Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jean Jarrett, letter writer

Jean Jarrett is headed over to her best friend Elaine Mundy’s house to write letters:

Beverly Cleary, Jean and Johnny (1959).

“Their correspondence was on a higher level”: I love that free indirect discourse.

Related reading
All OCA letters posts (Pinboard)
Dowdy-world miracle (From Fifteen )
Ramona Quimby and cursive
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan

“Oey,” oy

[From today’s Peanuts .]

Today’s strip first ran on June 3, 1969. Linus is not old enough for cursive: he’s proud of his “lettering.” Or was.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Of Men and War

Tonight on PBS, Of Men and War , a documentary about American veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq living with PTSD.

HGSE music

At the Harvard Graduate School of Education diploma ceremony last week, Aditi Chakravarty, Ben Leddy, and Danielle Williams performed Stephen Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen,”. You could see at least one professor tearing up. Many non-Harvard eyes teared up too. (Trust me.)

Ben was playing a guitar that belonged to our great friend Rob Zseleczky.

Alas, the video posted of the ceremony has long since disappeared from YouTube.

Summers then

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

See also Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill.”

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Words for Memorial Day

Spoken by a twelve-year old Bosnian girl in a refugee camp:

I want that this is the last war in my life.
Spoken by a four-tour Vietnam veteran:
No more fucking wars!
These sentences are the epigraphs to the concluding chapter of Jonathan Shay’s Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York: Touchstone, 1994). Shay writes in this chapter:
In the face of intractable horrors like the dismemberment of Bosnia, an actual permanent end to wars seems like an impossible dream that only a fool would spend any time or money on. War has always been with us, after all. Perhaps it is intrinsic to human nature. I often despair that the array of cultural, economic, and social forces in support of warfare simply are impossible to overcome, ever. However, as William of Occam pointed out in the fourteenth century: What is, is possible.
That is, not necessary. No more war.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Woe is Illinois

Illinois’s budget crisis (a manufactured crisis, as bears repeating) continues to attract mild national interest. The crisis was the subject of a handful of sentences during NPR’s hourly news bulletins this morning. Among the choice details: there may soon be no funds with which to buy food for the state’s prison population.

In related news, Illinois now has the highest unemployment rate in the United States. Our “pro-business” governor seems incapable of understanding that shutting down social-service agencies, decimating public higher education, and failing to pay the state’s bills do little to foster economic growth or human well-being.

This coming Tuesday will mark eleven months without a budget. After Tuesday, passing any budget legislation in the Illinois General Assembly will require three-fifths majority in each chamber. Woe is us.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois higher-ed crisis posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

I see Mark Trail’s face before me

[Mark Trail , May 28, 2016.]

It’s atilt and wetter, but it’s the same face. Or at least the same nose and mouth.

[Mark Trail, revised, May 10, 2014. Mark Trail, May 14, 2015; April 28, 2016. Click any image for a larger view.]
Mark Trail, Gabe, and Carina (“Carina!?”) have been stuck in a cave since, oh, February. But in real time, it would seem that several hours, at most, have passed. The technical term for this comic-strip imbalance: the sheer-boredom effect . “Mary Worth!?”

More about the face in this post.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[Post title with apologies to Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz.]

Friday, May 27, 2016

Speed v. accuracy

[Photograph and revision by me.]

From The Song of the Lark

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thirsty doll

[“Thirsty doll drinking milk.” Photograph by Bernard Hoffman. March 1950. Life Photo Archive.]

This doll is drinking what Roland Barthes calls “the true anti-wine”:

Wine is mutilating, surgical, it transmutes and delivers; milk is cosmetic, it joins, covers, restores. Moreover, its purity, associated with the innocence of the child, is a token of strength, of a strength which is not revulsive, not congestive, but calm, white, lucid, the equal of reality.

“Wine and Milk,” in Mythologies , trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Noonday Press, 1972).
Related reading
All OCA Barthes posts

Wine, spiritual

Joseph Joubert:

It seems that there is something spiritual in wine.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Lives and writings : New books, old books : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Ruins v. reconstructions : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing

[This post is for my friends Jim and Luanne Koper.]

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Mystery actor

This guy was in countless movies, but he is most likely remembered for just one. Do you recognize him? Take your best shot in the comments.

8:08 a.m.: He’s now identified in the comments.

