyped the speech word-by-word, changing a few phrases and references along the way to reflect the local audience.
Given the ease with which one can find a transcript of Wallace’s speech, I’m skeptical about the retyping claim. It sounds like special pleading: I didn’t buy the SparkNotes! I only borrowed them from my roommate! Retyping or not, Sanger was doing what (I am told) education majors are often encouraged to do. It’s called “rewording.” What it amounts to: finding some source material, tinkering here and there, and presenting the result as your own. No attribution needed!

Principal Sanger’s choice to plagiarize from DFW raises an obvious question: is it likely that this is the first time he’s borrowed without attribution? He might have a long history of “rewording.” His choice to borrow from Wallace suggests an extraordinary cluelessness about contemporary American culture: did he assume no one in his audience would recognize his source?

Garden Spot High School’s Dishonesty Policy includes this item in its list of don’ts: “Submitting material (written or designed by someone else) without giving the author/artist name and/or source (e.g. plagiarizing or submitting work created by internet sources, family, friends, or tutors.)” Someone needs to call Principal Sanger’s parents. But seriously: what penalty is appropriate for a principal who does what Sanger did? The comments from administrative types quoted in the local paper suggest that there’ll be no consequences. Everyone uses “books and other things for background,” says one; everyone screws up, says another.


5:00 p.m.: This article mentions that Sanger was a student at the College of William and Mary, a school known for its Honor Code. [Jaw drops, hits floor.]


7:39 p.m.: As LancasterOnline reports, Principal Sanger is defending himself on Garden Spot High School’s website:
In preparing for commencement, I developed three versions of the speech (see attached). The first version is what I consider to be the “full version”, which includes in-text citations and a works cited page. The second version is what I consider to be the “tech” version, which includes PowerPoint transition reminders for our tech crew. The third version is what I consider to be the “on-stage” version, which is free of citations and PowerPoint transition reminders. I scanned the latter version for Lancaster Newspapers late Friday afternoon just before 4 PM. This was a mistake on my part because I should have shared the full version with the appropriate citations.
Here is a passage from Sanger’s commencement address, with citations:

TeamONE? That’s the name of the YouTube user who posted excerpts from Wallace’s address. Sanger’s Works Cited page also has an entry for an online transcript of Wallace’s address. Kind of puzzling, that, as Sanger earlier said that he retyped the speech word by word. Why do so if you have a transcript?

Here is the corresponding passage from Wallace’s address, as given in the transcript Sanger cites:

Whether Sanger’s “‘full version’” was in existence before 4:00 p.m. Friday matters little. What matters more is that the passage from it (which is representative of the whole) fails utterly as an example of appropriate attribution. It follows its original word for word, or nearly so. Yet Sanger manages to miss the point: it’s not “moral stories” that Wallace is interested in but “banal platitudes,” the stuff he learned in recovery, the world of “Easy does it” and “One day at a time.”

This sorry story reminds me of something I’ve heard on Cops : when addressing a suspect, the police will often say, “You have one chance to tell me the truth.” I think Principal Sanger has missed his chance.


June 9, 11:42 a.m.: Principal Sanger’s explanation has disappeared from Garden Spot High School’s website.


8:12 p.m.: LancasterOnline reports that Sanger has been suspended for ten days without pay.


June 13: WITF reports that the school district will now use software to check “major speeches” for plagiarism. My 2¢: Plagiarism is an ethical failure. Technology is not the answer.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)
All OCA plagiarism posts (Pinboard)
Principal borrows from DFW’s commencement speech (A 2011 incident)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Roger Angell on Don Zimmer

It’s a short piece at The New Yorker. It begins:

Don Zimmer, who died yesterday at eighty-three, was an original Met and an original sweetie pie. His sixty-six years in baseball were scripted by Disney and produced by Ken Burns. (Grainy black-and-white early footage, tinkly piano, as he marries for life at local home plate in bushy, front-porchy Elmira, New York; smiling baggy-pants young teammates raise bats to form arch.)
Irresistible, right? Even if you know next to nothing about baseball.

