Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Commercial Break

A lovely friend of mine works for Orbis--a nonprofit company that provides glasses and other eye-improvement stuff for poor people in poor countries--and she wrote saying, "Maybe you could mention in your blog this great charity you know of, and how if they donate to it via Yahoo!, it might qualify for matching funds."

Because the thing is, they actually made it to the finals of some Who Is The Greatest Nonprofit? type of competition sponsored by Yahoo!, and they really will get matching funds, so anything you donate is pretty much guaranteed to be doubled. That's a nice feeling.

Here's the link. Start your new year on an altruistic note. At the very least, can we help actual human beings instead of a bunch of fucking cairn terriers? (You'll see.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Why I Love Dan Savage

Dan Savage--using the conditional tense--may or may not have invited some Jews over to his home to make "blood matzo" using the blood of Christians. The story, and a vaguely disturbing photo, is here.

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Bar Napkin Cartoon 30

Not a bar napkin, and I apologize for the use of the camera phone. But my good camera and my scanner (someday it'll work!) are at the new place, which I don't inhabit until the 29th. In the meantime, though, this was hanging around and it's one more goddamn thing I don't want to move.


Triolet by G. K. Chesterton

It's been too long since this site had a poem. But since I can't think of anything at the moment, here's an ultrasilly favorite of mine from G.K. Chesterton titled "Triolet." It's not even an according-to-Hoyle triolet, but I love its simplicity.


I wish I were a jellyfish
That cannot fall downstairs.
Had I one thing I'd wish to wish,
I wish I were a jellyfish
That hasn't any cares,
And doesn't even need to wish,
"I wish I were a jellyfish
That cannot fall downstairs."

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Quiz Reminder

I just want to point out that so far, no one has attempted a guess at my trivia question of a few days ago. Let me encourage the timorous: in my estimation, there are only about eight classic silent comedies, divided among essentially three performers. Of those films, only one seems the likeliest to open with that particular title card. So it's not as hard a question as it may seem.


Books I Done Stole: The Rebellion of Lil Carrington by Mrs. L.T. Meade

I obtained The Rebellion of Lil Carrington in Jacksonville, and it may be the only warm memory I actually have of that city. It's not only the oldest book in my stolen-books collection (copyright 1898), but it has the following startling inscription on the inside:

If you can't read that, it says, "Bought with the first money I earned May 15 --1914 Mabel Wilson."

I don't know how old Mabel was in 1914, but if she was a preteen or teenaged girl, goodness knows she could have done worse, because Lil is quite the entertaining spitfire. At the start of the book, 15-year-old Lil's loving father has just died, and it looks as though she and her sister Sybil will be obliged to live until they come of age with their Aunt Julia, who is an uptight drip. (Julia also has, in the tradition of all such stories, an equally uptight daughter named Janet who's a total momma's girl, dresses like a frump, and needs only a wild, free-spending week in London to loosen her up.) Lil is a passionate girl, as shown in this early quote, where Lil introduces Julia.

"How hateful she is!" said Lil. "If there is anyone in this wide world I cordially detest it is my respected aunt, and next to her comes my dear cousin Janet. Oh, as to Uncle Hammond, he is all right, of course; he will allow us to have pretty much our own way in the future. I mean to twist him around my little finger--I have always done so." In the very next scene, Janet comes into the room, and Lil bodily lifts her and shoves her out into the hallway, slams the door, then says to her sister, "Janet is well at the right side of the door at last. Now don't let us think of her again." (Poor Janet, for her part, did nothing to deserve this except show up.) Then we meet Aunt Julia and discover the problem: Aunt Julia wants the girls to wear drab clothing, plaited hair (no curling!), and to be quiet and deferential at all times. When they get a letter from Uncle Hammond, Lil asks, "What's in the letter? Tell us! We're dying to know!" and Julia says, in essence, "How impertinent you are! I am not accustomed to being addressed in such a manner! Leave the table at once and think about what you've done." I mean, really. If this is the kind of life girls were expected to lead, Lil is my kind of rebel.