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


“He spent thirteen hundred dollars a month on bird seed and peanuts for the squirrels.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[If, like me, you’re never sure whether there should be a hyphen before hundred , consult this hyphenation guide from The Chicago Manual of Style .]

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

“Two Minutes About Sardines”

“‘Mom,’ I said, ‘Did you put a lot of salt on this sardine? Why is it so salty?’” From an essay by high-school student Fue Xiong, “Two Minutes About Sardines.”

Today I saw someone carrying a Chipotle bag with the words “Two Minutes About Sardines” printed on one side. (I know: what ?) The Internet did the rest. Here’s some background.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

From The Song of the Lark

Dr. Howard Archie is thinking:

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Barthes on Proust

“[A] kind of alchemical operation occurred within Proust during that month of September [1909] which transmuted the essay into a novel and a short, discontinuous thing into a long, sustained, and fully formed one”: Roland Barthes on how Proust became a great writer.

Related reading
All OCA Barthes posts
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Saturday, May 21, 2016

DFW at Kenyon

“The list dwindled. Soon, just a few names — including Wallace — remained. A political science major on the committee asked who he was”: from an account of how David Foster Wallace came to give a commencement address at Kenyon College.

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sappho is not pleased

Kinda remarkable that The New York Times can publish a review of a novel entitled Sweetbitter that fails to gloss the title. Sweetbitter is Sappho’s γλυκύπικρον , glukúpikron , a word that (famously) describes eros . The novel has lines from Sappho (trans. Anne Carson) as one of two epigraphs.

Related reading
All OCA Sappho posts (Pinboard)

“Digital Data”

From xkcd: “Digital Data.” Every picture tells a story.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Movie trouble

“You were looking for trouble, but it was a good kind of trouble”: Antonia “Toni” Marachek (Lizabeth Scott) to Sam Masterson (Van Heflin), in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1946).

Years ago, this movie, out-of-copyright, ran on a local station, again and again. And now, again. It’s good to be reacquainted with this bit of dialogue.

Aware for Mac

Aware is a nifty (and free) Mac app that sits in the menu bar and shows how long you’ve been using your computer. Aware might serve as a useful check against the experience of drift. See? I’ve been sitting at the computer for forty-seven minutes already. Enough!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A new Vinegar Flies song

“Carroll County Blues,” a new (old) song by the Vinegar Flies. That’s our son Ben on the five-string banjo.

Narmour and Smith (William “Willie” T. Narmour and Shellie “Shell” W. Smith) recorded “Carroll County Blues” in 1929. Narmour and Smith have been filed away in my head for a long time: they’re the musicians who recommended Mississippi John Hurt to Okeh Records.

Buster Cooper (1929–2016)

Buster Cooper, trombonist, Ellingtonian, has died at the age of eighty-seven. Here is perhaps his finest moment with the Ellington band: “Trombonio-Bustoso-Issimo.”

A related post
Buster Cooper in Florida

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ruins v. reconstructions

Joseph Joubert:

Antiquity. I prefer ruins to reconstructions.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Joubert’s observation acquires an odd poignance when we see the architecture and art of antiquity destroyed by fanatics.

See also Robert Walser on “former beauty.”

Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Lives and writings : New books, old books : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing

Willa Cather on adapting novels

From a 1943 letter to the playwright Zoë Akins:

Novels of action can be dramatized. Novels of feeling, even if it is only feeling for a city or a historic period, cannot be.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather , ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
I learned from this volume that Cather’s 1923 novel A Lost Lady was twice adapted for the screen, in 1924 and 1934 (with Barbara Stanwyck). The editors of the Letters note that it was around the time of the second adaptation that “Cather’s views on adaptation began to harden . . . , and she forbade dramatic adaptation of her works for the rest of her life and in her will.”

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Recently updated

Proust at auction Now there’s a catalogue.

From The Song of the Lark

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915).

Elaine has written a piece inspired by the novel.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[“Next their skin”: not a typo.]

