Thursday, March 31, 2016

El Coyote neon

[“As seen in Los Angeles.” El Coyote Cafe, 7312 Beverly Boulevard.]

Visiting El Coyote is a thing to do in Los Angeles.

No more chicken and waffles?

East Coast Foods Inc., the parent company of Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, has filed for bankruptcy. A very strange story. We ate at a Roscoe’s last week while visiting Los Angeles.

Things to do in Los Angeles

[An incomplete list.]

Meet Rachel and Ben at LAX. Hi, Rachel and Ben! Driving back to Rachel and Seth’s place, discover that Rachel’s car has a tire with a leak, the work of what looks like a big plastic spike. Buy a can of Fix-A-Flat. Hope. Hear the sound of rim on street. Pull over by a hydrant — the only available spot — and change tire. Everyone participates: guarding against traffic, reading jack directions, finding the spot for the jack, loosening lug nuts, jacking up the car, changing the tire. Appreciate the benevolent neighborhood elder who watches over us. The only person strong enough to loosen the lug nuts: Rachel. Talk about this point often, with pride. Go to El Coyote, “Serving Los Angeles Since 1931.” Look at pictures of the stars who have eaten here: Shirley Temple Black and Fred Willard mean the most to us. James Hong (from the Seinfeld episode “The Chinese Restaurant”) ate here. Eat. Drink. Chips, guacamole, salsa: excellent. Fajitas, okay. Margaritas: weak. Ambience and neon: extra great. Before going to sleep, have a cup of tea: first caffeine since the early afternoon.

Get a new tire. Get three more new tires. They’re needed. Walk many blocks while waiting. It’s counter-cultural to walk in Los Angeles. Visit a used-record store. One curmudgeonly owner, one assistant, many, many LPs. Walk to pick up car. See Jane Lynch having lunch at a restaurant table right on the sidewalk. We love her from Christopher Guest’s movies. Walk on by, in appropriate leave-the-stars-alone fashion. Get car and go to Larchmont Bungalow, a lovely place to have lunch. Have lunch. Bison burger. Salads. Turkey melt. Note to self: “tea” in Los Angeles doesn’t always mean “black.” Go to Salt and Straw. Freckled Woodblock Chocolate? Yes. Notice that the ice cream becomes more enjoyable as one continues to eat it. Go to Landis Gifts and Stationery. Buy paper for writing letters. Look in many other stores. Looking, not buying, is plenty of fun. Return to home base. Sing many songs with guitar and ukulele. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” now with fambly-improvised lyrics on two coasts. Go to Pann’s before dropping Ben at LAX. But it’s Monday: the restaurant’s closed. (Diners close on Monday?) Go to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles instead. Great chicken, great cornbread, great macaroni and cheese, good waffles. Iced tea, black and unsweetened. See Ben off. Hug. Watch Karen Kingsbury’s “The Bridge Part 2” on DVR. It’s rather dull, and not nearly as bad (that is, good) as “Part 1.” There’s no Bridge (the bookstore) in “The Bridge,”  which takes away most of the fun. Have a glass of wine.

Wake up to horrible news from Belgium. Go to an office-supply store. A kind employee does Rachel’s xeroxing for free. Go to the post office to buy stamps. The post office doesn’t take cash. Go to the Hammer Museum. See the exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957. Look for evidence of our friend Seymour Barab’s sojourn at Black Mountain as a visiting musician. He’s not in the exhibit but he’s quoted in a book in the gift shop, recalling a summer of “esoteric incomprehensible conversations” between Charles Olson and Stefan Wolpe, each trying to out-talk one another. As far as Olson is concerned, that sounds about right. See the exhibition Still Life with Fish: Photography from the Collection. Allen Ruppersberg’s photographs of roadsigns with magazines are terrific. See the exhibition Catherine Opie: Portraits, photographs that look like paintings by Old Masters. One photograph looks like Jonathan Franzen. Yes, it’s Jonathan Franzen. Then discover a Millet and two Van Goghs in the permanent collection. The Hammer is a perfect museum: lots to see and find interesting, but not exhausting. And free, always. Go to Simplethings for lunch. Cobb salad, Cuban sandwich, meatball sandwich. A tie with Roscoe’s for best food. Go to The Grove. Looking, not buying, is plenty of fun. Go to Clifton’s for dinner. Experience vague film-noir feelings in the downtown parking garage. Experience vague film-noir feelings on the downtown sidewalks. Where is everyone? (Aside from the panhandlers.) Experience strong surrealist feelings in Clifton’s. It’s like the Grand Cosmo of Steven Millhauser’s novel Martin Dressler , with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Look: here, or here. Stuffed animals. A sequoia. A chapel. Four floors of cafeteria, the upper floors now closed. And a basement with a phone booth (minus phone). Wonder about the large blue object on a desk in a Red Bull billboard. (A Bluetooth speaker.) Watch the news. Give up. Watch Fixer Upper . Have a glass of wine.

