Wednesday, November 30, 2016


We went to a tiny Mexican restaurant for lunch — six stools, one table, one man doing everything. Our food was spectacular. A television attached to the wall played news in Spanish. A segment about the United States’ president-elect focused on his threats/promises regarding immigrants and the various obstacles in his way. I was surprised at how much I could understand.

These words on the screen, in large sans-serif capitals, stuck with me: NO TODO ESTÁ PERDIDO. All is not lost. I like that idea.

Tea mind, empty mind

Father Thomas Roth (Dana Andrews), in Edge of Doom (dir. Mark Robson, 1950):

“I always like a cup of hot tea in the afternoon, drink it slowly. It helps empty the mind. It’s a minor blessing, but not one to be sneezed at. It’s good with lemon.”
Edge of Doom is good too, even if Andrews makes an improbable priest. The movie is at YouTube.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

DFW and Illinois

A brief tour: “David Foster Wallace’s Peaceful Prairie” (The New York Times).

But I have to say: Lynn Freehill-Maye’s celebration of the American midwest’s “meditative spaces,” “down-to-earth people,” and “sincerity” does not quite ring true. That pastoral picture omits all kinds of rural bleakness — miseducation, poverty, xenophobia, among others. As for midwestern sincerity, something that Wallace’s biographer D. T. Max makes much of, I’ll quote myself: “Life in the midwest — trust me — can be full of evasions, silences, and mask-like tact.” But I don’t want to talk about it. (See?)

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

“This Week in Hate”

A new New York Times feature: “This Week in Hate,” tracking “hate crimes and harassment around the country since the election of Donald Trump.”

Money, mouth, literally, figuratively

In a Chronicle of Higher Education article about Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s choice for education secretary, Margaret Spellings, president of the University of North Carolina, describes DeVos thusly:

“She’s been an education-reform warrior and has put her money where her mouth is, literally and figuratively, for a very long time.”
Literally and figuratively? I think I know what Spellings might mean. To put one’s money where one’s mouth is to “back up one’s opinion with action.” So Spellings might mean that DeVos has worked to shape education policy and has put money toward that end. She has backed up her opinions with action — and with money.

But money, mouth, literally, figuratively: it all sounds odd, and kinda disgusting. You should never literally put your money, or anyone else’s, where your mouth is.

Related reading
All OCA idiom and metaphor posts (Pinboard)

[Definition from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1997).]

GMEU app

Garner’s Modern English Usage is now available as an iOS app, beautifully designed and exceedingly useful. So when I’m reading The New York Times on my phone and see this editorial headline —

— I can open the app and find this entry:

[Click for a larger view.]

And then I can go back to reading the Times and thinking with ever-deepening dread about where our country is headed.

Related reading
All OCA Garner-related posts (Pinboard)

[An Android app is supposed to be available soon. The star at the bottom is for marking an entry as a favorite, a good way to keep track of anything a writer needs to check again and again (for me, if and whether). One thing I miss: full-text search, which I’m guessing would have been unwieldy with so much text. The Times uses both caldron and cauldron. Caldron appears to be the more common spelling among Times writers. AP and Reuters appear to prefer cauldron.]

Monday, November 28, 2016


Last week we spent a happy hour browsing and buying at Three Lives & Company. Three Lives is a great small bookstore, the kind in which nearly every book is a good one. Following the store’s fortunes via Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York made me want to go and buy some books.

I noticed a tall stack of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing (2012) on a counter and asked if the book was especially popular. Yes, they sell many copies and have trouble keeping it in stock. Smart city! Several Short Sentences is one of the best books I know for learning about or teaching writing.

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

[After reading a draft post, I changed “one of the display counters” to “a counter.” That’s the kind of attention to sentences that Klinkenborg’s book fosters.]

Night class

I was waiting to teach a night class — my least favorite kind of teaching. The class was to start at 7:30. I waited outside the room in a narrow hallway: low ceiling, bare lightbulbs, tile walls, no windows, basement-like. The water fountain in the hallway was combined with a urinal. The drain was in the floor, right next to the fountain’s foot pedal, so that pressing to get a drink would almost certainly have meant stepping into someone’s urine. Still waiting for class, I went out to walk by the seashore with my teacher Jim Doyle. I told him how surprised I was to learn — from reading his notes and marginalia — that he loved football. He’d written to the president about it and had received a reply. Jim’s voice sounded raspy. I knew that Jim had died, but here he was. I was happy to see him.

I started teaching at 8:00. I asked the students, “How’d it get so late?” No one knew. I was teaching a Dickens novel and had notes, of some sort, with me, but I hadn’t read the novel, or at least not for a long time. Among its elements: an orphan girl at school, an adjunct instructor, an evil headmistress, a mysterious woman. I described the novel as “a vast canvas.” Instead of beginning with the orphan, the first character to appear, I began with the mysterious woman. Comparisons to Ishtar and Circe — the dangerous seducer. This woman was also a damsel in distress. I showed a clip from a French film adaptation of the novel and wanted to go back to a moment in which a great many emotions play across the character’s face: fear, confidence, doubt, longing. But I could find only commercials. At some point I noticed a colleague — one of my least favorite colleagues — sitting in the back row, smiling. He had come to observe.

Time was running out. “Next time we’ll begin by talking about the orphan,” I said. Students were already leaving. Two students in a corner had turned on a television and were watching a cowboy movie. “I need one more minute to finish what I need to say,” I yelled. “Please turn off the TV.” I asked four times before walking to the set, unplugging it, and waking.

Likely sources: a tiled hallway in Widener Library (perhaps this one), rest-stop bathrooms, manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum (including A Christmas Carol and many Charlotte Brontë items), Jim Doyle’s videotaped reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” an NPR story about letters to President Barack Obama, Jean Stapleton’s expressive face in an All in the Family episode, academic politics, and who knows what else. This is the sixth classroom dream I’ve had since retiring from teaching. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Steven Greenhouse on the election

Steven Greenhouse, writing in The New York Times about labor unions and the election:

Most labor leaders viewed Mr. Trump far more harshly than his union backers did; they often attacked him as a con artist and a threat to unions and workers. Mrs. Clinton would have prevailed had she adopted a more muscular pro-worker message, union leaders lament, more like Bernie Sanders’s message attacking trade deals and inequality.
There’s something sadly funny about the idea of trying to shape a candidate to resemble another candidate whom you’ve already chosen not to support. I can think of only one candidate who could have persuasively offered a message more like Bernie Sanders’s message: Bernie Sanders.

