Thursday, December 30, 2004


The miracle of the Internet

Wherein I solve the mystery of the celebrity threes within minutes of my last post.

Needless to say, there are several celebrity death sites on the web, and this one gives a very useful year-by-year listing (not in threes, just a list). Some examples:
October 9-10: Jacques Derrida, Christopher Reeve, Ken Caminiti
October 1, 3 and 5: Richard Avedon, Janet Leigh, Rodney Dangerfield
From the busy summer of '03:
David Brinkley, Gregory Peck, Hume Cronyn (June 11-15, 2003)
Leon "Exodus" Uris, Strom Thurmond and Katherine Hepburn (June 21, 26 and 29, 2003)
You could drop Uris and add Buddy Hackett (June 30), but then you'd lose the Buddy-Buddy of:
Buddy Hackett, Barry White and Buddy Ebson (June 29, 30 and July 4)
And a couple of months later:
Edward "Hydrogen Bomb" Teller, John "Three's Company" Ritter, and Johnny Cash (September 9-12, 2003)
You probably remember this fateful day, March 27, 2002:
Dudley Moore, Milton Berle, Billy Wilder
Okay, I think I'm getting the picture. The answer is: the rational one. Famous people die quite often. Or rather, everyone dies eventually, and there are more famous people than you realize.


Celebrity threes

Why do famous people die in threes?

I don't mean to be callous here, but I find this phenomenon fascinating. Whenever someone dies, someone famous enough to have his or her death noted on the front page of the paper, two more such people will die within a few days to a week.

Reggie White (December 26) : "a fearsome defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers who was one of the great players in NFL history."

Susan Sontag (December 28): "the author, activist and self-defined 'zealot of seriousness' whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century."

Jerry Orbach (December 29): stage and film star "best known for his long-running role as New York police detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order."

My rational side objects that this must be some sort of false consciousness -- that famous people die all the time, and the mind just groups them into threes as a funny way of imposing order on the world. But no -- I swear, they really do die in threes.

I won't go so far as to say that there is some cosmic connection within any given celebrity three. Though Susan Sontag might be able to discern some sort of subtext. If there was foul play connecting these three deaths, Lennie Briscoe might be able to piece it together but, ironically ...

A couple of years ago I thought about creating a web site documenting celebrity threes. Now it occurs to me, "Hey, I have this blog!" I now make this vow to you: so long as I continue to blog, I will post all celebrity threes that come to my attention. I really want to get to the bottom of this.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Holiday video rentals

There goes 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back

I watched The Clearing over the weekend. Robert Redford gets kidnapped, during which he and his estranged wife, Helen Mirren, realize they really do love each other. Willem Dafoe dials it down in the role of kidnapper. About halfway into the movie I realized that (1) it was irredeemably boring and vacuous but (2) I would nevertheless watch it until the end just out of curiosity to find out whether Robert Redford gets killed. I'd tell you and ruin the ending, except that that would imply that there was something worth ruining.

The movie does raise some interesting questions:

Will Robert Redford continue to have boyish, strawberry blond hair until his face finishes shriveling up like a raisin in the sun?

Willem Dafoe usually conveys the air of a tightly-wound psychopath simply by showing his ugly mug on screen. Is it "good acting" for him to appear mild-mannered and innocuous? Should he be bringing such a consistent mild-mannered and innocuous vibe to The Clearing when he's actually playing the role of a psychopathic kidnapper?

Helen Mirren and I are presumably aging at roughly the same rate of 12 calendar months each year. Sometimes I think she's a totally hot older woman, and other times, just an older woman. What's that about?

Life is too short to watch movies like The Clearing. Should I check reviews on "Rotten" before committing a couple of hours to a DVD? Rotthen Tomatoes did conclude that The Clearing was in fact "rotten," with about 55% bad reviews. But do I want to slavishly follow the "majority view" of movie critics? And if I spend about half an hour trying to make sense of all the conflicting reviews, doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose?

Saturday, December 25, 2004


Magoo and Me

A Christmas tale

Last night I was disappointed by the bare, snowless ground. As a Jewish kid, I didn’t grow up with Xmas and did not really establish much in the way of annual Xmas rituals, but I do like Christmas carols and snow on the ground on Christmas morning. So did my mom, ironically; although she adamantly forbid a Christmas tree in our house, she too liked snow on the ground on Christmas morning. Maybe it had to do with her love of Broadway musicals. As a semi-professional writer and director of musical theatre, she had a professional respect for Irving Berlin, the Jewish songwriter who gave us "White Christmas."

Our non-sectarian Christmas ritual was TV Christmas specials. In my childhood, there were no videos or DVDs that we could force our parents or baby-sitters to run three times without break. What we had – all we had – was the annual, ritualistic airing of The Wizard of Oz around Thanksgiving (Halloween?), and the Charlie Brown holiday specials, of course, starting withe the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s kind of fun to know It’s A Wonderful Life by heart, and it seems like they still show that. But my favorite was always Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. It was my favorite annual date: attention was paid to the TV schedule (not by me, I was too young to read), and the day was planned to be sure that my sister and I were plopped in front of the TV when the curtain went up on Mr. Magoo. And it was always better if we could bully our parents into watching it with us.

In my distant-childhood-recollection way, I have this sense that it was on every year for many years, and that I watched it several dozen times. The math doesn’t work though, since that would have me watching it annually until age thirty-eight. I probably only saw it an improbably small number of times, like 5 or 6. The TV networks dropped it a long time ago, which has always burned me, because I remember it as being so good, running my young emotional frame through a gauntlet of emotion: scared, haunted, laughing, and deeply moved.

I’m not one who believes that technology is an unalloyed good, but I may never have appreciated the miracle of DVD more than yesterday, when browsing the holiday section of my video store I found – only moments after sharing the reminiscence with my companion – a copy of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Guess what I did last night.

I have to say that, other than the color (we had a black-and-white TV in those days), it was much as I remembered it; where it differed, it was better than I remembered, or else forgivable. The animation is quaint – not state of the art even for 1962, since it was made for TV – but charming. And though, as a 50 minute cartoon, it is necessarily fast-paced, Magoo is a remarkably true and moving adaptation of the Dickens story. The cartoon uses a clever conceit of presenting the story as a Broadway musical production of A Christmas Carol. Magoo, who you may recall is a seriously myopic character whose comedic schtick comes from his visual confusion, bumbles his way to the theatre, and the curtain goes up on him starring as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The visual frame of the stage disappears as we get drawn into the story – just the way it does in a real theatre – and returns only at the end of each act, when presumably the TV version would cut to commercials. Although the pure wonder of my childhood perception is gone, Magoo really stands the test of time; it’s funny, still charming, and packs emotional punch. The ghost of Christmas future is as haunting as ever, and the moment at the end of act two, with Magoo/Scrooge on hands and knees in front of his own gravestone, singing “I am all alone in the world” made me weepy.