Walk to LACMA. Learn from a helpful LACMA employee going in to work that the museum is closed for the day. We got our Mondays and Wednesdays crossed. Cross the street to visit the Craft & Folk Art Museum instead. See the exhibition Little Dreams in Glass And Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present. Learn about enameling. See the exhibition Made in China: New Ceramic Works by Keiko Fukazawa, witty commentary on consumerism and patriotism in the People’s Republic. Like the Hammer, just enough museum. Walk to Farmers Market. Notice a billboard for Mad Old Nut. Notice how few people are walking on any given stretch of sidewalk. Browse in Farmers Market. Buy two apples at Farm Boy Produce. It must not be unusual for people to buy single pieces of fruit: they have napkins. Eat lunch at Lemonade. Ahi tuna, avocado and cherry tomatoes, beef with miso, chicken and kale, chicken with mozzarella and pesto, chili soup. A best-food tie with Roscoe’s and Simplethings. Go to Book Soup. Looking, not buying, is plenty of fun. Go to Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, a street full of old furnishings and old clothes. Try on hats. Feel the weight of a 1940s(?) men’s coat. Looking, not buying, is plenty of fun. Be impressed by the array of books and supplies in The Writers Store. Screenwriters need brass fasteners, brass washers, and mallets. Go to Genghis Cohen for dinner. Something happened there to inspire the Seinfeld episode with James Hong. The food really does taste like the New York Szechuan of bygone days. Do Facetime with Ben. Watch the news. Give up. Watch Modern Family . Watch Flip or Flop . Have a glass of wine.

Learn about peripheral vision and flexibility. Go back to LAX. Hug.

Thank you, Rachel and Seth, for a wonderful four days in your city. We are fam-b-ly.

[A hydrant in Flattville, as seen in Google Maps. Thank you, hydrant, for giving us a place to stop and fix a flat.]

More things to do in Los Angeles
2014 : 2012

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Another Henry report card

[Henry , March 30, 2016.]

Henry last received a report card on January 30. There must have been more frequent report cards Back Then.

If this panel were all that survived of today’s strip, one could still identify the floating object as a report card. The notch in the envelope’s edge is the giveaway. Trust me: I was a schoolkid, not Back Then, but Back Far Enough.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Duke Ellington, Rotterdam 1969

Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. Rotterdam 1969 . Storyville Records. 2016.

The tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, quoted in Stanley Dance’s The World of Duke Ellington (1970):

“When there’s that fusion between guys who all feel like playing, when everything’s going down right, and we’re playing his music the way it should be played, then it's the greatest jazz band there is.”
That’s the case here.

Concert recordings of the Ellington band at times disappoint. The codified solos, the codified between-tunes patter, the lengthy (and dreaded) medley of hits: a sameness can set in. And yet live recordings are crucial to the Ellington canon: think Fargo 1940, Newport 1956. The only complete Ellington performance of Black, Brown and Beige available was recorded in concert at Carnegie Hall in 1943. The best performances of Suite Thursday and A Tone Parallel to Harlem are those preserved in recordings of 1963 Paris concerts. And the last official Ellington recording is of a concert performance: Eastbourne, England, December 1, 1973.

Rotterdam 1969 (recorded November 7, 1969, during a month-long European tour) is in many respects a great concert recording, with inspired musicianship and excellent sound quality. The instrumentation is a bit unusual: the band was trumpet-heavy but short on trombones, with Norris Turney sitting in with the section (and sometimes serving as a relief alto for an ailing Johnny Hodges). The late ’60s brought the Ellington band significant losses: Ellington’s writing and arranging companion Billy Strayhorn died in 1967; Jimmy Hamilton (clarinet and tenor) left in 1968; Buster Cooper (trombone) left in 1969. But the band was still rich in distinctive soloists: we hear from each member of the reed section (and Turney), from Cat Anderson, Lawrence Brown, and Cootie Williams; from Victor Gaskin and Rufus Jones; from Ellington (of course) and Wild Bill Davis. Other losses were to come: Brown would leave in January 1970, and the greatest blow came in May 1970, with the death of Hodges.

The concert begins and ends in slightly ragged fashion: a few bars of “Take the ‘A’ Train” crossed with “C Jam Blues” at the beginning, a few uncertain bars of “Satin Doll” at the end. But as “C Jam Blues” falls into place, with solos by Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Lawrence Brown, and Russell Procope, it’s clear that this band has come to play. I can imagine Harry Carney, at the far end of the reed section, pumping out the tempo with his left leg, as he so often did in concert. The piano sound on “Kinda Dukish” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” (“Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Take the “A” Train,’” as Ellington would always announce) is especially percussive, and the band’s performance of “Rockin’ in Rhythm” (a tune Ellington first recorded in 1931) is the most driven I’ve heard.

As in any Ellington concert, there are tunes that showcase individual musicians. No ballads for Paul Gonsalves on this night: he solos at a frantic tempo on “Up Jump” and ends with a delirious cadenza. He and Harold Ashby and Norris Turney engage in a three-tenor battle on “In Triplicate” (and for three or four seconds their collective improvising foreshadows the avant-gardism of the World Saxophone Quartet). Cat Anderson sets off high-note fireworks on “El Gato”; Rufus Jones has a brief feature on “Come Off the Veldt.” Wild Bill Davis, who created the famous “one more time” arrangement of “April in Paris” for Count Basie, does “Satin Doll” in the same manner. Johnny Hodges gets the most solo time: “Black Butterfly” is a sinuous 1936 tune in which the alto has at times the breathiness of a flute; “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and “R. T. M.” are exercises in establishing a deep sense of swing. It’s all Johnny Hodges being Johnny Hodges — beyond category, to borrow an Ellington term of praise.

