Sunday, March 31, 2019


On the route that Elaine and I walk in the morning is a street about a third-of-a-mile long, running straight and curving sharply to the left at one end. Cars slow down — a lot — as they near that end and go into the curve. Watching that happen from the other end of the street always fascinates me. And I finally realized why: it’s like watching the enormous HO track in the hobby shop of my youth, a controller in my hand, my little car in the distance slowing down to take a curve.

[Yes, involuntary memory meets the slot-car craze. And now I finally know what “HO scale” means.]

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

First there was Garrett Estrada. Now, with today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, Ernesto G. Prada: another name with no crossword history — another pseudonym, no doubt, for one or more terrific constructors. The same ones? After all, Estrada and Prada rhyme.

Like the Estrada puzzle, the Prada puzzle feels difficult, though it took me only half as long to solve. I saw 3-Down, seven letters, “Old school setting,” right away. I saw 5-Across, ten letters, “Literally, ‘nose-horned,’” right away. And then 6-Down, five letters, “Southeast Asian people.” But I could never say, with 13-Down, seven letters, that I was “Crushing it.” I wandered about, here and there, and likely spent as much time on the southeast corner as on the rest of the puzzle. But “‘Why not?’, these days.” That’s 42-Across, four letters.

Clues that let me say, Man, is this clever: 16-Across, ten letters, “Semi-pro.” 24-Across, four letters, “Jam ingredient from India.” 66-Across, ten letters, “Perches on the edge.” A clue whose answer I still don’t understand: 44-Down, seven letters, “Ball part.” I see what it’s about, but I don’t get it.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

[Twitter says that Garrett Estrada is a clever pseudonym for Brad Wilber and Erik Argard. I finally get it: Garrett, as in Brad Garrett; Estrada, as in Erik Estrada. But why Ernesto G. Prada? Grandpa Stereo?]

Friday, March 29, 2019

“Noisy and shiny”

Euphemia describes her aunt Beryl:

Alice Munro, “The Progress of Love.” In The Progress of Love (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986).

Also from Alice Munro
“Rusted seams” : “That is what happens” : “Henry Ford?” : “A private queer feeling” : “A radiance behind it” : Opinions : At the Manor

“Twelve chatty letters”

[Zippy, March 29, 2019.]

In today’s Zippy, an outage of cellphone service has left most Dingburgers struggling to read newspapers: “I’m swiping, but th’ page doesn’t change!” Zippy, though, is quite at home with the printed (or handwritten) page. There’s nothing like a chatty letter.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Outage in? Outage of? Of, I think.]

Thursday, March 28, 2019

My uncle Perry

L—d! The Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Bogus Books” (first aired September 27, 1962) centers on a spurious first edition of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. And who reveals that he’s a Sterne fan? Mason himself.

Related reading
All OCA Sterne posts (Pinboard)

Poverty and college applications

In The New York Times, Enoch Jemmett, a senior at Queens College, writes about the difficulties of applying to college as a student living in poverty. An excerpt:

We all knew of the SAT, for instance, but had no concrete idea of how to prepare for it. We knew that you had to apply to college, and for financial aid, but didn’t know the necessary or “smart” steps. When you’re 17, and pretty much doing it all on your own, the sight of all the hurdles you have to jump can be demoralizing, even paralyzing.
Jemmett is one of three students profiled in a forthcoming documentary about students in poverty navigating college admissions, Personal Statement.

Brunswick Sardines

From the CBC series We Are the Best, the story of Brunswick Sardines. The French and the Portuguese might have something to say about the assertion that Canadian sardines are the best. But I have no skin (or skinless and boneless) in this game: the sardines I buy hail from Morocco.

Thanks to Martha, The Crow, fellow sardinista, for sharing this link.

Related reading All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Ranking Roger (1963–2019)

Ranking Roger, Roger Charlery, singer with The Beat (aka The English Beat) and related groups, has died at the age of fifty-six. The New York Times has an obituary.

I was a big fan of The Beat in my youth. I swear — this past Tuesday, I wondered, out of nowhere, Whatever became of Ranking Roger? His death is a shock.

Three of my favorite Beat recordings: “Jackpot”, “The Limits We Set,” and “Whine & Grine / Stand Down Margaret.” And here’s a short set from the Beat in concert, September 26, 1980 at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

[I saw the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the Capitol Theatre in — 1974? Time blurs. Still the loudest music I’ve ever heard.]

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Punctuation in the news

The Blast (whatever that is) reports that Olivia Jade Giannulli risks having her trademark applications rejected because of poor punctuation. “Proper punctuation in identifications is necessary to delineate explicitly each product or service within a list and to avoid ambiguity,” says the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And: “Commas, semicolons, and apostrophes are the only punctuation that should be used.”

But look at this sentence from The Blast itself:

Officials from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office claim Olivia Jade’s applications for “make up kits” with “moisturizer” and “concealer” is too broad and needs to be specified.
Agr, I would have to scrawl in the margin. Or, if I were in a more expansive mood, s-v agr.

March 28: People has the problem-punctuation passage:
make up kits comprised of moisturizer, primer, concealer, foundation, make-up powder, make-up pencils, eye make-up, eyeshadow, eye liner, mascara, blush, highlighter, bronzer, make-up setting spray lipstick lip gloss, lip stains, make-up remover.
[Olivia Jade Giannulli: daughter of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, sister of Isabella Giannulli, all caught in the recent college-admissions scandal.]

No more Butcher’s Crossing

Our household’s two-person Four Seasons Reading Club sometimes finds it necessary to leave a book unfinished. So it is with John Williams’s 1960 novel Butcher’s Crossing. We never made it out of the third chapter. By page 24 I began to tire of Williams’s approach to narrative:

In the darkness he walked across his room to the small table, which was outlined dimly beside the window. He found a match on the table and lit the lamp beside the washbasin. In the mirror his face was a sharp contrast of yellow brightness and dark shadow. He put his hands in the lukewarm water of the basin and rinsed his face.
Hemingwayesque, perhaps, but these actions, unlike, say, those of Nick Adams in “Big Two-Hearted River,” are inconsequential. There’s nothing behind them, at least not that I can see: everything in the novel is described with the same tedious exactness. And the writing — dimly, sharp contrast, dark shadow, of the basin — is kinda slack.

