A Frolic of My Own

Jazz, Books, Macs, Food, and Life Outside the Academy

Blogging from Cleveland Park, DC

iJunkman at hotmail dot com

Pages Written
in 2004 = 3

February 27, 2004
Blog sylistJohn Holbo, one half of Examined Life, begins his stint as a Crooked Timber guest blogger with a thoughtful meander through his personal history in the blogosphere. His dismay that several of his favorite voices adopted a doctrinaire right wing agenda after 9/11 will probably generate the most discussion. I was struck, though, by his comment that blogs have produced few unique stylists.

Do blogs perhaps impose a uniform style? I often feel my own prose pulled in directions that I would never have anticipated. We all want to be like the popular kids, and when popularity can be measured on daily a basis it's tempting to imitate the sites with the most readers. Personally, I wish I were funny like TMFTML, but if I tried I would no doubt sound more like an obnoxious drunk who corners you at a party.

Given the brevity of the average blog entry, however, we might have no right to expect more than the seeds from which a more developed style might grow. While some writers create a voice that can be recognized in a single sentence, most require a few pages to establish themselves. The first group no doubt excels in the blogosphere, but I would guess that the second is more common since even the shortest prose genre typically runs more than a paragraph. [Thanks Apt 11D for link.]

February 26, 2004
Other people's prose Other people's prose:
We are allowed to be deeply into basketball, or Buddhism, or Star Trek, or jazz, but we are not allowed to be deeply sad. Grief is a thing that we are encouraged to "let go of," to "move on from," and we are told specifically how this should be done. Countless well-intentioned friends, distant family members, hospital workers, and strangers I met at parties recited the famous five stages of grief to me: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was alarmed by how many people knew them, how deeply this single definition of the grieving process had permeated out cultural consciousness. Not only was I supposed to feel these five things, I was meant to feel them in that order and for a prescribed amount of time.
From Cheryl Strayed's essay "The Love of My Life."

February 25, 2004
OklahomaAccording to the Mason Dixie Dialect Quiz, I'm 56% southern. That sounds about right, given both my background and my attitude towards the South. I was born and raised in Oklahoma, with one grandfather a patriarch in a small Georgia town and another a coal miner and sharecropper. Once I got a chance, though, I started edging my way towards the sophistication of the Northeast. My accent, like many who grow up in Tulsa, has always been flat, and I found it flattering when people guessed that I hailed from New York.

In college a friend suggested that I would like living in an Eastern city, since I wouldn't have to smile at people on the streets. These days, though, I feel nostalgic for the South. After recent visits to Austin, Athens, and Nashville, I realize that I'm at home in the lower half of America. Partly it's a question of taste. With music and food two of my top obsessions, the South feels like the one part of the U.S. where people pursue those activities with more natural enthusiasm than conscious effort. Partly it's a question of manners. Southerners might be appalled by your behavior, but they are unlikely to be offended. Partly, in my case at least, it's a question of class.

A friend who runs the South Atlantic Humanities Center said that Oklahoma straddles the line between the South and the Midwest. I suggested that income pretty much determines where you fall on that divide. While my social climbing has been more about intellectual prestige than earning power, it's hard for me to distinguish my genuine interests from a desire to separate myself from my origins. Too many people in my family get bogged down in bad decisions and squander their opportunities. As someone determined not to make those mistakes, my early rejection of the South probably resulted more from the desire to distance myself from a social class than a region.

Now I've traveled the globe and accumulated three fancy college degrees. Even though I'm marginally employed, it feels more like slumming than fate. Maybe now that I'm confident with my position, I can embrace what I like about the South without feeling that it represents a surrender. [Quiz via, who else, The Sardonic Subversive.]

February 24, 2004
Sour BobSour Bob has returned. Who knew?

Mardi GrasIn celebration of Mardi Gras, the Episcopal church that I walk past everyday tied colored balloons to the sidewalk sign advertising its services. No doubt tonight all around the capital Washingtonians are engaging in restrained debauchery at fund raising galas.

OFACThe U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control decided that, while Americans may publish works written in embargoed countries, we must not edit these texts. Editing, you see, is a service, and we can't provide services to the evil nations of Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Cuba.

I was going to add a snarky comment, but that seems superfluous. [via TMFTML]

February 23, 2004
picturesI sure post a lot of pictures of ugly people (I don't include Calderón de la Barca in this group).

Naomi Wolf The news has been been circulating all week, but today New York finally published the tawdry tale of Harold Bloom's alleged assault on Naomi Wolf. To anyone who has spent a few years in graduate school, the details ring true. In an age of hyper-specialized intellectual pursuits, at academic conferences stories of faculty misconduct provide the lengua franca for cocktail hour conversations. It's not clear if the superstar professors engage in more bad behavior, or if their stories are just more interesting to tell. They are, I'm sure, more likely to be protected by the administration.

