PS... A Column
By Paul E. Schindler Jr.
Some things are impossible to know, but it is impossible to know these things.
January 1, 2002
Happy New Year Again!
I no longer have a day job, so every word of this is my opinion, and if you don't like it, lump it. This offer is NOT void in Wisconsin.
Except, of course, that some material in this column comes from incoming e-mail; such material is usually reproduced in the Sans Serif type font to distinguish it from the (somewhat) original material
Family photos1, 2, 3
Table of Contents:
Where You're Coming From And Where I Am, Too
OK, I didn't really lie per se when I said last week's column was a year-end double issue. It was quite large. But I did change my mind about not doing a column this week. After all, as Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."
I think it is. And it is probably true that "If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you will eventually be charged with treason." (Does someone have a firm citation for the author of that remark?)
So, why switch gears on the issue of a year-end double issue? As I was writing those words, Scot Finnie, bless his heart, was plugging my column in his. In a matter of days, the traffic to this site doubled. I signed more people up for my e-mail notification of new columns this week than in the preceding year. More people came from Scot's recommendation than from Fred Langa or David Strom (although I appreciate the plugs from them as well).
Well, what with all you new folks coming to visit, I just didn't feel I could leave the same column up for two weeks. Thus, fresh content and a fresh reminder e-mail.
Since there are so many newbies here just now, and because it is the start of a new year, let me just review how this column got started and how it works.
This column wells from two sources. Most importantly, the last few years of my now-ended journalism career drew me farther and farther from writing, which was my first love and the reason I got into the business in the first place. But I was worth more as an editor or a creator of audio and video content than as a writer; the only person who was going to publish my writing was me, and the only way anyone but me was going to read it was on the web. Secondly, I was so upset at the errant nonsense being spouted by the Republicans during the impeachment debate that my choice seemed simple: find an outlet for my anger or lose my mind. Thus, this column.
I chose to model it partly on the three-dot columns of the late great Herb Caen (which is why there are contributions from others in nearly every column), and partly on the personal journalism of Adair Lara and Jon Carroll. Of course, I hesitate to mention them, since they write about themselves and their families in an interesting way while I... I just write about myself and my family, among other things.
So, to honor the groundswell of new reader interest, I'm taking a few minutes away from my holiday revels to pound out a column. I hope you enjoy it. I know I do.
Christmas in LA, and New Orleans
One of my New Years' resolutions is not to mention people by full name when I write about them unless I have asked their permission in advance.
So, I'll tell you I went with my wife and younger daughter Rae to visit my mother-in-law Lynne in Los Angeles, but I won't mention her last name. We arrived Sunday to find West LA unseasonably windy and cold. If we'd wanted windy and cold, we'd have gone to Oregon. We had turkey and all the trimmings Sunday and also on Christmas Eve, when we exchanged a handful of presents. Lynne has a new artificial Christmas tree that is quite stunning, composed of hoops of light.
I spent a delightful couple of hours at the nearby home of my good college friend Neal. It was my first prolonged contact with his wife, whom I enjoyed. I still haven't really had a chance to meet his daughter, although, at least, this time she was home. She's every bit as cute as the pictures of her Neal includes in the family Christmas Card ever year. And, when you come down to it, how well can you get to know a six-year-old who isn't a relative (or one who is, for that matter). I get a big kick out of my time with Neal; in many ways, our adult relationship is a continuation of the intellectual sparring we engaged in at MIT, when he was the Arts Editor and I was a movie reviewer. We discussed Vanilla Sky, Christmas traditions and travel, and all of it accompanied by some wine and cheese. Neal's house contains four Christmas trees (including one done by high daughter) and a high-density of non-tree decorations. It gives me something to shoot for (I'm big on Christmas).
