Sunday, March 31, 2024

Musicians, before or after it’s too late

A column by Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post advises seeing one’s musical heroes (his word) before it’s too late (gift link). The problem though is that it may already be too late.

Thiessen mentions, for instance, seeing Frankie Valli just last weekend: “though he does not move much onstage anymore, his voice is still crisp and strong.” And there’s a link to a 2022 performance.

All respect to Frankie Valli, who might be my first pop-music memory (via a Zenith transistor radio). But browse through that performance and it’s clear that Valli is not doing that much singing. It’s his recorded voice that we’re hearing.

I think it’s sometimes better to know the musicians one respects from their recordings. I am happy that I got to see Brian Wilson in 2000 and 2004 (the first Pet Sounds and SMiLE tours). But I would not want to have seen the Brian Wilson of recent years, sitting behind a silent piano and staring straight ahead. Some performances are too sad to witness. And I’d never want to see the Beach Boys in their present incarnation.

I have deeply mixed feelings about linking to anything written by Marc Thiessen (defender of waterboarding), but I think the topic here makes linking worthwhile. Readers’ thoughts about musicians seen before or after it’s too late are welcome in the comments.

[First pop-music memory: I would like it to have been the Beatles, but ”Sherry“ came out in August 1962. But I know I didn’t have a transistor radio of my own then.]

Castorini and Cammareri

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

That’s the Castorini family’s house in Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). It’s a wow of a house, with considerable history in the world of non-fiction.

And here’s the Cammareri Bakery, which became the corner bakery in Moonstruck. It didn’t even have to change its name. “Cammereri’s Bake Shop,” Chrissy (Nada Despotovich) says when she answers the phone.

[502 Henry Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

In 1940 Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas Cammareri lived at 502. I’d like to think that’s Mr. Cammareri out in front.

[Click for a larger view.]

[Click for a larger telephone directory.]

And look: another bakery, in Boro Park. Any relation? That’s a rabbit hole down which I will not go. But you can see Cammareri’s Bakery (as its sign says) in the Municipal Archives.

A 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the 11th Avenue bakery mentions Angelina and Grace Cammerini, “handsome Italian girls,” originally from Palermo. A plaque in the bakery marked their brother Andrew’s second year in military service.

In 1998, the Henry Street bakery, by then known as the Cammereri Brothers Bakery, closed after nearly eighty years. No. 502 today houses MozzLab, a cheesemaker and food purveyor. No. 5910 is now a residential behemoth.

A wonderful bit of TV from when the bakery was flourishing: WABC-TV’s Chauncey Howell went to Carroll Gardens and interviewed residents about Moonstruck. Priceless stuff.


April 1: A reader sent links to the Daily News articles with the bakery: one and two. “Cher, she goes crazy when she eats the lard bread.” Related reading
More photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives (Pinboard)

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by Stella Zawistowski, and it’s very difficult. I had at it for about forty-five minutes, went out to dinner, came back, tried, tried, tried some more, and looked up three or four words to finish.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, nine letters, “Speak up for.” I may be missing something, but I don’t see how the clue and answer mesh.

5-D, fifteen letters, “I might stand for it.” I learned something.

10-D, fifteen letters, “Subject of The Whole-Brain Child.” Last nine letters easy, first six not so much.

11-D, five letters, “Relative of Rudolph.” All I could think was reindeer. I had to look it up. And then later last night I saw the name in movie credits.

12-D, four letters, “Relative of Inga.” All I could think was Frozen. I had to look it up.

17-A, nine letters, “Rising cost.” Clever.

18-A, five letters, “Monroe’s opposition in 1820.” It’s a trick, I tell ya.

24-D, five letters, “End of a ‘wrathful’ palindrome.” I think many solvers will invent this palindrome on the spot. A value-added clue.

25-D, five letters, “Name derived from an evergreen.” Poetry pays off.

32-A, nine letters, “Urban kids’ pastime.” It was, and I hope it still is.

35-A, fifteen letters, “Notes on notes.” Not an exciting answer, but the clue makes it worthwhile.

37-A, nine letters, “Regional figures.” I caught on right away, but I would have liked AREAWOMEN as the answer here.

49-D, four letters, “I might stand for it.” See 5-D.

50-D, four letters, “Husky parts.” Really sneaky.

53-A, nine letters, “ARTMOBILE anagram.” You never know how awkwardly untimely an answer might turn out to be.

56-A, nine letters, “Prior to delivery.” I have never heard or seen the answer before, and I suspect that if I see it again, it’ll only be in a crossword.

My favorite clues in this puzzle: 29-D, five letters, “Horned mascot (associated with 30 Down)” and 30-D, five letters, “Horned mascot (associated with 29 Down).”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Washington Week in Review misses the point

Talk about missing the point: the important thing to say about Donald Trump’s God Bless the USA Bible is not that it’s expensive or that it’s tacky, both points made on tonight’s Washington Week in Review. The important thing to say, and what no one said, is that this Bible is an exercise in Christian nationalism.

Is it the case that “all Americans need a Bible in their home,” as Trump says? No, not all, and not all those who need “a Bible” need one in two parts. And printing this two-part Bible with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Pledge of Allegiance included is an unmistakable effort to brand the United States as a Christian nation.

Bad job, WWiR.

[Slightly puzzling: Trump is hawking is a King James Version, not the first choice of evangelicals. But: the KJV in the public domain.]

“Meticulous,” “commendable,” “intricate”

Erik Hoel, neuroscientist and novelist, on the “insidious creep” of artificial intelligence into culture:

Consider science. Right after the blockbuster release of GPT-4, the latest artificial intelligence model from OpenAI and one of the most advanced in existence, the language of scientific research began to mutate. Especially within the field of A.I. itself.

A study published this month examined scientists’ peer reviews — researchers’ official pronouncements on others’ work that form the bedrock of scientific progress — across a number of high-profile and prestigious scientific conferences studying A.I. At one such conference, those peer reviews used the word “meticulous” more than 34 times as often as reviews did the previous year. Use of “commendable” was around 10 times as frequent, and “intricate,” 11 times. Other major conferences showed similar patterns.

