Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Nihilism in disguise

Post by @aaron.rupar
View on Threads

I think he’s right. When I see a local “progressives” group use the hashtag #BidenCrimeFamily and post a picture of a pitchman holding a Ukrainian flag with the caption “Look how easily it absorbs your money!” I know that we’re in dangerous times.

[The picture with the flag, by the way, comes from Turning Point Action. There’s your horseshoe.]


I just began using TypeIt4Me, “the original text expander for Mac,” and recommend it with enthusiasm. Though I’m not especially tech-oriented, I've been making shortcuts since the days of the Apple //c and MacroWorks. On Macs, I used TextExpander for many years, until costly updates and a subscription model prompted me to switch to aText. Alas, the interface of the newer aText for Sonoma didn’t appeal to me at all, so I went looking for an alternative.

Typeit4Me is fast, good-looking, and intuitive. It’s plainly great. The app’s testimonial page has words of praise from all sorts of Mac users, including Steve Wozniak. The app is free to try, $19.99 to buy (no subscription). My only connection is that of a happy user.

One example of what TypeIt4Me does for me: if I type a comma followed by newsday, I get

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

My favorite in this puzzle:

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Adding links to Pinboard

The best ways I know to add a link to Pinboard:

~ A bookmarklet by Jay Sitter. If you don’t use a bookmarks bar (I don’t), you can be sneaky and a create a bookmark for any page and change its name and URL. Or you can create a text-expansion shortcut to drop in the long line of JavaScript.

~ A Safari extension by Kristof Adriaenssens, bookmarker for pinboard.

If you’re me, it’s good to have both. I use the bookmarklet to inventory Orange Crate Art posts. I use the extension with a second account to save links for future reference.

I was going to recommend Mathias Lindholm’s free app Simplepin for iOS, but I just discovered that it’s been sunsetted and is no longer available in the App Store. Oh well.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Recently updated

Fred’s Ping Pong Now with sports betting.


From a commercial for Gardasil 9, one in an endless stream of pharmaceutical commercials on MSNBC: “Fainting can also happen.”

Translation: “You might faint.”

“Something” for Duke Ellington’s birthday

“Something” is the fourth section of The Goutleas Suite, recorded April 27, 1971. The suite memorializes Ellington’s 1966 visit to the restored thirteenth-century Château de Goutelas. From his spoken remarks on the occasion, as given in his Music Is My Mistress (1973):

“To be here to help celebrate the rebuilding of this beautiful château by men who came together from the greatest extremes of religious, political, and intellectual beliefs is an experience, and a majestic manifestation of humanism, that I shall never forget. They did not merely make a donation that others might roll up their sleeves to work; they rolled up their own sleeves and worked. To be accepted as a brother by these heroic human beings leaves me breathless.”
I chose “Something,” of all things, for two reasons: it captures the luminous serenity that I hear in a number of late Ellington recordings, and it brings to mind a well-known comment from André Previn:
“You know, Stan Kenton can stand in front of a thousand fiddles and a thousand brass and make a dramatic gesture and every studio arranger can nod his head and say, Oh, yes, that’s done like this. But Duke merely lifts his finger, three horns make a sound, and I don’t know what it is!”
I think the three horns at the beginning of “Something” are flute, tenor saxophone, and trumpet. That’s my guess.

Related reading
All OCA Ellington posts (Pinboard) : Ellington at Goutelas (A Life photograph)

[Personnel: Cootie Williams, Mercer Ellington, Money Johnson, Eddie Preston, trumpets; Booty Wood, Malcolm Taylor, Chuck Connors, trombones; Harold Minerve, Norris Turney, Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Harry Carney, reeds; Duke Ellington, composer and piano; Joe Benjamin, bass; Rufus Jones, drums. The recording was first available on The Ellington Suites (Pablo, 1976), and is now available on CD (OJC, 2013).]

On Duke Ellington’s birthday

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born on April 29, 1899, 125 years ago today. “There never was another,” as Ellington himself said of James P. Johnson.

Here, from 1988, is a PBS documentary in two parts: A Duke Named Ellington. Great archival footage, great interviews with Ellington and other musicians.

Related reading
All OCA Duke Ellington posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Parallel Nancy

In Olivia Jaimes’s Nancy, our heroine takes on the challenge of parallel parking.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Fred’s Ping Pong

[203 West 38th Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

The Garment District had BILLI RDS. It also had television, with spectator sports: baseball, basketball, boxing, hockey, and wrestling. And ping-pong, or ping pong. And dig the straw hat and white shoes. Is that man dressed appropriately, or is it well past Labor Day?

These buildings, modified, stand today. As of August 2022, an amusing piece of wall art graced the side of the tall building on the left. Mister Softee FTW!


April 29: A reader’s comment prompted me to look in Google Books. By 1944, Fred’s Ping Pong Centre was Hy’s Ping Pong Parlor, and — sakes alive — someone was taking bets on baseball games.

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

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Stella Zawistowski, begins: 1-A, eleven letters, “It takes willpower.” Uh, like this puzzle? The willpower to keep going even when it seems that one has nothing? It’s a hard, hard Stumper.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-D, five letters, “Massenet opera wirh Castilian soldiers.” Me, after solving: “That is fiendish.” Elaine, after I told her the answer: “That is totally fiendish.”

10-D, six letters, “Postcard paper.” I haven’t thought of the answer in years. Must look up.

15-A, eleven letters, “Not a broad way” and 16-A, three letters, “B’way, by definition.” An irresistible row.

21-D, seven letters, “Splendid display.” My first thought was PAGEANT.

30-A, nine letters, “Impatient utterance.” I don’t think so. I think of the answer as expressing dread, not impatience.

30-D, nine letters, “Not meant to spread around.” Good one.

44-D, six letters, “Bar from ’50s TV.” I have no idea what this clue is about. oh, wait: I think I do.

46-A, seven letters, “1990s depictors of Cortes and Pizarro.” Wait, there was a movie about Cortés and Pizarro?

49-A, three letters, “180 intro.” Had to be.

49-D, five letters, “Disinfect, in a way.” Ick.

55-A, six letters, “Steel production.” Tricky. I was thinking of every kind of BEAM imaginable.

59-D, three letters, “Relatively recent story starter.” Got it.

60-A, three letters, “It can mean ‘imitation.’” And sometimes does.

61-A, eleven letters, “Simon says it’s about Beatty.” A giveaway, I think. If not, a moment of instruction.

My favorite in this puzzle: 4-D, four letters, “Angels fear it.” Partly because the answer broke open a big chunk of puzzle, partly because it’s such a clever clue.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Mr. ZIP’s Windy Day

[Click for a larger book.]

“Young readers will love the interactive lift-the-flap element as they join Mr. ZIP for one windy adventure! Mr. ZIP and his trusty sidekick B. Franklin start their day in the mail room. Then it’s time to begin the mail route”: it’s Mr. Zip’s Windy Day, written by Annie Auerbach, illustrated by Laura Catrinella, available from the United States Postal Service. I’ve secured a copy with which to introduce the very young to the magic of the mail.

