Monday, April 30, 2012

Word of the Day: zenzizenzizenzic

zenzizenzizenzic (n)

A number to the eighth power. (The zenzizenzizenzic of 2 is 256.

"Now, zenzizenzizenzic might seem like a rather innocent concept but recall that Google and Wikipedia both experienced zenzizenzizenzic-like growth and, in the process, transformed a number of industries; and, in the coming decade, so too will a number of other emerging technologies."
--Jack Uldrich,

I never liked math in school, which is probably why I became a damned English major, earning the pity, scorn, and opprobrium of all the "practical" people who didn't know a gerund from a quatrain. If you read about careers these days, a humanities degree is supposed to be economic suicide, a one-way ticket to life as a Walmart greeter. But somehow I've managed to do alright, if not spectacularly, with my logophilia affliction. I don't know if anybody still majors in English, but I hope they do. Somebody has to maintain some standards, even at the risk of being labeled a "grammar Nazi", as I have been. Hate that. Call me a prose technician or a text engineer. Call me Ishmael....

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photo of the Week

Newark Penn Station

This stylized, Art Deco rendering of the solar system is part of the set decor for the 1940 film Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. It was supposed to be the ceiling over the throne of evil space nemisis Ming the Merciless, but the scene in which our heroes are forced to grovel at his feet as the camera pans up and the ceiling becomes visible wound up on the cutting room floor. Too Eisenstein-ish for the kiddie matinee, the studio decided. Ugh, Hollywood!

Actually, I just made that up. This is the ceiling over an outdoor entrance to Newark Penn Station. I speed-walk under it almost every weekday as I attempt to catch the next PATH train home from work, but I never really looked closely at it until recently. While someone blocked the entrance with a pile of luggage, I pulled out my phone and snapped the pic. Click on it for a closer view, and just try to control your awe and wonder.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel + Link Mania

Appreciative. I saw Wicked last night, on Broadway -- my wyfe got tickets through work. For a musical that dares to psychoanalyze the Wicked Witch of the West, I thought it was quite well done. The question of why she was so mean is not one that has particularly haunted me, but it was satisfying to get an answer.

Amused. By this. The world's most infamous iceberg tells his (her?) side of the story.

Impressed. Here is one of the finest short foreign films I have seen. (I think every cat is a French existentialist to some degree.)

Puzzled -- at first. "World Peace was ejected from the game." That's a sentence I never thought I'd read on

Swell. I now know how to talk like a 1920s gangster.

Queasy. About the trailer for The Show. "America's favorite guidettes are taking their hijinks from the Jersey Shore to Jersey City in a way that you've never seen before." So sayeth MTV. Um... how could we have seen that before? Guidettes?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Random Acts of Poetry

Eric's Hangover

Not hell, no,
but a street--

broken glass,
chicken bones.

Does no one stop
for the light?

The sun's
a naked lightbulb.

Someone's been drinking
golden Absolut

or was it
apricot brandy?

A patrol car

turnpike pile-up,
some emergency

in my head, my head,
my timpani of pain.

Black trash bags
on concrete,

another high-rise
bringing me down,

or was it
something I ate?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Word of the Day: nescience

nescience (n)

Ignorance; agnosticism.

"Your nescience never fails to impress me," Abigail cooed whenever Mr. Dumas offered yet another of his outrageously ill-informed opinions. He would then grin at what he assumed was her admiration."
--Leahcim Setag, Strange Loops

I refuse to be an agnostic. I'm more of a heretic. I believe God is something like the "force" in Star Wars, not like Zeus or the sky diety with the cranky personality described in the Bible. I also believe Jeebus H. Christ had no intention of founding a new religion, and that most of the stories about him are metaphors. Tell me I'm wrong, sailor. Tell me this is nescience.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Search Party

Here are a few recent search queries that brought seekers to this temple of scribomania. This edition contains  some excellent phrases for meditation and naming... things.

balloon sculpture skulls pictures

Sorry, no pictures of skull-shaped balloon sculptures here. (I don't want to know.)

abandoned salt flat cars

Hmm. Nice image. Next time I'm feeling stressed, I'll think about abandoned cars out on the salt flats. And take deep breaths.

einstein tongue

That's an X-rated film, isn't it?

einstein fish bicycle

Yes! Thank you. You have just named my psy-trance conceptual shoegaze band.

giant wire ball

I know this one: the Unisphere, right?

catawampus wikipedia

In a way, this IS the "wikipedia" of catawampus words you've landed on here....

big fish film circus

Great name for a David Lynch film festival.

indian chandelier lighting

"There is an 'chandelier' of light within us all."
--His Holiness Sri Swami Satchikrishnamahanandadanandarishi

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Much Ado about NOTHING

Good Deed

There I was, walking down the street, lost in my vagrant thoughts, when out of the crowd came a desperate plea: "George! George!!"

