Friday, September 30, 2022

Recently updated

Joe Bussard (1936–2022) The New York Times now has an obituary.

Sue Mingus (1930–2022)

A keeper of a flame. The New York Times has an obituary. Her memoir Tonight at Noon: A Love Story is good reading.

Here is a 1975 recording of the Charles Mingus composition “Sue’s Changes,” with Mingus, bass; Jack Walrath, trumpet; George Adams, tenor; Don Pullen, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums.

Related reading
All OCA Mingus posts (Pinboard)

Of mice and medicine men

[Billboard, November 6, 1948.]

Unretouched, and found while looking for something else. Did a layout person at Billboard have a sense of humor? Was this juxtaposition a matter of chance? Here, drink this tonic and it’ll help you find the answers to all your questions.

“One pair multiplies to about 20,000 in a year”: the stuff dreams are made on. I’m quoting Sam Spade.

Nick Cave on the point in life

Nick Cave answers a reader’s question: “What is the point in life?”

Thursday, September 29, 2022

“He could not help observing this”

Aleksey Alexandrovich Karnenin is consulting a lawyer. But there’s always time to notice stationery supplies:

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

The Garnett translation (1901) has cross for order. The revised translation explains order in a note: “decoration for service to the State.” Garnett has appurtenances for materials. So yes, stationery supplies, and not, say, the woods of which the tables are made.

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer” : Theory of dairy farming : Toothache : Anna meta : “Brainless beef!”

HCR’s latest

Heather Cox Richardson’s latest installment of Letters from an American pulls together many kinds of news: about Hurricane Ian, the role of the federal government in responding to disaster, income disparity, culture wars, authoritarianism, the Russian war against Ukraine, Roger Stone’s machinations, the defeated former president’s document cache, and food insecurity and hunger.

Reading HCR is so much better than watching television-news people standing in a hurricane or its aftermath.

[I counted three on NBC Nightly News last night: two reporters in the storm, Lester Holt in its aftermath.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Joe Bussard (1936–2022)

Record collector extraordinaire. Here, from Dust-to-Digital, is an appreciation.


September 30: The New York Times has an obituary.

A related post
Desperate Man Blues

Over and out

Managing things for my mom, I’ve gotten good at ending telephone calls. How I do it:

“You’ve been really helpful. Thank you. Bye.”
“I really appreciate your help. Thank you. Take care.”
And I’m out. Which eliminates something along these lines:
“Thanks for your help.”

“Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No, that’s everything.”

“Thank you for choosing _______, and have a good day.”

“You too. Thank you.”

“Goodbye now.”

Those seconds add up. Yes, they do. Goodbye now.

Masonic [need + past participle]

“His hair needed cut”: so says a witness in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Wrathful Wraith” (November 7, 1965).

[Need + past participle] is an Illinoism. The witness, Rosemary Welch, was played by Jeanne Bal, a Chicago native. Was [need + past participle] in the script? Did this verb form just slip out?

Paul, have one of your operatives out at the studios look into it.

Related reading
Other needs, other past participles

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Shame on you, Maggie Haberman

For the first time in a long time, I’m thinking about unsubscribing from the Times.

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Leave your guess in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one is needed.


That was fast. The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

Carrot and stick

I’ve been meaning to post something about this expression for weeks now. But Sunday’s installment of That’s What They Say (Michigan Radio) no longer makes that necessary: “Sometimes all it takes is a carrot, except when it also takes a stick.”

[Stefan, this post is for you.]

Monday, September 26, 2022

Mingus in Amsterdam

Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy Sextet, Complete Live in Amsterdam. 2 CDs. Jazz Collectors. 2022.

ATFW You (Jaki Byard) : Parkeriana : So Long Eric : Orange Was the Color Of Her Dress, Then Blue Silk : Sophisticated Lady (Duke Ellington) : Meditations on Integration : Fables of Faubus

Charles Mingus, bass; Johnny Coles, trumpet; Eric Dolphy, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone; Jaki Byard, piano; Dannie Richmond, drums. Recorded April 10, 1964, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland. Total time: 2:01:59.

All compositions by Charles Mingus except as noted.

I long had a standard choice for a musical time machine (with a train ticket): 1928 or so, so that I could hear Louis Armstrong in Chicago or Duke Ellington in New York. At some point I added 1964 (with plane fare), to hear the Charles Mingus Sextet somewhere in Europe.

This two-disc set holds the first recorded performance from the group’s ill-fated 1964 European tour.¹ And one point to get out of the way: this group was never known as the Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy Sextet. It was the Charles Mingus Sextet, as programs from the tour (April 10–28) attest. But Dolphy’s name sells records too.

This sextet is for many listeners the best group Mingus ever led, with Coles’s understated trumpet, Jordan’s tough tenor; Dolphy’s explosive work on three instruments; Byard’s chameleonic mastery of piano styles; and the always inspiring and challenging Mingus/Richmond partnership. These discs follow the order of the group’s performance in two hour-long sets. It seems that the idea was to establish a claim to musical tradition upfront — Byard’s Art Tatumisms and Fats Wallerisms, Mingus’s solo on an Ellington tune — before moving in new directions.

Three highlights:

“Parkeriana,” which borrows Dizzy Gillespie’s tune “Ow” (which itself borrows “I Got Rhythm” chord changes) as a foundation upon which to collage tunes by or associated with Charlie Parker. When Dolphy solos on “Rhythm” changes (sans piano, bass, and drums) as Coles and Jordan play “A Night in Tunisia,” I imagine what it might have been like to stand on 52nd Street as music poured from the doorways of different clubs.

“Meditations on Integration,” with Dolphy’s bass clarinet suggesting (to my ears, anyway) police dogs and sirens, Jordan’s tenor at the top of its register, and Byard and Mingus in an elegiac duet.

“Fables of Faubus,” with Coles’s strongest statement, sometimes against bass alone, sometimes against the full band; Byard interpolating “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; Jordan honking and wailing and trading fours with Richmond; Mingus playing “When Johnny Comes Home Again” and other bits of Americana; and Dolphy shifting to a minor mode.

The one weakness of this recording: the sound on the first disc. Coles’s solo on “So Long Eric” is barely audible over the other horns, and the contrapuntal lines of “Parkeriana” are sometimes lost. The microphones and levels must have been adjusted for the second set.

The CD has already disappeared from Amazon. (Supply-chain trouble? A licensing dispute?) The music on these discs also appears in Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964–65 (Mosaic, 2012), now out of print.

Related reading
All OCA Mingus posts (Pinboard)

¹ Why ill-fated? A week after this concert, Coles collapsed on stage, was treated for an ulcer, and left the tour. Dolphy, who stayed on in Europe, fell into a diabetic coma and died in Berlin on June 29, 1964. He was just thirty-six.

