Monday, April 19, 2021

“Too small”

Jerry Blackwell, Special Assistant Attorney General, in his final words for the prosecution in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, speaking of the defense’s greatest shading of the truth or departure from the evidence:

“You were told, for example, that Mr. Floyd died, that Mr. Floyd died because his heart was too big. You heard that testimony. And now having seen all the evidence, having heard all the evidence, you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr. Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
The prosecution has done an excellent job of making its case with memorable bits of language: “calling the police on the police,” “let up or get up,” “common sense” and “nonsense,” and this final contrast.

You can hear these final words at C-SPAN, at the 6:42:13 mark.

How to improve writing (no. 92)

I had to read the sentence a second time:

A couple of weeks ago around dinnertime, neither my husband nor I were in the cooking mood.
Jeez, that’s in The New Yorker, in print, for crying out loud. I’ll fix it:
A couple of weeks ago around dinnertime, neither my husband nor I was in the cooking mood.
Every writer slips up. I speak from experience. But see the sentence above, beginning Jeez.

Garner’s Modern English Usage on neither . . . nor : “This construction takes a singular verb when the alternatives are singular or when the second alternative is singular.”

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

[This post is no. 92 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

“Fending,” &c.

Roz Chast catalogs words for opening the refrigerator and having whatever for dinner. In her household it’s called “fending.” Among the other terms she’s collected: “California plate,” “spa plate,” and “eek.”

My favorite term for such stuff (not in her catalog) comes from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. It’s “Many Wonders,” which endnote 319 glosses as “Incandenza family term for leftovers.” Avril Incandenza to her son Mario:

“Will you eat with us? I hadn’t even thought of dinner until I saw you. I don’t even know what there might be for dinner. Many Wonders. Turkey cartilage.”
I’m convinced that the Incandenzas’ source is a celebrated choral poem from Sophocles’s Antigone, known as the Ode to Man. It begins:
Many wonders, many terrors
But none more wonderful than the human race
        Or more dangerous.
In our house it’s called “parade of leftovers.”

[Translation by Peter Meineck, from Theban Plays (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003).]

In search of lost hair

I was standing with my daughter kitty-corner across from a Carhartt store. We were selling candy and leading cheers to raise money for her high school. The year was 1980, years before she was born.

But then I realized that I was watching a videotape of my daughter and me, standing kitty-corner across from a Carhartt store, &c. It was still 1980, years before she was born. Gee, my hair looked so good on videotape. So I thought, “Maybe I should grow it longer.” And then I thought, “No, wait, that was forty-two years ago, when I had a full head of hair.”

Yes, forty-two. Arithmetic doesn’t always work properly in dreams.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Mutts and Peanuts

Today’s Mutts is a nice homage.

Venn reading
All OCA Mutts posts : Mutts and Peanuts posts : Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Seven vs. eight

Jon Gruber juxtaposes events:

So seven people get blood clots after getting the J&J vaccine and we pull it, but eight people get killed by a crazed gun owner and it’s just another Friday in America. Makes sense.

“Have loved”

“I have loved every minute of being a police officer”: a close reading of Kim Potter’s letter of resignation, by Lauren Michele Jackson (The New Yorker ).

Recently updated

Is there a Swiss peeler in the house? There’s much more to this tool than I imagined.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword is by Brad Wilber. Though it’s still a Themeless Saturday, it felt to me like a Stumper, providing twenty-six minutes of difficulty. That’s a good thing. 1-A, seven letters, “Etsy merchant,” offered a deceptively easy start.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

3-D, fifteen letters, “Fat-free plan.” One of two fifteen-letter answers.

10-D, fifteen letters, “Card game oxymoron.” Not that difficult to figure out, but still difficult to figure out. I have no idea what the answer refers to — yet.

17-A, five letters, “Draft.” Just for the ambiguity. Noun? Verb? Beer? Winds? Writing?

21-A, three letters, “Upside-down rooster.” Could I be the only person to have imagined a broken weathervane?

28-A, six letters, “Chase-scene entertainment.” The clue improves the answer. You’d think first of something that happens in a chase scene, at least if you were me.

38-A, six letters, “Did due diligence at a dealer.” I like the alliteration.

41-A, five letters, “Unbroken.” Clever.

41-D, seven letters, “Put page numbers on.” The answer is likely to strike a solver as utterly ridiculous or ridiculously great. I say ridiculously great.

46-D, six letters, “Tin Woodman’s topper.” Easy, but I like it because it reminds me of one of my dad’s favorite trivia questions: what is Dorothy’s last name? And guess what: Tin’s name is indeed Woodman, not Woodsman. Who knew?

One clue I’d question: 37-D, eight letters, “Start of an Austen declaration.” I think of the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice: ITISATRU — and then run out of letters. Is the declaration this clue points to all that well known? It may be. I may not be Austenite enough to know that.

No spoilers; the answers (and some commentary) are in the comments.

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Rite of Spring Toy Orchestra

It’s the work of Chris Ott and his assistant Igor. Chris has a YouTube channel.

Rogers cardigans

“Every color of cardigan Mister Rogers wore on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1969–2001, presented in chronological order”: it’s a beautiful print, or a beautiful image to look at online.

[Found via Laura Olin’s newsletter.]

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Is there a Swiss peeler in the house?

A kitchen drawer opened, and a peeler, still on its display card, shifted forward into view. It’s a SwissPro peeler, made in Switzerland. I bought a four-pack ($17.99) in 2009 after watching several videos of the then-recently departed Joe Ades, the charismatic peddler who sold similar peelers on the streets of Manhattan. I gave away two peelers and kept two. I forgot that we even had a spare.

The SwissPro peeler is built to last. Our in-use peeler is as sharp as ever. It needs nothing more than careful washing and an occasional wipe of the blade with cooking oil to remove any oxidation.

The SwissPro (“by Rosenhaüs”) now seems to be unavailable in the States. But comparable peelers abound. Look for something with a stainless-steel handle and a carbon-steel blade, like so. And it should, of course, be made in Switzerland.

Here’s a sample of Joe Ades at work, demonstrating that the Swiss peeler can be used for much more than peeling.


April 17: Gunther and Stephen have added helpful details in the comments. As Gunther notes, the original peeler is the REX, first made by the Swiss company Zena in 1947. The STAR peeler followed in 1970. As Stephen notes, the peelers are sold at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. (Museum of Design, I think.) There’s also a poster, with the peeler in gold. Further evidence of the peeler’s celebrated status: as Gunther notes, there’s a Swiss stamp honors the peeler. The stamp makes me think of the Sachplakat, or object poster, an advertising poster depicting an object, a brand name, and little or nothing more.