A white-haired woman with thick glasses grabbed my arm and repeated "George!" Since my name isn't George, my first thought was that she was some kind of lunatic, or maybe a pick-pocket. She had quite a strong grip and refused to let me go. "I'm not--" I started to say, thinking that maybe she had mistaken me for someone else. But she interrupted with a lot of whimpering jabber in what sounded like an Eastern European language, and I began to wonder if it was really "George" she was saying, or just something that sounded like it.

Then she pointed across the boulevard, which was full of speeding traffic. I gathered that she wanted help crossing. Now, I was never a boy scout, and it was out of my way, but I've never in my life refused to help someone across the street. Always before, though, it has been someone handicapped or infirm who has asked me.

This woman, despite her age, appeared to be quite healthy enough to cross on her own, and in fact it was more like she was crossing me as we shambled across the boulevard. She pulled on my arm to hurry me up as the DON'T WALK sign began to flash. "OK, OK," I said, walking faster. All the way across she kept whining in a pitiful way, and I decided she must have a phobia about traffic or being hit by a car.

When we reached the opposite curb, I assumed my good deed for the day was done--but no. She pointed to the other side of the cross street and started saying "George!" again. My arm was still a captive, so I let her pull me across that street, too.

Finally, she seemed to be done with me, but before letting me go she murmured "nice man" a few times and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I watched as she toddled down the block to the next cross street, whereupon she grabbed another guy's arm. I wondered how many streets she would cross that day, and how many "Georges" she would find in this crazy city.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Photo of the Week: tulips?

Do not be fooled. This is not what it seems. What look like beautiful, innocent flowers are in reality a combined motion sensor and aerosol spraying system designed to instantly anesthetize with knock-out gas any dog, cat, possum, or human who gains unauthorized access to my secret compound. They can then be given the old heave-ho over the electrified fence (cleverly disguised as ordinary chain-link) by the stalwart guards who patrol my palatial fortress of evil here in the remote Heights of Jersey City.

Actually, I just made that up. Spring has sprung in a neglected corner of my humble backyard. Click the pic for a larger, more stunningly gorgeous view of these tulips. Don't even try to stop yourself. Resistance is futile.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Word of the Day: deliquium

deliquium (n)

Melting or dissolution; liquifying. A maudlin mood.

"When at length overtaken and reconveyed to the house, deliquium followed deliquium, and when they ceased, frenzy succeeded; the dark night of insanity had utterly quenched the light of reason. In her lucid intervals, which were few and far between, she was heard to pray for the return of madness as a relief from sufferings too acute to be endured."
--Reuben Percy, "The Mirror"

Things melt. The salad left too long in the refrigerator turns to green slime. A vinyl phonograph disc left in the sun warps disastrously. A plastic carafe left too close to the stove burner assumes a comical shape.

All these things have happened to me, sad to say. But the worst was during my childhood, when my parents gave me a chocolate bunny one hot Easter morning. While we attended some religious rite, we left the cuniculus confection in the car. When we returned, all that was left of my sacchariferous hare was a pool of chocolate milk. And yes, that put me in a maudlin mood. Oh, what a world, what a world...



Fire Walk With Me. Still.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Link Mania: Find the McGuffin

You know what a McGuffin is. It's the plot device that the characters in a thriller movie or suspense novel are obsessed with obtaining, but that the audience doesn't really care about, except insofar as it drives the story. Hitchcock invented the term and was famous for employing McGuffins in his films. (North by Northwest, for example has two of them: the microfilm containing government secrets and the false identity George Caplan.) Science-fiction is also largely driven by McGuffins. Here's a serious-sounding one:

Your McGuffin is a Wave Singularity Transmitter.

