Thursday, June 30, 2016

“Illinois, Illinois”

As reported in the Chicago Tribune this afternoon:

The Illinois House on Thursday approved a stopgap budget that would keep state government afloat for six months, ensure schools open this fall and provide help to struggling Chicago Public Schools after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly hoped they struck a deal amid intense political pressure with the November election looming.

The 105–4 vote follows two days of closed-door negotiations, the first meaningful round of give-and-take on the budget as the state was about to enter a second straight year without a full spending plan come Friday. The bill now heads to the Senate, where approval is expected later Thursday.
<irony>Wow, they wasted not a moment in putting together another short-term fix. Great job, everyone!</irony>


4:07 p.m.: And now the Senate has approved it, 54–0.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

[“Illinois, Illinois”: from the state song. To be sung in a minor key.]

Aspirational or delusional or both

Signage, aspirational or delusional or both:

We are more than APARTMENTS,
          we are a LIFESTYLE
No, they’re just apartments, and not especially nice ones.

The woes that the Illinois budget crisis has brought to our town are prompting property owners to take extraordinary measures. In nearly thirty-one years, I have never before seen in our town the kind of wild (and sad) claim this sign makes.

Recently updated

Imaginary word of the day: misinflame Now there’s a noun.

Imaginary word of the day: misinflame

The word came to me in a dream last night, as part of a headline I cannot remember:

misflame /ˌmis-in-ˈflām/ transitive verb
: to excite to excessive or uncontrollable action or feeling by means of false or misleading information
: to make more heated or violent by means of false or misleading information

Sample sentence: The candidate misinflamed the crowd with a series of falsehoods.

11:19 a.m.: I went for a walk and a noun showed up:
misinflammation /ˌmis-in-flə-ˈmā-shən/ noun

: false or misleading information meant to excite its recipient to excessive or uncontrollable action or feeling
: the practice of using false or misleading information to excite in its recipient excessive or uncontrollable action or feeling
: a state of excessive or uncontrollable action or feeling resulting from false or misleading information

Sample sentences: The candidate specialized in stirring up his audiences with misinflammation . On the campaign trail, he practices misinflammation . A red face and raised voice may be signs that a person is in a state of misinflammation .
Other words from dreams
Alecry : Skeptiphobia

[My (post-dreaming) definitions draw upon Merriam-Webster and Random House.]

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Illinois budget crisis on The Daily Show

Last night The Daily Show had a six-minute story about the Illinois budget crisis. Spoiler alert: there is no happy ending.

Tomorrow will mark a year without a state budget. The damage already done to social services and public higher education is vast, and the damage will continue for years. One example: lower Fall 2016 enrollments for Illinois state colleges, as students choose to study elsewhere.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves, “Happy Reunion”

The news of a play about the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, Arthur Luby’s Paul Gonsalves on the Road , led me to this videotaped performance:

“Happy Reunion” was a frequent concert feature for Gonsalves in the Ellington band’s later years. This performance (July 21, 1972) is from Ellington’s weeklong residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (July 17–21).

The story behind this performance, as I can piece it together: Gonsalves, who had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, had been in bad shape (and perhaps late) for a Madison performance or rehearsal with the full band. The usual Ellington strategy with a wayward musician on stage was to call upon him for solo after solo. Or to look the other way: there’s footage of a mid-1960s Ellington performance with Gonsalves asleep on the bandstand, holding his saxophone in playing position as Ellington pretends not to notice. In Madison, Ellington released his wrath at Gonsalves in the form of choice words. I can’t imagine that happening in a concert setting. My hunch is that it happened at an open rehearsal. Gonsalves must have felt humiliated.

This performance came the next afternoon. Gonsalves seems to show up unannounced, as Ellington is answering a question from the audience. Listen closely for the question Ellington puts to Gonsalves at the start: “Stinky, you juiced again?” And Gonsalves, before playing: “Which way is Madison?” And afterward, at Gonsalves’s request, four kisses, an Ellington specialty (one for each cheek). A happy reunion, it seems. Was all forgiven? I think so.

Paul Gonsalves was a brilliant musician, and much more than the blues-wailing hero of the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. His influence can be heard quite clearly in fellow tenor David Murray, whose big band has performed an orchestrated version of Gonsalves’s 1956 solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” titled — what else? — “Paul Gonsalves.”

Wisconsin, let us see all your Ellington footage.

July 2022: You can now hear “Happy Reunion” here. Ellington appears at 32:54. Gonsalves arrives, apparently unannounced, at 58:58.

Related reading
The Paul Gonsalves Pages (a fan’s website)
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve pieced together what seems to have happened from two sources: this one and this one. My favorite “Happy Reunion” is the 1971 performance from The London Concert (United Artists, 1972). The two-LP set has been reissued on CD as The Togo Brava Suite .]

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Books and records v. things

Beverly Cleary, Sister of the Bride (1963).

Books and records: Rosemary and Greg are my people.

I think it’s time for a Beverly Cleary tag.

Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts (Pinboard)

Museums, uh-oh

Beverly Cleary, Sister of the Bride (1963).

Museums: always a dangerous sign.

Sister of the Bride is my favorite novel in Beverly Cleary’s “First Love” series. The Luckiest Girl is in second place, followed by Fifteen and Jean and Johnny . I find that I can best enjoy these books by not thinking at all about my experience of high school. Wait, what’s a “high school”? Did I even attend one? I make no comparisons.

Sister of the Bride has many wonderful moments of gentle social satire. It’s in many ways a mid-century Bay Area version of Jane Austen. But: Rosemary MacLane and Greg Aldredge, students at UC Berkeley, are, as the novel makes clear, at least a tad counter-cultural. One more school year and they can participate in the Free Speech Movement as a nice, young married couple.

Related reading
Dowdy-world miracle (from Fifteen )
If my life were a Beverly Cleary novel
Jean Jarrett, dictionary user
Jean Jarrett, letter writer
Ramona Quimby and cursive
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan
Time, cyclical and linear (from Ellen Tebbits)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Six sonnets from NPR

From All Things Considered , six sonnets for your consideration: “Human or Machine: Can You Tell Who Wrote These Poems?” I guessed five of six correctly. The lines I liked best:

A thousand pictures on the kitchen floor,
Talked about a hundred years or more.

If my life were a Beverly Cleary novel

Related reading
Dowdy-world miracle (from Fifteen )
Jean Jarrett, dictionary user
Jean Jarrett, letter writer
Ramona Quimby and cursive
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan
Time, cyclical and linear (from Ellen Tebbits)

[Things missing: an alarm clock, a walk before breakfast to beat the heat, the heat, the humidity, &c. “When he could have”: I don’t think Beverly Cleary would use singular they . The novel would explain somewhere in chapter 1 that Elaine and I both kept our maiden names when we married.]

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bill Cunningham (1929–2016)

“Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive”: the photographer Bill Cunningham, as quoted in the New York Times obituary.