Such phrasings are, of course, some of the favorite buzzwords of modern large language models like ChatGPT. In other words, significant numbers of researchers at A.I. conferences were caught handing their peer review of others’ work over to A.I. — or, at minimum, writing them with lots of A.I. assistance. And the closer to the deadline the submitted reviews were received, the more A.I. usage was found in them.
Thanks, Ben.

Related posts
ChatGPT e-mails a professor : AI hallucinations : ChatGPT writes a workflow : ChatGPT summarizes Edwin Mullhouse : ChatGPT’s twenty-line poems : Spot the bot : Rob Zseleczky on computer-generated poetry : ChatGPT writes about Lillian Mountweazel : ChatGPT on Ashbery, Bishop, Dickinson, Larkin, Yeats : ChatGPT summarizes a Ted Berrigan poem : Teachers and chatbots : A 100-word blog post generated by ChatGPT : I’m sorry too, ChatGPT

Look closely

[Olympia Dukakis as Rose Castorini. From Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). Click for a much, much larger view.]

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

Marcus, Wal-Mart, pickleball

Word has it that “the old Wal-Mart” — the building left empty after the company decided to build a bigger one on the edge of town — is to be converted into a pickleball facility. In other words, “Pickleball infrastructure!”

Elaine pointed to this passage from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, 7.25:

All that you see will in a moment to be changed by the nature which governs the Whole: it will create other things out of this material, and then again others out of that, so that the world is always young.
Also from Marcus Aurelius
On distraction : On Maximus : On music, dance, and wrestling : On revenge

[Translation by Martin Hammond (Penguin, 2006).]

Thursday, March 28, 2024

One series, eleven movies

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

Let Us Prey: A Ministry of Scandals (dir. Sharon Liese, 2023). “I was born and raised in a strict religious environment, or as most people would call it, a cult”: so says one interviewee in this documentary series. Women who were raised in Independent Fundamental Baptist households speak their piece: about patriarchy and pedophilia, about preachers with the power of mini-gods, about schools (so called) that are, in effect, prisons, and about the effort to speak out and get justice. Given one woman’s account of languishing in an isolation room and wondering why God would let that happen to her, I would have liked to hear these women speak about their present religious belief or lack thereof — it seems an urgent matter to address. Harrowing stuff, and there are many reasons to proceed with caution, or not at all. ★★★ (M)


Moonstruck (dir. Norman Jewison, 1987). Two days and nights in Brooklyn Heights, as the moon gets in everybody’s eyes. At the center of the story, the Castorinis: a father (Vincent Gardenia) having an affair, a mother (Olympia Dukakis) sensing that he is, a grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin Jr., son of the great bass) devoted to his dogs, and a daughter, Loretta (Cher), who’s about to marry a diffident yet boorish fellow, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). And then there’s Johnny’s estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), whom Johnny asks Loretta to invite to the wedding — and heck, everyone knows this movie already, right? Wonderful Italian-American stuff, never piled on too thick. ★★★★ (T)


Underworld U.S.A. (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1961). A great late noir, with Cliff Robertson as Tolly Devlin, who at fourteen sees unknown gangsters beat his father to death, continues in his own life of crime, and now, in his thirties, is prepared take revenge. Economical, fast-paced storytelling at first, but things get bogged down later with endless scheming. Standouts in the supporting cast: Beatrice Kay as a surrogate mom, Robert Emhardt as a crime boss with a sun lamp, and Dolores Dorn as Cuddles, a low-level drug runner who dreams of a new life with Tolly. I love the bare and utterly unrealistic streetscapes: watching the action, I know that it’s taking place in the movies. ★★★★ (YT)


The Window (dir. Ted Tetzlaff, 1949). From a story by Cornell Woolrich. I could watch this movie again and again, for its tenement apartments, narrow staircases, fire escapes, and its sense of the city as a secret maze best navigated by children. It’s a fable, a cautionary tale about a boy (Bobby Driscoll) given to making up stories, and who finds his parents and the police skeptical when he announces that he’s just seen someone murdered. It’s beyond sad that Driscoll would be found dead at the age of thirty-one in an abandoned building — the very setting for much of the action here. ★★★★ (TCM)


The City of the Dead (dir. John Llewellyn Moxey, 1960). I found it in a list of great B-movies. Perhaps not great, but it teems with atmosphere and unease. The premise: a college professor (Christopher Lee, yikes) directs a diligent college student (Nan Barlow) to a Massachusetts village to further her research on witchcraft in colonial America — a village that appears to be made of fog, gravestones, and strange voices. If you admire Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls (1962), you’ll likely admire this movie, which might be one of Harvey’s influences. ★★★★ (YT)


Bad Education (dir. Cory Finley, 2019). Based on the true story of Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a school superintendent who with his assistant Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) defrauded a high-achieving Long Island district of millions. That’s no spoiler: the real surprises here come in the way that the truth, with all its complications, emerges, as Rachel Bhargava, a student-reporter for the school paper (Geraldine Viswanathan), begins to ask awkward questions. (Here is Rebekah Rombom, the real-life model for the student-reporter, on her role in breaking the news of the scandal (gift link).) My favorite moments: the visit to Park Avenue, the call to the “consulting firm.” ★★★★ (M)


So Well Remembered (dir. Edward Dmytryk, 1947). It feels like two movies, both taking place as the war in Europe comes to an end, and neither to be missed. One is the story of a crusading newspaper editor and former member of Parliament (John Mills) who looks back on his life in journalism and public affairs; the other, the story of a man (John Mills) who looks back on the damage wrought across three generations by an ambitious heiress (Martha Scott). The political and the personal merge in unexpected ways in this movie, long believed lost, and recovered by a member of the Macc Lads, a punk band from Macclesfield, England, where the movie’s exteriors were shot. With Trevor Howard as an alcoholic doctor and Richard Carlson as an RAF pilot. ★★★★ (TCM)


Dangerous (dir. Alfred E. Green, 1935). “I’m bad for people,” says Joyce Heath (Bette Davis), once a icon of the American theater (modeled on Jeanne Engels), now a shambles of an alcoholic who’s convinced that she’s a jinx who brings harm to anyone she comes close to. Aiming to bring her back to stardom is Don Bellows (Franchot Tone), a suave architect who renounced life as a banker after seeing Heath on the stage. Their relationship takes two wild turns late in the movie (Elaine called them both), but the story then speeds to a sudden, ultra-sappy resolution. Great performances (Davis won an Oscar), clichéd script, and it’s fun to wonder what this movie might have been before the Code. ★★★ (TCM)


