Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Iambic Feet of Clay Edition

Mrs. M is at the gym, and I just got home from Wal-Mart a few minutes ago. So what say we get caught up, huh?

***

Classes resumed on Tuesday, and my sections are what my mom would have called “lipping full.” Indeed, a couple of them are oversubscribed, but being the soft touch that I am, I agreed to let the extras in. Some of the students are kids I’ve worked with before, but most of them — particularly in FroshComp — are new to me.

I did get a reminder that I’m being tailgated by Time’s Winged Chariot, though. One of my freshpeeps told me that she was from Cocoa Beach, FL. “Oh, right!” I said. “The setting of I Dream of Jeannie!”

Blank. Stare.

“You know, the old TV show?”

Nothing. “I’ve never heard of it.”

I’m proud to say that I maintained enough shreds of dignity to avoid humming the theme song.

Now of course, there’s no reason for me to expect this kid to know about a sitcom that ceased production thirty-some years before she was born, but gee whiz — you would have thought I was talking about Eddie Cantor.

OK, dammit. Here.

[Side note: Being from the generation that grew up with 3-5 TV stations max, it occurs to me that my TV experience was less fragmented than that of the Spawn’s generation. Consequently, my peers and I watched many of the same shows my parents had (at least in syndication), because there was really little else to watch. My daughter’s generation, on the other hand, had at least two cable channels strongly focused on her demographic, and never spent afternoons watching Gilligan, the Bradys, or the Clampetts. Fortunately, I spent enough time watching TV with her that I can make Nickelodeon references and such for a few more years, but that pop cultural common ground is eroding. End of side note.]

***

I finished reading the Edwin Arlington Robinson bio by Scott Donaldson earlier this week, and am now engaged with Donaldson’s bio of my favorite poet, Archibald MacLeish. In the Robinson bio, Donaldson says that E.A.R. was likely the best, kindest human being he ever wrote about. MacLeish comes off a bit less well. He seems to have been a distant father (as his own father was), and although he stayed married to Ada for 65 years, there is significant evidence that he carried on several affairs along the way. Still, MacLeish comes across as a basically good person, a child of privilege (and a bit of a snob), but with a corresponding sense of noblesse oblige and the desire to leave America and the world better than he found it. And anyone who managed to aggravate both the Communists and Joe McCarthy must have been doing something right.

archibald-macleish

Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)

But someone who comes off badly in both biographies is Robert Frost. (Please note: although pre-WW-II American poetry played a vital part in my connection to literature, I have largely contented myself with the poems themselves, rather than plunging into the lives of the artists who wrought them.) Per Donaldson, Frost was competitive to the point of egomania, and hated when other poets received the attention that he saw as being his due. Because of this, Donaldson contends that Frost underrated Robinson and his work upon the latter’s death in 1935 (most notably in his introduction to the posthumous edition of Robinson’s work), and played an active role in diminishing Robinson’s reputation.

Likewise, he behaved badly toward MacLeish. Frost was, of course, the dominant presence at Bread Loaf, where he was surreptitiously nicknamed “Jehovah,” as he was a jealous god. MacLeish appeared at Bread Loaf in 1938, and I’ll let Bill Peschel pick up the narrative:

On this night, Archibald MacLeish visited to read his poems and radio plays. The gathering was held at Treman Cottage, and Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. It was a time when Hitler was on the ascendant, and the United States was divided between warning against the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy, and those who didn’t want to intervene in another European war. MacLeish was anti-Fascist, and Frost despised MacLeish’s support of Roosevelt.

That night, as MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the same tune,” he said in a whisper that could be heard. When MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke could be smelled. Frost had accidentally, on purpose, set fire to some papers and was beating them out and waving away the smoke.

Most people accepted the story of the accident, and the reading eventually concluded. MacLeish was still the center of attention, and he was asked to read from one of his plays. But Frost was not done with him. As Stegner wrote:

His comments from the floor, at first friendly and wisecracking, became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What began as the ordinary give and take of literary conversation turned into a clear intention of frustrating and humiliating Archie MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those who comprehended it.

Even Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had enough, calling out, “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but shortly thereafter, on some pretext, “said something savage,” and left.

Afterwards, Frost’s defenders tried to kick sand over the events. One friend wrote only of “unfounded allusions” and “behavior not proven by fact.” There were people there who didn’t even notice what Stegner saw that night. But baiting MacLeish had caused a permanent rift between DeVoto and Frost. At the end of the conference, when they met and shook hands, DeVoto told him, “You’re a good poet, Robert, but you’re a bad man.”

