Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Word of the day: ekphrasis

The word of the day at Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day is ekphrasis: “A description of or commentary on a work of visual art.”

I’ll borrow Merriam-Webster’s etymology:

borrowed from New Latin ecphrasis, borrowed from Greek ékphrasis “description,” from ekphrad-, stem of ekphrázein “to tell over, recount, describe” (from ek- EC- + phrázein “to point out, show, tell, explain,” of uncertain origin) + -sis -SIS .
I recall sitting in an NEH seminar and being told that if one wanted to befuddle colleagues, all that was necessary was to speak the word ekphrasis. Well, maybe. I’m not so sure. At any rate, the idea of ekphrasis is hardly obscure. Think of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Or Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Or back to the beginning: Homer’s description of Achilles’s shield, which you might want to seek out on your own (Iliad 18).

Related posts
Art into words : Erasmus ekphrasis : Robert Walser, Looking at Pictures

“Tin yars in Versales, Mazura”

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

This novel, which began with overtones of Dickens and Proust, shifts to a Jamesian (Henry) manner with many touches of Austenesque satire.

Also from this novel
A pallet on the floor : “The odors” : “Oh, piffle, you dumb-bells” : No Remington, Ticonderoga : “Flatteringly, like the dentist”

Melinda Wilson (1946–2024)

The New York Times obituary describes her as the person “who rescued her future husband, the Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson, from psychological ruin when they were dating in the 1980s.”

Says Brian, on Instagram: “She was my savior.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Kranmar’s Vision Pro

[Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, in The Honeymooners episode “The Man from Space,” first aired December 31, 1955. Click for a larger view.]

From the maker of Kranmar’s Delicious Mystery Appetizer comes an AR device for the rest of us:

[Click for a larger view.]

A related post
In there and out here

[Bus icons created by Freepik — Flaticon.]

In there and out here

“It’s an iPad for your face”: from Nilay Patel’s skeptical review of Apple’s Vision Pro (The Verge ).

I hadn’t planned on posting anything about the Vision Pro, but one sentence in Patel’s review prompted this post: “This is the best anyone has ever made in there look, and it’s still not nearly as good as out here.”

Readers of Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (1996) will recall the novel’s ending, when Martin Dressler leaves his in there, the fever-dream of the Grand Cosmo, “a new concept in living,” for the world outside it. From the final paragraph:

Out here will always be better than in there.

Related reading
All OCA Steven Millhauser posts (Pinboard)

A kidhood mondegreen

A song popped into my head, I looked it up, and I found that I’d been hearing it wrong from kidhood.

The song: “In the Middle, in the Middle, in the Middle,” by Vic Mizzy. New Yorkers of a certain age will remember it from PSAs during kids’s TV programming. Here’s the song, as sung by Mizzy’s daughter Patty Keeler. (I’m unable to find the PSA itself.) There was another PSA with an instrumental version of the song. And there’s a more recent version of the song by They Might Be Giants, with Robin Goldwasser singing.

My mondegreen: “Keep your eyes to look out, keep your ears to hear.”

But the song says, “Teach your eyes to look out, teach your ears to hear.”

And a more minor mondegreen:

Me: “And wait, and wait, until you see the light turn green.”

The song: “And wait, and wait, until you’ve seen the light turn green.”

Well, I’m glad I got that straightened out.

Floppies in the news

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (notice, no serial comma) is abandoning its use of the floppy disk. From Japan Today:

The push to end the use of floppy disks within government agencies stems, of course, from two major problems. The first is that a physical media requirement reduces the ability to submit and share data online, hampering operational efficiency and complicating the process of revising or updating the information. Second, it’s extremely difficult to even find floppy disks for sale anymore, as they’ve essentially disappeared from the consumer market.
“Essentially disappeared”? Tell that to Tom Persky, whose is still selling 3.5″, 5.25″, and 8″ disks. Here, from Euronews, is a look at Perksy and his business. And from Wired, an explanation of “Why the Floppy Disk Just Won’t Die.”

A related post
Utnapishtim’s word-processor (An 8″ Displaywriter disk)

Monday, January 29, 2024


As using an adblocker with YouTube becomes ever more awkward, FreeTube is a welcome option. It’s a free app for watching YouTube videos minus the ads. Long may it wave. Available for macOS, Windows, and varieties of Linux.

The states of reading

“Dozens of cities and states across America are overhauling the way their schools teach reading — attempting to close gaps exacerbated by the pandemic”: Axios surveys states’ approaches to reading.

On striking detail: Mississippi, next to last in fourth-grade reading proficiency in 2013, rose to twenty-first in 2022: “State legislators and educators tried a number of strategies, including screening kids for literacy, hiring literacy coaches for teachers, and emphasizing phonics.” Hmm, phonics.

Here in Illinois, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that in spring 2023, nearly 35% of third through eleventh graders were reading at grade level. “This is a great sign for the state of Illinois that we are really back on track,” the state's superintendent of education said. He wasn’t joking: in 2021 and 2022, 30% of students were reading at grade level. Maybe it’s time for phonics.

In Berkeley, California, where only 26% of Black students are proficient in reading, schools are still using Lucy Calkins’s Units of Study  (EdSource ).

Thanks, Joe, for pointing me to the Axios article.

Related reading
All OCA posts about teaching reading (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Grennie Pharmacy

Staten Island, like Upper Manhattan, is a mystery to me. Wanting to post a WPA tax photograph to give the borough at least some slight representation in these pages, I thought of New Dorp, the Staten Island neighborhood whose high school was the setting for Peg Tyre’s celebrated 2012 Atlantic article, “The Writing Revolution.” So off I went, to New Dorp.

[The Grennie Pharmacy, 253 New Dorp Lane, New Dorp, Staten Island, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

If the building looks newish, that’s because it was. The NYC Archives date it to 1958 (!), but the more likely date is 1939. I was drawn to the Grennie Pharmacy by the glossy black (glass? granite?) and the elegant capital R.

[Click for a slightly larger view.]

Frank L. Grennie (1896–1969) had a distinguished career as a pharmacist: a page at Find a Grave will give you an idea. An entry in a 1930 compendium of Staten Island lives has more. A prescription box from the Grennie Pharmacy, dated 1942, is for sale at eBay.

What I didn’t expect to find when searching for grennie new dorp : Frank Grennie’s son Richard. He was born in 1924 and enlisted in the Army in 1943. He died in St. Lo, France, on July 13, 1944, in the aftermath of D-Day. The Kells-Grennie American Legion post on Staten Island bears his name.

Today no. 253, still standing, houses a shoe-repair shop, a nail salon, a driving school, and a car service.

