Archive for the ‘Things I Love That I Go to Inappropriate Lengths to Track Down’ Category

A Very Literary Problem

April 10, 2018

I really dislike openly displaying sentiment, or attachment to things, particularly things that a lot of people feel sentimental about, but I can’t really avoid it when I discuss this topic.  Brief disclaimer.

So probably you guys remember almost seven (!) years ago, I stayed at Shakespeare & Company, the famous English language bookstore in Paris.  I danced a drunken jig outside the shop after a Will Self reading, I read Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan late into the night, I had a mystical experience afterward: it was all gravy.

Fast forward to 2016.  The history book on the shop, which I had done the tiniest bit of work on when I was there, came out.  Though it was something like 40 Euros and I had to pay for shipping to London, I splurged and got it for myself.  But then, some very thoughtful people ALSO got it for me.  And now I have two.

I don’t really like to own multiple copies of books (I blame Marie Kondo) but I can’t really bring myself to just give the extra one to Goodwill or put it on my stoop.  I feel like it needs to go to a good Tumbleweed home, but I can’t really find any sort of online group that is like, New York City Tumbleweed alums.  (Not being on Facebook does not help my cause here.)  The only NYC-based person I can find who definitely was a Tumbleweed is Molly Crabapple, but she’s KBD and will probably be like, “Why is this weirdo writing me frantically insisting I take her coffee table book?”  (I know she loved it, because her LitHub essay told me so.)  If she sees this and reaches out, she’s got dibs, but I’m not holding my breath.  So now what?  Help me, Internet!

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(Not Shakespeare & Company.  Just another thing Molly Crabapple and I have in common.)

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Wisdom

February 20, 2018

“Rabbi Baer of Radoshitz once said to his teacher, the ‘Seer’ of Lublin: ‘Show me one general way to the service of God.’

The zaddik replied: ‘It is impossible to tell men what way they should take.  For one way to serve God is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating.  Everyone should carefully observe what way his heart draws him to, and then choose this way with all his strength.'”

~Martin Buber, The Way of Man

Someone Please Go After Dr. Phil

January 2, 2018

I was recently sent a news story about public enemy number one, Dr. Phil McGraw, and how he allegedly endangered guests on addiction-related episodes of show by putting alcohol into their green rooms or encouraging them to go score on Skid Row (proper noun?)  Of course my reaction to this was, “Natch,” because Dr. Phil is all about dramatic television, and doesn’t seem to care what it takes to get there.  Remember when a show staffer bailed out one of the Polk County 8?  Or when he tried to become BFF with Britney Spears during her breakdown so he could produce a show about her?  Gross.

Anyway, there are at least two allegations of sexual harassment in Dr. Phil’s past, and where there’s one allegation, there’s probably myriad episodes of misconduct.  Okay fine, so some of the previous allegations sound a little wacky, but I think that is immaterial, Your Honor.  Now that we’re in a more enlightened age, can we please resurrect these charges and get him off the air?

PS Let us not forget who foisted Dr. Phil onto us all in the first place.

Cats

September 15, 2017

I love a good public cat.  What do I mean by “public cat”?  I mean bodega cats, cats that live in museums (like the Hermitage), cats like Larry and Palmerston, who live in Downing Street, etc.  My favorite public cats of all, though, are hotel cats.  Just a brief aside before I tell you about my favorite hotel cat: when we were in Provence this summer, my husband and I went to dinner at a very fancy hotel restaurant.  A number of the diners had dogs with them––including two women wearing head-to-toe designer gear with tiny Yorkies sitting on their laps––and yet, the restaurant had a cat roaming around.  If that was a passive-aggressive move by the owner of said hotel, I bow down to you, sir.

Anyway, obviously my favorite hotel cat of all time is Matilda, of the Algonquin in NYC.  The Algonquin has kept cats since the 1930s, and has had three Matildas (and seven Hamlets, but more on that in a bit).  When I was a regular, Matilda was a very coy rag doll beauty who had her own chaise lounge and would only reluctantly let me pet her.  According to this piece (which, side note, I’m very jealous I didn’t write), Matilda has stalkers… er, fans, who send her rather elaborate gifts:

There was a lady in Japan that hand-made an exact replica of her, two dolls, out of wool. Each strand of wool, strand by strand, she put those in. It looks exactly like Matilda. One is just Matilda, we have her in the showcase out front. And then I have one up here where she has her in a kimono.

But the Matilda I knew and loved is on her way to retirement, and a Hamlet has taken her post!  As per Algonquin’s Instagram:

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This Hamlet is one lucky guy!  Agreed that some may find his appearance a bit drab after the glam Tildy, but according to the official Algonquin cat wrangler, he’s a real charmer!  Sad to have missed his inauguration, but Hamlet––here’s to a martini together in the near future.

