Archive for the ‘Monday Scramble’ Category

Monday Scramble: Shelving

Monday, May 17th, 2010


This entry is over twelve hours overdue, but for a very good reason. The bookshelf that I ordered from Scully & Scully last October arrived today, and for seven or eight hours Quatorze and I worked like drays. We joked that we would sleep well tonight, but we were too punchy to believe any such thing. The hulking industrial shelving that I’d ordered last fall to serve as a combination staging area and placeholder gave way to a far smaller, but also far more capacious, burl walnut book case, The metal unit was emptied, dismantled, and donated to Goodwill — all this afternoon. For most of the day, the dining table was a war zone of competing piles, each one screaming for attention by trying to be uglier and less orderly than the others. Quatorze did all the heavy lifting, as well as moving an inconvenient phone jack and carrying over a decade’s worth of Museum Bulletins from one room to the other. I was prepared to let the project drag on for a week. Quatorze was determined to see it through all in one day, and he was frighteningly persuasive. We had dinner with Kathleen round the corner, but I insisted that Q come back afterward so that Kathleen could thank him properly. Even so, I was disappointed, because the living room was so tidy! There was no evidence whatsoever of the day’s struggle. Kathleen assured us, however, that what she remembered of earlier such struggles was clear enough to impress her big time.

As you can guess from the spines on view above, the new bookshelf is consecrated to books to look at. They are not all fine arts monographs and exhibition catalogues, however. I’ve included a category of books that’s congenial both in content and in physical dimension to weighty thick art books: slender, but equally tall children’s books.

The new bookshelf is right next to the dining table, the stoutest in the apartment. I look forward to getting lost in a searching thread that has me pulling down books right and left, to compare and contrast (or, better, to let the artists do the comparing and the contrasting.) A long dream, developoed the better part of a year ago, has  come true. As the long day ebbs, I’m left feeling golden.

Monday Scramble: Reaching

Monday, May 10th, 2010


Over the weekend, I’m told, my grandson passed a developmental milestone of sorts. Seeing an iPad at a neighboring restaurant table on Saturday, he demonstrably reached for it. At some further milestone, Will will realize that not every iPad belongs to him. For the moment, though, he wants things that aren’t being dangled in front of him. He does love playing with the iPad — if “playing” is the word. He never looks so serious otherwise. He makes me think of Churchill scowling over maps in the Cabinet War Rooms.

On Sunday, Will’s mom enjoyed her first Mother’s Day. Now I feel really old.

Monday Scramble: Holding

Monday, May 3rd, 2010


Six or seven hours have passed since I posted this picture this morning. I downloaded it from the camera, cropped and resized it, and uploaded it to the blog server with Will perched on one shoulder. That was as much as I could do with one hand.

As you can see, Will is on the verge of mastering the art of holding his own bottle. Hand and eye are working in harness. It is no longer accurate to say of Will that he can’t do anything.

Meanwhile, I am on the verge of a time-out, and I’ve decided to give myself a spring break, at the end of the month and possibly into the first week of June. From the Daily Office, at least. I want to put some time into redesigining the site for the iPad. I don’t know what The Daily Blague will look like on conventional computer screens, but I don’t much care: at some not-to-distant point in time, anyone who wants to read this site will do so on an iPad or equivalent. A new look and feel is in order.

Monday Scramble: Bad Code

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Whether or not I caught a bad cold from Will, I’m pretty sure that I didn’t give it to him — he was congested long before I was. All this week, I woke with a scratchy throat and a cargo of coughables. This morning, it wasn’t so bad, but that’s only because the truly awful stage of the cold was about to hit. I’ve gone through boxes of tissue today. Boxes.

Under the circumstances, Tad Friend’s Cheerful Money was a very good companion. I wish that I could tell you why the book took my mind off the miserable state of my sinuses, but I seem to have sneezed away most of my brains, and I’ll be dimming what’s left with NyQuil in an hour or so. Tomorrow, I hope, I’ll be alert enough to write the two (two!) Book Review reviews that are now due, as well Tuesday’s Daily Office. If I don’t, you’ll know why.


