Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Those New Year's Resolutions

Now that we are reaching the halfway point of 2009's long march into 2010 (and I hope by 2010 people start saying, "Twenty ten" instead of "Two thousand ten" because, after all, if you remember back to the ol' 20th century, we didn't typically say "Nineteen hundred and ninety-nine"; we said "Nineteen ninety-nine." And rarely did we ever say, "One thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine," except on occasions requiring pomp and exaggerated formality), how are those new year's resolutions coming along?

I didn't make any new year's resolutions.

Did you?

Just asking.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Bar Codes

Speaking of bar codes, here are some to ponder:

  • It is not cool to say in a bar, "Right now, I find you attractive, but what happens when I sober up?"
  • Ever notice that when people relate morning-after horror stories of alcohol-based liaisons, no one ever admits to being the less-attractive one (to put it politely) on the other side of the bed?
  • Bar codes dictate certain modes of behavior: loudness, repetition, false originality, flights of fancy, belligerence, pseudo-romance, and loudness. And repetition.
  • It is utterly uncouth to spill a drink onto someone's lap as a means of introduction and a cheap way to sample mutual responses to physical contact.

Bar none? Mais, non! Bar all.

You may've missed this, but the bar code turned 35 on June 26.

Yup.

I gleaned some cool facts about the bar code from The New York Times:

-- it has 30 black and 29 white bars (how poetic, minimalist, and elegant: who ever thinks of the white bars? Hunh? You just thought the white parts were blank spaces, didn't you? I did.)

-- George J. Laurer, an I.B.M. engineer, led the team that developed the bar code (Laurer, now 84, praises its three great qualities: cheap, needed, and reliable.)

-- It was first used for a 10-pack of Juicy Fruit gum (67 cents)

-- Bar codes are scanned about 10 billion (with a B) times a day.

-- A committee of reviewers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommended only one change to the initial design: change the font of the numbers below the bar code.

-- Neither I.B.M. nor its developers patented the bar code. GS 1, a nonprofit, gets a minimal annual fee from manufacturers to cover costs of overseeing the bar code's international standards.

-- UPC stands for Universal Product Code.

-- Bar codes cost a half-cent each.

The New York Times breaks down each component of the UPC is a very informative graphic.

The bar code pictured above is from the front page of The New York Times.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Jacksonian Democracy

Lots of words recently on Michael Jackson. Some on Farrah Fawcett, too, who died the same day.

Many lesser known (to the world at large) died on that same day. How many? What do demographers tell us? 100,000? 1,000,000?

Death, the great equalizer. "Unto dust." Call it Jacksonian democracy, if you will.

When Jackson was reported to be ill (first at the reportedly rather disreputable TMZ.com), I went over to the Los Angeles Times website. It was slow; learned later it almost crashed.

L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten has a thoughtful piece on Jackson, fame, and media coverage (excessive).

Rutten's column has a memorable and jolting line about those who die young. The line is by William Butler Yeats, in his poem "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory":


"What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?"


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Cry for Me, Argentina



Don't cry for me, Argentina. (Smile, because The Laughorist used the requisite vocative comma.)

Okay, now to the news.

It turns out Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina has not been hiking the Appalachian Trail after all (the explanation given for his mysterious nearly week-long disappearance), not unless, as someone suggested, "hiking the Appalachian Trail" is code for hiking up an Argentine's skirt and following the path to her forested (or denuded) nether regions. ("Nether mind, dear!") Or perhaps it is code for hiking up one's trousers in Buenos Aires after hunting for whatchamacallit -- and finding it.

Today the guv admitted he was really in Argentina. He's been having an affair. With a woman. In Argentina.

This is delicious.

Call it the Ken Starr Deliciosity Effect. (Remember, Mr. Starr, the Cromwellian who was so titillated by the sexcapades of a Mr. William Jefferson Clinton?)

