Monthly Archives: March 2004

Others Things to Do While Driving

Driver1Driver2Say you’re headed someplace with the kid. The kid gets bored and demands a story. Doesn’t want to hear any of the slop you’ve got on CD or tape — heard all of it a thousand times. Wants you to read something from the new story book, now. So you pick up “Finding Nemo” and start reading — at 50 mph while negotiating a construction zone and busy Saturday evening traffic on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. You’re so engaged in entertaining the kid that you don’t notice the van driving alongside
with a driver who is (also somewhat crazily) trying to record the scene. Click here or on the pictures for larger versions of the images; in them, you can see that the kid was standing up in the back seat, in prime position to get hurled through the windshield if mom lost control while turning the page.

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The Sweet Science

I believe time enough has lapsed since publication of David Remnick’s New Yorker remembrance of A.J. Liebling that any mention of it here is superfluous. So here’s my superfluous mention: Remnick’s piece is worth reading if you’re in love with
writing, reading, journalism, or just the joy to be had in joining words together in pleasing ways or observing one who’s good at it. The New Yorker site contains a real Liebling treat, too: a 1955 piece he wrote on a fight between the undefeated and long-time heavyweight champion,  Rocky Marciano, and Archie Moore, an aging light heavyweight (Liebling calls him “cerebral and hyperexperienced”) who had worked for years to get a shot at the title.

“When, during some recent peregrinations in Europe, I read newspaper items about Moore’s decisioning a large, playful porpoise of a Cuban heavyweight named Nino Valdes and scoop-netting a minnow like Bobo Olson, the middleweight champion, for practice, I thought of him as a
lonely Ahab, rehearsing to buck Herman Melville, Pierce Egan, and the betting odds. I did not think that he could bring it off, but I wanted to be there when he tried. What would ‘Moby Dick’ be if Ahab had
succeeded? Just another fish story. The thing that is eternally diverting is the struggle of man against history, or what Albert Camus, who used to be an amateur middleweight, has called the Myth of
Sisyphus. (Camus would have been a great man to cover the fight, but none of the syndicates thought of it.) When I heard that the boys had been made for September 20th, at the Yankee Stadium, I shortened my stay abroad in order not to miss the Encounter of the Two Heroes, as Egan would have styled the rendezvous.”

Bottom line: Both pieces are worth your time.

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News to Me …

By way of Coudal Partners: A story in Editor and Publisher that mentions in passing that The Onion‘s
response to the 2001 terrorist attacks was submitted for a Pulitzer
Prize (good for The Onion) and actually got some serious consideration
(good for the judges, or at least some of them). Can’t find a link to
the front page with its “Holy Fucking Shit” headline, but here’s one of
the issue’s best pieces, “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule.”

“I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so
you’d get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important,” said
God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim
traditions. “I guess I figured I’d left no real room for confusion
after putting it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words, on
the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get?”

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‘The Old Knot of Contrariety’

And while we’re considering the reflective life, the musing life, the self-conscious life (OK, I was considering it — you don’t have to), there’s this from Walt Whitman:

“It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,

The dark threw patches down upon me also;

The best I had done seem[d to me blank and suspicious;

My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?

It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;

I am he who knew what it was to be evil;

I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,

Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,

Had guile, anger,lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,

Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;

The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me;

The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,

Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

I was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,

Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,

Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,

Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,

Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,

The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,

Or as small as we like, or both great and small. ”

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

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Long Time, No Blog

On the eve of the two-week-iversary of my last post, let me ask, where was I?

I can’t remember, really. There was something going on before our German exchange student (Gregor) arrived (from Darmstadt); and before Kate and I spent a week painting our dining room and hallway and bathroom; but I forget what.

Two observations, though: It’s no wonder that so many people start these damned things and then quit them after just a few months (that’s the conclusion of a widely quoted software company study. If you care to write something that might please your nonexistent
audience, this takes time. And life is sure to intervene with its niggling little demands. I’m in a state of constant minor, irritated awe at people who appear to lead lives and accomplish something more than the usual breathing/eating/working/sleeping that most of us struggle to get through — and still post about 12 times a day on their blawwwwgs.