Imagine: a super-secret code that makes things get to your house faster.

Thanks, Diane.

Related posts
Messrs. Zip : Mr. ZIP : Snail Mail : A ZIP Code promotional film

Domestic comedy

“If we had a dog, and if we put our mailbox down by the front step, then the dog could get the mail for us.”

“Those are two pretty big if s.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Neologism of the day

It’s alread :

alread \ˈȯl-ˌred\ or \ȯl-ˈred\ adverb
1 : prior to a specified or implied past, present, or future time : by this time : previously

2 → used as an intensive
I heard what sounded like a newish word in a fragment of conversation: “Mom, twice alread?!” Aha: yet another shortened form? No, the speaker had said “all red.” Her mom had exercised strenuously and, for a second time, was red in the face. But I would still like to make alread happen.

Pronunciation may vary, with stress falling sometimes on the first syllable, sometimes on the second. In the conversation I heard, stress fell on the second syllable: “Mom, twice all-RED?!” Or, for instance:

“The race has ALL-red started!”

“All right all-RED!”

I like alread way more than totes and adorbs put together.

Pronunciations, definitions, and that last exclamation from Merriam-Webster.

More made-up words
Alecry : Fequid : Humormeter : Lane duck : Lane-locked : Misinflame and misinflammation : Oveness : Power-sit : Plutonic : ’Sation : Skeptiphobia

Helen Vendler (1933–2024)

The New York Times obituary begins: “In the poetry marketplace, her praise had reputation-making power, while her disapproval could be withering.” I find it hard to imagine that anyone who spent a lifetime reading and writing about poetry would appreciate such a summary of her work.

[Learning from this obituary about Vendler’s early life lets me understand why she turned down a speaking invitation from what she called a “non-secular” institution.]

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Pretty Proustian

Vladimir Nabokov, Glory, trans. Dmitri Nabokov and Vladimir Nabokov (New York: MacGraw-Hill, 1971).

Not just the moment of involuntary memory but also the shifting mountains, reminiscent of the church steeple in Combray.

Venn reading
All OCA Nabokov posts : Nabokov and Proust posts : Proust posts (Pinboard)

Ernie Bushmiller, man of his time

[Nancy, May 28, 1955. Click for a larger view.]

“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” first aired on television on October 27, 1954. Recordings followed in 1955. From late March through most of April of that year, Bill Hayes’s version was the number one song in the United States. The Disney movie Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier was released on May 28, 1955. And Ernie Bushmiller was keeping up a fad.

Wikipedia has an article about the song and the “Crockett craze.” The details in this post are therein.

Yesterday’s Nancy is today’s Nancy.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

An improved tube

The narrator characterizes Martin Edelweiss’s mother Sofia as an “Anglomaniac” who discourses on Boy Scouts and Kipling. Thus the house toothpaste.

Vladimir Nabokov, Glory, trans. Dmitri Nabokov and Vladimir Nabokov (New York: MacGraw-Hill, 1971).

And there was such a slogan:

[“We couldn’t Improve the Cream, So we Improved the Tube.” Colgate advertisement, Ladies’ Home Journal, October 1908. Click for a larger view.]

Related reading
All OCA Nabokov posts (Pinboard)

No small step

I think that Hi-Lo was taunting the reader. Trixie was “almost ready” to take a first step yesterday — those words appeared in her thought balloon. But no step today: Hi is at work.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

[The F on the boss’s chair is for Foofram, as in Foofram Industries.]

Monday, April 22, 2024

Trixie walks?

I’m not sure if Hi-Lo is toying with us. It could be that Trixie is just standing up.

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Look, reader, no glasses

I put a new photograph of my unglassed and several-years-older face in the sidebar. RSS readers, you’ll just have to click through.

Cataract and cataracts

John Berger begins his short essay on cataracts with a definition: “Cataract from Greek kataraktes, meaning waterfall or portcullis, an obstruction that descends from above.” And later:

When you open a dictionary and consult it, you refind, or discover for the first time, the precision of a word. Not only the precision of what it denotes, but also the word’s precise place in the diversity of the language.

With both cataracts removed, what I see with my eyes is now like a dictionary which I can consult about the precision of things. The thing in itself, and also its place amongst other things.

John Berger, Cataract. With drawings by Selçuk Demirel (London: Notting Hill Editions, 2011).
I had cataracts removed a week apart earlier this month, and for the first time since elementary school I am looking at the everyday world without glasses. Waiting for the second surgery, I checked my vision one eye at a time to see the difference a cataract can make. The world my right eye showed me looked like someone’s dingy laundry — stains and blurs everywhere. Walking on a sunny morning a couple of weeks ago, with both eyes cataract-free, I began to tear up because everything looked so brilliantly beautiful: the sky, some trees, the pavement. Yes, the pavement.

But it’s hard work: the eyes and brain are intense collaborators, and by the end of the day, my eyes (now 20/20 in tandem) are fried. In the morning everything is sharp and vivid again. And with new eyes and a new Mac, fewer typos!

[My opthalmologist is an ace. As he was doing the surgery, he told me, “I’m being really finicky getting your astigmatism.” Finicky is exactly what you want in a surgeon, isn’t it? Or in any kind of work.]

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Almost 58 Pike Street

[66 Pike Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

This photograph is as close as I’m going to get to 58 Pike Street, in a neighborhood called Two Bridges (the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge). That’s the Manhattan Bridge behind the laundry. The Pike Street address is a crucial one in the noir Where the Sidewalk Ends (dir. Otto Preminger, 1950). And in the movie it looks so real. But it’s a set.

[Detective Sergeant Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is about to call on a suspect. Click for a larger view.]

The set even includes a basement apartment, where Dixon sees Mrs. Tribaum (Grace Mills), whose radio plays as she sleeps in a chair. She will later explain that she’s taken to sleeping there since her husband died.

[Click for a larger view.]

Though the IMDb entry for Where the Sidewalk Ends lists 58 Pike Street as a filming location, there was no such address. As an extraordinary post about the movie at NYC in Film establishes, there was no 58: the Pike Street numbers jumped from 56 to 60, and no building stood that matched the building we see in the movie. And no building today matches the one in the WPA tax photographs.

Where the Sidewalk Ends is streaming at the Criterion Channel as part of the 1950: Peak Noir series. The movie is, indeed, peak.

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

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is a “Lester Ruff” (Stan Newman) puzzle that truly is less rough. I started with 26-A, four letters, “Lobster Telephone artist (1936)” and sailed smoothly. When I hit 14-D, eight letters, “Bridge builders,” I knew that I would have this puzzle licked.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

12-D, eight letters, “Labor leader Oscar role.” The layout of the online print version of the puzzle pushed role to the next column of text, and thus I was struggling to think of a labor leader named Oscar.

13-D, eight letters, “Net income recipients.” A clever clue, but this answer needs to be retired.

15-A, eight letters, “Churchill wore one at Yalta (2/45).” This clue feels both strangely arbitrary and strangely specific. 2/45: as opposed to some other Yalta Conference?