Black Friday (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1940). The two cultures, the humanities and the sciences: when gangster Red Cannon (Stanley Ridges) and courtly old professor of English George Kingsley (Stanley Ridges) are the victims of a drive-by shooting, Dr. Ernest Sovac (Boris Karloff), Kingsley’s best friend, works a miracle by saving Kingsley’s life with a transplant of the gangster’s brain. No wonder the revived professor occasionally morphs into Red, losing his pince-nez and acquiring slicked-down hair and a chalk stripe suit. What’s odder: even though he now has Red’s brain, the professor can still recite swaths of English poetry. Bela Lugosi plays a gangster, but the real star of the movie is the fellow who gets third billing: Stanley Ridges, who really seems to be two actors. ★★★ (YT)


A Matter of Life and Death (dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1946). A deeply strange and deeply moving story that begins with an RAF pilot, Peter Carter (David Niven), at the controls of a burning plane, talking with surnameless radio operator June (Kim Hunter), giving her some last words to convey to his mother and sisters. Peter, it appears, has been scheduled to die, but he doesn’t, due to an error in the workings of an undefined great beyond, and still alive, he promptly meets up with and falls in love with June. When a representative of the beyond demands that Peter come along so that the books remain properly balanced, a celestial trial begins, with Peter and June’s future in the balance. Extraordinary imagination, extraordinary celestial set design, and, in the aftermath of World War II, extraordinary pathos in the scenes of all those service members making their way into the world beyond. ★★★★ (CC)


The Revolt of Mamie Stover (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1956). I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jane Russell in a movie, and I’m happy to know from this one that she could act. Here she plays Mississippi-born Mamie, who we’re meant to understand is a sex worker, forced by the police to leave San Francisco, determined to make a new life in Honolulu, where she’s hired as a hostess at a dance hall (with a hallway of private rooms behind a curtain). Mamie’s life is complicated by a romance with a serviceman and writer (Richard Egan) who’s determined to take her away from the life she’s leading. The dance hall’s proprietor, Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead) — named for the prison farm? — has other ideas. ★★★★ (CC)


American Fiction (dir. Cord Jefferson, 2023). Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a Black American writer and professor who who draws upon ancient materials (The Frogs, The Persians) for his novels, and he’d like those novels to be shelved in the Fiction section of the bookstore, not in African-American Studies. With a mother (Leslie Uggams) sinking into dementia and needing memory care, Monk hits upon a scheme to make some money: like Jim Trueblood in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, he will give a white audience what it wants: a story of dysfunction, sorrow, and violence, presented to a publisher as the work of a fugitive ex-con writing under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. And the white folks love it, with predictable and unpredictable results. I loved this movie for its cutting comedy and its depiction of a family both whole and scarred — and now I need to read Percival Everett’s novel Erasure. ★★★★ (V)

[I take back what I wrote about The Holdovers: I now think that American Fiction might be the best new movie I see all year. Here is the bookstore scene, filmed in what I immediately recognized as Brookline Booksmith, posing as a chain store.]

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

“Cursive Letters”

From xkcd : “Cursive Letters.” I like that L : swing for it!

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

[It bears repeating: Writing by hand need not mean cursive.]

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

“The surface of things”

Mr. Palomar looks at the city from his terrace. The city’s surface is “already so vast and rich and various that it more than suffices to saturate the mind with information and meanings.”

Italo Calvino, “From the terrace.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard) : Kenneth Koch on “the surface of the poem”

Marjorie Perloff (1931–2024)

The critic and scholar Marjorie Perloff has died at the age of ninety-two. She was a force for good in the world of poetry.

The New York Times has an obituary (gift link).

Related posts
Perloff on reading poems for messages : Perloff on the “well-crafted” poem

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Recently updated

Buttonholes Yes, 1,074,000,000 of them.


[Life, February 14, 1964. Click for a much larger view.]

Paying a little more attention to the moon made me think about the moon-like flavor of the supper in a Ritz ad that I clipped some time ago. Is it wrong to see a suggestion of the moon and its phases in the egg and crackers? I think not.

But a bowl of soup, a slice of egg, and five crackers: does that assemblage really count as a meal? About supper they were always wrong, the old magazine ads, or at least sometimes wrong.

A related post
“Moon in the afternoon”

“Moon in the afternoon”

Italo Calvino, “Moon in the afternoon.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Mr. Palomar, as his name suggests, is an observer. Reading Italo Calvino had prompted me to pay a little more attention to the moon. See also “Is cognac waning, Papà?”

Our moon was full last night, a full moon of many names. I like Sugar Moon, which I think would be a fine name for a tune. And, lo — there is one, by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Its Sugar Moon falls in, well, of course, June.

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Monday, March 25, 2024

Hip-hop Moleskine

“See I’m notebook totin’, I always got the Moleskine”: K.O. Stratt, “The Moleskine.”

I say /mōl-uh-SKEEN-uh/, so I’d have to change the rhyme and the rhythm: “See I’m notebook totin’, Mina, I got the Moleskine.” Alternative alliteration: Tina.

Related reading
All OCA Moleskine posts (Pinboard)

[There is no official prounciation of Moleskine.]

The New York Times, or The Onion ?

Can you identify which headlines come from which?

In alphabetical order:

Everything We Learned from Oprah’s Weight Loss Special

I Never Cared About Pepper Until I Got This Century-Old French Pepper Mill

I Use This Mini Food Processor So Much More Than My Full-Size Cuisinart

Pros and Cons of Banning Asbestos

Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Trump’s Court Cases?
The answers are hidden away in the comments.

Ben Stern (1921–2024)

He led the fight against a Nazi rally in Illinois. The New York Times has an obituary (gift link).

[I’m chagrined to realize that the URL preserves a mistake: I had the name of the photographer Bert Stern in my head when I wrote this post earlier today.]