I remain deeply disappointed that my union, the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed Hillary Clinton without even pretending to go through the motions of weighing candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. Background here.

[Without even pretending to go through the motions? That’s what I mean: without even pretending to pretend.]

New York diners

“Losing New York diner culture would probably be a watershed in the city’s history. How will New Yorkers get along without these antidotes to urban loneliness?” In The New York Times, George Blecher writes about the disappearance of the New York diner.

Elaine and I spent a day in Manhattan last week. No diners, but we did go to a café and a restaurant, both local. I expect that someday we’ll visit and find that every small independent business we like has disappeared from the city.

Thanks, Lu, for pointing me to this story.

Heads up

[As seen in the museum’s lobby. Click for a larger view.]

Above, a display for four exhibitions at the Morgan Library & Museum. Whoever designed the posters and their sequence must have put much thought into — and taken much pleasure from — the work. The sequence honors neither historical chronology nor opening dates, but it’s hardly random. What patterns do you see? (Be sure to click for a larger view.)

Elaine and I found the Morgan a perfect museum experience: three hours of great variety and endless surprises, a day before Thanksgiving. Dig the architecture, the art, the books, the manuscripts.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Comics synchronicity

[Nancy, November 26, 1949.]

[Henry, November 26, 2016. Click either image for a larger view.]

See also Mark Trail and Nancy.

Related reading via Pinboard
All OCA Henry posts
All OCA Nancy posts

[I don’t know how old today’s Henry really is, but an April strip seems to date the reruns to the 1960s.]

NPR, sheesh

Heard yesterday, an NPR reporter interviewing a Wal-Mart rep: “Are you guys, like, becoming a bank?”

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

[Singing, earlier this week.]

“Autumn in New York, why does it seem so expensive?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Florence Henderson (1934-2016)

Good night, Mrs. Brady. The New York Times has an obituary.

A related post
Canned Heat and the Brady Bunch (With a photo of Florence Henderson)

Domestic comedy

[On the interstates all day, cops, and more cops.]

“Blue Friday.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

From an old notebook

“What a pile of dirty dishes!”

Snow White, in the 1937 Disney movie.


“Do I look different yet?”

Betty Aberlin, as the rollers are removed from her hair in the beauty shop (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood).


“I hear footprints!”

Rachel, age six.

Also from an old notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors : Alfred Appel Jr. on twentieth-century art and literature : Balloons, poetry, teachers : Barney : Beauty and the Beast and kid talk : Eleanor Roosevelt : John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch : Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel : Square dancing, poetry, criticism, slang

Thursday, November 24, 2016

National Sardines Day

It is not only Thanksgiving: it is National Sardines Day. Go fish!

Related reading
All OCA sardines posts (Pinboard)

Thanksgiving 1916

[“Thanksgiving Plans Take Usual Couse: Institutions to Serve Turkey and Fixings in Spite of the Advance in Prices. Vaudeville on the Island: Sing Sing to Have Music and Pictures and the Salvation Army to Gather Its Inebriate Crop.“ The New York Times , November 29, 1916.]

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Previous Thanksgiving posts
At the Waldorf Astoria, 1915 : In jail, 1914 : In jail, 1913 : Thanksgiving and mortality : In jail, 1912 : Competitive eating, 1911 : A 1917 greeting card : A found letter : Sing Sing, 1908 : Sing Sing, 1907

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


We often tune into MeTV at night for a small serving of Perry Mason . We rarely watch a full episode, and we rarely follow the plot. Mason , as we I insist on calling the show, is all about atmosphere: car telephones, clothing, furniture, hairdos, office accoutrements. And it’s about television. MeTV is MetaTV — and movies. For instance: the recent episode “The Case of the Mythical Monkeys” (first aired February 27, 1960) brings together Barbara Harper Douglas, Mrs. Steve Douglas, of My Three Sons (Beverly Garland), Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Louise Fletcher), and Stanley Roper, Mr. Roper, of Three’s Company (Norman Fell). Dig we must.

Related reading
All OCA Perry Mason posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine says this is all about me. MeTV.]

Ambiguous drop

A New York Times headline: “Trump Drops Threat of New Investigations Into Clinton.” Meaning that he is abandoning, giving up the threat? Or that he is uttering or mentioning the threat in a casual way? It’s the first possibility that fits, but I couldn’t be sure without reading further.

[With definitions of drop paraphrased from Merriam-Webster.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An EXchange name on screen

[Murder by Contract (dir. Irving Lerner, 1958. Click for a larger view.]

Murder by Contract is a two-fer, with a pocket notebook and an exchange name. Value-added viewing.

Could there be a cooler telephone exchange than YO (York)? “What’s your number?” “Yo, twenty-five thousand.”

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

Pocket notebook sighting

[Murder by Contract (dir. Irving Lerner, 1958). Click for a larger view.]

Claude (Vince Edwards) is an up-and-coming hit man and careful record-keeper. Cost of his dream house: $28,000. In the bank: $523.71.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : 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 : Mr. Holmes : 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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Twelve or thirteen more movies

[No spoilers.]

The Amazing Mr. X (dir. Bernard Vorhaus, 1948). He’s a California psychic (played by Turhan Bey), with two sisters under his spell. A B-movie, now in the public domain, available as a murky blur at YouTube. It’s sobering to see Cathy O’Donnell in these low-budget surroundings, just two years after The Best Years of Lives. Cinematography by the great John Alton.


A Taste of Honey (dir. Tony Richardson, 1961). Resolution, independence, and codependence. Rita Tushingham as an ill-mothered teenager is a delight — she looks vulnerable and tough, sparkly and wised up, like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Mick Jagger. Whatever will become of her? This film must have been a major influence on Mike Leigh. The best line: “Who’s happy?”

[Rita Tushingham as Jo. Can her Dickensian name be mere coincidence? Click for a larger view.]