I like these related words from the great documentary Bill Cunningham New York (dir. Richard Press, 2011):

“You see, if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid. That’s the key to the whole thing. Don’t touch money: it’s the worst thing you can do.”
A related post
Bill Cunningham New York

Saturday, June 25, 2016


[In the supermarket .]

“Apparently he gets hungry on beer.”

Does the speaker mean 1. that this fellow gets hungry when he drinks beer, or 2. that he gets hungry for beer?

The Internets return only one result for “hungry on beer,” a page from a food lover in Delhi NCR, who says in a restaurant review that he could not taste his food because he was “pretty hungry on beer (I think no one can go wrong in serving a beer).” I think that he means that he was more interested in the beer than the food. The restaurant’s name: Beeryani. Groan. (If you’re puzzled, see here.)

If “hungry on beer” is an Indian idiom, I think it would be better represented online. The person I overheard in the supermarket is an indigenous east-central Illinoisan, no question. So I will leave “hungry on beer” to stand as a small intercontinental mystery.

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Back to school

I am living in Brighton, Massachusetts, as my own grown-up self, and attending Brookline High School. I board the T and ride down Commonwealth Avenue. As we approach the Harvard Avenue intersection, I see heavy traffic. I get out right before Harvard and walk, thinking I can get back on the trolley after the traffic clears. Logic, right? Sometimes a pedestrian can outpace a traffic jam. I dodge cars at the intersection like William Shatner in the Twilight Zone episode “Nick of Time”.

And then I stop into a bookstore, not Brookline Booksmith but a bookstore in a bright and airy old house with white walls. I find two hardcover books to buy. Their dust jackets remind me of E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World: serif typefaces in black and red on white. I’m supposed to be at the high school at 9:00. The clock says 10:00, but I’m not worried, because I know they haven’t turned it back yet. At the front desk I talk with the owner about my having lived in Brookline in the 1980s. As we talk I realize that I have no idea where the high school is. But I’m not worried.

This is the fifth school-related dream I’ve had since retiring from teaching, and the second in which I’ve been a student. And here, I admit, not a very good student.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

From the Saturday Stumper

A wonderfully clever clue from today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, 4-Down, seven letters: “Maker of belt loops.” No spoilers: the answer is in the comments.

Today’s puzzle is by Brad Wilber, whose Saturday Newsday work is the subject of an earlier OCA post. Finishing the Saturday Stumper is always cause for minor self-congratulation.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Ted Greenwald (1942–2016)

Ted Greenwald, “Breakout,” from the poem “I Hear a Step,” Common Sense (Kensington, CA: L Publications, 1978).

I pulled another Greenwald book from a shelf and found that it was dedicated to Bill Berkson. The two poets were friends. Bill Berkson died on June 16; Ted Greenwald, on June 17.

Related reading
Bill & Ted (Cuneiform Press)
Remembering Ted Greenwald (Poetry Foundation)

DFW on utilize

David Foster Wallace wrote notes about twenty-four words for the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus (2004). In 2011, Dave Madden announced his discovery that these notes, and other notes, from other writers, could be found in the thesaurus included with OS X’s Dictionary app — namely, the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. Some of Wallace’s notes are still available in OS X El Capitan; some have disappeared. They all appear as “Twenty-Four Word Notes” in the posthumous Both Flesh and Not: Essays (2012).

The OAWT now titles these notes "Reflections.” You can hear Oxford University Press stepping away, in the manner of a The-views-expressed-do-not-necessarily-reflect disclaimer: “Conversational, opinionated, and idiomatic, these Word Notes are an opportunity to see a working writer’s perspective on a particular word or usage.” Wallace’s opinionated and idiomatic take on utilize appears to have been toned down. Here’s the 2008 OAWT note:

In the 2012 OAWT note (now in the Mac Dictionary app) the twit is gone:

There are other, smaller changes: rather is gone, you becomes he , and “I tell my students” prefaces the observation about pomposity and insecurity. It’s possible that Wallace himself revised this note in preparation for a later edition of the thesaurus. But in Both Flesh and Not: Essays the twit returns:

There are other changes: utilize is now called “noxious”; he becomes (an awkwardly self-conscious, avoiding-sexism) she ; smart becomes sophisticated; formal is uncapitalized. The double quotation marks replacing Wallace’s usual single marks are no doubt an editor’s work. Aside from the quotation marks, I suspect that the Both Flesh and Not version is Wallace’s entry as submitted to Oxford, with both noxious and twit merrily standing.

But all that aside: what I value in this entry is its final sentence: “‘formal writing’ does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing.” Listen up, students!

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[There may be a legitimate use for utilize : The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989) says that “More than use , it suggests a deliberate decision or effort to employ something (or someone) for a practical purpose.” But to my mind, utilize suggests a capitulation, deliberate or not, to the pompous style. I have seen and heard the word often enough to have made up my mind.]

From Lucy Gayheart

Willa Cather, Lucy Gayheart (1935).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Ralph Stanley (1927–2016)

The New York Times obituary calls him the “guardian of unvarnished mountain music.”

Rachel and Ben and I were fortunate to see Ralph Stanley and His Clinch Mountain Boys in 2008. (Elaine was at a gig of her own.) It was an unusual performance: trouble with the sound system meant that the group had to play gathered around a single microphone, as in the olden days. Rachel took a photo.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Red Rose redesign

[The old and the new.]

It is difficult to find Red Rose Irish Breakfast tea in stores. We hadn’t bought a box in years. When I finally decided to order a few boxes from This Bulging River, I was surprised to see a redesign in the direction of the dowdy. The new design looks older, flatter, plainer. The tea tag is dowdier too. You’ll have to take my word for that, as I have no old tag with which to compare.

Red Rose Irish Breakfast is once again our household’s favorite all-occasion black tea. Better than Twinings, more drinkable than Barry’s or Punjana. Not expensive. And now, dowdy.


5:09 p.m.: Elaine found an old Red Rose English Breakfast teabag. Here are old and new tags for comparison. The old Irish tag was of course black and green. The new tag: dowdy!

[The old and the new.]

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

[“This Bulging River”: my name of the moment for Amazon. With apologies to the Mississippi and Waiting for Guffman .]

Another twelve movies

The Sniper (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1952). Arthur Franz as Edward “Eddie” Miller, who kills dark-haired women with a long-range rifle. Part psychological thriller, part police procedural, part policy debate. With Richard Kiley as Dr. James G. Kent, a progressive psychiatrist whose solution to the problem of sex crimes is to lock up offenders indefinitely.


Jeopardy (dir. John Sturges, 1953). Barbara Stanwyck plays Helen Stilwin, a wife and mother whose husband Doug (Barry Sullivan) is caught under a jetty’s broken piling — as the tide rises. The only hope of rescue lies with Lawson, an escaped convict (a Brando-like Ralph Meeker). What will Helen have to do to persuade him to help? Lurid and terrifying.