It is delicious because it is a Republican who got caught. Wait: a sanctimonious, pious, prissy, puritanical, gay-bashing (I only presume that), pharasaical politician of a party that delights in its righteousness. That proudly parades its rectitude (but don't mispronounce that word or you'll be talking naughty, Guv).

Of course, Mark "The Sombrero" Sanford had called for Clinton to resign during L'Affaire Lewinsky. Of course.

Really, I could give a rat's you-know-what about this guy or his private life (or Senator John Ensign's or Senator Larry Craig's or Bill or Hillary Clinton's or anyone else's). But if you want to hold yourself up as some sort of moral standard-bearer or subscribe to the hypocrisy surrounding such shallow hype, well, you are asking for a pie in the face, a pie hand-delivered all the way from sunny South America.

To put the icing on the cake or whatever metaphors we are putting into the mixer: this is the same outraged governor who was appalled by all that federal spending and vowed to receive the so-called stimulus money.

Hey, baby, now we know why. He didn't need no stinking money for no stimulus. He was already stimulated, right down to Nether-nether Land, somewhere near the South Pole.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An Early Merry Christmas to You, Too



In my office, not the Holy Office (HAHAHAHAHA, inside joke for Roman Catholics or, um, especially Inquisitive folks), in back of my HP printer, and near the window, is a manger inhabited, so to speak, with little statues of Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, the Three Magi, a shepherd boy with a lamb around his neck, and a donkey. Straw on top of the roof; an angel with "Gloria" on a cloth at the entrance above the manger. On top of the roof rests a metal garland holding Advent candles, unlit, three purple and one pink.

This arrangement has not made its way to the attic, yet, from last Christmas. That's my only explanation. [The photo is not accurate in two respects: 1) no cameras were available back in those days -- REALLY?? 2) for illustrative purposes only; not an image from my office.]

What can I say?

If we get scorching temperatures (so far, we have not had a very warm late spring, thank you; fine with me), maybe a glance at a Christmas manger scene will cool things down mentally and spiritually.

Or perhaps, with the Three Wise Men huddling nearby, if I need an epiphany, sudden or otherwise, it's there if I am open to it.

Happy Blogaversary to Me

Fittingly for Bloomsday, today is the anniversary of my blog -- my blogaversary, if you will.

It is 3 years old, with 548 posts and a total of -- what? -- a mere 41 comments. (I kid, barely.)

Let the fourth year begin!

Carry on.

Laugh. Or else.

Happy Bloomsday!

Celebrate the splendor of this ordinary day with its shining artifacts and web of words and motions and emotions.

Yes, Happy Bloomsday.

A fine Bloomsday-related remembrance by Colum McCann here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Booklist

It's not year's end, but we're nearly halfway there. Here's my running list of books read so far this year, in the order of completion (first listed being first completed):

  1. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
  2. Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles
  3. John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman
  4. Rabbit Remembered by John Updike*
  5. Fool by Christopher Moore
  6. Take This Bread by Sara Miles
  7. The English Major by Jim Harrison
  8. Indignation by Philip Roth
  9. A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre
  10. Lush Life by Richard Price
* you might say this is 3.5 because it is from Updike's Licks of Love collection; wanted to reread portions

I showed you mine; now show me yours.

p.s. This is nothing, nothing at all. I am a literary micro-dwarf compared to my friend Bill S., who reads about 80 books a year. Being a retired engineer, he of course keeps a spreadsheet sortable by author, date, subject, category, etc. He tells me he even grades each completed book.

Take This Book

. . . break it open, and digest it.

Take This Bread is a deliciously nourishing memoir. At least for me.

You'll have to decide for yourself.

At least the author is true to the biographical etymology of San Francisco, that's for sure.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

See: Seesaw Seen

In East Syracuse (why is there no South Syracuse or West Syracuse?) today, I saw a yellow-background traffic warning sign depicting a black seesaw, with a symbolic creature, presumably a child, on each side of the 45-or-so-degree angled plank.

