Rent Jar

Last week, due to a poorly constructed funnel, I produced a minor avalanche of peppercorns.


Such events are so routine in La Comédie Pete I wouldn’t normally record this, except that, hours later, I was surprised to read the following non-restrictive clause in the obituary of the UK’s richest landowner:

Its long-term lessees later included the Connaught Hotel and the American Embassy, which paid a peppercorn annually.

Personally, I could have done with a bit of explanation. I guess the Gray Lady agrees with General Yeager.

(Pssst, crib off this.)

Unhappy Birthday


One guy was a quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. The other was the singer for R.E.M.

What do they have in common?

Who knows. Bipedalism and probably lots of other stuff. And this too: I am occasionally asked whether I’m related to either.

I am related to both Brian Sipe and Michael Stipe, as far as I know, only by the brotherhood of man.

But something else connects them, at least in my mind: boredom.

Granted, I’m not much of a sports fan, but I regard football as one of the more tedious phenomena to which one may bear witness. And I’ve never forgiven R.E.M. – once my favorite band – for managing to bore me as much as football does.*


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Time (Clock of the Heart)

1. Life’s Span

Chuck Klosterman noted his grandmother was born before the Wright Brothers made history, and died after it got boring to go to the moon.


His conversation with Marc Maron, and some other stuff, has got me thinking about time.

For example, I just watched the trailer for the movie Dunkirk, out next summer.

I once worked in an office in which an older gentleman (my third favorite Belgian, in fact) would sometimes stop by. One day we were chatting – presumably about something unrelated to work – when he told me he’d been at the Dunkirk evacuation.


This seemed extraordinary. I know, actuarially speaking, it’s entirely possible to encounter someone who’s been at a major WWII event, but still: in my head “Dunkirk” is like “Gettysburg.”*


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Reasons to be Cheerful

Author’s note: with all the general ghastliness of late, I thought it worth leavening the proceedings. Grasp your sides in advance.

Part I

My friend has been encouraging me to read this book for years. Having finally picked it up, I sent him this text:


Hilarious, right?

OK, fine, I’m ripping off a Twilight Zone punchline. But, as the saying goes: Talent borrows, Pete steals.

“O! Pete!” you cry. “Share more celestial wit, that we might not be obliged to thieve it!”

Alright. This next one’s pretty good. And anyone can do it, regardless of talent or genius.

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Paid the Cost


I was recently charged one (1) dollar to borrow a DVD from a library. I’m not talking late fine, either: I’m talking cash to walk out the door with it.

O tempora! O mores!

I considered offering to paint over the “Public” on their sign outside; then I figured they might propose I instead erect a sign stating “Public” doesn’t mean “Pete’s personal means of dodging a Netflix subscription,” so I demurred.*


All this reminded me of a Planet Money podcast on why some veterans hold a grudge against the Red Cross. Seriously.

Surprised, I’d asked my daughters’ grandfather – whose wealthy uncle once paid for his trip to Southeast Asia – if it were true.

“Yeah!” he replied, “because of the donuts!”

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New York City Cops


I lived in New York City for six years, three of them in Manhattan, not too far from the Police Academy. You’d see cadets wait at nearby intersections for the walk signal. Apparently they have to do that. I remember thinking if anything in that town could be considered authentically bizarre behavior, it’d be waiting dutifully to cross the street.


I also remember, with great fondness, 3X80 and 3X81. These were the medallion numbers* of the two undercover taxis often parked outside the academy. Every time I’d see a taxi – which, in Manhattan, is like saying “every time I’d see a hat” – I’d look to see if it was either of them. But it never was.

Until the very night before I moved out!

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Gardening at Night


If you offered me a free ticket to the Beatles – and Frank Sinatra were opening, after which Abraham Lincoln would deliver a brief address – only three words could prompt me to refuse: Madison Square Garden.

MSG the Dread (per my friend Jeff’s excellent epithet) is not improved by sitting atop an even worse abomination, Penn Station, a place that gives you an idea of what life would be like if America survived a Soviet nuclear attack.


And just when I thought Penn Station could not be more dispiriting, I looked up and saw this. It’s not a great photo (hard to unpocket and work the camera when stunned on an escalator), but it’s an outline of the old, glorious Penn Station, and the caption reads YOU ARE HERE.

That’s just cold.


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Let’s Get Lost


I am, of course, a renaissance man, but I am also that poor soul you see in parking garages scratching his head. I had a particularly distressing experience last week where I searched three floors, then noticed there was an identical parking garage next door. Let’s just say, it was some time before I made it home.

So you can imagine my confusion when I went to the Museum of Fine Arts recently to see my favorite painting and couldn’t find it. I wandered all around, repeatedly, without success.

Finally I went to the information desk. The staff there were very kind, but also somewhat skeptical: “Are you sure it’s in this museum?” Which is fair enough. They probably have to deal endlessly with guys like me asking for the Mona Lisa or where they parked the car.

But the thing was: they could find no record of the painting!


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More Intensity


There are many reasons I’m glad, and you probably should be too, that I don’t participate  in nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

For example:

In what was apparently an attempt to drive home his country’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, no matter what the United States said, Mr. Kang once told American negotiators that he would quote from the novel “Gone With the Wind.” He said slowly in English, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

I would have been all like “Dude? Pretty sure that’s The Red Sea Sharks!”

And then it might have gone nuclear, because Kang Sok-ju “could turn prickly, bombastic and sarcastic, especially when he was tired,” according to his New York Times obituary. (Although, hey, I get that way too sometimes, so maybe we’d be alright.)

I’ve never read nor seen Gone with the Wind, and am probably OK with not ever getting to either. But boy, would my life be the poorer for not having read The Red Sea Sharks. If Frederick Forsyth had written a Tintin book, this would be it, and it’s where I learned the aforementioned proverb:


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Things That Make You Go Hmmm

Leibniz remarked about his enemy Newton: “Taking mathematics from the beginning of the world to the time when Newton lived, what he had done was much the better half.” The same could be said of Bach. Compared with the entire body of music before his time, his own was the finer half.


My first thought on reading the above was “Whoa!” Because I definitely had not thought about music that way before. Or math either.

The second was “Uh, who’s Leibniz?” Turns out he was “a German polymath and philosopher who occupies a prominent place in the history of mathematics and the history of philosophy.” Ah yes.

And their enmity apparently had to do with Calculus.


Now then. The above quote is from The Stream of Music by Richard Anthony Leonard, published in 1945 (when, presumably, music streaming meant something else).

Some more fun facts about Bach:

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