Given that we can have a retrospective of a thing, does this mean the first time we encounter a thing is its trospective? If we are planning out a thing, is this its pretrospective?
(This fulfills the promise made last week, when I asked whether a thing being decrepit meant it was possible for it to be crepit or recrepit. Please visit next week when I ask about what it is to Reykjavik.)
I read a lot of nonfiction. Mostly history, it turns out, although sometimes also biography. I don’t know why, but the most interesting stuff to me these days is either histories or, like, collections of children’s comic books from the 50s and 60s. There’s stuff you never imagined Hot Stuff got into. Anyway, while I don’t remember specifically writing this bit from my archives, I do remember why I write it, as opposed to something else.
I was reading a biography of David Sarnoff, because, who wouldn’t? Besides Edwin Armstrong, obviously, and we’re not even going to get into television. Let’s not even get into Philo Farnsworth. There was a stray mention of a little, short-lived project that didn’t go anywhere. My mind quickly thought of the phrase “Intercontinental Ballistic Muzak” and I had to write everything else to fit that. So that’s why it exists, or ever could exist. I loved finding circa-1960-era-appropriate references to go along and bulk the piece out, but this is really a bit made because I wanted one string of syllables introduced to the world. The world, so far, insists it was fine without them. History will vindicate me.
So, digging into my own archives I ran across this old piece about when we were thinking about getting a new television set. We had this nice big old tube TV set. Since it was providing good service we figured to let it carry on until it broke. Which might never happen, since the set was built during the second Grover Cleveland administration and looked ready to go on to become truly old. Thought folks might want to know if they missed the update about that. Yeah, so it exploded. Not so much literally as it started making this hissing sound and flashing light in patterns that people we did not think prone to hysteria told us meant it was about to explode. So I thought you might like to know, and maybe go back over how that all developed.
Today I want to bring some archival attention to A State Of Constant Change, one of my longform essays and one that steps right up to the brink of being curmudgeonly. It’s based, as a lot of my curmudgeon-adjacent stuff is, on reality, which is that I am into these State Quarters and State National Park Quarters. I can’t say why. I really only go looking them over when I decide I’ve got a big enough heap of unsorted coins that I should go through and see if there were any that I didn’t have before. And then when I’ve found all the duplicates I get to go outside with, like, $6.25 in quarters and feel positively flush with capital. But I don’t go paying close attention to the details of coin collecting. It’s entirely possible that I do it just because I’m so clearly the personality type that should collect coins that it’s too much bother not to.
My recollection is that I had specific reasons to bring up these quarters, too. I believe it was the coin-collectors store in the nearby mall. There had been a little piece in the local news about how the guy who owns the coin-collecting store — also one of the few places in town you could change British pounds to something good for our debts, public and private — had produced a movie. I forget what the movie was about. I have the faint memory that it came out in favor of gold. Anyway, on reading it, I realize that the thing that made me write that essay, and not any of the others I might have written, isn’t actually in it. Such are the ways of inspiration, I suppose.
I’m not actually figuring this to be the end of these little retrospective pieces. They’re doing too much to help me get ahead of deadline. If I could write fewer than 2,500 words about some dopey Popeye clip cartoon from 1951 I wouldn’t have to do this sort of thing.
Also I have a lot of fun doing my own archive-binging. Sometimes it’s helped me notice that I have recurring motifs. Sometimes it lets me just watch how my odd little obsessions have developed. One of them is Ray Davies, of the Kinks. Who had among their many great songs “No More Looking Back” so you see why I have a correctly formed joke up in the subject line there.
So here’s an early example of my Ray Davies interest. It’s about some piece of biographical trivia that might even be true, regarding Ray Davies. Also about my interest in getting through life without being punched by Ray Davies. Almost exactly two years later I fused that interest with the way my brain sometimes latches onto a word it’s decided to read wrongly. In this case “unmade”, as in “an unmade movie”.
And earlier this year came this query: Is Ray Davis A Normal Person? This one started as conversation with my love in the car. I forget why we started on this particular topic. In any case it’s a piece I love. Thomas K Dye pointed out (on Twitter) a piece in favor of Ray Davies’s normal-ness that he apparently suffers from hay fever. This is another Kinks song title reference. Also the essay includes me making up a British mailing address, which I find over a hundred godzillion times funnier than everyone else in the whole world combined and I don’t care. In the darkest times of this year I have gone back to it and read the whole address out to myself and felt like things were a little less bleak. I’m sorry it’s not doing that for anyone else, but I like it.
