Hand crank not included

July 29th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

A Victrola turned into an iPod amplifier. I don’t know that I would kill for this, but I would certainly consider maiming.


July 26th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Do you suppose that Jonathan Safran Foer refers to his clothes as “Safran threads”?

Man about town

July 20th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

My housemate Elanor and I biked to Emeryville yesterday on the Bay Trail. Somehow, in more than a year of bicycling, I’d managed to avoid the trail almost entirely. That’s a shame, because it really is spectacular. (It would be even better if I-80 didn’t run next to it, but never mind that.) We saw panoramic views of the bay, got blown around a bit by salty winds, and passed groups of men fishing from rocky shores and spits. Then we went to Ikea and made obeisance to the great gods of particleboard and birch veneer.

Later that evening, I went to the Albatross with both of my housemates, plus my housemate Suzanne’s boyfriend. That bar grows on me more every time I go–it’s hard to quibble with a place that has a relaxed atmosphere, a wide range of unusual beers, games for its customers to play, and all-you-can-eat popcorn for just twenty-five cents. I had my first sidecar ever, taking advantage of the Albatross’ policy of not using junky liquor for mixed drinks. Elanor introduced me to the glories of Berliner Kindl Weisse with raspberry cassis. She also helped me realize that playing Connect Four defensively is usually the best strategy.

After stopping for gelato at Gelateria Naia, we dropped Elanor off at home and moved on to Schmidt’s Tobacco Trading Co. and Pub on Solano Avenue. Schmidt’s is in an old house, and the seating area is essentially a big living room, with a bar and tobacco sales counter where the kitchen might once have been. It’s exceptionally quiet and well-lit–the tables have individual lamps. There’s also an assortment of large, cushy, beat-up armchairs encircling low-slung coffee tables. I’ve been looking for a place where one can both do some serious studying and have a decent pint, and I think I may have found it.

Today has been less exciting but still perfectly good. I dropped my bike off at the shop so that what little was left of my brake pads could be replaced. To get home, I took Channing, my usual bicycle route; on foot, the trip feels weirdly elongated. I had more time than usual to admire the pruning of Berkeley High’s plane trees. Their branches point more or less upwards, then curve out gracefully at the tips, like a fountain of water turned into wood and leaves.

Okay, time to get some work done. (Research work, that is. I am still trying to pretend that I don’t have to pack up my stuff in order to move.)

Everybody likes Ike

July 15th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

The Living Room Candidate is an archive of commercials for American presidential campaigns. The earliest ones, from the 1952 Eisenhower-Stevenson race, are especially entertaining. One proclaims Eisenhower to be “THE MAN FROM ABILENE!” using a voice and typeface better suited to a tights-wearing superhero. Another tries to position Ike as the people’s candidate:

Announcer: Eisenhower answers America!

Unconvincing actress portraying housewife: You know what things cost today. High prices are just driving me crazy.

Eisenhower (woodenly): Yes. My Mamie gets after me about the high cost of living. It’s another reason why I say izz (sic) time for a change. Time to get back to an honest dollar and an honest dollar’s worth.

Adlai Stevenson’s ads were worse. One of them is basically just a tight shot of a woman singing this jazzy little number, titled “I Love the Gov”:

I’d rather have a man with a hole in his shoe
Than a hole in everything he says
I’d rather have a man who knows what to do
When he gets to be the prez

I love the gov, the governor of Illinois
He is the gov that brings the dove of peace and joy
When Illinois the GOP double-crossed
He is the one who told all the crooks “Get lost!”

Adlai, love you madly
And what you did for your own great state
You’re gonna do for the rest of the 48

Didn’t know much about him before he came
But now my heart’s a ballot that bears his name

‘Cause I listened to what he had to say
I know that on Election Day
We’re gonna choose the gov that we love
He is the gov nobody can shove
We’ll make the gov the president of
The U, the me and the USA!