Lil actually runs off to London on her own to see their solicitor, who cannot help (Dad's will was quite clear), and then she rests her hopes in Uncle Hammond, who--unfortunately--is about to get married and then move to India (he's with the military), so he can't have children at the moment. And just as it looks like they're going to be stuck with Aunt Julia, Lil sends an SOS letter to two American girls she met in Chicago some time back: Patience Potter and her sister A. Mamie P. Potter. This is where the story kicks in: Patience and Mamie decide to rescue Lil by putting on an act: They come to visit for the entire month of August. Mamie, who is all of sixteen (and the eldest) is extravagantly, scandalously fashionable, changing clothes six times a day and hinting at a terrifyingly liberal lifestyle. (She's actually engaged, but she is forbidden by Aunt Julia to mention her fiance to anyone.) And Patience plays the total kiss-up, kicking even obedient Janet out of first place in Julia's affections. She always sits next to Aunt Julia, goggles at even the simple things she does, and loudly expresses her wish that Aunt Julia should be her mother.

The whole point of this is to soften Julia up so she'll let the kids have a week in London. It works, and three things happen: Janet comes along and actually loosens up a bit; Patience finds that, in sucking up to Julia, she actually comes to like Julia more than she expected; and Lil actually stops antagonizing people so much, since she has Patience to do the dirty work, and Mamie is taking all the heat for being rebellious. It's a smart story, and would make a not-bad Disney movie if they were shooting for a remake; it's very Parent-Trap-y, only it has the advantage of being actually plausible.

The only problem is that the book sort of ends abruptly. After coming home from London, Aunt Julia asks them all to write essays about what they saw and did--Westminster Abbey, the Tower, the various museums--and they're screwed because they didn't see anything at all: they just flounced around London shopping and going on picnics. So at the climax of the story, they decide to confess...and that's the end of the story. I was expecting a second wackiness to ensue ("Let's all get our stories straight; Lil, you broke your ankle...") or for some surprising turn from Julia ("I knew you were lying all along, but I love a good story!"). But no. They decide to do the apparently decent thing and fess up, and that's where the story ends. We don't even see the confessions, much less get a reaction shot. According to Wikipedia, "Mrs. L.T. Meade" wrote over 300 books. This may be the sort of thing that happens when you write that many novels; you let plot elements fall where they may and say, "Oh, did that just suck? I guess I'll fix that in one of my next fifty plots."

One final note: This is one of those old books that has a frontispiece illustration. And it reminded me that I've never quite understood the thinking behind those. I would expect that such illustrations--the chance, at the very beginning, to provide the book with its only picture--would be an opportunity to show off the best drama, the most vibrant happenings, the most important dialog. Instead what we get is this:

It says, "'Leave it to me, and now, my dear, I want to go into the house.'--P.108"

I would have preferred an exchange something like this, from p. 145:

"What a very queer name--Patience Potter!" murmured Janet.

"Yes it is queer," said Lil, "and so she is still queerer. She is the most fascinating, delightful, out-of-the common sort of girl in the world. She's American to her backbone--she hails from Chicago."

"I don't think mother would like you to say the word 'hails,'" said Janet.

I take back my earlier defense of her; I'm starting to think that I'd shove Janet too.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Memories of 2007: The Jumper

Somewhere around 5th Avenue and 27th Street. Back in August I was walking to the This American Life studios to record a story, and I saw a big crowd, with police tape, ambulances, and people idly looking up at this building. Turns out they had a jumper--some guy who was walking back and forth in a state of agitation, threatening to leap. It was only about four stories up (sorry I didn't get the top of the building in the picture), and when I saw that enormous inflatable pillow (They exist! How cool!) I decided not to worry. I just took the picture and had to move on. (Things to do! People to see!) I never found out what happened. Did anyone hear anything?
LATER: Obviously this was 6th Avenue. I should learn to read signs.