On the other hand: As far as starting blogs and quitting them, is there really anything at all unexpected about that? There’s a pretty good trade in paper diaries and journals; plain ones, fancy ones, lined ones and unlined ones. But how many of them are ever opened more than once or twice for the painful self-conscious scrawl before the would-be diarist remembers that watching “Green Acres” reruns is less demanding or maybe even more fulfilling? I don’t have the abandoned journal stats at my fingertips, but I’ll bet you could fill several world-class libraries, or landfills, with the barely begun daily musings of John and Jane Q. Doe, deeply reflective citizens of the world.

Which means there’s nothing about blogs that makes them tough to keep up, and lots about the press of daily life and the awkward reality of running into your own thoughts while you’re staring at an empty space just waiting to receive your musings, tales, insights, prose mastery — heck, your all-around brilliance.

And with that, I have now filled my empty space for the day, and the “Seinfeld” rerun about the loaf of rye bread is on. Good night.

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Why Kids Should Read

From a recent decision of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal on a copyright dispute involving characters in the Spawn comic franchise (via The Trademark Blog):

“The description of a character in prose leaves much to the imagination, even when the description is detailed — as in Dashiel Hammett’s description of Sam Spade’s physical appearance in the first paragraph of The Maltese Falcon: ‘Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down — from high flat temples — in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.’ Even after all this, one hardly knows what Sam Spade looked like. But everyone knows what Humphrey Bogart looked like. A reader of unillustrated fiction completes the work in his mind; the reader of a comic book or the viewer of a movie is passive. That is why kids lose a lot when they don’t read fiction, even when the movies and television that they watch are aesthetically superior.”

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Two Stories

First, you have the head of the CIA telling a Senate committee that on some number of occasions over the last couple of years — he named three and hinted there might be others — he has contacted the president and vice president and corrected them when they were misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq, terrorism or both. Still, the CIA chief says that, despite the utter lack of evidence to back up Bush and company’s insistence that taking out Saddam was a vital U.S. interest and not just a family whim, he doesn’t believe the administration stretched the truth to justify the war.

And then you have this story: A Wisconsin kid named Jason Frey answered the phone one day in 1976, when he was four years old, and won a big radio-station giveaway: A donut a day for life from a local bakery. And 27-plus years later, he’s still collecting. As told, kind of poignantly, in the Fond du Lac Reporter:

“Frey was awarded an official certificate stating that he had won a doughnut a day for the rest of his life at Everix. He also got to tour the bakery with Dick Everix Jr. himself and learn how the doughnuts were made. From then on, Frey made sure he got the most out of his prize. A frequent visitor of the YMCA throughout his childhood, Frey would almost always stop by Everix on his bicycle before or after a basketball game to pick up his doughnut for the day.

“If he came later in the afternoon and there were no doughnuts left, the clerks would give him a cookie instead, he said.
” ‘They used to serve me right away,’ Frey said. ‘I didn’t ever even have to take a number.’ “

What do those stories have in common? Nothing.

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Spalding 3 …

The Times has posted its obituary, too:

“Almost always seated behind a simple desk, with a glass of water, a microphone and some notes, Mr. Gray practiced the art of storytelling with a quiet mania, alternating between conspiratorial whispers and antic screams as he roamed through topics large and small.

“This talent was perhaps never better displayed than in “Swimming to Cambodia,” his 1984 monologue in which his experiences filming a small role in the movie “The Killing Fields” became a jumping-off point for exploring the history and culture of war in Southeast Asia. The piece was itself turned into a noted film, directed by Jonathan Demme, in 1987.”

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Spalding 2 …

And here is the first New York Times story on the body. From the Associated Press:

“The city medical examiner confirmed through dental records and X-rays on Monday that it was Gray’s body. The cause of his death was still under investigation, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner.

“Throughout his disappearance, his wife, Kathleen Russo, had held out scant hope that he might still be alive.

” ‘Everyone that looks like him from behind, I go up and check to make sure it’s not him,’ Russo said in a phone interview with The Associated Press about a week ago. ‘If someone calls and hangs up, I always do star-69. You’re always thinking, “maybe.” ‘ “

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Spalding Gray …

Missing since January and now found dead in the East River in New York City (no link yet, but The New York Times among others is reporting that on its Web site). A strange, sad fact is that no one I’ve mentioned this to in the office — and I’ve only talked to the Ford-Carter-Reagan babies so far — has any idea who he was.

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