Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coffin Nails

I quit smoking ten years ago, but before that I smoked for thirty years, starting at age 13. Like junkies and alcoholics, I'm a lifer. I quit because I was afraid of dying, but that's about the only thing that could have made me quit, and I continue to have a deep and convoluted relationship with nicotine and the forms and guises under which it travels.

I first heard Picayunes mentioned in Frank O'Hara's 1964 poem "The Day Lady Died." It's July 1959 and he's preparing to go to Easthampton for the weekend, back when the Hamptons contained more poets and painters than rich people. He's buying supplies and hostess gifts here and there in midtown Manhattan--recording everything in his seemingly casual diaristic way that's really as meticulously arranged as a collage by Braque, down to the all-caps names that are after a fashion glued in--and then he sees the NEW YORK POST with her face on it. The pleasantly hectic course of the day, ticking away like a taxi meter for 25 lines, is abruptly flicked off and he's thrown into memory. Billie Holiday has died.

He buys the Post from the tobacconist at the Ziegfeld Theater along with a carton of Gauloises and a carton of Picayunes. For years I had no idea what Picayunes were. By the time I was a teenage poet reading that poem again and again, wishing I could write like that and for that matter live like that, the New York of the poem seemed like a vision of glamour from the deep past, even though it was little more than a decade gone. I did smoke Gauloises when I could afford them, but there was no more tobacconist at the Ziegfeld and nobody I knew had ever heard of Picayunes.

Then, years later, I met George Montgomery, who had been O'Hara's roommate at Harvard. I learned many things from him--he was a fount of every kind of lore and custom and means of appreciation. One of them was that the perfect way to end a meal was with a cup of black coffee, a piece or two of crystallized ginger, and a Picayune. He bought his at Village Cigars, at the head of Christopher Street. They were made in New Orleans, where they shared a name with the local newspaper, and they were the only American cigarette still at that time made, like Gauloises and Gitanes, from black caporal tobacco.

I didn't visit New Orleans until many years after that, and even though I had by then quit smoking, I went off in search of Picayunes, but they were no longer manufactured. Their absence was conspicuous, because they went along with the city and its Afro-Franco-Hispano-Italo- Caribbean style, with the chicory coffee and the lagniappes and all the rest of it. It made sense that the most culturally distinct city in the lower 48 would boast a distinct local cigarette. Picayunes in their day were another symbol of the elegant separateness that would eventually provide the federal government with its excuse for sacrificing New Orleans. Anyway, nowadays local pride is reserved for team sports.

Thanks to Joshua Clover for reminding me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Modern Art

Not much is known about the Impressionist school of American postcard photography. The name itself is a latter-day coinage--we don't know whether any of those artists of the Great Plains had ever been exposed to French painters other than maybe Bouguereau. For that matter, did they even know one another? It is entirely possible that they worked in isolation, without communicating even in the trade journals, each in his own darkroom hundreds of miles from the others: the professionals in Giltner, Nebraska, and Ponca City, Oklahoma; the dentist in Ely, Minnesota; the telegraph operator in Strum, Wisconsin; the barber in Buda, Illinois.

Somehow, though, whether by coincidence or by design, they forged a style. Theirs was the melancholy of the small town on the trunk line, where the weather was always harsh, where the clarity of the prairie light was matched by the suddenness of its storms, where the county seat took on the allure of a foreign metropolis, where at times it felt like the rest of the world might as well be another planet, whose existence could only be proved by what came in the mail.

They loved their slanted truth and melancholy, those prairie Impressionists. Because they knew everybody's business, they yearned for secrets; because the light was so clear, they waited for clouds and hoped for drizzle. They liked taking pictures of picnics after they had ended, or parades before they had started. They liked night scenes, when the sparse outdoor lighting made their burgs look mysterious and a bit wild. And they loved disasters, when views they knew by heart would be haphazardly rearranged.

This picture by W. S. King is exemplary. It revels in disappointment. In a town like Centerville, the carnival was no small thing--it was one of the year's peak events, along with Christmas and the Fourth of July. For it to be rained out was enormous: nobody riding the ferris wheel, or running out laughing from the Crazy House, or trying to look sophisticated as they ventured into the Outlaw Show. His fellow citizens were crestfallen, but King was euphoric. As raindrops pattered on his lens, blurring silhouettes and smearing the light, he felt very far away, in some teeming and dramatic place where sin and doubt and complexity fell from the sky every day.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Maybe someone can tell me the proper Greek-derived word, by analogy with "philately," for the collecting of rejection slips. As you can see, there are some rare ones here--half of these publications no longer exist, and the other two have changed almost beyond recognition from what they were then. The collection, of which these represent maybe a quarter, was assembled between 1969 and 1971. The collector, a budding writer in his mid-teens, was too timid to submit his work to magazines until one day he saw, in some underground newspaper, a full-page montage composed of rejection slips. The writer who received them was terribly disillusioned and certain he was being silenced by the establishment.