Why I Love New York, Reason #4,561

Christmas was great, I hung out with friends, blah blah. Enough of that. The really cool thing is that I've been invited to celebrate a friend's birthday later in the week at a performance of Duckie! What's Duckie? It's a kind of bizarre, custom-made ("bespoke" for you Brits) variety show/vaudeville/burlesque performance. Or so it seems. All I know about it is what I learned from this video right here, and I can already tell I'm going to love it, even if it winds up costing an absurd amount of money. (Note: The video is probably not safe for work.)

Technically, since Duckie is a British troupe, this should be listed as "Why I Love England." But they're coming here. They probably won't be swinging through Tallahassee or Kansas City or any other place I've ever lived. So once again, moving here turns out to have been a smart idea.


Monday, December 24, 2007

The Island of Unloved Saints

While many of us go to holiday parties surrounded by loved ones, enveloped in the season's cheer, it's also a time to remember the less fortunate. And in this post I would like to draw your attention to the most neglected people of all: saints who have their feast day on December 25th.

That's gotta suck. You serve the church, you die, they promise to beatify and remember you...and then you get tucked away in the shadows beneath The Biggest Feast Day of All. It's like holding a poetry reading on Super Bowl Sunday, or a down-home taffy pull during Mardi Gras. It might be a great show, but no one will ever see it; counterprogramming is a bitch. I mean, St. Theodoric might be a dull saint, but he still sees a few candles, because his only competition is a groundhog. (Ditto for St. Flosculus, who's even duller. But at least he's fun to say.)

The neglected saints are as follows: St. Eugenia, St. Adalsindus, [St. Anastasia III], St. Alburga, and [Blessed Michael Nakashima]. (Not a saint, but he's technically feastable.)

I put Anastasia in brackets because technically she is mentioned by name in the second mass of Christmas. But the others get diddly. And Michael Nakashima is bracketed because he's not a saint. He is, however, particularly timely to mention, because he died in the 17th century for converting and helping out Christian missionaries in Japan. Which means he's directly related to the weird form of Japanese Christianity I read about only a few posts ago. What a shame he isn't ranked higher.

My favorite, however, is St. Eugenia. Only one more in a vast line of Catholic cross-dressing saints, Eugenia fled her pagan father's house dressed as a man, and while still in drag, she got baptized, entered holy orders, and eventually got promoted to abbot. Then one day, she went to a woman's house and cured her of a disease. The woman made advances to her, Eugenia refused, and the woman, in revenge, accused her publicly of having committed adultery. She was sent before the judge...and the judge was her father! During the trial the full story came out, she was exonerated, and her father converted as well. It's such a fun story I don't care that it's all made up. Surely a story like that is worth a fifty-cent candle! Anyone?

As a final caution, I should point out that when that kid in Italy got his name legally changed, they went with the saint whose feast day he was born on. So another lesson for all of us is this: if you're male, and from a strict Italian family, don't be born on Christmas. Look at those options again.

(Sidenote: If they'd pulled that "name equals saint's day" on me, then because I'm a twin, I'd have probably wound up with the name Ewald. Ewald the Bald, they'd have called me, and my brother would be Ewald the Taller, or Ewald the Gainfully Employed.)


So This Is How the Whos Felt...

On paper, this should be the worst Christmas ever. I'm not merely alone; I have almost no possessions. I moved almost everything I owned yesterday (holding back a suitcase-sized four shirts, pants, etc., plus my laptop), then returned the U-Haul (after getting a parking ticket --$115--and with no time before closing to refuel the van myself, so there went another $53), and came home to a bedroom with no sheets (I'm in a sleeping bag), no TV, no movies, no games...and no books. None! I thought I'd held a few back, but in my haste I must have simply hurled everything into the nearest box, with no thought of the morrow. I'm sleeping in a sleeping bag on a bare mattress on the floor of a shithole, and I'm surrounded by dispiriting moving-day detritus: all the crap that I haven't even bothered to throw away yet, like empty mint tins and eraserless pencil stubs.