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

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stan Newman, the puzzle’s editor, constructing as Lester Ruff. So often I find a Les Ruff puzzle more challenging than perhaps it’s meant to be. This one went quickly at first, with 19-A, three letters, “Work with kimono costuming” and 32-A, six letters, “Farrow's musician spouse after Sinatra,” which together gave me 1-D, nine letters, “Potable portmanteau.” But elsewhere I found more difficulty, and the upper right corner proved really Ruff.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

9-D, eight letters, “Birthplace of Tom Cruise or Archimedes.” Improbable and amusing.

11-D, four letters, “Regular guy.” From the upper right corner.

14-D, five letters, “It’s slashed for everyone.” No, not really, not everyone.

15-A, nine letters, “Irrigation system feature.” I knew only one meaning for this answer, and now I know another.

21-A, seven letters, “Dramatist whose name looks like a Scrabble rack.” Novel, irreverent, and funny.

23-A, four letters, “Small six-footers.” A value-added clue.

49-D, six letters, “Take an angular course.” Huh. I should know this word.

57-A, seven letters, “A WHO Essential Medicine.” Sobering to realize it.

69-A, nine letters, “Anagram of A REM THING.” Another value-added clue. Not difficult to see, but fun.

My favorite in this puzzle, from the upper right corner: 13-D, five letters, “Amount to.” Nicely Stumpery, a plain answer at least semi-fiendishly clued.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Bill Griffith, notebook user

From a Connecticut Examiner interview with Bill Griffith, cartoonist:

I have a notebook that I always keep in my pocket, because I never know when an idea will come up, a punchline, an idea. I try to never censor myself. I write it down immediately in my notebook. I sometimes wake up in a twilight zone between sleeping and waking and have an idea. I write it down. Once in a while, I’ll think of an entire strip of panels that way. It’ll happen all of a sudden. Mostly it isn’t good, but every once in a while, it is good, and I can use it. If I don’t write it down right in the moment, it disappears.
Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

PBS NewsHour , salt, and tea

From the PBS NewsHour: “American chemist causes stir in Britain by suggesting salt can improve cup of tea.” And an interview with that chemist, Michelle Francl, the Frank B. Mallory professor of chemistry at Bryn Mawr College: “How to spot the chemistry in your cup of tea.”

I have no plans to add salt to tea. I like my tannins.

Related reading
All OCA tea posts (Pinboard)

What do fonts talk about?

Elle Cordova: “Fonts hanging out.”

Thanks, Lu.

Friday, January 26, 2024


From The New York Times:

A Manhattan jury on Friday ordered former President Donald J. Trump to pay $83.3 million to the writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her in social media posts, news conferences and even on the campaign trail ever since she first accused him in 2019 of raping her in a department store dressing room decades earlier.

The award included $65 million in punitive damages, which the nine-member jury assessed after finding Mr. Trump, 77, had acted maliciously after Ms. Carroll’s lawyers pointed to Mr. Trump’s persisting attacks on her, both from the White House and after leaving office.

Greta Gerwig’s luxury item(s)

On BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Lauren Laverne asks her guest to choose a luxury item to take with them to their desert island. Here’s Greta Gerwig’s answer:

“I just know I would go absolutely bananas if I didn’t have something to write with. Anything, any pen and paper is fine; I will write on anything. But there’s a brand called National Brand that has green paper, which apparently is good for your eyes — I don’t know if that’s true — and it has really narrow rule pages. And then I love Smythson paper, that thin blue paper, and that is a true luxury item. And then pens, I like the Micron pens, those are good. Zero-point-one is the thickness I like.”

[Some cross-talk follows: Laverne says she didn’t expect such detail, and Gerwig apologizes. Laverne reassures her: “You can’t get too granular for me. I’m loving it.”]

“And then if I could pick ‘typewriter,’ it would be an IBM Selectric II, but I don’t know if I can plug anything in. It’s like the typewriter of offices in the ’80s, and when you plug it in and then you turn it on, it sounds like the Death Star, it’s like [makes a noise]. And it’s a sound that makes me feel like, okay, good, now it’s time to write. And I feel like I like switching between writing by hand and writing on a typewriter, because I can type faster than I can write by hand.”
[My transcription. National Brand (singular, corrected from Gerwig’s plural) does make spiffy notebooks. If the company has a website, I can’t find it.]

An EXchange name sighting

[From Backfire (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1950). Click for a larger view.]

The Glendale address appears to be fictional, but SYcamore was indeed a Los Angeles EXchange name. The business card filling the screen is what I call a low-grade reality effect. Without the close-up, a skeptical viewer might think that a character had been handed nothing but a blank bit of cardstock.

Related reading
All OCA EXchange name posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, January 25, 2024

“Flatteringly, like the dentist”

Sonie Marburg — who’s never, so far as we know, read Proust — drops into the Proustian “we.”

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

“Madam had been playing”: the harpsichord.

Also from this novel
A pallet on the floor : “The odors” : “Oh, piffle, you dumb-bells” : No Remington, Ticonderoga

“White Rabbit” in Wal-Mart

I was about to exit my friendly neighborhood multinational retailer (Wal-Mart) when the automatic doors failed. A metal gate dropped down on the inside side. I could still see the outside world (the parking lot) via a reflection in a mirror behind me.

Another stuck shopper began singing Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” I joined in, and when she stopped, I kept going. The doors opened and I pushed my shopping cart into the parking lot. Elaine was there, looking for our car. It was parked in a section of the lot we never use.

Someone called out: “Hey, Mr. Leddy!” I looked in every direction but couldn’t figure out where the call came from.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[Possible sources: a chance viewing of The Dick Cavett Show with Jefferson Airplane (among others), a New York Times Metropolitan Diary story about people joining in song (in an elevator? the subway?), Wal-Mart. Only fools and children talk about their dreams”: Dr. Edward Jeffreys (Robert Douglas), in Thunder on the Hill (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1951).]

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Weather drama

“... 36° under the cover of darkness tonight ...”

Last week, with sub-zero temperatures and a furnace failure, I got into the habit of watching local news for the weather forecasts. Tonight the temperature is up in the mid-40s, but the forecasts remain dramatic. Under the cover of darkness — and at night at that!

Twelve movies

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

The Hunted (dir. Jack Bernhard, 1948). Four years ago, police detective Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster) arrested his girlfriend Laura Mead (Belita) for her role in a diamond heist; now she’s out of prison and telling Johnny she was innocent. But when Laura’s useless lawyer turns up dead, she’s the prime suspect. Though Foster and Belita (a British ice-skating star) are plausible as a couple joined in antagonism and attraction, they’re hardly strong enough actors to carry the movie. As in Suspense , Belita’s ice-skating is on display, though here it feels like an interruption rather than a part of the story. ★★ (TCM)

Johnny Eager (dir. Mervyn LeRoy, 1941). The corny title might have served as a warning: it’s an unpalatably preposterous story of Johnny Eager (Robert Taylor), a parolee who lives a double life, working as a humble taxi driver while running a gambling operation and a dog track. And get this: he falls in love with a sociology student (Lana Turner) whose father is the prosecutor who sent him to prison (awkward!). The reason to see this movie: Van Heflin’s performance as Jeff Hartnett, chain-smoking, chain-drinking, and unmistakably in love with Johnny. Best line: “My instinct was right: you couldn’t stop being a thief any more that a weasel could stop sucking chicken blood.” ★★★ (TCM)

[Van Heflin as Jeff Hartnett. Click for a larger view.]


