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december 31, 2003


So the Powers That Be are inaugurating yet another "New Year". It's very weird. I mean, they do it all the time, don't they. Must be an annual thing because it happens every January 1st. I think it's just someone with nothing to do deciding that we have to start all over again. Why bother, I ask you? What was wrong with the year we already had? If it ain't broke don't fix it, I always say.
But oh no, Mister In-With-The-New-And-Out-With-The-Old says we now have to work with Version 2004.0, and so Version 2004.0 it has to be. But if you complain they just fob you off with a glass of champagne and some ridiculous "countdown" chant.
For The Sake Of Auld Lang Syne? More like For The Sake Of The Same Auld Pain In The Ass, if you ask me.
And I will have to buy a new desk calendar and a new diary and all that crap too.
stephenb 13:49 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 30, 2003
A Touch of Bathos

Gingerly, taking care not to disturb the sleeping porcelain ballerina behind whom it stands, once more I drew the gleaming snow globe of old Byzantium from its place on the mantelpiece, shaking the fragile ornament with both my hands and bending an ear close to it as one might with a conch shell, hoping, perhaps, to hear the secret whispers of old empires or the clash of ancient battles, then I bowed low, sweeping my hand forward extravagantly with the snow globe still flurrying in my open palm, as if presenting some valuable trinket to the Queen of Spain. But my niece didn't care for it. Never has. I bought it for her too. Ungrateful cow.

stephenb 15:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
Hey you, Old Father Time, put that child down this instant!
The Year in Review

The pale, icily feminine Spirit of Late December, wandering through the Hall of Closed And Opened Doors in her widow's weeds, once more the brood mare for the New Year, searching for the heavy, oaken-staved and iron-bolted door marked "2004... All deliveries must be taken to the receiving dock. No exceptions."
Both Janus' faces glance at his double-faced watch, glance again, and then double check again. Soon. Soon it will be time.
Meanwhile, since everyone else is doing it, I am going to list my Favorite Things of 2003. So here they are:

1. Best Book of 2003: This would have to be Daydream Believer, a wonderful memoir by the Daily Telegraph obits editor, Hugh Massingberd. Strictly speaking, it isn't really a 2003 book, but since it hasn't even been published in the USA yet (shame), it will count for me because I had to order it from the UK, etc. Very funny and frank, and wise. Great chapter about Anthony Powell.

2. Best Film of 2003: Would have to be David Cronenberg's Spider featuring Ralph Fiennes and the lovely Miranda Richardson. This, I think, is how films should be made. Again, it was only released in the US in 2003, but was made earlier, or so I am told by someone who reads too many film magazines. At least, I didn't see it in a Boston cinema until 2003.

3. Best Music of 2003: Oh come on. What do you take me for? There wasn't any good music in 2003, obviously.

4. Best Painting of 2003: Portrait of my goldfish, Il Duce, painted by me in a Vorticist style with flashes of Paul Nash type whimsy.

5. Best Dance of 2003: I'm afraid I don't watch much dance, so I can't help you out here. Although, I must say, I reckon I myself stepped particularly elegantly in the ballrooms of the Christmas parties I attended. After I had downed a few drinks, naturally.

6. Best Blog of 2003: Alas, modesty forbids my naming it.
stephenb 09:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 29, 2003
Centaurs With Flaming Torches Cantering Beside A Frozen Sea ...Even The Formal Measure Of The Seasons Seemed Suspended In Wintry Silence, etc

Gosh. It took me so long to type out that title that I've forgotten what I was going to say. Something about a pale, raven-haired Ice Queen with ruby lips and emerald eyes, nude except for a billowing ermine cloak, parading around the house with two snow leopards on a diamond encrusted leash. Something about that. Although what that has to do with Monday afternoon has completely escaped me.
stephenb 18:06 - [Link] - Comments ()
After Eight Mints

In these days of abundance and plenty (and let's not forget basic greed) I devour a box of After Eight Mints every week, but when I were a lad these minty chocolate squares were a very rare treat indeed. They were as scarce in my parent's household as rationed beef must have been in wartime Britain - and as thinly sliced, although obviously this slim sizing had more to do with the whim of the confectioner rather than my parent's frugality. Anyway, my parents only bought one box per year, and this was at Christmas time, and that single box would have to last us until the Yuletide Festivities had been terminated, at which point the empty box would be tossed in the garbage and not replaced until the following Christmas. Consequently, during the early years of my life I always associated After Eight Mints with Santa Claus, since they both came only once a year. Later, during one particularly despondent Christmas, I came to the simultaneous decision that both were ficticious. This cessation of belief in both Santa Claus and After Eights was occasioned by the simple coincidence that my parents stopped buying their annual box at exactly the same time that I was informed that only cissy half-wits believed in the jolly bearded fellow with the sack of toys. So both ceased to exist for me at the same time, becoming merely the stuff of myth, legend and childish rumor, laughable fantasies with which to tease my younger sister. It was not until I was old enough to do my own grocery shopping that I discovered my error with regard to the After Eights: not only did they actually exist in great numbers on the supermarket shelves, but they were also available year round!
Trivia Note:
The reason why my parents ceased to buy their yearly box of After Eights is lost in the chocolate covered mists of time, but I imagine it had something to do with my father being presented with a crate of Terry's Chocolate Oranges, after which there was no looking back for him, and this faux fruit candy remains a firm favorite of his to this very day.
Content of This Narrative Note:
Evelyn Waugh said that a good writer should be capable of writing about absolutely anything. To test my own talents, I chose After Eight Mints as a fairly banal subject.
Eating Too Many After Eight Mints Note:
I think I'm going to be sick.

stephenb 15:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Unbearable Flightness of Boeing

The flying Wright brothers have been celebrating an anniversary, but could they, as they blew out the candles on the cake of their achievement, believe that aeronautics would come to such a pretty passport as that suffered by modern day pilots and passengers?
Personally, I think it would be more comfortable to travel to my destination via human catapult than by boarding any commercial airline service. Surely Dante's spirit must severely rue the fact that he died before the invention of the airport, and consequently could not include the departure gate amongst his circles of Hell. You can well imagine Boston's Logan Airport having "Abandon Hope All Who Enter Here" writ o'er the entrance to Terminal B, but the fact is, the torments of the damned begin even before you get there - they start in the parking lot.
But the person I feel really sorry for, the person who is much less fortunate than myself every Christmas, is the forlorn airline employee stationed at the departure gate as passengers congregate around the gate waiting for their flight to commence boarding, for the airline employee must stand there patiently wincing and listen to the boring pronouncements of the passenger who believes himself to be The Aviation Expert.
This self-proclaimed Aviation Expert will usually be attired in sweat pants tucked inside his socks, a garish 'Miami Beach' tee-shirt, and strange clog look-a-like shoes. He (for the animal is exlusively male) will normally be traveling from a midwestern state to Florida via Atlanta, and will engage the airline employee in all manner of conversation on aviation themes than neither he nor they really know anything about: "What did you think of the old DC-3's?" he will ask the teenage airline employee. "Don't make 'em like they used too, eh."
But without doubt, the baggage carousel at the arrivals gate is the most despair-ridden experience of all. Last year I wrote the following after US Airways managed to lose my bag somwhere between Washington and Boston:
Logan International Airport is a fun-filled Disneyland for the adult traveler, particularly Terminal B, which has a tremendous carnival atmosphere. The lines for the rides are extremely long and you may never actually get on the ride of your choice, but the seemingly endless wait is absolutely worth it. A true rollercoater ride of despair and anxiety. For sheer spine-chilling thrills, nothing beats Logan Airport Mardi Gras.
There is a Bearded Lady behind the check-in counter, and the World's Smallest Man collects tickets at the gate until the Boy with the Monkey Face comes and tells you the gate number and time of departure have been changed. What is the new time of departure? Why not ask Mystic Meg in the fortune telling tent - because nobody else knows. Meanwhile, the rest of the freak show cavorts gaily around you as you stand in line for hours and hours.
Best of all, the baggage carousel is exactly like a real fairground carousel: your suitcases arrive desperately clinging to a rickety pole stuck in the back of a plastic dolphin weaving up and down in a whirl of colored flashing lights and barrel organ music, and they just keep going around and around forever and ever. It would be nice if the airport authorities provided one of those tobacco-chewing, multi-tattooed, greasy assistants to make sure all the bags have a good time and none of them falls of. But that would probably be asking too much.
Actually, they lost my bag. I haven't see it for days. Perhaps it has run off to join the circus. Who knows? I don't.
stephenb 09:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 23, 2003
The Last Word Until After Christmas

