Life achievement unlocked: today for the first time I marched in a major political protest on the streets of Washington, D.C. As a member of the March for Science, I walked from the Washington Monument grounds, within sight of the White House, down Constitution Avenue to 3rd Street, on the fringe of the Capitol grounds. Weather conditions at the rally were less than ideal (drizzle and showers), but I stuck to the principle that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
I walked with a group well-organized by Audubon Naturalist Society (that’s us mustering on the steps of the National Museum of Natural History). ANS’s march leaders had the brain wave of bringing decorative bird spinners as a rallying point. The spinners (and the stylin’ t-shirts) brought us lots of attention, especially from journalists major and minor.
I was consolidating some old files of clippings and I found this gift from 1990 David: a copy of Nicholson Baker’s story, “Room Temperature.”
And yet I had always envied normal households that had (besides aluminum screen doors whose hissing pistons could be locked into the open position by moving a little ring) doorstops wedged permanently into place under the open swinging kitchen door.
“Lisburn Road,” by Michael Hofmann.
A trunk holding a suitcase holding a holdall,
The travel equivalent of the turducken…
“The Bear,” by Amit Majmudar.
A word peeked sometimes from the cave mouth
only to shuffle back,
Akiko Busch suggests that we learn the names of some of our rivers and other natural features.
The name of the Brazos River in Texas was derived from the Spanish Rio de los Brazos de Dios, meaning the “River of the Arms of God” — what the waterway appeared to be to early settlers in that parched part of the country.
Richard Bolles has passed away. Early in my career, as I blundered my way into writing software for a living, I turned to his books for guidance. I’m not sure that he provided any specific, useful advice, but I was reassured: it always felt like he was in my corner.
It turns out that he spent a good part of his early life as a clergyman in the Episcopal church. Leta would say, “of course.”
From the coffee and birds file: Juan Medrano et al. at the University of California, Davis have published the genome of Coffea arabica.
TIL the New York Times does not have a rule in its style manual concerning capitalization of the titles of artistic works set in lower case by their creators.
It does call for following American capitalization rules for the titles of foreign-language works (“Così Fan Tutte,” not “Così fan tutte”); urges avoiding “fanciful” punctuation in company names (“Yahoo,” not “Yahoo!”); and calls for capitalizing only the first letter of acronyms that exceed four letters (“Unicef,” not “UNICEF”).
“Guy’s account,” said Henry, “is substantially the same as the others, with the most interesting exception that he gets Tol calls from London at between six and seven in the evening when the cheap rate is on. In his opinion the offender is a schoolboy.”
—Muriel Spark, Memento Mori (1958), chap. 11
A slip? Tol for toll? But here it is again:
“Nonsense,” said Dame Lettie. “A middle-aged man.”
“It is simple,” said Henry, “to trace a Tol call from London to the country. And yet the police have not traced any caller to Guy Leet at Stedrost.”
And indeed, Tol was a shorthand for placing a metered call within the London exchange:
Previously, making a trunk call involved what was known as ‘delay working’ where a subscriber booked long distance calls in advance and was later rung back by the operator when one of the trunk lines became available. Obviously, the greater the demand made on the exchange, the longer the wait. Under the new ‘Toll’ system subscribers were now able to ask the local operator for ‘Tol’ for calls to exchanges within the London Toll Area. They were then connected to the Toll operator who completed the call while the subscriber remained at the telephone. Later, as more automatic exchanges were introduced, the subscriber simply had to dial ‘TOL’ to be connected to the Toll operator.
Dialing TOL was a service like dialing TIM for the time, as fans of Tom Stoppard’s If You’ll Be Glad I’ll Be Frank know. Or dialing UMP to get cricket scores?!
This one isn’t too obscure, but Leonard’s rendering of the company name is idiosyncratic:
“You cut the wire,” Donnell said.
“Is that all?” Chris brought out the Spyder-Co knife that was always in his right-hand coat pocket. “Here, you do it.”
—Elmore Leonard, Freaky Deaky, p. 219
Chris handles his Spyderco knife at least two other times in the course of the book. The company is still in business. I don’t know whether its cult following was stronger in the last 80s, when this book appeared, or now. I suspect that Chris carries a Leatherman tool now.
Ted Rall offers one explanation for what happened (is happening) to Dayton, Ohio.
Woolly continues its admirable run of productions in which people of faith—specifically, Christian faith—are front and center, with their questions and fears driving the story. (I think of 2011’s A Bright New Boise as another fine example.)
In Baby Screams Miracle, Carol and Gabe, parents of young Kayden (an odd, withdrawn little girl) are beset by a mounting series of calamities. A storm sends a tree crashing into their house, the storm growing to tempestuous levels. The technical demands of the script are masterfully met by James Kronzer’s set and Jared Mezzocchi’s video projections.
As the punishments visited on the family rise to Old Testament proportions, we wonder what part Kayden plays in this narrative. Is she a malevolent instigator? Are these calamities all in her imagination?
- Baby Screams Miracle, by Clare Barron, directed by Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
I got started earlier in the day, and somewhat surprisingly, the list is shorter: only 17 species this year. Good weather (forties) for birding. Got the pair of RSHAs.
Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s ambitious, admirable musical, with a story drawn from Kushner’s life, concerns an African-American maid (Nova Y. Payton, in the title role) and her relationships with the Jewish family that she works for in 1963 Louisiana.
The first act doesn’t give us much information about what’s going on in Caroline’s head, since much of the time she’s not singing to another person, but rather to the various appliances in her basement workspace—and, in a nice touch, they sing back: the Washing Machine (Theresa Cunningham), the Dryer (V. Savoy McIlwain), and girl-group trio Radio. Alas, sound mixing in some of the multi-voiced passages makes it difficult to follow the various lines.
Tesori’s spiky score of many influences unfortunately saddles the eight-year-old Noah Gellman, son of Caroline’s employers, with a clichéd, squeaky, pitchy vocal line for most of the show. And the musical passages for the Moon don’t get into orbit.
In the second half, a scene centered on a Chanukah party is energized by the arrival of father-in-law Mr. Stopnick (the sufficiently nimble Scott Sedar)—one of Kushner’s antediluvian radical stand-ins—and the flow of contentious dialogue. The klezmer-splashed music also gives this section a boost.
Payton’s late-act aria (“Lot’s Wife”) is quite powerful.
- Caroline, Or Change, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, directed by Matthew Gardiner, Round House Theatre, Bethesda, Md.