Tag Archives: Wherefore art thou stupid?

Mostly Nomads and Sheep

From The West Wing, “The Leadership Breakfast”


I was reading an article the other day that listed some of Roman Polanski’s most prominent films: “Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown.” And my first thought on that last one was, “Wait, the one with Kurt Russell?” No, see, that’s Big Trouble in Little China.

Several times a day, I catch myself in imaginary conversations with people I’ve never met, and in those convos I suddenly confuse two similar-sounding titles or terms or people, which means that whatever little daydream intellectual chat I was imagining is derailed by my fantasy person thinking I’m an idiot. (Yes, this is often how my daydreams go.)

Years ago, I got into an actual argument with someone stemming from confusion over actors John Heard, John Hurt and William Hurt. (John Heard and William Hurt have similar looks; John Hurt, rest in peace, looked like neither of them.)

I live in fear of the moment my daydreams come true and, in trying to speak eloquently and intelligently, I am instead revealed to be a complete idiot by talking about, I don’t know, Orson Wells as a pioneer of 19th century science fiction literature, or how H.G. Wells depicted the perils of communism through barnyard allegory, or I’ll make a joke about George Orwell’s beloved sled, Rosemary.*

*(All of these things are wrong.)

Here are some other idiotic moments waiting to happen:

I cite fraught family dynamic of The Little Foxes by playwright “Katherine Helmond.” (Nerp: That playwright is Lillian Hellman; Helmond was in Who’s the Boss?.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 19th century celebrity and feminist “Sandra Bernhard.” (Wrong-o: I’m thinking of Sarah Bernhardt; Bernhard is a current-day stand-up comedian.)

I wax poetic on the influence of 20th century celebrity and feminist “Simone Bolivar.” (Yeah, no, I’d be aiming for Simone de Beauvior there; Bolivar put an end to 19th-century Spanish rule in, like, all of South America.)



Filed under Uncategorized



Poutine or not poutine?
That is the question.
Whether ‘tis Canada-er in the dish
To suffer the pangs and harrows
of unpototatoed beer
Or to take curds against a sea of gravy
And then potatoes, eat them. To eat, to weep—
No more; and by a weep to say we cry
The tears and thousand natural joys
That fat is heir to. ‘Tis a consommé-tion
Devoutly to be wished. To cry, to weep—
To weep, perchance to seam—aye, there’s the pub,
For in that weep of joy, what seams may burst
When we have shoveled down this aortal clog,
Must give us pause. There’s the diet
That makes insanity of so large meal:
For who would bear the chips and dips of blah,
The suppressor’s tong, the dietitians veggie sticks
The pangs of uneaten food, the line’s delay,
The impotence of whiskey, and the turns
That drunken merit of the caloric takes,
When she herself might her poutine make
With a raw potato? Who would these smoothies bear
To nom and snarf under a brew’ry light
But that the dread of something after food,
The undigested grease, from whose toilet
No diner returns, puzzles the gut,
And makes us rather bear the salad we have
Than to stuff our faces with crap we know not of.
Thus conscience does make dieters of us all
And thus the native hue of gravy-ation
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of curd,
And enterprises of great fry and flavor
With this regard their nomness turns a fry,
And lose the name of dinner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Man, A Plan…

Here’s another selection from the longform.org archives, this time about a “master palindromist.” I started to think the guy was nerdily admirable right up to the point where I realized he was a horse’s ass. (Note to remember for myself: Being self-aware does not magically transform ego into charm.)

So, being a palindrome myself (RemmahAnanab?), I had an early introduction to the form. Little J and I used to spend spare minutes in 10th-grade history class making palindromes on the blackboard: “Traffic if fart.” “Mary bred a derby ram.” Start with a friend’s name or a random word; spell it backwards next to itself and see how it might be broken down and what words and their reverses can be added to make a sentence.

Or, more often, a “sentence.”

The article’s Master Palindromist—a self-imposed title—produced, in fact, some amazing, word-reversing wizardry; his palindromes can be a hundred words and more, perfectly reversible. The thing is, because of the concrete, mathematic-like confines of the palindrome form, he’s gotta be a goddamn contortionist with punctuation, syntax… spelling. He takes some liberties with the language. And, like, coherence. The Greenward Palindrome mentioned at the beginning of the article has more explanative annotations than a page from Ulyssesand it’s a lot less lyrical. [Although the shorter “No Gas in Age?” deserves credit for being more coherent.]

