Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Hair Piece

I got my hair cut yesterday. I really needed it, as I had neglected my locks (and a lot of other things) during a deluge of work over the past two months. My previous haircut hadn't been a good one -- the barber had left it too "full" on top -- so I was starting to look like a disheveled sheepdog or a 1970s relic.

As usual, I went to the unisex place at the mall to get it done. I was hoping that Jerry, the only male haircutter there and the one who usually gives me the best haircut, would be around. But it was his day off. I ended up with a new person, "Marlena" (I think that was her name), a tall, middle-aged blonde who spoke only a few words of English. With much gesturing and pointing, I managed to convey what I wanted done to my head.

Now I don't have a complicated hairstyle. It’s one that’s worn by a high percentage of men around the world. So I figured that if Marlena had any skill at all, I would get at least an adequate trim.

It's always disconcerting to have a stranger groping your head and using scissors near your eyes, and Marlena seemed hesitant. I got the impression that she hadn't worked on a lot of men before.

However, this isn't a horror story. Marlena did, in fact, give me a decent haircut, though she took her sweet time about it. She seemed to have a problem with the nape of my neck, though, and I ended up with a hairline back there that's a little too . . . abbreviated. "It will grow back," my wife assures me.

When she was finally done, I asked Marlena where she was from. She understood my question--I'm sure she gets asked that all the time--and said "Cuba." That’s interesting, I thought. There is no official immigration to this country from Cuba, and I couldn't imagine her, with her elaborate tresses and dignified manner, landing in Florida via some leaky tub. I said something banal, like "it would be nice to visit Cuba someday," and her face lit up. She said something in broken English about how "beautiful, beautiful" Cuba is and how many tourists it has from every country (except the US). I nodded, still curious about how she ended up at a clip joint in a Jersey City shopping mall. I decided not to ask, as I wasn't sure she would understand the question, and I suspected it might not be something she would want to talk about. I gave her a nice tip.

I keep wondering what it must be like to move to a country where you don’t know the language and have to touch strange men's heads all day. I think about that as I finger the bald place on the back of my neck. Maybe this is how men wear their hair in Cuba.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Keep It Clean

Here's a cool little web utililty, a Word HTML Cleaner for stripping all the unnecessary gunk that's created when you save something as a web page in Microsoft Weird. It's just one feature of the elegantly designed Textism blog. This fellow certainly knows a thing or two about streamlining.

Read his humerous About page.

(via things)

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry


Today the sun was a verb,
conjugating rays

across my neglected garden,
as if weeds and an afternoon

could be read like a Psalter
full of consolation.

Tonight the sky wears a jacket,
black leather,

and the motorcycle wind
hassles the trees

with a drunken monologue:
"No, not my fault, no no."

Monday will be another white wall
filled with empty frames,

blurred mirrors, shelves offering
vague bric-a-brac.

And the buzzing and ticking
of flies fretting at a pane

above a shattered window.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Madness of King George, continued

Floor Statement of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. This is an interesting run-down of the growing list of people who have lost their jobs with the current administration, or have been smeared, for refusing to lie spin.


Is Condoleezza Rice in love with W? My wife and some of her friends were discussing the national security advisor the other day, and that's the explanation they came up with for "how she can be who she is." Interesting thought. She is frequently described as being "very close to the president."

Friday, March 26, 2004

Just Wonderfall

This is the best thing on television right now, which means, alas, it's too good for American TV. Catch it quick before the inevitable ratings axe . . . falls.

(It's moving to Thursday nights now, which should really be the kiss of death.)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Word of the Day

snollygoster (n)

A shrewd, unprincipled person

When the "customer service representative" asked for his password, Herbert realized he was dealing with a snollygoster.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Quote of the Day

"Rule one is scarily simple. You will never change anyone’s mind on a matter of opinion. Someone going into an argument believing one thing, and coming out the other side not believing it is a freak occurrence ranking somewhere alongside virgin birth and victorious English sporting teams. People change their minds gradually, and if anything a prolonged argument only serves to back someone into a corner, huddling closer to the security blanket of what they believe.

Correcting a factual error is much easier, but never confuse correcting a factual error with changing the opinions that fact was being used to support. The opinion will survive in the absence of the fact, until a new fact is found to justify it. (See also, the many reasons for invading Iraq)."

