Monday, January 31, 2022

Pluto Water and Vitabrush

It so happens that my favorite comic strips sometimes require footnotes. In today’s Zippy, Dizzy Plutowater resigns from his old life: “I’m now Troy Schlitz and I work night shift at th’ Vitabrush factory over in Kenosha.”

[Life, May 13, 1940.]

[Life, February 9, 1942. Click either image for a larger view.]

As Zippy might say, “Yow!”

Louis Armstrong was a devotee of Pluto Water before switching over to Swiss Kriss. Some details here. And dig the caption for this photograph of Armstrong: “His pluto water [sic] has brought him back to top shape.”

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[“The bald-headed row”? It’s an idiom.]

“Fast to my pocket”

[Nancy, April 22, 1949.]

Kids don’t talk like that anymore.

Merriam-Webster has this definition, among others: “securely attached,” as in “a rope fast to the wharf.” Or “a dollar bill fast to a pocket.”

Nancy, of course, devises a way to free the dollar and get her soda.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Tiny Diner

[803 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

“Good Food for Good Health”? If you say so.

If you squint, you can see the HOTCAKES sign (neon!) in the window. And in the window of the dry cleaners and laundry, SPREADS WASHED FLUFFED DRIED. Today this stretch of Bedford Avenue is all apartment buildings.

Thanks, Brian, for finding this photograph.

Related posts
Harry’s Wagon : More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Recently updated

Nick DeMaio and the Eldorado Now with a photograph of a BAR sign, salvaged by Fordham students after the El D’s destruction.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Greg Johnson, gave me half an hour’s worth of struggle. It’s a great puzzle, with many unusual (and educational!) answers, and real Stumping satisfaction. Even as I typed in my final answer, for 24-A, three letters, “Needle point,” I couldn’t see how things were going to turn out right. But they did. Two hours after I finished the puzzle, the point of 24-A poked me in the head — ah, got it.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, nine letters, “Paint-sprayer reservoir.” See? Unusual.

13-D, four letters:“Former name of the Royal Crown Company.” I learned something.

A trio: 20-A, nine letters, “Concision catchphrase, part 1”; 38-A, three letters, “Concision catchphrase, part 2”; 48-A, nine letters, “Concision catchphrase, part 3.” I kept thinking that there had to be more to the extended answer than met the eye. Perhaps there's a joke in the three-letter-long middle.

21-D, four letters, “Brit remembered for his circles.” A Brit? I learned something.

33-D, five letters, “Rounds of belts.” Is there an arcane term for the holes in a belt? Because that was my first thought.

39-A, five letters, “Two-stroke symbol.” I thought Golf?

41-A, ten letters, “‘Ultra-warm’ apparel.” Okay, but why quotation marks? If there’s a joke here, I’m missing it.

41-D, four letters, “Response to a request to speak.” Aww.

44-D, six letters, “Medicated disc.” I learned something. And there’s a surprising link to a word I already knew.

45-A, six letters, “Close ones.” Again I learned something.

46-A, three letters, “Moving away.” The clue adds value to the answer.

48-D, four letters, “New sister, often.” I was thinking of a novitiate, which does, after all, kinda fit.

53-A, five letters, “Retouch before advancement.” Nice misdirection, at least if the word advancement makes you think of careers and résumés.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Composition of place

George Bodmer pointed me to a beautiful piece of short fiction in The New Yorker, Arthur Krystal’s “What’s the Deal, Hummingbird?” It’s a story of moments remembered in COVID times:

By August, 2020, his sense of time had gone kablooey. Events thirty years in the distance now knocked at the door, while things he’d done five weeks earlier seemed impossibly remote.
I wrote back to George:
I find myself these days recalling not so much moments as spaces. The layout of my grandparents’ house, my other grandparents’ apartment, libraries from childhood in Brooklyn and adolescence in NJ, college buildings. It must be that so much time spent in one place is making me travel in my head to others.
And now I realize that I’m engaging in a secular version of a spiritual exercise from Ignatius of Loyola: composition of place. I’ve also been traveling to the candy stores of my Brooklyn childhood via the New York City Municipal Archives.

I wonder if readers have found themselves doing such traveling in COVID times. Anyone?

[Just what was behind that locked door at the end of the second-floor hallway in the Fordham library? I’ll never know.]

Pencil vs. pencil vs. pencil vs. pen

Which lasts longer: a cheap pencil, a better pencil, a mechanical pencil, or a ballpoint pen? It’s the work of a fellow with time on his hands.

A related post
“2,162 words for one cent”

“Do I really need a toilet?”

What it can be like to rent in Manhattan.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Nico & Nor

From WGBH, preschool STEM learning with Nico & Nor games (iPadOS 12.0 or later): Berry Garden, Coconut Canyon, Farmers Market, Puppy Park, Shadow Cave. The games teach basic science ideas to pre-readers, in English or Spanish. Berry Garden and Puppy Park are the most challenging. Shadow Cave is the most Platonic.

Our son Ben helped create these games and wrote and played the music for them. Go Ben!

You can find all WGBH apps for iOS and iPadOS in the App Store.

Word of the day: bazooka

My friend Stefan Hagemann clued me in to the origin of bazooka, which was the name of a musical instrument of sorts before it became the name of a weapon. Bob Burns, who created the instrument in the early 1900s, explains in this WWII-era short film.

As for Bazooka Joe, he and his gang postdate the war. (The weirdest comics ever.)

Thanks, Stefan!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Holding his head

Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement made me remember this description from an NPR story:

At oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court's best questioners, sometimes takes a different approach [from that of Justice Sonia Sotomayor]. She just shuts down, rather than alienate her colleagues. Still, her anger is often palpable, the color literally draining from her face. And Justice Stephen Breyer on occasion just holds his head.
That description makes me think that he stuck it out as long as he could in an increasingly alienating workplace.


It’s late. Solly Bridgetower is walking and talking with Griselda Webster.

Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost (1951).

Tempest-Tost is the first novel of Davies’s Salterton Trilogy. A group of provincial amateurs are preparing to stage The Tempest.

Related reading
All OCA Robertson Davies posts (Pinboard)


Watching Murder, She Wrote (for the old stars), we spotted the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Ventura Boulevard. There’s a building with a distinctive rounded front on one corner. It’s a drugstore in the show, and a drugstore still (now a CVS).

It’s strange that movies and television seem to turn the vastness of Los Angeles into a small town, with one recognizable location after another. It’s the West Coast version of what I call the Naked City effect: see here, here, and here.

A related post
“Our knowledge of Los Angeles is vast and shallow!””

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

When in doubt, check Twitter

When I found iCloud bouncing me out after asking me to sign in, the first thing I did was check Twitter:

Yes, it’s a general problem.