Seesaw, a simple reduplicative word, which can work as a verb, a noun, or an adjective.

I wonder.

Why a seesaw warning sign?

Beware of hurling kids?

Prepare for economic turbulence?

After all, I was en route to the bank.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Less Than Nothing

Picture this: A concrete abutment adjoining a railroad overpass, the concrete polished and new, in contrast to the rugged, rusted iron of the CSX railroad bridge over West Fayette Street, Syracuse, New York. Spray-painted in black upon this otherwise pristine urban whiteboard is a graffito of one word, perhaps one foot high, a yard wide:

N O T H I N G

But what catches my eye is the gestalt of nothing, for the graffito is a piece of urban design, if you will, that adds by subtraction. Each of those seven letters is less than a letter; each letter is truncated, almost overcome by silence and absence (and who isn't overcome now and then by silence or absence?). My eyes are caught because at first glance I don't see a word but a modern urban hieroglyphic. I am arrested. I must stop and figure it out.

Oh, you say, show us a photo, Pawlie. Show and tell!

Too easy.

Picture an N that almost looks like an upside-down V; an O reminiscent of a U; an H -- oh, stop! I can't tell you. I don't precisely remember. I cannot recount with confidence. Come on out and see this sub-nihilist shrine for yourself.

So, who is the author, the designer of Less Than Nothing?

And what is he or she or they trying to tell us? (I should not be so presumptuous: "tell me.")

And is Less Than Nothing more sublime, more alluring than nothingness itself?

(Nothing has its semantic merits, as in signifying no-thing. The English language is great like that, as also demonstrated by the word atonement, at-one-ment.)

I keep telling you. The signs are there for us to see, and interpret.


Esquire

One of the pleasures of writing, even in the context of a blog, is to stumble upon something you composed a while ago, read it, and declare to yourself, "Hey, pretty cool. I like that. Who the heck wrote that?" And you find it was yourself.

It held up. It still worked. Maybe it even grew better with age.

Similar statements can be made of musical, artistic, or culinary creations (if they are not moldy).

I sheepishly but candidly have to say: I think my blogging was better two years ago.

You decide.

Hard to tell; hard to compare pears with apricots or whatever.

I knew I had blogged before about the word "Esquire" or its abbreviation "Esq." as an appendage (excuse me) after one's name.

I still say I should try it, the whole Esq. bit. Business cards and all.

I'd probably start getting more work, more respect, more junk mail, more antipathy, and more lawsuits.

Still, it'd be an interesting experiment in the realms of finance, sociology, anthropology, semantics, and legality.

Would the bank tellers I know cash checks signed with Esq. after my name?

Would the DMV give me heat if I tried to change my license accordingly? Do they allow "Esq." on passports?

If so, why?

Pawlie Kokonuts, Esq.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Walkable Wannabe Talkable

So, what does one experience while walking? It differs daily. It differs from place to place. One person's walkable community is another person's talkable inventory. To wit:

strewn birdseed pecked at by three squirrels, five darting fiches and sparrows, four cautious mourning doves; tired and worn dog waste in the grass; a game of baseball (hardball!) on a copper-sunset diamond, young players, middle aged coaches, no umpires; three green barrels, as in 55-gallon drums, brimming over with trash; a swimming pool filled with silent emerald water, no lifeguards, no swimmers, too cold; green upon layer of green upon darkened or lightened verdure, rolling in contours and 9-hole frustration and pleasure; a pruned bush with a dangling branch of Y; a sacred grove of Tuscany-laden shrubs along the pathway; the robin's evening vesper recitation, persistent and mournful and prescient of dawn

Monday, June 08, 2009

Walking the Walk

It is easy to possess simplistic (yes, simplistic and not merely simple) and sentimental notions and to take them seriously. For example, someone might hold dear the quaint idea that if we all had a front porch, life would be safer. We would be more of a community. We'd engage each other. Of course, that assumes that one could, and would, use that porch constructively, interacting with neighbors cordially, and so on (picture the opposite of the character Clint Eastwood plays, at least initially, in Gran Torino).