Donaldson reports that MacLeish handled the matter in a way that seems entirely characteristic:

At the end of the evening, he came over to talk with Frost. “Jesus H. Christ, Robert,” he told him. “You’re the foundation and we all know it.” That was what he needed to hear, Frost replied. He was an old man [Frost was 64, 18 years older than MacLeish — Mondo.], he said, and he wanted to be flattered. Then they chatted about less personal matters, amicably enough. “God damn everything to hell as long as we’re friends, Archie,” Frost remarked in parting. Years later MacLeish summed up his feelings about the great poet. Frost, he said, was “like a horse you could get along with if you came up beside him from the okay side” (275).

Well, he certainly seems like part of a horse, anyway. But he did fine work. Fortunately, so did Robinson and MacLeish, and through Donaldson’s own fine work, I’m learning more about all these folks than I had previously known.

***

Also this week, I read a couple of articles about children’s literature, and particularly the role of NY Public Library’s children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore (no known relation) as a gatekeeper/tastemaker in the field. While both articles give Moore her due as the driving force behind opening libraries to children, creating story times, and quite a few other giant steps in making libraries a resource for the entire public, they also note that she had clearly defined tastes, and wouldn’t hesitate to scorn or bury books that didn’t meet it. Moore’s disapproval (indicated by a rubber stamp that read “Not recommended for purchase by expert) could be the kiss of death for a children’s title.

Two books that felt the brunt of Moore’s dislike, however, have gone on to become beloved titles in the genre. Although she strongly encouraged E.B. White to write something for young readers, she scorned Stuart Little and tried to have White withdraw it from publication. Failing at that, she encouraged libraries not to shelve it, and was successful, for a time. (Neither did she care much for Charlotte’s Web.)

But a book Moore utterly loathed was Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon. She despised the book so much that she kept the NYPL from carrying it until 1972, a quarter-century after its publication. (Although Moore retired in 1941, she maintained what appears to have been an iron grip on the NYPL children’s section, a grip that didn’t even relax with her death in 1961.)

But as Arlo Guthrie would say, “That’s not what I came here to talk about.” In the process of reading these articles, I learned about the death of Brown in 1952, which can only be described as ironic (although grotesque might also be pressed into service):

Recovering from surgery for an ovarian cyst in a hospital in France, [Brown] playfully kicked her leg up, cancan-style, to show a nurse how well she was feeling; the action dislodged an embolism from a vein in her leg, which traveled to her brain, killing her nearly instantly.

All of this, of course, falls under the heading of “Stuff I know that will never make me any money,” but still, I found it of interest, and hope it interests you as well.

***

I think that’s likely enough for one post, so I’ll go ahead and play us out. The Wishing Tree was a side project of Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery. They put out albums in 1996 and 2009. This song is from the first album, Carnival of Souls, and it packs a punch belied by its quietness. This is a live version of “Starfish.”

See you soon!

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Mondo Takes Manhattan II: Electric Boogaloo: After-Action Review

Flew back from NYC yesterday, but my arms are still tired. Anyway…

***

Thursday was my last full day in the city. I had been up til past 1 that morning, blogging about my day and the book event. I woke up when the sunlight came through my window a little past 8 a.m.

After getting civilized, I wandered through the sharp, bright morning down to the Essex Market for breakfast. Not all of the shops were open, but several bakeries were, so I got a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese at Davidovich’s, washing it down with fresh-squeezed orange juice. Afterward, I wandered around the market, recognizing that there were prepared foods for every taste, and fresh ingredients for nearly anything one might want to cook. I think the place that dazzled me the most, though, was a spice market.

Spices

I guess because I’m a medievalist, I knew I was standing in front of commodities that could have ransomed emperors. And had I wanted to figure out how to get some back to Mondoville, I could have bought bunches of the stuff. Don’t tell me the world hasn’t gotten better.

***

My next destination was the lower tip of the island. I got off the train at the Broad St. station, and emerged at the beating heart of capitalism.

NYSE

Feeling the touch of the invisible hand.

I know as an academic, I’m supposed to sneer at places like this and the people who work there. But I don’t, because I’m grateful for investment and the people who were willing to take risks and enter the marketplace.  This stuff is part of what allowed my dad to go from the Nashville projects to a mayoralty. It’s part of what funds my college and my students, my wife’s income and our retirement. It’s what allows us to do the things we love, instead of trying to scrabble a subsistence together.

