Friday, March 30, 2012

Tumbleweed-y Friday Random Ten

I was thinking of doing a rundown of some of the things I'd been reading here, but if I'm going to do that I think it deserves a separate post. & I'm just about asleep now.

When you work at a place that has a lot of comings and goings, you see it done a lot of different ways. For some, sadly, it's not a choice at all. But when it is, some people tell practically no one, maybe their supervisor, and sort of disappear into the night. Others basically skywrite. There are a few in-between cases, where they tell a select few. It's nice to be in that group.

1. The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
2. Edgardo Cintron - Lullaby of Birdland
3. Arcade Fire - Haiti
4. Yuka Honda - Schwaltz
5. The Cramps - Beautiful Gardens
6. Sarah Vaughan - Shulie a Bop
7. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Keep on Looking
8. Pink Martini & Saori Yuki - Watashi mo anata to naite ii? (Consolation)
9. Ladytron - The Reason Why
10. They Might Be Giants - Celebration

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Not happening

The Trayvon story deserves further attention. More than, realistically speaking, I'm going to give it. So mainly I'm just linking to this story, which shows the dread that this incident must arouse in black parents. (In this case the author is a white parent of a black child, but the principle holds.)

Good quote:

If the colors here were reversed, if a white man were dead by gunshot, do you think for a minute that the black man would be walking around free?

I have an impossible time imagining a black man shooting a white child and being seen as some kind of para-law enforcement. I can more easily picture hovercar freeways over Wilmington, Delaware.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A day to...

Sarah Vaughan and Mies van der Rohe have the same birthday. That's an interesting pairing. On the one hand her work has affected me much more than his has. For years I've been wowed by her singing. On the other hand, I do respect him as a creative person. He challenged what, say, houses and official buildings were supposed to look like, successfully.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fresh air Saturday Random Ten

Was out a fair amount today, and there was good weather for it. The outbreak of ninety degree weather we had this week ended, so you can wear a spring/fall jacket out and not feel like dying. Especially with the breeze.

1. Steely Dan - Don't Take Me Alive
2. Ladytron - Fire
3. Talk Talk - It's My Life
4. Jimmy Smith - The Last Dance
5. The Squirrel Nut Zippers - Got My Own Thing Now
6. Brian Eno - King's Lead Hat
7. Sarah Vaughan - Body and Soul
8. The Cramps - Voodoo Idol
9. U2 - Stay (Far Away, So Close)
10. They Might Be Giants - Judy Is Your Vietnam

Hidegarde Withers

Stuart Palmer’s Hildergarde Withers is an unusual, ill-remembered figure in the realm of literary detectives. If she’d be a hard-to-publish anomaly if written today, it’s not entirely clear that she was in step with the times back in the pre- and post-WW2 years when her adventures saw light of day. Classic detectives like Nero Wolfe and Philo Vance are exotic, a little aristocratic. At the very least, the detective is expected to have a kind of Sherlockian intellectual egotism. Withers is on a different wavelength. And certainly she has little in common with the hard-boiled dicks whose more suburban and affluent descendants dominate the field now. The closest analogue might be Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple, but that’s not particularly close.

The character of Hildegarde Withers was introduced in the 1931 novel The Penguin Pool Murder. She’s a veteran schoolteacher, semi-retired. In Palmer’s series of novels and short stories, she teams with Inspector Oscar Piper, the head of New York’s Homicide Bureau and a living Irish copper archetype. (Look at old pictures of Al Smith, and imagine him grumpier and with a badge.) The character had her own movie series in the 1930s, played first by Edna May Oliver, followed by Helen Broderick and ZaSu Pitts. In 1972 a TV movie was broadcast—A Very Missing Person—with Eve Arden as Hildegarde and James Gregory as Oscar. Notably Arden would later be a guest-star on the Jim Hutton-starring Ellery Queen series, which for a year functioned as the kind of retro-classic detective series that producers no doubt had hoped the Withers show would be.

Arden was in her sixties when she was in the part. This fed off and probably nourished the impression that the character was meant to be a senior citizen. In terms of the character in the books, that’s wrong. In the course of the series, she aged from her mid thirties to her late forties. But it’s an understandable misimpression. Not only was forty older back in those days than it is now, but she’s a schoolteacher. In the twenties and beyond, women who went into education were expected to live a sexless, prematurely elderly life even if they weren’t nuns. Depending on the district, you could be fired for having a gentleman guest in your home, for going to a bar, or hell, lingering too long at the ice cream parlor. She’s a good girl, she’s internalized all the rules, so she has a permanent air of the prim and dusty maiden aunt.

And yet, and yet. In Four Lost Ladies, the book I just read this week, a Bluebeard serial killer is preying on women “of a certain age” who have recently come into money. Except that in most of these cases, the victims haven’t been found. What the police are faced with—or not—is one apparent suicide and an unrelated quartet of missing persons. Oscar assumes that they got bored with their lives and moved to parts unknown. Hildegarde puts herself in harm’s way to find their killer, but also to prove that these are giants and not windmills. Beyond that, she likes harm’s way. Her gender and her profession have kept her in an orderly, law-abiding life. But beneath the surface she gets involved in murder investigations because it allows her to come in contact with mayhem, with the side of life she’s not even supposed to know about. Near the start of Steven Moffat’s contemporary Doyle adaptation Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes tells Afghani veteran John Watson, “You’re not traumatized by the war. You miss it. Welcome back.” In these terms, Hildegarde is a civilian who’ll take any opportunity to charge onto the battlefield.