11:05 p.m.: All’s well.

January 26, 6:27 a.m.: Then again, maybe not.

[I wasn't the one chatting.]

Signatures in unexpected places

Elvis, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger: signatures found on due-date slips and in library books (CBC).

I’ve found on my library’s shelves books signed by Willa Cather and H.L. Mencken and Louis Zukofksy, all there for borrowing. Each time I headed straight to the circulation desk. “This should not be on the shelves,” said I, earnestly.

My favorite professor, Jim Doyle, once found in Harvard’s Widener Library a volume of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough with handwritten notes by T.S. Eliot. Yes, that T.S. Eliot. Jim took the book to a librarian, who promptly took it away.

Sardines forever

Owen Burke likes sardines:

So long as I have a roof over my head and a kitchen cabinet, I will forever have a case of sardines in there through my very dying breath.
He makes the case for a case of Wild Planet sardines, $27 for twelve cans.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Block that metaphor

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall wonders if the defeated former president’s grip is loosening:

There are at least some cracks — seeming cracks? — in Trump’s hold and they center for now on Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Related reading
All OCA metaphor posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 24, 2022

“Going after children”

The defeated former president’s characterization of the January 6 committee’s request that Ivanka Trump sit for an interview: “They’re going after children.”

Well, everyone is someone’s child. Ivanka Trump is a forty-year-old child. The defeated former president is a seventy-five-year-old child.

What I realized only today: “They’re going after children” is a statement that must have been meant to resonate mightily with QAnon people.


A toddler of my acquaintance calls them “The Get Back Guys.”

Related reading
All OCA Beatles posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

National Handwriting Day

National Handwriting Day is real. And good handwriting opens doors.

Here’s (fictional) proof, from Kiss of Death (dir. Henry Hathaway, 1947). As Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) waits to ask the prison warden for permission to write a letter beyond the three-a-month allotment, the warden questions a guard:

[The warden reads.] “‘Nick Bianco — Urgent Business.’ Did he write this himself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good handwriting.”

“He’s not a bad guy.”

“Bring him in.”
Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Going to a conference

I was heading off to a conference to present a paper — one of my least favorite things to do. Elaine and I were standing at the baggage carousel of a bus station, trying to figure out how to get to the airport. It was six o’clock at night. My plane was leaving at seven thirty.

I was still packing for the trip, packing very lightly. I had a cheap briefcase of the kind once sold in discount department stores, with a black papery covering over masonite or plywood. The briefcase held the paper I was presenting, a Lands’ End squall jacket, and Stanley Lombardo’s translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. No meds, no extra clothes, no umbrella, no pens or pencils. I noticed a cup of pencils atop an upright piano and took a couple to bring with me.

We spotted a scientist entering the terminal, a tall man with red hair. He wore a college sweatshirt over his lab coat. We asked him how to get to the airport, and he pointed us to a bus-company employee in uniform. And we began to consider which route would be best to get to the airport on time.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Three possible sources, from yesterday: reading Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid (with a two-bus commute to a posh day school), learning about Steinway’s Victory Vertical pianos, recommending Alan Alda’s Science Clear + Vivid to a friend. I think the dream is about impostor syndrome. Elaine thinks it’s about aging. I think she’s right.]

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Asking, not asking

From The Washington Post: “A single word sparks a crossfire between the Supreme Court, NPR and its star reporter Nina Totenberg.”

At issue: whether Chief Justice John Roberts, “in some form, asked the other justices to mask up” in the courtroom, as Nina Totenberg had reported for NPR. Roberts denied making that request, and NPR’s public editor, Kelly McBride, deemed the word asked “inaccurate” and “misleading,” and called for a clarification, which has yet to appear.

The part of the Post report that interests me:

On Friday, NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara reiterated the organization’s support for Totenberg. She said McBride “is independent and doesn’t speak on behalf of NPR.”

Lara added, “Someone can ask without explicitly asking. Someone can say, ‘This person doesn’t feel comfortable being around people who aren’t masked’ or some other permutation of that and the listeners get the message.”
Exactly. That’s basic pragmatics.

In the polite, restrained setting of the Supreme Court, the indirect approach — “I think it better that we all wear masks in court,” or words along those lines — seems apt. To say such words is still to make a request. In claiming not to have made a request, Roberts might be parsing his words a bit too literally, without regard for pragmatics.

All this parsing might have been avoided if Justice Gorsuch had just worn a damn mask.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stella Zawistowksi, whose last Stumper appeared in December 2020. I’m happy to see her back. The name of her crosswords-and-trivia website explains why: Tough As Nails. This puzzle was challenging (but doable) and filled with reasons for delight.

Some of them:

2-D, ten letters, “Highly selective.” PERSNICK — no, won’t fit.

16-A, ten letters, “Question at a Q&A.” Heh.

20-A, five letters, “L.A. museum benefactor.” Whatever one might think of the benefactor, it’s a great museum.

21-A, five letters, “Protection from winding.” I first thought of my horribly coiled headphone cord.

36-A, fifteen letters, “Still very much with us.” Just a fun phrase.

43-D, six letters, “Puts together, as pattern pieces.” I have to look into this word, which has an unusual array of meanings.

48-D, five letters, “What many gloves are made of.” The first letter might lead you in the wrong direction.

58-D, three letters, “Only 50-state TV network.” Really? Huh.

61-A, ten letters, “Refuses to stand for it.” Literalizing.

My favorite clues in this puzzle:

23-D, five letters, “Ignore a Simpsons suggestion.” D’oh!

58-A, four letters, “Designations requiring defenses.” I thought “Football positions?”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Thích Nhất Hạnh (1926–2022)

The New York Times has an obituary.

I like this passage from The Miracle of Mindfulness (1999):

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

“Even before Amy came in”

Henry James, “The Third Person” (1900).

Elaine and I have been reading a volume of Henry James’s ghost stories with diminishing patience. The Turn of the Screw — great. But the other stories are a mixed bag, and Jamesian syntax doesn’t help. I lost my mind a little with the sentence above and made a motion, with two stories left, to move on. Elaine seconded. The motion carried. So even before Amy came in, we were out. And we turned this afternoon to Tempest-Tost, the first volume of Robertson Davies’s Salterton Trilogy.

[The volume in question: “The Turn of the Screw” and Other Ghost Stories, ed. Susie Boyt (New York: Penguin, 2017).]

