Monday, February 29, 2016

“What’s an Election?”

A new song from our son Ben. There are more songs at Ben’s YouTube channel.


On the news, a Trump surrogate, speaking to a crowd a few minutes ago: “We’re going to build a wall to protect us from everyone who means to do us harm.”

But where do we build a wall to protect us from ourselves?

The Bridge , continued

A highlight of my December stint as a prisoner of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries: The Bridge , or, rather, Karen Kingsbury’s “The Bridge.” At the gooey center of this TV-movie is a cozy, pseudo-magical bookstore/café (that would be The Bridge) whose owners (the old marrieds) are always helping their loyal customers (including the book-hungry students seen below). If Thomas Kinkade had run a bookstore, it would have looked like The Bridge.

As I watched, I wondered: how will they wrap up this story with only fifteen, ten, five minutes to go? They didn’t: the movie ended with the words To Be Continued — in December 2016. My faux outrage was real. Other viewers were genuinely upset. The Hallmark Channel issued an apology. And now comes the announcement that Karen Kingsbury’s “The Bridge Part 2” will air on March 20.

[Bookstore of light. All new!]


March 1, 2016: “Book-hungry students”? Now I’m not sure. They buy coffee, which they drink while they study, but I’m not sure they ever buy books. They do already own books, which serve as props for studying.

Related posts
Hallmark ex machina
I am a prisoner of Hallmark Movies and Mysteries

[Beware any work of the imagination whose title includes the maker’s name. Other bridges: Hart Crane’s and Sonny Rollins’s.]

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Van or van

I finally noticed: our Penguin paperback The Letters of Vincent van Gogh switches between Vincent van Gogh and Van Gogh . The Chicago Manual of Style explains. Section 8.10 in the sixteenth edition (2010):

Note: “usually capitalized.” One can find both Van Gogh and van Gogh in recent books about the artist. The Art Institute of Chicago exhibition Van Gogh’s Bedrooms follows the Chicago Manual ’s recommendation: Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh.

Van Gogh's rec room

From George Bodmer: Van Gogh’s rec room.

[Context: an Art Institute of Chicago exhibition.]

Friday, February 26, 2016

Recently updated

Sanders at Chicago State The school has sent layoff notices to its 900 employees.

Henry Book

[Henry , February 26, 2016.]

Department stores used to have a section called Book. Even more exotic: Stamp and Coin.

My first store-bought (not school Book Fair) books came from a department store. Abraham and Straus? Macy’s? I don’t know. But I still have the books: Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe and A Tale of Two Cities (45¢ each).

A reader could even find Shakespearean criticism in a department store: this receipt at least strongly suggests that was the case.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Sanders at Chicago State

Bernie Sanders, speaking at Chicago State University last night: “Why is anybody in the world talking about shutting down colleges?” And: “Where are our priorities?”

Illinois has been without a budget for nearly eight months. The state’s higher-ed crisis is beginning to attract national attention: the Chronicle of Higher Education , CNN Money , NBC Nightly News , and The Washington Post have taken notice. And now a presidential candidate has said something.


12:48 p.m.: From the Chicago Tribune :

Chicago State University sent layoff notices to all of its 900 employees Friday, yet another sign of the escalating budget crisis for the Far South Side public institution that stems from the state’s own budget impasse.

The university, with about 4,500 students, declared a financial emergency this month to make it easier to fire tenured faculty, eliminate academic programs and take other extreme measures.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Clearview exit

Henry Petroski laments the coming disappearance of the typeface Clearview, used on United States highway signs since 2004: “Easy-Reading Road Signs Head to the Offramp” (The New York Times ).

Henry Petroski is the author of The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990) and other (also excellent) books. I corresponded with him c. 1990 and still have his letters, written in — yes, pencil.

[The Times can do what it wants, but offramp ? No hyphen?]

Wonders of Netflix

I pay only occasional attention to our Netflix queue, which leads to surprises, both pleasant and un-. In today’s mail, Ball of Fire (dir. Howard Hawks, 1941). The Netflix description:

Gary Cooper plays a serious but lovable English professor working with his colleagues on a dictionary of American slang. When a red-hot nightclub singer on the run from the mob takes refuge in their house, she also finds a place in their hearts.
Barbara Stanwyck plays the singer. And S. Z. Sakall plays one of Cooper’s colleagues. For a couple of hours tonight, all will be well. O wonders of Netflix!

Battery life

I hope everything therein is accurate: “Tips and Myths About Extending Smartphone Battery Life” (The New York Times ). The one I need to think on is “battery-saving myth” no. 1, about closing unused apps. I swipe apps away, again and again, daily. It’s the same thinking that had me cleaning the registry and removing junk files in Windows days. But an iPhone is not Windows.

