Monday, June 30, 2008


I know, it's a lot of pictures. What can I say? It's my blog: if I want to put up cute dog pictures, then I'm a gonna.

His name, by the way, is Elliot. It's half because of the associations with T.S. Eliot (noted Arsenal striker) and half because we just like the name.

His nickname is “Binky.” (Short for “Binky Bear,” which is what my wife called him for the first week we had him). I like it all together: Elliot “Binky” Lake. It sounds like the captain of the 1930s Princeton Crew team. Which he could be, if he wanted.

When we're talking about him, and not to him, we call him “The Bink.” It reminds me of both The Simpsons (“The Boy”) and The Wire (“The Bunk”) both of which associations I totally support. “The Bink” is mischevious, and boy-like (like Bart), but he’s also got the street smarts that come from twenty years of work with the Baltimore homicide department. I certainly wouldn’t want him hunting me down for doing one of them corner hoppers. He would have me in days.

He’s been a joy, mostly. As I remarked to my wife yesterday when we took him on his first outdoor walk (which he LOVED): we are SO LA. A small white dog. A fabulous-looking woman. An unemployed screenwriter with a cocaine addiction. (Joking). It’s enough to make you sick.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Human Voices

The British writer Penelope Fitzgerald is an underrated master.  Everybody should read her work.  I would recommend especially: The Blue Flower, Offshore, Innocence, and Human Voices.  If it's not enough that her novels are wise, funny, and rife with fantastically well-turned phrases, everything she wrote is under 200 pages.   Most of it's under 150.  So it's not a huge commitment.

Her books don't have to be long because they are so dense with observation and insight.  I think the following passage, from Human Voices, should make that clear.  The book is set in England during World War II, at the BBC.  "Sam" is a senior excecutive, in charge of recording technologies.  The "Controllers" are the heads of the BBC.  "Wolseleys" are cars.

At the time of the Munich Agreement a memo had been sent round calling, as a matter of urgency, for the recording of the country's heritage.

It was headed Lest we forget our Englishery.  Sam had disappeared for over two weeks in one of the Wolseleys, pretty infirm even at that time, with an engineer and an elderly German refugee, Dr Vogel--Dr Vogel, cruelly bent, deaf in one ear, but known to be the greatest expert in Europe on recorded atmosphere.

There was not much hope of commonsense prevailing.  Dr Vogel, in spite of his politeness and gentle ganz meinherheits, was an obsessive, who had been seen to take the arms of passers-by in his bony grip and beg to record their breathing, for he wished to record England's wheezing before the autumn fogs began.  'Have the goodness, sir, to cough a little into my apparatus.'  Sam thought the idea excellent.

The expedition to the English countryside arrived back with a very large number of discs.  The engineer who had gone with them said nothing.  He went straight away to have a drink.  It was probably a misfortune that the Controllers were so interested in the project that they demanded a playback straight away.  Usually there was a judicious interval before they expressed any opinion, but not this time.

'What we have been listening to--patiently, always in the hope of something else coming up--amounts to more than six hundred bands of creaking.  To be accurate, some are a mixture of squeaking and creaking.'

'They're all from the parish church of Hither Lickington,' Sam explained eagerly.  'It was recommended to us by Religious Broadcasting as the top place in the Home Counties.  What you're hearing is the hinges of the door and the door itself opening and shutting as the old women come in one by one with the stuff for the Harvest Festival.  The quality's superb, particularly on the last fifty-three bands or so.  Some of them have got more to carry, so the door has to open wider.  That's when you get the squeak.'

'Hark, the vegetable marrow comes!' cried Dr Vogel, his head on one side, well contented.
There's so much in here that I love, but I would especially note: "patiently, always in the hope of something else coming up"; "the quality's superb, particularly on the last fifty-three bands or so"; and the final line--"Hark, the vegetable marrow comes!'"  It's funny and it's kind, and, yes, British eccentricity is hardly the newest subject in the world, but Fitzgerald does it better than just about anyone, at least anyone who wrote in the last hundred years.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dog Ownership: The Statistic

Percentage of conversations between me and my wife, prior to acquiring our dog, that used the word "poo": 0.50

Percentage of conversations between me and my wife, after acquiring our dog, that use the word "poo": 18.8

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nunc Est Bibendum

Sitting down with a glass (or three) of red wine at the end of the day has become one of my great guilty pleasures. Guilty, or at least semi-guilty, because I can’t forsake the belief, inculcated in me since birth, that, probably, the best way to live is free from all chemical distortion. I don’t live this way, mostly, but I still kind of think I should. So in typical WASP-like fashion (or maybe just Me-like fashion) I dilute my enjoyment with my sense that the enjoyment, because it is not bettering or enriching, is somehow transgressive. (Though one could make an interesting argument that purely sensual experience is, in fact, a variety of knowledge and that since all knowledge is somehow useful, purely sensual experience has value.  Right?  Sure you could.  Sure you could.)

