Thursday, August 31, 2023

Twelve movies

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

Company Business (dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991). When a spy swap goes wrong, a retired CIA agent (Gene Hackman) and a KGB agent (Mikhail Baryshnikov) find themselves on the run from both agencies. Great location filming in Berlin and Paris, but the plot complications are just tiresome. Elaine once rode in a Juilliard elevator with Baryshnikov; as she recalls, every woman in the car stood without saying a word, and other men, if there were any, were rendered invisible. I think that ride must have been a zillion times more memorable than this movie, even if this one includes an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. ★★ (DVD)


From the Criterion Channel’s Eurothrillers feature

Mr. Klein (dir. Joseph Losey, 1976). We like Losey, having seen Accident, The Big Night, Blind Date (aka Chance Meeting), The Intimate Stranger, M, The Prowler, and The Servant, but none of those films prepared us for what we found here. It’s Paris, 1942, and Robert Klein (Alain Delon) is a art dealer, buying on the cheap from Parisian Jews desperate to sell before leaving the country. A chance mistake places Klein under suspicion: is he himself Jewish, or is he being confused with someone else? This Kafkaesque story is brilliant and compelling, imbuing scenes of beauty and splendor with utter dread. ★★★★


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014). Filmed in stylish, murky black-and-white with minimal dialogue (in Farsi), and set in the (fictional) industrial wasteland of Bad City, Iran (actually Taft, California), it’s the story of The Girl (Sheila Vand), a vampire who roams the streets looking for victims. In her nightly travels she makes the acquaintance of a drug dealer, a prostitute, and Arash (Arash Marandi, sometimes described as an Iranian James Dean), a lonely young man with a heroin-addicted father. Can Arash and The Girl make a life together? Strong overtones of David Lynch in this movie, where atmosphere is everything. ★★★★ (DVD)


From the Criterion Channel’s Hip-Hop feature

Wild Style (dir. Charlie Ahearn, 1982). I’m not sure how it’s possible: it was forty years ago that I saw this movie, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, on its first run outside New York. Fab 5 Freddy, Lady Heart, Lady Pink, and Tracy 168 came to town and created a mural on the side of the theater, which was painted over after the city threatened fines. As a narrative, with abysmal non-acting and plot threads that vanish, the movie doesn’t hold up; as a document of early hip-hop culture — DJs, MCs, b-boys, graffiti artists — it’s invaluable. So throw your hands in the air, and wave ’em like you just don’t care. As a narrative: ★★ / As a document: ★★★★ (CC).

Style Wars (dir. Tony Silver, 1983). An hour-long PBS documentary with graffiti artists talking and making art, b-boys breakdancing, and various figures of authority (Ed Koch, among others) talking about how terrible graffiti is (and really, if you ever were in an NYC subway car in the 1970s or ‘80s, you know they have a point). What this documentary makes clear is the artists’ seriousness of purpose: sketchbooks, discussions of letter forms, a writers’ bench at the Grand Concourse subway station, the dream to go “all-city” and have one’s work on trains in every borough. One surprise: the presence of white prep-school kids among the writers. My favorite scenes: Skeme talking about his art as his mother berates it, asking what the trains ever did to him. ★★★★

[Skeme still makes — and sells — art.]


Street Scene (dir. King Vidor, 1931). Life before air-conditioning, with the residents of a Lower East Side inferno talking to one another on the stoop or from their windows. Gossip, infidelity, poverty and eviction, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, sexual exploitation of worker by boss, and calls for a socialist revolution: it’s a pre-Code world of astonishing frankness. Sylvia Sidney and William Collier are the nominal stars, but it’s an ensemble movie, with Beulah Bondi and John Qualen, among others, reprising their roles from Elmer Rice’s 1929 play. With unusual camera angles from Gregg Toland, and the Gershwinesque theme “Street Scene” from Alfred Newman, soon to be a staple of movie music. ★★★★ (TCM)


Two of a Kind (dir. Henry Levin, 1951). The elaborate, preposterous scheme in this movie reminded me of the elaborate, preposterous scheme in The Man with My Face, also from 1951, in which a man accuses a woman’s husband of impersonating him. In this movie a cocky gambler (Edmond O’Brien) agrees to the loss of his left-pinkie tip so that Lizabeth Scott and Alexander Knox can pass him off as the long-lost son of a wealthy capitalist, a wealthy capitalust whom they’re going to kill in a boating “accident.” There’ll be plenty of money for all. The movie begins as noir, turns into light comedy, and ends up just bizarre. ★★ (YT)


Portland Exposé (dir. Harold Schuster, 1957). “Honey, I’m mad!” The rackets move into Portland, Oregon, with pinball (and concomitant betting), slot machines, B-girls, and “illegal surgeries.” Edward Binns is the tavern owner who gets wired up to get the goods on the bad guys; Virginia Gregg (a regular in the Dragnet world) is his wife; Russ Conway (a retired police officer in Lassie !) is a crime boss; Lawrence Dobkin and Frank Gorshin are among the sadistic underlings. A solid B-movie with opening and closing travelogues and surprisingly brutal and lurid interludes. ★★★ (YT)

[Here’s an article from Life (March 21, 1949) that characterizes Portland as “wide open and fairly happy about it.”]


Miami Exposé (dir. Fred F. Sears, 1956). Fred F. Sears was a busy man: he directed nine movies in 1956 (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Don’t Knock the Rock, Teen-Age Crime Wave among them), along with several episodes of television shows. Which might explain the poverty of plot and characterization in his movie, with Lee J. Cobb pretty unconvincing as a grizzled detective with a much younger girlfriend, whom he brings, along with her young son, to a cabin where a witness the mob wants dead is being kept in hiding). The best moments have Alan Napier and Edward Arnold (in his last role) scheming the introduction of legalized gambling in Florida. “I hope you realize this is a mistake on your part”: that line from the film sums up my feelings about having chosen this one. ★★ (YT)


Till We Meet Again (dir. Frank Borzage, 1944). Ray Milland is John, a downed American pilot in occupied France; Barbara Britton is Sister Clothilde, the novice who sets aside her rejection of the world beyond the convent to help him escape the Nazis. The story is notable for three female characters of authority and courage: Clothilde, the Mother Superior (Lucile Watson), and Resistance organizer Mme. Sarroux (Marguerite d’Alvarez). A story of great pathos and unspoken but unmistakable eroticism, with a shocking ending. Theodor Sparkuhl’s camerawork has moments that are Caravaggesque. ★★★★ (YT)


Desperately Seeking Susan (dir. Susan Seidelman, 1985). I remembered only three things about this movie, which I last saw thirty-eight years ago: Rosanna Arquette plays a New Jersey housewife; Madonna dries her armpits with a bathroom hand dryer; and “Into the Groove” plays over the closing credits. What I didn’t understand in 1985 is that Desperately Seeking Susan is a screwball comedy in bohemian drag, with amnesia, mistaken identities, and film canisters and liquor bottles for conking people over the head. And cross my heart, I thought screwball comedy before reading that Robert Ebert thought so too. Great fun in a gone world. ★★★★ (CC)


Eva (dir. Joseph Losey, 1962). Humiliation and self-abasement in Venice and Rome. Stanley Baker is Tyvian Jones, a writer from a Welsh coal-mining background, basking in the success of his first novel and a movie adaptation. He meets and marries the director’s assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi) but is drawn again and again to the courtesan Eva (Jeanne Moureau), who humiliates him at every opportunity. Super-stylish, with startling camera angles and plenty of diegetic and non-diegetic music: Billie Holiday records and a Michel Legrand score.★★★★ (CC)

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

Sad songs

“Sad songs, that was life”: Rita Forrester, granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter of the Carter Family.