Tolstoy and Garfunkel

Art Garfunkel, as you may already know, is a prodigious reader. And he likes Tolstoy: “Tolstoy is the king of writing.”

Related reading
All OCA Tolstoy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, September 25, 2022

“Wilson, That’s All”

[1562 Broadway, New York, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I wanted to look around Times Square, so here we are on the east side of Broadway, just a short walk from the TKTS outpost and the annual ball drop. The 1562 address is next to the RKO Palace. I’m posting this photograph for just one reason: Wilson Blended Whiskey. I know that name from Gilbert Sorrentino’s novel Aberration of Starlight (1980):

He saw Gramp drinking whiskey right out of the bottle one day. Wilson’s “That’s All.”
That’s one of six references to Wilson’s in the novel (set in 1939). Gramp (John McGrath) buys two quarts of it a week. Reading the novel in the pre-Internet world, I assumed that Wilson’s was a genuine (bottom-shelf?) brand. Now I discover that the Wilson name was well known, even appearing on matchbooks and nifty little clocks for display in bars. And on the side of the Hunter-Wilson Distilling Co. of Bristol, Pennsylvania, founded by Robert Wilson, one of whose other brands has been resurrected in Kentucky as Highspire Whiskey. There was also a Hunter Blended Whiskey, not resurrected.

Pinocchio was released in February 1940; The Courageous Dr. Christian, in April 1940. Notice The Newsreel Theatre — the all-news station of its time — and the Bond mannequins. And the stack of beverages: whiskey, coffee (Martinson), and milk (Borden).

The big surprise at the bottom of this rabbit hole: “Wilson, That’s All” was the title of a 1912 campaign song for Woodrow Wilson. And the whiskey slogan was its inspiration.

In the pre-Internet world, I don’t know how I would ever have known any of this.

Related reading
More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

[Google Maps shows 1562 as an empty storefront in August 2021, surrounded by lots of construction.]

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Stella Zawistowski, is a doozy. I missed by two letters, so sure of 13-D, six letters, “Something stretched for workouts” that I flubbed the fairly obvious 32-A, six letters, “What M may stand for.” And also flubbed the more obscure 24-A, three letters, “Sponsor of Md.’s Cryptologic Museum.” But as Scarlett O’Hara said, next Saturday is another day.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-A, five letters, “Holes in your head.” A dud clue. The word as applied to human beings is marked obsolete in the OED (most recent citation: 1620). The word is now used (if it is ever used) with reference to hawks. Thus not holes in your head or mine.

[Later: The word does refer to human beings in medical contexts: for instance, “the anterior nares of humans” (2006, in the Corpus of Contemporary American English). But it’s a bit of a reach. Perhaps it’s really the word that’s a dud, not the clue.]

12-A, thirteen letters, “Dance without fancy costumes.” MORP? No, too short. Since I dance only in fancy costumes, I’m unfamiliar with the term.

14-A, fifteen letters, “One in hostile pursuit.” 14-D gave me this one, all of it.

14-D, five letters, “Last words of the Best Song Oscar winner for 1939.” Easy with a little thought.

17-A, four letters, “Sin that sounds like a shortened state.” Clever.

30-A, four letters, “Twister game name.” Yes, but which kind of twist?

35-D, five letters, “_____ pad.” Sounds almost quaint now.

36-D, six letters, “Word from Old English for ‘mission.’” There’s a rabbit hole to go down here, but not today.

37-D, seven letters, “Mag space measures.” That ridiculous word again, which SZ used in a Stumper just last month.

42-A, nine letters, “Competitor carrying a compass.” I was pleased with myself for somehow knowing this one.

45-D, six letters, “I as in ores.” The answer made me think that I must have had something else wrong.

52-A, four letters, “Census Bureau drink category.” Exactly why is the Census Bureau thinking about drink categories?

59-A, thirteen letters, “Throws out a window.” Weirdly timely, given all the Putin associates coming to improbably dead ends.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, September 23, 2022

How to have a root canal

1. Sit down. Lie back.

2. Wince slightly. Wince again. (Injections.) Await further developments.

3. Listen for recognizable sounds on satellite radio. “Smokestack Lightnin’”! (But not by Howlin’ Wolf.) “Ticket to Ride.”

4. Listen to the drill. Wince slightly and raise your left hand, as instructed, when the drilling becomes painful. It’s gonna have to be a root canal.

5. Enjoy anesthetic applied directly to tooth.

6. Listen to different drills, with different pitches.

7. Feel your mouth crowd with a clamp, a latex shield, a dental dam, and a bite block.

8. Listen to different drills, with different pitches.

9. Realize that the strange-sounding electronica is a mix of satellite radio and the cleaning or drilling one room over.

10. Feel your mouth crowd with X-ray film. Is the bite block also still in there? Who knows. (The dentist knows.) Hold tongs holding film when requested. Surrender tongs when requested.

11. Different drills, different pitches.

12. Wonder about the tiny objects that resemble festive toothpicks. (They’re made of paper, to absorb blood.)

13. Notice the tiny strands of glue headed for your mouth.

14. Continue to lie back.

15. Coronation. (Temporary.)

16. Thank the dentist and dental assistant for their work.

17. Chew on the other side for three weeks while awaiting permanent coronation.

[I was out in under an hour. As the dentist said, he’s been doing this for twenty-two years. And Elaine walked over to drive me home — what a partner.]

NPR pronunciation

It’s easy to tell when NPR has switched from the feed to the local affiliate. From Garner’s Modern English Usage :

In educated speech, the country’s name is pronounced either /i-rahn/ (preferred) or /i-ran/ (more anglicized). Avoid the xenophobic yokel’s pronunciation /I-ran/ or /I-ran/.
Not everyone who says /I-ran/ or /I-ran/ counts as a xenophobic yokel. But who wants to be mistaken for one?

[May the women of Iran succeed in their fight against the official order of things.]

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Roosevelt, Painter, Snyder

Three excerpts from “The Homeless, Tempest-Tossed,” the final episode of The U.S. and the Holocaust. From a 1946 speech by Eleanor Roosevelt:

I have the feeling that we let our consciences realize too late the need of standing up against something that we knew was wrong. We have therefore had to avenge it — but we did nothing to prevent it. I hope that in the future, we are going to remember that there can be no compromise at any point with the things that we know are wrong.
From the historian Nell Irvin Painter:
Americans are now coming to terms with our past. What we have over and over and over again in American history is, on the one hand, this stream of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. It’s a big stream, and it’s always there. And sometimes it bubbles up, and it shocks us, and it gets slapped down. But the stream is always there, and we should not be shocked. We should not think, “This is not America.” It is.
From the historian Timothy Snyder:
This thing that people call white supremacy, that's not some marginal thing. You have to look back and say “How can we change, so that we really can be a republic, or really can be a democracy?” If we're going to be a country in the future, then we have to have a view of our own history which allows us to see what we were. Then we can become something different. And then we have to become something different, if we’re going to make it.