Mr. Magoo was the star of a long-running cartoon short in the early 60s, and his voice was always performed by Jim Backus, famous for his role as Thursten Howell, “the millionaire” on Gilligan’s Island. The Magoo role called for broad comedic acting, and yet, there’s something commendably post-modern and talented about playing a cartoon character who is himself an actor playing another role – not Backus as Scrooge, but Backus as Magoo playing Scrooge. There is some other notable voice work on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Morey Amsterdam – yes, Buddy Sorrell from The Dick Van Dyke Show – is somehow snuck in there. I have to watch it again to figure out who he is, because there was no Jewish comedian in the tale. Paul Frees does several characters, like Harry Shearer nowadays on The Simpsons. Frees was a giant of voice-over work in that era, and you’ll probably recognize his voice as the host of Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion.”

I was also taken aback to find that the Ghost of Christmas present (the hale and hearty one) was played by Les Tremayne. You probably don’t know who Les Tremayne is, though in his day, he was a famous radio actor – acknowledged in 1940 as the third most recognizable voice in America, after President Franklin Roosevelt and Bing Crosby.

Why was I taken aback? You see, Les Tremayne and I have a bond. He died a year ago, the week before Christmas, and his obituary appeared exactly one year ago, on Christmas day 2003. On the same page of the newspaper was the obituary of my mother.

My mother died of cancer on the solstice, December 21, 2003. In recent days, I’d been thinking that I’d like to speak with her, and I’ve been wondering "why can’t death mean that you can no longer see the person, but you can still talk to her on the phone?" I think I could handle that.

Mr. Magoo, a Broadway musical, Christmas day obituary... I think you see where this is going. I was warned about this anniversary, and I said, "Bah, humbug!" If you’d read my blog on December 22 and 23, you might have detected the manic quality of someone experiencing mood swings of a bottled-up emotion. "Coffee? What's really going on?"

I didn’t observe the anniversary of my mother’s death on the solstice, or the next day, or the next. Then Les Tremayne appeared, this time in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, and took me to where I could cry.

When I woke up this morning, it was snowing.


Xmas Blog

Do people read blogs on Christmas Day?

After a strong (for me) Thursday, and a good start Friday morning, I thought I was going to cruise through Christmas with my new average of 34-36 hits. But that proved to be like the early exit-polls showing Kerry with a big lead. I had only 17 hits yesterday and today am in single digits.

I wasn’t sure whether to blog today, figuring that everyone would be too deeply embedded in holiday joy and family neuroses to sit around in front of the computer surfing and reading blogs. But then I remembered how many years ago at Thanksgiving everyone got up abruptly from the dinner table to go watch NYPD Blue, leaving my mom and me sort of open-mouthed. And I thought, maybe by nightfall, many of my many readers will be going, “I can’t take this anymore – [name of relative here] is driving me crazy,” and rushing off to their computers to reconnect with the disconnected world of cyberspace and feel like themselves again.

Friday, December 24, 2004


Rummynation -- you get what you vote for

Rumsfeld penetrates my news blackout!

This just in from the Department of Duh, as reported by the No Surpises Here section of the newspaper:

Donald Rumsfeld does not care about the lives of the troops!

Don't get me wrong, I think it's gross that Rummy has been signing condolence letters with a pen machine, yet part of me can't help but feel two cynical reactions. First, the outrage over this is yet another example of Americans' penchant for elevating symbolism over substance. The real outrage is the administration's poor planning of the Iraq war, reflecting a callousness for the lives and safety of the troops, combined with its hypocrisy in attempting to manipulate symbols to prove the opposite.

Second, what do you expect? Rumsfeld actually is a machine. Didn't his nod-nod/wink-wink role in the torture tactics on Iraqi prisoners, among other things, give a sort of clue that this is not a man with a big, warm heart? And how about that Dick Cheney fellow? There's a walking pen-machine man if I ever saw one!

The growing chorus of Republican voices calling for Rumsfeld's resignation -- starting several weeks ago with John McCain on the more substantive ground that Rumsfeld has been botching the Iraq campaign from the outset -- raises an interesting state of affairs. The outcome either way will provide a significant window into the Bush administration.

If Rumsfeld resigns, it would constitute an acknowledgment by the w Bush administration that it has in fact botched the Iraq campaign, that it is not going well today or last fall, and that Bush's protestations to the contrary during the campaign were naked lies.

If Rumsfeld does not resign, it would strongly support my thesis that the "L'il Man of the Year" George w. Bush is not in fact running the show, but rather that he is spokesmodel for a small cabal of hardheaded pen machines of which Rumsfeld is a key member.

Now that I think of it, these headlines too would come straight from the Department of Duh.


A banner ad that bugs me

Is CQ Counter trying to punish my narcissism?

Okay, I admit that I fequently look at my statistics on CQ Counter (see button at left). I guage the extent of my worldwide influence by seeing how many hits I get each day, and I check the referring URLs to see if anyone is linking to me. In DSM-IV terms, this is probably qualifies me for both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I think CQ is trying to tell me to dial it down, because my statistics page now features a banner ad across the top that depicts very realistic-looking cockroaches crawling around. DSM-IV also indicates that I suffer from Totally Grossed Out by Roaches Disorder, so I find this ad particularly horrifying. The add turns your mouse-arrow into cross hairs (a circle with a plus in it) allowing you to "shoot the bug." But the apparent opportunity to master my fear by destroying the roaches is illusory -- all that happens is that you click on one of the roaches and go to a page advertizing some coupon for an Ipod.

If I ever considered signing up for the fabulous, high-paying world of banner ads on my blog, this one convinces me not to. Why would I want a bunch of roaches crawling all over my blog?

Thursday, December 23, 2004


4:00 p.m. Grandma Moses, again

I’m back at Grandma Moses. It’s just the best, period. Can’t beat that free internet access, and the iced coffee... yes, I ordered it, and Claire behind the counter called me insane, gesturing toward the door – no doubt referring to the single digit temperatures outside. But the iced coffee combines a rich, unsweetened-chocolaty goodness with a fresh palate-cleansing clarity. It’s the perfect thing after a day of drinking hot coffee.

So what have I learned today? I’ve learned that you can catch a pretty wicked coffee buzz even after several cups of decaf, not to mention some serious acid stomach.

I’ve learned that coffeehouses that expect you to sign up for access to their wireless internet, when the signup procedure requires going on line, are messing with your head. I can’t engage in that level of planning to set myself up for a coffee day.

I’ve learned that coffee days are better when you sit down in one place and let the changing ebb and flow of the day wash over you rather than move restlessly from place to place in search of – what?

And I’ve learned that you need to keep your backpack light and your mouse right-side up. Owie.


3:00 p.m. – Rude ‘N’ Slow’s

Rude ‘N’ Slow’s is not the real name or even the real made-up name of this café, which is called Rudy ‘N’ Lou’s. Set in an old two-story house just a few blocks down from Grandma Moses, Rude ‘N’ Slow’s has become one of the most popular breakfast places in town. Their scones are the envy of the local baking scene, and they come up with some imaginative spin on breakfast fare. They’re not even that rude or slow anymore.