And there are medleys. The first is a delight. It begins with a bit of “Caravan,” followed by a long “Mood Indigo” with just Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney (bass clarinet), Russell Procope (clarinet), and the rhythm section. How poignant to hear Brown, a most urbane trombonist, pick up a plunger mute and take on the role of his one-time section mate Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton as growl specialist. The band returns for “Sophisticated Lady,” a chance for Carney to demonstrate the wonders of circular breathing as he sustains a note on his baritone for nearly a minute. The second medley is a showcase for the singer Tony Watkins, and it’s a reminder that Ellington aimed to please all sorts of audiences, including those who might enjoy lyrics about "makin’ that love scene." I have often found Ellington’s choices in male singers puzzling, and Watkins’s performances here leave me puzzled still.

The great highlight of this recording is “La Plus Belle Africaine,” which Ellington wrote for the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal — “after,” as he points out, “writing African music for thirty-five years.” This piece always puts me in mind of “Ad Lib on Nippon” from The Far East Suite (1967): each piece has a long introductory section for piano and bass, after which a new theme begins and a member of the reed section takes on a solo role. Ellington’s piano is especially inventive in this “La Plus Belle Africaine,” sounding sometimes like a pizzicato violin, sometimes like a drum against Victor Gaskin’s bowed bass. And then Harry Carney enters on baritone, with a massive sound that suggests canyons, or cathedrals, or both. (In forty-seven years with the Ellington band, “La Plus Belle Africaine” was his greatest moment.) The piece ends by returning to the piano and bass, now with an element of call and response: Ellington and Gaskin playing a phrase, the audience replying by snapping fingers. The piece ends with a snap: in other words, the audience gets the last note, in a moment that’s witty, elegant, and moving.

First The Conny Plank Session , and now Rotterdam 1969 . How many more later-period Ellington performances remain undiscovered? There’s at least one more from Rotterdam: Storyville hopes to release a quartet session recorded after this concert, with Ellington, Davis, Gaskin, and Jones.

Thanks to Storyville for a review copy of this recording, which will be released on April 1.

The program:

Take The “A” Train/C Jam Blues : Kinda Dukish/Rockin’ in Rhythm : Take The "A" Train : Up Jump : La Plus Belle Africaine : Come Off the Veldt : El Gato : Black Butterfly : Things Ain’t What They Used To Be : Don’t Get Around Much Anymore : Medley: Caravan/Mood Indigo/Sophisticated Lady : Medley: Making That Scene/It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing/Be Cool And Groovy For Me : Satin Doll : R. T. M. : In Triplicate/Satin Doll

The musicians:

Cat Anderson, Benny Bailey, Mercer Ellington, Ambrose Jackson, Cootie Williams, Nelson Williams, trumpets
Lawrence Brown, Chuck Connors, trombones
Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, Norris Turney, reeds
Duke Ellington, piano; Wild Bill Davis, organ; Victor Gaskin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums; Tony Watkins, vocals

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)
Rotterdam 1969 (Storyville Records)

[Bjarne Busk’s excellent liner notes and Ken Vail’s Duke’s Diary, Part Two (2002) are my sources for the dates in the second paragraph.]

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oscar's Day No. 1317

A nice cartoon from George Bodmer: mom jeans telling dad jokes. Pretty corny, in more ways than one.

Robert Walser: trifles and trivialities

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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Boris Trail

[Mark Trail , March 28, 2016.]

There must be some way out of here, as the poet said. But there’s no way to unsee Mark’s sudden resemblance to Frankenstein’s monster. Cave . . . bad. Escape . . . good.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Mark, Carina, and Gabe have been stuck in this cave since February 2.]

A real-life Bookman

In New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), Gay Talese describes the work of John T. Murphy, “veteran sleuth” and Supervising Investigator for the New York Public Library. Murphy and a staff of seven tracked down missing books. An excerpt:

Although people who maliciously keep overdue books thirty days or more can be jailed, Murphy is content to regain the books and collect the five-cents-per-day-overdue charge, and then ban the culprit from the libraries. Many fines have run into hundreds of dollars per person. Not long ago Murphy’s men caught a little lady in Brooklyn with 1,200 overdue books. They were able to track her down, despite all her pseudonyms, by matching the handwriting on her various cards and by noting that she invariably borrowed novels of light romance. Librarians were alerted to the handwriting style and the lady’s penchant for light romance, and it was only a matter of time. When the lady was caught she was sent to a mental hospital; she was an insatiable kleptomaniac — but one of New York’s most well-read crooks.
Talese first wrote about Murphy for The New York Times (July 4, 1960), in an short article titled “Library Sleuths Trail Lost Books.” The image below is from a larger Times photograph of Murphy and books.

Also from this book
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues : “Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen” : Klenosky! : Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions : Tie cleaning in New York

[If you’re not familiar with Lieutenant Bookman, see here and here.]