Friends & Family Christmas (dir. Anne Wheeler, 2023). It’s a love story that presents the idea of the same–sex couple as utterly unremarkable, but the title is not as evasive as it might appear: the plot centers on Amelia, a corporate lawyer (Ali Liebert), and Dani, a photographer (Humberly González), two women who pretend to be dating to make their parents happy — thus friends, just friends, at least at first, and family, as the three parents (a lawyer dad, a math-prof dad, and a world-famous writer mom) are all on the scene in Brooklyn, rooting for the unbeknowst-to-them-fake relationship to flourish. Lots of artsy characters in the background, holding notebooks, wearing funny hats, talking about “travel grants for innovative thinkers,” and there’s even an Amanda Gorman look-alike poet who’s making a first attempt at fiction. Most awkward element in the story: the fathers’ creepily inordinate curiosity about their daughters’ romantic lives. Goofiest scene: dancing and paper lanterns, so thank you, Hallmark. ★★★ (H)


Guest in the House (dir. John Brahm, 1944). A superior psychodrama starring Anne Baxter as Evelyn Heath, a young woman coming to visit her fiancé’s family. Once embedded in the household, Evelyn begins to undermine familial harmony, pitting family member against family member, sowing doubt, fear, and jealousy everywhere. Baxter’s performance here is a clear precursor to her work in All About Eve. With Ralph Bellamy, Jerome Cowan, Margaret Hamilton, Aline MacMahon, and Ruth Warrick. ★★★★ (YT)


The Secret Place (dir. Clive Donner, 1957). A suspenseful, deeply human story of a diamond heist gone wrong. At the center, the friendship of a solitary boy (Michael Brooke) and a beautiful newsstand attendant (Belinda Lee). Strong overtones of The Asphalt Jungle (plans and snags), Rififi (a nearly silent heist), and The Window (a boy in peril). The travels of the stolen diamonds add a comic element, and a chase through bombed-out London buildings makes for a highly satisfying ending. ★★★★ (YT)


Cover Up (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1949). Dennis O’Keefe as an insurance investigator coming to an insular town to investigate what the sheriff (William Bendix) insists was a suicide. Yet there was no gun at the scene, no shell casing either. This modest movie does a fine job of casting suspicion in many directions, with the who of the whodunit uncertain until the very end. With Barbara Britton, Doro Merande, and Christmastime. ★★★ (TCM)


Backfire (dir. Vincent Sherman, 1950). A superior noir, getting one more star than the last time I watched it. The seemingly unrelated pieces of the puzzle end up fitting together perfectly: Bob, a hospitalized vet (Gordon MacRae); Julia, the nurse who’s fallen in love with him (Virginia Mayo); Steve, an Army pal who goes missing (Edmond O’Brien); Ben, another Army pal who runs a mortuary (Dane Clark); and Lysa, a mysterious visitor to the hospital (Viveca Lindfors). The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks (compare The Killers) as Bob’s search for his missing pal comes to a wild conclusion. Daniele Amfitheatrof’s score is even wilder, often sounding like two scores played at once. ★★★★ (TCM)


No Time to Kill (dir. Tom Younger, 1959). The movie begins with Johnny Greco (John Ireland) breaking into an watchman-patrolled office building somewhere in Sweden and planting a device to make it appear that someone’s committed suicide, and then he hangs around in the building — huh? And the movie goes downhill from there. I expected a short late noir, and the movie was indeed short: IMDb says that thirty minutes were cut from the American release, so no wonder it’s incoherent. The single star acknowledges that this movie at some point was something better. ★ (YT)


Crazy Wisdom: The Life & Times of Chögyam Trunga Rinpoche (dir. Johanna Demetrakas, 2011). My intermittent curiosity about cult leaders and their followers led me to this documentary. What I found is a propaganda piece exalting Trungpa, a Buddhist teacher (1939–1987) with an extraordinary backstory (escape from Tibet), who drank, smoked, wore three-piece suits, sexually abused women and girls, founded the Naropa Institute, created his own pseudo-military guard, and died of cirrhosis. Here’s just one piece to read about Trungpa and his legacy. This loving tribute to Buddhism as fascism joins When We Were Bullies in getting no stars from me. (YT)


Maestro (dir. Bradley Cooper, 2023). I wondered if this portrait of Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) — and his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) would dwell only on Bernstein’s sex life. No — it’s about his personhood, in and out of his marriage and in the world of music, with Cooper and Mulligan giving great performances as partners in a difficult partnership. Extraordinary black-and-white and color cinematography by Matthew Libatique, and with the exceptions of Shirley Ellis’s “The Clapping Song,” R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” and Tears for Fears’s “Shout,” all the music is written or conducted by Bernstein. ★★★★ (N)

[At home it’s best watched with subtitles, which will identify the music and clarify murky dialogue. I’m told the sound is better in theaters.]

The Barefoot Contessa (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1954). In my movie-watching it goes with Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, and ‌Two Weeks in Another Town as a movie about the movies, with the story told by multiple narrators in lengthy flashbacks à la Citizen Kane (whose screenplay was by Mankiewicz’s father Herman and Orson Welles). The story is modeled on the life of Rita Hayworth: the producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) finds a potential star in the form of Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), a dancer in a Spanish tavern, and propels her to stardom in three features directed by the aging, fading director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), with tragedy to follow. My favorite line: “How much simpler it would be for so many of us if Kirk Edwards had not found it necessary to look for a new face.” My other favorite line: “And once more life louses up the script.” ★★★★ (CC)


Brillo Box (3¢ off) (dir. Lisanne Skyler, 2016). Martin and Rita Skyler, the director’s parents, bought an Andy Warhol Brillo Box in 1969 for $1000 and — an inspired decision — had Warhol sign it (in crayon) as a mark of authenticity. As the box later made its way from the Skyler house to a series of other owners, its value went up and up — up to $3,050,500 at a 2010 auction. The family dynamics add interest here: Martin saw art as a means to money with which to buy more art; Rita saw art as art and would have held on to everything; it’s unsurprising that the two are no longer married. An odd fact: the Brillo box was designed by James Harvey, a commercial artist and Abstract Expressionist painter. ★★★★ (M)

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

“The Making of Song Cycle

From the podcast Life of the Record : Van Dyke Parks and Richard Henderson on “The Making of Song Cycle.”

