Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Bernadette Mayer (1945–2022)

The poet Bernadette Mayer has died at the age of seventy-seven. Artforum has an obituary.

From “‘well when you begin a poem,’” in Another Smashed Pinecone (United Artists Books, 1998):

& honestly I’ve been nowhere
but here
in the space of many colors
looking for a place
ideally and in no wise
for impossible travels and knowledge
to be enjoyed and gained
in this my age
I’m embarrassed to be in
And from “Experiments,” a collaboration by Mayer and members of the St. Mark’s Church Poetry Project Writing Workshop, 1971–1975, in In the American Tree, ed. Ron Silliman (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 1986):
Work your ass off to change the language & dont ever get famous.

December 5: The New York Times has an obituary.

Related reading
Bernadette Mayer’s website : Several early publications in facsimile

[The sentence from “Experiments” may not be by Mayer.]

“But first”

The Atlantic offers a six-days-a-week newsletter. Each one begins with a paragraph or two about some topic. And then, before any further development: “But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.” Or “But first, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic.”

Of course the newsletter’s makers do not expect the reader to read each unrelated item and then return to the subject at hand. Rather, they’re looking to direct the reader’s attention to anything that might attract it. I am writing about some topic. But first, here’s some other topic, and another, and one more. Shiny topics! That’s a sorry way to think about readerly attention.

But first, a word from our sponsor.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Still life with wife

[Click for a larger view.]

It is widely reported that the earlier darkness that comes with the return to Standard Time better prepares us for sleep. Thus this drawing.

When we tried watching She Played with Fire (dir. Sidney Gilliat, 1957) last week, we both checked out early in the proceedings. I woke up first and made a sketch the next morning to show Elaine how she looked. When we tried the movie a second time, it was much, much better.

[I inked over the lines of a pencil drawing, fixed up the chair, and removed one extraneous line. Shared here with permission.]

Twelve movies

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

The Glass Key (dir. Stuart Heisler, 1942). Gangsters and politicians compete for power in an unnamed American city. I like all the principals — Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake — but I didn’t like the movie, which mixes gangsters and politicians with an improbable love story. I appreciated two unusually vulgar moments of spitting: once on a carpeted floor, once into a sink after toothbrushing (you don’t see much of that in ’40s movies). Look for Margaret Hayes (the lonely seductress of The Blackboard Jungle) as a lonely seductress. ★★ (CC)


City of Fear (dir. Irving Lerner, 1959). I’d think of it as a low-key Kiss Me Deadly. Here “the great whatsit” is a container of Cobalt-60 in the hands of an escaped con (Vince Edwards) who thinks he’s holding a million dollars’ worth of heroin. Much attention to police procedure and technology, with Lyle Talbot, some interchangeable detectives, and Geiger counters. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard, editing by Robert Lawrence, and a score by Jerry Goldsmith add considerable value to a predictable story. ★★★ (YT)


Dust Be My Destiny (dir. Lewis Seiler, 1939). Good Warner Brothers stuff that looks forward to They Live by Night. John Garfield and Priscilla Lane play a couple on the run: he’s a fugitive who didn’t kill the boss at a work farm; she’s the boss’s daughter. As one would expect, the movie’s sympathies are with the runaways. Henry Armetta adds considerable humanity to the story as a café owner who’s willing to protect a young couple from the law. ★★★ (CC)


The Best Years of Our Lives (dir. William Wyler, 1946). I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t watched it not to fall for the claim that it’s a tidy, sentimentalized story of homecoming from the Second World War. To the contrary: the movie presents the struggles of returning veterans with great frankness and pathos, examining alcoholism, infidelity, fear of intimacy, meager employment opportunities, physical disability, and post-traumatic stress. Every time I watch I notice a detail I’ve missed: this time it was drugstore clerk Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) ducking as a toy plane flies through the store and Peggy Stephenson (Teresa Wright) catches it. The plane provides a nice way for Fred and Peggy to meet cute, but now I wonder if we’re meant to see Fred’s response as that of a bombardier who’s seen one too many enemy planes coming at him. ★★★★ (TCM)


Seconds (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1966). This extraordinary film, which we’d never heard of until Elaine noticed it at the Criterion Channel, is unmistakably from the director of The Manchurian Candidate. Briefly: a mysterious company has developed procedures to allow tired, disaffected middle-aged men to fake their deaths and gain new (second) lives, with new faces, new fingerprints, and new identities. It’s the American male dream of freedom from responsibility, as described by a company executive: “In short, you are alone in the world, absolved of all responsibility except to your own interest.” Starring Rock Hudson and Salome Jens, and filmed in sinister black and white by James Wong Howe. ★★★★ (CC)

[A bit of lore: Seconds is the movie that freaked out Brian Wilson when he entered a showing late and heard a character say “Come in, Mr. Wilson.”]


Y tu mamá también (dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2001). It’s like an Almodóvar movie with another director. A great road movie, with Julio and Tenoch, two male adolescents (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) inviting an attractive young married woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdú), on a trip to Boca del Cielo (Heaven’s Mouth), a non-existent beach (Luisa’s husband is away). The three protagonists test the boundaries of friendship and sexuality, with moments of awkward intimacy, pleasure, and recrimination. Watching the movie a second time, I understand the narrator’s role more clearly: he’s an all-knowing voice that sees the present moment in a much larger context, and I’m afraid that’s all I can say. ★★★★ (DVD)


Beyond This Place, aka Web of Evidence (dir. Jack Cardiff, 1959). A father-son romp in a park, then a scene from Liverpool during the Blitz, and then twenty years later, the boy of that first scene, Paul Mathry (Van Johnson), has returned to Liverpool from the States. And the question to answer: what became of his father Patrick (Bernard Lee, 007’s “M”)? A darkly quiet story of research and love, both familial and romantic. Lee and Vera Miles (as Lena Anderson) turn in great performances. ★★★★ (YT)


Night People (dir. Nunnally Johnson, 1954). A GI is kidnapped from postwar Berlin and held to be traded for two West Berliners — and I can’t help but think of Brittney Griner’s plight. The plot becomes tricky, but I found little excitement or suspense in its unfolding. Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford are one-dimensional here: Peck as the mumbly lieutenant colonel in charge of the American zone; Broderick Crawford as the GI’s angry well-connected father. The title is misleading: there’s little noir in this CinemaScope production. ★★★ (YT)