Yes, I saw the Rolexes, the Tiffany displays, the other signs of the things I can’t afford and don’t expect to. But that’s okay, I think. While the people of that world are no better than I am, they do make my life better than it might have been, and they do so in part by creating space for the freedom to choose the life I want and to strive for it. I don’t feel a need to envy or resent them.

But I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on those thoughts. I strolled past the statue of the Fearless Girl, and around a corner, the Charging Bull. The latter had crowds of tourists taking photos — at both ends. But I didn’t stop there, either. I was heading toward Battery Park, and from there to meet someone.

That didn’t mean I was going to go without lunch, though, and I was delighted to see a Nathan’s Hot Dog cart by the entrance to Battery Park. I first had Nathan’s dogs at the Sam’s Club in Real City a few years ago, and now I have them whenever I can. But just as I think hot dogs taste better with a ball game in front of them, I can now attest that they’re awfully darned good while watching from a park bench as the world goes by, even on a cold, windy day.

***

After I finished lunch, I walked to the old fort that gave the park its name, and a few minutes later, I boarded a ferryboat, because I wanted to meet a lady.

SoLfromBatteryPark

It was about a 10-minute ride to the island. Mrs. M had told me that even if I couldn’t get tickets to the crown or pedestal (and honestly, with my arthritic knees, the crown would have been out of the question anyway), the trip was worthwhile just to see the city skyline. She’s right about a lot of things, and she was again.

NYC Skyline from Liberty Island

A plaque near this location bore three labeled pictures of the view over the years. It was neat to compare the images, but of course, the middle of the three pictures included the twin towers, with the inscription, “World Trade Center, 1973 – September 11, 2001.” There are always Big Noises.

But then I turned, and I remembered that there can always be hope as well.

SoL 9 Jan 20

It must be a perfect day when I can take a picture like this.

I made a circuit of the island and the museum, and then I stopped at the gift shop to pick up a couple of books for Mrs. M’s students. Not long after that, I realized that I had lost a glove, but my coat had pockets, so I did okay.

Then it was time to catch the ferry to Ellis Island. My phone was running out of power, so I don’t have any pictures from there. My personal story doesn’t go through that island — my ancestors generally arrived further south and in the 18th C, with a small percentage crossing a land bridge much earlier. Still, you’d pretty much have to be utterly devoid of imagination not to appreciate the experience so many of my countrymen had over the decades in between.

***

By then, it was late in the afternoon, so I caught the ferry back to the Battery, and walked to the J train to return uptown to my hotel. I grabbed a drink at a drugstore down the block, relaxed at the hotel for a while and chatted with Mrs. M while my phone recharged.

Eventually, I was ready for supper, and it just didn’t seem right to me to make a trip to New York without getting pizza. So I went back into the street. It was dark by then, and the bars were coming to life. There also was some sort of event  going on at a cosmetics shop called Winky Lux — I saw a slew of young women browsing displays as a DJ spun tunes in the background. (Editor’s Note: Further research indicates that it was this particular location’s grand opening. Actually, I guess it was the night before same, but there you go.)

It didn’t take long before I found a pizza joint, and got a meat lover’s special to take back to the hotel. There was a nice balance of toppings, and the crust was thin and foldable, but not limp. I can see why the locals like the style. So do I, although I’m none too picky about pizzas, so I’m pretty easily impressed.

But I had to get up at 5 yesterday morning to make my way home, so while I wanted to go out and scout some more, I regretfully called it a night.

***

I did in fact get up at 5, showered and finished packing, and made it to the lobby around 6. I checked out, and was getting ready to sit in the lobby because my shuttle wasn’t supposed to arrive until 6:30. However, the van was already waiting, so I mounted up. The good news is that the driver listened to Miles and Coltrane while we traveled. The bad news is that there wasn’t much leg room. While my legs aren’t very long for someone my height, they’re long enough that when we finished picking up the other passengers, getting stuck in traffic, and reaching the terminal a little past 8, my knees and hips were decidedly unhappy. I gimped my way through checkout and to the gate.

Because I was flying on a budget, my class was “Economy Basic,” which appears to be a euphemism for “conditions to which PETA would object.” I was assigned the middle of three occupied seats, but some quick discussion with another passenger moved me to the window seat so that I wouldn’t crowd my rowmates as much. Of course, this meant that I got a two-hour ride in the 21st-C. version of the “Little Ease.” I understand why LB likes to take the train.