Sunday, March 24, 2024

How to improve writing (no. 120)

One way to avoid glaring mistakes: be clear on which word is the subject in a sentence. From a Washington Post article (gift link) about NBC’s ill-considered decision to hire Ronna McDaniel as a political analyst:

And despite [Chuck] Todd’s pushback, there appears to be no plans to change course with this hire.
There is not the subject of that sentence (though as a word being named, it’s the subject of this sentence). The subject is plans. Revised:
And despite [Chuck] Todd’s pushback, there appear to be no plans to change course with this hire.
Better still would be for NBC to rescind this hiring.

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

[This post is no. 120 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]


Not long after posting a Garment District tax photograph this morning, I happened to read a New York Times obituary (gift link) for the tailor Martin Greenfield:

The traditionalism of the shop’s techniques is embodied by several century-old buttonhole-cutting machines still in use. A year ago this month, a rusted dial on one of the contraptions indicated that it had cut about 1,074,000,000 buttonholes.

That number does seem dubious. A machine operating for a century would have cut 10,740,000 buttonholes a year. With a six-day workweek, that’s roughly 30,500 buttonholes a day. With an eight-hour workday, that’s 3812 buttonholes an hour, or sixty-three a minute. And even if the machine were running around the clock, that’d be twenty-one buttonholes a minute.


March 26: I wrote to the Times and received a reply with a photograph. Yes, 1,074,000,000 buttonholes. And the machines may be well over a century old.

In the Garment District

[592 8th Avenue, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Today we’re in the Garment District. The first floor of no. 592, formerly the 8th Ave. Remnant Store, is waiting for a new tenant, still with a display of ties in the window. The barber shop, Ben Klein, Louis Jacoby, Benjamin Sklar, Sam Kupferman are now long gone. As the poet said, there is no permanence.

Benjamin Sklar was a name in buttonholes and eyelets as early as 1918 and as late as 1958. What does it mean to manufacture buttonholes anyway? Are they little pockets of nothingness, to be sewn onto garments? Did Benjamin Sklar spend his life making nothing? No, of course not.

The Simplex name — “since 1918” — is still around, attached to machines for cutting rubber and other materials. And no. 592, that small building between giants, is still there. Today it houses a Western Union outlet.

Here’s a better view of the no. 592 and the giants.

[No. 592 in a larger context. Click for a larger view.]

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

[Google Books gave me Benjamin Sklar’s first name. The 1940 telephone directory gave me the rest of Jacoby’s and Kupferman’s names. Kupferman sold woolens and dress goods.]

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Lyn Hejinian (1941–2024)

The poet Lyn Hejinian has died at the age of eighty-two. The New York Times has an obituary. It’s respectful and detailed, and it calls Hejinian a “central figure” and “leading light” of “the Language poetry movement.” They got that right.

But it has to be said: the Times published not one review of Hejinian’s poetry in her lifetime. The paper did reprint a published poem in 2023, and it published a snarky review of The Best American Poetry 2004, a volume that Hejinian edited: “‘People are writing poems!,’ each volume cries. ‘You, too, could write a poem!’”

Two sentences from Henjinian’s My Life (1987) that I like:

Long time lines trail behind every idea, object, person, pet, vehicle, and event.
But a word is a bottomless pit.

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, is daunting. I started with 30-A, five letters, “Whom Ingmar Bergman adapted for the play Nora” and ended with 4-A, four letters, “New name among The Voice coaches in 2023” a name I had to look up. In between, some delightful clues and some that seem ridiculously strained.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-A, ten letters, “Cannoli cousin with a kick.” Cannoli called. He wants a DNA test.

8-D, fourteen letters, “Sustainable position.” A little surprising.

10-A, ten letters, “One following some breakups.” This one’s delightful.

13-D, fourteen letters, “‘Bulging’ sci-fi film cliché.” I didn’t know that the answer is a pat phrase.

17-A, ten letters, “Not always.” This one isn’t delightful. The clue suggests an answer regarding duration, doesn’t it?

20-A, five letters, “Reviewer’s motivations,” I have written many a review. I have no idea what this clue means. Wait — now I do have an idea what this strained clue means.

25-D, five letters, “Brook, but not stream.” I like clues in which words' meanings converge and diverge.

39-A, eight letters, “Kid with a relative advantage, these days.” Fun to see this ugly-sounding word as an answer.

44-A, five letters, “Cause of a bridge suspension?” The question mark signals a tricky answer, but it might also be asking "Is ‘tricky’ veering off into ‘ridiculously strained’?”

46-D, four letters, “Congratulation commencement.” Heh.

47-A, nine letters, “Radically improvisatory subgenre.” No. No. No one uses this answer to describe a form of music.

My favorite in this puzzle: 51-A, ten letters, “Sign site.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Ballaké Sissoko and Derek Gripper

Ballaké Sissoko is a Malian kora player. Derek Gripper is a South African classical guitarist who has brought his instrument to kora music. I had the good fortune to hear these musicians last night in a short (free) concert at the University of Illinois’s Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Sissoko and Gripper’s musicianship and empathy are extraordinary, as they improvise their way through duets, shifting right before one’s ears from major to minor modes, from meditative lyricism to rhythmic grooves, always knowing (as improvising musicians do) when a piece is coming to an end. It’s as if Sessoko and Gripper follow the music where it leads them. And with both playing nylon strings, it’s sometimes impossible to know without looking, or even while looking, who’s doing what.

Sissoko and Gripper are now touring North America. If you have a chance to hear them, I’d say to take it. Here’s a sample.

New directions in eating

Our favorite restaurant in the whole wide world, Siam Thai, added a new dish not long ago: khao soi, or khao soy. Our restaurant serves a northern Thai version: it’s a semi-soupy dish, with soft and crispy noodles and two enormous chicken drumsticks in a thick, spicy, curry-like broth (made with a dash of coconut milk). On the side: lime, shallots, pickled mustard greens, and chili flakes in oil. Mao, the restaurant’s owner, told us that it’s her favorite dish when she goes out to eat and that she’s never found it made properly. So she decided to add it to the menu. She told us we would like it, and whaddaya know — she was right. But then we like everything at Siam Thai.