The Automat (dir. Lisa Hurwitz, 2021). Long before its invention, the slogan “All Are Welcome” might have served as the motto of Horn and Hardart’s Automats, which served wonderful food to all comers for a handful of nickels. This deeply appreciative non-ironic documentary tells the story of the Automat’s rise and fall, as urbanites left for the suburbs and the restaurants grew emptier at dinnertime and on weekends. With a fine array of nostalgic eaters, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, and Mel Brooks, who describes the restaurants as “insane centers of paradise.” I ate at an Automat just once, in the 1980s, with my friend Aldo Carrasco, probably after a visit to the Gotham Book Mart, probably just pie and coffee — and I didn’t know enough to appreciate the place (which was, I admit, depressing), and now I wish I had had a meal, including creamed spinach. ★★★★ (HBO)


The Tattered Dress (dir. Jack Arnold, 1957). James Blane (Jeff Chandler), a “New York lawyer” known for representing mobsters, comes to a Nevada town to defend a wealthy man charged with murdering the star athlete with whom his wife was having an affair. When the jury votes for acquittal, the local sheriff (Jack Carson), a friend of the murdered man, decides to exact revenge. Chandler does well as a suave servant of wealth, and Elaine Stewart as the philandering spouse adds more than a touch of lurid glamor. But the real star of the movie is Jack Carson, playing against type, and his easy cheerfulness marks his character as a true sociopath. ★★★★ (YT)


Screaming Mimi (dir. Gerd Oswald, 1958). Anita Ekberg stars as a dancer under the spell of a mad psychiatrist. We see her solo act, with ropes and chains and much writhing, twice, in a club called the El Madhouse, run by Gypsy Rose Lee. Nothing about this film makes sense: the background music is recycled from Leonard Bernstein’s score for On the Waterfront, and the Red Norvo Trio, another El Madhouse act, billed as a trio, is in fact a quartet. Preposterous film noir, with a star added for Burnett Guffey’s excellent cinematography.★★ (YT)


The Long Haul (dir. Ken Hughes, 1957). Post-WWII Liverpool, with Victor Mature as Harry Miller, an American ex-serviceman driving long-distance truck routes for his British wife’s uncle. Harry’s wife Connie (Gene Anderson) is cold and critical, and Harry falls into a relationship with Lynn (Diana Dors), the girlfriend of Joe Easy (Patrick Allen), the Johnny Friendly-like head of a trucking company and criminal enterprise. A long sequence devoted to getting a truckload of stolen furs across dangerous terrain is as suspenseful in its own way as the struggles in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Wages of Fear. Mature and Dors are terrific, the one conflicted, the other desperate, in a movie that is, finally, in unexpected ways, about loss and betrayal and forgiveness. ★★★★ (YT)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 28, 2022

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with gaslighting.

Domestic comedy

I was reading up on the Pillsbury Doughboy (“anthropomorphic dough,” Wikipedia calls him) when I realized that the boy shares his name with the American infantry. I know what a WWI doughboy is, but as I confessed to my fambly, I had never noticed the wordplay.

And Elaine: “Do you think the Pillsbury Doughboy gets all his clothes at Men’s Wearhouse?”

It’s domestic comedy because of this previous moment of domestic comedy.

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Our daughter Rachel says that Elaine’s quip is an example of a callback. Merriam-Webster’s examples of the word in recent use on the Internets reflect this meaning, not yet included among the dictionary’s definitions.]

Whence bebop?

“An onomatopoetic name reflecting the short notes and off-the-beat rhythms characteristic of the genre”: Merriam-Webster on the origin of bebop.

See also this Merriam-Webster Word Matters podcast episode: “A Lexical History of ‘Jazz.’”

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Buono’s Groc.

[230 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I chose this photograph because it has everything. Everything is defined as a privilege sign, a Bell Telephone sign, an awning, a horse, an unattended child, neighborhood loafers (blocking the entrance to the upstairs apartments), a bicycle with an old-fashioned kickstand, trolley tracks, cobblestones, tattered movie posters (Don Ameche, Alice Faye, and Carmen Miranda starred in the 1941 film That Night in Rio), laundry hanging on a line, and a mysterious figure at a second-story window.

It occurs to me that so many stores in the olden days had no official name displayed. Sometimes a store was just “the store,” as in “I need a coupla things from the store.” I know the name of this store — sort of — because of a full-page advertisement listing Brooklyn purveyors of Doublemint gum. This address is listed under South Brooklyn as Buono’s Groc.:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 11, 1941.]

And there’s Tony Buono, in the 1940 telephone directory:

Residents of 230 were associated with various mishaps and acts of mayhem through the years, both on and off the premises. Some incidents collected from newspaper articles available at Brooklyn Newsstand:

1886: a resident bit his brother-in-law’s lip
1887: a resident interfered with an arrest
1887: a resident was attacked and beaten
1896: a resident was in a fight and fired two shots
1904: a resident died of gas poisoning
1905: a resident was shot in “an Italian shooting bee”
1908: a resident was arrested for extortion
1910: a resident conspired in the theft of 2,000 cigars
1911: a resident died after eating toadstools, not
1931: a Buono son was stabbed by “the star boarder”

That last incident is the only one to which the Buono name is attached. George Buono had accused the boarder of being too friendly with Mrs. Buono, his mother.

A son of the Buono family, Private Valentino A. Buono, was killed in the Second World War in 1944. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle list of casualties identifies his mother as Mrs. Madeline A. Buono.

Today 230 Van Brunt is a three-family residence. Estimated value: $1,796,700. Not a horse in sight.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Amazon ads ads ads

“The first page of Amazon results includes an average of about nine sponsored listings — twice as many as Walmart displays, four times as many as Target”: The Washington Post explains why shopping on Amazon has gotten worse.

Now I understand why it was so difficult for our household to buy the edition of Anna Karenina we wanted.

Me, in my naïveté: “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.” Jeepers.

Charles Schulz centennial

Charles Schulz was born on November 26, 1922. Comic strips have taken notice, at least every comic strip I read (a handful). Here’s a gathering. The most oblique homage: today’s Nancy.

All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor, composing as “Lester Ruff” — less rough, easier. Yes, indeed. I began with 1-D, six letters, ”Advisor to Odysseus” and, unlike Odysseus, sailed on through — no detours.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

2-D, six letters, “California schools close on his birthday.” I did not know that.

9-A, six letters, “Tries to draw.” Mild misdirection.

12-D, eight letters, “Verb for the past.” So spelled, really? Yes, really.

16-A, six letters, “Layout with a PYFGCRL line.” I remember when the idea seemed to be everywhere, at least in the Apple II world.

23-A, four letters, “Jack’s beat poet pal.” At the wheel, keeping everyone in stitches.