From a Van Gogh letter

The religious fervor and sermonizing of Van Gogh’s early letters is occasionally interrupted by a passage of perfect description. Or better: composition. From a letter to brother Theo, October 31, 1876:

It was a bright autumn day and a beautiful walk from here to Richmond along the Thames, in which were mirrored the tall chestnut trees with their burden of yellow leaves and the bright blue sky, and through the tops of those trees the part of Richmond that lies on the hill, the houses with their red roofs and uncurtained windows and green gardens and the grey spire above them, and below, the great grey bridge, with the tall poplars on either side, over which the people could be seen going by as small black figures.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh , ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans (New York: Penguin, 1997).
In 1876, Van Gogh had not yet begun to paint.

Also from a Van Gogh letter
Admire as much as you can”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

School closures closings

On the radio today, phrasing that got my attention: someone read a long list of “school closures.” I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word closures in relation to weather-related closings.

I looked at several sources to find something relevant. “The New York Times” Manual of Style and Usage (2015) had it:

In references to shutdowns (of airports, businesses, streets, etc.), use closing(s) rather than the stilted closure(s).
That sounds right to me. A school closing might be for a day or two. Closure carries a stronger sense of finality: people are always looking for it. They want to be done .

This short post has now achieved closure.

Franny and Zippy

[Zippy , February 24, 2016.]

Zippy stands outside the Windsor Diner, 135 Main Street, Windsor, Vermont. J. D. Salinger ate lunch there, alone.

Related reading
All OCA Salinger and Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Where’s Franny? Not in the diner. She’s in New York, talking with her brother. But I couldn’t resist this post’s title. Now I’ll wait for the power to go out again.]

Scene from a marriage

[Nancy, January 20, 1951.]

I’m the one on the right. Logic: if the gods had wanted us to shovel snow, they would not have given us such a big driveway. But shovel we must — after the blizzard gets done.

When did you last hear someone say “Naw”?

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)
All OCA snow posts

Robert Walser: a metropolis

Robert Walser, “Fire,” in Berlin Stories , trans. Susan Bernofsky (New York: New York Review Books, 2012).

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thinking and writing (2)

Joseph Joubert:

Writing is closer to thinking than to speaking.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection, trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Paul Auster describes the French writer Joseph Joubert (1754–1824) as “a man of letters without portfolio,” “a writer who spent his whole life preparing himself for a work that ever came to be written, a writer of the highest rank who paradoxically never produced a book.” Joubert wrote, for forty years, in notebooks — aphorisms, observations, phrases. His work will be of interest to any reader who values the fragmentary, the provisional, the unfinished.

On my bookshelf, this book will go next to the NYRB edition of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg’s The Waste Books .

Thinking and writing (1)

Sir Ernest Gowers:

Clear thinking is hard work, but loose thinking is bound to produce loose writing. And clear thinking takes time, but time that has to be given to a job to avoid making a mess of it cannot be time wasted and may in the end be time saved.

The Complete Plain Words , rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut (Boston: David R. Godine, 1988).
I love the plainness of “making a mess of it.”

Sir Ernest Gowers (1880–1966), a British civil servant, wrote Plain Words (1948) and The ABC of Plain Words (1951), books meant to foster clarity and humanity in official English. He combined the two books to make The Complete Plain Words (1954). Gowers also edited the second edition of H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1965). The Complete Plain Words has been revised by Bruce Fraser (1973), by Greenbaum and Whitcut (1986), and by Rebecca Gowers, Sir Ernest’s great-granddaughter (2014). I’ve had the 1988 American paperback on a shelf for five or six years. And now I’m reading it.

Pocket notebook sighting

[“A woman in the building, an Ann Stewart, apartment 421, she just called in. Says she saw the man we’re after. Whatever that means.” That’s a streetlight behind the notebook. Click for a larger view.]

An anonymous detective and his notebook, as seen in Pushover (dir. Richard Quine, 1954). The film, which stars Fred MacMurray, Philip Carey, and Kim Novak, has strong overtones of Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder, 1944). Pushover looks to the future too: the story seems to foreshadow Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock), released just two days later. And because Kim Novak drives around and gets followed a lot, Pushover seems to foreshadow Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958).

And there’s a telephone booth.

[Kim Novak as Lona McLane, in her first credited film role. Click for a larger view.]

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Lodger : Murder at the Vanities : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : The Woman in the Window

Monday, February 22, 2016

EXchange names on screen

Diane Schirf sent these stills from The Blue Dahlia (dir. George Marshall, 1946). That’s Helen Morrison (played by Doris Dowling) placing a call, and Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) taking dictation and using a pay telephone. YOrk. HIllside. PAy. YAy. But it looks like poor Johnny has reached the voice of the future: “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line,” &c.

A telephone exchange name is not a necessary condition for a satisfactory film experience, but it may be sufficient, if you’re me. To heck with plot.