Eventually, however, we made it to Charlotte, and I descended the very escalator at which I greeted the Spawn a few weeks ago. My suitcase was one of the first to show up on the carousel, so I caught my shuttle back to long-term parking by 1 p.m. with plenty of time to get “breakfast” at my greasy spoon of choice. From there, I drove home as I listened to Translator.

This morning, I woke up feeling a little like I was beaten with a 2 x 4, with many of my significant joints stiff and/or sore, and (believe it or not) a paper cut that I got while trying to get my subway pass out of my wallet. But you know what?

LB and I exchanged e-mails on Thursday, and I told him that my experience reminded me of a scene from one of my stories. In “Office at Night” (from In Sunlight Or in Shadow), the protagonist (an alternate-universe version of my mom) travels to New York to seek her fortune. At one point, she thinks, “This is what the city looks like.” Then she thinks, “No, this is what the city looks like with me in it.”

This time, I saw more of what New York looks like with me in it. I liked the view.

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From the Prof to “the Professor”

Family and friends of Neil Peart announced the death of the former Rush drummer, who died of brain cancer on Tuesday at the age of 67. Neil, called “the Professor” by bandmates and fans, Peart’s virtuoso skill behind the kit redefined our understanding of the instrument in a level comparable to Hendrix on guitar, Coltrane on sax, or Entwistle or McCartney on bass.

This wasn’t the post I planned to write today, obviously. I had planned to write the closing recap of my NYC trip this afternoon, and probably will still do that later. However, Peart’s work as a drummer — and as a lyricist, where he cleared a path for thoughtful, mature lyrics in hard rock — demand attention. So I’ll close this with a couple of thoughts.

When I’m teaching Brit Lit, there are certain writers — most notably Milton and Wordsworth — who change the nature of the game. The writers who come after may try to continue what those people have done, or in rare cases, to extend that. Or they may try to rebel against it, to take some sort of Oedipus-via-Harold-Bloom contrary position. But what they do is influenced by those gamechangers, in one direction or the other. Neil Peart was such an artist.

My second point is something I heard many years ago, when someone was talking about great quarterbacks. It was said that people would sometimes compare a Joe Montana or Tom Brady to Johnny Unitas. But no one ever compared Unitas to anyone else. This is true of Peart as well.

So long, Neil. Thanks for a lot of the soundtrack of my teens, and for what you did for the music I love.

This track is not an example of Peart in full flight — but it’s a favorite of mine because it shows him driving a band, and because I’ve always liked the lyrics.

See you soon.

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Mondo Takes Manhattan II: Electric Boogaloo: Day 2

So after I concluded this morning’s post, I got myself civilized and headed out. My first stop was for brunch, at the famous Katz’s Delicatessen. In keeping with my own taste and the recommendation of a former student, I went with a corned beef sandwich and an order of latkes. The sandwich was fattier than I’m used to, but the flavor was terrific, and the latkes were delicious as well. I apparently timed my visit nicely as well, as by the time I finished, there was quite a line, but I hadn’t needed to wait at all.

***

Next, I caught the subway to Union Square, and found my way to another bullet point on my list: The Strand Bookstore. The store claims “18 Miles of Books,” and I have no reason to doubt it — the store has four floors, each of which is essentially a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling shelving. The aisles are both narrow and crowded, so I wouldn’t recommend it for claustrophobes, but if you can’t find something to take home, you just aren’t trying.

On a lark, I decided to go to the top floor, the store’s rare book room. Of course, I knew the books up there would be far beyond my wallet’s capacity, but what the heck, right?

Wrong. In fact, I saw a first edition of Harlan Ellison’s Slippage, his final original collection. In further fact, it was the limited edition with slipcase and extra material not available in the trade edition. In further further fact, it was a numbered, signed copy of said edition.

For forty bucks. “That’s not an outrageous price for a souvenir,” I thought. “You’re rationalizing,” I thought. “Yeah. So?” I thought. And that’s how I became the owner of a signed, numbered, limited first edition of the final collection from one of my favorite writers.

But my adventure wasn’t over. At the same table at which I found the Ellison, there was a copy of In Sunlight or In Shadow, which contains my story “Office at Night.” I noticed they wanted eighty bucks for that one, and that it had a “Signed Copy” label on it. I opened it up, and indeed, it was a signed copy, autographed by many of the contributors. But well, not all of them.