Normally, under such circumstances, I'd escape my suffering by going to the nearest bar. But I'm on antibiotics for my cough, and I'm not allowed to drink until the regimen is through. And the regimen ends...the day after Christmas. It's so awful it's hilarious. This is, without question, the most Dickensian Christmas I've ever experienced.

So why in the world am I so happy? I can scarcely tell you how flooded with contentment I am. It feels like it's radiating out of me and might, if left unchecked, start irritating people at the next table. I'm so serene and relieved I practially want to cry from sheer joy.

I think here's why. First, the worst is over: I did an unusually prescient thing and moved my stuff a weekend early, and actually hired a U-Haul to do it. So instead of trundling everything back and forth on a dolly, and extending the move over several painful days, I dispatched the whole monster in a single day. Whew! Second, I'm about to live rent-free, and rent has been a consistent background stressor on every monetary dealing I've had in the last two years. So even though it should have cost only $100 and wound up in the $300 range, that's STILL a helluva good deal for three or four months of rent. Third, I have no work today or tomorrow, so it's like I got a lot done and I STILL get a whole weekend to rest up. And finally--and not insignificantly--I have a Christmas party to go to in Brooklyn (Hi, Sherry!), and I expect I'll see a lot of friends there. So my privation is material, not emotional.

And today I get to hang out at a local coffeeshop and catch up on my writing. That's all I ever really want for Christmas, and I've got it already. So have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

P.S. I've got so much free time, it feels, that today I plan to do something I almost NEVER do: I'm going to write a researchy variety cryptic crossword. This is a perfectly intellectual exercise, since I prefer them weirdly difficult, even by National Puzzlers League standards, and no one would ever publish it. It's a particularly abstruse, unjustifiable indulgence of time, and I'm gonna do it! Also, thanks to Netflix, I should also be able to watch a movie on my computer later--something I've never seen, maybe. I've got my eye on "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russell, because when I was growing up we used to listen to the Broadway cast of the musical, which contained a song called "We Need a Little Christmas." So I suspect there's going to be at least one Christmas scene.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Moving Day and Simple Quiz for Geeks Like Me

Probably no posting today (except this one, of course) because I'm loading up a U-Haul and moving to Brooklyn, where I'll be house-sitting (rent-free!) for the next few months, thanks to a wonderful friend of mine. So if you want to send me anything, best to contact me via email so I can give you the new address. I'll tell you this, though: the zip code is the wonderfully easy-to-remember 11238. It's almost perfect. What number is missing?

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Japan's "Hidden Christians"

I don't usually go to Yahoo! News/Reuters for thoughful and fascinating stories, but damn if they didn't deliver today. Check out this article about a really interesting Japanese Christian sect that dates back to the middle ages and yet doesn't resemble anything like Christianity as we know it in the west.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Dave Fun Quiz: The Blues in Black and White

As you can see (maybe), I'm thirty-five seconds into a movie, the credits have just ended, the story's just beginning...and look! There's the name of a famous blues musician on my screen!

What silent comedy have I just started watching?

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not Funny Ha-Ha, Funny Like a Smell

I subscribe to the New Yorker Cartoon Bank's cartoon-a-day service--which, as you might expect, sends me a free New Yorker cartoon every day, visible in LiveJournal. All in all it's been (as you'd expect) a mixed bag: some funny, some not. But even the bad ones are often lovely to look at, so on the whole it's been a big thumbs-up.

Today, however, it was pretty clear they'd screwed something up. It looks like I'd been sent a cartoon that obviously required a caption, and yet there was none. That happened occasionally at Hallmark, so I recognized the problem. (We once sent out a card whose outside said "Brother..." along with a suspiciously large blank empty space, and on the inside it said, "I miss doing that." It sold, how do you say, poorly.) So I clicked the link to report the error, and I discovered it wasn't an error. It's just not that funny.