To Please a Lady (dir. Clarence Brown, 1950). Midget racers! And many scenes of racing and stunt driving, which must have felt novel and exciting — to someone. Zero chemistry between brash racer Mike Brannan (Clark Gable) and tough syndicated columnist Regina Forbes (Barbara Stanwyck). Their dialogue needs help:

“We’ll win it next year, baby.”

“Or the year after.”
On a DVD with Jeopardy , which is the only reason to watch.


Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (dir. John Hughes, 1986). Required viewing for anyone who doubts Julius Lester’s contention that the white American male idea of freedom is freedom from — freedom from restraint and responsibility. Hilarious, to be sure, and the battle between Bueller (Matthew Broderick) and Dean of Students Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is a Chicagoland version of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Bueller is charming, clever, and fiendishly indifferent to other people — a perfect psychopath. This film was a crucial one for so many of my students. I’m glad I never watched when I was teaching.


The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1946). You can go home again, but if you do, it’ll be messy, in more ways than one. How did they ever get the ending past the censors? With Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas, and Lizabeth Scott. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers has fallen into the public domain, which makes it reliable fodder for low-budget television programming.


Good Ol’ Freda (dir. Ryan White, 2013). The title comes from the Beatles’ 1963 Christmas record: “Good ol’ Freda!” the lads shout. As Brian Epstein’s secretary, Freda Kelly ran the Beatles’ fan club. Billy Kinsley of the Merseybeats: “Giving a job like that, to what became the biggest band in the world, to a girl of seventeen, that was an unbelievable thing to do — and she never let them down.” Freda Kelly: “I’m still a Beatle fan.” As the film makes clear, Kelly was and is a deeply private person. Thus there’s not much here in the way of inside stories. George was the best Beatle when it came to signing things for fans — that’s about as deep as we get. Did Freda have an affair with one of the four? She’s not saying.

You can see Freda in the big group photograph at the back of the Magical Mystery Tour booklet: she’s on the far left, the third person from the top, someone’s pointing finger just below her face.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (dir. Les Blank, 1968). The world of a Texas bluesman. Like every Les Blank film I’ve seen, it’s devoid of voiceovers, devoid of plot. Just watch and listen, as the film moves from place to place. The opening sequence, with Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Billy Bizor, is worth the price of admission, or would have been if I hadn’t borrowed Criterion’s Les Blank collection from the library.


God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance (dir. Les Blank, 1968). Silent footage of a 1967 love-in at Elysian Park, Los Angeles, with a musical soundtrack added later. Did people really look like this? And was it really fifty years back ? No, only forty-nine years back.


Spend It All (dir. Les Blank, 1971). Cajun culture, with music by Nathan Abshire, the Balfa Brothers, and Marc Savoy. Music here, as elsewhere in Blank’s films, is not a matter of performers and their audiences but a form of life — something people do, like eating and drinking. This film might be your only chance to see self-dentistry, with pliers.


A Well Spent Life (dir. Les Blank, 1971). A portrait of Mance Lipscomb, a Texas singer and guitarist with a distinctive fingerpicking style (an insistent 4/4 bass) and the eclectic repertoire (blues, rags, pop ditties) of a so-called songster. Music, food, and philosophizing about love and marriage. One favorite moment: the filmmaker’s conversation with Elnora Lipscomb, Mance’s wife, who sits away from the table while eating:
“Could you tell us why you don’t eat at the table with Mance?”

“It’s just a habit I’ve got.”

“How long have you had it?”

“About fifty years.”
She does goes on to explain. Another favorite moment: the freight train that rolls by and blows its horn after a baptism. Sheer serendipity.


The Man in the White Suit (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1951). A chemist invents a miracle fabric. Complications ensue. Ealing Studios, Alec Guinness: I had every reason to like this film, but it felt rather dreary. I did notice that Michael Gough appears to have been separated at birth from Benedict Cumberbatch.


All or Nothing (dir. Mike Leigh, 2002). Three working-class British families facing daily difficulties and larger crises. A favorite moment: Ruth Sheen’s character taking her turn at karaoke. A viewer who suspects she’s being set up to fail will be caught short: she does a fine job. And her willingness to stop mid-song shows what a good friend she is. There are no ordinary people here.

My affection for this film and other Leigh films makes me feel unhappy about not liking Mr. Turner . (Timothy Spall, who plays J. M. W. Turner, is terrific here as a despairing cabdriver.) If Netflix can ever solve its Availability Unknown problems, our household will soon have seen every full-length Mike Leigh film.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CNN, sheesh

A CNN reporter just spoke of Hillary Clinton bringing in the calvary — Elizabeth Warren et al. No: cavalry .

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[I don’t go looking for this stuff: I just want to see what passes for news.]

Bill Berkson (1939–2016)

[“Call It Goofus” appeared in An Anthology of New York Poets , ed. Ron Padgett and David Shapiro (New York: Random House, 1970. This post is, I think, the poem’s only online appearance.]

Related reading
Bill Berkson, Poet and Art Critic (New York Times )
Bill Berkson, 1939–2016 (Paris Review )

From Lucy Gayheart

Willa Cather, Lucy Gayheart (1935).

Marcel Proust and Wallace Shawn would understand.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

“Close enough”

Verlyn Klinkenborg on helping his father build a house:

“June,” The Rural Life (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2002).

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Monday, June 20, 2016

A couple pints

I was surprised to read this sentence in The New York Times:

On a Saturday night in Youngstown, Ohio, Representative Tim Ryan and Mrs. Clinton made a surprise visit to O’Donold’s Irish Pub and Grill for a couple pints of Guinness.
A couple pints? “The New York Times” Manual of Style and Usage (2015) requires of :
Used colloquially to mean a handful or a few, couple should always be followed by of (a couple of pomegranates , never a couple pomegranates ).
Bryan Garner’s (extensive) discussions of couple of and couple are helpful here. From Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009):
As a noun, [couple ] requires the preposition of to link it to another noun <a couple of dollars>. Using couple as an adjective directly before the noun is unidiomatic and awkward.
But Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016) acknowledges a change:
As a noun, [couple ] requires the preposition of to link it to another noun <a couple of dollars>. Using couple as an adjective directly before the noun has been very much on the rise since the late 20th century <a couple dollars>. This innovation strikes many readers as unidiomatic and awkward — or perhaps downright wrong. But the change will doubtless continue.
Garner calls the use of couple without of a “low casualism,” pointing out that the traditional phrasing a couple of is eight times more common in print: “idiom has not yet accepted this casual expression as standard.”

A Times reporter, or any other writer, could avoid these problems by using a fine Illinoism:
On a Saturday night in Youngstown, Ohio, Representative Tim Ryan and Mrs. Clinton made a surprise visit to O’Donold’s Irish Pub and Grill for a couple three pints of Guinness.
A related post
How many in a couple?