16-A, six letters, “Hoffman title role.” Sneaky.

17-A, eight letters, “Euphoric state.“ Me, I think of the answer as disparaging euphoria.

23-A, four letters, “Mixed, in a way.” Good grief — the 1950s want their answer back.

26-D, seven letters, “It’s signed, sealed and delivered.” Very nice.

28-D, five letters, “Type of transfer.” I was thinking of buses and subways.

35-A, seven letters, “‘Who put the ape in ____?’ (Cowardly Lion line).” Wonderful.

51-A, five letters, “Model from the Latin for ‘first.’” Represent!

51-D, five letters, “Whom Nietzsche called ‘boring.’” C’mon, he was doing his best.

59-D, three letters, “Daily deliverer of light.” The Across answers filled it in, but I imagine this clue will stymie at least some solvers who drop in a three-letter word.

My favorite in this puzzle: 63-A, eight letters, “Historic High Court decision (7/24/74).” Because no one is above the law.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 19, 2024


Meet FART. An Infinite Jest-worthy acronym.

Belching in public, or, too much Curb

The narrator is recounting his various courtships. One night at the opera with Zoya and her family, he begins hiccuping. Zoya’s father, Colonel Pepsinov, is irate. The narrator flees the box. The next night, when he shows up at the Pepsinov house for dinner, Zoya refuses to come to the table. And her father is still furious.

Anton Chekhov, “A Confession, or, Olya, Zhenya, Zoya,” in The Prank: The Best of Young Chekhov, trans. Maria Bloshteyn (New York: New York Review Books, 2015).

It turns out that when Elaine and I read “‘I would,’” we both heard it in the voice of Larry David. Too much Curb.

Lambini & Sons

I am happy to see Lambini & Sons in today’s Far Side selection.

Related reading
All OCA tile posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, April 18, 2024

A joke in a non-traditional manner

“Knock, knock, who’s there?” And I was at a loss for words.

It’s wonderful to see the very young beginning to get the hang of jokes.

[Why did the milk cross the road? It melted.]

Zippy and Trixie

Today’s Zippy remembers Joyce Randolph. What other comic strip would go there?

And I have to add: more than three months after publication, the New York Times obituary for Joyce Randolph still has a factual error still in need of correction. I’ve written four times.

Related reading
All OCA Honeymooners posts : Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Norman, knocking

I posted this story in April 2020 as a great moment in pedagogy. I remembered it this morning and am reposting it in memory of Norman Spencer:

Out for a walk this morning [April 28, 2020], listening to an episode of the BBC’s Great Lives about Harold Pinter, I remembered a moment from teaching Modern British Literature twenty years ago this spring. We were reading Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter aloud and had hit — I swear it — this bit of dialogue: “If there’s a knock at the door you don’t answer it.” And there was a knock at the door. I thought I’d better answer it.

It was my friend and colleague Norman, with (I think) something I’d left behind at lunch. I don’t remember what. But I’ve never forgotten the knock. It came the one and only time I taught a Pinter play.
I added in a comment:
We were all a bit freaked out. Especially me, since I had to answer. If I know myself, I might have jokingly asked if anyone wanted to get it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Norman Spencer (1958–2024)

Our dear friend Norman Spencer died today in Oslo. Too soon, too soon.

I met Norman many years ago when we served on a university committee together. He was on the tenure track in foreign languages, teaching Latin and what he called “baby German.” I remember that at first glance he reminded me of my friend Aldo Carrasco — argyle sweaters, ties, a proper academic look. Norman and I began having lunch together before each week’s committee meeting, a perfect opportunity to talk about the absurdities of university life and those who oversee it. The records of those conversations remain sealed.

In the late 1990s, Norman followed his heart and moved to Oslo, where he began a new career as a translator. And no one was better suited for such work. Norman was a master of languages, most recently studying Georgian and Yiddish. When I was trying to figure out some years ago what the word pikakirjoitusvihko meant, all I had to do was ask Norman, who — no surprise — recognized the word as Finnish, knew a little Finnish, and checked his hunch about the meaning with another translator.

Every few summers, we would get to see Norman, or Norman and Frode, on their trips back to the States. Norman would make a circuit to visit family and friends all across the country. And though the fourth Thursday in November is just an ordinary day in Norway, Norman always wrote (and e-mailed) “I remembers” on that day, a fambly tradition that he became part of after a Thanksgiving dinner in our house many years ago.

Elaine and I had expected to see Norman here last year, but family matters made his trip to downstate Illinois not possible. We had bought a bottle of Redbreast Irish whiskey, one of his favorites, in anticipation of that visit. We’ll toast him with it tonight.

“AWOL from Academics”

In Harvard Magazine, Aden Barton, a Harvard undergraduate, writes about what it’s like to be “AWOL from Academics.” The context: a “high-level seminar” with hundreds of pages of reading each week:

Despite having barely engaged with the course material, we all received A’s. I don’t mean to blame the professors for our poor work ethic, but we certainly would have read more had our grades been at risk. At the time, we bemoaned our own lack of effort. By that point in the semester, though, many other commitments had started requiring more of us, so prioritizing curiosity for its own sake became difficult.
In my final years of teaching (decidedly not at Harvard), I used to ask students if anyone had said anything to them when they arrived on campus about college being more difficult than high school, about the work demanding more time and more effort. To a person, the answer was no. What were these incoming students told? To get involved, to join an organization — other commitments.

A place to read further about how much effort students put into college coursework: Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. I wrote a review of that book when it appeared in 2011, and I sense that the shape of things is now more dire still. In 2011, Arum and Roksa found that the less selective the college, the less likely it was that students were doing much reading and writing. If Aden Barton’s description of Harvard undergraduate life in 2023 is accurate, just imagine what undergraduate life might now be like in the lower tiers of academia — not for all students, certainly, but for too many.

One more point, which can’t be repeated often enough: the alleged death of the humanities is, in truth, a death of reading. Books! They’re why so many students hate “English.”

A few related posts
Arum and Roksa on life after college : Hours in and out of class : Rule 7 : Time-management in college

[Found via TYWKIWDBI.]

Domestic comedy

“I have no desire to sleep with Marcus Aurelius.”

