Tuesday, October 31, 2023


On tonight’s PBS NewsHour, a segment about eliminating programs and faculty positions at West Virginia University.

According to NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan, thirty-two majors and 169 faculty positions are being eliminated. According to university president E. Gordon Gee, it’s seventy faculty positions. The other faculty cuts, he says, are “due to retirements and a variety of other things.” I would guess that at least some faculty who haven’t gone elsewhere have chosen to retire rather than be fired.

Sreenivasan spoke with Jonah Katz, an associate professor (i.e., tenured) in the Department of World Languages, Literatures, & Linguistics. Katz and his department are being eliminated:

“I think the level of reputational damage that the university is going to take will not be survivable. I don’t think that this will be a viable research university in five to ten years. And it essentially means that there’s no real tenure here anymore. And so nobody is going to come teach here unless they have absolutely no other choice.”
Related posts
College completion : Dickinson State, firing : Emporia State, firing : WVU cuts

“Fried or boiled?”

The housekeeper has a question for the ladies:

Katherine Mansfield, “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” (1921).

Related reading
All OCA Mansfield posts (Pinboard)

Kids wearing masks

[Kids wearing masks for Halloween. Photograph by Angelo Rizzuto. New York, October 1964. From the Library of Congress. Click for a larger view.]

Angelo Rizzuto (1906–1967), aka Anthony Angel, was a prolific photographer of mid-century New York City. The story of his life and work suggests a lonelier, more desperate version of Vivian Maier. A great difference: Rizzuto gave his photographs — roughly 60,000 of them — to the Library of Congress. Begin here: “Through the Eyes of an Angel: New York Photos by Anthony Angel.”

Also, Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Elvis, not to be found

From Gale Walden’s “David’s Presence,” about the writer’s relationship with David Foster Wallace:

It was David who introduced me to the Urbana Free Library on a visit to his parents, shortly after we started dating. “This is where I studied in high school,” he said. “Not at the university?” I asked. The University of Illinois, a few blocks down the street, has several wonderful libraries; the main reading room has long wooden tables and small lamps, like a library in a movie. Across the atrium, behind the circulation desk, there are stacks and stacks of books that move at the push of a button, compressing and expanding like an accordion. There is a little shrine to Elvis Presley, who once ordered a library card from there. Since David’s father, a philosophy professor, had an office next door, I assumed he would have worked there. “No, way more relaxed and down home at the public library,” he said.
This passage piqued my interest. I sometimes work in the Urbana Free Library when Elaine is at a rehearsal and we’re spending a day in Champaign-Urbana. And I’ve spent many hours roaming the stacks at University Library, UIUC’s main library. But I’ve never seen an Elvis shrine.

We spent some of the day in C-U yesterday and made a quick stop at the University Library. I am sorry to report that the Elvis shrine, created in 1994, seems to be no more. A staff member showed me where it was once housed, in a corner right before one enters the stacks. No one knew when it had been removed. Years ago, before their time.

[Where the shrine once stood.]

But wait, there’s more:

A 2013 story about spooky stuff at UIUC has the shrine’s backstory (it has to do with the Divine Comedy, not a library card) and the story of its removal and relocation:
For more than a decade, it hung in a metal case near the circulation desk . . . . Alas, duct and drywall work in 2008 necessitated the shrine’s removal to the remote corridor of the stacks where it now dwells, somewhat unappreciated.
Is the shrine still in the stacks? If it is, the librarians weren’t saying, at least not to me.

[The main library at UIUC is beyond huge — searching for the shrine in the stacks could take days.]

Google, what the?

A 2007 OCA post about a supremely sketchy and now-defunct “honors” outfit, the National Dean’s List, is at the top of Google search results for the NDL. Yay me, I suppose.

But look at what Google displays when one searches for national deans list, no quotation marks:

[“The National Dean's List sponsors the largest Free Book Program conducted by any publisher in any field. The books are provided, free of charge, ...”]

That chunk of text isn’t even from the post I wrote; it’s from a comment on the post left by someone who may have had a connection to the company.

When one searches for national deans list with quotation marks, my post appears at the top as a featured snippet:

[“Every year, professors, deans and leaders of civic and community service organizations affiliated with post secondary institutions are invited to nominate outstanding students who have achieved ‘Dean’s List’ honors, or comparable academic achievement, have a ‘B+’ average or are in the upper 10% of their classes.”]

That’s something I quoted from the now-defunct NDL website. I prefaced the quotation with these words: “If I were a genuine high-achieving college student, I might not have reason to doubt the claims on the NDL website.”

A sentence from the post that gives an accurate idea of the post:

The National Dean’s List is about as selective as a telephone book.
What made it possible for me to come to that conclusion? Mail from the NDL — letters of “invitation for nomination” — addressed to me (then almost thirty years out of college) and to a non-existent person, both names taken from mailing lists. The 2007 post explains in more detail.

The company marketing the National Dean’s List folded in 2007, so I’m surprised to see that my post about the NDL still gets visits daily. There must be many people aspiring to live in the past. At any rate, the National Dean’s List remains defunct.

A dictionary, done

“It was started in 1883 and now we’re done”: Svenska Akademiens ordbok, the official Swedish dictionary, analogous to the OED, has been completed after 140 years (The Guardian ). Ten thousand additional words — allergy, Barbie doll, computer, &c. — still need to be added to the volumes for A through R.

The dictionary is available online.

[Ordbok: yes, dictionary. Word book.]

Sunday, October 29, 2023

A technological trick

From the Recomendo newsletter, a description of a revised Metaverse:

Although each person is wearing goggles, they experience a full-sized 3D avatar of the other person without goggles. It’s a technological trick that seems to work, and might be in our future as something better than Zoom.
Or it might not be in “our” future. It won’t be in mine.

Here’s a conversation showing the technology in use. I can’t imagine ever wanting to use it, much less using it and thinking it cool.

[A funny comment on the video: “Can’t wait to avoid eye contact in the Metaverse!”]

Myrtle Ave. Drug Co.

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

Whoever owned this building knew something about monetizing: it looks like a miniature Times Square, minus the LEDs. If you look closely, you can see that windows on the second, third, and fourth floors have been bricked over. Perhaps an even larger billboard once covered those windows. Jeez — let there be light.

My look at this address tells me that it housed a drug store for a long time. Advertisements in Brooklyn newspapers tout a number of patent medicines available at 137 Myrtle:

1907: Elixir Kosine, a cure for epilepsy and fits in children, “absolutely free from alcohol, cocaine, morphine or opiates.”

1907: “Orrine Destroys Desire for Drink.”

1912: AM-OR-OU, “the recognized stomach tonic of the age.”

