Wednesday, May 31, 2023

F.S. Royster Guano Co. notebook

[An antiques-mall find ($2.00). 5¼″ × 3″. Click for a larger view.]

According to a 2019 newspaper article, the F.S. Royster Guano Company began in 1885 in Tarboro, North Carolina. This notebook gives Norfolk, Virgina, as the main office, with sixteen other plants and offices in the south and midwest.

Inside this book, useful information — brief explanations of what different plant foods do, guidelines for measuring grain and lumber, a recipe for house paint (lead and zinc), 1943 and 1944 calendars on the inside covers. And thirty-two pages for writing, each with seventeen lines below a heading, a different heading on each page. For instance,

        With ROYSTER’S Under Your Crop
                a Load is Off Your Mind.
I’m not sure if that’s meant to be funny. If it is meant so, it’s the only such heading that is.

As you may know, agricultural notebooks are a primary inspiration for the contemporary Field Notes Brand.

Pocket notebook sighting

[Dayton Lummis as Dr. Carl Morris. From The Flight That Disappeared (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1961). Click for a larger view.]

If you knew what was on that notebook page, you too would tear it out and tear it up — I hope.

More notebook sightings
All the King’s Men : Angels with Dirty Faces : The Bad and the Beautiful : Ball of Fire : The Big Clock : Bombshell : The Brasher Doubloon : The Case of the Howling Dog : Cat People : Caught : City Girl : Crossing Delancey : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dead End : Deep Valley : The Devil and Miss Jones : Dragnet : Extras : Eyes in the Night : The Face Behind the Mask : The Fearmakers : A Foreign Affair : Foreign Correspondent : Fury : The Girl in Black Stockings : Homicide : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : I See a Dark Stranger : If I Had a Million : Journal d’un curé de campagne : Kid Glove Killer : The Last Laugh : Le Million : The Lodger : Lost Horizon : M : Ministry of Fear : Mr. Holmes : Murder at the Vanities : Murder by Contract : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Naked Edge : Now, Voyager : The Palm Beach Story : Perry Mason : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : The Racket : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : La roue : Route 66The Scarlet Claw : Sleeping Car to Trieste : The Small Back Room : The Sopranos : Spellbound : Stage Fright : State Fair : A Stranger in Town : Stranger Things : Sweet Smell of Success : Time Table : T-Men : To the Ends of the Earth : 20th Century Women : Union Station : Vice Squad : Walk East on Beacon! : What Happened Was . . . : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window : You Only Live Once : Young and Innocent

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

From 1945 and 1943

From today’s installment of Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American:

Beginning in 1943, the War Department published a series of pamphlets for U.S. Army personnel in the European theater of World War II. Titled Army Talks, the series was designed “to help [the personnel] become better-informed men and women and therefore better soldiers.”

On March 24, 1945, the topic for the week was “FASCISM!”
The fascist playbook, as described in this pamphlet, repeats as the playbook of today’s hard right: cast one’s cause as “super-Americanism,” foment domestic disunity and hatred of minorities, reject the need for international cooperation, and label one’s opponents communists.

You can read the pamphlet at the Internet Archive.

And from 1943, there’s the anti-fascist short film Don’t Be a Sucker.

Where did the hats go?

[The Flight That Disappeared (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1961). Click for a larger view.]

I’ve sometimes thought it’d be fun to take along a nice straw when flying, but what to do with it? Certainly not keep it on my lap for the length of the flight. No way! Which made me wonder: what did men on planes do back in the day, when everyone wore a hat? This movie let me know.

The above flight is a fiction, but any number of photographs will confirm that hats went above the seats. For instance. Baggage, at least most of it, would have been checked. Women would most likely have kept their hats on.


A reader passed on a link to an advertisement for the Mallory “Air Cruiser,” a hat “styled for the skyways,” “for gentlemen who travel.” N.B.: “Exclusive Mallory Cravenette process withstands varied types of weather throughout the world.” I think that means that the hat was meant to serve as a beater.

Thanks, reader.

Twelve movies

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

Big Eyes (dir. Tim Burton, 2014). Amy Adams as the mid-century American artist Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter Keane took credit for her paintings of children with big, sad eyes. The lie, with Margaret complicit, ran for years. Adams gives a great performance as a woman with and without agency, sitting (like Rapunzel) in a locked room, cranking out paintings for which she can take no credit — until she does. As Walter Keane, Christoph Waltz is all charm, deception, desperation, and, finally, rage. ★★★★ (N)

[If you’d like to see the Life magazine article seen in the movie, it’s here.]


The Depraved (dir. Paul Dickson, 1957). To say that it’s more than slightly reminiscent of Double Indemnity is no spoiler: you can see where the story is headed from its first minutes. As a U.S. Army captain stationed in England, Robert Arden has the advantage of even looking as bit like Fred MacMurray; as the calm, cool Laura Wilton, Anne Heywood makes a marked contrast to the weird glamour of Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson. The most interesting performances are those of Basil Dignam (nasty, domineering Tom Wilton) and Denis Shaw (an implacable inspector). Only seventy-one minutes, so the thought of murder comes up as soon as the principals meet — there’s no time to lose. ★★★ (YT)


Hunted (dir. Charles Crichton, 1952). A man, Chris (Dirk Bogarde), and boy, Robbie (Jon Whiteley), no relation, fleeing London and the authorities, civil and parental. Overtones of Huck and Jim; much stronger overtones of Alfred (Hitchcock), with bumbling policemen, rural innkeepers, and danger in every circumstance. As almost-seven Robbie, Jon Whiteley has little to say, but his silent sorrow and his devotion to Chris are the moral center of the movie. We know what’ll happen to Chris, but what will become of this poor boy? ★★★★ (YT)


