Monday, July 28, 2008

an idea for Newark Liberty Int'l Airport

As I waited to collect a bag at Newark Airport today, it occurred to me that of the New York/New Jersey area's three major airports--Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark--only the one in New Jersey isn't named after someone. Instead, Newark's airport bears the rather banal name of Liberty International.

This got me thinking. New Jersey has produced more than its fair share of great figures, and I see no reason why they should go unremembered when there's a perfectly good airport without a decent name just sitting around. So I began to wonder whose name we ought to give to the airport. The only requirement, I figure, is that the airport ought to be named after someone who's already dead--although San Jose, California, happily named its airport after transport secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who is with us still.

The obvious pick would be Amelia Earhart, who used the field in the 1920s. I'd vote for William Carlos Williams International (so much depends / upon packing liquids and gels / in three ounce bottles / within a plastic Ziplock bag). But I'm sure if there were a binding vote we'd all be flying into and out of Bruce Springsteen International.

Interestingly, the airport's dumb name is, of course, a post-9/11 innovation. I'm surprised they didn't call it Freedom Field.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Deathwatch: Randy Pausch and Estelle Getty

Randy Pausch is, alas, dead at 47. That gives me 6 points and a tie for third place.

Sadly, Estelle Getty too has passed on, albeit at the more advanced age of 84.

As of now, the person in first place has 8 points, the person in second place has 7, and I'm tied with one other on 6 points. (Of course, this assumes that Pausch will make the New York Times obituary page, which I presume he will. He was on Oprah, fer Crissakes.)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Salubrious Place

Isn't this a great name for anything? On Wind Street in Swansea is Salubrious Place, a stucco complex of chain restaurants and a cinema. If I ever open a bar I'll call it Sally's, which I'll helpfully explain to all and sundry is short for Salubrious.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fuck Murky Coffee

Looks like not only The Strand but now Murky Coffee has earned my ire. Today's Washington Post reports that some guy from Brooklyn ordered an iced espresso at Arlington's most obnoxious indie coffee house. The barista apparently refused to oblige the customer, so he had to order a triple espresso and a cup of ice, which the barista didn't want to sell him but grudgingly did.

I have the same problem ordering iced tea anywhere in the UK outside of London. At Starbucks across the North I have to order a large tea and a cup of ice, and the tea never cools properly because I'm never given enough ice. It's annoying. Still, I put up with it because iced tea isn't particularly popular in Britain--although sweet, canned iced teas are becoming increasingly popular. In the US, however, where even Charles Dickens noticed 160 years ago that the natives love nothing more than ice in their beverages, this behavior is unpardonable. It's so disgustingly hot in most of North America that we ought to be able to order pretty much anything on ice.

So I agree with the aggrieved customer, who posted this rant against Murky and their holier-than-thou baristas. Really now, if people want to order fancy coffees in a coffee house and then dump them over ice--even if this degrades the quality of the coffee--they should be free to do so. As for Murky, the place reeks of pretension, and I wouldn't recommend that anyone go there. There are a couple of Caribous in Arlington, and they'll do. Unlike most folks, I don't adore independent book stores, coffee houses, record shops, and so on simply because they're independent; I only go to independent shops if I like them. And now I have another reason to dislike Murky.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

pre-order your copy today

The handsome image here presented is the cover of Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages, a volume in which I have a chapter about Middle Welsh literature. At $79.95, I can't say that I recommend that all my friends and well-wishers pre-order copies today, but it's my very first publication, and I think that's cool.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fuck the Strand

It's not exactly news that New York is full of overrated retail establishments. Everyone has a favorite "only in New York" store that really purveys something you can find in your own place of residence or online. I've heard out-of-towners wax poetic about vegan food, chess sets, jewelry, you name it. All of these things, of course, are best in New York, always at one particular place.

When it comes to books, people who don't know any better crow on about The Strand and its eighteen miles of books. The Strand has done what many successful independent retailers have done: market itself like mad to the point at which it's a corporate entity like any other. I see idiots on the street with Strand bags all the time. Look at me, these bags, almost certainly made in China, announce: I eschew the faceless corporate monsters that are Barnes and Noble and Borders in favor of this kinder, gentler independent bookstore! And I have a Strand tote bag, pint glass, hoodie, and frisbee, and I bought my obnoxious cooler-than-thou baby a Strand bib so that he'll be the talk of Williamsburg. These purchases reflect my lifestyle! Needless to say, such people should be gassed.

All of this might be tolerable if The Strand were actually a good book store. And it is if you want a hardcover copy of a mainstream novel. Need a copy of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana? They have four. Fancy dipping into one of William F. Buckley's literary efforts? They have a shelf. Want a hardcover copy of DeLillo's Underworld? They go for $9--twice as much as I paid for the same book, shipping included, on the Amazon marketplace.

But if you'd like to buy a copy of one of John Crowley's masterful Ægypt novels, you're out of luck. They do have a few copies of Endless Things, the fourth book in the cycle, but that's only because it came out late last year. The first three novels in the series, which have recently been reissued in paperback, are nowhere to be found at The Strand. Of the ten Crowley titles on The Strand's web site they're out of half. Some highbrow book store.