1928: “Goitre Treated At Home.”

“Hank’s” might be Henry Rickards Hanks, purveryor of Dr. Hanks’s Neuralgia & Nerve Mixture. The name Shepard was well-established in patent medicines and much else when this photograph was taken:

[Journal of Applied Chemistry (1869).]

Like Shepard’s Compound Wahoo Bitters, this downtown Brooklyn address is now non-existent. The name Myrtle, now uncommon, is one I always associate with a beautiful John Ashbery poem.

[The Tablet, June 3, 1933.]

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

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Cinnamon toast and orange juice

This news item strikes me as a respite from other news: “Firefighters make kids breakfast after mother is rushed to hospital” (The Washington Post , gift link). And the mom is fine.

[“As I suspected, you’re a rank sentimentalist.”]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is one hard puzzle. I’d call it a six on the Mohs Hardness Scale. You should really use a glass plate, knife blade, or maybe a steel nail to scratch its surface. I used a pencil and eraser, and to my surprise, they worked. The northeast and southwest: fairly doable. The northwest and southeast: better with the nail.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-D, eight letters, “Less than lucid.” I’m surprised to see that it’s a word.

6-A, three letters, “They take their turns in clubs.” The obvious (I think) answer doesn’t work.

9-A, five letters, “Lent direction.” Or misdirection.

11-D, ten letters, “Poetic ‘King of Kings.’” Gone but not forgotten.

14-A, nine letters, “Loud lament.” Not the first time I’ve seen the answer in a puzzle, but it’s still unobvious to me.

27-A, fourteen letters, “What you'll see in the latest Indy Jones film.” I want to rephrase: what a viewer will see, or what someone else will see. I don’t plan to see it. I knew what the clue was asking about, but figuring out the eighth and ninth letters made me a bit crazy.

29-D, ten letters, “Sudden burst.” I thought first of water: OUTPOURING.

34-A, three letters, “Ashley Walker Bush, in 2006.” Guessable, but who cares? Maybe she’s a friend of the constructor.

39-A, seven letters, “Six-stanza form for Dante.” And for John Ashbery, among other poets. Caution: the link is a spoiler.

45-A, fourteen letters, “Where lessons are prepared.” I thought of the smoke-drenched teachers’s lounge of my high school.

54-D, four letters, “Brand now ‘Even Gravy-er!’” I thought this had to be YARC (Yet Another Ragú Clue).

My favorite in this puzzle: 8-D, four letters, “Something often driven in December.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 27, 2023

“You were wrong about being done”

Gale Walden writes about her relationship with David Foster Wallace in life and in death. From “David’s Presence” (London Review of Books ):

The same day the book fell on my head I was listening to my ten-year-old daughter, Zella, playing her cello upstairs. I said out loud: “David, we are finally done.” I felt lighter, released from something. I thought I was acknowledging my happiness in the domestic life I had created, rather than the one I had imagined with him. The next evening, I found out David had hanged himself around the time I’d been listening to Zella play, and I thought: “You were wrong about being done.”
Related reading
All OCA DFW posts (Pinboard)

Michael Tracy/Tracy 168 (1958–2023)

The graffiti artist Michael Tracy, Tracy 168, has died at the age of sixty-five. The New York Times has an obituary (gift link), with many photographs.

I was fortunate to see Tracy 168’s work up close in 1983, when he and fellow artists put their art on the wall of the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Related reading
Michael Tracy’s Instagram

Thursday, October 26, 2023

What’s art for?

From William Deresiewicz, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Art” (Salmagundi ):

Art is for increasing life. That, I believe, after all the other purposes receive their due, is really what it’s for — why we revere it, why we give our hearts to it.

The World’s Writing Systems

A beautiful use of the Internet: The World’s Writing Systems (via kottke.org). Seen here: Proto-Cuneiform, 3300–2900 BCE.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

FEZiBO standing desk

I ordered an inexpensive standing desk from the usual source last week. The manufacturer’s name, FEZiBO (so styled), reminds me of Cam Tucker’s (Modern Family ) clown name: Fizbo. But I’m glad that didn’t occur to me while I was ordering the desk.

The one problem: a profound wobble, and a realization that I’d done something wrong in the assembling. (The instructions for assembly came in the form of the IKEA-like diagrams that I inevitably misintepret.) The company has a 24/5 domestic number, so I called, spoke with a real person, received a text, and sent back photographs and an explanation. Within an hour I received a reply with a marked-up screenshot from the instructions and an explanation of what I needed to do.

Excellent customer service, FEZiBO.

How to improve writing (no. 114)

This sentence from a New York Times article brought me up short:

Any candidate for speaker can lose only a handful of votes and still win the speakership because Republicans hold such a small majority in the House.
The logic of winning and losing here defies logic. If you lose only a handful of votes and still win, there’s nothing remarkable about that.

Any candidate for speaker can lose no more than a handful of votes and still win the speakership because Republicans hold such a small majority in the House.
Any candidate for speaker can lose only a handful of votes and still lose the speakership because Republicans hold such a small majority in the House.
Better still:
Because Republicans hold such a small majority in the House, a candidate for speaker can lose only a handful of votes and still lose the speakership.
Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 114 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

It’s night, it’s really that dark, and her face fills the screen, just like so. I recognized her, but I knew she was in the movie.

Leave your guess(es) in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one is needed, and I suspect one will be.


Here's a clue: Her movie appearances were few, but she spent many years as a familiar face on television and, at least for people in the New York area, a familiar voice on the radio.


Guesses are still welcome, but I’ve put the actor’s name in the comments.

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

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I use actor.]

Penny Park

[Click for a larger view.]

Small change, embedded, at Penny Park in Evanston, Illinois. A nearby plaque reads: “The children of Evanston named the park in honor of their efforts to fund the project with their own pennies.”

Monday, October 23, 2023

Barnes & Noble redesigning

From The New York Times (gift link): “As the bookstore chain mounts a comeback, it’s breaking a cardinal rule of corporate branding and store design: consistency.”

In other words, different designs for different stores, and an emphasis on books. I haven’t seen anything like this at our nearby Barnes & Noble, which still teems with tchotchkes and whatnot, especially at the registers.

Slightly strange: the article has a photograph of Barnes & Noble chief executive James Daunt standing in front of the same store bookshelves he stood in front of for a photograph that accompanied a 2019 Times article about Barnes & Nobles redesigning. Were those Barnes & Noble bookshelves in 2019 — or Waterstones?

A related post
Saving Barnes & Noble

Sammy Davis Jr. sings the theme from Maude

Yes, really. With a second chorus and more history: Lysistrata, Queen Isabella, Annie Oakley, and Elizabeth I. You’re welcome.