This is all relevant (sort of) because a few studies seem to suggest that drinking red wine can increase human longevity. Of course, there are caveats. The relevant studies were done on mice, first of all, and the mice in question were given amounts of wine equivalent in human terms to a hundred bottles a day. Whether only a glass or two a night would have similar effects is very much an open question.

But come on.   Let’s not strain at gnats. What I take from this article is this: science is saying—demanding, in fact—that I drink red wine.  And not just a little red wine: a LOT of red wine.   It’s science, people. What am I going to do--argue?  It's SCIENCE.  Our lone arbiters of truth. Clearly we have to do what they say.  Whether we like it or not.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Loneliness Of The Short-Distance Napper

I have never had a child. At least in this country. At least where I stayed around afterwards and helped to raise it. Or pay for it. Or learned its name.

But the thing that’s always seemed the hardest to me about having a children—the thing that all parents struggle with—is their children’s suffering. Your child cries, because it’s lonely or afraid, or because you’ve put on your giant hippopatumus head to rehearse your community theater’s interpretation of Death of A Salesman and the smell of all that matted hippo hair makes it upset. And—at least most of the time—there’s nothing you can do.  (I mean, yes, you could take the head off, but what about the theater-goers?)  It’s afraid, or it’s lonely, and it just has to be sad and lonely (some of the time); it has to learn that at least some part of life is suffering.  And all you can do--and at least, some of the time, all you should do--is watch.

I bring all this up because, as of Tuesday morning, we now have a new puppy. (Working name: Zogbert.) He is small (he weighs two pounds). He is cute. He is furry. And he is sad. Last night he was living with a half-dozen other Maltese dogs, in the only home he’d known since the time of his birth (six weeks ago). Now he is in a new home—one that has no other dogs in it. One which does not have a “Please Wipe Your Paws” doormat outside of it. One in which he’s expected to kill at least one burglar a day, if he wants to be fed. It’s all strange, and it’s all scary, and naturally he’s a little upset.

It turns out when a Maltese is upset, they make a sad small whimpering noise. It sounds a little like the most forlorn rubber squeeze toy in the world. When they’re really upset they make a noise that sounds uncannily like the “pc-caw” sound you hear from chickens. (Really). I know because I’ve heard quite a number of those noises this morning.

Now, as most of you know, my heart is made of steel and bone. I’m hard all the way through. I’ve been in wars. I’ve run drugs in and out of Colombia. I’ve killed men for money. The whimpering of a small dog doesn’t faze me. I know that in a few days he’ll be comfortable and his usual personality—excited, playful, joyous—will reemerge. (Only then will he begin the burglar-slaying I expect of him).

My wife, though, is a different story. She has a good deal more natural empathy than I have. She doesn’t like to be around suffering. The trials of our new roommate are upsetting her. She knows, of course, that we can’t come running into his room every time he whimpers; we have our own lives and he has to learn to be OK by himself. But knowing with your mind and knowing with your heart are different matters altogether. So right now things are a little bit dicey.

However, I have a solution. I’m going down to the HippoHead Emporium (Pico and Sepulveda). I’m getting me a head. And I’m going to perform the entirety of Beckett's “Endgame.”  If that doesn't work, we’ll watch the later works of Ingmar Bergman. If that doesn’t cheer everyone up, I don’t know what will.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Vortex and its Wrangling

Check out some of the prose in this appreciation of the hugely mediocre LOST, by Times TV Critic, Gina Bellafonte.
Good dramas confound our expectations, but “Lost,” about a factionalized group of plane crash survivors on a cartographically indeterminate island not anything like Aruba, pushes further, destabilizing the ground on which those expectations might be built. It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium.  With this season truncated by the writers’ strike, “Lost” has quickened its pace and wrangled us deep into the vortex of its revelations
On no level does this work. ("Wrangled us deep into the vortex"!?!)   It’s murkily written, rhetorically obfuscating, and laughably pretentious. It sounds like it was written for an undergrad class on "Understanding Media" by someone who's stayed up all night reading Roland Barthes. But then, if you're going to write with any degree of rigor and intellectual honesty you're not going to have a chance in hell of defending "Lost" --that endless shell game of unkept narrative promises.