26-D, seven letters, “What Snoopy drives in She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown.” A cheerful touch.

27-A, four letters, “Dramatic overture.” Clever phrasing.

37-D, eight letters, “Me, me, me, me, me,. . . .” Hah.

54-A, three letters, “Hopper, for instance.” Heh.

60-A, eight letters, “The Mr. Coffee TM75, e.g.” What? This clue is a bit of a problem.

Another nit to pick: the clue for 48-D, six letters, “Southwestern sluggers” makes for a problem with the answer for 44-D.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Tuck Points

A third imaginary radio show, Tuck Points, all about sheets:

“This week on Tuck Points: well-fitted fitted sheets, the foundation of good sleep.”
Other imaginary shows
Blanket statements : Stemside

Blanket Statements

Another imaginary radio show: Blanket Statements, the show about blankets and the people who sleep with them:

“After the break, we’ll be talking about plaid. Is it really warmer?”
Yes, plaid is really warmer, In blankets and in everything else.

Another imaginary show

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving 1922

[“Vaudeville on Island: Keith Artists to Give Thanksgiving Program on Blackwell’s.” The New York Times, November 30, 1922.]

Yes, November 30: the next-to-last Thursday of the month wouldn’t become Thanksgiving Day until 1939.

It’s not clear what population these vaudevillians were entertaining: at various times asylum, hospital, and prison populations were all housed on Blackwell’s Island, or Welfare Island, as it had already been renamed in 1921. Given a Times report on Thanksgiving 1914 at Blackwell’s, I suspect that the audience was a prison population.

I recognize two of the names here: Eddie Foy, whom I know only as a name, and “Demarest,” as in William Demarest, Uncle Charley from My Three Sons, who perfomed in vaudeville with his wife Estelle Collette (real name Esther Zychlin).

On this same Thanksgiving, the great tenor Beniamino Gigli sang at Sing Sing. The inmates had already been visited by vaudevillians on November 26th. From the Times: “Sing Sing has not had a grand opera entertainment since the San Carlo Opera Company was there a year ago” (“Grand Opera for Convicts at Sing Sing Thanksgiving,” November 27, 1922.)

And if you’ve never heard Gigli, here’s “M’apparì” (1923). And another rendition, thirty years later.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Related Thanksgiving posts
Blackwell’s Island, 1914 : Sing Sing, 1907 : Sing Sing, 1908

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

National Sardine Day

It’s tomorrow: just in time for Thanksgiving.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with teal.

Vote for a word of the year

Oxford Languages is asking the public to vote for a word of the year. The choices, which for some reason Oxford lists out of alphabetical order: metaverse, #IStandWith, and goblin mode. Vote here.

My choice for word of the year: angst. As in a Ted Berrigan poem from A Certain Slant of Sunlight (Oakland, CA: O Books, 1988):


I had angst.
Me too. “The news” is a nightmare.

Thus far two dictionaries have chosen their words of the year. Why didn’t Oxford Languages do likewise? Maybe they, too, had angst.


December 5: The votes are in, and Oxford Languages has goblin mode for its word of the year. Oy and gevalt.

[“I had angst”: yes, that’s the whole poem.]

The rules

From The Chicago Manual of Style blog Shop Talk, an explanation of when to capitalize an initial the.

[Should it be the Left Banke or The Left Banke? I go back and forth. Uh-oh, a nitpicker. Just walk away, Renée.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Lydia Ricci’s art

Lydia Ricci: “tiny sculptures made from the scraps of daily existence.” There are also animations. And an Instagram page.

Found via Daughter Number Three.

[Lydia Ricci’s art marks the second time in two days I’ve seen a depiction of an old-school cassette recorder with a red Record button. The first time: in an episode of Arthur.]

Recently updated

Nick DeMaio and the Eldorado Now with an artifact.

Monday, November 21, 2022

A source for Columbo

Porfiry Petrovich (no family name) is the principal investigator of a double murder. He is speaking to Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov:

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, translated by Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky (New York: Vintage Books, 2021).

At the 278-page mark, this novel just became interesting in a new way. Elaine and I, independent of each another, each wrote Columbo in our margins. So I’m happy to see that Lieutenant Columbo’s creators, Richard Levinson and William Link, named Porfiry Petrovich as a model for their character. Some years back, I thought that the little detective in Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques had something to do with the character of Columbo. And I still think that Dickens’s Inspector Bucket, with his invisible wife and missing first name, is in there somewhere.

Two related posts
Columbo’s notebook : Separated at birth: Jacques Derrida, Peter Falk, William Hopper

[Re Columbo’s first name, see here.]

A source of swing?

“Nearly imperceptible delays in soloists’ timing contribute to the music’s signature rhythm”: from Science News, a claim about where jazz gets its swing.

Try listening to the two music samples therein (fifty-two seconds of the Duke Jordan composition “Jordu”). I have to admit that I hear no difference between them. The study described in the article includes a an online gizmo that allows the user to try different “swing ratios” with a six-second sample of “Jordu.”

A more satisfying musical experience: hearing Duke Jordan himself play “Jordu.”

Thanks, Frank.

Related reading
All OCA jazz posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, November 20, 2022


[John Cowhey & Sons, 440 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

A recent Zippy strip featured a Mrs. Gowanus, which made me think of the Gowanus Canal, and I ended up wandering around the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Thus I found myself at the corner of Van Brunt and Beard Streets.

I chose this photograph for the quotation marks around “MACHINERY,” which add, at least in my fevered imagination, an ominous tinge to the premises. We brought the “machinery,” boss, just like you asked. Marine equipment, anchors, chains — yikes. I think of Salvatore Bonpensiero being taken on his last boat ride: “Get the weights.”

In reality though, John Cowhey was, as far as I can tell, an upstanding Brooklynite.

[Brooklyn Times-Union, October 9, 1912.]

The following paragraph must be about a son John, as the article in which it appears says that this John and two other businessmen in the area are “fast friends”:

[“Ex-Barnacle Fighter Finds Waterproofing Skyscrapers Like Painting Ship Hulls.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 25, 1929.]

Here’s another Cowhey son:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1937.]

A story that would be a bit scarier if the subhead didn’t give it away:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1931.]

And a photograph accompanying the article:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1931. Click for a larger view.]

Brooklyn Newsstand turns up several articles about a lurid story with the Cowhey name: in February 1884, an Annie and John Cowhey, sister and brother, were accused of killing their father Denis Cowhey and their sister and brother-in-law Catharine (Kate) and Thomas Collier (or Collyer — it’s spelled both ways, sometimes in the same article). The three died from arsenic added to soup and hash. Given the absence of any reference to the well-known Cowhey & Sons in articles about the murders, I’ll guess that this John Cowhey has no connection to 440 Van Brunt. And for what it’s worth, he is described as a former stone-cutter who tended bar. The Cowhey siblings were never prosecuted.