Interesting side note: while shopping in Pacific Palisades, we nearly watched a truck full of migrant workers run over actor Steve Guttenberg as he crossed at a crosswalk. After years of waiting for a star sighting, I get... Steve Guttenberg. Well, at least he looked exactly like he looks on screen, and I was cool enough not to blurt out something dumb and fan-like. Vicki, having never seen a Police Academy movie and not remembering Three Men And A Baby nor its sequel, had no idea who he was.
After the family Christmas, Vicki stayed with her mother while Rae and I scooted off a half-hour down the road to visit old family friends. Norm's daughter was born three days before Rae in the same hospital; Vicki had known Norm for decades. We had egg nog (no alcohol for me; I was driving back), a variety of desserts, the chance to watch the daughter's piano recital (she's good) and the chance to participate in unfamiliar Christmas traditions, including their annual reading of The Night Before Christmas and a children's Christmas story I'd never heard before, but dearly loved, The Polar Express. Funny, a day after hearing the story for the first time, I saw a newspaper article about a recreation of it in Utah.
Then it was off to New Orleans (my third trip, the first for the rest of the family), where we hooked up with my older daughter, flown in fresh from Columbia. We stayed in the W Hotel in the French Quarter (the Vieux Carre' or Old Quarter in French) and spent most of our time wandering the streets of that district and the Garden District, which was famous before but is really famous now that Ann Rice has written about it.
In a sense, when I look back now on our New Orleans trip (and I will resist the temptation to phonetically render the one or two syllable pronunciation of the city name used by the natives), I could view it simply as "eating our way through New Orleans." But that was only half the tour. As a part of my effort to think about things in contexts other than food, I'll hit some of the other highlights.
Jackson Square, in the French Quarter is named, like Jax beer, after Andrew Jackson, our seventh president and the hero of the Battle of New Orleans which came just after the official end of the War of 1812. It contains numerous historic buildings (including a great Mardi Gras museum) and is filled on most days with musicians and Tarot Card readers. It is a feast for the eyes and ears, and just a block from the mighty Mississippi, which I visited New Orleans twice without seeing. Not only is it pretty, but unlike similar locations in San Francisco, it doesn't even smell bad. Although it is quite small, we spent hours walking its streets.
One note about Mardi Gras; I've never been and am considering not ever going. A friend of mine who went once said, "Go, if your idea of a good time is being puked on." Apparently wretched excess has its downside. New Orleans has much to offer even without filling its streets with women who will flash you for some cheap beads.
The most famous French Quarter street, of course, is Bourbon Street. When I first walked it at night in 1976 (for the American Bankers Association Automation Conference), all the bands were playing Dixieland, and there was one in almost every bar. The bands often played standing on the bar. By the time I came back in 1997 (for the National Association of Broadcasters Technology Conference), there were only a handful of Dixieland bands; two-guitar Rock and R&B bands, along with topless bars, had supplanted the jazz. This time, we found so many topless bars I looked around for the military base. There were exactly two places on the whole street where you could hear jazz; Preservation Hall and a bar on the corner across the street from the hall. Lower your expectations accordingly. It is still raucous and colorful, and New Orleans remains a city with no bar-closing time and the legal right to drink alcohol on the street, as long as it is in plastic and not glass. Somehow, that appealed to me more when I was younger, and before I had teenage daughters.
We took the Tour By Isabelle all-day, three-plantation tour, and I highly recommend it. Plantations are a piece of the past that I am grateful has been preserved. They are a fascinating slice of history, even if all three of them tell you that the mattresses were stuffed with corn husks and Spanish Moss and had to be rolled out each morning. The Slave Economy was inherently evil, but it produced some dandy houses and stories.
We took a two-hour "trip to nowhere" up and down the Mississippi aboard the paddlewheel steamer Natchez. The river is the heart of the town. If you go, ride one of the steamers. The engine room is vastly more fascinating than you might think; Vicki, not normally a technology buff, was enthralled. On board, we met the music director of a P&O cruise ship docked across the way. He was a piano player, and since I play sax, we chatted. He told some wonderful stories, including how Henry Mancini picked Johnny Mercer as the lyricist for Moon River (it was the phrase "Huckleberry Friend"). Ironically, his wife wants a cruise for their birthday. Talk about a busman's holiday! He says he plans to sit in the lounge and heckle the band, then fill out a comment card that says the band leader "couldn't conduct a piss-off in a brewery."
To get to the garden district, you should take the St. Charles streetcar. I haven't had time to look up the details, but they appear to date from the 30s, if not earlier, and they are not Presidential Commission Cars (PCCs); these are authentic, one-of, wooden-seat wonders. They'll probably be running long after all of us are gone. (There is no more streetcar named Desire, however; that line is long-closed). As a streetcar buff, I was enthralled. Don't get confused: the red cars run along the river, the green cars run out to the Garden District. Get off at Washington.
The district is a charming area full of beautiful houses and well-tended... well... gardens. Probably more spectacular in the spring. There is also the Lafayette cemetery, where a guide told us that above-ground burials are not simply the result of New Orleans being below sea-level, but stem from Latin traditions and can be seen throughout Latin countries around the world, albeit rarely in North America. He claimed to be the official archivist of the cemetery, but I think he was just a very talented tour guide with an unusually slick line of patter and a good rapport with the grounds staff.
I'll try not to drool as I describe out waltz through culinary New Orleans. It began at the Hunt Room Grill in the Hotel Monteleone, distinguished mostly for the fact that it was open Christmas Day when we arrived. Pretty good food. The Beignet (a French pastry covered with powdered sugar) at the 24-hour Cafe Du Monde, washed down with a Cafe Au Lait was an experience not to be missed, even if you don't drink coffee, and even if, as I did, you decide it isn't the greatest pastry in the world (but then I don't get Krispy Kreme either, so I may be impaired along the pastry vector). Since you can't get a "real" breakfast there, we ate in a sidewalk cafe along nearby Jackson Square, where we ate most of our breakfasts, except the one at the Tally Ho on Chartres Street near out hotel. Let me just say I don't recommend the Tally Ho.
Dinner was the main event. Wednesday it was Antoine's, a huge and historic French Quarter restaurant with, literally, dozens of dining rooms and a dress code (coat and tie, please). It serves classic French cuisine with a Louisiana flavor: big, thick sauces and lots of them. Charming, great souvenirs, and be sure to get someone to tour you around after you eat. I first ate there when the Bank rented out the whole restaurant for a press conference in 1976.
Emerils was loud and trendy, with great, over-priced, very modern food in a flash, trendy atmosphere--a ways away in the Warehouse district.
K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, which verges on Vatican status for Cajun-food fanatics, was a sublime experience as always (don't forget to order a Cajun martini, even if you can't drink it, a sip is an experience). It was the first time I ever arrived with reservations, and let me say that they make the whole experience more pleasant, unless you really like nursing a Mint Julep in a plastic cup for an hour, standing on the street, waiting to get in.
We ate lunch at one of the plantations, and let me remind you that it is true what they say: in the country, in the South, if you order iced tea, BOY IS IT ALREADY SWEETENED. About like Coca-Cola.
By the way, in that wonderful didactic way that tour guides have, the driver on our carriage ride through the quarter told us that there are no Creoles, because to be a Creole you have to have been born before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. "We think most of those people have died," he said drolly. There are lots of Cajuns around, but no Creoles. And of course, he said it in that charming, somewhat intelligible, ultra-fast talking variation of the Southern accent which makes Louisiana such a joy. Truth be told, I prefer the slower-speed, better enunciated version spoken by my friend Charlie Hall. Even if what he's saying isn't interesting (rarely), it is fun just to hear him say it.
Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens On Cooper
When my mother was a high school English teacher, she had to teach James Fenimore Cooper's work to her students. That didn't mean she had to like it, which she didn't. Mercifully, I was in another district and never had to read the stuff, but its reputation proceeds it, like the scent off hypocrisy from a large meeting of one's political opponents.
