Friday, September 22, 2017

“All this analog stuff next door”

Erik Spiekermann, designer and typographer:

I just got my IBM Selectric out of storage. It works, so I made a resolve yesterday that in my letterpress workshop I will not bring my computer anymore. I’ll keep my iPhone, but I will not be a slave to my screen all the time when we have all this analog stuff next door. We have a dozen presses, lots of paper, lots of type, and I spend all my time looking at a fucking screen? It’s ridiculous.
Other OCA Spiekermann posts
How to make quotation marks : “I’m obviously a typomaniac” : “Obsessive attention to detail” : “Start reading. Stop Googling.”

Nambian Covfefe

[“All-Natural Nambian Covfefe.” Artist unknown.]

A 400×422 image out of Spiritus Mundi, found here. If there’s a specific source to credit, I’d like to know.


8:52 p.m.: Sarah Palin has been named as ambassador to Nambia.

[As for whataboutism: yes, everyone makes mistakes. But as president of the United States, you don’t get very many free passes.]

“Grammar Nazi”

Reese Lansangan explains: “I’m not a Nazi. I just care about good grammar.” Funny and charming, even if what she cares about is, in most cases, spelling or usage.

Did you spot The Elements of Style?

Related reading
All OCA grammar posts (Pinboard)

[I remember telling a student who approvingly described his high-school English teacher as a “grammar Nazi,” “Please don’t call anyone who cares about language a Nazi.” Better: Don’t call anyone who isn’t a Nazi a Nazi.]

Pianos, Joel’s and Waits’s

Did Tom Waits’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking” begin life as a parody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”?


And the piano, it sounds like a carnival
And the microphone smells like a beer
And the carpet needs a haircut
Aand the spotlight looks like a prison break
And the telephone’s out of cigarettes
And the balcony is on the make
Just an idle thought. If you see Tom Waits, please ask.

Here, from Fernwood 2 Night, is a 1977 performance of “The Piano Has Been Drinking.”

There are three other Waits posts on Orange Crate Art.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Alice Munro sentence

Alice Munro, “Runaway,” in Runaway (New York: Vintage, 2005).

Such a great sentence. Nine of its fourteen words form prepositional phrases, but the sentence moves as quickly as the truck, or the air. And notice that it’s air, not wind. The final seams is a bonus.

Fujitsu Mini-Split FTW

Our utility company sends us a monthly page about our energy use. Granted, many variables are at work. Still, the advantage of a mini-split over an air conditioner is clear.

[But they’re houses, not homes.]

Speak, rock

[Zippy, September 21, 2017.]

Three (“some”) rocks, but only no. 2 is talking.

Venn diagram
Nancy posts : Nancy and Zippy posts : Zippy posts

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New glasses (once again)

A new picture with new glasses in the sidebar. The previous new one had begun to look too dour to me, too suggestive of disgruntled silence. I am neither silent nor disgruntled, or at least not often. Though I acknowledge that there isn’t an awful lot to smile about in the larger world these days.

[RSS-ers, you’ll have to click through.]

“Like a leaf sinking in the current”

Stefan Zweig, Fear. 1936. The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig. Trans. Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2015).

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

First-Class Mail Shape-Based
Pricing Template

Is that envelope too long or high or thick to be mailed as a letter? The U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Mail Shape-Based Pricing Template has the answer. It’s the cool postal tool with the unwieldy name. If you’re lucky, your post office might have one on hand for you.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Roscoe Mitchell,
Bells for the South Side

Roscoe Mitchell. Bells for the South Side. 2 CDs. ECM Records. 2017. Total playing time: 2:07.31.

Here are five pieces for trio performances, with the composer and multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell joined by James Fei and William Winant, Hugh Ragin and Tyshawn Sorey, Kikanju Baku and Craig Taborn, and Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal. And another six pieces, with the musicians (all multi-instrumentalists) regrouped in “new configurations,” as the liner notes put it, leaving the listener to make educated guesses as to who’s playing what and when. The music that results, notated and improvised, is sometimes spare, sometimes dense, with a special emphasis on bells, drums, and gongs.

A few highlights: “Spatial Aspects of the Sound” begins with bells and pianos (keys dampened or struck sharply, strings plucked) and ends with the delicate interplay of glockenspiel, piano, and piccolo. “Prelude to a Rose” (whose title recalls Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss”) begins and ends with sinuous horn ensembles, with free-ranging communication among saxophones, trumpet, and trombone (Mitchell, Ragin, Sorey) in between. “Bells for the South Side” begins with sleighbells, a ringing telephone, and a siren; Ragin’s piercing piccolo trumpet enters against a ghostly thicket of percussion, suggesting a lament for those lost to violence on Chicago’s streets. “Red Moon in the Sky” evokes the Art Ensemble of Chicago in high gear, with horns and percussion blazing. And “Odwalla,” the Art Ensemble’s closing theme, is a final surprise: a slow groove, with Mitchell introducing each musician for a brief solo. These two hours of music travel by in what feels like much less time.

I have heard Roscoe Mitchell in performance with the Art Ensemble of Chicago (five times); with Thomas Buckner, Harrison Bankhead, and Jerome Cooper; with Muhal Richard Abrams and George Lewis; and with Jack DeJohnette’s Special Legends Edition Chicago. And on dozens of recordings. I’m grateful for the chance to open my ears once again.

These performances were recorded in September 2015 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in conjunction with The Freedom Principle, an exhibit marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. As it’s an ECM recording, the sound is impeccable. Full personnel details, samples, and a video clip at the ECM website.