Mascots (dir. Christopher Guest, 2016). As you might have guessed, a faux documentary. As in Best of Show , a variety of characters come together in a competition. Most of the usual suspects are present (Michael McKean is missing), along with several newcomers. Harry Shearer is heard but not seen. Especially delightful are Parker Posey and Susan Yeagley as the Babineaux sisters, Cindi and Laci. Guest himself has an improbable but welcome cameo.


A Face in the Crowd (dir. Elia Kazan, 1957). The prophetic power of this film, in which a cocky vagrant becomes a charismatic everyman, media sensation, and aspiring demagogue, cannot be overestimated. And the heck with Lee Remick: it’s Griffith and Patricia Neal who provide the truly compelling eroticism here. You’ll never see The Andy Griffith Show in the same way again.


La Chienne (dir. Jean Renoir, 1931). From Georges de La Fouchardière’s novel of the same name. Minutes in, we realized that this film is from the same source as Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street . But Renoir’s film evinces much greater compassion for the participants in the lovers’ triangle, each hapless and frail in her or his own way, each subject to a cruel fate. The last scene, filmed on a Parisian avenue, is extraordinary.

[Looking at a Renoir. Click for a larger view.]


Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the “National Lampoon” (dir. Douglas Tirola, 2015). My acquaintance with the Lampoon began with the August 1971 issue, whose cover showed an Alfred E. Neumanesque William Calley above the tagline “What, My Lai?” To a fourteen-year-old, that made Mad seem like kid stuff. But looking through a gallery of Lampoon covers, I recognize nothing past 1975: I outgrew the Lampoon much earlier than I would have imagined. This documentary, a celebration of humor that often did little more than attempt to shock, is too affectionate, too self-congratulatory, and too dull.


Gentleman Jim (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1942). One of those films that make me wonder: how did this get into the queue? Because I added it, though I have no idea why. Maybe I was looking to see more of Ward Bond. “Gentleman Jim” (Errol Flynn) is the boxer James J. Corbett. Every trope of Irishness is on display in this story— drink, fisticuffs, the old songs, priestliness. But there’s nothing to explain how Corbett developed a new approach to boxing. Best scene: John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) turning the future over to Corbett. And it’s fun to see William Frawley in his pre-landlord days.


The Mask You Live In (dir. Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2015). An exploration of masculinity. What does it mean to be a man, and what expectations does the unholy command “Be a man” place upon boys and young men? Especially important viewing in what threatens to be the age of Trump. Where did Dunning K. Trump get his idea of what it means to be a man? The most interesting figure among the film’s speakers: former NFLer Joe Ehrmann.


The Fly (dir. Kurt Neumann, 1958). Here’s the real reason we shouldn’t try for GMOs. Herbert Marshall and Vincent Price lend some high seriousness to a premise that could easily become laughable but instead remains compelling. The special effects are blessedly few, and the best one is gruesomely ordinary: a mechanical press. My favorite moment: the writing on the blackboard. The best lines: “Inspector, what does all this mean?” “I have no idea.”


A Life at Stake (dir. Paul Guilfoyle, 1954). Lust and life insurance: a variation on Double Indemnity , with Angela Lansbury and Keith Andes. Lansbury’s character here seems to look forward to Isabel Boyd in The World of Henry Orient and Eleanor Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate . (We’re a long way from Cabot Cove.) Yet another excellent B-movie found at YouTube.


Murder by Contract (dir. Irving Lerner, 1958). An obsessively orderly young man named Claude (Vince Edwards) aspires to work as a hit man. He achieves considerable success. This story has deeply existential overtones. The handheld camera work, tight closeups, quick pace, implied violence, and odd musical score lift this film into greatness. (I thought of The Third Man and Breathless .) Herschel Bernardi and Phillip Pine add an element of comedy, at least for a while, as Claude’s handlers, hapless middlemen both. Martin Scorsese cites this film as a major influence (he dedicated New York, New York to Lerner). Now playing at YouTube.


City of Fear (dir. Irving Lerner, 1959). Another YouTube find. We didn’t realize that we had picked another Irving Lerner/Vince Edwards film until the credits began to run. Edwards plays an escaped convict carrying a steel canister that he thinks holds a fortune in heroin. The canister in truth contains Cobalt-60. This film recalls the dangers of Panic in the Streets and Kiss Me Deadly , pneumonic plague and “the great whatsit.” I especially liked this film’s depiction of unglamorous Los Angeles: endless wide avenues of auto-repair shops and billboards.

We didn’t know while watching, but we’ve seen at least one more Lerner film: To Hear Your Banjo Sing (1947).

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen more : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more

Stranded by the State

Stranded by the State , a video series from In These Times and Kartemquin Films, examines the effects of Illinois’s budget crisis on the state’s people. The first episode comes out today. Watch at YouTube.

Related reading
All OCA Illinois budget crisis posts (Pinboard)

[It bears repeating: the crisis is a manufactured one. Our governor insists on tying any budget to “reforms” designed to destroy state-employee unions.]

Sunday, November 20, 2016


[Nancy , November 18, 1949.]

Nancy is right.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Orange Trek art

Fresca at l’astronave (one of the funnest people I’ve ever met online) has created two great, witty examples of Star Trek orange crate art. Investigate and report back to Starfleet Command.

Best years, given or given up

I was browsing a biography of Teresa Wright in the library, looking first at the pages about Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1943) and The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946). And my confidence in the writer began to drop. Here is his discussion of the title of Wyler’s film:

“The best years” cannot refer to the time of the war, nor to what preceded it — that would be too cynical and would reduce the significance of the heroic exploits of these men. Nor can the title refer to what is in the future — that would be hypothetical and, from a narrative standpoint, a cheat. Nor can the best years indicate what we see in the present, which is obviously a time of disillusionment and disappointment.

The title makes sense only if we understand it not literally but ironically. That is certainly the impact of the only moment in the picture when the phrase is spoken: when the character played by Virginia Mayo complains loudly to her husband (Dana Andrews), “I’ve given you the best years of my life!" In fact, she’s given him nothing of the kind: she married him less than three weeks before he went off to war, and he has returned to find her frivolous, avaricious and adulterous.