I have no doubt that Bloom and Yale behaved badly, but if Wolf got the details right they also acted quite oddly. Harold Bloom, if your going to be a cad, at least be a decent guest and leave behind the bottle of sherry you brought. And Yale, if you're concerned that an alumnae will sue, constantly hounding her to fundraise on your behalf might not be the best way to dampen a desire to get even.

February 22, 2004
The Washington Post pans La dama duende, the Gala Theater's production of the comedy by the seventeenth-century playwright Calderón de la Barca, more for the play than the production. Tricia Olsewski focuses her praise on the physical comedy of the actors, the staging, and song and dance routines inserted by the director. She finds Calderón's work, however, "dense" and "complex."

If you have never seen light comedy from the classical age of Spanish drama, think Moliere but messy, think of a Shakespearean comedy with less psychology and more intrigue. Identity is always unclear. While some characters find happy endings, other must make the best of their lot. I would call the plays intricate, rather than complex.

Olsewski, attempting to give a perspective audience member fair warning of the play's difficulty, spends the first third of her review detailing the plot twists of Act I. But writing out the plot of seventeenth-century Spanish comedy is like writing out every twists, turn, and collision of an action film's car chase and then declaring that it's impossible to follow. When the plays work, they surge forward at a breathless pace and delight with twists of plots rather than exploration of characters. Olsewski, trained in a long tradition of literature that focuses on the individual, expected complexity from the characters and found it in the plot.

February 18, 2004
untitledAdam named the animals with care, but modern real estate developers focus more on expediency and marketing when naming their streets:
When it comes to naming subdivision streets, there are no taste tribunals or standards committees. "No, it's usually some little minion like me in the background doing it," said Bonnie Sharkey, vice president of sales and marketing in the South Bay division of Standard Pacific Homes, one of the largest residential developers in the West. Her street-naming process is more prosaic than poetic.

"You get out a Thomas Brothers map and start looking at what street names are already in use," she said. Her creative muse often is found in a dictionary or online. "Sometimes I use paint swatches. They have beautiful names."

Then there's the theory that builders name streets or entire subdivisions after the little furry critters that their bulldozer just displaced. "It's probably true," Sharkey said. "I remember naming a project in Galt, "Quail Hollow," because when I walked the bare site there was a quail with her three little babies."

Does the quail still live there? "Well, it was there for a while."
[again from Sardonic Subversive, where does he find this shit?]

untitledAfter suffering for far too long, the good folks of the Missouri Ozarks can finally shed pounds by having their stomachs reduced to "the size of an egg." According to the News Leader, in May CoxHealth will perform its first bariatric surgery, the same procedure that transformed NBC weatherman Al Roker from a jolly fat man into an oddly unsettling thin guy.

The newspaper warns that this miracle cure is far from painless, since after the operation patients "must cut out concentrated sweets and salts, and foods high in fat and refined carbohydrates. No milkshakes. No 64-ounce Big Gulps. No Krispy Kremes. No Doritos. No carbonated beverages and no alcohol. For life. " Coming soon to the Ozarks--healthy diets and exercise. [via The Sardonic Subversive]

February 17, 2004
Other people's proseOther people's prose:
Duke was the cook at my fly camp when I was out in the delta researching a piece about "bush housekeeping," and he thickened his sauces there by grating roots he called desert potatoes into boiling fat. But the secret was how many potatoes and, indeed, how to distinguish those potatoes from all the other roots that looked like potatoes but were something you'd rather not ingest. I never found out, because the day we'd planned to fly to the desert to dig some up a tourist camping on a nearby game preserve was eaten by a lion, and my pilot volunteered to collect the bones. Food like that is, as they say in the art world, site-specific.
Jane Kramer in her essay "The Reporter's Kitchen."

February 16, 2004
San FranciscoI spent last weekend above San Francisco's Mission District in Bernal Heights discussing the investments of the Telluride Association and enjoying the perfect view of downtown San Francisco. A local political consultant had loaned us his home office, which occupies the first floor of a building that once held a neighborhood grocery. As he and his family took refuge upstairs, his five year old daughter asked what all those people were doing below. He explained the basics of stocks and investing. She only had one question: "Daddy, does it really take all day?"

Yes, it took all day and most of the next morning. Although we were trapped at the top of the hill, a few people made an escape Saturday and returned with burritos from the outside world. I've been enjoying the burritos served up by McDonald's Chipotle chain, but after tasting the original I understand completely why someone from California would be unimpressed by the imitation.