“And he has no desire to sleep with you. Or if he does, he’s praying to get rid of it.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts : Marcus Aurelius posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Twelve movies

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

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (dir. Tim Burton, 1985). I was surprised, having never seen it, that it’s less transgressive than Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but I suppose that’s because the movie came first. It’s silly fun, with Paul Reubens as a man-child whose quest to recover his stolen bicycle takes him to the Alamo, a rodeo, a biker bar (home of Satan’s Helpers), and a movie studio. My favorite bits: breakfast à la Rube Goldberg, “Tequila” à la Pee-wee. With Milton Berle, James Brolin, Morgan Fairchild, Ed Herlihy (from the world of newsreels), Prof. Toru Tanaka (the professional wrestler), and many more. ★★★★ (TCM)


Voice in the Mirror (dir. Harry Keller, 1958). Richard Egan stars as Jim Burton, a commercial artist and, since the death of his daughter, a deeply invested alcoholic. Though the movie never mentions Alcoholics Anonymous, the story is more or less a version of how that group began: with Burton and Bill Tobin (Arthur O’Connell) helping each other and, later, others. Julie London is Ellen Burton, a long-suffering and infinitely patient wife (and wage-earner); Walter Matthau is a doctor skeptical about what Jim’s chances of success. Strong atmospherics: real streets and bars, and what looks like a real and really grim apartment. ★★★★ (YT)


Man on a Tightrope (dir. Elia Kazan, 1953). “It’s one of two things: it’s the end for us, or it’s the beginning”: so says a circus master in Communist Czechoslovakia as he schemes his troupe’s way to freedom. Fredric March is Karel Černík, the circus master; Gloria Grahame is his indolent wife; and many circus folk play versions of themselves. Things sometimes get a little too contrived, a little too corny, but the fear and suspicion that permeate life in a police state are chillingly on display, and the grim black-and-white cinematography makes this movie feel unmistakably European, or at least not American. With Paul Hartman (Mayberry’s Emmett Clark), Pat Henning (Kayo Dugan of On the Waterfront) Adolphe Menjou, and Terry Moore (Marie of Come Back, Little Sheba). ★★★★ (TCM)


Gentlemen’s Agreement (dir. Elia Kazan, 1947). Philip Green (Gregory Peck), a writer asked to write an magazine exposé of antisemitism in America, decides that the only way to do so is to pretend he’s Jewish and experience discrimination firsthand — which he does, though it’s always of a genteel, mannerly variety. The movie leaves antisemitism as something to be fought with individual acts of conscience: speaking up when someone says something offensive, making a call to ensure that a landlord or employer doesn’t discriminate. Running through the movie is a love story that joins — it’s no spoiler — Peck and Dorothy McGuire, but I think Celeste Holm’s witty Anne Dettrey would be a much more interesting partner. Screenplay by Moss Hart, and also starring John Garfield, June Havoc, Anne Revere, a young Dean Stockwell, and Jane Wyatt. ★★★ (TCM)


The Greatest Night in Pop (dir. Bao Nguyen, 2024). Well, maybe — I think that the Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show is a worthy contender. But this documentary is about a night, literally, the one during which “We Are the World” was recorded, a night stretching into the small hours of the morning. The song has never impressed me (“We’re saving our own lives”?), and the documentary is more than a bit self-congratulatory, but the details of how the project came together are endlessly fascinating. For instance: Stevie Wonder taught a helpless Bob Dylan how to sing his line, and Prince wrote a song about his non-participation: “Hello.” ★★★★ (N)


The Whole Gritty City (dir. Richard Barber and Andre Lambertson, 2013). Made in New Orleans: a documentary following the directors and student-musicians of three marching bands as they prepare for Mardi Gras. There’s childhood humor — two boys arguing about whether one of them can march for 29,000 hours; adolescent determination — a drum major giving his all for a dead teacher (killed in a drive-by shooting); and adult sorrow — a teacher, perhaps forty, who is now the only surviving member of a circle of eight friends: “I’m the last one living.” Running through the movie is a dedication to the joy of music despite all odds. But as you watch, you wonder what might be about to happen every time a car comes down the street. ★★★★ (DVD)

[I borrowed a DVD from a library, but the movie can be found onYouTube, free with ads.]


Island of Doomed Men (dir. Charles Barton, 1940). Peter Lorre plays a crazy man: Stephen Danel, the sadistic, ethnically ambiguous, vaguely gay owner of Dead Man’s Island, who purportedly gives jobs to paroled cons but in truth uses them as slave labor. Danel and his wife Lorraine (Rochelle Hudson) live on the island, in a house surrounded by an electric fence — Lorraine too is a prisoner. Things begin to change when “John Smith” (Robert Wilcox) shows up: he’s a wrongfully convicted, now paroled undercover agent (Agent 64) whose recommenced assignment is to smash Danel’s operation. Nagging question: If the authorities already know what Danel is up to, why send one person to infiltrate the island to begin with? ★★ (YT)


The Miami Story (dir. Fred F. Sears, 1954). The improbable premise: when Miami is overrun with mob activity, city council members tap a former gangster (Barry Sullivan) to clean things up by pretending to move in on the established rackets. While so doing, our hero also finds time to pursue a romance with a crime boss’s girlfriend’s sister (Beverly Garland, later of My Three Sons). Sullivan gets top billing, but it’s Luther Adler’s movie: as the head of the rackets, he is all brutality, with a girlfriend (Adele Jergens) who’s equally tough. A crime story told in the always appealing semi-documentary style, complete with an introductory talk by a Florida senator. ★★★ (YT)


Main Street After Dark (dir. Edward L. Cahn, 1945). A blue star hangs in the window, a mother knits, and a telegram arrives, with the news that a son is coming home — but from prison, not from the war. And when that mother listens to the police radio as she knits, you know you’re in for a darkly funny movie. This one’s about a small-time crime family, led by Ma Dibson (Selena Royle), preying on servicemen in a city’s nightspots. Edward Arnold is a delight as a police lieutenant who, like Porfiry Petrovich, is always showing up; Dan Duryea as Posey Dibson (Posey!) and Audrey Totter as Jessie Belle Dibson are two of Ma’s surly minions. ★★★ (YT)


The Houston Story (dir. William Castle, 1956). They were never going to run out of cities: here the crime is a plot to siphon oil from wells and sell it to shady distributors. We wanted to watch this one for Edward Arnold. and his performance as a second-tier crime boss satisfies — shifty eyes, sudden outbursts. But much of this movie remained a muddle, with a leading man and antagonist (Gene Barry and Paul Richards) who looked too damn similar. Adding value: Barbara Hale as a platinum-blonde singing “Put the Blame on Mame.” ★★ (YT)


The Barber of Little Rock (dir. John Hoffman and Christine Turner, 2023). A short Oscar-nominated documentary about the good works of Arlo Washington, a young Black Little Rock barber who created a barber school and People Trust, a 501c3 financial institution making small loans to community members. It is the only financial institution on its side of the interstate that divides the city, a point that makes the filmmakers’ larger point about the wealth gap between Black and white Americans. I was moved by the scenes in which residents explain their need for a loan and what what they hope to accomplish with the money. And then we see a mechanic working in his own shop, a beautician walking into her own salon. ★★★★ (YT)


Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944). From a Graham Greene novel, starring Ray Milland as a man who stops by a village fête, walks away with a cake that was meant for someone else, and finds himself in big trouble. An excellent noirish thriller, with a séance, spies, a great scene on a train, and strong overtones of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps. This film makes conspicuous use of doors — one after another, each opening onto new trouble. My favorite moments: the man crumbling cake, Martha Penteel’s doorbell, light shining through a bullet hole. (These sentences mostly borrowed from a 2017 post.) ★★★★ (CC)

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

The Internets, sometimes wonderful

Yesterday when I looked at my stats, I noticed visit after visit from the Czech Republic to a post about Gilmore Girls and phrasal verbs.