Call it chutzpah if you must, but I carried the book to the cash register. I pointed at the list of writers on the cover. “That’s me,” I said. I showed them my driver’s license and college ID to prove that I was indeed the Warren Moore named on the cover. “Now I see that this copy is signed by quite a few of the contributors. Would you like me to sign it as well?”

The sales clerks spoke to their manager, explaining the situation. And so now the Strand’s copy of LB’s first art-themed antho has one signature more than it did this morning. It’s probably still eighty bucks, though. I don’t think my signature actually lowered the value.

***

After additional browsing, I made my way to a Starbucks for a frappuccino and some people watching. I sat by a window, and watched the world pass by for a while. There must have been a school in the area, because around 3:30, little globs of teenagers began to drift by. I also saw a fair amount of stroller-pushing women, the kids typically cocooned like mummies in quilted down sarcophagi. From time to time, women would pass by, round white patches on the shoulders of their coats. The patches had red lettering around the circumference and some sort of design at the center, and they reminded me of the patch I got for completing the mile swim at Scout Camp one year.

I wondered a little bit about them. Was there some sort of neighborhood ladies’ group turned militant? But I was on one side of the window, and they were on the other, and I wasn’t going to give up my seat to run outside and investigate and make myself an obvious weirdo. Some mysteries, I thought, must remain unsolved.

***

After a while, I wandered around Union Square a bit more, and then it was time to find my way to the Mysterious Bookshop. A subway ride deposited me by City Hall, within sight of the Brooklyn Bridge. I was several blocks from the bridge, but even from there, I think I got a sense of what Hart Crane had been so excited about. A short walk got me into the Village, and a couple of blocks later, I had reached my destination.

Along the way, though, I was entranced by a store window, of a sort one tends not to find in Mondoville. The store was the Fountain Pen Hospital, and the window featured an array of gorgeous writing utensils, lit with the kind of attention normally reserved for fine jewelry. And it made sense — in their own way, these pens were works of art. We’re not talking the purple Pilot ballpoints I use for grading, here.

Fortunately, the shop had closed a few minutes before I got there. I can justify spending forty bucks for an autographed hardback book, but with my handwriting, I’ll never be able to rationalize a pen like the ones on offer there. So after a bit, I moved on, and a few doors later, I reached my destination.

***

Observation: I feel taller in New York City than I do back in Mondoville. At 6′ 4″, I’m pretty tall by non-basketball standards anyway, but the greater diversity here makes for diversity in size as well. I’m not Gulliver in Lilliput by any means, but it’s easier to see over crowds, and well. . . it’s noticeable.

***

I was the first of tonight’s crew to make it to the event — again, not surprisingly, given my chronic earliness. But the folks at the Mysterious know their stuff. A few seconds after I walked in, the store’s manager said, “You’re Warren, right?” He found a spot to stash my coat and bag, and I settled onto a couch to read a collection of Bill Pronzini shorts.

Within a couple of minutes, though, early arrivals began to trickle in, and a couple of them recognized me. One of them was my Twitter buddy ScottO, who happened to be in town on a business meeting, and he was kind enough to spend part of the evening with me. Another fellow recognized me from my visit a few years ago(!), and my friends Thomas Pluck and Jeff Wong showed up as well. The other authors showed up with plenty of time to spare as the staff set up seating, drinks, and such. LB got there, and shortly afterward, his daughters Jill and Amy showed up for the festivities.

There was a good crowd on hand — few to no empty seats, and some standees too. LB emceed the event, introducing the other three of us (Jerome Charyn, Janice Eidus, and Your Genial Host) in alphabetical order. Each of us talked a little bit about the relationship between the paintings we chose and our stories, and we read a few pages each. I guess I did well; several folks asked if I had done a lot of these readings, saying I really made the piece come alive. I thanked them, but said that it seems to have been a talent I inherited from my dad, and that it came in handy as part  of my day gig.

Finally, LB wrapped things up and it was time for the signing, both for the people in attendance and the folks who had ordered copies in advance. All told, I probably signed my name a hundred times or so; if you were number 98, I apologize — my hand was getting kind of stiff, and as I said earlier, my handwriting isn’t too great anyway.

We were getting ready to head out, and Jill put her coat on. I saw the patch on the sleeve. “I’ve been seeing those all day,” I said. “What are they for?”

“Oh, it’s just the brand label for the coat,” she said. Don’t know why that hadn’t occurred to me. Mystery solved.