Mary Miller again

For a third time, Representative Mary Miller (R, Illinois-15) appears in The New Yorker (January 31). She’s mentioned in Jane Mayer’s long, revealing article about Virginia Thomas, the hard-right activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas:

Ginni Thomas has her own links to the January 6th insurrection. Her Web site, which touts her consulting acumen, features a glowing testimonial from Kimberly Fletcher, the president of a group called Moms for America: “Ginni’s ability to make connections and communicate with folks on the ground as well as on Capitol Hill is most impressive.” Fletcher spoke at two protests in Washington on January 5, 2021, promoting the falsehood that the 2020 election was fraudulent. At the first, which she planned, Fletcher praised the previous speaker, Representative Mary Miller, a freshman Republican from Illinois, saying, “Amen!” Other people who heard Miller’s speech called for her resignation: she’d declared, “Hitler was right on one thing — he said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”
Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts

A lost art

From Till the End of Time (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1946). A cowboy, Bill Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum), opines:

“I thought letter writing was a lost art, like steer milking.”

Related reading
All OCA letter posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Pluto again

A New York Times interactive feature: “Is Pluto a Planet?”

Orange Crate Art has always been in Pluto’s corner, small as that corner may be.

Related reading
All OCA Pluto posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Professor gone wild The professor who called his students “vectors of disease” is threatening to sue his school.

EXchange names on screen

Cliff Harper (Guy Madison) is home, courtesy of MAdison 1234. And he will soon see more exchange names in his family’s telephone directory.

[From Till the End of Time (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1946). Click either image for a larger view.]

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Black Widow : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Blue Gardenia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : The Brothers Rico : The Case Against Brooklyn : Chinatown : Craig’s Wife : 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 : Escape in the Fog : Fallen Angel : Framed : Hollywood Story: 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 : Nocturne : Old Acquaintance : Out of the Past : Perry Mason : Pitfall : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Red Light : Side Street : The Slender Thread : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success (1) : Sweet Smell of Success (2) : Tension : This Gun for Hire : The Unfaithful : Vice Squad : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Getting free COVID tests via USPS

WNYC reports that people who live at an address not registered with the USPS as a multi-unit dwelling have been unable to order free COVID tests if someone from the same address has already ordered them. What to do: fill out this form, or call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

And if you havent yet requested free COVID tests: here’s the sign-up page.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Fantastic voyage

Michael Steele (the political commentator, not the ex-Bangle), on MSNBC just now, describing his fellow Republicans:

“They’re so far up Trump’s behind they have no idea where they are.”

EXchange names on the screen

Kit Marlowe (Bette Davis) needs to pay a visit to no-good Lucien Grant. He’s been messing around with Kit’s best friend’s daughter. Now, where does he live? Ah — there’s his address. Better take it with you. Rrrrip.

[From Old Acquaintance (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1943). Click either image for a larger view.]

It’s not uncommon in old movies for someone to tear a page from a public telephone directory. Tearing a page from your own directory — that’s another story. Kit Marlowe is angry, so angry that she doesn’t even notice the glitch in this directory’s alphabetizing.

More EXchange names on screen
Act of Violence : The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Black Widow : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Blue Gardenia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : The Brasher Doubloon : The Brothers Rico : The Case Against Brooklyn : Chinatown : Craig’s Wife : 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 : Escape in the Fog : Fallen Angel : Framed : Hollywood Story: 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 : Nocturne : Out of the Past : Perry Mason : Pitfall : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Red Light : Side Street : The Slender Thread : Stage Fright : Sweet Smell of Success (1) : Sweet Smell of Success (2) : Tension : This Gun for Hire : The Unfaithful : Vice Squad : Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Beard pencils

There is something called a beard pencil. Who knew? Not me.

Related reading
All OCA beard posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Good going, Carhartt

A notable development at the intersection of COVID-19 and culture: Carhartt is requiring that its employees be vaccinated (Detroit Metro Times). Customers who tilt to the right are already tweeting about boycotting the company.

Indeed, the Carhartt brand is often seen on people who tilt to the right. (Look at photographs from January 6.) But both Sarah Palin and Barack Obama have been photographed wearing Carhartt.

The Metro Times says the brand is beloved of “both blue-collar workers and hipsters.” I’m neither — I just like good pants. I’ve been wearing Carhartt B18 jeans and B324 carpenter pants for many years. They’re both amazingly durable, and the B324’s right-leg pocket solves the perennial question of where to put my phone.

I hope that those who are planning to boycott Carhartt because of the company’s stand on vaccination will soon need to boycott all consumer goods.

Twelve movies

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, DVDs, TCM, YouTube.]

Repeat Performance (dir. Alfred L. Werker, 1947). Our household’s favorite movie-year comes through for us again. Eddie Muller, who’s responsible for rescuing this movie from oblivion, describes it as a film noir version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Or think of it as Groundhog Year : actress Sheila Page (Joan Leslie) finds her life gone wrong on New Year’s Eve and gets the chance to relive the dying year. Also present: Louis Hayward as Sheila’s jealous but faithless alcoholic playwright husband; Tom Conway (who resembles George Sanders because — guess what? — they were brothers) as a suave producer; Richard Basehart as a rhyming poet and hanger-on named William Williams; and Natalie Schaefer as a patron of the arts in search of young male talent. ★★★★ (TCM)


Old Acquaintance (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1943). Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins play friends-from-childhood whose lives move in different directions. As Kit Marlowe (heh), Davis is a writer of literary fiction whose work inspires college women to form clubs devoted to her ideas. As Millie Drake, Hopkins is a writer of junk novels who rises in popularity as Kit struggles. John Loder and Gig Young make things complicated, but I would have liked melodramatic complications without the inapt moments of comic relief. ★★★ (TCM)


From the Criterion Channel: Starring Sterling Hayden

Crime Wave (dir. Andre De Toth, 1954). A hugely satisfying B picture, with locations by Los Angeles, cinematography by Bert Glennon, and strong performances from Hayden (Sims, a mean cop), Gene Nelson (Steve Lacey, an ex-con going straight), and Ted de Corsia (“Doc” Penny, the escaped con who forces Steve back into crime). Truly unnerving, with every ring of a telephone and every knock at the door putting Steve and his wife Ellen (Peggy Kirk) on alert. Hayden is at least as scary as any of the criminals, speaking at high speed while looking semi-conscious. Watch also for Charles Bronson, ultra-creepy Timothy Carey, and Jay Novello. ★★★★

Crime of Passion (dir. Gerd Oswald, 1956). “I hope all your socks have holes in them, and I can sit for hours and hours darning them.” Barbara Stanwyck plays Kathy Ferguson, an advice columnist who breaks her vow to nevermarry and leaves her job after meeting handsome LAPD detective Bill Doyle (Hayden). But Kathy finds her new life stifling, and she wants better prospects for her husband than his position offers — thus the title. With Fay Wray and a highly sinister Raymond Burr. ★★★★