The program:

Spatial Aspects of the Sound : Panoply : Prelude to a Rose : Dancing in the Canyon (Taborn-Baku-Mitchell) : EP 7849 : Bells for the South Side : Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and The Final Hand : The Last Chord : Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks : R509A Twenty B : Red Moon in the Sky/Odwalla. All compositions by Roscoe Mitchell except as noted.

Dream commercial

In last night’s sleep, a commercial for The Tonight Show: Johnny was welcoming Angie Dickinson, the United States Marine Band, and “a great deal of thinkers.” Make that a great many thinkers. Mass nouns v. count nouns.

I can fix usage problems, even in dreams. But there’s no ad-blocker to use while sleeping.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Organized squirrels

News from the cute-animal kingdom: “Like trick-or-treaters sorting their Halloween candy haul, fox squirrels apparently organize their stashes of nuts by variety, quality and possibly even preference.”

A related post
KNUT Winter Schedule

Sean Spicer at the Emmys

Spencer Kornhaber, writing about Sean Spicer’s appearance at the Emmy Awards:

The Hollywood establishment, in overwhelming part, likes to present itself as in opposition to the Trump administration. But turning the PR guy for that administration into just another character in the entertainment landscape, a lovable provider of quips and shticks, flattens the moral dimensions of the national debate. It says that, deep down, politics is just sport, just drama. Which then undercuts the anti-Trump stands made on the Emmys stage.
Seeing Colbert and Spicer last night, I had to recall the infamous (to my mind) remarks that CBS executive chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves made during last year’s primaries:
“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he said of the presidential race. . . .

"Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going,” said Moonves.
The Emmy Awards aired, of course, on CBS.

Twelve more movies

[No sentence count. No spoilers.]

Hail, Caesar! (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2016). Hollywood in the fifties, with movies within the movie: an aquatic extravaganza, a biblical epic, a drawing-room drama, a Gene Kelly-esque musical, and a western. And in the plot of this movie itself, a vaguely Hitchcockian story of a politically motivated kidnapping. Great fun. “Would that it ’twere so simple.”


Max Rose (dir. Daniel Noah, 2016). Jerry Lewis as an eighty-seven-year-old jazz pianist, widowed after sixty-five years of marriage, wondering whether his wife was unfaithful and setting out to learn the truth. An unflinching picture of what it can be like to be old — a pill regimen, endless television, and the past and present blurring. The film jumps the shark (during a phone call to Max’s devoted adult granddaughter) but manages to recover. I learned about Max Rose only with the news of Jerry Lewis’s death.


Un peu de festival du René Clair

Sous les toits de Paris (dir. René Clair, 1930). A love quadrilateral, with a beautiful woman (beauty seems to be her only defining feature) and three male rivals: a street singer, his best pal, and a crook. The street-singing scenes are wonderful; the story itself is thin. The camerawork might make you wonder, even now: how did they do that?

À nous la liberté (dir. René Clair, 1931). A comic masterpiece about work and freedom. “Le travail, c’est la liberté” is a slogan that comes up in the film. To which Clair replies, Non. Prison is one form of prison. Work, as prison escapees discover, is but another. Chaplin shamelessly borrows from this film in Modern Times. I’m convinced that O Brother, Where Art Thou? contains a respectful tip of the hat.


Un pequeño festival de Pedro Almodóvar

The Flower of My Secret (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1995). A romance writer and her discontents. Tired of formulaic plots, Leo Macías (played by Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes) writes something much darker. What kind of plot will now develop in her life? Intertextuality alert: Leo’s dark fiction becomes the stuff of Almodóvar’s Volver (2006).

Talk to Her (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 2002). Two women in comas, one a bullfighter, the other a dancer. Two men, each devoted to one of the women. A friendship between the men. A compelling story of fidelity and its evil twin obsession. To watch the elements of this complex narrative begin to fall into place is pure delight.

All About My Mother (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1999). A bereft mother leaves Madrid in search of her past life in Barcelona, where she makes a new life in the company of a transgender prostitute, a young nun, and two actresses. All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire figure heavily in the narrative. A further intertextuality alert: a scene from The Flower of My Secret becomes a crucial element here. Of the eight Almodóvar films I’ve now seen, All About My Mother and Volver are my favorites.


Down Three Dark Streets (dir. Arnold Laven, 1954). An FBI procedural. When a fellow agent is killed in the line of duty, Broderick Crawford takes over his three cases, hoping that one of them will lead to the killer. Some genuine shocks and surprises, some good Los Angeles location shots, and a great turn by Marisa Pavan. And there are telephone EXchange names. At YouTube.


Borderline (dir. William A. Seiter, 1950). Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor as drug smugglers, sort of, and Raymond Burr as a drug kingpin and something of a poor man’s Laird Cregar. (There is only one Laird Cregar.) With a weirdly comic overlay of sexual attraction between MacMurray and Trevor, à la It Happened One Night. “Noon in front of the monkey cages — have you got that?” At YouTube.


Manhattan Tower (dir. Frank Strayer, 1932). Pre-Code life in a tall office building, with adultery, financial speculation, leering clerks, spunky secretaries, one sugar daddy, many wisecracks, and Art Deco interiors. Ira Morgan and Harry Reynolds take us from floor to floor with inventive camera work and editing. At YouTube.


The Big Bluff (dir. W. Lee Wilder, 1955). Do you remember Martha Vickers, who plays young, damaged, sexy Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep? Here is Vickers with only two further efforts remaining in her film career, playing a wealthy, terminally ill woman who falls for and marries a con man (John Bromfield) who soon has her drinking, smoking, and staying up till all hours. You can guess why. An alarmingly low-budget production (the director is Billy Wilder’s brother), the kind of movie in which dialogue is unintentionally funny, shadows and patches of light move around on walls, and a corner filled with two or three tables signifies nightclub. But with an interesting twist at the end. At YouTube.


