Monday, June 30, 2003

Me and Kate

OK, the day I met Katherine Hepburn--well, almost: It was about 20 million years ago, and I was working in Manhattan as a gofer ("editorial assistant") for a children's book publisher. The company was in the Crown Building on Fifth Avenue at 57th Street--a very chi-chi address for a book publisher, especially this one. (Their claim to fame was Disney's My First Encyclopedia, for which I actually wrote a few entries. It was illustrated with Disney characters, and we always called it The Mickey Mouse Encyclopedia.) One day, I had to take some papers to an office on another floor. I got into the elevator, noticing that two older women were in it also, but I didn't really look at them. Then I heard an oddly familiar voice. I looked up and realized that one of the women was Katherine Hepburn. She looked like she was in her late 70s, and she was talking with the other woman, who looked even older. Eventually "Kate" (ahh, why not call her that, at this point?) sensed that I was staring at her. She slowly turned her head and gave me a very imperious look and a little smile--"just like in the movies," as they say. I was too shy to say anything, and embarassed about staring, so I quickly looked down at my papers. The elevator stopped at my floor and I got off. As the doors closed, I heard the two women chuckling softly, and the "other one" (Hepburn's companion?) said, "Well, that was easy." I guess they had expected that I would ask for an autograph or something dumb like that. I later learned that Hepburn's dentist was in the same building, so presumably that's what she was doing there.

Maybe someday I'll tell you about passing Dustin Hoffman on the street.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Van Goghing once, Van Goghing twice . . .

According to Dr. Mac's Cultural Calendar, on this day in 1987, Vincent Van Gogh's "Le Pont de Trinquetaille" was sold for a staggering $20.4 million at an auction in London. That's amazing when you consider that Van Gogh never sold a single painting during his lifetime. Sooner or later, talent is always recognized, cultural gatekeepers are fond of saying. Sometimes too late . . . .

Many thanks to The Writing Life for the link. There are many, many historic cultural events listed for each day of the year on this site, and Dr. Mac's will probably be a daily visit.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Something Fishy

A company in Taiwan has developed a tropical fish that glows in the dark. It's a zebra fish (one of the most common aquarium critters) that's been genetically modified with jellyfish DNA to give off a ghostly green light. It's also been made sterile, so it won't breed more eerie glowfish if it somehow gets loose in lakes and rivers. Might make an odd but fun addition to an aquarium, though it's rather pricey at US$17.

If we have to play God with DNA, I suppose this is a benign enough innovation. What's alarming, though, is that other companies are apparently working on modified tropical fish that will survive at colder temperatures. And that could present a big problem, even if they're sterile. Just imagine dipping your foot into your favorite lake or stream and having it nibbled on by a piranha.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

The Black Album?

According to the, ahem, People's Temple website, Charles Manson has released a CD of studio recordings he made in 1967. The album is called All the Way Alive, and the cover art is a reverse of the Beatles's "White Album" (i.e., it's completely black except for some tiny white lettering). If you know anything about cult leader/serial killer Manson and his "family," you know that the more cryptic lyrics of the White Album were supposedly his "inspiration."

I sure hope this is some kind of sick joke, but it doesn't look like it.

People's Temple Records

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Quote of the Day

"But even people who aren't partisan Republicans shy away from confronting the administration's dishonest case for war, because they don't want to face the implications.

After all, suppose that a politician -- or a journalist -- admits to himself that Mr. Bush bamboozled the nation into war. Well, launching a war on false pretenses is, to say the least, a breach of trust. So if you admit to yourself that such a thing happened, you have a moral obligation to demand accountability -- and to do so in the face not only of a powerful, ruthless political machine but in the face of a country not yet ready to believe that its leaders have exploited 9/11 for political gain. It's a scary prospect.

Yet if we can't find people willing to take the risk -- to face the truth and act on it -- what will happen to our democracy?" --Paul Krugman, New York Times, 24 June 03

We won't have a genuine democracy anymore. We'll have a proto-fascist plutocracy. Or something like that. It scares me, but what scares me more is that so few people seem to care about the slippery slope the US is on. My impression is that most Americans are numb. Not deep thinkers at the best of times, "we the people" have been zombified since 9/11. "Whatever" has become the national motto. There's just nothing happening that I can see--culturally, economically, politically--except paralysis and putrefication. There's an old saying: "a fish stinks from the head." If we don't have real "regime change" in 2004, the smell is going to get a lot worse. How long can people hold their noses?
Someone to talk to . . . some thing to talk to . . .

I've always found "talking" to chat bots rather frustrating. The conversations are usually quite limited and circular, and I lose interest after a few minutes. A.L.I.C.E. (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) is more entertaining and sophisticated than most. The program doesn't claim to be anything other than a computer that is still "learning" (though it seems to know a lot already), and the conversations are surprisingly natural (as these things go).