Saturday, March 26, 2016

From The Big Short

From the last minutes of The Big Short (dir. Adam McKay, 2015). Mark Baum (Steve Carrell) is on the phone:

“I have a feeling that in a few years people are going to be doing what they always do when the economy tanks. They will be blaming immigrants and poor people.”
And Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) follows up with voiceover narration:
“But Mark was wrong. In the years that followed, hundreds of bankers and rating agencies executives went to jail. The SEC was completely overhauled. And Congress had no choice but to break up the big banks and regulate the mortgage and derivatives industries.

Just kidding.

The banks took the money the American people gave them and they used it to pay themselves huge bonuses and lobby the Congress to kill big reform. And then they blamed immigrants and poor people. And this time, even teachers.”
That last sentence puzzled me — it seems an especially novel charge. But at least one deep thinker at the Heritage Foundation did indeed blame teachers’ unions for the housing bubble.

I strongly recommend The Big Short , which takes an inventive approach to telling a Strangelovian story. Breaks in the fourth wall and explanatory cameos by Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, Margot Robbie, and Richard Thaler add to the general sense of unreality. This film would make a nice double-bill with Inside Job (dir. Charles Ferguson, 2010): two sides of the same rotten coin.

[Paragraph breaks for Vennett’s voiceover are mine.]

Friday, March 25, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thirteen more movies

All of which I can recommend with enthusiasm.

Happy-Go-Lucky (dir. Mike Leigh, 2008). Sally Hawkins as Poppy Cross, an indefatigably cheerful, funny, kind teacher. It’s other people who have life the wrong way round. The fourth Mike Leigh film we’ve seen.


Phffft (dir. Mark Robson, 1954). Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday as partners whose marriage flickers and dies before coming back to life. Two comic geniuses at play. Best moment: mambo. With Kim Novak in her second credited film role. Bonus feature: a bachelor pad with a bearskin rug.


Good Neighbor Sam (dir. David Swift, 1964). Jack Lemmon as a suburban everyman involved in a scheme to secure his wife’s best friend’s inheritance. I imagine that this film represents grown-up, slightly risqué comedy before “the Sixties” began. With Mike Connors, Dorothy Provine, and the ill-fated Romy Schneider. Also featuring the Bradbury Building and the Hi-Los.


The Ox-Bow Incident (dir. William Wellman, 1943). Mob action and lynching in nineteenth-century Nevada. That the ending seems inevitable in no way detracts from the movie’s power. Such a cast: Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Jane Darwell, Henry Fonda, Harry Morgan, Anthony Quinn, Leigh Whipper, and others. Even the Bowery Boys’ Billy Benedict shows up. How had I never seen this movie before?


A Borrowed Identity (dir. Eran Riklis, 2014). A young Palestinian man among young Israelis at a school for the arts. A film about friendship, kinship, eros, selfhood, and cultural constraints. How much can one change before ceasing to be oneself?


Pushover (dir. Richard Quine, 1954). Fred MacMurray in a Double Indemnity -like role as a police detective gone wrong. Kim Novak appears in her first credited film role. Also includes a pocket notebook. I could watch such black-and-white stuff forever.


Ball of Fire (dir. Howard Hawks, 1941). Already the subject of this post. Grammar and usage and squirrel fever. One favorite moment: the conga line. Cinematography by Gregg Toland, which means a moment or two of the deep-focus technique even in a light comedy.


Lemon Tree (dir. Eran Riklis, 2008). The Israeli Defense Minister moves to a house on the Israel-West Bank border, and a Palestinian woman takes legal action to preserve her lemon grove, which Israeli authorities claim may offer a hiding place for terrorists. Based on true events.


Where the Sidewalk Ends (dir. Otto Preminger, 1950). Dana Andrews plays Mark Dixon, a rogue cop with a dark secret in his past. (Notice that even the proprietor of his favorite café knows him only as “Mister Detective,” no last name.) The film’s stationery supplies are the subject of this post.


The Lavender Hill Mob (dir. Charles Crichton, 1951). Alec Guinness (Holland) and Stanley Holloway (Pendlebury) plot to steal gold bars, melt them into souvenir Eiffel Towers, and smuggle them out of England. A genial, clever comedy in which everything hinges on a question of pronunciation.


Armored Car Robbery (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1950). About as inventive in plot and characterization as its generic title suggests. But Guy Roe’s cinematography is genuinely inventive. And there’s an exchange name. And it’s fun to see William Tallman on the wrong side of the law. (He later played District Attorney Hamilton Burger on Perry Mason .)

Crime in the Streets (dir. Donald Siegel, 1956). Teenage gang members and the settlement-house worker (James Whitmore) who tries to steer them straight. With John Cassavettes, Mark Rydell, and Sal Mineo as aspiring psychokillers. Virginia Gregg, character actress of countless television shows, has what must be her finest moment, as a long-suffering mother. A great musical score by Franz Waxman. Watch the opening credits and tell me that this film didn’t influence West Side Story .


La Vie de Bohème (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 1992). Our household’s Kaurismäki spree continues, at least intermittently. This loose adaptation of Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème looks like a black-and-white French film from the 1950s. Very quietly funny at the expense of creative types. (The composer Schaunard curses a cabdriver who has the nerve to want to charge him for going only a few miles: “The swine!” ) Other favorite bits: the reappearing jacket, the piano performance, and the announcement “I’m going to sit and order a drink” — namely, water. With three Kaurismäki old reliables: Matti Pellonpää, Kari Väänänen, and André Wilms.