By page 27, I was squirming at the description of a character’s skin as “slightly yellowed and cured like smooth leather.” Yep, they’re going to go after buffalo. But it was a passage on page 30 that made me quit:
The sight of the whisky had calmed Charley Hoge; he took the glass in his hand and drank rapidly, his head thrown back and his Adam’s apple running like a small animal beneath the gray fur of his bearded throat.
That overwrought simile. And the narrator refers to this character by both first and last names every time he’s mentioned. Elaine, too, reached her limit on page 30, with a bit of corny dialogue about “whores”:
“Some of them even get married; make right good wives, I hear, for them that want wives.”
Them that want right good reading might look to Williams’s Stoner. But this novel of life out west, where men are men, and women are whores, and Adam’s apples run like small animals, isn’t it.

[John Williams’s four novels are now all available from NYRB.]

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

“A worm in the cheese”

The rector of the Church of Sant’Anna is explaining things to Professor Laurana:

Leonardo Sciascia, To Each His Own. 1968. Trans. Adrienne Foulke. (New York: New York Review Books, 2000).

To Each His Own is the second work of Sciascia’s I’ve read. It’s a terrific novel, tracing the efforts of high-school teacher Paolo Laurana to piece together clues related to a death threat and double murder. Even when the killer’s identity begins to feel certain, the ultimate ending remains a surprise. The greatest pleasures of the novel come in its scenes of conversation, with commentary on aesthetics, ethics, literary history, philosophy, politics, religion, and Sicilian life. Another NYRB find!

A related post
From The Day of the Owl

‎Seashore at the App Store

Seashore, an excellent free image-editor for the Mac, has moved from SourceForge to the App Store. Now works with the most recent versions of macOS, including Mojave.

Monday, March 25, 2019

“Bill Barr’s Weasel Words”

“For now, all we have is the letter. And it doesn’t show that Trump is innocent of collusion or obstruction. It shows that collusion and obstruction were defined to exclude what he did”: from “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words,” a deft display of close reading by William Saletan (Slate).

Hudson Yards and the Grand Cosmo

Writing in The New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz likens Manhattan’s Hudson Yards to “an amenity-stuffed Hotel California that its residents never have to leave. . . . The only thing that Hudson Yards is missing is its own weather.”

A Manhattan model for Hudson Yards can be found in Steven Millhauser’s novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer. Starting as a boy working in his father’s cigar store, Martin rises “to a height of dreamlike good fortune” as a builder of hotels. His final achievement is the Grand Cosmo, which opens in 1905. It’s a strange place: “people didn't know exactly what it was.” Promoting it is a challenge, as Martin has placed a significant restriction on the work of his advertising genius Harwinton:

Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (New York: Vintage, 1996).

“A complete and self-sufficient world”: Hudson Yards advertises itself as a place to live, shop, work, and dine. (Not eat.) There’s even, as Schwartz notes, a hot-dog stand in what the developer calls “the neighborhood of the future.” I suppose you can dine on hot dogs if you’re a tourist in the neighborhood.

I expect that someday I’ll visit New York and everything I love about the city will have been obliterated. All that will be left: a theme park whose price of admission I cannot — and would not want to be able to — afford.

Ohio place names, pronounced

My daughter Rachel alerted me to a Twitter thread about the pronunciation of Ohio place names. Includes “Menner” (Mentor), which captured our familial imagination in 2017.

Thank you, Rachel.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Still more pencil cups

Elaine Walizer shared these photographs — with captions no less. Click any image for a larger view.

[“Note stylus and letter opener (from Dick Deutsch Printing Co. Warner Bros. Bldg. Phone Prospect 0091).”]

[“This pencil holder is more strategically placed and includes scissors, tweezers, an furled flag, and a mystery object.... revealed below.”]

[“Great for prying things open or up or out... I don't mind folding things; the sad iron is my solution to avoid actually ironing the napkins. (We don't use paper ones.)”]

Thanks, Elaine. The pryer looks pretty powerful. The telephone exchange name for Dick Deutsch Printing is a bonus. But wait: who was Dick Deutsch? And what did he print? Prints. That is, of movies.

From The Film Daily, January 7 and 15, 1936:

Cleveland — Dick Deutsch of the Dick Deutsch Printing Co., has left for a three-week vacation in Miami.


Dick Deutsch of Dick Deutsch Printing Co. is back from a vacation in Florida.
And from the same publication, more eventful news from July 17, August 6, August 20, and September 5, 1940:
Richard Deutsch, head of the Dick Deutsch Printing Co., has broken ground at Cedar Ave. and E. 107th St., for a sports coliseum.


HERBERT OCHS, Real Art franchise (with his son JACK, DICK DEUTSCH, o[f] Dick Deutsch Printing Co., accompanied by DEUTSCH and son, JEFFREY are in New [York?] from Cleveland.


Cleveland — Pioneer Film Exchange has been formed by Herbert Ochs and Richard Deutsch to handle franchises on Film Alliance product and Select Attractions. The Film Alliance franchise covers Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana. The
Select franchise is for Ohio and Kentucky. Pioneer Film Exchange is located in the Warner Bldg.


Thieves broke into the shipping room of the Warner Building and stole nine complete features belonging to Herbert Ochs and Dick Deutsch of Pioneer Film Exchange. The cans were waiting to be picked up for shipment. This is the biggest film theft ever reported in Cleveland.

The features stolen were two prints of “The Leopard Man,” two prints of “Suicide Legion,” two prints of “The Challenge,” one print of “Song of the Road,” one of “Spy Bureau” and one of “Treachery on the High Seas.” Ochs reports that due to the co-operation of Film Alliance and Select Attractions which shipped in duplicate prints by air express Pioneer was able to complete all of its obligations and theaters received their prints on time.
More pencil holders: from Elaine Fine, Fresca, George, Sara, Slywy, and me.

Domestic comedy

“I could do folding, but I don’t feel like it. I put in a long day at the pageant.”

Related reading All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine spent a couple of hours at a pageant yesterday waiting to hear one of her students perform.]

Saturday, March 23, 2019

More pencil cups

[Photograph by Elaine Fine. Click for a larger view.]

Elaine decided to play. Twelve cups if you count the reflections.

More pencil holders: from Fresca, George, Sara, Slywy, and me.

Pencil bear

[Photograph by Sara McWhorter. Click for a larger view.]

My friend Sara shared a photograph of a 3-D-printed bear holding Mirado Black Warriors, a pen, and a screw. A stationary stationery bear.