The most interesting detail about this case: a young woman matching a description of Annie Cowhey purchased two boxes of Rough on Rats poison, one before Denis Cowhey’s death, the other before the Colliers’ deaths. But Catharine Collier was deemed the likely killer: she did not want her father to remarry and, after killing him, was believed to have become desperate.

[The Delineator, January 1905.]

I have begun to realize that it’s impossible to just find a nifty photograph, post it, and be done.

The 440 location is now a private residence, with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, and 9,149 square feet. Pretty severe looking, if you ask me, or Google Maps.

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

“Sort of a dull ashtray”

In today’s Zippy, Bill Griffith remembers his wife and fellow artist, Diane Noomin. There was a New York Times obituary.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Another leak

Extraordinary news in The New York Times: “Former Anti-Abortion Leader Alleges Another Supreme Court Breach.” The former leader is the Reverend Rob Schenck, who has modified his view of abortion and is now, the Times says, redefining himself as “a progressive evangelical leader”:

In early June 2014, an Ohio couple who were Mr. Schenck’s star donors shared a meal with Justice [Samuel] Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann. A day later, Gayle Wright, one of the pair, contacted Mr. Schenck, according to an email reviewed by The Times. “Rob, if you want some interesting news please call. No emails,” she wrote.

Mr. Schenck said Mrs. Wright told him that the decision would be favorable to Hobby Lobby, and that Justice Alito had written the majority opinion. Three weeks later, that’s exactly what happened. The court ruled, in a 5-4 vote, that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance covering contraception violated their religious freedoms. The decision would have major implications for birth control access, President Barack Obama’s new health care law and corporations’ ability to claim religious rights.
Matthew Butterick, who made a brilliant analysis of the leaked PDF of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization draft decision, has commented on Alito’s denial. From the Times:
Justice Alito, in a statement issued through the court’s spokeswoman, denied disclosing the decision. He said that he and his wife shared a “casual and purely social relationship” with the Wrights, and did not dispute that the two couples ate together on June 3, 2014. But the justice said that the “allegation that the Wrights were told the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or the authorship of the opinion of the Court, by me or my wife, is completely false.”
And Butterick:
Unfortunately, this is the kind of denial that raises more questions than it answers due to the deliberately narrow phrase “were told”. The denial would remain true even if, say, Ms. Alito had put a copy of the draft opinion on the table, allowed Ms. Wright to look it over, and then taken it back — no “telling”, just showing.
You can read Butterick’s analysis on the PDF and his comments on the Schenck story here.

I am moved to poetry:
Did Samuel Alito
Think it was neato
To spill SCOTUS beans in advance?

He’s gotta deny it,
And say he kept quiet,
But what’s that I smell? Burning pants.
[Note: I am not saying that Alito is not telling the truth.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Matthew Sewell. I think it’s on the easy side, with the right half being more immediately doable than the left. I started with — gulp — the fifteen-letter answer for 17-A, “Not before that specific moment.” That feels like a gimme to me. Was it meant to be?

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-D, thirteen letters, “Infomercial order.” I have watched many an infomercial for sick fun. (The Magic Bullet is our fambly’s favorite.) But this answer doesn’t ring true to me.

7-D, three letters, “Protective layer.” Short and sweet.

10-D, eleven letters, “Excursions with escorts.” Not that kind of escort. This answer fills me with nostalgia.

12-D, six letters, “Reached out electronically.” I haven’t thought it this verb in years.

20-A, six letters, “Word from Malay for “sheath.’” Lifelong learning!

23-D, eleven letters, “Unimaginative.” I think the humdrum answer is a meta joke.

29-D, four letters, “Start to trust.” Clever.

40-A, six letters, “Start back.” The kind of answer that I second-guess even when I’m sure it must be right.

44-D, six letters, “‘Stupidity is a ____ for misconception’: Poe.” Yep, investigate Hunter Biden’s laptop. That’s what the voters want you to do.

56-A, fifteen letters, “Turnoff before checking in.” I kept thinking about interstate exits.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 18, 2022

FTX fortunes

Many months ago our favorite restaurant (Thai) began handing out fortune cookies with FTX advertising on one side. Tonight’s fortune, or observation: “Sometimes it’s hard to imagine life before this.”

I wonder how long it’ll be before these fortunes disappear.

A letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger

From Letters of Note, a letter from Kent Ashcraft, a musician, with some hilarious questions for Dr. Laura Schlessinger about biblical do s and don’t s. Here’s one question:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?
Context, from Wikipedia:
Over the years, Schlessinger expressed opposition to homosexuality based on biblical scripture, at one point referring to homosexual behavior as “products of a biological disorder.” Her rhetoric eventually prompted an open letter penned in the year 2000 responding to her position that used text of Bible decrees.
I can think of at least one congressional representative to whom I’d like to send this letter, Illinois’s own Mary Miller. She’s already ranting about the Respect for Marriage Act, which she calls the “Anti-Marriage Act.”

[Whatever became of Laura Schlessinger? She’s on satellite radio. And she really has a doctorate, in physiology, from Columbia University. Holy smokes! No pun on the burning bull.]

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with homer.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Today’s Zippy ’s yesterday

“How much time do we spend remembering the past?” Today’s Zippy is one for the ages.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

[Here’s why I added to the link.]

Walking blues

At the MIT Press Reader, Telmo Pievani, professor of biology, writes about “Bipedalism and Other Tales of Evolutionary Oddities”:

Archaeologist André Leroi-Gourhan was right in saying that the history of humanity began with good feet, before great brains. But it was an ordeal, particularly in the beginning.

Thank you

“Do thank-you notes still matter?” The New York Times says “Yes.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Another Mary Miller vote

I should no longer be surprised that “my” representative in Congress, Mary Miller (R, IL-15), takes the wrong position on everything. But I’m still sometimes surprised. She just voted against S. 4524, the Speak Out Act,

a bill to limit the judicial enforceability of predispute nondisclosure and nondisparagement contract clauses relating to disputes involving sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Voting yea: 215 Democrats and 100 Republicans. Voting nay: 109 Republicans. Not voting: 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans.

There’s something about Mary.

In better news, the Respect for Marriage Act is is on its way to becoming law.