FSRC: annual report

Our household’s two-person adventure in reading, the Four Seasons Reading Club (formerly the Summer Reading Club, formerly the Vacation Reading Club) has now run for about a year. Nearly every day, Elaine and I sit down and read, twenty or twenty-five pages of a book — the same book, which means two copies of everything. (The library comes in handy.) Here’s what we’ve read in the past twelve months:

Herman Meville, Moby-Dick

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady , Death Comes for the Archbishop , The Old Beauty and Others

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory ; Ada

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

Robert Walser, The Tanners , trans. Susan Bernofsky

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis , trans. Susan Bernofsky

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Robert Walser, Fairy Tales , trans. Daniele Pantano and James Reidel

Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ed. Ronald de Leeuw, trans. Arnold Pomerans

Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark , Lucy Gayheart , Alexander’s Bridge , Shadows on the Rock

Books abandoned:

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (after a few pages)

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (midway)

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility (almost immediately)

Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I (somewhere in the second chapter)

The Cather-ness of the list was unpremeditated. We love Willa Cather and will probably end up reading everything. If, though, I had to choose one of our books as the book, it would be the mind-bendingly brilliant Ada . That’s one we each had to own.

Elaine too has written an annual report. But neither of us has figured out how to do hanging indents that will display properly on a variety of devices. Here’s an easy way.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae

Work on the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae began in 1894. The projected finishing date: 2050. The dictionary is the subject of a wonderful story from NPR, The Ultimate Latin Dictionary, with photographs of handwritten dictionary slips. I like the account of working on res , which might be for this dictionary what the verb make is for the OED.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Henry scooter

[Henry , May 14, 2016.]

Sigh. Kids really did ride around on scooters made from produce crates and roller skates. I remember teenagers and near-teenagers using them in street games in Brooklyn, games of combat, I think. By the time I might have been old enough, scooters had passed.

[“Young boy playing w. his fruit crate scooter which he made by nailing the wheel parts fr. an old roller skate to a wooden plank & adding the crate.” Photograph by Ralph Morse. New York, New York. June 1947. From the Life Photo Archive.]

In 2014 a Kickstarter project produced a pre-fab simulacrum with screen-printed graphics, the Skate Crate (starting at $179). I prefer that chalked 2 .

Related reading
Roller-Scooter truck assemblies (Johnson & Smith, 1938) : More scooters from Life : All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois , May 14, 2016.]

Lois has reminded Hi that he promised “to do some work around here today.” “Around here” must mean at some distance from the house. Perhaps Hi is painting a tree. White.

I thought at first that the Hi-Lo color stylists had forgotten to make some of the grass green. But I think the grey area below the front step signifies sidewalk. Awkward sidewalk.

And yes, the ladder’s lower rung is bisecting Hi’s pants.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: mischievous

Bryan Garner on mischievous:

mischievous /MIS-chә-vәs/ is so spelled. *Mischievious is an impishly common misspelling and mispronunciation /mis-CHEE-vee-әs/.
I always thought my eight-grade teacher was mispronouncing the word. She also mispronounced comfortable as /kәm-FORT-ә-bәl/. These mispronunciations came during spelling tests.

Related reading
All OCA posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve substituted capitals for Garner’s bold.]

Back to school

I am standing in the bedroom of my childhood. I reach under the bed and pull out books and notebooks, all for a new class I am taking. I will be studying Latin and French and learning to read so as to “extract information.” Extracting information: what fun.

This is the fourth school-related dream I’ve had since retiring from teaching, and the first in which I’ve been a student.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Frank Stella, here and now

From a To the Best of Our Knowledge interview with the artist Frank Stella. Steve Paulson has asked Stella what it’s like to be an artist nearing the age of eighty:

Stella: There’s no future in it. And so when you’re young, you still have an idea of something other than the here and now. There is the future. But now I’m stuck with, as the physicists like to say, here and now, and that's it.

Paulson: Do you feel the clock ticking?

Stella: No, I don’t feel it like that. But I feel that there’s nothing other than the moment though. So you have to do it now.
Frank Stella turns eighty today. Happy birthday to him.

Eyes on the plane

Wolf Blitzer on CNN earlier this afternoon, in the aftermath of Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan’s meeting with Donald Trump: “We’ll continue to monitor the takeoff of that plane.” Trump’s plane, of course. CNN kept that parked plane in sight, in one on-screen window, while talking heads continued to talk in another.

Andrew Sullivan’s recent lament about the failure of “elites” to protect democracy from the likes of Donald Trump misses the point that Trump’s candidacy is itself the product of an elite — not a political elite but a media elite, one that has kept Trump (and even his parked plane) front and center for months now. As Leslie Moonves, CBS executive chairman and CEO, said, in a remark that by now ought to be infamous, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” And CNN, and MSNBC, &c. Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy, we should remember, was the work of media and political elites.