Unfortunately, my past life regression therapy has not been a great success.
After I had lain down upon his couch, my therapist pressed the record button on his tape deck and put me under deep hypnosis, taking me back and further back into the murky depths of my previous existences, the aural memories of which were recorded on the spinning spools of magnetic tape.
When I awoke, my therapist had assumed a rather red-faced and pained expression, coughing a great deal, as if reluctant to speak due to some serious embarrassment or other.
Eventually, despite his protestations and offer to refund my money, I persuaded him to play the tape back to me.
Alas, instead of the elegant recollections of a rich Comte's life in eighteenth century Paris that I had been expecting, all I could hear were confused roars, belches, whinnies, and a sort of distorted grunting echo. Rather than recalled memories of victorious duels fought, delicate and secret seductions, and other forms of devil-may-care court revelry at the Palace of Versailles, my past lives all sounded very much like feeding time at the zoo.
"I think this is your first human incarnation." The therapist said. "For all these sounds are made by animals. I'm not sure what breeds exactly, but I think I could definitely make out a wildebeest, a wild pig, and a donkey. Perhaps you can draw some conclusions from these sounds yourself. I, I am afraid, cannot."
"There is still a little piece of tape left we haven't heard." I told him, pointing towards the tape deck.
He sighed and pressed play. There was a slight hiss, and then a loud squawk followed by what were distinctly words. Excitedly, I bent my ear closer to the tape machine, trying to catch whatever sentences I possibly could. Who knew what enlightening secrets even a few garbled words might reveal!
"Pretty polly." the tape deck said. "Polly want a cracker."
The therapist coughed again. "I forgot to tell you about the parrot." he said.

stephenb 12:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
Thoughts For The Day

I would like to preface today's journal entry with a quote from Gottfried von Liebnitz, but alas, I don't know any.
Nevermind, eh. Don't think we're missing very much.
Meanwhile, I read through the whole of Wittgenstein last night: absolutely nothing there!
Not too sure about this Bible business, either: "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God." Yet it never tells us how the word should be inflected. Surely this lack of direction is at the root of all the world's problems. Such things make a big difference to little people.
And those, in brief, are my thoughts for the day. Although, perhaps I might also think about something else later on. I don't know, really. It's up to my brain, I suppose; hard to tell what will happen there; one moment it's alert, the next it's dormant, rather like a volcano in that respect, except I don't get all that burning lava cascading down my forehead. Perhaps after I've had a nice lie down I will have some more thoughts for the day.
Meanwhile, I shall leave you with a thought for tomorrow, and it is this: I won't be here.
That's right. I won't be here. Nor the next day. Nor the day after that. In fact, I imagine I will not return until Sunday night ... off to the wilderness, don't you know. Fur trapping and stuff.
So have a happy holiday while I'm gone and I will see you again on Monday morning. Au revoir.
stephenb 11:58 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 22, 2003
Wither Humor?

Wither humor? And, yes, it has withered: that is an old joke. Nevertheless, as we stand on the threshold of 2004, red nose afixed to face, we must ask ourselves this tiresome question.
In this day and age of the grinning moron, you can be sure that anything that announces itself as being funny most definitely will not be funny. In fact, it will probably attack you like a particularly demented and homicidal clown, grabbing you around the neck and shaking you, screaming maniacally, "laugh at me! laugh at me!"
If there is one thing that modern humor loves more than anything else, it is the cardinal sin of laughing at its own jokes. Modern humor must do this because it knows that, in the absence of anything funny having been done or said, laughing at its own jokes is the only way of assuring its audience that a joke has been made; and consequently, modern humor is forced to initiate its own laugh track like an especially crazed hyena.
For the record, the stephenhead is not supposed to be funny. It is facetious.

stephenb 14:22 - [Link] - Comments ()
Christmas Songs

How many times have you heard that popular song Do They Know It's Christmas by the British collective rock group Band Aid this year? Far too many, I'll be bound. However, did you know that the lyrics are actually based on a poem of similar theme by the Romantic Poets Collective, composed many, many Christmases ago?
The words go like this:

Provide ye abundant seasonal repast for the starv'd Afrique
Bereft within his wheat withered and barren sphere.
Enlighten his darkling soul that the Yuletide hour hath struck
Charioted by sleigh-borne Santa and his hornéd horde.
(spoken section)
"Hi. This is Percy Bysshe Shelley and I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to everyone out there, and that there will be no snow in Africa this year There isn't much normally, but I am told that there will be even less this year. Feed the world. Right on, brother. Yeah."
"Hi. This is Lord Byron. You know, at Christmas not everybody gets the chance to chase the maid around the fireplace with a sprig of mistletoe, especially if they are in Africa."
"Hi. This is John Keats. Give them some oats and porridge because they aint got none. Merry Christmas, Fanny."
(chorus reprise)
Provide ye abundant seasonal repast for the starv'd Afrique
Bereft within his wheat withered...etc.

stephenb 12:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Three Kings: A Frank Reappraisal

I mean, what sort of MANIAC would ride unprotected across the desert and then dismount and stroll into a lowly cattle shed with an armful of gold? It's a wonder that particular King wasn't mugged on the journey! Would have served him right!
This is why I believe, and many Biblical scholars will dispute this, that the gold was a gift from all three of the Kings, and that the frankincense and myrhh were merely ingredients of a primitive form of mace which the three Kings carried to protect themselves against robbers and bandits. Once they had deposited the gold with the holy family, they also left the F&M in the lowly cattle shed, since they did not require it anymore and the holy family, armed only with a shepherds crook to defend themselves against gold thieves, obviously did.
And another thing. After the three Kings had presented their gifts, why did they leave the holy family stranded in the lowly cattle shed with no crib for a bed? Surely it would have been a simple matter for three Kings using their combined influence to find the baby Jesus and his parents a room somewhere. There may have been no room at the Inn, but I am sure the Bethlehem Ritz or a similar establishment could have found a nice little suite if the three Kings had pulled their weight on that starry night. The Three Kings of Orient, indeed! The Three Washouts of Disappointment, more like.
stephenb 12:02 - [Link] - Comments ()
Balloon, Mein Herr?

I remember Pottery Barn before the Christmas season with its normal music and easy charm. But everything changes from mid-December onwards when you venture forth upon your Christmas shopping expeditions, for there is always a Third Man who walks beside you.
The First Man is the "you" who sits at home conjuring happy hearth-lit, dreamy images of all the splendidly wrapped magnificant gifts you will purchase for your friends and family, and how elated they will be opening up these gifts on christmas morning.
The Second Man is the "you" who actually wanders around the shopping Mall in an empty-headed and empty-handed daze, wracked with frustration, unable to discover anything worth buying for anyone.
The Third Man is the desperate, maniacal, Mr Hyde "you", who suddenly usurps your normal personality and in the space of five minutes has spent eighty dollars on peach melba scented candles, sixty dollars on three pairs of bright green Alpine mountaineering socks, and forty dollars on Captain Armpit's Bay Rum Spiced After Shave Balm.
Who in their right minds would buy these things? Who in their right minds would want them?
stephenb 10:28 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 21, 2003
What I Am Currently Exhibiting At The Whitney