Just so The New Yorker Of The Past can learn the difference between a punch line and a premise, I've been trying to think of a caption that COULD go with the drawing, but so far, I haven't come up with anything I'm willing to type. When I have something that doesn't suck, I'll let you know. Feel free to make suggestions.

[Later:] Got one! "If this were a Charles Addams cartoon, we'd be about to go over a waterfall."


Very Rude Macy's Balloon

This was maybe two blocks from Columbus Circle. My friend Destiny gave me the excuse to finally get off my ass and see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The weather wasn't bad, and we left before it got too crazy. I saw Shrek and that new girl Muppet, Scooby-Doo and Snoopy. But my favorite was this enormous generic juggling clown. When that guy flips you off, you stay flipped off!


Anu Garg Did Me a Solid

Forgot to mention this earlier, but a few weeks back, I noticed that my site, which averages about a hundred hits a day, had suddenly had 3,000 visitors. The hell? Then I noticed that all the new comments were on a single entry: my poem on the word jentacular.

I contacted one of the commenters and found out the deal: Anu Garg (his real name, apparently) runs a Word-A-Day feature that you can sign up for via email. You get five new words every week, usually on some theme or other (toponyms, Arabic words, words about the ocean, etc.), and then on the weekend he compiles a sort of "best of comments" emailing where people say things like, "I always had trouble spelling supersede, and then I came up with this mnemonic..." or "That word reminds me of a soda bottle I once saw on vacation in Belize..." At any rate, on this particular week, the theme was "words about food," and one of the days (I want to say Thursday) was "jentacular" (pertaining to breakfast). And one of the commenters said, "Speaking of jentacular, here's a cool poem"--and linked to my site.

So I adjusted the jentacular poem accordingly (I essentially added a welcome mat), and then promptly stopped updating my site (computer woes), so I imagine that anyone who started reading my blog because of Word-A-Day lost interest pretty quickly. Still--it was nice, and I'd just like to thank Anu Garg publicly, as well as the person who sent the link. If you ever want a bunch of silly vocabulary poems...well, I think I'm actually the only game in town.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Moving/Computer Questions

I'm moving to my three-month housesitting residency this weekend, and before that happens, I'll need to transfer all my media files (especially my much-loved music collection) from my old clunky desktop (which I'm planning to get rid of) to my new lithe and streamlined laptop. But I've got a LOT of media files. (More than my old huge iPod could hold.) So here are my questions:

1. Does anyone know any good reliable media compression programs? (Music AND video would be nice.) Preferably for free? I actually don't own any. I've looked.

2. How hard is it to set up a local network? Because I can't help but think that the easiest thing to do would be to just hook the two computers together and drop all my files from the one into whatever Shared Folder eventuates, instead of moving my thumb drive back and forth. But I bet I'm probably being naive.


Current Events Poems: Court Forces Name Change

Italian Court Forces Parents to Change Their Child's Name from "Friday" to "Gregory"

"Friday"'s just a non-name, an
Italian judge has held.
I'll tell Wednesday Addams, then,
And you tell Tuesday Weld.

A strangeish name in Italy
Has got the courts dismayed:
"They'll mock the kid in Little Lea-
gue! A ruling must be laid!"
That's dumb. I'll tell you this for free:
The kids you ought to save
Are all the luckless ones like me
With dull-ass names like "Dave."

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It's supposed to be hard to startle New Yorkers, but I just did it yesterday. I coughed so loudly, so epically, so painfully, that people nearby on the sidewalk looked at me with concern. For those of you who know me, the Beastly Cough is back. For those new to my life, every year I get the same hideous cough, and it generally lasts about two weeks. It's a magnificent cough, as coughs go: never just the one cough but a huge production that makes me reach far back into my throat--like a pitcher winding up--and then let loose with a set of spasmodic retches that unnerves everyone around me. I've had this ever since grade school, and my teachers and bosses have always said, "You should go home." And I've always had to reply, "I'd love to, but this thing lasts two weeks and I can't afford to stay home that long."

