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Scaling Up

 

 

This week’s Science class got me thinking about Frank Zappa. All I knew about him was that he was a good musician and that he’d given his children names that, uh, never made my shortlist. So I watched a documentary on him.

An interesting cat, to be sure, but I’m afraid music based on the chromatic scale is not my thing. A guy in the film decried how it’s dismissed as “wrong note music,” but that sounds (tee hee!) right to me.

I was impressed that, for his fifteenth birthday, Zappa asked to make a telephone call to Edgar Varèse (no, I’d never heard of him either). I think for my fifteenth birthday I asked for the “Armageddon It” cassingle.

 

Image result for frank zappa

 

There was mention in the documentary of Eric Dolphy, which always reminds me of this passage in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Not only does it capture how I feel about the chromatic scale, it will sound right to those who’ve ever tried to chat with me:

It was as though we were speaking in different languages. If the Dalai Lama were on his deathbed and the jazz musician Eric Dolphy were to try to explain to him the importance of choosing one’s engine oil in accordance with changes in the sound of the bass clarinet, that exchange might have been more worthwhile and effective than my conversations with Noboru Wataya.

 

 

ICYMI

 

Image result for facepalm

 

Last week I posted individual sentences from books read over the summer. Now I’m going to share with you the one I’ve thought about the most. It’s from Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, by Ted Morgan:

Both were shot, and Captain Gregg played dead while an Indian removed his scalp, leaving a bad cut on his forehead.

 

Forget Captain Gregg: did Captain Obvious write that sentence? I’ve been trying to come up with an equivalent, and it’s provided some amusement:

The arsonist burned down the house, leaving ashes on the ground.

The barroom erupted in a brawl, leaving drinks spilled on tables.

The reserve chute failed to deploy, leaving the skydiver’s rate of descent accelerated.

 

Here, you try it!

________________________________

 

 

PS Reading the book I realized I’d read, years before, the author’s memoir My Battle of Algiers, about his wartime service as a French conscript. If I recall correctly, at his army induction the intake officer, upon learning Morgan had a university education, stamped his file “Illiterate.” [I bet ol’ Ted said touché, eh, Jeff? – ed.]

 

Minimum Sentence

 

Below are sentences from books I read this summer. I was going to add comment, but kind of prefer them without.

 

A new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, Steve Brusatte

*

Once you have 10 percent or more women at a party, you cannot serve only beer.

Skin In the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

*

Both the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of Vietnam chose Colonel Pham Tuan for the Soyuz 37 spaceflight because on the evening of December 27, 1972 … he became the first Vietnamese fighter pilot to shoot down an American B-52 bomber.

Apollo in the Age of Aquarius, Neil M. Maher

*

File:Spreading homo sapiens.svg

Averaging about ten miles a year, the marchers moved along corridors with walls of ice on both sides.

Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, Ted Morgan

*

If you thoroughly mix up a deck of 52 cards … there is a very good chance that the order you obtained has never been seen before and will never be seen again, even if every person on earth produced a new shuffled deck every minute for the next million years!

The Magic of Math: Solving for X and Figuring Out Why, Arthur Benjamin

*

Three hundred S.S. men in Berlin have started learning Swahili.

Berlin Diary, William Shirer

*

Please say hello.

Siren Song: The Autobiography of America’s Greatest Living Record Man, Seymour Stein

*

William sensed that this insight hadn’t produced in his companions, as it had in him, an aesthetic breakthrough.

Good Trouble, Joseph O’Neill

 

Thanks

 

The first business day after the old man’s death saw me spending a lot of time on the phone. I kind of hate talking on the phone to begin with, so to clear my head I took Roosevelt out for a walk.

While in the park he started furiously pawing at something in the grass. Upon continuing the walk he would not use his right forepaw; apparently he got stung by whatever he was after.

This naturally occurred at the aphelion of our walk, and I had to carry the damn dog home, where thence he vomited throughout the day. I found his timing poor.

A few nights later, standing in the kitchen, I had a terrible realization: not only would I have to cook my dinner, I would then have to eat what I cooked. So I called a local BBQ restaurant, placed an order, and set out along with Roosevelt.

Exiting with my meal, I saw him raptly sitting at attention, focused on a man eating at one of the outdoor tables. The man asked if he could share some of his brisket with my dog, adding that his late dog had liked it very much.