Donald Spoto, A Girl’s Got to Breathe: The Life of Teresa Wright (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016).
But that’s not what “the character played by Virginia Mayo,” otherwise known as Marie Derry, says to husband Fred. What she does say:
“I’ve given you every chance to make something of yourself. I gave up my own job when you asked me. I gave up the best years of my life! And what have you done? You've flopped.”
Selfish Marie doesn’t claim to have given Fred anything — except chances. But she has given up , given up what belonged to her — the time that has been lost to war, time that can never be regained. In an earlier scene, when Marie speaks of being “right back where [we] started,” “just as if nothing had ever happened,” Fred tells her, “We can never be back there. We never want to be back there.”

I suspect that the title of Wyler’s film lurks behind a passage in Robert Fitzgerald’s 1961 translation of the Odyssey . In book 23, Penelope speaks to Odysseus of their twenty years apart:
what difficulty the gods gave: they denied
life together in our prime and flowering
kept us from crossing into age together.”
“Our prime and flowering years” — or the best years of our lives.

[Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Navy in the Second War. He writes about that in the postscript to his translation of the Aeneid .]

Friday, November 18, 2016

What made Billy Wilder cry

Billy Wilder, speaking of The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946):

“I cried through the whole picture, and I am not a pushover — I laugh at Hamlet .”

From Directed by William Wyler (dir. Aviva Slesin, 1986). Quoted in Donald Spoto’s A Girl’s Got to Breathe: The Life of Teresa Wright (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016).
Somewhat related posts
Harold Russell : Teresa Wright, Teresa Wright

“The Right Way to Resist Trump”

Luigi Zingales, an observer of Italian politics, writing in The New York Times about “The Right Way to Resist Trump”: “The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?”

[No arguments here, please. I’m sharing this link because I think it’s good food for thought.]

“The Rot of Fake News”

“Doc, you’re gargling with Coke. And it’s bad for you”: “The Rot of Fake News,” an essay by Todd Zwillich (WNYC).

A related post
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year: post-truth

“Oh yes, of course, art simplifies”

Willa Cather, from a letter to Ida Kleber Todd, December 28, 1934:

People are always writing me (people I don’t know) that I have “influenced” their lives. I wonder if you know that you have influenced mine? Once, long ago, in some discussion, you said, half under your breath, “Oh yes, of course, art simplifies.” I had never thought of that before; I have been trying to live that remark ever since. It was the way you spoke, carelessly and yet as if there could be no doubt about the matter; and because I felt a kind of authority in you — didn’t try to explain it, just felt it.

I have read thousands of pages that did not say as much to me as that sentence rather lightly dropped by a living voice — a very individual voice with a tempo and timbre distinctly its own. The sentence went home like an arrow — because of something in you and something in me. As I said, I’ve been trying to live it ever since.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather , ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
Ida Kleber Todd (1858–1946) was the daughter of Henry Kleber (1816–1897), who was a major figure in Pittsburgh musical life. The Selected Letters has no information about Todd, and the information in the preceding sentence is all that I have been able to find. From 1896 to 1906, Cather lived in Pittsburgh, working as a journalist, editor, and teacher.

Cather, in a 1921 interview: “I’m trying to cut out all analysis, observation, description, even the picture-making quality, in order to make things and people tell their own story simply by juxtaposition, without any persuasion or explanation on my part.” And in her essay “The Novel Démeublé” (1922): “The novel, for a long while, has been over-furnished.” Cather’s novel The Professor’s House (1925) begins with a man walking through the empty rooms of a “dismantled house.”

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[The novel démeublé: the novel stripped of its furniture, the novel with its furniture removed.]

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Zippy Cleaners

[Zippy , November 17, 2016. Click for a larger view.]

The obscure reference? Not “three rocks.” Martinizing.

This Zippy Cleaners is was located in Manhattan at 149 Elizabeth Street. Look at what Bill Griffith did with the fire escape.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts, Nancy and Zippy posts, Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Todd VanDerWerff on progressive politics and rural America

Todd VanDerWerff, writing about a communication gap between progressive urbanites and conservative ruralites:

I say “racism” and mean “a system, built up over centuries of American history, that privileges white people over everybody else.” Many rural whites hear “racism” and think it means, “You’re a bad person who hates black people,” when they believe they’re not actively discriminating against anyone because of race.
That single sentence jumped out: it’s the perfect characterization of a mindset that prevails in my immediate environs. “I treat everyone the same,” &c.

VanDerWeff is not apologizing for or excusing oppression or bigotry. But he is suggesting that people need to do a better job listening and speaking to one another across a political and cultural divide.

[In today’s local paper, a letter calls “liberals” “fat, lazy, slobs” who will now have to “get their fat little butts off the couch and get a job.”]

A Word of the Year

For Oxford Dictionaries, it’s post-truth :

After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth — an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A reader recommends, an online text editor, and successor to the defunct

Three good sentences

At the OUPblog, Edwin Battistella writes about how to write a good sentence, with three sample sentences. The sample sentences are from Oxford University Press books. Total cost: $238.95. But you can ponder the sentences for free.

Somewhat related
A review of Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence

Sixteen writers on the election

Online (no subscription needed) and in the November 21 New Yorker , the one with a nearly finished brick wall on the cover: “Aftermath: Sixteen Writers on Trump’s America.” Among the sixteen: Toni Morrison and George Packer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How to improve writing (no. 69)

[Mark Trail , November 15, 2016.]

Two things to consider. One is the importance of choosing the right word: Mark means to say impending . Garner’s Modern English Usage explains the distinction: “What is pending is awaiting an outcome”; “what is impending is imminent (in the literal sense of the word, ‘hanging over one’s head’) and harmful.” Volcanic eruptions are always harmful.

The second thing to consider: writing that represents speech should resemble speech. (And here I remember the English teacher who took off points when my daughter used contractions in a story’s dialogue.) Writing that represents the speech of someone fleeing an erupting volcano should exhibit greater terseness, greater urgency. A possible revision:

[Mark Trail revised.]

Or better yet: just keep your mouth shut and run, Mark, as Abbey Powell is doing. Run, Mark, run.