Our teenage writer paid this no mind, concentrating instead on how cool the slips were as objects. He proceeded to send work out hither and yon, irrespective of quality or suitability, and collected rejection slips like baseball cards. Some were as perfunctory as errata slips, some as exquisite as bookplates, some handwritten in purple ink and some scrawled in pencil. What did him in after a time wasn't rejection but near-acceptance--on four separate occasions Rolling Stone informed him they were publishing something, only to then reject it by the next post, after the boy had already thrown himself a little party in his head. Well...people did smoke pot at their desks in those days, so editorial decisions may have been a bit aleatory. In any event, he stopped making cold submissions thereafter, and when his writing career finally got going, over a decade later, he was determined to work strictly on assignment. He still likes rejection slips as objects, however. But without a name to apply to the hobby of collecting them, how can he locate the swap meets and conventions?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Jesus Punk

About ten years ago I found myself in a large antique store in Berea, Kentucky. As readers of this blog might suppose, I'm a veteran ragpicker, but antiques tend to leave me frosty. I made my way through three floors of the usual glass, china, old toys, rugs, without much interest and without seeing much that would indicate the store was not in, say, Litchfield County, Connecticut. Then, in a corner of the basement, on the floor, sticking out from under a bookcase, I found this sign. "How much?" I asked the guy at the counter. He looked me in the eye and said, "Just get that thing out of my sight."

It so happens that I knew the thing to be at least approximately local--the text is the first line of "Shine on Me," by Ernest Phipps and his Holiness Singers, ca. 1928, collected in The Music of Kentucky, volume one, on the Yazoo label. I recognized that by conventional standards the sign exudes a deep and rebarbative ugliness--its fifth-grade draftsmanship, its clubfooted asymmetry, its witless line breaks and lack of question mark, its ink mixed with glitter, its ancient clots of tape and the places where the tape was torn off--and that as a printed sign it doesn't even carry the aura of a singular work of folk art. I also recognized the world of guilt and fear it represents, curdling something inside even me, and I haven't been a Christian since I started wearing long pants.

I could understand how some combination of those three factors--familiarity breeding contempt, aesthetic revulsion, the clammy hand of holy writ--could have led the Kentucky shopkeeper to want the thing erased from his consciousness. He might have been a snob, but he might also have been driven out of his evangelical family on account of being gay, for example. In any case, whether or not I was influenced by his reaction, I found that at first the sign made my flesh crawl. I took it home and stowed it away in an envelope. Then I found it again a few years later, thought it was more interesting than I'd allowed, and propped it in an empty recess in a bookcase in my office. Then I thought others should see it, so I hung it in the outhouse. Admittedly it made a striking addition to the rough-hewn interior.

Now that I no longer possess an outhouse, it has migrated to the indoor bathroom. I'm set to move again, though, and I'm beginning to think the sign belongs in the kitchen. I've grown to love the sign. Although the whole subject is just lousy with ironies of various sizes, I don't think my appreciation is a matter of mere contemptible irony. But I do love it, in large part, for its very awkwardness and ungainliness. Does that mean I value it for its authenticity? But while it is easy enough to appreciate anything unprofessional, amateurish, and even slipshod these days--in reaction to a time in which clever design always means a direct threat to your wallet--not everything made by artists whose enthusiasm outran their skill and patience manages any panache. Most homespun framed homilies are just dull. This sign, by contrast, looks combustible. It is so crazy that it looks as if it will eventually consume the wall it hangs upon. Everything that is seemingly wrong about it adds up to a massive--if small-scale--imposition of will. I love the sign because it insists on squaring off with me every time I look at it. It probably wishes me ill.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Liquid Dollar

This is a drink ticket. It was currency at one time--actually it was better than the greenback equivalent, because it contained added value in the form of prestige. A drink was a drink, but a drink ticket was a badge of rank. If you wanted to impress a potential pickup, buying them a drink with a ticket carried more weight than flashing a roll. I'm amazed this ticket was never spent, and can only imagine it whiled away the years in some forgotten pocket until after the chance to redeem it had passed. Drink tickets were fought over, stolen, begged for, dubious promises made in exchange for. The drink ticket had a fixed value--it could be redeemed for one drink, top-shelf or well, beer or wine--but while it could generally be obtained for a line of blow, it wasn't necessarily self-evident whom you could perform this exchange with or under what circumstances. In any case, the blow-for-tix swap was probably less common than trades founded on sex, friendship, services rendered, or--above all--a brush of the wing of celebrity.