Related posts
Roger Angell, notebook man
Roger Angell, “This Old Man”

Friday, June 6, 2014

Roger Angell, notebook man

Roger Angell is a notebook man:

Inside the cabinets above his desk, he has stored what may be his most valuable assets: stacks of the three-subject notebooks he uses while reporting. “Mead notebooks,” he says, “the best notebook in the world. [The New Yorker editor] David Remnick and I talk about how you can’t get anything to replace the Mead notebook, which is unavailable now. They take ink perfectly. There is a great flow. All the other notebooks are coated with something so your pen slides along.” In recent years, when he goes on reporting trips, he has resorted to making use of old Mead notebooks that still have blank pages.
Here (not from the interview) is a photograph of Angell with a notebook. And here (not from the interview) is a photograph of the notebook. Could Angell’s notebook be the not-three-subject 6″ x 9 1/2″ Mead?

Mead still makes three-subject notebooks, including the 6″ x 9 1/2″. Perhaps their quality isn’t what it was.

Related posts
Ron Angell on Don Zimmer
Roger Angell, “This Old Man”

[Found via]

June 6, 1944

[“Somewhere in England, American soldiers of the 9th Army Air Corps advance HQ board an LCT (tank transport) landing craft for the trip to the beaches of Normandy & the Allied invasion of France, aka D-Day.” Photograph by Frank Scherschel. June 6, 1944. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a larger view.]

Thursday, June 5, 2014

VDP on songwriting in these times

Van Dyke Parks on songwriting in these times:

Forty years ago, co-writing a song with Ringo Starr would have provided me a house and a pool. Now, estimating 100,000 plays on Spotify, we guessed we’d split about $80. When I got home, on closer study, I found out we were way too optimistic.
Read it all: Van Dyke Parks on How Songwriters Are Getting Screwed in the Digital Age (The Daily Beast).

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Mark Trail revised

[Bear and friends, May 23, 2014. Mark Trail panel, May 15, 2014. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

ASCAP, all caps Why The New York Times spells it Ascap.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Bryan Garner story

Bryan Garner says that this piece is based on a true story: How polish and attention to detail can win the motion (ABA Journal). Good advice for addressing any audience in writing. I like the dowdy dialogue:

“Jim, good usage isn’t nearly as fluid as you’re suggesting. Besides, I’m talking about current editorial standards. Have you ever heard of Theodore Bernstein or H.W. Fowler?”
Related reading
All OCA Bryan Garner posts (Pinboard)

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

ASCAP, all caps

Odd to see The New York Times rendering the acronym for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers as Ascap, especially when the article also mentions — with caps — BMI. But Ascap is Times style, as given in the paper’s Manual of Style and Usage. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate has the acronym in caps, as does ASCAP’s website. Why Ascap, Times?


June 5: Why Ascap? The Manual of Style and Usage entry for acronym explains: “When an acronym serves as a proper name and exceeds four letters, capitalize only the first letter: Unesco, Unicef.” But then there’s FERPA. Or is it Ferpa?

Also from Robert Walser

Reading is as productive as it is enjoyable. When I read, I am a harmless, nice and quiet person and I don’t do anything stupid. Ardent readers are a breed of people with great inner peace as it were. The reader has his noble, deep, and long-lasting pleasure without being in anyone else’s way or bothering anyone. Is that not glorious? I should think so!

Robert Walser, “Reading,” in A Schoolboy’s Diary, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2013).
Other Walser posts
From “The Essay”
Robert Walser, Microscripts
Staying small

[I type Wasler for Walser, again and again. Is that not dumb? I should think so! Thanks, Chris.]

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

From Robert Walser

It’s much prettier, and thus much quicker, and thus much more sensitive and pleasing to write on clean, smooth paper, so always make sure you have good writing paper ready. Why else are there so many stationery stores?

Robert Walser, “The Essay,” in A Schoolboy’s Diary, trans. Damion Searls (New York: New York Review Books, 2013).
“The Essay” appears in Walser’s first book, Fritz Kocher’s Essays (1904), the collected schoolroom compositions of an imaginary boy.

The more I read of Robert Walser, the more I want to read. His work is uncompromised by any accommodation to reality.