From a class learning English? Investigating, perhaps, the faux-rule about never ending a sentence with a preposition? Did a teacher find this post and pass it on to students? Did a student find it and pass it on to peers? I have no idea. But the Internets are sometimes wonderful.

But I must add: if this had happened ten or more years ago, someone would likely have taken the time to leave a comment. Then again, I didn’t write that post until 2017.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Feedback in e-mail

I’m no power user, but I always find something of interest when I listen to the Mac Power Users podcast. This morning, listening to episode 740 while out on a walk, I was happy to hear a tech person confirming the wisdom of one of the bits of advice — to reply and say thanks — in my post How to e-mail a professor. That’s the one bit in the post to which some readers have objected.

The guest in this MPU episode was Lee Garrett, product manager, productivity coach, and owner of ScreenCastsOnline. He described four elements of communication: sender, receiver, message, and feedback. Feedback, he says, is the element that people forget.

“If you don’t get feedback on the message that you sent, there’s no guarantee that that message has been received. I see this all the time ... and it’s one of the downfalls of e-mail and instant messaging.”
Exactly. Sending an e-mail should not feel like sending a message in a bottle.

[The relevant comments begin at 1:11:11. Granted, Garrett isn’t saying to say thanks, but he is saying to reply.]

Proust Barbie

Lucy Boynton reports that Proust Barbie was cut from Barbie because audiences didn’t get the joke: “it turns out that contemporary audiences don’t know who Proust is” (Rolling Stone).

This contemporary audience does. When our fambly saw Ratatouille some years ago, my kids had to calm me down when this Proust moment happened. (”Dad!“) I was going slightly bonkers in the theater.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

Long-term care insurance: my 2¢

Now that my mom's long-term care insurance (hereafter, “LTCI”) has run out, I feel free to offer some observations. My observations are drawn from experience with a single company, Genworth (hereafter, “the company”), and everyone’s mileage varies. My mom has beaten the house, but my suggestion, nevertheless, would be to avoid LTCI. Here’s why:

~ The premiums are expensive and become more so. Stop paying in and you lose everything you’ve already put in: it’s the sunk cost trap. (My mom’s last premium, four years ago: $10,000.) No one counted on so many people living long enough to try to collect.

~ It’s necessary to have a persistent (and probably much younger) advocate willing to spend considerable time submittng a claim, submitting and resubmitting power of attorney documentation and other paperwork, making repeated phone calls to check on claim status, to argue, to report changes in living circumstances, and to spend lots of time on hold.

~ The company may be reluctant to pay up. Filing a claim begins a “elimination period” of 100 days or more before the claim can be considered. Elimination indeed: the company is no doubt wagering that the policyholder might die as those days count down.

~ When the elimination period is over, the company may still be reluctant to pay up. The two conditions for honoring a claim: (1) inability to manage two of the five so-called activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, eating, “toileting,” “transferring”¹) or (2) severe cognitive impairment. Even a statement from a doctor of geriatric medicine on hospital letterhead may not be enough to convince the company that (1) applies, because the company will perform its own assessment of the policyholder by way of a Zoom call conducted by an outside agency. It’s reported that such assessments may take a policyholder’s answers to questions at face value, though it’s well known that people with dementia will give the “right” answers to questions whether or not those answers are true. As for (2), what counts as severe cognitive impairment seems to be highly subjective. A representative of the company, offering an example: “You don’t need to know what year it is to fulfill the tasks of daily living.” One need not be a thoroughgoing cynic to suspect that the company might use the fuzziness of (2) to avoid paying a claim. Notice, by the way, that making a phone call and managing medication are two activities of daily living glaringly absent from the list. Their inclusion would immediately give more claims a shot at (1).

~ It may be necessary to submit a second (or third? or fourth?) claim as the policyholder’s abilities diminish.

~ If the company does finally honor a claim, the persistent advocate will need to keep up month by month. The monthly cost of assisted living or memory care is borne by the policyholder. The advocate then sends the monthly bill to the company and waits for reimbursement to show up in a bank statement. This paperwork is the easy part of the job, after all earlier obstacles are overcome.

I’m happy that I could do the work of dealing with LTCI for my mom. I don’t begrudge a minute of the time. And I don’t mind going up against a bureaucracy. But it’s far wiser to invest money elsewhere.

A bit of browsing will confirm that my observations about this company are not unusual. But they’re the ones I’ve got.

¹ “Transferring”: sitting down, standing up.

Stormy Monday

It’s the first day of Donald Trump’s first criminal trial. Have a good rest of your day, sir!

Here’s a small section of Trump’s Saturday night fever in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania (my transcription):

”Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was, the battle of Gettysburg, what an unbelievable, I mean it was so much, and so interesting, and so vicious, and horrible, and so beautiful in so many different ways. It, it represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch and, eh, the statement of Robert E. Lee, who’s no longer in favor — did you ever notice that? — no longer in favor. Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill. They were fighting uphill. He said, wow, that was a big mistake. He lost his great general. And, eh, they were fighting. Never fight uphill, me boys! But it was too late.“
Imagine what he’d be like as a witness (which I don’t think is going to happen).

Sunday, April 14, 2024

A portal

[419 West 36th Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

I have to imagine that if anyone with children lived in this building, life must have been a constant battle: “Stay out of the tunnel!”

The archive photo has no date for this building, but its construction must have predated that of the Lincoln Tunnel. The building is now gone, and if you type its address into Google Maps, you get, yes, a chunk of the Lincoln Tunnel. And if you type lincoln tunnel into Google Maps and make a U-turn, you can ride one of its tubes all the way to Weehawken, New Jersey, against traffic. Even Tony Soprano couldn’t do that.

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

[U-turn: in other words, turn the little person around before moving forward.]

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I found today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, dang near impossible at times. I slogged through and got it all, but it sparked no joy. I was happy though to be done, because doing this puzzle felt to me like doing homework.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

3-D, five letters, “One of many in night table drawers.” My first thought was NOVEL. But I was probably thinking of the New York Times “nightstand” holding books.

4-D, eight letters, “Not the parental disciplinarian.” Never heard of it. I need to bone up on my stereotypes.

5-D, three letters, “James P. Hoffa alma mater.” Is this answer likely to be known by anyone whose last name is something other than Hoffa?

8-D, nine letters, “Cockney, e.g.” I liked this one.

9-A, five letters, “Residential healthcare provider.” Like 4-D, this answer doesn’t sit well with me.

11-D, nine letters, “Green fish-and-chips side dish.” Is it really going to be — ? Yes, it’s going to be —.

13-D, four letters, “Like M. north of New York.” I didn’t understand until I typed the clue here.

23-D, five letters, “Italian word for ‘bowls.’” I can relate, not as a participant, but as an observer from a passing car.

32-A, eleven letters, “Fliers named for their blades.” I guess I learned something for future crossword use.

34-D, nine letters, “Alien monster.” See 32-A.

35-D, nine letters, “What's best on the block?” An easy one.