Let me speak frankly, I am a conceptualist; or, to be even more frank (for that is what conceptualism is all about), I am what critic Stilton Creamer has rightly called "A Conceptualist By Numbers," meaning that I designate certain numbers to my ideas and then color them in with my ingenious notions. Perhaps we can go a step further and refer to me as a "Post Conceptualist By Numbers Philistine Avenger." But I don't know, for sure. It is not for me to say. I leave that sort of thing to ArtForum. They know best.
Anyway.... MY WORK!!!! And, more importantly, where can you buy the tee-shirt of my work. But first things first, let me describe the work of mine that is currently on display at the Whitney, and soon to travel to Tate Modern.
My work is based on the belief that the only way of knowing if a painting is any good is if the eyes follow you around the room. However, my work, which is an exact replica of The Laughing Cavalier, reverses this formula because it is attached by its frame to a monorail which runs around the walls of the gallery at great speed, meaning that the eyes of the viewer must follow the painting around the room instead.
This means no more art lovers creeping around the room looking over their shoulders to see it the portrait's eyes are still staring at them. Now they must repeatedly spin themselves around on the spot as the picture whizzes past.
Why should the pompous viewer feel the need to judge the quality of a painting, anyway? It seems unfair on the painting, especially if the painting isn't very good through no fault of its own because the artist wasn't very talented. So why not judge the viewer instead? This is my concept. Hopefullly, the viewer will become extremely dizzy and nauseous as his or her eyes follow the painting around the room, and this is how we can judge whether the viewer is any good. The sicker he becomes, the greater the time and effort he has put into looking at the painting.
stephenb 13:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 19, 2003
Mark Steyn
Admirers of the work of Mark Steyn will be well aware that the tousled haired sage writes more articles per week than the current Pope does beatification certificates. And that is a lot of writing!
Myself, I have been a rabid Steyn fan since day one, from way back when he was merely a lowly cub reporter on the Annual Steyn Family Newsletter. Even then his writing was highly controversial. I used to pore over and then cut out and paste in my scrapbook early articles such as the notorious Why My Mother Is Wrong To Make Me Eat Spinach, and the influential How Increasing My Allowance Will Boost The Household Economy
Of course, connoisseurs of the history of printed word know that the Steyn name has been associated with commanding and important prose since before the dawn of recorded time. In the tenth century, for example, we find the work of The Monk Steyn, who could illuminate at least twenty manuscripts in a single afternoon, most of them highly critical of Viking theater, and who was known to his contemporaries as the "One Man Flat Earth Content Provider".
Later, we discover an ungrateful William Caxton complaining to his diary, "Master Steyn hath been skulking my new printing press all day again. He doth feed it broadsheet after broadsheet sheet of his political pamphlets so that the machine doth creak and moan and shudder under the very weight of Steyn's colossal harvest of words. Indeed, I hath though of a new term to describe the man, he is the very idea of a Printers Devil and I his Foolscap!."
And, famously, there is the Elizabethan tract written by Earl Steyn of New Hampshire, "The Queen Must Break Wind in the Face of The Spanish Ambassador or Submit England to Ruinous Papish Rule."
Also, that endearing remark of Samuel Johnson's, "Sir, if my Lord Steyn were overseer during the building of the Tower of Babel, they would still be building it!"
And finally, who can forget the first appearance of the Steyn clan in North America, especially the post-Civil War theater criticism of Marcus Steyn, "Fortunately, Mr. Lincoln was shot dead half way through the performance, relieving that great man from the terrible chore of having to sit through the rest of it."
Let us hope this literary family continue their prodigious output well into the twenty-second century and beyond, for once humanity has conquered the galaxy of infinite space, there will be a great need for even more Steyn news and review content because all those extra planets must be provided for!

stephenb 09:28 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 18, 2003
Tyranny of the Bookstore Clerk

My local bookstore is currently promoting a sale on art books. This morning, as I perused the rather meagre selection, my eye chanced upon a heavily reduced tome named An Illustrated History of Erotic Art. Flicking through the pages - pictures of everything from the Ancient Japanese Art of Love to modern, vivid fleshly abstracts - and after debating with myself over the sale price sticker, I decided that the An Illustrated History of Erotic Art would look extremely well nonchalantly slung across my coffee table.
Advancing with the book towards the sales clerk, a dour looking woman of Presbyterian aspect, I realized that if I purchased only that book, she would undoubtedly think me a shady pervert. So I turned about and went back to the shelves searching for another, less salacious book with which to offset the smuttiness of my first choice.
Fortunately, the bookstore also had for sale a collection of paintings by Wyndham Lewis - I like a bit of Vorticism every now and then - in an appealingly cheap paperback cover. So, with the two books wedged under my arm, I advanced once more towards the sales clerk. But, I suddenly thought, if I buy just these two she will think I am a pervert and a Nazi.
Needless to say, I returned to the shelves once again. The children's section, I decided, I can't go wrong there. Consequently a picture book version of The Wind in the Willows was added to my growing pile of imminent purchases.
And then it struck me: if I bought those three books, the sales clerk would no doubt assume that I suffered from arrested development which is why I was obviously such a Nazi pervert. Damn.
However, luckily this was Christmas season, and so, as I wavered with my books in the Travel aisle, a neat way of circumventing my problem presented itself to me.
Gripping my books firmly by the spine for all to see, I strode confidently up to the checkout desk and said to the sales clerk in a loud, clear voice, "Excuse me, miss, but do you offer gift wrap service here?"

stephenb 12:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 17, 2003
Humor Versus History

Humor can often shine interesting lights on those mundane truths obscured and unnoticed beneath the furore of grand and epic historical fact.
For example, Robert Benchley once wrote a piece, the title of which momentarily escapes me, about a rare section of the Bayeaux Tapestry he had seen depicting the Norman invaders sailing home for Christmas that first December after their conquest of Britain in 1066 and all that. I, for one, would certainly have gone back to Normandy for the holidays; spending my leave parading around the fire singing seasonal chansons rather than burning Saxon villages and putting Thanes to the sword. And so I am sure many homesick and sentimental Normans must have this trip at the time, although from history books you would think the Normans exclusively spent their time fighting the Battle of Hastings, compiling the Domesday Book, and establishing Frenchified customs and monarchy.
Anyway, the moral of this post is, obviously: read more humor and less history if you really want to know the truth. It is out there, and it's funny.

stephenb 12:51 - [Link] - Comments ()

I often wonder what people think when they read this blog: some come and go like hits in the night, others return often for reasons known only to themselves. Consequently, in order to serve you bettter, I have devised the following short questionaire:

1. I am reading the Stephenhead because:

a) I have nothing better to do with my time.

b) It is better than the "Shouts and Murmurs" section of the New Yorker

c) Google gave me a bum steer

d) I followed a link from the New Criterion web site and I am now extremely bemused.

2. Please finish one of these sentences

a) What I like about the Stephenhead is ...

b) What I dislike about the Stephenhead is ...

Please email your answers to to me

stephenb 10:15 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Stephenhead Shortened History of World War Two.

In this age of the spin dryer, popular wartime sentiments such as "We're going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried line" perhaps sound strange to modern ears. Yet, in the dark days of World War Two when all hands were often literally to the pumps, industrial production was concentrated upon the manufacture of bombs and tanks rather than the maintenance of laundry facilities. And, despite rumors of Nazi scientists working on designs for a new Quadruple Loader Washing Machine known as 'Das Durtkrieg', the idea of mechanized laundry seems to have remained a pipe dream of overworked Soldier Valets and Adjutants. Indeed, the files of Britain's Mass Observation are full of entries similar to the following, penned by Mrs Doris Landgirl of Putney: "Went out into the yard and rolled Auntie Mabel's sopping wet stockings through the mangle. Kitchen smelled like carbolic for the rest of the day." Fortunately for those on the home front like Mrs Landgirl, laundry detergent was never rationed. Women would often send small packets of the specially made Victory Detergent to their husbands in the Burma and Singapore theaters, where sweat and greasy food stains were particularly difficult to remove.
The Battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in the war, for it was in this frozen, bleached hell that fabric softener was introduced for the first time in combat. Russian military uniforms were constructed of notoriously rough material, and plucky Ivan would scrub his tunic ...