Diane Schirf is a fine writer and photographer. I especially like the writing she’s done about what she calls “relics”: clotheslines, push reel lawnmowers, telephone booths, and other vanishing realities. Thanks, Diane.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City (3) : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

From a Van Gogh letter

Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, January 1874:

Admire as much as you can, most people don’t admire enough.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh , ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans (New York: Penguin, 1997).
This book is the latest fare for our household’s two-person Four Seasons Reading Club. We bought one copy and borrowed another after seeing the Art Institute’s new exhibition Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Illinois’s higher-ed crisis on the evening news

NBC Nightly News has taken notice: Illinois students ponder their future amid ongoing state budget crisis.

If the scenes of protest at the Illinois State Capitol recall 2011 scenes of protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol, it’s no coincidence. Bruce Rauner is our version of Scott Walker.

Missing from the NBC story: hundreds of layoffs, and countless other consequences: lack of money for photocopying, for styrofoam food containers in college dining halls, for student travel to present work at conferences, and on, and on, and on.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Specialist

Casey Miner’s The Specialist is a lively, eye-opening podcast that focuses on unusual occupations: ice guy, lice lady, zoo chef. There’s a brand-new (and much darker) episode just out: search-and-rescue tracker.

Friday, February 19, 2016

How to improve writing (no. 63)

Here’s a sentence from a piece about David Foster Wallace at the The New Yorker website. The books in question are Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Oblivion :

Both books have fans, but I think it’s safe to say that no twenty-year-old will ever stick either of them in his or her backpack alongside Infinite Jest when they go trekking in Nepal.
The shift from “his or her” to a singular “they” is awkward. Sticking with singular pronouns — “his or her backpack when he or she goes trekking” — would be awkward too. The sentence needs rethinking. Or as we say in east-central Illinois, the sentence needs rethought:
Both books have fans, but I think it’s safe to say that no twenty-year-old will ever stick either of them in a backpack alongside Infinite Jest when trekking in Nepal.
I’d go further:
Each book has fans, but I doubt that a twenty-year-old will pack either book alongside Infinite Jest for a trek through Nepal.
I’ve removed the boilerplate “I think it’s safe to say,” reduced “stick either of them in a backpack” to “pack,” and made the work of packing precede the trek. And why “either book”? Look at the work “either of them” does in the original sentence:
Both books have fans, but I think it’s safe to say that no twenty-year-old will ever stick either of them . . . .
Having noticed that glitch, I find it impossible to un-notice it. Adding the word “book” keeps those fans out of the backpack.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve tried to set a good example by replacing quotation marks with italics for the title Infinite Jest . This post is no. 63 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Editing Donald Trump

From The New Yorker: Copy-Editing Donald Trump.

[Following its own course, The New Yorker spells copy-edit with a hyphen.]

A teaching dream

The clock was running down and I was paging through a well-annotated paperback, trying to find a necessary passage from Walter Pater. (Walter Pater!) But the clock was running down, and the students were getting ready to go. “Make sure to be here on Thursday!” I yelled. “I’ll be assigning a novel you need to read for Monday.” Yes, the entire novel. Some turnaround! The time ran out, the students left the room, and I was still turning pages.

My dad (a tile contractor) told me late in his life that he had been dreaming of work for years after retirement. He was a tile ace. But in every dream, the job was going badly.

A 2006 Wall Street Journal article (or even the small piece of it not behind the paywall) suggests that such dreams are common. Perhaps they allow us to wonder whether we really did as well as we think we did. Or perhaps they remind us that there’s much not to miss about work. Though in that case, I should have dreams in which I’m grading.

This dream marks my second classroom appearance since retiring. The first came last September.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[I loved teaching as long as I was doing it. But I don’t miss it. Thirty years is enough.]

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Henry Dreyfuss ice cream

Cooper Hewitt’s Object of the Day: a Henry Dreyfuss design for an ice-cream label. It makes me think of Joe Brainard’s work.

You can subscribe to the Object of the Day e-mail here.

Goodbye, “M”

First the Metropolitan Museum of Art ended the use of the “M” admission button, and now it’s doing away with the “M” altogether, a beautiful and art-historical “M.” Justin Davidson calls the Museum’s new logo “a typographic bus crash.” I agree. And I’d add that there won’t be another bus coming along any time soon.

Elaine, when I just showed her the new logo: “Ew.”

Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for passing on news of the new (ew) design.

[It’s really spelled ew, not eww . Who knew?]

Orderly, dark and deep

Verlyn Klinkenborg (born in Colorado, living in upstate New York) recounts waking up with “a deep taxonomic yearning” to identify the trees around him. So he begins learning. Hemlock: its needles have two white lines. Black birch: it grows on “disturbed ground.” White pine: its needles grow in fives.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, “February,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

My knowledge of the natural world is scant, and mostly derived from works of literature. (I have often learned about trees and flowers and such by first reading about them in poems.) I admire Klinkenborg’s knowledge of nature’s variety.

An inventory of wildlife at Dreamers Rise prompted me to pull this passage from Klinkenborg’s book. I admire Chris’s knowledge of nature’s variety too.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Robert Frost.]