If there’s a motif to my writing besides “slightly overresearched nonsense” it’s a love of historical footnotes. These might be the same thing. But sometimes something really thrilling happens. Like, my mind noticing one of those invisible phrases normally used to make some writing longer. So that’s how I got to wondering about how many people you’d expect to know that in the early 60s Disney considered building an amusement park in Saint Louis. This would not be the only time I had cause to write about Saint Louis, either, although I think this might be the only other. If we don’t count this little essay too. I’ve studied logic.
I’m sorry for the formatting on the blockquote in that second article. The theme I’m using right now interacts weirdly with the ‘cite’ tag that I was using to highlight the titles of TV shows. But I don’t want to change it because I feel like, well, it’s a title. Of course it goes in a ‘cite’ tag, what else would a ‘cite’ mean? But I’m not exactly giving a citation of a work there, and in any case it’s being displayed in a way that makes no sense. Now, of course I could hack the style sheets for that page to make things display correctly. But if you learn anything about style sheets it’s that there’s no hacking them to make things display correctly. You fiddle with things to make a box appear in the center of the page and suddenly you get text that doesn’t appear at all on mobile devices; it’s instead carved into the surface of Saturn’s moon Iaepetus. Nobody understands this and the only cure is to remove all the formatting information.
If the above paragraph made no sense to you, don’t worry. You can ask whoever it is in your life knows style sheets and they will agree: it makes no sense, but that’s how style sheets work. Oh, also it’s extremely funny that I correctly identified something which annoys people who do a lot of this particular kind of thing. What is humor writing, indeed, except correctly identifying things that people who know a thing will agree exists?
I haven’t got a cold. This stands out. It feels to me like I always have a cold. Mostly that’s because I do have a nagging cough that’s persisted from about 1994. The doctor’s ruled out asthma, and maybe sometime I should go back to find out what might be ruled in for it. Mostly it doesn’t impair my life any. I mean I haven’t yet coughed intensely enough in the shower to actually black out.
Anyway, this has been reflected in a bunch of essays posted here so I thought I’d share a couple years’ thoughts on the colds that come back to me.
From 2013: Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds. (Which is not a bad premise and maybe I should re-write the thing.)
From 2015: Cold Comforts (where I see I go on about zinc again.)
From 2017: Hack Work for May 2017 (no zinc mention this time; huh.)
From 2018: Explaining The Common Cold (and I don’t remember whether I had a cold back in April, but I wrote about it, so I probably did?)
Stay healthy, everyone. Somewhere in here I’ll find my 2014 and 2016 bits about colds.
I used to keep guinea pigs. Sometimes I’d have said I used to breed guinea pigs, but truth is, I just kept them. They did the breeding themselves. Despite that I keep today, decades later, learning about them. I had the guinea pigs in the 80s, when nobody knew how to take care of any animal that wasn’t a dog, a cat, or something bred with the intention of being eaten. So here’s an essay about my journey learning some astounding things about guinea pigs. And if you question whether there can, legitimately, be an astounding thing about guinea pigs let me point this out to you: there were no guinea pigs in Zootopia and there was a reason. My essay doesn’t say what it was.
Also here’s an old Statistics Saturday piece about taxonomy and the problems with anything being called a rodent. That’s also fun. Promise.
So as a functional know-it-all I enjoy writing in the “nonfact” mode, that is. That is, using the structure of nonfiction writing to spread some kind of amusing nonsense. I should do it more. A Partial Review of the Plants and Animals of Australia is one of those pieces, and it even let me use some of my own pictures of real animals in a real zoo, and it foreshadows the Mark Trail plot recap due on Sunday. As a bonus, researching this piece caused me to run across the Wikipedia sentence “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic”. Not a funny sentence? Maybe it isn’t. But it has this wonderful rhythm to it that delights me. I will cling to this bauble of words and don’t care what other people think of me for it, unless they think something good or bad about me for it.
I used to draw a fair number of humor pieces from the oddball news. Or from noticing things that weren’t quite oddball but that I happened to notice and that caught my fancy. I’m not sure why I fell out from that. Possibly because reading the oddball news leaves you likely to run across the actual news. Also Reuters took out their “Oddly Enough” news page, and BBC News has moved theirs (“Also in the News”) somewhere I can’t find.
Well, anyway. Here’s a piece from a couple years back when it was easier to find merry little stuff. As often happens with me, it’s based on new advances in materials science, because I’m just like that. I don’t know. I can’t help it. Something about “things that can be surfaces of things” fires my comic imagination, which should do much to explain why I am a humor blogger rather than a successful humor blogger.