More pencil holders: from Fresca’s desk, George’s table, Slywy’s desk, and my desk.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, has a split personality. The top half was as easy as the first word of the clue for 62-Across, “Pie recipe verb.” But the puzzle’s bottom half threatened, in the words of the clue for 31-Across, to “Outwit, perhaps.” But I could finally say, in the words of the clue for 23-Down, “The fog has lifted.” Although I did not follow up with a 54-Across, “Revelation exclamation.” Elaine was still asleep.

My favorite clues: 36-Across, thirteen letters, “Hugo winner,” which broke open the bottom half of the puzzle. 24-Down, seven letters, “Request for a raise.” 27-Down, seven letters, “Price skipping.” And 32-Down, six letters, “Not a major case.”

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

More pencil holders

[Photograph by George Bodmer. Click for a larger view.]

George Bodmer, who draws Oscar’s Portrait, shared a photograph of his bamboo pencil holders. The scene is a weekly drawing class that he teaches at a homeless shelter. More pencil holders: from Fresca’s desk, Slywy’s desk, and my desk.

As Goethe almost said, “Pencil holders! More pencil holders!”

Friday, March 22, 2019


[Photograph by Gordon Parks. From “Speaking of Pictures,” Life, September 29, 1952.]

The two-and-a-half-page “Speaking of Pictures” spread begins with an explanation, sort of: “Oswald, a baffling blabbermouth, has become television’s greatest what-is-it.” As Life tells it,

The 15 million fans who watch Ventriloquist Paul Winchell each week (NBC-TV, Mondays) have been both entertained and baffled by the bizarre creature shown above. Few have guessed what he is. They know him only as Oswald, a blowhard Briton who has done everything better than anyone else. To believe Oswald, it was he who taught Pinza to hold his high notes, Crosby to croon, Durante to be funny.
A lying narcissist with a big tie. But any resemblance to a real person is purely coincidental.

As Ozwald, this character became the stuff of a “Play Set.” (Here’s the patent.) Ozwald wore a suit. And his tie was red. Such fun. But again, any resemblance to a real person is purely coincidental.

[I think that Oswald won’t baffle most twenty-first-century types. But just in case: Oswald was played by Paul Winchell, whose chin was Oswald’s head. Thanks to Diane Schirf for the link to the patent.]

Brett Terpstra’s guide to DuckDuckGo

Brett Terpstra has written “the ultimate guide to DuckDuckGo.” So many shortcuts — and Instant Answers!

[I’d like a shortcut for Google Books though.]

Bach, not bot

Today’s Google Doodle offers to harmonize two bars of music in Bach’s “signature style.” I tried “Surfer Girl” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” — the results were underwhelming. But as Anne Midgette writes in The Washington Post,

It may only add to the doodle’s charm that what it actually proves is the opposite of what it sets out to do. Nobody can compose like Bach. Especially not a machine.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Another Bermuda Triangle

From Private Life (dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2018). A Thanksgiving guest says that he’s grateful for thirty-one days of sobriety:

“And if I can just make it through today, just today, I will be one-third of the way through the Bermuda Triangle.”
Thinking that “today” marked thirty-one days, I guessed incorrectly that “Bermuda Triangle” is a metaphor for the first three months of sobriety. As the Internets will affirm, “Bermuda Triangle” is an Alcoholics Anonymous metaphor for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. For obvious reasons.

Good wishes to anyone who just navigated or will be navigating that particular Bermuda Triangle.

Mongols in a penholder holder

[Height: 4 7/8″. Click for a larger view.]

Not a pencil cup, or even a tea tin. What it is is a four-hole holder for penholders, which themselves are the holders for penpoints. (Think dip pens.) A holder for penholders holding pencils: I like that. A holder for penholders holding Mongol pencils: I like that even more. Elaine gave me this penholder holder a few years ago. Thank you, Elaine.

The Mongol is my favorite pencil. Evidence: OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard).

[“What it is is”: I decided that for once in my life, I’d use what Garner’s Modern English Usage calls “this ungainly construction,” just for fun. No comma between the iss.]

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Boop, Twinings, jars

[Click for a larger view.]

The pencil cup from Sólo con tu pareja prompted Fresca to photograph pencil cups, which in turn, &c. So here are nine, mine.

Elaine and I carried them downstairs and into the light. Behind Betty Boop and the Twinings tins, please imagine two Bonne Maman jars, an anonymous jar, a china cup, and a plastic cup.

I’ve had the older square Twinings tins since student days. Each is printed with a “4/84” on one side — the date of the tins’ manufacture, I’d assume. The newer Twinings tins make excellent index-card holders. We have six of those scattered around the house for making quick notes.

For more pencil cups, see the Bleistift blog’s Pencil Pot of the Month posts. And reader, if you’d like to post a photograph of your pencil cup(s), leave a link in the comments.

[Elaine gave me the Betty Boop mug many years ago. I have long subscribed to the adage of the Betty Boop & Bimbo Club: “Keep your eyes open and your mouth closed.”]

Still life in red and green

[Sólo con tu pareja (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 1991). Click for a larger view.]

The red pen must be a Parker T-Ball Jotter. The pencil with the red stripe: almost certainly a Berol Mirado. Placing the thermometer with the writing instruments is a beautiful touch.

Here and everywhere, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography adds an element of deep thoughtfulness to what seems at first glance to be a light sex comedy.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Senecan advice for liberal-arts types

From Seneca the Younger, Natural Questions IV (A, Pref. 14, 18):

When you want to be praised sincerely, why be indebted to someone else for it? Praise yourself. Say: “I devoted myself to the liberal arts. Although my poverty urged me to do otherwise and tempted my talents towards a field where there is an immediate profit from study, I turned aside to unremunerative poetry and dedicated myself to the wholesome study of philosophy. . . .” After this, ask whether the things you said about yourself are true or false. If they are true, you are praised in front of a great witness, yourself. If they are false, no one is a witness to your being made a fool of.

Quoted in Ward Farnsworth’s The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual (Boston: David R. Godine, 2018). Adapted from an unidentified public-domain translation.
[Please notice that for Seneca there is no question that devotion to the liberal arts is cause for self-praise.]

No rocks

[Mark Trail, March 19, 2019.]

Doc Davis, Cherry Davis Trail’s father, Mark Trail’s father-in-law, is telling a between-Mark-Trail-adventures story. I believe it’s what they call an interpolated tale. Or is it interminable?

