Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Waiting at the accountant's, I doodled the various articles of hockey equipment. The shinpads look like small is set in blobs of glue. The jersey is something of an afterthought. There's a jacket you can wear over everything, as you walk out of the locker room, get a cup of hot chocolate, and go home. Most perplexing is probably the hockey stick that has been deconstructed — no tape on the blade (see the nearby roll of tape), hard-rubber butt end unattached, excess length about to be sawed away. Also, if all of these bits of ice-armor belonged to one person, s/he would be a very oddly shaped person indeed.

Perhaps I've been thinking of hockey because of the recent essay in the NYT book review bewailing the lack of a great American hockey novel — it correctly cites the one brilliant entry in the field, Amazons, by Cleo Birdwell (a pseudonym for Don DeLillo). Speaking of DD — I just finished reading his play Love-Lies-Bleeding. Pretty good! That's all I'll say for now.

Coincidentally: After my doodling session, I got an e-mail from my sister in which she reported on some recently uncovered some old postcards, probably ca. 1978. One was from a friend visiting Disneyworld. He asked how the weather was, said it was 90 degrees in Florida, and added, "P.S. We beat the Bruins 3-1." (We = the Buffalo Sabres.)

* * *

Dizzyhead Sarah sent a link to an exceptionally good blog called A Year in Pictures Following the Break-Up — funny, sad, self-conscious to exactly the right degree. Read it from the very start, per the instructions. You won't be sorry!

...And you won't be sorry about listening to Destroyer's Rubies — an album so good that after you turn it off you start thinking in Destroyer-esque phrases, like your mind is breathing Destroyerish breaths as you go about your usual mental toil. I find this happens, too, upon being immersed in any good author's work — I distinctly remember this happening when I was reading a lot of DeLillo. (One cold night I was walking back from meeting a friend and I had been reading Running Dog and the air seemed full of menace; I thought, as I passed a bus shelter, kernels of broken glass — some formulation like that. and then all the glass in the shelter shattered!)


Poignant banter, ca. June 2005, the island of Kauai

—There was so much I wanted to do!
—Like what?
—Start a blog!
—A blog about what?
—Evonne Goolagong!

* * *

The Complete Review links to Dizzyhead Gautam's critique of crit-culture!

* * *

Soundtrack: Destroyer, Destroyer's Rubies; William H. Gass, The Tunnel audiobook, pages 1-15, over and over again.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hunting high and low

I said it was time for the big book, the long monument to my mind I repeatedly dreamed I had to have, a pyramid, a column tall enough to satisfy the sky.
—William H. Gass, The Tunnel

I want to make a mistake
Why can't I make a mistake?
—Fiona Apple, "A Mistake"

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Punch the clock

Hope to have a meaty post for you soon—for the nonce, another extract from my relatively recent West Coast jaunt:

All sports are metaphors for punching, except boxing, which is something else entirely.

* * *

This made our day.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A scanner darkly

Odd stirrings over at Mr. Saturnhead...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sometimes I swear it feels like underground

Farewell to Shelter, Toni Schlesinger's column. The last line will kill you.

Fans can look forward to Toni's first book, Five Flights Up, out in May from Princeton Architectural Press. It's been a pleasure working with her.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"In Between Daze" b/w "Pistol Opera"

On Friday, Dizzyhead Brent passed along a CD by an enigmatic Brooklyn musical artist who goes by the moniker "T." I've listened to little else since. It's perfect writing music, and especially suited to the winter weather. The title: music for in between (s(p)l)aces. There's a "Tubular Bells" vibe going on, and some occasional whistling.

The cryptic liner notes advise: "they are like pieces of a puzzle, flexible, they'll fit anywhere you want them to. know what i'm saying? if not listen anyway. have a moment! EVERYONE IS WELCOME and remember they will come back."

There's also a phrase or sentence that has been ominously inked over. I'll have further information when the CD becomes more widely available.

* * *

This is copied from our friends over at the indispensible Manhattan User's Guide:
Old NY: The Burr-Hamilton Pistols

February 14, 2006

"The Vice-President of the United States...being moved and seduced by the Instigation of the devil...had and held in his right hand...did then and there shoot off and discharge."

That’s what the coroner’s jury concluded about Aaron Burr after his duel with Hamilton. Our own rootin’, tootin’, ready-fire-aim executive branch may not be instigated by the devil, but we'd say the jury’s still out.