Monday Scramble: Deflation

Monday, April 19th, 2010


We celebrated Kathleen’s birthday, yesterday (today’s her birthday), with a small brunch. It was very simple — blanquette de veau, with rice and a simplified Caesar salad; two birthday cakes; and three very retro hors d’oeuvres that weren’t really hors d’oeuvres. Wine and champagne — quite a lot of champagne, delivered more or less on the spot, cold, by the liquor store, when I realized that I’d overlooked an important detail: toasting Kathleen upon the news of an honorable and deeply-appreciated appointment. Will, who was on hand, seemed to recognize Kathleen, but you can’t always be sure, because he is a very sociable child.

Between the setting up and the cleaning up, the serving and the toasting, the excitement and the champage, the party exhausted my resources, and all I could think of when I woke up this morning was that there’s probably going to be a doorman strike on Wednesday. If I could, I would leave town for the duration — that’s what I did twenty years ago, during the last one. A strike will entail a week or so of uneasy fluctuation between inconvenience and hardship, and I was in no mood for inconvenience. Not with that headache.

Nor was I in the right frame of mind for reading about the SEC suit against Goldman Sachs. The complaint alleges genuinely stinky behavior, and the firm’s successive statements highlight its moral vacuity. Wall Street seems more than ever to be populated exclusively by sociopaths and morons. Going to the dogs &c.

But enough of this gloominess. Kathleen decided to celebrate her birthday by taking the day off. And my iPad has just arrived. That’s a good as two birthdays.

Monday Scramble: Indoors

Monday, April 12th, 2010


Topic A this week is the new iPad. We are getting one. We are going to roll out a new Web site very soon — as soon as our iPad arrives, really. It will share content with our existing sites, but it will look different; above all, it will be inviting, we hope, to read.

When we are not daydreaming about the iPad (a matter, really, of “Game Change” blinking continually in the brain), we are watching the dishwasher. The dishwasher is working. We watch the digits count down to zero — Done! It was not fun, two weeks without a dishwasher.

News about the dishwasher doesn’t belong in this space, of course, but we’re putting it in anyway because we have nothing else to report — nothing positive, that is; and what would be the point of tallying the arrears? We are going to poke the Editor this evening, after dinner, to make him write up City Island, a movie that you ought to see right away.

Considering how lovely the weather is, we’ve got an awful lot of good reasons to stay indoors.

Monday Scramble: Burping

Monday, April 5th, 2010


We don’t usually have the Editor’s grandson in the house on Mondays, but, because of holiday schedules, he was here all day today, and up to his usual tricks. The child is criminally charming — but that’s no more exculpatory than the dog’s eating the homework. We plan to have Will take care of our homework as soon as he is old enough. If we don’t eat him with a spoon first.

Monday Scramble: Bambino

Monday, March 29th, 2010


Don’t ask me. Will looked perfectly normal through the view-finder. I had no reason to expect that, digitized, he would grow the four-year old body of a Mannerist Christ child. Where did those legs come from?

During the six hours that we spent at Will’s new house on Saturday afternoon, he slept for no more than thirty minutes. (There were passages of overtiredness, but for the most part he was bright and cheerful; amazingly, he forgave his nitwit grandfather for clamping him to a spitup-soaked shoulder.) As a result, his maternal grandparents spent all of the following day at home in bed, or near it. In a flush of optimism just after noon, I did get dressed, but as the hours ticked by I found myself incapable of anything but reading.

Monday Scramble: Stitches

Monday, March 22nd, 2010


Am I on the edge of a cold? I’m on the edge of something. Last week was, for me, incredibly busy, with something going on every day and several nights as well. By Saturday night, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to stay awake through the Orpheus concert at Carnegie Hall, so we just stayed home, without even trying to find someone to use the tickets. Collapse!