A related post
A strip-mall restaurant recommendation


Gary Gulman, from his Max special Born on 3rd Base :

“One of the most pretentious things you can say is ‘Kafkaesque.’ That’s just — you’re showing off. We’re working-class. Just say ‘Kafkish,’ which has the benefit of also sounding like a kosher pastry. ‘Can I get a pound of the Kafkish?’”
Gary Gulman is a brilliant comedian. His skill in going off on — nay, settling down with — a tangent and coming back from it as if nothing had happened is a wonder. I am looking forward to seeing more. Highly recommended.

A related post
Gary Gulman on the origins of postal abbreviations

[There are half a dozen instances of “Kafkaesque” in these pages, and they’re all okay.]

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

The pursed lips signify surprise — she wasn’t expecting company while cleaning out the safe. And she may not be expecting anyone to recognize her as a familiar face. Do you?

I was a bit baffled, even after seeing her name in the credits: wait a minute, is that —? But I think this one is easy. Leave your guesses(es) in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if appropriate.


Here’s a clue: Of the many avenues, paths, roads, &c. that might lead to a career in film and television, this performer chose a good one.


Someone got it — the answer is now 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.]

Alterations & Repairs

[Click either image for a larger view.]

If you are in a city of any size, you’ve probably seen them in dry cleaners’ windows. The first time I saw these images, I thought they were honest-to-God representations of people who worked inside. O, the naiveté.

This man and woman appear to have now reached retirement age, ceding their seats to more modern-looking tailors: this one and this one.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Two doctors talking

From American Fiction (dir. Cord Jefferson, 2023), the Ellison brothers in conversation. Cliff (Sterling K. Brown), a plastic surgeon, says he’s keeping an eye on their mother. Thelonious, known as “Monk,” a novelist and professor, has something to say.

Cliff: “I’m a doctor.”

Monk: “So am I.”

Cliff: “Right. Maybe if we need to revive a sentence.”

As a member of an English department, Monk is the odd man out in his family of doctors and lawyers. I love this exchange, which reminds me that when I asked students to please not call me “Doctor,” I would quote Elaine: “A doctor is someone who can fix your knee.”

I have to take back what I wrote about The Holdovers: I think American Fiction might be the best new movie I see all year.


“You must have me confused with a normal person”: Larry David (Larry David) in “The Dream Scheme,” this past Sunday’s episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

To my surprise and delight, the series seems to be ending on a high note. I suspect that the final episode will be something of a meta variation on the final episode of Seinfeld, with Larry going to jail — maybe in Atlanta, maybe in Los Angeles. Who else might be in the cell?

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

“Happy Reunion,” four times

One of my favorite Duke Ellington pieces is “Happy Reunion,” a feature for the tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Here is what I believe is the earliest version, from 1958 — a fairly straightforward mid-tempo ballad. As the years went by, the tempo slowed and the melody faded as Gonsalves‘s refashioning and embellishing of the tune became the tune, with his solos becoming variations on his variations. (Consider Coleman Hawkins’s 1939 “Body and Soul” and later versions.)

My favorite performance of “Happy Reunion” came online not long ago, a live recording from a 1971 London concert. I’ve probably listened to it on LP at least a hundred times.

Then there’s a “Happy Reunion” from the 1972 Ellington residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There’s considerable drama underlying this Ellington–Gonsalves duet, something I wrote about in a post some years back. A videotape was long available on YouTube but has disappeared. Get it while you can, at Facebook, or at Vimeo, where you can also see Ellington talking (with unusual frankness) and playing, beginning at 32:54. Gonsalves arrives, apparently unannounced, at 58:58.

And now there’s a third “Happy Reunion” I can share, from a 1973 London concert. It‘s one of Gonsalves’s final performances with the Ellington orchestra, recorded by someone in the audience.

Many thanks to Ian Bradley for making this last “Happy Reunion” available.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard)

[1958: Jimmy Woode, bass; Sam Woodyard, drums. 1971: Joe Benjamin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums. 1973: Joe Benjamin, bass; Quentin “Rocky” White, drums.]

Postal abbreviations

Not new, but new to me: Gary Gulman explains how the states got their two-letter abbreviations.

Thanks, Lu.

[I’ve watched his 2019 and 2023 Max specials. Highly recommended.]

Monday, March 18, 2024

Review: Carol Beggy, Pencil

Carol Beggy. Pencil. New York: Bloomsbury, 2024. xiv + 136 pages. $14.95 paper.

This small book is a big disappointment. It’s a volume in the series Object Lessons, short books devoted to the contemplation of everyday things: barcodes, hyphens, rust. Other volumes in this series might be terrific. But Pencil is not.

The first sentence to bring me up short, on page three, was about Henry Petroski’s The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance:

He not only details the history of pencil-making but breaks down the process of its manufacture.
I noticed that the word its has no referent. A possible revision:
He not only details the history of pencil-making but breaks down the process of the pencil’s manufacture.
But don’t they amount to the same thing? Better:
He details both the history of pencil-making and the modern manufacturing process.
Am I being picky? Let’s see.