42-A, eleven letters, “Go together.” What an odd answer. A more apt clue might be “Go as one.”

43-D, seven letters, “The Buick stops here.” I was trying to recall an answer from some previous crossword, but no, that was ALERO, the last Oldsmobile produced. “Buick,” here for the sake of a pun, is weirdly specific in this clue.

53-D, five letters, “Many a pop.” My first thought was PEPSI. I find the logic of this clue a bit bizarre.

61-A, nine letters, “They have reduced carrying charges.” Nice one.

64-A, nine letters, “Base of some martial arts.” Also a nice one.

68-A, three letters, “Overfilled indicator.” SPILL won’t fit.

My favorite in this puzzle: 17-A, nine letters, “Many a United team supporter.” Just because I knew it.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Siduri and Marcus

Thinking about the joylessness of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations made me recall this passage from the Old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh story. Siduri, goddess and tavern-keeper at the edge of the world, speaks to Gilgamesh, who seeks a way out of the world of living and dying:

“When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping. As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Fear of death isn’t the problem for Marcus. But what he seems not to know is that life can be beautiful. And not mindlessly beautiful but beautiful even when or especially when one understands that it comes to an end.

Related reading
All OCA Gilgamesh posts (Pinboard)

[The Gilgamesh passage is from N.K. Sandars’s highly readable composite The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: Penguin, 1972). For a scholarly translation, try The Epic of Gilgamesh, trans. Maureen Gallery Kovacs (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989). “Old Babylonian”: not what’s known as the Standard Version of the story.]

Bacon and Peanuts

[Peanuts, April 15, 2024. Click for a larger view.]

Remember oral reports? Sally is giving one on the importance of reading.

Yesterday’s Peanuts is today’s Peanuts.

Related reading
All OCA Peanuts posts (Pinboard)

Hidden Bar

Alas the free app Dozer doesn’t work on a M3 Mac. A fine free replacement to hide menu bar items: Hidden Bar. Found via MacMenuBar, “a curated directory of 900+ Mac menu bar apps.”

This post gives an idea of the things I fuss about when setting up a new Mac. And yes, if you’re switching from an Intel machine, the M3 Mac is unbelievably fast. And fewer typos!

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Marcus Aurelius, not wise

Marcus Aurelius:

You will think little of the entertainment of song or dance or all-in wrestling if you deconstruct the melodic line of the song into its individual notes and ask yourself of each of them: “Is this something that overpowers me?” You will recoil from that admission. So too with a comparable analysis of dance by each movement and each pose, and the same again with wrestling. Generally, then, with the exception of virtue and its workings, remember to go straight to the component parts of anything, and through that analysis come to despise the thing itself. And the same method should be applied to the whole of life.

Meditations, 11.2, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin, 2006).
Of course Marcus lived long before Art Tatum, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, and [insert the name of an all-in wrestler of your choice here]. And it seems not to have occurred to him that music and movement take place in and across time.

Also from Marcus Aurelius
On change : On distraction : On Maximus : On revenge

[The translator’s comment on 11.2: “An extreme (and utterly unconvincing) example of the reductive analysis which Marcus frequently recommends and employs.” I’m at a loss to name an all-in wrestler.]

Marcus Aurelius, wise

Marcus Aurelius:

The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.

Meditations, 6.6, trans. Martin Hammond (New York: Penguin, 2006).
Also from Marcus Aurelius
On change : On distraction : On Maximus : On music, dance, and wrestling

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

“Frost” and Frost

I was teaching a poetry class and getting ready for our first meeting after a break, when it’s always a challenge to get back to the realities of a semester. I realized that I had forgotten to bring the two poems we were going to talk about, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight” and Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I printed out a copy of each poem in my office and went off to teach.

“Good morning,” I said to my students. “Is it okay to call it that?” In other words, was it okay to call the first morning back in class a good one? My students seemed receptive to my humor. One student announced with some excitement that a student organization was selling ten-cent hamburgers at the entrance to our building. I explained that I had left the little notebook with our next assignment at home, and that right after class I’d go home and send an e-mail with the details of the assignment. “You shouldn’t have to do that,” one student said. No, it was okay, I explained: “I live just five minutes from campus. I’ll send it at about 12:05.”

And then I realized that our class had started at noon, not 11:00.

Related reading
All OCA teaching dream posts (Pinboard)

[This dream arrived a few nights ago: no influence from the repeated name in a post yesterday. There’s a certain dream-logic to the combination of “Frost” and Frost, but in the waking world, “Frost at Midnight” would be plenty for a fifty-minute class. See also Robert Lowell’s poem “Robert Frost,” which begins “Robert Frost at midnight, the audience gone / to vapor.” This is the twenty-eighth teaching dream I’ve had since retiring in 2015. In all but one, something has goes wrong.]

Arizona 1864

“Written to police the behavior of men, the code tells a larger story about power and control”: the historian Heather Cox Richardson looks at the 1864 Arizona criminal code.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Harts, Keen’s, WIsconsin

Kevin Hart of harvest.ink shared a photograph of a letterhead from his father’s correspondence. It was 1973, and Keen’s English Chop House still had its WIsconsin exchange name.

[Click for a larger view.]

Kevin’s father was a newspaperman and a member of Keen’s Pipe Club. When Kevin sent me a link to a page with Keen’s history, I realized that I’d read about the restaurant somewhere. And I could think of only one possibility.

[Harold H. Hart, Hart’s Guide to New York City (New York: Hart Publishing, 1964). Click for a larger view.]

There seems to be no family relation, but the synchronicity of Hart and Hart is not lost on me.

Keens has lost its apostrophe, and though the restaurant still serves mutton chops, it now calls itself a steakhouse. And though the restaurant has dropped the WIsconsin, the telephone number remains the same: 212-947-3636.

Thanks, Kevin, for letting me share this piece of history here.

Ammonia coke

In Jean Stafford’s novel The Mountain Lion (1947), a brothel owner asks a boy to go to the drugstore and get her “a package of Luckies and an ammonia coke.” Luckies still probably need no footnote, but what’s an ammonia [C]oke?

Here’s an explanation.

And here’s a well-known scene from The Best Years of Our Lives, in which a fascist falls onto a drugstore display case and the store manager calls for help: “Bring some aromatic spirits of ammonia, iodine, and bandages.”

Related reading
All OCA Jean Stafford posts (Pinboard)

[New York Review Books reissued The Mountain Lion in 2010. And just in case: Luckies are Lucky Strikes, cigarettes.]

Monday, April 8, 2024

Domestic comedy

[Upon returning from a partial — partial indeed — eclipse.]

“It’s dark in the house.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Butter No Parsnips

An excellent podcast series for those who like words and rabbit holes: Butter No Parsnips, with Emily Moyers and Kyle Imperatore. Virtually every episode begins with a word and moves to explorations of etymology, history, and culture. Unlike some language-focused podcasts that exude forced hilarity, this one feels like a conversation between learned friends who can genuinely crack each other up (and who wear their learning lightly). Highly recommended.

