Friday, August 15, 2008


As a teen dilettante during the sixties, I loved Esquire, the other men’s magazine, the you really did buy “for the articles” as boobs were not reliable parts of its editorial lineup. I vividlly recall turning the huge gorgeous pages of one issue and coming upon L. Rust Hills' quietly hilarious “How to Do Four Dumb Tricks with a Pack of Camels.” It was just perfectly funny, both measured and ridiculous. Then I started noticing Hills' pieces in other magazine and I have long cherished my hardback copy of his first collection, How to Do Things Right: The Revelations of a Fussy Man.

I didn't know before reading Hills' obituary that he nurtured and edited many of the terrific writers Esquire published in the 60's, but I still abide by a strategy he advanced in “How to Eat an Ice-Cream Cone:” When you're with a group of people who're getting ice cream cones, get chocolate chip. Chances are no one will ask you for a taste.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Received a left-handed spoon in the mail Friday. I didn’t buy it online or win it on eBay. It just came in the mail, carefully enfolded in patterned tissue paper, tucked into a baggie, swathed in several layers of bubble wrap and stuffed into a small manila envelope. It’s about six and a half inches long and looks streamlined, reminds me a bit of a 50s-era Pontiac hood ornament.
According to the envelope's return address, the spoon comes from someone named McCarthy in Eugene, Oregon.

I know no one named McCarthy from Eugene, Oregon.

I am grateful but puzzled. I am left-handed, so the spoon is not wholly inappropriate, but I have never felt the need or desire for left-handed cutlery. Still, it’s a pretty object, much prettier than the other left-handed spoons I found online, of which there are many: Jonathan’s Lazy Spoon comes in left and right-handed versions, as do a variety of Homecraft Roylan’s therapeutic and rehabilitative implements, also Kitchen Carver’s hand-hewn wooden pointed spoons, draining spoons, soup dippers, sauce spoons, jelly spoons, spatulas, spatula spoons and spoontulas (The differences between spatula spoons and spoontulas I leave to others.).

At Anything Left-handed, the left version of their jar spoon is six centimeters longer than the right-handed version. I’m not asking why; I assume that a righty who shops at an outfit called Anything Left-handed likes to live dangerously.

Mr. or Ms. McCarthy of Eugene, Oregon, I think of you now as Eugene McCarthy, which isn’t unfitting, as I’m sure only a fundamentally decent and really smart person, like Gene was, would send me a good-looking left-handed spoon out of the clear blue.

So many, many thanks. Who are you and why'd you send me a spoon?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Trolling for typos, grammatical errors and bad writing in the NYT is a big part of my morning newspaper ritual. You would think after Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, the soft-core stylings of the sports columnists, William Kristol and whatever-happened-to-Maureen Dowd, the Grey Lady’s gold standard-esque authority would be in tatters. But I still expect the Grey Lady to be, if not perfect, at least staid, decorous, conservative (only grammatically, of course). Instead, the Grey Lady inclines toward the loopy and you have to wonder who’s minding the prose.

Take this sentence from an article about Mayor Bloomberg’s Spanish tutor in Aug. 5th’s Metro section: “The tutor, Luis Cardozo, wore a suit — thin white stripes slicing light gray fabric that matched his yellow tie.”

Say what?

More in sadness than in anger, I must point out that gray fabric cannot match a yellow tie. Maybe it could comlement it, but that would depend on the particular gray and yellow in question.

Catching infelicities like that is a whole lot less disturbing than detecting new NYT tics and trends of language which tend to make me feel that the center is not holding, which is exactly how I felt when I noticed that the Times had used the word three times this week already, and it’s only Wednesday.

1. On August 4th, a front page article about a senate race in New Hampshire: “The maverick voters of New Hampshire love to keep politicians guessing. But this state, famous for its libertarian mojo, has shifted so hard toward the Democrats...” – Whoa, maverick and mojo in one paragraph. Talk about an embarrassment of vernacular vitality.

2. Elsewhere in section A was this: “Mr. Obama awoke in St. Petersburg, Fla., ready to talk about an ailing economy and saw this newspaper headline: ‘IT’S A RECESSION.’ The mojo should feel good.” – Hmmm, sounds like Barack's mojo is working, in case anyone was wondering.

3. The third mention was in Tuesday’s business section: “Dish appears to have lost its mojo when it comes to attracting new customers.” This happens to be a Reuters piece, so if the image of a satellite television provider even having a mojo, let alone losing it, makes your fillings ache, blame does not rest entirely with the NYT, but still.

Maverick is a word we’re all used to hearing more than we'd ever though possible or advisable, and we will until McCain, aka Senator “I-hate-to-talk-about-my-wartime-experiences” McMaverick, leaves the national stage. But mojo? When did “mojo” enter the national conversation? The NYT archive lists about twenty uses of mojo in its pages in just the last week. And what are they using it to mean? Not what Muddy Waters meant, I’d hazard.