Thursday, September 29, 2011


From a comment posted by one Mitchel Cohen, of Brooklyn Greens/Green Party, on the Times website, in response to Rebecca White's City Room article "Gathering on Upper East Side to Oppose Garbage Station," either posted or printed on June 11, 2011:

When I and other brought this up more than six years ago during the initial City Council hearings on the siting of the new round of Marine Transfer Stations -- not only the one abutting Asphalt Green but also one near where I live in Southwest Brooklyn on the very same site as the old unlicensed municipal incinerator that poisoned our neighborhood -- Gravesend, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and Coney Island) -- for decades until we finally organized and succeeded in closing it down in the 1990s, Doherty, the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation (calling itself DSNY), mickey moused us and said nothing.

Yes, everybody has riffed on DKNY. It's still amusing when it's the Sanitation Department.

Mr. Cohen goes on to say that "The City needs to be united around a viable holistic approach to garbage."

I don't know if the city does holistic approaches, period--does it? Artists who work on trash-awareness issues understand something basic about the process of processes. Most city officials do not, I'm guessing. Even if DSNY would like to take a holistic approach to trash, could it? Considering the number of people here.

San Francisco (at least, under Gavin Newsom, who might give Rodel Fellow Jessica Lappin his opinion on whether it's possible to do for health care in NYC the kind of thing he accomplished in San Francisco) can do holistic--its residents actually compost--but San Francisco is not quite as populous as New York City. And it's not a city on the Eastern Seaboard, which (as anybody who lives on this coast knows) has its own entrenched codes.

Whether or not the city can one day embrace holistic anything, process-oriented anything, the people in the East 90s are now stuck wondering why the city embraced Asphalt Green and then eventually opened two new schools (East Side Middle School/M.S. 114 and Yorkville Community School/P.S. 151) while planning to reopen a long-closed garbage depot, albeit one whose trucks will now queue inside instead of outside.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In the organ loft at St. Ignatius Loyola this evening, at an informal talk about and a first performance (by the wonderful RenĂ©e Louprette) of composer David Briggs' Diptyque — Mannahatta 1611–2011, Mr. Briggs, responding to a question I had about what had "entranced" him so much about Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City that he was sufficiently inspired to compose a 20-minute organ piece commissioned by Ms. Louprette, referred to a line from John Donne, saying, "Change is the nursery of music."

Mr. Briggs is inspired, he said, by the very fact of change, and, apparently, by the way (the book) Mannahatta presented it.

He also said the book's authors know nothing of his composition, including its grand premiere on Wednesday night.

I was drawn to the book, which I don't even possess, because one of my favorite subways games when I lived in Brooklyn many years ago and took the Q train was to imagine the island as an island. A million New Yorkers must do this. Every now and then I do it when I'm biking back over the George Washington Bridge, look downstream and think of the Hudson with no bridge spanning it and no buildings along its banks.

Who knows what originally led Mr. Briggs to the book. He is a transplanted Brit who (among other things) directed music at Gloucester Cathedral for eight years before moving to New York City, which he left for Massachusetts.

His poetry citation sent me to Google Books, which had the line, and then to my old Norton Anthology, which didn't have it. The line, from the elegy "Change," is "change is the nursery/Of music, joy, life, and eternity."

Above the line, however, is this funny appearance of the Danube:

Though Danuby into the sea must flow,
The sea receives the Rhine, Volga, and Po

No doubt there's a good reason why Donne did this.

Meanwhile there's no Donne in Mr. Briggs' composition—but there is a line from West Side Story. It comes out of the soundscape (with its fog horns and skyscraping file cabinets and parades and honking) in all its Leonard Bernstein-ness.

I had no idea what I'd hear in the organ loft tonight but it's safe to say that "I Have a Love" was nowhere in orbit.

Monday, September 26, 2011


From the tote bag of a woman who'd attended the Bay Area Tarot Symposium, or SF Bats (billed, according to somewhat-of-a-sponsor Daughters of Divination, as "the oldest continuously produced Tarot event in the world"):

just a little batty

It may have said "just a little bit batty," but I didn't copy it down. We were pulling into Grand Central. I was ready to de-train.