Reading Four Lost Ladies was fun and somewhat educational about its time. Yes, social mores were different. (The book came out in the late 1940s.) On the other hand, when two hotel guests are eliminated as suspects because they “room together and design textiles” the implication is exactly what you think it is.

Will Hildegarde Withers appear on the big screen again? Not likely. But if she does I can see the Coen brothers casting Kristen Wiig.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Had to give the Friday Random Ten a skip. Mixture of bad timing and some technical weirdness. Hoping to have a Saturday Random Ten, and maybe some other stuff over the weekend. Do still believe in personal pronouns, but don't feel right repeating them over and over.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Stand your ground" needs to die

What else can be said, really? The death of Trayvon Martin is a horrible waste, and if anything positive can be salvaged from it, maybe it's for states to take another look at their laws. In big parts of the country, protecting gun rights has gone to the extent of priveleging gun violence. In Florida Stand Your Ground Laws may make it possible to get away with the unprovoked murder - in fact if not in intent - of an unarmed teenager.

Every fact that has come out has only made the event worse. One can give Zimmerman some benefit of the doubt on intent, in that I don't think he was consciously out there hunting for pelts. And yet what else was happening here? How many other neighborhood watches are primed to attack someone for walking while black?

No, this is wrong. Nobody should be victimized in their home. But nobody should be victimized in the street because not being in their home or business makes them fair game.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Just getting ready for tomorrow and I made sure to have some antihistemines in my shirt pocket. It's that time of year. It's best to have them on hand, at least during the week. On the weekend I'm not that bothered by morning sneezing fits. Hell, some days I may sleep through them.

Of course you know all about allergies. Tomorrow I hope to have time to blog about something more obscure. I have something in mind.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Typical(?) Friday Random Ten

So as it happens, I'm the same personality type as Carl Jung himself. I swear I'm not trying to suck up.

A friend of mine introduced me to the Myers-Briggs test in college. I don't think it's deterministic, but it is interesting. He's one letter off from me, being more of a feeler.

1. Steely Dan - Kid Charlemagne
2. They Might Be Giants - Canajoharie
3. Brian Eno - Here He Comes
4. Ladytron - Re: Agents
5. The Squirrel Nut Zippers - Flight of the Passing Fancy
6. The Kinks - Some Mother's Son
7. U2 - Some Days Are Better Than Others
8. John Lee Hooker - Whistlin' and Moanin'
9. Sarah Vaughan - Words Can't Describe
10. Yuka Honda - The Last One to Fall Asleep With

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Something jazzy

Thought it might be good to put up some poetry again.

This one is by Marilyn Hacker. At first reading her I was a little put-off, mainly because some of the cultural/geographical references she throws in came off as name-dropping to me. But I'm warming to her, and this one is sweet.

Alto Solo
Dear one, it's a while since you turned the lights out
on the porch: a decade of private summers
passed and cast shed leaves on whatever river
carried our letters.

Merely out of habit, I sometimes tell you
when I've learned a word, made a friend, discovered
some small park where old men debate the headlines,
heard some good music

—it's like jazz, which, even at its most abstract
has the blues in it, has that long saudade
like a memory of what didn't happen
someplace that might be

inlaid with mosaics of recollection
which, in fact's a sreet corner of the utmost
ordinariness, though the late light steeps it
in such nostalgia

I can hear a saxophone in the background
wail an elegy for the revolution
as someone diminishes the distance
and the film's over.

Now you know there won't be another love scene.
Do those shadows presage undereamt-of war years?
Twenty, thirty pass, and there's still a sound track
behind the credits:

Cecil Taylor's complex riffs on the keyboard
which a prep-school blonde, seventeen, named Julie
sneaked me into the Blue Note for, because she
knew how to listen—

or it could be Janis packing the Fillmore
West with heartbreak, when I knew that I'd see her
playing pool again at Gino and Carlo's
some weekday midnight.

This is not about you at all: you could be
anybody who died too young, whoo went to
live in São Paulo or back to Warsaw
or just stopped calling.

(Why did Alice Coltrane stop cutting records?
—think of Pharaoh Sanders being your sideman!—
Lapidary grief: was its consolation
all stone, all silence?)

Now it's morning, gray, and at last a storm came
after midnight, breaking the week-long dog days.
Though I woke at three with a splitting headache,
I lay and listened

to the rain, forgave myself some omissions
as the rain forgave and erased some squalor
It was still too early for trucks and hoses.
A thud of papers

dropped outside the news agent's metal shutters.
Am I glad we didn't last out the winter?
You, the street I made believe that I lived on
have a new address.