K clef

Elaine complained: she was playing an orchestral piece whose viola part was written in a strange clef: the K clef. K was the first letter of the name of the company that was sponsoring the concert. The notes went way off the staff. Dang sponsors.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Inspired perhaps by thinking about Subsidized Time in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, in which years are named for corporate sponsors: Year of the Whopper, Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, &c.]

Sunday, October 22, 2023

David and Judith Schubert

[A caution: This post makes reference to suicide, childhood trauma, and domestic violence.]

[6 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Yes, it’s a beautiful building. The AIA Guide to New York City (2010) identifies it as the Mrs. Hattie I. James House, built c. 1890:

Romanesque Revival with a strong, rock-face brownstone stair, elaborate foliate carved reliefs, and a bay window, not surprisingly, overlooking the bay.
But that’s not why the building appears in this post.

When a WPA photographer took this tax photograph, David and Judith Schubert lived on the top floor of 6 Pierrepont Street. He (1913–1946) was a poet; she (1909–1990), a teacher at a progressive school. Though he remains little known, David Schubert was an extraordinary poet.

William Carlos Williams:
To sit down for a little while and reread some of Schubert’s rare and poignant verse is like opening a window in a room that had become stuffy without one’s realizing it.
John Ashbery:
I myself value Schubert more than Pound or Eliot, and it’s a relief to have an authority of the stature of Williams to back me up.
Schubert had great difficulty getting published: he was, alas, too far ahead of his time, writing with the exuberance, obliqueness, and tonal complexity that would come to characterize the so-called New York School.

Schubert’s mental health was long fragile. He endured a horrific childhood: his father abandoned the family, his mother committed suicide, and David discovered the body. He and his siblings were split up among relatives. His stellar academic record got him into Amherst College when he was not quite sixteen, but his dedication to poetry made a mess of his college career. In adulthood, finding his efforts at publication stymied again and again, Schubert became ever more fragile.

In 1980, Judith (by then Judith Schubert Kranes) recounted the January 1943 breakdown that precipitated her husband’s institutionalization. He shouted and cursed, threw a picture frame out the window, picked up a pair of scissors, and threatened to kill his wife. She had to get out:
Moving to the closet, I reached for my good shoes (none of us had more than two pairs in those days), but David, snatching them away, threw them out of the open pane, into the snowy silence. There was a very wide expanse of red tiled roof under that window, and perhaps as late as April, after the snow was gone, to my amazement, standing upright on the sun–lit tiles, stood my shoes. I crawled out to rescue them, wondering how they could have remained in such perfect condition while we mortals — David and I — were falling apart.

Judith Schubert Kranes, in David Schubert: Works and Days, Quarterly Review of Literature 24 (1983).
Judith returned the next morning with David’s psychiatrist to find that David had wrecked the apartment and disappeared. He was later found in Washington, D.C., where he had gone to see Archibald MacLeish and enlist in the Navy. He was hospitalized, spent almost all of his remaining life in institutions, and died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-two.

The tiled roof, visible in the photograph above, appears to have been restored. (Google Maps photographs from 2011 and 2013 show flat tiles or shingles. At some point after January 2013, scaffolding went up, and a December 2017 photograph shows curved titles resembling those that appear in the tax photograph.)

Here is a real-estate tour of apartment 4A. I suspect that the third and fourth floor units were joined to make one much larger apartment. And I suspect that the realtor has no idea who once lived in the top-floor apartment.

Related reading
David Schubert, TR5-3718 : A David Schubert poem : More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

[AIA: American Institute of Architects. The Ashbery and Williams quotations are from Ashbery’s Charles Eliot Norton lecture on Schubert in Other Traditions (2000). In 1961 a selection of David Schubert’s poems was published as Initial A. The QRL volume, edited by Theodore Weiss and Renée Karol Weiss, presents all the surviving poems and an oral/epistolary biography.]

Home remodeling

I’ve tinkered with the template for Orange Crate Art, widening the main column and the sidebar and embiggening the text. I just got tired of hitting ⌘‑+ to make things look right to me.

Reader, if anything looks off to you, please let me know.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Morissette, Clarkson, and Webster

Kelly Clarkson bought her first dictionary because of Alanis Morissette. From Billboard :

Clarkson remarked that Morissette’s ability to bring “Webster Dictionary words” to her music fascinates the Idol alum. “I bought my first dictionary because of you,” Clarkson shared. “I was very young, and I was like, ‘What are these words? They mean something and I just need to look them up!’ Literally you are the reason why I owned a dictionary for the very first time.”
Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

[Wikipedia: “Webster's Dictionary is any of the English language dictionaries edited in the early 19th century by Noah Webster (1758–1843), an American lexicographer, as well as numerous related or unrelated dictionaries that have adopted the Webster’s name in his honor. “Webster’s” has since become a genericized trademark in the United States for English dictionaries, and is widely used in dictionary titles. Merriam-Webster is the corporate heir to Noah Webster’s original works, which are in the public domain.”]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Whenever I see Stella Zawistowski’s name on a Newsday Saturday Stumper, I wonder what I’m in for. SZ makes a mean puzzle. This Stumper though was relatively easy — a nineteen-minute-er for me. I started with two gimmes that crossed: 33-D, three letters, “Where Washington U. is” and 41-A, five letters, “Key with six black keys.” And then a whole chunk of the puzzle began falling into place.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

6-D, five letters, “Units of volume.” Strained, but I appreciate the pun.

7-D, four letters, “Block buster.” See 6-D.

15-A, five letters, “Places for addresses.” I don’t like this plural, but I’m glad I know it.

17-A, ten letters, “Routines without resolution.” Really? I think of the answer as a label for what one doesn’t like.

20-A, ten letters, “The Buick stops here.” At Harry Truman’s house?

32-A, nine letters, “Banes of hosts.” I haven’t thought of the answer since the days of “theory.”

34-D, seven letters, “Pedestrian observer.” I thought of someone uttering banalities.

35-D, seven letters, “Name from the Greek for ‘foreign.’” Yes, it’s so.

36-D, seven letters, “One delivering mail.” By the time I got to this clue, I could see right through it.

46-D, give letters, “Argentine avenue.” I just like the word.

48-A, nine letters, “Liquid refreshment.” Yes, please.

52-D, three letters, “Saw around.” See 36-D.

My favorite in this puzzle: 45-A, three letters, “Nursing degree.” So clever.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 20, 2023

“Molly, you in danger, girl”

On the PBS NewsHour tonight, Geoff Bennett asked Jonathan Capehart about Kenneth Chesbro‘s and Sidney Powell‘s plea bargains:

“What do you think this means for Donald Trump, Jonathan?”