So I'm going to work and coughing, and in the meantime I'm doing the same farcical routine I always do: trying to stop it with medicine. For some reason, every time I get a cough (and I think I inherited my father's treacherous windpipe), the doctor says, "Get some Robitussin cough." (It happened again yesterday.) And every time I do, it doesn't do any fucking good. Every year I hope that maybe this time that half-shot of sweetness will avail me somehow, and every year I cough as much as ever, as loud as ever, as painfully as ever. It's like spraying NeoSporin on the Grand Canyon. Sinutab avails nothing. Actifed is pointless. Sudafed probably resents me: I feel like I'm just tossing the pills down my throat to an existentially meaningless death. Nothing that is alleged to deal with congestion of any sort actually helps me breathe.

With one exception: Benadryl. Benadryl comes in and says, "Okay, you sons of bitches! I'm taking all your moisture now!" I feel like I go from being 70% water to someplace in the low 60s. I get sleepy and it feels like my muscles are overworked, but at least I can breathe easier. But even on Benadryl, I still cough. I just don't sniffle when I'm not coughing.

Anyway, it's been like this for a week, and that's why I haven't posted much. There is potential good news on the horizon, though: my doctor, on top of that silly Robitussin idea, also handed me seven pills that, in his words, "Probably cost half your rent." I take one a day and it's supposed to terminate microbes with extreme prejudice. "But as long as you're taking it," he said, "Please don't drink." It's that hard on the stomach, apparently. (If anyone cares, it's called Avelox.)

So I took my first dose yesterday. I think it's still finding its way around, learning the street names, doing Internet research and so on. But I expect it to bivouac soon, and then maybe--just this once--we'll see real progress. I have every reason to be dubious. But I have to say, handing someone a pill the size of a medium cockroach and saying, "For God's sake don't drink!"...well, that's one hell of a placebo for you.

In the meantime, I'm rejecting all invitations to operas, movie-houses, and the odd quilting bee. I'll just stay here in my garret, curled into a fetal position, and wait for the microbial drubbing to pass. Oy.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Guess What Laptop-Sized Device Started Freezing Up At Random On Friday?

It seems to have been caused by an automatic Windows update gone horribly wrong, though I assume my IT guy at work will know for sure. All I know is, this is fucking driving me fucking bananas. Microsoft has one last fucking chance. If a rebuild of the system, followed by a decent firewall/antivirus combo doesn't make me solvent for at least the next few months, I'm buying a Mac even if it costs me the last of my savings. This is fucking ridiculous. And once more, just because I'm frustrated: fucking!


Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Accidental Googlewhack

One more thing: The other day at lunch I was skimming through an old book called something like "Ask the Word Wizard"--a collection of word-related articles by some person or other who had a column in the nineties and whom I've never heard of--and I noticed that every chapter began with a word-of-the-day entry, and that these words were, in many cases, actually quite interesting, including stigmeology (the art of punctuation), marrowsky (another term for a Spoonerism), and adoxography (skilled writing on a trivial subject--my favorite sort of reading!) Since I write vocabulary poems, I figured I'd write them down. But I also had to check several of them out to see if they're in my own dictionary of record, the New International Second.

Several of them weren't, but one in particular was odd. The word was Quinalpus. Definition: "An authority appealed to to win an argument." (The classic example I immediately thought of was Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, though for many evangelicals the eternal fallback Quinalpus is C.S. Lewis.) I'd heard the word before in some other list of weird words, but it wasn't in NI2. A search of the OED availed me nothing. So then I Googled it--and got exactly one entry.

The link is right here. It consists of a single quote from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, where a clown says, "What says Quinalpus? Better a witty fool than a foolish wit." And you'll note that the general sense of "any unassailable authority" is nowhere present; this is the word's original context (I'm bound) and whatever expansion of the sense that came later is utterly absent.