That’s why I was proud enough of “Mary bred a derby ram” to remember it all these years. It’s a fairly natural sentence—a very common subject/verb/object structure, and a concept (breeding racing sheep instead of horses) that’s not too much of a stretch, in an Ogden Nash kind of way—and oh, hey: It’s the same backwards as forwards.

When you try to make a palindrome make sense with 50 words instead of five, it’s a lot harder. And I have to wonder if it’s worth it to be a master of something that winds up being so esoteric that you then have to explain it to people. Does it really count as an accomplishment?

One of the less-talked-about reasons that Shakespeare was great—a Master Iambic Pentameterist—was his ability to write naturally within the confines of the meter. Professional actors know that often all you have to do with Shakespeare is say the lines according to the meter—“da DA da DA da DA da DA da DA”—and you’re most of the way to a reading that makes sense: “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Shakespeare could’ve flubbed the meter and put the emphases on the wrong syllables—god knows many of his contemporaries did, and pop music does it all the time—but it wouldn’t have been as impressive, or even as moving. It wouldn’t have worked as well.

Meter is more forgiving than palindromes, of course, which are like mathematical equations: either they work or they don’t. But I wish that this palindromist fella would try smaller numbers and more music. And also, stop being such a jackwagon. Then maybe I’d call him master.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wherefore, Winter, Water

OK, now my rant against some crimes of context being committed against oft-used (but, apparently, little-understood) quotes from literature.

Sorry for the elementary Shakespeare lesson, here, but apparently it’s necessary: First and foremost, “Wherefore are thou Romeo?” means “WHY are you Romeo?” not “WHERE are you, Romeo?” I’d like to think this is common knowledge at this point, but alas, it’s still used as “where”—usually in car commercial parodies and jokes that aren’t funny.

It’s not tricky Shakespearean code-breaking, either. Shakespeare or no, it’s just what the damn word means.

(Although the worst experience I ever had with this phrase involved someone knowing the meaning but still not getting the point. It was during a community library lecture about subtext in Shakespeare. After a long talk regarding the interpretation of things not said outright, a woman in the audience raised her hand to contribute, obnoxiously, “It’s just like in Romeo and Juliet, when she says, ‘Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ She’s not saying, ‘Where are you, Romeo?’ She’s saying ‘WHY are you Romeo?’” LADY. That’s not SUBTEXT. THAT’S ACTUALLY WHAT THE LINE MEANS. ARGH.)

For clarification, I like the contemporary example, “how come”—as in, “How come that lady so stupid, yo?” It doesn’t mean, “How do you come?” (hee), it, too, means “Why?” (Or, really, “How did she come to be so stupid?”)

(On another side note: Shakespeare is not “Old English.” It’s not even Middle English. People, Shakespeare wrote in modern English. It’s why we can understand him. Old English is a completely different language, and it sounds like this: “Tunwini settæ æfter Torohtrēdæ bēcun æfter bæurnæ: gebiddæs þēr sāulæ.” I say “sounds like” because what it actually looks like is the engraving on the One Ring to Rule Them All.)

Secondly, “Now is the winter of our discontent” IS NOT THE COMPLETE SENTENCE. There’s not even a comma there, just a line break. It’s “Now is the winter of our discontent / made glorious summer by this son of York.” It’s a happy line. Sure, the hunchback asshole’s going to come ruin everything, but still: happy happy.

And along those lines (but straying from Shakespeare), “Water water everywhere” is not a cheerful tagline for a tourism campaign. It’s about people DYING of THIRST in the middle of the OCEAN: “Water, water, every where / nor any drop to drink.Coleridge was not writing for the convention and visitor’s bureau, what with the killing of wildlife and getting stranded at sea and all. I mean, you’re allowed to yank partial quotes, but don’t ignore the context. Every time I see that as a headline, I think about taking a big swig of saltwater.


Filed under Uncategorized