Room 222, first season (created by James L. Brooks, 1969–1970). I think I owe some explanation of how this viewing effort (twenty-six episodes!) came about: program notes for an orchestral work by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson mentioned that he wrote the Room 222 theme. No, that was Jerry Goldsmith (Perkinson wrote some incidental music for the series), but the mistake was enough to get our household watching. This series was well ahead of its time, depicting life in a multicultural Los Angeles high school and touching on a wide array of topics (though not, at least in this first season, the war in Vietnam): overcrowded classrooms, outdated pedagogy, economic disparity, global warming, the exploitation of college athletes. History teacher Pete Dixon (Lloyd Haynes), guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (Denise Nicholas), principal Seymour Kaufman (Michael Constantine), student teacher Alice Johnson (Karen Valentine), and student regulars (Heshimu as Jason Allen, Howard Rice as Richie Lane, Judy Strangis as Helen Loomis) make up an earnest, endearing, sometimes contentious, mostly groovy bunch. ★★★★ (YT)


A Damsel in Distress (dir. George Stevens, 1937). Story by P.G. Wodehouse, music by George and Ira Gershwin, with Fred Astaire as an American entertainer (what else?) in London. There’s a love interest (Joan Fontaine), who has just one, barely one, dance with Fred. The fireworks kick in when Astaire dances with his press agent and his secretary, George Burns and Gracie Allen, first in a manor house (“Put Me to the Test”), then in a fun house (“Stiff Upper Lip”). The grand finale: “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” with Astaire dancing and playing a drum kit (with both hands and feet). ★★★★ (TCM)


The Flight That Disappeared (dir.Reginald Le Borg, 1961). “This whole business has a strange, abnormal ring,” says an airline exec. Indeed, it has the feel of a Twlight Zone effort, with a Rod Serling-like nobility of purpose: to warn against the peril of nuclear weapons. The acting is passable; the sets are low-budget; but the story is imaginative, even daring. And now I know that men’s hats went on the shelf above the seats, where the pillows were kept: “May I take your hat?” asks a flight attendant. ★★★ (YT)


I’ve Lived Before (dir. Richard Bartlett, 1956). First it’s 1918; then it’s 1931; then it’s modern times: and it’s all about a commercial pilot who’s convinced he’s the reincarnation of a WWI pilot. Jock Mahoney is the pilot; John McIntire is the psychiatrist presiding over his care; their exchanges are soporific. The big flaw: there’s no sense of eerieness here, just too many dull conversations. Ann Harding’s dignified, understated performance as the WWI pilot’s sweetheart walks away with the movie. ★★ (YT)


It Happens Every Thursday (dir. Joseph Pevney, 1953). Capraesque comedy: a New York couple, Jane and Bob MacAvoy (Loretta Young and John Forsythe) buy a dinky newspaper in Eden, California, and wouldn’t you know it, lots of things go wrong — one of which is that the press breaks down every Thursday. Jane is plucky and quick-thinking; Bob is hardworking and cheerful. A great number of familiar faces make for an appealing cast: Edgar Buchanan, Jimmy Conlin, Jane Darwell, Gladys George, Frank McHugh, Regis Toomey, Willard Waterman, Eddy Waller (yes, we watch a lot of older movies). I reached a Capracorn breaking point seeing Jane and Bob’s new baby, “Sister,” nestled in an open file cabinet, and I watched in fear that the movie would end with Jane and Bob realizing — gosh! — that they had forgotten to give her a name. ★★★ (YT)


Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb (dir. Lizzie Gottlieb, 2022). A writer and editor, talking about and working out their almost-fifty-year collaboration. Wonderful stuff: a search for a pencil, a search in a margin for the best word, arguments about semicolons, a tower of manuscript pages, a brief discourse about the catalogue of ships in the Iliad (which inspired a passage in The Power Broker ), a visit to the daunting archives of the LBJ Presidential Library, a massive multipage outline thumbtacked to a corkboard that fills a wall. The best moment: writer and editor at work, with mics off — because the work is private. A bonus: music by Olivier and Clare Machon (both formerly of Clare and the Reasons). ★★★★ (YT)


Modern Romance (dir. Albert Brooks, 1981). Albert Brooks is Robert Cole, a film editor whose major professional accomplishment in the movie’s 133 minutes is dubbing louder footsteps as George Kennedy runs through the corridor of a spaceship. The movie charts the course of Robert’s relationship with Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold), a bank executive who seems to be miles ahead of him in maturity. A funny, sad picture of male insecurity and mistrust. As Elaine wondered, is this what men are really like? ★★★★ (CC)


Conspirator (dir. Victor Saville, 1949). It’s like a cross between Jane Austen and Alfred Hitchcock: Melinda Greyton (Elizabeth Taylor), a young American abroad, sits at a London gathering, waiting to be asked to dance; a dashing somewhat older man, Michael Curran (Robert Taylor), a major in the British army, steps into the room; and marriage follows. In the Austen world, that would be the end of the story, but here it’s the beginning, with Melinda’s playful spirit coming up against her husband’s odd absences and unpredictable moments of anger. As the movie’s title suggests, this major harbors a dark secret. Strong overtones of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, with discovery, danger, and a lie to preserve a status quo. ★★★★ (TCM)


Crime Unlimited (dir. Ralph Ince, 1935). A new recruit to Scotland Yard (Esmond Knight) goes undercover to infiltrate the Maddick gang, jewel thieves flourishing in London. Nothing especially original in the story, but there’s atmosphere abounding, with dark rooms, glaring lights, odd camera angles, a glamorous Russian (Lili Palmer) who may or may not be trustworthy, and a criminal mastermind seen only as a hand over a chessboard. When the mastermind reveals himself, it’s like seeing Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse. But it’s the Hitchcock influence that carries the day and makes the movie watching. ★★★ (TCM)

Related reading
All OCA “twelve movies” posts (Pinboard)

Monday, May 29, 2023

Recently updated

Succession and poetry Now with a thought about the John Berryman titles.