A similar notion, I've long felt, applies to square dancing. Yes, square dancing. Why? Because it permits, even encourages, a limited form of physical flirtation. Theoretically at least, square dancing allows one to experience the margins of marital infidelity or the borders of sexual experimentation or the contours of gender exploration, all within permissible realms. The thinking here is that if more people went square dancing, they'd get "it" out of their system; they'd find ways to sublimate carnal mischief, as it were.

Both of these quaint examples are clearly flawed, but, hey, that's what "simplistic" is all about.

My new simplistic notion is this: if we walked more, we would not only be more physically fit but also more mentally and spiritually fit. We would have better communities. I got this idea empirically on Saturday by walking to Wegmans from Tipperary Hill, about, oh, 1.5 miles each way. I could have driven, but it was pleasant and I did not mind spending the extra time needed to walk.

Walking, you discover lots of things.

You find out first-hand and close-up whether you live in a walkable community.

You see where there are sidewalks, and where there are no sidewalks.

You see litter, nearly everywhere.

You see what it is like to live without a car or a bike or a bus.

You experience life at a different speed. (Read that again, s-l-o-w-l-y.)

You see things differently and you hear things differently.

You experience gratitude for the grace of being able to walk, or you see how difficult the terrain is for someone in a wheelchair.

And here's the simplistic and sentimental part: what if we required all our political candidates to walk in the places they serve, all by themselves? What would be the implications? What if people sentenced to community service had to walk and pick up litter (I know, there are at least two drawbacks to this: why make walking a punishment, and why not prevent littering to begin with?)?

What if we literally walked the walk?

What if we really did walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or at least trod their path?

This is not a liberal or conservative issue, neither left nor right.

I invite you to try walking.

I do not mean a little stroll in the park with your dog (as I try to do anyway nearly every day) or around a suburban cul-de-sac. No, I mean something like this: going to buy that milk or bread or cereal. Take a reusable cloth sack and walk to the grocery and back. Live in the country? Hmmmm, you probably do a lot of walking already. Live in the city, you probably do a lot of walking already.

But if you live in an exurb or suburb, you probably drive.

Walking.

Tell me what you find.

What are the hurdles to walking?

And what are the rewards?

Just imagine if our communities made walking easier.

And how will we ever know how hard it is or how easy it is to walk in our communities if we don't try it for ourselves?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sign Riposte, Redux

Spotted these signs today along Teall Avenue and Court Street, just beyond the city limits of Syracuse, NY:

  1. a real estate sign with the words Integrity Available [good to know that some values remain attainable]
  2. Trol-mation [hey, a factory of "They Might Almost Be Giants"!]
  3. Carl's Kountry Kitchen [for the sake of simple consonance and branding, couldn't Carl give in and go for Karl? Then again, maybe he was afraid of the consequences of abbreviation.]
  4. Something Different [as I was driving I thought I saw that this place was a daycare provider and thought to myself, "Um, does one really want something different in that realm of service?" But, alas, after-the-fact Internet research revealed this business is just a high-end, acclaimed "gift shoppe" with gift baskets, etc.]

Harold Pinteresque Day

It has been said the plays of the late Harold Pinter are noteworthy not only for what the characters say but also for what they leave unsaid. The unspoken says more than the spoken. Eloquent silences, you might say, to use an oxymoron in a positive light.

Yesterday was a bit of a Harold Pinteresque day for me.

The tirade held in check.

A remonstrance reined in.

An inquisition not implemented.

A showdown averted, deferred.

Listing these, I read them and they present themselves as a rather noble and virtuous inventory, though they may just as easily mask cowardice, depression, or lethargy.

And I can't even tell you which is true.

Plus, I'll never know what the other players felt, skating along the merry edges of Lake Superficial, will I?