Terror in a Texas Town (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1958). Film noir comes to Prairie City. A venture capitalist (Sebastian Cabot) has hired a gunman named Crale (Nedrick Young) to force farmers from their (oil-rich) properties, but when George Hansen (Sterling Hayden), the son of a murdered farmer, comes to town for a visit, there’ll be trouble, signaled in the film’s opening, when George walks into town carrying a harpoon (yes, really). The screenplay, by Dalton Trumbo (as “Ben L. Perry”), has important things to say about fear, obedience, and resistance. Hayden is the nominal star, but the movie belongs to Young (another blacklistee) and Victor Millan, who plays José Mirada, a young farmer who refuses to move. ★★★★

Johnny Guitar (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1954). Sterling Hayden is Johnny Guitar (née Logan), and just the mention of his birth name is enough to frighten those who hear it. Joan Crawford is Vienna, proprietor of a hotel-bar-gambling joint, determined to cash in when the railroad tracks are laid. A shady fellow called the Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady) and a vengeful, conflicted townswoman named Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge) complicate things for all. We see Vienna in men’s clothes, men showing their prowess in shooting, a waterfall pouring as Johnny and Vienna kiss: Johnny Guitar is so insanely over the top that — that — that I can’t find a way to end this sentence. But now I understand why Pedro Almodóvar pays homage to the movie in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. ★★★★


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (fir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1988). A deliriously funny film about fear, desire, gazpacho, and revenge. At the beginning, a scene from Johnny Guitar is being dubbed into Spanish, and one could say that if a scene from Johnny Guitar is being dubbed into Spanish in Act One, someone will be shot in Act Three. Deftly plotted, with all desires tied together in one apartment. Based on Cocteau’s ‌La voix humaine, as I now understand having seen Almodóvar’s 2020 short film The Human Voice.★★★★ (DVD)


Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda: 1933–1945 (dir. Rüdiger Suchsland, 2017). Did you know that Josef Goebbels was in charge of film production in Nazi Germany? Did you know that Nazi cinema included a remake of It Happened One Night? Did you know that Ingrid Bergman made a film in Nazi Germany (The Four Companions, just four years before Casablanca)? A fascinating, appalling survey of a largely unknown world of directors and stars, with short clips abounding: anti-Semitic propaganda, comedies, detective stories, melodramas, musicals, period pieces, sports, and war stories in which men in uniform laugh heartily or die beautifully for the nation. ★★★★ (DVD)


Sun Valley Serenade (dir. H. Bruce Humberstone, 1941). We watched this bright, shiny musical (set at a real-world ski resort) because it was one of three movies at the Criterion Channel with the Nicholas Brothers, who share one spectacular number with Dorothy Dandridge and the Dartmouth Troubadours (the Glenn Miller Orchestra). That number and all the musical numbers are terrific, but the story line is another matter. Sonja Henie (a skating star with, it turns out, a Hitler connection) plays Karen Benson, a giggly, calculating refugee skater who uses devious means to pull her sponsor, the Troubadours’ pianist Ted Scott (John Payne), away from his singer-fiancée Vivian Dawn (Lynn Bari) — and the movie lets her succeed. Our household hated Karen for her wiles, and we hated Ted for his dumbness, and if we had paid more attention to the credits, we would have realized that those two, who received top billing, were always going to end up together. ★★★★ (music) / ★ (story) (CC)


The Saxon Charm (dir. Claude Binyon, 1948). Robert Montgomery is Matt Saxon, a Broadway producer working with Eric Busch (John Payne), a successful novelist who’s written a first play. Saxon (based, it seems, on the unloved producer Jed Harris, whose name rings no bell for me) takes over Busch’s life, calling for meetings at all hours and demanding endless cuts and additions, as Busch’s confidence and his relationship with his wife Janet (Susan Hayward) die. Not film noir, despite online claims, nor is it a satisfying psychological drama, as too many odd comic touches soften Saxon’s will to power. But good work by Montgomery, Payne, Hayward, and Audrey Totter. ★★★ (YT)


Night Unto Night (dir. Don Siegel, 1949). They sure made strange ones back then: John Galen (Ronald Reagan), a biochemist with a secret illness and wooden personality, rents an enormous old house from Ann Gracie (Viveca Lindfors), a widow whose dead husband speaks to her. Yes, it’ll be a love story, one with an inexplicable start (what is Galen doing here?) and, finally, a pretty pat ending. Broderick Crawford is surprising as a painter and man of ideas (art vs. science and all that). Stealing the movie is Osa Massen as Lisa (just Lisa), Ann’s jealous, spiteful sister from hell. ★★★ (TCM)


Till the End of Time (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1946). Released before The Best Years of Our Lives, it’s the story of three returned Marines, Cliff (Guy Madison), Bill (Robert Mitchum), and Perry (Bill Williams) as they readjust to civilian life, or try to. The movie offers brief splashes of fun — iceskating, jitterbugging — but focuses on pain and pathos: PTSD (here known as “the shakes”), physical disability and pain, family members’ unwillingness to listen, the overtures of xenophobic “patriot” groups, the feeling that years have been stolen by war. What is most remarkable: the movie also dwells on the grief of a young war widow, Pat (Dorothy McGuire, in a beautifully understated performance), who receives from Cliff the kind of care that the men of The Best Years receive from women (you’ll have to watch both movies to understand). The strongest scenes: a serviceman shakes uncontrollably as he sits at a snack bar; Pat breaks down as she talks about her husband’s dream of home. ★★★★ (TCM)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

[The title of Philip Wylie’s novel Night Unto Night comes from Psalms 19:2: “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.”]

Monday, January 17, 2022


I look with morbid curiosity at sermons from a nearby church, posted to YouTube. For two weeks, the pastor was absent. Two locals subbed for him. And when the pastor returned, he began,

“A couple of weeks ago now, as I began to have some [makes a faux-quizzical face ] suspicious symptoms — you just never know these days where that journey is gonna go.”
Followed by laughter from the congregation.

At least one person who attended this church has died of COVID-19. His obituary described him as a member of a different church who had recently begun attending this one. It’s not difficult to understand why: the other church had switched to online services. This church was (and is) gathering in person, with a congregation that laughs at the implication that their pastor contracted COVID-19.

On MLK Day

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.

Sunday, January 16, 2022


[An Ebinger’s bakery, 411 86th Street, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

George Ebinger (1859–1935) opened a bakery in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in 1898. By 1915, when he retired, he had three stores. By 1930, when the chain was run by his sons, there were forty. By 1950, forty-two. When the chain went into bankruptcy in 1972, there were fifty-four or sixty-seven locations in Brooklyn and Queens and on Long Island, depending on which source you consult.