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)

MSNBC, sheesh

A few minutes ago the chyron announced “humanity’s return to the moon.” It was smart to avoid man. But consider: other than human beings, who would be in a position to go back?

“A return to the moon” would be better.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)


From The Washington Post: “Has the encore left the building?”

Once a given in live concerts, the encore is now seen by some as an artifact of old-school showbiz, rather than an authentic exchange between performer and audience.
The best encores I’ve known:

~ Tom Waits, at the Orpheum Theater. A Waits website tells me that it was November 16, 1980. Waits came back on stage, sat down in an easy chair, and put on a record of (purportedly) the pope leaving Dodger Stadium. In other words, the sound of a crowd applauding and cheering. Earlier in the evening Waits had sat in the chair while changing channels on an old television, providing commentary on whatever he found.

~ Richard Goode, at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, March 10, 2016. After an all-Bach program, Goode came back on stage, said “More Bach,” and played one more piece.

Related reading
All OCA Tom Waits posts (Pinboard) : Bach, Goode

Prime collaborations

Pure joy, tangentially related to prime numbers: the Supremes and the Temptations singing each other’s hits on The Ed Sullivan Show. But if there’s a live version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,“ I’ve yet to find it.

Something I realized only after listening to “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me“ for maybe a dozen times over the last few days: what I always thought was a echo effect at 2:37 is Eddie Kendricks singing with Diana Ross. No tricks.

[Ed Sullivan oversimplified: the Temptations were originally called the Elgins, not the Primes. Two members came over from the Primes. As a quartet, the Supremes were originally called the Primettes.]

Cicadas in their primes

I somehow developed an interest in prime numbers. But I know when I’m beat. I understand enough though to enjoy this passage from Marcus du Sautoy’s The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve the Greatest Mystery in Mathematics (New York: HarperCollins, 2003). It’s about two species of cicada, Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada tredecim. The first emerges from the ground to mate and die every seventeen years; the second, every thirteen years. “Why,” du Sautoy asks, “has each species chosen a prime number of years as the length of their life cycle?”

There are several possible explanations. Since both species have evolved prime number life cycles, they will be synchronised to emerge in the same year very rarely. In fact they will have to share the forest only every 221 = 17 × 13 years. Imagine if they had chosen cycles which weren’t prime, for example 18 and 12. Over the same period they would have been in sync 6 times, namely in years 36, 72, 108, 144, 180 and 216. These are the years which share the prime building blocks of both 18 and 12. The prime numbers 13 and 17, on the other hand, allow the two species of cicada to avoid too much competition.

Another explanation is that a fungus developed which emerged simultaneously with the cicadas. The fungus was deadly for the cicadas, so they evolved a life cycle which would avoid the fungus. By changing to a prime number cycle of 17 or 13 years, the cicadas ensured that they emerged in the same years as the fungus less frequently than if they had a non-prime life cycle. For the cicadas, the primes weren’t just some abstract curiosity but the key to their survival.
I remember the Great Confluence of 1998 well. An endless din. Shells everywhere. Every moment outside was aural agony. The cicadas were in their primes.

[From a review of the book: “just enough maths to befuddle the layman.”]

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

A last 2¢ about phonics

Imagine trying to learn a new language — Greek, say, in any of its varieties. It would be impossible to figure out words and their pronunciation without knowing the sounds that the letters make.

Now imagine being four or five or six and learning to read in your own first language. It would be impossible to figure out words and their pronunciation without knowing the sounds that the letters make.

I think that’s the clearest case that can be made for the importance of phonics.

[I thought of this brief bit on my own before realizing that there’s something like it in the podcast Sold a Story, about college students who are taught to read a few words in Korean with or without learning the Korean alphabet. The students who hadn’t learned the alphabet were, of course, lost when looking at unfamiliar words.]

A last 2¢ about the elections

I don’t think the results mean that younger voters think of themselves as “Democrats,” as aligned with a party. Rather, I think the results mean that younger voters oppose autocracy, fascism, inequality, racism, xenophobia, voter suppression, and state control of bodies and futures. And if they do, voting for Deomcratic candidates becomes the only game in town.

Word of the day: fanboy

From Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day: fanboy. I am surprised to see that it goes back to 1919.

Many a teacher will know fanboys as a mnemonic to help students remember the seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

The Automat on TCM

Lisa Hurwitz’s documentary The Automat (2021) airs on TCM, November 22, in the company of several movies with Automat scenes. The Automat is also now streaming at HBO Max.

The documentary is deep nostalgia, and it makes me feel grateful to have eaten at the Automat, even if only once, even if it was only coffee and a piece of cake or pie, even if the place was wildly depressing — nearly empty, with a few old people sitting alone at tables.

Related reading
All OCA Automat posts (Pinboard)

[The documentary cites the rise of Chock full o’Nuts as one factor in the Automat’s decline and fall.]

Chock full o’Nuts on sale

Chock full o’Nuts is having Black Friday sale, 25% off, and free shipping for orders over $45. The code: BF2022. The sale ends on Friday, November 25, at 11:59 EST.

Only a zealot would think this news worthy of a blog post. I am a zealot.

On a related note, a friend tells me that Lee Hays of the Weavers wrote jingles for, among other products, Chock full o’Nuts frozen doughnuts. It’s right there in Doris Willens’s biography of Hays.

Related reading
All OCA Chock full o’Nuts posts (Pinboard)

Monday, November 14, 2022

Katie Hobbs wins

[Made with the Mac app Acorn.]

In Arizona, Katie Hobbs will defeat Kari Lake in the race for governor. Lake’s response, as reported in The New York Times: “Arizonans know BS when they see it.” An interesting comment from someone who hides behind a filter.

Nancy and wrapping paper

[Nancy, December 19, 1949. Click for a larger view.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, Nancy is visiting her neighborhood grocer. You’ll have to click through to see why she needs wrapping paper. Yes, it’s December 19, but that hint is also a form of misdirection.

I hope the grocer has an enormous roll of string suspended from the ceiling with which to wrap packages. And a pair of scissors to cut the string. Or at least a tape machine.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard) : A selection of paper-roll cutters (Pinterest)

Dustin, blogger

Dustin Kudlick is starting a blog. His sister Meg is helping him add a counter. It feels quaint just to type those words — blog, counter.

But as they say, the best time to start a blog was twenty years ago. The second-best time is today.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Culver × 8

Last Sunday the Ghost of Brooklyn Past visited the Culver Paper Co. in Boro Park. This Sunday the Ghost walks the environs of the Culver Line in Boro Park.