A related post
Kristol, Palin, Trump

[There’s more that Sullivan gets wrong, I think. He dismisses Bernie Sanders as a “demagogue” (conflating him with Trump) and displays surprising enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Sullivan in 2007: “We have no excuse if Hillary Clinton becomes president. We know what and who she is.”]

Twelve more movies

[And no spoilers.]

Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley, 2015). In the early 1950s, a young Irishwoman (Saoirse Ronan) leaves home for a new life in Brooklyn. She meets a nice Italian boy (Emory Cohen). Complications follow. There are moments of human interest: learning to twirl spaghetti, buying a bathing suit — which the characters, inexplicably, call a “bathing costume.” That odd bit of diction is a symptom of what’s wrong with this film, which is too pretty, too quaint, too staid. It is set in The Past, a world of slow-motion effects, swelling music, and tricks with color filters. There is never a sense of being in mid-century New York — New York, for Chrissake! Compare the noisy, sexy city of On the Town (1949, dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen). Ireland, with different color filters, looks like a Lands’ End catalogue. I had high hopes for Brooklyn , but I ended up hating it. (Elaine did, too.)

[Like a Lands’ End catalogue. Click for a larger view.]


Homicide (dir. David Mamet, 1991). Joe Mantegna as a detective investigating the murder of a candy-store owner. Our household’s second Mamet film. (The first was House of Cards .) Here, as there, nothing is what it appears to be. An amazingly clever plot whose details never invite disbelief.

There is also a pocket notebook.


Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1927). A silent fable of country and city, love and hate, treachery and fidelity, as The Man (George O’Brien) and The Woman (Janet Gaynor) rediscover their marriage. The story is told almost entirely in gestures and expressions, with almost no intertitles for dialogue. Such faces! Whatever else I miss out on in life, I am grateful to have seen Sunrise .

[The Man, calling out in the dark. Click for a larger view.]


All Things Must Pass (dir. Colin Hanks, 2015). The rise and fall of Tower Records. The personalities on display are not especially interesting, and their relations to music are never present. What do these people listen to? What do they buy? They are, in the end, retailers who sought to move a lot of product. I found it curious that we never see anyone’s record collection, nor do we ever see anyone handling records. (The few dozen LPs on one interviewee’s shelf appear to be leaning against a turntable, which makes me wonder if they are merely a prop.) Especially odd: the film makes no mention of independent record stores (some of which, like Newbury Comics, have outlasted Tower) or the resurgence of vinyl.


Deux jours, une nuit [Two Days, One Night ] (dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2014). A boss has realized that it’s possible to do the work of his solar-panel factory with sixteen employees instead of seventeen. He gives the employees at a choice: they can have a bonus, but only if they agree to one of their number losing her job. That would be Sandra Bya (Marion Cotillard), who has recently returned to work after suffering from depression. In the course of a weekend, Sandra visits (or attempts to visit) each of her co-workers to plead her case. So much of life in this story: marriage, parenthood, friendship, national identity (at least one worker is an immigrant), and, always, the conflict between self-interest and solidarity. In lesser hands, this story might have served as propaganda about the evils of capitalism. Instead, it’s a story about the complexities of human relationships and motives.


Song Without End (dir. Charles Vidor and George Cukor, 1960). A lavish biopic, with Dirk Bogarde as Franz Liszt. Great music, plausible approximations of piano-playing, and famous people passing through. Chopin, it’s you!


The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer and Anonymous, 2012). in 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown in a military coup. A wave of killing followed — half a million to a million or more enemies, alleged communists and ethnic Chinese. This film is a documentary in which several of the men involved in the killing talk about and reenact their deeds. They are in love with movies, having begun their criminal careers scalping tickets as “movie-theater gangsters.” So now they become directors and performers, making their own movies of torture and murder within Oppenheimer’s movie, complete with costumes, makeup, and special effects. My first time through, I lasted fifteen or twenty minutes. But I decided that I had to watch. The lesson: barbarism won. Says Adi Zukaldry: “We were allowed to do it. And the proof is, we murdered people and were never punished.” Dozens of people who worked on the film are identified in the closing credits as “Anonymous” — a reminder of the great danger involved in making this film.

[A most remarkable moment: Anwar Congo (said to have killed a thousand people) watches a scene in which he plays a victim of torture and execution. Click for a larger view.]