The Zena website is worth your time. Knowing now that my peeler is a knock-off, I’m tempted to buy a REX, even though my knock-off has been working well since 2009. That’s the kind of guy I am.

“Merely contingent”

By the light of a dining-room lamp, a conversation takes place in which wisdom, “the wisdom, if not of nations at least of families,” seizes on some event and “places it under the magnifying glass of memory,” creating new perspectives, rearranging events in time and space.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[The Muse of history: Clio.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bye, Blogger e-mail subscriptions

Google is messing with making changes to its Feedburner service and will discontinue Blogger e-mail subscriptions in July. Google suggests that Blogger bloggers download their subscription lists to use with a new service — something like Mailchimp, I suppose, though Google offers no suggestions.

I’m going to pass, in part because I cannot imagine formatting blog posts to my satisfaction to send out in the form of daily e-mails. (I am just that persnickety.) But also because I think it’s rude to port e-mail addresses to a new service that nobody ever signed up for.

I’ve deleted the sidebar link for new e-mail subscriptions. Come July, I hope that anyone reading Orange Crate Art via e-mail likes what I’m doing enough to visit here or add an RSS subscription. There’s a link for that still in the sidebar.

More about H. Neil Matkin

The Chronicle of Higher Education has its most detailed report to date on the life and times of H. Neil Matkin, president of Texas’s Collin College, where students are customers, professors work without tenure, and the dangers of COVID-19 are deemed to be exaggerated: “That Man Makes Me Crazy.”

Related posts
Meet H. Neil Matkin : Once again : And once more

[You can read Chronicle articles that aren’t behind the paywall using Reader View or the Kill Sticky Headers bookmarklet.]

A letter from Oliver Sacks

No, not to me. To Austin Kleon. And it’s handwritten.

Bonuses: the note-taking effort that prompted the letter, and a tour of Sacks’s desk. Dixon Ticonderogas, a pencil sharpener, many chunks of metal, and a Mont Blanc fountain pen.

[If you’ve seen Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, you’ll have a better understanding of the chunks of metal.]

Recently updated

How to improve writing, no. 89 Now with more tedious discussion of the phrase a pair of twins.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


I am so thankful that Joe Biden is our president.

[Typed during the memorial service for William “Billy” Evans, Capitol police officer.]

Time travel

Yes, you can roam around.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Proust’s narrator is speaking, of course, of memory. But as Carol Clark points out in the introduction to her translation of The Prisoner in this same volume, the narrator can indeed be years older or younger from pargraph to paragraph. She quotes from a letter by Evelyn Waugh to John Betjeman:

Well, the chap was plain barmy. He never tells you the age of the hero and on one page he is being taken to the W.C. in the Champs-Elysées by his nurse & the next page he is going to a brothel. Such a lot of nonsense.
Clark says that Waugh was “facetiously complaining.” I hope so.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Monday, April 12, 2021


The killing of Daunte Wright and the events that followed last night in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, prompt me to share a Chicago Reader article about Illinois’s SAFE-T Act. It’s a criminal-justice reform bill, signed into law in February. The acronym stands for Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity — Today. In other words, now.

“That attention to detail”

The Duc and the Duchesse de Guermantes admire Mademoiselle de Forcheville’s tact and intelligence.

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, trans. Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

The Duc and Duchesse’s evaluation of Mademoiselle is (at least thus far) wholly positive. Add to Mademoiselle’s tact and intelligence her wit, and the way she pronounces certain words — just like her father! Oh, and her brio. Yes, her father was witty too, but he did not have such brio. Let the hair-splitting analyses begin.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 11, 2021

“It’s pathetic”

Here’s an anonymous resident of Villa Grove, Illinois, quoted in the Chicago Sun Times. She’s speaking of life in the town where a bar opening in February 2021 was linked to forty-six cases of COVID-19 and a two-week-long school closing. You can easily figure out why she chose to be anonymous:

“They don’t check to see how many people are in businesses. There are no mask mandates. When restaurants and bars were supposed to be closed except for pickup, there were still several that were open like there was nothing going on,” she said. “There’s hardly anywhere that mandates masks. It’s pathetic.”
That’s the meaning of “freedom” in downstate Illinois.

And that’s my airing of grievances for the day.

A related post
COVID-19 in Douglas County

[Says the bar’s owner, “We don’t want Chicago telling us what to do.” The state capital is Springfield.]

Airing of grievances

For some people, every day is Festivus.

[Worth clicking through if only to see the startling photograph.]

Idiom of the day: soup up

A clue in yesterday’s Newsday crossword — five letters, “Jazzes (up)” — prompted me to (finally) write a post about soup up.

My guess about an origin: perhaps a way to describe the adding of soup to a meal. I imagine a seedy little café, circa 1927, adding a bowl of soup to, say, the beef stew, roll, and coffee it usually serves its patrons: “We souped up the dinner for ya, Bill. Eat hearty.” But it’s tough to guess correctly about these things.

Merriam-Webster gives these definitions for soup up:

to increase the power, efficiency, or performance of

to heighten the impact of : to make more exciting or colorful
It’s the origin of the verb that’s surprising. According to M-W, soup up comes from soup, “drug injected into a racehorse to improve its performance.” M-W dates soup up to 1924. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the verb to 1931. The OED dates soup-as-drug to 1909, citing the 1909 ‌Webster’s New international : “any material injected into a horse with a view to changing its speed or temperament.” The OED suggests the prefix super- as an influence.

And now I recall that in The Asphalt Jungle (dir. John Huston, 1950), “soup” is what the criminal gang calls the nitroglycerine they use to blow up a bank vault. Sure enough, the Oxford English Dictionary has soup as nitroglycerine or gelignite, with a first citation from 1902. I like this 1903 citation, from Isaac Kahn Friedman’s The Autobiography of a Beggar: “Louis learned how ter make de ‘soup’ from a gang of ‘yeagers’ dat used ter blow de doors off country banks.” Yeagers are more commonly known as yeggs: that is, safecrackers.

And crackers remind me of soup, and of the imaginary café. If I keep going on with this post, it’ll soon be time for lunch. There will be soup.

[The Autobiography of a Beggar is not an autobiography. It’s a book of what look like colorful stories by a Chicago journalist.]

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by Anna Stiga (Stan Again, Stan Newman, the puzzle editor), was easy but satisfying, with inventive clues and unusual answers. Some clue-and-answer pairs that I especially liked:

6-A, five letters, “Big name in guitar making.” Surprising to see this answer clued as a name. But it is one, or was.

7-D, six letters, “’13’ preceder.” Seems obvious when you see it, but strange at first.

10-D, eight letters, “Topical application.” Just because the answer is such a squeamish-making word.

16-D, five letters, “Nickname like Rin.” I had no idea that Rin is a nickname. The only Rin I know of barked.