One choice VDP comment from this discussion of the 1967 LP: “I didn’t want to be approved of or screamed at in a concert — that is not my thing.” One more: “I didn’t go and buy real estate and cars. I put my money into orchestras.” And: “My fun meter, I’m telling you the truth, it’s on ten.” And: “Crow tastes fine.”

Related reading
All OCA Van Dyke Parks posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

No Remington, Ticonderoga

On occasion, the wealthy Lucy Pride helps a deserving young man. Emphasis on deserving.

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

Also from this novel
A pallet on the floor : “The odors” : “Oh, piffle, you dumb-bells”

[Post title à la “No soap, radio.” Or “No Coke, Pepsi.”]

A slogan with legs

I don’t always wear pants, but when I do I prefer Carhartts.

Related posts
A Carhartt jingle : Carhartt B324 : Carhartt for dogs

Monday, January 22, 2024

Oxford comma wars

From Jack Shepherd’s On Words and Up Words : “Taking Stock of the Oxford Comma Wars.” Included: the real-life source for the Oxford-less formulation “my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

I of course am a proud supporter of the Oxford or serial comma. Use it, always, and you’ll prevent unintended ambiguity (though as Shepherd acknowledges, the comma can introduce ambiguity: “my mother, Ayn Rand, and God”) The Oxford comma will also give items in a series their proper cadence: bread, milk, and toilet paper.

Garner’s Modern English Usage has a nearly four-page entry on the serial comma and ends thusly:

The convention of uniform inclusion obviates needless worries and in no way depletes a scarce resource: it’s not as if we have only a finite supply of commas available. Even minimalists in punctuation typically don’t see series as a place for minimalism.
If I were teaching, I’d still be sharing the hilarious conversation about the Oxford comma between Stephen Colbert and Vampire Weekend. (Would I now need to explain who Vampire Weekend are?)

Related posts
How to punctuate a sentence : How to punctuate more sentences : An Oxford comma in the news : Oxford Vampire comma revisited

Rosie’s on the move


Rosie’s Diner, the iconic former Little Ferry [New Jersey] landmark that gained national fame as the setting for a series of paper towel commercials in the 1970s and was later moved to Michigan, has been sold to a Missouri couple who plan to restore the diner to its past glory.
When I was a college student working at Valley Fair, a now-defunct Little Ferry discount department store, I drove around the Little Ferry traffic circle and past Rosie’s, or the Farmland Diner, as it was then called, countless times. I never went inside. But I did once watch Nancy Walker (“Rosie”) preparing to film a Bounty paper towels commercial in Valley Fair’s supermarket section. She exuded intensity, chain-smoking and looking not especially happy to be there.

Here’s a 1978 commercial with Nancy Walker and the diner. And here’s a 2008 post with some choice vignettes from my life as a housewares stock-clerk: Going on break.

Thanks, Brian.

John Lamb, ninety

John Lamb, bassist and Ellingtonian, is ninety. Here’s a short profile (Creative Loafing ).

John Lamb may be seen and heard to advantage in this 1966 Milan performance of “Ad Lib on Nippon” from the Far East Suite. Bonus: two drummers, Elvin Jones and Skeets Marsh.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Squirrel Appreciation Day

Before the day runs out: it’s Squirrel Appreciation Day (Discover ). Of course every day is Squirrel Appreciation Day for those who like squirrels.

The squirrels in our weather are staying in their nests and watching KNUT’s winter lineup.

Thanks, Rachel.

Related reading
All OCA squirrel posts (Pinboard)

Upper Manhattan, with clam broth

[505–501 West 207th Street, Inwood, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

With the exception of the Cloisters, Upper Manhattan is a mystery to me, as are the 1940s. So I went exploring at and came back with the photograph above. I chose it for the shadow of the El, the rugged brick street, and the delightful unexpectedness of the commercial sequence: the Tally-Ho, a bar and grill with various prohibitions (click to enlarge and notice the NO on the sign), followed by Roy’s Clam Broth House and City Tire Stores. Clam Broth House was once a thing: Hoboken had a celebrated one. Here, have a menu. And a New York Times article. And some more history.

And now back to Upper Manhattan.

The 1940 telephone directory lists the Tally-Ho Bar and Restaurant at 505 West 207th. No listings for Roy or City Tire. Today Google Maps now shows the entire block as no. 501. It’s a similarly shaped building that houses a clothing store and a barber shop. Cole Thompson at My Inwood has written the surprising history of this block from 1911 to 2016.

Before leaving Upper Manhattan, I have to mention Billy Strayhorn’s “U.M.M.G.,” named for the Upper Manhattan Medical Group, the home of Duke Ellington’s physician Arthur Logan.

And I have to wonder: when I found this photograph last night, after about two minutes of browsing, how did the Internets know that Elaine and I had bought a bottle of Snow’s Clam Juice (juice is just another name for broth) earlier in the day? We used our clam juice in a pot of gumbo that will see us through the next two or three days.

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

Today’s Mutts


Saturday, January 20, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Ben Zimmer. At its center, a trio of stepped thirteen-letter answers and a thirteen-letter answer running down. To the left and right, two fifteen-letter answers running down. But I found the puzzle not especially fun. Too many proper names for my taste — seventeen of sixty-six answers. The nadir: 47-D, four letters, “Czechia’s second city.” I filled in four letters and thought must be. And it was. But when I told Elaine about that clue, she knew the answer instantly.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-D, fifteen letters, “Rapper who wrote for 30 Rock.” I did not know that.

11-D, fifteen letters, “Did a swift scan.”

15-A, eight letters, “Chinese character.” Forget about ideograms and logograms.

15-D, thirteen letters, “Offering assistance.”

22-A, four letters, “Capsule review?” I know this answer only as part of a rhyme.

27-A, six letters, “Advisor to Truman through Obama.” I think advisor here is inappropriately misdirective.

27-D, six letters, “Gentle slope (akin to an icy expanse).” For me, gettable only from the crosses, which I imagine dictated the use of this answer.

30-A, thirteen letters, “AFI’s #3 funniest film.” Ah yes, #3, not #2 or #4. Such an unimaginative way to clue a title. I’ve offered a more Stumpery clue in the comments.

33-A, thirteen letters, “Result of $5 1.5-quart ice creams.” Huh? Aren’t the 1.5-quart cartons its result? Or evidence of it?

35-A, thirteen letters, “Where house rules are followed.” Where? Not really a location.

39-A, four letters, “Nellie Bly contemporary.” I knew the answer, but see what I mean about proper names?

42-D, five letters, “High winds.” Beaufort Scale, help!

45-A, four letters, “Mandela in 2013.” See 39-A: another proper name clued with a proper name.

45-D, four letters, “He’s a citrus reversal.” Whatever you say.

My favorite in this puzzle: 37-D, six letters, “Present-day presence.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 19, 2024

“Oh, piffle, you dumb-bells”

Sonie Marburg’s teacher has made her cry and then, in a moment of kindness, allows sick, headachy Sonie to wait in the teachers’ rest-room until she can go home without the other children seeing her.