Books UnBanned

An initiative from the Brooklyn Public Library: Books UnBanned, “to help teens combat the negative impact of increased censorship and book bans in libraries across the country.” Books UnBanned offers readers between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one, anywhere in the United States, a year’s free access to the BPL’s e-books and audiobooks.

Nick Higgins, Chief Librarian:

Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly against censorship and for the principles of intellectual freedom — the right of every individual to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. Limiting access or providing one-sided information is a threat to democracy itself.
Young readers should know about this offer. Please spread the word.

Don’t like a library book?

From Take action for libraries, a handy step-by-step guide: “What do I do if I don't like a book at the library?”

Memorial Day

[“Evacuees of Japanese ancestry attending Memorial Day services at Manzanar, California, a War Relocation authority center — Boy Scouts and American Legion members participating in the services appear in the foreground.” 1942. From the Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

It’s an extraordinary image: people participating in the forms of the culture that has consigned them to a concentration camp. It’s the perennial question of what it means to love a country that doesn’t love you back, and that blurs your imprisonment with the delicate word evacuees.

Nine Japanese immigrants went down with the US Maine in 1898. More than 800 Japanese immigrants and nisei served during World War I. An estimated 33,000 Japanese Americans served in World War II; approximately 800 died. More about their service here and here.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

A despedida, Marie Elisabeth

[137 Franklin Street, Finn Square, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Are Marie Elisabeth sardines the best? They’re still around, but I’ve never seen them, much less tasted them. The Portuguese Canning Industry Digital Museum has fifty-six package designs for the company’s sardines and anchovies, which suggests, if not “best,” then certainly “ubiquitous.”

The single-story building on the corner was torn down sometime before April 2009. A Google Maps photograph shows slight traces of letters still visible. Since 2011, a “boutique building” (six stories, three apartments) has stood on the corner. A 2012 New York Times article has more about the history of Finn Square.

A despedida, Marie Elisabeth.

Thanks, Brian.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Succession and poetry

From Andrew Epstein’s blog Locus Solus: Succession, Jeremy Strong, and Frank O’Hara.

Also with John Berryman: did you know that the the final episode of each season of Succession takes its title from Berryman’s “Dream Song 29”?


Having watched the show’s final episode, I tend to think that the primary purpose of the Berryman quotations is to add yet another layer of literariness to the proceedings — to deepen the veneer, so to speak. As when Mad Men invoked Frank O’Hara’s poem “Mayakovsky,” I think that the Berryman invocations here amount to much of nothing.

[“Much of nothing”: a favorite fambly phrase from the early years.]

George Maharis (1928–2023)

George Maharis, Buz Murdock of Route 66, has died at the age of ninety-four. The Hollywood Reporter has an obituary.

After watching all of Route 66 in 2013, Elaine and I wrote fan letters to George Maharis and Martin Milner. Here’s one of them:

Dear Mr. Maharis,

We spent a good part of April, May, and June watching the complete run of Route 66 on DVD. We’re writing to thank you — fifty years late — for the terrific work you did as Buz Murdock. We greatly enjoyed the series’s writing, camerawork, and, especially, the acting. Among our favorite Buz-centric episodes are “The Mud Nest” and “Even Stones Have Eyes.” We especially like Buz’s insistent optimism and willingness to believe in people, as when he tells the dancer Rosemarie Brown (Elizabeth Seal), “I see a champion.”

It is amazing to see a series that can range from tragedy to comedy, even slapstick, while always making room for fisticuffs, poetry, and progressive jazz. We’re both in our fifties — too young to have paid attention to Route 66 the first time around, but old enough now to realize how great the series was.

All best wishes,
And George Maharis wrote back.


The New York Times now has an obituary.

Related reading
All OCA Route 66 posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Steve Mossberg, and it’s ultra-difficult. I made a good start with 33-D, six letters, “Tighten up, perhaps,” whose last letter gave me a good guess for 32-A, thirteen letters, “Sidewalk café patron, perhaps.” The stickiest parts of this puzzle: the northeast and southwest corners. I had to plug in four or five letters to get the southwest corner. Marone!

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, five letters, “Nothing to worry about.” Just pleasingly clever.

4-D, nine letters, “Small sums.” Not a plural you see very often.

6-D, ten letters, “French fashion.” I had the answer, though I’d long forgotten what it means.

28-A, thirteen letters, “High-tech plants.” The first in a stepped stack of thirteen-letter answers. 32-A is the second.

24-A, thirteen letters, “Rigid reminder.” The third in that stack.

24-D, ten letters, “24th century teakettle.” I’m sure that this clue is meant as a giveaway, but I thought it must have to do with ancient China.

30-D, nine letters, “Racing vehicles.” Only mildly misdirective.

43-D, four letters, “Sphere sliced for snacking.” Not an OREO, though that’s one way to eat them.

47-A, seven letters, “Touch technology.” I just like the word.

55-A, five letters, “Literary heavens.” Why do crossword clues so often make the literary or poetic synonymous with archaisms and stilted contractions? EEN, OER, ORB, &c.

Ugliest row of answers in the puzzle: 36-A, three letters, “The Chesapeake, to geologists”; 37-A, four letters, “Botanical branches”; 38-A, three letters, “Union returnee, Jun. 1868.” (That silly “Jun.” — because there has to be an abbreviation.)

My favorite in this puzzle: 18-D, eight letters, “Encouraging words.” In the American grain.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 26, 2023

A teaching moment

I sometimes taught Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” (take two) in intro poetry classes. Its imagery, economy of means, and emotional intensity make the song an extraordinary piece of poetry. (Here are the lyrics.)

