Monday, March 26, 2012

'Piano For The Bedridden' & Other Swan Songs


Brain Pickings, my new favorite website and soon to be yours, recently posted a delightful compendium of 27 of history's strangest--and unsurprisingly defunct--inventions which include among them the one-wheeled motorcycle (because two was just one too many),

bike-tire water wings (because who doesn't want to look like they're wrapped in sausages while they're swimming),

and a revolver with a camera on the barrel that takes a photo every time you pull the trigger (a terrifying idea that someone should immediately parlay into a screenplay).

While most of these doodads certainly no one was all that sorry to see come and go, I can't help but wish for my very own piano for the bedridden which allows one to plunk out Fleur de Lis without even sitting up. I also call dibs on the name "Piano For The Bedridden" for my purely theoretical band.

Friday, March 23, 2012

This is Grand


I love the declarative sentences of the CTA. If you’ve spent any time on the Chicago Transit Authority’s trains, you will be familiar with them. This is Argyle. This is Fullerton. But I admit: I love some more than others.
The announcement This is Chicago has always struck me as patently obvious, yet somehow charming in its absoluteness, its utter unassailability. This is California never fails to elicit the knee-jerk contradiction, snarkier than I would like, “Ahhhh, no, but it really isn’t.” My responses are utterly unvarying. I cannot help myself. For years my brain has completed the introduction This is Howard with my most cordial, “Well, hello, Howard! I’m Kendra,” in response. I don’t expect anyone to share my taste in these things, but I’m telling you that, for me, the joke never gets old.
And, for all those years, if I was entertaining an out-of-town visitor, I would invariably halt our conversation in the L car, look up expectantly at the speakers as we approached my favorite landmark in the city, and wait with unfaltering glee for the voice of authority to announce, as it always did at that point, This is Grand. “It is, isn’t it!” I would think, maybe even say out loud if there was someone with me.  It was grand, afterall—life, the city, being on a train going somewhere, all of it suddenly so poignant.
Indeed, what a sweetly archaic adjective grand is in the first place. How disarmingly earnest it sounds. How quaint to say such a sentiment out loud in the first place, in public no less, in the polite society of strangers. It is not at all the effect of the more precise statement This is Grand and State.
The station name hasn’t changed. The station name has been Grand from the beginning, since the State Street Subway put the first subway cars in the city. Likewise, its sister station, at Grand and Milwaukee, is and has been Grand since The Milwaukee-Dearborn Subway opened it in 1943. All that’s new is how the stations are announced. I’m sure the addition of the cross-street is helpful. I’m sure it saves a few tourists a year from schlepping the several blocks between stations. I’m sure it’s a good thing to say This is Grand and State, This is Grand and Milwaukee. I’m sure someone else will fall in love the exactitude of these statements. My out-of-town visitors may be impressed with the thoughtfulness of this supplement, its contribution to navigating the city’s great grid. “How clear!” they will tell me. “How objective and to the point!” And I’ll have to agree. It’s good. Of course it is. It just isn’t grand.

Kendra Greene is a Defunct staff reader and contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thoughts on Procrastination


There are three groups of people I despise: People who boast of how little they read, people* who constantly talk about how they don’t own a TV, and people who judge others for reasons one and two.

This is not to denigrate not the people who have better things to do with their time than sit on a couch and watch Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, but to call out the pest who thinks himself superior because he watches television on a laptop, not a TV.

That said, I was, up until recently at least, that pest, the type of person who claims that turning off the TV turned on his creativity, that television is pointless if you’re literate, that a TV has been made redundant by the computer: I watch all my shows online, I would say superiorly, defensively, and I can amble over to my friend’s place in case I ever need to watch something live, like this week’s Gossip Girl or the State of the Union address.

This did not start intentionally. The television I owned went on the fritz, and instead of replacing it, I adjusted. (Never buy a Samsung. Approximately two months after my warranty expire, my Samsung stopped producing any images, a defect Samsung apparently knew of, yet found it cost effective not to recall. Secondly, be weary whenever Best Buy offers, say, a Samsung at a reduced price and claims the price is lower simply because Samsung is having a deal. There’s a reason they were having a deal, and that reason was to sell Samsungs to Luddites like me.)