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Today in sardine history

Our son Ben is drawing history, at History Comics.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

George Gaynes (1917–2016)

The actor George Gaynes has died at the age of ninety-eight. The New York Times has an obituary. It omits mention of Gaynes’s role as Arthur Feldman — old friend, suitor, and, finally, husband of Florence Bickford (Allyn Ann McLerie), who played the mother of Molly Dodd (Blair Brown) in the television series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd . I didn’t know until reading the Times obituary that Gaynes and McLerie were real-life partners, married in 1953.

The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd is an abiding preoccupation in our household. Here’s to all its company.

Related reading
All OCA Molly Dodd posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

“Go buy some pencils”

Siegfried N. Lodwig, a retired professor of chemistry and mathematics, argues for the simplest tool of thought:

The fundamental technology of the pencil is as useful today as it was in the year of its invention, 1662. No, I’m not a Luddite. I just want to urge that we teach students to use a hammer to drive a nail. A pile driver is not the correct tool to drive a nail. Go buy some pencils for your students.
Lodwig’s thinking make me think of my own antipathy to the word-processor as a tool for writing. I stand by what I wrote in 2011: “I consider a word-processing window a hostile workplace.” Writing is not word-processing. There are better tools for putting words together.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

[Difficult to say that the pencil was invented in 1662. But Wikipedia says that “the first attempt to manufacture graphite sticks from powdered graphite was in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1662.”]

Recently updated

Who Donne it John Milton, as The New Republic now acknowledges.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Recently updated

Rachel’s tips for success in college Ten years later, my daughter Rachel adds one more tip.

[How come? I linked to Rachel’s post earlier today. She read it and decided to say something more.]

Who Donne it


My friend Stefan Hagemann pointed me to a paragraph in Branka Arsić’s “Henry David Thoreau’s Magical Thinking,” a piece that came online a week ago at The New Republic ,  adapted from Arsić’s book Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau , published last month by Harvard University Press. Stefan didn’t tell me what to look for, but I found it anyway:

In that question, birds are employed in the same way as nature in John Donne’s “Lycidas,” a poem whose parts Thoreau copied in one of his very early commonplace books.
Ouch. The mistake gives new life to a question my friend Rob Zseleczky once heard someone ask a professor: “Milton: didn’t he write Chaucer?” Well, yes. But Donne wrote Milton.

The Bird Relics version of the sentence mentions neither Donne nor Milton:
In that question, on Sherman Paul’s understanding, birds are employed in the same way as nature in “Lycidas,” a poem whose parts Thoreau copied in one of his very early commonplace books.
Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone involved in preparing this piece for The New Republic could have added Donne’s name — the writer, an editor at the Press or the magazine, an intern putting in a link to the text of “Lycidas.” (That text is prefaced by the name John Milton.) What’s remarkable is that no one noticed along the way, at least not anyone with the authority to make a correction. But Stefan noticed, and invited me to notice. So thanks, Stefan.


8:57 p.m.: The New Republic now recognizes John Milton as the author of “Lycidas.”

[Stefan Hagemann has made many appearances in these pages. He wrote one of OCA’s two guest posts: How to answer a professor. The other guest post is by my daughter Rachel: Rachel’s tips for success in college.]

Mary Shelley: “a great and sudden change”

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).

This sentence jumped out at me last night.

Also from Frankenstein
“A godlike science” (On learning a language)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

June Fine (1932–2016)

[June Fine, probably in the 1980s.]

Elaine’s mother June died peacefully this morning at the age of eighty-three. June was a courageous and creative woman who lived with considerable physical pain and ample reserves of humor. She contracted juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of eight and braved its effects for the rest of her life, relying on nothing more than aspirin as a counter-agent. When she was no longer able to play the flute, she turned to painting. When she was no longer able to paint or write (macular degeneration), she turned to collage. When she could no longer see, she became an indefatigable reader of audiobooks. (Most recently, Moby-Dick and Don Quixote .) She was always an indefatigable NPR fan. She wanted to live long enough to cast an absentee ballot for Bernie Sanders in the Massachusetts presidential primary, a matter of great importance to her. But the ballot she requested was lost in the mail or never sent.

June was independent, sometimes to a fault. It’s a great consolation to our family that in the last two years she gracefully accepted help when she could no longer manage daily life on her own. We saw June last weekend in Boston (for what we knew would be the last time) and had a wonderful visit, with some music, some talk about her paintings and her writing, and a story. Elaine read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Pen and the Inkwell” to her mother, as her mother had read Andersen’s stories to her many years ago.

Elaine has written about her mother here.

Valentine’s Day

[C. 1884. Found at The Graphics Fairy.]

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Free advice

Hillary Clinton, in the last two debates: “A vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS.” “I do not believe a vote in 2002 is a plan to defeat ISIS in 2016.”