[From a 2002 New York Times article. Found in an old file.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Daily Tar Heel front page

[The Daily Tar Heel, August 30, 2023. Click for a much larger view.]

I sent a copy of this front page to my member of Congress, Mary Miller. She won’t read it, but perhaps an aide will. Miller is, of course, what they call a “staunch defender” of the Second Amendment. I hope this page gives someone in her office reason to think about the culture of fear and violence their boss fosters.

Today’s newspaper is here.

Goodbye, Fine Arts elevators

Sad news from the Chicago Sun-Times: so-called modern elevators will soon replace the manually operated elevators in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building:

“We have been holding on to them as long as humanly possible and the time has finally come. Truly, it’s harder to get the parts and it’s far more expensive to maintain,” said Jacob Harvey, managing artistic director for a building that first opened in 1898 and was built to display and repair Studebaker carriages and wagons. . . .

But it’s going to mean the loss of something the tenants — puppet makers, piano teachers, yoga instructors, dancers, luthiers (not to mention countless tourists and architecture enthusiasts) — have held dear for decades.
Those elevators are a wonder. You step inside, and there’s an operator to talk to. It’s a strangely intimate form of travel. Here, from The Columbia Chronicle, is a brief tour.

The last time Elaine and I were in the building, we were deeply under the spell of Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart, whose protagonist visits the building several times:
Exactly at ten o’clock she went into the Arts Building and told the hall porter she had an engagement with Mr. Sebastian. He rang for the elevator, and she was taken up to the sixth storey.


She always started very early for Michigan Avenue, and had an hour or so to walk along the Lake front before she went into the Arts Building.


The city was very sloppy on the morning after the snow-storm, and Lucy did not take her usual walk along the Lake; she was afraid of splashing her new dress. She went straight to the Arts Building. How glad she was to greet the hall porter, and to step into the elevator once more!
And so on.

Elaine and I took the elevator to the tenth (top) floor and walked down, looking at door after door. And at the tile. And at a radiator. And at the elevator button.

The Times like

Mr. Trump's aides, like, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita, center, have been working for months behind the scenes to ensure he will have loyal delegates in state parties across the country. [A photograph caption. The New York Times, August 30, 2023.]

I was surprised by the comma, and I was surprised by the like. If I were writing captions, or if I were working at a no-longer-existing Times copy desk, I might cast the sentence like so:

Aides such as Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita (center) have been working for months behind the scenes to ensure that Mr. Trump will have loyal delegates in state parties across the country.
But the Times approves of that like. From The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage (1999):
Like is the preferred expression rather than such as in this kind of phrase: painters like Rubens.
As for such as :
In introducing an example (multinational companies such as Coca-Cola ), the phrase is stilted and should usually be replaced by like. The phrase is slightly less stiff when a noun falls between the words (such companies as PepsiCo ), but like remains more fluid. (Some writers believe that like, in this sense, can be used only to compare a group to an example outside the group: in other words, that Coca-Cola, in the illustration above, should not be introduced by like because it is one of the multinational companies. Usage authorities dispute that rule.)
The 2015 edition bends:
In introducing an example or examples, like and such as are equally acceptable: Impressionist painters like Monet and Degas; expenses such as rent and utilities.
Garner’s Modern English Usage seems to find both like and such as acceptable:
As a preposition, like often takes on the sense “similar to” or “resembling” <I want something like a Degas print>. This use often verges into the sense “as for example” <I enjoy the work of painters like Degas>. Does a reference like that one — such as that one — exclude or include Degas? Do you enjoy the work of painters who resemble Degas but not that of Degas himself? (This is the pedantic position.) Or do you enjoy the work of Degas and others like him? (This is the more usual relaxed position.)
"The pedantic position”: I, a pedant? Nah. I know that “like Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita” includes Wiles and LaCivita. But I do think “such as” is better phrasing. A succinct explanation from Geoff Pope: “Like” implies comparison. “Such as” implies inclusion. Nicely said.

I wonder if I’d have even noticed the Times like without that careless comma after it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

“Slang Stew”

“I'll have bossy in a bowl, flop two, & extra sea dust! Also, a side of bullets, and drag one through Georgia!”

Diner lingo, in today’s Zippy.

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

A January day

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children, trans. Nicolas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater (New York: New York Review Books, 2022).

Also from this novel
Time, moving fast, moving slowly, or unnoticed

A Very British Cult

“The sinister life coaching company that takes over your life.” From BBC Sounds, it’s A Very British Cult, an eight-episode podcast by Catrin Nye. Absolutely chilling, and the group’s website — I won’t link to it — makes clear that any former member who dares to speak out does so at great cost.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Plenty of nothing

Champaign-Urbana’s News-Gazette reports that millions in federal money are going to projects in downstate Illinois. But nothing for Mary Miller’s congressional district. Miller refuses to do earmarks.

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)

“Not the odds, but the stakes”

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen (via

“Not the odds, but the stakes.”

That’s my shorthand for the organizing principle we most need from journalists covering the 2024 election. Not who has what chances of winning, but the consequences for our democracy. Not the odds, but the stakes.
And not long after, on MSNBC:
“Donald Trump may be the runaway favorite for the nomination, but a brand-new poll suggests there could be an opening for three other candidates.”

Turgenev understood the flow state

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Children, trans. Nicolas Pasternak Slater and Maya Slater (New York: New York Review Books, 2022).

Compare Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990):

The safest generalization to make … is to say that during the flow experience the sense of time bears little relation to the passage of time as measured by the absolute convention of the clock.
Most flow activities do not depend on clock time; like baseball, they have their own pace, their own sequences of events marking transitions from one state to another without regard to equal intervals of duration. It is not clear whether this dimension of flow is just an epiphenomenon — a by-product of the intense concentration required for the activity at hand — or whether it is something that contributes in its own right to the positive quality of the experience. Although it seems likely that losing track of the clock is not one of the major elements of enjoyment, freedom from the tyranny of time does add to the exhilaration we feel during a state of complete involvement.
Flow states aside, I highly recommend Fathers and Children. Great social satire — like a Jane Austen novel if Jane Austen had written about nihilists. And it so happens that Maya Slater’s fiction is Austen-centric.