The singer begins by going to a crossroads and falling to his knees, pleading for God to save him. He then stands and tries to flag a ride. Vehicles go by; he doesn’t move. He notices the sun sinking down and asks someone else to carry a message to his friend-boy Willie Brown: “Lord, that I’m standin’ at the crossroads babe, I believe I’m sinkin’ down.” He’s still standing, but he feels that he’s sinking. Standing at a crossroads, which seems to promise horizontal movement, he, like the sun, is moving downward.

One time after I played Johnson’s recording, a student in the front row said “You should’ve played Cream.” I smiled and asked, “Where do you think they got it?”

Related reading
All OCA Robert Johnson posts (Pinboard)

[A friend-boy is a male friend. The lyrics of Cream’s “Crossroads,” with their Rosedale choruses, seem incoherent by comparison. And yes, in teaching “Cross Road Blues” I took the opportunity to talk about sundown towns. And no, Robert Johnson did not go to a crossroads to sell his soul to the devil.]

Icicles, shrimp, and tamales

From Mack McCormick’s Biography of a Phantom: A Robert Johnson Blues Odyssey, ed. John Troutman (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2023):

From a pile of old road maps I’d found in a used bookstore, I dug out a Standard Oil map published in 1942. This one conveniently put Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi — plus a corner of Tennessee — on the same sheet. It covered everything from Memphis down to New Orleans, and it showed the roads substantially as they were in Johnson’s lifetime. I devised a code for marking the map: a red triangle for a place mentioned in the songs, a black circle for a town that he was said to have frequented, an abbreviated note that would lead me back to the source, and some cryptic symbols indicating my own hunch as to how trustworthy each entry might be.

I started with the primary clues: the places Johnson had sung about. He’d mentioned eleven towns: Chicago, East Monroe, Friars Point, Gulfport, Hot Springs, Memphis, Norfolk, Rosedale, Vicksburg, West Helena, and West Memphis. Three states: Arkansas, California, and Tennessee. Three nations: China, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. And two transportation lines: Greyhound and the “Gulfport Island Road.” In addition, there were three words from which some geographic inferences could be drawn: icicles, shrimp, and tamales.

It wasn’t a long list, only twenty-two items in all.
This passage gives some sense of the book, which is, in truth, not a biography but an account of the writer’s detective-like pursuit of the facts of Robert Johnson’s life. As the editor points out, McCormick was given to considerable fabulation, so it’s difficult to think that everything presented here as fact is fact (especially the astonishing elements of chance that lead to some of McCormick’s discoveries). And there’s much that could be here that’s missing: material gathered from two of Johnson’s sisters is omitted, a decision the Smithsonian made in light of McCormick’s shamelessly dishonest dealings with the women. And here’s a spoiler: an editor’s endnote says there is no evidence that McCormick identified and interviewed Johnson’s killer. For years, McCormick claimed that he couldn’t publish his work until the guilty party was dead.

The best moment, which I hope has a basis in reality, though there are no photographs here to document it: a listening party of sorts, with McCormick playing the 1961 compilation LP King of the Delta Blues Singers for men and women who had last heard Johnson sing and play thirty-odd years before.

My next reading: Annye C. Anderson’s Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson (with Preston Lauterbach), by the sister McCormick didn’t interview. But first I’m going to listen to the recordings.

Related reading
All OCA Robert Johnson posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Sill bitar after all these years

[Click for a larger view.]

Fresca sent this photograph. Thanks, Fresca. The jar is holding buttons.

Sill bitar is Swedish for “herring pieces.” And yes, sill bitar after all these years: Noon Hour Food Products has been at it since 1876.

[Herring today, sardines Sunday, in the form of an NYC tax photograph.]

A dictionary in progress

Aunt Hagar’s children, bussin, cakewalk, chitterlings, grill, kitchen, old school, pat, Promised Land, ring shout : ten entries from the Oxford Dictionary of African American English, in progress.

A New York Times article has the words, their definitions, and background about the project.

A related post

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Gray’s Papaya’s Nicholas Gray

The New York Times has an obituary for Nicholas Gray, the Gray of Gray’s Papaya.

Gray’s Papaya is a wonderful place to stop if you’re in Manhattan. And yes, “you chew standing.”

About reading

Catherine Rampell, writing in The Washington Post :

Amid debates about how children will process texts invoking racism or sexual identity, a much more basic question plagues our educational system: whether children can process texts, period.
It is disheartening that the culture wars have come for not just lesson plans but librarians, too. Librarians are instrumental in promoting literacy. They guide students toward texts that will absorb and engage them. They nudge kids toward books, films, periodicals and online resources that will answer burning, sometimes embarrassing questions.

Perhaps most important, they teach children how to critically evaluate the credibility of their sources — not only the tomes on library shelves but also whatever they might find in the Wild West of TikTok and Reddit, where protective parents are less able to gate-keep.

Call me old-school, but maybe we should devote less energy to limiting what kids are reading and more to whether they can read at all.
Related reading
A few OCA Sold a Story posts

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

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


The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

I’ve just seen a face

Related reading
All OCA pareidolia posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

When writers go on strike

What? From The New York Times:

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is planning to announce the start of his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday in a live audio conversation on Twitter with Elon Musk, the platform’s polarizing owner, according to people with knowledge of his plans.
That’s the kind of laughably crappy storyline you’re left with when writers go on strike.

Mimestream out of beta

Mimestream, the great Gmail client for Mac, is out of beta and thus no longer available for free. I’ve been using Mimestream since November 2021. As I wrote back then, “I plan to pay for the app when it goes to market, even (so help me) if it’s available only by subscription.” It is now available by subscription only, and I have kept my word.

“The three-ring kind”

Steven Millhauser, “The Sledding Party,” in In the Penny Arcade (1986).