When they opened a couple of years ago, it could take 45 minutes to get two eggs over easy – and that’s after you waited on line to order. The production time has gotten under control, but I’m now convinced that the slow-moving line to the order counter is the result of intentional inefficiencies. Like the QWERTY keyboard, which was designed to slow down typists whose speed (it was rightly feared) would cause jamming of the old typewriter key-arms, Rude N’s manages the demands on its small kitchen by making you wait pre-order. The line is in a kind of long, narrow foyer, and the menus are strategically placed so that you can’t see them until you get to the front of the line at the order counter. So after waiting (15-20 minutes at high-volume weekend brunch times), the party in front of you finally gets to the front of the line and only then start with, “Hmmm, what looks good today?” The dithering at the front of the line can be truly maddening, and is made worse by the fact that only one person both takes orders and works the cash register, while the other employees busy themselves with bustling around.

The food is good enough to make it worthwhile, and the ambience is cozy and charming, including a section with living room furniture and toys and games for kids. There are lots of windows, and some great tucked away tables; the music is usually ‘40s stuff that makes you believe you could travel back in time if you shut your eyes and clicked your heels. And the rudeness thing has gotten, well, better.

The first wave of Rude N’ites were actually really friendly. Then something changed. Maybe the hiring decisions were made by a committee of staffers who had attained some critical mass of resentment of everything about their jobs, but there was a period when you’d get a lot of surliness. Not the fast-moving, efficient Jewish-waiter surliness of the New York deli, but more of a stolid, see - if- I - care - whether - you - get - your - damn - breakfast - before - I - decide - what - I’m - gonna - do - with - my - life - once - I - get - outta - this - stinkin’ - job vibe. Add to that the constant bellowing: it’s self service from the kitchen counter, and when your breakfast is ready they call your name out so that it can be heard in all corners of the former two-thousand square foot, two story house and pronounced, not as your mom and dad named you, but in whatever way is most conducive to shouting. “Osss - Carrrrr.” Why put up with it? For the scones, man.

It got so bad that I came within inches of being transformed into a more interesting, edgy person, the type who would say, and not merely think, as I did on the eve of a one-year leave of absence in another state: “I’m going away for a year. When I get back, I don’t want to see you here.” This was what I fantasized saying to the skinny obnoxious guy who seems to have come here straight from reading (unsuccessfully) for the part of Randal Graves, the video store guy in Clerks. I sort of got my wish, because "Randal" now works in the kitchen as a short order cook and name-bellower.

The pendulum has swung back. There are several nice new staffers, and the few remaining old surlies have mellowed, including the beautiful Melissa, an artist as it turns out, whose piercing blue eyes are set off by shoulder-length hair of a carroty-red not found in nature and some serious hardware piercing the cartilage of each ear. I’ve had a crush on Melissa ever since the early days, when she wore a scowl that could scare the shit out of you at fifty yards, but she smiles now, even at me, and even allows me to flirt with her. Sometimes I come in when I don’t even want a scone.


Mouse situation

I’ve really come to appreciate my laptop, because I feel it gives me a sustainable basis to justify coffee days. If I have my laptop I can work in the coffeehouse, or at least have work in front of me. I derive great legitimacy from that.

What I don’t love about my laptop is the mouse situation. I find the touchpad awkward, and that little button thingy unusable and vaguely obscene. My solution is to carry a big honkin’ microsoft optical mouse which I hook into the USB port.

What do I use for a mousepad, you must be wondering? An optical mouse is supposed to require no mousepad, but as we all know, that’s not exactly true, is it? Most surfaces create just enough friction to annoy, to distract you from your work on the computer by making sure you know you’re using the mouse. It’s a slight resistance, almost a truculence. “Okay,” the mouse seems to say, “I’ll point there if you really want me too.”

When law professors have articles published, they order “reprints,” an excerpt of the law review containing only that article and attractively bound in the cover stock particular to that law journal, with the law journal’s logo and the title of your article.. A colleague of mine recently published an article in a leading law review and I like it so much that I carry the article reprint with me everywhere I go, and keep it next to me. You see, it’s my mousepad.

For some reason, this law review uses paper for its cover stock that is perfect for an optical mouse. Textured just enough to prevent willy-nilly accidental movements, but smooth enough for the mouse to glide over it effortlessly, like a pat of butter on a warm skillet. Mmmmm.

Here’s something else I’d like to share with you about optical mice. I turned on my laptop today in slightly gloomy coffeehouse light, when suddenly my eye was hit by a bright, piercing red beam that kind of reminded me of a glaucoma exam. Owie! The moral: Never start your computer with your optical mouse plugged in but flipped over on its back.


1:45 p.m. – Free Exchange Coffeehouse

Capital Avenue, extending six long blocks from the center of campus to the heart of downtown, is a kind of commercial annex to the university, and boasts at least six coffeehouses.
Leonardo di Cuppajoe
BrewHaHa (which could easily be one of Cap Ave’s many bars)
The Palace Grounds (two locations, one at either end of Cap Ave)
Camelot (a bookstore and Café)
Free Exchange
With its dark-stained rainforest woods and tasteful laminates, the decor looks like it came from the restaurant supply department at Ikea. It’s not unpleasing, and they have original art (for sale) on the walls. (Not as interesting as the art at Gra-Mo’s, at least the current selection is craft fair-ish.) The coffee is pretty good, and I just had a croissant that was far better – buttery and flaky, without a hint of breadiness – than I had any right to expect.

What Free Exchange gives you most of all is the study hall atmosphere. This place is always filled with people working on laptops, writing papers, grading papers. In fact, between Atomic Café and CVJ, I picked up the papers for my class, which I plan to grade as much as possible in coffee houses.

At the table next to me is a young man whose laptop has a spreadsheet with what appear to be data for course grades, and he has a stack of typed papers in front of him. I read over his should a paragraph starting thus:
A great example is ancient Athens.
Okay, he’s a TA for an undergraduate course. I hope they’re writing better by the time I see them in law school.

I love the intensity of the thinking that goes on here, the wrestling with great ideas is palpable in the air. Time for me to turn to more deep thoughts.


1:00 p.m. – Ça Va Java

Ça Va Java , perhaps recognizing the pretentiousness of its Francofile name (I like to refer to it as “Je m’appelles Joe” or, more correctly, «Je m’appelles Joe »), goes by “CVJ Coffee Co.” They’ve got the heat way up, so it’s cozy, and they have a great, long wall of plate glass windows so you can imagine you’re on the inside of the coffee shop in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. They’ve got decent music, but it’s kind of dead here. Two women at a nearby table are talking about Atomic Cafe' -- coffeehouse conversation about, of all things, another coffeehouse -- and how one of them sneaks into their big parking lot when she's in the neighborhood because there's always a space. How validating is that -- in a Twilight Zone sort of way.

CVJ has two unfortunate locations. This one, on the far west side of town is conveniently located for the import auto mechanic a few doors down – if I’d only taken my car in today – but otherwise feels on the margin. The location nearer my neighborhood is even more troubled – it’s on the main thoroughfare, a 40 m.p.h. 2-3 lane each way street with little walking commerce.

But my Guatemalan decaf was so dark that the first splash of half-and-half made alarmingly little impact on the coffee’s color. If this coffee were about 50 degrees hotter, it would taste just like Starbucks. So why am I so down on that chain of coffee establishments? (Can you really call Starbucks a coffeehouse? I think NOT.) Other than the fact that they seem to be pursuing a corporate strategy of world domination and will not rest until every other coffee retailer has vanished from the planet, I don’t like their coffee. It’s dark and heavy, usually either too bitter or fruity, and makes me far too aware that coffee is not so much an elixir and a cherished ritual, but rather a burned-bean beverage.