But you may prefer a sillier-sounding plot device:

Your McGuffin is a Cosmic Hallucination Capacitor.
Your McGuffin is a Sonic Accident Drive.
Your McGuffin is a Nuclear Excitement Transmitter.
Your McGuffin is a Quantum Balderdash Lens.
Your McGuffin is a Virtual Orgasm Portal.
Your McGuffin is a Sonic Beauty Transponder.
Your McGuffin is a Sub-quantum Pomposity Destroyer.
Your McGuffin is a Plasma Underwear Generator.
Your McGuffin is a Quantum Pixie Emitter.
Your McGuffin is a Repulsive Elf Obliterator.
Your McGuffin is a Particle Insanity Gun.
Your McGuffin is a Gravitational Fun Creator.

Time on your hands? Generate more of these here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Head Rattle


The Kentucky Derby is less than a month away, which means the annual Kentucky Derby party I'm invited to (a benefit for a local theater group) is also less than a month away -- which means I have to start thinking of a way to top myself or at least make a decent showing. Last year, I won the prize for being the "most dapper man" at the party. (There wasn't much competition, but I was still very surprised.) Everyone, male and female, is required to wear a hat to this shindig. Should I play it safe and wear the fedora I wore in London last July to hide a crappy haircut? Or the antique and very elaborate sombrero my wyfe found at a flea market and that usually hangs on the wall near our front door? I suppose a derby would be the most appropriate type of headgear. Where to find one?


Someone called me this afternoon and asked to speak with "Andy Gates". "No one here by that name," I informed the caller, who was very apologetic before hanging up. I'm always tempted to play along when this sort of thing happens. I wanted to say, "Yes, this is he" and find out just why someone is so anxious to talk with Andy that they're randomly dialing numbers. The call came in on my office phone, which isn't listed publically. What are the chances of someone just happening to call me when trying to reach someone with the same last name? The more I think about this, the weirder it seems....


I made small talk with the neighborhood crossing guard this morning while hoofing it to the train station. And in the course of one of his usual miniature discourses on politics, economics, or rush-hour traffic, he mentioned that he knows three people who are over 100 years old. "Wow", I said obtusely, trying to picture a trio of centenarian women. All I could think of were the three witches in Macbeth. "Just how wrinkled would they be?" I thought to myself. They say 100 is the new 80....

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Way I Feel

Macho. I took advantage of today's preternaturally warm spring weather to make like a lumberjack: cutting down dead branches from the apple tree in the back yard and then sawing them up into sticks and twigs. Then I mowed the lawn, such as it is, for the first time this year. I thought I had left all such manly yard work behind me when I left the wilds of Upstate New York for life in the big city, but it seems to follow me wherever I go.

Puzzled. By this speculative Beatles album cover:

Beatles '68 cover

I'm wondering who put it together and why. It can't have been an early, rejected attempt at a "White Album" cover -- the Beatles would never have commissioned something so cheesy by 1968. Still, it's amusing... and interesting for the track list. What if the "White Album" had been a single, not a double, album? According to this cover image, the line-up would have eliminated the more idiosyncratic songs (which surely would have ended up later on solo albums).

Click the image for a closer, more readable view. And here is a rejected Revolver cover. I blogged about a more graphically interesting rejected "White Album" cover here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Much Ado about NOTHING

I'm of two minds about catch phrases. On the one hand, I hate to repeat myself. It disgusts me when I find myself saying "push it to me" so often at work -- a very useful expression at times, but an ugly locution. And I feel vaguely nauseous about some of the catch phrases I hear all the time from other people, like "close the loop", "circle back", "pretty much", "here's the thing", "what's interesting is..." None of them are creative or literary.

A good catch phrase, instead of being just a verbal tic or crutch, helps to define character. I'm thinking of Vonnegut's "so it goes" and "hi ho", of Dickens' "Bah, humbug", of Melville's "I would prefer not to", or even Charlie Brown's "Good grief!" All are nearly meaningless phrases that can be applied to a multitude of situations, yet they are also idiosyncratic as hell. That's the kind of catch phrase I want -- one that defines me.