A Googlewhack, for those who are new, is a sort of game where you attempt to put two unrelated words into a search engine and get back exactly one hit. There are whole sites dedicated to it. But I've never before gotten only a single hit after entering a single word. And what's so very weird is that the usage quoted seems to have come from Shakespeare! So where are all the other online references? Surely there's a website somewhere that lists every character ever even mentioned in Shakespeare's plays, isn't there? Surely there must be a site that actually has the entire script of The Twelfth Night, mustn't there? And if no one actually uses this word in the way "The Word Wizard" does, where the hell did he get the word in the first place?

The only good thing I can think about all this is that this would seem to be proof that maybe, for a brief sliver of history, word geeks like me had better things to do than post lists to the web.

(Afternote: Of course, in the tradition of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the movie Real Life, I'm sure I have ruined the Googlewhack by blogging about it. I welcome comments.)


Diversion Round-Up

I've got one more day, I think, before my outside work is finished and I can begin blogging regularly again. In the meantime, here are a few links that I've found pleasant in the last few days.

Via Andrew Sullivan: A truly gorgeous animated filmlet called "Duelity." Click on "Watch" and then "Duelity"--you can see the individual films later. It's two versions of creation placed side by side: one, the Genesis creation story told with scientific language and graphics, and the other, the more Darwinian creation story told in biblical language and with religious graphics. The stained-glass dinosaurs are my favorite, but the whole thing is really beautiful. No matter your beliefs, go watch it; I perceived no axe-grinding going on.

Here's a widely-linked-to fake Mike Huckabee ad. It's the sort of thing the Daily Show would be doing if the writer's weren't striking, so it might help us all get through this desert. I've been expecting Huckabee to surge for some time, and right around the time that Giuliani's numbers started collapsing, Huck has taken up the slack. This piece sort of looks at the devil's deal that evangelical Christians have to make no matter who the candidate eventually is.

And Jodie Foster has finally come out! That sure took a while. My favorite part of the article is the fact that John Travolta (the other famous closeted Scientologist), was on hand to provide a supportive quote...however hypocritical.

Okay. Gotta go.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gentleman's Agreement

For some reason, my Netflix queue has been sending me a lot of John Garfield movies. Humoresque was first (overwrought, but what a great score!), then Body and Soul (good boxing movie, but every step in the plot is familiar by now) and then, last night, I finally saw Gentleman's Agreement, which has John Garfield in a supporting role as Gregory Peck's Jewish best friend. If you haven't seen it, it has Gregory Peck star as a journalist who goes undercover as a Jew to blow the lid off anti-Semitism in 1947 New York.

Can I say "ehhn?" First of all, it's a two-hour movie, and we don't get this fairly obvious gimmick until thirty minutes in, when he essentially says, "Wait a minute! I always go undercover on all my other assignments. Why not this one?" And I told my TV, "I'm way ahead of you Joe. In fact, I don't know why the editor, who was familiar with your previous work, didn't suggest this fairly obvious angle in the first place." Instead of getting to the point, that first half hour is dedicated to scenes involving Peck's loving mother who renders homespun wisdom like "Prejudice is wrong," and scenes with Peck's young son, who starts every sentence with "Say, pop..."

Peck's character, Joe Green, has a pretty blunt approach to going undercover. He simply shows up and says, "By the way, I'm Jewish," and waits for the sparks to fly. He doesn't even change his name to Joe Sternglam or Izzy Schvitzing. I guess there really was a time when anti-Semitism was rife, even in New York (I remember Woody Allen making a joke about a restricted club, and that was in the '60s), but the whole movie certainly hasn't aged well.

One final thing: the movie has our hero, who supposedly has two eyes and a brain, turn down a romantic affair with Celeste Holm, who is so asymptotically close to being Jean Arthur that her very presence in a movie makes it 25% funnier and 20 IQ points brighter. At that point I lost all respect for the hero and literally fast-forwarded the closing scene.