Collapse has begun to feel fairly familiar, but what’s interesting is that it doesn’t bother me much anymore. I do what I can, and I let the rest go. I’d like to write more, for Portico — but I’m confident that I will. Did I say “Will”? He’s the reason that collapse doesn’t get to me — as long as it falls nowhere near him.

It would be nice to stay at home, on this cold and wet spring afternoon, but I’ve got to have some stitches taken out. Not the most apt way of celebrating whatever it is that has happened in Washington, but, at this point, almost anything will do.

Monday Scramble: Mohs

Monday, March 15th, 2010


Like all healthy boys, Will will resist his mother’s application of sun-block cream on summer afternoons. But then he will be reminded of the the dents and crevices in his Doodad’s noggin, remnants of what let’s hope will be the worst of the surgery, and he will remember the old gent’s constant hats.

This second round of Mohs was originally scheduled for the day of the big blizzard, last month. No movie today!

Monday Scramble: Annual

Monday, March 8th, 2010


The prospect of watching the Academy Awards broadcast has never appealed to me, even when, as recently, I’ve seen most of the nominated films. I remember the bad old days, when the show was plagued by kitschy and interminable dance numbers. (There seemed to be an idea about that, in order to appeal to millions of viewers,the Oscars ought to mimic the Las Vegas extravaganza.)Last night, though, it seemed not only that the show had gone back to its roots but that it was doing so in a manner that a seasoned audience could follow.

As entertainment, the presentation is one of countless parodies that, year after year, accompany the kind of ritual ceremony best known as “graduation.” Replacing solemnity with mockery, talented wits roast the leading personalities of the closing year. Tics are exaggerated and pratfalls commemorated. The Academy Awards actually run the two programs together, and if you are familiar with Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos you know how tricky the conjunction can be. Giggles and exaltation require careful buffering. Even more, the giggles have to be prompted by the right kind of silliness.

Among many favorable indicators last night — the band’s Fifties vibe, the voluminous skirts — it was the fishing rod that convinced me that the Oscars producers are getting it right at last. Ben Stiller, presenting the makeup award, came out in Na’vi drag, complete with funny ears, yellow corneas, and a tail. (And a suit.) This outfit neatly eyelined the fact that Avatar was not a nominee in the category. Looking wonderfully uncomfortable, Mr Stiller barked some gibberish and explained that it was Na’vi for “it seemed like a good idea at rehearsal.” Then, just as he was opening the envelope to announce the winner, his tail was snagged by a fishhook. After a bit of tugging, the actor reeled in the rod from the wings.

Without fussing over the unpacking of this gag, I think that we can agree that the incursion of a fishing rod into the dream that is Pandora constitutes the droll Dada of a Bugs Bunny romp. It also reminds us that Avatar is a cartoon.

You didn’t have to understand the fine points to get a laugh out of the cutup,  but if you did, or thought that you did, then you belonged amongst the horde of family and friends customarily invited to spectate at such productions. You could sigh and think that, maybe next year, that nice Professor Streep will win the distinguished-faculty award. 

Monday Scramble: Snow

Monday, March 1st, 2010


It occurred to me, this weekend, that “happy” and “sad” are no longer the emotional poles of my life. That axis, so salient a feature of childhood, has been replaced by something a little messier, with hopefulness and energy indissolubly working at one end, and fearfulness and fatigue tied up at the other.

And I can see that it has been this way for a long time — decades. Possibly it has always been this way for me. Certainly the feeling of sadness, untinctured by anxiety, has from early on been anything but unpleasant. (The first poem that I voluntarily memorized was Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy.”) And now that I have aged into the foothills of extinction, I don’t mind the prospect of death itself; what bothers me is suffering at the end. Because suffering always makes me wish that I weren’t alive, you might think that I’d be gratified, just the once, to have my miserable prayer answered, but I think it’s a terrible gyp. If you’re really going to die, you oughtn’t to have to waste any time longing to.

Monday Scramble: Procedure

Monday, February 22nd, 2010


We’re a bit distracted, this week, on the medical front; let’s just say that Jell-O is involved — lemon and pineapple Jell-O, to be precise. In a subsequent entry, the Editor will dilate discreetly.