The All Souls Game

August 24, 2017

Last weekend, my husband and I went to Oxford for the day, and on our (excellent) two-hour free walking tour, the guide stopped us at the gate to All Souls College and explained a bit about it.  All Souls College is a graduate school, kind of.  The description of it actually sounds a bit more like an elitist club, where “fellows” are just distinguished people from their fields (in other words, how much studying is happening, I can’t really tell).  The entrance exam for All Souls famously used to be a single word that you had to free associate on in an essay.  You had three hours to write this essay, which goes to show you how deep the graders wanted you to go on the topic of “water” or “style” (both real prompts.)  Apparently, they scrapped the one word exam back in 2010––a very funny article about it is here––but they still do these very broad questions that are sometimes interesting, sometimes amusing, and sometimes sound like the kinds of queries stoned college kids pose to each other while sitting bleary-eyed beneath that poster where those naked girls have Pink Floyd album cover painted on their butts.

So of course my husband and I were like, “Shit, it would be kind of fun to just take the exam and see what happens!”  But obviously we will never get that chance.  However, I thought, perhaps we can all have the experience of taking what has often been called the hardest test in the world.  What if there were a cleverly designed pack of question cards, like the one The School of Life (which I hate, but their branding is good, I admit) makes about untranslatable words and confidence and shit like that, but instead of those things, it was some questions from All Souls exams, and you could break these out at your next dinner party before intoning, “THE GAME’S AFOOT”?  (That would be required.)  I mean, I’d do it.  Would you?

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Design example

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Here is a link to some sample exams, and here are a few of the better questions I’ve picked out:

Is eugenics ever a good thing?

Is there anything to be said for astrology?

Should we preserve living creatures harmful to human interests, such as the tick, the locust and the tapeworm?

In the context of political speech, ‘[e]ven material which causes a significant degree of revulsion may be justified by the serious purpose of the context in which the material is broadcast’: Lord Walker in R. (ProLife Alliance) v. B.B.C. [2003] 2 WLR 1403. Do you agree?

Should parents be punished for the truancy of their children?

Should prisoners have the vote?

Where should the boundaries lie between a person’s private and public life?

Would you ban a book?

Is your belief in the theory of evolution based on faith or reason?

Should tigers be saved at the expense of Indian villagers?

Should there be a market in human organs?

Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?

(This last one isn’t in those sample tests, but was cited by Sarah Lyall––link above––as a past question.  And I think the answer is DUH.  Nazi uniforms change every single situation.  Also this would obviously be the first card I picked out when I had people over.)

 

 

Burning Books (and Plays)

July 5, 2017

I wrote a funny (I hope) little thing on the act of burning books, and then today, read this funny little thing about Edward Albee’s will, which stipulates that his unfinished work be burnt after he died.  Here’s the important bit:

Was he working on anything when he died? We may never know.

Why not? He requested that all his unfinished manuscripts be destroyed after his death.

In another part of this “article” (faux Q&A?) the writer says that the executors plan to grant Albee’s wishes.  Which made me really curious: was Albee a longhand man?  Meaning: do they need to destroy physical works?  And if so, would they let me attend the bonfire?  I will absolutely not sneak a peek at anything!  I would consider that a sacrilegious act.  I’m considering writing a note to the two executors, named in the New York Times, asking for permission, but I very much doubt they’ll be open to it.

 

FUCK YOU I’M MILLWALL

June 8, 2017

So, as most everyone knows by now, we had a wee bit of the TERROR here in London last weekend.  Not ideal.  But one of the things that always follows terrorist incidents are stories of human bravery.  Case in point: this absolute legend, who, unarmed, charged the terrorists yelling a battle cry of, “Fuck you, I’m Millwall!”

For the Americans amongst my readers, Millwall is a football/soccer club that is, how should I put this: thoroughly disliked.  Their fans are known to be uneducated thugs. In fact, a common cheer they use as a retort is, “No one likes us, we don’t care.”  So imagine how exciting it is for them––whether they’ll admit it or not––to all of a sudden find themselves VERY liked!

My husband and I have, like many others out there, found the story and the tagline pretty amazing.  So the other night, we were joking about making t-shirts with “Fuck You, I’m Millwall” on them, because of course when something is funny, the first thing you should do is make a t-shirt of it.  I was one click away from ordering 400 customized t-shirts (to the tune of nearly 1,000 GBP) when my wet blanket husband decides actually, it would be weird, and maybe we’d have to check with Millwall (even though I wasn’t planning on using the logo) and instead we could think about just having them say FYIM even though exactly two people in the universe (him and me) would know what the fuck that meant.

So fine, even though we were going to donate the proceeds to the victims’ families and other charitable causes, and even though I’m sure Millwall officials would be thrilled to partner with us on this initiative, the project will go on the shelf for now.  But let the record show that this shirt would have been bomb.