18-A, five letters, “Dark-meat delicacy.” Has anyone ever eaten it? Enjoyed it?

25-A, ten letters, “They’re paid to strike.” MERCENARIE — ? No. The answer makes me think of just one name, from kidhood TV.

30-A, thirteen letters, “Expedient but imperfect.” Not sure if this idiom originates in the world of coding or is just widely used there.

32-A, eight letters, “Box-set pastime.” “Box-set” still makes me think, first, of CDs.

37-D, six letters, “Smears with ink.” Ha.

44-A, three letters, “Needle point.” The clue redeems the answer.

51-D, three letters, “Grammy Album of the Year sharer (1982).” I didn’t see this answer coming, partly because “1982.”

56-A, five letters, “Jazzes (up).” I’ve been meaning to write a post about the answer.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Katalin Kariko

The New York Times reports on Katalin “Kati” Kariko, whose work with colleagues on messenger RNA became the foundation for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. I like this paragraph:

By all accounts intense and single-minded, Dr. Kariko lives for “the bench” — the spot in the lab where she works. She cares little for fame. “The bench is there, the science is good,” she shrugged in a recent interview. “Who cares?”
As the Times article makes clear, Dr. Kariko’s position in academia has long been precarious. I’m guessing that might change, and that she’ll soon be sharing a Nobel Prize. Signs point to yes, don’t you think?

Friday, April 9, 2021


As Eric Nelson, Derek Chauvin’s attorney, continues to muddy the waters and drag George Floyd through them, I have to point out Nelson’s annoying habit of ending questions with “right?"

But that’s not an adequate description: what Nelson typically does is make a statement which then takes on the appearance of a question with the addition of “right?” He adds a “right?” even to utterly unexceptionable points about mundane matters of fact. His purpose is to create the illusion that a witness is agreeing with the defense. But it’s a pretty transparent tactic, and the illusion is one an observer can see right through.

Worse: when a witness offers a contrary response, Nelson will again say “right” — no question mark — and move on, as if the witness and the defense are still in agreement.

“Two plus two make five, right?”

“No, four.”


“All the time”

As Elaine was quick to point out, this sentence fits COVID-19 times well:

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive, translated by Peter Collier (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Translator’s note for the 1870 war: “Franco-Prussian war. Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians at Sedan in 1870. This was traumatic for civilians because of the resulting uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871.”]

Minutes past and future

I have noticed that my university’s website now posts not the minutes but the "past minutes" of committee meetings. This phrasing can mean but one thing: that the university plans to post “future minutes,” minutes of meetings that have not yet taken place.

Some will say it’s presumptuous to post such minutes. Or some may have already said that, in the past. Or they may be saying it right now. But posting future minutes would increase the service profiles of committee members while freeing up time for teaching and research. Future minutes: presumptuous? Perhaps. Helpful? Certainly.

Zippy thesaurus

In today’s Zippy: Peter Mark Roget.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard) : Beware of the saurus : Defending the thesaurus : Rogeting

[Is Zippy the only daily comic strip that titles every installment? Today’s title: “My Synonym Will Call Your Antonym.”]

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Advice from Gabby Giffords

From a PBS NewsHour interview with former Arizona Congresswoman Gaby Giffords, shot in the head in 2011, still continuing her recovery with the help of music:

Jeffrey Brown: “What do you tell yourself when things are difficult?”

Gabby Giffords: “Move ahead.”

Recently updated

Drugs, doing, eating I worked up the patience to do some searches for “I ain’t do no drugs” and “I ate too many drugs.”

Another bedroom

I was in my grandparents’ apartment in Union City. I hadn’t been there in more than forty years. The strange bulge in the kitchen wall, underneath the window — a hinged metal door of some sort, long painted over — was still where it had always been, but the sink was in a different corner. The room layout was the same as always: kitchen, bathroom, “TV room,” living room, bedroom. But now there was another bedroom, dark. I looked in, and there was my grandmother, asleep on a bed. And I realized I had better leave before I woke her up.

So go my dreams in the COVID time, veering from the mundane — see previous dream — to the very strange.

What was that door anyway? A natural refrigerator in cold weather? A milk door? But it was in a fifth-floor apartment. Was there a fire escape outside the kitchen window? I think so. Did milkmen climb fire escapes?

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Thanks to Elaine for the suggestion of a milk door. It looked something like the Majestic door on the milk-door page I’ve linked to.]


I was walking through the vast lobby of a nearby arts center. No one else was there, but tables and chairs had been set up for an event.

Yes, that was in a dream.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Drugs, doing, eating

Re: the day’s developments in the Derek Chauvin murder trial: “I ain’t do no drugs” is something people say. “I ate too many drugs” is not. See your nearest search engine for confirmation.

“I ain’t do” is a construction in Black Vernacular English. (I’m no linguist, but I know enough about language to say that much.) A Google search for "I ain't do no" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 197,000 results. A search for "I ain't do" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 4,290,000 results.

A search for "I ate too many drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns 2,320 results, and they appear to reference the trial. A search for "I ate too many drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial that ends with April 6 returns just twenty-four results, all false hits or references to the trial.

"I ain't do no drugs" -chauvin -floyd -trial returns relatively few unique results — twenty (down from 2,210 with many repeats). But many of those twenty results are transcriptions of hip-hop lyrics. So again: “I ain't do no drugs” is something people say. “I ate too many drugs” is not.

But whatever George Floyd said, it doesn’t change what was done to him.

[I used Google and not DuckDuckGo for these searches because Google searches more of the Internet.]

“Individual meat loaves”

It’s time for more Prem.

[Life, June 23, 1947. Click for a larger view.]

I think the meal follows this logic: The marmalade cuts the taste of the Prem. The cauliflower and buttered almonds cut the taste of the Prem and marmalade. The french fried onion rings cut the taste of the cauliflower and buttered almonds.

All done. Where’s my Jell-O?

Related posts
Name that (Prem) sandwich : What is the plural of meat loaf ?

Recently updated

Name that sandwich Now with the winning name from 1941.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

American Edge (ugh)

Have you begun to notice vaguely identified television commercials celebrating American “innovation”? They’re the work of the American Edge Project, which, as The Washington Post explained last year, is a Facebook initiative:

Facebook is working behind the scenes to help launch a new political advocacy group that would combat U.S. lawmakers and regulators trying to rein in the tech industry, escalating Silicon Valley’s war with Washington at a moment when government officials are threatening to break up large companies.

The organization is called American Edge, and it aims through a barrage of advertising and other political spending to convince policymakers that Silicon Valley is essential to the U.S. economy and the future of free speech, according to three people familiar with the matter as well as documents reviewed by The Washington Post. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the group because it hasn’t officially been announced.

