Well That’s Just Great: a blog by Anthony Giffen

wellthatsjustgreat


There are some interesting characters on the Net. One of my favorite scifi / fantasy authors, Diane Duane, has a Tumblr account, and I love the fact that she interacts with her fans (none of whom is more starstruck than I). There’s George Takei, who is a national treasure. There’s Robert Reich, my favorite former Cabinet member, who posts discursively intelligent pieces on Facebook.

And then there is Anthony Giffen.

He lives in central Florida, not far from DisneyWorld. He has a Tumblr account called wellthatsjustgreat, and he co-writes a Tumblr with his dog Ducky called – what else? – wellthatsjustducky.

Anthony is one of the most naturally funny people I’ve ever encountered online,

He is witty, and funny, and outrageous. He posts sentimental pics of Disney attractions. His faintly political posts suggest that he’s a liberal, as I am.

His dog Ducky is bossy and imperious. (I love that he talks to Ducky, and that Ducky talks back. There’s a Ducky post once a week, usually on Sunday evenings.) Ducky doesn’t like the household cat, or waiting for Anthony to come home, or seeing Anthony sad.

And Anthony is sad sometimes. He speaks very frankly about his depression, and his relationships past and present, and his daily life.

He is an interesting person, and you can do yourself a favor by subscribing to his Tumblr account.

Also: he’s putting together a book – a real book! – of his conversations with Ducky.

I predict great things for this young man, and for his goofy dog.

Please go look them both up. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.


Goodbye to Posterous

posterous logo


I wrote something in late 2012 about leaving Posterous. It was getting treacherous, and the website was often difficult, and I decided I’d leave it.

But – here’s the thing – when it works, it’s wonderful! It autoposts to everything! It’s so convenient!

So I decided to think about it for a while.

Well, there’s no more thinking to be done. Posterous is done, as of March 31: finished completely. Twitter is absorbing its staff and its servers.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that I’m posting this blog in five places rather than six. My method currently is this: I post these blogs on Posterous and WordPress, and they automatically post to all of the other Internet properties (Blogger, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter).

Now what?

I began with Posterous because some of my favorite celebrity bloggers, like Mark Bittman, used Posterous. It seemed reliable and steady, and the create-post screens were pretty straightforward. Also: it autoposted everywhere.

Except that, once in a while, it got uppity and refused to do anything at all.

Irritating!

Well, no need to worry about that now. For those of you (not many) who read me or who subscribe to me on Posterous: please move over to futureworldblog.wordpress.com.

Rest in peace, Posterous.

The cursed restaurant

cursed restaurant


There is a small restaurant right across the street from my office building. When we first got there thirteen years ago, it was a luncheon counter / bar, and it got pretty regular business, and you could buy lottery tickets there. It was grimy-looking inside and out, and gave the impression that it had been there for years.

And suddenly, after a few years, it closed.

The building stood empty for a couple of years. Then two young entrepreneurs bought it and turned it into a club (upstairs) and restaurant (downstairs). The club did very well, and is still going strong (I find lots of broken glass and car keys and discarded compacts and cigarette wrappers in our parking lot on Monday mornings).

The downstairs restaurant flailed around for a few years and finally closed.

Then it redecorated, and put out new signs. It was now a cute little Italian restaurant! Partner and I ate there once, and it was excellent. We made a resolution to eat there again, but before we knew it, it was gone.

Then it became a “Latin grill.” The few people who ate there said it was pretty good. Then I spoke to someone who said he’d eaten there the week before and it was pretty bad. Then, a few days after that, they closed.

Now I see it’s Jamaican/Caribbean.

How long do you think this incarnation will last?

Some people think that there are buildings that have curses on them. Remember Babu’s Pakistani restaurant on “Seinfeld”? Babu didn’t succeed, and neither did anyone else in that venue.

It’s a curse, I tell you.

(So: do you feel like Jamaican food? If so, act quickly! In a few weeks, it’ll be Korean!)


Redacting the trash

redacting the trash


My office recently began recycling its trash in earnest.

And guess who gets to lead the recycling effort? Yes, you guessed it: little old me, natural offspring of the Lorax and Woodsy Owl.

I am a natural Green Warrior. I have no car, and I walk a lot, and I take public transportation. I turn off lights and appliances when they’re not in use. I buy compact fluorescent bulbs (even though I’ve noticed they don’t last as long as everyone said they would; they seem to burn out almost as quickly as regular incandescent bulbs). I take sackloads of household goods and clothing to the Salvation Army. I was born in Ecotopia, after all, and I’m still an Ecotopian citizen in my heart.

But not everyone feels the same way about recycling.

I tried to make the office recycling method as easy as I could. We have blue garbage cans (for recyclables) and gray garbage cans (for non-recyclables). We have color-coordinated bin liners! We have posters, and lists, and information!