“Sure,” I said, but also warned that Rosie was a generally ungrateful SOB.

“Aren’t most of us?” the man replied. I thought this wasn’t bad at all for weeknight curbside philosophy.

Accordingly, I wish to record that I have received many kindnesses this summer, and I am indeed grateful. Thank you.

Well, that’s certainly enough of that. The lodestars of this blog are Irreverence & Irrelevance, and, Gentle Reader, we’ll be back to that in short order.

 

Dad

 

 

My old man died Saturday. He lived a long, rich life: born in Kansas during the Great Depression, he grew up in the Pacific Northwest, served in the Army, built planes for Boeing, earned a university degree at night, and worked for the Veterans Administration until his retirement. He was a good man and a good citizen, a loving father and a devoted grandfather.

I could tell a lot of stories about him, but this is the one I like best.

When I was fifteen, he drove me and my friend Ben out to Worcester to see R.E.M. at the Centrum. Upon dropping us off he gave me instructions on where to meet afterwards. Excited to see my first rock concert, I promptly forgot whatever he told me.

After the show the consequence of my neglect became apparent. Me and Ben walked around for quite a bit. Finally I saw a guy standing on a street corner with his hand raised, as if in benediction.

It was indeed my father. Once me and Ben didn’t show up, he decided to get out of the car and make himself visible. He’d received a few high fives, and someone had asked him if he was the messiah.

He was good-natured about the whole thing. One of his many fine qualities was a subtle appreciation for the ridiculous.

So long, Dad.

 

 

Gone till September

 

I see you cryin’ but, Gentle Reader, I can’t stay. I’m going to write some other stuff for a while.

In the meantime:

1) What has four letters and fills your mailbox? That’s right, m-a-i-l! Oh. You were thinking something else? In that case, William Schaff can fix that. I can’t tell you how reliably cheering it is to receive mail like this:

 

2) Put on your cleanest dirty shirt and check out Sunday Morning Sidewalk, hosted by the estimable flightjkt. If you ain’t listening, you better be in church.

 

3) You may be astonished to learn that I occasionally exercise. In fact, in April I ran – well, to be accurate, artlessly lumbered – the James Joyce Ramble, surely one of the loveliest road races out there.

I was distressed to get an email shortly thereafter from the founder, saying that the race is broke and its future in doubt.

We hope to be a part of this mortal coil on April 28, 2019 for Ramble year 36 and perhaps you can help us with that. If you think your company’s marketing VP, advertising executive or eccentric uncle who runs a hedge fund might entertain a conversation about being a Ramble partner, please have them or you call me. [jjramble at gmail dot com]

Obviously, if I had the means, I’d underwrite it personally, asking only that the name be changed to the Pete and James Joyce Ramble. But my readership undoubtably includes those of fabulous wealth. Do partner up, eh?

Happy summer, folks. -PBS

 

Tomboy

 

Sparr’s Drugs, 1960s. Northeastern University Digital Repository Service.

My high school probably had a decent English curriculum, but I don’t recall, because I didn’t read most of the books assigned. I’d buy the Cliff’s Notes at Sparr’s and then read Stephen King novels instead. One day I decided there might be more to literature, so I picked up Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities.

I’ve read it at least ten times now. It’s my third favorite novel. (If you really want to hear about it. The world is what it is.)

As it happened, I’d just finished re-reading The Right Stuff last week, and had been thinking a lot about what a marvelous writer Tom Wolfe is. I haven’t read all of his writing, and some of what I’ve read I haven’t liked. But if you told me I had to go read everything he’s ever written, I’d be happy to. (Except maybe his graduate work.)

He taught me good fiction need not plod. I get my love of the well italicized word from him. (I don’t try my hand at exclamation points, though. You put on a top hat, you best be Slash.) He made me look up “tabescent” and lots else.

I ripped off one of his titles for my second short story.

The very first post on this blog was about him.

The whirl, the whirl, the whirl. RIP, sir.

 

Kick in the Head

 

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The most embarrassing failure in U.S. Soccer history was consummated on Tuesday night in a near-empty stadium in the Caribbean tropics, culminating in a soul-crushing 2-1 defeat to a last-place opponent in which the U.S. men’s national team had only needed a win or a tie to qualify for World Cup 2018.