To read the rest of this history of WW2, please send an SAE to:
Professor Stephenhead Ambrose
Department of Comparative Narrative History
The University of Unanswered Correspondence Course.
Boston. MA 02116
United States.

stephenb 09:45 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 16, 2003
A Christmas Scene
dedicated to Enoch Soames

Behold Mooch van Gobbledeguque, the ghoulish Flemish old master with withered skin stretched like much-over-painted canvas across an easel of brittle bones, wrapped in rancid rags against bitter December cold. Observe how Mooch van Gobbledeguque scrapes his rusting blade across a splattered palette of murky colors and slashes a streak of brownish green across his masterpiece, Santa Claus Decides Which Children Shall Not Get Presents This Christmas: dark, grim portraiture in the manner of Schalken the Painter.
Then witness how the creaking door to Mooch van Gobbledeguque's studio sweeps open and in staggers Durtee Dirke Dicke, the snaggle toothed, consumptive art critic of the Neue Nuudiste Gazetteroon, bearing with his etiolated person a cracked bottle of prune schnapps and bone-chilling gusts of frigid air. See how Durtee Dirke Dicke collapses in a rickety broken chair, waves his cracked bottle at Mooch van Gobbledeguque, and sings:
"Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open hearse,
Over the fields we go, weeping all the worse.
Bells for Dirke Dicke toll, making spirits low,
Oh what dread it is to die, it's off to Hell we go."
Now watch as Durtee Dirke Dicke disappears in a flash of smoke.

stephenb 14:20 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Phantom Suitor
A Christmas Ghost Story Just For You

I was clanking my chains around the Christmas party punch bowl, trying to project a little ectoplasm into Dora's glass when the fat woman saw me. She screamed and dropped her Egg Nog. Pointing a trembling finger in my direction she sank to the floor babbling on and on about what she had seen. Typical. We ghosts have a saying: "It's only the people you don't want to see you who actually see you. The people you want to see you never do." How very true that is, I mean, why would I want to get in touch with the fat woman? I had no important messages from the Other Side to impart to her, and it is not as if we have anything in common: she is very substantial and I am not. It was pale and thin Dora I wanted to communicate with. She is much more my type, although apparently about as psychic as a bag of cement.
The other guests had gathered around the fat woman and Dora went to fetch a glass of water for her, striding right through me on her way to the kitchen. I tried to catch Dora's eye as she rushed by, no easy thing because our heads are on different levels. Mine is tucked under my armpit and hers is in the normal place.
Of course, nobody believed the fat woman's story. They slowly drifted away from her in smaller, whispering groups. Someone said she was drunk. Too much rich food, somebody else explained. Chocolate fondue makes her go all wobbly and she starts dribbling down her chin, they all agreed.
Dora was wonderful with her. She is very good at dealing with the living, not so good with the dead. Probably gets nervous around people she doesn't believe in.
Dora and I had met, if you can call it that, twice before. The first time, indirectly, when I was acting as Spirit Guide at a séance she was attending at her mother's instigation. They were trying to contact the spirit of Dora's Uncle George. Why they would wish to undertake such a course of action, I cannot imagine: Uncle George is a restless spirit in more ways than one, and gets on my nerves with his annoying fidgety behavior. However, Dora was very different and I knew instantly she was the girl for me. Unfortunately, the medium came out of her trance before I got a chance to put my best pick up lines across, and all I had a chance to say was the usual banal and meaningless stuff: "Your Uncle George is very happy with us on the Other Side" ...which may have been true, but as I said before, we on the Other Side were not very happy with Uncle George, farting and belching his way around the astral plane like some kind of disembodied Frat Boy.
The second time we met, Dora was part of a group experimenting with one of those Ouija boards. I had just managed to spell out "SWM. Deceased with GSH seeks" with the planchette when this know-it-all lesbian interrupted, saying a "malevolent spirit has entered the circle" and I couldn't finish my sentence. Then they started playing Monopoly instead.
Obviously, both meeting were what you might call unsuccessful. Consequently, the appearance of Dora at the Christmas party was an opportunity not to be missed.
Fortunately, in possession of special knowledge, as it were, I knew that Dora would be at the party and so had spent the previous week practicing my seduction techniques: "Hi Dora, remember me? I was the cold damp spot on the floor at the séance last week. You know, if you were dead too, we could make beautiful chain clanking noises together. You'd look great in spectral white and we could walk through walls arm in arm. So what do you say ...your tomb or mine."
Alas, I suffer from lack of confidence, much as I did in life. I have phantom neurosis and find it very difficult to believe in myself, so never think others will believe in me either. Of course, convincing arguments can be made for the survival of the spirit after death: an impression in the fabric of time, for example; or a sort of Monet-ish dab in the ether. That seems reasonable enough. But, according to the fat woman, when she saw me I was dressed in some sort of Edwardian shooting outfit, which, however plausible, doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it. Of course, Tweed is famously very durable, but it is hard to believe it lasts beyond the grave, however excellent the tailoring might be. And how do you explain phantom shoes? Are they are doomed to stalk the Earth forever searching for the shoe trees that abandoned them in life. It seems unlikely.
However, summoning all my courage, I picked up a sprig of mistletoe and drifted over to where Dora still leant over the fat woman, "Dora, Dora, Dora." I whispered, breathing my ectoplasm in her lovely ear.
"Ugggh. I think Agnes is being sick." Dora cried.

stephenb 11:59 - [Link] - Comments ()
That Time of the Month

And what of that ravenous, razor sharp envelope that leaps with spine chilling, blood curdling cries from your mailbox with its gut wrenching demands for payment every month?
For some reason they call this envelope "Bill". Surely it has been mis-named. Bill is such a friendly, homely, feet up by the fire type of name; a "hail fellow well met!" kind of name; a "we'll sup a cup o' kindness here." sort of name. The envelope to which I refer is none of these things. It is a terrible, bloodthirsty Tyrant, and should be named after its own kind. For example:
The Phone Hitler
The Electric Stalin
The Gas Vlad the Impaler
Such a naming system would also make household conversations extremely colorful: "We've got to pay the Cable Genghis Kahn by next week or they are going to behead our account."
You get the picture...

stephenb 09:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 15, 2003
Kafka: The Complete Nursery Rhymes

Well, when I say "complete", I mean the ones I have done so far.

Number One
Kafka, Kafka famous hereafter
How does your literature grow
With parables of the law and hunger artists
And Josef Ks all in a row

Number Two
Franz, Franz, the Kafka's son
Wrote a letter to his Father
And away did run
The letter was read
When Franz was dead
And Franz's writings went to everybody's head.

Number Three
Little Franz Kafka
Sat in the rafters
Writing about Joseph K.
He stuck in an insect
And pulled out the Czech*
And said "What a good story have I!"

*Although Czechoslovakian, Kafka wrote in German

Number Four
Old Franz Kafka wrote a book
Ee aye ee aye O
And in this book he had a Trial
Ee aye ee aye O
With a "What am I accused of?" here.
And a "What am I accused of?" there.
Here a "What am I accused of?"
There a "What am I accused of?"
Everywhere a "What am I accused of?"
Old Franz Kafka wrote a book
Ee aye ee aye O

Number Five
Hey diddle diddle The Trial and the Castle
Franz Kafka wanted to burn his books
Which would have happened if it wasn't for Max Brod,
The Kafka family, and someone called Fuchs.

stephenb 16:04 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Butler Does Not Do It Anymore

As every aficionado of blood stains in the conservatory knows, the British murder mystery has been slowly poisoned to death for many years now. This is clearly evident to viewers of the PBS television show Mystery.
Judging by Mystery's opening titles, the viewer should expect to be presented with an exciting drama featuring a great sleuth solving a ghastly murder in a gloriously sprawling stately manor home. Alas, more often than not the viewer is actually confronted by an emotional cripple called "Guvnor" who gets his man by smashing the suspect over the head with a beer bottle, and then goes home to his messy flat to sleep with his drug-addicted and dysfunctional mistress.
That Inspector Coarse or whatever his name is with his beanpole assistant is the worst offender. Have you ever seen a more unkempt and pretentious lout? Not a patch on Poirot and all that lovely Art Deco scenery, even if the plots did beggar belief.
"Still," as the characters in the modern mysteries would say, "that Diana Rigg looks good for her age, don't she. Very well preserved. Very classy. Cut above your average presenter, know what I mean Guvnor. Wouldn't mind giving her a thorough going over in the interview room with the tapes rolling, know what I mean. Very tasty."
Oh well. I suppose we have to take what we are given, Guvnor.
stephenb 14:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
Saddam Claus