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Monastic Sign Language

May 17, 2017

In a biography of Thomas Merton, a mention of “Cistercian Sign Language,” one of a few monastic sign languages developed in order to help monks communicate with one another.  A bit on Catholicism and sign language, from Jonathan Burgess:

Monastic sign language, much like the sign language with which most of us are familiar, is based on symbolic gestures involving the hands and face to communicate basic concepts. A Catholic who regularly attends Mass already knows at least one. Tapping one’s chest with a closed fist means, “Forgive me” or “Pardon me.” Pressing one’s thumb under the chin can mean “Alright. That’s it.” or “Enough.” Pressing one’s index fingers together to create the shape of a triangle means “Finish[ed].” Spreading the fingers of one’s hand and sweeping them across one’s cheek means “Pretty” or “Beautiful.” To sign “God,” touch the thumbs of both hands to the opposite palm while touching both index fingers to point upward in a triangle to indicate the Blessed Trinity. “Soul” is indicated by making a semi C-shape with the index finger pointing upward, touching the hand to one’s forehead, and then extending the hand upward. If a friend or interlocutor asks how one’s day is going, a brief touch of the cheek is “good” and a rub of the nose is “bad.” Touch one hand to the chin, and extend the hand forward keeping the fingers extended and joined with the back still facing the other person to say “thank you.” He or she returns the gesture to say “you’re welcome.”

Does this stuff really all come up in mass?  Or only the first one?  Anyway, I would fucking love to learn Cistercian (a specific order) sign language.  I’d put it in my bio and show off my skills at parties.  I’d sign my accomplishment from the Seven Storey mountain!

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I Knew First

March 30, 2017

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for a moment of unadulterated showing off: I knew that William Powell, author of The Anarchist Cookbook, passed away, it appears, before the Times did.  Last year, I reached out to his wife to ask if I could interview him about his conversion to Anglicanism.  I was sorry to hear he had died, as it sounds like although he was a bit of an angry young man, and his writings had unfortunate repercussions (the perpetrators Columbine and the Oklahoma City bombing were said to be partially inspired by the Cookbook) he really had turned his life around by devoting it to education.  RIP William Powell.

Xanadu!

March 28, 2017

As some of you may remember, many moons ago, I wrote an essay that I suspect is probably  my best work of all time, about the Broadway show Xanadu!   Looking back now, I can see it’s a bit of a flawed piece, but ultimately, the heart of it is still genius.  As many of you also know, I happen to have become, in the aftermath of the election, obsessed with a website called 366 Weird Movies, which is, as you might have guessed, a list of weird movies, and supplementary materials.  Well, today, my loves collided, because 366 Weird Movies did a post on Xanadu!  Let’s just say they weren’t too enthused…

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Xanadu is campy, kitschy and appalling, but it’s not weird. It’s just one of the last death rattles of the disco era.

COMMENTS: La La Land may have revived the movie musical, which has been on life support for decades because of flops like Xanadu. This film spawned a soundtrack album (deliriously overproduced by the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne) that was a monster hit in 1980, spawning five top 20 singles. The movie itself, however, bombed, and rightfully so. It’s inoffensive, embarrassing piffle. Made on a big budget, Xanadu still looks cheap, and director Robert Greenwald , who later made The Burning Bed and several progressive-minded documentaries, doesn’t really seem to know how to stage musical numbers, despite choreography from Kenny Ortega (High School Musical). Michael Beck, fresh off the macho action classic The Warriors, looks embarrassed (he never starred in a movie again), and poor 68-year-old Gene Kelly makes his unfortunate farewell to musicals in this dud. Olivia Newton-John is beautiful but cannot act—although she was much better in Grease—-while director Don Bluth (An American Tail) contributes a weak animated segment.

Practically all memory of the film vanishes right after you’ve seen it. Xanadu is sort of a remake of the indifferently received 1947 Rita Hayworth musical Down to Earth, while Kelly also played a character named Danny McGuire in the 1944’s Cover Girl opposite Hayworth. Either of those films has to better than Xanadu, which only Newton-John may still remember fondly: the young Danny McGuire is played in flashback by dancer-actor Matt Lattanzi, who later became her husband. No amount of fake glitter and flash can salvage this Lattanzi-Newton John family album, however: the climactic musical number involves a series of revolving stages that reminded me of the old Disneyland show “America Sings”. I’d rather sit through “America Sings” again. In fact, those who want to experience Xanadu should listen to the soundtrack album (featuring Newton John, ELO, Cliff Richard, and the Tubes)  instead of slumbering through this decidedly non-weird musical relic of the Studio 54 era.

Someone apparently had pleasant, perhaps drug-induced memories of the picture, because in 2007 Xanadu was adapted into a modestly produced Broadway musical (starring “30 Rock”‘s Cheyenne Jackson) that was nominated  for a few Tony awards. In the end, Xanadu may be recalled chiefly as being part of the “great”—or awful—disco musical trend of 1980, which also gave us the infamous Village People vehicle Can’t Stop the Music. Anecdotally, unfortunate moviegoer John J.B. Wilson saw both films at a 99-cent double feature and came up with the idea of the Razzie awards, “honoring” the year’s worst films, which are still held today. At least Xanadu has better songs than Can’t Stop the Music.