Pretzels turn up here and there in Steven Millhauser’s fiction: rods, sticks, and (elsewhere) three-ringers. I think of them as a marker of mid-century American life, like plaid thermoses and transistor radios. One of the books on Edwin Mullhouse’s bookshelf when he’s two and three: The Little Pretzel Who Had No Salt.

Here is the pretzel form that young Catherine is missing:

[Life, March 8, 1968. Click for a larger, saltier view.]

Raise your hand if you remember when pretzels came in waxed-paper bags enclosed in carboard boxes. Raise your hand if you remember when “salty” was a selling point.

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

Alembic, humph

[New York Times Spelling Bee, May 23, 2023.]

I thought that alembic would be one of today’s pangrams. “Not in word list,” says the Bee. Humph.

Merriam-Webster has it covered: “an apparatus used in distillation,” “something that refines or transmutes as if by distillation.” There’s even an illustration.

Sample sentence: “I thought that alembic would be one of today’s pangrams.”

Monday, May 22, 2023

“Reachable by rowboat”

The New Dressler is no ordinary hotel.

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

If this description piques your interest, read the novel and discover the wonders of Martin Dressler’s next hotel, the Grand Cosmo.

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

A word of a day: gamut

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day yesterday was gamut. Dig its origin:

The first note on the scale of Guido d’Arezzo, an 11th century musician and monk who had his own way of applying syllables to musical tones, was ut. D’Arezzo also called the first line of his bass staff gamma, which meant that gamma ut was the term for a note written on the first staff line. In time, gamma ut underwent a shortening to gamut, and later its meaning expanded first to cover all the notes of d’Arezzo’s scale, then to cover all the notes in the range of an instrument, and, eventually, to cover an entire range of any sort.
The American Heritage Dictionary entry for gamut provides a helpful gloss on ut :
first word in a Latin hymn to Saint John the Baptist, the initial syllables of successive lines of which were sung to the notes of an ascending scale CDEFGA: Ut queant laxis re sonare fibris Mi ra gestorum fa muli tuorum, Sol ve polluti la bii reatum, Sancte Iohannes.
A Wikipedia article about the hymn “Ut queant laxis” has much more, including the addition of the note si, later ti, a drink with jam and bread.

On a related note: here are Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, and Van Dyke Parks, performing Woody Guthrie’s Do Re Mi.

[Too late: after writing this post, I discovered that gamut was the subject of a less detailed 2005 OCA post. I’ve capitalized the name d’Arezzo in the second sentence of the passage from Merriam-Webster. From The Chicago Manual of Style, 8.5, “Names with particles”: “When the surname is used alone, the particle is usually (but not always) retained, capitalized or lowercased and spaced as in the full name (though always capitalized when beginning a sentence or a note).”]

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Horse fail

In the aftermath of the Preakness Stakes, many references in the news to a horse failing a drug test. To my ear, that’s like saying that a car failed a sobriety test. It would make better sense to say that a horse was given or injected with a banned substance. It’s the owners or trainers who failed the horse.

Grim, grey, unaffordable

[829–849 39th Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn. c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click any image for a much larger view.]

The archives say 38th Street, but in fact it’s 39th, between 8th and 9th Avenues, not far from New Utrecht Avenue. I like this grim, grey assortment of buildings and think all four of these photographs belong in one post.

Can you spot the mysterious figure in one of the photographs? Gotta click through.

By 1943, Allied Builders Supply Corp. had run into difficulty with creditors. In the 1980s, its address, 829–833, was still home to a building supply business, whose tax photo is far too blurry to yield a name. Today, 829–833 houses a Holiday Inn Express and a condo development. No more auto wrecking at 839: Model Garage has been at that address since at least the 1980s.

And 849? It still stands as a funky residence, now valued at more than $1.5 million. You begin to understand why we gave up on the idea of retiring to Brooklyn. These photographs are much more affordable.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff,” Stan Newman, the puzzle’e editor. It was an easier (less rough) Stumper, but that didn’t stop me from missing by one square, at the intersection of 34-D, four letters, “It means ‘little’” and 42-A, twelve letters, “Emma Watson’s Little Women sister.”

The problem (for me): there are two equally plausible possibilities for 34-D, and if you don’t know how to spell the name of Emma Watson’s Little Women sister — that is, the name of the actor who plays that sister — you might have already dropped in the wrong four-letter answer, as I saw I had when I checked the grid. I’m not sure if that intersection is a deliberately tricky spot or an oversight, but I’m going to offer (in the comments) what I think is a better (fairer) 34-D clue.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, eight letters, “Earned C’s.” Clever, especially as the first six letters might leave you wondering what else to add. My favorite in this puzzle.

1-D, four letters, “Android ancestors.” I remember mine somewhat fondly.

5-D, three letters and 57-A, eight letters, “Spiritual leader’s resource.” I don’t get either answer.

6-D, seven letters, “Second shots.” Takes me back.

7-D, six letters, “Word from the Greek for ‘milk.’” I learned it from a friend not long ago.

15-A, eight letters, “Cleaner named for its ‘round-the-clock’ value.” Cleaner? Eww.

29-D, six letters, “Biblical commissioner.” Heh.

52-D, four letters, “Galileo’s ‘sunlight, held together by water.’” I took a (good) guess.

61-A, six letters, “Head rest in the Beatles’ ‘Octopus’s Garden.’” Whaddaya know? The word is indeed in the lyrics.

62-A, eight letters, “Request for inspirational assistance.” I thought this clue must be a pun about breathing.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Great Lives: Terry Hall

The BBC Radio 4 broadcast Great Lives looks at the life of Terry Hall, lead singer of the Specials.

I’ve been following Great Lives for more than three years. This episode is one of the best I’ve heard.

A related post
Terry Hall (1959–2022)

Turn on your hazard lights, &c.

