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!

Continue reading “New York City Cops”

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.


Continue reading “Gardening at Night”

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!

Continue reading “Let’s Get Lost”

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:


Continue reading “More Intensity”

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.

Image result for professor 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:

Continue reading “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”

Riddle Me This

What’s the difference between a bridge and a middle eight?

Andy Smarick’s recent State of the Bridge Address (“bridges are generally—there’s no graceful way around this—simply godawful”) made me realize:

  • I didn’t know the difference between the aforementioned song components. The NME helped me out, kind of:

The middle eight is the eight-bar B section of a song in thirty-two-bar form, where the verse is the A section. All clear? In pop, it’s generally regarded as the bit after the second chorus in a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle-eight-chorus structure, although it’s sometimes referred to as the “bridge” which then confuses it with the bridging section often found between verse and chorus.

  • Whichever it is, I couldn’t come up with a single one I liked. Until, for reasons best known unto Neurology, I set upon the “The clocks will all run backwards/All the sheep will have two heads” bit in World Party’s Way Down Now, which I actually think is the best part of the song. But: does the song even have a chorus? So then could it even be a bridge or a middle eight? Or is it a break? What do I even know?

Nelson Riddle wept.

To assuage my existential despair I turned, of course, to Twitter, where Joe Pernice introduced me to this magnificent performance of what’s probably my favorite pop song ever, if it came down to it:

Continue reading “Riddle Me This”

American Cheese

I just finished The Possessed by the estimable Elif Batuman. I really like it, especially what she says about craft:

I realized that I would greatly prefer to think of literature as a profession, an art, a science, or pretty much anything else, rather than a craft. What did craft ever try to say about the world, the human condition, or the search for meaning?


This reminds me of Guernica’s interview with Etgar Keret, a writer I really admire from hearing him on radio programs. Have I actually read his work? Er, not yet – I certainly intend to, of course – but you’re missing the point here, which is this:

In America, where writers are preoccupied with the craft of writing, I always try to introduce this concept of the badly written good story. Turning the hierarchy around and putting passion on top and not craft, because when you just focus on craft, you can write something that is very sterile. It looks beautiful, but soulless. So I warn them that, often in writing programs, articulation and clarity are more important than what you actually say. Sometimes you have, like, New Yorker stories—there’s a couple, they’re on a cruise, he’s becoming senile, he doesn’t want to acknowledge it, when the woman mentions it to him, he becomes really angry, but in the end he admits it and they sit on the deck, she closes her eyes. And you say, “It’s so well-written, but who [cares]?” For certain, the guy who wrote it doesn’t [care]. It’s not something that has to do with his life; it’s just something well-written and illuminating, and writing is not about that. The best stories you usually hear are stories that people feel some type of urgency about.*

Which in turn reminds me of going to see Richard Price do a reading many years ago. He said something to this effect: “You don’t write to write, you write because you’ve got a story you’re dying to tell.”

*Coincidentally, if I may talk shop for a moment, creating a sense of urgency is a desired practice in classroom teaching. If you’ve ever sat through a boring class, you may have an inkling as to why.

Sister Act


Twin 2 said to Twin 1 the other day: “Hey! Be nice to me! I’m your sister!”

I found this hilarious.

I was reminded of it reading this Globe article on Boston’s sister cities. (Wikipedia informs me such municipal relationships are also known as “twin towns.”)

I grew up in Boston, and have a MA in international studies, but even if you’d threatened me with baked beans, I’d have been unable to name a single sister city. The article provides introductions. (Sekondi-Takoradi! Who knew. Don’t act like you did, either. And, Wikipedia informs me that their pro soccer team is the most excellently named Eleven Wise.)


I also found this hilarious:

Other than the fact that Kyoto and Boston have been sister cities since 1959, for example, “We do not know more than that,” a spokesperson for Kyoto’s Prefectural Government Tourism Division said. “Thank you for your understanding.”

Per the city’s website, Boston seems to know a bit more about her Japanese sister, but then again, per the article, “seems to have forgotten Beira, Mozambique.”

C’mon, twins! Be nice to each other.


Soft Landing

“I live on an air force base. I know what I’m talking about. If a plane manages to avoid radar detection up to its landing, it could land and come to a quiet halt at the end of a runway without anybody noticing.” -Major Ido Embar, Israeli Air Force


When I first started living near railroad tracks, passing trains would awaken me. Now they almost never do. Still, I can’t imagine how anyone could not notice a large plane landing nearby.

I just finished Operation Thunderbolt by Saul David, a heck of a tale about the Israeli rescue of hostages in Uganda. Major Embar’s above declaration is but one of many memorable details.

Others include:

 – One of the hijacked passengers had once decided to kill Klaus Barbie, and had a “gun hidden under a poncho when Barbie stopped three yards in front of him.”

– Henry Kissinger’s phone call to Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz upon hearing that Israel was prepared to negotiate for the hostages’ release:

Dinitz: [Idi Amin] would have slaughtered them: men, women, and children.

Kissinger: I wonder if that would not have been better. Then you could react.

Continue reading “Soft Landing”



“If only I could feel that my music had ever done anything to help one single person, it would have made it worth it.”

Canonical American movies I’ve never seen include Anchorman, Zoolander, and It’s a Wonderful Life. That last one, I’ve gathered, has to do with a despondent man who learns, in a timely manner, that his life is worth continuing.

This unseen movie came to mind as I was watching A Skin Too Few, a documentary about Nick Drake. (I wished it to be either half or twice its length – less stock of the [admittedly very beautiful] countryside, more about his music.)

But what dropped my jaw was his sister relating the above quote, for I had just last week written a friend this sentence exactly: “Nick Drake has been very helpful lately.”

Now then, maybe you can help me. I’m trying to find a Nick Drake song. It’s a cover of someone else’s song. I heard it in the car several months ago and remember thinking “This sounds like Nick Drake, but it can’t be a Nick Drake song.” And I was right, for it was Nick Drake covering someone else’s song!

It seemed to be about traveling or going on a boat or something, and was upbeat-ish and maybe even bluesy? Anyone? Help!


PS true story: Nick was almost helpful this other time. We came very close to naming Twin 1 “Hazel Jane” just so I could call her Hazey Jane. Which, c’mon, is adorable! And pretty cool into the bargain. (Sorry, Bryter Later, naming them Hazey Jane I and Hazey Jane II was never seriously considered.)