Der letzte Mann [The Last Laugh , or The Last Man ] (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1924). Emil Jannings as a hotel doorman who is demoted to lavatory attendant, losing his uniform and dignity. This silent film has no dialogue and virtually no intertitles. As in Sunrise , the story is told through gestures and expressions: the massive, heavy-coated figure of the opening scene turns into a stooped, shrunken man who leans against walls as he walks (like Dickens’s Phil Squod). The ending is entirely improbable and entirely welcome.

There is also a pocket notebook.


City Girl (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1930). In Sunrise The Woman from the City is trouble. Here, a girl from the city, Kate (Mary Duncan), is an unwitting catalyst for intergenerational trouble when her husband Lem (Charles Farrell) brings her back to the family farm. As William Carlos Williams wrote, “the country will bring us no peace.” Well, it might, eventually. In our house, Murnau is batting a thousand.

There is also a pocket notebook.


The Letter (dir. William Wyler, 1940). Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, adultery, and murder in British Malay. With a strong streak of Orientalism. From a play by W. Somerset Maugham.


Odd Man Out (dir. Carol Reed, 1947). I’ve now seen four Carol Reed films, each terrific, but Odd Man Out is the best — which means better than The Third Man (1949). Like The Third Man, it’s a story of a man pursued, just one day and night in the life of Johnny McQueen (James Mason), a revolutionary in Northern Ireland, wounded in a botched robbery and now on the run. His efforts to get back to his people put him in one extraordinary episode after another. In an extended encounter with a painter and an ex-medical student, reality itself is stranger than McQueen’s hallucinations.


The Wedding Night (dir. King Vidor, 1935). Gary Cooper as Tony Barrett, a hard-drinking writer whose most recent novel is declared unworthy of publication. Tony and his wife Dora (Helen Vinson) retreat to the country (Connecticut), where he meets the girl next door, Manya Novak (Anna Sten), the daughter of a Polish tobacco-farming patriarch (Ralph Bellamy). Dora goes back to the city, and a delicate friendship develops between Tony and Manya. But the patriarchy has its own ideas about how she must spend her life. And I suspect that the Hays Office had its ideas about how Manya and Tony should conduct themselves. I would like to have seen a pre-Code version of this film.

This film made me realize that Charles Vidor and King Vidor were not the same person.

[Anna Sten was supposed to be the next Greta Garbo. She now looks like a prefiguration of Madonna. Click for a larger view. See also this image from Nana (dir. Dorothy Arzner and George Fitzmaurice, 1934).]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen

[Google Ngram Viewer shows a nearly 19:1 ratio for bathing suit and bathing costume in 1952. Bathing suit began to overtake bathing costume in 1860.]

Pocket notebook sighting

[Charles Farrell as Lem Tustine in City Girl (dir. F. W. Murnau, 1930). Click either image for a larger view.]

A farm boy travels from Minnesota to Chicago, carrying a pocket notebook. As the film’s title suggests, he will meet someone.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Last Laugh : 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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Recently updated

Crosswords, copied New consequences for a plagiarizing editor.

Book tour

[Photograph by passenger-seat occupant Elaine Fine. Click for a larger truck.]

So that’s how the books get to the Book Fair.

Elaine and I are perfectly matched when it comes to maturity. We were both thrilled to see a Scholastic Book Services truck this morning, and more thrilled to see the truck turn to enter a school parking lot just after this STOP sign. We did not, however, attempt to crash the Book Fair. We have our limits. (And enough books already.)

Here is a great Flickr album: Nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Club.

A related post
Scholastic madeleines


[The television was on for “warmth.” ]

“Nothing like a good cup of tea in a crisis.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

[We are fortunate to have a local station that broadcasts out-of-copyright movies, again and again and again. This line of dialogue is from Devil Girl from Mars (dir. David MacDonald, 1954). Yes, British sci-fi.]

New directions in spam

A scam that warns of a scam:

This is Agent Ethel McGuire and we are here in Nigeria as an FBI/UNITED NATION delegate that have been delegated to investigate these fraudsters who are in the business of swindling Foreigners that came for transaction in Nigeria .

Please be informed that during our investigation,we found out that there is a total sum amount of money $12.5 million that has been assigned in your name as the beneficiary and these fraudsters are busy swindling you without any hope of receiving your fund.

These are the works of the fraud stars who needed to extort money from you in the name of this transfer.
Hard to decide whether “fraud stars” is a mistake or a pun. But watch out for the fraud stars.

The strangest thing about this e-mail is that there is indeed a former FBI Special Agent named Ethel McGuire. Keep fighting for us, Agent Emerita McGuire!