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

One of my most vivid memories of high school: the cigarette stink that filled the hallway upon every opening of the door to the seen-only-in-glimpses teachers’ lounge.

Also from this novel
A pallet on the floor : “The odors”

[The Beelers: Esther and Ruby, schoolmates.]

Shovel-ready (Hi and Lois watch)

[Hi and Lois, January 19, 2024. Click for a larger view.]

People of the future should know that in the early twenty-first century, it was common to carry one’s snow shovel through one’s living room. From the kitchen or dining room through the living room to the front door, that’s how we rolled.

But seriously: this panel suffers from redundancy. Chip has said he will shovel “later” — whenever that might be. Hi is headed outside, dressed in his winter togs. He need not carry a shovel for the situation to be clear.

In the second (final) panel of today’s strip, Hi is lying down on the blue sofa, which appears to have been moved, with a heating pad on his back. He whimpers: “AAAEEUGH.” (Notice: no exclamation point, and not even a speech balloon.) And Chip asks Lois, “How is this my fault?”

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[In Peanuts, it’s “AAUGH!”]

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Pay-phone noir

[Al Willis (Gene Barry) places a call. From Naked Alibi (dir. Jerry Hopper, 1954). Click for a larger view.]

The cinematography is by Russell Metty. Among his many credits, The Stranger (1946) and Touch of Evil (1958), both directed by Orson Welles.

Siri talks back

I used Siri to add a reminder to the phone yesterday morning, then changed the time and changed it again. Was it supposed to be 4:20? 4:40? 5:20? And I said to Elaine, “I’m sorry; I’m not thinking clearly.”

And Siri replied, “Don’t worry, it’s okay.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Last Repair Shop

From the Los Angeles Times, here’s a short documentary, The Last Repair Shop, directed by Kris Bowers and Ben Proudfoot.

The instrument repair shop for the Los Angeles Unified School District is the last shop in the United States taking care of student instruments. I’m not sure what I expected when I fired up YouTube, but I certainly found more than I could have imagined.

Watch if you can: it’ll be time (39:58) well spent.

[Found via]


“What did it knock over?”

“Just the snow globes.”

Related reading
All OCA “overheard“ posts (Pinboard)

[Fortunately, they were plastic.]

An alternative to Barbenheimer

Our household’s Friday and Saturday night movies: The Killers (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1946) and Barbie (dir. Greta Gerwig, 2023).

The Killerbies.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

“The odors”

Sonie Marburg’s father worked as a shoe repairman. One day he left his family and Massachusetts to go west.

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

That’s the first moment of involuntary memory in the novel.

Also from this novel
A pallet on the floor

MSNBC, sheesh

“... trying to put some distance between he and her ...”

I hereby offer all MSNBC reporters a quick course in pronoun repair. And I’ll keep it between I and them.

Related reading
All OCA sheesh posts (Pinboard)

Monday, January 15, 2024

MLK: diversity

“It seems to me that integration at its best is the opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity”: Martin Luther King Jr., eleven months before his death, in an interview with NBC’s Sander Vanocur.

The date of the interview: May 8, 1967. The earliest Oxford English Dictionary citation for its 1.d. definition of diversity,

The fact, condition, or practice of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, and (more recently) of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.,
is from December 26, 1968. It’d be a wonderful thing if King’s use of the word in this interview were to make it into the dictionary as an earlier citation. I turned myself into a dictionary person yesterday to try to make that happen.


[“Honor King: End Racism!” Poster, 33 1/2″ × 22 1/4″. Click for a larger view.]

From the New York Public Library:

Martin Luther King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers when he was assassinated. The placard was mass produced for the March posthumously. At the bottom it says: Allied printing Trades Council, 8 April 1968.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Joyce Randolph (1924–2024)

Joyce Randolph, aka Trixie Norton, the last Honeymooner, has died at the age of ninety-nine. The New York Times has an obituary (gift link).

Randolph was the subject of a Times article in 2007 (gift link), which described her gracious response to fans who spotted her in Sardi’s: “‘I talk to everyone,’ she said. ‘You can’t be hoity.’”

One error in the appreciative and otherwise well-informed Times obituary: in the Honeymooners episode “Better Living Through TV” (November 12, 1955), Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton do not invent the Handy Housewife Helper. The brother of one of Ralph’s fellow bus drivers has a Bronx warehouse in which someone left 2,000 of the gadgets. Ralph and Ed buy the lot for $200 and attempt — attempt — to sell them via a television commercial. It does not go well.


July 19, 2024: The Times will not be correcting the error. Details here.

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts (Pinboard)

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street and Hester Street

[193 Hester Street/129 Mulberry Street, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I was looking for Chinatown when I found myself in Little Italy. I saw this corner as 193 Hester Street at But it’s also known as 129 Mulberry Street. Hester Street is Chinatown, and Mulberry Street runs through Little Italy, so one can imagine the 129 address as granting this corner greater Italian-American cachet.

I chose this photograph for the laundry — was it a Monday? — and then noticed the Coca-Cola sign and the two youngsters walking in tandem. And that must be a restaurant on the ground floor. A pleasant photograph. And then I looked up the building’s two addresses and realized what I had hit on.

This Mulberry Street address was once the home of Umbertos Clam House, now in business at 132 Mulberry, still without an apostrophe. The 129 address is where the mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo was shot to death in 1972, weeks after the restaurant’s opening. Here’s one New York Times article on the murder’s aftermath (gift link). I’m not interested in rehearsing the details. But I must note that the Gallo name points back to a previous tax post, about the College Restaurant in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn.

In 2023, the ground floor of 129 Mulberry is home to another restaurant, Da Gennaro. Mulberry Street remains the home of the yearly Feast of San Gennaro.

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

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, more congenial than some recent Stumpers. Very doable, with ample misdirection and trickiness, but very little far-fetchedness. And yes, I think it’s far-fetched to think of far-fetchedness as a word. Also, I think that its hyphen will at some point become unnecessary.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-D, five letters, “Bag label.” Yes, I guessed IDTAG first, just as I think I was supposed to.

4-D, fourteen letters, “Tank.” The second answer I filled in, with help from 16-A, five letters, “Some rust removers.”

10-D, nine letters, “Right thing.” A wonderful clue.

12-D, four letters, “Plodding pair.” Yes, I guessed FEET first.

14-A, nine letters, “Organic cooler.” Nice misdirection.

14-D, five letters, “Organic cooler.” Eh, maybe not so nice.

15-D, fourteen letters, “’79 film with the line ‘Pardon my boa!’” The other fourteen-letter answer in this puzzle.

17-A, nine letters, “Couple’s game phrase.” Kinda weird.