[Laughs.] “There’s a great scene in the movie Ghost where Whoopi Goldberg says to Demi Moore, ‘Molly, you in danger, girl.’ And, you know, if I were to see Doanld Trump, I would say exactly that to him.”
Here’s the clip from the movie.

“Not playing, but banging”

The grown-ups are going to have a party, with music. Sun is a little boy.

Katherine Mansfield, “Sun and Moon” (1920).

Also from Katherine Mansfield
“Tortoiseshell cats and champagne” : A hair-tidy and pencil rays : “But he never wore a collar”

[Moon is Sun’s sister.]

At a party

“Oh, thank God! Here comes a Border collie!”

Thursday, October 19, 2023

No free will?

Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky says that there’s no such thing as free will:

“The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over,” Sapolsky said. “We’ve got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn’t there.”
Well, he had to say that, right?

But seriously: if Sapolsky is right, then my agreeing or disagreeing with him is beyond my control. Which, I think, makes it impossible for his assertion to lay any claim to be true. Because if I agreed with him, then I, too, had to say that.


Another thought: Imagine that someone makes a statment x because of an electrical impulse sent through a wire attached to their body. And imagine that other people then say x or not-x because of wires attached to their bodies. If x and the responses to it are beyond our control, what does that do to the idea of truth?

[I have long leaned toward the idea of truth as contingent — contingent and real. That has something to do with my response to Sapolsky.]

“But he never wore a collar”

Here’s the man who’s helping to move the family.

Katherine Mansfield, “Prelude” (1918).

I can imagine these sentences in one of the early stories of Joyce’s Dubliners. It’s the plainness, and the free indirect discourse, presenting this man as seen by a child. The alogical but really does the trick.

Also from Katherine Mansfield
“Tortoiseshell cats and champagne” : A hair-tidy and pencil rays

In the funnies today

At Mutts : “Throwback Thursday.” I like it when comics assume a reader’s knowledge of comics.

At Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy : a to-do list. In the true Bushmiller spirit, I’d say.

A mother looks at “balanced literacy”

“RIP Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. You helped turn learning to read into a rich family’s game”: Kendra Hurley, the mother of two reading-challenged students, writes about the rise and fall of “balanced literacy” (Slate ).

Hurley makes an especially interesting suggestion about why those on the hard right are so enaamored of phonics — because they seek any opportunity to undermine faith in public schools. There is of course nothing inherently conservative about teaching the sounds that letters make, no more so than there is about teaching the alphabet itself.

Just one related post
To: Calkins, Fountas, and Pinnell (My take on “balanced literacy”)

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Carla Bley (1936–2023)

The composer and pianist Carla Bley has died at the age of eighty-seven. From The New York Times obituary:

She was branded an avant-gardist early in her career, but that term applied more to her slyly subversive attitude than to the formal character of her music, which always maintained a place for tonal harmony and standard rhythm.
Ever heard of? Never heard of? Try her composition “Lawns.” Here is a 2018 trio performance, with Bley, Andy Sheppard, tenor; and Steve Swallow, electric bass.

Recently updated

A noir beginning An obscure film noir and the opening credits for Mad Men.

Recently updated

Ebinger’s Casting doubt on the claims of the baker who revived the Ebinger’s name.


My copy of Katherine Mansfield’s Stories (1956) is stamped with the owners’ names and address — three times, like a library book. So I looked up the names and found obituaries for Terry and Judy Horowitz. Their name for their Maryland house, included on the stamp: Elysium.

A hair-tidy and pencil rays

The family is moving. A child enters the old house one last time.

Katherine Mansfield, “Prelude” (1918).

One could learn a lot about how to describe from reading Katherine Mansfield. In 2015 Steven Millhauser named Mansfield’s Stories as one of his six favorite collections of short fiction. I wonder if his attention to the effects of light owes something to her work.

Also from Katherine Mansfield
“Tortoiseshell cats and champagne”

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

A noir beginning

[Two O’Clock Courage (dir. Anthony Mann, 1945). Click for a larger view.]

Ted “Step” Allison (Tom Conway) staggers away from the camera as the movie begins. It’s a good not great noir. I gave it three stars.

The cinematographer: Jack MacKenzie, whose first screen credit was in 1916 and whose last was in 1963 — on Leave It to Beaver.


A reader noticed the similarity to the opening credits for Mad Men:

Coincidence? Perhaps. But gosh is the composition similar. If it’s not a matter of coincidence, the similarity is certainly not meant to be recognized. Two O’Clock Courage is not a well-known movie.

Siri and Calendar

For iPhone users: did you know that you can use Siri to add events to Calendar? Here’s an official Apple page that explains. I discovered this possibility on my own by saying “Add to calendar” to see what would happen.

If you find, as I do, that adding an event to Calendar by hand, on the spot, is incredibly tedious, voice is a welcome alternative.

[I am still an analog kind of guy — with a pocket Moleskine planner — but I like the redundancy of having events on the phone.]

Monday, October 16, 2023

Mack McCormick’s Monster

Blues news from The Washington Post : the Smithsonian is revealing more materials from Mack McCormick’s archive of recordings and writings, aka “The Monster.”

Related posts
Icicles, shrimp, and tamales : Mack McCormick’s Robert Johnsons

James Baldwin’s outlines and doodles

From Jillian Hess’s Noted, a Substack devoted to notebooks and note-taking: James Baldwin’s outlines and doodles.

Related reading
Some OCA James Baldwin posts (Pinboard)

A hate crime in Illinois

The news I woke up to: in a Chicago suburb, a seventy-one-year-old man killed a six-year-old boy and wounded the boy’s mother because they were Muslim.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

5 Patchin Place

[5 Patchin Place, West Village, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Last Sunday I posted the tax photograph of 154 W. 10th Street, home to Three Lives & Company and, in the past, Djuna Books. Which leads me today to 5 Patchin Place, long the home of the writer Djuna Barnes. The street is one with considerable history. No. 5 is to the right of the stone fireplace in the photograph above.