Chat with A. L. I. C. E. here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Quote of the Day

"Why are so many folks glued to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and wrestling smackdowns? Contemporary mass culture, if you let it run your life, essentially teaches you to be an uncritical consumer of whatever puke they throw at you. Poetry, like music and photography, gives you something to think through and see the world. It is a way of engagement that no one can take away from you. It gives you a way of mediating the world. By writing a poem you actually create that rarest of creatures in the world capitalist culture--something with virtually no monetary or utilitarian value."
--Joel Lewis

For "poem," you could substitute "blog entry" or (generally speaking) "short story" or "essay" or--these days--"literary novel." Writing has to be its own reward or . . . blah, blah, blah.

Here's another quote:

"You can make a fortune from writing--but you can't make a living." --James Michener (think about it)

Monday, June 23, 2003

Grave Site

I've never liked cemeteries, which is why I hope to be scattered to the winds someday. Boneyards give me the shivers--I can't help thinking about what I'm stepping on, or over--but I have to admit that, visually, they can be impressively atmospheric and creepy. And that I do like. The City of Shadows site contains some beautiful photos of one of the eeriest cemeteries of all, London's Highgate. Enter if you dare.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Haiku 551

A branch of willow
Stuck in a glass of water
My only decor

If only. Sometimes I look at all the clutter in this place and wish I could hire a Zen monk as an interior decorator. I'd have nothing but cushions on the floor, stacks of books and a computer.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Greetings and Felicitations:

For some strange reason, the correct salutation to use on a paper letter is "Dear ___," even if it's a business letter; even if you're writing to someone you don't find particularly endearing. This is apparently one of those archaic bits of etiquette that has become automatic and essentially meaningless--no one reads the "Dear" literally. The question that's been buzzing around my head is what salutation to use on an e-mail message. In my freelance writing work, I often have to send e-mails to people I don't know personally to request an interview. But "Dear So-and-So" seems far too affected and corny for this digital medium. I've thought about using "Greetings," but that sounds like something a government entity (such as a draft board) would use. "Attention" is too harsh, like a command. Occasionally, I've used "Hello," but that seems odd when written out, as opposed to spoken. For now, I've decided to use "Mr. Jones:" or "Ms. Smith:" It's too minimalist, and it reads more like something you'd say to interrupt someone than a salutation, but I suppose it gets the job done . . . .

Thursday, June 19, 2003


I have to admit that I sometimes fail to write about the things that really interest me. That’s usually because I think they’re too embarassing or trivial or weird. Here are three things that interested (obsessed?) me in the past week, but that I couldn’t bring myself to blog about. Till now.

--There’s this enormously fat man I often encounter on my daily walks to the post office. He bounces up and down while he waddles down the sidewalk. He has red hair, a serene expression, and is usually smoking a pipe. (You don’t see too many guys smoking pipes these days.) We never make eye contact as we pass. I wonder what he’s thinking about. I’m thinking about Humpty Dumpty.

--A strip of chrome fell off the back end of my car—or some vandal pulled it off—and is now lost forever. A spare parts dealer quoted me a price of $217 to replace it (the entire taillight assembly would have to be replaced, as they don’t sell the chrome strip separately). The car looks strange to me without it, but I’m not going to pay that! I’m wondering if I should just get a jar of chrome paint and paint the dark plastic strip underneath the place where the chrome strip once was. For some reason, I keep debating this with myself late at night.

--What is it about actress Julie Newmar? My son likes to watch the 1960s Batman show on TV Land, and sometimes I watch with him. Newmar played Catwoman, and she was very, very sexy in her skin-tight cat suit—and very, very kooky. She played this feline “special guest villainess” (as she was credited) as someone who might just as well end up in a mental hospital as a prison. She was evil but also extremely funny. I can’t quite capture in words the daffy-yet-confident persona she projected.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Crossing the Street

Maybe you've noticed this about urbanites: Whenever they're crossing a one-way street, they always look in the right direction first to see if any car is approaching. They seem to do this automatically, as if by instinct, and "it's a good thing," as a certain domestic diva now under criminal indictment would say. Yet they also cast a quick, furtive glance in the other direction--almost always. I find myself doing this, too. It's a sign, I believe, that we can never quite trust that the universe will act the way it's supposed to; we suspect that someday all will go haywire, and some big, terrifying machine will go tearing through town the wrong way on a one-way street, mowing down everyone in its path. Look both ways, Mom always said. She programmed us well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Cold War Dreams