Oh, I can think of something clever to say from time to time. Instead of saying "yes" to someone's question, I'll sometimes say "indeed!" Or if someone casually says they're sorry for some trifling misdeed, I'll say, jokingly, "You will never be forgiven." Those aren't universal or poetic enough to count as character-defining catch phrases, though. So -- if you can think of an appropriate one for a compulsive blogger and wordnik... please push it to me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Word of the Day: prosopopoeia / Random Acts of Poetry

prosopopoeia (n)

Personification; speaking in the voice of an absent or imaginary person, or an inanimate object.

"Prosopopoeia in film has several forms. There is the first person camera, which may be seen either as ethopoeia -- putting oneself in another's place -- or prosopooeia -- making the camera into a person, through whose eyes we see."
--N. Roy Clifton, The Figure in Film

Like this:


My cool eye never lies; it only leaves things out.
I will freeze and preserve whatever you show me,
untainted by brushstrokes or bias.

And my memory is infinite, though fixed in a square.

People must like me; they smile and smile,
though I sometimes record what they don't want to see:
wattles and wrinkles, wars and atrocities.

I can even retain the faces of the dead---
all glossy and flat and just out of reach.

The sad ones revere my rectangular moments.
They search the trapped shadows
for what really happened or what they want to believe.
But I only offer a world of dots,
suspect emotions caught in a flash,
and no amount of staring can bring back a day or a wife.

Still, everyone keeps me pointing and clicking,
trying to catch the Grand Canyon, perhaps,
or a baby's smile before it fades, birthday by birthday,
into an old man's grimace in a silver frame.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The T&T List

pink army men

The Wayuu people
National Robotics Week
Djimon Hounsou
Perry Saturn
The Dardenne Brothers
The Secret of Evil
Toulouse City Beach
Draw Your Own Toons
The Null Corporation

Monday, April 09, 2012

Random Sequence

[random phrases (from here) worked into a story]

Transfinite Peccadillo

"You need a pearlier bombshell," said Duncan, the agency's head copywriter, to Ralph, his indentured propagandist. "Something with a bit more holistic forcefulness."

Ralph noted that Duncan had been imbibing Maker's Mark again -- his breath was redolent of it -- which always turned him into a hydrated swellhead. "It's just a toilet paper ad," he countered, "with a kitsch substratum. I don't know how I can make it pop in a 'pearlier' way. The metaphors are a toilet seat lined with white rabbit fur and goose down -- in a white paper house on a cumulonimbus cloud. Pretty 'pearly' already."

"I don't mean softer or more pallid; I mean more perfect and a little... jolting. It needs a transfinite peccadillo," said Duncan.

"A what?" said Ralph.

"A contrast. Something hard."

Ralph thought for a moment. "What if we add something to the house's furnishings -- a metal stool?" he suggested.

"That's the sh-sh-sh-it!" Duncan exclaimed.

Ralph thought Duncan was stuttering with excitement, but then realized he was only hiccuping.

[not to be continued]

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Photo of the Week

house exploded

Well, now I've gone and done it. Who knew that storing fireworks in the same cabinet with baking soda and dish-washing liquid would have such volatile consequences? Good thing I wasn't home when the house went kablooey. And good thing this motel has a decent internet connection, or you might be wondering if I'd fulminated myself to kingdom come.

Actually, I just made that up. I'm in my rural Upstate New York hometown this holiday weekend, and I happened across this disaster while out wandering on the other side of the tracks. Who knows what happened? It could have been an explosion, it could have been a fire -- or it could have been termites. Anyway, I thought it would make an interesting photo. Beautiful is boring. Click the pic for a closer view if you agree.



The New York Times quoted one of the poetic sentences I sent them (see the April 3rd post below) here.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Word of the Day: rixatrix

rixatrix (n)

A quarrelsome, scolding woman; a bitch.

"One of the more popular methods of teaching a communis rixatrix... to hold her tongue was by giving her a good ducking in the local lake or mill pond."
--Daniel Diehl, Mark P. Donnelly, The Big Book of Pain: Torture & Punishment Through History

A rixatrix may be tough to deal with in real life (and I've met a few), but they do make for compelling characters in film and literature. Just think about The Taming of the Shrew, an entire play built around a verbal blitzkreig between a loquacious bitch and a multiloquent.... (What is the male equivalent of a bitch? A bastard?)

In Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of my favorite plays (and also an excellent Dick-and-Liz movie), the two main characters, George and Martha, have a Taming of the Shrew-type verbal battle that's as thrilling as Shakespeare's -- or more so, now, since the cruise missiles fly in the modern vernacular. I even wrote a paper about the play in college. Or a few papers, if I recall. It can be analyzed from several angles: Freudian, rhetorical, dramatic, even political: George and Martha...hmmm.

Tell the scold in your life (male or female) to "stop being such a rixatrix", and see what kind of reaction you get. My guess is that it will stop the castigation cold -- at least until he or she finds a dictionary.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Head Rattle


The New York Times, in the comments section of one of their articles, is asking for "sentences that paint a realistic picture of a sky using precise and surprising nouns and adjectives." I sent in these, culled from some poems I've written:

Last night, the sky was a bowl of black fish.
Dawn was rich: a pageant of burning clouds, like the rubies of a sultan, dribbled from a golden jar.
At noon, high, improbable clouds etched the sky like cracks in a crystal dish.


It's annoying when authors create stupid characters who say "What?" simply to allow the protagonist to explain some obscure word or concept. These Dr. Watson characters are stand-ins for the reader, of course. I suppose they're a necessary evil in mystery stories.


Anagrams for "Mitt Romney" (punctuation added):

Nite Mr. Tomy
Memory Tint
Metro Minty
Mr. Tony Item
My Inert Tom
My One-Tit Mr.
Mr. Tiny Mote

Make of them what you will.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Much Ado about ZIP

Albert Einstein, according to legend, said "the zipper" when asked for his opinion on the greatest invention of the 20th century. And indeed, the little metallic clothes fastener is a small miracle of ingenuity. Today, we take them for granted, except perhaps when someone whispers to us that our fly is open or when one of our zippers jams. The latter happened to me recently. I zipped my spring jacket as I was preparing to exit my place of business, and noticed that something felt not quite right. Instead of making a high-pitched whine of a zipping sound, as it usually does, my zipper made more of a growl and seemed to move up my torso with an odd degree of reluctance. I looked down, and, sure enough, the tiny alligator teeth were not in alignment. When I tried to unzip, to see if I could start over and get things back on track, the little devil would not budge. Well, I thought, I won't need to remove the jacket anyway until I get home. But I was annoyed at the lack of that option. I started to feel like I was wearing a straitjacket.

When I arrived home, I tried again to free myself from the garment, to no avail. I did manage to unzip it part of the way, enough to pull the jacket off using the over-the-head method. Houdini! Then began the search for a solution, since I like the jacket and didn't want to discard it. Googling turned up several "how to" articles full of both sympathy and practical advice. Most suggested applying various emollients to the teeth: bar soap, pencil graphite, WD-40. I tried all three, and then a combination of the three. The alligator refused to open its jaws. Finally, after an hour of gentle back and forth pulling, mixed with periods of brute force, the thing came undone. I felt an absurd air of triumph as I hung the now-open jacket on its hook. And then an awful thought occurred to me: I will forever after be afraid to zip it up again.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Word of the Day: flumadiddle

flumadiddle (n)

Utter nonsense or worthless frills.

"Verity squinted at them again. 'Don't think I don't know what you've been doing. Cavorting all over town, questioning folks and stirring up trouble. And all you've learned from your flumadiddles is that the dead man wasn't from around here.'"
--Jeffrey Marks, The Ambush of My Name

Having attended a showing of the film The Big Lebowski at the Landmark Loews Jersey Theatre this weekend, I feel almost overdosed on comic nonsense.

(I also saw Fargo [first time!] and Pulp Fiction there last night. So... two Coen Bros. and one Tarantino. That's enough heads getting comically blown off, bodies in wood chippers, and cremains in the face for a while, I think.)

As I've said before, I approve of talking or writing nonsense, a most pleasurable activity -- when done to entertain (one's self or others), not to annoy. Of course, I never would do the latter here....

And of course, I also approve of my readers slipping these "word of the day" lexemes into their everyday conversations, as a social-science experiment, to see what kinds of reactions they receive. For example, you might say "That was a very interesting flumadiddle you raised at the meeting today." Or: "I like that flumadiddle you're wearing! Where did you get it?" Please report back to me any blank look, inquiry as to your meaning, or sincere "thank you" you record.



Yoko Ono (who follows me on Twitter) answered a question I asked her here.