The B-Side (dir. Errol Morris, 2017). A portrait of the photographer Elsa Dorfman, best known for portraits made with a Polaroid 20×24 camera. Dorfman appears to be an entirely untortured artist: her comments on her life and work often end in a happy, unself-conscious giggle. But this film, even at seventy-six minutes, feels endless: it’s mostly Dorfman holding up a rejected (“B-side”) photograph and talking a bit (she makes two exposures per sitting; the customer chooses one); then another photograph; then another. We never get a really good look at the rare camera she uses, much less an explanation of what makes that camera or her photographs distinctive.

Related reading
All OCA film posts (Pinboard)
Fourteen films : Thirteen more : Twelve more : Another thirteen more : Another dozen : Yet another dozen : Another twelve : And another twelve : Still another twelve : Oh wait, twelve more : Twelve or thirteen more : Nine, ten, eleven — and that makes twelve : Another twelve : And twelve more : Is there no end? No, there’s another twelve : Wait, there’s another twelve : And twelve more : At least eleven more : And twelve more : Another twelve

Zippy mall

[Zippy, September 18, 2017.]

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Zip ties and grout

Kim Tingley recommends zip ties:

Certainly, the evolution of humankind hinged on innovations like the chisel, the bow and arrow, the wheel. But sea otters whack abalone shells with rocks; octopuses build fortresses by stacking coconut shells. What defines our species is not the hammer or the trowel but the nail and the grout. Tools respond to an immediate, even primal need; fasteners are our dreams for the future.
I share her enthusiasm. But as the son of a tileman, I must point out that grout is not typically understood to be a fastener. Grout fills gaps.

[My dad always quietly enjoyed hearing a householder mispronounce the word as /groot/.]

“The important thing is handwriting”

[Chus Lampreave, Ángel de Andrés López, and Juan Martínez. What Have I Done to Deserve This? (dir. Pedro Almodóvar, 1984. Click for a larger view.]

Three generations: grandmother, father, son. Dad is asking about how school is going. Dad is a cabdriver. Also a forger.

Related reading
All OCA handwriting posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, September 16, 2017


OCR App (LEAD Technologies) is a Mac app for optical character recognition. The results are not perfect, but the app is free. The app icon: T as in text.

I tried OCR App with a recent piece of writing. A scan of an image file of the first page began:

It was a beautiful morning on the Martin farm. Sun streamed into the kitchen, where Paul and Ruth Martin and Uncle Petrie were enjoying a second cup of couee. Lassie was drinking from her water dish. The sunlight made her coat glisten. Timmy Martin was just finishing his milk when his mother noticed a small story in the Calverton Herald.
Almost perfect. Small glitches with apostrophes and quotation marks were the only other problems. A scan of a PDF of the whole story was better: OCR App missed a couple of dashes, misread goin’ as gain’, and turned a quotation mark into the numeral 11. Be prepared to proofread carfully.

Anyone who makes significant use of optical character recognition will probably require an app with greater accuracy. But for occasional use, this free app is perfect.

[If there’s any doubt: carfully is a joke.]

Friday, September 15, 2017

“Like all gamblers”

Stefan Zweig, Burning Secret. 1911. The Collected Novellas of Stefan Zweig. Trans. Anthea Bell (London: Pushkin Press, 2015).

Related reading
All OCA Stefan Zweig posts (Pinboard)

Someone is having a birthday

Orange Crate Art turns thirteen today. Thirteen! Orange Crate Art is embarrassed by my calling attention to its birthday. And by my using an exclamation point. Orange Crate Art is embarrassed by so many things that I say and do these days. It’s a difficult age.

Thank you, everyone who’s reading.

[Post title after Ted Berrigan’s “A Final Sonnet.”]

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Misused word of the day: refute

Pay attention to the news for a while, and you’ll notice the word refute misused. The word is not, as Garner’s Modern English Usage (2016) points out, “synonymous with rebut or deny”:

That is, it doesn’t mean merely “to counter an argument” but “to disprove beyond doubt; to prove a statement false.” Yet the word is commonly misused for rebut.
As it was tonight: “At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly refuted the Democrats’ version of events.” No. She contradicted their version, or denied it. But she didn’t prove it false.

For a different perspective on refute being used to mean “to deny the truth or accuracy of,” see The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989):
Most usage commentators now routinely take note of it, and all that do consider it a mistake (the British, in particular, seem to feel strongly on this subject). It is, however, extremely common, and the contexts in which it occurs are standard.
Yes, but it’s still a mistake, and a terribly misleading one if a listener or reader takes refute to mean that a statement has been disproved when it has merely been denied. “I am not a crook”: denial, not refutation.

Recently updated

Stornography Now appearing in a cartoon.

Timmy Martin, Ticonderoga user

[Timmy Martin (Jon Provost) writes an urgent message. From the Lassie episode “The Phone Hog,” April 3, 1960. Click for a larger view.]

The ferrule is the giveaway. A Dixon Ticonderoga appears in at least one other Lassie episode.

More Ticonderogas
Bells Are Ringing : The Dick Van Dyke Show : Force of Evil : Harry Truman : The House on 92nd Street : Perry Mason : Pnin

All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

The 26 Old Characters

From the W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company, a dowdy-world history of our alphabet and fountain pens: The 26 Old Characters (1947). Dig the young people eagerly opening letters at 17:38.

