Quarterly Potpourri: 2014, Q2
You can't faze a New Yorker. After all these years in the Big Apple, I really should know better than to try conclusions with the natives.
Place: Track 8 platform at the Long Island Railroad hub in Jamaica, New York City.
Time: May 20, 11:50pm.
Derb's condition: Seriously over-served.
As I emerge from the stairs onto the Track 8 platform, 50 feet away is a glassed-in information booth. Through the glass I can see a guy in there, looking bored. I weave my way over and address him through the speaky hole.
Me: "You're the information guy?"
He: "Yeah. Whaddya wanna know?"
Me: "Where do flies go in the winter?"
He, deadpan, with no pause at all: "Cleveland."
For example: Performing animals are a bigger draw than all but the most celebritous celebrities.
Each guest received $500 to appear, but unless they were a Top-10 A-list actor, they barely budged the ratings dial. At least not the way cute animals could.
When David Letterman announced he had scored Martha Stewart's first late-night interview following her five-month prison stint for insider trading, Berg knew Leno would be trounced in the ratings with a lineup led by Benjamin Bratt. So the show booked an animal trainer.
Leno won that ratings battle by half a million viewers.
For once in my life I find my taste coinciding with the general public's. Celebrities are boring. Seen one, seen 'em all. But dancing beagles, now …
Best bathroom book ever. There is perfection in all things: a perfect sunset, a perfect omelet, a perfect production of Norma, a perfect swan dive, probably a perfect crime — although of course, in the nature of criminal perfection, we have never heard of it.
The perfect bathroom book is Willard R. Espy's An Almanac of Words at Play. Here is a snippet from his entry for February 9th.
To fully savor it you need two volunteers from the audience, one a fluent speaker of French, the other an English speaker who knows no French. You show the following poem to the English speaker and ask if it makes any sense to him. Of course it doesn't. You then show it to the French speaker with instructions to read it silently and tell you whether it makes sense. He will say something like: "Not really." Then ask the French speaker to read it aloud as naturally as possible.
Oh, les mots d'heureux bardes
Où en toutes heures que partent.
Tous guetteurs pour dock à Beaune.
Besoin gigot d'air
De que paroisse paire.
Et ne pour dock, pet-de-nonne.
Your clue is that the poem is taken from an actual book titled Mots d'Heures: Gousse, Rames.
Americans have no clue about race. For the umpety-umpth time I got into an argument with some people (young people: si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait) who were trying to tell me that American slavery and Jim Crow were all about skin color.
Me: Nonsense. It was nothing to do with skin color.
They: What? Boy, you really don't know anything about our history!
Me: Have you read Pudd'nhead Wilson?
They: Uh …
Me: Never mind. Here's a different story. Plantation owner in slavery times. One of his slaves gives birth to a boy — an albino. Owner goes bankrupt, sells off his slaves. Albino slave boy ends up on a different plantation where there's an albino slave girl. They marry, have albino kids. All slaves, right? So tell me again what it has to do with skin color?
They: Uh …
Me: It's race, you nitwits.
Memorizing the Constitution. I am, as I have mentioned before, a sucker for mnemonics. "All King Edward's Horses Can Make Beautiful Foals"? That's the lettered stations of a dressage arena. "Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain"? Colors of the rainbow. "Two Zombies Buggered My Cat"? Major nerves of the face. "King Plays Chess On Fat Girl's Stomach"? Linnaean classification of living things.
Senator Ted Cruz therefore got my attention in Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker profile. In a teenage study group, Cruz told Toobin, "We memorized a shortened mnemonic version of the Constitution." Toobin asked for an example. Cruz obliged:
"TCCNCCPCC PAWN MOMMA RUN," Cruz said. "Taxes, credit, commerce, naturalization, coinage, counterfeiting, post office, copyright, courts, piracy, Army, war, Navy, militia, money for militia, Washington, D.C., rules, and necessary and proper."
Not bad; although that's just for Article I, Section 8 — not even the document's longest section. (It gets war and army in the wrong order, too.)
I think if I had to memorize the Constitution I'd throw mnemonics to the winds and just memorize it. It's only 4400 words, well within the capacity of a normal person's powers of memorization. Back during Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution, the more enthusiastic Red Guards used to memorize Mao's Little Red Book backwards, and that sucker is nine times as long as our Constitution and makes less sense, backwards or forwards.
Three words for one. The phrase "piece of shit" seems to have settled into the language, or at least in the hipster vocabulary, as boilerplate abuse for anyone with heterodox opinions. It's a particular favorite on angry-leftist websites and comment threads; so much so that it is routinely abbreviated to POS.
It's quite respectable, too: the New York Post front-paged it back on May 12, in reference to Donald Sterling. (At least in the print edition that arrived in my driveway at 6am. When I checked around midday, the online version had been bowdlerized. Some hipster subeditor is now looking for work.)
But here's the thing: The English language has a perfectly good word for a piece of shit: "turd." Why go to the trouble of dragging out a three-word phrase when there's a good, old (very old — from about A.D. 1000, according to the OED) word for the thing?
The leftist mind is truly a strange contraption.