I started with an episode that’s an exception to the usual format: an interview with Bob McCalden, chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

Wordle STARR

My Wordle starts with STARE, but twice in recent weeks my index finger has — oops — typed STARR instead. (No spoilers: that’s the April 4 Wordle to the left.) Starr is not to be found at the American Heritage Dictionary or Merriam-Webster. Nor is it to be found at dictionary.com or Wordnik. But starr is indeed a word, or several words, all arcane. (As well as the last name of a not-arcane drummer.) The Oxford English Dictionary has four entries. Here are short versions:

With reference to medieval England: a Jewish deed or bond, esp. one of release or acquittance of debt; a receipt given on payment of a debt.
As an Old English variant of star :
Any of the many celestial objects appearing as luminous points in the night sky; esp. any of those which do not noticeably change relative position.
As an archaic variant of stare :
With distinguishing word or words: any of various other birds resembling or related to the starling (or formerly thought to be so).
As a Scottish and English regional word, now rare :
Any of various coarse seaside grasses and sedges, esp. Ammophila arenaria (family Poaceae) and Carex arenaria (family Cyperaceae).
Pretty arcane, no? I’ve written to the Times to suggest that starr be removed from Wordle’s word-hoard.

By the way, that Wordle grid shows a trick I find helpful: adding a word with a known letter in two positions. Thus CYNIC and CIVIL, followed by CLIMB, which might have turned out to be CLIFF or CLIME — though it couldn’t have been CLIME if I’d typed STARE.

AP <3 M-W

For the 2024–2026 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook, the dictionary of choice will change from Webster’s New World College Dictionary to Merriam-Webster (Poynter).

I’m not sure what “Merriam-Webster” means here: Webster’s Third? The Collegiate? The online Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, based on the Collegiate but with significant updates? The online Unabridged, which requires a subscription? And why do I need to know?

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, April 7, 2024

“The ’Clipse” redux

You don’t have to be in the path of totality to enjoy “The ’Clipse.” It’s a piece of Timmy and Lassie fiction that I wrote in 2017, after the last solar eclipse that passed through Illinois. “The ’Clipse” is both tongue-in-cheek and genuinely reverential, if that’s possible. I think it is.

Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

And four more pieces of Lassie fan-fiction
“The Poet” (with Robert Frost) : “Bon Appétit!” (with Julia Child) : “On the Road” (with Tod and Buz from Route 66) : “The Case of the Purloined Prairie” (with Perry Mason and friends)


[232–234 West 37th Street, Manhattan, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

Back in the Garment District. When I first spotted those windows, I thought the ascended letter might be a B. Billi Bros., wholesale fabric distributors? After all, it’s the Garment District. Then I looked more closely.

Google Maps shows a fifth floor added to the building. In August 2022 the first floor housed two fabric companies, one or both now defunct. The second and third floors, which once housed Kay-Atkin Co. (buttons) and BILLI RDS, were available to rent: 929-434-7018.

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

[Kay-Atkin: so spelled in the 1940 Manhattan telephone directory.]

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, by Kate Chin Park, a maker of crosswords and furniture, is a solid sender, difficult, misdirective, punny, and blessedly free of trivia and strain. Please, more KCP Stumpers.

I began with 22-A, four letters, “Be crawling” (easy, I think) and 37-A, thirteen letters, “Paradoxical ‘I know,’” which I knew had to be the answer I was writing in. And was.

Some clue-and-answer pairs of note:

4-D, ten letters, “Not actually.” More difficult to see than one might think, I think.

9-A, six letters, “What some pie crusts are.” Uh, FLAKEY? LARDED?

11-D, four letters, “Unit of outer space.” A good example of the puzzle’s unstrained misdirection.

17-A, eight letters, “Comes back.” See 11-D.

23-A, six letters, “Prime directives, sometimes.” I tried to think of an answer related to interest rates.

30-A, four letters, “Preceder of body work.” My first thought was DENT.

30-D, ten letters, “Players’ positions.” See 17-A.

31-A, thirteen letters, “It holds a lot at the dinner table.” Really clever.

32-D, five letters, “Refuse passage.” My first thought was of a someone thrown off a bus or train.

40-D, three letters, “Silence, possibly.” Brilliant, and for just three letters.

48-D, five letters, “Small club.” Having seen a similar clue a week or two ago, I was not fooled.

53-D, three letters, “Shortened yardstick.” The clue redeems the answer.

58-A, six letters, “Crown molding?” I laughed, loudly.

61-A, eight letters, “Many happy returns.” Yet another example of the puzzle’s unstrained misdirection.

My favorite in this puzzle: I know it has to be 37-A.

No spoilers; the answers are in the comments.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Helen Keller’s sources

The New York Review Books volume of Helen Keller’s writing, The World I Live In (2012), has a few pages of notes identifying sources for quoted material, but many such passages are left unidentified. Having looked up the unidentified bits in Keller’s prose (thank you, Google Books), I thought it appropriate to share them here, for anyone who might looking. They reflect a great breadth of reading and are someimes quoted imperfectly, from memory perhaps, or from a faulty source.

Format: quoted material, page number in the NYRB edition, source. I have left poetry unlineated where Keller quotes it without line breaks.

From The World I Live In (1908)

“there’s a sound so fine, nothing lives ’twixt it and silence” (10)

A sound so fine, there's nothing lives
’Twixt it and silence.

James Sheridan Knowles, Virginius, 5.2 (1820)


"Kind letters that betray the heart’s deep history,
In which we feel the presence of a hand” (16)

Kind messages, that pass from land to land;
Kind letters, that betray the heart's deep history,
In which we feel the pressure of a hand —
One touch of fire, — and all the rest is mystery!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dedication to The Seaside and the Fireside (1850)


“dormouse valor” (10)

To awake your dormouse valor, to put fire in your heart, and brimstone in your liver.

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (c. 1601–1602)


                                                        “may right
Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord,
And rush exultant on the Infinite” (96)

                                                Jehovah Lord,
Make room for rest, around me! out of sight
Now float me of the vexing land abhorred,
Till in deep calms of space my soul may right
Her nature, shoot large sail on lengthening cord,
And rush exultant on the Infinite.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Finite and Infinite” (1850)


“put life and mettle into their heels” (105)

But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.

Robert Burns, “Tam o’Shanter” (1791)


“idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean” (105)

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834 text)


“high and disposedly” like Queen Elizabeth (106)

Agnes Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of England (1840–1848). When Sir James Melville, envoy from Mary, Queen of Scots, was asked by Elizabeth which queen was the better dancer, Melville said that Mary danced ”not so high or disposedly“ as Elizabeth. Strickland takes that to mean that Mary danced like ”an elegant lady.“


“a rakish craft” (110)

’Twas Fiddledeedee who put to sea
With a rollicking buccaneer Bumblebee:
An acorn-cup was their hollow boat —
A rakish craft was their acorn-boat

Madison Julius Cawein, The Giant and the Star: Little Annals in Rhyme (1909)


From “Optimism: An Essay” (1903)

“the source and centre of all minds, their only point of rest” (136)

Thou are the source and centre of all minds,
Their only point of rest, eternal word!