Just recently, I decided I did need a TV. The thing about working from home is that you inevitably need a break from work. For whatever reason, I have a hard time turning off my brain when I turn on my computer. If I write for a few hours and deem myself ready for a recess, I might fire up my computer and watch a television show. Moments later, the laptop on my lap, I’m only half-listening to last night’s 30 Rock while I’m checking my email, thumbing through the After Deadline blog on, updating my Facebook status, checking to see if my editor has emailed me back, hoping to see if my professor has posted our grades already, reading an article on “5 Ways to Boost Productivity.” Or I would make food, letting the microwave drone out Jack and Liz’s dialogue. My brain always restless, I was less productive. (And I became annoying in everyday conversations. For instance: “Who’s this Billy Mays guy? Oh, he died? How sad... Sorry. I don’t own a TV.”)

So has the television increased my productivity? Not really. I’ve found that no matter what you surround yourself with, you can always find a way to procrastinate.

*Picking on these repetitive cads is nothing new. The Onion did it well enough 12 years ago:,429/  

Elliott Krause is a Defunct staff reader and a contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's In A Name?


 My mother signed us up for AOL’s first dial-up service when I was fifteen. When it came to technology, my family was always years behind. Most of my friends got their first cell phones and computers when they were eleven or twelve, but for me, communication was still as primitive as ringing doorbells and biking around the block to see who was home.  So the first thing I did when we finally got our computer was think long and hard about a screen name. Who was I, in 16 characters or less? Or better yet, who might I be? Most of my friends identified themselves with song lyrics, movie quotes and favorite foods. I still remember some of them: xxdeadendconvoxx, ScreaminTamale, EvanescenceGIRLY. I chose MarshIACT87 (a horrible and disturbing mix of Eminem’s and Shia Labeouf’s first names fused with my theatrical aspirations and the year in which I was born).
High school pressed on. We dropped the X’s and the angst. We were falling in love all over the place, breaking hearts and getting ours broken in turn. Our screen names described our love, our tears, and our general appreciation for celestial bodies. I changed mine to starrlit71, and that’s who I was for a long time, long after everyone ditched their Dells for Macs and made the switch from AOL to IChat. I was starrlit71 when I met my first love and when I left him two years later; I was starrlit71 when my parents divorced; I was starrlit71 when I started college and moved two hundred miles away to a different state with a different name. 
I wish I could remember why I’d chosen that name in the first place, but I don’t. Like everything, it had its time and place. Now I’ve settled for GChat, where my name is just my name, but I miss it sometimes, the invention.

Amy Bernhard is a Defunct staff reader and contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Eastman Plan


Before it was the Eastman Plan, it was the International Fixed Calendar. And if it was not precisely Auguste Comte’s 1849 Positivist calendar, it derived from the same basic mathematical insight, the same fourth grade calculation: 365 days divides beautifully into 7 day weeks—plus a remainder of one little day. In fact, the division is so tidy that if you group four weeks together as a month, you can fit exactly 13 months into that one year. You still have that single remainder day hanging around, of course—that one weekless, monthless day sequestered at the end of the year—but, heck, why not give it a pardon and make it a holiday and call the whole thing done?

Moses B. Cotsworth presented just such a scheme in 1923 to no less than the League of Nations’ Special Committee on calendar reform. It was then sometimes known as the Cotsworth Plan, this system with every month starting on Sunday the first, every month arranged like the one before, your birthday always on Thursday if you were born on one. Think of it: that Twilight calendar you just got would be endlessly accurate, its days arranged the same every year, and replaced only because the images began to fade.

The benefits seemed obvious: there would be cost savings, ease of scheduling, clarity and efficiency all around! Perhaps it was the businessman in George Eastman that admired the 13-month calendar. Perhaps this inventor of roll film held a special affinity for the calendar’s smooth and regular progression of time. In any case, Eastman was so taken by the notion that he didn’t just join Cotsworth’s International Fixed Calendar League, in 1926 he ceded control of daily operations at the Eastman Kodak Company so that he might devote more time to the issue. The whole idea was known as the Eastman Plan in many quarters, so constant and compelling was its new champion.

Two years later George Eastman did an obvious thing: he stopped doing business by the capricious old Gregorian calendar and put the whole of Eastman Kodak on the 13-month calendar. Others seemed ready to follow suit. As of 1929 the League of Nations had scrapped 154 other calendar proposals, leaving Eastman’s pet project one of two finalists in contention for international adoption. The International Fixed Calendar was for a time poised to be the new calendar of a modern new world.

