Giving thanks

I am thankful that, of all my problems, or issues that I think are problems, I always have some means of controlling the outcome or mitigating the situation.

I am thankful for the printed word. Wherever I am, I can fold open a “clothy brick,” as John Updike would have it, and magically hear someone else’s voice in my head. If it’s a script, I can hear three or four voices. No incompatible technologies, no licensing restrictions, no planned obsolescence.

I am, by nature and necessity, pretty self-sufficient in terms of relationships. But when Leta came into my life, she was the seventh on the top of the major chord that makes it sound all the more resonant. Darn right I’m thankful for her. And her folks, too: family Thanksgiving dinners are something that I actually look forward to, now.

(Inspired by wockerjabby’s wonderful mash note to her husband.)

Unerased, sampled

I’ve just finished rereading The Erasers, by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated from Les Gommes by Richard Howard. Robbe-Grillet is one of the champions of the nouveau roman, and The Erasers (1953) is his first published novel. Ostensibly a detective story, it unfolds as a police procedural gone down completely twisted, finally unravelling as a retelling of the Oedipus myth. In a small coastal city crisscrossed by canals, terrorists have infiltrated the police force that is investigating a political murder, but no body can be found. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Dreams, imagined reconstructions of the crime, and outright fantasies push themselves into the story without warning. The book is actually one of Robbe-Grillet’s most accessible, and unlike his later books there’s hardly any sexy bits in it. The course of Wallas, the investigator, through the labyrinth of the nameless town suggests Leopold Bloom’s traversal of Dublin, as well as every other traveller’s tale that has come before.

I’m using a mass-market paperback with a cracked binding that I bought new sometime around 1975. The front matter says that this Evergreen Black Cat edition of 1968 was in its third printing, but I didn’t know about Robbe-Grillet until I picked up a copy of Snapshots in a bookstore in Evanston. In my first reading(s), I marked words and phrases with two colors of ink in an attempt to keep my narrative bearings. I don’t use pen any more on my books: I like the opportunity to efface the evidence of some fatuous inference of mine from the past. Some of the passages that I marked, I have no idea why I found them to be significant. Anyway, as an exercise in reflexive found poetry, here are all the phrases that I underlined or circled from that trip through the book 20-plus years ago, in the order that they appear in the text. I omit sidebars for longer passages and my own inane annotations.

a day in early winter

Today is Tuesday

Daniel Dupont

That was yesterday

how much stranger it is that he is not dead

“Look at the paper”


the text… Lazarus will rise from his tomb, wrapped in his shroud


footsteps… on the surface of the sea

“which can not prevent…”

“Tuesday, October 27”

black overcoat



precautions… precautions

There is no victim


his watch… stops every once in a while… and then starts again

life has not yet begun

between yesterday and tomorrow there is no place left for the present

smooth band

they all fall into place in good order

the roadway behind him comes apart

Boulevard Circulaire

This is what making up stories gets you into.

curves south by a series of imperceptible angles



Already people were saying that he mistrusted easy solutions, now it is whispered that he ceased to believe in the existence of any solution whatever.



black overcoat

five to eight



“I could, if I had the body at my disposal”

Albert Dupont

“You see, your facts aren’t so exact after all!”

“Why the first person? Suppose the murderer had slept there last night, what would you know about it?”


If only the cartridge shell had been found too.


trompe l’oeil

The death of Daniel Dupont is no more than an abstract event being discussed by dummies.

“they cut the telephone wires”

“at least two hours to clean the bedspread”

the bedspread has been changed

one bullet has already been fired

“Did Monsieur Dupont shoot at the man running away?” he asks, although he knows the answer in advance: when Dupont came back with his revolver, the murderer had disappeared.

two o’clock train

it still shows seven-thirty

bronze clock… also stopped

he is not the same man any more

[as if this] overexactitude were possible only in a painting


already half turned around… latch

third-story window… several times

garden fence

Fabius, having closed the garden gate behind him

notices someone odd watching him… third-story window

“Don’t tell me too many details; you’ll end up making me think I saw the whole thing.”