From Phillip Herring’s Djuna: The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes (1995):

Back in New York, the happiest news of these years in Djuna’s life was that she found an apartment, upstairs at 5 Patchin Place, a private court with iron gate (usually open) near Greenwich Avenue and Tenth Street. Patchin Place, a picturesque reminder of what Greenwich Village once had been, contained fifty flats in two rows, built in 1848 as boardinghouses for the Basque waiters at the old Breevort Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Many famous writers and intellectuals had dwelled in the short cul-de-sac, including John Reed, Theodore Dreiser, Padraic Colum, and Jane Bowles. E.E. Cummings lived across the way from Djuna, downstairs at number 4.
Barnes moved to no. 5 in September 1940. Her rent: $40 a month. Aside from a brief stay in a nursing home, she stayed on Patchin Place, largely a recluse, through numerous and varied adversities, for the rest of her life. Herring tells a well-known story:
In 1952, [Barnes] fell and broke her shoulder. She crawled to her telephone and called on her neighbor E.E. Cummings, who climbed the fire escape, let himself in, and telephoned for the ambulance that took her to the French Hospital. Thereafter he would occasionally raise his window and shout, “Are you still alive, Djuna?” She outlasted Cummings by twenty years.
From Andew Field’s Djuna: The Life and Times of Djuna Barnes (1983):
In 1963 a developer purchased Patchin Place for $630,000 and said that, if the tenants would not permit him a reasonable return on his investment, then he would be forced to rip down the old buildings and erect a multi-storey on the site. There was a tenants’ protest meeting (reported in The New York Times, September 30, 1963: “Patchin and Milligan Tenants Unite to Preserve Quiet Corner”). Miss Barnes spoke at the meeting and said that she would die if she was forced to move uptown. More than that, the neighbourhood needed to be preserved as it was so that the young people had a suitable place to practice their mugging. The landlord backed away, and life continued on for her as before in small, difficult days.
Barnes’s rent in 1963: $49.50 a month.

[From the Times article, for which Barnes consented to an interview. The article does not mention a Barnes appearance at a protest meeting. Click for a larger view.]

Djuna Barnes died in her apartment on June 18, 1982, days after her ninetieth birthday.

Here’s more about 5 Patchin Place, from Ephemeral New York and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Here’s a famous photograph of Barnes standing inside the Patchin Place gate. And here are Trulia’s real-estate photographs of the apartment’s interior, all 500 square feet of it. The apartment is off the market.

I’m no Barnes expert, but I can highly recommend the novel Nightwood (1936), which I dared to teach several times. It’s a great modernist novel, a great modern novel, and a great novel.

Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard) : “Smith going backward” (A phrase from Djuna Barnes)

Saturday, October 14, 2023

“But” speaks

Alexandra Petri, writing in The Washington Post (gift link): “The word ‘But’ asks that it not appear in these sentences.” The words “Nevertheless,” “Still,” and “However” concur.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Lars G. Doubleday, aka Doug Peterson and Brad Wilber. Their last Stumper was in January of this year. Today’s puzzle is another solid Stumper. The cross that began to reveal the puzzle to me: 24-D, letters, “It’s covered for strollers” and 32-A, six letters, “Bardic king.” I’m surprised that I got 24-D first. I just thought has to be.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-D, seven letters, “Always-open merchant.” A better clue might be “An answer that needs to be banned from crosswords.” I can’t stand the word.

8-A, seven letters, “Clogs, for example.” An example of this puzzle’s ambiguities.

17-A, seven letters, “Less likely to split.” C’mon, man. The answer appears nowhere in the OED and it barely registers in the Google Ngram Viewer.

20-D, nine letters, “Literally, ‘Children of the Covenant.’” I learned something.

27-A, four letters, “About ninety-one yards of a football field.” A novel way to clue a familiar word.

43-D, seven letters, “Genre of graphic novels.” Oh! Cool.

44-A, nine letters, “Quartet in Mississippi.” As much as I like the answer, I think the clue is fiendishly arbitrary.

47-D, six letters, “Local.” Unexpected.

55-A, twelve letters, “Resumption after an interruption.” Nicely colloquial.

68-A, seven letters, “Back down?” Oof.

My favorite in this puzzle: 10-D, four letters, “‘Congratulations!’ message source, maybe.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Zippy, re: Nancy

[“Over the Counter.” Zippy, October 13, 2023. Click for a larger view.]

This diner diner, who still reads the newspaper and still reads the comics first, is channeling Bill Griffith. In his talk about Ernie Bushmiller and Nancy at The New School this past Tuesday, Griffith made that point about newspaper-reading (with the front page added), and he offered this diner’s observation about Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy — that it treats Nancy and Sluggo as if they are teenagers. He also mentioned the new strip’s emphasis on computers and social media. He’s not a fan.

In the final panel of today’s strip, this diner might be speaking only for himself: “Today’s Marmaduke is pretty funny.” (Marmaduke is now in re-runs.)

Me, I love Bushmiller’s Nancy, and I think Olivia Jaimes’s version is often wonderful. I tire though of robotics, the magnet school, and dialogues and monologues that end in self-contradiction. But when Jaimes is deploying visual humor, as in today’s strip, her Nancy is a delight.


Later that same morning: Bill Griffith’s talk is available on YouTube. He comments on Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy at 1:34 (“I’m not happy with it”) and on newspaper reading at 1:56:23.

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

Frasier again

Our household signed on for a free month of Paramount+ to sample the new Frasier. We watched the two available episodes last night and deleted our account.

There are many things to say about the new Frasier. I’ll offer just one: Paramount+ has made a series that might appeal to fans of Cheers. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to appeal to fans of Frasier.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

“Tortoiseshell cats and champagne”

Katherine Mansfield, “The Little Governess” (1915).

[If the syntax puzzles you for a moment: rested parallels watched and watched.]

A “Day of Resistance” toolkit

Nihilism on campuses: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a collegiate “Day of Resistance” movement, whose “toolkit” (since removed from Google Docs) includes a poster featuring an cartooned image of a paraglider.

The Chronicle quotes a law professor: “Let that sink in.”

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

From the future

[John Garfield and Frances Farmer in Flowing Gold (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1940). Click for a larger view.]

Frances Farmer really does look like “someone from at least fifty years in the future.” (I’m quoting myself.)

Twelve movies

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

Don’t Look Back (dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1967). A documentary made from footage of Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour. I watched out of a sense of responsibility to cultural history and was deeply underwhelmed. The robotic strumming, the wheezing harmonica, the typing while Joan Baez sings, the snarkitude at everyone’s expense, especially Donovan’s: Dylan strikes me as an emperor in need of a good haberdashery. Strange: the first words he says on camera are “Did you see my cane?” — and this is before his motorcycle accident. ★★ (TCM)


The Clouded Yellow (dir. Ralph Thomas, 1950). British intelligence agent David Somers (Trevor Howard) gets the boot after one mistake and takes a short-term job cataloging butterflies at a country house. Thus the title, suggesting, perhaps, migratory movement and, certainly, nets and fragile beauty. When Sophie Malraux (Jean Simmons), the allegedly disturbed niece of the house, is accused of murder, David takes her on the lam, and through a grand tour of English landscapes. A movie made of wonderful Hitchcockian episodes, à la The 39 Steps, but there’s little chemistry between Howard — who seems himself an avuncular figure — and Simmons. ★★★ (YT)