And still, every day, I find the wrong garbage in the wrong garbage can.

It’s usually first thing in the morning, when I arrive at the office. I think the University police use our cafeteria at night when they’re patrolling, and they throw their greasy pizza boxes and burrito wrappers and orange peels in the blue garbage bin, where it doesn’t belong.

I sigh. I like the fact that the cops come in at night; the building is much more secure as a result. I can deal with a little non-Green behavior.

And I roll up my sleeves, and dig the greasy wrappers out of the blue bin, and deposit them in the gray bins. And the orange peels, and slimy plastic containers, and everything else.

One of our computer programmers was watching me do it the other day. “What in the hell are you doing?” he asked.

“Redaction,” I said. “I’m redacting the garbage.”

He shook his head and grinned.

I don’t mind. I have no pride, and I have no shame. If someone sees me digging in the garbage with both hands, I can brush it off with a smile.

I’m working for the good of the planet.

(And you know what? My great-aunt Estelle was a cleaning lady for years. It’s not a bad job. It’s simple and repetitive and calming. If I ever lost everything and had to start over again, I think I could be a custodial worker.)

(It’s an honest living.)


For Sunday: The Cars sing “Tonight She Comes” (1985)

tonight she comes

 

Music was all over the place in the 1970s and 1980s: punk, acoustic, disco, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Minnie Riperton, Blondie, Phoebe Snow, Foghat, the Talking Heads, the B52s.

But there was a moment in 1985 when New Wave and dance music and rock ‘n roll and crazy hairstyles were in exact alignment.

Ladies and gentleman: Ric Ocasek and the Cars sing “Tonight She Comes.”

Enjoy.


The Rhode Island School of Design

risd


The Rhode Island School of Design, or RISD (pronounced “risdee”), is Brown University’s little brother to the west, on the downward slope of College Hill facing downtown. It has produced many creative artists: I will name only Seth MacFarland and the Talking Heads, but there are lots more.

When I went to hear Lynda Barry a while back, I entertained myself before the presentation by watching the audience (mostly RISD students) coming in. Ah, kids, they appear to be having a lot more fun than the average college student! They were dressed very entertainingly. One had a hoodie like a faux panda, made to look as if the panda was eating her head from behind. Another’s hoodie was (I think) Piglet from “Winnie-The-Pooh.” There were lots of other interesting hats, from various cultures around the world, and from no culture at all.

Hair color: why stop with one? A little blue on this side, maybe some crimson on the other.

And did you ever think the 1990s would be retro? The kid sitting next to me had a flannel shirt and a mock-Rasta hairstyle and a kind of Peruvian jacket; he was carrying his skateboard, and it dropped and rattled noisily, and he looked at me very apologetically.

O my the faculty! One was very dignified, balding, handsome, but wearing something that looked like Charlie Brown’s zigzag-embossed shirt. Another was wearing something like formal pajamas.

Everyone was having a wonderful time. More than that: they were having a lot more fun than I remember having in college.

Is it too late for me to get a degree in design?


Biographies

biographies


Lately I’ve found myself drawn to the biography section of the Providence Public Library. Think of it! Truman, Marechal Foch, Thomas Cranmer, Napoleon, Cleopatra, Nellie Bly, all side by side.

Recently I read two biographies in a single weekend: one of Edna St. Vincent Millay (“Restless Spirit,” by Miriam Gurko), and “O Rare Don Marquis!” by Edward Anthony.

By Sunday evening I was sad and thoughtful.

Biographies generally end with the death of the protagonist. These two were no exception. Millay loved life and dreaded death, so the account of her death at the age of fifty-eight (very soon after the death of her beloved husband) was very saddening. Marquis saw much death in his life – his two children, both of his wives – and died young himself, of a stroke, at fifty-nine years of age.

I’m fifty-five. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this.

Millay was the spirit of her age. She wrote tons of lyric poetry, in traditional meter and rhyme; she lived in Greenwich Village and associated with all kinds of people; she was a feminist ahead of her time. Her poetry is memorable, and still anthologized. I find that I know lots of her poetry by heart, even now.

Is she still taught at all? Does anyone still read her?

Marquis was a newspaper columnist. He created characters: the Old Soak, an alcoholic managing to get by during Prohibition; Hermione, a fashionable intellectual; Archy, a cockroach who’d been a free-verse poet in a previous life; and Mehitabel, an alley cat who claimed she’d been Cleopatra in a previous life.

Marquis wanted to be remembered for his serious verse, and his plays.

He is remembered to this day for Archy and Mehitabel.

He foresaw this, and dreaded it. He did not want to be remembered for two comic characters he’d created: a literary cockroach, and a cat who was a lady in spite of everything.

And yet, to this day, these are his books that are remembered.