The scene will be over.

the manager will go on staring into space



closes the door behind him with a thousand precautions

some fifteen people—continually changing

reproduced many times: “Please Hurry. Thank You.”

“Monsieur André WS.”

He need only button his jacket and it won’t show any more.

himself… minister

all the streets in the neighborhood look alike


He paints carefully


water, greenish

precise, long deliberated reason

it still shows seven-thirty

[the] features have lost a good deal of their actuality

Wallas does not even know what the dead man looks like.

eraser… “postcard”

short, sickly looking man there, wearing a long greenish coat and a dirty hat

time… jewelry store window

beige raincoat

“Monday, October twenty-sixth, at eight minutes after nine”

exaggeratedly detailed notations

“distorted the truth”

“A replica, a copy, a simple reproduction of an event whose original and whose key are elsewhere.”


around five in the evening

four-thirty… railway station



The deductions that can be made from such evidence furnish little opportunity for certainty.

Wallas reaches the garden gate. ¶It is seven o’clock.

The big house is silent.

the only pair to be found in the clinic was a pair of medical glasses, one of whose lenses is very dark and the other much lighter

Dupont sees only his own face in the mirror

it shows seven thirty-five. Then he remembers that it had stopped at seven-thirty. He raises it to his ear and hears the faint ticking.

eight-thirty… murder of the millionaire exporter

It was also the only proof of the exact time of his arrival in the city.

“If you can’t tell the difference between yesterday and today there’s no use talking.”


Via Ward-O-Matic, Conelrad is “devoted to ATOMIC CULTURE past and present but without all the distracting and pedantic polemics.” A featured multi-page article provides the production history of “the Citizen Kane of of Civil Defense,” Duck and Cover.

A few years ago, I noticed some apartment blocks on 15th Street that still carried the black and yellow CD signs indicating the presence of a fallout shelter. The last time I was in that neighborhood, I couldn’t relocate the signs. I’ll keep a lookout.

Back to school

I’m working on a scene for Michael S., who is taking a directing class at the Studio Theatre. I’m doing a 5-minute scene from Jon Klein’s Dimly Perceived Threats to the System with scene partner Amal. Klein’s play is a dark comedy that swings the Hauser family from dysfunctional reality to frightening fantasy and back again, sometimes in the course of one page of script.

In my scene, Amal’s Christine is called into the office of the school mental health counselor, Mr. Sykes. A conventional upbraiding turns ugly: an imagined Mr. Sykes contemplates electroshock and desktop lobotomy with Frankensteinian glee.

Michael’s assignment for this phase of the class is characterization, so we’ve done a fair amount of table work before putting the scene on its feet. (Or floor work, in Michael’s case: he likes to work lying on the deck.) We did an improv in which, instead of the understanding Mr. Sykes, I became a harpy of a department secretary, chewing out Christine for what she’s done (she spit on three students’ baloney sandwiches because she’s having her own food issues).

Now we’re actually working the scene, and in realistic beats Michael has me moving about, leaning on the furniture, that sort of thing. Let’s hope the scene doesn’t turn out the way the last one did. There’s no storage available, so it’s pack-your-own props: I’m schlepping an extra jacket and a Makita cordless power drill back and forth on the subway.

Since the last time I was in the conservatory space upstairs, the Studio has completed the reconfiguration of its space, and now we enter through the main lobby on 14th Street. I still feel a little like I did when I was taking a class at Woolly earlier this year, working in the classroom while the mainstage production was being rehearsed in the next room over, that is, like the Bud Light gate crasher guy surrounded by all these professionals. But this evening we worked from 6:30 to a bit before 8:00, so I was on my way out through the main lobby as the house-opening announcement for The Long Christmas Ride Home played on the PA. That was cool.