Anyway, this latest misfire got us thinking about the actual guns of choice of that July 11, 1804 duel and what became of them. In the 19th century, there was no end to people claiming they owned the pistols. In 1869, the Newburg Journal reported that the guns had passed in possession from Commodore Salter of the U.S. Navy to Harry Armstrong of Newburg, NY. In the 1870s, a bar at 298 Bowery claimed the guns on their wall were the duel guns. In 1891, the NY Times reported that Charles Van Brunt, who lived near Utica, owned them.

The most widely, though not universally, accepted version is that the pistols belonged to John B. Church, Hamilton’s brother-in-law, and were purchased in London in 1799. As Hamilton was the man challenged, he would have had the right to provide the guns. The Church guns had been used in previous duels: one in which Church faced off none other than Aaron Burr. (There's a whole side story that one of the guns in the Burr-Hamilton duel was rigged with a hair trigger.)

A hundred years after the duel, the Times says, "The pistols with which the fatal duel was fought are now owned by Major Richard Church of Rochester. He is a grandson of John B. Church, to whose house the body of Hamilton was taken from Mr. Bayard’s home in Greenwich Village." These guns passed from the Church family to Chase Manhattan in 1930. There's a certain irony to this, since Chase grew out of the Bank of Manhattan, which Burr founded.

In 1976, Chase had 100 copies of the pistols made in honor of the country's Bicentennial. The original Church pistols were on display at the NY Historical Society during the Alexander Hamilton show.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Don't you hate reading a 300-page book for a book report, then forgetting what it's about!

So the parade of bummers continues. Luckily, Dizzyhead Brent started sending me images from the Golden Age of Journalism—that's right, covers of Dynamite magazine! He found them here.

Ah...what child of the '70s can forget these "Bummers"? And I can still relate: "Don't you hate it when you can't find your hat and all the time you're wearing it!" More often than I'd like to admit.

This is pure-grade nostalgia for me (as opposed to the wan pastiche of Wet Hot American Summer)—I have a vague memory of my cousin trying to form a Dynamite club, as instructed in the magazine. The other members were her brother and me. I don't know that it ever met.

Budding psychiatrists should click on the penultimate image on the screen, "Good Vibrations"—Dynamite's advice column written by Dr. Paulina Kernberg. That's right—the spouse of famous object-relations theorist Otto Kernberg!

* * *

Meanwhile, this might be the last film review I'll be writing for the Voice, at least for the foreseeable future. I'm glad I had the opportunity. (Coming soon: a brief collation of my favorite film pieces.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Picks and Pans

Mutual Appreciation—Andrew Bujalski's terrific followup to Funny Ha Ha (one of my favorite films of last year). This one's available through the website for now (will it see distribution?)—it's funny, sharply observed, rather brilliantly uncomfortable. I popped this one into the player at around 11 last night, expecting to watch only about half an hour, and was glued for the nearly two-hour running time. A must-see!
Wet Hot American Summer—I'm one of maybe four people nationwide who really enjoyed The Baxter, and so I thought I'd check out this earlier Showalter-scripted (though not directed) movie. Bad idea! It would have been nice to linger on the warm feelings stirred by Mutual Appreciation for at least another day...but alas. Basically I wanted to get this over with and back in the postage-paid Netflix envelope as soon as possible. WHAS seemed annoyingly trivial to me, a failed parody, a stoner's...what was I saying? Somehow this held almost zero appeal for me.

Comix Central
Charles Burns, Black Hole—If this were a D&D character, it might be "lawful evil." By which I mean: the nightmare quality is distilled into frames of airtight execution. The atmosphere is extreme and elegant, the tone satirical and dead serious. If you have a taste for this sort of thing, it's pretty hard to put down.
Osamu Tezuka, Buddha (volume 1)—I've had this on the shelf for a long time, and now that all eight have been translated and published, I decided to dig in. I'm not a manga maniac, but this zips along nicely. Will I read them all? Signs point to yes.
R. Kikuo Johnson, Night Fisher—A seemingly autobiographical tale that evokes the less-rosy side of life in Hawaii. There are a few too many misspellings for my taste, but this is nicely balanced with island particulars. A weird complaint—it's a Fantagraphics title, but somehow the reproduction seems off; the darks are too dark. (Cf. the perfectly pitched shadows in the Burns.) Still, I'd love to see more. And RKJ has a brief sketch of Audubon in the recent Believer, done in a completely different—let's call it feathery—style, which I dig. (Read Dizzyhead Chrita's Crisis/Boring Change for a more nuanced take. And the illo he reproduces looks better than I remembered.)