[In reverse alphabetical order: Wilms, Väänänen, Pellonpää.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Twelve more films
Thirteen recommendations
Fourteen more recommendations

An EXchange name on screen

Armored Car Robbery (dir. Richard Fleischer, 1950) is not especially rich in plot or character development. But it compensates, with Guy Roe’s cinematography and lots of mid-century material culture. The first few images are from the film’s start. We move behind that door to see vertical files and handwritten messages. The messages travel by conveyor belt to a hub of activity. And dig the desk telephone, wooden file trays, and dip pen. Click on any image for a larger view.

Later in the film, someone opens a file cabinet. I would like to think that the needed file sits in a Filex Visible Name Folder, but I can’t be sure. Whatever is printed on the folder is visible, but not readable. (Yes, I slowed down and zoomed in. No luck.)

And there’s an telephone exchange name, written in pencil. I like seeing the shine on the last few digits. SUnset was indeed a genuine exchange name.

Armored Car Robbery is now packaged as film noir. It’s not. It’s a caper movie, cops and robbers. But if those who control the rights to old black-and-white stuff believe it can be made more marketable if labeled film noir , that’s fine by me. As long as it gets to DVD.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : 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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mystery actor

He seems to be realizing that he likes the taste of blood, even his own. Do you recognize him? I think I would have, but his name flashed on the screen (opening credits) just as this shot began. Leave your best guess in the comments.

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Mystery actor

Do you recognize him? I didn’t. Leave your best guess in the comments.

Here are links to posts with a dozen more mystery actors, from Naked City , Route 66 , and “the movies”:

? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Robert Walser: “When a child cries”

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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Another world

Joseph Joubert:

Everyone makes and has need of making a world other than the one he sees.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Resignation and courage : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing

Monday, March 21, 2016

Pencil stocks threatened

It begins:

A surge in the number of people buying adult colouring books has threatened pencil stocks world-wide as manufacturers struggle to cope with an increased demand for quality crayons.
The world’s biggest wooden pencil manufacturer, Faber-Castell, say they are experiencing “double-digit growth” in the sale of artists’ pencils and have been forced to run more shifts in their German factory to keep up.
Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

[Crayon is Britspeak: “a pointed stick or pencil of coloured chalk or other material, for drawing” (Oxford English Dictionary ). For “It begins,” see here.]

A joke in the traditional manner

How do amoebas communicate?

No spoilers. The punchline is in the comments.

More jokes in the traditional manner
The Autobahn : Did you hear about the cow coloratura? : Did you hear about the thieving produce clerk? : 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 produce clerk, the toy, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

A job listing

Excerpts from a genuine job listing, describing a tenure-track position in philosophy:

Our students tend to be poorly prepared for college level work, intellectually passive, interested primarily in partying, and culturally provincial in the extreme. . . .

The academic environment at SEMO is distinctly non-intellectual — somewhat like a Norman Rockwell painting — and the candidate cannot expect to attract students by offering courses that assume innate curiosity about ideas and books, or intellectual playfulness, or independence of moral and political thought.
Snopes calls this listing cynical. Other readers might call it honest. The fellow who got the job now heads the Department of Political Science, Philosophy, and Religion at Southeast Missouri State University.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Marketplace on Illinois

From American Public Radio’s Marketplace , a helpful introduction to the public higher education crisis in Illinois.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Steve Young (1942–2016)

The musician and songwriter Steve Young has died at the age of seventy-three. He is the subject of Van Dyke Parks’s extraordinary song “The All Golden,” which appeared on Parks’s first album, Song Cycle (1968).

Here is a solo Parks performance of “The All Golden,” from 2010. Next to you-know-what, it’s my favorite Parks song, suggestive of Edward MacDowell, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” showtunes, Gertrude Stein’s word portraits — and Steve Young.

Words, phrases, etymological cages

Sir Ernest Gowers, or a second- or third-generation reviser, writing about what has come to be called the etymological fallacy, the mistaken idea that a word’s present meaning must be related to that word’s etymology:

[T]here is a point where it becomes idle pedantry to try to put back into their etymological cages words and phrases that escaped from them many years ago and have settled down firmly elsewhere. To do that is to start on a path on which there is no logical stopping-point short of such absurdities as insisting that the word anecdote can only be applied to a story never told before, whereas we all know that it is more likely to mean one told too often.

The Complete Plain Words , rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut (Boston: David R. Godine, 1988).
This book is full of quick bits of wit.

Also from The Complete Plain Words
Buzz-phrase generator : “Falling into incongruity” : Thinking and writing

[Anecdote : from the Greek anekdota, unpublished items. A choice word to illustrate the etymological fallacy: decimate .]

Friday, March 18, 2016

Orange parking art

[“As seen in Illinois.”]

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange batik art : Orange bookmark art : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange dress art : 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 tree art : Orange Tweed art

Diane Schirf’s pay phones

Variations on a theme, or items in a series: “Pay phones I have known,” photographs by Diane Schirf.