Cohn, Lewandowski

[Roy Cohn and Corey Lewandowski.]

Not exactly separated-at-birth, but it seems to me that there’s more than a passing resemblance between Donald Trump’s one-time lawyer and his just-fired campaign manager.

Recently updated

Where are the 2017 Moleskine planners? Now with a reply from the company.

“Ordinary, thrown-away things”

“There are intrinsic beauties in ordinary, thrown-away things”: the photographer Joel Meyerowitz on photographing objects in the painter Giorgio Morandi’s studio. The New York Times has a short film.

The Getty Research Portal leads the way to a 1981 exhibition catalogue of Morandi’s work.

[So much does depend upon a red wheelbarrow.]

A joke in the traditional manner

Why do newspaper editors avoid crossing their legs?

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 mustard-fetching dogs? : 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? : What kind of dogs do scientists like? : 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 mustard-fetching dogs, the scientists’ dogs, the amoebas, the toy, the squirrel-doctor, Marie Kondo, and Santa Claus. He was making such jokes long before anyone called them “dad jokes.” I am now the custodian of his pocket notebook of jokes, from which I’ve chosen this one.]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father’s Day

[Photograph by Louise Leddy. March 3, 1957.]

On a Sunday in Brooklyn, my dad Jim and me. I love him and miss him.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Good advice

Bernard Kleina, who as an untrained photographer documented Martin Luther King Jr.’s participation in the Chicago Freedom Movement: “I like to tell people that if you wait until you’re completely qualified for something, maybe it’s too late.”

The passing show

The Oxford English Dictionary ’s Word of the Day is passing show : “the spectacle of contemporary life; (also) an entertainment taking as its subject matter current events and interests.” I’m surprised to see that the first citation comes not (as I would have guessed) from the world of journalism but from Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad (1715). The lines are about Paris’s journey to Sparta:

When Greece beheld thy painted Canvas flow,
And Crowds stood wond’ring at the passing Show.
The phrase “the passing show” later became a title for several musical revues and for a newspaper column (1897–1900) by the young Willa Cather.

You can subscribe to the OED ’s Word of the Day here. And you should. As an OED representative reminds us, the Word of the Day is special.

A related post
SparkNotes and Homer

Friday, June 17, 2016

Swipe speed

A man asks a question in memory of his father: “What is the speed, in miles per hour, of a proper MetroCard swipe?” The answer: 10–40 inches per second, or 0.57–2.27 miles per hour.

I think my dad and this guy’s dad would have gotten along very well.

The Eisenhower S

Did The New York Times really create a special skinny S to squeeze the name Eisenhower into headlines? Sort of. The paper created, in fact, a special skinny everything. The Atlantic explains.

Thanks to Sean at Contrapuntalism for passing this story along.

Related reading
All OCA typography posts (Pinboard)

Ida’s apostrophe

[As seen in Boston’s North End.]

Ida’s Italian Cuisine closed in 1913. But the sign still hangs. I like that apostrophe.

Also from the North End

[I wish the photograph were sharper. But what are you gonna do?]

Thursday, June 16, 2016

MSNBC, sheesh

On MSNBC’s Hardball a few minutes ago, a talking head spoke of George W. Bush and “the /nuh-DEAR/ of his presidency.” Uh-uh. Merriam-Webster gives two pronunciations for nadir : /ˈnā-ˌdir/ and /ˈnā-dər/. Note to talking head: next time say “low point.”

[I can’t stand cable news.]

Hotshots, academically adrift

The Hoosier Hotshots: “That’s What I Learned in College” (1936). Was it ever thus? ’Twas.

Here is a website with everything one might want to learn about the Hoosier Hotshots. I first heard this song on Joe Bussard’s Country Classics, a radio show/podcast devoted to American music on 78s.

[The post title refers to Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses . Here is my review.]

Bloomsday 2016

It is Bloomsday. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922) begins on June 16, 1904, and ends in the early hours of the following day. Here is a passage from “Penelope,” the novel’s final episode. (Episodes, not chapters: like the Odyssey .) Molly Bloom, Mrs. Leopold Bloom, is lying in bed awake and thinking.

So we know what Mrs. Bloom would think of Ulysses .

Other Bloomsday posts
2007 (The first page)
2008 (“Love’s Old Sweet Song”)
2009 (Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses)
2010 (Leopold Bloom, “water lover”)
2011 (“[T]he creature cocoa”)
2012 (Plumtree’s Potted Meat)
2013, 2013 (Bloom and fatherhood)
2014 (Bloom, Stephen, their respective ages)
2015 (Stephen and company, very drunk)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

VDP talks about Randy Newman

For the podcast My Favorite Album , Van Dyke Parks talks to Jeremy Dylan about Randy Newman’s Randy Newman : “There are a lot of insults on the way to a record album. I mean, there’s blood on the tracks.”

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)
A new song from Randy Newman

RZ, i.m.

My friend Rob Zseleczky died at this time three years ago. He was a poet and musician. These lines are from the poem “To —” (1821), by his favorite poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The period and dash (Shelley’s punctuation, not an editor’s) make me think of a string plucked and still sounding. We will toast to Rob’s memory tonight. Still sounding.

[Text from The Poems of Shelley, Volume Four: 1820–1821 , ed. Michael Rossington, Jack Donovan, and Kelvin Everest (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).]

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Who Is My Voice?

Who Is My Voice? provides the answers to important questions: Have your representatives in Congress accepted contributions from the NRA? Have they voted to defund Planned Parenthood? The website also offers the means to call, e-mail, or send a tweet to your representatives.

The oldest Ellingtonian?

Eve Duke, aka Eve Smith, aka Yvonne Lanauze, is still making music at the age of ninety-one, in a residential care facility in Vancouver. As Yvonne — just Yvonne — she sang on three 1950 Duke Ellington recordings, “Love You Madly,” “Mood Indigo,” and “Sophisticated Lady.” Here’s a 1945 photograph of Lanauze and Ellington. And some later photographs from Lanauze’s career with Three B’s and a Honey.

Yvonne is not the only mononymous singer to perform with the Ellington band. In the early 1970s, Ellington presented the singer Aura Rully, known as Aura:

Ellington closed the afternoon by bringing out a remarkable and beautiful Rumanian soprano named Aura, who hummed and scatted “Mood Indigo,” pushing her voice up almost beyond hearing and never missing a note or losing pitch.

Whitney Balliett, New York Notes: A Journal of Jazz in the Seventies (1977), from an entry for July 8, 1972.

November 6, 2021: Here’s Eve Duke, earlier this year, talking, singing, and playing.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)


[As seen in Boston’s North End.]

I took a quick picture of this planter, which hangs outside a restaurant. We thought that everything here is likely edible. Can anyone identify all the plants? Click for a much larger, much tastier view.