What Bernie Sanders could have said in response:

“The Secretary is correct: a vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS in 2016. But voting to authorize military action against Iraq, as you did in 2002, Madam Secretary, suggests that you lack the judgment necessary to develop an effective plan to defeat ISIS in 2016. On the most important foreign-policy question of the last forty years, you made the wrong choice. In 2016 your insistence on a no-fly zone in Syria is also the wrong choice. We cannot afford to get caught in another quagmire in the Middle East. And a no-fly zone would be the first step into another quagmire.”
Pretty good, I think.

Some rock

[Nancy , November 7, 1955. From Random Acts of Nancy .]

That’s some rock. Context: here. But especially here.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[Driving up a street of conspicuous wealth .]

“If I had a house that looked like that, I’d just sit inside and think .”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, February 11, 2016


Just one sentence about New York City:

It is the town of hope for Billy Klenosky, a song writer whose masterpiece, “April in Siberia,” was voted “Bomb of the Month” by radio station WINS.

Gay Talese, New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961).
As Billy, Mr. Klenosky leaves virtually no digital trail: the name appears in Portuguese and Spanish translations of Talese’s book, and in a Chicago Tribune review of the book. The name William yields more. The Social Security Death Index lists one William Klenosky, born May 28, 1922, died July 15, 1988. His parents were Sol (1894–1970) and Bessie Frenkel Klenosky (1899–1974). Sol was a restaurateur; Bessie, a “fundraiser and production chief” for the American Red Cross. William enlisted in the Army in October 1942 and served as a private. Bessie and William were both residents of Kew Gardens, Queens, when they died.

“April in Siberia” — or “April in Siberia!” — was released in 1959, one side of a 45 on the Bald Eagle label. The performer: Billy “K.” (A name meant to suggest Murray the K?) Billboard called the record “semi-humorous”:

[Billboard , April 13, 1959.]

William Klenosky made his first appearance in the New York Times in 1960, not as a songwriter but as a political candidate, running in a Democratic primary to represent Queens’s Fourth Congressional District. He lost. In July 1961, he was hoping to be elected mayor of New York, dropping a bid for the Democratic nomination to run as an independent. By August, he was collecting signatures to run under the name of the New City party (presumably a party of his creation). On September 20 the Times reported that Klenosky had submitted petitions with 7,600 names. And a day later, the New City campaign was over:

[New York Times , September 21, 1961.]

But no sign in the Times yet of “April in Siberia.” That would come two years later. On May 6, 1963, the show UTOPIA! A Musical opened at Manhattan’s Folksbiene Playhouse, presented by Billy K Productions, with book, music, and lyrics by William Klenosky, and a cast of twenty-seven. On May 7 the Times published a review by Louis Calta. The show’s premise was odd: an astronaut and cosmonaut encounter a group of Tories living in the Rocky Mountains. “A silly little musical,” “a lot of inadvertent humor,” “some strange doings,” said the Times . The reviewer managed to spell Klenosky’s name both correctly and incorrectly in the course of just a few hundred words. Among the show’s songs (all of which the Times pronounced “inadequate”): “I Work for Pravda,” “The Masses Are Asses,” “You’ve Got the Devil in Your Eyes,” and, yes, “April in Siberia.”

The Times review is perhaps most valuable for its summary of Klenosky’s mayoral campaign:

[New York Times , May 7, 1963.]

UTOPIA! closed on May 12.

In 1966 Klenosky was a Republican candidate for office, running to represent Queens’s Tenth District in the New York State Senate. He lost to Democrat S. R. Thaler. In 1967 Klenosky was back on Off-Broadway, with a one-man revue, Klenosky Against the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune , presented by “Billy K Productions in association with God,” with book “by Life,” music and lyrics by Klenosky, and “lighting by Con Edison.” Among the numbers: “Krushchev, Castro and Klenosky,” “The Republican Dilemma: Goldwater or Klenosky,” “Klenosky v. Thaler,” and “Lindsay Was Prettier and Taller Than Klenosky and Who’s Sorry Now?” The show closed within two weeks. For those unacquainted with the name, John V. Lindsay was elected mayor of New York City in 1965. Does that song title mean that Klenosky attempted a second run for mayor? Or was he still ruing his 1961 petitions debacle?

These fragments of a life suggest to me that William Klenosky had a marked and not necessarily congenial sense of humor, a strong ability to resist discouragement, a penchant for self-dramatization and exclamation points, and an extravagant sense of his own importance. I can imagine him sitting on Joe Franklin’s couch: “Here’s a young songwriter and performer I’m sure we’re going to be hearing a lot more from.”

For eighteen dollars, it’s possible to hear at least a little something from William Klenosky: eBay recently listed a copy of “April in Siberia!” b/w “She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Jaw.” The address for the Bald Eagle label: 80-32 Lefferts Boulevard, Kew Gardens 15, New York. Klenosky was breaking into the music business from home: 80-32 is a residential address, and it was Klenosky’s address when he filed his petitions in 1961. Today the 80-32 residence is still owned by a Klenosky.