Doc, if you were hoping to find some rocks, you’re in the wrong comic strip.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard) : “Some rocks” posts

Monday, March 18, 2019

D. Bill, “Folk Art”

[D. Bill, “Folk Art.” Wood poles. 1997–1998. As seen at Meadowbrook Park, Urbana, Illinois. “Folk Art,” with quotation marks, is the title. Click for a larger view.]

I like the way the U mirrors the mouth.

In 1993 D. Bill, Darwin Bill (1922–2012), was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story. Here’s a public Facebook page for D. Bill’s art. And here’s an account, with photographs, from someone who went to see him.

Thanks for that

Something I’m thankful for: having taught at a regional state university (as they’re called), I never taught children of high privilege, the kind with parents who buy or cheat their offspring’s way in.

The closest I ever came to such stuff: a telephone call from the parent of a flagrant plagiarizer. I’ve put a lot of money into my kid’s education, and I’m not going to let someone, &c. Yes, but I’m sorry: FERPA prohibits me from talking with you about a student’s work without that student’s permission. And that was that.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A text for the day

It’s fitting that ad canvasser Leopold Bloom, who goes to sleep thinking of “one sole unique advertisement to cause passers to stop in wonder,” should see Saint Patrick as an ad man who came up with a smart way to capture the public’s attention. From “The Lotus Eaters” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all.

[Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish.]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper is by one Garrett Estrada. I can’t recall seeing that name before, and searching for garrett estrada crossword turns up nothing. Debut? Pseudonym? Will the real Garrett Estrada please stand up? I hope so, because this constructor has created an exceptionally challenging Saturday Stumper. (Fifty-eight minutes of challenge for me.)

I made an educated guess for 1-Down, five letters, “Bass in Berlioz’s ‘Les Troyens’” (gotta be, right?). Then I saw 4-Down, four letters, “Cousins of mandos,” and thought I was on my way. 32-Across, six letters, “Bayard who organized the March on Washington (1963),” was a giveaway, and 33-Down, four letters, “Titular Morrison nonconformist,” fooled me into thinking that the puzzle was going to fall into place. Uh-uh. Not for some time.

Clues that I greatly admired: 1-Across, six letters, “Fake to the left.” 24-Across, five letters, “Piece of high fashion?” 35-Down, nine letters, “They may scrutinize shelters.”

Grudging admiration goes to 2-Down, nine letters, “Reds coach.” Coach? Well, sort of. But “Reds manager” would be better.

Most fiendish clue of all: 43-Across, four letters, “As in C.”

I hope to see more puzzles from Garrett Estrada, especially on Saturdays. No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 15, 2019

W.S. Merwin (1927–2019)

W.S. Merwin, from “For the Anniversary of My Death” (1967).

The poet W.S. Merwin has died at the age of ninety-one. The New York Times has an obituary.

Two responses

These contrasting responses speak for themselves.

Ron Padgett on comparisons

Re: “the greatest photo in jazz”: here is the poet Ron Padgett commenting on greatness and comparisons. From an interview with Edward Foster, Talisman 7 (Fall 1991):

I think a book like The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan is still really an extraordinary book. Is it better than Lunch Poems? I think that kind of comparison is unproductive and invidious. Tennis commentators are always asking, Do you think Ivan Lendl could have beaten Bill Tilden? Is Homer greater than Dante? What kind of question is that?
Related reading
All OCA Ron Padgett posts (Pinboard)

[Lunch Poems: by Frank O’Hara.]

Thursday, March 14, 2019

“The greatest photo in jazz”?

The New York Times has a story by Peter Facini about Bob Parent’s 1953 photograph of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Roy Haynes: ”Is This the Greatest Photo in Jazz History?” Facini asserts that this photo has “has been called by many ‘the greatest photo in jazz.’”

I know this photo well, having first seen it in a Parker biography many years ago. It’s a wonderful photo, but I’m not sure there’s any evidence that “many” have called it “the greatest photo in jazz.” I’ve never heard of the photo being described in that way; who the “many” might be, I don’t know. Try searching for greatest photo and bob parent and you’ll turn up this Times article and a 2018 article in which Facini makes the same claim: “widely considered the greatest photograph in Jazz.”

The idea of a work of art being “greatest” is foreign to me. But if there must be a greatest photo in jazz, the obvious contender is the 1958 Art Kane photo that has become known as A Great Day in Harlem, a photo that Facini doesn’t mention, a photo that’s spawned a documentary, a poster, a hip-hop homage, and at least two books. Kane’s photo is an extraordinary human-interest story in which every face is distinctive. As is the case with Parent’s photo. But it’s Kane’s photo that is known as immortal, legendary, the greatest, &c.

[Of the four musicians in Bob Parent’s photograph, only Roy Haynes is living. Of the fifty-seven musicians in A Great Day in Harlem, only Benny Golson and Sonny Rollins are living.]

Not from The Onion

From the New York Post: “Son defends parents caught in college admissions scandal while smoking blunt.” Says the son: “I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man.” But it’s his sister who pursued higher education.

While he pursued “higher” education? Now I’m thinking like the Post.

But I’d revise the headline: “Blunt-smoking son defends parents caught in college admissions scandal.” Or more Post-like: “Higher education? Son offers ‘blunt’ defense of parents caught in college admissions scandal.”

Domestic comedy

[Ciphers are sometimes difficult to work out.]

“What kind of ten-year-old are you?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

In the library

It’s Thursday night. Alvin Fernald, Shoie Shoemaker, and Daphne Fernald (the Pest) are in the Riverton public library, scheming to copy a coded message held by the mysterious J.A. Smith. Mr. Smith is seated at a table trying to work out the message.

Clifford B. Hicks, Alvin’s Secret Code (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963).

Alvin’s Secret Code is a wonderful blend of thrills, chills, and comedy, even in the library, even on a school night. This novel was my favorite book in childhood, and it’s now a book for our household’s two-person reading club.

Related posts
Rediscovering Alvin’s Secret Code in adulthood : One last Alvin novel : Clifford B. Hicks (1920–2010)

[Metaphysical Aspects of Existentialism: there is no such book, except in the Riverton public library. But the title forms part of a book published in 1980.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Twelve more movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers.]