We would like to take a course in Managing Your Google Reader, but it’s wishful thinking to imagine that there could be such a thing, at least in this early days. It is depressing, Monday mornings, to be greeted thus: “All Items (1000+).” Especially when it persists after all 257 reddit items have been marked as read. Ditto MetaFilter‘s 114. Only after dutifully scrolling through our friend Joe’s 95 most recent feeds (how did fall so far behind?) does the number come into focus, at 913.

And even as we feel that we’re looking at too many different sites, we also feel that we need to see new ones. We rely too heavily upon Felix Salmon, but we haven’t found anyone else who writes so well about the economy. Also: pertinently. As often as we’re intrigued by entries at Marginal Revolution, we’re discouraged by the impatience that our having merely showed up inspires in Tyler Cowen.

And we miss last year’s Astor and Zelaya sagas, which amused at almost every turn. The best that we can hope for this year is that someone will declare war on the War on Terror.

Perhaps we’ll live long enough to see the introduction of Seniors Jell-O: all flavors, no dyes.

Monday Scramble: Steady

Monday, February 15th, 2010


It’s like mortality: sometimes, you are intensely, unbearably oppressed by the knowledge that you are never going to catch up on your to-do lists. Not even close. And, as with mortality, a benign oblivion is the only balm.

This Valentine’s Day, I was somatically challenged. I was clumsy making breakfast, dropping little things and misjudging the timing. (The croissants nearly burned, right before my eyes, in the new, glass-fronted Waring convection oven; I was not ready to take them out.) It took forever to get through the Times, and I was far from comfortable in my patchily irritated skin.

We did take a walk to Carnegie Hill, for a nice brunch at Island and a shop at Feldman’s, but I had to ask Kathleen to slow down a bit on the sidewalks, because I couldn’t keep up with her stride (and she over a foot shorter than I!). Back at the apartment, I found that it was all that I could do to make a pot of tea. I collapsed onto a sofa and began a hopeful project: getting through yet another slab of magazines, particularly issues of L’Express. I also wanted to start in on Cathleen’s Schine’s new novel, The Three Weissmans of Westport, and to continue with Lytton Strachey’s biography of Queen Victoria.

What I didn’t do was to make dinner. It wasn’t that I wasn’t up to cooking. It was that the refrigerator is in sore need of what let’s call an update. It won’t take long, really; almost everything in the refrigerator is either in a bin or on a tray. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to see to it, and I wasn’t about to interrupt a reading day the shrewd calculations of quartermastering.

A reading day: I need more reading days. Not to mention days when reading leads straight to writing. “Straight to writing”? Have I deluded myself that the act of sitting down to write for Portico is ever accomplished without the violent slam of breaking the sound barrier?

Monday Scramble: Logistics

Monday, February 8th, 2010


This was the weekend of Chinese footbaths.

Chinese footbaths? How could footbaths be the solution to an interior design problem? I didn’t even know that Chinese footbaths existed.

That’s why there’s Quatorze. And once we had decided that footbaths would make excellent cache-pots for a table in the window, Quatorze got to work and discovered the right footbaths. They’re celadon. I’ll have more to say about celadon later. I’ve already said most of it, actually, but you don’t want to read about it just now.

Quaere: interior design and logistics — which is the subset of the which? I’m inclined to say that the question of what your place looks like doesn’t come up until you’ve found a way to live, so that organizing your stuff in order to make life convenient (logistics) comes before design. “Stuff,” here, extends far beyond material possessions. It includes such things as “an interest in cooking” and “a fondness for giving dinner parties.”  

The protocol:

  • What do you want to do?
  • What to you need to have in order to do it?
  • Where do you put what you need?
  • How do you make it look good?

Of course, you have to be a perfect genius to be able to follow this protocol before the age of forty.