Sports Illustrated, October 11, 2017

 

Upon learning the US wouldn’t be in the World Cup, I remember wondering how a population of three hundred twenty-six million could not field a successful soccer team. My conviction that this was indisputable evidence of American decline was tempered only by the comfort that it was soccer, so who cares.

It’s state testing season, which has put my schedule in the paint mixer. One day last week – one of those eighty degree days – it worked out that I had the same class for three periods. I could not help but sense some feeling among students that the third was gilding the lily. So I took them outside.

The boys started playing soccer. It was like watching them suddenly break into a choreographed routine. These kids – from Brazil, Central America, Haiti, and the Middle East – had obviously been kicking a ball since they could stand. I began to grasp how the US could be defeated by a country one two-hundred-thirty-thirds its size.

 

Reading Comprehension

 

Image result for rod stewart

Last summer Rod Stewart came through Boston for a private concert. The newspaper mentioned he’d dined someplace downtown. I was surprised because I’d been there once myself, for a fundraiser. It’s one of those shiny Irish pub simulacra.

The thing was, the article said he dined there twice. I remember thinking: Huh? I’d have figured Rod Stewart tours fine restaurants via champagne swilling sediari.

All of this is not to express concern for his standard of living, but rather to illustrate my default state of incomprehension. It’s not just politics or etc that baffles me, I can’t even read the About Town section without scratching my head.

Being, into the bargain, an ESL teacher – a job where incomprehension is not wholly absent – and dad to two four-year-olds, which… well, the other day Twin 2 pointed at a picture of the Eiffel Tower and said it looked like a cowboy hat. You get the idea.

So I trust you will indulge me when I say how proud I am to have read and understood this sentence:

One of Mexico’s favorite ways to express anger is from a viral 2010 commercial by an Egyptian dairy company called Panda Cheese that features a panda wreaking havoc on an office.

 

 

PS listen to this gem, from a half-century ago. Those horns! PP Arnold! What happened, Sir Rod? I don’t understand.

 

Some Friendly

 

Demolition Class, 1944 (US National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Ten minutes later it happens again. Someone shouts, “Forty-eight!” Then half the room responds “Forty-nine! Fifty!” And everyone bellows, “SOME [RUBBISH]!” They dissolve into laughter. This, I discover, is the Jedburgh tradition reserved for any speaker who dares go on too long. It came from one of the American trainees who, when ordered to do fifty push-ups, counted the last few out loud: “Forty-eight. Forty-nine. Fifty!” then jumped to attention with a very audible “Some [rubbish]!” The British Jeds parodied it and it quickly caught on as a tactic to sabotage boring lectures from visiting officials…

 

That’s from Dadland, Keggie Carew’s memoir of her father, who’d been a British commando in France and Burma in World War II.

Be a lamb and don’t tell my students about this. I much prefer they maintain this disposition.

 

G.I. Blues


 

Concerned about the prospect of a third world war now that China has invaded Vietnam, Maurice, 29, expresses the fear that he could be eligible for an emergency draft call since he is a U.S. resident.

– “The Bee Gees Are Earthly Angels,” Rolling Stone, May 17, 1979

 

It was sixty years ago today that Elvis Presley entered the Army. I knew he’d been drafted, but didn’t know he’d manned a machine gun on the East German border. Turns out he was a very good soldier, as this BBC program recounts.

Now, I say this as a genuine fan of the Gibbous brotherhood, and I don’t wish to impugn the man. But had he been inducted, I’m not sure we’d have seen Maurice serving, à la King, in a scout platoon.

 

 

About that event that preoccupied Maurice:

The Chinese invasion turned out to be a disaster for Beijing, however. Over the course of a month of fighting, China lost almost half as many soldiers as the United States did in all of its war in Vietnam. There is little doubt that if Deng had not decided that the “lesson” for Vietnam was complete, the Chinese losses would have increased even further.

– The Cold War, Odd Arne Westad

 

The lesson may have been complete, but evidently not learned:

“We should go in and give them a bloody nose like Deng Xiaoping did to Vietnam in 1979,” the source said, referring to China’s brief invasion of Vietnam to punish Hanoi for forcing Beijing’s ally the Khmer Rouge from power in Cambodia.