Eva and Miriam

[Click for a larger view.]

It came as a jolt, even if it shouldn’t have, to see our friend Eva Mozes Kor for a split-second in the final episode of Ken Burns’s The U.S. and the Holocaust. Eva and her sister Miriam appear in this footage shot after the liberation of Auschwitz. In the screenshot above, from the brief excerpt that appears in the Burns documentary, Eva and Miriam Mozes (later Miriam Mozes Zeiger) are at the far left, with Eva to the right of her sister. The two survived because they were twins.

Related posts
Eva Kor (1934–2019) : Found in an old pocket notebook

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

PBS, wut?

Tonight’s PBS NewsHour is a repeat, at least at our PBS station, and it began with QEII’s funeral procession. No Biden at the United Nations, no Letitia James at the microphone. Anglophilia gone bonkers?

No, a problem at master control, so they’re airing last week’s programming.


From The New York Times : “Trump Sued for Fraud by New York Attorney General.” Go Letitia James! An excerpt:

Donald J. Trump, his family business and three of his adult children lied to lenders and insurers for more than a decade, fraudulently overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars in a sprawling scheme, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, who is seeking to bar the Trumps from ever running a business in the state again.

Ms. James concluded that Mr. Trump and his family business violated several state criminal laws and “plausibly” broke federal criminal laws as well. Her office, which in this case lacks authority to file criminal charges, referred the findings to federal prosecutors in Manhattan; it was not immediately clear whether the U.S. attorney would investigate.

The 220-page lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, lays out in new and startling detail how, according to Ms. James, Mr. Trump’s annual financial statements were a compendium of lies. The statements, yearly records that include the company’s estimated value of his holdings and debts, wildly inflated the worth of nearly every one of his marquee properties — from Mar-a-Lago in Florida to Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, according to the lawsuit.
Remember this exchange? (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Cohen, 2019).

“Brainless beef!”

Count Aleksey Kirillovich Vronsky is entertaining “a foreign prince.” The count is not having a good time of it.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer” : Theory of dairy farming : Toothache : Anna meta

[I’m happy reading Garnett–Kent–Berberova, but this passage illustrates what I find an occasional problem in the translation: ambiguous pronoun reference. A character’s name would sometimes make the meaning immediately clear.]

In the great green room

In The New York Times, Elisabeth Egan pays tribute to Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon.

One of the great moments of grandparenthood (so far): reading Goodnight Moon to a granddaughter who pulled it from the shelf at bedtime and said she didn’t understand it. (Kinda like Elisabeth Egan at first!) Elaine and I did an explication de texte, noticing all the details and small changes in the great green room. We felt so honored to be entrusted with the hermeneutics of it all.

A related post
Goodnight commas

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

A letter to “my” representative

[Click for a much larger view.]

I don’t expect an answer. But I take pleasure in writing to “my” representative. She won’t read it, but someone in her office might. And might then have something to think about.

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)


Up late, boosted and vaxxed and achy, watching the beginning of A Face in the Crowd (dir. Elia Kazan, 1957), it hit me: the music that runs behind the opening credits (credited to Tom Glazer) is more or less a version of the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting on Top of the World.” An apt choice for the story the movie tells. Here’s the original 1930 recording, with Walter Vinson (guitar, vocal) and Lonnie Chatmon (violin). From the liner notes for the CD Stop and Listen (Yazoo, 1992):

When the Sheiks’ Walter Vinson unveiled the melody for his partner, Lonnie Chatmon, the latter’s first reaction was to ask, "What kind of song is that?“
Answer: a hit song, recorded by many. It owes something to Tampa Red (Yazoo doesn’t say what, and I don’t know offhand). And it’s the source for Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” It’s a formative song, and I’m glad I was up late, boosted, vaxxed, and achy, to notice its presence in the movie.

[Tampa Red’s “It Hurts Me Too” is a dead ringer for “Sitting on Top of the World,” but it’s a later recording.]

Advice from one who’s been

You do not want to get the bivalent COVID booster and this year’s flu vaccine at the same time. You just don’t. That’s advice from one who’s been.

Recently updated

Jack Delaney’s Now with a 1960 advertisement and a Tack Room.

Monday, September 19, 2022


Infuriating to find PBS bumping the second episode of The U.S. and the Holocaust for a ninety-minute recap of QEII’s funeral service.

And at 8:30, instead of showing tonight’s (second) episode of The U.S. and the Holocaust, PBS is showing last night’s episode again. No explanation needed, apparently.

All three episodes are streaming, so we’re watching the second episode via the link above.

Recently updated

Jack Delaney’s Now with a menu.

Anna meta

Princess Betsy Tverskaya recounts what Liza Merkalova said:

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer” : Theory of dairy farming : Toothache

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The U.S. and the Holocaust

I’m not a Ken Burns fan, but I recommend watching The U.S. and the Holocaust. The first episode aired tonight; the second and third air tomorrow and Tuesday. All three are streaming at PBS.

I wonder if anyone ever imagined that this documentary series would begin airing four days after a governor lured refugees onto buses with promises of employment and housing, and one day after a crowd raised their right arms to the defeated former president in an index-finger salute. We dismiss such cruelty and madness at our peril.

Recently updated

MSNBC royal hierarchy Guess who’s in London?

Jack Delaney’s

[Jack Delaney’s Restaurant, 72 Grove Street, New York, New York, c. 1939–1941. Telephone: WAtkins 9-9215. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

According to this 1942 review of Jack Delaney’s Restaurant (now online with three picture-postcards), “the chief picture you’ll take away is one of horses, horses, everywhere horses.” Jack Delaney (d. 1966) was a horse breeder who opened his restaurant in 1927. Jack Teitelbaum, or “Jack Lane,” mentioned in the 1942 review, was the house pianist for thirty years, still the house pianist at the time of his death in 1964. One more Jack: in 1939, Jack Kerouac and his father celebrated a Horace Mann football win at Jack Delaney’s.