The record is on its way here. Stay tuned.


March 1, 2016: I wondered whether the 1966 song “Lindsay Was Prettier and Taller Than Klenosky and Who’s Sorry Now?” was evidence of a second Klenosky run for mayor of New York City. Yes, it was. A newspaper editorial made a passing reference to a 1965 Klenosky campaign:

[“Absurd Law,” Milwaukee Sentinel , October 1, 1965.]

The Losers Party! Readers of a certain age will remember the New York Mets as largely hapless in their early years.


March 1, 2016: I am now the proud owner of a copy of William Klenosky’s 1959 45. Here are two snippets that illustrate Klenosky’s broad — some would say overbearing — sense of humor: “April in Siberia!” and “She Broke My Heart, So I Broke Her Jaw.” Notice the glitches with time: nine seconds into the first snippet, thirty-five seconds into the second, the singer is racing ahead of his own music.

Thanks to Elaine for digitizing these snippets.

Also from New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues
“Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen”
Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions

New York Times sources
“Results of Primary Contest in City.” June 9, 1960.
“Levitt Denounces Wagner As Failing in Leadership.” July 25, 1961.
“2 Mayoral Petitions Issued.” August 10, 1961.
“9 Entries Listed in Mayoral Race As Filing Is Ended.” September 20, 1961.
“Stephen Kennedy Still Undecided.” September 21, 1961.
“Theater Tonight.” May 6, 1963.
“Theater: ‘Utopia!’ Opens: Musical by Klenosky at Folksbiene Playhouse.” May 7, 1963.
“8th ‘Utopia!’ Show Is Last.” May 13, 1963.
Death notice for Sol Klenosky. October 9, 1970.
Obituary for Bessie Klenosky. December 20, 1974.

Other sources
“Reviews of New Pop Records.” Billboard , April 13, 1959.
Dan Dietz, The Off Broadway Musical, 1910–2007 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010).

[Dietz’s book is my source for song titles and the details of Klenosky’s shows.]

New old phone booths

The New York Times reports on refurbished replacements for Manhattan’s four streetside telephone booths.

Related posts
New York’s public telephones : The Lonely Phone Booth : Telephone booths

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Obama on the Titanic

Barack Obama spoke in Springfield, Illinois, today. Addressing the Illinois General Assembly, he spoke eloquently of the need for “a better politics”:

“When I hear voices in either party boast of their refusal to compromise as an accomplishment in and of itself, I’m not impressed,” Obama said. “All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments, like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe.”
I waited for some overt discussion of my state’s budget impasse and its catastrophic consequences for social services and public higher education. But as with Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address, the subject of the budget was barely there. Obama’s reference came only in passing, as the ship continues to sink. I had high, and perhaps foolish, hopes about this trip to Springfield. And now I am deeply disappointed.

You can watch and listen to the speech at YouTube. The reference to the budget comes at the 49:41 mark, thirty-three minutes into a nearly hour-long speech.

A related post
Illinois’s higher-ed crisis

[Yes, Obama, too, was dropping -g s.]

Sink redux

Bernie Sanders last night: “They’re throwing everything at me except the kitchen sink, and I have the feeling that kitchen sink is coming pretty soon as well.”

See also 2008, February and October.

Parking at Coney Island

A recurring scene from childhood: pulling up to the gate of the parking lot at Brooklyn’s Coney Island, my dad behind the wheel, my (maternal) grandfather sitting next to him.

(That must mean that there were four people sitting in the back: my grandmother, my mother, my brother, me. It was a big car, a Plymouth Savoy. And we were all varying degrees of small .)

Anyway — I remember my dad and my grandfather vying, again and again, to pay for parking, my grandfather reaching across to the attendant, my dad trying to block the attempt. Let me pay. No, I have it. They were men of honor.

I learned from my mom just a few days ago how much it cost to park at Coney Island: ten cents. So it was a game. They were men of honor and men of play.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


[On a phone, loudly .]

“The question is whether I stay stuck in this uncomfortable seat or get up and take all my stuff, which is also a pain in the neck.”

As a fellow bystander said to me, “So dramatic.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Mary Shelley: “a godlike science”

A creature learning a language:

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).

[The phrase “articulate sounds” may be an echo of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Frost at Midnight”: “falling on mine ear / Most like articulate sounds of things to come!” Elsewhere Shelley unmistakably echoes a phrase from the poem: Coleridge’s “the sole unquiet thing” becomes Shelley’s “the only unquiet thing.” Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner figures much more prominently in the novella. Our household’s Four Seasons Reading Club (formerly the Summer Reading Club) is happily trekking through Frankenstein .]