Footsteps in the Night (dir. Jean Yarborough, 1957). A man is found dead in a Los Angeles motel room, and suspicion falls on a neighbor with a gambling problem whom the dead man inveigled into long nights of cards. The movie plays like an hour-long episode of Dragnet, with two detectives cracking occasional jokes and plodding along from place to place until there’s a bit of high drama at the final minutes. Worth watching for brief appearances by James Flavin (veteran of hundreds of movies) and Harry Tyler (Bert the short-order cook in The Grapes of Wrath). Both men must have understood that there are no small roles, only small actors. ★★ (YT)


I Confess (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1953). Wearing a priest’s cassock, a church caretaker in Quebec City (O.E. Hasse) commits murder and confesses to the very priest whose cassock he wore, Father Michael Logan (Montgomery Clift), who’s required by church law to keep the confession secret. Logan of course soon becomes a suspect, and his relationship with an old sweetheart (Anne Baxter), suggests he had good reason to kill. With Clift as a man with a secret to hide, there’s a strange meta quality to the story. Difficult to see much chemistry between him and the hammy Baxter; Hasse and Dolly Haas are more genuinely desperate partners. ★★★ (TCM)

[In the Small World department: Dolly Haas was married to Al Hirschfeld. Our friends Seymour Barab and Margie King were their friends.]


The Secret Fury
(dir. Mel Ferrer, 1950). Someone’s turned up the gaslight — but who? Deeply strange, with Claudette Colbert as Ellen Ewing, a classical pianist who’s about to marry some guy (Robert Ryan), and as the ceremony gets underway, a stranger stands up to say that Ellen is already married. Three movies in one: a melodrama, a courtroom drama, and a very dark noir. Paul Kelly is great as a district attorney; and look for VIvian Vance as a hotel maid. ★★★★ (TCM)


Hell Is a City (dir. Val Guest, 1960). When an escaped criminal (John Crawford) heads home to Manchester and pulls off a robbery and murder, it’s up to Inspector Harry Martineau (Stanley Baker) to track him down — or to climb up after him. Location filming and a strong cast (Donald Pleasance, Vanda Godsell, Billie Whitelaw) make for a terrific movie. I suspect the strong influence of The Naked City (the movie) and Naked City (the television series). What clinches it for me: several scenes of domestic tension between Martineau and his wife Julia (Maxine Audley) — in keeping with the Naked practice of showing cops in their private lives. ★★★★ (YT)


This Is the Bowery (dir. Gunther von Fritsch, 1941). A short film from the series The Passing Parade, with John Nesbitt’s narration. It’s a ludicrously or poignantly optimistic look at life on the Bowery, with one man (Charles St. John) resolving to give the straight life one more try. Hearty soup and strong coffee served at the Bowery Mission help him on his way. Filmed on location — the real street and its semi-residents, many of them looking remarkably well kempt. ★★★ (TCM)


How Do You Like the Bowery? (dir. Dan Halas and Alan Raymond, 1960). A short documentary by NYU students Halas and Raymond. Here the men of the Bowery speak, and the urgency with which some of them address their interviewer makes me think of the souls in Dante’s hell. It’s one memorable face after another. My Bowery triptych would have these two short films flanking Lionel Rogosin’s full-length 1956 movie On the Bowery. ★★★★ (YT)


Suddenly (dir. Lewis Allen, 1954). A damaged war vet (Frank Sinatra) has contracted to assassinate the president of the United States, traveling to the town of Suddenly and taking over an isolated house from which to shoot a rifle. It’s up to the people held captive in the house to stop him: a grandfather (James Gleason), his war-widow daughter (Nancy Gates), her young son (Kim Charney), the town sheriff (Sterling Hayden), and a TV repairman (James Lilburn). The movie is almost all plot, with a brief touch of romance and a few hints of the vet’s feral war record. So strange to watch and think about Sinatra’s fleeting friendship with John F. Kennedy; so strange to watch and think about one the names Donald Trump used when making phony calls to the press: the vet’s name, John Barron. ★★★★ (TCM)


Flowing Gold (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1940). Bromance, romance, and fossil fuels: a wanted man (John Garfield) shows up at an oil field, saves the foreman’s life (Pat O’Brien), and falls in love with an oilman’s daughter (Frances Farmer). Aside from a spectacular explosion, everything here is predictable. The reason to watch is Frances Farmer, who looks like someone from at least fifty years in the future. A bonus: Cliff Edwards, “Ukulele Ike,” the voice of Jiminy Cricket. ★★★ (TCM)


Fyre (dir. Chris Smith, 2019). My daughter made a joke about a cheese sandwich, and suddenly I was looking up the details of the notorious Fyre music festival, a scam perpetrated by Billy McFarland, an entrepreneur who promised festivalgoers exclusive lodgings and fine food on a private island. Instead, the marks got surplus tents, rainsoaked mattresses, and cheese sandwiches in foam containers. And now McFarland is out of prison and planning Fyre Festival II. A con man, exposed as such, and trying a second time: I wonder if McFarland has met a leading Republican contender. ★★★★ (N)


Two O’Clock Courage (dir. Anthony Mann, 1945). A pick for TCM’s Noir Alley, and an Anthony Mann movie we’d never heard of — and it starts off so well, with fog and foghorns, and a shadow (Tom Conway) staggering away from the camera. A perky cabdriver (Ann Rutherford) drives onto the screen, and the story turns into something like a radio whodunit with touches of comedy, as the cabbie helps the amnesiac shadow sort out clues to his identity and prove he’s no murderer. A fun element: the story takes place in a city that never sleeps, with clothing stores open all night, and landladies awake and fully dressed at all hours. A bonus: Jane Greer in her first speaking role, as a drunken actress. ★★★ (TCM)

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Timothy Snyder on terrorism

I have been in flight from watching the news. But I want to share these observations, from the historian Timothy Snyder:

For the victim, terror is about what it is. For the terrorist, it is about what happens next.

Terror can be a weapon of the weak, designed to get the strong to use their strength against themselves. Terrorists know what they are going to do, and have an idea what will follow. They mean to create an emotional situation where self-destructive action seems like the urgent and only choice.

When you have been terrorized, the argument that I am making seems absurd; the terrorists can seem to you to be raving beasts who just need punishment. Yet however horrible the crime, it usually does not bespeak a lack of planning. Usually part of the plan is to enrage.

Americans have fallen for this. 9/11 was a successful terrorist attack because we made it so. Regardless of whether or not its planners and perpetrators lived to see this, it achieved its main goal: to weaken the United States. Without 9/11, the United States presumably would not have invaded Iraq, a decision which led to the death of tens of thousands of people, helped fund the rise of China, weakened international law, and undid American credibility. 9/11 was a contributing cause to American decisions that caused far more death than 9/11 itself did. But the point here is that 9/11 facilitated American decisions that hurt America far more than 9/11 itself did. . . .