Two more Csikszentmihalyi posts
Boredom and attention : “The flow of the mind”

Goodbye, (dumb) TV

Last week our household stepped into the world of today. We bought a smart TV, suspecting that the endless freezes we were experiencing with our dumb TV and a Roku Stick might disappear with a new machine. And they have.

It is difficult to find a home for an old TV. Our Habitat for Humanity ReStore won’t take them, dumb or smart. Elaine’s offer on Facebook found no taker. So we put the TV and its remote out on the grass: “Free, works fine.” Both were gone within a couple of hours. (We kept checking.)

Goodbye, (dumb) TV. Thank you for your service. Stay away from landfills.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Transit Diner (?)

[342 Third Avenue, Gowanus, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Just one more Gowanus corner, taking its place in these pages with Ralph Bozzo’s restaurant, Nick’s Diner, and an empty building clad in scaffolding.

A list of Brooklyn diners of the past has a diner at 344 Third Avenue from 1938 to 1950. In 1936 a liquor license was granted to an establishment at 342. In 1959 a license was granted to the Transit Diner at this address. Was 342 the Transit Diner all along? Reply hazy, try again, says the Magic 8 Ball.

[Brooklyn Times-Union, July 6, 1933. Click for a larger view.]

[Brooklyn Daily, April 6, 1959. Click for a larger view.]

The name Michael Tolopka appears in a 1941 news item:

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

I think that’s our man: a Daily News article from the same date, partially visible behind a paywall, identifies Tolopka as “lunch wagon proprietor” and identifies Russo as “his old [something-]hood pal.” If the Michael Tolopka in this news item is the one found here (1897–1944), I think neighborhood is the better fit. But child- would appear to better fit the column of newsprint.

I can imagine someone asking Mr. Russo, “How could you rob an old pal like that?” The only possible answer, no Magic 8 Ball needed: “It was easy!” But it’s not easy to imagine $1240 as a day’s receipts from this diner.

One last detail: I like the way the Pepsi-Cola sign on the truck and the Coca-Cola sign signs on the diner become one harmonious celebration of soda. A reader got it right: the Pepsi-Cola sign just looks as if it’s on the truck. Both signs are on the diner. The truck carries rock salt.

Google Maps shows something under construction at this address in June 2022. Before that it appears to have been a parking lot for Verizon employees and trucks.

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

Recently updated

“Sure, Jan” Now with the Kubrick stare.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff,” the puzzle editor Stan Newman offering an easier Stumper of his creation. It begins with a choice: 1-A, five letters, “It’s much higher than a D.” Are we talking grades or notes? By the time I got to 62-A, five letters, “It’s not much higher than a D,” everything was falling into place.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, eight letters, “Story-telling follower.” Sweet.

15-A, eight letters, “‘Pay less for college. For real.’ sloganeer.” Would that it were true.

18-A, nine letters, “Employer of ushers.” Rereading the clue makes clear that it’s a bit tricky.

26-D, seven letters, “Progress report of a sort.” An unexpected answer.

29-A, three letters, “Word associated with jumps and umps.” Nicely Stumper-y, a plain answer enlivened by a thoughtful clue.

31-D, six letters, “Part of the KFC logo.” Slightly bizarre.

32-A, twelve letters, “‘Ditto!’” I’m so tired of seeing ASAMI and ASDOI in puzzles.

40-D, eight letters, “Letter-reading rituals.” Gentle misdirection.

41-A, twelve letters, “Bat man’s specialty.” I read too quickly and first thought CRIMESOLVING.

48-A, three letters, “Writer next to Jung on the Sgt. Pepper cover.” I knew it right off, but it’s fun to try to name other three-letter writers.

50-D, five letters, “Not fancy at all.” I wasn’t fooled.

My favorite in this puzzle: 25-D, five letters, “It’s home on the range.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Zippy draws Nancy

He’s almost got it: “Sluggo Objects.”

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

Groats, grits, grout, Grote

Another word from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, found right next to saveloys : groats, or in German, Grützen. “Usually plural in form but singular or plural in construction,” says Merriam-Webster, which defines groats as “hulled grain broken into fragments larger than grits“ or “a grain (as of oats) exclusive of the hull.”

Its origin:

Middle English grotes, going back to Old English grotan, masculine weak plural, presumably a variant of the neuter noun grot “particle, whit” (also glossing Latin pollis “finely ground flour”), probably going back to Germanic *gruta-, noun derivative of *greutan- “to grind, crush.”
Groats is related to grits, which M-W defines as “coarsely ground hulled grain,” “especially : ground hominy with the germ removed.” Like groats, grits is plural in form, singular or plural in construction.

Its origin:
late Old English grutta “bran, coarse meal,” going back to Old English grytt “finely ground flour,” going back to Germanic grutjō- or grutja- (whence also Middle Dutch gorte “groats, grits” [with metathesis], Middle Low German grütte, Old High German gruzzi), noun derivative from zero-grade of *greutan- “to grind, crush.”
(Reader, do you take pride in your grits?)

And there’s a connection to grout, “thin mortar used for filling spaces (such as the joints in masonry).”

Its origin:
Middle English grut, grout “crushed grain for malt, infused malt, thick, dark ale, mud, slime,” going back to Old English grūt “coarse meal, dregs, spent malt after brewing,” going back to Germanic *grūta- (whence also Middle Dutch grute, gruut “herb mixture used in beer brewing,” Middle High German grūz “a grain, grain of sand”), lengthened zero grade noun derivative from *greutan- “to grind, crush.”
M-W adds a complication about this meaning of grout:
Sense 1, which first appears in the seventeenth century, is of uncertain relation to the earlier senses and perhaps of independent origin. Oxford English Dictionary, first edition, suggests a connection to Middle French (Limousin) grouter “to rough-cast,” Limousin Occitan greutā, but this isolated word, itself of unknown origin, is of unlikely relevance.
The entries for groats, grits, and grout all say “more at GRIT,” and the entry for grit suggests that the reader check out grits, groats, and grout. I think I’m on pretty solid ground in thinking of these words as close relations.

And by the way, if you’re ever having tile work done in your residence, it’s pronounced /ˈgrau̇t/. Like this. It’s never/ˈgrüt/.

I’m not sure what to do with Old Grote.

[The parenthetical question, if you don’t recognize it, is from My Cousin Vinny.]

Why are pencils so popular?