Related reading
All OCA “How to improve writing” posts : “How to improve writing” and Mark Trail posts : Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Please imagine the links in the form of a Venn diagram.

[I wrote a note to the teacher about the contractions but, as you might guess, I got nowhere. This post is no. 69 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

From an old notebook

And he got inside and he got out. And he goes back. And the people are there now. And all the balloons come all around and all the colors. And the boy was so happy. And the ones flew away and two twins have two red coats and they have balloons and then they popped it. And now he got it now. And he was under it. And he was holding the strings. And then he goes up to the sky. And then the boy was a string.

Ben, four years old, narrating The Red Balloon.


“The speaker buys an apple and stuffs a rotten spot in it with rat pellets.”

Jonathan Holden, in The Fate of American Poetry .


The teacher’s seriousness is supported by the proximity of other serious teachers, just as the seriousness of the student is nourished by the presence of other serious students. . . . The maintenance of intellectual integrity is not only a matter of strength of character, but it is also a function of the immediate environment of the teacher. . . . Consciences reinforce each other in intellectual matters as well as in others.

Edward Shils, The Academic Ethic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).

Also from an old notebook
Alfalfa, Ted Berrigan, Jack Kerouac, metaphors : Alfred Appel Jr. on twentieth-century art and literature : Barney : Beauty and the Beast and kid talk : Eleanor Roosevelt : John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch : Plato, Shirley Temple, vulgarity, wisdom, Stan Laurel : Square dancing, poetry, criticism, slang

Monday, November 14, 2016

The PBS NewsHour remembers Gwen Ifill

We broke our no-television-news resolve to watch the PBS NewsHour tonight. Nearly the entire broadcast was devoted to remembering Gwen Ifill. If you missed it, you can watch at PBS.

Gwen Ifill (1955–2016)

The news that Gwen Ifill has died is a terrible shock. As host and moderator of Washington Week and co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour (with Judy Woodruff), Ifill was unbeatable. Here she is in 2013, speaking about the NewsHour to a New York Times interviewer (quoted in the NPR story I’ve linked to):

“When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she said. “I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all.”
I will miss Gwen Ifill’s intelligence and exuberance. Watching her, I always had the feeling that we were all in this (that is, current events, of whatever sort) together.

Salinger and Tewksbury

In The New Yorker , Jill Lepore writes about J. D. Salinger and Peter Tewksbury (the director of Father Knows Best , among other things) and a never-realized film adaptation of “For Esmé — With Love and Squalor”: “The Film J. D. Salinger Nearly Made.”

Related reading
All OCA Salinger posts (Pinboard)

[Orange Crate Art is a Father Knows Best -friendly zone. The show is much better than you might think. For instance. And for instance. And for instance.]

“The safest shelter”

Stefan Zweig, Erasmus of Rotterdam  , trans. Eden and Cedar Paul (New York: Viking, 1934).

Zweig knew this feeling. I think many people in November 2016 know it too.

Other Zweig posts
Destiny, out of one’s hands : Erasmus ekphrasis : Fanaticism and reason : Happy people, poor psychologists : Little world : School v. city : “A tremendous desire for order” : Urban pastoral, with stationery : Zweig’s last address book

Nell Irvin Painter on the election

Nell Irvin Painter in The New York Times on whiteness in the Trump era:

Conveniently, for most white Americans, being white has meant not having a racial identity. It means being and living and experiencing the world as an individual and not having to think about your race. . . . The Trump campaign has disrupted that easy freedom.
[No arguments here, please. I’m sharing this link because I think it’s good food for thought.]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leon Russell (1941–2016)

The musician and songwriter Leon Russell has died. The New York Times has an obituary.

Leon Russell was only occasionally on my radar. But many years ago, I held a microphone up to the television set and recorded this performance on a cassette, Furry Lewis and Russell and company performing “Furry’s Blues.” Watch the way Russell and the rest of the band adapt to Lewis’s flexible sense of time.

The whole show is at YouTube too.

Mark Shields on the election

From his syndicated column:

A friendly suggestion to Democrats: This blame-the-customer explanation is self-defeating. We basically have two political parties; if you demonize the people who support the other party’s candidate as moral lepers and ethical eunuchs, you’re probably not going to win either their goodwill or their votes.
I always like seeing Mark Shields on the PBS NewsHour , but I haven’t watched a minute of television news since Tuesday night. I’m reading instead — Shields’s column among other things.

[No arguments here, please. I’m sharing this link because I think it’s good food for thought.]

Naomi Klein on the election

“Neo-fascist responses to rampant insecurity and inequality are not going to go away. But what we know from the 1930s is that what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left”: in The Guardian , Naomi Klein writes about neoliberalism and the Democratic party.

[No arguments here, please. I’m sharing this link because I think it’s good food for thought.]

Local color

[For fashionistas and fashionistos only.]

Here’s Elaine Fine, wearing the dress she made from fabric designed by our friend Jean Petree. It’s a dropped-waist Laura Ashley-like dress, from a mid-90s pattern.


5:20 p.m.: Washing softened and shrank the fabric. The dress fits perfectly.

[We didn’t realize until after the fact that, like Homer’s Penelope, Elaine is standing next to a column. But unlike Penelope, she is smiling.]

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hot mess

Elaine and I were idly wondering about the origin of the expression hot mess . And lookit: Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster explains.

Robert Vaughn (1932–2016)

From the New York Times obituary:

[N]o character he played was as popular as Napoleon Solo. From 1964 to 1968, in the thick of the Cold War, millions of Americas tuned in weekly to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to watch Mr. Vaughn, as a superagent from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, battling T.H.R.U.S.H. (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), a secret organization intent on achieving world domination through nefarious if far-fetched devices like mind-controlling gas.
Far-fetched? Napoleon Solo and fellow agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) were major inspirations in my espionage-filled boyhood. This post has a couple of details.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bernie Sanders on the election

“I am saddened, but not surprised, by the outcome”: in The New York Times , Bernie Sanders writes about the election. His description of depopulated rural towns with empty storefronts and few prospects: that’s much of downstate Illinois, among many other places.

Sanders also contributed to the Times in June: “Democrats Need to Wake Up.”