In December [2019], American Edge formed as a nonprofit organization, and last month, it registered an accompanying foundation, according to incorporation documents filed in Virginia. The setup essentially allows it to navigate a thicket of tax laws in such a way that it can raise money, and blitz the airwaves with ads, without the obligation of disclosing all of its donors. Many powerful political actors — including the National Rifle Association — similarly operate with the aid of “social welfare” groups.
Yes, dark money.

Safari vs. Chrome

From MacSparky, a comparison of Mac RAM usage in Safari and Chrome. And an anecdote about matching MacBook Airs, one of which ran with the fans always on:

They couldn’t figure it out. They thought her machine was a lemon, but it passed every Apple hardware test. Then she switched browsers from Chrome to Safari. Problem solved.
There are good reasons why someone might need to run Chrome. But between the RAM and the fans — phew.

Name that sandwich

[Life, February 7, 1941. Found while looking for something else. Click for a larger view.]

“When you’ve tasted it, names will come easily.” I bet. But I’m not sure this sandwich ever received a satisfactory (printable?) name. There’s no follow-up advertisement.

Here’s a more difficult challenge: devise an appropriate name for this sandwich seventy years after the fact, without tasting. The ingredients: French toast, currant jelly, chopped nuts, and PREM, pan-fried or broiled. The garnishes appear to be black olives and little bits of shag carpet. Okay, it’s parsley.

When it look at old advertisements, I sometimes wonder how the ancestors manage to make it through meals. PREM, to my surprise, is still a foodstuff.

As the ad says, “Rules and entry blanks at your dealer’s.” (Your dealer’s what?) It’d be simpler to leave your suggested name(s) in the comments here.

Enter today!


April 6: A reader in New Jersey shared the winning name from 1941: Major Premway, as found in Google Books:

[From Fell’s Official Guide to Prize Contests and How to Win Them (1975). Snippet view only.]

Thank you, reader!

It’s curious that the names suggested by readers in 2021 — Croak Madame, the General Eisenhower (or the Ike), and prem-oh-nosh-in — are, like the 1941 winner, about personal names and puns.

Monday, April 5, 2021

COVID-19 in Douglas County

From a CDC report:

Forty-six cases of COVID-19 were linked to an indoor bar opening event that occurred during February 2021 in a rural Illinois county. Event patrons were linked to secondary cases among household, long-term care facility, and school contacts, resulting in one hospitalization and one school closure affecting 650 students.

This story is now everywhere, with “rural Illinois” or, at best, Douglas County given as the location. A local news source has identified the bar in question. The owner denies responsibility for the outbreak: “No one that owns or works at this bar transmitted Covid to anyone.”

Perhaps not. But as the CDC reports, one patron in attendance had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before the event, and four more patrons had symptoms on the day they went to the bar. And there’s the usual masks-were-available disclaimer, which doesn’t mean that people were using them.

Douglas County is one county over from me.

Twelve movies

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

The Glass Wall (dir. Maxwell Shane, 1953). A Hungarian survivor of Nazi camps, Peter Kaban (Vittorio Gassman) arrives in New York as a stowaway, where his sole hope of not being deported is to jump ship and find the American serviceman whose life he saved and can vouch for him, a guy who said he played clarinet in Times Square. A gripping story of life on the run, with Kaban as both the hunter and the hunted. There’s a touching moment with a Hungarian burlesque dancer (Robin Raymond), and Gloria Grahame gives a great performance as a coat-thief and unexpected love interest: dig her monologue about working in a shoelace factory. You’ll have to watch to the end to understand the title. ★★★★


99 River Street (dir. Phil Karlson, 1953). A superior noir, whose events play out in a single night. John Payne plays an ex-fighter who drives a cab and hopes to own a gas station someday. When his life spins out of control, a dispatcher pal (Frank Faylen) and an aspiring actress (Evelyn Keyes) help him put things together. Brutal fight scenes, in and out of the ring, and a host of shady characters: Jay Adler, Peggie Castle, Brad Dexter, and the feral Jack Lambert. ★★★★


The Scarf (dir. E.A. Dupont, 1951). An escapee from an asylum for the criminally insane (John Ireland) seeks to figure out if he committed the crime for which he was convicted. This ambitious effort scatters in several directions, from a philosophical dialogue between the escapee and a learned desert recluse (James Barton, in a great role) to a sojourn in the desert with a singing waitress (Mercedes McCambridge) to a slapstick fight in a bar. The story becomes, finally, about choosing between heteronormative desire and intergenerational desert bromance (yes, really). Best scene: the ultra-creepy psychiatrist (Emlyn Williams) meets the waitress. ★★★


Sudden Fear (dir. David Miller, 1952). A famous playwright (Joan Crawford) and an aspiring actor (Jack Palance) marry, and already I’m afraid. The couple’s happy life in San Francisco is complicated by the unexpected arrival of the past, in the form of Gloria Grahame. Great suspense, with steep staircases, a little mechanical dog, and lots to think about regarding plots and scripts and performances (great ones). Would pair well with Cast a Dark Shadow (dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1955). ★★★★


Midnight Lace (dir. David Miller, 1960). Dumb luck: we didn’t know we were about to watch another movie from the director of Sudden Fear, with strong overtones of that movie and Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. Doris Day and Rex Harrison are Kit and Anthony Preston, a power couple in London, she an heiress, he a corporate executive. Someone is telephoning and threatening to kill Kit, but who, and why? A great performance from Day as an increasingly desperate but resourceful victim-to-be, and fine supporting performances from Myrna Loy as Kit’s feisty Aunt Bea, and John Williams (from Dial M) representing Scotland Yard. ★★★★


Julie (dir. Andrew L. Stone, 1956). More dumb luck: we didn’t know that we were going to be watching another movie with Doris Day as a woman in danger. No mystery here: the danger to Julie Benton comes from her obsessively jealous, violent husband (Louis Jourdan). At times the movie feels like a prescient PSA in its explication of the realities of domestic violence: the law, as a police detective says, can do little in the absence of evidence. The ending has become the stuff of spoof, but considered on its own terms, it’s wildly suspenseful and ahead of its time. ★★★★


The Verdict (dir. Don Siegel, 1946). After sending an innocent man to his execution, a police inspector (Sydney Greenstreet) is determined to show up the colleague who has taken his place in Scotland Yard (George Coulouris, with an improbable mustache). Set in 1890s London, the story is ostensibly a vehicle for Greenstreet and Peter Lorre, but there’s little chemistry between them in this locked-room murder mystery. Greenstreet looks tired, and Lorre skirts around the edges of the story, out late, drunk. The solution to the mystery requires that disbelief be hung by its thumbs. ★★


