Get me rewrite

Charles McGrath goes shopping for term papers to order, “completely non-plagiarized:”

Elsewhere the author proves highly adept with the “on the one hand/on the other” formula, one of the most valuable tools for a writer concerned with attaining his assigned word count, and says, for example, of Brave New World: “Many people consider this Huxley’s most important work: many others think it is his only work. This novel has been praised and condemned, vilified and glorified, a source of controversy, a subject for sermons, and required reading for many high school students and college undergraduates. This novel has had twenty-seven printings in the United States alone and will probably have twenty-seven more.”

Everybody dance

Ringing mobile phones, simultaneous audio interpretation for slow-on-the-uptake audience members, rackety cleaning equipment upstairs, booming HVAC gear—these are all part of the background rumble of sonic disruptions that have punctuated performances I’ve given or heard. At Woolly Mammoth’s old Church Street venue, the sound of police sirens just outside the door was so common that I’d begun to assume the sound designer had specified them as part of the plot. I’ve had building fire alarms go off twice, once in the middle of my first day room scene in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. When order was restored about 20 minutes later, our Nurse Ratched (Megan) picked up the scene with a “Now, as I was saying before we were interrupted…” Five minutes of Maura and Ted’s performance of Perfectly Good Airplanes in Geneva earlier this year was played over an insistent, strident alarm, one that was intended to alert every volunteer firefighter in Ontario County. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP would cut out for half a minute at a time, making us think that the coast was clear and that the Chinese invasion had been called off, before resuming.

The most recent unfortunate sonic event took place Saturday, at a staged reading of several short plays, part of the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage play development program. The Center packs professional companies into every possible small playing space, who present previews of their upcoming seasons as well as material still in development—sort of a fringe festival with book in hand. Every possible playing space: the two Millennium Stages, the Terrace, even the Theatre Lab gets used as a lab instead of a bordello for the moneyspinner Shear Madness. We were in the South Atrium Foyer (the foyer? I had to check a map to find it), with one set of doors separating us from the lobby of the rooftop restaurant, which had been rented out for a Cambodian wedding. (Are you getting the idea that Labor Day weekend is a slow time at the Center?) When the RATTA TATTA TATTA TATTA of the lion dance began, to celebrate the happy couple (think taiko drums with more attitude), several of us thought that small arms fire was being exchanged.

It’s dandy for your teeth

Dr. Reilling was my first dentist. Now I understand why his advice to me was always “brush-a-brush-a-brush-a.” It’s part of the song that Bucky Beaver sang to promote Ipana toothpaste. (Yes, Dr. Reilling was even older than me; I think Ipana was out of the market even then.) See a sampler of things for an image of Bucky and a link to an audio file (admittedly scratchy) of Bucky jingling.

Mind your punctuation

Jenny Hogan writes:

Pluto is one of a new category of object to be known as ‘dwarf’ planets (which, not to be confusing, don’t fall under an umbrella term of ‘planets’, and must, by definition, be written with single quote marks around ‘dwarf’). These objects satisfy the other criteria, in being round and not a satellite. Ceres, which lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is also now a ‘dwarf’ planet.

Gary Duke

Laura Erickson remembers her Ph.D. advisor Gary Duke and explains her really interesting dissertation research.

While I was rehabbing birds in the late 80s and early 90s, I had started puzzling through why nighthawks have brown, messy, smelly droppings once a day, much different from normal bird droppings.

Shunning invasive procedures to get to the bottom of nighthawk digestion, Erickson and Duke radiographed three birds while barium-laced food traversed their entrails.

More Metro

Although Zachary Schrag’s book doesn’t address the considerations that went into Metro having only tracks for local service (as opposed to, say, a third track for skip-stop service), it does remind us of the simple, descriptive, efficient names that architect Harry Weese and general manager Jackson Graham (ex-Army Corps of Engineers) intended for the stations:

a. Some names come naturally: Rosslyn, Pentagon, DuPont Circle [sic], Bethesda, Prince Georges Plaza.

b. Others indicate location by at least one coordinate: Backlick Road, Monroe Avenue, Georgia Avenue, Suitland Parkway.

c. We have used, where possible, traditional and/or colorful words (Foggy Bottom, Navy Yard) rather than mechanical terms (23rd and I St., N.W., 3rd and M, S.W.)

d. We have limited names to two words, preferably only one.

(Graham to Board, 8 January 1969, quoted in Schrag, pp. 255-256)

Schrag says that WMATA’s original policy, upheld for many years, was to limit station names to nineteen letters and spaces, thirteen for transfer stations. O tempora! O mores! Now we have capriciously punctuated mouthfuls like U St/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo and Vienna-Fairfax/GMU. Yeah, George Mason University is walking distance from the station, if you’ve got half an hour.

Schrag also tells a story almost too good to be true about how the big downtown transfer station got its name, the one that outlanders insist on calling just “Metro.”

…planner William Herman complained that the system’s main transfer station was badly named. He argued that “12th and G” was both confusing (several entrances would be on other streets) and too undistinguished for so important a station. Ever reasonable, Graham agreed to let Herman choose a better name. “I’ll let you know,” responded a relieved Herman. “No,” Graham explained, “I’ll give you twenty seconds.” Stunned, Herman blurted out the first words that came into his head: “Metro Center.” “Fine, that’s it, go on to the next one,” replied the general. And they did. (Schrag, p. 153)

Secret weapons

So the show that I just finished, The Gold Lunch, is a 12-minute monologue that comes at the end of an evening of shorter and longer one-acts. For an 8:00 curtain for the first show, I come on at about 10:25, but I like to get to the theater for the first curtain. So I spend a lot of time backstage. Survival tools: a fat collection of Raymond Chandler novels, an iPod loaded with all the episodes of David Terry and Michael Kraskin’s Catalogue of Ships, my water bottle, and (once the penultimate play—a version of Chekhov’s The Brute well-played for broad laughts—starts) lots of pacing back in the construction shop.

After the opening performance to a small house on Thursday, I had my doubts about how well the show would be received. But Friday’s house was with me from the second line, and that night I had one of those rare audience rushes—just everything was clicking, and all I had to do was tell the story.