Other Walser posts
Robert Walser, Microscripts
Staying small

Monday, June 2, 2014

Handwriting, again

“Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how”: What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades (The New York Times).

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Tovolo Perfect Cube, uncool tool

Last December I somehow found my way to a Cool Tools post about Tovolo ice-cube trays. I bought a set of Perfect Cube trays and soon began to wonder why ice water was tasting awful. How awful? Like a cross between freezer and rubber. Was our water really that bad? No. These trays stink, and they impart a stink to the ice cubes they hold. It’s most noticeable if I’m drinking ice water, less noticeable with bourbon or iced tea.

I called Tovolo this morning and was told what a Cool Tools commenter was told two years ago — that silicone absorbs odors at low temperatures. Which would seem to make it a poor choice for ice-cube trays, right? Not according to Tovolo. In the event of stink (my word not theirs), the company recommends washing the trays with two parts vinegar and one part water, every two months or so. Another suggestion: don’t store ice cubes in the trays themselves. I couldn’t help laughing about that one. You can see where this is going: the Tovolo tray becomes a complication, an object in need of maintenance. Not a cool tool at all. Very uncool, if you ask me. I would never have purchased these trays had I known that they would require scheduled maintenance and off-site storage.

The person I spoke with said that the company sells thousands of trays and that very few have these problems. Yet a prominent eBay seller who sells Tovolo has a page of directions for getting rid of the stink. In other words, it’s a Known Issue. And one- and two-star reviews on Amazon suggest that the stink is there to stay. To his credit, the person I spoke with said that Tovolo will replace trays when necessary. But I’m saving my vinegar and time and replacing the Tovolos with Rubbermaid trays. Elaine is using our Tovolos to store spools of thread. (Can thread stink?)

Had I read the comments at Cool Tools or even a smattering of Amazon reviews, I’d have balked at buying Tovolo trays. Note to self: read the comments next time, self. Don’t fall for shiny red objects before doing more reading.

[Yes, everything is less noticeable with bourbon.]

A collaborative poem

My friend Sara McWhorter and I traded lines to write this collaborative poem. It has the cheerful lunacy such things are meant (at least to my mind) to have. How to know when it’s done? When it’s done. Enjoy.

La mer
It’s hard to be the only sane person in the room
When the room is on—or in—the Titanic
“Clair de lune” in the park is also insane
Not that anyone is listening
So alight, my friend, from your high ship
And listen to La mer—I have it on LP
Or let the flood water your bed sheets
Summoned by Nature’s mighty beck and call

Sara McWhorter and Michael Leddy
May 31, 2014

Sunday, June 1, 2014

PBS wants me to flip my phone open

The television was on for “warmth,” tuned to PBS. I was startled to hear someone encourage viewers to “flip the phone open” and make a pledge. Yes, it’s pledge week on my PBS station. Tonight’s offering, Ed Sullivan’s Rock and Roll Classics, first aired in 2009. The pledge breaks are from 2009 as well. Thus the flip phone.

There’s something unseemly about a PBS station seeking to pull in viewers (and money) by running decades-old clips from a commercial variety show — and running those clips again and again. What would move me to give more money to PBS? Oh, say, a reprise of one or more Frontline episodes. Or an hour or two of the wonderful operas from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Or an episode or two of the great forgotten series Soul! — especially this one with Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

But as Kirk put it in his Soul! appearance, “People don’t even want us on television.” And now, not even on PBS. Gotta make more room for the Dave Clark Five and Yanni. They’re coming later this week too, again.

[I have no idea what airing an old PBS show might require in the way of permissions. But I doubt that such material is missing from pledge week because of such complications. By the way, the breaks on many PBS pledge-week programs now come from some mothership, not from the local station. And, yes, many people happily use flip phones in 2014. But the exhortation to “flip the phone open” now sounds rather dated.]

Illinois gets a star

[The Flag of Equal Marriage, now with nineteen stars.]

From “The Flag of Equal Marriage is an evolving protest flag for equal marriage rights in the US. It includes one star for each state which recognizes and performs same-sex marriages.”

The bill that Governor Patrick Quinn signed into law on November 20, 2013, goes into effect today.