On page six:
A pencil used to be the go-to tool for when a cassette tape needed to be rewound.
A possible revision:
The pencil was once the go–to tool for rewinding a cassette tape.
On page nineteen:
The Musgrave Pencil Company is family-owned and operates out of Shelbyville, TN, which was dubbed “Pencil City, USA,” because a half dozen manufacturers once had factories in the Middle Tennessee town.
A possible revision:
The family-owned Musgrave Pencil Company is based in “Pencil City, USA,” the Middle Tennessee town of Shelbyville, once home to a half dozen pencil manufacturers.
Many sentences are, well, unnecessarily cluttered. On page eighty-three:
When writing his book on the pencil, Petroski devotes the opening of his first chapter to Thoreau and how he made lists of everything he used each day, what was in his cabin in the woods, and the animals, trees, and weather he spotted along the way.
A possible revision:
Petroski begins The Pencil with Thoreau and his lists: of the things he used each day, the contents of his cabin, the animals, trees, and weather conditions he observed.
Often the parts of a sentence can be rearranged to the writer’s (and reader’s) advantage. On page eighty-one:
Tucked into a back corner of the historic cemetery are the graves of some of the best-known US writers and thinkers in the mid– to late-nineteenth century along Authors Ridge.
A possible revision, putting all the details of location in one place:
Tucked into a back corner of the historic cemetery is Authors Ridge, which houses the graves of some of the best-known nineteenth-century American writers and thinkers.
And often the writing is marred by plain carelessness. Many sentences lack necessary punctuation. Here’s one, from page fifty-three:
The problem is that when you spot these claims there never appears to be any attribution and thousands of these references show up in searches.
Elsewhere, words are missing. On page fifty-eight:
I learned a lot from the other members then and still [continue to learn?].
On page sixty-seven:
I know that there are some out [there?] confused by the thought that there are members of a pencil collecting group who travel great distances to meet with their fellow collectors.
That sentence could benefit from rewriting to eliminate the repeated “that there are”:
I’m sure some people are amused by the idea of pencil collectors traveling great distances to meet.
And back on page twenty-two, there’s just a mess:
the Blackwing 602, which it’s distinctive, flattened ferrule
I don’t know what accounts for such writing. In an afterword Beggy mentions a missed deadline and “life, health, and the world such as it is in 2023” getting in the way of her finishing the book. What I do know is that Bloomsbury, a reputable publisher, put this book out, as it is, and is charging $14.95 for it. Bloomsbury, that’s unconscionable.

I suspect that Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2015) strongly influenced Pencil. Like Norris, Beggy has worked as an editor (at The Boston Globe ) and has written a chatty, digressive book. But Norris’s book has a premise — her life as a copyeditor at The New Yorker — that admits of manifold personal asides and digressions. Beggy’s subject is the pencil. Many of the asides and digressions in Pencil have little to do with that subject (or object).

My favorite bit in Pencil : Beggy’s explanation of why reporters take three writing instruments with them on assignment: ballpoint pen, felt-tip pen, and pencil. In those paragraphs the pencil and the personal mesh nicely.

Related reading
All OCA pencil posts (Pinboard)

[An excerpt from a Stephen Sondheim interview that I posted in these pages appears in this book, properly credited. But credit should really have gone to the site with the interview itself.]

Thinking about November

For anyone thinking about voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., or Jill Stein, or Cornel West, or not voting at all:

Consider this allegory.

Consider what David Foster Wallace said about not voting.

Consider these clips from Trump’s Saturday rant in Dayton, Ohio.

[Comments off. I’m not interested in arguing.]

Sunday, March 17, 2024

631–639 5th Avenue

Better known as St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

[St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger cathedral.]

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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

[Leddy is an Irish name.]

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff,” the puzzle’s editor, Stan Newman, and it’s once again supposed to be easier. Les Ruff? O’Reilly? says I. Shaw, Shaw, whatever you say. This puzzle took me thirty-three minutes. Some novelty and lots of misdirection, especially going Across.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

1-A, eight letters, “Athletic field.” And the misdirection begins. My first thought was GRIDIRON.

1-D, six letters, “Low-hanging fruit, for example.” Nice.

2-D, letters, six letters, “Beat with your feet.” A little tricky.

5-D, three letters, “Protective layer.” Did not fool me.

7-D, five letters, “What M and N are called.” A touch of linguistics.

16-A, six letters, “Deck supervisor.” And the misdirection continues.

17-A, eight letters, “Hardly ‘Definitely.’” My first guess was YESANDNO.

35-D, five letters, “Bogart cross-examinee character.” This clue made me start wondering if I’d call this Bogart’s greatest role. Then I thought aboutHigh Sierra. Then I thought about In a Lonely Place. Then I thought about Casablanca (obviously). Then I thought about The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Then I got back to writing this post.

38-A, eight letters, “Clearance sales.” Having once worked in it, I am fond of the language of retail. Where’s my gondola?

40-A, seven letters, “They’re often served in bars.” Funny. And there is a comedy connection.

46-A, six letters, “‘Help wanted’ letters.” Clever.

51-A, four letters, “All of it was in the Louisiana Purchase.” I knew it couldn’t be OKRA.

57-D, four letters, “What P and V are called.” See 7-D.

63-A, eight letters, “They’re often served in bars.” Not quite as funny as 40-A.

67-A, six letters, “Word from the Latin for ‘crush.’” A fun fact.

My favorite in this puzzle: 12-D, eight letters, “Actress name + actress name = airline.”

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.


[xkcd. “Schwa.” March 14, 2024.]

A related post
My proof that I never knew phonics

Friday, March 15, 2024

Recently updated

T. MONK’S ADVICE (1960) Is it a forgery?

A Gamewell close-up

[From Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). Click for a larger view.]

Like the mail chute in When Strangers Marry, this Gamewell fire alarm, too, was ready for its close-up. A bunch of actors were standing in the way, but they walked off, and for less than a second the alarm had the screen to itself.

Perhaps this alarm is still attached to a pole in Santa Rosa. See also this Gamewell alarm, manufactured between 1938 and 1950, removed sometime after October 2018.

A consequential chute

When I wrote four sentences about When Strangers Marry (dir. William Castle, 1944), I suggested that the movie has the most consequential mail chute in all film. I wouldn’t mind being proved wrong though.

I’m not enlarging the image: that’s the camera closing in on a chute that must have long been ready for its close-up. As the camera closes in, let us pause to ponder a world with five daily mail collections, six days a week. Click any image for a larger view.

And down in the lobby, Lt. Blake (later the police commissioner in another city), is curious: “Do you have a letter there addressed to Fred Graham, Atlanta, Georgia?”

Uh, no. That letter is stuck in the chute. An obliging figurant steps in to propel the Graham letter (in fact an envelope stuffed with money) on its way.

And whoomp, there it is, its contents spilling all over the collection box.

This post is for my friend Diane, who has great photographs of chutes and collection boxes. I have a small number of chutes and boxes in these pages.

No coincidence

“I don’t believe in coincidences”: a substitute MSNBC host, yesterday morning.

“I don’t believe in coincidences”: Jessica Fletcher, last night.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Jacques Pépin’s sardine salad

Like it says.

Thanks to Kevin Hart for the link.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

[Any thoughts about those enormous sardines?]