Classically, a terrorist provokes a state in order to generate so much suffering among his own people that they will take the terrorist’s side indefinitely.

I won’t claim to know what Hamas expects from Israel, nor what Israel should do. That would be a matter for people with the languages and expertise to read and analyze the documents and the data. My point is that it is always worth asking, in such situations, whether you are following the terrorist’s script. If what you want to do is what your enemy wants you to do, someone is mistaken. It might be your enemy. But it also might be you.

PS. I am conscious that the cool tone of this thread might seem jarring in the context of human suffering. I regret this.

PPS. I anticipate the objection that Israeli state policy has been designed to provoke Palestinians. I agree that the strong can also terrorize the weak.

Terence Davies (1945–2023)

The screenwriter and director Terence Davies has died at the age of seventy-seven. The New York Times has an obituary.

I’ve seen seven of Terence Davies’s films: Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), Death and Transfiguration (1983), Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), The Long Day Closes (1992), Of Time and the City (2008), and The Deep Blue Sea (2011). Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes are among my favorite films of, as they say, all time. And I was looking forward to Davies’s adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s The Post Office Girl, which was supposed to begin filming this past summer.

[Gift link, no subscription needed.]

Proust and turbines

From The Times: “Remembrance of things past halts turbines in Proust country”:

The Council of State, the highest bench for litigation involving the state, rejected a project to install eight 150-metre tall wind turbines within sight of the town where the writer spent his childhood summers, now named llliers-Combray, southwest of Chartres.
The article can be read only in part without a subscription, but there’s enough to get the gist of it.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

A Bill Griffith talk

At The New School tonight, 7:00 Eastern: Bill Griffith talks about Nancy, Ernie Bushmiller, and Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller, the Man Who Created “Nancy.” Details here. To sign up for streaming, send an e-mail to comicssymposium@gmail.com.

Related reading
My review of Three Rocks

Monday, October 9, 2023

Fran and Charles

Fran Lebowitz talks with Doug Doyle about her friendship with Charles Mingus (WBGO). With special appearances by Duke Ellington and an apple pancake.

And here’s the entire conversation.

Related reading
All OCA Fran Lebowitz posts : Charles Mingus posts (Pinboard)

Harry Smith at the Whitney

At the Whitney Museum of American Art, an exhibition devoted to the life and work of Harry Smith, Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith:

Fragments of a Faith Forgotten: The Art of Harry Smith puts the artist’s life on display alongside his art and collections. It follows him from an isolated Depression-era childhood in the Pacific Northwest — a time when he was immersed in ecstatic religious philosophies and Native American ceremony — to his bohemian youth of marijuana, peyote, and intellectualism in postwar Berkeley, California. The exhibition also traces his path through the milieus of bebop and experimental cinema in San Francisco to his decades in New York, where he was an essential part of the city’s avant-garde fringe.
Harry Smith is probably best known as the mind behind the Anthology of American Folk Music (Folkways, 1952). That too is part of the exhibit.

Noisy colors

The Washington Post looks at — listens to different colors of noise: “Beyond white noise: How different ‘color’ sounds help or hurt” (gift link).

I often used brown or pink noise in my office to cut sound from the hallway and a nearby classroom. I never fell asleep, but gosh, could I concentrate. From a 2012 post about a now-defunct Mac app: “Without pink noise, I’d get nothing done in my office.”

Today there are many apps and websites generating noisy colors. Here’s a free site I just discovered: noisetool.

Recently updated

Drugs, groceries, books Now with a second bookstore, Djuna Books.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

“In conclusion”

Today’s Zits: yes, just a mild exaggeration of how some students think about writing. It’s what they call “fluff.”

Jeremy, you need to read How to unstuff a sentence.

OCA, immobile again

After a brief effort using mobile view with this blog, I’ve switched back to desktop view. I have my reasons:

~ No personality. Mobile view makes one blog look exactly like some other blog.

~ To my eye, the typography and lineation look clumsy. The dateline is squashed to an unreadable white on grey; post titles are sometimes broken across two lines when they would easily fit on one. On the main page, the handful of lines that display for each post ignore italics and line breaks.

~ No widgets. No Creative Commons statement, no archive links, no links for favorite posts, no nothing. I know that it’s possible, in theory, to add widgets, but from everything I’ve read, it’s a doubtful venture. And anyway, where would they go? I know that it’s also possible, at least in theory, to edit numerous chunks of Blogger code to create what’s called responsive view, with the page enlarging or shrinking to fit a device’s display, but here too, from everything I’ve read, the prospect of getting things right is doubtful. And anyway, a smaller version of OCA-as-it-is is exactly what Google declares unusable on a mobile device.

~ I dropped the URL of an exceedingly well-known tech website into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test page. The result: “Page isn’t usable on mobile.” But it’s perfectly usable. Enlarge the page so that the sidebar slides off the screen and everything’s readable.

~ Statcounter tells me that about 40% of visits to Orange Crate Art are by way of mobile devices. No one has ever complained that a page is unusable or suggested that I use mobile view. So if it isn’t ain’t broke —

Drugs, groceries, books

[154 W. 10th Street, West Village, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Since 1978 this corner has been home to the great bookstore Three Lives & Company. In recent years Elaine and I have bought books there (many books) every time we’ve visited Manhattan. One of these days or years we’ll get there again.

Before no. 154 was a bookstore or a grocery-delicatessen (with payphone, as per the Bell Telephone sign), it was a drugstore, or drug store, the subject of a 1927 Edward Hopper painting.

Here’s a New York Times article with much more about the history of no. 154 and Three Lives.


A reader notes that there was once another bookstore in the rear of the building: Djuna Books, named, of course, for Djuna Barnes.

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

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Illinois-15 in The Washington Post

“Political scientists and analysts said that when state Democrats packed so many conservatives into a single district, they created the environment for [Mary] Miller to win despite holding views that are out of step with most general-election voters in Illinois and even with most GOP House members”: The Washington Post takes a long look at Illinois’s gerrymandered fifteenth congressional district.

Related reading
All OCA Mary Miller posts (Pinboard)

[Gift link, no subscription needed.]

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stan Newman, constructing as Anna Stiga. Which means, I think, that the puzzle will be tougher than one by Lester Ruff but not as tough as one by S.N. himself. I found today’s puzzle challenging. I got it done, but I don’t think I was ever on its wavelength.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

7-D, fifteen letters, “Since lots wanted it.” Broke open much of the puzzle for me.