Frank Bruni on the election

I think Frank Bruni must have had a bug near our kitchen table for the past many months: “The Democrats Screwed Up” (The New York Times ). But he didn’t get the Bloomberg bit from our household.

I don’t want to argue here. I’m sharing this link because I think it’s good food for thought.

Why I am not a tree trimmer

I have a fear of heights, for one thing. It’s been with me from childhood. No bucket trucks for me. At the top of a tall staircase I hesitate, just for a second. I like banisters. At the top of an escalator I hesitate before choosing my step. The DC Metro escalators — yikes. But I managed. And I’ve climbed as high as the fifth rung of an eight-foot ladder to remove the filter panel from one of our Fujitsu ductless mini-splits. We have two, and they do a great job of cooling our house — and heating it, until the temperature begins to really drop, and then it’s simpler to put the furnace on. And get this: when the first system that our plumbing and heating and cooling guy installed didn’t work properly, because the mini-splits were just over the maximum distance at which they could function in tandem, a distance nowhere made clear in the manufacturer’s specs, our guy replaced the system at his own expense. But we gave him a very large gift certificate for our local barbecue restaurant, where we’d seen him and his family many a time.

Also, a lack of the necessary equipment (bucket trucks, &c.), and a lack of the inclination and ability that I would need for it to make sense to invest in that equipment. And did I mention that I have a fear of heights?

On Veterans Day

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

Related reading
All OCA Verlyn Klinkenborg posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

... and does

“Sweet Lorraine” (Cliff Burwell-Mitchell Parish). Tony Bennett with Bobby Hackett, baritone ukelele; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Hal Gaylor, bass; Billy Exiner, drums. March 11, 1965. From the Bennett compilation Jazz (Columbia, 1987). Bennett says in the liner notes that when this song was recorded, Marsala hadn’t played clarinet for ten or twelve years and hadn’t recorded in twenty.

If music isn’t the healing force of the universe, it will have to do, Until the Real Thing Comes Along, if ever.

Related posts
Tony Bennett at ninety : Tony Bennett has to sing : Tony Bennett’s pencil : “We’re all here”

[Apologies if an ad kicks on. There’s no way to avoid ads when embedding YouTube.]

Tony Bennett has to sing

Tony Bennett, interviewed by James Isaacs, June 24, 1986:

Did you have to sing?

I have to sing, yes.

When did you know that?

When Joe Williams told me, “It’s not that you want to sing, you have to sing.” And I said to myself, “You know, he’s right.” I never really thought of it.

When was this?

About six years ago in Vegas.

That late?

From the liner notes for the Bennett compilation Jazz (Columbia, 1987). I’m making my way through my dad’s CDs: Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Ivie Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Mildred Bailey, Count Basie, Tony Bennett. Next stop: Art Blakey. Music is much better for my mental health than the news. Really, there’s no comparison.

Related posts
Tony Bennett at ninety : Tony Bennett sings “Sweet Lorraine” : Tony Bennett’s pencil : “We’re all here”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Orange fabric art

Our friend Jean Petree, who introduced Elaine and me almost thirty-three years ago (is that possible?), drew a doodle, turned it into a print, and voilà: fabric for a dress, straight to our mailbox. Elaine will sew and wear the dress. I will admire her in it.

There must be color, even on a dark day. Thank you, Jean.

Other posts with orange
Crate art, orange : Orange art, no crate : Orange art turtle : Orange batik art : Orange bookmark art : Orange car art : Orange crate art : Orange crate art (Encyclopedia Brown) : Orange dress art : Orange enamel art : Orange flag art : Orange light art : Orange manual art : Orange mug art : Orange newspaper art : Orange notebook art : Orange notecard art : Orange parking art : Orange peel art : Orange pencil art : Orange soda art : Orange soda-label art : Orange stem art : Orange telephone art : Orange timer art : Orange toothbrush art : Orange train art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange tree art : Orange Tweed art

About last night

Elaine and I went to sleep, of a sort, at midnight. We couldn’t bear to stay up for the inevitable news. I woke up at two-something and remembered what Lee Hays said at the Weavers’ farewell concert, November 28, 1980, not long after the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency:

“We’ve been around long enough to tell you: be of good cheer. This, too, will pass. I’ve had kidney stones, and I know.”
And then I thought of Edvard Munch’s The Scream , and then I somehow fell asleep for another hour.

The New York Times this morning:
Donald John Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday in a stunning culmination of an explosive, populist and polarizing campaign that took relentless aim at the institutions and long-held ideals of American democracy.
Without institutions and ideals you don’t have much of a democracy, or much of a culture. Donald Trump’s Improv Tour has revealed his contempt for the rule of law and for the house we live in, which holds countless varieties of human identity, ability, and purpose. As head birther, he had already long revealed his contempt for fact. Without fact, you don’t have much of a reality other than that which those in power declare: 2 + 2 = 5. Trump is by all indications incapable of a day’s worth of sustained attention to the work of the presidency, much less four-years’ worth. And yet he was elected.

I have long thought of 1968 as the darkest year of my small chunk of American history. But now that year is 2016.

Four related posts
Duce redux
Dunning K. Trump
Eyes on the plane
Kristol, Palin, Trump

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Fifty blog-description lines

Google’s Blogger calls the line that sits below a blog title the “blog description line.” I’ve added a finicky hyphen. For a long time, I had the first words of Van Dyke Parks’s “Orange Crate Art” as my blog-description line: “Orange crate art was a place to start.” In May 2010, I began to vary the line, using some word, phrase, or sentence from a recent post. And I began keeping track. I like looking at these bits of found language. Oh, the things you miss if you’re reading the RSS feed.

