Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

What Man Says, What Nature Says

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

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Photos of Glover Park yesterday at dusk: a hand-printed sign guarding a shoveled-out parking space, and a sunset view from the edge of the park.

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Hand-printed warning sign, guarding parking space cleared of snow

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Sunset over Glover Park in Washington, DC, January 29, 2016 at 5:05 PM

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More examples of parking-space “dibs” signs, made by city folks in DC and Philadelphia as they dug their way out of the blizzard of 2016, can be found here.

Like Attracting Like

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Being drawn to people who look like ourselves is a common phenomenon firmly based in science. A number of recent articles provide an explanation, here, here, and here. When finding another person attractive, your standards will relate to aspects of your own appearance that you know best — your face, the shape of your head and body, your coloring, etc.

Does this “like attracted to like” phenomenon apply beyond our evaluation of other people?

I think so.

It’s often remarked how the pets people choose, especially dogs, look like their owners. From anecdotal evidence, and my practice as an armchair psychologist, I believe a strong case can be made that this gravitational pull extends even further — to inanimate things that catch our eye in the material world. I’ve posted about this subject once before, here. Yesterday brought to my sight another example.

At Costco there was an indoor display of pumpkins. It was huge, while maybe not yoogeWhen autumn arrives, who among us — whether a person or a cartoon character — can resist the spell of ripe pumpkins? The scene was worthy of being photographed and so I snapped several pictures of it.

Here’s one:

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Pumpkins at Costo

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Later at home, while looking through the full set of photos, one picture jumped out. It includes a woman who, amid the crowd attracted to this harvest of pumpkins, I remember reacted to the display with special delight:

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IMG_7864_2_2_2_2_2

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I rest my case.

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Cartoon (hand-made)

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

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(Tip of the hat to JWE)

Signs in the Neighborhood

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

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Yesterday’s drifting snow in Glover Park turned a cautionary sign into really bad advice:

Cleaned up, the sign reveals its original intent (click on image to enlarge):

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For additional information about these safety signs, go to http://drivelikeyourkidslivehere.com/.

Several blocks to the south, in Georgetown, someone turned their mini-dumster into a four-sided plea:

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Blog Spam – A Look Behind the Curtain

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

Despite the valiant defense of anti-spam filters, this blog, like most every blog, receives its fair share of blog spam.

Usually considered a petty annoyance, the phenomenon is an unlikely source of enchantment for some. Dan Piepenbring, for example, in a piece for Paris Review (“Postcards from Another Planet“), studies spam comments within the context of a literary tradition.

Right now I’m more intrigued with how spam is created.

A clue arrived the other day in an extraordinarily long comment on a book review I posted on this blog last year. The comment opened a window into the hidden mechanics of spam construction.

It was a thick clump of confusing text. On closer examination I saw segments within the run-on message that could be used as a template to build a semi-coherent comment if one were so inclined. A would-be commenter could first isolate a part of the material and then customize it by choosing among words found in bracketed portions of the text:

Wow, this { article / post / piece of writing / paragraph } is { nice / pleasant / good / fastidious }; my { sister / younger sister } is analyzing { such / these / these kinds of } things, { so / thus / therefore } I am going to { tell / inform / let know / convey } her.

I appreciate { this sort of / this type of / such / this kind of } clever work and { exposure / coverage / reporting }!  Keep up the { superb / terrific / very good / great / good / awesome / fantastic / excellent / amazing / wonderful } work.

Greetings from { Idaho / Carolina / Ohio / Colorado / Florida / Los Angeles / California }!  I’m { bored to tears / bored to death / bored } at work so I decided to { check out / browse } your { site / website / blog } on my iphone during lunch break. I { enjoy / really like / love } the { knowledge / info / information } you { present / provide } here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.

But in this instance, it appears the { lazy / scatterbrained / apathetic / sloppy / just plain dumb } commenter said to hell with choosing, why not simply send out the { entire / raw / exhausting / un-customized } shebang?

The shebang can be found here.

{ Check it out / Let me know the reaction of your younger sister / Get back to work! }

Attention All Quick Brown Foxes: Now’s Your Chance!

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

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On this lazy Sunday morning:

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[Referencing the “sleeping” version of the pangram used by typing teachers.]

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“Here” by Wislawa Szymborska

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

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The slimmest of slim volumes of poetry, “Here” by Wislawa Szymborska contains 27 pieces for our delectation. The page count is 84, half filled with the poems in the original Polish language and half in fine translations by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.  The book was published in English just two years prior to the poet’s death at age 88 in 2012.

The writer and critic Adam Gopnik says the effect of a typical Szymborska poem is like encountering a “happy collaboration between Ogden Nash and Emily Dickinson.” Gopnik’s one word for her work is “charming.”

Through the lens of “Here” I see things differently. Although consistent with her body of work, there’s something especially attractive about these late-in-life poems. The word I myself would attach to the dominant strain in these poems is “whimsical” — playfully quaint and fanciful, especially in an appealing way. In choosing that word I also have in mind the phenomena of “whims,” those odd ideas that take over the brain and imagination very suddenly.

So Szymborska begins a poem with the question, “Me — a teenager?” and speculates what it would be like to meet her own seventy-year-younger self. (For a similar conceit, deftly executed, check out the YouTube video, here.) Then she begins another poem by blurting out, “Why not, let’s take the Foraminifera” — and proceeds to wonder whether those tiny limestone-shelled sea creatures were/are, ultimately, dead/alive. Later, confident that nothing’s lost by revealing the name of the game, she titles a new poem, “Thoughts That Visit Me On Busy Streets.”

