Friday, November 27, 2020

TV Quote of the Day (‘Seinfeld,’ on Music and Madness)

(George Costanza enters Jerry’s apartment singing "Master of the House," a Les Miserables show tune)

George [played by Jason Alexander]: "Master of the house… doling out the charm, ready with a handshake and an open palm. Tells a saucy tale, loves to make a stir, everyone appreciates a.."

Jerry [played by Jerry Seinfeld]: “What is that song?”

George: “Oh, it's from Les Miserables. I went to see it last week. I can't get it out of my head. I just keep singing it over and over. It just comes out. I have no control over it. I'm singing it on elevators, buses. I sing it in front of clients. It's taking over my life.”

Jerry: “You know, Schumann went mad from that.”

George: “Artie Schumann? From Camp Hatchapee?”

Jerry: “No, you idiot.”

George: “What are you, Bud Abbott? What, are you calling me an idiot?”

Jerry: “You don't know Robert Schumann? The composer?”

George: “Oh, Schu-MANN. Of course.”

Jerry: (Trying to scare George) “He went crazy from one note. He couldn't get it out of his head. I think it was an A. He kept repeating it over and over again. He had to be institutionalized.”

George: “Really? …Well, what if it doesn't stop?” (Jerry gestures "That's the breaks." George gasps.) “Oh, that I really needed to hear. That helps a lot!”— Seinfeld, Season 2, Episode 3, “The Jacket,” teleplay by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, directed by Tom Cherones

Even Jerry’s scare tactic isn’t enough to prevent George from breaking into song at an inopportune moment, prompting the fearsome father of friend Elaine Benes to bark, “Pipe down, chorus boy!”

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Photo of the Day: Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, Pittsburgh PA

The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service, from all generations and conflicts. From this photo I took a year ago while visiting in Pittsburgh, I think you can see why it was called “this grand edifice” during its 1910 opening ceremony.

Inside, themed displays range from the Civil War through America’s most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objects displayed include uniforms, medals, firearms, artwork and equipment.

There is a strong local component inside, such as the oak-paneled “Gettysburg Room” (originally a meeting room for members of the Grand Army of the Republic, of Civil War veterans) and the Joseph A. Dugan, Jr. Hall of Valor, focusing on narratives and photographs of 84 Pennsylvania Medal of Honor recipients.

This institution is temporarily closed to walk-in business as part of an international effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Until it can safely reopen, the museum will offer guided tours of the museum by appointment only.

Quote of the Day (Desmond Tutu, on the Blessing of Families)

“You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them.”—South African Anglican Archbishop, human-rights advocate, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (2004)

Happy Thanksgiving, for all our families.

(Photo of Archbishop Tutu taken by Elke Wetzig at the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag in Cologne, Germany, in 2007.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Photo of the Day: Quackenbush Barn, Mahwah NJ

I came upon this barn in early October, in Winter’s Park, Mahwah, NJ. Dating back to around 1850, it was originally located on Sparrowbush Road in the Masonicus section of the town. 

Once belonging to the Wey family, it was sold to Cornelius A. Quackenbush in 1868 and continued in that family’s hands for nearly 75 years. During this period, the barn looked and functioned in a different manner than now, in a two-level structure with animals below and produce and equipment kept above.

The barn was moved to its present site on East Ramapo Avenue in Winter’s Park in 1998 by the Mahwah Historic Preservation Commission.

TV Quote of the Day (‘New Girl,’ As Jess Ponders a Novel Method of Turkey Thawing)

Jess [played by Zooey Deschanel] [unable to thaw a frozen turkey]: “Maybe if I take off all my clothes and I get in bed with it, the heat of my body will warm it up.”—New Girl, Season 1, Episode 6, “Thanksgiving,” original air date Nov. 15, 2011, teleplay by Berkley Johnson, directed by Miguel Arteta

This post is for a friend of mine (AND HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!!) who is a great admirer of Ms. Deschanel.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

This Day in Literary History (O’Hara Returns to Short Fiction in ‘Sermons and Soda-Water’)

Nov. 24, 1960—Eleven years after angrily abandoning short fiction after a negative review in the principal outlet for his work, The New Yorker, John O’Hara marked his return to the form that was his strength (and to the magazine’s fold) with a boxed set of three novellas, Sermons and Soda-Water.

From his first (and usually considered best) novel, Appointment in Samarra, in 1934, O’Hara had brought an excellent ear for dialogue and an encyclopedic knowledge of his characters that helped him depict class distinctions with pinpoint accuracy. But a decade’s departure from the short story brought with it new strengths: a renewed commitment to “get it all down on paper while I can,” a greater desire to depict the social circumstances of his time for a new generation, and an empathy enhanced by the losses and misfortunes of friends.