14-D, eight letters, “Nutcracker participants.” Oops — SQUIRRELS is off by one letter.

15-A, six letters, “One of British rock’s ‘holy trinity.’” Okay, I guess so, but I’ve never thought of such a thing.

19-A, eight letters, “Really eager.” One of at least two clues that made me think I was in a time warp.

20-D, five letters, “Maxim’s scratch.” Stumper-y.

31-A, six letters, “Track participant.” A little sneaky.

44-A, seven letters, “Parting word.” See 19-A.

54-D, four letters, “Square one.” Groan.

My favorite in this puzzle: 55-A, nine letters, “Dashboard setting.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, October 6, 2023

OCA mobile

I was poking around in the Google Search Console this afternoon — idle curiosity — and discovered that Google disapproves of my use of the same OCA layout for desktop and mobile views. That layout seems to me to work just fine: on a phone, I just embiggen the main column of text and the sidebar sails off to the right. And it’s over there if I want it back. The sidebar has some wonderful stuff. It also has a picture of me.

But the lack of a layout for mobile devices makes these pages less attractive to the overlords who scan the Internets and put URLs in search results. So after holding out for many years, I’ve added a sidebar-less mobile view. Comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

If you’re on a mobile device and would like to see things in the old-fashioned way, just choose View web version from the bottom of any page.

Reading in Massachusetts

“Lost in a world of words” is the first in a series of articles about the state of reading instruction in the state of Massachusetts (The Boston Globe ). An excerpt:

Before the pandemic, only about half of public school third-graders had adequate reading skills. Post-pandemic, the story is even worse.

Scores for all third-graders have slipped below the 50 percent mark, and the most vulnerable kids are in serious trouble; 75 percent of low-income third-graders could not pass the reading comprehension test on last spring’s MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] exam. Roughly 70 percent of Black third-graders, 80 percent of Latino students, and 85 percent of children with disabilities couldn’t understand grade-level reading passages well enough to answer questions about them accurately.

It bears repeating: The vast majority of Black and Latino children and kids with disabilities are being sent off to the fourth grade — where students start reading to learn instead of learning to read — hobbled by this major deficit, which has cascading effects on spelling and writing as well. Some can’t sound out words on the page. Others can’t understand what they’re reading. Many never catch up; they drop out of high school or fail to finish college. The social and economic rifts in our society widen.
Just wait for Skippy the Frog.

The podcast series Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong is a great introduction to what’s at stake.

“I think he was in the chess club”

Steven Millhauser, “Kafka in High School, 1959,” in Disruptions (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2023).

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Steven Millhauser’s Disruptions

Steven Millhauser. Disruptions: Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. 270 pp. $28 hardcover.

Having read all of Steven Millhauser’s published fiction, I sometimes torment myself by trying to decide which of his books to recommend as a way into his work, recognizing that to begin with one would be to miss — at least for a time — the delights of all the others. If a reader were to begin reading Millhauser with a book other than Disruptions, his new collection of eighteen stories, here is some of what that reader would miss:

~ Stories that explore the strangeness of other people's houses, one (allegedly) haunted, another the scene of an inconclusive nighttime encounter between a high-school boy and his girlfriend’s mother.

~ Stories that explore the way adolescence changes everything, and not for the better. “My hair was wrong. My walk was wrong. My face was wrong”: and the narrator smashes his framed yearbook photograph. In “The Change,” transformation takes the form of adolescent self-obliteration in a terrifying Ovidian metamorphosis.

~ Stories in which suburban realities — lawns, hedges, tree-lined streets — become increasingly strange, as residents drain their lives of color or climb ladders into the sky or let nature overtake their houses and public buildings (think Detroit, if Detroit were a tidy suburb) or grow accustomed to the presence of a town guillotine. And, always, there’s a narrator who speaks on behalf of the place (to whom?) and calmly thinks things through:

The post office, the library, the high school, the beach club, the guillotine, the bank, the movie theater, the Historical Society, the Presbyterian church, the new stop sign out by the hardware store — it was the town we all knew, the town most of us had grown up in, with its familiar monuments, its careful preservation of the past, its openness to reasonable change. A guillotine on the town green was beginning to seem no more remarkable than the new crosswalk between Vincenzo’s Drugstore and the Downtown Diner or the new post-office branch out by the renovated junior high. What really occupied our attention wasn’t the blade and the bloody neck but the new parking meters installed on two downtown blocks and the road-repair project that closed off half a dozen streets and produced traffic jams causing ten-minute delays.
~ Stories that develop in the manner of a metaphysical conceit, ingeniously exploring aspect after aspect of a given premise. The tour de force here is “The Little People,” a new expression of Millhauser’s fascination with the miniature, an account of a town that houses a separate community known as Greenhaven, whose residents are two inches tall. What kinds of work do they do? How do they avoid danger from birds, squirrels, unleashed pets, and children? How do they handle money? And what happens when a large person and one of the Little People embark on a sexual relationship? The story is told from the perspective of a large person, who finds the Little People ultimately and comically unknowable:
Sometimes we suspect that they are happier than we are, though this may only be because we cannot always see the expressions on their faces.
As with Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer, whose turn-of-the-twentieth-century Grand Cosmo prefigures Disney World, Las Vegas, video games, Hudson Yards, and the Metaverse, the allegory here is overdetermined: Are the Little People the invisible labor force that sustains a local economy? Are they the unpowerful? (Recall Leona Helmsley: “Only the little people pay taxes.”) Is Greenhaven meant to suggest segregation in housing? Are the Little People an Other whose way of being the (literally) larger culture tries to emulate? (The high-schoolers in the story start a Shortness Club.) Millhauser’s fable is all the more powerful for its irreducibility to any one possibility.

~ Stories — all of them — that are endlessly inventive. The standout here might be “Kafka in High School, 1959,” which imagines Franz as an American teenager: hiding Four Great Russian Short Novels in his lap in AP English, looking at himself in the mirror (“His chin sticks out like an unclosed drawer in a lamp table”), staring at the “pale-haired goddesses” Bonnie Wilcox and Janet Pearson, always choosing the hat in Monopoly:
As a child he liked to try on his father’s hats, and now, at sixteen, he says that the hat is necessary because when you’re descended in a direct line from Miles and Prudence Kafka, who sailed over on the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth Colony, the least you can do is show a proper respect for the memory of your distinguished ancestors.
Here’s a quick test — though not a page-ninety test. Turn to page 215 and read the section of this story titled “Kafka Asks Himself What He Knows.” If you like what you’re reading, why not begin reading Steven Millhauser with Disruptions?

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

[The first two quoted passages are from ”The Fight” and “After the Beheading.”]