Related reading
All OCA spam posts (Pinboard)

[I always check the spam folder, which often contains real e-mail. And less often, evidence of innovation along the spamways. I’ve cut and pasted from the e-mail, keeping all its inelegancies.]

Monday, May 9, 2016

Proust at auction

Letters, photographs, manuscripts, books, the property of a great-grandniece, to be sold by Sotheby’s. Nothing yet on Sotheby’s website.

May 16: Now there’s an auction catalogue. The Proust section begins on page 98.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)
A visit to the Kolb-Proust Archive

Cursive Quimby

In Mrs. Whaley’s third-grade classroom, the children are practicing their cursive capitals:

Beverly Cleary, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (New York: William Morrow, 1981).

Ramona must be in the clutches of the Palmer Method, whose capital Q is a piece of work. In The Palmer Method for Business Writing (1915), A. N. Palmer admits that “capital Q is simply a large figure two” — a big floppy numeral passing for a letter. Some Method!

I can’t recall a cursive Q of any sort from childhood. I do remember G and Z , which came to me in their Palmer forms, and which I could never get quite right. Especially Z .

[Capitals Q and Z from The Palmer Method for Business Writing (1915).]

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)
Dowdy-world miracle (From Fifteen )
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary
Quimby economics
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan


April 2018: In the memoir A Girl from Yamhill (1988), Beverly Cleary writes about her first exposure to cursive, in the form of the the Wesco system of handwriting, which, like the Palmer Method, has a 2-shaped Q. It’s now obvious to me that Cleary is drawing on her Wesco childhood in her depiction of Ramona’s dissatisfaction with cursive writing.

The limits of grit

From a New York Times review of Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance :

Giving character training to the underprivileged will not level America’s increasingly Dickensian inequalities, of course, but Duckworth’s ideas about the cultivation of tenacity have clearly changed some lives for the better.
The reviewer is skeptical, and continues so. But I’d flip the sentence for a greater, more appropriate degree of skepticism:
Duckworth’s ideas about the cultivation of tenacity have clearly changed some lives for the better, of course, but giving character training to the underprivileged will not level America’s increasingly Dickensian inequalities.
Grit is a necessary — not sufficient — condition for learning. Duckworth knows that. But her work seems to inspire those who think it’s possible to “fix” education without addressing poverty. The “no excuses” attitude toward adversity too much resembles that of the Black Knight: “’Tis but a scratch.”

A related post
Learning, character, and failure

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother’s Day

[Photograph by James Leddy, July 21, 1957.]

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to all mothers.

[Yes, my dad dated every photograph.]

Saturday, May 7, 2016


Sorry, guys. But if you’re going to begin each episode of a podcast about language with “Hey, Mikey” and “Hey, Bobby, how ya doin’, buddy?” you’ve lost me.

Pocket notebook sighting

[As seen through a revolving door. Click for a larger view.]

A Geschäftsführer , or hotel manager (Hans Unterkircher), is making notes. From F. W. Murnau’s 1924 film Der letzte Mann , renamed The Last Laugh for export. Our house is turning into the House of Murnau.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : Homicide : 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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Esterbrook erasers

[Esterbrook erasers, 13/16" × 1".]

Ramona Quimby’s eraser is a brand-new Pink Pearl, “just right for erasing pencil lines.” Long before I bought these erasers (from a fading stationery store), they had hardened into uselessness. They’re just right for erasing nothing.

Esterbrook was a venerable name in nibs, fountain pens, ballpoint pens, and mechanical pencils. I imagine that at one point this tiny box sat behind a counter, in a drawer with other tiny boxes of erasers. No blister packaging in that world.

[This post is the seventeenth in an occasional series, “From the Museum of Supplies.” Supplies is my word, and has become my family’s word, for all manner of stationery items. The museum is imaginary. The supplies are real.]

Other Museum of Supplies exhibits
Dennison’s Gummed Labels No. 27 : Dr. Scat : Eagle Turquoise display case : Eagle Verithin display case : Faber-Castell Type Cleaner : Fineline erasers : Illinois Central Railroad Pencil : A Mad Men sort of man, sort of : Mongol No. 2 3/8 : Moore Metalhed Tacks : National’s “Fuse-Tex” Skytint : Pedigree Pencil : Pentel Quicker Clicker : Real Thin Leads : Rite-Rite Long Leads : Stanley carpenter’s rule

Ramona Quimby, stationery fan

It’s the first day of school for Ramona and Beezus:

Beverly Cleary, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (New York: William Morrow, 1981).