Thanks, Martha!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Snowy Day stamps

[Art by Ezra Jack Keats. Stamp design by Antonio Alcalá.]

On October 4 the United States Postal Service will issue four stamps to honor Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day (1962). The Los Angeles Times has the story.

See also “The Snowy Day” and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats (Skirball Cultural Center).

Thanks, Rachel!

How to (finally) Read “Nancy”

Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden’s long-awaited How to Read “Nancy” is due to appear from Fantagraphics next month, with a three-sentence foreword by Jerry Lewis.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New glasses

New glasses, so a new photograph in the sidebar. Thank you, Elaine. (For the photograph, I mean.) I think the glasses look rather spiffy. As does the Ethnic Music Festival poster in the background. I found that poster in 1979, in the vicinity of Columbia University. The festival date had passed, so the poster became mine. Only years later, as a full-fledged grown-up, did I get it framed.

I followed, more or less, the convoluted procedure in this post to create a new Profile. (Google does not make things easy.) One difference: it’s no longer necessary to get a screenshot of a photograph with a border added; a border for some reason now shows up automatically.

Is my beard really that white? Only in photographs.

[A question for Google: when you look at a Blogger Profile page and click on View Full Size, why is the resulting photograph smaller than the one on the Profile page?]

Opportunity knocks

From The Big Bluff (dir. W. Lee Wilder, 1955). A schemer speaks:

“An opportunity like this knocks only once — and I know when to open the door.”
Like, uhh, when there’s a knock?

[W. Lee Wilder: Billy’s brother, but you’d never know it from this movie.]

Making by hand

Rosemary Hill, art historian:

To make objects by hand in an industrial society, to work slowly and uneconomically against the grain, is to offer, however inadvertently, a critique of that society.

From “Explorations of a Third Space,” Times Literary Supplement, April 23, 1999. Quoted in Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000).
I’d like to think of objects very broadly, so as to include, say, a garden, or a handwritten letter.

Monday, September 11, 2017


The New York Times reports on the television-news practice of standing in a storm to report on it. I think we need a word to describe this commodification of horrific weather into televised spectacle. My suggestion: stornography. Or storn, for short.

I still remember (1990s?) an unfortunately hilarious CBS Evening News broadcast with Dan Rather standing in a storm somewhere, hanging on to a lamppost or street sign and trying to talk as the wind blew rain into his face. I didn’t know though that, as the Times reports, Rather originated this kind of reporting in 1961.


September 14: The word may be catching on.

A de Kooning, stolen and recovered

“It’s hard to believe that they were that — I don’t know what the word for it is”: a retired schoolteacher and his son may have stolen a Willem de Kooning painting from an Arizona museum. The details make the story sound like something for the Coen brothers.


[From a depiction of the Manhattan skyline on a Chock full o’Nuts coffee can, c. 2003. The World Trade Center was removed from the Chock full o’Nuts label in 2004. We have an empty can with the old label sitting atop a file cabinet in our house.]

Sunday, September 10, 2017

“Very, very insensitive”

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, thinks that it’s inappropriate to talk about climate change right now. It’s “very, very insensitive,” he says.

The same kind of response follows a mass shooting: it’s not the time to talk about gun-ownership rights. And another shooting follows.

Related posts
Too early again : December 14, 2012

[“Right now”: Irma.]

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Bill McKibben in Alaska

At The New Yorker, Bill McKibben explains: “I Went All the Way to the Alaskan Wilderness to Escape Donald Trump, But You Don’t Have To.” McKibben acknowledges that while in Alaska’s Brooks Range he still thought about Trump, but without reacting, because “he wasn’t there to break into my thoughts, or my Twitter timeline, at every turn.” McKibben’s astonishing conclusion: “It’s probably not necessary to get quite so far back into the woods; any place without Internet will do.” And also without newspapers? Radio? Television?

I offered Bill McKibben free advice about technology and distraction in 2008. I’ll offer some more advice now: Stay off Twitter. Or check it just a couple of times a day. Or block certain users. Managing one’s attention can begin at home. Self-reliance and all that.

[The title of McKibben’s piece bespeaks such condescension, such privilege. Titles aren’t always the work of the writer: was someone at The New Yorker having a little fun at the McKibben’s expense? My alternative title: “I Went All the Way to the Alaskan Wilderness to Escape Donald Trump, But You Can’t Afford To.”]

WSJ Puzzle

The Wall Street Journal claims to offer “America’s most elegant, adventurous and addictive crosswords and other word games.” I’m not sure that’s so, but the crosswords at WSJ Puzzle are excellent: challenging and clever, not corny, not contrived. And free. I especially like the wit that turns up in non-theme clues for ordinary words. In today’s puzzle by Roger and Kathy Wienberg, for instance, 71-Across, five letters: “Tell tale item.” No spoilers: the answer is in the comments.

[“Not corny, not contrived”: I find The New York Times crossword too often corny or contrived or both.]

Friday, September 8, 2017

A 1957 Mongol advertisement

[Life, April 1, 1957. Click for a larger view.]

One year earlier, an Eberhard Faber advertisement touted the Mongol as writing 2,162 words for one cent. In that ad Mongols were priced at fifteen cents for two. So one Mongol equalled 2,162 × 7.5, or 16,215 words. Now it’s 1957, and a Mongol writes fifteen more words, but the price per word is higher: only 1,623 words for one cent.

The number that really commands my attention in this ad: 88. As in: “88 per cent of America’s writing is done with a woodcased pencil.” The importance of being analog.