Then, in 1932, Eastman declared in a suicide note addressed to his friends, “My work is done. Why wait?” and killed himself.  The International Fixed Calendar League folded within five years. Three years later the League of Nations had forgotten the 13-month calendar, and by time the United Nations was the governing body convened to vote on international calendar reform, the Eastman Plan wasn’t worth mentioning.

If anyone still complained that under the 13-month calendar financial quarters don’t end when months do, if anyone minded that Friday the thirteenth came every month, or thought anything had to be a better name for the new 13th month than “Sol”; if anyone cared about one day a year unaccounted for in God’s 7-day cycles of toil and Sabbath, it didn’t much matter anymore. The debate was over. Except for the employees of the Eastman Kodak Company, who may have watched their families grow up by the irregular jostle and sway of old Gregorian months but still clocked in every day to a calendar perfect in its repetition, elegant in its predictability, and divine in its perpetuity. Thousands and thousands of people did this, waking up under one calendar and going to work by another, for six decades, until the Eastman Plan was finally forsaken in 1989.

And who now is left even to say that this year, this 2012, with its January 1st square on a Sunday, is exactly the kind of year Eastman was waiting for, a year to begin a new reckoning?

Kendra Greene is a Defunct staff reader and contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Love Letter To A Dodo Bird


Dear Dodo,

Has there ever been an uglier bird?

You, with red-tipped beak, yon gaping nostrils, most bald and all-but-plucked head.

You, misshapen as an old boot.

Can I call you my fat baby, my inelegant overgrown dove?

Can I call you my portly piggy pigeon?

I love your flightless girth and beady dino eyes.

I love your mud-puddle plumage.

There are many reasons I love you but most of all this: your ignominious etymology -

“Sluggard,” “Fat-arse,”

“Fool,” and “crazy.”

Can I call you, as Vice Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck did, “loathsome bird”?

Or might I address you, in the manner of the Dutch, simply as “swollen” (as is my heart for you)?

Oh feathered lumpy lumpy!

Oh goitered low-hanging balloon!

I long to hear your call once more, low and awkward through the underbrush:

Doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I Am Re-reading Franny and Zooey For The Second Time This Month


On January 27, JD Salinger's corpse will turn two years old. Franny and Zooey--though nitpicked by Updike, who is a cad, and by Joan Didion, who is the greatest nonfiction writer of the past fifty years--is Salinger’s finest moment. If you haven’t read Salinger since high school, start with either that or Nine Stories. Don’t start with Catcher in the Rye unless you are a sexually frustrated teenage boy.

Because I was a sexually frustrated teenage boy, I started with Catcher in the Rye. For a book report, I had to pick one novel from a pre-approved list of fifty. I picked Catcher not because I was a twelve-year-old version of Holden Caulfied, but because my older brother already owned it, which meant I would not have to borrow a book from the library, which meant I would save the $1.50 of late fees I would have inevitably incurred.

I’ve reproduced the tale here not just because I invariably go out of my way to recommend a good prose pacifier to divorced parents of petulant twelve-year-olds, but for quite another reason. What directly follows is a question about quality versus quantity, a question that is only fair when it pertains to artists who are already deceased.

If you’re a Salinger junkie, you have little choice but to read and re-read his slender oeuvre to get your fix. This is not healthy or admirable or even advisable. Since he published a mere four books, roughly eight-hundred pages in all, whenever I get that Salinger itch, there’s no place to scratch but the slim spine of one of my pocket-sized paperbacks. And I hate that. Like a more traditional junkie, I find myself lying to my mom instead of telling her the truth, instead of telling her that I am re-reading Franny and Zooey for the second time this month. It’d be a boon, not a bane, to his fans if Salinger had been more like Bob Dylan or Woody Allen or Philip Roth. Every year it seems there’s a new Roth novel in my stocking or a Woody Allen movie in my NetFlix queue or a Dylan album in my iTunes -- some superlative, some in that middle ground between mediocre and good, and some which are embarrassing, but totally have the right to exist. Regardless of their merit, however, I taste and decide for myself if I should return for seconds. Who knows? In a decade or so I might actually enjoy Bob Dylan’s Christmas album.

So which do you prefer: Artists who produce prodigiously, even if their production might occasionally be embarrassing? Or artists who are pickier with their output, producing less, but producing consistently superb art?

Elliott Krause is a Defunct staff reader and contributor to Ye Olde Blogge.


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