Monday, February 8, 2016

Small-town crown

What it can be like to live in a small town, or at least in our small town:

Elaine lost her crown (dental, that is). At seven this morning, she called our dentist’s office. They start early. “Are you dressed?” Yes. “Can you come in right now?” Yes.

There was no charge.

Our dentist, now eighty-seven, has been our dentist for the past thirty-one years.

A related post
Dentistry at dawn

1992 : 2016 :: 1968 : 1992

From The New York Times :

Mr. Clinton seemed especially irritated that New Hampshire, after lifting his 1992 bid for the Democratic nomination and handing [Mrs. Clinton] a comeback win in 2008, would now abandon his wife.
Time is relative: we hear half-century-old music playing in the supermarket and think nothing of it. But the idea that Bill Clinton’s 1992 success in New Hampshire should have anything to do with a 2016 election seems to me quite bonkers. It’s like thinking about Bill Clinton’s first presidential bid in relation to somebody else’s 1968 primary.

Besides, it’s not “New Hampshire” that votes. It’s individual citizens, many of whom are feeling the Bern. Some of them weren’t even born in 1992.

The Lettermate

For anyone who has trouble addressing an envelope in straight lines: The Lettermate.

Thank you, Rachel.

Related reading
All OCA letters posts (Pinboard)

Letters and vultures

Jean-Dominique Bauby writes that he receives many letters. Some discuss “the meaning of life” and “fundamental questions.” But not all:

Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly , trans. Jeremy Leggatt (New York: Vintage Books, 1997).

Related reading
All OCA letters posts (Pinboard)
Sunday TV (Also from this book)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday TV

Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly , trans. Jeremy Leggatt (New York: Vintage Books, 1997).

This luminous book, written, or composed, against all odds, may be read in an afternoon. It will be an afternoon well spent.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Verlyn Klinkenborg on writing

Verlyn Klinkenborg on what writing does:

It shares your interest in what you’ve noticed.
It reports on the nature of your attention.
It suggests the possibilities of the world around you.

Several Short Sentences About Writing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).
I take those three sentences as a good account of what it means to do this kind of writing, post by post.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Word of the day: kindie

I noticed the word on a poster: “The face of kindie music.” It was easy to figure out: k + indie — an indie version of kids’ music, with nice overtones of the German kinder and of what kids used to (and still do?) call kindygarden .

Kindie has thus far eluded dictionary definition, but Wordnik has a page for the word, with a citation that does a nice job of defining. From a Washington Post article about XM Radio’s Kenny Curtis:

Fortunately for Curtis and the millions of parents seat-belted within listening range, this is the golden age of “kindie” rock, a new generation of quality folk, pop and world music geared toward kids and parents alike.
The recent appearance of vinyl for the young must be a related development.

More on kindie music
Kindie rock (Slate ) : Stars of Kindie Rock (Time )

“Anthony! Anthony!”

Mary Fiumara was the voice in the Prince Spaghetti commercial.

That commercial sticks in my head because Bob and Ray made use of Mrs. Fiumara’s signature line. We would now say that they sampled it: “Anthony! Anthony!” followed by Bob and/or Ray saying something like “Will somebody stop that kid?” Yes, an imaginary Anthony was running through the Bob and Ray studio.

Jack Elrod (1924–2016)

Jack Elrod has died at the age of ninety-one. He began working on the comic strip Mark Trail in 1950, took over from Ed Dodd in 1978, and retired in 2014.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

False drama

“We’re in the home stretch”: Brian Williams, on MSNBC just now. Meaning that in fifteen minutes, the Democratic presidential debate begins.

Nancy with string

[Nancy, February 4, 1955.]

Nancy marvels at the care that must have gone into making that ball of string. The Nancy -verse is a work of intelligent design. (The Creator: Ernie Bushmiller.)

You can read vintage Nancy strips online, six days a week.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)


[“And the Style of Tip”?]

In 2014, while beginning to empty my office bit by bit of its, or my, accumulations, I rediscovered a file folder full of good stuff. The folder itself was a rediscovery as well. I have a dozen or so of these Filex Visible Name Folders, which I vaguely remember picking up in graduate-student days from a bookcase where faculty left odds and ends from their offices. (Think immersion heaters , sickly plants .) Each of my folders has “an all celluloid tab with face set at an angle of 45°, making names and index easily visible.” The tab, attached with four eyelets, can easily tear skin. This folder is not playing.

I thought that the Internets would make it easy to learn about Filex Visible Name Folders and Rand-Globe style. But no. Rand is an important name in the history of office equipment, as is Globe. But Filex? Nothing. Rand-Globe? I have no idea. But the Visible Name name makes me think that this folder must be a Rand product.

[From The Blue Book of Chicago Commerce (1922).]

[From Buffalo Live Wire (January 1916). Click for a larger view.]

Here is a page with photographs of employees assembling file folders in North Tonawanda. Do my folders date from the 1940s? I have no idea. But they’ve already outlasted countless cheap, disposable folders of my acquaintance.