I've been browsing through a copy of the Official Guide to the New York World's Fair 1964/1965, and some of it is quite a hoot. For example, the book describes two futuristic dream houses on display at the fairgrounds. The "Formica World's Fair House" was "the first house to use Formica laminated plastic on exterior walls . . . . Formica products are used throughout--on furniture, cabinets and interior walls, with contemporary styling." According to the Guide, "the one-level house is for sale from listed builders across the country." I wonder if any real-life Barbie and Ken types actually bought themselves a plastic-laminated house. I suppose it would make cleaning up easier . . . . Then there is/was the "Underground World Home," described, with admirable understatement, as "something really different in housing." Fair-goers were offered a 20-minute tour of this house/bunker, during which they were told about all the advantages of living in a hole in the ground: "more control of air, climate and noise than conventional houses" as well as "protection from such hazards as fire and radiation fallout." The house "occupies most of the area inside a rectangular concrete shell," and its mole-like inhabitants could gaze from their windows at "scenic murals" on the shell's walls. It sounds like an absurd cold-war relic, but, on the other hand, it might be just the thing for these terrorized times. After 9/11, my wife (who worked in 7 World Trade Center) did want to move to a bunker for a while . . .

Sunday, June 15, 2003

National Sperm Appreciation Day

I think Father's Day was invented by Hallmark, wasn't it? I know Mother's Day was established by presidential decree, but Father's Day seems like more of an afterthought--though not as much as "Grandparents' Day." (Thank the Cosmic Muffin the greeting card industry hasn't imposed that one on us yet--though they've tried.) My son didn't seem to be aware that it was Father's Day today, which is fine with me--he's a little young for that level of societal consciousness, and I don't like a lot of fuss, even for my birthday. (He did sign a card for me that his mother handed him.) I still think of this day as more for my father than myself, anyway. We exchanged the ritual phone call and card; my wife did the same with her dad. I suppose if we all lived closer together, we would have visited them as well. And we do visit them from time to time--isn't each of those occasions the real Father's Day?

Friday, June 13, 2003

More Poetry Outtakes


Collectors of wisdom
Seek the touch
Of Death's final beauty.

So beware:
This trickster, this homunculus
Wants too much from you.

On the crooked path,
Your chimerical pen-pal
Whistles in the wind

And melts into memory.

Don't ask me what the hell that means. This poem is computer-generated, with some heavy editing by me. The "trickster . . . homunculus" was originally a "little mermaid," but I thought that was too fey. The "crooked" path was originally the "primrose" path. Who says computers aren't sentimental?

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Ode to a Grecian Urn

I accompanied by son's sixth-grade class on a trip to the Princeton University Art Museum today, which provided quite a study in contrasts between the young and the . . . ancient. The museum has small but impressive collections of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Medieval art, and it was interesting to observe these kids' reactions to the mummy cases, nude statuary and bloody crucifixes. Unruly and giggly before they entered the exhibit rooms, they quieted down considerably once inside. There's something about standing over a 5,000-year-old pharoah's coffin or gazing at a perfectly preserved vase from 350 BC that seems to bring out a certain reverance in everyone, it seems--even gum-snapping preteens. Still, they enjoyed the lunch break in the university's ultra-modern cafe the most, I think--an entire wall of the dining area is covered by a liquid crystal display that alternates between astronomical photos and excerpts from various artistic websites.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Slice of Life

My wife came home from visiting her dermatologist this evening with two colorful band-aids on her neck. I told her it looked like she'd been attacked by a vampire . . . . which brought to mind Bram Stoker's Dracula, a book I read when I was about 13. It scared the bejesus out of me. I can still remember some otherwise forgotten summer afternoon, eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich while reading that Victorian shocker. I remember being almost afraid to turn the pages but utterly compelled to do so, simultaneously safe in my parent's living room but also locked in a moldering castle in Transylvania . . . .

Sunday, June 08, 2003

Haiku 264

The red sun sinks low
Lights up the forgotten tombs
...I must keep moving

(Kind of crappy, but it could see it as an effectively creepy image in a horror film.)

Friday, June 06, 2003

You could look it up . . .

Bling-bling? Phreaking? Bevvy? Blipverts? No, these aren't the neologisms of some loquacious three-year-old. They're real words, according to a (the?) world authority on authentic English, the Oxford English Dictionary. The new edition was published today, and you can find meanings for these latest additions here. I hope your khazi isn't minging . . . .

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Quote of the Day

"Those who demand consideration for their sacrifices were making investments, not sacrifices."
--James Richardson

Monday, June 02, 2003

My Secret Identity?

M.I.C.H.A.E.L.: Mechanical Intelligent Construct Hardwired for Assassination and Efficient Learning

I generated this alarming acronym here. You might want to try your own name and find out what kind of "cyborg" you are.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The Poetry of Jayson Blair

I kid you not. You can read some examples of Blair's undergraduate poetic efforts here. What's interesting about these gawdawful poems is that he even plagiarised himself a bit--the same line shows up in more than one poem. Warning: do not read these if you have a sensitive stomach, especially his romantic idyll entitled "In Her Bed, Dreaming of You." (Link via Maud Newton; see sidebar.)