It is interesting to view these photographs of Saddam Hussein looking for all the world like Santa Claus with his long white beard.
Indeed, it is rather a shame that he waited in that little hideaway hole for his inevitable capture rather than making a clandestine escape to America, where, donning a traditional Santa costume, he could have surrendered with great dignity by sliding down the Bush's chimney on Christmas Eve bearing a sackful of wooden Weapons of Mass Destruction.
I, for one, might have forgiven him a great deal had he chosen this dramatic and jolly course of action.
Instead, Christmas has come early for President Bush, which, I suppose, he deserves for sticking to his, er, guns; for there was really only one Weapon of Mass Destruction in Iraq, and it was Saddam himself.
stephenb 13:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
Brown Fog of Winter Dawn

As every sentimental lover of the printed word knows, T.S Eliot's The Wasteland, his epic, poetical description of the tea and sandwich spread at Mrs. Vera Wilson-Wobble's Monday afternoon informals, was published on this day in 1922. "Not exactly the abundant fruits of the Earth." was Bertrand Russell's distinctly less colorful verdict on the Wilson-Wobble anti-smorgasboard.
Personally, I do not think that Eliot was actually ready to enter polite society until the publication of his lovely Four Quartets many years later. But still, The Wasteland, eh! Where would the modern pretentious rock band be today if they did not have this great poem to steal lyrics from? And so we tip our multi-colored beret to T.S Eliot.
Too bad about the wife, Tom.
stephenb 11:30 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Castle of Thought

Since it is not mentioned in any of the standard texts on twentieth century Czech literature not many people know that during Franz Kafka's most obscure and desperate period, gangs of street kids would gather beneath his study window and chant this nursery rhyme of their own composition:
Kafka, Kafka famous hereafter
How does your literature grow
With parables of the law and hunger artists
And Josef Ks all in a row

This charming ditty of great historical importance and insight has inspired me to begin a campaign to make Kafka more accessible to the children of today: "start 'em young on the Czech Lit." I say.
To kick of my campaign with a real bang, I have decide to re-write that classic children's favorite, 'Jack and the Beanstalk', in the Kafkaesque idiom.
My updated tale begins with a Beanstalk inspired fantasia on the opening line of Kafka's Metamorphoses: it runs as follows:
"After Jakob K returned from the market with uneasy beans, he found them, in the flower bed, transformed in to a gigantic beanstalk."
Needless to say, when Jakob K climbs the massive beanstalk he comes face to face with the Castle, where he is caught by the giant Guardian of the Law who puts him on Trial for buying the beans in the first place.
I think it will appeal to children of all ages, perhaps even make for one of those thrilling seasonal pantomimes they have in England.
Then there are also great possibilities with "Baby's First Letter to his Father."

stephenb 09:34 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 14, 2003
Lord of the Sing Songs - Return of the Bing

It is Christmas time again, and so plucky little Bing Crosby must once again do battle with the dark lord Sinatron for dominion over the airwaves in this thrilling twenty-eight part DVD box set which includes the old yuletime favorite, The Robin Deathshead goes gob, gob, goblin along Order now before supplies are melted down. Manufacturer will pretend they don't exist like Santa Claus if not fully satisfied.
stephenb 14:29 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 13, 2003
A Knight Out

Feeling a bit under the weather last night because all the sedge has withered from the lake as usual. Fortunately, Las Belle Dame Sans Merci had sent me an invitation for dinner at her place, you know, the Elfin Grot around the corner. The invitation said it was bring your own booze, which is a bit odd for her, so I bought a bottle of Manna Dew. It's a bit like the Faery Land equivalent of Shiraz so you can't go wrong, and besides, they were having a sale in the liquor store because they wanted to shift inventory.
Anyway, I go in the door and there is Las Belle Dame Sans Merci, in the meads (where else!), with her long hair, light feet, wild eyes.
"Thanks for coming." she said, giving me kisses four. "I've just got to check on the others and then I'll come back and have you in my thrall.
"No problem." I told her. "Where do you want me to put this?" I added, indicating the bottle of Manna Dew.
"How wonderful." She said. "Just put it on the table with the Relish Sweet and the Honey Wild." Although I could tell she was thinking, 'Christ. Another bottle of Manna Dew.'
She left and I wandered around the room, stopping to check out her CD collection: lots of faery song, as you might expect.
She came back a few minutes later and I uncorked a bottle of Manna Dew. We had a nice chat, a few drinks, played some tunes, and then I went home.
All in all, a pleasant evening. I don't know what John Keats is on about with all his miserable whining. Typical poet. Never bloody satisfied.

stephenb 20:16 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 12, 2003

Apparently, I could make a tidy profit from the Democratic Party Convention in 2004. Since I live in Boston's "historic" Back Bay (mostly built circa 1930) - a short hop, skip, and jump from the Convention Center, shops, restaurants, etc - I therefore have the opportunity to rent my apartment to the Democratic Party Convention Dependents when they arrive in our pretty city.
However, as every sane homeowner's insurance policy holder is fully aware, since it is the Democratic Party who would be renting my apartment, my insurance coverage premium for third party injury, theft, riot, and debauch is likely to go through the roof!
Meanwhile, why is it that every Christmas there always seems to be an old time favorite Christmas song that I have simply never heard before, even though everybody else seems to know it well enough that they can actually sing along?
stephenb 09:52 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 11, 2003
Six Fantasias On A Theme By Virginia Woolf

1. General Gordon must have soldiers and a Khartoum of his own if he is to achieve fame later on.

2. Aldous Huxley must have pen, paper and a mushroom of his own if he is to write The Doors of Perception.

3. Tutenkhamun must have treasures and a tomb of his own if Lord Caernarvon is going to stump up the money to fund an expedition to excavate in the Valley of the Kings.

4. The Witch of Endor must have a black cat and her broom of her own if she is to make it to Saul's place in time to conjure up the Shade of Samuel.

5. Miss Haversham must have a cake and a groom of her own if she is to get married and not sit around for years covered in cobwebs and dust.

6. Infinite space must have a big bang and a boom of its own if it is to create the Universe

stephenb 13:48 - [Link] - Comments ()
The Disappointment of Sport

Idly glancing through the sporting section of the newspaper, I observe that last night Olympiakos Piraeus took the field and pit their collective might against the assembled ranks of Juventus of Turin.
It sounds like a glorious, titanic battle between brave Corinthian heroes of yore. Alas, it was merely a soccer match in the qualifying rounds of Europe's Champion's League tournament in which Juventus of Turin achieved seven goals while Olympiakos Piraeus managed absolutely none at all: a complete rout by any standard. Whatever happened to the spirit of Alexander? There will be no invitation to dine with Zeus for the Greeks this year.
Oh well. Meanwhile, I am hoping next week's issue of The Spectator will contain their wonderful "Turf News" column, since this week's edition did not. We can but hope.

stephenb 11:42 - [Link] - Comments ()

As every sane person is well aware, the relationship between the news media and the actual news is remarkably similar to the relationship between the Cheshire Cat's mouth and the rest of his body, in that the actual news gradually disappears and all that remains is the news media's stupid grin talking misleading and misguided nonsense.
Is the NYT's William Safire the new Frog Footman? I think we should be told.
stephenb 09:44 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 10, 2003

As a non-entity with an internet connection, your goal in Blogmanship is to write banal garbage about current events and the cultural zeitgeist in a superior and knowing tone, as if you are the world's greatest pundit with an audience of millions hanging on your every word, and your banalities are actually powerful and important truths even though in reality you are actually quite ignorant about both current events and the cultural zeitgeist.
For example:
"Kerry's failure at the New Hampshire hustings has much to do with his failure to grasp America's rejection of the Gold standard... etc."
Wearily condescending and arrogant references to blogs more popular and intelligent than your own are also encouraged. For example:
"Amongst its usual dreary collection of articles, Arts and Letters Daily has this fairly interesting piece about pig farming in Indonesia. My own fascinating views on pig farming in Indonesia with which regular readers will be familiar are ....."
Or better yet:
"I don't read James Lileks anymore. Who does? However, the old campaigner has made a slight return to form with this mildly interesting piece about cake decorations from the 1950s. My own amusing opinions on cake decorations from the 1950s...."
Or better still:
"Although a blog of limited scope, Terry Teachout's About Last Night provides the bored web surfer with a passable review of the New York Opera's most recent production of that tired old favorite Carmen."