Here are the last fifty lines, running from July 2015 to this morning:

“Embedded in a rectangle of snow”
“Definitely feelin’ the summer vibe”
“On hiatus”
“Having boring stuff doing”
“Things unnoticed”
“Fostering innovation”
“Dropping -g s”
“Write, wire, telephone or call”
“Varying degrees of small”
“Go buy some pencils”
“Line, please”
“My faux outrage was real”
“Take that, current events!”
“On account of because”
“I don’t really consider anything trivial”
“Repeatedly, repeatedly”
“He’s in the library”
“That’s it”
“I’m getting vibrations”
“The thrill of the small”
“What the deuce are we all here for anyway”
Enclosed in invisible quotation marks
“Roiling tensions”
“Even so”
“My own grown-up self”
“A trade-last for you”
“One after another after another”
“Just loop it”
“Swing that music”
“Prepare as usual”
“Tends toward the messy”
“Like stationery stores for cheap”
“Milk with the cookies”
“Very deep”
“A container”
“A highly convoluted neighborhood”
“These spaces for rent”
“Finely stitched together with punctuation”
“You must promise to stay here forever”
“Chases dirt”
“Collect them all”
“On the words”
“Getting my Fowler on”
For completists: there are another two hundred and fifty lines preceding these. Yes, “Collect them all.”

“There is no such thing as not voting”

I posted this bit in November 2010. It’s worth repeating:

In reality, there is no such thing as not voting; you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

David Foster Wallace, “Up, Simba: Seven Days on the Trail of an Anticandidate,” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown, 2007).
I voted early for Hillary Clinton. I wasn’t happy about it: I consider her ethically challenged and troublingly hawkish. And I’m deeply angered by the Democratic National Committee’s treatment of Bernie Sanders’s campaign. But voting for Clinton was the only choice I could make — because there are, for practical purposes, just two candidates.

The choice, for me, came down to climate-change policy and Supreme Court nominations. I’m not willing to let those matters fall into Donald Trump’s smaller-than-average hands for the next four years, and I don’t believe that four years of Trump would mean an Elizabeth Warren victory in 2020. A country that would elect Trump once would, I fear, elect him again.

And I don’t think it’s reasonable to vote for Jill Stein because Clinton will win Illinois anyway. If I’d rather see Clinton than Trump elected, I think I should be willing to vote for her. Categorical imperative and all that.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Bob Cranshaw (1932–2016)

The bassist Bob Cranshaw has died at the age of eighty-three. The Washington Post has an obituary.

I heard Bob Cranshaw perform with Sonny Rollins in 1989 and 2006. Cranshaw was Rollins’s bassist for more than fifty years.

PBS, sheesh

From tonight’s PBS NewsHour : “In this campaign, the topic of refugees from war-torn Syria have been a political flash point.” The transcript has subject and verb agreeing. But have is still there in the video clip.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois , November 7, 2016.]

This mom really does have eyes in the back of her head. Also a face. Yikes. Regan MacNeil has nothing on Lois Flagston.

The swivel in this panel makes the flipped head in a recent strip seem like a party trick. And the swivel makes the vanishing doorknob plate in today’s second panel seem just routine. Things go missing all the time.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[Hi to Lois: “Honey, you have a good head on your shoulders. But use more glue.”]

Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite”

Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite.” Ropeadope Records. 2016.

Early or late, elements of the “exotic” often surfaced in Duke Ellington’s music: the growling trumpet and trombone of his 1920s “jungle band,” the misterioso swirl of “Caravan” and “Conga Brava,” the “nouvelle vague exotique“ of Afro-Bossa , the “down under and/or out back” of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse . The Far East Suite (1966), the last great Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration, is a sustained adventure in the exotic. The work is awkwardly named, having been inspired by the Ellington band’s 1963 travels in Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and a 1964 visit to Japan. The 1963 tour, sponsored by the U. S. State Department, was cut short by the Kennedy assassination, before the band could go on to Cyprus, Egypt, and Greece. How wonderfully strange then that in 2016 a group of New York musicians should continue the journey by Balkanizing this music.

It’s no gimmick: Slavic Soul Party! has reimagined The Far East Suite with deep respect and understanding. The arrangements (by Matt Moran, Jonas Müller, and Peter Hess) evoke their Ellington-Strayhorn sources without falling into mere imitation. The challenge of adapting the material for the band’s instrumentation finds ingenious solutions: the wide intervals of “Ad Lib on Nippon,” for instance, an easy matter for a pianist, are distributed among trombone, clarinet, and accordion, making for unusual tonalities. “Isfahan,” a Johnny Hodges specialty, becomes a slow drag that suggests Kurt Weill, mariachis, and a New Orleans funeral band. “Bluebird of Delhi” and “Amad” detour into intensely rhythmic episodes for clarinet, trombones, and percussion. The musicianship at all times is superb. I especially like hearing Peter Hess, whose baritone saxophone suggests the massive sound of Harry Carney, and whose clarinet evokes both klezmer wails and the urbane Jimmy Hamilton (a major voice in the original Far East Suite ). Among Hess’s responsibilities here: suggesting the majesty of the Taj Mahal in “Agra,” as Carney did before him.

The best non-Ellington recordings of Ellington-Strayhorn music are those that transform their source material into something new: I think immediately of Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron’s Sempre Amore , the Modern Jazz Quartet’s For Ellington , and World Saxophone Quartet Plays Duke Ellington . I place this recording in that company.

One more thing: The exclamation point in the group’s name is warranted. It is impossible to sit still when this record is on.

The program:
Tourist Point of View : Bluebird of Dehli : Isfahan : Depk : Mount Harissa : Blue Pepper : Agra : Amad : Ad Lib on Nippon

The musicians:
John Carlson, Kenny Warren, trumpets : Peter Hess, saxophones and clarinet : Peter Stan, accordion : Matt Musselman, Tim Vaughn, trombones : Ron Caswell, tuba : Chris Stromquist, snare and percussion : Matt Moran, tapan/goč/bunanj

Related reading and listening
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)
Slavic Soul Party! (Listen here)
Live performances of “Amad” from 2013 and 2015 (YouTube)

[Four asides: 1. “Caravan” and “Conga Brava” are largely the work of Ellington’s valve-trombonist Juan Tizol. 2. The phrases “nouvelle vague exotique” and “down under and/or out back” are Ellington’s. 3. Matt Moran’s credit may be a bit of a joke: as far as I can tell, tapan, goč, and bunanj (the first two Serbian, the last Bosnian) all mean the same thing: drum. 4. Something I don’t get: the album cover. Elephant? Ellington? Upside-down?]

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Usage tip of the day

From Leddy’s Imaginary Dictionary of Usage (2016).


