Monday, March 27, 2023

to be clear

There once was a time when people who wanted to denigrate Chicago as a gray depressing rustbelt shithole would characterize it as “two Clevelands,” which I’m here to say is no longer true. Based on the latest census figures, Chicago today is closer to seven Clevelands.  I refer to Cleveland, Ohio, my home town; our nation is rich in Clevelands. North Carolina has two. Not to be outdone, Wisconsin boasts five places called Cleveland, with an aggregate population of 4,727, thereby outnumbering Cleveland, Georgia, home to 3,511 people, which is, to be clear, larger than any single Cleveland, Wisconsin, alone.

Monday, March 20, 2023

non trivial

Here’s a rule of thumb: Try to worry only about unimportant things like the designated hitter rule or pre-torn jeans or pre-made pancakes in the freezer section (seriously? have we come to this?) or why is this package of X-acto blades impossible to open without an X-acto blade? The really important issues are those where you have to just bear down and do your best, but not worry. You ought to divert your entire capacity for worry into the most trivial of concerns. I think it’s best to sweat the small stuff, because the big stuff will break your heart.

Monday, March 13, 2023

it's not a sonata

I guess the easiest way to start writing anything is to begin without a plan. That eliminates a lot of that time-consuming thinking and lets you get right to the important task, which is putting down one word after the other. Of course, about halfway through you have to start asking yourself, “How am I going to finish this?” And that’s where a rookie can find themselves blocked or stumped or flummoxed. Here’s a pro tip for the lazy: Symmetry is your go-to form for bringing any sort of creative work to a close. That’s the easiest way, I guess.

Monday, March 6, 2023

He also discovered the thoracic canal.

Although he died on August 27th, 1574, we still remember Bartolomeo Eustachi because he described these little tubes we have in our heads that connect our throats with our ears. “Eustachian” is not a descriptive adjective, and though gone almost 450 years Bartolomeo’s name is spoken by pediatricians every time a kid gets an earache. It makes one wonder about one’s own legacy. Today all the tubes have names so I think after I’m gone if I’m remembered at all I’d like for people to be able to say, “Wow, just like that, huh? He never knew what hit him.”

Monday, February 27, 2023

A brush with greatness

While we’re on the topic of Anthony Burgess I would be negligent were I not to bring up the fact that while his writing was very very good his combover was very very bad. Very very very bad. Spectacularly bad. Simply terrible. He must have known it; to arrange one’s hair in such a manner requires the use of a mirror. Why did he do it? Maybe by the time he noticed he felt it was too late to go back. Maybe he did it to torment us. Or maybe he had some kind of bet going with Zero Mostel.

Monday, February 20, 2023

In which I blame my parents

“Please, Please, Please” is a 1956 single by James Brown and the Famous Flames. It’s a tremendous record. I just listened to it three times in a row and, seriously, James Brown is so good it’s ridiculous. Nafloyd Scott plays guitar. Nashpendle Knox plays saxophone. Unlike the people who named me “Dave,” the parents of these two musicians were obviously committed to making this a more beautiful and interesting world in which to live. I’m not making fun here; I mean it. If I had been blessed with a name like Nashpendle, I might have done something with my life.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Don't read this

Would you buy an item that included instructions that strongly advised against putting it to the only use for which you might be moved to acquire it? Like if potato chip bags came with a warning that said, “Do not put this product in your mouth and chew it up and swallow it.” If there was a sticker on your dashboard that said, “Under no circumstance is this vehicle to be used for transportation.” Or socks had a tag that read, “For God’s sake, don’t even think about putting these things on your feet!” So what’s the deal with Q-Tips?

Monday, February 6, 2023

Minigolf with pipefitters

For some reason, they tend to wrap up interviews with writers with a question about which three writers, living or dead, you would invite for dinner. First off, I think live ones. Okay, okay. You know what would be awful? Octavia Butler, Franz Kafka, Emily Dickinson. Excruciating. Anthony Burgess, Anne Tyler, Charles Portis? That might be congenial, but really you’d want to invite incompetent writers because the best ones have put everything they have to say down on paper. It’s actually a profoundly silly question; why not ask for the names of three dentists with whom you’d like to bowl?

Monday, January 30, 2023


It’s been a weird three years. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who kind of let themself go. It doesn’t take long to get used to interfacing with the outside world through electronic devices, lounging around in baggy sweats, grazing on comforting snacks. There are consequences. Looking down over my torso, I see that I’m sort of bulging over my belt around my entire circumference. It’s time for some self-discipline.  “Buddy,” I sez to myself, “turn off the screen, get up out of that chair, and get your butt down to the Salvation Army to buy some larger pants.”

Monday, January 23, 2023

If I was a bicycle

If I was a bicycle, I think I would be happiest when somebody’s butt was on my saddle, when I could feel their hands on my grips, when my pedals were being firmly pushed as I flew weightless over smooth pavement. Also, even though it might be a bit uncomfortable, I believe I could learn to enjoy having my tires pumped up and thumbed; less pleasant would be having my bearings packed. I would want to be rolling always for the sense of stability and balance rolling engenders. That’s how I think I would feel if I was a bicycle.

Monday, January 16, 2023

On the other hand

Art directors and designers sometimes flop an image to make a more pleasing layout. Most times, if it’s a landscape or still-life, there’s no problem. Sometimes, like if there’s distant signage that looks all Cyrillic or some guy in a stock photo has his pocket square on the wrong side, it’s slightly jarring. But what do I care. But look here – you can’t do that to musicians if the instrument is in the picture. It’s just wrong. Unless you’re designing materials for a Jimi Hendrix tribute where you might be specifically asked to do so. Then it would be okay.

Monday, January 9, 2023


on the topic of H. G. Wells-style time machines probably the real flaw in imagining them is that they’re based on a Newtonian concept of the nature of time and space which don’t get me wrong works just fine for our normal quotidian needs but while describing pretty comprehensively our shared perceived reality does not do diddly when it comes to the occult which is not to say supernatural truths beyond our human ken. Look here. Newborn babies are visitors from the future who have forgotten everything. That’s why they stare at you curiously for a moment before recognizing you.

Monday, January 2, 2023

vast cool and unsympathetic

The Invisible Man and The Time Machine are cool stories but they don’t hold up to serious scrutiny. Like, if you were truly invisible your retinas would be transparent so you’d be blind, anyway blind people would find you easily because to them everybody’s invisible. I’ve already shot down the whole idea of time machines by pointing out that if we were ever going to have them we’d have always had them. Still, it would be cool to buy up a bunch of fidget spinners at yard sales and go back to 2017 to sell them for a tidy profit.