I've been to San Francisco once before, but I was so young that I only remember the newspapers headlining the box office take of Raiders of Lost Ark and my great aunt refusing to enter the prison cell on the Alcatraz tour. She was a high stakes gambler, and she didn't like the odds that an earthquake might hit while we were inside the cell.

This time, I was old enough to appreciate the sophisticated cuisine at Foreign Cinema and drink beers at Doc's Clock. I took the red-eye back Sunday, which gave me about eight hours to see what I could after our meeting. Since time was limited, I decided to focus on SFMOMA, although I spent almost an hour wandering lost through the Yerba Buena complex of merry-go-rounds, playgrounds, and fountains before I found the museum.

While standing in line to check my coat at SFMOMA, I bumped into an old student of mine from the University of Virginia. Not such an unusual event, since I taught almost 650 UVa undergrad during my six years in graduate school. She was in town visiting some friends and invited me to join them for dinner at the Globe.

The SFMOMA had a lot to offer, and some floors were better than others. Later this week I'll try to gather my thoughts about the permanent collect, the Diane Arbus exhibit, and the overview of 90s art.

San Francisco feels like Europe, but with a stronger Hispanic influence. I've never seen such a collection of old and odd signs. Where else would they advertise "Donuts and Chinese Food." I don't know if, like Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, the two items are served on the same plate. I hope to go back and acually spend time there. It seems like one of those cities--New York, Paris--where I would love to live if I had any money.

Photo bonus: All this week Frolic Photo will features my snap shots from San Francisco.

February 15, 2004
SpringThe days are longer and for the first time in months I can open a window in my apartment. Once again, I'm wondering why I don't live in the South, where you can keep the windows open damn near all year round.

February 14, 2004
Amazon Ever wonder who really writes those anonymous reviews on Amazon? After a software glitch revealed the reviewers' true identities, we learned that the nom de plume "A reader in St. Louis, MO" belongs to Dave Eggers. [via Invisible Adjunct]

Names Over the last decade, American parents have become increasingly less inclined to name their sons Todd, my own given name. At the start of the 1990s the name ranked 169th in popularity, according to the Social Security Administration. By 2002, 475 names were more popular.

I've never been that fond of Todd. I realize, when I hear the unfortunate names given to many of my cousins, that it could have been worse. That the single vowel in Todd universally baffles speakers of Romance languages, though, continues to cause me grief. My parents, of course, can be excused for not foreseeing this problem.

Beyond the inherit unattractiveness of Todd, sitcoms can probably be blamed for the name's fall in popularity. On the Simpsons, Scrubs, and other shows, the annoying character is always named Todd. [thanks Crooked Timber]

February 12, 2004
I'll be back The weekend approaches, and for me it will last three whole days. For the first time this year, I'll be collecting a paycheck for doing nothing. With all that extra time, I plan to update everyone on my recent trip to San Francisco.

February 09, 2004
To do listTo do list:
  1. Sleep.

  2. Sleep.

  3. Sleep some more.

I need sleepI took the red-eye in from San Francisco, and it's taken a serious toll on me physically. When I booked the ticket, I didn't think much about the time difference. Boarding a plane in California at 11:00 p.m. and arriving in Washington at 8:30 a.m. sounded easy, since I could get a full night's sleep on the way. Of course, had I done the math I would have realized that it was only a five hour flight.

This morning, I went straight from the airport to the office, showered in the building's gym, and was clocked in and working by 10:00 a.m. The first few cups of coffee helped, but I still ached well into the afternoon.

I would say that my body's reaction to sleep deprivation shows my age, but I've never had much stamina for such ill considered ventures. New York, with its 4:00 a.m. last call, always tested my resolve to shut down the bar. And I was never the last one to leave a party, unless I passed out on the couch.

After I've slept, I'll have more to say about my brief trip to San Francisco.

February 07, 2004
Pittsburgh Airport I landed in the Pittsburgh airport an hour ago and ran to my gate, only to find that my 20 minute layover had grown to an hour. Plenty of time to have a drink, at least. Sam's Brewhouse, the airport outlet of the Samuel Adams brewery, was full, so I found a table in the New Orleans themed Fat Tuesday. True to its inspiration, Fat Tuesday felt a little dirtier than the other airport bars and the patrons looked a little sleazier. I passed on the frozen Hurricanes and Mud Slides, and settled for a bourbon on the rocks.