Twelve movies

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

Two Trains Runnin’ (dir. Sam Pollard, 2016). This documentary looks back at events in Mississippi in the summer of 1964: the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, and the efforts of two trios of white blues fanatics to find Son House and Skip James. The two trains, or narrative threads — racist brutality and music — never quite come together, despite a coda about the relationship between music and political change. And the contemporary performances that crop up between interviews and documentary footage ring painfully false: musicians in costume (hats, overalls) offering sad approximations of music they no doubt love (“Freight Train” is the worst). Best moments: Mississippi Fred McDowell at the Newport Folk Festival, playing “Shake ’Em On Down” as dancers move about him; Skip James, also at Newport, unfilmed but caught in photographs, singing “Devil Got My Woman” — a moment of high art that the filmmakers treat with the reverence it merits. ★★★ (YT)

[Gotta point out: Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson, both of whom figure in the story, were founding members of Canned Heat. Why’d they leave that out?]


From the Criterion Channel’s Gothic Noir feature

When Strangers Marry (dir. William Castle, 1944). Elaine thinks parts must have been left on the cutting-room floor; I think this B-noir is more subtly constructed than we first suspected. It’s the story of an Ohio waitress, Millie (Kim Hunter), who marries a salesman (Dean Jagger) after three dates and follows him to the big city (New York), only to find that he’s not in town and that she doesn’t really know what he’s all about. Robert Mitchum plays another salesman, a former suitor eager to lend Millie a hand. Strong overtones of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, and a bonus: what must be the most consequential mail chute in all film. ★★★★

The Sign of the Ram (dir. John Sturges, 1948). Intense psychodrama in a big old house, and something of a twin to Guest in the House (dir. John Brahm, 1944), in which a newcomer to a family undermines relationships. Here it’s a second wife, Leah St. Aubyn (Susan Peters), who does the damage: paralyzed from the waist down after saving two step-children from drowning, she mistrusts her husband (Alexander Knox), fears the imagined wiles of her new secretary (Phyllis Thaxter), undermines her older step-children’s romances with appalling lies (thereby keeping the children from leaving her), and gets a steady narcissistic supply from her youngest step-child, all while writing sentimental verse for newspaper publication. This movie was Susan Peters’s first and last after the hunting accident that left her paralyzed. Her performance here suggests a great loss to film. ★★★★

Lightning Strikes Twice (dir. King Vidor, 1951). Actress Shelley Carnes (Ruth Roman) travels to a dude ranch for her health and falls in love with local rancher Richard Trevelyan (Richard Todd), just acquitted of murdering his wife. But if he didn’t do it, who did? Zachary Scott plays Trev’s lecherous friend; Mercedes McCambridge does lots of emoting as the co-owner of the dude ranch. The confusing directions for driving to the ranch suggest to me the problem with the movie: too many odd, puzzling points — why, for instance, does an old ranching couple have an enormous portrait of Trev above their fireplace? ★★★


The Holdovers (dir. Alexander Payne, 2023). It’s 1970, and Paul Giamatti is Paul Hunham, a teacher of classics at a Massachusetts boarding school, bowtied, lazyeyed, pedantic, pompous, and punished by being assigned to watch over the small band of students stuck at the school over the Christmas and New Year’s break. One of them: Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), a smart, rebellious student beset by family woes. Also wintering over: Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), head cook, and the mother of a recent graduate. All I’ll say is that The Hoidovers is the kind of movie that I’m willing to follow wherever it goes — it’s just that good, and I suspect it might be the best new movie I see all year. ★★★★ (DVD)


Outside the Law (dir. Jack Arnold, 1956). This year I’ve seen movies about Johnnies: Johny Saxon, Johnny Eager, and here’s Johnny Salvo (Ray Danton), a paroled con and war hero, up for a pardon if he helps catch a gang of counterfeiters. Nothing much to see here, but son-father conflict (Danton and Judson Pratt) and a love-hate triangle add some interest, and the musical score — from five composers, including Henry Mancini — is consistently interesting. But for a story focused on tracking down the sources for the counterfeiters’ materials, there’s mighty little on the screen about paper. My favorite line: “Come on, Bormann, firms twice your size don’t use half the stationery you do!” ★★ (YT)


Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). The story of a serial killer, Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten), paying a visit to his sister’s family in Santa Rosa, the Newtons: Joe (Henry Travers), Emma (Patricia Collinge), and their three children, most especially, young Charlie (Teresa Wright), the namesake who shares a deep bond with her glamorous uncle. I never tire of this movie. Watching it this time, I paid attention to the ways in which Thornton Wilder’s screenplay keeps the viewer off balance, making it possible to forget now and then that Uncle Charlie is — hey, wait a minute! — a serial killer. My favorite scene, forever: the library at closing time. ★★★★ (CC)


The Steel Trap (dir. Andrew Stone, 1952). Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright as a married couple, Jim and Laurie Osborne, with the weirdness factor lessened by Wright’s changed appearance (her hair is blonde) and her minimal role. It’s really a one-actor movie, with Cotten as an assistant bank manager whose interior monologue lets us into his plan to make off to Brazil (no extradition) with his wife and a heavy suitcase of cash from the vault. He has one weekend to pull it off before the bank switches to its winter hours: he must develop a persuasive story to tell his wife (a weekend getaway to manage a big bank deal), arrange care for his young daughter (who is supposed to follow), and obtain passports and schedule flights, with contingencies complicating his scheme at every turn. The movie has lots of suspense (certainly at least a four-dollar-rental’s worth) and strongly suggests that anyone is capable of becoming a criminal: “We have only so many days, so many hours, so many minutes to live, and we’re suckers if we don’t cram into them all the happiness we can get away with, regardless of how we do it.” ★★★ (V)

[I learned about this movie from Jerome Wesselberry’s review of Shadow of a Doubt. Jerome, whoever she is (the name is an alias), is a very smart watcher of movies. Thanks, Steven, for recommending her channel.]