Pogue’s Basics: Life

The Subliminal Mr Dunn wrote a post recommending David Pogue’s Pogue’s Basics: Life  (New York: Flatiron Books, 2015). The book’s title makes for the same awkwardness I encounter whenever I write about Bryan Garner’s Garner’s Modern American Usage . I bought a copy anyway.

Pogue’s book collects tips and shortcuts about cars, travel, food, clothes, and (as they say) much, much more. As with any such collection, some bits will seem obvious (to unlock all car doors, press the button on your electronic key twice, duh); others, not so much. Two tips (paraphrased) that, for me, have made the book worth buying:

To avoid being blinded by oncoming headlights on a two-lane road, look at the white line to your right. (It works.)

The order for setting cutlery is alphabetical: fork, knife, spoon. Fork to the left (four-letter words), knife and spoon to the right (five-letter words). Who knew it was that easy to remember? Not me.

Thanks, Barnaby.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Not good for the United States, but good for CBS

Leslie Moonves, CBS executive chairman and CEO, likes the idea of a Donald Trump candidacy. From The Hollywood Reporter (not The Onion ), and picked up by Fortune :

“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said of the presidential race. . . .

"Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going,” said Moonves.
Even the famous misquotation “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” at least purported to align corporate and national well-being. Moonves is more honest: what’s good for CBS is good for CBS.

Thinking about Leslie Moonves, I can only invoke the words of Edward L. Norton: “A pox on you and all your ancestors.”

[Leslie Moonves, before and after karmic retribution. Click for a larger and more fiery view.]

From a Van Gogh letter

Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, July 23, 1882:

So you must picture me sitting at my attic window as early as 4 o’clock in the morning, studying the meadows & the carpenter’s yard with my perspective frame just as they’re lighting the fires to make coffee in the yard and the first worker comes strolling in. A flock of white pigeons comes soaring over the red tile roofs between the smoking black chimney stacks. Beyond it all lies an infinity of delicate, soft green, miles & miles of flat meadow, and a grey sky, as calm, as peaceful as Corot or Van Goyen.

That view over the ridges of the roofs & the gutters with grass growing in them, very early in the morning, & those first signs of life & awakening — the flying bird, the smoking chimney, the small figure strolling along far below — that is the subject of my watercolour. I hope you will like it.

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh , ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans (New York: Penguin, 1997).
Also from Van Gogh’s letters
Admire as much as you can”
“It was a bright autumn day and a beautiful walk”
“Lately, during the dark days before Christmas”

A text for the day

With his broad
and hairy face,
to Ireland a

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939).
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

[The name Leddy is Irish.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Illinois primaries

One bright spot for me in yesterday’s voting: it appears that Illinois voters don’t think much of Bruce Rauner. The best discussion I’ve been able to find is in the pages of CSU Faculty Voice, a blog written by Chicago State University faculty. This post reads yesterday’s tea leaves.

Our governor appears to have a special animus against Chicago State, a school with a difficult recent history. Kudos to CSU faculty who have been courageous enough to call out malfeasance at their school and in state government.

Buzz-phrase generator

From Sir Ernest Gowers or a second- or third-generation reviser:

The Complete Plain Words , rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut (Boston: David R. Godine, 1988). Click for a larger view.

In 2016, one word that seems needed is strategic . I think it would go best in Column 2, where would yield, say, “overall strategic flexibility,” a bloodless euphemism for cuts and layoffs. I am thinking grimly, in a dark time in Illinois.

In the late-twentieth century, I saw the lingo of “strategic planning” make its way into academic life. But really: is there any worthwhile planning that would not by definition be strategic? Aimless, purposeless planning?

Also from The Complete Plain Words
“Falling into incongruity”
Thinking and writing

NPR, sheesh

On Morning Edition earlier today: “Last night’s results means that he’s not unstoppable.” If you have Adobe Flash Player, you can listen here. The mistake comes at the 4:22 mark.

Results is a plural noun, not a collective noun like faculty or orchestra. And results is not a plural that applies a unit of measure to a whole. An example from Garner’s Modern American Usage : “Two pounds of shrimp is all I need.”

More to the point: substitute other singular verbs for means and the results are (not is ) perhaps more glaringly wrong: “The results convinces me”; “The results is not good.”

And speaking of not good: c’mon, NPR. Do better.

Related reading
All OCA NPR posts (Pinboard)

[I will soon have to revise my keyboard shortcut for GMAU . Garner’s Modern English Usage , the re-named fourth edition, will be published next month.]

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Handwritten prescriptions

In New York State, March 27 will mark the end of handwritten prescriptions:

Gone will be doctors’ prescription pads and famously bad handwriting. In their place: pointing and clicking, as prescriptions are created electronically and zapped straight to pharmacies in all but the most exceptional circumstances.
The change is meant to reduce fraud and misreadings.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Self-love and truth

Joseph Joubert:

Those who never back down love themselves more than they love the truth.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Resignation and courage : Thinking and writing

Trump tiles

From a New York Times article about Donald Trump’s butler Anthony Senecal and life at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate, once the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post:

In the early years, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka slept in the same children’s suite that Dina Merrill, an actress and a daughter of Mrs. Post, occupied in the 1930s. Mr. Trump liked to tell guests that the nursery rhyme-themed tiles in the room were made by a young Walt Disney.