Szymborska and Frank O’Hara could have been pals.

This may sound odd, but instead of Nash and Dickinson, the voice I hear in “Here” is a kindred spirit to the sharpest of our contemporary stand-up comedians, the men and women who mix biting social/political commentary with quotidian observational humor, acolytes of the late George Carlin, not just on subjects of pain, death, and war, but in the category of material Carlin called “the little world.”

Among Szymborska’s favorite words are “astonish” and its variants, applied to this world, this life.

Astonishments are what she itemizes in the poem whose title she also attached to the volume as a whole: “Here.” One of its 51 lines is a neat summary of the whole poem: “Life on Earth is quite a bargain.” Like a Philadelphia attorney she argues the case point by point. Her brief includes this deadpan observation —

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“Like nowhere else, or almost nowhere,
you’re given your own torso here,
equipped with the accessories required
for adding your own children to the rest.
Not to mention arms, legs, and astounded head.”

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The American comic and actor Louis C.K. occupies the same ground, albeit more profanely. Here’s an observation he makes in his 2013 comedy album. “Oh My God,” —

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“I like life. I like it. I feel that even if it ends up being short, I got lucky to have it.
Because life is an amazing gift when you think about what you get with a basic life.
Here’s your boiler-plate deal with life — this is “basic cable, what you get when you get life:
You get to be on earth.
First of all, Oh my God, what a location! …
You get to [#%@!]; that’s part of the deal.
Where else are you going to get that deal?”

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By the end of her life Szymborska had armed herself with a ready answer to the rude question many interviewers posed: Why have you written so few poems? She replied:

“A poem written in the evening is read again in the morning. It does not always survive.”

Now, once you’ve read “Here” or another collection of her work, your perception is likely change in a way that allows you to understand how Szymborskiac this seemingly tossed-off response is. It reveals one writer’s writing habits, of course. But listen to it again. How much contingency it contains, how much a reminder of love (passion expecting to last … ) and death ( … yet only to disappear).

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[Note: A version of this review appears on Amazon, here.]

Wi-Fi Network Names

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

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Recently I’ve spent a lot of time, mornings and evenings, on a crowded city bus. The bus follows a zig-zag route through several neighborhoods and its pace is slow enough to deliver to my phone’s Wi-Fi Settings page an ever-changing list of network names. Among the creative ones:

Names of households with a communal/trippy vibe: VeggieHaus, 6chicks, neverneverland

Names of proprietary users: GRPonly, Steve!, Manbearpig,

Very very specific names: NathanUpstairs2

Names with an upbeat spirit: Happiness1234, Healthy, I love Alex

Downbeat names: GrumpyBear

Sad news names: Jobless

Names that double as a Personal Ad:  Slim and Big Eyes, Gimmie Some of That

Names you may want to ignore: Sprinkles, Boner Soup, Deadbeef

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[More from another source, here.]

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The Morning After: Too Much Eggnog?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

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“An Object of Beauty” by Steve Martin

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

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Many readers are going to enjoy this rich, wise and entertaining novel, especially those of you who happen to be:

Part of the art world. “An Object of Beauty” is a closely-observed story that traces the rise and fall of a young business woman in New York City, from 1993 to 2009. It is set in a corner of the commercial arena that traffics in works of fine art. If you work or play in the world of artists, art dealers, gallery owners, auction houses and their supporting enterprises; or if you are simply a curious outsider interested in what Martin calls “this insular collective” — then “An Object of Beauty” is sure to please. During the course of a well-constructed tale, Martin holds a mirror up to the art community’s denizens and their transgressions. If this is unfamiliar territory, you’ll want to be in “learning mode” as Martin (himself an experienced buyer, seller, and lover of art) pauses the narrative from time to time to deliver a mini art history lesson next to an illustration of a painting or sculpture (there are 22 in all) important to the developing plot. On a practical note, he also offers tips on how to negotiate your way through this strange jungle. Martin names names and reveals prices (throughout the novel there is a Balzac-like focus on the prices of everything).

Collectors. Although the reader’s attention is on the wily plots of the young careerist Lacey Yeager, and secondarily on the fate of her friend Daniel (an art critic and the story’s narrator), the author also populates the book with a parade of minor characters who suffer from the collecting disease. They occupy a spectrum from the savvy and methodical to the passionate, obsessive, and borderline insane. Martin displays a psychologist’s skill in exposing the emotional sources of their never-ending longing. If you are, or if you know, a capital-“c” Collector (of coins, dolls, baseball cards, whatever), you will likely find these sketches funny and right on the money.

Fans of Mr. Martin. We know Steve Martin can be a consummate happy clown, and part of the marketing campaign for this novel will (misleadingly) associate the book with his antic, feel-good, sweetness-and-light side. But Martin is more than that, as true fans and readers of his two novellas (Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company) know. And we value and trust his serious interests. Yes, there is wit in the new novel, and Martin’s trademark wordplay and love of paradox (“it was easier to sell a painting that was not for sale”), but he wisely suppresses his protean comedic chops in furtherance of the story. Fans of the author will appreciate that “An Object of Beauty” is a serious novel.

In telling a tale of misplaced values and money run amuck, in a world where relationships are polluted by greed and dishonesty, what comes through is Martin’s essential modesty. He avoids making definitive statements. While he may wax philosophical, especially on matters of aesthetics (his own seduction by the power of great art is evident), he makes no grand pronouncements. Instead, there is simply a keen-eyed view of human failings and, sadder still, a sober acceptance of the rarity of love. Martin is a quiet moralist.