Monday, June 13, 2016

HGSE Dean’s speech at Open Culture

James E. Ryan, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, gave a terrific speech at the HGSE diploma ceremony in May. (I linked to the video in this post.) The speech focuses on five questions:

Wait, what?
I wonder why, or if?
Couldn’t we at least?
How can I help?
What really matters?
And a “bonus” question, from Raymond Carver’s poem “Late Fragment”: “And did you get what / you wanted from this life, even so?” (Misquoted as “And did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?”)

An excerpt from the speech is now the stuff of a post at Open Culture, which asserts that the questions will bring “happiness & success.” Well, no. The most the dean claims is that asking these questions will give a person “a very good chance of being both successful and happy,” and it’s a tongue-in-cheek claim, “slightly outlandish, but this is a graduation speech.” Carver’s answer to the question “And did you get what / you wanted from this life, even so?” is “I did”:
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
And Dean Ryan:
if you never stop asking and listening for good questions, you will feel beloved on this earth, and just as importantly, you will help others, especially students, feel the same.
Now that’s a good definition of happiness and success.

A related post
Commencement addresses (With a single question from my undergrad commencement)

Recently updated

Hillary Rodham on the possible and the impossible With a link to audio excerpts from her 1969 commencement speech.

From Fred Rogers

And his mother Nancy Rogers: “Look for the helpers.”

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How to improve writing (no. 64)

I began reading an essay in The New York Times and stopped after the first sentence:

There are many moments throughout my average day that, lacking print reading material in a previous era, were once occupied by thinking or observing my surroundings: walking or waiting somewhere, riding the subway, lying in bed unable to sleep or before mustering the energy to get up.
It’s a bad sentence, in several ways. Tense blurs: there are moments that were . The phrase “lacking print reading material in a previous era” is awkward, and moments cannot lack reading material. Moments “once occupied by”: an ungainly passive-voice verb. There’s something at least slightly odd about the idea of having nothing to read while walking. And the order of the gerunds “thinking or observing” gives the momentary suggestion that the writer is thinking his surroundings. A possible revision:
Not that long ago, if I found myself with nothing to read — waiting for someone, riding the subway, lying in bed unable to sleep or not ready to get up — I would observe my surroundings or think.
From forty-seven words to thirty-five.

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

[This post is no. 64 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Friday, June 10, 2016


The New York Times reports on the linguist David Crystal’s contention that the period is going out of style. “We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,” he says. “In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop. So why use it?” The Times has, rather predictably, run the story without periods.

The period’s disappearance from text messages, and its occasional function therein as a marker of tone, are, I think, evidence that texting is more akin to speech than to writing. Different forms of discourse have different conventions. Telegrams lacked periods[stop] To-do lists, too, lack them, even when written as complete sentences:

Walk plants[.]
Water dog[.]
Reports of the period’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Related posts
All OCA punctuation posts
On “On the New Literacy”

Destruction, degree by degree

Public higher education in Illinois: Western Illinois University is preparing to eliminate degree programs in African-American studies, philosophy, religious studies, and women’s studies. Faculty positions may be cut in the 2017–18 school year.

In March I wrote about what I called “the mantra of ‘flexibility’” in higher education. I described it as

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 present (manufactured) budget crisis in Illinois offers an easy excuse for “flexibility,” really another name for destruction.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

“English professors have many wiles”

In January 1936, Willa Cather wrote to Carlton F. Wells, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, thanking him for a letter in which he commented on Cather’s use of a Mendelssohn oratorio in the novel Lucy Gayheart . “You are one in about seventy-five thousand,” she told Wells, the only reader who had noticed how and why Cather had made a slight change in the oratorio’s text. Wells wrote back, asking if Cather’s letter could be printed in William Lyon Phelps’s syndicated newspaper column. Cather replied on January 23:

Dear Mr. Wells:

I am sorry not to be able to oblige you, but I never allow quotations from personal letters to be printed. When, among a great number of the rather flat and dreary letters I receive, I come upon that is alive and intelligent, I am rather prone to answer it in a somewhat intimate and unembarrassed tone. I take for granted that a person who writes a discriminating and intelligent letter is the sort of person who would not use any portion of my letter for publicity of any kind.

Very sincerely yours,

Willa Cather

I should like to oblige Mr. Phelps, but I shall do that at some other time, and in some other way. I did not even know that I was writing to your English class, Mr. Wells. English professors have many wiles, but I honestly thought you were interested in the question you asked me. O tempora, O mores! (The second “O” looks like a zero, certainly!) Enough: I become more cautious every day.

W. S. C.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather , ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Rauner sues Rauner

Diana Rauner, wife of Illinois governor Bruce Rauner, leads a child-advocacy group suing the governor and various state agencies for breach of contract. The Ounce of Prevention Fund is one of eighty-two social-service agencies awaiting payments from the state.

Illinois has been without a budget for eleven months, nine days, seventeen hours, eighteen minutes, and thirty-nine seconds. It is not clear how long the governor will continue sleeping on the couch.

From Ellen Tebbits

Beverly Cleary, Ellen Tebbits (1951).

I like the way this paragraph sketches a season in so few words: days shorter, leaves deeper, nights chillier. I like, too, the reference to “downtown,” the semi-mysterious place where stores are, or were. And I like the way the passage presents time as both cyclical and linear, seasons coming around again, clothes outgrown.

Ellen Tebbits is our daughter Rachel’s favorite Beverly Cleary book. Having now I read it, I can understand why.

Related reading
Dowdy-world miracle (From Fifteen )
Jean Jarrett, dictionary user
Jean Jarrett, letter writer
Ramona Quimby and cursive
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan

The Incredible Sardine

[Graphic by Rosie Ettenheim. Text by Allison Guy. Click for a much larger view.]

This infographic, made for yesterday’s World Oceans Day, may be found at Oceana (in six parts) and at Rosie Ettenheim’s Behance page. Oceana is campaigning to promote responsible fishing and protect forage fish as a food source for fish, marine life, and people.

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Recently updated

About last night Casting a write-in vote in Illinois may be a waste of one’s vote.

Spelling in the news

In Louisiana, a man has been arrested for attempting to cash forged checks. What gave him away: misspelling fifty as fiffty . The double f can be tricky: in 2015, three men posing as police officers misspelled sheriff as sherif on their costumes.

Trivia: what film character has a last name that begins with two lowercase f s?