There are lessons to be learned from biographies, if you know where to look for them.


Mnemonics

mnemonic


I used to have a spectacular memory. I remembered everything: lists, conversations, details, names, embarrassing stories.

But now I am getting old, and my memory is getting all Swiss-cheese. Proper nouns are the first things that seem to be getting jettisoned. I can’t remember the name of the eldest son of Pandu in the Mahabharata. I can’t remember the name of the character who begins “Anna Karenina” with his very entertaining dream of “tables who are women.” I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Katniss in “The Hunger Games”!

So I am trying to rely on mnemonics, for what little good it will do me.

One is “the house.” Picture the floorplan of the house you grew up in. Now: walk around the house, in your mind. Put something you want to remember in each room. If you go back later (in your mind), you’ll find those things there.

This works pretty well for me (when I remember to do it). My childhood house had a long hallway, with rooms on either side, and I put things in the beds, and in the toilet, and on the sofa in the living room.

Also there’s the Peg Bracken method: flagpole, underwear, tricycle, pig.

A flagpole is vertical, like the number one. Underwear come in pairs, like the number two. Tricycles have three wheels. Pigs have four legs.

So let’s say you want to buy butter, and yogurt, and flour, and ground beef.

The flagpole is flying a flag made of butter. The underwear has a big picture of yogurt on it. There’s a big bag of flour on the tricycle. The pig is eating a big trough full of ground beef.

I’ll stick with the “house” method, thanks.



Snowflakes

snowflakes


I was waiting for the University shuttle the other day, and it was snowing very lightly. The temperature was probably twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

And the snowflakes were perfect.

I watched them as they landed on my jacket, one by one. Each was a six-pointed miracle, and all of them were different.

Did you know that you can actually preserve snowflakes? You can use something called Formvar, or even clear acrylic spray paint. If you do it right, you will have perfect little gems that will last forever.

(I first read about this in a children’s magazine in the 1960s. I have always wanted to try it. But I know in my heart that never in a billion years would I ever get something like that to work.)

It’s nice, in any case, to think of nature’s infinite variety: that every snowflake is different from every other snowflake.

Except – surprise! – it’s not true.

From Sciencebase.com:

 

 

The short answer is no. Despite what you may have heard some snowflakes are exactly the same shape and size as other snowflakes.

Of course they are.

Linus and Lucy knew this as long ago as 1963:

 

 

peanuts

 


 

News is news

news is news


Recently I wrote about young George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” and his (evident) impression that two men kissing was newsworthy.

Well, it got me thinking. What do we mean – what do I mean – by “newsworthy”?

There’s an excellent show on Sunday mornings called “Reliable Sources,” hosted by Howard Kurtz, which tries to answer that question. It examines the news of the week – not for itself, but for the way it’s been covered. It asks: are we getting the news correctly? And, just as importantly: Are we getting the right news?

This last Sunday, Kurtz and his guests examined the relative importance of this week’s big stories: President Obama’s State of the Union address, the crazy California policeman who killed people and then got killed himself, Marco Rubio’s drink of water, and the Carnival cruise that stalled in the Caribbean.

Obviously the State of the Union was the most important story of the four: it will have the most lasting implications, over the coming months. But the networks were apparently thinking about split-screening it with the Jonathan Dorner siege, if it came to it.

Well, wasn’t the Dorner story news? Yes, in a way. It was certainly important to Californians, as it impacted their own safety. It also reflected on the inner workings of the police force, and how they react to attacks on their own. But it wasn’t as weighty a story as the State of the Union. And the standoff at the mountain cabin was pure theatrics. And – imagine – the networks thought about split-screening it with the State of the Union!

The Marco Rubio story was purely fluff, naturally. However: like Dan Quayle misspelling “potato,” and like Howard Dean’s unfortunately Muppetish scream in 2004, it showed him to be maybe less than Presidential timber. So it was probably half a story, at most.

The Carnival cruise? One “Reliable Sources” guest quoted statistics on the number of Americans who take cruises, and it’s a significant number. And Carnival is based in Panama, and sails under Bahamian flags, and has offices in Miami. This raises serious questions about management and organization. How many times over the past few years have Carnival cruises come to grief? Several, including (most tragically) the Costa Concordia in Italy. This is a real story. (But it’s a story about a mismanaged corporation. It’s not a story about how badly the passengers suffered. They ate a lot of vegetable sandwiches, and used smelly toilets for a couple of days. They weren’t transported forcibly to Somalia.)

I love “Reliable Sources.” It grounds me. It reminds me of a passage from the Analects of Confucius (chapter seven, verse 21): “The Master did not speak of anomalies, feats of strength, rebellions, or divinities.”

 

 

In other words: flashy stuff is fun, but it’s not really worth your serious attention.

So how ‘bout them Kardashians?


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