39-D, seven letters, “Palate cleanser.” Far-fetched but also pretty much inaccurate.

42-A, seven letters, “Chlorides in a bag.” Timely.

49-D, five letters, “National Blocking Association focus.” I thought must be , couldn’t be , must be .

61-A, three letters, “Munch kin land, briefly.” Yes, far-fetchedness is a word.

My favorite in this puzzle: 22-A, eight letters, “Peak performance establishment.” Though I’d never want to be there.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Bread, milk, toilet paper

This post has been receiving a great many visits: Ready For the Snow. If you’re beset by a snowstorm, I hope you’re ready.

No snow in downstate Illinois, just rain. May everyone stay safe in, or better, out of, the weather.

Planner history

From Jillian Hess’s Noted, “A Short History of the Daily Planner”:

Today we tend to think of daily planners as records of what will happen. But most of its early users saw daily blank space in their notebooks as a way to record what had happened. It was a way to account for one’s time and how it was spent (as George Washington noted).

It’s not until the 20th century that we see pocket diaries regularly used for recording future events.
The 20th century! That’s exactly when I started using a planner to record future events (and each day’s things to do).

My planner history took a strange turn in this century when I discovered that my 2024 Moleskine pocket daily planner was missing sixteen days. (Yes, really.) So I bought a Leuchtturm pocket weekly with notebook and found myself trying hard to like it. But the faux-leather cover, ultra-faint print, and tiny Saturday/Sunday spaces are just not for me. Using this planner for just a few days made me realize how much I like the idea of every day having its own page. Or as Harvey Pekar says in the OCA sidebar, “Every day is a new deal.”

So why didn’t I buy a Leuchtturm pocket daily? It’s not offered on the company’s U.S. site, and Amazon has it only as an import from Japan, taking weeks to ship, with this cryptic warning: “Imports from Japan may differ from local products.” Would I be getting a planner with Japanese text? Also: “Manufacturer warranty may not apply.”

Twelve days ago I wrote that my defective Moleskine would be my last. But last weekend I ordered another 2024 Moleskine from Amazon. It arrived with all the days of the year included, even February 29. I ordered it after being told via e-mail that Moleskine would not replace the defective planner (their former practice) and that I’d be issued a refund. Okay.

But then, oops, they said they made a mistake. Since I hadn’t ordered from their website, I could receive only a credit. I had of course sent them a screenshot of my Amazon order at the start of our correspondence. I’ve now written to the company asking for a refund and am awaiting a response.

Does it go without saying that I noted in my planner the date on which I sent my letter?


The story of my effort to get a refund for my defective Moleskine continues here.

[Hess notes that the OED first has planner as a thing (not a person) in the 1970s: “Something used to facilitate planning, as a chart or table containing planning information, a calendar recording future appointments, etc.”]

Fruit Stripe gum

The New York Times reports that Fruit Stripe gum is being discontinued.

Did you know that Fruit Stripe gum had several animal mascots? From the Times:

Yipes the Zebra emerged as the dominant mascot, with every gum wrapper doubling as a Yipes temporary tattoo. The tattoos depicted Yipes in active poses, such as skateboarding, playing baseball or eating grass.
Yipes I hardly knew ye.

Jack Hamm’s Cartooning

Bill Griffith has been invoking Jack Hamm’s Cartooning the Head and Figure in Zippy this week: on Wednesday, Thursday, and again today. And lo: the book is available at

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with enshittification .

Recently updated

Fliqlo lives! Alas, this screensaver still uses — at least on my Mac — an enormous amount of memory.

An overview of the science of reading

“An effort to overhaul how children learn to read, known as the science of reading movement, is sweeping the country. Here’s where it stands”: “What to Know About the Science of Reading” (The New York Times, gift link).

I missed this article when it appeared earlier this month. Thanks, Joe.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Hail to thee, blithe Parsnip!

Carrot thou never wert.

I think of the parsnip as the carrot’s quiet cousin. There’s the carrot, in the center of the room, doing a magic trick or telling a colorful (heh) story. And there’s the parsnip, over in a corner, looking at the titles on the bookshelf.

As you may have guessed, I like parsnips. I like carrots too. They both belong in the stew.

[Post title with apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley and my friend and Shelley devotee Rob Zseleczky. Our household’s parsnips come from Ed Fields & Sons.]


[Hi and Lois, January 11, 2024. Click for a larger view.]

[Zippy, January 11, 2024. Click for a larger view.]

Intertextuality in today’s comics.

How did Lois know to use that enormous pot to make cocoa? She got hold of the script.

Venn reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts : Hi and Lois and Zippy posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

A pallet on the floor

Jean Stafford, Boston Adventure (1944).

The opening sentence of Boston Adventure announces the key signatures, so to speak, of the novel: D and P. The novel is Dickensian, beginning as the story of a girlhood spent in poverty, and Proustian, beginning with sleep. Proust: “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure.” Or in Lydia Davis’s translation, “For a long time, I went to bed early.”

The moments of involuntary memory in the novel, the miniature essays that universalize the narrator’s experience into a “we” — so Proustian. But Proust’s narrator, unlike Sonie Marburg, never had to sleep on the floor.

Boston Adventure has been reissued by New York Review Books. My only relation to the link is that of a happy reader.

“Too many things”

Ted Berrigan, in a 1962 journal:

Got rid of all my books (about 400) except for about 75. Sold them to pay Joe’s rent or gave them to Dick & Carol. Also gave up stealing entirely. We have money and it’s a joy to buy something, to save for it, then read it! Too many things make everything less.
From Get the Money! Collected Prose (1961–1983) (San Francisco: City Lights, 2022).

Joe: Joe Brainard. Dick & Carol: Dick Gallup and Carol Clifford (later Carol Gallup).

Related reading
All OCA Ted Berrigan posts : Joe Brainard posts : A poem by Dick Gallup

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Meta detectives

From I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (dir. William Nigh, 1948). A police detective (Rory Mallinson) has just told Tom Quinn (Don Castle) that he’s under arrest for murder:

“Now wait a minute, you guys aren’t serious. What are you, a couple of actors out of work? You don’t even look like detectives.”
I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes is still streaming at the Criterion Channel.

Also from this movie
A Mongol pencil sighting

Capitulation or compromise

From a New York Times article about budget negotiations between House majority leader Mike Johnson and Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer:

It is not clear whether disgruntled right-wing Republicans will try to depose Mr. Johnson as they did his predecessor. But they have already signaled that the latitude some of them afforded him during his first weeks in the job is vanishing, and that their patience is wearing thin with his capitulations to Democrats.
But capitulations makes sense only if the sentence is recast to reflect the view of the hard right: “their patience is wearing thin with what they see as his capitulations to Democrats.”

