Tuesday, March 20, 2018


There's a story by Muriel Spark - called "Twins" - that I reread today and am coming to a new understanding of.

A woman stays with an old friend and her husband. This couple has two children, fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. The narrator is initially charmed by the children, but gradually picks up on things she doesn't like: deceptiveness, pettiness, passive-aggressive needling. As time wears on she notices similar things about the parents, although she'd thought very highly of them before.

The implication, made explicit near the end, is that the children have reshaped the parents in their own image, a dark interpretation of Wordsworth's "the child is father to the man." But might she be an unreliable narrator? It seems to me that she may have seen her friend and the friend's husband through rose-colored glasses before, and is now seeing in their kids what never made an impression on her before.

I like to think that in my own case, I've taken my friends' darker sides into account and more or less forgiven them for it. So while I may or may not get along with their kids, I'm not shocked or disappointed.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Icy hands

I carry a pair of good winter gloves in my coat. Just for emergencies really. I haven't worn them, or hardly at all, all winter.

Until today. Definitely had to warm up my digits during a longer than expected wait for the bus, and wound up wearing them until it came.

And it's the day after Saint Patrick's Day. Winter is putting up a fight. Impressive and kind of cool. No pun intended.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Wear sunscreen

With a couple of brief exceptions, I had never really read Isaac Asimov.

Yeah, I know, Martin. And it did seem like a gap in my education. So I decided to read The Naked Sun.

It's a detective story as well, which was Asimov's other great love. A detective from Earth, which is considered a backwater in the far future, is assigned to investigate a locked room murder on one of the tonier colony worlds. A world with a culture that seems strange to him and undoubtedly to most readers of the 20th century. He's assigned the eerily humanoid robot R. Daneel Olivaw as a partner. And let me tell you, if Asimov had wanted to start trouble with the Star Trek people over Data, he could have.

What's funny is that you can tell that Asimov is writing in the pulp era, but he's a fundamentally polite writer. And he's one of the science fiction authors for whom characters exist to carry out his ideas, but his ideas do carry the show.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Chattering Teeth

This is a brisk documentary on Talking Heads, whom I don't have to sell you on. You know they're cool.

On t'other hand, the use of "on acid" as shorthand for "really, really, weird" irks me, especially when the subject isn't that weird. And some interview segments here raise the possibility that David Byrne is responsible for it. Oh well, my esteem for him is great enough that he can take the hit.

Man's definitely a high tenor when he talks, too.

Monday, March 12, 2018


I have to admit that I somewhat discount people's opinions on movies when they say they won't watch anything in black & white. This is not because I believe all old movies are good. Believe me, I've seen enough counterexamples to know otherwise. But dull old movies, like most seriously bad movies, are done in by a lack of vision, not a lack of color. You don't need the same visual elements in every picture any more than you need the same seasonings at every meal.

I think literacy has slipped in terms of visual art in general. Color is a vital element of most painting. Less so in printmaking because of the labor intensity in applying different color inks, although this varies. Graphite drawings tend to be monochrome. And of course while sculpture can have color, it tends to be incidental. Being exposed to different kinds of art helps develop a sense of what's important visually.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


So I'm having breakfast at this place around here. Next to my table are a lot of men, all around the same age, early twenties I'd say. Sure it's a big party but I don't really make anything of it.

When I'm getting ready to leave, so are they. And suddenly they break into a lush a capella rendition of the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

The waitress was delighted. You could have knocked me over with a feather. There's video of me somewhere, gawking in amazement.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The nein tease

Blogger Phil Sandifer has noted that the 1990's are exempt from nostalgia in a way that previous eras aren't.
Say “the 1970s” and you’re suddenly transplanted to disco, bell bottoms, and the mysterious fascination with the color orange. Say “the 1980s” and you have primitive obsession with the electronic and bad hair. Heck, do a Google image search on “I love the n0s” where n is between 6 and 9. For the 70s and 80s, of course, you’ll get the logos for the delightfully awful VH1 series of those names (VH1 - purveyors of the finest terrible television to watch at 3am on American cable). For the 60s, which VH1 never covered, you’ll still get homebrew logos that are instantly recognizable as “the 1960s,” albeit the scarequoted version of that more than the actual one.

But “I love the 90s?” You’ll get the VH1 logos, sure, but there’s nothing like the instant dating of the aesthetic. Google “80s night” for about 350,000 hits. Try “90s night” and you’ll get 75k. The 1990s, unlike the three, and really four decades immediately prior, simply don’t register as a coherent system of nostalgia. The number of consensus touchstones is minimal. Musically you’ve got little more than the wave of alternative rock at the start of the decade. In film and television you’ve got a few more. But there’s no iconic and easy to encapsulate image of the 1990s.
Sandifer has a somewhat different viewpoint on this since he's a little younger than me. For me the 1990's weren't the time of my childhood or adolescence, but rather the time when I technically became an adult. (And how did that work out for me, you ask? Let's just say the jury's still out.) His blog is also focused on Doctor Who, which had its own travails at the end of the century. That is to say, the TV show had been canceled in 1989 and the attempt to revive it in America in 1996 was not a success. Nonetheless, I'd recommend his whole essay.

My own theory? Think of much of the twentieth century - the second half, you could say - as a party. Modestly wild and for the most part the kind of the occasion where you say "a good time was had by all."

What were the nineties like? Well, most of the hit TV shows, at least in this country, were on the broadcast networks, and they tended toward three-camera sitcoms and ensemble workplace dramas. The music charts were still determined by people going to the store to buy physical records - although the fact that these records were basically computer software would lead to the system's downfall - and those charts had a lot of what could broadly be called rock 'n' roll. Disney movies had lush, two-dimensional adaptation drawn by hand and could get away with sincere musical numbers.

If you'll notice, none of these things are unique markers. They're different from the way things are now, but not all that different from what had come before, immediately before. So if we return to the metaphor of the latter twentieth century as a party, the nineties were the last hour. The host and hostess are reluctantly refilling drinks and loudly saying "Is it really that late?" The guy who brought his guitar is still playing, but now he's ignoring everyone else and noodling away like he would at home. There's an ominous sound of morning birds chirping in the air.

No, this stage of the party will not make many people say, "Wow, can you believe that?"