The 1940 Brooklyn telephone directory lists twenty-eight businesses whose names begin with Culver, along with a Frank Culver and a Miss Mildred Culver. (Incredible that the directory identified (at least some?) unmarried women as “Miss.”) Here are eight of the businesses, c. 1939–1940, courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click any image for a much larger view.

  [Culver Coffee Pot, aka Culver Coffee Shop, 4409 18th Avenue. Culver Radio, 4419 18th Avenue. The coffee shop is between Natural Bloom Cigars and another coffee shop, the Excellent Coffee Shoppe. The Brooklyn Times-Union reports George Nekolokeos and Peter Kapoolas opening the Culver Coffee Pot in 1928. Advertisements show a Culver Radio in business at nearby 18th Avenue addresses as early as 1929.]

  [Culver Glass Co., 4506 18th Avenue. Culver Public Market, 4510 18th Avenue. The Culver Glass Co. was in business as late as 1959, with Irving Rothenberg as the owner.]

  [Culver Floor Covering, 4518 18th Avenue. Culver Florist, 952 McDonald Avenue. Click, look closely, and you’ll see someone at a window. Click again, look closely, and you’ll see the florist’s sign.]

And now, a twofer. It’s one of the most beautiful tax photos I’ve seen. Do click for a larger view:

[Culver Confectionery and Culver Theater, 4323-4329 18th Avenue. Now playing: Bitter Sweet (dir. W.S. Van Dyke, 1940), with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.]

Today 4409 is a Mexican restaurant; 4419, a yeshiva in a new building. A supermarket stands where 4506 and 4510 stood. A women’s clothing store and a pharmacy are at 4518 and 952. And at 4323-4329 — what else? — a bank.

Once again, Brooklyn Newsstand is an invaluable aid in garnering some details of Brooklyn Past. And once again, our visit will end with imaginary ice cream. This way to the confectionery.

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

Nancy breaks a wall

[Nancy, November 13, 2022. Click for a larger view.]

In today’s Nancy, our protagonist has broken the fourth wall. Or the right edge. Or from her perspective, the left edge. And that must be how she got into today’s Zippy.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Looking for trouble

From a short post I wrote yesterday: “I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me.” I was aiming to sound noirish, and I must have had Raymond Chandler Trouble Is My Business (1950) in the back of my mind. Geo-B thought I was referencing Harry Potter, which surprised me. I’ve read no more than a page of the first Potter novel. But here’s the passage, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), the third Harry Potter novel:

“I don’t go looking for trouble,” said Harry, nettled. “Trouble usually finds me.”
Last night, we were watching an episode of Seinfeld, “The Switch” (first aired January 5, 1995). Kramer’s mother Babs (Sheree North) meets up with Newman (Michael Knight):
Hi, Newman.

Hi, Babs.

What are you doin’?

Just mindin’ my own business.

You can’t get into trouble that way.

What makes you think I’m lookin’ for trouble?

From what I hear, you postmen don’t have to look too far.

[Fiendish laughter.] Well, you know, sometimes it just has a way of finding me.
Here’s the scene.

Older sources suggests that such phrasing has long been in the air. From Computers in Libraries (1990):
I don’t go looking for these things, honest I don’t. As the editor of Database Searcher has been known to say, “Trouble finds me. I don’t go looking for it.”
From the magazine Soldiers (August 1984):
“I don't look for trouble. Trouble looks for me when I make my walking checks during the trip.”
From Erwin Haskell Schell’s Technique of Administration: Administrative Proficiency in Business (1951):
I want to find trouble before trouble finds me.
And from Mark Guy Pearse’s Christ’s Cure for Care (1902) in which an old mother offers wise counsel:
“Don’t you trouble trouble
Till trouble troubles you.
Don’t you look for trouble:
Let trouble look for you.”
And if we were still in the world of noir, a voicover might now take over:
I remembered a poem my sainted mother used to recite: “Don’t you look for trouble: / Let trouble look for you.” Well, ma, it’d found me — but good.
[Thanks, Elaine, for finding the 1951 and 1902 sources. And thanks, Joe, for identifying Babs as Kramer’s mother, not his sister.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Steve Mossberg, and it’s a doozy, or a lulu, or both. Thirty-seven minutes for me, and more than once I was sure I’d have to give up. My starting point was 3-D, four letters, “Where the Rhine rises,” a clue I’ve seen, more or less, before. From there, 18-A, five letters, “Sounding stuffy.” Timely! And after that I struggled. Toughest points, the northwest and southwest. Oof.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-D, four letters, “Go around.” SPIN? TURN? Your initial guess may be better than mine.

11-D, ten letters, “Play adaptations.” Clever.

14-A, ten letters, “Large racket.” This one drove me a bit crazy.

16-A, ten letters, “What ranch houses typically haven’t.” I was thinking the answer had to be plural.

26-D, five letters, “Depression on a trunk.” A giveaway, nearly indentical to a clue from last Saturday.

42-A, six letters, “Of the above.” Tricky. I first thought the answer must be an arcane bibliographical abbreviation.

44-D, six letters, “French writer of ‘Facts are stubborn things.’” I thought that came from John Adams. But the French writer isn’t the original source either, not that the clue says he is.

49-A, four letters, “Mozzarella alternative for lasagna.” No, I’m a traditionalist.

53-A, five letters, “What a seminarian may become.” It’s misdirection only if your idea of a seminary is, uh, parochial.

59-D, three letters, “Cell ancestor.” A nice way to make the familiar difficult.

62-A, ten letters, “Largest break in the California Coastal Range.” Threw me for a loop. SOMECANYON?

My favorite in this puzzle: 37-A, fifteen letters, “Time best forgotten.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, November 11, 2022

NPR, sheesh

“As him and his aides think about this.”

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

[I don’t go looking for trouble. It finds me.]

To: Calkins, Fountas, and Pinnell

I’m up to episode five in Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong. The podcast remains utterly infuriating — so much wrongheaded thinking about the teaching of reading, so many children damaged as a result. And so much money made from curriculum materials that teach children to read the way poor readers read — by guessing at words, or as those who promulgate these methods now say, “hypothesizing.”

I ended up writing an e-mail to Lucy Calkins, Irene Fountas, and Gay Su Pinnell, three prime movers behind reading instruction whose work is examined in the podcast. Here’s what I sent:

I’m moved to write to you after listening to the podcast Sold a Story. Not a flattering title from your perspective, to be sure.

I write as a retired professor of English with thirty years of teaching at a regional state school. I came to reading at a young age, well before kindergarten. We were a family of modest means, but I had a dad who read to me every night, a shelf or two of books in the house, The New York Times every day, and a public library. I was one of the lucky kids who catch on to reading without explicit instruction in phonics.

