Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Apocalypse Oil

Today’s misreading is brought to you by Braun, the maker of electric razors, coffee crushers and hand vacuums.

This morning as I was reaching for something in the bathroom cabinet, my eyes scanned a small plastic vial of liquid. Because I was not really looking at it, and because I did not really care, and because the mind will always rush to fill in the blanks, what I saw there was a bottle of Apocalypse Oil.

Right there in the bathroom cabinet. Apocalypse Oil! The apocalypse couldn’t go on without it. All brought to you by Braun, maker of appliances for small household chores such as ending the world.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some Paintings from The Map and the Territory

The Journalist Jean-Pierre Pernaut Chairing an Editorial Meeting: The expressions of Pernaut’s staff, listening to the directives of their charismatic leader with a curious mixture of veneration and disgust, had not been easy to render.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology: The Conversation at Palo Alto: Jobs ... seemed paradoxically an embodiment of austerity, or the Sorge traditionally associated with Protestant capitalism. There was nothing Californian in the way his hand clutched his jaw as if to help him some difficult reflection. 

The Stock Exchange Flotation of Shares in Beate Uhse: Reminiscent of the expressionist period, we are very far from the scathing, caustic treatment of a George Grosz or an Otto Dix...His traders in running shoes and hooded sweatshirts, who acclaim with blasé world-weariness the great German porn businesswoman, are the direct descendants of the suited bourgeois who meet endlessly in the receptions directed by Fritz Lang. 

Ferdinand Desroches, Horse Butcher and Claude Vorilhon, Bar-Tabac Manager: if Martin began by looking at two washed-up professions, it was in no way because he wanted to encourage lamentations on their probable disappearance; it was simply that they were indeed going to disappear soon, and it was important to fix their images on canvas. 

Aimée, Escort Girl: A fulfilled young woman, both sensual and intelligent ... treated with an exceptionally warm palette based on umber, Indian orange, and Naples yellow. 

The Engineer Ferdinand Piech Visiting the Production Workshops at Molsheim: The wide V-shaped formation of the small group of engineers and mechanics following Piech on his visit to the workshops recalled very precisely ... the group of agronomists and middle-poor peasants accompanying President Mao Zedong in a watercolor reproduced in issue 122 of China in Construction, entitled Forward to Irrigated Rice Growing in the Province of Hunan! 

Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market: The night itself wasn't right: it didn't have that sumptuousness, that mystery one associates with nights on the Arabian Peninsula; he should have used a deep blue, not ultramarine. He was making a truly shitty painting. He seized a palette knife, cut open Damien Hirst's eye, and forced the gash wider; it was a canvas of tight linen fibers, and therefore very tough. 

Michel Houellebecq, Writer: Martin probably chose to portray him in the middle of a universe of paper neither to make a statement about realism in literature nor to bring Houellebecq closer to a formalist position ... Without doubt, more simply, he was taken by a purely plastic fascination with the image of these branching blocks of text, engendering one another like some gigantic octopus.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Same old busyness

The war is scheduled for next week.
It will be a short war, possibly bloodless.
And on the weekend
there will be dancing.

Friday, August 16, 2013


The school summer vacation ends next week. In Germany, summer break time is kinder than in the US, clocking in at just six weeks, a manageable amount of leisure. The 12 weeks I had as kid in NJ wasn’t only enough for my parents, but also for me, pining away for my friends and frenemies at the end of August.

Just before school resumed I always went back-to-school shopping with my mother. What I wanted most was sweaters and a pair of corduroys, even though September was still too hot for them, even though you could still go sleeveless. 

I mentioned this annual event to my mother the other day, who revealed she’d disliked it. She put an advance cap on spending, a good move. I never do that with my kids - I just expect reason to kick in. But then again we don’t really go back-to-school shopping, summer being rather short, not long enough to grow out of your clothes.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Let's get small

In honor of summer’s dog days, Escape into Life is running a feature of poems with dogs. I was lucky to have one included called Song of the Small Dog. It’s not a long poem, aptly, so please read to the end.

I’m not a fan of small dogs, small being anything more diminutive than the beagle. Nevertheless, I once had a toy poodle, and I’m open-minded, I hope. A small dog is easier than a big one. When I am old and unable to walk the dog (I’ve already arrived at unwilling), perhaps I’ll have a small dog. A bulldog, for example, is a small dog I could live with. 

I haven’t mentioned this here, though I did on Facebook, but the most exciting literary experience I had in the past couple weeks was listening to David Sedaris read Miranda July’s Roy Spivey. I think it’s worth the time. For some reason I'd been avoiding Miranda July, and I was wrong. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

& the most upstanding character in Moby Dick

My step-mother, or maybe my father, once said, “People disdain Starbucks as commercial imperialism, but as for me, I love Starbucks. I know exactly what I’m getting. There’s no guesswork, no chance of disappointment.”

I must agree. It’s a little pricey, but this morning for example, after I got up at 5.30 to get to the airport for an 8 o’clock flight that didn’t take off, and to find there was no ersatz plane, and to suffer other disgruntled customers who were disappointed by choosing Air Berlin, whose flights are obviously fraught with risk and undependable, unlike a Latte Macchiato (tall), it was comforting to find a Starbucks in Terminal 1. That bursting logo of the regal mermaid with two tails - it flashes like a flare to the shipwrecked: “Here’s your stuff!” 

The server asked my name, which he rendered as “Sera” on my cup. And I thought, yes, this hour will be like a routine evening, a non-working hour, just the same old/same old without the iffiness of risk.

Monday, August 05, 2013


On the train to Amsterdam, my daughter wants to know if I have a pen. I am sure I do. I try to remember always to have one, better two, in case the first one runs out of ink. Or clogs. Or fails to glide nicely. 

On trains and planes, the worst thing is to have no pen. It's worse than not having a book.

It is as if you were ill and the cure was locked up in a closet you’d only get open when your suffering was over. It is as if you’d lost your country. 

While any one pen carries a risk, the iffier bet is the pencil. The point breaks off in your purse, or grows knob-like and dull, so that in addition to having a pencil, you must make sure to have a pocket knife. We know a pocket knife isn’t welcome everywhere. 

In any case, on the train my daughter asks if I have a pen. Sometimes even though I’m certain I do, I don’t. But on the train I do.
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