Who I miss: the girl of a long-gone season
like my sturdy six-year-old in her OshKosh
overalls, attaining the age of reason
and senior Lego.

You've become—and I never would have wished it—
something like a metaphor of the passage
(time, a cobbled alley between two streets whcih
diverge, a tune that

reemerges out of the permutations
rung on it by saxophone, bass and piano,
then takes one more plunge so its resolution's
all transformation).

Someone's always walking away; the music
changes key, the moving men pack the boxes.
There the river goes with its bundled cargo:
unanswered letters.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fully automated

Yesterday the earbuds on my iPod went on the fritz. Specifically the right one only carried any sound at a few seemingly random moments, which is more annoying than if it wasn't working at all.

So I went to the CVS during lunchtime to pick up a new pair. Found 'em pretty easy, and I go to the checkout. But there's only one guy at the checkout counter, and he won't take my money himself. Instead he directs me to the express checkout, which now takes up a big part of the front of the store.

It seems easy enough to use, but I don't like this. When out shopping I prefer to do business with living cashiers, in part because the automated express is a clear excuse to lay people off. Stop & Shop has had the technology for years, but they at least give you the choice of which way to go. Here I had no choice. I hope the other branches don't follow suit any time soon.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Peter Bergman, 1939-2012

Alternate header: I only read good books, over.

Bergman was the guy who started the whole thing. Bless him for making the world a funnier and perhaps a more humane place.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Service job Friday Random Ten

Say hypothetically that there's a group of people who gather at a coffee shop at night every couple of weeks. And say they're maybe a little overbearing, a little loud, and sort of take the help for granted. And say the baristas kind of loathed them and dreaded seeing them come in. Hypothetically, this can be fun to watch.

1. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings - Nobody's Baby
2. The Cramps - Human Fly
3. Steely Dan - The Caves of Altamira
4. Lou Rawls - Your Good Thing (Is About to End)
5. Sarah Vaughan - Polka Dots and Moonbeams
6. The New Pornographers - Execution Day
7. The Beautiful South - Love Is
8. Pink Martini & Saori Yuku - Is That All There Is?
9. Tom Waits - Talking At the Same Time
10. They Might Be Giants - Cloisonné

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Where my head's at

Funny. Through the magic of laptopism I was just listening to Link KMHD. This is a nonprofit station based in Portland, OR, and the call letters are short for "Mount Hood." Mostly a jazz station with some world music as well. And I just discovered the station this week.

It's a good station, but that doesn't explain this. I was just listnening, and doing something else, and I sort of drifted off. While I was sort-of asleep I dremaed of being blue. Big guy with blue skin. Not aware of any envies on my home phone, so I don't know. Luckily I didn't dream about using the word "smurfety."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stop hitting yourself!

Aimless rumination alert.

Cephalopods are the smartest invertebreates, I've heard. They also have a number of long and dexterous tentacles. The octopus has eight arms, of course. And the mouth is in the center of these arms, separate from the rest of the head. To me this sounds like it takes a lot of coordination. A skill they have to acquire so their weird anatomy will be an advantage.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I only recently heard about this skit from Your Show of Shows. It's an engagingly weird idea, and very well performed. It must take a lot for Sid not to wince or anything when Imogene throws the water in his face. Maybe it's warm water?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Steaming hot Friday Random Ten

One nice thing about coffee is that drinking a good hot cup of it allows you to convince people that you're a responsible and hard-working striver. Because you look alert, that is. It's a beverage and a cosmetic.

1. U2 - Numb
2. Harry Nilsson - All I Think About Is You
3. Sarah Vaughan - You Hit the Spot
4. John Lee Hooker - Black Man Blues
5. The Kinks - Tin Soldier Man
6. R.E.M. - Driver 8
7. The New Pornographers - To Wild Homes
8. Kendra Shank - A Lover's Lie
9. They Might Be Giants - Dog Walker
10. The Magnetic Fields - The Night You Can't Remember

Fine distinctions

To be fair and accurate, "slut shaming" doesn't seem to be the right label for what this is. Rush probably doesn't care how much sex Sandra Fluke has. It's her being—by his criteria—a liberal that means she has to be punished. If she got with the program and kept her opinions to herself he'd be asking "What's your number?" and "Do you have unresolved feelings toward your overweight father?" It is left to the reader to determine which is the harsher fate.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Falling out of habits

The watchband on my watch had gotten pretty funky. Apparently some substance in my wrist sweat ate through the leather, which is disturbing. Anyway, Sunday night the band split apart in a way that meant it could not be put back together again. The watch fell off my wrist and I wasn't able to wear it again.

Not until I had replaced the watchband, that is. Which I got around to doing today, going to a cart in the Providence Place Mall. That took some waiting, but I had time. Weird thing, though. When the guy had finished putting the new band on, I tried wearing it again, and struggled. I couldn't quite get it steady. Turned out I was trying to put it on my right hand. Not really the best way to go, since I'm right handed.

Not much of a point to the story, but ut's weird how certain things if you stop doing for just a few days you basically forget how. Wonder where this came from,