Related reading
All OCA spelling posts (Pinboard)

About last night

I’m deeply saddened by the results of yesterday’s Democratic primaries. I have been a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders, for reasons summed up by Hillary Clinton, then Rodham, in her 1969 Wellesley commencement speech. (I’m not kidding.) But I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton. I think that the Obama campaign got it right in a 2007 memo:

HRC is driven by politics, not conviction. From the war, to NAFTA, to Social Security, to her choice of baseball teams, Clinton is constantly shifting, dodging and changing positions to satisfy the politics of the moment. Her penchant for secrecy and non-disclosure reflect an underlying disdain for the “invisible” people for whom she claims to speak.
I was thinking about possible choices in this presidential election when I posted, last October, an observation from Peter Drucker about integrity in leadership:
No one should ever be appointed to a senior position unless top management is willing to have his or her character serve as the model for subordinates.
I went on to write,
With necessary changes in terminology, one might apply Drucker’s thinking to elections, with integrity of character as a primary consideration for a voter. I for one would find it impossible to vote for a candidate who did not evince some core element of integrity, however consonant with my views that candidate’s views might be.
So I won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton. I will write in Bernie Sanders’s name or vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whichever choice looks like the better way to send a message to the Democratic Party.


5:20 p.m.: Casting a valid write-in vote in Illinois is no easy matter. From the Cook County Clerk’s website:
Prospective write-in candidates in Illinois must file paperwork with the county clerk, or election authority, in each jurisdiction where their name will appear on the ballot.
Otherwise, a write-in vote is for naught. More on other states here.


August 1: It’s good to know your own mind, but it’s good, too, to know that you can change it. I’ve decided to vote Hillary Clinton. This allegorical paragraph explains why.

[“Her penchant for secrecy and non-disclosure reflect”: should be reflects .]

If and whether

Sir Ernest Gowers:

Care is also needed in the use of if in the sense of whether , for this too may cause ambiguity.
Please inform me if there is any change in your circumstances.
Does this mean “Please inform me now whether there is any change” or “If any change should occur please inform me then”? The reader cannot tell. If whether and if become interchangeable, unintentional offence may be given by the lover who sings:
What do I care,
If you are there?
The Complete Plain Words , rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut (Boston: David R. Godine, 1988).
Also from The Complete Plain Words
Buzz-phrase generator : The etymological fallacy : “Falling into incongruity” : Thinking and writing

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stamps for Plutocrats

Our household is well supplied with stamps: first-class, second-ounce, two-ounce, postcard. When I went to the post office today to mail a package, I was almost able to resist the usual “Need stamps?” The clerk showed me a page of Views of Our Planets , but I declined. No Pluto! (As I have written in these pages, I am a total third-grader on the subject of Pluto.) But then the clerk showed me a little (heh) block of four stamps.

[The block has two of each stamp.]

It’s Pluto — Explored! The brave little orb may no longer count as one of “our” planets (or their planets). But the United States Postal Service has shown Pluto some significant respect. Plutocrats, get to your post office at once.

Related reading
All OCA Pluto posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine gave me “Plutocrats.” Thank you, Elaine.]

Elections of the future

The Associated Press’s announcement of a Democratic nominee, an announcement made on the eve of major primaries and seven weeks before the party’s convention, is to my mind a low point in journalism. AP, report the news. Don’t manufacture it. And don’t suppress the vote.

Domestic comedy

[The subject was one of Beverly Cleary’s characters.]

“He seems to have . . .”

[And then in unison.]

“. . . a very high opinion of himself!”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Cute and the dictionary

A “boy” — the still mysterious Johnny Chessler — has called Jean Jarrett cute:

Beverly Cleary, Jean and Johnny (1959).

One could read this passage in relation to W. E. B. DuBois’s idea of double-consciousness: “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” Double-consciousness is unmistakably at work here: Jean sees herself as insignificant when others call her Half Pint; she begins to see herself as cute when Johnny Chessler pronounces her so. She later looks in a mirror and imagines how she might have looked to Johnny. By the end of the novel, Jean is able to look in a mirror with a stronger sense of self.

To my mind, Cleary’s wit heightens rather than diminishes the pathos in this passage.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)
Dowdy-world miracle (From Fifteen )
Jean Jarrett, letter writer
Ramona Quimby and cursive
Ramona Quimby, stationery fan

[Whatever dictionary Jean is using, I don’t have it.]

Monday, June 6, 2016

The New Yorker that and which

Mary Norris’s explanation of The New Yorker approach to that and which is likely, I think, to leave many viewers confused. The New Yorker follows Fowler’s Modern English Usage in using that with restrictive sentence elements and which with non-restrictive elements. The confusion comes with Norris’s sample sentences. Norris attributes these two (which she uses to introduce that and which ) to E. B. White:

The New Yorker is a magazine, which likes “that.”

The New Yorker is the magazine that likes “which.”
The second sentence is fine. But the first doesn’t make sense. It’s comparable to a sentence that says
Il Bambino is a restaurant, which serves paninis.
The unfortunate implication is that a magazine is a thing that likes the word that , and that a restaurant is an establishment that serves paninis.

Norris’s next example, in which that takes the place of which (“a fifty-two-thousand-square-foot gym that passersby sometimes mistake for a megachurch”) raises no complications. But her final example baffles me. What should The New Yorker use here, that , or which ?
[S]he suffered a series of pulled hamstrings, rolled ankles, and stress fractures that required cortisone shots in her elbow.

[S]he suffered a series of pulled hamstrings, rolled ankles, and stress fractures, which required cortisone shots in her elbow.
The New Yorker opted for which , a puzzling which . I would read the sentence as saying that this athlete suffered not just fractures but fractures that required cortisone shots. That’s how serious the fractures were. Norris herself says that that seems fine here. And which could be mistaken, if only for a moment, for the magazine’s irregular restrictive which , in which case it would be the entire series of injuries that required cortisone shots in the elbow (which of course would make no sense). The irregular restrictive which is a complication that Norris does not mention.

I appreciate what seems to be the intent behind these New Yorker videos: to offer the viewer a light-hearted, pain-free engagement with matters of grammar and usage (while proclaiming the magazine’s adherence to high standards). But the history and complications of that and which must be found elsewhere — in, for instance, the three columns of text devoted to the two words in Garner’s Modern English Usage .

Two related posts
Review of Norris’s Between You & Me

One that got away

One more thing I learned on my summer vacation: an Italian-American bookstore opened in Boston’s North End in October 2015. I AM Books calls itself the first Italian-American bookstore in the United States. It’s a small store, with a sampling of used books (large volumes of Leonardo and Michelangelo were just five dollars each) and shelves devoted to children’s books, cookbooks, history, travel, Italian writers (in Italian and in English translation), and Italian-American writers. I picked up a novel by a writer I’d never heard of: Leonardo Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl (1961). And I recommended that the store look into stocking some Gilbert Sorrentino. (Brooklyn, represent.)

Favorite moment: two teenaged girls were browsing and noticed the music playing in the store: “Was Frank Sinatra Italian?” one of them asked.

Related reading
Gilbert Sorrentino (1929–2006)
Things I learned on my summer vacation, 2016

[New York City’s S. F. Vanni began in 1884, but that was a bookstore for books in Italian.]

An endless, roiling sea

It hit me when I was reading James Franco’s list of favorite books in The New York Times : roil . In all its forms, it’s a vogue word. I started searching in the Times and in Google News:

June 5: “Slosberg roils fellow Democrats,” “roiling the financial markets,” “roiling markets.”