Don’t Blink – Robert Frank (dir. Laura Israel, 2015). I greatly admire Robert Frank’s photography — my copy of The Americans is many years old. But I found this documentary exhausting and unsatisfying, with fleeting image after fleeting image, all to the accompaniment of a largely irrelevant musical soundtrack. Frank is a benign but curmudgeonly presence, living with enormous personal loss, giving up little to the filmmaker’s camera. This documentary made me miss the patient close-reading of photographs typical of a Ken Burns project, and that’s saying something. ★★


My Favorite Year (dir. Richard Benjamin, 1982). “I’m not an actor; I’m a movie star!” It’s 1954, and a hard-drinking, swashbuckling Errol Flynn type, Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole), is to appear on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade (i.e., Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows). Young Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), who idolizes Swann, vows to keep the errant star on the straight and narrow. The bromance and feel-goodism that take over the movie leave me cold, but the scenes of writers and actors at work are a delight. Watch that cable. ★★★


Dangerous Crossing (dir. Joseph M. Newman, 1953). Meet the Bowmans, Ruth and John (Jeanne Crain and Carl Betz), newlyweds on an ocean liner. Mr. B. disappears, and no one can attest that he was ever on board. So think of this movie as as variation on The Lady Vanishes. Its strong point: the way it plausibly places everyone, from a fellow passenger to the ship’s doctor, under suspicion. ★★★★


The Whistler (dir. William Castle, 1944). A wealthy executive pays for a hit man to “remove” someone but soon has to reconsider the deal. This low-budget movie (based on a radio show) has vaguely acceptable acting, bare-bones sets, and a clever but ridiculous plot whose twists come via telegrams. One surprising moment: when the camera pulls back, a little corner that looks like a cheap stand-in for a restaurant turns out to be a little corner in a larger set. Watch for Gloria Stuart, Old Rose in Titanic. ★★


Road House (dir. Jean Negulesco, 1948). What a road house: it has living quarters for its manager, a bowling alley, and a bar and grille (sic) named Spare Room. The owner, Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark), has hired Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) as a singer-pianist, but she has eyes for Jefty’s pal, road house manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde), who’s had eyes for Susie the cashier (Celeste Holm). The movie looks at first like a conventional love triangle (or rectangle) — but don’t forget, it has Richard Widmark. My favorite moment: Ida Lupino sing-speaks “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road”). ★★★★

[Sources: the Criterion Channel, TCM, and YouTube.]

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)

Small pleasures

We were texting about Boston’s Kenmore Square, the Hoodoo Barbecue, and the Rathskeller, aka “the Rat.” And the iOS dictation service turned Rathskeller into wrath scholar.

Oh well. If dictation is to mess things up, at least it can do so in an amusing way. That’s a small pleasure.

Wrath scholars though are no pleasure, and they are amusing only at a safe distance, if at all. I have known but one — an alpha for sure. Beware of Prof!

More dictation mishaps
Boogie-woogie : Derrida : Edifice and Courson Blatz : Folk music

[No. 7 in a series of small pleasures. Rathskeller is an interesting word to look up.]

Sunday, April 4, 2021

A painting rediscovered

“Alice Neel painted two neighborhood boys in her studio in the 1960s. Fifty years later, the mystery of what happened to the picture has been solved”: a bittersweet story from The New York Times.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Grifters gonna grift

A story with pre-checked boxes and a “money bomb”: “How Trump Steered Supporters into Unwitting Donations” (The New York Times). Unfreakingconscionable.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by S.N., Stan Newman, feels a lot like a Saturday Stumper. The puzzle took me twenty-two minutes. As Zippy would say, Yow!

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

3-D, ten letters, “Stand-up comic’s bane.” I like the colloquial answer. I sometimes thought of it when teaching.

4-D, three letters, “Garden party.” The clue improves the answer.

18-A, six letters, “Commercial preparation.” ELIXIR? PATENT? I could see this answer only from crosses.

24-D, three letters, “Short alternative to 8.” The answer looks obvious now, but didn’t when I was solving.

29-A, six letters, “Nightmarish visions.” Grateful not to have them, but after reading a bit, I see they’d have no interest in me.

31-A, eight letters, “Undemanding listening.” Another colloquial answer. I remember in my twenties being startled by someone of my age saying that she liked “easy listening” music. She was not being ironic.

33-D, five letters, “Betray overeagerness.” I usually prefer to champ at the bit.

36-A, eight letters, “When ‘I Will Survive’ got a Grammy.” Funny to see this answer under 31-A.

41-D, three letters, “Base’s not-very-high figure.” Another clue that improves an answer. I thought at first that the context was chemistry or paychecks.

45-A, six letters, “Stick-y snack.” I was thinking JERKY. It often helps to reread a clue.

69-A, eight letters, “About 75 ml of a cup’s hot stuff.” I like the defamiliarization here.

One clue that didn’t convince me: 21-D, four letters, “Tangy takeout.” The word tang can be applied to many kinds of food, including this kind. I’ve just never thought of this kind in relation to the word tangy, which for me evokes barbecue sauce, or Kraft French dressing, “glowing weirdly orange”. Elaine, thinking dynastically, suggests the answer CHINESE.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Simone Weil on force

I started thinking about these sentences this afternoon:

To define force — it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all.

Simone Weil, The “Iliad,” or the Poem of Force, trans. Mary McCarthy (Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1956).
Force can take the form of a knee on a neck or a vehicle aimed at human beings in uniform. It can be directed against a person or a community. It can be the work of a lone wolf, as we now say, or a larger group, or the state.

One need not be a believer to be thinking these thoughts on Good Friday.

Imaginary word of the day

It came to me in a dream, in the form of an illustration of usage. I wrote the entry this morning:

winch∙ing \ˈwinch-iŋ\ n [prob. fr. Walter Winchell †1972 Am. newspaper columnist] (2021) : the public disclosure, as by a gossip columnist or other media personality, of an unfounded accusation, typically salacious or otherwise damaging, against a public figure <The jazz musician’s prospects were damaged by the ⁓ he received in the newspapers>
The arrival of this dream word is no doubt influenced by my watching the 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success, whose gossip columnist and destroyer of lives, J. J. Hunsecker, is modeled on Walter Winchell. The word lynching probably plays a part too. The murder of George Floyd: that was a lynching.

Other dream words
Alecry : Fequid : Misinflame : Skeptiphobia

Thursday, April 1, 2021

“A dream sofa”

The narrator recognizes pieces of furniture from La Raspelière, the Verdurins’ rented country house in Douville. (Before that the furniture was with the Verdurins in rue Montalivet). He sees these pieces as “almost unreal,” bringing parts of the old salon into the present one, evoking “fragments of a destroyed world which seemed to be existing elsewhere.”