***

After everyone was satisfied, LB, Amy, Jill, Marc (Jill’s partner in business and life), and I went to a restaurant a few doors down from the Mysterious.

In the Life, Boswell tells the story of Johnson complaining about a dinner he had attended. “It was a good enough dinner,” Johnson said, “but it was not a dinner to ask a man to.” Johnson would have approved of this one. I had wild boar cannelloni with a chestnut sauce, and house-made lemonade. A fine meal indeed, and Marc and Jill were gracious enough to pick up the tab. From there, I made my way back here to the hotel.

It’s been another good day, and it reminded me of one of my visions for the new year. I contributed an autograph to a rare book, I hung out at a Manhattan coffee shop, and I shared a bill with several important authors at the most famous bookstore in my field. If you were there, or if you couldn’t make it but ordered a signed copy of the book, thanks for your part in it all. Yes, I’m Madge and Warren’s boy in the big city, but you know what? I’m also a writer, and I guess I’ve earned my trip here. That’s a nice feeling.

Posted in Culture, Literature, Pixel-stained Wretchery, Why I Do What I Do | 2 Comments

Mondo Takes Manhattan II: Electric Boogaloo: Day One

I woke up shortly after midnight yesterday in Mondoville, because I had a flight to catch in Charlotte at 6 a.m., which meant I had to reach the airport at what my daughter would describe as “Stupid o’clock”. And since it’s a two-hour drive to Charlotte, well, there you go.

I showered, packed a few last things, and got on the road a half-hour or so ahead of schedule. Remember, I’m one of those people who shows up early for dental visits, too — although the nitrous oxide may be a factor there. The shortest route to Charlotte involves (among other things) a drive through a National Forest and various other sparsely populated sections of our largely rural state. This meant that I spent a fair amount of the drive worrying about hitting (or being hit by) a deer — a fairly frequent occurrence in those parts, tough on cars and drivers, even tougher on the deer.

I did in fact see one deer standing just off the shoulder of the road, but it disappeared into the woods as I passed. All the same, I tried to project “PREDATOR” thoughts as I continued my drive. I guess it worked, as I made it to Charlotte unscathed.

I did make a wrong turn just as I was reaching the airport, turning one street sooner than I should have. I corrected that soon enough, but then made another mistake as I was trying to find the appropriate parking lot. Fortunately, I saw a police car in the parking lot of a 7-11. He gave me directions, and I turned the car around in the parking lot. At which point I noticed the seven other police cars gathered there. Sorry, guys — I didn’t mean to intrude.

Despite the unexpected side trips, I made it to the airport at about a quarter ’til stupid,  finished checking in, and boarded the plane at the appropriate time. I flew on an airline known for extremely low fares, so I was able to treat myself to a better seat than usual, one in which I could sit like a human being. However, I can say that some of my flightmates were interesting. The guy behind me smelled strongly of blunts, and the fellow next to me was wearing pajama pants. Had I looked farther behind me, I suspect I may have seen someone plucking a banjo and talking to a goose (Thank you, Jonathan Winters.) Of course, Pajama-pants guy was wearing a shirt rather like my own, so perhaps I shouldn’t put on airs.

In any case, we made it to Newark on schedule, and my shuttle showed up at the appropriate time. We made it into Manhattan in about an hour, and we got to cross the Pulaski Skyway as part of the trip. As we headed onto it, I thought, “Wow. This is an old bridge.” I was right. Still, I though it was pretty neat looking.

I was dropped off at my hotel around ten. I checked my bags and went prowling for something for breakfast. I found a market, where I got a couple of plain bagels with cream cheese. In retrospect, I likely would have been fine with just one, but you live an you learn. I came back to the hotel, and scarfed them down in the foyer that serves as a lobby.

Since I didn’t want to lose any time and since my room wouldn’t be ready for several more hours, I walked a couple of blocks and caught the M train uptown to 53rd and 5th, from which I walked another few blocks to MoMA. I had wanted to visit the museum when I had been here a couple of years ago, but since I spent an entire day at the Met, I had to pass. This time, however…

I started out in the 40s-70s collection, seeing works from Warhol (Soup cans! Marilyn! Sleep!), Claes Oldenburg, and South Carolina homeboy Jasper Johns, among others. There were several Jackson Pollock paintings as well, and while I never thought of myself as a fan of his work (I always think of his teacher Thomas Hart Benton’s comment that “Jack painted like that because he never learned how to draw.”), I think I finally understand what the fuss was about. The reduced images in books just don’t convey the scale and texture of what goes on in those works. So I got a little wiser. I also saw Picasso’s Charnel House in a gallery dedicated to reactions to the Second World War.