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (dir. Bryan Forbes, 1964). Myra (Kim Stanley) is a medium; Billy (Richard Attenborough) is a husband who does what he’s told. On Billy’s to-do list: kidnapping a child from a wealthy family so that Myra can make a show of her psychic powers and solve the crime. And then there’s the couple’s backstory. Utterly unnerving. ★★★★


Fräulein Else (dir. Paul Czinner, 1929). An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella, in which a young woman seeks to keep her debtor father from prison by approaching an old family friend for money. Alas, the power of the novella, which takes the form of a desperate interior monologue interrupted by conversation, is largely lost in a silent film. With Elisabeth Bergner as Else, and Albert Steinrück giving a great performance as Herr von Dorsday, the somber, lecherous family friend. Available restored, with a brilliant new score (by whom?), at YouTube. ★★★


The Kindergarten Teacher (dir. Nadav Lapid, 2014). For once the remake wins: Sara Colangelo’s 2018 version (same title) is a far better film, offering a far better sense of why a teacher might become obsessed with a poetry-composing pupil. In the remake, teacher Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) lives with cultural dissatisfactions and family tensions that fuel her fascination with her pupil Jimmy (Parker Sevak). In the original, teacher Nira (Sarit Larry) is thinly drawn, her obsession more difficult to fathom. There’s little here to suggest why Nira is so crazy-scary in the cause of poetry. ★★


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962). Speaking of crazy-scary: this film satisfies in every respect. A star in childhood, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) now lives as caretaker to her older paraplegic sister Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford), an actress whose stardom eclipsed Jane’s earlier fame. Enmity, madness, sadistic torments, and a strong dash of Sunset Boulevard. With Maidie Norman and Victor Buono as outsiders attempting to do the right thing, the latter also providing comic relief. ★★★★


Boy Erased (dir. Joel Edgerton, 2018). Adapted from Garrard Conley’s memoir, tracing the nightmare of his time in “conversion therapy,” with flashbacks to his life in college and a brief look at his life four years after the “therapy.” For young LGBTQ people struggling with their identity and their family relationships, this film offers hope that things can get better. For parents coming to terms with a child’s sexuality, this film emphasizes the importance of acceptance and unconditional love (which in a better world would be givens). For any viewer, this film has pedagogical value: it shows conversion therapy (still permitted to be practiced on minors in thirty-six states) to be cruel and unusual punishment — torture, really. ★★★★


The Big Clock (dir. John Farrow, 1948). George Stroud (Ray Milland), editor of a crime magazine, is assigned to locate a man said to be involved in deep political intrigue, but who is in fact the sole witness who can implicate Stroud’s boss (an ultra-creepy Charles Laughton) in a murder. That witness: Stroud himself, and only he knows who is he hunting and why. Fine performances all around: Milland, Laughton, Lloyd Corrigan, Elsa Lanchester (looking like Helena Bonham Carter), George Macready, Henry Morgan, and Maureen O’Sullivan. But this adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel adds too much comic relief and removes too much of the noir. ★★★


Undercover (dir. John Ford, 1944). A training film for the Office of Strategic Services, showing how agents prepare for their work in “Enemy Area.” One trainee follows the rules; the other, arrogant and overconfident, makes a mess of things. With uncredited appearances by the director (as a pipe-smoking lawyer) and Peter Lorre, and a slow pace that must have been meant to assure good learning. Netflix has the same lousy print as YouTube. ★★★


The Assistant (dir. Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, 2015). A man (Malik Zidi) driving to the hospital with his pregant wife hits and kills a pedestrian; nine years later, that pedestrian’s mother (Nathalie Baye) takes slow-moving revenge. This film doesn’t wear its influences on its sleeve, because the influences, most notably Vertigo and Fatal Attraction, need the whole shirt. Derivative, for sure, but worth watching for Baye’s performance and the suspense. Enigma: what happened to the secretary on leave? ★★★


When Harry Met Sally . . . (dir. Rob Reiner, 1989). It’s charming, sometimes too much so, offering not the Lubitsch touch but a Lubitsch punch in the face. And plenty of Woody Allen, which results in something like Annie Hall with a happy ending (that’s no spoiler). Plenty of laughs, plenty of time-capsule, plenty of weird chemistry between Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. And Sally Albright’s habit of peeking to make sure the mail went into the mailbox is adorable, yes, but is Sally anything more than just adorable? ★★★


The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967). Always worth seeing again. Something I’d never noticed before: none of the parents have first names, not even in conversation with one another. Something I’ve thought of many times: Ben’s pursuit of Elaine Robinson is really Huck and Jim all over again. But where, in 1967, was the Territory — San Francisco? ★★★★


The Heartbreak Kid (dir. Elaine May, 1972). Fresca suggested this movie, which I’d never heard of. It’s like a much darker version of The Graduate. Lenny and Lila (Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin) have traveled from New York to Miami for their honeymoon. Barely married, Lenny begins to feel trapped, “for the next forty or fifty years,” with a woman he barely knows. Then, still on his honeymoon, he meets Kelly, a true-life white goddess (Cybill Shepherd), and complications ensue. ★★★★


Sólo con tu pareja (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 1991). A serendipitous followup to The Heartbreak Kid, with a feckless, duplicitous advertising man (Daniel Giménez Cacho) getting his comeuppance at the hands of a vengeful partner (Dobrina Liubomirova). Cuarón puts the comedy into sex comedy: linguistic pratfalls, physical pratfalls, mad naked dashes to retrieve the morning paper, and an exceedingly dangerous variation on the two-dates-at-once trope. But there’s also a consideration of freedom and responsibility that made me think of Rilke’s line: “You must change your life.” Beautifully filmed in fifty shades of green by Emmanuel Lubezki. ★★★★

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Hal Blaine (1929–2019)

Hal Blaine, drummer and member of the Wrecking Crew, has died at the age of ninety. From The New York Times obituary:

If he had a signature moment on a record, it was on the Ronettes’ 1963 hit, “Be My Baby,” produced by Mr. Spector. The song opened cold, with Mr. Blaine playing — and repeating — the percussive earworm “Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!” But the riff came about accidentally.

“I was supposed to play more of a boom-chicky-boom beat, but my stick got stuck and it came out boom, boom-boom chick,” he told The Wall Street Journal in 2011. “I just made sure to make the same mistake every few bars.”

Three years later, he used the same beat, but in a softer way, on Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night.”
And from the Los Angeles Times obituary:
“It’s kind of a shock to the general public when they find out that a lot of [musicians in famous bands] didn't play on their records,” Blaine told the Times in 2000. “But not everybody can be a plumber and go fix a broken pipe. Sometimes you need an expert, and that's all there is to it.”