--from "Charles' Rule of Argument" at The Fishbowl

I'm really getting tired of watching the endless partisan bickering on CNN and even the PBS Newshour. No one ever gives an inch, and it simply becomes a test of debating skills and media presence. I suppose the idea is that both sides of an issue get presented and then viewers can make up their own minds. But with all the furious "spinning" going on in these verbal slug matches, it's hard to see how an objective viewer could form a firm opinion. And how many people who are inclined to watch these public affairs shows haven't already made up their minds on the major issues of the day? I know I have. (So why do I watch them? Masochism, I guess.) As the country has become more bitterly divided, I think the debate format these shows employ has exhausted whatever usefulness it may have had--except as an vulgar way to draw ratings. At this point, I'd much rather watch a bunch of boring TV journalists sitting around and at least attempting to be objective. It's going to be a long eight months until November.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

In Case You Were Wondering

Here's an article about what Yoko Ono was up to last month. She gave a "talk" at a London art gallery, during which she took questions from the audience. Someone asked her what she thinks about before she goes to sleep. According to the article, "At night, she blesses people. Particularly her enemies. This I think takes a long time. The benefits of this approach to life were explained at length. Can't remember the details, but she says you should just try it and see."

At one point, Yoko, ever the conceptual artist, got up and screamed to "clear the air." (Ever feel like doing that? I sometimes do but have never done it.) And the audience was tied up with wool. (Hmm . . . wool . . . sheep. I think I get it.)

Monday, March 22, 2004

Word of the Day

fanfaronade (n)

(1) Any vaunting or blustering manner or behavior; (2) a fanfare

Count Fosco entered the room with such fanfaronade that the chandelier rattled.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Nobody's Perfect

Last night we went to see Some Like It Hot at the Loew's Jersey, a restored 1920s movie palace here in town that shows classic films. I've seen this movie a few times on TV, but as always, seeing a film in a theater is a much more involving experience. This is a Billy Wilder comedy about mistaken identity, sexual confusion (and a few other things) that was way ahead of its time (1959), at least if you're at all sensitive to subtext. It frequently dances around the subject of homosexuality, and even touches on same-sex marriage, although it never mentions these things explicitly. A major theme is the ambiguity of gender as social construct. At the beginning of the film, Tony Curtis's character has to constantly remind Jack Lemmon's character that they are "girls"; by the end of the film, he's reminding Lemmon that he's "a boy." The movie gives you a lot to think about (and to look at--Marilyn Monroe is one of the stars), which is rare for a comedy, especially one as funny as this one.


Make your own version of Andy Warhol's "Marilyn" here.

(via Incoming Signals)

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Quote of the Day

"It has been almost three years since I spoke with the president of the United States, and I still get mail about it.

It was July 4, 2001, and we were both at one of those things that the late historian Daniel Boorstin would have labeled a 'pseudo-event:' A church picnic in Philadelphia, designed to help George W. Bush promote his faith-based policies. I was working at the time for a local nonprofit that had helped set it up, but I had some serious misgivings about the president's performance up to that point, and being a part of the whole operation had left me feeling a bit like a pseudo-person. So when I had the chance to shake Bush's hand, I said, 'Mr. President, I'm very disappointed in your work so far. I hope you only serve four years.'

His smiling response was swift: 'Who cares what you think?' "

--Bill Hangley Jr., writing in Salon

(Link via fantastic planet)
Random Acts of Poetry


After adamantine winter,
snow recedes like an elderly hairline.

The nude ground discloses
cracks that suck rain like parched mouths.

Now, dripping branches unclench
millions of verdant fists.

And as the dead grass fades to green,
shoots raise laurelled heads

that seem to say
"You can come back now. All is forgiven."

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Word of the Day

anfractuous (adj)

Full of twists and turns, winding, tortuous

Miguel's anfractuous blathering is driving me barmy.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Quote of the Day

"Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions."
--Sylvia Plath, "Tulips"

Another snowstorm here yesterday, the last of the winter, I hope (probably in vain). Every mailbox and cartop is crowned with fluff, and the traffic swishes by at three-quarter speed. On the other side of the planet, more detonations, more fire. Nothing to do with me, really, in any individual sense, but it all makes me so tired.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Sorry to Disappoint

Here are some recent Google searches that brought seekers to this page:

haikus about taking a bath


Remove your clothing
Then fill the tub with water
Immerse and use soap

Anton chekhov, Lady and the Laptop
I've never heard of that Chekhov story. Are you sure you don't mean Pavel Chekov?