This drink ticket, issued probably in 1978 or '79, was a harbinger of the following decades. Velvet cordons were just coming in downtown; in the future lay VIP rooms, ultra-VIP rooms within VIP rooms, bottle clubs, memberships, and whatever crushing nonsense is currently on offer. At the time, my friends and I worked minimum-wage jobs, and most of us were paid in cash--not that we were in the black-economy sector, mind you; it was just cheaper for bosses than cutting checks, and it was understood that many of us wouldn't even have bank accounts. So the drink ticket provided an important lesson in economics as well as a glimpse into the future. We learned that not all dollars are of equal value. We learned that the better off you are, the more eager people will be to give you things. We learned that wealth has never been obtained through labor, or at least not through one's own labor. We learned that wealth envies celebrity more even than celebrity envies wealth--and this at a time when it was possible to be a bona fide celebrity and still be dead broke. This knowledge was lost on us, of course. A creature of today at large in the drink-ticket economy would set about brokering the stupid things.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sortes Vergilianae

"If I passed my memories in review, scant happiness was there, no serenity, much harshness, steely exaltation, labor, hunger, filth, danger, and moments torn as if slashed by knives; a host of cherished dead whose faces memory averts (because they were often worth more than I was), the women of a night or of a season, the one I thought I loved who betrayed me while I was in prison, and the one who was faithful but died of typhus during a winter of famine, and I arrived too late to see her again, having crossed three hundred miles of snow; there was nothing left for me to keep of her, the neighbors had filched the sheets from the deathbed, the bed boards, the four books we owned, the toothbrush. I called together the taciturn bearded men, the women whose faces were stiff with guilt, the nail-biting children. 'Citizens!' I said. 'You have stolen nothing from us. You have taken what is yours. The belongings of the dead are for the living, and for the poorest first. And we are scarcely the living! We live for the men of the future...' I was a bad speaker in those days. Some of them came up to me and shook my hand, saying, 'Thanks, citizen, for your kind words, your human words. What do you want us to give back?' I cried: 'NOTHING!' It was then that I understood the grandeur of the word nothing. All words are human, I reflected, even the ugliest of them, and nothing is left."

Victor Serge, Unforgiving Years
(trans. Richard Greeman, New York Review Books, 2008)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


It seems that many, many people collect snapshots. As far as I'm aware, the first book on the subject came out around 1976, but the idea has mushroomed in the last decade, a result of both increasing interest in amateur expression and the refinement of scanning technology. There are now hundreds of such books, and an untold number of websites and blogs. Collecting snapshots is not quite like collecting anything else. They are singular, generally, and generally anonymous. Their numbers are incalculable. It is impossible to establish a canon, or even any but the most transient criteria. They are all equally rare. Their pursuit is entirely subjective. John's and Mary's collections of snapshots have been exhibited in museums and their catalogs published in Switzerland on expensive paper, but they don't do anything for me. Conversely, my pictures may not speak to John or Mary. Collecting snapshots is like collecting interesting stains.

This picture may not in fact detain you for more than a minute. All you see are two old people, awkwardly lit and framed and poorly focused, the composition tilted from presumed ineptitude rather than adherence to Constructivist principles. But! Here I will buttonhole you. Notice how the composition is tilted in order to set her upright--she is the center of power and deserves nothing less. Notice how the picture depicts a moment that can stand metonymically for the whole course of a long relationship. After all these years he is still trying to sweet-talk her--he may be making excuses, or reciting poetry--as she continues to reserve judgment. Notice how beautiful they both are, and how you can see their younger selves still burning within. Notice his galluses and sleeve-garters. Notice the shallow space, the underlighting, the wallpaper, the matching chairs, the radio. Notice how the tilting and the underlighting and the shadows and the disarray in the foreground make the picture look satirically scandalous, even give it a bit of a true-crime aura. Notice how the picture embodies what you may not previously have thought of as romance.