A hard-hitting investigation from MarketWatch: “Billions of pencils are sold a year. Why are they still so popular?”

In a word, according to MarketWatch: kiddos.

“Sure, Jan”

Mary Trump: “Sure, Jan.”

I’ve read that Trump thinks his serious face makes him look like Winston Churchill. I think it makes him look angry, lost, and more than a tad demented.


August 27: See also the Kubrick stare.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Brain food

Saveloy: isn’t that a kind of cabbage?

No, it’s not a kind of cabbage. That’s Savoy.

A saveloy is “a type of highly seasoned sausage, usually bright red, normally boiled and available in fish and chip shops around England.”

Merriam-Webster traces the word’s journey into English:

modification of French cervelas, from Middle French, from Old Italian cervellata, literally, pig’s brains, from cervello brain, from Latin cerebellum.
I came across saveloy while reading E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, trans. Anthea Bell (1999). I lack the patience to find out what was going on in the German — perhaps some kind of wurst.


[After having the question nag at me while I was walking.]

The word in German in Cervelaten, plural of Cervelat, first found in Rabelais (1522). I searched the German text at Project Gutenberg for Pinscher, which took me to the paragraph with the Cervelaten.

Also from this novel
“Scholarly voracity” : “My little right paw” : Reading and writing in the dark : “O Heaven, were my whiskers neglected!”

Mutts meta

“There are symbols”: today’s Mutts is meta.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Got bail?

“Charges pending in Fulton County?” Here’s where “America’s Mayor” goes: A 2nd Chance Bail Bonds.

The Martin family dictionary

[From the Lassie episode “Lassie’s Good Deed,” April 29, 1962. Click for a larger view.]

Timmy (Jon Provost) and Lassie have met an older man living in a cabin in the woods, a Mr. Jensen, who walks into town once a month to collect a pension check. He’s a Great War veteran, and he’s played by James Burke, who played the hotel detective Luke in The Maltese Falcon. A quick dissolve and we see Timmy back in his living room:

“I found it, Mom, in the dictionary, just like you said. ‘Recluse : retired from the world or from public notice; a hermit.’”

It seems certain that the Martin family dictionary is a Merriam-Webster’s Second:

[Click for a larger view.]

I can imagine Paul Martin resisting a purchase of M-W’s Third, which appeared in 1961: “Timmy, a farm family has to watch every penny. We have a perfectly good dictionary, and we can’t just buy a new dictionary every time one appears.” And Ruth: “Your father’s right, dear.”

The Merriam-Webster’s Third entry for the adjective recluse begins: “removed from society : shut up.” That graceful phrasing “retired from the world” has disappeared, as has the citation from William Cowper, from the poem “Retirement.”

The woods outside Calverton seem to welcome recluses and hermits. See also “The Hermit” (May 22, 1960). You can watch both episodes — “Lassie’s Good Deed,” “The Hermit” — at the usual place.

As a regular reader of these pages may recall, I like to watch Lassie when I fold laundry. Come at me.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts : Lassie posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, the episode’s writers merged the entries for recluse as an adjective and as a noun. Or Timmy quickly moved from the one to the other.]

Turning off Mac auto-punctuation

Dictation in iOS and macOS includes auto-punctuation, which again and again introduces errors, mostly unnecessary commas. In iOS, it’s easy to turn off auto-punctuation: go to Settings, General, Keyboard, and there it is. But in macOS, it might not be so easy. Go to System Settings, Keyboard, Dictation, and you might find nothing about auto-punctuation. Auto-punctuation was on by default on my Mac with no apparent way to turn it off.

I found the solution in a Reddit thread: under Dictation, add another language. I added English (UK). And hey presto, the option to turn off auto-punctuation appeared. I turned it off, removed English (UK), and auto-punctuation is still off.

I noticed that in iOS Settings, the word is spelled Auto-Punctuation. In macOS System Settings, it’s Auto-punctuation. Either way, it’s an unwelcome intrusion, and I’m happy to be done with it.

Related reading
All OCA punctuation posts (Pinboard)

Screen apnea

“The disruption of breathing many of us experience doing all kinds of tasks in front of a screen”:The New York Times reports on what Linda Stone calls “screen apnea.”

I recall what Stone wrote some years ago about what can happen to breathing when one checks e-mail, and now I’m wondering why I didn’t post about it. Perhaps because I was under the influence of continuous partial attention — that’s another term Stone coined.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 112)

I made it almost through a New York Times article, and then I hit this single-sentence paragraph:

Mr. Trump has used a political action committee that is aligned with him, and that is replete with money he raised in small-dollar donations as he falsely claimed he was fighting widespread fraud after the 2020 election, to pay the legal bills of a number of allies, as well as his own.
There’s something odd about the phrase “replete with money.” The bigger problem though is that “that is aligned with him, and that is replete with money he raised in small-dollar donations as he falsely claimed he was fighting widespread fraud after the 2020 election” is just too much to position between “Mr. Trump has used a political action committee” and “to pay the legal bills.”

To pay his legal bills and those of several allies, Mr. Trump has used small-dollar donations to a political action committee that he falsely claimed was fighting widespread fraud after the 2020 election.
But making two sentences is better still:
To pay his legal bills and those of several allies, Mr. Trump has used funds from a political action committee that he falsely claimed was fighting widespread fraud after the 2020 election. The funds were raised mostly as small-dollar donations.
I like keeping the detail about small-dollar donations in a separate sentence, making it what we used to call a zinger.

E.B. White’s advice:
When you become hopelessly mired in a sentence, it is best to start fresh; do not try to fight your way through against the terrible odds of syntax. Usually what is wrong is that the construction has become too involved at some point; the sentence needs to be broken apart and replaced by two or more shorter sentences.
True that.

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

[This post is no. 112 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. The passage from E.B. White appears in The Elements of Style, in “An Approach to Style,” the chapter White added when revising William Strunk Jr.’s book.]

Domestic comedy

[Trump’s lawyers have been moaning about how many documents they have to read: War and Peace seventy-eight times a day, &c., &c.]

“Don’t these people have staffs? Or staves?”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Only the composer in our household would think of the musical plural.]

Monday, August 21, 2023

A plumbing story

Anent this post: my friend Stefan shared a link to a great plumbing story: John Jeremiah Sullivan’s “Man Called Fran.” It’s short — 3,741 words. Just read it, before it disappears behind a Harper’s paywall.

Thanks, Stefan.

[I like to use the word anent every few years.]

The plumber’s reward

[Click for a larger beer.]

A month or so after replacing the toilet fill valve in our upstairs bathroom, I replaced the valve in our downstairs bathroom — fifteen minutes or so of awkward work that means a quicker fill and a farewell to the bizarre float ball that always ends up needing adjustment. The bottle of A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ was my self-chosen reward.