What with people taking to the highways this time of year, I thought I’d repost some suggestions I wrote out in 2011:

If you’re driving on a highway and the traffic suddenly slows or stops, and the vehicles behind you are at some distance:

1. Turn on your hazard lights.

2. Leave significant space between you and the vehicle in front of you.

3. Keep checking your rear-view mirror.

4. After someone has come up behind you, turn your hazard lights off.

If someone coming up behind you is not paying full attention, your hazard lights might catch their eye and prompt them to slow down or stop in time. If not, the free space in front of your vehicle might lessen the severity of a collision.

I called the Illinois State Police to ask what they thought about using hazard lights in this way. A desk sergeant said it was the right thing to do and added the second and third suggestions. I've added the fourth for clarity. Please, pass them on.

[What prompted me to think about these things? Driving on interstates through rain and fog and using hazard lights when traffic suddenly slowed and I was the last in line. I also left significant space and checked my mirror, but I do those things without thinking and would not have thought to recommend them.]

Thursday, May 18, 2023


Martin Dressler has been looking at the advertisements in the cars of the horse railway lines. He has an idea about how to advertise the Metropolitan Lunchroom and Billiard Parlor.

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

It’s only 1894, and Martin has anticipated the Sachplakat approach to advertising — the single striking image — that was to develop in the early twentieth century. He’s a man ahead of the times.

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

Turn off YouTube voiceover

“A royal blue background fills the screen with white words at its center: Sony Digital Classics. Close blurry glimpses of white letters resolve into words on a black background: Topic Studios.”

And we who rented the movie would spend half an hour or so trying to figure out how to turn off the voice that was telling us what we were seeing on our TV screen.

That was the unexpected start to our viewing of Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb (dir. Lizzie Gottlieb, 2022), rented via YouTube. Was it a Roku problem? No. A problem with the YouTube settings? So it would seem, but the YouTube settings have nothing about accessibility or audio. The problem lay in the settings that were in place — how? why? — for this movie.

The solution: press the up arrow on the remote twice and move to the right — Channel, Captions, Like, Dislike, Save, Settings. In Settings, choose Audio tracks and change “English descriptive” to “English original.” Then watch the movie in peace.

[I recommend Turn Every Page with considerable enthusiasm.]

World of string

[Nancy, May 23, 1950.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, we behold the world in which all kinds of packages were tied up with string. The grocer’s casual attitude — he’s turned his attention elsewhere, even as he replies to Nancy — changes in the strip’s final panel (what Ernie Bushmiller called “the snapper”), as the string unspools through the store window, past a hydrant, across a street, across a lawn, and into the sky, at the end of a kite.

I knew I’d seen this grocer before: he appears in the December 19, 1949 installment of Nancy, in which he obliges Nancy with some wrapping paper. (Some!) In a post about that strip, I wrote: “I hope the grocer has an enormous roll of string suspended from the ceiling with which to wrap packages.” He — and Ernie Bushmiller — haven’t let me down.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

“It’s a tall city”

Walter Dundee, engineer, and Martin Dressler, dreamer, laying plans for the Metropolitan Lunchroom and Billiard Parlor:

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

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts : Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

Some grades

[Nancy, May 22, 1950. Click for a larger view.]

In today’s yesterday’s Nancy, Nancy has offered cheerful news: she got an A in history. But Aunt Fritzi wants to know about “the general result.”

Related reading
All OCA “some rocks” posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

FSRC: annual report

The Four Seasons Reading Club, our household’s two-person adventure in reading, has finished its eighth year. The club began after I retired from teaching, so the year runs from May to May. Here’s what Elaine and I have read, in alphabetical order by writer, and chronological order by work:

Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, The Passenger

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Richard Hofstadter. "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"

Dorothy B. Hughes, Ride the Pink Horse, In a Lonely Place, The Expendable Man

James Joyce, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses

Nella Larsen, Complete Fiction (short stories, Quicksand, Passing )

Robert McCloskey, Homer Price

Steven Millhauser, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright, Portrait of a Romantic, In the Penny Arcade, From the Realm of Morpheus, The Barnum Museum, Little Kingdoms, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, The Knife Thrower, Enchanted Night, The King in the Tree: Three Novellas

Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Thanks to the translators who brought three of these writers to us: Philip Boehm (Boschwitz), Constance Garnett, Leonard J. Kent, and Nina Berberova (Dostoevsky); Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky (Tolstoy).

The FSRC continues its SMS (Steven Millhauser Spree) with Dangerous Laughter, beginning today.

Here are the reports for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 2021, and 2022.

[I just couldn’t bring myself to separate the Millhauser titles with semicolons because of Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright.]

“The power of good penmanship”

Alexander Westerhoven, manager of the Vanderlyn Hotel, is about to offer Martin Dressler, day clerk, the position of personal secretary to the manager.

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

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts : Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)


The New York Times visits the last seltzer works in New York City.

A coal-hole cover

From Ephemeral New York, the story behind one coal-hole cover.

Monday, May 15, 2023

School Trip grandparents

[Don’t skip the final paragraph.]

[Jerry Craft, School Trip (2023). Click for a much larger view.]

When Drew, Jordan, and Maury meet their friend Liam’s grandparents, Geoffrey and Diana Landers, grandma’s hand goes straight for her purse. She and her husband wonder in whispers if their son and daughter-in-law are now taking in foster children. Grandpa asks how Drew, Jordan, and Maury know Liam. They all go to the same school, Drew says, Riverdale Academy Day School. “You all go there?” grandpa asks.

And when the grandparents mention that they write a big check every year for the school’s scholarship fund (get it?), Maury, child of wealth, whose father used to be Liam’s father’s boss, says, “That’s great! So do my mom and dad.”