I have confidence in my eye. So do John and Mary, presumably. If we were disagreeing about Bordeaux vintages or minor Augustan poets or alternate takes of "Koko," we could each cite authorities to back us up, could refer to a history of opinions, could generally act as though there was such a thing as an objectively correct view. You can't do that with snapshots, and you never will be able to do so. The snapshot forces everyone who sees it to make an authority-free decision, and--if an explanation is sought--forces everyone to become a critic, in the best sense of that word. Everyone who looks at a snapshot can become an exemplary critic, one who doesn't generate pull-quotes or ritually invoke upper-case names or rely on a mess of filters. Historically, the snapshot was a great equalizer, allowing people of all classes to make pictures, and once again it is a great equalizer, forcing everyone to think for themselves.

Many thanks to Annie Nocenti for the pic.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Acid House

The story I heard, which may be apocryphal, is that when Max Baer Sr., the boxer and father of Jethro, suffered a heart attack in a hotel, one of his entourage called out, "Send for the house doctor!" Baer, agonizing, managed to cough out, "I don't need a house doctor--I need a people doctor!" And then he died.

I Was a Spy (1933). I Was a Captive of Nazi Germany (1936). I Was a Convict (1939). I Was an Adventuress (1940). I Was a Prisoner on Devil's Island (1941). I Was a Criminal (1945). I Was a Male War Bride (1949). I Was a Shoplifter (1950). I Was an American Spy (1951). I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951). I Was a Burlesque Queen (1953). I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957). I Was a Teenage Rumpot (1960). I Was a Teenage Mummy (1962).

The personal-confession genre in American popular journalism was largely the creation of Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), the physical-fitness guru and pulp baron who founded publications ranging from Physical Culture to True Detective and the ineffable New York Evening Graphic. His greatest success, however, was True Story, which he started in 1919 with the idea that ordinary people would pay to read about the experiences of other ordinary people, told in their own words. And he was right: its circulation hit two million in 1926. There may have been editors at the magazine, charged with correcting spelling and policing word-counts, but there were no professional writers. The authors were milkmen and laundresses and stevedores and beauticians. The vaguely popular-front aura didn't last, of course. It soon became apparent that the only ordinary-people stories readers really wanted involved sex or crime, and preferably both at once.

A quiz.
A. In this dramatic low-angle shot, the P.O.V. is that of (1) a child; (2) a bound victim; (3) her mother; (4) a bottle of Old Overholt.
B. She holds her hand to her belly because (1) she feels sick; (2) she is attempting to improve her posture; (3) she has just spontaneously become pregnant; (4) otherwise her négligée would hang tentlike over her buxom form.
C. The detective has knocked on the door because (1) he wants to make sure they are comfortably asleep; (2) the other detectives have sent him there as a prank; (3) he wants to deliver a singing telegram; (4) he wants to cut in.
D. The picture is intended to make you feel (1) secure; (2) superior; (3) titillated; (4) righteously indignant.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cut With the Kitchen Knife

Collage was the dominant motif in twentieth-century art. Among other things it was a symbolic enactment of revolution: taking apart the detritus of the old order and refashioning the pieces into constituent elements of the new. When revolution still seemed like a promise--which was true to some degree as late as the making of this collage, circa 1982--we all had fantasies about how we'd repurpose and retrofit the appurtenances of the standing world. Maybe the French Maoists would use the inner courtyard of the Louvre to slop hogs; maybe the sex-lib people would hold giant orgies in the shells of cathedrals; maybe you and I would make our nest in the linens department of B. Altman and swim in the gutted pit of the Stock Exchange.

Collage repurposed old magazines and assorted visual junk, converting them into architects' renderings of the future, which is to say the dream state. The fact that people are still making collages today attests to the fact that the flame has not entirely gone out. Maybe. When making collages still involved scissors and glue, you had to kill one thing to make another. When the process is digital, nothing has to be sacrificed and everything is in some way provisional, no? Then again, the most vigorous field of collage in the last 25 years has been music, and there for the first time in the history of the practice you've had bloody disputes over ownership. No elderly engravers ever sued Max Ernst, and Ernie Bushmiller never lodged a claim against Joe Brainard. And when mixmasters in Rio favelas assume control over symphonies, you get something very close to the primary ambition of collage.