Related reading
All OCA Mongol posts (Pinboard)

Mark Blank

Fresca invites readers to add new words to the speech balloons in a Mark Trail panel. Fun.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The first Paul Martin

I just learned that the actor Jon Shepodd has died at the age of eighty-nine. He played Paul Martin in the 1957–58 season of Lassie, with Cloris Leachman as his wife Ruth. When Leachman decided to leave the show, Hugh Reilly and June Lockhart were brought in to play Timmy’s parents.

A page from Jon Provost’s website has several photographs of Provost (Timmy Martin) and Shepodd in Lassie days and in recent years.

Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

[Cloris Leachman on a farm? No.]

A Larry Rivers Camel pack

At the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Larry Rivers: (Re)Appropriations. The exhibition page includes a slideshow. To the left, a greatly reduced Cream Camel (1980). Any larger and I’d start thinking about smoking.

[See also the sidebar: “Don’t look for premiums or coupons,” &c.]

Mark Trail recycles

[Mark Trail, August 8, September 7, 2017.]

Yet another instance of this comic strip recycling materials. Yet another instance of this comic strip recycling materials.

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[The story of this shiny man and his crooked cohorts has been going since April, at least. That’s the same storm in each panel. Keeps rainin’ all the time. Keeps rainin’ all the time.]

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

One more Rick Veach story

One more story about Rick, which I just thought of:

Several years ago we ordered a new under-the-cabinet range hood to replace the one that came with our house. Rick was working in one of our bathrooms when two young men delivered the new hood. After removing the old hood, they discovered that the new hood was ⅛" longer than the space cut beneath our cabinet. The standard measurement for range hoods had apparently changed in fifty-something years. These guys did not, as they told Rick, do carpentry. Rick told them that he would install the hood for us.

Which he did. He also did the duct work to hook the hood up properly, something that had never been done. End of story.

Not famous

Thinking about Rick made me think of this opinion piece in The New York Times, by Emily Esfahani Smith, “You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.”: “We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that.”

[But a distinction between “extraordinary” and “ordinary” lives? I don’t buy in. There are no ordinary lives.]

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rick Veach (1959–2017)

Rick Veach was our plumber and our heating and cooling specialist through almost all the twenty-seven years we’ve lived in our house. And he was our friend. I’m not sure how or why we first called him — probably on someone’s recommendation. He never needed to advertise.

A visit from Rick was a visit, for real. Whatever work there was to do, there was also time for conversation, conversation that went in any and every direction: our children, his children, the school system, building codes, guitars, vacation destinations. Rick told us once that he knew he could make more money by just doing the work and going to the next job, but that visiting with people was part of what he liked about his work. He told us that he thought of us as friends. And that’s how we thought of him.

Rick solved problems that many a person would have walked away from. I often quoted him to my students: “A problem is just a challenge that hasn’t been overcome.” I loved that, and I still quote it to myself. And Rick solved problems with absolute integrity. When the mini-split system that he installed in our house failed to work properly, Rick tried fix after fix. He called the manufacturer, repeatedly, and finally figured out the problem: the manufacturer’s specs failed to mention a maximum distance between units. Our two units were just over the limit. So what did Rick do? He replaced the system with one from another manufacturer — at his own cost. We couldn’t even pay him for his labor. But we did get him to accept a large gift certificate to a favorite restaurant.

Here is a song that Rick told us was one of his favorites: “Once Upon a Time.” He had the Jay McShann recording on his phone and played it for us once, and the three of us stood listening in our hallway.

A related post
Rick solves a minor mystery

Another resignation

Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has resigned from Donald Trump’s National Diversity Coalition:

Over the past month, many corporate leaders have fled the councils and coalitions President Trump assembled at the beginning of his administration. I am proud to join them. While I will never cease advocating for policies that benefit America’s Hispanic-owned businesses, the moral costs of associating with this White House are simply too high. There is no place for a National Diversity Coalition in an administration that by its word and deed does not value diversity at all.
Palomarez notes that the National Diversity Coalition “never formally met — a stark sign of the president’s lack of interest in our work.”

This passage from a Times article that appeared earlier today speaks volumes:
As late as one hour before the decision [to end DACA] was to be announced, administration officials privately expressed concern that Mr. Trump might not fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take, and when he discovered their full impact, would change his mind.
Which would seem to mean that Trump lacks even the competence to make a bad decision. The anguish and uncertainty that his decision visits upon hundreds of thousands of young adults and their families and friends is beyond reckoning.

A related post
More resignations

A Painted Rock Owl

[Click for a larger owl.]

A Painted Rock Owl, spotted yesterday at the entrance to a park. The owl’s habitat: some rock.

“The ’Clipse”

This post contains the text of a short piece of fan fiction, by me: “The ’Clipse,” a Timmy and Lassie story. The story is both inspired by current events and meant to serve as a brief respite from them. It’s inspired too by Fresca’s continuing attention to fan fiction. Lassie, in its Timmy Martin form, was a major factor in my imaginative life in childhood.

“The ’Clipse” assumes a working acquaintance with the Lassie world, “just outside Calverton.” The science in the story is, of course, hooey. Click on each image (left, right, and again) for a readable page. Whistling the opening and closing Lassie themes is optional.

Related reading
All OCA Lassie posts (Pinboard)

[Why image files? Because I prefer that fiction and poetry maintain a print-like integrity in blog posts, even if that makes changing Mrs. Martin’s inelegant “I guess” to “I suppose” a bit of a production.]

Monday, September 4, 2017

Labor Day

[“Loading oranges into refrigerator car at a co-op orange packing plant.” Photograph by Jack Delano. Redlands, California, March 1943. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Click for a larger view.]

Orange crate work.

The Library of Congress had made this photograph available via Flickr.