From the folder full of stuff
Aglio e olio : The Art Ensemble of Chicago in Boston : Coppola/“Godfather” sauce : Jim Doyle on education : Mary Backstayge marigold seeds : A Meeting with Ludwig Wittgenstein : Seventeen ideas about interpretation : Tile-pilfering questionnaire

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Orin Incandenza, shapeshifter

[David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).]

That’s a pickup line used by Orin Incandenza (as recalled by his onetime friend Marlon Bain). I think this line has great relevance to our present political discourse: if Orin were a political candidate, he could be a progressive or a moderate, whatever a voter prefers. Why not? But Orin attempts to appeal by acknowledging his artifice.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

Bob Elliott (1923–2016)

Bob Elliott: as in Bob and Ray. I somehow caught on while still in high school, when Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding were doing an afternoon show on New York’s WOR. I remember my Spanish teacher telling me that they had mentioned my name on the air. I must have written to them, and my teacher must have listened while driving home. When I began my life as a college commuter, listening to Bob and Ray turned the late-afternoon crawl to the George Washington Bridge into a pleasure of sorts. Yes, I may have been stuck in traffic. But I was stuck in traffic while listening to Bob and Ray.

There are some scattered references to Bob and Ray in these pages. The one that a fan will appreciate is this one, with a letter from the Bob and Ray character Mary Backstayge. That such gentle lunacy flourished on the airwaves is a wonder.

The New York Times has an obituary.

A third police station

[Rusell Crowe as Officer Wendell “Bud” White. L.A. Confidential (dir. Curtis Hanson, 1997). Click for larger views.]

File cabinets in front of them, file cabinets in back of them. Files, files, everywhere. I must admit: during the fight scene between Office White and Detective Lieutenant Edmund “Ed” Exley (Guy Pearce), I was betting on the file cabinets.

We caught on to L.A. Confidential via Los Angeles Plays Itself (dir. Thom Andersen, 2003). Curtis Hanson’s film is funny, shocking, sleazy, violent, and full up on twists and turns — and file cabinets. Jeannine Oppewall received an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction (a category now called Best Production Design).

This police-station-from-the-movies is the third in recent weeks to leave our household in awe.

Other films, other police stations
Niagara : East Side, West Side

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Domestic comedy

[Re: Garrison Keillor .]

“He makes people happy.”

“Well, they may think they’re happy.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)


[Out to eat .]

“. . . she read the straight average, not the weighted average . . .”

“. . . ”

“. . . so I filled out an evaluation just like anyone else. But there were no categories . . .”

“. . . ”

“. . . sixty thirty-second commercials . . .”

“. . . ”

“. . . and the other is one-oh-four-point-three . . .”

“. . . ”

“. . . does she do all of them, or just the specials?”

“. . . ”

It felt like David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King .

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)
A post with more about the Wallace ellipsis

Monday, February 1, 2016

A joke in the traditional manner

Did you hear about the thieving produce-clerk?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Elementary school : A Golden Retriever : How did Bela Lugosi know what to expect? : How did Samuel Clemens do all his long-distance traveling? : What did the doctor tell his forgetful patient to do? : What did the plumber do when embarrassed? : What happens when a senior citizen visits a podiatrist? : What is the favorite toy of philosophers’ children? : Which member of the orchestra was best at handling money? : Why did the doctor spend his time helping injured squirrels? : Why did Oliver Hardy attempt a solo career in movies? : Why did the ophthalmologist and his wife split up? : Why does Marie Kondo never win at poker? : Why was Santa Claus wandering the East Side of Manhattan?

[“In the traditional manner”: by or à la my dad. He gets credit for all but the cow coloratura, the toy, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one.]

NYT sanitizes DFW

In marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (February 1, 1996), The New York Times has sanitized an often-quoted sentence from a Wallace interview. Here’s Wallace, speaking with Larry McCaffery in 1993:

Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.
And now Tom Bissell, writing in the Times :
In interviews, Wallace was explicit that art must have a higher purpose than mere entertainment: “Fiction’s about what it is to be a . . . human being.”
Bissell’s piece is excerpted from his foreword to a forthcoming twentieth-anniversary edition of Infinite Jest . The word explicit is odd here, as the Times — I assume it’s the Times, not Bissell — has chosen to be less than explicit.

The excision of fucking may be less deplorable than the outright rewriting a Philip Larkin poem in a 2012 review by Michiko Kakutani: “They mess you up, your mum and dad.” But the Times hasn’t only removed a word: the added ellipsis may too easily be read as an indication of a hesitation or pause in Wallace’s speaking, changing his blunt, inelegant remark into a moment of bathos: “a . . . human being.” It would be easy enough for the Times to suggest the full content without resorting to the ellipsis: “Fiction’s about what it is to be a [f---ing] human being,” or “Fiction’s about what it is to be a [****ing] human being.” They mess you up, The New York Times .

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)