The Bottom of the Bottle (dir. Henry Hathaway, 1956). Joseph Cotten as Pat Martin, “P.M.,” an Arizona attorney and rancher. He’s stuck in a loveless (and likely sexless) marriage to Nora (Ruth Roman), and he’s now confronted with the unexpected arrival of his brother Donald (Van Johnson), a convict and recovering alcoholic who’s escaped from Joliet (which everyone pronounces as Jolly-ette). Too many histrionic moments, but strong performances from Johnson and Roman. Cotten does a good job of suggesting just how much of his family history he’s been trying to forget: “Spend your life building up something worthwhile, and along comes the past.” ★★★ (YT)


Come Live with Me (dir. Clarence Brown, 1941). Modern marriage: a publisher and his wife are both having affairs — he with Johnny Jones (Hedy Lamarr), a Viennese emigre about to be deported unless she marries. Enter Bill Smith (Jimmy Stewart), a down-and-out writer willing to marry Johnny in exchange for a chunk of money. But can these two ever really fall in love? Yes, Hedy Lamarr is astonishingly beautiful, as Bill points out, but walking away with the movie is Adeline De Walt Reynolds as Bill’s wise old grandmother, who makes everything come out right, and it’s in her pastoral world that Bill recites, sort of, a bit of Christopher Marlowe’s poem. ★★★★ (TCM)


Four Daughters (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1938). Sweet nonsense, mostly, with Claude Rains as a music master with four unmarried musical daughters (Lola Lane, Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, and Gale Page). A variety of eligible men are on and off the premises, the most charming of whom is a composer (Jeffrey Lynn), the most interesting of whom is an embittered pianist and orchestrator (John Garfield, in his first film role) who grows fond of the pluckiest sister, Emma (Priscilla Lane). Things get surprisingly dark as the movie nears its end, before everything turns to sweet nonsense once again. A bonus: lots of Gershwinesque music at the piano, the work (I think) of Max Rabinowitz and Heinz Roemheld. ★★★ (TCM)


The Razor’s Edge (dir. Edmund Goulding, 1946). “The road to salvation is difficult to pass through, as difficult as the sharp edge of a razor”: so says an anonymous Indian holy man (Cecil Humphreys), paraphrasing the Upanishads, in this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. There, and here, a traumatized WWI veteran, Larry Darrell (Tyrone Power) sets out in search of the meaning of life, working as a laborer yet hobnobbing with a wealthy set (Anne Baxter, John Payne, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, with Herbert Marshall as Maugham, a wise elder passing through now and then). Tragedies befall the set, as Larry keeps his eye on the prize — which is what, exactly? On the one hand this movie feels like sheer malarkey; on the other it’s an assembling of great performances, particularly from Baxter and Tierney. ★★★★ (TCM)

[The movie’s themes were timely: “There was a surge of American GIs joining monasteries after the end of the Second World War, seeking solace and refuge in a violent and increasingly complicated world.” Here’s a short film about the last days of an American Trappist monastery founded by 1947 as a daughter house of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani (where Thomas Merton was a monk).]

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

So you can always get what you want?

Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want” (July 1970) sounds as though it may have been meant — or must have been meant — as a reply to the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (July 1969). And Cliff’s repeated try sounds like a reply to “Satisfaction.”

Or am I just hearing things?

[Why might this song be in a (very) young singer’s repertoire? There’s a Little Mermaid connection.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

A Calvino “over and over”

Marcovaldo’s son Michelino has shut down the GNAC of the blinking SPAAK-COGNAC sign with a slinghot full of stones. Another son, Fiordaligi, is pursuing a timid window-to-window flirtation with “a moon-colored girl” in a garret, somewhere beyond the G.

Italo Calvino, “Moon and GNAC.” In Marcovaldo, trans. William Weaver (New York: HarperCollins, 1983).

TOMAHAWK COGNAC, TOMAHAWK COGNAC, TOMAHAWK COGNAC: another example of a Zippy “over and over.”

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

“Is cognac waning, Papà?”

Marcovaldo is trying to teach his children some basic astronomy. A flashing neon sign on the roof of the building opposite his makes things difficult: twenty seconds of sign — SPAAK-COGNAC — follow every twenty seconds of night. All Marcovaldo’s family can see of the sign is GNAC.

Italo Calvino, “Moon and GNAC.” In Marcovaldo, trans. William Weaver (New York: HarperCollins, 1983).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Recently updated

How to improve writing (no. 119) It’s difficult to improve writing when you’re angry.

“Philosophic Guide”

[From Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (dir. Gordon Douglas, 1950). Click for a larger view.]

“You sure we’ve come to the right place?”

It's one of the stranger moments in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye : psychopathic gangster Ralph Cotter (James Cagney) and flunkie Joe “Jinx” Raynor (Steve Brodie) come to Dr. Darius Green’s address for helping in finding the right kind of lawyer. But it turns out that Dr. Green has closed up shop as a sketchy man of medicine. He now heals minds, he says, not bodies.

This visit is reminiscent of the visit to the Tabernacle of the Sun in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934): there, too, the visitors, Bob Lawrence (Leslie Banks) and his friend (Hugh Wakefield), stand looking at a signboard (a much simpler one) before entering.

You can compare the two scenes via YouTube: this one and that one.

Connecting dots

Artist unknown: Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, conspiracy theory.

Via A.Word.A.Day, whose word today is dot-connect.

Monday, March 11, 2024

How to improve writing (no. 119)

From an article in The Washington Post this morning:

Former president Donald Trump mocked President Biden’s stutter at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., on Saturday, the latest in a series of insults he has hurled at his rival but one that disability advocates regard as a demeaning form of bullying.
Only disability advocates see it that way? Better:
Former president Donald Trump mocked President Biden’s stutter at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., on Saturday, the latest in a series of insults that decent human beings regard as bullying.
The oddest thing about the original sentence’s effort to be “objective” is that only one of the many people quoted in the article is known as an advocate for people with disabilities.


March 12: Simpler:
Former president Donald Trump mocked President Biden’s stutter at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., on Saturday, in yet another effort to demean his rival.
Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 119 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Mystery actor

[Click for a much larger view.]

I didn’t know he was in the movie, but I recognized him, even with all the makeup, which makes me think that someone else will recognize him too. Leave your guess(es) in the comments. I’ll drop a hint if one’s needed.


A hint: He was successful in business, in both a big city and a small town.


Oh well. The answer is now in the comments.

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