There must be much, much more. So please email me with more Blogmanship ideas. Thanks.

stephenb 12:07 - [Link] - Comments ()
Baron Governmentstein's Monster

Standing for elected political office is rather like removing your own brain, replacing it with that of a particularly verbose parrot, then laying yourself down on the operating table, attaching the electrodes to your own forehead, screwing the bolts in to your own neck, and waiting for the electrical storm so that you can be reborn as Baron Governmentstein's Monster.
I am sure that General Clark was once a honorable and intelligent man - he has the impressive decorations and diplomas to prove it - so why has he allowed Baron Governmentstein to re-animate him as that familiar, vapid political creature we loathe so well?
Personally, I much prefer my elected representatives to emanate from Rotten Boroughs, those fabled electoral districts of yore where victory is attained by bribing a farm laborer with a jug of cider to vote for you a thousand times. At least the Rotten Borough politician can remain true to his own beliefs and opinions since he takes his place in Government thanks entirely to his own corrupt efforts ...unlike politicians today who must repay in kind the contributions and support of dubious vested interests.
Recall the Eighteenth Century Parliament! That's what I say.

stephenb 11:30 - [Link] - Comments ()
Adventure on the High Broadband Seas

Perhaps the most thrilling adventure story of all time is the exciting and timeless tale of the Hero's journey to check his email at
Deep in the heart of the Internet jungle stands the secret and fantastic Temple of, where, carved in invisible runes upon the sacred altar and surrounded by a ring of dancing flames, the seven veiled email messages await the brave Hero who alone has the courage to attempt to retrieve them. For it is written in the Book of that he who approacheth the sacred altar but hath not possession of the magic password will be devoured by the Cable Snake and cast into the infernal pit of spam forever.
Before embarking upon his quest, the Hero must fast for seven days and nights whilst mediating upon the ancient FAQ bequeathed to email searchers by Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the mysterious priests of the Temple of
Once the Hero has purified himself with fast, then he must acquire the magic password. But beware! For as the scribes of auld sayeth,
"'Tis most case sensitive, sirrah."
Alas, even if the Hero succeeds with his quest and secures the seven veiled email messages, he may be trapped in the Temple of until the flesh rots from his bones trying to reply to them. Such is way the hinge of fate must always creak.
Note: many believe the Email Quest is pure myth based upon scrambled folk memory of some Celtic harvest rite or other.
But read of real adventures here

stephenb 10:18 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 09, 2003

It is most strange that, as far as I am aware, no film has yet appeared based upon the life of Richard Dadd, the Victorian painter, patricide, and lunatic. His story has everything you might want in an exciting biopic: Victorian costumes and sets, a tortured artist figure, Egyptology, murder, madness, and fairy folk. Unfortunately, I believe there is no dramatic love interest, as such, but that can be easily arranged with a little artistic license, one of the Angels of Mercy in Bedlam perhaps? Surely all these elements would combine wonderfully to create a truly absorbing and interesting film.
Conveniently, much of Dadd's inner turmoil can be conveyed symbolically via dream sequence type reference to a single painting of his, The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke. Here, surrounded by the cream of fairy society rendered in tiny but exquisite detail, the fairy feller is about to break a chestnut with his axe. Shakespeare's Oberon and Titania observe him intently, as do many other odd fairy figures, including a portrait of the artist's murdered father. It is a great moment for the fairy feller; a great honor, even, for his chestnut cracking labors must provide a chassis for Queen Mab's new carriage.
"Nut", obviously, is slang for 'head' or 'sense', and so the fairy feller's cracking of the chestnut gives us our pictorially symbolic link with the artist's madness. Meanwhile, there are only two characters in the painting who do not hold their breath, and they are two rather tarty looking fairies: perhaps we can use this pair as the love (dis)interest that any modern film obviously needs so much.
After his fine performance in Spider, I am thinking of Ralph Fiennes in the role of Richard Dadd.
Daddlands funding, anyone?

Meanwhile, something that costs nothing: why not join the The Robert Benchley Society? You can leave a message on the website and let everyone know how much you appreciate the old Rounder-Upper.

stephenb 09:54 - [Link] - Comments ()
Jesus Wept

Do not give us this day our daily bread
Please give us something less fattening instead.

Jesus would have no luck in the age of Dr. Atkins' fabled 'Diet'. It would have started when he tried to give everybody all those loaves, but then it would have only got worse:
"Are you coming to the Last Supper, tonight?"
"What are you serving?"
"No thanks. Think I'll give it a miss."
Honestly, the way some people talk these days you would think that all bread is baked in Hell by diabolical, cloven-hooved Doughboys.
What's next? The Seven Deadly Grains?

stephenb 09:16 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 08, 2003
A Brief History of Snow

Snow, as every child knows, is made of God's dandruff. That is because the silly old man still uses harsh, abrasive Old Testament Shampoo. Isn't it time that your deity made the switch to new and improved, soft and gentle Anglican Conditioner? Made from the purest, kindly extracts of cups of tea, dainty slices of sponge cake and cucumber sandwiches cut into triangles, Anglican Conditioner has a truly unique whitewashing action to leave your God's hair silky smooth and dandruff free. So why feel like the Wrath of Jehovah when you can face each new day with a shine as sunny and fresh as The Light of the World?
Our latest inventory has arrived just in time for Christmas. Only $19.95 per bottle. Money resurrected if not entirely satisfied, no crib for a bed, Herod's restrictions apply in some States.
Why wait? Lay down your sweet and flaky-free head ... today!
stephenb 15:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
For Your Consideration: Some Books By Me

Deer Me! Images of Deer in Popular Culture from Monarch of the Glen to Bambi
Non-Fiction. Published by Stagg Press. $19.95. Deerskin cover.
The author (me!) tracks changes in our perception of deer, from Landseer's Monarch of the Glen which is pretty scary, to Walt Disney's Bambi which isn't very scary.

How Edible Underpants Changed The World
Non-Fiction. Published by Stagg Party Press. $19.95. Edible cover.
The author (me again!) explains the impact edible underpants have had on the world, notably, how they have changed it, because - significantly - before the invention of edible underpants people in the world were unable to eat underpants.

Wittgenstein's Euphonium
Fiction. Published by The ? Press. $19.95. Undescribable cover.
Heartbreaking novel about philosopher who loses his Euphonium when he falls asleep in his deckchair. The author (yes me, again!) hopes to appear intelligent by using famous philosophers name in title and adding a strange musical instrument on to it.

Ass Face
Poetry. Published by Vocabulary of the Vagina Press. $19.95. No cover.
New poems by me.
stephenb 13:56 - [Link] - Comments ()
Christopher Hitch Ns Bitch

I have never read the contents of any books by Christopher Hitchens, but I am a great reader of the titles of his books. The time the average reader actually spends reading Hitchens' books, I spend in careful study and quiet contemplation of his book titles .. since they make for extremely thought provoking reading all by themselves!
For instance, I have to ask you this, what orthodox young Contrarian in his RIGHT MIND is actually going to read a book called "Letters To A Young Contrarian"? Surely to read such a book is a recantation of everything the Contrarian should believe in. And the echo of Rilke! Oh dear. With the exception of "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" (sacred text), every hardcore Contrarian has know full well to spurn Rilke since encountering "Letters To A Young Poet" with all it's horrible, awkward teenager High School popularity.
But back to Hitchens' book titles: "Missionary Position. Mother Theresa In Theory And Practice" with its lovely punning is perhaps one of the titles of the century, and a title that should be added to every Summer Book Title Reading List.
"The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned To Greece?" Good question, but says it all really .. so why read the book? Why not simply read the title and make your own mind up. I decided the answer should be ... Yes, if the Greeks can literally roll them back all the way from London to Athens themselves with an Olympian feat of endurance; otherwise, no, they shouldn't be returned.
"No One Left To Lie To - The Politics of America's Worst Family." Obviously begs the fascinating question, which family is America's worst? I can think of plenty of contenders. I'm sure you can too. So why read the book, it will only spoil the fun of nominating the family you pick.
Hitchens' has lots of more book titles to read. So why not check them out yourself. You don't even have to go through the effort of pulling the books off the shelves and buying them because the titles are conveniently printed on the book spines!