This passage makes me remember the thrill of the small, the way the most modest surprise can spark delight. (Shiny quarters from grandparents.) Ramona’s eraser, “pearly pink,” is undoubtedly a Pink Pearl.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is part of my Sustained Silent Reading.

Related reading
All OCA eraser posts (Pinboard)
Dowdy-world miracle (From Fifteen )
Happy birthday, Beverly Cleary
Quimby economics

Thursday, May 5, 2016


[A list of my own.]

Donald (Don) Adams, actor, comedian.

Donald Allen, editor and anthologist, The New American Poetry 1945–1960 .

Donald Ayler, trumpeter.

Donald (Don) Bachardy, painter.

Donald Barthelme, writer.

Donald Byrd, trumpeter.

Donald Byrne, chess player, defeated by Bobby Fischer in the “Game of the Century,” 1956.

Donald (Don) Byron, clarinetist, composer.

Donald (Don) Cheadle, actor.

Donald (Don) Cherry, trumpeter.

Donald (Don) DeLillo, writer.

Donald (Don) Draper, Mad Man.

Donald (Don) Drysdale, baseball player.

Donald Duck, toon.

Donald “Duck” Dunn, bassist.

Donald Fagen, musician, songwriter.

Donald Hall, poet.

Donald Hollinger, boyfriend, That Girl .

Donald Judd, sculptor.

Donald Knuth, computer scientist, e-mail non-user.

Dónal Lunny, musician, producer. (Close enough.)

Donald (Don) McLean, singer, songwriter.

Donald Meek, actor.

Donald (Don) Most, actor.

Donald (Don) Newcombe, baseball player.

Donald O’Connor, actor, dancer, singer.

Donald (Donny) Osmond, singer.

Donald Pleasance, actor.

Donald (Don) Quixote, knight errant.

Donald (Don) Rickles, actor, comedian.

Donald (Don) Shirley, pianist.

Donald Sobol, writer, the Encyclopedia Brown series.

Donald Sutherland, actor.

Donald Westlake, writer.

[May 5, 6: More Donalds added. Barthelme, DeLillo, and Lunny from readers’ comments. Thanks.]

John Ashbery on “it”

From an interview in The Brooklyn Rail :

I’m sort of notorious for my use of the pronoun “it” without explaining what it means, which somehow never seemed a problem to me. We all sort of feel the presence of “it” without necessarily knowing what we’re thinking about. It is an important force just for that reason, it’s there and we don’t know what it is, and that is natural. So I don’t apologize for that, though I’ve been expected to on many occasions.
I think right away of the it s in Ashbery’s “What Is Poetry”: “Now they / Will have to believe it // As we believed it.” And “It might give us — what? — some flowers soon?”

Related reading
All OCA John Asbery posts (Pinboard)

A teaching story

Anyone who teaches becomes inured to lies, or at least most lies. Some are small and best left unexamined, unquestioned. Cars do break down. Some lies are larger and seem designed to appear true because of their very implausibility. Those lies too are best left unexamined, unquestioned. You can’t come to class because the snow hasn’t been cleared from the steps of your apartment building? Your uncle is having toe surgery this Friday afternoon, and the family wants to be together? Thanks for telling me. Your inventiveness sticks in my mind long after I’ve forgotten your name.

The worst lie a student ever told me involved steroids, needles, and a boyfriend who was HIV-positive. And my student said that she was likely infected. That was the explanation for her poor work in the class. I remember tears running down my face as she told me this story. I had lost a great friend to AIDS-related illnesses not long before. There was, of course, no way my student could have known that. And there was no way I could have known that I would discover, a semester or two later, that her story was a lie.

Nearly thirty years after the fact (or lack thereof), this story stays with me.

Related reading
All OCA teaching posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dunning on Dunning-Kruger

The April 22 This American Life episode “In Defense of Ignorance” has a segment in which David Dunning talks about the Dunning-Kruger effect (beginning at 28:58). The classroom stories will ring a bell for any teacher.

Related reading
All OCA Dunning-Kruger posts (Pinboard)

[And now only two TAL episodes in my podcast backlog.]

Sluggo Lives!

[Nancy , May 4, 1949. Reprinted today in Nancy Classics .]

Aww, Nancy, don’t be a square. How about some “Ko-Ko”?