It wasn’t until I volunteered as a literacy tutor working with non-reading adults that I realized how important explicit instruction in phonics is. The program I volunteered with was big on sight words: MEN, WOMEN, EXIT, and so on. I asked at one meeting what students were supposed to do when encountering a word they’d never seen before. There was no answer. I somehow got hold of a phonics curriculum and worked for several years with a man in his fifties who learned to read well enough to read a Rules of the Road handbook and pass the written test for his driver’s license.

So I understand the value of phonics. But it wasn’t until I listened to Sold a Story that I began to realize the extent to which the deficits in many of the students I taught as a college professor must have been related to a lack of instruction in phonics. Something I learned early on: not to ask students to read aloud in class. It can be painful. I don’t mean cold-calling on students; I mean just asking a student to read, say, a sentence or two from a text to support a statement about that text. Things are different, I’m sure, with students at elite institutions. But many a college student, in my experience, cannot read aloud with any fluency. It’s. Word. By. Word. When I realized that I had to feed students words here and there, I knew that it was time to give up on reading aloud.

And now after listening to Sold a Story I better understand why students so often would guess at the meanings of unfamiliar words when reading, instead of using a dictionary. They had been taught to guess about words by using so-called context clues. I would explain, again and again, that often the most important context for understanding the meaning of a word is the word itself, something that you can find only by using a dictionary. In other words, there’s no need to guess. And if you do guess, there’s no way to know if you’re right.

I wonder in retrospect about so many elements of college life. I wonder about the extent to which the dreary professorial practice of outlining the textbook on “the board” is not merely a matter of professorial laziness but a way to compensate, consciously or unconsciously, for students’ weaknesses as readers. And I wonder about the extent to which the decline of interest in the humanities might be explained at least in part by the difficulty so many college students have with the mechanics of reading. Figuring out the words is, for many college students, just plain hard — because they were never properly taught how.

Your curriculum and others like it have done, I believe, great damage to the cause of reading. When so few elementary-school students (even pre-pandemic) can read at grade level, when so many high-school and college students profess to “hate reading,” it’s clear that something has gone wrong.

Sincerely, &c.
My e-mail to Professor Calkins added that though my family had books and The New York Times in the house, we had no monogrammed towels. From Calkins’s The Art of Teaching Writing (1994): “They [student writers] will ask about the monogram letters on their bath towels and the words on their sweatshirts.” Is it privilege yet?


In Education Week, Calkins has responded to Sold a Story (without mentioning it by name) by mischaracterizing advocates of instruction in phonics:
The message that has been pushed out by some phonics advocates, and that has trickled down to parents and even some educators, is an oversimplified one: If only teachers would teach phonics exclusively, then presto, all the reading problems in the world would vanish.
No one pushes out that message. No one would advocate teaching phonics exclusively or claim that phonics solves all reading difficulty. But phonics is a foundation. Without a foundation, you’re likely to be on shaky ground.

Related reading
A few OCA Sold a Story posts

Veterans Day

[From a letter to The New York Times, published as “Two Minutes’ Silence: Plans for the World-Wide Celebration of Armistice Day.” November 9, 1922.]

The first World War ended on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day was observed the next year. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day. I wonder what the writer of this letter would make of 2022.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Twelve movies

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

The Deep Blue Sea (dir. Terence Davies, 2011). From the Terence Rattigan play, the story of a passionate woman (Rachel Weisz) caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, or two unsatisfactory alternatives: her marriage to a devoted, older, unexciting judge (Simon Russell Beale) or an affair with a reckless former RAF pilot who seems incapable of love (Tom Hiddleston). Strong overtones of Anna Karenina, which I trust are intended. In Davies fashion, the story arrives in pieces, one reality dissolving into another. The best moment belongs to Mrs. Elton, the landlady (Ann Mitchell), who speaks of what real love is: “It’s wiping someone’s ass or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves, and letting ’em keep their dignity so you can both go on.” ★★★★ (CC)


Side Street (dir. Anthony Mann, 1949). I’ve written about this movie in several posts. It’s a perfect short noir. What I especially noticed this time: everyman Joe Norson (Farley Granger), having acted impulsively, madly, becomes something of a child in need of soothing care, even as his wife (Cathy O’Donnell) has just given birth to their son. Jean Hagen and Paul Kelly steal the movie: she, as an alcoholic singer; he, as a police captain flipping intercom switches and snapping orders. ★★★★ (TCM)


The Scarlet Hour (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1956). A noirish melodrama with overtones of Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. The main ingredients of the somewhat wobbly plot: an increasingly risky affair between a real-estate developer’s wife (Carol Ohmart) and his top salesman (Tom Tryon), a furtive tryst on a country road, a heist scheme overheard, and a heist gone wrong. As the developer, James Gregory is alternately brutal and conciliatory; as the developer’s wife, Carol Ohmart suggests Phyllis Dietrichson’s icy calculation and Norma Desmond’s desperation. It’s fun to see Edward Binns, Nat “King” Cole, David Lewis (an exec in The Apartment), E.G. Marshall, Elaine Stritch (who hated the movie), and “Tom” Tryon, whom I know as Thomas Tryon, as I wrote a book report on his novel The Other in tenth grade. ★★★ (YT)


So Ends Our Night (dir. John Cromwell, 1941). “This is a story of the people without passports”: Fredric March, Glenn Ford, and Margaret Sullavan as three German refugees, the first a political dissident, the other two Jewish, now moving from country to country, always in danger of discovery and deportation because they lack the necessary documents. It’s especially painful to see Ford’s and Sullavan’s characters dream of a life in the United States when we know how the odds would have been stacked against that. The movie’s one weakness might be its ultra-episodic organization, but the director is telling a big story, and the constant shifts in scene and tone reflect the unpredictability of life without a home: things happen. Ford and Sullavan are especially good here, and Leonid Kinskey and Erich von Stroheim add comedy and menace to the proceedings. ★★★★ (TCM)

[Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz’s novel The Passenger would make a great complement to this movie.]