In 2008, The New York Times printed an excerpt from a novel that mentions Jack Delaney’s. The copyright restriction accompanying the excerpt is pretty scary, so I will paraphrase salient bits: Jack Delaney’s began as a speakeasy. A sulky cart hung from the ceiling. I can’t agree with the novel’s narrator that the cart was the oddest thing about this establishment: for me, the rooftop wins out. And yet another Jack: the actor Jack Warden once lived above the restaurant. But not when this photograph was taken: he would have been in the Navy or the Merchant Marine then.

This Grove Street address is now a Starbucks. The bank next door is now a Chase Bank. Here’s much, much more about 72 Grove Street, with cameo appearances by Kerouac, Edwin Denby, and Frank O’Hara.


September 19: A reader shared a 1940s menu from Jack Delaney’s. Among the offerings: “Imported Large Sardine Sandwich.”

September 20: A reader shared this ad:

[The Villager (November 10, 1960). Click for a much larger view.]

Tack : “stable gear,” “especially articles of harness (such as saddle and bridle) for use on a saddle horse.” The description of the Tack Room, as best as I can make out:

Settle down and relax before our log burning firestone. Watch the glowing embers dance before you, the sounds of crackling pine logs. Amble over to our open hearth and watch the steaks sizzle before your eyes. Listen to show tunes played for you nightly by your Host and Hostess Lee(?) and(?) Ben Rozet at the piano.

It’s new, it’s different.
It’s tops in leisure dining.
The advertisement may be found at NYS Historic Newspapers, a great free resource. A 1961 squib in Down Beat let me figure out at least one of the names:
Ben Rozet, pianist with Artie Shaw’s band in the 1930s, is featured at the piano bar in the Tack room upstairs at Jack Delaney’s in Greenwich Village.
Thanks, Brian.

Related reading
More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

[For completists only: you can see the cart hanging from the ceiling in the third picture-postcard: “Where to Put On the Feed Bag.”]

“Hyphen killer”

“As a legacy, ‘hyphen killer’ is not bad,” said Henry Furhmann (1957–2022), a Los Angeles Times editor who pushed to end -American constructions.

Here is an obituary from the Times. And here is the essay that persuaded the editors of the AP Stylebook to drop the hyphen in 2019: “Drop the Hyphen in Asian American.” An excerpt:

To many of us in the trade and, more to the point, many of the people we write about, those hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect. Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American: part American, sure, but also something not American.
A related post
Hyphens in the news

Saturday, September 17, 2022

“Reverse Freedom Rides”

Did you know about this? “Sixty years before migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, there were the ‘Reverse Freedom Rides’” (NPR).

[Ron DeSantis is engaged in human trafficking, isn’t he?]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Steve Mossberg, whose Stumpers have sometimes given me fits. Today’s puzzle felt difficult, particularly in the southwest. But I did it.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, ten letters, “Film with the most AFI top 100 quotes (6).” I’d call it a gimme, for me maybe the only gimme in the puzzle. It didn’t hurt to have listened to a podcast episode about this film yesterday.

1-D, four letters, “Brown Derby owner who gave his name to a green course.” Are we golfing? A nice bit of dowdy trivia.

11-D, eleven letters, “Emeril makes them with yogurt and coconut.” No thanks.

12-D, ten letters, “Taste of philosophy.” A bit forced.

15-A, ten letters, “Set aside.” I’m surprised to see that that is what the word can mean.

19-A, three letters, “Frost line.” Hah.

20-A, five letters, “Frost lines.” Hah.

22-D, eleven letters, “One concerned with approach, take-off and landing.” Get the first and third letters and you’ll struggle to see the rest.

27-D, ten letters, “Brown sugar.” Tricky, but not tricky enough!

32-D, four letters, “Off-the-wall call.” A nice way to clue a familiar word.

34-A, five letters, “Pumps (up).” At least three plausible answers, all of which begin with the same letter. So sussing out 25-D, four letters, “Lift to greet” helped not a bit.

38-A, ten letters, “Words that add depth to a video game character.” Certainly a gimme for some. New to me. My video-game play has been limited to three arcade games — Cruis’n World, Ms. Pac-Man, Night Driver — and one computer game, Mario Kart. Do the words “I’m-a Luigi, number one” add depth?

55-A, ten letters, “Big Apple’s Pastrami Queen, e.g.” Also new to me. And speaking of “new,” can’t we just write “NYC’s”? I remember advising a great student who told me that she was moving to “the Big Apple”: “Never call it ‘the Big Apple.’ It’ll mark you as an outsider.” Good advice, no?

My favorite clue in this puzzle: 45-A, seven letters, “Case workers.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Coffey, comma, ay caramba

Who gives a darn about an Oxford comma, as The New York Times might ask? That would be Thérèse Coffey — Liz Truss ally, head of the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care, and punctuation peever. Coffey hates the Oxford comma, is unashamed to say so, and wants it removed from her department’s written communications.

I of course stand by the Oxford comma. I’ll quote myself:

Items in a series should be separated with commas. What do I mean by “items in a series”? Wine, women, and song. Life, love, and laughter. John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

There’s no consensus about using a comma before that final item — the so-called “Oxford comma” or “serial comma.” Keeping that comma seems to me the better choice, simplifying, in one small way, the problems of punctuation. If you always put the comma in, you avoid problems with ambiguous or tricky sentences in which the comma’s absence might blur the meaning of your words.
The real question, as asked by Vampire Weekend: “Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?” It made for a hilarious moment (with bleeps) on The Colbert Report in 2010. Great for classroom use, at least for my classroom.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Threatening the dictionary Now with a guilty plea.


I had a pleasantly disorienting moment while doing yesterday’s Newsday crossword. The puzzle was by Stan Newman; the theme, “Famous Last Words.” 28-A, nine letters, “Last word (1920s).” The answer: ABYSSINIA.

Green’s Dictionary of Slang cites a 1934 dictionary of slang: “[College slang] Abyssinia, I’ll be seeing you.” The Oxford English Dictionary has a 1932 citation from the Chicago Tribune: “ [High school and college slang] Abyssinia, I'll be seeing you.” Maybe the class of ’32 took the expression with them to college. Both sources cite Jessica Mitford (1960): “You’ll find people generally say, ‘I’ll be seeing you’ instead of ‘goodbye’ . . . You may be able to raise a laugh by saying, ‘Abyssinia.’”

Uh, probably not. The only place names I can think of that now lend themselves to puns: Alaska, Delaware, Europe. The Boy Scouts have many more.

[Wikipedia: “Afroasiatic-speaking communities make up the majority of the population. Among these, Semitic speakers often collectively refer to themselves as the Habesha people. The Arabic form of this term (al-Ḥabasha) is the etymological basis of ‘Abyssinia,’ the former name of Ethiopia in English and other European languages.”]