June 4: “a day already roiled,” “roiled by an alarming rise,” “roiled the architectural establishment,” “Norris’s gut was roiling,” “roiling around an expansive field” “secessionist movements roiling Scotland,” “the roiling cauldron of ambition,” “the roiling blood of a colonial past,” “the roiling column of black smoke,” “roiling confusion,” “a roiling generation,” “flame roiling out of the open garage door.”

June 3: “roils the Republic of Congo,” “Sugar Land roils over Selfie Statue,” “may roil financial markets,” “roil Oregon’s outdoors,” “severe weather and tornadoes roil plains,” “digital technology roiling education, publishing, and visual culture,” “political crisis roiling Venezuela,” “roiling changes,” “Iraq’s roiling impatience,” “the roiling melody,” “roiling rivers,” “roiling sexual scandal,” “a roiling storm,” “a roiling tale of desperation, love and struggle,” “roiling waters,” “currently roiling Europe,” “roiling through the city,” “the emotions roiling.”

June 2: “set to roil Democratic convention,” “roiled the city,” “roiled the Qatif area,” “roiling controversy,” “roiling fury,” “roiling global financial markets,” “a roiling national debate,” “a roiling sea,” “that roiling sea of clouds,” “a roiling sea of volatile nitrogen ice,” “roiling sexual scandal,” “roiling the medical community,” “roiling with divisiveness,” “roiling the waters,” “roiling beneath its surface.”

June 1: “diesel scandal roils,” “school district roiled,” “stocks, sterling roiled,” “the roiling aftermath,” “roiling bass,” “roiling cells of nitrogen ice,” “roiling debates,” “roiling emotions,” “the roiling magma,” “a nation roiling,” “a roiling national debate,” “that record’s roiling title track,” “roiling social debate,” “roiling tensions,” “roiling water,” “the roiling waters,” “roiling the city,” “roiling the fashion industry,” “roiling Libya’s politics,” “a storm roiling underneath the surface,” “a steadily roiling competition,” “an endless, roiling sea of numbers.”

An endless, roiling sea of vogue words! I rest my case.

[A Nation Roiling would make a nice title for a Bob and Ray news spoof. Roiling Tensions would be good for a soap-opera spoof.]

Sunday, June 5, 2016

NPR, sheesh

This morning on Weekend Edition Sunday :

“Like a good Chinese son, Bob Hung’s parents expected him to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, maybe an accountant.”
“Like a good Chinese son”: a dangling modifier. Because it compares parents to a son, it’s a distracting dangler, so distracting that Elaine and I both said “What?” before the sentence ended. A smaller problem: him lacks a genuine referent. How to make things right:
Like a good Chinese son, Bob Hung was supposed to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, maybe an accountant.
Or better:
As a good Chinese son, Bob Hung was supposed to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, maybe an accountant.
That the expectations are parental seems clear from context. But if not:
Bob Hung’s parents expected their son to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, maybe an accountant — a good Chinese son.
Related reading
All OCA NPR posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

James Allen, letter writer

James Allen has written a letter to The Washington Post responding to a letter that criticized his comic strip Mark Trail . The best Allen can do: if you don’t like the current stuck-in-a-cave story, well, it will end soon.

Mark, Gabe, and Carina have been stuck in a cave since February 3, interrupted only by a brief sojourn in a sinkhole.

[Mark Trail , June 4, 2016.]

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Ali, Moore, poets

Marianne Moore writes about Muhammad Ali:

He is neat. His brow is high. If beaten, he is still not “beat.” He fights and he writes.

    Is there something I have missed?
    He is a smiling pugilist .
From George Plimpton’s account of Ali (then Cassius Clay) and Moore at Toots Shor’s Restaurant, where they collaborated on a poem. You can read the whole story via Google Books. Moore’s sentences reappear in her liner notes for Ali’s 1963 spoken-word LP I Am the Greatest .

A related post
Carlo Rotella on Muhammad Ali, Homer, and translation

[Muhammad Ali dies yesterday at the age of seventy-four.]

Friday, June 3, 2016


“. . . but we couldn’t do the forced smiles.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

Where are the 2017 Moleskine planners?

Elaine and I stopped into Moleskine stores in Manhattan and Cambridge late last month. (We didn’t know that there were such stores until we happened upon them.) I was looking for the 2017 Pocket Weekly Planner (hardcover, horizontal layout). In past years, the next year’s Moleskine planners became available in May or June. In each Moleskine store this May, eighteen-month 2016–17 planners abounded, but no 2017 planners. Not until November, we were told in Manhattan. Not until October, we were told in Cambridge.

And yet — we walked into an independent bookstore, headed to the Moleskine shelves, and there it was, the 2017 PWP, along with other 2017 Moleskine planners. I asked the clerk about the October/November release date, and she was puzzled. She checked and told me that the store had another eighteeen 2017 PWPs in stock. I checked Amazon and discovered that 2017 Moleskine planners have been available since May 18.

It seems reasonable to wonder whether Moleskine stores are holding off on displaying 2017 planners to give the 2016–17 merchandise a longer shelf life. The Moleskine website shows only 2016 and 2016–17 planners. The company’s Twitter makes reference to 2016–17 planners as “new arrivals” and has nothing to say about 2017 planners. May–June is the new-planner season, at least for those who are slightly obsessive, and there’s something odd and unpleasant about a company holding back merchandise from its regular customers while trying to hook new customers mid-year. I don’t need an eighteen-month Moleskine planner, because I bought a 2016 Moleskine last year.

For now, anyone who’s looking for a 2017 Moleskine planner would do well to look anyplace but a Moleskine store.


June 20: I wrote to Moleskine on June 3 and, again, yesterday, with a link to this post. I received a reply this morning. A company representative tells me that “this kind of information hasn’t been released from our offices” and that 2017 planners are now available from the Moleskine website. Which still doesn’t explain why in Moleskine’s stores I was told “October” and “November.”

Related reading
All OCA Moleskine posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Block that metaphor

A CNN anchor:

“. . . and Bernie Sanders nipping at her toes.”

Make that heels . The newsperson was probably led astray by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells: “Jack Frost nipping at your nose.” Not toes .

But would nipping at heels be much of an improvement? George Orwell: “there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves.” Exactly.

Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

Things I learned on my summer vacation

Compass may be pronounced /ˈkəm-pəs/ or /ˈkäm-pəs/. But it appears that I am the only person in the world who uses the second pronunciation.


The Prius’s fuel economy (already great) seems to improve as the car ages. Whether that’s due to changes in the car or changes in its drivers is unclear.


There is always signage to rewrite: “Drug Activity Impaired Drivers” = Drug-Impaired Drivers.


The Square and Compass Tavern once stood in Cincinnati, Ohio. (That word compass again.)