“You don’t like that, do you?” Mr. Trump would say when he caught Mr. Senecal rolling his eyes. The house historian would protest that it was not true.

“Who cares?” Mr. Trump would respond with a laugh.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A4 Clipboard

I noticed my SYSMAX A4 Clipboard staring up at me from a horizontal storage area (the floor). It is a beautiful and sweetly incoherent thing, purchased from a United States outpost of the Korean stationery chain ArtBox. Down the right side of the clipboard, in right-justified sans serif:

There is only one
happiness in life,
to love and to be



The busier you are,
the more you need to take
time to do things right.

We need to record words
for our learning.

Have you given any thought
to your future? Let’s
do one thing at a time.

Everyone is necessarily the
hero of his own life story.

And that’s the end.

Thursday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday?

The sentence “We need to record words for our learning” makes me think of Bob Perelman’s poem “China.”

Pocket notebook sighting, dig me?

Ball of Fire (dir. Howard Hawks, 1941) is a glorious piece of silliness. Eight scholars are writing an encyclopedia of the world’s knowledge. A chance conversation makes Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) realize the inadequacy of his article on slang. He resolves to update his understanding of the subject, going out into the world with a pencil and a pocket notebook. He listens to people talking — on the street, on the El, at a baseball game, pool hall, and nightclub.

It’s in the nightclub that Potts meets Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), singer of the killer diller tune “Drum Boogie.” O’Shea soon moves in with the scholars. Yes, it’s a variation on Snow White.

[Snow White, her prince, and the seven dwarfs. Clockwise from the lower left: Tully Marshall, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, S. Z. Sakall, Aubrey Mather, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinskey.]

Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder’s screenplay has some hilarious O’Shea-Potts exchanges about grammar and usage:

“I came on account of you.”


“And not on account of you needed some slang. On account of because I wanted to see you again.”

“Miss O’Shea, the construction ‘on account of because’ outrages every grammatical law.”

“So what? I came on account of because I couldn’t stop thinking about you after you left my dressing room. On account of because I thought you were big, and cute, and pretty.”
She calls Potts “a regular yum-yum type.” And later:
“Say, I found out what’s wrong with ‘on account of because.’ It’s saying the same thing twice. You know, like calling somebody a rich millionaire. You call it a pleo-, no, play-”

“A pleonasm?”

“Yes. Is that how you pronounce it?”

“That’s it. Who told you that?”

“This room’s full of books about grammar. I read for a couple of hours.”
“I thought I was married to my books. The only thing I thought I could care for deeply was a correctly constructed sentence. The subject, predicate, adverbial clause, each its proper place. And then —”
The December 15, 1941 issue of Life had an article about Ball of Fire with a list of slang expressions used in the film. Dig it, or them:

The model for Sugarpuss O’Shea is one of my favorite singers, Anita O’Day. (O’Day, O’Shea: dig?) Here is an O’Day performance of “Drum Boogie” with Gene Krupa. And here is the movie version, with Martha Tilton dubbing the vocal. That’s Roy Eldridge in the trumpet section. Write these names down in your pocket notebook.

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 : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bernie Sanders downstate

Senator Bernie Sanders spoke at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, today. Elaine and I got on line at nine this morning. We were standing for the next seven and a half hours or so, with brief interludes of walking and sitting. Worth it? Yes.

ABC’s Chicago affiliate WLS estimated the (overflow) crowd at 4,800. ABC’s downstate affiliate WICS reported an estimate from fire officials of 20,000 showing up, most of whom could not get inside. Either way, yuge. It was a wonderful and wonderfully varied crowd. We spent much time talking with our neighbors in line, mostly U of I students. The kids are alright.

A great many introducers preceded Senator Sanders. The standouts: Ben Jealous and Tulsi Gabbard. Cabinet appointment, anyone?

My favorite Sanders line, which I transcribed word for word: “Now I have been criticized for saying this, so let me say it again.” Say what again? That health care is a right of all people.

I took many photographs. The accidental one above is my favorite. But here’s grainy proof that we were there, or at least that Bernie Sanders was there.

Muriel and Victor redux

[Henry , July 1, 2015; March 12, 2016.]

A blog post can make things available for easy recall: better memory through outsourcing. I noticed dowdy Muriel and dowdy Vic last July and engaged in a brief reverie about their names, one of which is also the name of a cigar and the title of a Tom Waits song.

I am glad to see that Muriel has come around, and I think it’s sweet that she calls Victor by his full name. Perhaps those names had meaning for Carl Anderson, Henry ’s maker.

All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Off the rails

From the local news: “Former president Clinton has been on the road since January, going around the country railing for his wife.”

The word needed: rallying . To rail is “to revile or scold in harsh, insolent, or abusive language” (Merriam-Webster).

“White House” (Executive Branch Song)

It dropped this afternoon. A new song by Ben Leddy, with Madelaine Eulich, Andrew Levine, Audrey Pindell, and Zakaria Sherbiny. Like Ben’s other pop-takeoffs, it aims to make elements of history and government memorable for the young. The inspiration here is Flo Rida’s “My House” (which, I will admit, I had never heard of before Ben told me about his song).

There’s a karaoke version so that students and teachers can sing along.

More songs at Ben’s YouTube channel.