Back on the job at The Daily Blague. Jean Ruaud’s contributions, I’m sure you’ll agree, can’t be allowed to stop altogether; I must petition him for a regular Letter from Paris. You must urge him to continue as well — you’ll find his address at the bottom of one or two of his entries. It may have been a long week for him, but it was a short and pleasant one for regular readers. We all had a break — everyone except Jean, that is. I’m forever in his debt. Thanks, Jean! 

Monday Scramble: Three Screens

Monday, December 14th, 2009


As you can see, we’ve discovered whiteboard.

And that is all that we can manage just now! Tis the season to be doing something else!

Not that we’ve abandoned our professional responsibilities (self-inflicted professional responsibilities) altogether. We’re just running behind — every week, it gets a little worse. We were doing so well, until, at the beginning of October, the Editor decided to set his house in order, literally. This soon led, as regular readers know, to the planning and preparation of dinner parties. After all, why have all that china if you never use it?

The Editor likes to tell people that he took up cooking in self-defense; the kitchen was his mother’s least favorite part of the house, but occasionally she got dangerously creative. (Spearmint ice cream, anyone?) In truth, however, the Editor took up cooking because it’s a handy way to appreciate porcelain without upsetting other people.

Monday Scramble: Freelance

Monday, December 7th, 2009


Two artefacts of my youth that I don’t miss in the slightest: typewriters and phonographs. No amount of nostalgia — and nostalgia is not one of my weaknesses, anyway — will ever obscure from me the fact that neither machine was adequate to its purpose. It would be generous to call typewriters “unforgiving” — and also dishonest, because writing in type, imitating printed books that is, was categorically beyond the capabilities of typewriters until the very end of their run. As for a sound-transmission system that depends upon the physics of friction — erosion — for its effects, I have one word for devotees of vinyl: demented. And then I have another word: deaf.

These slightly churlish but metabolically stimulating reactions are prompted this morning by the most delightful little book, Arthur Krystal’s The Half-Life of an American Essayist, which was published by David R Godine in 2007. More specifically, what got me going was the following sentence from an essay on the typewriter:

Of course, if you are under twenty-one you have probably never used a typewriter except to fill out an application, and consequentely the loud thwack of typewriter keys striking a cylindrical roller and the satisfying ping of the carriage reaching the end of the track are not in your mnemonic repertoire.

I have read no further; I put the book down then and there to write this. But by then I had read two essays and the book’s introduction, all of which are really and truly and simply marvelous. I put the book down to discharge my dissatisfactions with pings and thwacks and scratches and skips — Mr Krystal does not take up the LP, I don’t think, but the memory lingered of an item in the Times reporting increased sales of “vinyl” — in order to clear my mind for larger thoughts on how better to distribute not so much Mr Krystal’s book as news of its excellence.

I don’t intend to write about the two essays that I’ve read and liked, although I am sorely tempted to admire the title piece, which is a rumination on the facts of life as confronted by anyone disposed to make a career out of writing essays. I’d like to copy out a rather large slab, three paragraphs from the heart of the piece. Some other time, perhaps. For the moment, a lovely drollery will do:

There are, it should be said, some good points about being a freelance writer: You can sleep late, set your own hours, work at your own pace, and not worry about someone looking over your shoulder. On the other hand, you tend to sleep late, you have to set your own hours, you work only when you feel like it, and there is no one looking over your shoulder.

Since this is supposed to be about Mr Krystal, and not about how I cope with fashioning a workable schedule, I’ll note the principle difference between us, which is that Mr Krystal hates writing for money but wouldn’t bother writing at all (or so he says) unless he were going to be paid. Money hasn’t entered the picture for me, so far, but it does not stand to reason, at least on the record that I have amassed to date, that I would write less if I were paid. (Perhaps I would, though: there is no end to the perversity of the curious imagination!) I do wish that Mr Krystal would keep a blog, or a Web site, or something;  it would suit him down to the ground — if he could be paid.

What is to be done? Pennies make dollars, mills make pennies, and computers have been keeping track of micropayments for the telephone company for over a generation. That is what is to be done.