Related reading
All OCA Jack Delano posts

Sunday, September 3, 2017

John Ashbery (1927–2017)

John Ashbery, from “Daffy Duck in Hollywood,” in Houseboat Days (New York: Viking, 1977).

The poet John Ashbery has died at the age of ninety. The New York Times has an obituary. I chose the lines above for several reasons: the Wallace Stevens-like meditative voice, the intimations of mortality, the genial resolve to move along, like, say, Adam and Eve or Lycidas (“to be ambling on’s / The tradition”), the comic diction (“Therefore bivouac we,” “the big, / Vaguer stuff”). All in a poem that’s inspired by one Merrie Melodies cartoon (Duck Amuck) and shares a title with another.

And I chose these lines because “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” has special importance for me. The poem (available here) begins with a catalogue of items from the dowdy world that includes “the latest from Helen Topping Miller’s fertile / Escritoire.” Who? A once-popular writer whose name I know only because of this poem. Years ago, I noticed one of Miller’s books at a library book-sale and sent it to John Ashbery in care of his agent. (Why not?) A year later, I received a letter of thanks, which I found in my mailbox right before walking into the poetry class in which I’d just taught an Ashbery poem.

In 2002, I visited New York City’s Museum of American Folk Art to see a Henry Darger exhibit and attend a reading by Ashbery, whose Girls on the Run (1999) was inspired by Darger’s work. (I was writing something about Ashbery and Darger.) I was second in line for the reading and sat in the front row (after vacillating). And who came in and sat down next to me? Yes, John Ashbery. I said hello (why not?) and he nodded back. “John,” I said, “you don’t know me, but I sent you a book several years ago by Helen Topping Miller.” “I still have that book,” he said. I said that I was glad. A little more conversation followed, before and after the reading. John Ashbery was not only one of the great poets of our time: he was a sweet, kind, generous man.

Related reading
All OCA John Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

Domestic comedy

“American cheese?”

“No, cheese cheese.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

“Popular with” athletes

One more comment on the New York Times article about academics and athletics at Florida State: to describe certain courses as “popular with” athletes is to be exceedingly decorous. The truth is that athletes who lack the ability to do genuine college work are steered, routinely, toward Mickey Mouse coursework that will pose no danger to their academic eligibility.

I recall, many years ago, meeting up with a student-athlete I had taught in a summer program for incoming freshmen. He was now a junior, with more than two years of junk coursework and without the prerequisites to begin work on a major — any major. How do you think that happened?

Football and grades at FSU

“Brazilian coffee is one of few places that has a carnival and the coffee place a major role just as much as the dancing and the food”: a college student’s writing, quoted in a New York Times article about football, grades, and a brave, ethical teaching assistant at Florida State University.

A related post
Modest proposals (Goodbye to Big Sports)
“Think middle school report” (A scandal at UNC)

A criminal exposed

Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot, trans. E.K. Brown, Dorothea Walter, and John Watkins (New York: The Modern Library, 1950).

Friday, September 1, 2017

EXchange names on screen

[Down Three Dark Streets (dir. Arnold Laven, 1954). Click either image for a larger view.]

An extortionist just called that DUnkirk number. Better get the police. No, better: the FBI. They’re in the telephone book too. DUnkirk and MAdison were both, at some point, authentic Los Angeles exchanges.

Watching this film, a documentary-style FBI procedural, I couldn’t help thinking of a former FBI director now in the news. From the narrator’s voiceover:

Often more important than science is the intelligence, the imagination, of the individual agent, the FBI man. The FBI man, with his special knowledge of human weakness and his ability to probe that weakness and thus trap the criminal into his own betrayal.
It’s still Mueller Time.

You can learn more about EXchange names (and pick one to go with your number) at The Telephone EXchange Name Project. Down Three Dark Streets is at YouTube, and is well worth watching.

More exchange names on screen
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse : Armored Car Robbery : Baby Face : Blast of Silence : The Blue Dahlia : Boardwalk Empire : Born Yesterday : Chinatown : The Dark Corner : Deception : Dick Tracy’s Deception : Dream House : East Side, West Side : The Little Giant : The Man Who Cheated Himself : Modern Marvels : Murder by Contract : Murder, My Sweet : My Week with Marilyn : Naked City (1) : Naked City (2) : Naked City 3 : Naked City (4) : Naked City (5) : Naked City (6) : Naked City (7) : Nightmare Alley : The Public Enemy : Railroaded! : Side Street : Sweet Smell of Success : Tension : This Gun for Hire

Lash tab

Elaine and I were getting coffee in the library when I wondered about the patch on her backpack. We thought that a much younger person, say, one of the baristas, might know. No idea. So I looked it up.

That patch is called a lash tab or pig snout. The first name suggests one of the patch’s primary purposes. The other primary purposes: to look cool and to provoke questions.

See also the mysterious extra eyelets on sneakers.

Hi and Lois watch

[Hi and Lois, September 1, 2017.]

In the comics, school still begins after Labor Day. Which doesn’t explain that small two-or-three-dimensional thing next to the young woman’s arm. Motion lines? Street sculpture? A piece of paper, which would mean that the young woman levitates objects or litters? A piece of paper without a complete outline, which would defy the laws of comics? It’s not difficult to eliminate the problem:

[Hi and Lois, my revision, September 1, 2017.]

Related reading
All OCA Hi and Lois posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Blade tumbler

I asked my mom about the 1950 scare-buying frenzy, which rang no bell for her. But when I mentioned that people were stocking up on razors and razor blades, she remembered that in the WWII years, her father lengthened the life of his razor blades by sharpening them on the inside of a drinking glass.