Martha, Josie, and the Chinese Elvis

Woolly’s American premiere of Jones’s comedy set in Bolton, in the north of England, may not knock it for six, but the solid production does score a run. The signature Woolly Mammoth theatrical elements are present: a dominatrix mom considering retirement; her two daughters, one of them a bit thick in the head; her shiny-pated client, proprietor of a local dry-cleaning establishment; an Irish cleaning woman with OCD; a neophyte Elvis impersonator from somewhere in the Far East, who has all the singer’s looks but is still learning the words to the songs; and those all-important fur-lined handcuffs. These are enough to keep the punchlines bouncing around the two-level half-timbered set, while themes of reconciliation and costuming and concealment play out.

Sarah Marshall’s natural comic rhythms are sometimes at odds with the dialect called for by her Martha, but she has a lovely, heartfelt second-act monologue that gives her character the opportunity to explain herself.

  • Martha, Josie, and the Chinese Elvis, by Charlotte Jones, directed by John Vreeke, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington

Shadow this

Steven Soderbergh recovers 1940s-era moviemaking techniques to film his postwar noir The Good German.

By reproducing the conditions of an actual studio shoot from the late 1940s, he hoped to enter the mind of a filmmaker like [Michael] Curtiz, to explore the strengths and limitations of a classical style that has now largely been lost.

* * *

If there is a single word that sums up the difference between filmmaking at the middle of the 20th century and the filmmaking of today, it is “coverage.” Derived from television, it refers to the increasingly common practice of using multiple cameras for a scene (just as television would cover a football game) and having the actors run through a complete sequence in a few different registers. The lighting tends to be bright and diffused, without shadows, which makes it easier for the different cameras to capture matching images.

* * *

“That kind of staging is a lost art,” Mr. Soderbergh said, “which is too bad. The reason they no longer work that way is because it means making choices, real choices, and sticking to them. It means shooting things in a way that basically only cut together in one order. That’s not what people do now. They want all the options they can get in the editing room.”

Memed: 1

Via, the The Hawk Owl’s Nest is conducting a survey:

  • What state (or country) do you live in? Virginia
  • How long have you been birding? 13 years or so
  • Are you a “lister”? Yes
  • ABA Life List: 338
  • Overall Life List: 338, which is also my Lower 48 list total.
  • Favorite Birding Spot: Huntley Meadows Park, Fairfax County, Virginia.
  • Favorite birding spot outside your home country: none yet
  • Farthest you’ve traveled to chase a rare bird: about an hour for a Pomarine Jaeger that had wandered far inland into Loudoun County, Virginia.
  • Nemesis bird: Florida Scrub-Jay
  • “Best” bird sighting: A lifer: American Dipper in Eldorado National Forest on Christmas Day, just after the snows had melted sufficiently to make the roads passable.
  • Most wanted trip: Maine and the Maritimes
  • Most wanted bird: Atlantic Puffin
  • What model and brand of bins do you use?: A somewhat beat-up porro prism Celestron 9.5 x 44
  • What model and brand of scope do you use?: Kowa TSN-1
  • What was the last lifer you added to your list?: Piping Plover near Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. I never would have noticed the flock of seven birds on a wind-whipped flat if I hadn’t stumbled upon a pair of field researchers who were tracking them with radio.
  • Where did you see your last lifer?: see above
  • What’s the last bird you saw today?: Alas, I think the last bird I noticed was a Fish Crow at dusk yesterday.
  • Best bird song you’ve heard ever: Wood Thrush, in the backyard of my suburban, habitat-fragmenting townhouse.
  • Favorite birding moments: A visit to the Powdermill banding station in Pennsylvania. My first trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (“My god, it’s full of birds!”). Seeing two lifers in my bins at the same time in a park in Sacramento. On a work-related training trip to Orange County, getting up early to drive down to the beach, then patiently keying out a California Gull for #300.
  • Least favorite thing about birding: High winds.
  • Favorite thing about birding: Using it as an excuse to vacation somewhere I’ve never been before.
  • Favorite field guide for the US: Peterson
  • Favorite non-field guide bird book: Proctor and Lynch, “Manual of Ornithology”
  • Who is your birder icon?: Let me get back to you on that one.
  • Do you have a bird feeder(s)? No. I don’t enjoy feeding squirrels.
  • Favorite feeder bird? White-Breasted Nuthatch