I think that Geoffrey and Diana Landers are drawn to look unmistakably like Logan Roy (Brian Cox) and Gerri Kellman (J. Smith-Cameron) of Succession. Am I right?

A related post
School Trip, my review

A new book from Jerry Craft

[Top to bottom: Drew, Liam, Jordan. Click for a larger view.]

Jerry Craft, School Trip. New York: HarperCollins, 2023. 250 pp. $14.99.

        Drew: “You know, never really see kids like us
        traveling in books and movies.”

        Maury: “I wonder why that is.”

        Jordan: “Hmmm . . .”
As our story begins, middle-schooler Jordan Banks is still without his “big-boy stink.” If his classmates are to be believed, he smells of baby powder and sunshine. He’s still torn between staying on at Riverdale Academy Day School and switching to the High School of Music, Art, and Mime, to which he’s just been accepted. And now, with the gift of a new beret from his parents, he’s off to Paris, with eight other Riverdale kids — Alexandra (“girl Alex”), Andy, Ashley, Drew, Liam, Maury, Ramon, Samira — and two teachers, Messrs. Garner and Roche.

School Trip brings in a wealth of cultural material: French work and play (lengthy paid vacations, slow eating), French cuisine (croissants, escargot, ratatouille), French words in English (bon voyage, rendezvous ), Black Americans in Paris (Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Ollie Harrington, Richard Wright). There are recurring comic bits about English idioms (“Stop and smell the roses”) and language quirks (Why a pair of pants? Why pork and beef, not pig and cow ?). And of course, there’s sightseeing, with visits to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and Sacré Couer, with child of wealth Maury leading the way.

But as Thomas Merton wrote, our real journey in life is interior. The kids’ room assignments lead to tension, the airing of grievances, truth-telling, apologies, and amends. The kids negotiate differences in economic status, race, and religion; ponder what it means to make a joke and what it means to be cruel; and come to understand the lasting pain of being bullied. All the kids are, as Jordan says, “new and improved kids” by the end of the trip — even obnoxious Andy.

Along the way, there’s a pre-Paris visit to a mall with a Banned Book Barn, a Jordan comic strip with a children's writer accused of having a “neo-faxo-harpo-marxo agenda” (“Lady, my book is about my puppy!” the writer replies), and a Riverdale Academy graphic-novel collection conspicuously devoid of two banned books that the librarian knows Jordan would like. As you may know, Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act have been banned (really) for (supposedly) promulgating critical race theory. It’s Craft though who gets the last laugh here, as Jordan’s mom cautions her son about unrealistic art aspirations:
Jordan Banks! You are a black kid who was born in Harlem and raised in Washington Heights . . .

“Do youreally think that one day you'll grow up to make some New York Times best-selling comic book that will win all the big literary awards, get translated into different languages, and then what? . . . get turned into a movie?”
Yes. (See the 3:47 mark.) It’s in development.

A related post
New Kid and Class Act, my review

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mother’s Day

[My mom, not yet a mom, in Florida, 1954. Photograph by my dad, not yet my dad. Shared with permission. Click for a larger view.]

Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Matthew Sewell. At some points I’d say that I 54-A, nine letters, “Dispreferred” it. There’s some pretty strained cluing. At other points, I was tempted to utter a 52-A, eight letters, “Declaration of frustration.” But if one 34-A, fifteen letters, “Weighs carefully,” one might find that one 20-D, twelve letters, “Concludes deliberations” — and successfully so. Which I did. I started in two corners with 1-A, four letters, “Sheet used by Greek bakers”and 46-A, seven letters, “Bonus numbers.” Those corners came together easily. The rest of the puzzle was considerably tougher.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-D, five letters, “Measure named for an Einstein idol.” Because I can’t believe I knew it.

7-D, four letters, “They’re there to stay” and 24-D, five letters, “It’s there to stay.” Strained, strained.

10-D, nine letters, “Aboriginal rite of passage.” It helps to watch movies.

11-D, four letters, “Round tab.” This one baffled me until it didn’t.

16-A, nine letters, “Significant change.” Yes, it’s a Stumper.

19-A, eight letters, “Many people call on them.” I was thinking of classrooms and pleas to the gods.

28-A, three letters, “Got behind.” Oy.

36-D, six letters, “Literary adjustment from past narratives.” I just like knowing what this word means.

40-A, four letters, “Smaller size treats.” I was thinking of a brand name.

49-D, five letters, “Etymology sharer with ‘sire.’ ” Now it seems obvious.

50-A, six letters, “Squeaky clean.” Clever, and not that easy to see.

55-A, five letters, “Divisive device in the theater.” Solvers might divide over whether this clue is unnecessarily strained.

57-A, four letters, “Prefix meaning ‘song.’ ” Thank you, Ezra Pound.

My favorite: 58-A, four letters, “Soft hail,” making a bit of crosswordese live anew.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Einstein Plumbing

From Letters of Note, Albert Einstein’s response to a question about the treatment of intellectuals in the McCarthy years:

You have asked me what I thought about your articles concerning the situation of the scientists in America. Instead of trying to analyze the problem I may express my feeling in a short remark:

If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.
And plumbers responded.

.mov and .zip

Google has created eight new top-level domains, including .mov and .zip. Imagine the hilarity when someone clicks to open what appears to be a .mov or .zip file and gets taken to a sketchy website. Taken, indeed.

Here’s a harmless example: As Stephen Hackett says, “Google has brought something terrible into the world.”

Friday, May 12, 2023

Recently updated

Van Dyke Parks in The Honeymooners He played Tommy Borden, not Tommy Manicotti.


[Beetle Bailey, May 12, 2023. Click for a larger view.]

In the second panel of today’s Beetle Bailey, Beetle makes the effort the look up the meaning on his phone. “To spend time idling,” he reports. And Sarge accuses him of lollygoogling.