Turning what into what

A mathematician is a machine for turning what into what? A series of cartoons (Math with Bad Drawings).

Thanks, Murray.

A related post
Cows : food : milk :: mathematicians : coffee : theorems

[I wanted to wait until I had a least a slight understanding of the Taylor series before posting the link, but that might take forever.]

Dave Mustaine, stickler

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, in an interview:

“The songs really never are done until they’re done. The lyric is a whole different subject because I am a stickler for grammar. And a lot of times I’ll go back and look at my lyrics and think, ’God, what are you? A fourth grader?’ Because some of the grammar and the punctuation and stuff will be off.”
Teachers, share with your students.

Related reading
All OCA grammar posts (Pinboard)

[I don’t have any previous Megadeth posts.]

Cursive at Harvard

In The Atlantic, Drew Gilpin Faust says that her students can’t read or write cursive writing:

It was a good book, the student told the 14 others in the undergraduate seminar I was teaching, and it included a number of excellent illustrations, such as photographs of relevant Civil War manuscripts. But, he continued, those weren’t very helpful to him, because of course he couldn’t read cursive.

Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more.
If the name rings a bell, Faust was the president of Harvard. The scene of instruction in these paragraphs: a Harvard classroom.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Emporia, firing

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Emporia State University got permission on Wednesday to fire employees, including tenured professors, for any of a host of reasons, including “current or future market considerations.” Many faculty members there object that the plan essentially suspends tenure. The cuts have already begun.

The move was made possible by the Kansas Board of Regents. In January of last year, regents approved a policy that allowed the six state universities to suspend or terminate employees, including tenured professors, even if the institution had not declared financial exigency or initiated that process. The board wanted to give its institutions the flexibility they needed to deal with financial strain brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, regents said at the time.
The school’s student newspaper, The Bulletin, counts twenty firings thus far, including five in English, Modern Languages, and Journalism, and another five in Social Sciences, Sociology, and Criminology.

It’s true that other forms of work don’t offer tenure. But something people outside academia often don’t understand: a professor who loses a tenured position will find it exceedingly difficult to find another such position. There’s very little chance of lateral movement. As William Pannapacker explains in a recent Chronicle piece,
When you leave a tenured position in the humanities, the chance of finding another one — unless you are a freshly minted Ph.D. or a star in a hot field — is close to zero. You must rebrand yourself for a new career path in ways that will cut your identity to the core.
Emporia's marketing mantra, “Changing lives since 1863,” is taking on new meaning.


2:30 p.m.: Now it’s twenty-five firings.


10:50 p.m.: Now it’s thirty-three.

[Looking at Emporia’s English, Modern Languages, and Journalism webpage, I count seven professors, four associate professors, six instructors, three lecturers, four graduate assistants, one assistant online coordinator, and one administrative specialist.]


July 15, 2023: Some former faculty members have filed a lawsuit. From Kansas Reflector:
Eleven former Emporia State University professors in federal court documents accuse school administrators, Kansas Board of Regents members and unknown other individuals of conspiring to fire tenured and “problematic” professors.

The federal lawsuit is a response to the university’s decision last year to fire 30 tenured or tenure-track professors as part of a KBOR-approved “framework” to stabilize finances and restructure the university. The lawsuit argues that defendants willfully violated constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, liberty, property and free speech.

The 11 former professors were targeted, the lawsuit alleges, because they were tenured, not Republicans, involved in efforts to form a union or outspoken critics of ESU president Ken Hush. The university relied on KBOR’s pandemic-era Workforce Management Policy, which stripped professors of the right to determine why they were fired, or examine reports or other evidence that was used to determine who would be fired.

September 28, 2023: OCA reader Kirsten sends news that while overall enrollment in public higher education in Kansas has risen by 2% this fall, Emporia State has seen a steep decline in enrollment. From Little Apple Post:
The only institution in Kansas’ public higher education system with a double-digit enrollment decline this fall semester was ESU, a campus that has endured a 19.6% reduction in enrollment over the past five years. Meanwhile, the University of Kansas welcomed the largest freshman class in the school’s history and Kansas State University reported its first enrollment increase in nine years.
Emporia’s president, though, is unfazed, observing that “‘Enrollment, while important, is just part of the story.’” And he further baffles:
“The rest of the story is what it costs to operate the university. Enrollment numbers hold little significance unless they are compared to expenses. This means enrollment isn’t necessarily equal to success.”
“Enrollment isn’t necessarily equal to success”: that sounds like something a hapless George Costanza might tell the vice president for enrollment management. “But George,” the vice president might ask, “wouldn’t more students mean more money to cover expenses?” And George would have to get back to them on that.

The sad part is what’s obvious: that prospective students and their families know a failing school when they see one. Going to a school where your field of study might be cut at any time is a risky venture, and it appears that Kansans are not eager to take the risk.

Dickinson State and West Virginia University, take note.

Thanks, Kirsten.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

MSNBC royal hierarchy

Katy Tur was over in London last week. Chris Jansing is there now. I’d be willing to bet a nickel — no, make that a whole quarter — that it’ll be Andrea Mitchell who’s there for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth.


September 18: Guess who’s in London? Andrea Mitchell.


Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

Yes, but it still hurts. As anyone who has had a tooth extracted knows.

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer” : Theory of dairy farming

Rep removal

I did a change of address for my mom’s healthcare and discovered that my dad is still listed as someone who could speak for her, a so-called policyholder representative. But he died in 2015, I told the rep, a point verifiable from the company’s records. It would be nice if you could speak to my dad, I said, though it may be tough to reach him.

But guess what: a policyholder representative cannot be removed merely because they are dead. It’s necessary to fax a letter to the company asking that the rep be removed. I’m on it.

[No, that last sentence is nor sarcastic. I’m on it. And this was not a dream.]

Wednesday, September 14, 2022


[The Washington Post, September 14, 2022.]

A genuine headline, at least in mobile view. “A familiar end”? Maybe an expected end? A predicted end? That comes as a blow? I can figure out what the writer meant to say: the primaries (New Hampshire, Republican) ended with yet another blow to Kevin McCarthy’s hopes and dreams. But that’s not what the writer said.


Night. We were watching TV downstairs. All the lights were off upstairs. 11:30: the doorbell rang. What? We walked upstairs together, turned on the porch light, and opened the inside door. A boy stood on the other side of the storm door, three feet tall, roundish, wearing a mask. Elaine said that his parents had locked him out of the house because he hadn’t done his math homework. “Do you want us to call the police for you?” I asked. “No,” he said. “Okay,” I said, and we closed the door.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Likely sources: While on a walk last week, we found a boy, maybe two years old, alone in a driveway, wearing only a diaper, standing next to a pickup truck. His hands were filthy from the tires. We rang the bell and the boy’s mother came to the door: “His dad was in the truck.” Also: watching Dead of Night (1945), in which the arrival of an unexpected guest is a plot element. This dream doesn’t show me in a kindly light. In waking life I would open the door.]