William Cowper, “The Task” (1785)


“the evil but ‘a halt on the way to good’” (136–137)

The world an image of the divine, everything perfect of its kind, the bad simply a halt on the way to the good.

Richard Falckenberg, History of Modern Philosophy from Nicolas of Cusa to the Present Time (1893). From a chapter about Nicolas of Cusa.


“labored, foredone, in the field and at the workshop, like haltered horses, if blind, so much the quieter” (138)

The dull millions that, in the workshop or furrowfield, grind foredone at the wheel of Labour, like haltered gin-horses, if blind so much the quieter?

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution (1837)


“Now touching goal, now backward hurl’d,
Toils the indomitable world” (141)

Now touching goal, now backward hurled —
Toils the indomitable world

William Watson, “The Father of the Forest” (1912)


“There are no substitutes for common sense, patience, integrity, and courage.” (144)

Harvard Baccalaureate Sermon, June 18, 1899. Author unidentified.


“whose bones lie on the mountains cold” (145)

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
        Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold

John Milton, Sonnet 18 [On the Late Massacre in Piedmont] (1655)


“Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth this autumn morning!” (152)

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,
This autumn morning!

Robert Browning, “James Lee’s Wife” (1864)


“fashion of the smiling face” (153)

And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face.

Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Christmas Sermon” (1888)


“Drill your thoughts,” he said; “shut out the gloomy and call in the bright. There is more wisdom in shutting one’s eyes than your copybook philosophers will allow.” (153)

He records in his early diary how he said to a friend, depressed by painful reflections, “Drill your thoughts — shut out the gloomy, and call in the bright. There is more wisdom in ‘shutting one’s eyes,’ than your copy-book philosophers will allow.”

Letters of John Richard Green, ed. Leslie Stephen (1901). Green was an English historian.


“pasteboard passions and desires” (154)

After our little hour of strut and rave,
    With all our pasteboard passions and desires

James Russell Lowell, “Commemoration Ode” [Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration] (1865)


“They are more precious than gold of Ophir. They are love and goodness and truth and hope, and their price is above rubies and sapphires.” (158)

Biblical phrasing. For instance: “It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire”; “No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies” (Job 28:16 and 18, King James Verson).


“the achievements of the warrior are like his canvas city, ‘today a camp, to-morrow all struck and vanished, a few pit-holes and heaps of straw’” (159)

Truly it is a mortifying thing for your Conqueror to reflect, how perishable is the metal which he hammers with such violence: how the kind earth will soon shroud-up his bloody foot-prints; and all that he achieved and skilfully piled together will be but like his own “canvas city” of a camp, — this evening loud with life, tomorrow all struck and vanished, ”a few earth-pits and heaps of straw!”

Thomas Carlyle, “Voltaire” (1829)


“paints yet more glorious triumphs on the cloud–curtain of the future” (160)

Seldom can the unhappy be persuaded that the evil of the day is sufficient for it; and the ambitious will not be content with present splendour, but paints yet more glorious triumphs, on the cloud-curtain of the future.

Thomas Carlyle, “Signs of the Times” (1829)


From “My Story” (1894)

“though fled fore’er the light” (166)

’Tis as the light itself of God were fled —
So dark is all around, so still, so dead;
Nor hope of change, one ray I find!
Yet must submit, though fled fore’er the light,
Though utter silence bring me double night,
Though to my insulated mind
Knowledge her richest pages ne’er unfold,
And “human face divine” I ne’er behold
Yet must submit, must be resigned.

Morrison Heady, The Double Night (1869). Heady was a deafblind poet. The Double Night is a long poem, dedicated “to the Shades of Milton and Beethoven.”


“How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid” (171)

Of all the beasts he learned the language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Brothers.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha (1855)


“Into each life some rain must fall” (177)

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
    Some days must be dark and dreary.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Rainy Day” (1842)


“Love, — no other word we utter, Can so sweet and precious be” (179)

Trust —no other word we utter
    Can so sweet and precious be,
Tuning all life’s jarring discords
Into heavenly harmony!

Herbert Newbury, “The Sweetest Word” (1867)


“Love is everything! And God is Love!” (179)

These words seem to be Helen Keller’s own. They are introduced thusly: “Every day brings me some new joy, some fresh token of love from distant friends, until in the fullness of my glad heart, I cry: ‘Love is everything! And God is Love!’”

Three related posts
Helen Keller on horizons : On lines : On tolerance

Too many movies?

We knew that we may not have watched too many old movies when the Criterion Channel feature 1950: Peak Noir had two movies — count ’em, two (of seventeen) — that were new to us, Born to Be Bad and The Damned Don’t Cry.

And now we’ve watched them both, and once again, we may have watched too many old movies.

A related post
Too many movies?

Thursday, April 4, 2024

“A time outside our experience”

At the zoo. Mr. Palomar looks at the crocodiles. They lie asleep or “sleepless in a dazed desolation,” moving from time to time, then becoming motionless again.

Italo Calvino, “The order squamata.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Fishwife sardines

Fresca alerted me to the existence of Fishwife sardines. Such beautiful packaging. I have never seen these sardines in stores, but I will be on the lookout.

Thanks, Fresca.

Related reading
All OCA sardine posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

“An old, empty tire”

At the zoo, Mr. Palomar observes Copito de Nieve, or Snowflake, still the world’s only known albino gorilla. “In the enormous void of his hours,” Copito de Nieve clings to a tire, “a thing with which to allay the anguish of isolation, of difference, of the sentence to being always considered a living phenomenon.”

Italo Calvino, “The albino gorilla.” In Mr. Palomar, trans. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt, 1985).

Related reading
All OCA Italo Calvino posts (Pinboard)

Paxlovid, expensive

I read my monthly health-insurance info and was astonished the see the price of a five-day run of Paxlovid (which cost me nothing): $1381.15.

Pfizer more than doubled the price last year.

Too many movies?

We know that we may have watched too many old movies when, at a glance, we recognize the servant Mr. Oates in The Spiral Staircase (1946) as the auto mechanic in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950). The actor: Rhys Williams.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Jim has spoken before

On the PBS NewsHours tonight, Jeffrey Brown spoke with Percival Everett about Everett’s new novel James. The Jim of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Everett said, “has never had a chance to speak.”

Certainly not at length, certainly not at novel-length. But there’s an unusual piece of literary criticism in the form of a letter from John Isaac Hawkins, Jim's son, to “Mister Finn,” in which John recounts his father’s commentary on Huck’s tale. It’s Gerry Brenner’s “More than a Reader’s Response: A Letter to ‘De Ole True Huck.’” You can read it by creating a free account at JSTOR.

Joe Flaherty (1941–2024)

The actor Joe Flaherty has died at the age of eighty-two. On SCTV he was Guy Caballero, Count Floyd, Sammy Maudlin, and Slim Whitman, among others. On Freaks and Geeks, Harold Weir.

The New York Times has an obituary.