For the me, spending time in airports is the best part of traveling. While America may be an increasingly homogenized nations, with every citizen shopping at Wal-Mart and drinking no foam skim lattés from Starbucks, enough regional variation exists that each airport gate displays its own culture. At the moment, I'm waiting at a gate for San Francisco, where everyone around me has a cutting edge mobile device. When I go home to Oklahoma, outside the gate I always encounter women with brightly colored sweatshirts decorated with seasonal themes.

Note: Just minutes before I boarded my flight to San Francisco, I discovered a weak WiFi signal. Unfortunately, I lost the connection just as they called my row, so I had to post this later.

February 05, 2004
Custodians meeting Every few months I jet off to an exotic location, where financial professionals treat me like I'm rich. Let me tell you, it breaks up the tedium of the work week. It's unusual, and often feels a little absurd, that eight young people with no financial experience and, by and large, not enough personal funds to own a 401K share responsibility for a $40 million endowment, but that's how our founder wanted it. When L.L. Nunn started the Telluride Association nearly 100 years ago, he directed it to run educational programs and decided that the students themselves would be in charge.

When I have more time, I'll explain how the Telluride Association provides the missing link between the neo-conservative movement, William T. Vollmann, and Jennifer 8. Lee. For the moment, though, I've got to plow through some stock reports and pack my suitcase.

February 04, 2004
Jennifer 8. Lee Jennifer 8. Lee, the New York Times' oddly named Washington correspondent, has found herself attacked by the left and the far right after the New York Sun declared her the "D.C. Hostess with the Mostest." One of her Harvard classmates, in turns out, strung together quotes about Ms. Lee by their fellow Cambridge pals and published the puff in the New York Sun. As Wonkette says, "Do you have any idea how hard it is to find people who didn't go to Harvard? You might have to actually call a, like, stranger or something. Ew."

If Jennifer 8. keeps getting abuse from all sides about her social life, she just might become Washington's answer to Paris Hilton. Who said we didn't have glamor in this city?

Oklahoma map XTCIAN wonders, "What makes Oklahoma so desperate to touch New Mexico?"

February 03, 2004
Lunch Carts Rural Pennsylvania may use a rodent to predict the weather, but I take my cues from the local lunch cart. On the second day of February, after a long absence during the coldest period of the year, Amy returned with her cart full of fifty-cent sodas and off-brand cookies to the sidewalk in front of my office. She had to huddle for warmth over the hot dog steamers, but she looked happy to be back.

Today, though, Amy and her cart were again hibernating. This means that Washington, unfortunately, must endure another six weeks of winter.

Titian and Janet JacksonIn the midst of all the commotion over Janet Jackson's breast, Tyler Green at Modern Art Notes offers some historical perspective. If you've never seen a naked body in public, then you've never been to an art museum.

February 02, 2004
To do listTo do list:
  1. Catch Flamenco singer José Mercé at the Flamenco Festival.

  2. See Jacques Henri Lartigue's photos of ladies and cars at the Sandra Berler Gallery.

  3. Hear Liam Callanan read from The Cloud Atlas, a novel about deadly balloons, Wednesday at Barnes and Noble (6 p.m. at 555 12th St.).

Simpsons How many Simpsons viewers got this joke?
[Marge, Bart, and Lisa go to their local "Bookaccino" superbookstore.]

LISA: I'm going up to the fourth floor, where the books are!

BART: I'm going to taunt the Ph.D.s!

[Bart approaches the three workers at the espresso bar, all of whom wear glasses and bored expressions.]

BART: Hey guys! I heard a new assistant professorship just opened up!

[Ph.D'd baristas gasp and lean forward eagerly.]

BART: Yes, that's right. At the University of ... PSYCH!

As Chris said on Household Opera's comments, "As we watched it, my friend and I laughed, and then ... we didn't." I go to Ben's Chili Bowl instead of watching TV, and I miss the Ph.D. gag and the voice of Thomas Pynchon.

February 01, 2004
Lost in TranslationLost in Translation captures the boredom and exhilaration of living abroad. In the morning, you visit an ancient temple. In the afternoon, you drink in the hotel bar because you can't imagine another way to pass the hours until dinner. The natives have their routines, and their families, and their jobs, and you realize that, even in Tokyo, it's impossible to fill your day when you live outside the fabric of a city's real life.

When I spent a summer in Madrid, Sundays were impossible. The Spaniards had Masses to attend and family to dine with and talk to all afternoon, but foreigners wandered the city trying to find a café that would allow then to linger for a few hours.

In Sofia Coppola's film, the mismatched pair of John Harris and Charlotte makes sense not just because they are both uneasy in their own marriages, but also because strange alliances are formed when you find yourself in a society in which you play no part.

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