Turn 16, Eat Fish

Back again around December 1. There are things to do and things to eat between now and then. This year we might not bother with a separate Thanksgiving dessert, because a fair amount of Lilly’s birthday cake is still around. I can’t resist a half sheet when the time comes, so it always takes a while to get through it all.

As for the main ingredients of the feast — or really, just a large meal, since it won’t be boisterous enough to rise to the level of a feast — it’ll be some variety of large bird. It will not be expertly prepared raw fish. We had that for Lilly’s birthday meal.

I’m pretty sure that isn’t what I ate when I turned 16. But those were slightly different times.

Im Cabaret, Au Cabaret, To Cabaret

What’s winter up North without a spot of snow? Last winter, that’s what. So far this winter — which seems to be under way, despite what people say about the solstice marking the beginning — has more snow than last. At least, we got some today.

The dog likes to run around in it.

On Saturday, Lilly and I watched Cabaret on DVD. That movie and I go back a long way. In fact, I was taken to see it with the rest of my family when it was new, though I was too young to understand much of it. Since then, I’ve seen it — four? five times? It’s one of my favorite musicals, though technically I suppose it isn’t a musical, but a drama with a sort of Greek Chorus. We had the soundtrack on LP and later I got it on CD.

Some time ago I saw Cabaret on the stage, and more recently read The Berlin Stories, which count as the source material, though it’s remarkable how different all the iterations are. For instance, I remember working my way through Christopher Isherwood’s stories and thinking, when is Sally Bowles going to show up? She does, in one story. In the greater scheme of the narrative, she’s one of a number of passing characters. Well drawn and with some the elements of the later Sally, but not the main character she’d ultimately become. If I were a completist, I’d look into the ’50s movie I Am a Camera, but I don’t have a particularly strong urge to do so.

Lilly had something of a 16-year-old girl reaction to the film. Which is only reasonable. She didn’t like the fact that by the end of the movie, Sally and Brian weren’t together any more. But they weren’t right for each other, I said. No matter, that isn’t the ending she wanted. She reported greater satisfaction from Catching Fire, which she saw on Saturday night with her friends and assorted millions of others. Wonder which entertainment will stick with her longer.

Item From the Past: A Day at the Office

As expected, a wicked cold weekend – at least for November. Was positively Januaryish, without piles of snow. Authoritative prediction says it’ll be around freezing hereabouts through Thanksgiving at least.

One compensation: the evening skies have been very clear. Venus, which is the Evening Star right now, hangs brilliantly in the west after sunset. More subtle minds than mine have pondered Venus lighting up the west. A little Blake:

Thou fair-hair’d angel of the evening

Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light

Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown

Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!

I just look up and think, Wow, look at Venus.

Twenty-six years ago toward the end of November, for reasons I don’t remember, the entire staff of the magazine I worked for at the time got together for a group photo. I’ve had a copy since then.

There was a time, and it extended until past 1987, when men went to the office wearing a tie. No one had to put on a tie to pose for this picture. The term might have been around at the time, somewhere, but I’m sure we hadn’t heard of “casual Friday” or any other casual day when we posed there in our Chicago office.

Top from left: Howard (RIP), Sandy, Mike, me, Kevin, John. Bottom from left: Lisa, Linda, Harriet (RIP), Maryann, Lori (RIP) and Winnie. I think I’ve marked all the RIPs correctly. I haven’t kept touch with quite everyone.

The Memory Be Not Quite So Green

Turning cold. It’ll be colder, they say, over the weekend, like full-blown winter without snow cover.

Why am I hearing so much about Kennedy? Lilly asked the other day. She’d heard something on TV, or something at school, or somewhere. I told her it was the 50th anniversary of his death on Friday. After that, you won’t hear so much, unless you take a special interest.

Will there be much interest in 2063? I doubt it, but I’ll also never know. President Kennedy won’t be completely forgotten, of course, even as his life and unfortunate death slip from living memory (I’m on the leading edge of people who don’t remember him – the majority of the world now).

I suspect his memory will shrink, just as it has, say, for President McKinley. Who has his place in the collective memory, and a physical memorial, too. Just not a very well known one. One of these days, I need to take a look at it, but I seldom make it over to Ohio.

Showing Unwanted Guests the Door

Gray and then more rain today, though not as intense as the storm of a few days ago. In fact I didn’t realize it was raining until I opened the back door to let the dog out late in the evening. Such is the isolation from the elements possible when you’re at your keyboard, the shades are closed, and various other electronic noisemakers are on in other parts of the house.

This is a good collection of sketches. I hadn’t seen some of them in many years, especially the Dirty Fork sketch. But I can’t take it seriously as a “Best of” Monty Python list if it leaves out the Spanish Inquisition and Spam.

Today’s main achievement was destroying a vexatious program that somehow or other installed itself recently on the machine I use to make my living — a program that apparently inserts ad hyperlinks on various words on various web sites I visit (including BTST). That by itself wasn’t so bad, but in the last day or two, the thing morphed into a monster, opening pages when I didn’t want them opened and (I figured out later) slowing the machine down intolerably.

Who, exactly, believes this kind of shenanigan is going to lead to higher sales of anything? Or is it simply an automated way of running up clickthrough totals? I don’t care, I’m just glad it’s gone.


Not long ago, I put many of my dictionaries together on one shelf. Then I got a little snap happy with the camera. Most of them date from the 1980s. It’s a modest collection, but I’m fond of all of them.

I’ve always kept the biographical and geographical dictionaries together. Just seems right somehow. They’re really good for thumbing through to  find odd bits of information.

The beaten up American Heritage Dictionary New College Edition is beaten up for a reason: I bought it on August 23, 1979 — I wrote the date inside — to take to college two days later. It also got a lot of use in my early editing jobs.

