Monday, October 24, 2016

a man called Doc

So this guy Polonius gives with a famous list of wise hints for living and is rewarded by being stabbed through the arras, which sounds excruciating. Nelson Algren follows up with his own advice, which is funnier and probably more useful. I figure I must have picked up some wisdom by now, and I’m ready to pass it along. So. Um. Tin your leads. Try the sweet potato fries. Never go anywhere in shoes you can’t walk home in. That’s it, I guess. Okay then. Oh, this final score just in: the Monomaniacs have beaten the Minimalists, one to nothing.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thomas Wolfe, actually.

I went to five different elementary schools. That was over 50 years ago. I visited them on the internet and it turns out four of them have been torn down. One site has new houses on it, one is a big empty lot, two have newer school buildings on them. But one of them is still there. Doan School was built in 1904 at 105th and Superior in my home town, Cleveland, Ohio. It was closed in 1980 and sat abandoned. But now it’s been repurposed into assisted living for seniors. How convenient. Who says you can’t go home again?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Lives of the Philosophers, Pt. 5

Roland Barthes had a seven-letter last name, but only the first four are pronounced. French has a lot of silent letters to make speaking harder. I suspect the French want you to 1) try to speak French and 2) do it badly so that they can correct you. Nobody likes being corrected, especially about the medium of expression rather than the idea being conveyed. So can’t we all just accept that “library” and “February” are spelled wrong? Anyway, Barthes’ three silent letters are a special mark of prestige and distinction for a respected thinker whose work I find absolutely opaque.

Monday, October 3, 2016

You can't put a value on literary excellence.

Suppose over a period of time you had written 49,999 words about such essential topics as outsized pencils and enormous watering cans. For free. You might wish you’d gotten maybe a dime a word. You could have bought an eight-year-old Camry or nearly seven thousand Little Debbie Nutty Bars. Or even a dollar a word – gosh, that’s a nice foreclosed ranch home in Blytheville, Arkansas. Long ago, a buck a word was premium pay for really popular writers, like Rudyard Kipling. He got a letter that enclosed a dollar and asked for a word in exchange. Kipling wrote back, “Thanks.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rod Stewart

The options available to malicious wrongdoers used to be sort of limited. They could sneak into your sacred cave and rearrange all the bear skulls. They could put a stray cat in a burlap sack and sell it as a delicious piglet (a pig in a poke), and you wouldn’t know till you let the cat out of the bag. Today’s sophisticated technology opens up the potential for sophisticated mischief. What scares me is the awful specter of cyber-terrorism. Like, what if someone hacked my Pandora account and gave the thumbs up to music I actually don’t like at all?

Monday, September 19, 2016

We're gonna need a bigger olive.

Do you like crazy visionary science ideas? I sure do. There’s this company in Florida, Algenol, that’s working on a way to breed cyanobacteria to live in salt water, soak up sunlight, and poop out a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. They’re getting about 8,000 gallons of liquid fuel from one wet acre annually, about 20 times more than the same acreage in corn ethanol. Promising, right? But there’s danger lurking. If a rogue scientist were to splice in some juniper DNA, and the bacteria escaped, I can visualize the inadvertent conversion of all the world’s oceans to gin.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Accordion to the latest surveys.

According to the Nielsen numbers, jazz accounts for about 2.3 percent of U.S. record album sales, making it even less popular than classical musical, which posts an impressive 2.8 percent. Rock gets 34.5, R&B 17.5, country 13.8 percent. Country is more popular than this number indicates, I think, but mostly you listen to it on the radio. In your truck. With your dog. The same research shows a category called “hard music” getting a 10.2 percent share. I don’t know what this means. Hard to listen to? If that’s what they mean, why don’t they just straight up say polka?