The other major function of the collage was disorientation--"to win the energies of intoxication for the revolution," as Walter Benjamin, author of the text cited in the collage above, put it. But is that even possible anymore? The chance meeting of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table, unheard of 140 years ago, is banal today, when everything in the world is denatured surrealism. Realizing this is like finding out that the revolution happened ten years ago, in March, at eleven o'clock, while you were brushing your teeth. Although everything changed, so smoothly that you automatically changed right along with it, it didn't alter anything fundamental about power, or ownership. On that score, a few documents changed hands and that was that. Is it possible that the future prophecized by the collage was merely the landscape of media saturation? Or is there another shoe suspended--of which we're oblivious because our dialectical thinking has languished--that will eventually drop?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Dad

This is my father as I never knew him, in jive-hepcat mode, sporting a Lester Young porkpie, Eisenhower jacket, skinny tie, sweater tucked in, high-water pants and white socks, and looking like he's about to launch into a dance routine. (He always did identify with Gene Kelly.) The picture was taken not long after the Liberation, in 1944 or '45, when he had successfully joined the Belgian army (in 1940 he had chased it all the way to Dunkirk to sign up, only to watch from the beach as the whole force sailed off to England). You can see that the truck belonged to his outfit, the 35th Fusiliers. They wore American uniforms and employed American ordnance, because none of their own had survived the war.

I found the picture just recently, among an overlooked trove of photos he kept in a tobacco tin painted with an alpine scene by one of the German POWs he was assigned to guard in a camp outside Mons. Most of the pictures date back to those postwar days, which might have been the happiest period of his life. In them he is always the shortest (he was 5' 2") and the most antic, always front and center, grinning wildly. I was born ten years later, and while I always knew my father as a wit, I never knew him as a kat; I saw him hold forth but never saw him cut up. He was beaten pretty badly by life--specifically by factory labor, financial insecurity, emigration and consequent alienation. In the last forty years of his life (he died in 2001), he essentially had no friends.

The gaps between generations in my family are wide. At least two and as many as six of my great-great-grandparents (that's just two greats) were born in the eighteenth century. My grandfather was born in 1879, my father in 1921. I was born in 1954 and my son in 1999. My father in many ways remains a mystery to me. I intuited all kinds of stories in his past that he didn't want to tell me, presumably out of deference to my pious mother. I spent half my life hoping for some climactic old-age or possibly deathbed truth-telling, but instead he fell to Parkinson's and dementia and didn't speak at all in his last two or three years. At least I have photographs like this one, forensic evidence establishing the fact that my father had a youth. From me, in turn, my son will inherit mostly a pile of words.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Blood for Oil

I saw P. T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood last night, and can't get it out of my head. This picture is roughly from the same time and milieu as its setting, although it sure ain't southern California--the only Waggoner listed in the Geographic Nameserver at MIT is in Montgomery County, Illinois, but I'm guessing this is the Waggoner tract outside Burkburnett, Texas. You get the gallows humor of the period and the business: the caption, obviously, but also simply the fact that a postcard was made up for the victims to send home to their families. You'll see more detail if you enlarge it; the resolution is fine and lavish with specifics: faces, bodies, and debris, including an iron bedstead and a pile of blankets and quilts.

The picture lacks the movie's epic framing, because this is a grunt's eye view. It's nicely composed, but the central figure is not one but a whole knot of guys, and the backdrop is swallowed up by smoke. Here are some of the names of the specialized occupations at an oil field of the time: twister, jarhead, mail-poucher, swivel-neck, biscuit-cutter, boll weevil, bullshitter, cat-head man, derrick monkey, fisherman, pot man, roughneck, shooter, weed whore. Those are the jobs of the men standing around, who've lost their lodgings to fire on the day after Christmas. Most of them will have traveled around from place to place, following the work, for years and maybe for a lifetime.

If you look closely to the left, you'll see that there are hundreds of people in the picture, and at least five jerry-built places of business. A Burkburnett historian (Evelyn Felty at writes: "It was open season on drilling; as close as they could get and as many derricks as they could afford. There were no restrictions. Accidents were frequent. There were very few safety devices; the crews were 'green' or careless in their hurry. The wind blew down the derricks, many times hurriedly erected without guy wires. The need of the men to be near their work resulted in many tents being near the wells; then shacks, dance halls, drinking places, and small towns appeared. And the waste was terrible. The wells came in without tanks to catch the oil. Boilers exploded and fires were frequent. Newtown was wiped out three times." A sign reads: Newtown Grocery.