Cage of Evil (dir. Edward L. Cahn, 1960). Eddie Mueller apologized for this one. It is pretty bad, but, alas, not bad enough to be good — just stupid. Scott Harper (Ronald Foster), a cop improbably headed for a promotion, and Holly Taylor (Pat Blair), a crook’s girl, get together in an improbable scheme to make off with some uncut diamonds. With a dopey voiceover by John Maxwell as Foster’s superior, a brief appearance by Robert Shayne (Inspector Henderson from Adventures of Superman), and one awkwardly funny moment when Scott is surprised to meet up with his fellow cops as he’s about to sell the diamonds. ★ (TCM)


The Iron Curtain (dir. William Wellman, 1948). A story of espionage and renunciation, from the memoirs of Igor Gouzenko, told in semi-documentary style with a voiceover by Reed Hadley. Dana Andrews is Gouzenko, a code expert working at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa; Gene Tierney is his wife Anna. When Igor (with help from Anna) begins to recognize the shared humanity of his Canadian neighbors, he makes a decision that puts him and his relatives back home in danger. With music from Russian composers and stylish shadows from cinematographer Charles G.Clarke. ★★★★ (YT)


My Cousin Rachel (dir. Henry Koster, 1952). From a novel by Daphne Du Maurier: gothic noir, with cliffs, a great house by the sea, overtones of Hamlet (and Rebecca), and ambiguities that never resolve. Olivia de Haviland is Rachel Ashley, widow of Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton), the beloved guardian and cousin of Philip Ashley (Richard Burton). Philip suspects Rachel of killing Ambrose in Italy, but finds himself falling in love with her when she comes to visit the great house in England. De Haviland and Burton are superb: a cool cipher and a younger man utterly besotted. ★★★★ (YT)


Chicago Confidential (dir. Sidney Salkow, 1957) I chose it after seeing that the first scene was shot on location. But that was false advertising; all other locations are on sets. The movie tells a story of racketeers taking over a union (the Workers National Brotherhood, which seems like a thinly disguised version of the Teamsters) and using any means necessary to establish their authority. Four pluses: a nerdy demonstration of voice analysis via oscilloscope, an impressionist’s nightclub act, a spirited performance from Beverly Garland (Barbara Harper Douglas on My Three Sons), and a moment straight from The 39 Steps, which I am happy to have predicted. ★★ (YT)


Take My Life (dir. Ronald Neame, 1947). From the magical year 1947, a Hitchcockian story of a man wrongly accused of murder (Hugh Williams) and his wife’s (Greta Gynt) effort to establish his innocence. The musical backdrop — she’s an opera singer, he’s her manager — matters little, save for one melody, found on a sheet of music paper in a suitcase. The movie drags in the middle but quickens considerably when the story moves from London to Scotland. The near-duplication of a scene from Shadow of a Doubt is astonishing in its shamelessness. ★★★ (IA)


Exposed (dir. George Blair, 1947). A Republic Picture, with Adele Mara as private detective B. Prentice. A dumb effort with some snappy patter. “He’s a bad egg, honey.” “Don’t worry — I’ll scramble him.” ★★ (YT)


Moss Rose (dir. Gregory Ratoff, 1947). Victorian noir: Peggy Cummins (Gun Crazy) as a chorus girl in Victorian England who finds her friend and fellow dancer dead, with a Bible and a moss rose on her night table. But whodunit? With Victor Mature as a suave foreign-looking gentleman, Patricia Medina as his jealous fiancée, and Ethel Barrymore as his mother. And Vincent Price as a Scotland Yard inspector with extensive knowledge of flowers. ★★★★ (YT)


The Baron of Arizona (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1950). Based on the true story of James Reavis, who laid fraudulent claim to the territory of Arizona. Vincent Price is Reavis, an arrogant, slick fabulator, and any resemblance to any present-day fabulator is pure coincidence. With Beulah Bondi, Ellen Drew, and Reed Hadley as a narrator and character. Exciting to see a movie in which ink is a crucial plot element. ★★★ (CC)

Related reading
All OCA movie posts (Pinboard)


A remarkable premise: a VR headset that kills the user after a lost game. What would David Foster Wallace say?

Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

[Readers of Infinite Jest will recall “the Entertainment.”]

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger if not more helpful view.]

I couldn’t resist. But I’m guessing that someone will know who’s under wraps here. Leave your answer in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one is needed.

Here’s a hint before I head out for a walk: when the bandages come off, he’ll have a new life and the face of a famous actor.


All is now revealed in the comments, with a link to a screenshot without bandages.

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

Today’s Nancy

In today’s Nancy, repurposed Halloween decorations. I wonder if the rainbow is meaningful.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

About last night

In Illinois: we have a Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, &c. Voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. (No thanks to downstate voters there.) Two friends of ours were reelected to the county board (the only Democrats). And we still have Mary Miller to disgrace us on the national stage (though her pal Lauren Boebert may be on her way out).

The national news last night was good, at least better than many people expected. Elaine and I stayed up late enough to hear John Fetterman speak. This morning I noticed a tweet from Asha Rangappa:

Maybe the GOP will realize that Trump getting indicted and going to jail may not be a bad thing.
And with Letitia James and Kathy Hochul reelected, there’d be no pardon to await in New York State.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Carrying a torch

From the latest installment of Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American, posted thirty-three minutes ago:

I just got a text from a Gen Z voter in Michigan who has been in line to vote for more than an hour and predicts he will be there hours more. He has no intention of leaving. If there is an obvious story from today with results still unknown, it is this: a new generation is picking up the torch of our democracy.

Dialogue and the comma

At CMOS Shop Talk, Carol Sallers asked, “Is a Comma Needed to Introduce Dialogue?” And she answered, “Yes, at least sometimes.”

I will happily admit that this question of punctuation has always baffled me, and I’ve done my best — and will continue to do my best — to avoid having to face it. But I’m saving the link for future reference.

Two sentences Sallers wonders about:

Kat set the painting on the windowsill, muttering “One more to go.”

Kat set the painting on the windowsill, muttering, “One more to go.”
And she concludes — rightly, I’d say — that either way is fine.

When I taught writing, I would have called the second comma in that sentence a comma of seasoning. Put it in? Fine. Leave it out? Fine. Your call. Just be sure not to skimp on the garlic.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

A new Swann in Love

From Pushkin Press, Swann in Love, translated by Lucy Raitz and billed by the publisher as “the perfect introduction to one of the world’s great novelists.” The Washington Post has a review (caution: it’s all spoilers).

I dunno: I’d think of “Combray,” the first section of Swann’s Way, as the perfect introduction to Proust. After all, it’s the beginning to the novel, and it gives the reader the madeleine, which to my mind is all one needs to want to keep going.

Here is the first paragraph of “Un amour de Swann,” as translated by Raitz and by Lydia Davis:

[Lucy Raitz, 2022.]

[Lydia Davis, 2004.]

And the original:

[Marcel Proust, 1913.]

What do you notice?

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[I’ve omitted note numbers for Planté, Rubinstein, and Potain from both translations.]