That practice must have been common: it’s mentioned in a 1933 Everyday Science and Mechanics article by J.G. Pratt, “Delusions About Shaving.” Think of this article as an exercise in Depression-era mythbusting: “Many men,“ Pratt writes, ”fool themselves into believing that a razor blade can be sharpened on the inside of a tumbler, either with or without water.” Pratt acknowledges that a tumbler can sometimes sharpen a blade “to a very mild degree.” But he suspects that “the vast majority who are resorting to this practice are receiving no benefit from it at all.” Humph.

Pratt was Scientific Photographer for Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology. Accompanying his article: a photograph of a blade held in a tumbler of water and photographs of blade edges under magnification. Because science.

[One hundred posts this month. That’s all until September.]

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Scare buying and Nancy

[Nancy, August 30, 1950. Click for a larger view.]

Sluggo is correct. “Scare buying,” a rush to accumulate in the summer of 1950, was prompted by the Korean War. Articles in the July 21 New York Times reported food hoarding, sharp rises in department-store sales, and high demand on wholesalers for appliances, housewares, and televisions. In a July 26 Times article, an executive of the American Safety Razor Corporation assured the public that there was no need for scare buying of razors, razor blades, or shaving brushes. By the time this installment of Nancy appeared, scare buying had apparently subsided. Click on the August 18 Times article for more.

And notice that in 1950 supermarket was two words.

You can read Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy six days a week at GoComics.

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Recently updated

Colledge signage Now minus a sign.

Literally and figuratively

[Dustin, August 29, 2017. Click for a larger view.]

Even The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989), which asserts that the hyperbolic literally is “neither a misuse nor a mistake for some other word,” cautions against indiscriminate use:

Is it necessary, or even useful, to add an intensifier like literally to a well-established metaphorical use of a word or phrase? Will the use add the desired emphasis without calling undue attention to itself, or will the older senses of literally intrude upon the reader’s awareness and render the figure ludicrous, as was the case when a football play-by-play man we heard some years ago said the defensive linemen had “literally hammered the quarterback into the ground”?
That quarterback, like Jason, must have been literally as slow as molasses. Fitch, Dustin, are you listening?

See also this strip’s treatment of copyediting, phrasal adjectives, and “rocket surgery.”

A related post
Literally, a Chrome extension

It takes a forest

Peter Wohlleben writes that in Europe, giant redwoods, planted in city parks as “exotic trophies,” never grow especially tall:

What is missing here, above all, is the forest, or — more specifically — relatives. At 150 years old, they are, when you consider a potential life-span of many thousands of years, indeed only children, growing up here in Europe far from their home and without their parents. No uncles, no aunts, no cheerful nursery school — no, they have lived all their lives out on a lonely limb. And what about the many other trees in the park? Don’t they form something like a forest, and couldn’t they act like surrogate parents? They usually would have been planted at the same time and so could offer the little redwoods no assistance or protection. In addition, they are very, very different kinds of trees. To let lindens, oaks, or beeches bring up a redwood would be like leaving human children in the care of mice, kangaroos, or humpback whales. It just doesn’t work, and the little Americans have had to fend for themselves.

The Hidden Life of Trees, trans. Jane Billinghurst (Vancouver: Greystone, 2016).
On a related note: Gabriel Popkin writes in The New York Times about curing yourself of tree blindness (found via Matt Thomas’s blog).

Also from The Hidden Life of Trees
A social network

[There’s considerable repetition in this book, and I sometimes think I will never get through it. But I’ve learned a lot, and I’ll never not look at trees in the same way again. In other words, I’ll never take them for granted as just somehow there in the landscape. Please notice that Wohlleben is writing about species. There is nothing in his argument here to suggest that children from one culture cannot be raised by parents from some other culture.]

Monday, August 28, 2017

Felix culpa

After reading Steven Harper’s timeline “Everything We Know About Russia and President Trump” last week, I wrote:

The figure who stands out to me in this timeline, again and again: Felix Sater, described by the BBC as “a Russian-American gangster.” He entered the Trump story in 2002. In 2013 and 2015, Trump denied being familiar with him.
Tonight The New York Times reports that
a business associate of President Trump promised in 2015 to engineer a real estate deal with the aid of the president of Russia, Vladimir V. Putin, that he said would help Mr. Trump win the presidency.
The pronoun reference in that sentence is a little ambiguous, but “he” is the business associate, Felix Sater. The Times reports that Sater thought a Trump Tower in Moscow “would highlight Mr. Trump’s savvy negotiating skills and be a political boon to his candidacy.” Here is some of what Sater wrote in a November 2015 e-mail to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen:
Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.
Святая корова! According to Google Translate, that’s Russian for “Holy cow!”

[Ivanka Trump sitting in Putin’s “private chair”? The ick factor is high. All mistakes in the text of the e-mail are Felix Sater’s.]

Donald Trump’s spelling

In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo makes a contrarian suggestion: “There are lots of reasons to criticize Mr. Trump’s policies, conduct and statements, especially his tweets. But we should lay off his spelling.” Manjoo makes three arguments: In a medium that encourages immediacy and error, a spelling mistake “suggests humanity.” To criticize spelling is “elitist.” To focus on spelling “blinds us to content.” I’ll address each point:

~ Trump’s spelling mistakes — hear by, unpresidented, for instance — suggest much more than their writer’s “humanity.” They are signs of someone who reads very little. One learns how to spell words correctly by seeing them, again and again, in print, correctly spelled. Trump is, famously, a non-reader of books, and his errors are often those of a writer who spells by ear. And his administration’s carelessness about names and words in non-Twitter contexts suggests not ”humanity” but carelessness.