stephenb 10:55 - [Link] - Comments ()
PBS Voice Over

Boston. Land of drifting snows and implacable ice. Here time is measured in the interval between blizzard and avalanche.
Boston. Home of the polar bear, the wooly mammoth, and the ice rat. In the freezing arctic night, camped around dwindling fires in a desperate search for warmth, grizzled adventurers speak ominously of sightings of the Abominable Brahmin.
Boston. The frozen tundra known as the Public Gardens stretches far into the distance. Futile attempts are made to "plough" the roads in this white wasteland. The pedestrian, however, is left to his devices. Many are never seen again. How often has the heartbroken mother heard her son speak those awful lines of parting: "I'm just going out to Brooks Brothers.... I may be some time."
Boston. There is no hope when the winter comes.
stephenb 09:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 07, 2003
Boston Weather

Stalingrad. We are surrounded. Everything is frozen. Ivan has stolen my nice warm wooly hat and thrown it up into a tree.
stephenb 13:14 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 05, 2003
Old Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Blog

A Very Medici Christmas
Apparently, every Christmas the Renaissance Medici family would command Michaelangelo to make snowmen in the grounds of their Florentine palazzo. You can't imagine that sort of thing happening today. I mean who in their right mind would employ Jeff Koons or Damian Hirst to make snowmen in their front yard? You can just imagine where Koons would stick the carrot. This, in very simple terms, is why modern art is not very good.

St. Gingivitus Dance
The Halitosian concept of Dental poetics - with reference to Dante and the Tooth Fairy - remains both Molarized and Fangesque, especially where meaning is Plaqued and Flossiomatic: a Fretwork paradigm that is implicit - even Gummed - within the so-called Spit-o-sphere. Obviously a "brush regularly with improved whitening" metaphor for our time.
Compare: "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth," and it's colloquial equivalent, "Bite Me."
The subtext here, of course, is "Filling" - Gold? Perhaps.
Dave the Feng Shui plumber has been around my apartment again:
"Toilet facing north creates bad energy flow and pipes get blocked and will not flush away evil spirits."
"How much am I paying you?"
"Sixty dollar service fee and ten dollars for magic herbs."
Dave places a small enamel statue of Confucius on top of the cistern and ignites a stick of specialty made bleach scented incense.
"There is bad chi trapped in your shower so water sometimes runs tepid."
"How do I get rid of it?"
"Medicine cabinet should be removed so mirror does not reflect bad chi back into room and bounce it off deodorants and shaving cream back into hot water tank. Evil bathroom spirits are attracted by pale blue towels and hide under bathmat. Toothbrush must...
This is the third time Dave has been here: anything to explain why he can't fix things
stephenb 16:31 - [Link] - Comments ()
Stocking Stuffers

Losing your mind trying to think of a gift for your teenage nephew? Here are some suitable books - much loved by me during that difficult age and since - that he may be interested in reading ... much, much cooler than the dreary Albert Camus phase he might otherwise go through:

1. Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain Fournier.
2. The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.
3. The Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo.

Why not buy them for him when you are doing your shopping this weekend!
Who knows, because of you your teenage nephew might grow up to be a well adjusted individual with a decent sense of humor.
stephenb 15:02 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Good Night Out This Holiday Season

At my house we dance an alternative seasonal ballet to The Nutcracker. Ours is called The Prunejuicer, and the story, music, and even choreography are of our own devising.
The action, rather than in Hoffmann's fairytale Germanic setting, takes place in an extremely corrupt minor Baltic Principality during the Sugar Plum Riots.
The Louse King, unable to secure a fixed interest loan from Santa Claus Inc, so that he can buy a new computer, bores his way into the Bitter Fig Fairy's brain and drives her into Bedlam.
Meanwhile, the Prunejuicer and the buxom, sexy heroine whose name escapes me are getting terribly drunk on Brandy in the other room and are thinking romantic thoughts until they are interrupted by a bunch of bearded soldiers who have deserted from the army. Then there is a bunch of fighting because everybody wants the last After Eight mint. The End.
It features about as much ballet as The Nutcracker does.
stephenb 13:40 - [Link] - Comments ()
Best Loved Poems

A little faux John Betjeman for you:
Dreary Auntie Ethel in well-worn floral cotton raiment
Still treasures her faded photo of the Tichborne Claimant.

Yeah. Sir John's stuff is pretty easy to spoof. And I do so in recognition of the new Betjeman collection that has been published recently. Alas, it is called, horribly, "Best Loved Poems". Oh dear. Bring back "Selected" or "Collected" please! Calling anything "Best Loved" is just more fuel for the fires of his critics. And they are legion.
Frankly, I have been very keen on his stuff, but then I do not care for poetry very much anyway (too much wasted paper with all those massive borders and five lines to a page, etc)
Still, I must admit he has earned his place in the canon as one of the all time literary greats, although I will never understand the appeal of that Teddy Bear thing he used to carry around all the time.

stephenb 09:41 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 04, 2003
The Nude

An interesting fact concerning The Nude in art that is overlooked by Sir Kenneth Clark in his seminal book The Nude is that none of the nudes he refers to are actually THE Nude.
THE Nude, as every connoisseur knows, is El Stephenheado's painting of Princess Fullafrontalla Saluting The Lewdonians, first exhibited in 2003.
Known throughout the art world as Princess Fullafrontalla Without Any Clothes On Gives The Lewdonians An Eyeful, this exquisite work of art displays many notable nudistic elements common to French Academic Nude painting of the nineteenth century. Primarily, there is the Nude Woman (in this case, the bosomy Princess Fullafronta herself) who sprawls nudely in the center of the canvas, thus symbolizing the central mythopoetical theme of nudity. She gazes longingly at her own body reflected in her handheld mirror which bears around it's rim the Latin inscription, "Hey look everyone! Two nudes for the price of one!"
Princess Fullafrontalla's heavy, pale breasts bared against a backdrop of the wine-dark Sea of Lewdonia, recalls Bouguereau's 1882 masterpiece Evening Mood, particularly the improbable tiptoe pose of the central character (the daintily footed Princess Fullafrontalla herself).
Standing before such a picture one can only exclaim with awe, "This, indeed, is The Nude to make all other nudes look a bit pimply and fat. Bravo El Stephenheado!"

stephenb 19:12 - [Link] - Comments ()
A Brief Leaf from Dalrymple's Book

One of the perennial features of bum spotting is observing the small groups of spiky haired students who sit at the bum's feet hoping to benefit from the polluted drops of grimy wisdom that fall from his toothless mouth; as if the bum in all his desolate glory had somehow reached the pinnacle of human achievement: a vague, drooling anti-sage in filthy rags.
The man responsible for this world turned upside down is none other than our old friend and hero of students Jack Kerouac. The notorious automatic scribbler, drunk, and fare dodger.
On The Road indeed. It is the road to nowhere.