In advance of doing the work, I opened my dad’s toolbox to get a smaller pliers wrench (which, it turned out, I didn’t need). The smell of Dial soap is still strong inside.

[The Fluidmaster was recommended by one of the smart employees at our local Ace Hardware. An excellent recommendation.]


“From romantic lunches at eye-watering prices to must-have T-shirts and covetable clutch bags, the humble sprat is having a massive moment”: The Guardian reports on sardinecore.

Thanks, Fresca.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Nancy adds a wall

Nancy trompe l’oeil.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Gowanus scaffolding

[267-269 Third Avnue, Gowanus, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Just another Third Avenue corner, taking its place with Ralph Bozzo’s restaurant and Nick’s Diner.

When I saw this photograph, I thought that’s all of New York now. Yes, I exaggerated. But 400 miles of New York City sidewalks are now coffined in scaffolding, aka sidewalk sheds. The sheds make walking an adventure in claustrophobia. Mayor Eric Adams has a plan for their removal. For now, I recommend watching an episode of How To with John Wilson: “How to Put Up Scaffolding” (Max).

No. 267 has more recently been the address of a Super 8 providing quarters for unhoused single men. If the building is still a Super 8, Google Maps shows it losing its identifying sign between November 2020 and May 2022. And there’s no scaffolding.

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

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Steve Mossberg, which means it’s a tough one. Yes, it 4-D, eight letters, “Stymies, so to speak.” I got it with a clue here, a clue there.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, eight letters, “Echoic acknowledgment.”I’m surprised to see that the answer as spelled is far more common than I thought.

3-D, five letters, “Numbers past a certain point.” A nice example of this puzzle’s fancy clueing.

8-D, eleven letters, “Madame Bovary or Jane Eyre.” Gosh, I haven’t heard any form of the answer in ages.

17-A, five letters, “Logging site.” Clever.

18-A, five letters, “Inspiration for Eliot’s 61 Across.” This clue baffled me a bit, as 61-A is not a title.

20-D, four letters, “Fuller shape.” I first thought “Brush?” But the clue didn’t fool me for long.

26-D, ten letters, “Personality pair addendum.” Answers that baffle me usually make sense when I begin typing out their clues. But here, I’m lost.

32-A, ten letters, “Short-term rental.” A novel answer.

46-A, four letters, “[More people should come here].” Or not!

54-D, three letters, “See reverse, shortly.” Well, this is arcane. No, it’s probably not.

61-A, eight letters, “Eliot opus misnomer.” Now I get it.

One clue-and-answer I take issue with: 9-D, six letters, “New York’s Angry Orchard, e.g.” I just don’t see how the answer goes with the brand name. And that was because, as Wittgenstein said, the limits of my language mean the limits of the world.

My favorite in this puzzle: 11-D, ten letters, “Short-term offerings.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 18, 2023

More 1232 Madison

The Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott was not the only academic to have resided at 1232 Madison Avenue, the building whose WPA tax photograph starred in an OCA post this past Sunday. In 1926, Lawrence Buermeyer, who taught philosophy at New York University, resided in a 1232 apartment, where he was soundly beaten by his friend Joseph Carson, who taught philosophy at Columbia University.

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 20, 1926. Click any image for a larger view.]

[Brooklyn Citizen, October 24, 1926.]

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 22, 1926.]

The story attracted considerable attention, with a lengthy article in the The New York Times“Teachers’ Fight Is Laid to Drink” — and another in Time, with the terse title “Jag.” The Time report, partly available in front of the paywall, suggests that something more than philosophical questions was at issue between the two men. At any rate, this incident makes the perhaps apocryphal story of Wittgenstein’s poker seem positively mild.

I don’t know what became of these fellows. Buermeyer (1889–1970) had at least two books to his name. Carson had at least two book reviews — one, another — to his.

One never knows what might go with a particular address. Thanks, Brian, for finding this strange story.

How to improve writing (no. 111)

I wrote a letter yesterday to the CEO an insurance company about the 109 minutes I spent on the phone trying to find out why a payment didn’t go through. The eventual answer, which came at the end of the fourth call: there was a general problem with processing payments.

The first paragraph began like so:

I am writing to describe my recent experience trying to sort out a problem with my mother's [company name] plan. I am not seeking an apology or a promise that your company will do better. I want only to describe my experience and make suggestions for improvement, suggestions that I hope your organization will take seriously.
After revision:
I want to recount my recent effort to sort out a problem with my mother's [company name] plan. I’m not asking for an apology or a promise that your company will do better. I want only to recount my experience and make constructive suggestions for your consideration.
Modest savings here: the paragraph went from fifty-six words to forty-seven. And the words are much better in the revision.

~ “I am writing”: There’s no need to say that. I briefly considered beginning with “Let me recount,” but I decided that I don’t want to ask for anyone’s permission.

~ “Recount” is more accurate than “describe.” Describing this experience would call for furious strings of adjectives and expletives.

~ “My recent experience trying to sort out a problem”: That’s pretty ponderous.

~ “I am not seeking an apology”: Also a bit ponderous.

~ “Suggestions for improvement, suggestions that I hope your organization will take seriously”: Again, ponderous. I think I’ve been watching too much Frasier. “Constructive suggestions for your consideration” says everything that needs to be said, and I like the touch of wit in “for your consideration.” Yes, I’m a Christopher Guest fan.

Will the CEO read the thousand-word letter that follows? I doubt it. But someone will. And God knows, they need all the constructive suggestions they can get for their user interface.

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

[This post is no. 111 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose. I turned this paragraph into public prose by putting it in this post.]

“O Heaven, were my whiskers neglected!”

Murr in love:

E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, trans. Anthea Bell (1999).

Also from this novel
“Scholarly voracity” : “My little right paw” : Reading and writing in the dark

[From the notes to this edition: “Ovid’s De arte amandi and Manso’s Art of Love: Ovid’s famous verse work on the art of love is properly entitled Ars amatoria. Johann Kaspar Friedrich Manso (1759-1826) wrote a work thus entitled, and published in 1794, which is mocked by Goethe and Schiller in their Xenien.”

The play is As You Like It, III.ii. Signs of a lover: “A lean cheek, which you have not; a blue eye and sunken, which you have not; an unquestionable spirit, which you have not; a beard neglected, which you have not.”]

Thursday, August 17, 2023

How to lay off of Josh Marshall

[Lay off of : in the middle-school and high-school sense. “Hey, lay offa him!”]

As I’ve written before, every time I look at Talking Points Memo, I end up rewriting one or more of Josh Marshall’s sentences. It’s true. I’ve written five How to improve writing posts about his sentences — more such posts than I’ve written for any other public writer.