Right now I'm chatting simultaneously with two friends via Gmail's new feature. It's fun but I think this might spell the end of all productivity. Or will I become the man of the future?

Postscript: Book 'em!

Over the weekend I visited Gotham Book Mart, in its (relatively) new location—a first for me. This may be sacrilege—but I think I prefer the new digs. Roomier, better air quality, but still has a creaky uniqueness. I picked up Laird Hunt's The Impossibly (albeit at full price), which Mark Kamine wrote about so intriguingly in a recent Believer piece, and Rachel Ingalls's The Pearlkillers, a book I've been trying to get since I began reading her. My stack was actually quite large, but I put most of it back, anticipating many future visits. (Ominously, there's a B&N on the corner, which I'd never seen before—here's hoping it's a complementary relationship.)

Post-postscript: Sountrax
Thanks to Dizzyhead Brent for this investigation into the music used in The Royal Tenenbaums, a Dizzies favorite.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

End of an era

Over at the Voice, it's the end of the Essay section. For this final installment, read about a real life Before Sunrise, courtesy of R. Emmet Sweeney. Then raise a glass to posterity—or rather, posteriority.

My thanks to all who have contributed to the section.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The thin read line

Thanks to the Light Reader (can we call her the "luminous lector"?), I've been scrutinizing this list of the 100 best first lines from novels. It has the old standbys (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Morrison, James, Dickens, Pynchon, etc., etc.), some mild surprises (DFW, Barth, Coover), and some surprising surprises (who hasn't sat down with relish to a good Ronald Sukenick book?).

I have some minor quibbles, and I'm in agreement with a few of the selections—the first sentences of One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Razor's Edge, and especially Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own:

—Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

JR has a similarly great casual/charged opener. (I don't have the book at hand, but I have the Gaddis tribute of Conjunctions here, and it's quoted in the appreciation by Maureen Howard:)

Money...? in a voice that rustled.
Paper, yes.

Dizzyheads are encouraged to chime in with their own favorite openers. I'll offer two of my own for now:

People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.

—Charles Portis, True Grit

(Portis perfectly invokes narrator Mattie Ross's direct yet idiosyncratic voice, sets up the timeframe, and anticipates the main theme of the story—all this, plus a fine bit of humor at the end.)

"Oh!" said Sylvia suddenly.

Maybe you need a bit more:

"Oh!" said Sylvia suddenly. "What?" said Lee alarmed. "Oh I have to go out with you to get firewood," replied Sylvia. "Oh now I remember," said Lee....

—Lee Tandy Schwartzman, Crippled Detectives

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Life & Opinions

Serenity—I've never cottoned to any of Joss Whedon's projects. Friends with great taste swear by Buffy (and some even by Angel), but something's not clicking with me. So it's hard to explain why I netflixed Serenity, a film that grew out of Whedon's canceled show Firefly. The first couple sequences are quite intriguing—an idyllic setting shades into nightmare; we find out it's in the mind (a memory?) of a girl under scientific observation/heavy security; the girl is busted out of her confinement by her disguised brother—but this scene too turns out to be not quite what we think—it's a holographic account that's being watched by someone else. This sort of intense carpet pulling reminded me, favorably, of Brian de Palma's Raising Cain. Then these narrative hijinks pretty much stop, and it's a straightforward science fiction adventure that grew increasingly tiresome for me. Maybe you have to love these characters before the movie begins.

Speaking of carpet-pulling: I highly recommend Michael Winterbottom's Tristram Shandy, which I also approached with some trepidation. (Not only do I not click with Whedon; I feel like I heretofore haven't quite figured out Steve Coogan, based on 24 Hour Party People and Knowing Me, Knowing You.) The impossibility of filming Tristram Shandy is quite the point, and I was reminded strongly of Irma Vep. I seem to recall that IV ends in a screening room (or at least that we see shots of Maggie in which the film is actually altered by the director's hand, scratchmarks and the like)—there's futility here, too, but overall the tone is playful, the characterizations at once casual and well-thought-out.

Today's photo comes courtesy of Dizzyhead Arlo.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Shadow traffic

It's been a somewhat brutal couple of days for your narrator. Luckily, his friends over at Ten Words have been musing on various harbingers of spring...or more winter.

And things can't be all bad. There was allowed to exist in this world a writer named James Joyce, born on this day in 1882. (I feel like Garrison Keillor doing his "Poet's Almanac" thing.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Today's tip

Got a gripe? Time to call up Feisty McArgumentative!

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