The collection’s title, derived from Lord Byron’s Don Juan ("Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, / Sermons and soda-water the day after"), suggests its subject: the journey of O’Hara and his generation from their riotous youthful excess in Prohibition through the cataclysms that brought them up short: the Depression and World War II.

Though I consider O’Hara’s novels in his last two decades to be, at a basic level, pleasurable, they were not always consistent, and many critics regard them far more skeptically, as loose, baggy monsters.

But it is hard to find fault with his short stories of the 1960s, which, for breadth of characters and depth of social observation, is virtually unrivaled in American literature.

In a post from nine years ago, on O’Hara’s 1961 story collection, Assembly, I discussed how more fully the nature of this achievement, as well as the nasty Brendan Gill review that precipitated his break from The New Yorker and editor William Maxwell’s shrewd judgment in securing his services again.

The story that convinced Maxwell that the notoriously touchy O’Hara was worth dealing with again was one of the novellas from Sermons and Soda-Water, “Imagine Kissing Pete,” a kind of American “Scenes From a Marriage.” A union begun as an act of spite (sexy Bobbie Hammersmith weds possibly the least desirable member of her circle, Pete McCrea, to get back at a former beau) is followed by mutual infidelity, arguments and straitened circumstances. Yet against all odds, after 30 years, the couple arrive at not merely accommodation but respect and even affection for each other.

As I discussed in this post from 12 years ago about Robert Montgomery, O’Hara missed out on a chance to have that talented writer-director adapt “Imagine Kissing Pete” because of a boorishness that often alienated many admirers.

The other two novellas in the trilogy, "The Girl on the Baggage Truck" and “We’re Friends Again,” though not as superb as “Imagine Kissing Pete,” are similarly distinguished by an elegiac tone and compassion for how his characters dealt with fate that was missing from his earlier short stories.

Typical in this regard is the conclusion of “We’re Friends Again,” in which the narrator ponders what he has learned about his best friend and the latter’s wife:

“I realized that until then I had not known him at all. It was not a discovery to cause me dismay. What did he know about me? What, really, can any of us know about any of us, and why must we make such a thing of loneliness when it is the final condition of us all? And where would love be without it?”

The linked trilogy also marked a return of O’Hara’s alter ego, Jim Malloy, a hard-drinking young writer who had appeared in the 1934 coming-of-age novella “The Doctor’s Son” and the novels BUtterfield 8 (1935) and Hope of Heaven (1938). He is not unlike Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman—a reappearing literary stand-in for the author who, having experienced his own reverses (controversial books, failed relationships, brushes with mortality), functions as a moved observer of friends over time.

The comparison might seem surprising at first, but the turn that O’Hara took in his short fiction in his fifties resembles in some ways that of Henry James:

*Both were writers of manners who, in the fifties, began to write longer fiction as their literary ambitions expanded;

*Both used their disappointing attempts to break into the world of entertainment (James, on the London stage; O’Hara, on Broadway and in Hollywood) as fodder for character creation; and

*Both, terribly saddened by the deaths of loved ones (O’Hara, second wife Belle and close friends Robert Benchley, James Forrestal and Philip Barry; James, sister Alice and brother Willkie), increasingly considered mortality in their work; and,

*Both found the novella an artistically satisfying vehicle.

 Good introductions to both writers can, in fact, be found in such collections (Great Short Novels of Henry James and The Novellas of John O'Hara). They allow for extended treatment of character and theme without the elaborate plot requirements of a longer novel. Above all, they exhibit his sense of verisimilitude, the sense of authority and honesty conveyed by what he called “special knowledge” of social customs.

Quote of the Day (Alice Munro, on the Constant Changes During Childhood)

“Every year, when you're a child, you become a different person. Generally it's in the fall, when you reenter school, take your place in a higher grade, leave behind the muddle and lethargy of the summer vacation. That's when you register the change most sharply. Afterwards you are not sure of the month or year but the changes go on, just the same. For a long while the past drops away from you easily and it would seem automatically, properly. Its scenes don't vanish so much as become irrelevant. And then there's a switchback, what's been all over and done with sprouting up fresh, wanting attention, even wanting you to do something about it, though it's plain there is not on this earth a thing to be done.”—Canadian Nobel Literature laureate Alice Munro, “Child's Play,” in Too Much Happiness: Stories (2009)