It matters not that the sign says Ebinger Bakers ; a Brooklynite went to an Ebinger’s for baked goods. I remember blackout cake and crumbcake. My brother remembers pot pies. Everything was boxed in pale green boxes with brown squiggly lines, and tied with string — brown and white, I think.

The dowdy world took its baked goods seriously. Consider the list of breads in a 1963 Ebinger’s advertisement: pan twist, Pullman, raisin, plain rye, seed rye, smooth top, white mountain, whole wheat, whole wheat raisin, and unsalted white, “all in new re-closable package!”

Ebinger’s was enough a part of Brooklyn reality that it turns up in Gilbert Sorrentino’s novel of Brooklynites, Aberration of Starlight (1980):

What tradition did he keep with religious devotion?

On New Year’s Day, he visited all his surviving relatives to wish them the joy of the new year; at home, he made certain that he had on hand a supply of ladyfingers (bought at Ebinger’s Bakery) and a bottle of sherry with which to refresh any guests who dropped in to wish him and the family the joy of the new year.
See? Ebinger’s, possessive.

[Kings Courier, July 6, 1963. Click for a larger view.]

A New York Times article about the end of Ebinger’s (August 26, 1972) quotes Arthur D. Ulrich, the company’s president and George Ebinger’s grandson: “In these days quality cake has perhaps become a luxury that somehow does not fit into the housewife’s budget.” “Cake,” he says, “has been pushed into the luxury class.” But the article also notes that most of the chain’s customers “had moved from Brooklyn and Queens to Nassau and Suffolk Counties.”

In 1982 the Times reported that a Brooklyn bakery had resurrected the Ebinger name and was thriving, with the blessing of, and original recipes from, George Ebinger’s son Arthur Ebinger. But there’s no sign of that bakery now.

Some other Ebinger’s locations: 1104 Kings Highway, 1707 Kings Highway, 1310 Avenue J, 1704 Avenue M, and 1603 Avenue U. The Ebinger’s our family patronized, at 4907 13th Avenue, is barely discernible in this photograph. It’s to the right of the bank.

All Ebinger’s locations are now located in Brooklyn memory banks.

[Canarsie Courier, October 28, 1993.]

Thanks, Brian.


October 18, 2023: An article in the Daily News, “Will the real Ebinger’s please stand up?” (September 22, 1982), casts doubt on the claim that Arthur Ebinger gave his family’s recipes to Lou Guerra, the baker who revived the Ebinger’s name. The article quotes Carolyne Ebinger Czap, Arthur’s daughter:
“What makes me sad,” said Czap, “is that people think these awful things are what my father made. I doubt seriously that Guerra ever met my father.”

Guerra says that Arthur Ebinger gave him the recipes in 1978.

“My father,” said Czap, “was in the hospital and a nursing home for two years before his death. He died in 1977.”
The article cites several sources who say that Guerra used mixes, not fresh ingredients. Ebinger’s used only fresh ingredients.

The Times never revisited its story.

Thanks again, Brian.

Related posts
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

Dogs dig holes

“‘It is confusing’: Dictionary takes dig at City of Toronto dog sign” (Toronto Sun).

Is the sign really that confusing? Listen up, Fido, while I hip you to these holes. I know you’ll dig them.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Richard Macksey’s library

I recognized the name Richard Macksey, but I’d never seen his library: 51,000 books.

Reader, would you find this library comforting, or claustrophobic?

[Notice that the steps of the ladder — if that is indeed a ladder and not shelving — hold more books.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Lester Ruff, aka Stan Newman making an easier Stumper. It is indeed less rough, or more than easy, and about 31% three-letter words.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I liked seeing:

4-D, seven letters, “Metaphor for holdups.” My mind went first to criming. What does that say about me?

6-D, three letters, “Physical features?” The clue improves the answer.

11-D, eleven letters, “Sound-effects specialist.” Maybe now I’ll finally remember what the term means.

41-D, seven letters, “Many miniatures.” Oops, not HUMMELS.

48-A, six letters, “Word from Old French for ‘bread room.’” Huh. Now it seems so obvious.

49-A, four letters, “Specify multiply.” I like the clue’s playful syntax.

50-A, three letters, “In particular, in the OED.” Because dictionaries. And I find myself typing the answer often.

Two clues I’m not happy about:

18-A, three letters, “2027 Super Bowl designation.” Kinda ridiculous, though it’s difficult to imagine a good alternative. “Roman blues route”?

34-D, three letters, “Detergent brand once ‘rhymed’ with ‘glad’ in commercials.” I found one of these commercials on YouTube — from 1971. I think the time for this clue has passed. How about “Harrison’s ‘When We Was       ’”? Or ”Ab follower”? No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

And one clue whose answer could, I think, be improved while keeping the puzzle Les Ruff: 22-A, six letters, “Sources of twangy sounds.”

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

Friday, January 14, 2022

Professor gone wild

“I’m a fucking tenured professor!” Inside Higher Ed reports on a seventy-four-year-old history professor’s first-week video for his students. The performance/protest about teaching in a pandemic is at YouTube.

If I were still teaching, I would share the guy’s exasperation. But I would never speak to my students as he does.

And speaking of exasperation: my former employer “encouraged” and “expected” students to test for COVID-19 when returning to campus this January. In contrast, the state’s R-1 school required a booster shot and on-campus test and is now distributing free N95 masks to students.


January 20: The professor, who was suspended, is threatening to sue his school if he’s not reinstated.

Another letter from an American

I read (I think) a fair amount of news and commentary. But the historian Heather Cox Richardson reads more (and knows more). Letters from an American, her daily report on the news, always catches something I’ve missed.

The latest installment references this opinion piece by Greg Sargent, which speculates about Kevin McCarthy’s January 6 conversation with the defeated former president. It’s worth not missing.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

A shopping tip

For anyone going to the grocery store: when you check out, keep your cart behind you at the start of the checkout lane and unload your groceries from the front of the cart. Your cart thus keeps the unmasked asshat behind you at a greater distance. As the cashier begins to scan your purchases, you can pull your cart forward, still keeping the hat at a greater distance.

The advantage of this tactic: no need for words. You’re just an oblivious shopper trying to get through the day.

A related post

“Grey sky and withered garlands”

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898).

The governess might be mad, but she can write well, though she sometimes shares James’s penchant for convoluted syntax. Not here though.

[It’s strange to read this narrative in light of a recent conspiracy theory about danger to children. And I think that’s all I’m going to say about that conspiracy theory.]

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ronnie Spector (1943–2022)

Singer, survivor. The New York Times has an obituary.

Here’s the song that made Brian Wilson pull his car over to the side of the road.