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Theory of dairy farming

Darya Aleksandrov Oblonsky and Konstantin Dimitrievich Levin are talking about cows. Levin would like the keep the conversation from straying to the subject of Darya’s sister Katerina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

Casual speculation: I wonder if this passage is the inspiration for the famous quip “A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems,” often attributed to Paul Erdős. Erdős, however, credited Alfred Rényi.

Also from this novel
“The turning point of summer”

Positive anymore at the pump

I heard someone on the other side of the gas pump:

“Lot of rigmarole just to get fuel anymore.”
I don’t know if he was complaining (about the ATM-like keypad) to himself or to someone on a phone. What I do know is that I was hearing an instance of positive anymore.

[I was slightly surprised to hear the standard form rigmarole and not rigamarole, which is the way I’ve known the word since childhood.]

Monday, September 12, 2022

A Ted Berrigan event

A Ted Berrigan Celebration: a Zoom event, September 15, 7:00 p.m. Central, at Magic City Books, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here’s one of Ted’s sons, Edmund Berrigan, also a poet, talking about his father with KTUL.

The occasion for this event: the publication of Get the Money!: Collected Prose (1961-1983) (City Lights Books).

Related reading
All OCA Ted Berrigan posts (Pinboard)

Defeated former president in D.C.

The defeated former president flew into Washington, D.C., wearing a brown jacket, white polo shirt, and what appear to be golf shoes. Oh — and pants. This news was all over Twitter last night, but it’s still largely unreported by the press. What’s it mean? A medical emergency? An impending indictment?


The dfp says on his faux-Twitter that he is “working" at his D.C. golf club.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Urban density

[C. 58 East 14th Street, New York, New York, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I went browsing in the Village and found this lovely moment of urban density. I tried counting the words: close to ninety, I think. This stretch of East 14th Street is now — what else? — a Duane Reade. Three words. Duane. Reade. Pharmacy.

Related reading
More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives


Twenty-one years after the fact, and I can’t see a cloudless sky without thinking of September 11, 2001. I remember that day and those that followed as having intensely blue and cloudless skies.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Marsha Hunt (1917–2022)

She had a fine comic turn as Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (1940). But our household knows her better as a familiar face in film noir. The New York Times has an obituary.

The documentary Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity (dir. Roger C. Memos, 2015) is worth seeking out. I suspect TCM will air it again soon.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Matthew Sewell. I’d say it’s half as tough as his last Stumper — for me, that meant fifteen minutes instead of thirty.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, six letters, “One making service calls.” I thought of plumbers and tennis umpires.

1-D, four letters, “Key missing ON & O.” Kinda obvious, but deeply defamiliarizing, at least for me. When I see key, my first thought is music.

26-D, ten letters, “Alchemist’s ‘little person’ statue.” I can’t recall when I last saw this answer. Long, long ago.

36-D, nine letters, “Highly hoppy refreshment.” I have enjoyed hoppy refreshment, but I had no idea there is such a thing. It seems to me to be a marketing gimmick.

40-A, eight letters, “Ultra-extreme.” Nicely colloquial, though it makes me think of political nutjobs.

41-A, six letters, “What you must provide for a kid’s cable car kit.” I got the answer and thought What?  It turns out that you can make a cable car from a kit. But I think you’d be providing something else, even if 41-A is in the name of said kit.

52-D, “Body language?” A bit of a stretch. More than a bit. A great big stretch in the interest of Stumpery.

58-D, three letters, “Audible crack.” Ha.

My favorite clues in this puzzle, both exceptionally clever:

12-D, ten letters, “One in a recital trio.”

28-A, four letters, “What may precede a Q & A.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Food for thought


“Old friends send them for funerals. Politicians deliver them to constituents. And businesses use them to commemorate the retirement of valued employees”: telegrams in Japan (The New York Times).

Other telegram posts

[日本の電報: Nihon no denpō, Japanese telegrams, or telegrams in Japan. Via Google Translate, but it appears to be correct.]

In search of Anna K.

I wrote this morning that I would someday write a post about the difficulty of searching Amazon for the Modern Library paperback edition of Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova, or for any particular legitmate edition of a work in the public domain. Today is the day. And these results, which may change at any time, are as of today:

Search in the Books category for anna karenina modern library and the first result is the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, from Penguin. That’s followed by a used copy of the Modern Library unrevised Garnett translation, a used copy of the Kent–Berberova revision (listed as being from 1950, fifteen years before their revised translation was published, a Kindle version of the Garnett translation (“the international bestseller”) selling for 19¢, the Rosemary Edmonds translation, another used copy of Garnett, Harold Bloom’s The Bright Book of Life, the Joel Carmichael translation, and so on. If you change your mind about what to read, there’s also a listing for War and Peace, translated by Louise Maude.

If you search for anna karenina kent berberova, in a sly attempt to exclude the unrevised Garnett translation, you get a used Modern Library hardcover of the Kent–Berberova revision (no price), followed by Pevear and Volokhonsky, Carmichael, a used copy of the Kent–Berberova revision (“1950”), the 19¢ special, and a series of eight CDs, $19 each, translator and reader unidentified.

Try anna karenina kent berberova modern library or anna karenina garnett kent berberova modern library, and the results are much the same.

I began to wonder this morning: how did I ever find the book at Amazon? Via ISBN? No — that number returns, weirdly enough, Pevear and Volokhonsky, the 19¢ special, and so on. Could it be that searches for one edition of Anna Karenina are redirecting me to what Amazon would like me to buy instead? I think it could.

The way I found what I wanted today: anna karenina modern library paperback, and there it was, at the top of the list. So it appears that, at least with this search, paperback is the key word. Though searching for anna karenina modern library paperback also returned listings for Fahrenheit 451 and a Kingsley Amis murder mystery.

Searching Amazon for a work in the public domain is a tricky proposition. It’s much safer searching at a bookstore, though I’m not sure where I’d find a bookstore with two copies of anna karenina garnett kent berberova modern library on hand.

“The turning point of summer”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, translated by Constance Garnett, revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova (New York: Modern Library, 2000).

The Four Seasons Reading Club (Elaine, me) is taking on another long book.

[Someday I will have to write a post about the difficulty of searching Amazon for this edition, or for any particular legitmate edition of a work in the public domain.]

Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Queen’s Suite

Duke Ellington, in Music Is My Mistress (1973):

In 1958, I was invited to perform at the first festival of the arts in Leeds, England, where I had the great honor of being presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Representatives of all the arts were drawn from all over the world, and at the festival’s conclusion a magnificent banquet was preceded by a red-carpet reception. Her Majesty asked me when I first visited England. “Nineteen thirty-three, Your Majesty, years before you were born.”

Inspired by this meeting, I composed and recorded The Queen’s Suite.
Ellington and Billy Strayhorn set to work on the suite shortly after this meeting. The story goes that one copy of the 1959 recording was pressed and sent to Her Majesty. We now know that other copies circulated among select listeners. The common listener was finally able to hear the suite on the Pablo LP The Ellington Suites (1976).

The Queen’s Suite is in six parts, four of them by Ellington and Strayhorn. The second and fourth parts are by Strayhorn alone:

Sunset and the Mocking Bird : Lightning Bugs and Frogs : Le Sucrier Velours : Northern Lights : The Single Petal of a Rose : Apes and Peacocks

The musicians: Duke Ellington, piano; Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Hodges, Russell Procope, reeds; Cat Anderson, Harold “Shorty” Baker, Ray Nance, Clark Terry, trumpets; Quentin Jackson, John Sanders, Britt Woodman, trombones; Jimmy Woode, bass; Jimmy Johnson, drums.

The Queen’s Suite is Ellington–Strayhorn music of an especially high order. If you’ve never heard it, give it a try.

[Queen Elizabeth apparently had some feeling for jazz.]

Reality-distortion fields

I like this sentence so much that I’m borrowing it from this movie-compilation post to highlight here:

The difference between Steve Jobs’s reality-distortion field and Elizabeth Holmes’s: Jobs made people believe they could do hard things; Holmes made people believe she was doing hard things.
Every good teacher has, I believe, a working reality-distortion field — of the Jobs variety. In other words: you, student, may think you “can’t write.” But guess what: you can get better.

A related post
Reality-distortion fields

[Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos) is awaiting sentencing for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. And guess what: she just asked for a new trial.]

At the Eagle Cafe

Lane Bellamy is about to draw her last cup of coffee at the Eagle Cafe. She doesn’t know it yet, but someone in town has it in for her. The steam and gleams and shadows make for a few beautiful seconds in the kitchen.

[Joan Crawford as Lane Bellamy. From Flamingo Road (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1949). Cinematography by Ted McCord. Click any image for a larger view.]

Eleven movies, one season

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

A Place in the Sun (dir. George Stevens, 1951). From Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. With different leads, the story might be insufferable, but Montgomery Clift’s shiftiness, Elizabeth Taylor’s breathiness, and Shelley Winters’s neediness make for compelling drama — or, well, melodrama. Charlie Chaplin called it “the greatest movie ever made about America,” and by America, I think he meant class. Would pair well with Room at the Top or Strangers on a Train. ★★★★ (TCM)


Crime against Joe (dir. Lee Sholem, 1956). It feels like dollar-store Hitchcock: a wrong man scenario, in which Joe Manning (John Bromfield), Korean War vet, frequent drunk, painter manqué, is suspected of killing a barroom singer. Julie London is “Slacks” Bennett, a carhop and “nice girl” who’s helping Joe find the real killer. (Joe’s mother has encouraged him to find “a nice girl.”) A class pin is the only thing that can establish Joe’s innocence — but where is it? ★★★ (YT)


Three Bad Sisters (dir. Gilbert Kay, 1956). One bad movie, from Bel-Air Productions, who gave us Crime Against Joe. Here John Bromfield plays Jim Norton, a pilot caught in the schemes of three sisters whose millionaire father died in a plane piloted by Norton himself. Two sisters are bad — murderous Valerie (Kathleen Hughes) and man-eating Vicki (Marla English), who says she graduated “magna cum laude from Embraceable U.” Good sister Lorna (Sara Shane) is merely desparate, as is the movie itself. ★★ (YT)


Flamingo Road (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1949). Joan Crawford is Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer who ends up stranded in a southern town. Three men take an interest in her presence: an evil sheriff (Sydney Greenstreet, sweating, guzzling milk, dressed all in white), a badgered deputy sheriff (Zachary Scott), and a rich businessman (David Brian). I think of this movie as a variation on Nightmare Alley, with a carny rising in the world, only to — I’ll stop there. Great atmospherics (Ted McCord’s cinematography is a wow), but the story slides into mediocre melodrama. ★★★ (TCM)


From the Criterion Channel’s Myrna Loy feature

Whipsaw (dir. Sam Wood, 1935). Myrna Loy is Vivian Palmer, a jewel thief, one among many (it’s complicated). Spencer Tracy (in a role marked for William Powell) is Ross McBride, an undercover lawman who hopes that Vivian will lead him to the other thieves. The best part of this movie: a Hitchcockian interlude with Vivian and Ross posing as a married couple seeking shelter from a storm at a farmhouse, where John Qualen is a nervous father-to-be and Vivian is pressed into service as a doctor’s assistant. The banter is the closing scene is a delight, moreso because there’s no Thin Man baggage to clutter the stage. ★★★★


The Dropout (created by Elizabeth Meriwether, 2022). Except for William H. Macy’s fake forehead, everything about this mini-series is brilliant. As Elizabeth Holmes and Sunny Balwani, Amdanda Seyfried are a toxic power-couple, running a company built on lies, and then more lies to cover earlier lies. The human cost is staggering. The difference between Steve Jobs’s reality-distortion field and Holmes’s: Jobs made people believe they could do hard things; Holmes made people believe she was doing hard things. ★★★★ (Hulu)


The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (dir. Alex GIbney, 2019). Every minute is compelling, and watching this documentary about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos deepens my admiration for The Dropout, which gets everything right. An extraordinary story about credulity, delusion, greed, and lies. “You want it to be true, so badly”: Tyler Shultz, Theranos employee, whistleblower, and grandson of board member George Shultz. “This was lunacy”: Roger Parloff, journalist. ★★★★ (HBO)


The Secret Ways (dir. Phil Karlson and Richard Widmark (uncredited), 1965). Confusing from the get-go: in Vienna, an American mercenary of sorts, Mike Reynolds (Richard Widmark) is hired to get a Hungarian professor/revolutionary out of Hungary, but by whom? And the screen titles say “1961,” but it’s supposed to be 1956. Widmark does a fine job save for a dubious attempt at Rat Pack comedy. The atmospherics — dark streets, cavernous interiors, subterranean meeting places — add greatly, and the camerawork (Mutz Greenbaum) shows the influence of The Third Man. ★★★ (YT)