My coffeehouse odyssey is not meant to be a series of reviews, so it’s time for me to blog in the uncharacteristic (for me) style of random musings.

The growing profusion of SUVs makes it harder to find your car in a parking lot, doesn’t it? It’s hard to see over those things, and if you forgot what row you parked in, forget trying to see over into the next row.

Eugene Ionesco’s classic play “Rhinoceros” is commonly believed to be a fable about the rise of Naziism or fascism. I think it’s a fable for our time, anticipating the rise of the SUV – a real rhinoceros of an automobile.


10:45 a.m. – The Atomic Café

The Atomic Café has so much going for it. Great location – close to both offices and the funky neighborhood with its walking commercial district – and occupying half the ground floor of a beautifully refurbished factory that I believe is a historical landmark. Original wood flooring, tons of natural light, a charming, lulling folk group with a bluegrass tint playing atmospherically in the background, plenty of parking (a large lot around the side from the factory days no doubt), a small kids area in the back; free internet access (though “it’s been kind of funny lately, and is not working today!), and even power strips on the floor to plug in your computer! What could be better, right? This was the first coffee house I discovered when I moved to town, and I thought, “this is where I’m going to plant my flag!”

Yet there’s something about it – a bit too commercially together perhaps? – that has prevented me from feeling at home here. Maybe a big thing is, I don’t like their coffee that much. It’s heavy and Starbuckian. I’ve switched to decaf for the day, and ordered the Sumatran – I’d have preferred the organic Mexican were I here for my first cup of the day – which tastes thick. Their iced coffee is not very good, and their pastry offerings seem to have been ordered from a nationwide catering service – I’m sure I’ve had those bear claws in 5 different states.

Yet I’ll always have a soft spot for Atomic Café. I like the name (the real one almost as much as my made up one for it) and I’ll always remember it as the first place where I ever saw a copy of The Onion. I still remember what caught my eye – one of their sidebar story-less headlines in the lefthand corner of the front page, written not long after Gene Siskel unexpectedly died, which said, “Ebert Finally Wins.”

I won’t linger here either, today. What with the wireless internet down, and my coffee already tepid, I’m outta here.


10:15 a.m. – Luna Café

I’ve gone off real time, and I’m now blogging on Word Perfect – will post at the next oppy – because Luna Café provides internet access via subscription to “Café Connection” and I’m too cheap to sign up. I won’t be here that long anyway. Luna is not one of my favorites. Unlike Grandma Moses, which by the way has “free” wireless access (they ask for a quarter donation if you log on) and lets the employees choose the CDs, the progressive jazz soundtrack at Luna can only have been pre-selected by the owners and gives the place a kind of Starbucks “our background music is so great we’ll put it on a CD and sell it to you” feel. My tiny mug – about halfway between a regular mug and an espresso cup – is filled with a slightly over-roasted Organic Fair Trade El Salvador. In the summer, the iced-coffee situation is dire – iced Americanos (hot espresso poured over ice) rather than brewed and chilled coffee.

Luna is also sub-optimally located. Across the river from Gra-Mo’s and Rude ‘N’ Slows, it’s usually out of my way. Also, it’s on a funny part of the street where a lack of nearby stoplights creates an almost continuous flow of fast-moving traffic, so if you park opposite Luna, trying to cross the street is like playing a live game of Frogger.

Still, Luna has its charms – some cute decor, including the best oil can collection I’m likely to see today. It has a delightful back garden for outdoor seating in the summer. It fronts on the bike path, and I sometimes sit out there and imagine the cyclists who stop by and come through the back for coffee are like riverboat traffic on the old Mississippi.

Today, the Luna had the sticky bun with honey and chopped walnuts – a breakfast pastry I had come to love but which, it seemed, had been banished from our town – and a really cute couple is playing Scrabble on a travel set where Chicklet-sized tiles snap into grooves on the board. You gotta like that.

But the mod, stylish chairs are kind of uncomfortable, and the barn-sized glass doors in the back, which are so delightful in the summer, are letting the cold blast through. My feet are freezing! Gotta blow this joe-joint, and I’m not even going to get my free refill.


8:30 a.m. -- Grandma Moses

Okay, so 8:30 is a bit on the late side for the first cup of coffee of the day. But it's my coffee days -- do I have to explain that all over again?

I'm at my favorite coffeehouse, Grandma Moses, with a mug of Alterra Fair Trade Sumatra, a medium roast. Up until yesterday, I'd been getting my favorite here -- iced coffee, made with their cold-brewed process, the best I have ever had. Temperatures have been in the teens outside, and I've had to endure jocular comments from the servers. But today, with temps in the single digits, I have to give in to the world outside.

Gra-Mo's serves hot coffee in an assortment of what appear to be second-hand mugs. This one shows Santa and Mrs. Claus cuddling in a wreath against a backdrop of candy-cane stripes. Mrs. Claus appears to be comforting Santa, who looks sad, probably about all the commercial greed that makes this day a living hell for him workwise, or perhaps the fact that he's not getting any younger and that Mrs. Claus is in many ways not the woman he married. Gra-Mo's is not doing a holiday mug thing, just so you know -- my companion has a mug with whales on it.

Gra-Mo's, located in a small, boxy brick building in the funky neighborhood, is painted with wild colors inside that slightly set off the subdued lighting: natural light petering out about halfway toward the back, and warm lamps on each table as well as the occasional floor lamp scattered among the seedy upholstered furniture. I am comfortable here, my home away from home. Gra-Mo's offers a selection of crumbly, unappetizing vegan pastries that I like to call "why bothers?" I get scones from another of my hangouts, Rude 'N' Slow's, and sneak them in sometimes. I'm here so often spending money on joe that I feel a sense of entitlement to sneak in bakery and, if they ever challenged me, I'd say that I'm allergic to vegan and then ask why, if they serve half-and-half for the coffee, they can't offer one baked treat with animal fat. But they never challenge me -- they're really nice here.

This morning, a young couple has brown bagged an entire breakfast -- fresh fruit, Dannon yogurt, bottles of V-8 and a tub of some sort of nut butter. They're making no effort to be clandestine. I'm not one to object, but isn't this taking a good joke too far?


My Coffeehouse Odyssey

Today, I celebrate the opening of coffee days with a trek through the coffeehouses of my town. The names have been changed to protect my image as a man of mystery.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Coffee days

Does it get any better than this?

Final exam period ended today, and I have about four weeks until the end of the semester. This is the time of year when my colleagues in legal academia start to complain about the onerous burden of grading exams. “I would teach for free; grading exams is what they pay me for,” is a common quip. But there’s an implicit wink or asterisk appending the complaints. Exam-grading-complaining is the secret handshake of law professors, something we often repeat aloud in order to ward off the hordes of lawyers who wish (or so we think) that they could have our jobs. Being a law professor is really hard!

But because I believe in complete candor in this blog – except for the pseudonym and all the other stuff I make up, that is – and I therefore freely admit that these are the days that pay me.I was feeling down this morning. My usual “three shopping days before Christmas, just had the shortest day of the year” thing. Then I stopped to take stock of what a nice life I have because this is the opening of coffee days.

Don’t go all literal-minded on me: I drink coffee every day. What I’m talking about is lingering over my cup of coffee, sipping it contemplatively, staring out the storefront window at the passersby on the sidewalk, looking around the room, thinking about the really cute server who smiled at me (“Do I still have it, or is she just being nice?”). Yes, I’m in a coffee house.

Coffee days are days when you’re so free from workday commitments – there is nothing requiring you to be at a certain place at a certain time that day – that you could spend the whole day if you wanted sipping coffee in a coffee house. When I was a practicing lawyer, once in a blue moon there would come a day when I was free. Not a weekend day, filled with the pressure of expectations – to have to have fun and yet to pay bills, run to the cleaners and take care of all that workweek errand buildup – but a day off. Perhaps I used a vacation day, or maybe I had a morning doctor’s appointment but took the whole day as a sick day. I would wander into a coffee house, and gaze enviously at the people who seemed to be renting the tables in six-hour shifts, the wannabe novelists and actors, the slackers, the performance artists who would wait tables at night and then party til 4:00 a.m., and I would wonder, “don’t these people have jobs? Why can’t I be them?”

Now I am. At the very top of my list of “the ten reasons you want to be a law professor but absolutely must admit in an interview,” was my desire to have coffee days. I admit that now.

Today, I patronized no fewer than three coffeehouses. Let’s pause for a moment over the word “coffeehouse.” Too many people say coffee shop when they mean coffeehouse. A coffee shop is a form of diner, a greasy spoon restaurant whose virtue is predictability, not coffee. They lack romance, and have none of the dark-roasted ambience of a true coffee day hangout, except in the world of Seinfeld.

Tomorrow I will devote a day of blogging to a celebratory coffee day coffeehouse crawl. I will blog in both real and unreal time, giving you the cup-by-cup breakdown. It will be a real treat for us both.

These are the coffee days.


Wash Yoo Law Schoo' in Saint Loo

What city was that again?

You have to sympathize with a university whose name is so geographically screwy that they have to build a clarification right into the name. Miami University is commonly known as "Miami of Ohio" and its url is "muohio." Washington University, bless their hearts, have the great misfortune of being located neither in Washington DC nor Washington State, and are thus Washington University in St. Louis.

Why am I again belaboring Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, you ask? Can't I leave those poor folks alone?

My pal Gordon at Conglomerate -- who has kindly and singlehandedly boosted my web traffic by 50% and raised me from a "lowly insect" to a "flippery fish" on the TTLB ecosystem, with two links to my recent posts -- reasonably and fair-mindedly explains why Wash U in St Loo Law Schoo is not engaging in "law porn" with its frequent glossy mailings. Not just glossy brochures, as I had previously reported, but also glossy postcards, one of which I received yesterday.

Well, explain this coincidence:

This very afternoon I was standing at my mailbox, wondering what law school might have sent me some fresh glossy materials, when I realized to my dismay: I had completely forgotten where Wash U was located. I was standing at my mailbox, dumbfounded, and wracking my brain -- Washington University of Ohio? Washington University in Miami? Or is it the same as Washington & Lee University? By pure dumb luck, right there in my mailbox was an envelope from -- guess who? Yup, Wash U in St Loo. Why think you? Perhaps, I thought, having read my blog, Wash U wished to tell me f**k U. But no, it turns out I hadn't a clue. It was Seasons Greetings from Dean Joel Seligman.

Happy New Year to you too -- and you can wash me, Wash U.

Saturday, December 18, 2004


I touch myself*

At what point does editing become narcissism?

*[With apologies to the Divinyls]

I tell my students that revising your own writing is a key part of critical thinking, and it is. Yet at the same time, it can become so... self involved.

One aspect of my job as a law professor is to publish lengthy articles in law reviews. These professional journals of the legal academy are run by law students. Law students decide what to publish in the journals. When they choose your article for publication, they subject it to an extensive editing process, going through three or so drafts in as many months.

We, we professors wish for the brilliant student editors who will improve the piece, but it is just as likely to get an intrusive edit by someone who thinks he’s really smart but doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. In such cases, you (the author) can spend a heck of a lot of time, not editing, but un-editing – rejecting or undoing editorial changes that create substantive errors or make the prose worse.

Given that tendency, the best you typically get as an author is an editing job that focuses on technical citation forms in the footnotes, and otherwise leaves well enough alone. And yet part of you always hopes for that brilliant editor.

The first two drafts of my current article were of the “leave well enough alone” variety, and I was quite happy. And then, suddenly...

It was the so-called “managing edit” – supposedly just technical changes – but there was something different. Something wonderful.

Every few pages there was an editorial suggestion that made the article... well, better. Sometimes it would be excess verbiage cut out. Elsewhere a subtle but apt word change, or a phrase added that clarified a point I had left too vague. There were not loads of these, but a fair number: maybe 20-25 in an 80-page article. And the thing is, they were shrewd. Sometimes I’d think, “not a word choice I would have made, but you know what, it works!” Sometimes, more excitingly, “this editor really gets what I’m trying to say – even better than I did when I wrote this!” I didn't agree with each and every editing change, but most of them worked well.

Here, finally, was an intelligent, sympathetic reader, someone you rarely find even among your professor colleagues; a person who not only understands, but can explain what you mean. This editor was clearly an exceptional law student, someone who could probably do well at any law school in the country; someone who could go on to a brilliant legal career, perhaps one in academia. This law student editor had gotten inside my head. And I have to admit, it was kind of sexy.

I picked up my photocopy of my previous draft, the one in which I’d made some handwritten edits of my own, in order to double check that the student editors had correctly typed in my previous handwritten changes. And I found something curious. Looking at my first change – deleting an awkward phrase, and replacing it with something that expressed my meaning better -- I saw that in fact they had not typed in my last round of handwritten changes. Instead, they had handwritten my changes onto another copy, added some technical editing of their own, and returned it to me. You see where this is going... all the brilliant, sexy editing was my own, simply copied over by hand by one of the law student editors.

I don't want anybody else
When I think about you
I edit myself

Friday, December 17, 2004


I've got mail

Incredibly, I had two emails in my inbox, from people I don’t know – who actually read my blog! This is a red letter day.

L, a law student whose email handle suggests that her law student persona is, to quote the movie Dr. Zhivago, “a nameless number on a list that was later mislaid,” writes to tell me that
your link to Conglomerate,like the Wonkette link, contained an extra 'http://' you need toedit that and the link should work fine. Much as I love a good microsoft conspiracy theory, this appears to be a code problem. You seem like someone who ought to be a mac person, anyway.
How nice is that? Dammit, I should be a Mac person. Unfortunately, I learned personal computing in the context of law practice, and found myself locked into the world of PCs. Why lawyers don’t use Macs I don’t know, but back in those days, there were huge compatibility problems between the two brands. Perhaps I should check again.

Meanwhile, Microsoft shows how evil is capable of patience and long-term planning. My preferred word processing program, Corel Word Perfect, is on its way to extinction. Despite Word Perfect’s having gained the lion’s share of the lawyer market back in the day, Microsoft will drive it out of business in a few years. How? By capturing law students, those penny wise but pound foolish consumers, who use MS Word because it comes free (or very cheap) with their PCs. I’m guessing that even you, L, use MS Word for Mac, don’t you? All students now use Word, and I spend many, many minutes converting my Word Perfect documents into Word to post them for my students.