In any case, while Mom was probably familiar with Mark Twain's essay, "The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper," I only ran into it this week while perusing Christopher Buckley's book Wry Martini (I highly recommend this collection of his magazine work). He got into a fight with Tom Clancy, whom he called the most successful bad writer of our times. In passing, in the erudite manner of his famous father William F. Buckley, Jr., Christopher mentioned the Twain essay. If you enjoy well-reasoned nastiness, read The Literary Offenses of Fenimore Cooper.
My Travel Technology Column
Henry Fowler: Odd Duck
Starving free lancers often have their own odd codes for behavior, but none, I think, odder than that exhibited in this new quote, destined for my Journalism Quote Page:
Diminished circumstances had no effect on his sense of what was honorable: after The Spectator sent him a check for a piece it had accepted but was unable to run for a lack of space, he refused to write for the magazine again.
We call that a kill fee, and these days most writers would be grateful for it. But not old Henry, apparently.
Sept. 11 Timeline
Here's a chilling, well-documented and thought-provoking timeline. If you're interested in a plausible alternative scenario, check it out.
A timeline surrounding September 11th - if CIA and the government weren’t involved in the September 11 attacks what were they doing?Bin Laden Met with the CIA in July and Walked Away
By Michael C. Ruppert
[© COPYRIGHT 2001, All Rights Reserved, Michael C. Ruppert and From The Wilderness Publications,www.copvcia.com. May be copied and distributed for non-profit purposes only.]
FTW, November 2, 2001 – 1200 PST -- On October 31, the French daily Le Figaro dropped a bombshell. While in a Dubai hospital receiving treatment for a chronic kidney infection last July, Osama bin Laden met with a top CIA official - presumably the Chief of Station.
The CIA denies the meeting took place. FTW stands for From The Wilderness magazine, run by Ruppert, which deals with the effects of illegal covert operations.
Computer Industry News
Hey, an item that isn't from Craig Reynolds or Daniel Dern. One of my new readers, Michael Horowitz, wrote to tell me about his site. Computer Gripes. A collection of people's gripes about hardware and software, and web sites, and, in some cases, things you can do about the problems. Regardless of the solution content, just reading the gripes is great fun.
Fast Wireless Firewire Speculation
Which isn't to say I don't have an item from Craig:
Rare Saxes, Home Holograms, NYT-baiting
Once again, a potpourri of sites from my readers:
My band buddy Robert Kaplan, the saxophone section leader, passed along two sites, Unique 'extreme' saxophones by Konus, and Rare Horns, for that special musician on your belated Christmas gift list. I'm not this special to anyone.
Dan Grobstein's son found a site that shows you how to Make Your Own Holograms At Home.
Renata Adler's article in Harper's about Judge John Sirica and the New York Times strenuous efforts to defend his reputation in the face of a casual bit of calumny in a book of hers, A Court Of No Appeal, is now available online. I first wrote about it on August 14, 2000.
Shaggy Dog Story: A Long Ways To Go For A Pun
Dan Grobstein forwarded this:
This guy goes into his dentist's office because something is wrong with his mouth. After a brief examination, the dentist exclaims, "Holy Smoke! That plate I installed in your mouth about six months ago has nearly completely corroded! What on earth have you been eating?"
"Well,...the only thing I can think of is this... my wife made asparagus about four months ago with this stuff on it...Hollandaise sauce she called it...and doctor, I'm talkin' DELICIOUS! I've never tasted anything like it, and ever since then I've been putting it on everything... meat, fish, toast, vegetables... you name it!"
"That's probably it," replied the dentist. "Hollandaise sauce is made with lemon juice, which is acidic and highly corrosive. It seems as though I'll have to install a new plate, but made out of chrome this time."
"Why chrome?" the man asked. "Well, everyone knows that there's no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise!"
Top 5 Paperback
Regular readers will be aware that I am a contributor to the Top5 Internet humor collective. Now that I am no longer employed, it is, more than ever, the honor in my life of which I am most proud. Well, a collection of our work is finally available in paperback for $13.95. Here's how Chris White, our glorious leader, describes it:
At long last -- a collection of our greatest hits for your home!
Finally, you can revel in TopFive whackiness from the comfort of your own bathroom!
70 of our best lists! Over 200 Ruminations! 158 pages of undulating paperback beauty!
The credits all come at the back. You'll find me there. I remember how Edwin Diamond always used the check the index of journalism books first, to see if his name was there. He was just kidding around, I think.
You want the facts? Go to theInternet Movie Database
Craig Reynolds was right. Go get the Shrek DVD. The technical gaffs are fascinating. Me? I loved the "fuzzy donkey" outtake. There is now a sequel officially in production, scheduled for release in 2004, with Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz returning. John Lithgow was eaten in the first film, and so is unlikely to be back.
Dan Rosenbaum wrote to say:
The following headline appeared today on the CNN web site. Parse away:
Bush fires rage across Australia.
... and then, there's my favorite pair, guaranteed to steam the cap off a Pentium:
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
He also wrote:
I'm watching Scrooged for the umpteenth time, and I'm wondering:
Is Bill Murray a way better actor than anyone gives him credit for, or does he have a better agent than most, or is he just that much smarter about picking and developing material?
I wrote back to say Murray is a great actor, one of the best of his generation. Hollywood never gives credit to comedians, no matter how good. What's the old saying? Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.
Funny you should mention that. We were watching Miracle on 34th Street last night (AMC was showing it for 24 hours straight, which is only somewhat more interesting than the Channel 11 Yule Log), so I had occasion to look at its entries on IMDB. (Incidentally, one of the major reasons I installed an 802.11b hub was so I could look stuff up on IMDB while lying in bed.)
Edmund Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle, seems to have been quite the distinguished stage actor in Britain and a favorite of George Bernard Shaw. He also appeared in a bunch of quite well-known movies, including "Bonzo Goes to College," "Charley's Aunt," "Foreign Correspondent," "The Trouble with Harry," and "Of Human Bondage." He also had another Oscar nomination for "Mister 880." ("Miracle," you may or may not know, has uncredited performances by Jack Albertson -- watch the scene at the post office -- and Thelma Ritter.)
Anyway, my point is, Leonard Maltin reports that Gwenn was visited on his deathbed by George Seaton, and said that dying is difficult: "It's tough... But not as tough as comedy."
Along the same lines, I asked, "Jim Carrey--actor or fraud? Discuss."
He's got Robin Williams' Disease, a degenerative condition that causes one's comedic craft to become damp. Tragic if untreated, as it usually is. There was an interview of Carrey in a recent New Yorker; a shamefully uncritical and personality-driven article. Scarely rose to the level of People Magazine.
As for my trip, Dan had this to say:
You'll love New Orleans, but do be warned: for someone with an eating disorder, a music collector, or a fan of hardball corrupt politics, it's kind of like taking a drunk to Scotland. I discovered a fabulous record store, the Louisiana Music Factor, at 210 Decatur St., near Jackson Square. I love places like this, where they pay attention only to the local music and sell stuff that just doesn't get into general circulation. Chicago's got a store like that for blues, and I stop in every chance I get. In New York, I supposed you'd consider the indiginous music to be show music, for which we have Colony Music for sheet music and Footlights Records for CDs.
I wrote about how moving I found a West Wing segment on drinking, and how it sounded like overeating.
I was struck by your description of your eating. I have some familiarity with what you're talking about -- there are some foods that I really can't leave unfinished. It must be harder for you in some ways than for a drunk: with sufficient discipline, one after all can avoid booze altogether. One doesn't have that option with food.
How true, sadly, how true.
To obtain a weekly reminder when new columns are posted or to offer feedback, advice, praise, or criticism write to me:firstname.lastname@example.org
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