Smooth as Silk (dir. Charles Barton, 1946). Virginia Grey plays a rising Broadway star, engaged to a criminal-defense lawyer (Kent Taylor) and aiming for a starring role in a new play. Her attentions turn to her fiancé’s just-acquitted client, a hapless young drunk whose uncle is producing the play in which she wants to star. The bewildering thing: Grey’s character is at the center of things, but she disappears from the movie well before its end. My favorite bits: Harry Cheshire (the minister in The Best Years of Our Lives) as a loyal butler and astute drama critic. ★★ (YT)


The Strip (dir. László Kardos, 1951). The reason to watch this movie: great music from Louis Armstrong and and three of the All-Stars: Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, and Earl Hines (sorry, IMDb, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole are never on the bandstand). Mickey Rooney, playing a drummer accused of murder, tells his story in a long flashback, which fortunately includes several complete musical numbers from Armstrong, the All-Stars, and Rooney. Rooney’s approach to the drums — playing over the other musicians, not with them or under them — marks him as something of a poor man’s Buddy Rich. With William Demarest as a nightclub owner and Sally Forrest as a cigarette girl/dancer. ★★★ (TCM)


Fire Music: The Story of Free Jazz (dir. Tom Surgal, 2021). A compilation of archival and contemporary interviews, performance footage, photographs, and hokey visual effects. The interview segments are invaluable: Bobby Bradford’s comments on difficulty in music, for instance, or Anthony Braxton’s account of leaving for Paris with fifty dollars in his pocket and the resolve to “Play, or die.” But this documentary wanders and wanders, from one topic to another, and so many musicians are heard speaking but not playing. No Julius Hemphill, no Henry Threadgill, and the musicians of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians are given relatively little attention. ★★★ (CC)


Come Back, Little Sheba (dir. Daniel Mann, 1952). If all you (like me) know of Shirley Booth is television’s Hazel Burke (a character Booth called her insurance policy), this movie will be a revelation. Booth and Burt Lancaster play the Delaneys: Lola, frumpy and desperately cheerful, and Doc, a chiropractor and recovering alcoholic, partners in a dead marriage burdened with a painful history, burdened further by the arrival of a boarder, Marie (Terry Moore), college student and wild child. A poignant picture of lives in decline and the effort to make something of them still. As for the title: you’ll have to watch. ★★★★ (CC)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

An earlier catch-22

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, The Passenger, trans. Philip Boehm (New York: Henry Holt, 2021).

The Passenger is a short novel, written in four weeks after Kristallnacht. The novel’s history is complicated: it was published in London 1939 as The Man Who Took Trains, in New York in 1940 as The Fugitive. In 2015 Boschwitz’s niece Ruella Shachaf made the sole manuscript copy of the novel available to the publisher Peter Graf, who edited the text. The novel was first published in its original German in 2018 as Der Reisende [The traveler]. The new English translation, by Philip Boehm, appeared in 2021. Pushkin Press has sold more than 100,000 copies.

The Passenger might be described as a Kafkaesque thriller. It follows the efforts of Otto Silbermann, a Jewish businessman, to flee Germany, in the course of which his relationship to space and time is utterly changed.

Highly recommended.

Yesterday’s HCR

Heather Cox Richardson’s September 6 installament of Letters from an American is especially helpful if you weren’t following the news yesterday. In my case, it was because I had two wisdom teeth removed. Late in the game, yes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

College advice

From The Atlantic : Imani Perry offers “The College Advice People Don’t Offer Enough.”

See also my daughter Rachel’s tips for success in college, which end on a similar note. Perry: “Remember that mistakes are inevitable.” Rachel: “Do not fear failing; instead, embrace each mistake as a learning experience.”

Magna cum laude

Vicki Craig (Marla English), of the three sisters in Three Bad Sisters (dir. Gilbert Kay, 1956):

“I graduated magna cum laude from Embraceable U.”
Three Bad Sisters is one bad movie, but bad enough to be good.

Monday, September 5, 2022

A series of legal troubles?

Listening to NPR this long weekend, I heard, three or four times, that the defeated former president is facing “a series of legal troubles.” I began to wonder if series is the right word.

Merriam-Webster: “a number of things or events of the same class coming one after another in spatial or temporal succession.” M-W’s samples of usage: “the hall opened into a series of small rooms” (spatial succession), “a concert series” (temporal succession).

But the defeated former president’s legal troubles are all happening now. Imagine a concert series with all performances given simultaneously: that’s a contradiction in terms — though it might make for a great Ivesian effect if the doors to all concert rooms were to remain open.

I’d like to say a sea of legal troubles, but that would hardly be acceptable to NPR, and besides, I shudder at the thought of a metaphor that would point to taking up arms. A big fat mess of legal troubles? A diaperload of legal troubles? Perhaps just a number of legal troubles.

Labor Day Nancy

“An unbroken chain of nieces and aunts in the Ritz family whose antics have been preserved over millennia”: Olivia Jaimes takes the day off.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Labor Day

[“Masses Of Women Workers.” Photograph by Edward Clark. Washington, D.C. 1956. From the Life Photo Archive. Click for a much larger view.]

I have seen desks in such a massive array only in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. Notice the fans and the Shelter signage (the Atomic Age). This photograph was taken in preparation for the Life feature “Women Hold Third of Jobs” (December 24, 1956). The setting is the FBI “identification building,” where the typists (450 working in two shifts) were at work on fingerprint information.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Church Ave. Poultry Co.

My mom once told me in passing that as a girl she would walk with her grandmother to Thirteenth Avenue (“the Avenue,” the shopping street) to buy a chicken. In other words, to pick out a chicken while it was still in possession of its life. I think I’ve found the spot.

[Church Ave. Poultry Co., 3823 13th Avenue, Boro Park, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Aside from this photograph, the most substantial evidence I can find of the Church Ave. Poultry Co. is the record of a case heard by the Supreme Court of the State of New York. The members of the family connected to this property seem to have been, at least sometimes, at one another’s throats.

I think of the Live Poultry sign as a low-key relation of the stark, oxymoronic Live Poultry Fresh Killed sign known to residents of Boston and Cambridge and to readers of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest everywhere. The sign was sold when the Mayflower Poultry Company decamped from East Cambridge to Boston last year.

Back to Boro Park: The 3823 address is today Mike’s Dinettes. (“Since 1963.”) The wide sidewalk next to 3823 was, I’m pretty sure, the spot for Whitey, the banana man, who sold bananas from a pushcart, even in the early years of Mike’s Dinettes.

Related reading
All OCA Boro Park posts (Pinboard) : More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives