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"Time itself is a tragedy, and most of us are fighting a war against it. Our victories are only delays..." - Rebecca Solnit

August 27, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"A letter to my father, who has just killed himself"

The Guardian has a weekly feature called "A letter to..." which publishes anonymously-written letters in which the writers express what they've longed to say to someone but have never found the strength to do so. The letters are all remarkable for their naked honesty, but this one, "A letter to my father, who has just killed himself", is particularly devastating - yet somehow beautiful.

August 27, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

When I win the lottery

Kim Phillips-Fein, from her essay "Lotteryville USA", which appeared in the June 1995 issue of The Baffler:
If the model for the lottery isn’t Robin Hood, it’s not quite Ronald Reagan either—it robs the poor to give to the school system. That it goes to the state is perhaps a sign of how desperate state governments are for revenue, but for the players it’s no different than other systems that suck their money away. To refer to the lottery as a swindle or a cheat on the poor ignores the basic truth about being poor, which is that you get cheated all the time.
I have a short stack of Bafflers from the 1990s that I dip back into now and then. The journal was revived a few years ago, and I've been thinking about subscribing. In the old days I bought them off the newsstand, but I don't think their distribution is as widespread now as it was back then. Subscribing would be my most reliable source.

August 21, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"What we've been told need not be momentous..."

"All letters, old and new, are the still-existing parts of a life. To read them now is to be present when some discovery of truth - or perhaps untruth, some flash of light - is just occurring. It is clamorous with the moment's happiness or pain. To come upon a personal truth of a human being however little known, now gone forever, it in some way to admit him to our friendship. What we've been told need not be momentous, but it can be good as receiving the darting glance from some very bright eye, still mischievous and mischief-making, arriving from fifty or a hundred years ago."

This quotation is by Eudora Welty, from her introduction to The Norton Book of Friendship (which she co-edited), and which was re-quoted in the introduction to What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. I've admired Maxwell for several years now, and just read my first Welty (The Optimist's Daughter) earlier this year, and after enjoying some excerpts from What There Is to Say, I've been hunting for the book ever since. I finally found a nice used copy of it at Open Books this week, and am eager to start it soon. There is such great humanity and warmth in both writers' fiction, and two were genuinely good friends, that I'm sure the book is a real treasure. 

August 21, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“In the little time that’s left to me – and I hope it will be months rather than years – I just cling to the hope that the world doesn’t turn upside down again as it did then, though there have been some ghastly developments, haven’t there? I’m relieved I never had any children that I have to worry about.” - Brunhilde Pomsel, the 105-year-old former secretary to Joseph Goebbels

August 16, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wishful thinking, Holmes...


Basil Rathbone, in the 1943 film Sherlock Holmes Faces Death [1]:

"There’s a new spirit abroad in the land. The old days of grab and greed are on their way out...The time is coming, Watson, when we cannot fill our bellies in comfort while the other fellow goes hungry, or sleep in warm beds while others shiver in the cold...And God willing, we’ll live to see that day, Watson."

The days of grab and greed are still very much with us. The Republican Party has even nominated the very embodiment of that ethos as its presidential candidate.

Despite loving the Holmes stories from a young age, and being a fan of the TV adaptations starring Jeremy Brett and (to a lesser extent) Benedict Cumberbatch, I've actually never seen any of the Rathbone films. I should try to catch a few of those one of these days.

[1] Based on the Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", which I think is a much better title than that of the film version.

(Via The Ploughshares Blog.)

August 14, 2016 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)


"If one bolts the doors and windows against the world, one can from time to time create the semblance and almost the beginning of the reality of a beautiful life." - Franz Kafka

August 13, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Today I’m Burlington Bertie, I rise at 10.30, enjoy long conversations with my wife, welcome the world outside my head, and cheerfully go whole days without visiting my desk at all. There are fewer imperatives. I have either proved whatever it was I wanted to prove, or I accept that now I never will. I used to fear that if I didn’t get to work immediately I would forfeit the urgency that had built up the day before. Now I know it will all still be waiting for me, and what it loses by inattention it might gain by insouciance. I return to it, when the mood is on me, as a painter will return to his canvas, adding a dab of colour here or over-painting there before popping out again for absinthe." - Howard Jacobson

I first assumed that "Burlington Bertie" was a Bertie Wooster/rich-layabout reference, but instead it's an old English music hall song:

I'm Burlington Bertie, I rise at ten thirty
And saunter along like a toff
I walk down the strand with my gloves on my hand
Then I walk down again with them off
I'm all airs and graces, correct easy paces
So long without food I forgot where my face is...

August 7, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Ginza Restaurant


Somewhat recent, but definitely fading, ad for Ginza Restaurant, at State and Ohio in River North, Chicago. Ginza operated here from 1987 to 2013. It appears that Ginza was gentrified out of the neighborhood, which is ironic given that its food was well-regarded, and the area is now booming with restaurants and hotels. If the food was good, you'd think the gentrification and influx of people would have benefitted the place, and not lead to its demise. Apparently the new landlord had other, more expensive plans.

This was a difficult photo to take - I only had my iPhone, the ad was up high (about eight or ten stories) and I was shooting toward the west and the setting sun, which inevitably caused it to be overexposed. I edited as well as I could, but ended up with sharpness that was much less than ideal. Then, again, this almost has a watercolor feel to it, which I like.

August 7, 2016 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Found bookmark


Magazine clipping, which shows what appears (based on the captions on the reverse side) to be the winning entry in a hairstyle contest. Found inside The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck (Bantam, 1951).

August 7, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...maybe my curse and the farm's curse got to fighting..."

In Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven, Bert Munroe, after a series of business failures in Monterey, has moved to the titular valley and bought an abandoned farm, which the locals believe to be cursed.
Bert had been frowning soberly as a new thought began to work in his mind. "I've had a lot of bad luck," he said. "I've been in a lot of businesses and every one turned out bad. When I came down here, I had a kind of idea that I was under a curse." Suddenly he laughed delightedly at the thought that had come to him. "And what do I do? First thing out of the box, I buy a place that's supposed to be under a curse. Well, I just happened to think, maybe my curse and the farm's curse got to fighting and killed each other off. I'm dead certain they've gone, anyway."

The men laughed with him. T.B. Allen whacked his hand down on the counter. "That's a good one," he cried. "But here's a better one. Maybe your curse and the farm's curse have mated and gone into a gopher hole like a pair of rattlesnakes. Maybe there'll be a lot of baby curses crawling around the Pastures the first thing we know."

The gathered men roared with laughter at that, and T.B. Allen memorized the whole scene so he could repeat it. It was almost like the talk in a play, he thought.
For the sake of the narrative, I hope Allen is right. Even by just the third chapter, I can already see one possibility for the two curses to wreak havoc on the Munroes.

August 3, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...but only as media of exchange..."

From John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat (1935):
Clocks and watches were not used by the paisanos of Tortilla Flat. Now and then one of the friends acquired a watch in some extraordinary manner, but he kept it only long enough to trade it for something he really wanted. Watches were in good repute at Danny's house, but only as media of exchange. For practical purposes, there was the great golden watch of the sun. It was better than a watch, and safer, for there was no way of diverting it to Torelli.
Torelli is a local grocer who regularly accepts barter for his wares, and Danny's friends' "extraordinary manner" is a polite euphemism for theft - they steal anything that isn't nailed down, and usually barter it to Torelli for gallon jugs of cheap wine. (And they then often steal the barter back from Torelli.) As for the sun, they'd probably even steal that if they could.

August 2, 2016 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"He is a black soul."

"Two things are absolutely necessary in any leader or any person that aspires, wishes to be a leader. That is moral compass and, second, is empathy. This candidate is void of both traits that are necessary for the stewardship of this country. He is a black soul. And this is totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country." - Khizr Khan

Expect this to be the first of many political posts here between now and November. Given the deplorable candidate the Republicans have chosen, this will probably be the most important election of my lifetime.

August 1, 2016 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)