But now that I know that Josh Marshall doesn’t write, I’m going to lay offa him. From a 2022 Marshall post:

Relatively early in my writing career I realized that I write in a way that is different from how most people do it. I don’t actually write. Not precisely. What I do is speak in my head and basically transcribe the sounds. This sometimes leaves funny artifacts in my writing. Like many who write fast and online I have no shortage of missing words or typos, “theirs” that should be “theres” and vice versa. But that’s not what I mean. Sometimes I will actually include words which sound vaguely similar to the intended word but are not homonyms and are totally different words. They just create a similar set of sounds if you run them together in a spoken sentence. Read English sentences they can read like gibberish. but if you speak them quickly aloud the meaning will often be clear.

People will sometimes point out that I’m clearly using transcription software that is screwing up. But in fact I’ve never used transcription software in my life. My brain is just wired in this particular way. There actually is transcribing. But I’m the one doing it.
I have no idea what it means to work in this way. But criticizing the prose that results now feels pointless. I’m gonna lay offa him.

But before I do, I have to point out that their s and there s would be better plural forms. Garner’s Modern English Usage: “The best way to form the plural of a word used as a word is to italicize it and append -s in roman type.” Also, there’s an as missing from the closing sentence of the first paragraph: “Read [as] English sentences.” And the period in the middle of that sentence should be a comma.

I still can’t believe that people pay to read Talking Points Memo.

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

“Th’ anti-Ernie!”

[“The Unholy Trinity.” Zippy, August 16, 2023. Click for larger rocks.]

Bill Griffith’s biography of Ernie Bushmiller comes out on August 29. It‘s called, of course, Three Rocks.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2023


A nifty way to direct a reader to text on a webpage: add #:~:text= after the URL, followed by whatever text you want to highlight.

I did just that in a post on Monday, which includes a link with this URL:

(A space between words automatically becomes %20.)

The link that results goes to a few sentences about the Pedro Almodóvar film Parallel Mothers. Now there’s need to scroll through the post to find those sentences.

Am I the last person blogging to know about #:~:text=? It appears to have begun as a Chrome feature called Scroll to Text Fragment. It works in some browsers, not all. I find that it works in Epic, Orion, Min, and Safari, but not in Brave. Strange, because Brave is based on Chromium.

An EXchange name sighting

[From The Man in the Net (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1959). Click for a much larger view.]

EVergreen and Futura: a winning combination.

But someone might see that bill as evidence of an overt act.

Related reading
All OCA EXchange name posts (Pinboard)

“Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil”

Food for thought: Joshua T. Dickerson’s poem “Cause I Ain’t Got a Pencil.”

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

What is an overt act?

The term overt act makes 126 appearances in the Georgia indictment. E.g., “The speech was an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.”

Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed.), ed. Bryan Garner, gives two meanings from criminal law: “1. An act that indicates an intent to kill or seriously harm another person and thus gives that person a justification to use self-defense,” and “2. An outward act, however innocent in itself, done in furtherance of a conspiracy, treason, or criminal attempt.” And N.B: “An overt act is usu. a required element of these crimes.”

[Black’s is now in its eleventh edition. But the ninth is what I could get my hands on.]

TV in the classroom

Teaching again. I was explaining the idea of a change in identity, perhaps apropos of the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, who discovers that when he dons a pair of sunglasses and a wide hat, he’s mistaken for the ladies’ man/numbers runner/preacher Bliss P. Rinehart. I reached for an analogy: “You know how in The Wire, Walter White shaves his head and wears a black hat and calls himself Heisenberg? Wait — was that The Wire, or Breaking Bad ?”

“I don’t like either one,” a student said.

“What TV show would you recommend?” I asked. And off we went, on to a class-wide discussion of television.

This is the twenty-sixth teaching dream I’ve had since retiring in 2015. In all but one, something has goes wrong.

Related reading
All OCA teaching dreams (Pinboard)

[Ellison said that the P stands for the shapeshifting god Proteus. My last semester of teaching has something to do with this dream: Elaine and I were bingeing Breaking Bad that spring. At the end of the semester, the students in my modern American lit tutorial presented me with POP! figurines of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, now residing on a shelf of William Carlos Williams. And good grief: these figurines now sell for $100+ on Amazon.]

“School Pencils? Pencil Cases?”

[Life, August 31, 1953. Click for a much larger view.]

I like the way this advertisement attempts to bridge a generation gap:

Pencils all dressed-up in brand-new colors . . . and pencils in the time-honored shades of your own school days.
Pencils to please everyone! Or almost everyone: I was never a fan of the Pedigree pencil. This post explains why.

“You saw a full page ad about Pedigree in last week’s LIFE,” this ad says. Yes, I did, and I posted that very ad in 2017: “Cheaper buy the dozen.” I didn’t know that this ad was to follow.

It’s never too early to at least think about school supplies. It may already be too late. First-day-of-school dates are various in the Untied (sic) States.

Related posts
Back-to-school shopping : A Boro Park Woolworth’s : Where are the 2017 Moleskine planners?

Monday, August 14, 2023

Georgia on our minds

Indictments — ten — are coming in Georgia. Who of? Of whom? From The New York Times (gift link):

It was not yet known who would face charges. Prosecutors spent the day laying out their investigation of efforts to keep President Donald J. Trump in power by overturning Georgia’s results in the 2020 election.
There will be cameras in the courtroom. I hope he’s ready for his close-up.

The Times says that it could be midnight (Eastern) before the indictments are made public. It’s a good night for staying up late.


MSNBC is reporting forty-one counts against Trump and eighteen others.

The Times has the indictment (gift link).


[In a park. Repeatedly.]

“Go away, coconut pirates!”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard” posts (Pinboard)

[Context: Moana.]

Twelve movies

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

She Said (dir. Maria Schrader, 2022). A dramatization of the New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s long history of predation. Times reporters Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) are indefatigable in their pursuit of truth, taking planes and trains on short notice, showing up unannounced to try for interviews, working until midnight and cabbing home to their husbands and children. I especially liked the conference calls, with Times editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) unintimidated by Weinstein’s (Mike Houston) bluster and bullshit. My favorite scene: everyone gathered around one screen, reading copy before hitting Publish. ★★★★ (N)


Night Tide (dir. Curtis Harrington, 1961). A sailor (Dennis Hopper) and a professional mermaid (Linda Lawson) meet on the Santa Monica pier, and complications follow. I wonder if this movie influenced Carnival of Souls (1962), another strange and stylish low-budget black-and-white effort. Another possible connection: the 1963 Route 66 episode “The Cruelest Sea of All,” about a romance between Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and a possibly real mermaid (Diane Baker). Adding value here: an opening scene with a jazz quartet that includes Paul Horn, and an inventive score by David Raksin, who wrote the music for the great standard “Laura.” ★★★★ (YT)