The Dictionary of Business and Economics was so impressive I wrote the authors, complimenting it. The Macquarie Dictionary is Australian. I bought it in Sydney and it became one of the larger souvenirs I’ve ever lugged home. Chambers is British, but bought it in the U.S. I can’t find my Canadian dictionary, which is really a modified American Heritage volume, including the addition of the maple leaf on the cover. I bought it in Duncan, BC, which is on Vancouver Island.

Between Hitchen and Hittite Law

A major re-arrangement of books and other items continues on the lower level of our house. Today I moved my copy of the 14th Edition of Encyclopædia Britannica. Why do I have a copy of such a weighty set of volumes – and I mean that literally, since I had to move them all – in this age of vast libraries accessible via broadband? Sentiment. Inertia. My fixed notion that I’ll never get rid of a book unless it’s completely fallen apart.

That isn’t quite true. I’ve donated books. But only ones I have no interest in, and I’ve never had many books like that.

Besides, I acquired the 14th Edition nearly two decades ago, before the rise of easy Internet information, misinformation, and pseudoinformation. I chanced across a church rummage sale one day in 1995. The entire set was being offered there for exactly $2. So at 24 volumes, that was 8.3 cents a volume. Not the famed 11th Edition, but at that price worth the investment.

I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time with Britannica over the years, but I’ve dipped into the well now and then. One day I spotted the entry for Hitler, Adolph. The entry isn’t as prominent as you’d think, because the 14th Edition was published in late 1929, which turned out to be awful timing for selling expensive books. Hitler merits only 16 lines on Volume 11, page 598, there between entries for Hitchen, a town in Hertfordshire, England, and Hittite Law: see Babylonian Law. Would that he had stayed there in his obscure corner of an old reference work.

He’s called a “Bavarian politician.” It’s clear from the text that his main claim to fame at that moment, at least in the English-speaking world, was his part in the Beer Hall Putsch. (Ninety years ago this month, which I’d forgotten; but the Chicago Tribune, of all things, recently reminded me of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht this month. The paper was able to find a few survivors and interview them.) The text also points out that, whatever his status in the NSDAP, Hitler didn’t even have a seat in the Reichstag representing the party – Dr. Frick and Ludendorff did.

Ludendorff, whose entry in the encyclopedia is a lot longer than Hitler’s, later broke with the Nazis and had the good fortune to die of natural causes in the mid-30s. By contrast, Wilhelm Frick, not one of the better-known Nazis any more, was shown the business end of a rope in Nuremberg in 1946.

Ugly Sweater

Wicked winds blew threw the Midwest today. Up here in metro Chicago, we only got strong winds and heavy rains for a while, plus unusually warm air. It was like a spring storm. To the south of here, some destruction — like spring tornado season.

Dressing up the dog wasn’t my idea. Dogs should be as naked as they were in the Garden of Eden, except for collars (surely Adam and Eve had a dog). Lilly spotted this dog sweater at some big box retailer recently, and now we have it. The dog’s only worn it once so far.

The label says it’s an Ugly Sweater brand pet costume, “for pets only,” made in China. The dog is wearing size M, for dogs up to 50 lbs. Fits most breeds, it says, including cocker spaniels, border collies, beagles, French bulldogs, and standard schnauzers. And, it seems, lab-basset mixes.

Lights No, Flags Yes

While driving along this evening I saw two houses with Christmas lights. Christmas lights all aglow here in mid-November. No, no, no. I can understand putting up the lights during the relatively warm days of November – even though it’s been cold lately – but lighting them? Let November be November, not some run-up to December.

Another thing I saw in the neighborhood: a flagpole flying the Hawaiian state flag, right under the U.S. flag. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Hawaiian flag around here before. It’s one of the cooler state flags, with its Union Jack canton and red, white and blue stripes supposedly symbolizing the major islands. I wonder what the occasion is; maybe the homeowners were there recently, and brought it back as a souvenir.

I also wonder whether they’ll fly the flag on Hawaiian holidays. According to the always interesting Flags of the World web site, whose Hawaii page includes such details as an 1896 variation on the flag, state occasions on which to fly the flag include Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Day and King Kamehameha I Day, March 26 and June 11, respectively. Also, the third Friday in August is Statehood Day.

And, of course, not everyone is happy about the Hawaiian flag, even though it was used by the independent kingdom in the 19th century.

A Bit of Random Mencken

Most of the snow is gone, as expected, though pockets remain in shady spots. Temps are supposed to be as high as 60 F over the weekend, though, and that’ll return us completely to November brown.

Books are being re-arranged downstairs in a major way, and today I opened my copy of The American Language (Fourth Edition, 1936) at random, which is a good way to approach that work. Picked at random, page 211:

“The majority of the numerous Spanish loan-words in American came in before the Civil War, but the Spanish-American War added insurrecto, trocha, junta, ladrone, incommunicado, ley fuga, machete, mañana, and rurale, some of which are already obsolete; and the popularity of Western movies and fiction has brought in a few more, e.g., rodeo, hoosegow (from juzgado, the past participle of juzgar, to judge) and wrangler (from caballerango, a horse-groom), and greatly increased the use of others,” Mencken writes. “Chile con carne did not enter into the general American dietary until after 1900. The suffix –ista came in during the troubles in Mexico, following the downfall of Porfirio Díaz in 1911.”

Barista, in fact, is borrowed from Italian, but fashionista is patterned after Sandinista. Mencken wasn’t referring to that, however, and he doesn’t say what -ista word he’s thinking of from the 1910s, rather than the 1980s, when (I think) fashionista was coined, as Clintonista was in the 1990s.

One more language-related item. I didn’t know that some Germans were so touchy about Anglicisms in German. Golly, you’d think they were French.