Yeah! Swing it!

The Fortress of Solitude

July 13th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

Words are my sharpest tools, but they fail me when I try to describe a novel like The Fortress of Solitude. I’m left clutching at superlatives and wishing that my descriptive writing were stronger.

Writers who have strong voices, as Jonathan Lethem does, also remind me how much better I am at aping the style of others than developing my own. I’m sure I would find my own voice if I wrote more, and more frequently, but I don’t know if or when I’ll manage to do that. Alternatively, I could just copy Jonathan Lethem. Some of the techniques he favors lend themselves easily to imitation. Or, for that matter, parody.

Incomplete sentences appearing in pairs after longer paragraphs.

A random pop-culture reference to establish chronology.


July 11th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Today’s New York Times includes a marriage announcement for Mr. Peter Alternative. I guess it would have been inappropriate to just name him “Lesbianism.”

A benevolent conspiracy

July 9th, 2004 § 15 comments § permalink

Yesterday, I found an apartment for myself in Oakland, an exquisite studio in a carefully restored Mission-style building. The sinks and paint will be new; the stove, a Wedgwood, will be old. The window in my living area looks out on a landscaped courtyard. I’ll live closer to most of my friends from school than I do now. To ask for anything better would be inexcusably greedy.

Tonight, I saw The Third Man at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. I knew I loved that film, but I had forgotten why. It was a joy to be reminded: Orson Welles, still elegant and young, cocky enough to own the world. The beautiful ruins of postwar Vienna, which must have summoned painful memories for the movie’s first audiences. Quick, tense cuts. That zither music.

On the way home, as my BART train emerged from the Transbay Tube, the conductor made an announcement, his voice like a showman’s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have once again made it safely across the bay under the weight of millions of gallons of water.” We stopped at the West Oakland station, then departed. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll direct your attention to the window on the left side of the train–that’s my left–you’ll see…fire.” The Fire Arts Festival was in full swing. Flames shot out of elaborate metal contraptions and radiated from spinning wheels. “They must be having a barbecue down there or something.” Pause. “We take our barbecue seriously in West Oakland.” And after we pulled into the next station: “Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, ladies…and…gentlemen. This is the station I’ve been bragging about all night long. Twelfth Street/Oakland City Center, where you can transfer to the Richmond-bound train. It’s waiting on the opposite side of the platform. Its doors are wide open, and its seats are already warmed.”

I’ve been using the word “swimmingly” a lot lately. Everything is going just swimmingly.


July 9th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

The New York Times just published an article about the Pokia, a full-sized telephone receiver that attaches to a mobile phone. They’re handmade by some British guy who sells them on eBay. His website has more Pokia photos. The Holborn Exchange is particularly nice.

I love things like this: technological eras colliding; the retro fused with the cutting edge. (See also the ElectriClerk.) It also pleases me immensely to see consumer objects transformed into expressions of ideas, especially when they force me to reevaluate the commonplace. It pleased the Surrealists, too; witness Salvador DalĂ­’s Lobster telephone.


July 7th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

I don’t really buy clothes with funny logos and stuff printed on them, but if I did, I’d be very excited about Threadless. I particularly like the map for the Metropolitan Cardiac Authority.

Orzo and feta salad

July 5th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

The orzo and feta salad turned out quite nicely. It turns out that the recipe has migrated from the Dean & DeLuca website, which no longer offers any recipes, to the Dean & DeLuca Cookbook. By looking at the index on Amazon, I was reminded that this salad was supposed to have mint in it. Oh, well; it wasn’t bad without it. Here’s my reconstructed version of the recipe, sans mint.

  • 1 pound orzo
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon, minced
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled (about 1/3 pound)

Cook the orzo according to the package’s instructions. Rinse under cold running water and drain.

In a medium bowl, toss the orzo with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice and zest. Add the cucumber and bell pepper and toss. Add the feta and toss. Serve at room temperature.