I haven’t exactly been binging my own archive. More just sort of nibbling around pieces of it. And I thought I’d share some older stuff that I still like. Also maybe include some thoughts about it.
Anyway, here’s one that’s mostly built out of Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s piece of pop anthropology, It’s An Old New England Custom. I’ve never lived anywhere that had any kind of regional self-esteem. But I appreciate that New Englanders do, and like to play up how they’re some weird slightly alien species. With this piece, I question whether the alleged New England fondess to eat cheese is really all that particular.
Mitchell’s book is available online, and I’ll go ahead and suppose legitimately because that’s easier than actually thinking. Here’s one copy on archive.org, and here’s another. Cheese is the third chapter. It comes in after it being an old New England custom “To Serve Turkey and Cranberry Sauce” but before “To Be Fond Of Fish”.
As it’s the time of year when we run out of time for the year let’s review the Top Ten of the year gone by.
August 22. This is usually a pretty solid 24 hours of the year and once again we really nailed it. Everyone involved with the production of August 22nd should give themselves a round of applause, although not in so unseemly a way.
once-in-james-joyce.com. The rare follow-up project that builds on the brilliance of the original, this scrappy web site allows us to quickly look up all the words which appear precisely one time in the collected works of James Joyce. The site’s designers admitted they thought nothing might top once-in-shakespeare.com but found new challenges and delights in working with another author considering they want to be thought of as the kinds of people who’ve read Joyce without actually going to the trouble of doing it.
Flatware. Although much flatware these days extends into a third dimension and so falls short of being actually flat, it nevertheless remains the best-known way to satisfy the need to have flatware. Besides, flatware can be made much more like itself if one simply is on good terms with one or more steamroller operators or possibly pile-drive drivers. You are on good terms with one or more of them, I hope, lest you have no way of slowing down that determined cartoon cat who’s been chasing you all through the construction site.
Mellifluous. One of the English language’s top words for sounding like what it is without falling into an onomatopoetic trap. It’s especially good for saying out loud in case you ever need the feeling of being a comforting voice actor or movie trailer voice-over person. Rated PG-13, warnings for language use.
People being buried with their cell phones. “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up — I’m entering a long, dark tunnel with a bright light at the end.” I probably accidentally stole that joke from somebody and I hope it was a friend.
Simple home-recipe syrup. Despite the breakthroughs in solving higher-order syrup polynomials that make complex-valued syrups an exciting possibility we can still do quite nicely without anything but real numbers, syrup, and a trio of pancakes with blueberry that turn out to be rather more food than anyone had imagined. Also they come with eggs for some reason. And six pieces of toast. It’s getting to be a little much, but at least it’s a simple much.
Adverbs. These bread crumbs of the English language have stuck on well past their expected end-of-support date. But they’re just too useful in meeting a mandatory word count. And we realize now there would be too large and too noticeable a hole if we did finally get rid of them. The hole would be where the wrong form of “a” or “an” were used.
Swiss IV. This, one of the most exciting cheeses in years, overcomes nearly all the problems inherent in the original Swiss cheese. No longer are its holes too large nor too small. Thanks to the latest of aerogel dairy technology we can just have chunks of cloudlike foam that have within them the potential to be sandwiches. It’s great as it is, and promises to be only better in 2017 when we start to see rooms full of cheese air that let us finally eliminate the difference between eating and breathing. Not for the Vegan or lactose-intolerant eater, but they’re used to that. Do not ask about Swiss II or Swiss III. Everybody involved is still very sensitive about the side effects.
The following Wikipedia Statement: “The Tasmanian rainforest is considered a Gondwanan relic.” Though there have been many unsettling and struggling and disturbing things about the year, to know there is still a general consensus on some rainforest somewhere being a Gondwanan relic is itself a great relief. To know that it is Tasmanian simply adds to the relief, then squares it, then doubles that result, reverse the numbers, subtracts the original number and gives us the result of 17. Is that not amazing?
Chrissy the Christmas Mouse. Despite the proliferation of 24-hour Christmas music stations this chipper little ditty continues to not be overexposed. In fact I don’t remember hearing it at all since 1999 so at this point I have to suppose I just made up this little tune about a mouse that lives in the floorboards of Santa’s house and loves being around all the Christmas activity and finally one year gets to ride in Santa’s sleigh. I can’t have made that up, can I? But nobody ever plays it. So that’s good. Or maybe I did imagine it in which case I’ve got a great idea for a catchy Christmas tune that’ll become horribly overused inside of like two years. Let me know.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points when everyone resolved they had indeed eaten too much over the eating holidays this year and they were going to start a serious diet come Monday.