From there, I went to the earlier part of the collection, the 1880s-1930s section. It starts with Brancusi sculptures, but I wandered through out of order, and found myself suddenly confronting Dali’s Persistence of MemoryIt’s famous, of course, and I’ve grown up knowing about it — Dad had a book of Dali’s works, and I spent a lot of my childhood looking at it — but again, it’s another thing to see it in person. The funny thing, though, is that almost everyone just walked right by it on the way to other things. It’s a small work, but I wouldn’t have thought it so easy to pass by.

Another gallery focused on Picasso, specifically Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and other works influenced by it. In particular, there was a large painting by Faith Ringgold that dealt with American turmoil in the 60s. I was unimpressed by Ringgold’s painting, and I think it was mainly because the work was pretty much devoid of ambiguity, and felt to me less like art than like propaganda. Putting it in the same gallery as Picasso’s work mainly showed me why most know about Picasso and few about Ringgold.

Then I found the earlier works, including Rousseau’s Sleeping Gypsy and of course, Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The latter seemed to be the “destination” artwork for the museum; the crowd was thick around it, brandishing their cell phones to gather their digital souvenirs. I was told later that Japanese tourists in particular flock to the work, as it is apparently on some sort of authoritative list of “Things to see in NY.” The crowd I saw was mixed, but apparently the painting was on everyone’s list. I actually enjoyed the nearby Rousseau a bit more — perhaps because it wasn’t crowded at all.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, by another painting that has fascinated me since childhood, Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White. I don’t know why I like it so much, but I fell in love with it the first time I saw it in an art history textbook. I had forgotten it was at MoMA, but it became a highlight of my trip.

I had a sandwich at the museum cafe, and met a very nice couple from Virginia who turned out to be fans of crime fiction. (Later that evening, they sent me an e-mail — apparently our chat led them to look me up at the college website. Thus are new friends made.)

I finally caught the M train once again, back to the hotel. After a nap, I got some Chinese carry-out, watched the Kentucky game on ESPN, and called it a night. Now, housekeeping is tapping on my door, so I’d best close. Today, Katz’s, the Strand, and the event at the Mysterious! Hope to see you there at 6:30, but if not, I’ll be back tonight or tomorrow!

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Sunday Afternoon Potpourri: Northbound Edition

In the words of the Queen song, I’m lazing on a Sunday afternoon. There’s playoff football on the tube, but as a Bengals fan, I’m under no obligation to pay much attention, and classes don’t start for another week, so here we go.

***

Tomorrow will be an odd day. I’ll likely stay up a bit tonight, and wake up around the time Mrs. M leaves for the first day of her new semester. This is because I plan to go to bed mid-afternoon tomorrow. You see, my flight to New York on Leather-Helmet-and-Goggles Airlines leaves at 6 a.m. Tuesday, which means that I need to be at the airport at about 4. But the airport is in Charlotte, which is about a 2-hour drive from Mondoville. So I’ll be getting up in the middle of Monday night to get on the road around 2 a.m.

The upside of all this is that after I get my shuttle from the airport and drop off my bags at the Aging Film Star Hotel (it’ll be too early to actually check in), I’ll have time to scout around the neighborhood for the day. And of course, I’ll be able to get back to my normal sleep schedule that evening. Still, I may be the only person I know who can get jet-lagged without ever leaving my own time zone.

***

This’ll be my second trip to the big city, and I’m looking forward to hitting a couple of places I didn’t get to last time. While I’m tempted to do the Met again, I think this time I may check out MoMA, and Mrs. M strongly encourages me to take a ride out to Liberty Island — she says that even though I won’t be going up in the Statue, the view back to the city is well worth the trip. Furthermore, I just really love riding ferries, tour boats, and the like. (I’ve never been on a cruise, though. Perhaps one day.)

Mrs. M and I have different styles of tourism. She loves to hit as many different locations as she can, while I tend toward a slower pace with deeper visits. For example, when we were scoping out Terpville two summers ago, I spent an entire afternoon browsing the National Archives; I think she hit three or four sites in that time. Similarly, when she and the Spawn went up to NYC in 2016, they pretty much took things on a dead run, while as I said, I spent an entire day at the Met a couple of years ago (although I have to say, having one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever had was a bonus). And that’s fine — there’s a reason they make chocolate and vanilla, after all.