But if you ask any self-proclaimed bohemian literatus in the Village where to go for hard-to-find books, he'll point at the logo on his T-shirt and send you to The Strand, a mecca of all things conventional and corporate.

This is, of course, a great way to make a shitload of money: trade on your brand name to sell off lousy books at inflated prices. That the store is cramped, mobbed, and difficult to get around seems not to matter.

But the most objectionable facet of The Strand's miserable existence is its supreme hubris. The place considers itself an institution, and the utter contempt its employees have for people who buy and sell books is palpable. Case in point: the guy who owned the place during its early years was dead-set against installing air-conditioning in the building, so those who entered the premises suffered until the guy died. And why not? It's The Strand--everyone the world over has heard about it, and you're lucky to get to shop there.

Clearly today the employees were in a throwback kind of mood, because they made all of us who were selling books wait outside, on the sidewalk in the midday sun as they went about their business in the indoor air-conditiong. It's 85 Fahrenheit in New York today, and I took the experience as a big Fuck you! from The Strand--hardly the first time this sentiment has been expressed by the place. According to them, of course, I should have been beside myself with glee that I was being allowed to befoul their book counter with my presence.

So to The Strand I say this: you're a lousy book store staffed by a bunch of nasty poseurs. No one ought to shop at your Wal-Mart of Stephen King overstocks, and I'm never going to sell you any books again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Run, Jesse, run!

The only honest politician in America is making noises about again seeking public office! Jesse "the Body" Ventura, my political idol and the first politician to whom I ever donated money, may enter the US Senate race in Minnesota.

Run, Jesse, run! Speak truth to power! I have another fifteen bucks I'm willing to throw towards any new campaign you may care to launch!

Monday, May 26, 2008

don't mess with Skippy

The above photograph was taken by my father about thirty seconds before this kangaroo bit him. I forget if my father took this snapshot in 1991 or 1997, but I'm sure that he had the bite coming to him. Don't mess with kangaroos, that's always been one of my life mottoes. But you can't tell my dad anything, and he was bitten for his insolence.

Like my earlier post that included a photograph of me outside a teepee, this photograph appears on the internet courtesy of my new scanner. I'll post further old photos as they surface.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

My First Time (the show)

There great thing about New York, commented an esteemed Columbia professor once, is that there's so much theater not to go to.

Sure enough, I almost never venture down to the Great White Way to see a show. But this is not to say that I don't occasionally. Last night I attended a showing of My First Time, an off-Broadway show about the various ways in which people the world over rid themselves of their virginity. Like any reality TV show, My First Time does not require writers. The script, such as it is, was culled from thousands of posts to a ten-year-old web site that invited people to share their own deflowering stories. To add to the "interactive" nature of the show, audience members are invited to fill in questionnaires about their first times, the statistics of which are flashed on the back wall of the theater from time to time. I filled one in; I wonder if I'm now a member of the Writers' Guild.

My First Time's typical narrative involves confusion, occasional bafflement, embarrassment on both sides, and is generally over in two or three minutes. Many people lost it on Valentine's Day. Basements are popular. Lots of folks were drunk and stoned. Nothing new here.

Only two of the virgin stories stand out in my memory, neither for any erotic value. One was the sad tale of a young woman who was raped and then blamed by her mother for leading her rapist on by going with him to a cheap hotel. The other was narrated by a woman who recounted her younger brother's battle with bone cancer. On a six-hour drive to a medical facility at which her brother would undergo a bone marrow transplant she and her brother were reclined on a mattress that their parents had installed in the back of their station wagon to make the trip easier on him. During a heart-t0-heart the younger brother confessed to his sister, who was four years older, that he didn't want to die a virgin. His sister took pity on him and let him fuck her in the back of the station wagon on the last leg of the drive. He died not long after his transplant. At this point the actress who was channeling the older sister began to convulse in tears, screaming that she didn't want to address the matter of incest, that she'd had pity on a dying man.

So, for all the cute and rather juvenile sex-talk on offer in My First Time, I was vastly more moved by the tragic than the sophomoric. Yes, most men don't last too long when they're fifteen. Coca-Cola is not an effective douche. Teenagers are curious about their bodies. Whatever. None of this is news. Had the show reenacted some of the scenes that were described I might have shown more interest. As it happened, I was more titillated by my subsequent dinner at my favorite Burmese restaurant than by My First Time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Deathwatch: Robert Mondavi

Robert Mondavi has died at the age of 94. No one had him on the list.

I can't help but be exasperated about my performance this year. I read just now that Randy Pausch put in an appearance at Carnegie-Mellon's commencement ceremony, and yesterday I read in the Politico that Elizabeth Edwards remains hale and hearty. And don't even get me started about Louis Farrakhan, Andy Rooney, F. W. de Clerk, Judge Wapner, George Steinbrenner, Ronnie Biggs, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and Oral Roberts. 2008 is clearly not my year to profit from the passing of the rich and famous.

Ah well. There's always political betting.