Theodore Dalrymple, in the prison where he works, could spin that out for a good three or four pages in City Journal or The New Criterion. As befits a good doctor, Dalrymple's medium is the long, cold-eyed examination. Whereas, being a small Edwardian minature, my medium is the short form.
Mind you, he is also much cleverer than I.

stephenb 09:51 - [Link] - Comments ()
From Pillar to Post

Most people measure their journey in terms of the miles traveled or the time taken to reach their destination. I am a little different since I measure mine in terms of bums I pass by. For example, the walk from my house to the Copley Subway Station takes six bums on a good day. A very short distance then? Yes, it takes about five minutes to get there.
They are always the same bums, too, standing in the same places. This one begs on that corner. That one wheedles outside that store. This one slumps on the floor inside that bank ATM. They are like familiar signposts directing me home should I ever forget the way.
However, they never seem to recognise me even though I pass them every single day.
"Spare some change?"
"I take Visa."
The same old credit card joke day after day. But should they ever say, "I take American Express", well, then I would give them money. For anyone who deals with American Express is obviously in dire need of help.

stephenb 09:21 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 03, 2003
Seasonal Favorites of Yesteryear

Undoubtedly and without question, the reason why all books and films are rubbish these days is because authors and screenwriters ignore the value and importance of the common household broom.
Don't believe me? Just look at the important role brooms play in some of the world's best-loved stories.
Everyone remembers the famous scene from Macbeth, Act 2. Scene 1:
"Is this a broom which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight?"
And Charles Dickens knew all about the potent power of the broom also. It appears in almost all of his books, usually toted by a barefoot and hunchbacked nine-year-old chimneysweep with a sooty face and a terminal case of rickets.
Then there is Cinderella, of course, manouvering a broom to good effect throughout her own fairytale, until that dumb fairy godmother steps in and spoils all the fun.
And the Sorcerer's Apprentice: brooms with both long and short handles play a significant, virtually integral part in that.
Anything with Witches and Hags in it - the broom being absolutely essential to transport them from plot point A to plot point B.
And finally, Virginia Woolf wrote a book about them, A Broom Of One's Own, in which she describes how a woman must have her own broom if she is to clean the house correctly and get the dinner ready before her husband comes home from his long day at the vacuum cleaner factory.

stephenb 12:56 - [Link] - Comments ()
Wintry News

On behalf of Jack Frost and his icy minions, I would like to welcome you to Winter!
We can assure you, our valued patrons, that this year's Winter! will once again compare favorably with the temperature of a witch's tit, and I personally would like to take this opportunity to thank you for choosing Winter! for all your shivering requirements.
Aside from the usual high quality frigid features you have come to expect from Winter!, this season we are also re-introducing some popular diversions of yesteryear. For instance, by early January we are hoping that our flocks of re-animated wooly mammoths will be parading down the streets of a town near you. Unfortunately, most of you will have probably frozen to death by then so you will not be able to see them. Oh well.

stephenb 12:46 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 02, 2003
The Voice of Science

Dr. Schleist's brain must have expanded while the syringe was still inserted in the cerebral cortex, for the brain's circumference was now much wider than we had anticipated, and consequently this important organ would no longer fit into the glass jar that we had selected to receive it.
Perhaps we should have injected the formaldehyde into the brain after we had placed the brain in the glass jar?
Who was to know, we shrugged.
And anyway, even if the brain had not expanded, it seems there would have been little space left around the jar's rim for the wires leading from the laboratory's life support generator to the electrodes attached to Dr. Schleist's frontal lobes.
We should, however, have worn gloves while transporting the brain from the freezer to the glass jar. That was certain. We all agreed on that. Much of the thick gray matter had now assumed a sort of bruised, dark purplish patina from rough handling. We should not have tried to force the brain into the jar like that when it obviously would not fit properly, someone suggested.
Bunch of know-it-alls around here, apparently.
We did eventually manage to get the brain to speak by attaching it to jumper cables and the speakers from Mrs Morrison's son's boom box. But all it said was: "Dr Schleist's brain must have expanded while the syringe was still ..."

stephenb 15:39 - [Link] - Comments ()
Does Gerry Adams Know About This?

Deleting my junk email this morning I came across another of those penis enlargement exhortations. It came from the following source:
Obviously the battle for Irish independence is fought with a very different type of weapon these days.
stephenb 09:10 - [Link] - Comments ()
december 01, 2003
The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke

Exclusive to the New Yucker by our special correspondent Seymour S.M.E.R.S.H

Acting on a tip off from sources whom shall remain anonymous because she has never met them and does not know who they are, my aunt Fanny informed me that a top secret enclave of faceless bureaucrats within the Bush administration were planning a clandestine operation against certain undisclosed officials who ill meet by moonlight at the bottom of the garden. My aunt Fanny was very clear on this crucial point.
When I arrived at the Pentagon on April 1st and asked for the debriefing room, several sniggering FBI agents directed me to the men's bathroom. Here I found a roll of paper, although, typically, nothing was written on it.
I asked high-ranking civil servant about the sinister roll of paper. "It is for attaching to the bottom of your shoe," he told me, "A covert sign so that others in the secret society know that you have been briefed by the blue goldfish who lives in the cistern."
He then pulled a funny face and ran off down the hall, so he must remain nameless, as indeed, I wish I could too.

stephenb 17:30 - [Link] - Comments ()

Presenter: What happened in Dallas on 22 November 1963?
Contestant: I don't know, I wasn't watching it then.
The above was an exchange that apparently took place between a quiz show host and a contestant on GWR FM radio in Bristol, UK.
I found it in the Dumb Britain section of the recent issue of England's venerable Private Eye magazine. Just another example of television being more real to some people than actual events, even the assassination of a President.
It certainly puts young people not being interested in classical music into perspective (see posts below).

stephenb 14:19 - [Link] - Comments ()
Additional To The Post Below

Also, since novelists give free readings of their work in select bookstores, perhaps modern composers should perform piano transcriptions of their latest works in record shops. After all, Franz Lizst used to mine such a promotional vein for himself and other composers in the drawing rooms of the mighty back in his day.
Mind you, I imagine his modern equivalents are too busy publishing their diaries and fixing up old houses on the Cape to put in all that effort.
stephenb 13:16 - [Link] - Comments ()
Terry Teachout has been reaching out on the subject of young people's lack of classical music appreciation. Interesting subject and interesting remarks he makes too, although he forgets the qualifying word "some" that should be placed in front of the term "young people".
"Some" young people, of course, greatly enjoy "some" classical music. Many of them can even play it.
Anyway, it seems to me that the reason why you don't see many young people at the symphony is the same reason why you don't see me at the symphony very often, namely, last time I went the evening cost me somewhere in the region of three hundred dollars (incl. event parking). You can almost double that if you are talking about attending ze opera (tiny binoculars not included). Even the price of a classical CD, unless it is manufactured by Naxos, is often twice the price of most pop CDs.
Classical music is an expensive taste to acquire. But it was not always so.
For instance:
When I was growing up (let us say twenty-five years ago) I can remember small orchestras actually playing in the bandstands that still exist in city parks. My father, my dog and I would sit and watch them for free. They would play a mixture of different musical genres, naturally, but it was generally the type of music loosely described as classical and it became part of the fabric of my Sunday afternoons. Nowadays, of course, those same bandstands only provide a venue for skateboarders to display their skills.
Terry Teachout is right when he says it is up to the classical music community to pull their fingers out of their trombones and make an effort to make themselves appealing to a wider audience.
Free Sunday concerts in the park would be a start. The bandstands are ready and waiting.

stephenb 11:27 - [Link] - Comments ()
Penguin Classics

Wormwood the wine-dark worm wrigglingly chugged the cold, wet Earth, making his way across St. Wulfric's ancient churchyard with quiet, clammy determination. He wriggled his way down into the clinging loam, boring a tiny hole through the Bronze Age burial mound in Corpse's Copse. He wriggled his wormy way past centuries of Dorset dead, their bones dormant in deep layers of thick chalk and clay. He wriggled through the remains of Grendel's decaying skull. Wormwood was bound for the mossy comforts of the Cowper Powys' wintry garden to pay his last repects to his salted and departed friend the slug, withered in his own slime upon the Cowper Powys lettuce leaves.
Alas, in the distance, unheard by Wormwood yet in his path, old Jobber Spittle was waxing the plough at Thomas Hardy Farm. But what was there to plough this bitter morning? The ground already reduced to frozen tundra by late November hoarfrost could not possibly yield anything of value.
"Nuthin' 'cept the blood of foul worms, that is." old Jobber Spittle grinned, and left his waxing labors to harness the oxen.
Meanwhile, Wormwood the wine-dark worm continued his slow, winding progress towards his bisected destiny.
Will Wormwood forgive the plough of old Jobber Spittle?
Find out next week in another gripping installment of The Worm Forgives The Plough... Oh damn! I seem to given the plot away. Damn and blast it. Nevermind, it's only a stupid worm story anyway.
stephenb 09:11 - [Link] - Comments ()