Back to earth

From The Chronicle of Higher Education , “Wisconsin Regents Approve New Layoff and Tenure Policies Over Faculty Objections.” An excerpt:

The University of Wisconsin’s Board of Regents overwhelmingly approved new policies regarding layoffs and tenure on Thursday, despite the objections of faculty leaders and a few board members who argued that the changes would hurt the university system’s educational quality and recruitment of talented professors.

The debate over the policies, which are intended to replace tenure protections stripped from state law last year, became heated at times. Advocates of the new policies argued that they would be in line with those at peer institutions, give chancellors flexibility to adjust academic offerings in a tough fiscal climate, and offer sufficient assurances that layoffs and post-tenure reviews will not be used to squelch academic freedom.

Critics argued that the policies would leave tenured faculty members more vulnerable than their peers elsewhere to being laid off in retaliation for speaking out, and would let chancellors override shared governance and ignore important educational considerations in making faculty-layoff decisions. . . .

José Vásquez, a regent who opposed the new policies, drew applause from the audience at the board meeting by protesting that the financial pressures on the system were not its own doing but the result of a lack of adequate financial support from the state.

“It was not tenure that caused the fiscal crisis. It was not faculty who were entrenched and did not want to terminate programs,” Mr. Vásquez said. “The fiscal crisis that we have has been imposed on us.”
“The fiscal crisis that we have has been imposed on us”: that’s what we face in Illinois, where a manufactured crisis has become the occasion for hundreds of layoffs.

Everyone has wondered — and wondered, and wondered — about our governor’s end purpose in creating our present crisis. Clearly Bruce Rauner wants to weaken unions. But I suspect that his ambition goes further: the mantra of “flexibility” now in play in Wisconsin would seem to be a strategy to diminish or eliminate whole fields of academic endeavor: African-American studies, art history, classical studies, cultural studies, foreign languages, literature, philosophy, queer studies, women’s studies, whatever might be deemed impractical, unprofitable, unacceptable. The Wisconsin Board of Regents vice president, quoted in the Chronicle article: “When a chancellor is looking at a program discontinuance, they need flexibility, flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.” I expect that we’ll hear the mantra of “flexibility” in Illinois soon.

A colleague has suggested a larger end purpose: that Bruce Rauner would like to be president. If so, he would (yet again) be following in Scott Walker’s cloven footprints. It’s probably of little solace to many Wisconsites that Walker’s presidential ambitions fizzled so quickly. If Rauner makes a try for the presidency, citizens who have known him as a governor will have plenty of stories to tell.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

[Back to earth: that is, after the joys of Bach.]

Bach, Goode

Richard Goode, piano
Foellinger Great Hall
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
University of Illinois, Urbana
March 10, 2016


The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II : Prelude
    and Fugue no.1 in C major
French Suite no. 5 in G major
15 Sinfonias

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II : Prelude
    and Fugue no. 11 in F major
Partita no. 2 in C minor
Italian Concerto in F major

Partita no. 1 in B flat: Sarabande (encore)

Richard Goode looks, to me, like an old-school humanities professor, slightly rumpled, un-self-conscious, probably teaching Shakespeare, probably carrying a briefcase. His performance last night was devoid of self-presentation: it was about nothing but the music. He turned his own pages and played. Special extra bliss: the Gigue from the French Suite, the ninth and fifteenth Sinfonias, the Capriccio from Partita no. 2, the Italian Concerto, and the encore Sarabande.

Listening to Richard Goode play Bach made me feel happier than I’ve felt in weeks. Take that, current events!


1:50 p.m.: As Elaine reports, we got a hear a second performance of the Italian Concerto while driving home.

Related reading
Richard Goode’s website

Thursday, March 10, 2016


“If you’re making yourself look bad in front of us, that’s one thing, but if you’re making yourself look bad in front of girls, that’s something else.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Robert Walser: “former beauty”

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

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A teaching dream

It’s the third such dream I’ve had since retiring. (The others: here and here.) I am teaching a class of fifteen or twenty students. We are supposed to end at ten to the hour. I keep going for another thirty minutes, and the class ends at twenty after. And all is well. Nothing remarkable about it.

Outside the dream world, things are likely to go differently. A beloved professor of mine routinely ran late, right up to the time a next class was to begin. On one occasion another professor pounded on the door and sought to enter while my prof’s class was still going. Something happened at the door — I don’t know what, as I wasn’t there. But there was a claim of an injured ankle.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

George Martin (1926–2016)

The record producer George Martin has died. From the New York Times obituary:

A modest man who had been trained as a classical pianist and oboist, Mr. Martin always deflected credit for the Beatles’ success, telling interviewers over the years that his own efforts were secondary to the songwriting genius of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and, to a lesser extent, George Harrison. The Beatles, for their part, recognized that Mr. Martin came to the job with a virtually infallible ear for arrangements. His advice and his behind-the-scenes scoring and editing gave some of the Beatles’ greatest recordings their characteristic sound.
Paul McCartney, writing on his website: “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CNN fail

John King showing off his map a minute or so ago: “The deeper the shading, the higher the percentage of African-American voters.”

Really, CNN?

More John King moments
“A-Tisket, A-Tasket” : John King, fast talker