The Man from Laramie (dir. Anthony Mann, 1955). Paranoia, sadism, and vengeance way out west. James Stewart is the man from Laramie, Will Lockhart, who’s transported a wagonload of goods to a remote town for a purpose that becomes clear as the plot thickens. Lockhart comes up against the Waggomans, a powerful ranching family with an erratic, violent son (Alex Nichol). Also present: Donald Crisp as the Waggoman patriarch, Arthur Kennedy as a dutiful ranch foreman, Cathy O’Donnell as a shopkeeper, and Wallace Ford as a sidekick. Spectacular camerawork (CinemaScope) makes for stunning scenes. ★★★★ (CC)


The Way Down (dir. Marina Zenovich, 2021–2022). A cult leader, bizarrely coiffed and grifting off the gullible? No, it’s not about Donald Trump; it’s a documentary in four episodes about Gwen Shamblin (later Gwen Shamblin Lara, or as someone calls her, Gwen Almighty), the mind behind Weigh Down Workshop (a Christian diet program) and the Remnant Fellowship, a Christian church. The goal is perfection, at least superficial perfection, at any cost, because one must be, no joke, thin to enter heaven (one glance at Shamblin’s daughter Elizabeth is enough to understand what might result). An excellent documentary, worthy of, say, Frontline, filled with unwittingly revealing archival footage and numerous interviews of those damaged by this destructive preacher and her abettors. ★★★★ (M)


Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (dir. Clay Tweel, 2020). Do you remember Heaven’s Gate? Founded in 1974 by Marshall Applewhite (“Do,” later “Bo”) and Bonnie Nettles (“Ti,” later “Peep”), it was a UFO-minded millennial cult whose surviving leader Applewhite and another thirty-eight members committed mass suicide in 1997, shedding their “vehicles” as they awaited transport to “the Next Level” and a reunion with “the Older Member” (Nettles) on a UFO supposedly traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet. This four-part documentary brings together testimony from surviving cult members and family members, commentary by cult experts, Heaven’s Gate home movies, and copious excerpts from audio and video recordings of Applewhite, whose gentle but decidedly crazed affect makes me think of an unhinged Fred Rogers. Two ways in which this documentary might have been improved: remove the unnecessary woodcut-like animations; add much more commentary on the theology at work in the group (Manichaeism, anyone?). ★★★ (M)


Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence (dir. Zachary Heinzerling, 2023). I had only a vague awareness of Larry Ray, the father of a Sarah Lawrence student, and his so-called sex cult. But “sex cult” hardly begins to describe Ray’s control over a group of young women and men who began by seeing him as a live-in mentor and ended up broken, abused, brainwashed, estranged from their families, from their friends, and from themselves. This is an exceptionally well-made documentary (also Frontline-worthy), never merely lurid, never less than serious, with considerable video and audio from Ray’s documentation of life under his thumb. As I watched, I kept asking myself whether any Sarah Lawrence professor ever thought to ask one of these students the obvious questions: Are you okay? How come you’re not living on campus anymore? ★★★★ (H)

[Which of these cult leaders do you think is the worst? Given his utter cruelty, I think it must be Ray.]


The Man in the Net (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1959). Yes, there’s a dragnet, but the larger net in this highly unusual film would appear to be the insular Connecticut town where John Hamilton (Alan Ladd) contends with his unfaithful alcoholic wife Linda (Carolyn Jones), a macho sheriff (Charles McGraw), and an array of well-to-do neighbors. Having given up a position in commercial art, John is struggling to make money as a painter and seems happy only when he’s sketching on a pad, surrounded by the village children. When Linda disappears and John is suspected of murder, it’s the children who take his side. Ladd seems a blank here, barely showing emotion, barely able to run when he needs to, tight-lipped at moments when, really, anyone would shout. ★★★ (YT)


Stage Struck (dir. William Night, 1948). When a small-town girl who hopes to become a star is murdered in New York , her sister grows impatient with the police effort and enters the world of “acting classes” and “hostess” work to figure out whodunit. Thoroughly mediocre, with detectives sleepwalking their way through their investigation. No surprises as the movie creeps to its (predictable) end and its fatuous moral: young women, stay home. Look for silent-movie star Evelyn Brent in a brief appearance as an elocution teacher. ★★ (TCM)


Nightmare (dir. Maxwell Shane, 1956). Whaddayaknow — it’s a remake of Fear in the Night, by the same director. The abidingly eerie premise: a man (Kevin McCarthy) wakes up certain that he committed a murder: was he dreaming, or awake? Edward G. Robinson, out of place in these low-budget surroundings, is the police detective who guides the possible murderer (his sister-in-law’s boyfriend) to a solution. The movie’s musical emphasis — the possible murderer is a jazz clarinetist; his girlfriend (Connie Russell) is a singer — feels gratuitous, but it does afford the viewer the chance to see Billy May as a cranky New Orleans bandleader. ★★ (YT)


Lighthouse (dir. Frank Wisbar, 1947). A variation on The Postman Always Rings Twice, with kindly, unglamorous lighthouse keeper Hank (John Litel) his sleazy Clark Gable-lookalike assistant Sam (Don Castle), and the extraordinarily beautiful landlubber Connie (June Lang), who marries Hank to get back at two-timing Sam. And there they are, the three of them, cooped up in a lighthouse together: what’s gonna happen? A low-budget production with capable acting and some inexpensive artistic touches (brief interludes of music and ocean waves). And a surprisingly frank dinner conversation about Connie’s past. ★★★ (TCM)

[A surprise: Don Castle became an associate producer on the television series Lassie, produced by his old college roommate Jack Wrather.]


Prison Ship (dir. Arthur Dreifuss, 1945). Life and death on a Japanese hell ship. Nina Foch (looking remarkably like Angela Lansbury) leads the cast as a captive British war correspondent in possession of photographic evidence of Japanese atrocities. Among the other prisoners under the authority of Captain Osikawa (Richard Loo): Ludwig Donath, Robert Lowert, Louis Mercier, Barbara Pepper, and Erik Rolf, all of whom are familiar faces if not names. The story told here, of passengers with nothing to lose deciding to fight back, is eerily familiar to anyone who recalls Flight 93, September 11, 2001. ★★★★ (TCM)


Parallel Mothers (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2021). I saw it in a theater last year, and I’ll let the sentences I wrote then speak their piece. What I’ll add: the closing words from Eduardo Galeano are more relevant than ever when the truths of history are everywhere threatened. Almodóvar understands that it’s impossible for a person or a culture to move forward without learning the truth about the past. The final moments, with four generations walking together to bear witness to the past, make for what I think must be one of the great movie endings. ★★★★ (DVD)

[Click for a larger view.]

