Summer Slide

Maybe it’s the weather or it’s something like that, but I’m done here for a while. In the meantime:

 

1. Vita Breva

Every day I post an obituary worth reading at @passed_present. Check it out. As spake Ian Dury, “There ain’t half been some clever [folks].”

 

2. Ars Longa

Good heavens, your walls. Fix them up with some proper art.

 

3. Hail Darrell!

I pity the fool who doesn’t hit play.

The Zaire Road

When Twins 1 & 2 were infants, I discovered that taking them outside on a chilly day would calm them. So I’d bundle them up and take them out in their stroller, a swank model with rugged tires. It was on these expeditions I learned that bumpy surfaces soothed them as well.

We’d go a few streets away to a small lane that curved up the side of a hill. It was in appalling neglect, with potholes of such frequency and depth it appeared to have received indirect fire.

I’d push them up and down the road, going into and out of the potholes. I probably looked like a madman, but believe me, it was being able to calm a brace of screaming infants that averted my madness.

One afternoon I was at my quasi-Sisyphean toil when I heard a mighty noise above. I looked up and saw a 747. It was ascending and making a turn, and I could see it perfectly in the clear October sky. It was Air Force One. I was awestruck. To this day it’s one of the most magnificent things I’ve ever seen.

***

In 1971, six years into his reign, Mobutu Sese Seko decided he wanted the Congo to have a new image. So he renamed it Zaire. Mobutu – the Marshal, as he called himself – ruled for about thirty years. Although his country was very poor, his focus was his own comfort. He built palaces, one with a runway to accommodate Concordes bringing delicacies from Paris. Mobutu fled power a few months before his death in 1997, but lived long enough to see his country – which was falling into the deadliest conflict since World War II – be again renamed, back to the Congo.

Notwithstanding his downfall, Mobutu was shrewd, and knew how to play people – and nations. (If you paid federal taxes back then, he sure got some.) All the while, he maintained both a risible grandiosity and a profound unconcern for his subjects.

…Mr. Mobutu said his European bank accounts held “less than $50 million. Is that such an exorbitant sum for someone who is, for the last 22 years, the head of state of such a great country?” he asked.

Critics reply that Zaire has pressing, unattended social needs. About one-third of the children die before the age of 5 in Zaire, which has a per capita income of $180, the eighth lowest in the world.

The New York Times, September 29, 1988

Continue reading “The Zaire Road”

RIPQ

Editor’s note: this post is about a British music magazine. If you think it’s about something else, take your tin foil hat back to Facebook.

Last year I went into Harvard Square to look for the final issue of Q. I figured the Coop might have it. Nope. As the manager explained, magazines were sold in the cafe, but since the cafe was closed, magazines were not being sold.

We then chatted about where to buy magazines. Not so long ago, you had two great options in Harvard Square: Out of Town News and Crimson Corner. (The former is gone, the latter now pretty much only sells Harvard souvenirs.) He said, “Honestly, your best bet for magazines around here is CVS.”

I know this isn’t the biggest deal, given the ravages of a global pandemic, but: Harvard Square, and the only place to buy magazines is CVS…

[Shakes head, stares off]

So I ordered a copy off the Internet. It’s a slim thing, thrown together after the editors learned they’d gotten the axe. Rough way to go out.

 

Q magazine. In my youth I loved it. I discovered it at the Li’l Peach in Cleveland Circle. It was unlike anything I was familiar with in the American press.

Every Rolling Stone issue had some long article decrying the tyranny of the Bush Sr administration, and then a handful of album reviews, which forever seemed to be: four stars for the new Joe Walsh album! etc.

Q always had scores of album reviews, terrific interviews (“Tom Hibbert has but one frosty inquiry“), and each one, at least in the early days, was – as we say in the teaching business – text-dense.

The writing was smart and erudite, and they took it seriously, but they were total smartasses, too. Here’s a sentence from a Brian Eno interview in the above issue:

The man who is about to release not one but two new albums in the very near future – his first direct assault on our wallets for five years – is adopting a characteristically oblique strategy for the necessary business of self promotion.

And the photo captions. I’ve never seen better. (My favorite, alas, is not repeatable here.)

When I moved to Seattle twenty years ago, I got rid of my old issues, and it pains me whenever I think of it. Man, I wish I still had them. They were so good. So long, Q. I owe my Anglophilia to you.

 

* Speaking of Seattle, First and Pike News is now also gone. So it goes.

Number Nonsense

Remember in 2019 when India and Pakistan launched air strikes against each other? I pay attention to that stuff, and you should too. If they had a nuclear war, it would be a decade of pain for all of us.

Anyway, I distinctly remember three things from that incident. First, the Indian pilot saying his captors were “thorough gentlemen.” Second, his thoroughly excellent facial hair (check it out). And third, he was flying a MiG-21.

The first MiG-21 went into service in 1959. Understandably, the Indian Air Force is modernizing its fleet, and just bought 36 new fighters, Rafales from France, for around nine billion dollars.

Sorry? Why yes, that is about a quarter-billion dollars per plane.

Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that. You don’t just buy a new fighter plane. You have to pay for the training, the missiles, the TruCoat, etc. Still, though. That seems… expensive.

 

Our new fighter planes are much cheaper – they’re only $100 million apiece. On the downside, they’re “maintenance-intensive, buggy and unreliable.” And the operating cost is pricey: ten dollars for each second aloft. For one hour of flight, you could buy a Tesla Model 3, or 10,000 Happy Meals, or pay a new teacher’s annual salary.

***

Something that’s mollified the pandemic’s grimness has been watching the new library go up in town. Man, has it been heartening to see something get better every day.  Plus, I know this about books: they are neither buggy nor maintenance-intensive. (Unreliable? You got me there.) Total cost for the new library is $34 million. Or, about a third of a parked F-35.

 

March Madness

 

Having ordered the twins to load the car,  I took a look and thought: this looks like something from a movie called The Samoan Job. The rest of the day I had this in my head:

 

Of course, per geography, we were laden not with Samoas, but Caramel deLites. So every time I saw a box, this riff kicked off:

 

Meanwhile in History class, it’s the Ancient Greece unit, and we did a lesson on Minoans. Whenever I read, spoke, or heard “Minoan,” it summoned that call to terpsichorean abandon in this song’s finale:

 

Make it stop, please.

O! Gentle Reader! This dread month, the Long March, is underway. As quoth the above proboscis-wearer: “You got it down when you appear to be in pain.”

 

PS sincere shoutout to the guy who pulled up to the drive-through sale last Sunday and bought two cases of Peanut Butter Sandwiches (or, per geography, Do-si-dos). Someday I’m going to be a high roller like that.

No No Song

If there is one matter on which I can speak with authority – or at least experience – it is rejection.

I started sending stories out for publication fifteen years ago. For a while I kept count of the rejections. After about a hundred, for the purpose of ego maintenance, I decided to stop. Let’s just say my acceptance rate is under one percent and leave it at that.

Rejection slips generally go like this: thanks, sorry, good luck. E.g. here’s one I pulled at random:

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read and consider [story]. Unfortunately, your submission is not the right fit for our journal at this time. We wish you all the best of luck in placing it elsewhere, and appreciate your interest in [journal].

Again, thank you for your submission and please accept our kind regards.

 

No rejection has ever induced my laughter, that’s for sure, until this year. I just got this, from the UK. I guess they do it different over there:

Many thanks for sending us your story. We enjoyed reading it, but not enough to offer publication in the magazine.
Good luck with your writing!

Phatic Balance

At the recommendation of friends, I watched Horace and Pete. It didn’t do for me what it seemed to do for them, and the best thing about it is, indisputably, Paul Simon’s theme song.

 

The other thing that really made an impression on me was this Garry Shandling quote at the end of one of the episodes:

The world is too noisy and distracted to probably ultimately survive. Everyone needs to [silence themselves]. The answers are in the silence. Monks set themselves on fire to protest and to make this point. Just consider it.

 

Oh, believe me, Mr. Shandling, I have. And I have a solution. It lies in Phatic language. Phatic language* is the kind of verbal communication that exists solely to maintain polite social engagement. (Hello, what’s up, etc.) Crucially, it does so minimally. I hereby propose we rename Saturday “Phaturday” and observe it accordingly.
I am also open to Phat Tuesday.

 

*Online perusal indicates it is often conflated with small talk. This strikes me as very incorrect. Phatic language, unlike small talk, would never make me contemplate immolation.

Ode to Billy Joe

Due to a risotto mishap, a few mornings ago I was unable to use my kettle. Well, I could have used it, but I would have had to have first scrubbed it, and I was in no mood for labor. So I walked up to the Target, where there’s a Starbucks.

I went in and was promptly stopped by an employee. I couldn’t get what she said, because of the mask and all. She was polite, but her words definitely had a “go away” vibe to them. Which was fine; there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts up the street, too.

But I try to lift my fog of incomprehension when I can, so I asked her to repeat herself. She said her spiel again, and I finally understood: it was vulnerable guests hour. I walked up to the Dunkin’ Donuts, pleased to have impressed yet another lady with my invulnerable physique.

***

I found myself thinking about that curious trio of words. I’d not ever heard their combination before. Sounds like an Arctic Monkeys EP, no? But it isn’t, so I’ve requisitioned it for my fantasy band. It shall be our live album, the one where, for an encore, we tear up “Honky Tonk Heroes.” I bet its writer would approve of Vulnerable Guests Hour. That guy had a way with words. Indeed, it was his charm that persuaded Waylon Jennings to give the song a shot:

The story goes that Jennings had promised Billy Joe Shaver, then an unknown songwriter from Texas, that he’d do a full album of Shaver’s songs… But everyone agrees that, after Jennings forgot about the promise and blew Shaver off, Shaver showed up at the studio one night and threatened to beat him up. “Waylon, you said you were going to do a whole album of my songs,” Shaver writes in Honky Tonk Hero. “I’ve got those songs, and you’re going to listen to them—or I’m going to kick your [hindquarters] right here in front of God and everybody.”