A good dictionary would reveal an interesting history for lollygag. From Merriam-Webster:

Since the 19th century, lollygag (sometimes also spelled lallygag) has been used as a slang word to describe acts of wasting time as well as displays of affection. Nowadays, lollygag doesn’t usually refer to flirting or cuddling, but back in 1946, one Navy captain considered lollygagging enough of a problem to issue this stern warning: “Lovemaking and lollygagging are hereby strictly forbidden. . . . The holding of hands, osculation and constant embracing of WAVES [Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service], corpsmen or civilians and sailors or any combination of male and female personnel is a violation of naval discipline.”
The Oxford English Dictionary entry for lallygag (U.S. slang, origin unknown, “to fool around; to ‘neck’; to dawdle, to dally”) includes a citation from 1868 with this choice phrase: “lascivious lolly-gagging lumps of licentiousness.” (That sounds like something written by one of William Safire’s ancestors.) Green’s Dictionary of Slang has an entry for lallygag with a wealth of citations. The Google Ngram Viewer shows lolly- far outpacing the lollygagging lally-.

I think lollygoogle might have some usefulness as an arch way to describe idle searching, but I prefer to use DuckDuckGo.

[William Safire: responsible for Spiro Agnew’s “nattering nabobs of negativism.” And if you’re now wondering: lollipop is a much older word that may derive from lolly, a dialect word for tongue. Might lollipop have something to do with lollygagging? Dunno.]

Portuguese canned fish

A website: Portuguese Canning Industry Digital Museum. The cans are here. The are four pages alone for brands beginning with A.

Found via Present & Correct.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Writing materials

Dolly Parton, talking to Melissa Block of NPR about songwriting:

Sometimes I get woke up in the middle of the night, because I often dream about singing songs. And I used to think I’d remember ’em, where I’ll be singing in a dream, and I know it’s not a song I know. And so I just try to keep a little tape recorder or notepad. But even on planes, I just write on a barf bag if I get an idea for a song. I just dig in my purse, try to find a pencil, and write on anything I can. That’s how all writers do it though, somebody that really writes all the time like I do.

Do you ever write with lipstick?

I’ve written with my lipstick, and I’ve written with an eyebrow pencil a lot.

Probably a little easier with an eyebrow pencil, I would think.

It’s a little better, a little easier.
More writing materials: Mercer Ellington said that in writing the non-autobiography Music Is My Mistress, his father Duke Ellington used hotel stationery, menus, and napkins.

Chris Strachwitz (1931–2023)

A different kind of record executive. From the New York Times obituary:

Traveling the nation to discover little-known performers for the Arhoolie label, which he founded in 1960, he earned a nickname: El Fanático.
The documentary This Ain’t No Mouse Music! (dir. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon, 2014) traces Strachwitz’s devotion to blues, bluegrass, norteño, Cajun music, and New Orleans jazz. The film streams at Kanopy, and it’s worth seeking out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023


I was listening to an NPR conversation about cannabis. In Illinois, sales of the legal stuff have dropped. Is that because users are turning to illicit (and cheaper) sources?

We don’t use the word illicit, the host was told. The word is legacy.

Still obvious after all these years

We were waiting around. Another waiter: “You’re not from around here, are you?”

We’ve lived here for thirty-odd years, but no, not originally.

“I could tell. From __________?”

He was asking what town we live in. And yes, he had that right too.


Is it that obvious? Well, yes.

Years ago, I took my kids to meet David Newell/Mr. McFeely at our nearby PBS station. “So you teach at the university?” he asked me. I, an academic? Was it that obvious? Well, yes.

[Re: “__________”: I keep some nouns off OCA. Re: “Well, yes”: but not at an R1 school.]

“We too have our stories”

Steven Millhauser, “The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon,” in Little Kingdoms (1993).

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Vertigo, up or down

From The Washington Post: Vertigo is still the best movie ever. Or the worst movie ever. Discuss.” The writer, Ty Burr, leans toward “still the best.” I think so too — it’s been my favorite movie for many years. Dream, need, obsession, sheer weirdness: what’s not to like?

Vertigo was a second date for Elaine and me, when the movie was re-released in 1984. I remember vividly that someone in the audience screamed in fear at the end. A real scream, in real fear. And then the movie was over, and everyone had a giddy laugh, including the screamer.

Two Vertigo posts
Scottie and Midge : Nancy and Sluggo and Vertigo

[“Someone in the audience”: not Elaine, not me.]

Reading in NYC schools

Big news in The New York Times: reading instruction will be changing in New York City schools:

Hundreds of public schools have been teaching reading the wrong way for the last two decades, leaving an untold number of children struggling to acquire a crucial life skill, according to New York City’s schools chancellor.

Now, David C. Banks, the chancellor, wants to “sound the alarm” and is planning to force the nation’s largest school system to take a new approach.

On Tuesday, Mr. Banks will announce major changes to reading instruction in an aim to tackle a persistent problem: About half of city children in grades three through eight are not proficient in reading. Black, Latino and low-income children fare even worse.

In a recent interview, Mr. Banks said that the city’s approach had been “fundamentally flawed,” and had failed to follow the science of how students learn to read.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault,” Mr. Banks said. “This is the beginning of a massive turnaround.”

Over the next two years, the city’s 32 local school districts will adopt one of three curriculums selected by their superintendents. The curriculums use evidence-supported practices, including phonics — which teaches children how to decode letter sounds — and avoid strategies many reading experts say are flawed, like teaching children to use picture clues to guess words.
The recent podcast series Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong is a great introduction to the theory and practice of reading instruction in the United States. Though it’s not mentioned in the Times article, I think it must have something to do with the changes in New York City.

Related reading
A few OCA Sold a Story posts

[The Times link is a gift link. No subscription needed.]