Conveniently, there are at least a couple of spots not far from Aging Film Star Hotel that I want to hit. I’m giving serious thought to checking out the Tenement Museum, and in the other direction, I plan to make a pilgrimage to the Strand Bookshop. Not being a fine dining type, I’ll probably live on bagels, pizza slices, and Chinese food, but I do want to make a pilgrimage to Katz’s Delicatessen — latkes are one of my favorite foods I don’t have very often. I’m nowhere near authentic enough to do the Cel-Ray soda thing (having tried it before), but Dr. Brown’s root beer is fine by me.

I’m also a fan of subway trains, so I’m looking forward to doing that again. As a bonus, the Bowery Station is very near AFSH, and that’s a location that played an important role in my fictioneering career, as it was the setting for my first contribution to one of LB’s anthologies. I’ll be the one standing well back from the platform’s edge.

The centerpiece of the trip, of course, is connected to the fictioneering stuff. I’ll be making my second visit to the Mysterious Bookshop Wednesday evening, as part of a promotional event. It’s really LB’s show, marking the publications of From Sea to Stormy Sea and his collection of non-fiction, Hunting Buffalo with Bent Nails, but since I contributed to the former and have a mention (as does Mondoville) in the latter, I’m happy to claim a spot at the table. And if you’re in the neighborhood, swing by at 6:30 — I’d love to see you!

But to tell you the truth, one of my favorite parts of the trip — as with any trip that I take, really — will be people watching/eavesdropping. The ubiquitous “They” say that writers hoard experiences; we all know the myth of authors’ colorful back stories. And for some folks, I guess that’s true. But I think that for me, and perhaps for others, we collect observations, secondhand experiences. We collect voices, the rhythms of speech, the things and people we see. We collect the postures and gestures, the spatial relationships between people as they interact. It’s not some Isherwood (or Drama-era Yes) “I am a camera” bit — it’s not that sterile, as things get blended with memory and imagination. But it does all become fuel, and I’m looking forward to collecting it.

Obviously, I don’t expect to spend a great deal of time online during the trip, but I should have my phone, in case you want to offer advice or suggestions either in the comments or on Twitter. And I’ll probably post the occasional update while we’re at it.

***

A couple of paragraphs ago, Mrs. M and I got an excited text from the Spawn, who is hanging out at the Terpville public library with the Main Squeeze. To wit:

“DAD’S IN THIS BOOK AT THE LIBRARY OMG”

Made me chuckle.

***

I think I’ll wrap this one up, but as Jackie Gleason might have said, how about “a little traveling music?”

I’ve mentioned before that the garage rock movement of the mid-60s took place all over the world, and that the movement in Japan (where it was called “Group Sounds“) was quite lively. One of the leading bands of the Group Sounds scene was The Golden Cups. The Yokohama-based quintet mainly did covers and gigged at a nearby US military base, also cutting a few albums for Capitol/Toshiba.

I can’t find any other information on this particular track, so I’m thinking this may have been an original. It appeared on the Cups’ second album, innovatively titled The Golden Cups Album, Vol. 2. I like the toughness of the riff after the first 40 seconds of weirdness, so here you go, with 1967’s “Happening at 3 O’Clock A.M.”

See you soon!

 

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The Old Shell Game

I mentioned the other night that I was reading a Shell Scott novel with a curious history. Dagger of Flesh was written as a Shell Scott story, but Fawcett bounced it, so Prather changed the hero’s name to Mark Hogan and sold it to Falcon in 1952. Eventually, Fawcett realized that Prather was a gold mine (reportedly, only Spillane outsold him in that era) and reacquired the book.

I was hipped to this when I noticed that Shell was described as having curly, brown hair, as versus his white crew cut to which I was accustomed. But I hadn’t realized how quick-and-dirty the switch had been until I ran across a couple of odd lines. One of them was to the effect that it wasn’t as though the papers had been shelled properly. Later an undercover police car was described as lacking the ordinary shellings.

Huh? Then it dawned on me. The hero’s name (Shell) had been changed to Mark. Then, when the name was changed back to Shell, someone had simply done a global search-and-replace. So Mark became Shell, all right, but likewise, the papers and police cars got shelled as well.

It amused me when I figured out what had happened, but it also made sense. After all, every shell game requires a good mark.

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