But here's the thing for you trivia buffs: The movie was based on a 1947 novel by the same name, written by Laura Z. Hobson...only in her version, the book was about homosexuality! And it was quite successful with the (presumably movie-watching) public. What a shame--that could have been a really compelling story. (Or, I guess, really painful to watch now, depending on what "going undercover" means in that era.) America could have had its own version of Victim fourteen years ahead of time. But of course Europe and the Brits beat us to it. I blame the red states.

Anyway, if anyone knows where I can find the book, I'm really curious to read it. I really shouldn't be buying new books at the moment--I'm moving in a few weeks and just mailed off five boxes of books to go into storage--but in this case I'm willing to make an exception.

QUIZ QUESTION: There's a word (or perhaps a "word") that I threw into this review because it has a very specific and appropriate property. What is it?


Comical (but hard-to-photograph) sign around 161st and Broadway.


My Favorite Title of Any Nonfiction Book Ever

From the Religion section of a bookstore in St. Alban's, Vermont. Almost forgot I had this pic.


Gingerbread Crocodile

From some bakery at 27th Street and 3rd Avenue. Quite tasty, but I don't get it. The eyes were some kind of licorice.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

...And I Quote: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

I haven't updated in a week or so, and the short reason for this is that I've been very unusually busy with outside projects, especially for the MIT Mystery Hunt. But the real answer is a little more detailed, and here it is:

The good news is that I've got a chance to live rent-free until the end of April! (Two friends of mine are going out of town, need a house-sitter, and their dates happen to bookend perfectly). I needed an excuse to get out of my current horrible place, and this couldn't have happened at a more perfect time. It's so perfect, in fact, that I'm tempted to think of it as divine providence. (But then I think, "Why would God give a shit about me having cheap housing and not do anything about the massacres in Darfur?" So I just think it's a really nice thing that has happened, and I'm glad I have friends with vacation time.)

This means, of course, that I'll have to really start traveling light: everything unnecessary must go! I'm hurling out extra clothes (anything that doesn't fit into a portable wardrobe), extra books (I'm down to three-fifths of a single bookshelf, when I used to own six of them), and any box that I haven't opened since the last time I moved.

Since this may be my only opportunity under my present circumstances to actually save money (which would be essential for moving into a new place), I'm being very tight-fisted: making rice and beans for lunch, not going out much, etc. My hope was to be able to afford...I don't know, something a little bigger than normal. Maybe my first ever trip off the continent. Maybe Europe? I have a week of vacation still, and a passport that's never been used.

And then two stupid things happened. First, my main computer, my desktop, stopped connecting to the Internet. I'm not sure why it's acting this way, but the reasons seem to run deep: no conventional troubleshooting has been able to figure it out. So it would take a lot of time (and possibly part of a day off) to get to the bottom of it.

Second, last night, my laptop died. It was bound to happen. I inherited it, for free, from my wonderful brother about five years ago, and it's always had a tinge of insanity to it: not starting up, starting up but not finding the mouse, failing to recognize the zip drive, etc. It also runs Windows 98, which means that it doesn't understand simple things like wi-fi or thumb drives. Only last week, a passerby actually stopped to look at me. "I can't believe how big that thing is," he said. "It's like a cube." But for my purposes it's been perfect. I bring it into a coffee shop, I write, I go home. I don't need anything more fancy than that.

Only now I guess I do. Neither of my computers is working, and I need to be more mobile anyway, so this may be my opportunity to upgrade to some new laptop--maybe even (dare I dream?) a Mac! But it'll have to be cheap, so it'll have to be used. I'm looking.

Anyway, the point of all this is: THAT is why I haven't been updating the site. I only have an hour or so of access every day (at work, which always makes me feel guilty) and I spend it mostly writing emails. I promise I'll update regularly again as soon as it becomes feasible. But in the meantime, if anyone's got a laptop they're not using--maybe with Windows 2000 or later?--talk to me fast, because for the next day or so I'm going to be Craisglist's bitch.