[“Be My Baby” (Jeff Barry–Ellie Greenwich–Phil Spector). The Ronettes: Estelle Bennett, Ronnie Bennett, and Nedra Talley. From The T.A.M.I. Show (1964).]

NPR interviews a former president

In case you missed it: on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, Steve Inskeep aired excerpts from an interview with a former president — a defeated former president. The defeated one just cannot update, as they say, his priors.

Spectacular Vernacular

“Linguist Nicole Holliday and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer discuss the ways language is changing, talk to scholars and writers, and set and solve word puzzles”: it’s Spectacular Vernacular, from Slate. It’s an excellent podcast.

Among the topics in recent episodes: words of the year, the pronunciation(s) of omicron, and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Brooklyn accent. Highly recommended.

[Dr. Fauci has an accent?]

Wordle clones

Last night, The Verge reported on Wordle clones in Apple’s App Store: The App Store clones are here to profit off Wordle’s success. An hour and a half later, the apps were gone.

Wordle is good fun, free, one play a day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

From The New Yorker

[From The New Yorker online.]

What are “we” supposed to make of it? I don’t feel the need to make anything of it.

This piece of Cultural Comment characterizes Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as “our two biggest tastemakers.” Again, with the first-person plurals. Your taste, not mine.

I asked someone who’s much closer to popular culture than I am about the phrase “our two biggest tastemakers.” She thought it must be a joke — until she read enough to realize it isn’t. This piece also calls Kardashian and West “one of the most iconic celebrity-mogul couples in the world.” Yep, in the world. At least the writer didn’t choose “on the planet.”

Our household began to wonder months ago about whether to renew our decades-long subscription to The New Yorker. Elaine has given up on the magazine without hesitation. I’ve wavered. This effort at humor put me off. Recent errors of fact about Ralph Ellison and Frank O’Hara, unacknowledged and uncorrected, also put me off. (Yes, I wrote to the magazine.) “Kim & Kanye & Pete & Julia” feels like a message of sorts: this is no longer for me, at least not on a subscription basis.

If this site for advertisers can be trusted, the average age of a New Yorker reader is fifty-four. As I wrote in a previous post, I think the magazine is pitching not to the readers they have but to the readers they hope to acquire, which is one way to lose readers they have, or once had.

The Left Banke’s final album

Omnivore Records is releasing for the first time on CD The Left Banke’s final album, Strangers on a Train, with additional later tracks. Here are the details.

(I’m a fan.)

Related reading
A handful of Left Banke posts

Monday, January 10, 2022

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with insurrection.

Being avant-garde

“The most avant-garde thing we can be is a human being”: William Parker, composer, bassist, bandleader, who turns seventy today. This observation appears in an e-mail from the record label AUM Fidelity marking the day.

Here’s a hefty sample of Parker at work with his group In Order to Survive.

Related posts
The William Parker Quartet : William Parker in The New York Times : Wood Flute Songs

Google, ugh

From The Washington Post: “Google is manipulating browser extensions to stifle competitors, DuckDuckGo CEO says.” Of course that can only happen if you’re using Chrome.

David Brooks’s books

[PBS NewsHour, January 8, 2022. Click for a larger view.]

I went back to Friday’s NewsHour for a screenshot, and I couldn’t resist choosing this one. “Look, Judy! Look, Jonathan! I am . . . a wild and crazy guy!”

I’ve never seen this Brooks background before — he’s usually at one end of a long living (?) room, with books at the other end. I was wondering if there might be a Garner’s Modern English Usage, third edition, among the blues. There isn’t.

But: can you spot the old Bartlett’s Quotations? The title isn’t readable, even with the larger view, but there’s definitely a Bartlett’s Quotations in there.

Related posts
A book on Judy Woodruff’s shelf : T.S. Eliot’s Complete Poems and Plays on Hardball

[“Wild and crazy”: because he has arranged books by color. I should have been explicit about that.]

How to improve sleeping

I was writing a review of a book of Vivian Maier’s photographs:

What these photographs have in common is — no, that’s no good.

These photographs share — that’s much better.

This post can’t count as a “How to improve writing” post, as those posts are about public prose, and this partial sentence is from the dream world. Yes, I was improving a sentence in a dream.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Close the door

There was a catastrophic fire in the Bronx today:

Commissioner [Daniel A.] Nigro said the door to the apartment where the fire started was left open, which helped fuel the fire and allowed the smoke to spread. “We’ve spread the word, ‘close the door, close the door,’” to keep a fire contained, he said.
“Close the door” is the theme of a famed PSA created by the sound recordist Tony Schwartz.

Everyone should hear this message. Please pass it on.

[I learned about this PSA in 2017, not long before another fire in the Bronx.]


[2192 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Snow was on the ground and a beer advertisement on the side of the building when the tax people took this photograph.

The full text:

Model Airplane Shop
And Other Hobbies
Gas Motors, Parts & Gas Kits
Boats, Accessories, Balsa Wood
And Supplies.
It looks to me as if “And Other Hobbies” and “And Supplies” were afterthoughts. Or they were forethoughts painted over, or sort of painted over. The words now compete with the watermark that runs across the photograph.

The date of the building’s construction, according to the Municipal Archives: 1931. A 1931 classified advertisement lists a cigar and stationery store for sale at this address. When this photograph was taken, Yow-Zah’s may have already been defunct (notice the disarray of the windows). By May 1941 the address housed the Paragon Chimney and Furnace Cleaning Company. By 1952, it was Harry’s Hand Laundry (“Shirts 18¢, Sheets 14¢, Pillow cases 6¢.”) Today the address is home to Kaché Restaurant and Lounge, serving Carribean-American cuisine.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang dates yowza! or yowzah! to 1933: “a general excl., either of approval or of vaguely non-committal agreement.” Yow-Zah’s Hobby Shop is listed in the Brooklyn Telephone Directory, Winter 1939–40: ESplanade 7–9003. And yes, it’s the only Yow-Zah’s in the book.

Thanks, Brian, for finding this photograph.


February 4: An eagle-eyed reader reports that the advertisement on the side of the building is for Stegmaier’s beer.

Related posts
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

[I searched for the 2192 address in the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Newstand, a great resource for time-traveling Brooklynites.]

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Prune latte

M’m! M’m! Good? Behold the prune latte.

Many years ago, Bob and Ray had a bit about Bob and Ray’s House of Toast. The Backstayges ran a House of Toast in Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, serving toast (buttered on the far side or the near side) and prune shakes.

And yes, there once were prune shakes.

Thank you, Elaine, for sending the recipe my way.

Related reading
All OCA Bob and Ray posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is about as difficult, I’d say, as last Saturday’s puzzle. Two thirteen-letter answers and two fourteen-letter answers were surprisingly easy to work out with just a few letters’ worth of crosses.

Clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

1-D, five letters, “Ill-fitting?” I was thinking about a word the other day and wondering, Wait — is that a word? It is. It is the answer to this clue.

10-A, four letters, “Drapery sample.” The clue improves an often-seen answer.

14-A, five letters, “Accordion cover material.” When was the last time you saw an accordion?

16-D, fourteen letters, “Uncouth, metaphorically.” A funny, dowdy expression. It make me think of what used to be called “bad table manners.”

21-A, five letters, “Well fixed.” Gentle misdirection.

27-A, thirteen letters, “Start taking things seriously.” Though I think of the answer in a different way.

46-D, six letters, “Tony Award, in part.” Clever.

56-A, nine letters, “One in a cast with a cause.” My first thought was of someone suing.

57-D, three letters, “Taking from a timetable.” Like 10-A, a familiar answer improved by its clue.

One complaint: 37-A, three letters, “Express.”Unless I’m missing something, this clue is just not 61-A, nine letters, “Convincing.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Sidney Poitier (1927–2022)

The New York Times has an obituary.

My checklist: No Way Out, Blackboard Jungle, Edge of the City, The Defiant Ones, Paris Blues, Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, To Sir, with Love, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.

Stop / Stop

The difference between the iOS Timer and Alarm screens bugs me.

Shouldn’t Stop appear in the same spot on both screens? Imagine:

Must get up . . . not be late again . . . reach for phone . . . aha, orange button . . . zzz.

It’s poor design, I think, to make Snooze the more visible option. (Perhaps a developer’s joke to give everyone an easy excuse for being late?) Snoozing can be disabled for an alarm, but that might also be a risky choice. So I tinkered with a screenshot to fix things:

[If only it were fixable on the phone.]

How did I finagle the system font (SF Pro) to make a replacement button? All SF fonts are available from Apple as free downloads.


As I just discovered, users have been noticing the Stop / Snooze inconsistency since 2017, at least.

[I found myself hitting Snooze not while sleeping but while cooking. I was knocked for a unexpected loop when my alarm sounded a second time.]

Thursday, January 6, 2022

On January 6

An idle question: do doctors and nurses still check on a patient’s mental state by asking who’s president? And if so, is more than one answer considered acceptable? And if more than one answer is considered acceptable, what does that say about where we are? In more than one country?

The crisis of American democracy is a crisis of fact.

On January 6

President Joe Biden, telling it like it is:

“My fellow Americans, in life there’s truth, and, tragically, there are lies, lies conceived and spread for profit and power. We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: a former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”
And: “He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president.”

You can see the full remarks from Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at C-SPAN.

[My transcription.]

On January 6

Here’s an opinion piece by Capitol police officers Harry Dunn and Aquilino Gonell: “The government we defended last Jan. 6 has a duty to hold all the perpetrators accountable” (The Washington Post ).

On Tuesday night the two men appeared on the The PBS NewsHour, interviewed by Lisa Desjardins. The interview begins at the 23:08 mark. Here’s an excerpt:

Desjardins: Officer Dunn, do you think this danger is still here? Where are we right now, in terms of the threat to democracy, from your view?

Dunn: You know, it’s scary to think about where we are. Sure, we succeeded as far as our mission that day. Democracy went on, late in the night, January 6th into January 7th. Democracy prevailed. But I think it’s very important for everybody now to realize how close and fragile democracy is, and that everybody, everybody, even anybody watching, anybody listening, has a job to do in protecting and defending democracy. That could be us police officers, we police; the legislators, the lawmakers, they need do their job and legislate; the judges judge; and the American people need to vote about who to put in those positions. We need accountability, and we need to make sure the right people are in office that want accountability also.
[My transcription.]

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Lighted squares

Stefan Zweig, Diaries (1931–1940). Trans. from the German by Ediciones 98 (Madrid: Ediciones 98, 2021).

A 1935 visit to New York lets us see Stefan Zweig as a spectator-tourist, visiting Radio City, the Savoy Ballroom, and “a self-service café” — no doubt the Automat. This passage’s description of “a geometric composition of lighted squares” made me think of the miniature cityscape in a 1947 film noir.

Elsewhere the diary entries veer from everyday details — letters, reviews, visits with friends and publishers — to an everpresent dread, as Zweig, the citizen of the world, watches the rise of totalitarianism: “I am sure there’s another coup brewing, and I think it will be successful.”

But I think of what our friend Eva Kor said: “Never give up.”

Related reading
All OCA Zweig posts (Pinboard)

[I’m glad that I got a copy of this book when I did: it has already disappeared from Amazon’s listings. Also available from Ediciones 98, in Spanish: Diarios (1931–1940) and Diarios (1912–1914).]


[“Move Over, Jack Nicholson.” Zippy, January 5, 2021. Click for a larger view.]

Today’s Zippy is all about Los Angeles.

The Golden Mermaid? It’s in Santa Monica. My greatest named-apartment-building thrill in Los Angeles: spotting the Alto Nido. We drove back around the block so I could get a picture. Joe Gillis was just leaving.

As for “Sepulveda,” here’s a recent article about Los Angeles pronunciation.

Related reading
All OCA Los Angeles posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 4, 2022


I recognize that bus, which I saw in the Berkshires some years ago. It was surrounded by hippie-esque types and their children. And I recognize this bus too, which I saw a couple of years ago, parked at an orchard in downstate Illinois.

The buses belonged or still belong to a group now in the news. Their website was online last night and gone this morning. But it’s at the Internet Archive. And you can still read a Wikipedia article about the group.

I learned only last night that someone from our small town went off thirty years ago to join this group.

[Their website is back.]


“Created by a software engineer in Brooklyn for his partner”: The New York Times has the story behind Wordle. And here’s the game. Fortunately, it’s only one play a day.

I wondered about the name: wasn’t there a website for creating a cloud of words, a “wordle,” from a chunk of text? Like this? Or this? Yes, but it’s gone.

Thanks, Ben.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Ten movies, two seasons

[One to four stars. Four sentences each. No spoilers. Sources: Criterion Channel, HBO Max, TCM, YouTube.]