tragic elements in shakespearian comedies
It's much easier to find comic elements in Shakespearean tragedies. That might make a better topic for your paper.

spalding gray nude
Just let him rest in peace. Sheesh.

hilarious paper automata
Hmm. Try searching for "robotic origami giggle-fest."

church of the poisoned mind harmonica
What a great name for a blog!

outsourcing "spider hole" phrase
Yes, they're outsourcing everything these days . . .

how to do twist
You mean THE twist? Swivel your shoulders while you grind your foot.

stories by prostitutes
You won't find any here. I don't get paid for my stories. :(

Monday, March 15, 2004

Freeze Frame

Seen on the street today: A man with two dead, sheared goats slung over his shoulders, their hooves bouncing up and down, walking into a "Halal Meats" store. Not the type of thing we see too often in these urban parts . . .
Word of the Day

sciolist (n)

A person with a pretentious attitude of scholarship or superficial knowledgeability.

Mr. Westport, who was always peppering his conversation with polysyllabic malapropisms, looked mystified when Annabelle called him a sciolist.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry


Her psychiatrist sits
with hands folded
in the all-white room.

"For a lifetime or two,
a couple of my mad selves
wore a suffocating iron
mask of tranquility."

A cello player draws back his bow.



Compare your life to the script
until you stop crying,
until you change your mind.

bits of seed pollen waft
from your brain, on the wind.

One day these words will take root.



You lopped it off,
that intricate braid
rooted in the day we met.

Now you show a different face,
a silly moon under the bob,
a shopping-mall attractive


to paint a smile on.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Special Ed

Today is Edward Albee's birthday. He's probably my favorite living dramatist, partly because I wrote a paper on his fascinating play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when I was a college English major. (Do English majors exist anymore? I think I was one of the last, certainly of the male variety.) I also appeared in a terrible acting class production of The Zoo Story. The picture of Albee at this informative site is by Jerry Speier, a photographer I used to work with occasionally when I was a magazine editor. That's only two degrees of separation . . . There are several audio files of Albee talking about his plays there, including his 2002 Tony Award winner, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Word of the Day

ataraxia (n)

Peace of mind; emotional tranquility

Alastair found ataraxia in a rocking chair.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Quote of the Day

"So many artists I admire seem to have taken their own lives. What role does Art have in unhappiness? Did Art make their lives any easier? Or harder? Did their creations, that bring hope and insight to the rest of us, do much for them? Were they plagued by self doubt, unconsoled by praise and success, immune to the beauty they'd made? Do the same sensitivity and self examination that fuel art also make it easier to come to such abysmal conclusions about the universe and one's place in it that one is driven down this dark cul-de-sac? How does the same mind that creates beauty out of nothing also create nothing out of the beauty of life? From the outside, suicide seems so final and so unimaginative."

From a meditation on Spalding Gray at Everyday Matters
Lost in Space

I've been gazing at the latest "ultra deep field" images from the Hubble Space Telescope, the ones that reveal some of the first objects to emerge after the Big Bang. The pictures are certainly beautiful. The multicolored galaxies look like jewels scattered on black velvet -- like what you might see in Tiffany's window if you were the size of a fly.

There are 10,000 galaxies in the images, which cover a patch of sky that, viewed from Earth, is only one-tenth the size of the full moon. The light from these sparklers has taken 13 billion years to reach us, which means that much of what we're looking at doesn't exist anymore. Last night, I was thinking about how many civilizations must have risen and fallen "out there" in that time, how many billions of Shakespeares and Michelangelos lived that we'll never know about, how many tragedies (and comedies) occured, how many amazing stories were told that we'll never hear. But then, I thought, I could wonder similar things about what might be going on in Kazakhstan or in the apartment building across the street. It's a matter of scale and perspective, I suppose. Is anything real?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Word of the Day

blatherskite (n)

1. A babbling, foolish person; 2. Absurd and foolish talk

"Oh, that's nothing but blatherskite!" cried Miranda when Viola suggested that Mr. Crave might only be interested in her fortune.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Coffee Gets a Break

Coffee is actually good for you, says a dietician. I don't know where I'd be without my morning and afternoon fix. Probably sleeping at my desk.

I drink it black -- "black as midnight on a moonless night," as Agent Cooper used to say.

Coffee is a more important subject than many of us realize. Some people even blog about it, or sponsor conferences on its ethical implications. And etymologists ponder the origins of slang words for coffee, like java or cup of joe.