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

Sunday, August 13, 2023

More Bozzo

[1232 Madison Avenue, Carnegie Hill, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Looking into the history of 406 Third Avenue in Brooklyn, a restaurant/coffeehouse owned by Ralph Bozzo, led me to a Dominick Bozzo, perhaps a son. In 1918 a Brooklyn newspaper has a Dominick Bozzo at the 406 address going off to the Great War. The 1940 Manhattan telephone directory has Bozzo Dominick frts veg at 1232 Madison Avenue. And the 1940 census has just one Dominick Bozzo, forty-five years old, living with his wife Anna on East 91st Street in Manhattan, less than half a mile away. His occupation: proprietor of a fruit and vegetable store. The Social Security Death Index lists just one Dominick Bozzo (1894–1985).

[Click either image for a larger view.]

One far from minor complication: Anna Bozzo, who gave the census info, reported her husband as having been born in Italy. But if he was Ralph and Jennie Bozzo’s son, he would have been born in the States, right? Ralph Bozzo, who came to the States as a child, was already in the restaurant business in Brooklyn by 1895.

But now I can hear the WPA fellow in the photograph saying, “Look, don’t worry about this stuff — just write about the picture already.”


I think what we see in this picture is a combination fruit and vegetable store and butcher shop, something like a proto-supermarket. A. Steigerwald is listed in the 1940 Manhattan directory as mts, an abbreviation I couldn’t find in compendia of directory abbreviations. Monuments? Searching for steigerwald and this address in Google Books turned up the 1950 Meat Packing Cycolpedia. So mts is meats (duh). If you look closely at the photograph, you’ll see a tattered awning below the Steigerwald name. Perhaps that awning names the frts veg side of things. The streetside crates certainly suggest produce for sale.

Another detail about 1232: the Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott (1898-1968) once lived there, presumably in one of the apartments above the store. I found Mabbott’s name at this address in The British Numismatic Journal (1938). In the 1940 Manhattan directory, Mabbott, identified as prof, and his wife Maureen are living at 56 E. 87th Street. Each address is less than a mile and a half from Hunter College, where Professor Mabbott taught for many years.

One more thing: in recent years 1232 housed one of three Madison Avenue locations for the 3 Guys restaurants. On every visit to New York, Elaine and I would have lunch at the 1381 Madison Avenue 3 Guys with our friends Seymour and Margie Barab. Before looking into this tax photograph, I never knew there was more than one 3 Guys.

[1232 again. Google Maps, December 2017. Click for a larger view.]

Sometime after August 2018, the 1232 3 Guys disappeared, and a fourteen-story building replaced the building in the tax photograph. The 1381 3 Guys closed in March 2023. The restaurant at 960 Madison appears to still be going.

I followed my advice to walk every block and noticed something remarkable: when this tax photograph was taken, this one block of Madison Avenue held five small grocery stores. At least one was offering meats, poultry, seafood, dairy products, groceries, and produce. In other words, everything.

And now I recall what Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) says in the movie Marty, when he thinks about taking over his boss’s butcher shop:

“Of course, you gotta worry about the supermarkets. There’s two in the neighborhood now, and there’s an A&P comin’ in — at least that’s the rumor.”
“Well, there’s lots of things I could do with the shop. I could organize my own supermarket — get a bunch of neighborhood merchants together. That’s what a lot of them are doin’.”
Perhaps Bozzo and Steigerwald went in together to fight the competition.


Speaking of fights, see also this post about one philosophy professor beating up another at 1232 Madison.

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

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is full of novelty. Not much time to write this morning, so just some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-D, three letters, “What was seen on sets in the ’70s.” My first guess was UHF.

14-A, ten letters, “Earnest appeal.” I like the unashamed colloquialism.

10-D, fourteen letters, “Active aspiration.” I guess so.

15-D, fourteen letters, “Vitamin-enriched cereals, for instance.” Don’t tell the kids.

25-D, three letters, “34-wk. period.” Oof.

My favorite in this puzzle: 28-A, eight letters, “Comic relief?”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, August 11, 2023


On a walk, a longer walk than usual, we added a turn around a park pavilion, a turn that we’d never taken before. I was listening to This American Life, to a long segment by the writer Sean Cole about his struggle to stop smoking cigarettes. And I started thinking about cigarettes.

Or more accurately: I started feeling about cigarettes. I last smoked a cigarette almost thirty-four years ago (October 8, 1989), and I would never smoke one again, but I still sometimes miss them. I started visualizing a pack of Pall Malls — the deep red, the elongated white letters, the (fatuous) slogan “Wherever Particular People Congregrate.” I visualized the blue paper strip across the top of the pack (I think it showed a somber-looking Native American man in my day), and then I visualized the tips of the unfiltered cigarettes — white outlines with brown and tan flakes of tobacco, all against the deep red pack.

And then, as we moved past the pavilion, I saw a sign above the picnic tables: THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING. Well-placed, Department of Parks and Recreation.

Related reading
All OCA smoking posts (Pinboard)

Reading and writing in the dark

Master Abraham is thinking of turning his learned tomcat Murr into a caged performer:

E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, trans. Anthea Bell (1999).

Also from this novel
“Scholarly voracity” : “My little right paw”

[“Smell of the lamp”: “Said of a literary production manifestly laboured. Plutarch attributes the phrase to Pytheas the orator, who said, ‘The orations of Demos′thenēs smell of the lamp,’ alluding to the current tale that the great orator lived in an underground cave lighted by a lamp, that he might have no distraction to his severe study”: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1895). Notice the help with pronunciation. Brewer’s also glosses “inkhorn terms”: “This phrase, once common, might be revived to signify pedantic expressions which smell of the lamp.”]

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Republic of Laundry

“I’ve become a model citizen in the Republic of Laundry.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[Elaine is the prime minister.]

From Artie to Zippy

[“Pucker Up.” Zippy, August 10, 2023.]

Today’s Zippy needs annotating. The artichoke has cried out: “Help! I’m an an advertising mascot trapped inside an artichoke!” But it’s more complicated than that. Artie the Artichoke is the mascot for Scottsdale Community College. There’s also Arti the Artichoke, who represents Ocean Mist Farms, growers of, yes, artichokes.

When Zippy mentions Speedy Alka-Seltzer’s “skill” (it’s “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz”) and asks Artie about his special ability, Artie replies, “I can thistle!” Artichoke thistle is an invasive species found in California.

Related reading
Alkalize with Alka-Seltzer : All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

“My little right paw”

Murr learns to write:

E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, trans. Anthea Bell (1999).

And look: here’s the cuff. And the manual.

Also from this novel
“Scholarly voracity”

[Hilmar Curas: “A teacher and author of the manual Murr mentions, entitled Calligraphia Regia. Königliche Schreibfeder, published in 1741.”]