– “‘Give them a bloody nose’: Xi pressed for stronger South China Sea response,” Reuters, July 31, 2016

And the new National Security Advisor is also, alas, an advocate of rhinointervention:

Last month, Bolton made a similar case for launching an attack, known as a “Bloody Nose” strike, against North Korea.

 

Just say no(se).

 

Shortcuts

 

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There are no such universally well-dressed people in the world as the Americans. It is not only that more of them than of any other nation have good clothes to their backs, but their garments are better made and adjusted to their persons, and worn with easier grace.

The Bazar Book of Decorum, 1870

 

What is everybody in shorts for?

– Jerry Seinfeld, 2014

 

***

Twin 2 delights in seeing joggers wearing shorts in the winter. “That’s silly!” she exclaims.

“Oh, it’s silly,” I mutter.

Actually, I don’t know why it should bother me. I have a fairly enlightened attitude toward shorts in that I am willing to relax their prohibition in the event of sport or labor.

A couple of years ago cargo shorts were in the news as the subject of sartorial dispute. (As if it were a reasonable position not to find them ghastly.)

What sticks in my mind, though, is that someone had done his PhD dissertation on cargo shorts. Which means they’re not just apparel, they’re a scholarly pursuit.

Athena wept.

 

Library Edition 2

 

 

There was an institution associated with the festivities of the Middle Ages of a peculiarly interesting description. It was the custom to elect a director or controller of the sports, and he bore the title of the “Lord of Misrule.” It was his business to determine to what extent the hilarity should be carried; at all events, to decide when it should stop. I think the idea is a very good one. We have a modification of it, the modern office of “Master of Ceremonies.” In Scotland, the name given to this functionary was “Abbot of Unreason,” an office prohibited in 1555.

A Few Reflections on the Rights, Duties, Obligations, and Advantages of Hospitality, Cornelius Walford, 1885

 

Lord of Misrule! Abbot of Unreason!

Until the snow day on Thursday I hadn’t known about any of this. (Although, considering my teaching career, I say with confidence that some of my students may have.)

Wonder what went down in 1555 to put an end to it. Bet there’s a historical novel in there for Irvine Welsh.

While the position’s benefits may appear evident, I looked it up and there were also disadvantages:

Roman soldiers would choose a man from among them to be the Lord of Misrule for thirty days. At the end of that thirty days, his throat was cut on the altar of Saturn.

 

***

I found that volume in the Boston Athenaeum. It was the fourth of 133 printed for the members of London’s Sette of Odd Volumes, which is apparently the inspiration for the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston.

The Club of Odd Volumes is limited to 87 members. I’m not sure I could be their Abbot of Unreason, but if they need someone voluminous in oddity, they should sign me up. Either way, I continue to seek the establishment of the Boston branch of this club.

 

Library Edition

 

I try to avoid any place requiring shuttle buses, but when my friend Keith came up for the day and said he wanted to go to the JFK Library, I said OK.

My favorite part? Freedom 7! Hadn’t expected to see that. It’s on loan from the Air & Space Museum. Holy moly, it’s small:

Hanging with Freedom 7

 

And this is neat. It’s from a state dinner for the French minister of culture. I like the “who is he” next to Allen Tate (had to look him up myself). Also, upon scrutiny it appears that Truman Capote was unmarried. And apparently for some reason J.D. Salinger couldn’t make it.

The exhibits are fine, but given the size of the building, it all felt more like a good exhibition on JFK at some other museum (one probably without shuttle buses). It seemed too brief. Which I sadly suppose is fitting.

 

***

Heading back downtown we had to get on a special commuter rail shuttle, for a Red Line train at the next stop had “basically exploded.” I’m glad President Kennedy wasn’t there for that part:

Kennedy: Why isn’t the subway running?

Pete: Uh, well, it has a lot of problems these days.

Kennedy: I had you put a man on the moon! And – wait, this stop, it’s named after me? Look at it!

Pete: Hey, look what we can do with our phones: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

***

Before Keith got back on his train for New York we stopped at the Parker House Hotel for a drink. That’s where JFK had his bachelor party. (Our drink was almost certainly more subdued.) The thing that intrigues me about the Parker House is that both Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh worked there. I’m kind of surprised the hotel doesn’t make more of it, but then again, I guess I should be glad you don’t see a “By Any Means Necessary” or a “Tet Offensive” on the cocktail list.