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Museum of Everyday Life

The New York Times visits the Museum of Everyday Life:

Past shows have focused on the toothbrush, the safety pin, bells and whistles and even dust. The current special exhibition, which closes in May, features locks and keys. The next yearlong show, a rumination on scissors, opens in June.
I’m reminded of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, save that everything in the Museum of Everyday Life is, well, non-fiction. Like the MJT, the MEL has a website. A must-see.

Scandal in academia

From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department on Tuesday charged more than 30 wealthy people — including two television stars — with being part of a long-running scheme to bribe and cheat to get their kids into big-name colleges and universities. . . .

The criminal complaint paints an ugly picture of high-powered individuals committing crimes to get their children into selective schools. Among those charged are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House, according to court documents.
The final quoted sentence would benefit from a minor revision. The original:
Among those charged are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House, according to court documents.
Among those charged, according to court documents, are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House.
See the difference? But better still, I’d say:
Among those charged, according to court documents, are the actress Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show Desperate Housewives, and the actress Lori Loughlin, who appeared on Full House.
See the difference?

[Felicity Huffman but not William H. Macy? Meaning that he didn’t know about it? The affidavit says that “Huffman and her spouse made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 . . . to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme.” Maybe Macy thought it really was a contribution? And good grief: Lori Loughlin now stars in Hallmark movies. Reading the affidavit, or at least as much of it as I could stand, made me feel sick to my stomach.]

Que me ves guey

Walking on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, I saw this face and caption on T-shirts at kiosk after kiosk. Guey, or güey, is a Mexican colloquialism with a range of meanings. Que me ves guey (I never saw it with diacritics or question marks) means, more or less, “What are you looking at, dude?” The face on the shirt is that of Don Ramón, a character made famous by Ramón Valdés on the Mexican television comedy El Chavo del Ocho.

The strange thing: for all my searching, I can find nothing to suggest that Que me ves guey was a catchphrase associated with Don Ramón.

[Elaine and I visited Olvera Street with our daughter Rachel in 2012. I have been meaning to make a post about Que me ves guey for some time.]

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Left Banke for Coke

“Lonely hours alone go much faster when you have them with Coke”: The Left Banke did a Left Banke-ish commercial for Coca-Cola.

What I hear in “Walk Away Renée”

[Backstory: The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée” was released as a single in July 1966. In February 1967 the song appeared on the group’s first LP, Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina. “Walk Away Renée” is credited to Michael Brown (the group’s keyboardist and principal songwriter), Bob Calilli, and Tony Sansone. According to members of the group, Brown wrote the music, and Sansone gave some help with the lyrics, which were mostly by Brown. Why Calilli is credited is unclear. (See this commentary.) Like “Pretty Ballerina,” (by Brown alone) and “She May Call You Up Tonight” (by Brown and Left Banke lead singer Steve Martin Caro), “Walk Away Renée” was inspired by Brown’s crush on Renée Fladen (now Fladen-Kamm), one-time girlfriend of Left Banke singer and bassist Tom Finn.]

I started listening to The Left Banke after hearing the Four Tops’ recording of “Walk Away Renée” in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. I told that story in a 2018 post, and I am still happily listening to The Left Banke. Here’s what I hear in the lyrics of “Walk Away Renée”:

And when I see the sign that points one way
The lot we used to pass by every day
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

I can think of just two poems that begin with and: William Blake’s “And did those feet in ancient time” and Ezra Pound’s first canto, which begins “And then went down to the ship.” Pound is translating Andreas Divus’s 1538 Latin translation of Odyssey 11 into an approximation of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse: thus The Cantos begins in medias res, as Homer began his poems. “Walk Away Renée” too begins in the middle of the thing, somewhere within a sorrow that repeats and repeats. There, once again, is a street sign: an unusual beginning for a pop song. A Left Banke song from 1967, “And Suddenly” (Michael Brown-Bert Sommer), also begins with and.

The sign and lot are markers of city life, things seen on the walk to school or the walk back home. The word “block” confirms the city setting. The landscape is bare and barely there, as it was even when Renée was part of the singer’s life. Of course the street is one-way, moving in the direction of further loneliness. A city lot is, by definition, vacant. The sidewalks are empty. Think of a Beckett play staged in an outer borough. Michael Brown grew up in Brooklyn.

The singer’s lack of response to these markers of emptiness is curious: seeing these things (yet again) prompts no outcry (why did you leave me), no reverie (these foolish things remind me of you). All the singer can do (yet again) is encourage Renee, who is blameless, to walk away. Like Catullus abandoned by his lover, the singer can take it, or so he says.


From deep inside the tears that I'm forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
Now as the rain beats down upon my weary eyes
For me it cries

We move from outside circumstances to introspection. The hidden pain carries an echo of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” whose singer turns his face to the wall. As in the first verse, there’s a strange inaction: no verbs follow tears and pain, though the tears and pain must somehow, at some point, find their way out, whenever the singer was, or is, forced to cry. But it’s really the sky that cries in present time — sympathetic nature at work, supplementing or standing in for the singer’s tears. Compare Elmore James’s “The Sky Is Crying.”


And now there’s a lovely interlude for alto flute. “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” closes with flute and bass flute. But Michael Brown said that the Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin’” inspired the use of alto flute here.


Your name and mine inside a heart upon a wall
Still finds a way to haunt me, though they're so small
Just walk away Renée
You won't see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You're not to blame

The song saves its best, most poignant verse for last. In this bare cityscape, there are no trees in which to carve initials. A wall must do. Does the singer’s lost relationship achieve some permanence in this inscription? Or are the names written in chalk, to be washed away by the rain? The names of two little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, do they?

There’s an odd and almost certainly accidental shift in verb forms here, from singular to plural. The names are small, but your-name-and-mine-inside-a-heart still finds a way to haunt the singer. That fleeting singular verb marks the lone moment of togetherness in the lyric.


I love this song. In addition to The Left Banke and Four Tops performances, I recommend performances by Rickie Lee Jones, Cyndi Lauper and Peter Kingsbery (even with flubbed lyrics), and Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy.

[Talking Heads’ “And She Was” almost begins with and. The first word though is “Hey!” For Catullus, see Louis Zukofsky’s translation of VIII: “So long, girl. Catullus / can take it.”]

Cutout Sluggo

[Zippy, March 11, 2019.]

The devil has arrived to punish Zippy. But as Zippy explains, “Only people who believe in th’ devil can be hurt by th’ devil.” And besides, there’s cutout Sluggo. Much more effective than, say, cutout Mike Lindell.