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

For those who can pay the most

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York quotes a prescient observation from Jane Jacobs about how cities are destroyed by their success. In part:

so many people want to live in the locality that it becomes profitable to build, in excessive and devastating quantity, for those who can pay the most. . . . not simply people who can pay the most in general, but people who can or will pay the most for the smallest space.
I thought of the recent New York Times article about New Yorkers living in tiny, expensive spaces: 250 square feet for $425,000, 675 square feet for $660,000, 350 square feet for $825,000. Granted, these are pre-existing small spaces, and they are hardly numerous. But there’s also the new trend of micro-apartments: say, 355 square feet for $2910 a month.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Garner's Usage Tip of the Day: gyro

Bryan Garner looks at gyro , gyro , and gyros . Gyroses ? No such thing.

Speaking of gyro the food, how do people pronounce gyro where you are? In east-central Illinois, the food is often confused with the spinning object: /JY-roh/. I opt for /YEE-roh/, and the context (i.e., a restaurant serving gyros) makes it pretty certain that I’ll be understood, even if I’m the one who seems not to know how to pronounce the word.

Related reading
All OCA Bryan Garner posts (Pinboard)

Sardines and peppercorns

I quote: “New from King Oscar! Finest quality brisling sardines in extra virgin olive oil with a spicy, aromatic blend of black, white, green, and red whole and cracked peppercorns. A delight to the senses as soon as you open the can.”

They’re not kidding. These sardines are extraordinarily peppery. Their fragrance does indeed precede them, and the burn lingers in the mouth. Highly recommended.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

A joke in the traditional manner

Did you hear about the mustard-fetching dogs?

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? : How do amoebas communicate? : 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 amoebas, the toy, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, Santa Claus, and this one. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.”]

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spirits and bad grammar

In New York: A Serendipiter’s Journey (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), Gay Talese writes about New York City policewoman Clare Faulhaber (1923–2008), undercover catcher of fortunetellers. (She could make an arrest only when someone predicted the future or stole money.) Here Faulhaber describes a visit to a séance. She wore a maternity dress as a disguise:

“Anyway, soon the medium came in. She was a small, elderly woman with white hair, dressed in a dinner gown. The people got into a circle around her, and soon she was saying, ‘I’m getting vibrations — vibrations for a woman who is holding a new life within herself. Is there anyone present who is holding a new life within herself?’

“And there I was,” says Miss Faulhaber, “wearing the maternity dress for all to see and the only thing I had bulging out under it was the belt and holder containing my 32-caliber pistol. Later the medium had a plate passed around, and people put $1 and $5 bills on it, and the lights dimmed. This is when she started to go into a deep trance and began talking. First she was somebody’s ‘Uncle Bill’ and then later she was somebody’s mother, but what really bothered me was that no matter who the spirits happened to be, they all made the same grammatical errors.”
These passages earlier appeared in an article Talese wrote for The New York Times , “The Occult Cult Flourishes” (October 12, 1958). Faulhaber was the subject of a later Times article, “Policewoman Yclept Faulhaber Gave Up Chaucer for the Force” (April 10, 1964), in which R. W. Apple Jr. notes Faulhaber’s earlier career teaching Middle English at Marymount College, her 1963 award as New York City’s outstanding policewoman, and a 1961 incident in which Faulhaber was attacked by two panhandlers posing as Roman Catholic nuns. And then:
FAULHABER — Clare W., of Manhattan, 84, died January 19, 2008. Clare was a Police Detective for the City of New York for 20 years before retiring. She was a member of the New York City Veterans Police Association.
Also from this book
Chestnuts, pigeons, statues : “Fo-wer, fi-yiv, sev-ven, ni-yen” : Klenosky! : Leeches, catnip oil, strange potions : A real-life Bookman : Tie cleaning in New York

[The photograph is from the 1964 article. Click for a larger view. New York Review Books, please reissue this wonderful book.]

Zippy and the subjunctive

[Zippy , May 2, 2016.]

The past subjunctive has been good to Orange Crate Art.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New books, old books

Joseph Joubert:

The great inconvenience of new books is that they prevent us from reading old books.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Another world : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Lives and writings : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois , May 1, 2016.]

Hi and Lois has occasionally switched to thick lines: look at the difference between these two 2012 panels. But I can’t recall seeing the switch in the same day’s strip. Difficult not to suspect that Hi and Lois is at least sometimes put together as piecework, and without proofreading. Sheesh.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)