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

If this were an episode of Perry Mason, I’d now stand up in the visitors’ gallery and confess, “Yes, I posted those sentences. Yes, two long sentences, in a single day. I tried to stop myself. But don’t you see? I love that passage” — and then we’d break for a commercial. After which, I’d go back to reading Proust.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

“That unreal part”

M. Brichot is a member of the Verdurins’ little clan of salonistes. The Verdurins, “the Patrons,” lived in the rue Montalivet until an accident (fire?) destroyed their house. They later rented a country place, La Raspelière, in Douville. Now back in Paris, they live in a townhouse on the Quai Conti. Brichot points the narrator to the far end of a room in the townhouse: “That might just give you an idea of what the rue Montalivet house was like twenty-five years ago.”

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

And now I’m thinking of places I can see again only in memory.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Fire is my informed guess. Mme Verdurin to a guest: “I don’t mind your smoking, of course, if it weren’t for the carpet, which is a very fine one. Not that that matters either, but it would catch fire very easily, I’m terribly afraid of fire and I wouldn’t want you all to be roasted alive just because somebody dropped a cigarette end.”]

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Fashionable parties

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Mary Miller on a billboard

In Effingham, Illinois, the heart of Illinois’s fifteenth congressional district, the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association has rented a billboard to share Representative Mary Miller’s words with the world:

“Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”
That’s what she said, in Washington, D.C., on January 5, 2021.

From IDCCA President Kristina Zahorik:
Words matter, particularly from those who hold elected office. And when Mary Miller tried to excuse her comments about Adolf Hitler by accusing others of attempting to “twist her words” the IDCCA knew she needed to be held accountable for her finger-pointing defense.

The residents of Mary Miller’s Congressional district need to know that Mary Miller thinks it is acceptable to cite Adolf Hitler to make a political point. The IDCCA hopes the voters remember her inexcusable comments, and hold her accountable as a public official and eventually at the ballot box.
You can see the billboard on the IDCCA’s main page.

All the Mary Miller posts
January 5 and 6 in D.C., with Mary Miller : The objectors included Mary Miller : A letter to Mary Miller : Mary Miller, with no mask : Mary Miller, still in trouble : His ’n’ resignations are in order : Mary Miller in The New Yorker : Mary Miller vs. AOC : Mary Miller’s response to mass murder : Mary Miller and trans rights

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


Odd phrasing from Deborah Birx, speaking to Sanjay Gupta:

“There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
I know that mitigate and mitigation are words common in COVID-19 discourse. But they always strike me as odd. Merriam-Webster gives these relevant meanings for mitigate : “to cause to become less harsh or hostile,” “to make less severe or painful.” But Birx is clearly not talking about palliative care. She’s not even speaking, really, about persons: “all of the rest of them” is deaths. You can’t “decrease” a person’s death, only a total number of deaths. Birx is speaking about death en masse.

A less evasive way to say it, “About a hundred thousand people died from that original surge. Hundreds of thousands more didn’t have to die.”

I lost my respect for Deborah Birx on March 25 last year. It never came back.

“One does have one’s standards”

With his “painted lips,” “mascaraed lashes,” and “papier-poudréd cheeks,” Baron de Charlus is a man who takes care with his appearance when out and about. But he hates to be seen in bed in the morning:

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

Twenty-five? As the Baron says elsewhere, he “shan’t see forty again.” And as the narrator points out, the Baron is “well into his sixties.”

All these years later, one can still buy Paiper Poudré.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Elaine’s A Tunes

Elaine’s A Tunes: Capricious Pieces for Beginner Violinists just appeared at Amazon. Elaine has written two blog posts — 1, 2 — to explain how she came to write these pieces.

She is, as she says, “engaging in commerce.”

The Blackwing clamp, 100 years old

The excellent blog pencil talk notes the March 29, 1921 filing of the patent for the clamp that became a distinctive feature of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 pencil: Happy 100th anniversary, Blackwing clamp!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Making it plain

From the Derek Chauvin murder trial. Steve Schleicher, prosecutor, asks a question. Alisha Oyler, witness, responds:

“Now can you please explain to the jury, why did you continue to record what you were seeing here?”

“Because I just — I always see the police, they’re always messing with people. And it’s wrong and it’s not right."

You can see this exchange at C-SPAN (5:48:59).

Mary Miller and trans rights

In The New York Times and The Washington Post this morning, news of a new battle in the so-called culture wars. From a Times article:

Lawmakers in a growing number of Republican-led states are advancing and passing bills to bar transgender athletes in girls’ sports, a culture clash that seems to have come out of nowhere. . . .

The idea that there is a sudden influx of transgender competitors who are dominating women’s and girls’ sports does not reflect reality — in high school, college or professionally.
And from a Washington Post opinion piece by Megan Rapinoe:
These bills are attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Transgender kids want the opportunity to play sports for the same reasons other kids do: to be a part of a team where they feel like they belong. Proponents of these bills argue that they are protecting women. As a woman who has played sports my whole life, I know that the threats to women’s and girls’ sports are lack of funding, resources and media coverage; sexual harassment; and unequal pay.
The Times article points out that these bills are the result of nationally coordinated efforts on the part of socially conservative organizations and female legislators. It’s no coincidence that the first bill introduced by my representative in Congress, Mary Miller (Illinois-15), would require sex-segregation in school bathrooms and locker rooms and on sports teams, with sex defined as “biological sex, not gender identity.” The bill, which Miller calls the Safety and Opportunity for Girls Act, appears to be H.R. 1417, titled “To clarify protections related to sex and sex-segregated spaces and to activities under title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.” There’s a general snafu with the House Education and Labor Committee website, with nothing to read for H.R. 1417 or any other legislation.

H.R. 1417 is likely going nowhere. But that won’t matter to Mary Miller’s supporters. I can already hear the campaign ads next year: “As a mom to five daughters, Miller led to fight to pass,” &c.

Among those co-sponsoring Miller’s bill: Lauren Boebert, Mo Brooks, and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

All the Mary Miller posts
January 5 and 6 in D.C., with Mary Miller : The objectors included Mary Miller : A letter to Mary Miller : Mary Miller, with no mask : Mary Miller, still in trouble : His ’n’ resignations are in order : Mary Miller in The New Yorker : Mary Miller vs. AOC : Mary Miller’s response to mass murder

Separated at birth

  [Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, baroque cellist and viol player, and John Malkovich, actor and director. Click either image for a larger view.]

Younger self, that might be your older self.

Thanks to Steven Hall for suggesting a Luolajan-Mikkola and Malkovich pairing.