Treasure of Monte Cristo (dir. William Berke, 1949). There’s a sailor, see, named, lol, Edmund Dantes (Glenn Langan). And a dame, Jean Turner (Adele Jergens). And the whole thing’s a set-up, I tell ya. And it’s filmed on location in San Francisco, which is probably its main redeeming feature. ★★ (YT)


Meet John Doe (dir. Frank Capra, 1941). When he answers what can only be called a casting call for a newspaper’s circulation stunt, Long John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), a jobless ex-baseball player, becomes John Doe, a desperate everyman who has vowed to commit suicide on Christmas Eve to protest the state of the world. As John Doe, Willoughby becomes a national hero, and then, when he defies his newspaper boss, a national disgrace, as Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck), whose column put this scheme into motion, watches from the sidelines, appalled at what she’s helped bring about. Here, as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Capra’s depiction of the power of journalists and politicians to manufacture reality is eerily prescient. Alas, the John Doe movement’s plain, corny, hopeful ethic — be a better neighbor, look out for the other guy — now seems unattainable in a country so bitterly divided. ★★★★ (TCM)


The French Connection (dir. William Friedkin, 1971). I think I had last seen this movie when it was released. Gene Hackman is Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, a brutal, reckless NYPD detective, hellbent on nabbing Alain Charmier (Fernando Rey), the suave Frenchman behind an enormous delivery of heroin to the city. Remarkable to see how the cops put together the pieces of the puzzle. Great action sequences, both automotive and pedestrian, as Doyle and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) track Charnier and his associates, foreign and domestic, on the streets of New York. The greatest sequence pits Doyle against a henchman (Marcel Bozzuffi), car versus elevated train, racing through Brooklyn, where, yes, there are candy stores. ★★★★ (CC)


Holiday Affair (dir. Don Hartman, 1949). Canon formation: does it really become a “holiday classic” because TCM shows it? Janet Leigh plays Connie Ennis, a war widow and comparison shopper. Her possibilities in life are subject to four male force fields: her dead husband, whose picture stares out from her nightstand; her young son Timmy (Gordon Gebert), whom she calls “Mr. Ennis”; her patient, lackluster suitor of two years, Carl (Wendell Corey); and a charismatic free spirit, Steve (Robert Mitchum). Try to guess who will win In the battle between ghost, boy, beta male, and alpha male. Weirdest moment: “Mr. Ennis” on top of his mom in bed. ★★ (TCM)


Take One False Step (dir. Chester Erskine, 1949). O contingency: an academic, Albert (William Powell), in Los Angeles to raise money for a new university, walks into a bar and discovers an old flame, Catherine (Shelley Winters, a young old flame). When Albert’s bloody scarf is found in Catherine’s apartment but she isn’t, Albert becomes the target of a police manhunt. And when he seeks treatment for rabies after being bitten by a dog, his situation becomes still more desperate. A Detour-like premise, but with odd touches of comedy, and one great, strange scene with Houseley Stevenson as a sloppy but surprisingly methodical doctor. ★★ (YT)


The Passionate Friends (dir. David Lean, 1949). Think of it as a variation on Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945): here too the story is one of desire and restraint. Mary (Ann Todd) loves Steven (Trevor Howard) but marries Howard (Claude Rains) for money, security, and a placid friendship, and Howard’s fine with that. But Steven appears and reappears in Mary’s life — brief encounters, plural, so what’s she to do? Three great performances, and the closing minutes are gripping and startling. ★★★★ (CC)


In the Good Old Summertime (dir. Robert Z. Leonard, 1949). It sits between The Shop Around the Corner and the second remake, You’ve Got Mail, and it’s the warmest of the three stories of love and hate and correspondence (and it was my mom’s choice on Christmas). Judy Garland and Van Johnson are wonderfully at odds as Veronica and Andrew, music-store employees; Spring Byington, Buster Keaton, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall add to the movie’s gentle humor; and Marcia Van Dyke gets to play a Strad. The revelation for me, but it may already be obvious to you: Judy Garland was a great comic actor. Follow her facial expressions in any of her conversations of Johnson and see for yourself. ★★★★ (TCM)


Breezy (dir. Clint Eastwood, 1973). Rhymes with queasy and uneasy. We watched because it stars William Holden. He’s a craggy, cranky, divorced real-estate man who finds a young woman with a guitar (Kay Lenz) at the foot of his driveway. She’s Breezy, a manic pixie et cetera, and the relationship that develops between the two had us making faces (eww) now and then — indeed, often — and yet we could not look away. ★★ (TCM

[Chosen by TCM guest Paul Thomas Anderson, who recycles some of the movie’s dialogue in Licorice Pizza. So the movie’s prime-time slot on TCM was just a matter of commercial interests at work.]


Curb Your Enthusiasm (created by Larry David, 2021). The eleventh season is, I’d say, pretty, pretty, pretty good — not great, and lacking the kind of strong, loony narrative arc (Larry’s “spite store” vs. Mocha Joe) that held season ten together. As Larry and Jeff (Jeff Garlin) begin work on a new series, complications arise about a pool fence, a city ordinance, a daughter who cannot act, restaurant etiquette, Mary Fergusons, favors for favors, and a surprising final-episode cameo. As councilwoman Irma Kostroski, Tracey Ullman is a great foil for Larry. As Leon Black, J.B. Smoove has become all too reminiscent of Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (but with language). ★★★ (HBO Max)


Hacks (created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, 2021). Jean Smart is great as Deborah Vance, a Las Vegas stand-up comedian and almost talk-show host whose jokes and merching strongly recall Joan Rivers. A much younger (self-proclaimed “Gen Z”), improbably canceled writer, Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder), is given the unwelcome assignment to leave Los Angeles and help revitalize Deborah’s material. So: mismatched partners, fighting and bonding and fighting and bonding, with a good measure of smart (no pun intended) comedy, and a predictable, cringe-worthy montage or two (or perhaps they’re spoofs of predictable, cringe-worthy montages). Some plot twists come out of nowhere (before disappearing), and many ends are left loose, especially with the show’s secondary characters, so I look forward to the second season. ★★★ (HBO Max)


If Winter Comes (dir. Victor Saville, 1947). On the rebound from a former love, a writer of textbooks and newspaper columns (Walter Pidgeon) marries a miserable woman (Angela Lansbury). When a much younger unmarried pregnant woman (Janet Leigh) turns to the writer for help, he becomes the stuff of scandal. And meanwhile his former love (Deborah Kerr) comes back into his life. Great work by Lansbury, Leigh, and Kerr, but Pidgeon is absolutely wooden. ★★★ (TCM)


Designing Woman (dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1957). Mike, sportswriter (Gregory Peck), and Marilla, clothing designer (Lauren Bacall), marry on impulse, and — surprise — they turn out to be an odd couple, with a poker game on one side of the house and theatricals on the another. Even if it’s 1957, the movie is painfully coy: a major issue in the marriage is whether Mike and his previous lady friend Lori (Dolores Gray) ever, well, you know. (Peck was almost forty; Bacall and Gray, in their early thirties). The saving graces here: Mickey Shaughnessy as Mike’s punchy bodyguard, sleeping with his eyes open, and Jack Cole as a choreographer whose performance in the movie’s final minutes is worth the long wait — promise. ★★★ (TCM)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)