~ Manjoo argues that it’s an elitist mistake to equate correct spelling “with a good education and outsize intelligence.“ No. If anything, only the most naïve among us would equate correct spelling with intellectual superiority. Correct spelling, like correct punctuation, calls no attention to itself. When we read words in print, correct spelling should be something to take for granted. It’s certainly not evidence of a brainiac at work.

And to argue that ”everyone’s sloppy sometimes” and that Barack Obama and his staff also made spelling mistakes is a feeble defense. Carelessness is carelessness. But one can also look at the evidence of Obama error that Manjoo cites and consider whether, say, misspelling Frantz Fanon’s first name as Franz is at all comparable to mistaking, say, heel for heal. The first mistake is evidence of a writer who reads; the second, evidence of someone who doesn’t.

~ Yes, misspellings can blind us to content. And here I’ll cite Bryan Garner, writing about what he calls “the fallacy of intelligibility”:

Wrong words are like wrong notes in music: they spoil the tune. And wrong words make readers stop thinking about your message and start pondering your educational deficits.

If anyone tells you otherwise (that is, if someone says it don’t make no never-mind), don’t believe it.
I’ve had relatively little to say about Donald Trump’s misspellings, which speak for themselves. This post, like Farhad Manjoo’s column, has no mistakes in spelling.

Related reading
“Tapps” (A poem)
“No challenge is to great” (An inaugural poster)
No job too small (A handbill)
All OCA spelling and misspelling posts (Pinboard)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Donate to the Red Cross

The Red Cross has a page for donations to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Memorizing poetry

“Is it difficult to learn a poem by heart? Of course”: Molly Worthen, historian, writes about the value of memorizing poetry: “Memorize That Poem!” (The New York Times).

Or as Brisbane once said, “Learn that poem.”

What do I know by heart? Poems by Ted Berrigan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Philip Larkin, Lorine Niedecker, the Shake, William Carlos Williams, William Butler Yeats. All by osmosis. How about you?

Saturday, August 26, 2017


At The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot asks why Donald Trump likes Joe Arpaio. An excerpt:

Trump is likely a fan of Arpaio’s because Arapio is a fan of his — an early supporter who also went all in for birtherism, at one point sending members of a so-called Cold Case Posse to Hawaii to dig up something incriminating about Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

But Trump probably also likes Arpaio because the former sheriff represents in miniature what the President would like to be more maximally — a successful American authoritarian.
With a link to William Finnegan’s 2009 New Yorker profile of “Sheriff Joe,” who once called his jail “a concentration camp.”

Chock full o’Nuts on the screen

[From The King of Comedy (dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982). Click any image for a larger view.]

This Chock full o’Nuts location was ready for its close-up but spent most of its screen time in the company of Sandra Bernhard (Masha) and Robert De Niro (Rupert Pupkin). And when the close-up came, the restaurant shared the screen with a wall.

Masha and Rupert stand and sit in front of Paramount Plaza, 1633 Broadway, Manhattan. The Chock full o’Nuts stood at 1627 Broadway, the southwest corner of 50th and Broadway. A clue: the now-gone Rivoli Theatre is across the street in the background (second screenshot).

In 1989 a New York Times article mentioned a 50th and Broadway location, likely this same southwest corner, as home to a food court, “adorned with an enormous electric sign that lures customers with the quintessential promise of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Nathan’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and Le Croissant Shop.” The food court’s parent company, the Riese Organization at one time owned Chock full o’Nuts.

The 1627 location is now home to — what else? — a Duane Reade.

Related posts
Chock full o’Nuts (Reverie)
A 1964 guidebook description
Chock full o’Nuts lunch hour, 1955
Paige Morton Black (1915–2013)
Chock full o’Nuts returns

[In our household right now, five cans of Chock full o’Nuts coffee. And one empty can, whose silhouetted Manhattan skyline includes the World Trade Center. Missing from this post but in The King of Comedy: Jerry Lewis.]

Friday, August 25, 2017

To all those on the Gulf Coast

Stay safe, Gulf Coast residents.

Colledge signage

A sign outside a bar, right across the street from a campus in Anytown, USA:

Yes, that’s a space between the A and the S. If I were a student, I might laugh — for a few seconds. And then I’d think about how this sign is serving to cheapen my school’s reputation and my degree. If I were a prospective student, I would wonder whether the school right across the street was a good choice.

I have no animus against alcohol or humor. But I do think of college as a serious endeavor, not something to treat as a joke. The joke is what I call colledge: “the vast simulacrum of education that amounts to little more than buying a degree on the installment plan.” Colledge students and college students can be found on the very same campus, perhaps right across the street from some bar.

I have brought this sign to the attention of those who might be expected to have sway. Right now the sign still stands. And on another corner, in front of a rental property:

August 29, 9:48 p.m.: Just saw that, for whatever reason, the bar sign has been removed. Something beginning with LADI was taking its place as I drove by.

Related reading
All OCA colledge posts (Pinboard)
Homeric blindness in colledge

Information retrieval

[From À nous la liberté (dir. René Clair, 1931). Click any image for a larger view.]

Louis (Raymond Cordy) obliges his friend and employee Emile (Henri Marchand) by requesting information about employee Jeanne (Rolla France). The request travels by pneumatic tube; a worker types in the necessary information (each employee at the factory is known by a number); a drawer springs open; and there’s Jeanne. There must be a cross-reference on her card. More typing, another drawer, and her uncle appears. Into the tube they go. And Louis and Emile smile.

A series of tubes, just like the Internet. See also the New York Public Library and an earlier post with Emile and a butterfly.