By the way, L was quite right, my link to Conglomerate did have “http” twice. My bad. And yet, L, one has to ask, when there is a coding error in linking to a blog, why does it go to Microsoft, rather than, say, the AOL/Time Warner home page? What’s more, I fixed the code problem, and the Conglomerate link still goes to Microsoft. Hmmm...

Another emai,l from TB, explains that many of my purported “referrals” may come from hitting the “next blog” button at the top of most blogger layouts. According to TB, doing this yields a lot of
set-up-and-immediately-abandoned blogs, blogs probably contrived to increase someone's Google page rank (your "Shoes" example), and incomprehensible stuff set up by teenagers
TB likens hitting my blog instead of "Shoes" to finding $20 on the sidewalk. I cannot imagine greater praise in cyberspace.

Ironically, I found these notes the night after a conversation with a fellow blogger about the anxiety of having your blog catch the attention of some obsessive guy who bombards you with emails. I’m happy to report that L and TB both provided helpful feedback and seemed quite well adjusted.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


An open letter to Washington University in St. Louis School of Law

Familiarity breeds .... what was that again?

What’s that old expression about “familiarity”? Breeds something. Consumption? Control?

I teach at a law school. I don’t teach at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. But I know a lot about Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. More than I’d care to, in fact. For example, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law has one of the more phonetically juicy email addresses of any law school: "" As in, "I'm Professor Russell, at wu-law dot wustle."

I also know that Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in the past few years has joined the recent trend of law schools engaging in aggressive marketing activities to promote their standing in the U.S. News rankings of law schools. (For the scoop on the U.S. News rankings, check out what Conglomerate has to say.) One of those marketing practices is the sending of send glossy brochures. Here Expensive, four-color print glossy brochures full of color photos, with text laid out like a corporate annual report, announcing what’s going on in the sender’s law school. Sometimes you get the glossy alumni magazine. Washington University in St. Louis School of Law seems to lead the pack in the sending of glossy brochures.

There are several thousand law professors around the country, so it must be very expensive to send out glossy brochures to random law professors. And yet there they are, in my mail box. Glossy brochures from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, sent to me, a professor at a distant law school with no particular ties to Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.

While it’s true that Washington University in St. Louis School of Law has pushed itself up in the U.S. News rankings, the rankings don’t actually have a category for “number of glossy brochures mailed,” so that can’t have been a direct cause.

Do the glossy brochures affect the rankings of schools like Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, by moving up their numbers in the category “reputation among legal academics”?

It’s true that I now know a lot more than I did about Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. For example, I know that Professor John N. Drobak “presented the paper ‘Moral Capital: the role of the Courts,” at the Annual Meeting of the International Society for New Institutional Economics, held in Budapest in October 2003. Oh, and Associate Dean Dan Keating was pictured in a glossy brochure on a pitchers mound in Dockers and sneakers, “throwing out baseball [sic] at a St. Louis Cardinals game.” Clearly, faculty members at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law get invited to interesting places.

But I don’t know that I have a higher opinion of Washington University in St. Louis School of Law after having received a dozen of their glossy brochures than I had before. I suppose the marketing experts hired by Washington University in St. Louis School of Law believe are of the view that “there is no such things as bad press” or “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

I’m no marketing expert, but then there’s that other old saw, “familiarity breeds...” What is it again? Conviction? Context?

Monday, December 13, 2004


O(h no)mar

Here we go again?

I was very excited back in September when the Mets hired Omar Minaya as GM. I assumed he would bring the horsetrading smarter-than-the-other guy skill that made him seem to do wonders with the hapless Montreal Expos, keeping them far less than horrible for no money down.

It's starting to look like that was just thrift smarts, and that Minaya operating in an environment with a bankroll and a premium on newsmaking deals is just as willing as his predecessors to damn the rebuilding and throw lots of dumb money at past-their-prime players who are not getting the smart money. Four years of Pedro Martinez on the downside of his career, for the low, low price of $52 million. Check out Flushing Local's definitive take on Pedro. Yeah, he's a bit younger and better than Tom Glavine was when the Mets signed him to a regrettable 4-year deal, but that would make him, what, a .500 pitcher? Look for one more good year from Pedro (15-10 ish) followed by 3 years of .500 with a lot of 6- inning starts. I think the entire Expos (Washington Nationals?) roster was available for $50 million.


Some teasers for the privacy horror show

Is this weird, or what?

Okay, it's happened again. Microsoft has hijacked my sidebar link to Conglomerate. The irony is not lost on us. Is the Imperial Death Star of the Computer World claiming an intellectual property right in all words redolent of its corporate existence? Like, "Monopoly," "Corporate Giant," and "Trust"?

One of the reasons the internet has been described as a "privacy horror show" is the fact that your clickstream can be (is?) recorded by your internet service provider, perhaps by spyware on your computer, and lord knows what or who else, meaning that the web sites visited by "you" (your IP number to be precise) are being recorded as you surf.

Interestingly, it seems that hit counters -- like Sitemeter and CQ, on my sidebar, at left -- are themselves a form of surveillance technology, recording among other things the IP numbers of all 14 of you who visit my site, as well as the web page that "referred" you. Click on the icon and see for yourself! Not that I can translate an IP number into your name, but then I'm kind of ignorant when it comes to technology. If Microsoft doesn't like the proposed nominee for the post of Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, do you think they can derail his nomination by leaking information about what porn sites he visited?

I sometimes check the "referral" information on my hit counters, which gives the URL of the page from which a web-surfer cam to my blog. This is pure self indulgence. If somebody visits this blog directly from another one, perhaps that other one has linked to me! Oddly, I find that (1) many of those so-called referrers make no mention of CM (short for Columnist Manifesto -- catchy, yes?) whatsoever and (2) there are some weird blogs out there.

One of my faux "referral" URLs was for a blog about guns. Apparently there is an entire subculture of gun blogs, and this one was filled with technical information, pictures and descriptions of "what gun I fired today."

One "referring" blog is called "Shoes,"written by a blogger who calls him/herself "Shoes." It didn't mention CM, but it did have daily entries about... well, shoes. The following entry was typical:

Friday, December 10, 2004

mailorder skate shoes

There are lots of places on the internet where you can buy mailorder skate shoes but how can you be sure that when you purchase mailorder skate shoes you are shopping in safety and that you will actually receive your purchase?

This is where we can help. We've sorted through all the possible places on the internet where you can buy mailorder skate shoes and we've found the best. A place where you can get mailorder skate shoes at a great price and be sure that you will get what you've paid for.
When I say typical, I mean it. Only the title and italicized phrase changed in the various blog entries; the text otherwise remained the same, whether the topic was "bargain womens climbing shoes" or "bridal shoes ny transit."

A similar blog, with the intriguing URL turns out to be called "Online Degree." Recent entries include "online-computer-science-degree" and "online-law-degree." The text is even less enthralling than "mailorder skate shoes," and the title of each otherwise identical post is a link to -- an online degree website. I'm guessing that Joe Bozeman, the author of the Online Degree blog, responded to one of those late night informercials where they explain that you can earn thousands of dollars by "placing little, tiny ads."

