Posted something at the work blog today about these apps that help you do things you previously did with low-tech means, like assembling grocery lists. One of the comments praised a grocery app that gave you turn-by-turn instructions in your store. I never, ever want to hear my phone say “You have arrived at frozen breaded chicken patties.” The idea of people walking through a store, pushing a cart, staring at the screen to see where the coffee is located - as opposed to looking up for the word COFFEE - is the sort of thing from a comedic dystopia. Then: story in the WSJ the other day about someone else starting a service that delivers groceries to your house. The predicate for the business: “no one likes to go grocery shopping.”
I love to go grocery shopping. I went grocery shopping tonight; hit four stores in 90 minutes. Explain to me how it is possible to have an understanding of modern American culture without going to the grocery store. Someone who grocery-shops weekly has a better grasp on our civilization than somoene who spends four years getting a doctorate in Markerting. If they offer such things. I suspect that anyone interested in marketing gets out there and markets as soon as possible, and a doctorate would be useful only for teaching other people about Marketing, which you’ve never done, but studied.
It’s like Journalism school. Saying you understand Journalism because you went to Journalism school is like saying you have a command of the basics of Dentistry because you used a pencil to black out the teeth in a picture of someone’s head.
Speaking of Target: such fun.
A sign of the absolute depth of early mid-winter, if I can fix this time with as much precision as possible. You have to watch the Seasonable section at Target to see what's next in the retail pipeline. Christmas is gone. It's not time for the Spring stuff, which shows up way too early and makes you pine with a leaden heart for the cozening breezes of May. For a while they had the International Bazaar, which consisted of many different items all made in China, but now it's the . . . Stocking Up in Quantity season, because you've nothing to do but gather bales of toilet paper and play Family Fun board games and look west, noting that the sun died a minute later today. That counts for something.
This will be scant, because it's a column night and I have a big piece due Friday. The situation: 3,000 word piece due. The problem: I wrote 5,000 words. This is actually easier than only writing 2,000, despite what some may say. “Oh, editing it down is harder.” Nonsense. Only if you treasure every word. I do not subscribe to the “Kill your darlings” idea, though; If I love a line, might it not be a sign that it’s a good one? “But your judgment is clouded.” By what? Decades of experience?
The essay is mostly humorous, at least by contemporary definitions. It will not be funny soon enough. Styles change, references get lost, talents sag. For some reason I was thinking about S. J. Perelman the other day. In college I thought he was the best humorous writer, period. Inventive command of the language, occasional surreal bits of wordplay, confident persona. I am afraid to reread him, and discover I don’t laugh at his work anymore.
Then I thought it might be a consolation to see what he was writing at my age, and decide whether he had lost it. There’s a writerly endeavor, isn’t it? Ah, idol of youth, how you phoned it in. But that seemed like the work of a cramped spirit with no sympathy and malice galore - in other words, like Perelman. Or so I thought after reading some biographical notes, all of which noted his prickly and severe personality, his indifference to his children. You get a sense of the man in this Paris Review interview, which is amusing as a piece of performance, but he wasn’t giving an exaggerated account of himself for the purposes of entertainment. He was just that much of a pill, as my mother used to say.
He references George Ade as an inspiration in his youth. If ever there’s proof that humor evaporates and leaves only an empty glass with peculiar stains, it’s Ade. You really did have to be there.
I read a biography of Kafka once that left two images in my mind: one, he drove a motorcycle, which seems at odds with the image of the frail tortured artist, and two, he laughed when he read aloud “The Cockroach” to a friend. Puts an entirely different spin on things, no? “A man wakes up and discovers he’s turned into a dung beetle” isn’t that far from “A man walks into a bar.”
Okay, I went back and read some later Perelman. “Chicken Inspector #23.” It has moments, but to modern eyes - specifically, the ones in my head - it seems a bit labored and thick, which is the precise opposite of what he was aiming for. What was fleet of foot and nimble now seems like cold gravy.
He split from his wife and went to War. After that, nothing. In related news, the Eagles song eventually led to the creation of a "Standing On The Corner" park in Winslow.
It's in the middle of the block.
And now . . . a new feature.
It can get repetitive, looking at one small town after the other - so this year I'll alternate with big cities as seen by the omniverous eyes of the Google Street View cars. Today: from 130th to 140th street in New York City.
I cannot imagine what that was. Part of a larger building, perhaps - wing of something more majestic that served the community for decades. I can't figure out that single arched window; surely it had company.
It's not all ruins, as you'll see, and I'm not trying to find Grim Urban Vistas. But, well, GUV:
You can't tell what was ever there, or what took place there, only that fun and money have fled.
Now this is more like it:
If there's anything that surprises the first-time visitor to New York, it might be the bigness of ordinary things, and their quantity. This would be a huge apartment in a smaller city, almost a landmark; here, it's simply one of an endless series of brick apartment buildings with a few elegant touches and fire escapes for hot-night sleeping.
The stories behind those windows. You can't even begin to imagine the stories.
And then there's the pride of the neighborhoods: the Churches. Three different structures:
Workmen? Residents? Movers? It's the tree with the single red ornament that suggests a story we'll never know. Possibly someone went into the hospital before Christmas and never got out.
No one's home.
Except you suspect that the entire building is occupied. Just not legally.
You turn the corner from something boarded up or gutted, and you find a street like this: quintessial early 20th century Big American city.
All these pictures snapped by a wandering auto with a robot camera.