Venn reading
All OCA Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Today’s Mutts

Today’s Mutts is a beautiful homage to Krazy Kat. I’ve been reading Mutts for just a few years, but I can’t recall ever seeing Krazy or Ignatz in the strip before today.

Ashbery Trek

“Are you wearing some unusual kind of perfume, or something radioactive, my dear?”

Sounds like something from a John Ashbery poem. It’s Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) speaking, in the Star Trek episode “Mudd’s Women” (October 13, 1966), which aired last night on MeTV. I know next to nothing about Star Trek, but I know a good found line when I hear it.

The answer to the question, spoken by Ruth (Maggie Thrett), a mail-order bride of sorts: “ No, I'm just me.” This episode has guest star Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, who might be called an entrepreneur, or space pirate. The puffy shirt and earring give it away.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Frank Longo, begins with a gimme, sort of: 1-Across, seven letters, “Short-notice helipad user.” But wait: how is that answer spelled? Either way, its last letter gave me 7-Down, nine letters, “Nation nearly entirely on renewable electricity.” And a letter in that answer let me guess with confidence at 32-Across, fifteen letters, “Professorial privilege.” Yeah, I’m all about the privilege. But everything else took a lot longer.

Some challenging and rewarding clues: 10-Down, four letters, “Okay request.” 11-Down, four letters, “What bagels are made without.” 25-Down, five letters, “Many minute hands.” And one that made me laugh: 60-Across, seven letters, “West Wing resignee of 2017.” There were so many!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Four years

[Brendan Loper, “Cartoon of the Day.” The New Yorker, March 8, 2019.]

Minutes seem like hours. Hours seem like days. Really the blues.


From a prison cell, the view across Lake Wolbana:

Kenneth Fearing, Clark Gifford’s Body. 1942. (New York: New York Review Books, 2007).

Sam Walton managed his first variety store in 1945. He opened the first Walton’s in 1950. Not exactly a buttonhook magnate, but eerily close.

Also from Fearing
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?” : “Nearly everyone was” : “The slightly confidential friend” : “Rivalries and antagonisms”

The Mental Load

I can’t remember where I learned about this comic: Fallait demander, or The Mental Load. Every human male should read it. The artist and writer is known as Emma — just Emma.

Everybody’s folding

[Zits, March 8, 2019.]

“Each piece of your clothing should be carefully folded”: Connie Duncan (Mom) just binge-watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. But in the strip it’s just called Tidying Up. To make things tidier? To not infringe on the Marie Kondo brand? Anyway, Mom has too many rules.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Hipster look-alikes

An amusing item from The Washington Post: “Hipsters all look the same, man inadvertently confirms.”

I recall my eight-grade science teacher Mr. Fox going off on a tangent one afternoon about conformity: about how no hippie would leave the house without his love beads arranged just so. The hippies too, he said, were conforming. Mr. Fox was onto something. He was rumored to be a former FBI agent.

[Love beads: I swear. I’ve always remembered that detail.]

“Rivalries and antagonisms”

A general speaks:

Kenneth Fearing, Clark Gifford’s Body. 1942. (New York: New York Review Books, 2007).

Clark Gifford’s Body tells the story of an insurrection in an imaginary country of diminished freedoms and perpetual war. The insurrection begins with the seizing of radio stations. The novel ranges backward and forward in time, assembling the accounts of participants and eyewitnesses, court documents, and news reports. NYRB describes the novel as “a pseudo-documentary of a world given over to pseudo-politics and pseudo-events, a prophetic glimpse of the future as a poisonous fog.” Made for these times.

Also from Fearing
“The niece of a department store” : “Me? Dangerous?” : “Nearly everyone was” : “The slightly confidential friend”

Playing to lose

The guitarist and singer Buddy Guy, quoted in David Remnick’s New Yorker profile “Holding the Note” (March 11, 2019):

“Funny thing about the blues — you play ’em cause you got ’em. But, when you play ’em, you lose ’em.”
Related reading
All OCA blues posts (Pinboard)

Mooch, hypercorrecting

[Mutts, March 7, 2019. Click for a larger view.]

Sorry, Mooch: who is correct. (Who told you that?) Whom for who, like between you and I, is a hypercorrection. Garner’s Modern English Usage explains:

Sometimes people [or cats] strive to abide by the strictest etiquette, but in the process behave inappropriately. The very motivations that result in this irony can play havoc with the language: a person [or cat] will strive for a correct linguistic form but instead fall into error. Linguists call this phenomenon “hypercorrection” — a common shortcoming.
Mooch’s gotcha “Ha!” and smug look in the third panel tell me that Patrick McDonnell, the strip’s creator, understands the difference between who and whom.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Watch Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen avoid acknowledging that Customs and Border Protection keeps children in cages:

“Sir, they’re not cages.” What are they then? “As the children are processed through, they are in sub-parts of these facilities.” But not in cages. Children are in “areas of the border facility that are carved out for the safety and protection of those who remain there while they’re being processed.” But not in cages.

Related reading
All OCA Orwell posts (Pinboard)

[Axios has it as “some parts,” but if you listen carefully, it’s “sub-parts.”]

Shorabat addas, or lentil soup

We bought a package of Ziyad red lentils, and Elaine made soup. Did she ever. Here, slightly rewritten, is the recipe that appears on the package:

2 cups red lentils
8 cups water or broth
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. turmeric or paprika
1 large onion, diced
1–2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
juice of one lemon
2 bouillon cubes, your choice of flavor (optional)
And the preparation:
Wash lentils. Combine with broth or water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for thirty minutes. Stir occasionally.

When lentils are tender, add dry spices and boullion.

Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until golden, and add them to the soup.

Simmer for five minutes. Turn off heat, add lemon juice, and stir.

Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with parsley and paprika, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Elaine chose water, substituted Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base for cubes, tripled the cumin and paprika, used three cloves of garlic, and sautéed a carrot, diced, with the onion and garlic. And she used an immersion blender on the finished soup. What resulted was spectacular — creamy, spicy, slightly sweet, totally comforting. We were hoping for something like the lentil soup we know from Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen in Chicago. But we ended up with something like a very hearty dal. We will be serving this soup the next time we have friends over for dinner.

More soup
Cabbage : Purée Mongole

[Google Translate tells me that “shorabat addas” is Welsh for “shorabat suitable.” But it seems to be Lebanese for — you guessed it — “lentil soup.” Why is Lebanese missing from Google Translate?]

Johnny Horizon

[Peanuts, March 8, 1972.]