I fear that this may all come full circle one day. My waking nightmare: I am deemed unfit to teach law school because it is discovered that I obtained my law degree online, where I also, fetishistically, surf the web for shoe sales. The information is leaked by Microsoft.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


Bush delivers on national security

"w" keeps faith with the voters -- the Kerry voters

The election was like a blow to the head that caused me to lose political consciousness for several weeks. I'm not the only one who experienced news blackouts from the election trauma. Experts tell me that I may have to learn to live with permanent intermittent news blackouts -- or more correctly, with permanent, intermittent phases of caring about current events.

It's not like I've been reading the papers, but certain news items filter through, in the manner of rumors.

Like, how about Bush’s recent national security accomplishments? Bush’s first class nominee for Homeland Security chief, former NYC Police Kommish Bernard Kerik, has a massive conflict of interest in the form of millions of dollars of stock options in a taser-manufacturer that does big business with... the Department of Homeland Security. He then abruptly withdraws – on a Friday, of course, to minimize its impact on the news cycle – because he has a nannygate problem. You remember Nannygate: it’s the under-the-table employment of household help in violation of social security, tax or, in this case, immigration laws, that derailed Clinton’s first two nominees for Attorney General.

The White House was “caught off guard” by Kerik’s withdrawal, because... well, because violation of laws (or massive conflicts of interest) have never been considered a detriment to holding high-level posts in this administration.

In addition to bumbling the Department of Homeland Security, the administration we re-elected because it’s making us all safer tasked Donald Rumsfeld with publicly looking flummoxed when it was pointed out that U.S. transport vehicles sent into combat zones in Iraq are so poorly armored that American troops are sifting through Iraqi garbage dumps hoping to find scrap metal to put on our trucks.

Oh, well. At least our army is using Napalm on Iraqi insurgents. That's what passes for security policy in the "w" administration -- flouting international law and human rights.

There should be a way of grouping all the news stories in the next four years when the Bush administration performs absolutely to expectations in this way. How about a special section insert in the newspaper called “No Surprises Here,” or “Well, Duh!”

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Privacy please

Is a man's home still his castle?

Our traditional privacy metaphor is the privacy of your own home, in which you can shut the rest of the world out. “A man’s home is his castle.” No, Faith Hill did not make that up, by the way. I’m guessing that Lord Edward Coke, the famous English jurist during the reign of Charles I wasn’t even the first to say
The home to everyone is to him his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose
-- because judges aren't particularly original when it comes to language.

The privacy as home-castle metaphor is increasingly challenged in a world of high-tech surveillance and the USA Patriot Act. For some time now, I’ve believed that a more accurate privacy metaphor for out time is the privacy of standing in a crowd. Someone who is determined to find you probably can, but you’re protected from surveillance by the difficulty of picking you out of the huge numbers of people around you. The reason that John Ashcroft doesn’t know every web site you’ve ever been to he just happens not to have singled you out from the millions of people who surf the web. (Plus, he’s not attorney general any more.)

Speaking of privacy in cyberspace, check out the writings of my cousin, who has called the internet “a privacy horror show.” Read and learn!

Here’s a privacy concern that bugs me (get it?), and did so as recently as today. The so-called “security questions” that some web sites use to let you recover your forgotten password. It’s a list of 10 or 20 questions, the kind that you would use to prove your identity to your long lost brother who doesn’t recognize you, so you say, “ask me something only you and I would know the answer to!” The questions include, “what is the name of your first pet?” “What is your father’s middle name?” “What was your high school mascot?” You get the idea.

Isn’t it kind of creepy that AOL and PayPal know the name of your dog, your third grade teacher, and the word that was uttered by your sex partner the first time he/she had an orgasm with you? (Okay, maybe they don’t ask that question... yet.) Answer enough “security questions” and Time Warner, in a joint venture with Microsoft, will be able to engineer an android who can get on the telephone and convince your own mother that it’s you on the line. (I'm not implying she knows the answer to the sex question.)

What can you do about security questions? Lie, that’s what! I made up a phony name for my first dog. The problem is that, today, when I tried to recover my forgotten password and got the “first dog” question, I’d forgotten the name I made up. Maybe it would have been easier to remember if I had used the same name as my password. Privacy horror show is right!

Sunday, December 05, 2004


Sexy conservatives -- II

I'm still hoping that if I combine my stubborn personal news blackout with a regular viewing of West Wing reruns, I'll be transported into an alternate reality where President Jed Bartlett is slowly but surely rediscovering the liberal principles that made him enter public life in the first place...

It's early in season two, and the Bartlett White House staff has just been joined by Ainsley Hayes, described by her colleagues as "a pretty, leggy blonde." I wouldn't describe her as "leggy," since she's kind of petite, but she's certainly pretty, in a perky, cheerleaderish sort of way that, as the producers understand perfectly, really sizzles when set off by her Harvard Law degree and razor-sharp mind.

She is also a rabid conservative.

Is Ainsley Hayes supposed to suggest Ann Coulter? Or just, more generically, the emergence of young(er), attractive women within the Republican Party?

Whatever -- it raises the question, is Ann Coulter attractive? I found myself asking this question the other day in Barnes and Noble. There she is, Ann Coulter, staring up at me from the remainder table. Is she hot? No, I'm not asking this question because I'm sexist (as in "You don't ask whether Donald Rumsfeld [who's also on the cover of a dispaly book] is hot!"). I'm asking the question it because I am biologically programmed to do so about literally every woman I see. I ask the question, answer it quickly for myself, and move on, just as I would look outside in the morning and ask "is it sunny or cloudy?"

The answer, in Ann Coulter's case -- my answer -- is that she is neither sunny nor cloudy, but rather sort of hazy. (And I don't mean Ainsley Hayes-y.) If I knew nothing about Ann Coulter's politics and the vile words that she is always saying or writing, I guess I might think, "yeah, she is sort of good-looking." But she has offbeat good looks, what would be an interesting or even beautiful flaw in a good person but that leave the door ajar just enough to be crowded out by ugly personality that she allows to come through it.

Donald Rumsfeld (see!) has something similar going on. Again, if you saw him with the sound turned off -- if you knew nothing of his politics or the bile that infuses every word of his -- you'd see a man with the craggy, hollow-cheeked, late-middle-aged-jogger sort of good looks that you might associate with an aging movie star who can still land a part as a romantic lead but who grosses you out when he gets to make out with Scarlett Johanson.

Yet Rummy is a living example of Abraham Lincoln's aphorism, "After 40, you get the face you deserve." (Alternate version: "Every man over 40 is responsible for his face.") He has spent so much time and energy scowling and expressing contempt for those who disagree with him that his face is fixed in a permanent ugly sneer.

Don't spew so much, Ann Coulter, or your face might freeze that way.


The cream of New York

I'm at Veselka, a Ukrainian restaurant in lower Manhattan, Second Ave. at Ninth Street, and the borscht is both sweet and savory with mushroom dumplings added as a Christmas season treat. The peirogi are mouth-watering. The trendy yet spare wall- and floor-boards look, if you squint only slightly and take in the hunched over close-packed diners, dipping thick slices of bread into thick, steaming soups, like you could be in Kiev in 1905 planning the overthrow of the Czar. What a place! I say this with some hesitancy to you, my huge readership, knowing that my glowing review could make it impossible to get a table there for months.