Most purveyors of coffee will cheerfully fill a Klean Kanteen for a very modest price.


A little farm may be called a farmette.


Trucking companies seem to have an odd affection for antique fonts.

[Artist’s conception.]


The Readington Diner, in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, serves excellent food. And such portions. Cajun shrimp would easily feed two. The gyros platter might serve three. Next time we will know to bring stray passers-by with us — or order less.


We have been to Whitehouse Station twice before, once to the Ryland Inn (thank you, Luanne and Jim) and once when stopping at a Starbucks. It was Elaine who realized that Starbucks made three .


People will mix almost anything with chocolate: Fritos, lavender, Meyer lemon, crickets, foie gras. Some combinations turn out to be delicious. Others, I am told, not so much. Crickets. Crickets.


It’s a pity that the qualifications for working in what might be Manhattan’s best bookstore include rudeness. Don’t bother to look up when you give me the quarter needed to open the bathroom door. Oh, and pedantry.

“Where would you have books by Robert Walser? I thought he might be in the German lit section. He was Swiss and wrote in German.”

[Pointing to European Literature shelves .] “Over here.” [Insistent .] “Do you want to know why his books are here?”
Hoo boy. Is it a bookstore, or are they playing graduate school? We won’t be going back.

(P.S.: Because he was Swiss.)


New York’s Soho resembles an enormous mall. Venerable buildings have been turned into showrooms for designer goods. It’s appalling, as are so many other developments in the new New York.


In the West Village, Il Bambino is an excellent and inexpensive choice for lunch. I recommend the panini with roasted chicken, béarnaise mayo, mushrooms, and goat cheese ($10).


The new Whitney Museum’s two-floor exhibition Human Interest: Portraits From the Whitney’s Collection makes for a very satisfying museum visit. Partly because of the human element, partly because of the range of materials. Among the highlights: Walker Evans and Edward Hopper. I finally got to see a Fairfield Porter painting in person, but it was not nearly as terrific as I’d hoped. (Sorry, New York School.)


The Venus Bar and Restaurant in Passaic, New Jersey, offers a great experience in Ecuadorean and Peruvian cooking. Avocado salad! Ceviche two ways! Fried rice! Grilled everything! Bring an appetite: even the appetizers come with side dishes. Bring paper money too, so that you can tip the mariachis who come in to play for the crowd. Our bill for six people, with two appetizers, five main dishes, two pitchers of sangria, and too many side dishes to count, came to about $30 a person.


The perfect guitar accompaniment for a trumpeter playing Miles Davis’s “Freddie Freeloader”: Freddie Green-style comping. Chonk chonk chonk chonk.


The residence at 890 Park Avenue is eye-catching in its age and modest size. I am not the first person to notice it.


Our friend Margie King Barab associated with avowed Marxists — namely, Groucho and Harpo. Harpo was the funnier brother.


New Jersey Transit bus routes are beyond my understanding. The sign at the bus stop where Elaine and I wait for a bus to the Port Authority lists the 165 and 166. We have taken the 165 into the city from that stop. We have seen the 165 going up the street in the other direction as well. But the New Jersey Transit map shows the 165 never nearing our stop. And the drivers we’ve asked in the Port Authority always confirm that the 165 does not stop where we need it to stop. It’s possible that a driver here and there has the wrong route showing on the signboard. Maybe we have riding the 166 all along. But then why do the signs at the stops list the 165? A permanent flaw in the fabric of space-time.


New Jersey Transit buses have a door on the side that can open for luggage.


The Museum of the City of New York has a great exhibition on view through October, Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs. What especially moved me was seeing Chast’s father’s copy of William Rose Benét’s The Reader’s Encyclopedia , a book that plays a part in Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2014). Other terrific exhibitions too: eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits (got Hamilton?), New York’s Yiddish theater, and Mel Rosenthal’s photographs of life in the South Bronx. And no recorded tours! The City Museum has become my favorite museum in New York. More praise in this post.


The northeast corner of Central Park, across from the City Museum, offers a wonderful landscape to explore. Its highlights: the Harlem Meer and the overlook that marks the site of Fort Clinton.

[As seen on the Harlem Meer. Click for a larger heron.]


The best adventures, especially with our friends Jim and Luanne, are unpremeditated. (I knew that already.)


Boutez en avant : “Push to the front,” or “Charge!”


The original Brigham’s ice-cream parlor was located in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, in a storefront that is now the home of Bread & Chocolate, a worthy successor.


A queue box provides a safe means for cyclists to make turns at intersections. Another example of queue becoming familiar in American English.


Tercentenary Theatre is not a theater: “Tercentenary Theatre” is a name for the center of Harvard Yard, a rather unpleasant environment for a morning-long commencement ceremony in late May: searing heat, poor or non-existent sight lines in many places, and an apparent absence of any bathroom facilities or drinking water. I am told by those who should know that year after year Harvard thinks about moving its commencement from the Yard — and that year after year the school makes the wrong choice.


It’s possible to watch the commencement ceremony on a large screen in the comfort of a cool tent. Why is this option not publicized? Oh well.


Harvard’s convocation and diploma ceremony, at least those for the Graduate School of Education, were beautifully organizing and moving events, with unforgettable moments. This speech, this one, and this one. I’ve already written a little about our son’s musical performance with two fellow students.


The Florentine Cafe in Boston’s North End is an excellent restaurant.


Bruschetta , “preferably pronounced /broo-sket-ǝ/, as in Italian. But in AmE [American English] /broo-shet-ǝ/ is disappointingly ubiquitous”: Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016).


The Caffe Paradiso in Boston’s North End serves a spectacular cannoli. Mike’s Pastry gets the tourists. Caffe Paradiso gets speakers of Italian — and us. It was delightful to remember that we were here years ago with Rachel and Ben. Everything looks the same.


What would you find on a scavenger hunt in Tennessee? A jar.


Kids still count Mississippi s when playing two-on-two football. One Mississippi, two Mississippi.


Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop and the Printing Office of Edes & Gill are unexpected treasures in Boston’s North End. Look: they’re making hot chocolate. And printing the Declaration of Independence. Sweet freedom!


The best adventures, especially with our friends Jim and Luanne, are unpremeditated. (I knew that already.)


Luckombe Upper Case and Lower Case: typecase arrangements.


The step-on trashcan was invented by Lillian Moller Gilbreth of Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen (1948).


We should probably see The Captain’s Paradise (dir. Anthony Kimmins, 1953).


In Newark, New York, one must have New York State identification to buy beer from a certain convenience store. (Why?) Elaine asked someone to buy a six-pack for us and paid for her iced tea to say thanks.


If the date on the television in our Newark motel room is still wrong, it’s now January 22.


“Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are”: attributed to John Chrysostom. But easy for a non-believer to agree with.

More things I learned on my summer vacation
2015 : 2014 : 2013 : 2012 : 2011 : 2010 : 2009 : 2008 : 2007 : 2006