Monday Scramble: Spectation

Monday, November 30th, 2009


Ross Douthat’s column about the impact of the economy upon generational voting trends is even more interesting for what it omits than it is for what it says.

Recessions, it seems, only benefit liberals when an activist government is perceived to have answers to the crisis. When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.

Among voters at large, that’s what seems to be happening at the moment. Nothing the government has done across the last 12 months has inspired much public confidence. Of the billions poured out in bailouts and stimulus, a substantial share has gone to privileged insiders and liberal interest groups — Wall Street bankers, auto unions, public-sector employees. Beltway Democrats have spent months laboring on an enormous health care bill that feels irrelevant, at best, to the continuing unemployment crisis. And Obama and his advisers overpromised on the stimulus package, whose economic boost, while real, remains imperceptible to a nation coping with a double-digit jobless rate.

That  makes sense of course, and it links nicely to the fact that older voters (including most Boomers) have moved rightward over time. What Mr Douthat does not say, however, is that older voters have proved to be singularly unwilling to demand more of elected officials, particularly in the form of campaign-finance reform but also with regard to everything from legislative “rules” — the power-concentrating protocols according to which many state chambers determine seniority and consider bills — to the appointment of federal judges.

It is often tempting to conclude that a generation raised on television (as ours was the first to be) naturally regards government as a kind of reality show that, aside from periodic votes, asks nothing of citizens but passive spectation. (NYT)

Monday Scramble: Backwash

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


Last night, we gave a small dinner party, partly in order to introduce a young artist to some old friends. The young artist came down with something in the afteroon and wasn’t able to make it, but his mother, whom I hadn’t seen in almost forty years, and who happens to be in town at the moment, was, and so the mini-reunion part of my plans met with success.

The only problem (aside from the lees of red wine) is that I am tossing, today, in a backwash of recollections that, for the moment, only grows more turbulent. To meet with an intelligent friend whom you haven’t seen in forty years is to take a very quick measure of the ground that you have covered in that time. There is also the perplexity of looking at an old snapshot of yourself that you have not seen before. These personal sensations are enveloped in a dim but vast awareness that it really is not, repeat not, all about you.

It is not unlikely that these roiling impressions are inspired by recollections of the great friend whom the young artist’s mother and I had in common, Michael Patrick O’Connor. As I was making the bed this morning, it struck me, with all the force of Rilke’s famous last line, that Michael Patrick was our Archaic Torso. To spend time with him was to know that you must change your life.

Wealth and ease invite us, we forget.
Renouncing talents that you do not need
in moonlit snaps of tourist Attica
discover sleep as an exercise
for the whole body and five eyes
Ignore the rain that has not filled the skies.
                                            (From “Coming Out”)

“Running late” barely attains the level of understatement.

Monday Scramble: Are We There Yet?

Monday, November 16th, 2009


Is it still 2009? We’re afraid that we’re going to wake up one of these mornings and discover that it is 2011 and that we are seriously overdue. That’s not an entirely coherent thought, but it captures our mood of bubbling panic. Where do people find the time to watch 4.5 hours of television a day?

On the other hand, the Editor wants you to know that his apartment looks great, and that his knowledge of its contents’ whereabouts grows by leaps and bounds from week to week!

We hope that you’ve read “Alone,” last week’s New Yorker story, by Yiyun Li. We thought that it was a standout — even though the magazine has been running some very interesting stories lately. If you haven’t read “Alone,” though, don’t click on this link, because the page is one big spoiler. There is no meaningful way to discuss this piece of amazing fiction without focusing on the last line.

Thanks to a hatpin applied by an MTC researcher, we remedied one of our delinquencies and wrote up the revival of The Royal Family. It was one of those sheesh-we’re-lucky-to-live-here nights at the theatre.

Pirate Radio — as The Boat That Rocked is called here — was, in contrast, a thrill that could be had wherever major motion pictures are exhibited. We don’t have much to say about it now, just too much. For the time being, we’re going to spare you.

And, of course, this week’s Book Review review.