I’d choose compromises with. To compromise, to come to an agreement, is not to capitulate. And as the article makes clear, the agreement is a matter of compromise, with each side giving up something. If the repeated with — “with his compromises with” — grates, the sentence can be rewritten:
But they have already signaled that the latitude some of them afforded him during his first weeks in the job is vanishing, and that they disapprove of his compromises with Democrats.
The article goes on to say that “Some Republicans suggested that Mr. Johnson was merely bowing to the reality of divided government.”

Which just might involve the possibility of compromise.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Fliqlo lives!

A new version of the Mac flip-clock screensaver Fliqlo (for Sonoma and beyond) is now available. It’s a free download, with donations accepted.

As I wrote in a previous recommendation: For those who teach and have conferences with students, Fliqlo can be a handy way to keep track of time without awkward glances at a phone or watch.


Alas, Sonoma still identifies Fliqlo as a legacy item, and for whatever reason, it uses an enormous amount of memory, at least on my Mac — more than 500 MB this morning.

On Tyranny, summarized

In his newsletter Thinking about... , Timothy Snyder offers a summary of his 2017 book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

A handful of passages from On Tyranny
“Believe in truth” : Distinguishing truth from falsehood : Nationalism vs. patriotism : “Do not obey in advance” : “Nay, come, let’s go together”

Plagiarism in high places

Two articles from Business Insider1, 2 — document plagiarism in the MIT dissertation of Neri Oxman, identified as “Bill Ackman’s celebrity academic wife.” Ackman is of course the Harvard alumnus who pushed for Claudine Gay’s resignation as Harvard’s president. Oxman’s sources include Wikipedia artices.

Here’s one example:

Wikipedia: “By spacing the warp more closely, it can completely cover the weft that binds it, giving a warpfaced textile.”

Oxman: “By spacing the warp more closely, it can completely cover the weft that binds it, giving a warp faced textile.”

Notice that as she plagiazed, Oxman left the dangling particple uncorrected. And she clumsily miscorrected warpfaced by splitting it into two unhyphenated words. Gotta wonder sometimes who bothers to read the dissertations and theses they’re signing off on.

For her part Oxman has acknowledged mistakes and will ask MIT to make “any necessary corrections.” And Acknan says that “Part of what makes [Oxman] human is that she makes mistakes, owns them, and apologizes when appropriate.”

Related reading
All OCA plagiarism posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

A prisoner of Gowanus

[58 2nd Avenue, Gowanus, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I thought of the old KENTILE FLOORS sign and found myself once again in Gowanus. It’s a Brooklyn neighborhood that I’ve visited many times in these pages. I am a prisoner not of 2nd Avenue but of Gowanus.

In Brooklynite memory, the KENTILE FLOORS sign that stood atop the Kentile, Inc. building is a beloved landmark, though the Kentile name is now associated with mesothelioma. There’s no trace of the sign in the WPA tax photographs, but I did find this coffee shop, whose address for some reason is listed as that of the now-defunct manufacturer.

Life, September 1, 1952. Click for a larger view.]

If you click the tax photograph for the larger view and look closely, you’ll see the name Gowanus Coffee Shop on the window. Notice too the Schaefer Beer sign in the window: this (former?) coffee shop must have had a liquor license. And notice not just one but two Bell Telephone signs: signs of civilization. It’s not easy to ignore the figure standing in the doorway. Whoever she is, she is not amused. I imagine her speaking in comic-strip Brooklynese: “Whaddaya gonna do, just stan’ there all day takin’ my pitcher?”

[Click for a larger view.]

Today 58 2nd Avenue is home to the Achim Importing Co. and is unrecognizable as its former self.

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

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Comics synchronicity

Bonk! Bonk!

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Stella Zawisktowski, is sometimes easy. Try 1-A, five letters, “Muchacha.” It’s sometimes obscure. Try 44-A, four letters, “Branta sandivicensis.” It’s sometimes even more obscure. Try 52-A, ten letters, “Bit of cosmic rays.” I made it almost to the finish line without looking up an answer — 50-D, four letters, “Ford part, familiarly.” OLDS? No.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

2-D, four letters, “Decoration candidate.” My first thought was DOOR.

6-D, eleven letters, “Shout-out.” HIMOM doesn’t work.

11-D, four letters, “Service period.” A nifty clue.

14-D, five letters, “Lead role of two recent Netflix films.” That’s a stretch.

16-A, ten letters, “Ersatz ice pack.” Yes, more than once.

23-D, eleven letters, “Bryant-Denny stadium team.” Ought to be obvious to most solvers, but there is no I in team, or in sports.

24-A, fifteen letters, “French lobster partner (despite the name).” Never heard of it, but easy enough to see with a few crosses.

32-A, three letters, “Water tower.” Clever.

34-D, eight letters, “Odysseus and family.” They rule.

39-A, fifteen letters, “They’re ready for their closeups.” The other fifteener in the puzzle. NORMADESMONDS doesn’t fit.

41-D, five letters, “Breaks into a vault.” I was sure this had to be LOOTS.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, January 5, 2024

“What a sick —”

Joe Biden, this afternoon, speaking of Donald Trump, who joked about the lunatic who took a hammer to Paul Pelosi’s head: ”What a sick —.“ We can all fill in the blank, in at least two ways if we wish.

Biden’s speech today was plain, energetic, and uncompromising. ”Democracy is still a sacred cause,“ he said. We need to see more of this Joe Biden in 2024.

A Mongol sighting

[From I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (dir. William Nigh, 1948). Click for a larger view.]

Police detective Clint Judd (Regis Toomey) questions Mrs. Alvin (Dorothy Vaughan) about her boarder. She needs to check her notebook. He needs to jot down the facts in his notebook — with his Mongol pencil.

I raved about this movie in a post yeterday, but not because of the pencil, a Mongol with an older ferrule design. Take a look at the fifth pencil from the bottom in this Mongol display.

I’m a sentimental sap, that’s all: the Mongol has been my favorite pencil since kidhood.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol pencil posts (Pinboard)

[“I’m a sentimental sap, that’s all”: from “You Took Advantage of Me,” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.]

“Almost, at times, the Fool”

  [Mutts, January 5, 2024. Peanuts, January 7, 1977 and January 5, 2024.]

Synchronicity across the comics: today’s Mutts, yesterday’s and today’s Peanuts.

[Post title with no apologies to TSE.]