Also from this non-existent volume: entries for get , killing it , and nice .

Thanks to J. D. Lowe for asking about own it .

Some operator

[Henry , November 5, 2016.]

Wait — is she a? Yes, she’s an elevator operator. The mysterious circle under her hand is no futuristic handbag: it’s the lever that makes the elevator stop where it needs to, more or less aligned with a floor. Not all operators get it right. (See Davey McQuinn.)

Wikipedia has an article with some details of where elevator operators are still at work. I last rode with an elevator operator in the Fine Arts Building in Chicago. It was modern times, this past spring: no hat, no gloves, no uniform.

Related reading
All OCA Henry posts (Pinboard)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Domestic comedy

“Oh — Groundhog Day is on again.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

||: ALL-ONE! :||

The Dr. Bronner soap label received an “Old & Improved” redesign in 2015. If you buy your Bronner several bottles at a time, you may not have yet noticed.

Here’s a PDF showing the evolution of the Dr. Bronner label from 1973 to 2015. The 1984–2015 labels are also available as individual PDFs. (The pamphlet The Moral ABC is also available as a PDF .) A recent development: as of September 2016, the label carries a call for a higher minimum wage.

Something I noticed and wondered about: the 1984–2015 label appears to have room for everything but “32 FL. OZ.”

||: 32 FL. OZ.! :||

A related post
Dr. Bronner, productivity guru

[The ||: and :||? Repeat, &c.]

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Bookstore-less Bronx

“We are just as interested in knowledge and reading as anybody else. We just don’t have the access to the things that the rest of New Yorkers do”: The New York Times reports that the Bronx is about to lose a Barnes & Noble, the borough’s lone general-interest bookstore. The reason: impossibly high rent. Saks Off 5th will replace the bookstore.

This browsable map, from the organization Unite for Literacy, shows where books are and aren’t across the United States. The Bronx already appears to qualify as a book desert.

At what point do those in positions of power recognize that bookstores (like record stores before them) are cultural resources worth protecting?

Word of the day: sympathist

I know what prompted me to choose the word sympathist to describe my regard for the Chicago Cubs: the ways in which the word sympathizer has long been associated with hateful and fanatic causes.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sympathist thusly: “One who sympathizes, a sympathizer.” And sympathizer : “One who or that which sympathizes; esp. one disposed to agree with or approve a party, cause, etc.; a backer-up.” So one can sympathize without being a sympathizer.

What makes me happy about having chosen sympathist : as I now know, the OED traces the word to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The full Coleridge sentence that the OED abbreviates:

The knowledge, — the unthought of consciousness, — the sensation of human auditors — of flesh and blood sympathists — acts as a support and a stimulation a tergo, while the front of the mind, the whole consciousness of the speaker, is filled, yea, absorbed by the apparition.
What makes me happier still — take note, Stefan Hagemann — is that Coleridge is writing about Hamlet .

[A tergo : Latin, “from behind.”]

Baseball and silence

[Hamlet , from a 1611 text in the Bodleian Library.]

As I just told a friend in a letter, I have watched more baseball in the past few weeks than in the past many years. I was hugely happy to see the Cubs win a pennant and a World Series. I am sympathist rather than diehard fan, loyal to those close to me who are loyal to the Cubs.

Whichever way a game went, I found the announcers’ incessant chatter incessantly annoying, particularly when they were swapping statistics that only algorithms could have produced. “Only two catchers have ever,” “The last time a team,” “In 1911 and 1953,” that kind of thing. I know very little about baseball, but it seems to me that the game invites contemplation — watching and waiting and thinking. Joe Buck and company, but especially Buck, sucked all the silence out of the game.

“I gotta use words when I talk to you,” says T. S. Eliot’s Sweeney, but you don’t have to talk all the time . At times I hit Mute.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


[The Chicago Cubs over the Cleveland Indians, 8–7, in ten innings. The Cubs have won the World Series.]

Masonic Ticonderoga

[From the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Wayward Wife,” first aired January 23, 1960. Click for a larger view.]

Tools of the writer’s trade: a Dixon Ticonderoga, a cigarette, in the hands of Arthur Poe (Marshall Thompson). Several anonymous pencils lie in waiting.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)
All OCA Perry Mason posts

Jay Tarses on the small screen

Funny stuff: Dave Simonds’s Free Advice from an Old Guy , five very short films starring Jay Tarses, television writer and producer, and creator of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd , for which he has our household’s abiding gratitude (and he knows it).

My favorite line: “Death is gonna happen, probably, to most of us.”

Related reading
All OCA Molly Dodd posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Keillor and Niedecker

Garrison Keillor:

The radio audience is not the devout sisterhood you find at poetry readings, leaning forward, lips pursed, hanky in hand; it’s more like a high school cafeteria. People listen to poems while they’re frying eggs and sausage and reading the paper and reasoning with their offspring, so I find it wise to stay away from stuff that is too airy or that refers off-handedly to the poet Li-Po or relies on your familiarity with butterflies or Spanish or Monet.

Good Poems (New York: Viking Penguin, 2002).
Keillor’s sexism aside: on what planet does this “devout sisterhood” exist? I’ve never encountered it at a poetry reading.

A faux-folksy insistence that an audience need not know things, an aversion to “stuff” that mentions Chinese poets, insects, foreign languages, or painters (and what else?) would keep Keillor from reading this beautiful (untitled) Lorine Niedecker poem on the air — that is, if he even knows Niedecker’s work:

I love the ideogram-like assemblage “marsh frog-clatter peace,” signifying spring. I’ll leave everything else in the poem for your inspection.

In her later years, when she worked as a cleaning woman in a hospital, Niedecker rose at 5:00 and left for work at 6:15: “dawn’s 40-watt moon” indeed. Clearly she saw no conflict between doing morning chores and thinking of Li Po — and making poetry. Her work has never appeared on Keillor’s radio program The Writer’s Almanac .

Related reading
All OCA poetry posts (Pinboard)
Four poems made from The Writer’s Almanac : 1, 2, 3, 4

[Details of Niedecker’s morning routine from Margot Peters’s Lorine Niedecker: A Poet’s Life (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2011).]