Batty is an amiable word. Picture Audrey Hepburn attempting to sit down to cocoa and singing marshmallows with the singer Mark Volman.

Apparently it took on its meaning of "dotty" and "eccentric" just before the 20th century put down deep roots; I wonder how that happened. The OED didn't clue me in much, not that it's supposed to. One of its citations includes this from Ambrose Bierce, 1907: He was especially charmed with the phrase ‘bats in his belfry’, and would indubitably substitute it for ‘possessed of a devil’, the Scriptural diagnosis of insanity.

Has anybody hypothesized whether batty is one of many words and expressions that represent a shift from religiously charged language?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


From the mouth of Norton Juster at the Brooklyn Book Festival this past Sunday.

I didn't take down the exact sentence.

Mr. Juster and Jules Feiffer were sitting along with Leonard Marcus at a table in front of a shockingly small (small considering the perfection of The Phantom Tollbooth) audience telling stories about their collaboration on the book.

One story concerned a prank Mr. Juster pulled on Mr. Feiffer at the Overseas Press Club. He had had a lot to drink that evening, and he said that (somewhere along the way) he had been feeling wuzzy.

I thought, "Wuzzy? . . . Woozy?" But he really did mean wuzzy, which the OED defines as "confused, fuddled, vague."

Some time-minded people--possibly from the Knopf publicity department--did a grand disservice to everybody who stood on line to have their books signed. The author and illustrator signed only their names. No Brooklyn. No New York. No date. Said one publicist: We have to move things along.

If the line had been longer--the audience did not even fill all 300 seats in the auditorium--I could see the publicist's point. But if The Phantom Tollbooth is, let's say, my idea of a True Book, and I am genuinely excited about having my book signed, and I go out to Brooklyn to stand on line for tickets and then stand on line for a good seat, and enjoy watching Jules Feiffer heckle a little boy who's giving him a hard time about the number of horses and the number of riders, and enjoy listening to the cadences of two very old friends, I don't see how moving things along will leave me with a happy memory when the day is over. In fact, once I got home I was a little sorry my book was signed at all. Which is too bad when you think about it.

I wonder what Jason Epstein (both the man c. 1961 and today) would say on this subject. I say (in this case) sign completely or don't sign at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Perhaps my favorite y word from Nicholson Baker's delightful and adorable new novel House of Holes:

"Ah, old Chuzzlewit," Cardell said in a wuffly English accent.

Baker also uses the word whuffled:

"Mgonna come, mgonna come," he whuffled.

I asked him about these, via email, viz.,

EM: Did you know the meaning of the word wuffler or whuffle before turning in the manuscript?

NB: No, I just winged it. Wanged it?

EM: What can you tell me about the use of wuffly? Did Dickens or his era figure in somehow?

NB: I think I was going for the wuffly mustache effect. The Hollywood version of the British Empire subaltern. Could be the "h" should be in there.

EM: Could you say a little more about the wuffly mustache effect? Is everybody supposed to know what this is?

NB: Wuffly Rudyard Kiplingesque walrus mustache.

Lest you think that Baker does not attend closely enough to his y words, consider this portion of our exchange:

EM: On page 228, Dune sticks his pinky into Shandee's pussy. How did you choose pinky over the common pinkie?

NB: I've never gone for "pinkie"--too much of the Sunday afternoon lifting of the teacup, too much Hostess Twinkie. When the copyeditor corrected it I changed it back. Same with "hanky," as I remember.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Heard today at brunch, from the mouth of a family member:

" . . . wakey-uppy pills."

Apparently there is a prescription drug called Provigil, which is "used to improve wakefulness in adults who experience excessive sleepiness (ES) due to one of the following diagnosed sleep disorders: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), shift work sleep disorder, also known as shift work disorder, or narcolepsy."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


From "A Perfectly Unique Moment," by Nathan Heller, posted Friday, Aug. 19, 2011, at 11:57 AM ET in Slate:

The Mezzanine is a slim book of Proust-like protensity, describing its narrator's return to his office one afternoon through the kaleidoscope of his wandering thoughts.

I don't come across this word very often.