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Twelve movies

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

The Hidden Hand (dir. Benjamin Stoloff, 1942). TCM promised a hunt for a serial killer, but what I got was a dippy comedy with racial stereotypes (Willie Best, Kam Tong) and murders. Briefly: a wealthy woman uses her asylum-escapee brother to do away with her money-grubbing relations. As the escapee John Channing, Milton Parsons alternates between crazed killer and staid butler in a genuinely comic performance. The only other reason I can think of to watch this movie: to see what happens when the ship’s wheel turns. ★★ (TCM)


Despair (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1978). An adaptation of the Nabokov novel, with a Tom Stoppard screenplay, Dirk Bogarde as Hermann Hermann (get it?), and Klaus Löwitsch as Felix, Hermann’s supposed doppelgänger. I will quote a young Hobart Shakespearean, Sol Ah: “Even if the movies they make are good, they won’t be as good as the book.” What’s missing from this movie is the self-conscious comedy of Nabokov’s narrator: Hermann here is a character among characters, minus everything that makes his narrative voice a loony delight. It’s like Lolita without Humbert Humbert narrating. ★★ (YT)

[Bonus: the YT version has Portuguese subtitles, so it’s possible to learn a bit of a new language while watching.]


San Quentin (dir. Gordon Douglas, 1946). The premise: Nick Taylor (Barton MacLane), a San Quentin inmate and (dirty no-good rotten) member of the Inmates’ Welfare League, escapes while at a prison-sponsored press event touting the League, a self-help group (first step: admit you belong in prison). So the warden (improbably, ridiculously) enlists Taylor’s paroled arch-enemy Jim Roland (Lawrence Tierney) to track the fugitive down. This movie affords the opportunity to see Raymond Burr in his screen debut and to see a real Sing Sing warden awkwardly read from cue cards, eyes moving, right, left, right, left. Still, that real warden is probably sharper than his movie counterpart. ★★ (TCM)


Mostly Martha (dir. Sandra Nettelbeck, 2001). I’d call it a feel-good movie with subtitles — which is not necessarily a bad thing. Martha Klein (Martina Gedeck) is a high-strung chef at a posh restaurant, the kind of chef who comes out from the kitchen to yell with a customer and insist that the meat is not undercooked. Everything begins to change when Martha is suddenly pressed into caring for her young niece Lina. And then a new chef, Mario (Sergio Castellitto), begins working at the restaurant, and I know I said no spoilers, but you can see where this is going. ★★★ (DVD)


The Harmonists (dir. Joseph Vilsmaier, 1997). The Comedian Harmonists, an extraordinary German vocal quintet with piano, flourished in the late 1920s and early ’30s before the Nazi regime banned them from performing (three members of the group were Jewish). This dramatization traces the group’s rise to popularity (audience-reaction shots suggest a Weimar version of Beatlemania), a romantic rivalry, and ever more ominous developments in German life. The only strike against the movie, to my mind: the final scene, in which “the movies” takes over as the music swells. If you’ve never heard the Comedian Harmonists, forget about the Barry Manilow musical based on their career (coming soon to Broadway); go here instead. ★★★ (DVD)

[The Harmonists appears to be unavailable to stream. Try a library.]


From the Criterion Channel’s Holiday Noir feature

I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes (dir. William Nigh, 1948). Don Castle and Elyse Knox are Tom and Alice Quinn, an out-of-work dance team whose lives are upended when footprints from Don’s “magic shoes” (his distinctive tap shoes, and his only shoes) are found at the scene of a murder. This movie must be Castle’s finest hour — he (minus the Clark Gable mustache) and Knox give compellingly understated performances, and the scene in which they talk through a prison visiting-room’s screen is genuinely affecting. Look for Regis Toomey (the soda jerk of Meet John Doe ) as a police detective, and Bill Walker (Reverend Sykes in To Kill a Mockingbird ) as one of the distinctive faces of death row. Despite heavy borrowing from a better-known movie (whose name would give away too much), I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes is a perfect B-picture, a Cornell Woolrich story told in flashback with true noir fatalism: “It could happen to anybody, what happened to me.” ★★★★ (CC)


Two from the Criterion Channel’s Hitchcock for the Holidays

Murder! (1930). Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) goes along with his fellow jurors but remains haunted by doubt: is Diana Baring (Norah Baring) really a murderess? As Diana’s execution date nears, Sir John sets out to solve the crime. Great atmosphere (a circus), a startling death, and sometimes-impenetrable dialogue. Was Herbert Marshall ever really that young? ★★★★ (CC)

Torn Curtain (1966). When an American physicist (Paul Newman) leaves a conference in Copenhagen for East Germany, his collaborator and wife-to-be (Julie Andrews) follows to figure out what’s going on. I don’t understand the lukewarm reception this movie received: though it’s hardly a novel story, it has all the pleasures of a Hitchcock film, with strong traces of The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. And it has one of the funniest and most gruesome on-screen murders I’ve seen. And it has Lila Kedrova, who steals the show as a countess looking to flee to the States. ★★★★


The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe (Buzzfeed Studios, 2021). I have lived my life with only a vague awareness of multi-level marketing. But I know it’s everywhere around me, with downstate-Illinois moms selling cosmetics, essential oils, nutritional supplements, and (way back when) Longaberger baskets to family and friends. This documentary looks at DeAnne Brady and Mark Stidham’s LuLaRoe, purveyors of women’s clothing, primarily “buttery soft” leggings in an endless variety of garish patterns, with an artificial scarcity-factor built in (all-black leggings are a “unicorn”). More importantly, the documentary looks at the lives of women (and one man) who bought into the dream, or, really, into a cult of belief: there’s even a conversation with Rick Ross. ★★★ (M)


Cop Hater (dir. William Berke, 1958). It’s Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain) territory: someone is killing cops, for no apparent reason, and it’s up to the 87th Precinct to figure it out. On the one hand, this movie has something of the flavor of Naked City (the series) in its depiction of cops and their relationships with wives or girlfriends. On the other hand, it’s ridiculously lurid (or lure id ), with men removing T-shirts and women removing skirts (it’s summer, and there’s a heat wave). Look for Vincent Gardenia and Jerry Orbach in their first credited screen roles. ★★★ (YT)


Naked Alibi (dir. Jerry Hopper, 1954). Someone else is killing cops, making for a chance double-feature. Sterling Hayden is Joseph Conroy, chief of detectives, fired for brutality (“I’m a psycho cop, that’s what they think”), but still determined to prove that hotheaded baker Al Willis (Gene Barry) is the killer. The movie takes an unexpected turn midway, shifting from a sedate California city to a border town and introducing Gloria Grahame as an ambiguous love interest. Nothing especially surprising here: the fun is in trying to figure out who’s the crazy one — Conroy, or Willis. ★★★ (TCM)


Vivacious Lady (dir. George Stevens, 1938). A college professor (Jimmy Stewart) marries nightclub singer (Ginger Rogers), but he’s afraid to tell his parents and pretends that she’s his friend’s girlfriend, and the newly marrieds can never get the time alone to do whatever. I should have realized from the premise: it’s a screwball comedy, the kind of comedy I often find mightily unfunny. Charles Coburn is the prof’s dad and college president; Beulah Bondi, is the long-suffering mom. Bondi dancing the Big Apple, Coburn’s monocle dropping from his face, a Murphy bed (named Walter) opening by itself: my, the laughs just keep coming, or not. ★★ (TCM)

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