Apparently, it's quite normal here in the Big Apple for the small, lidded metal creamers to be filled with skim milk! You can ask for half-and-half, and they will bring it to you more or less good-naturedly. Is this New York firing a shot across the bows of obesity or heart disease? Was it perhaps included as an obscure rider to the pathbreaking city ordinance barring smoking in restaurants and bars?

Anyhow, I'm at a Seinfeldian Greek diner where I, once again forgetting about the skim milk, automatically pour the thin whitish-bluish wash into my coffee which stubbornly refuses to lighten into a potable creamy brown. I ask for both a fresh black cup of joe and some half and half. They return with a small juice glass filled brimwise with half-and-half. This, too, is apparently now traditional. That's a big money-saver, since I use only a small fraction and they'll have to throw the rest away.

The diner menu shows photographs of what I want to order. They have a photograph of bacon, sunnyside eggs and french toast that looks... well, strangely familiar. I've seen this photo before, and not in a greek diner. The breakfast, while actually quite delicious, looks nothing like the photo. The french toast, made from challah (try ordering that at Denny's!) is not sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the sausage, that fight for recognition from the salty and chewy fare normally offered up by diners with a juicy and subtly spicy flavor, are served on a separate plate, with the eggs, from the frnch toast. The frech toast is arrayed, not as pictured in triangles spread in a partially-overlapping cascade as though for some card trick, but in a geometrical pattern -- a square piece of toast bracketed by two triangular halves, apexes pointing outward. I wonder whether the Greek short order cook would defend this toast array by pointing out that the ancient Greeks invented geometry.

I show the waitress the photograph in the menu, and gesture to my plates. "They don't really look the same," I say.

She points to a sentence in small print at the bottom of the menu. "Actual presentation of meal may vary from photograph."

Friday, December 03, 2004


Cream in my coffee

I'm in New York for the weekend, and anyone who says they live anywhere else has got to be kidding... that or camping out.

NYC is the food capital of the United States of course, but they're also weird about their food here. New York seems to be home of the chain food fad. A ubiquitous local/regional chain of food places will pop up, seemingly overnight, then vanish after a few years, give or take. Remember "Orange Julius"? Or those places that sold "Toffuti"? Ray's Pizza seems to have the title now, and there's also a Starbucks on every block, though I can't see the light at the end of that tunnel.

For some reason -- and I don't know when this started -- New York has become funny about serving you coffee. At places other than Starbucks (which brings its nationwide protocols into the City), they don't put the milk and half-and-half out there for you to add to your own cup of coffee. They insist on doing it for you. What could be the reason for this? It really can't be anything other than thrift, and yet when you order coffee with cream or milk they inevitably add so much that the color of your coffee is a sort of eggshell white.

Today, at an uptown coffee shop that had a nice looking pastry selection, I ordered "rugulach and coffee."

Him: "One regoolah coffee. Anything with that."
Me: "Rugulach."
Him: "Yeah, regulah coffee. You want something to eat?"

After this brief "who's on first routine," I figured out that I had ordered a "regular" coffee and made my pastry order clear by pointing. To cement our budding friendship, I added, "And don't put too much cream in the coffee."
"No, we don't do that," he said, "it's expensive."

Thursday, December 02, 2004


Sexy conservatives?

In “the ‘60s” (circa 1966-1975) it was a complaint among young Republican men that they were encountering difficulty getting laid. To be sexy, and get sex, one had to have at least the trappings of the counterculture, and perhaps some of the political baggage that went along with that.

Arguably, we are still suffering from the sexual disappointments of that generation of young conservatives. Let’s call it “Revenge of the Roves.”

In any event, it seems that part of the conservative political strategy has been to up their sex appeal, another of the many ironies and contradictions of the political party that kowtows to the Religious Right. Perhaps this makes total sense, given the recent survey showing that “Red States Love 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Playboy'.”

Sexy in Cyberspace. It must be sweeps week or something in the blogosphere, because in a related development, rising star blogger Althouse has been cited at the top of two recent surveys, one as the one of the “Best Conservative Blogs” and another as No. 1 of “The Five Sexiest Blogs on the Net.”

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


Bread donuts

How do I know I'm not in New York and that I'm ready to go back for a visit?

I walk into my favorite coffee place wanting, not coffee or a sweet thing to go with coffee, but something savory, but all they have is....
ME: Can I please have one of those, ... (pointing) those bread donuts?
THEM: You mean a bagel.
ME: I know what a bagel is. That, madam, is no bagel.
Don't take me the wrong way, I'm actually quite content to be living not in New York. In fact, I take it as one of my better accomplishments in life that I found somewhere else to live. John Updike once put it, beautifully, something like this, describing "that attittude that all New Yorkers have that anyone who says they live anywhere else must be, in some sense, kidding."

That's from my memory. But with the miracle of Google, I check my quote using the following search: "john updike new york kidding." Sure enough, the first hit is a website called "gawker" that has what purports to be the actual quote:
"The true New Yorker secretly believes that anyone living anywhere else must somehow, in a sense, be kidding."
Okay, I was close enough. One of my favorite authors, Nicholson Baker, in a book called U and I actually does a splendid riff on trying to approximate Updike quotes from memory. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd go downstairs and look it up.

A friend of mine tells a story about dining in New York and somehow revealing to the waiter that he would be staying outside the city, in Westchester or somewhere, and the waiter said, "stay anyplace outside Manhattan and you're just camping out."

I'm actually flying to New York tomorrow. My back is a bit sore, and I will be adhering strictly to my overhead luggage policy. It is a variant of "never eat anything bigger than your head."

My rule is "never carry on luggage that you can't lift over your head."

I always follow this rule, but what makes it more noteworthy is that I apply this policy to others -- specifically, when they ask me, as happens on occasion, to help them manhandle their carry-on baggage into the overhead compartment.

Invariably, the request comes from a fellow passenger with less upper body strength than I have. A pretty young woman who appeals to my flirtatious masculinity, or a person of advancing years who appeals to my humanity. Invariably, the bag is what flight attendants like to call a "rolling luggage cart also known as a 'wheelie.' " It is stuffed to bursting with books, shoes, particularly high-density cosmetics, lead ingots and other items of unusual mass for their size -- in other words, that wheelie is a heavy sucker.

But my view is this. I'm getting to the age where the next time I tweak my back could be the one where I am permanently transformed into the middle-aged guy with the chronic bad back. The airlines provide free baggage handling service, from the time you get to the ticketing window to the time you get to the luggage carrousel, near the exit. Quite convenient, really, and well designed to meet the needs of elderly or frail people with heavy baggage. You can also pay a red cap, who is just trying to earn an honest living, if you need additional help to and from the curb. The only reason these travelers have stuffed a wheelie so heavy with stuff that they can't lift it is to avoid what they believes to be the inconvenience of waiting at the baggage claim area on arrival.

Why I should I risk a life-changing back injury just so this person can bolt out of the airport faster?

No, I won't help you with your damn bag. Welcome to New York.

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