To properly represent the American experience, there should be as many oil movies as Westerns of the more conventional sort. It could be a genre of its own: the Oiler. There's no lack of color or story or background or character. Our excellent historian again: "
One man kept seven railroad cars, paying 'demurrage' fees just for his dance hall 'girls.' Bridgetown had a dance house at one end of the street and a church at the other. By day the area looked like a burnt cut forest; by night a fairyland, with the lights on top and strung along the derricks." And yet the majority of the movies on the subject listed in the film database were made before 1920. Why do you suppose that is?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bad Luck & Trouble

Upon seeing this image I immediately decided it was a talisman, specifically a protection against further bad luck. It establishes proof of purchase. Bad luck has been had, don't send me no more letters please. It's like the opposite of a trophy shot--instead of holding up a ten-foot marlin, the man shows off his car, his arm, maybe his ankle, and the dry gulch in which misery jumped him. I imagine him carrying the picture in his pocket at all times so that he can take it out and flash it like a get-out-of-jail card. There's a hint of that in certain blues songs: "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all." Surely that's more than just a recital of misfortune--it's a charm intended to reroute the dice.

I'm dogged by bad luck, not that my luck has been so bad, but that I know it might turn at any moment and bite me. This is inheritance. My mother's people were peasants, and peasants live at the whim of the elements. Because weather can change in a day and destroy your crops and ruin your life for months to come, you don't know what delicate balance of nature you might inadvertently upset through the most innocent action or omission. So even though it's not my luck that is depicted, my reptile brain imagines I can use the picture like a sort of ex voto or rabbit's foot to ward off ill chance. Maybe you'll say I don't deserve it, but that's not how sympathetic magic operates. The charm resides in the object itself. I'll nail it up on my blog like a horseshoe over the front door. Bad luck will see it and keep on driving.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Yesterday was the Feast of Debraining, today the fifth day of the month of Debraining in the year 135 of the reign of Ubu. This calendar, a fairly exact parody of the little wallet-size calendars given out in Latin countries that name the patron saint of each day, was stolen by me in 1974 from some Paris bookstore, probably José Corti on rue de Médicis. The year-count dates from the birth of Alfred Jarry and each year starts on his birthday. All the dates record key occurrences in the 'Pataphysical--"'Pataphysics is the science"--universe, including saints' days (Swift, Rimbaud, Lautréamont) and more-or-less recondite allusions to the world of Jarry's works.

The College of 'Pataphysicians, which issued the calendar, was and is a good illustration of what happens to revolutions when they decay into fetishes, in this case of a jocular sort. Jarry was a mad genius--lack of time and space prevents my giving a full accounting, but everyone should read The Life and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll--who ably demonstrated that life is a grotesque cartoon. He undertook to upend most available conventions, down to wearing a paper shirt on which he drew a collar and tie, and eating his meals in reverse order. His heirs, after his early death, formed a genteel dining club (meals eaten in conventional fashion, all attendees in conventional attire), which assigned grandiose titles and published sumptuous ephemera relating to his remarkably coherent world-view. All the 'Pataphysical matter I possess I stole; I couldn't afford to buy them. Jarry would have stolen them, too.

The 'Pataphysical calendar is exemplary, however, and provides a good model for life as it should be lived. This month of Debraining, for example, comprises two feast days of the first degree, one feast day of the second degree, three feast days of the third degree, eighteen feast days of the fourth degree, four vacation days, and one imaginary day. And just as the 'Pataphysical calendar echoes the calendar established on Year One (aka 1793) of the French Revolution, with its bottom-up reorganization of life, so the month's name alludes to the machine à décervelage in Ubu Roi, which is a version of the guillotine--a machine that smoothly pops out the brains of the ruling class. This is something to meditate upon as we slide into the notional year 2008.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Gut Yontif

They are in fact probably celebrating Rosh Hashanah, but what's a little cultural misappropriation among friends? Hard to say what's more poignant: the inscription, the frozen archetypal pose, the jazzy hatbands, the elaborate breast-pocket ornamentation, the apparent wariness of the man on the left, the apparently crazed but probably satirically self-aware determination of the man on the right--or that man's jacket and collar. Is he hoping to grow into them? Is he wearing loaners provided by the photographer? Did he get a special deal on them? Or is it all a gag?

Either way, that man can be our model for this new year: striding forth fiercely, unflappable in flapping garments, responding to laughs with a burning stare, as well-protected as a Zurich Dadaist in a costume of cardboard tubes, as single-mindedly forward-looking as a locomotive, as self-possessed as the resourceful pelican, as optimistic as the ambitious woodpecker. Thus we apostrophize 2008: Behave yourself!