Thanks to boynton, I have found the perfect coffee cup for me.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Word of the Day

absquatulate (v)

To move off hastily, leave quickly and secretly to avoid being caught.

"Time to absquatulate," Hiram whispered to himself as the drapes went up in flames.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Guess Who

"More Muslims have died at the hands of killers than -- say more Muslims --
a lot of Muslims have died -- I don't know the exact count -- at Istanbul.
Look at these different places around the world where there's been
tremendous death and destruction because killers kill." - Washington, DC,
Jan. 29, 2004

"But the true strength of America is found in the hearts and souls of people
like Travis, people who are willing to love their neighbor, just like they
would like to love themselves." - Springfield, Missouri, Feb. 9, 2004

"My views are one that speaks to freedom." - Washington, DC, Jan. 29, 2004

"There is no such thing necessarily in a dictatorial regime of iron-clad
absolutely solid evidence. The evidence I had was the best possible evidence
that he had a weapon." --- Meet the Press, Feb. 8, 2004

"In my judgment, when the United States says there will be serious
consequences, and if there isn't serious consequences, it creates adverse
consequences." --- Meet the Press, Feb. 8, 2004

"The illiteracy level of our children are appalling." - Washington,
DC, Jan. 23, 2004

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Random Acts of Poetry

Up There

Without becoming distracted
by a cloud’s appointments,
by hopes conveyed in words,

the massing of birds,
crimes very famous
or a face with a name defined,

I call up the jade persona
all my books will attest.
All these restless accruals

and changes may be the sky
casting its anxious shadows,
enticing the mind

upward, daring the fate
of a child’s balloon
pricking the haze.

But he’s implacable, this
green guy who is other
than men who vanish up there.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Spam Philosophy

I received an unusual spam message yesterday, full of pithy aphorisms. Here are the more interesting ones (with the wacky spelling corrected):

"Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted."

"Character builds slowly, but it can be torn down with incredible swiftness."

"In all, the silent manliness of grief."

"There is no such thing as justice, in or out of court."

"A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language."

"We dribble away our life, little by little, in small packages -- we don't throw it away all at once."

"Romances I never read like those I have seen."

"By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn."

"Dog: A kind of additional or subsidiary deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world's worship."

And this gem:

"Ma tteocuiyo mitozmhuiquili"

I can't remember what this spam was selling -- the usual snake oil, no doubt -- but for once I didn't mind receiving the message. I know that random text strings are included in spam to fool mail filters, but these don't seem nonsensical enough to be computer-generated, except for the last one. A philosophical spammer?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?

Today is Dr. Seuss's 100th birthday. Here are 10 things you may not have known about the world's most popular children's author (J.K. Rowling notwithstanding), courtesy of the BBC. The article includes lots of comments from readers, including several tributes that attempt to imitate Seuss's inimitable style. There are some insightful observations, too:

"To put it simply, Dr. Seuss revolutionized children's literature. He kept it simple but never talked down to them. The reason why so many adults love his books is because they teach the same things to us. He stopped treating children like idiots and more like slightly different adults. This is the one thing that all good children's writers have in common."
--Venkatesh T. Thattai, Ithaca, NY
Musical Training

In Japan, trains play music. At each stop, a short chiming song is played over the train's PA system -- a different one for each stop, apparently. The melodies are also played in stations. You can hear them on this page of MIDI files: Musical Boxes in the trains.

I especially like the jingle called "Tohoku," which has a "hurrying" tempo that reminds me of a train station at rush hour. Most of the melodies I've never heard before, although one is based on Strauss's "Blue Danube" ("Hatsukari") and another is a take on Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" ("Hatsukari 2"). Some of them are a bit cloying for my taste, but they all beat that dull "ding-dong" doorbell sound that that New York subway trains make.

(via boing boing)

Monday, March 01, 2004

Hey clack-dish!

Whenever I'm in a cranky mood, like today, I like to read through my collection of genuine Shakespearean insults. Here are a few:

Thou gleeking milk-livered fustilarian!
Thou artless elf-skinned clack-dish!
Thine horrid image doth unfix my hair.
May the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul.
Thou lumpish ill-nurtured vassal!
Thy bones are hollow; impiety has made a feast of thee.
Thou warped rump-fed maggot-pie!
Your face is as a book, where men may read strange matters.

Now I feel better.