Also separated at birth
Claude Akins and Simon Oakland : Ernest Angley and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán : Nicholson Baker and Lawrence Ferlinghetti : Bérénice Bejo and Paula Beer : Ted Berrigan and C. Everett Koop : David Bowie and Karl Held : Victor Buono and Dan Seymour : Ernie Bushmiller and Red Rodney : John Davis Chandler and Steve Buscemi : Ray Collins and Mississippi John Hurt : Broderick Crawford and Vladimir Nabokov : Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy : Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Gough : Henry Daniell and Anthony Wiener : Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, and William Hopper : Adam Driver and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska : Charles Grassley and Abraham Jebediah Simpson II : Elaine Hansen (of Davey and Goliath) and Blanche Lincoln : Barbara Hale and Vivien Leigh : Harriet Sansom Harris and Phoebe Nicholls : Steven Isserlis and Pat Metheny : Colonel Wilhelm Klink and Rudy Giuliani : Ton Koopman and Oliver Sacks : Steve Lacy and Myron McCormick : Don Lake and Andrew Tombes : William H. Macy and Michael A. Monahan : Fredric March and Tobey Maguire : Jean Renoir and Steve Wozniak : Molly Ringwald and Victoria Zinny

An EXchange name sighting

[Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco. From Sweet Smell of Success (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1957). Click for a larger view.]

Yes, it looks like Sidney is about to beseech the gods. Or the god, J. J. Hunsecker. EL-what? It’s impossible (for me) to read. ELdorado would make sense, but Ma Bell suggests ELmwood.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Blue Gardenia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : The Brothers Rico : The Case Against Brooklyn : Chinatown : Danger Zone : The Dark Corner : Dark Passage : Deception : Deux hommes dans Manhattan : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Down Three Dark Streets : Dream House : East Side, West Side : Fallen Angel : Framed : The Little Giant : Loophole : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : 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) : Naked City (8) : Naked City (9) : Nightfall : Nightmare Alley : Out of the Past : Perry Mason : Pitfall : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Red Light : Side Street : The Slender Thread : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire : Vice Squad : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Domestic comedy

“Did you do the dishes last night?”

“Yes, you identified me as doing them, as such.”

Elaine and I have been working the empty phrases “as such” and “at that” into our conversation. Living where we do, we have long been accustomed to making our own fun.

How, earlier in the day, had I identified Elaine as the dishdoer? By the spatula in the dishdrainer. Elaine puts those larger tools in the cutlery cups. I stand them up in the small rectangles formed by the coated wires running the length and width of the drainer. When I asked about the dishes, the spatula was gone.

As I said, “our own fun.” And good fun at that.

I have written this post in the excellent writing app iA Writer. When I turned on the Style Check (for fun), the app suggested removing “as such” from these sentences. No way.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The one that got away

I forgot to include in an earlier post this clue from today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword: 14-D, four letters, “‘___ by night, a chest of drawers by day’: Goldsmith.” I will give away the answer, from Oliver Goldsmith’s poem “The Deserted Village,” in lines that describe a now-gone inn or tavern, a “house where nut-brown draughts inspired”:

The chest contrived a double debt to pay,
A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day.
Those lines seemed familiar, and not because I have Oliver Goldsmith on my mind. I thought of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and the enervated coupling of the typist and clerk:
On the divan are piled (at night her bed)
Stockings, slippers, camisoles, and stays.
There’s no note for these lines in Eliot’s often-parodic “Notes on The Waste Land,” but there is a note for lines that soon follow:
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramophone.
Eliot’s note: “V. Goldsmith, the song in The Vicar of Wakefield.” Here’s the song.

Was Eliot consciously borrowing from Goldsmith with the divan/bed thirty lines earlier? Unconsciously borrowing? I think it must have been one or the other.

The coupling of the clerk and typist seems to have extraordinary resonance in contemporary college classrooms, at least in my experience of teaching The Waste Land. It’s an emotional blank, presented in fourteen lines that — guess what? — turn out to be a Shakespearean sonnet.

Today’s Newsday Saturday

Today’s Newsday  Saturday crossword, by Brad Wilber, solves like an easier Stumper. Lots of interest in the clues and answers, with generous helpings of novelty and misdirection.

1-A, nine letters, “Off-the-grid period.” I, not even sports-minded, thought football.

12-D, ten letters, “Swag supporter.” Nice and arcane, at least to my ear.

19-A, five letters, “Female name that sounds like Roman numerals.” Not DEEDEE — too long. Not DIDI — too short. Not EM — you can’t have a two-letter answer in a crossword.

27-A, seven letters, “Parisian’s patron.” My first thought: What’s the French for customer ?

29-D, ten letters, “Do-it-all’s bane.” Yep.

37-A, three letters, “Navigation aid.” Duh, right? Wrong. This clue adds value to 62-D, three letters, “What a 37 Across can’t do without.”

45-A, seven letters, “Peanut butter Hershey bars.” Semi-obscure candy treats seem to sneak into Newsday Saturday puzzles. Not long ago it was a MARSBAR.

64-A, nine letters, “They’re in a star’s orbit.” Wait, stars orbit?

My favorite clue-and-answer in this puzzle: 13-D, ten letters, “Seller of banded and boxed merchandise.”

And one clue I’d like to make Stumper-y: 28-D, “What a daredevil might kiss when done.” That seems too explicatory to me. How about “Dry spot”? “Everybody’s turf”? “Place to take a stand”? I’m omitting the letter count to not give away an answer. Never no spoilers.

All answers are in the comments.


I forgot one clue-and-answer and ending up writing another post: The one that got away.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Beverly Cleary (1916–2021)

The writer Beverly Cleary has died at the age of 104. The New York Times has an ample feature on her life and work, beginning here. HarperCollins has a Cleary website.

I’m a latecomer to the Cleary world. In adulthood, I’ve read all the Ramona books, Ellen Tebbits (my daughter’s favorite), Fifteen, Jean and Johnny, The Luckiest Girl, Sister of the Bride, and Cleary’s two memoirs, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet. Her writing has lifted me to laughter and reduced me to tears.

Fellow kids-at-heart, I encourage you to read Beverly Cleary if you haven’t.

Related reading
All OCA Beverly Cleary posts

False prophesying in the Times

From The New York Times:

The marked focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by followers of QAnon, who had falsely prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents were marched off to jail.
“Prophesied” seems very odd in the newspaper of record. “Falsely prophesied” seems odder still. “Believed” or “claimed” would be a more appropriate choice.

Don Heffington (1950–2021)

Drummer and songwriter, and Van Dyke Parks collaborator. Variety has an extensive obituary.

I heard Don play with Van Dyke in Chicago and St. Louis. So I can agree with Don’s Lone Justice bandmate Marvin Etzioni, quoted in Variety: “Like Ringo, he didn’t play drums, he played songs.”