I like it when a comic strip turns into a time capsule. Who was Johnny Horizon? Wikipedia explains. And here, from the Forest History Society, is his story. The naïveté — if we can just pick up enough pieces of litter, we can save the environment.

Peanuts past is Peanuts present. If all Peanuts is eternally present, all time is Peanuts.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Nancy, meta and dowdy

[Nancy, March 5, 2019.]

From today’s Nancy, an Olivia Jaimes panel for the ages. Another kid has been giving Nancy drawing tips: “If you mess up a character’s eyes, just add sunglasses.” “If you mess up their mouth, just make it bigger.” “Worst comes to worst, you can just scribble it all out and add a label.” Thus this fourth panel.

What I really like is the dotted line — très dowdy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

[Just to be clear: “for the ages” is praise, not sarcasm. I like this stuff.]

HTML Scratchpad

HTML Scratchpad is a webpage for messing around with HTML. Before I cottoned to MarsEdit, I used HTML Scratchpad to check whether YouTube videos will play when embedded in Blogger. Not all of them will, and Blogger’s Preview is useless for finding out before posting. But HTML Scratchpad works: copy and paste the code and press Run. Then click to play, or not play.

Monday, March 4, 2019

“After you,” “Go ahead”

Say you’re in line at a grocery checkout and someone comes up behind with just one or two items. Courteous shopper that you are, you want to let that person go first. Is there much difference between saying “After you” and and saying “Go ahead”? Is one more appropriate than the other?

Or say you’re holding a door open for someone entering or leaving the store. Courteous as ever, you want to let that person go first. Again, is there much difference between “After you” and “Go ahead”? Is one more appropriate than the other?

I hear each expression as an invitation: please, feel free to go first. To my ear, “After you” sounds more formal, which might make it less suited for everyday use in the folksy midwest. But I’m curious to know what other people think.

Benjamin and Newman

Watching The Graduate (dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Saturday night, I wondered: could Mrs. Robinson’s icy “Hello, Benjamin” be the inspiration for Jerry Seinfeld’s “Hello, Newman”?

I don’t expect to have the answer to that question anytime soon.


The “Hello, Benjamin” I have in mind comes in at the 1:11 mark. As I just discovered, Safari in iOS doesn’t jump ahead to that spot as it should.

The last Automat

[Zippy, March 4, 2019.]

The Automat appears again and again in Zippy. Here, type automat into the search box and you’ll see. Today’s strip repurposes art from a 2014 visit to the Dingburg Automat.

I have a vague memory of sitting in an Automat with a friend in the 1980s. And I have a vague nostalgia for the Automat. The Automat appears in a handful of OCA posts.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How to improve writing (no. 80)

Here’s a sentence that gave both members of our household pause. From Jeffrey Toobin’s “May Days,” a New Yorker “Talk of the Town” item (March 4):

Virtually everything that Trump tells McCabe he disputes, starting with the claim that he received “hundreds” of messages from F.B.I. employees supporting his decision to fire Comey.
I’d call it a garden-path sentence. I first read everything as the sentence’s subject, with Trump both telling and disputing. So I expected that the sentence would run along these lines:
Virtually everything that Trump tells McCabe he disputes is contradicted by, &c.
But I was led down a garden path. The sentence’s subject turns out to be its first he, and that’s McCabe. Which creates a second problem, because the sentence’s second he refers to Trump.

How to improve this sentence? Make the subject clear by putting it first. That keeps the reader off the garden path. It’s helpful too to remove the easily misread hes. My revision:
McCabe disputes virtually everything that Trump tells him, starting with the president’s claim that “hundreds” of messages from F.B.I. employees supported his decision to fire Comey.
The condensed language of newspaper headlines often leads to garden-path sentences (for instance, and for instance). It’s surprising to find such a sentence in The New Yorker.

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

[This post is no. 80 in a series, dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday Saturday Stumper, by Lester Ruff, has some surprisingly easy clues. I started solving with one: 32-Across, seven letters, “Users of Breathe Right strips.” NICEGUYS? No, that’s eight letters. Then I noticed 11-Down, ten letters, “Novel inspired by Cain and Abel.” And 12-Down, ten letters, “Wharton work.” And I was on my way.

I always like smart clues for little words. For instance, 51-Across, three letters, “Day preceder or follower.” And 53-Down, four letters, “Service members.” That’s right next to 52-Down, four letters, “Service members.” Nice work, Mr. Ruff.

A meta clue, 28-Down, ten letters, “Stumpery clue for ‘rise.’”

And one clue I’d question: 15-Down, six letters, “Mitigates.” That works only if the answer is an archaic meaning.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Introvert sticklers

Psychology Today reports on a study suggesting that “introverts [are] more likely to be annoyed by typos and grammatical mistakes than extroverts.” A sentence from PT :

First, let’s take a closer look at the study, then we’ll explore why introverts might be the ultimate grammar sticklers.
Uh-oh, comma splice, which I’ve marked in red. Better:
First, let’s take a closer look at the study; then we’ll explore why introverts might be the ultimate grammar sticklers.
Better still:
Let’s look at the study and see why introverts might be grammar sticklers.
There’s little need for “first” and “then” when the two matters are so closely related. And if the article has presented only a brief statement about the study, there’s little difference between a look and a closer look. I object to “explore” as slightly pompous, and to “the ultimate” as hype. But then I’m a modest introvert. Or stickler. Or both.

The study involved a mere eighty participants. This post makes eighty-one.

Related reading
All OCA grammar and introversion posts (Pinboard)


A girl from the wrong side of the tracks returns from the dead to open up new frontiers for Colonial America.

A brother-and-sister musical team terrorizes a young girl and her grandfather.

An innocent cowboy transforms the lives of the elderly women trapped in a haunted mansion.

A widow dreaming of a singing career turns to an acupuncturist to find her grandmother.

The elements of the single-sentence synopses of movie listings cry out to be recombined on a remote island. As above. Anyone can play.

[See also Clark Coolidge and Ron Padgett’s Supernatural Overtones (Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1990).]

Pocket notebook sighting:
The Big Clock

[Lloyd Corrigan, Frank Orth, a pocket notebook, and Luis Van Rooten. The Big Clock (dir. John Farrow, 1948). Click for a larger view.]

I blame Bresson. It was Journal d’un curé de campagne that got me started noticing notebooks in movies. And now it’s automatic.

More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : Cat People : City Girl : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Time Table : T-Men : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once