The Los Angeles Times obituary has a great photo of DH and VDP. And here is Don Heffington’s website.

Write this down

Once again, research has shown:

A study of Japanese university students and recent graduates has revealed that writing on physical paper can lead to more brain activity when remembering the information an hour later. Researchers say that the unique, complex, spatial and tactile information associated with writing by hand on physical paper is likely what leads to improved memory.
Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, March 25, 2021


It makes me happy whenever I hear that someone I know has received a COVID-19 vaccine. Yay, says I, every time.

Today Elaine and I got our first shots of the Moderna vaccine. Yay, says I.

And it makes me happy to see so many people getting vaccinated. Sometimes 800 a day, the nurse said. And that’s in deep-red downstate Illinois. Yay, says I.

“In the lighted bookshop windows”

After the death of the writer Bergotte, a simple, solemn memorial.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003).

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

“A little patch of yellow wall”

In Proust’s The Prisoner, the writer Bergotte dies after after gazing at “a little patch of yellow wall“ in Vermeer’s View of Delft. Marcel, our narrator, says that a critic described this patch as “so well painted that it was, if one looked at it in isolation, like a precious work of Chinese art, of an entirely self-sufficient beauty.” Vermeer’s painting is on loan in Paris. Bergotte, ill, hasn’t left his house in years. But he doesn’t remember this patch of wall, and he wants to see it.

Is there such patch in Vermeer’s painting? Elaine found a good discussion of that question by Dean Kissick: “The Downward Spiral: Little Patch of Yellow Wall” (Spike ). And another: “Petit pan de mur jaune” (Essential Vermeer).

My 2¢: I think it’s the bright roof in the right third of the painting. But I think the point is to invite the reader to look as closely as Bergotte looked. Bergotte’s response makes me think of the last sentence of Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”: “You must change your life.” But Bergotte has no future:

“That is how I should have written, he said to himself. My last books are too dry, I should have applied several layers of colour, made my sentences precious in themselves, like that little patch of yellow wall.”
Moments later, he dies.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Quotations from The Prisoner, trans. Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003). The translator follows Proust in keeping the dialogue tag inside quotation marks. By this point in In Search of Lost Time, it’s more or less clear that the narrator’s name is Marcel. The confirmation is still to come. The sentence from Rilke: “Du mußt dein Leben ändern.”]

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Heather Cox Richardson on the NRA

In today’s installment of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson, historian, offers a brief history of the NRA’s shift from “sports” to “gun rights.”

[I just realized that the title Letters from an American must have been inspired by Alistair Cooke’s BBC broadcast Letter from America.]

Pocket notebook sighting

Two of the (many) creepy things about the gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker are his little pocket notebook and his little writing instrument.

[J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) and Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) at 21. From Sweet Smell of Success (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1957).]

Good grief: it’s a perforated pad with the Hunsecker name on every page.

[Click either image for a larger view.]

Harry Kello is a corrupt cop. That little note for Sidney is a directive meant to destroy a musician’s career. J. J. will ask for that piece of paper back, of course.

What is J. J. writing with? I’d guess a miniature mechanical pencil, sterling silver no doubt, but the handwriting suggests a pen. A miniature ballpoint? But the thick and thin lines of Kello suggest a fountain pen. Well, it’s a movie. A great one.

An economical choice for the aspiring gossip columnist: the Zebra T-3 mini ballpoint or TS-3 mini mechanical pencil. Speak viciously and carry a small writing instrument.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Bombshell : The Brasher Doubloon : Cat People : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : The Devil and Miss Jones : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : 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 : Now, Voyager : 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 66The Scarlet Claw : Sleeping Car to Trieste : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Time Table : T-Men : To the Ends of the Earth : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Vice Squad : Walk East on Beacon! : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once

A Walser talk

Soon: Susan Bernofsky talks about Robert Walser with the poet Eileen Myles. It’s a Zoom event, free, April 15, 7:00–8:30 p.m. GMT: “Clairvoyant of the Small": A Conversation.

Also soon: Bernofksy’s biography of Walser, Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser, arrives on May 25.

Related reading
All OCA Walser posts (Pinboard)

[World Time Buddy is a handy site for figuring out when.]

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

In Illinois-15

Representative Mary Miller’s response to mass murder: to retweet Lauren Boebert and Ben Shapiro. That is all ye know is Illinois-15, and all ye need to know.

All the Mary Miller posts
January 5 and 6 in D.C., with Mary Miller : The objectors included Mary Miller : A letter to Mary Miller : Mary Miller, with no mask : Mary Miller, still in trouble : His ’n’ resignations are in order : Mary Miller in The New Yorker : Mary Miller vs. AOC

Ralph Kramden’s list

[Ralph Kramden’s bad points and good points, by Ralph Kramden. From the Honeymooners episode “Young Man with a Horn,” March 24, 1956. Click for a much larger view.]

I have the thirty-nine “classic” Honeymooners episodes on DVD, but I am still driven to watch whatever episode airs on Sunday night on MeTV. “Young Man with a Horn” aired this past Sunday. In this episode a visit from doughnut-company owner August Gunther and his wife to the Kramdens’ apartment — the Gunthers’ first apartment, many years ago — prompts Ralph to emulate Mr. Gunther and aim to become a success by eliminating his weaknesses and building up his strong points.

Bad points: 1. Late for work. 2. Oversleeping. 3. Snores. 4. Loses temper. 5. Don’t pay debts. 6. Too fat. 7. Brags. 8. Connives. 9. Daydreams. 10. Avoids responsibility. 11. Stubborn. 12. Too fat. 13. Overeats. 14. Neglects wife. 15. Spends foolishly. 16. Gullible. 17. Sloppy dresser. 18. Treats wife like workhorse. 19. Generally untidy. 20. Too fat. 21. Talks too much. 22. Argues too much.

Good points: 1. Loves wife. 2. Admits mistakes. 3. Soft hearted. 4. Has good intentions. 5. Basically honest when pinned down.

Norton suggested bad point no. 5: “You owed me two dollars for the last month.” And after Ralph pays up: “I knew it’d work!” Norton’s single suggested good point, which sort of makes this list: “The sweetest guy in the world.”

“Young Man with a Horn” is one of the most poignant Honeymooners episodes. It has very little yelling, and is nearly all hope, failure, and hope.

You can watch this episode now at YouTube.


An afterthought: It occurred to me that aside from the names of members behind in dues, written on a chalkboard in the Raccoon lodge, Ralph’s list of bad points and good points might be the only handwritten text we ever see in The Honeymooners.

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts (Pinboard)

[Individual items on the list shift in and out of focus as the camera moves away from the wall. I transcribed with care. As far as I can tell, this transcription is the only one to be found online. I am thinking of this post as a fleeting refuge from the horror of current events.]