Posts Tagged ‘memory’

RIP the village voice

22 August 2017

That one time I took a Sylvia Plachy picture.

I read the Village Voice every week of the seven years I lived in New York. Every single week. If I was out of town, I bought it at the nearest big newsstand, for it was distributed nationally. It cost $1 an issue when I moved there, and it always had a page of free or cheap things to do each day, some of which I did. During the years I lived in a 7 x 11 foot room in a single-room occupancy hotel, ten percent of the usable floor (ca $50 a month in rent) was devoted to stacks of the Voice [1]. It was an excellent use of space.

Because of the Voice, I regularly read long essays by black and Latinx writers on race and ethnicity, as well as reported articles on communities I would otherwise not have seen.

Because of the Voice (and Katha Pollitt of The Nation), I kept up with feminism through the dark years of “I’m not a feminist, but …”

I remember Paul Cowen’s first-person piece on dying of leukemia, which he was thought to have contracted covering Three Mile Island.

I remember a long article on drag balls, even before Paris Is Burning if I’m not mistaken.

I remember another long article on backup singers, decades before Twenty Feet from Stardom. I loved that article so much I probably still have it here in my file boxes.

I remember not understanding a damn word Robert Christgau wrote, or rather I understood all of the words but none of the propositions.

I remember not getting a single reference in Michael Musto’s gossip column (“La Dolce Musto”), even in the non-blind items, and not caring because it was so much fun.

I remember going to see films from Brazil and Iceland and a performance art festival featuring Penny Arcade because the Voice wrote about them.

I remember reading about the AIDS epidemic in some depth, before And the Band Played On was published and certainly before it was available in paperback.

I remember a review of rapper Schoolly D that was written in hiphop, more or less. This must have been about 1988.

I remember Murray Kempton and somebody else, Jack Newfield or Wayne Barrett or LynNell Hancock, alternating an inside-baseball column on city politics. I remember that the Voice covered low income housing and homelessness like the tenants and non-tenants were human, when nobody else seemed to. I remember the very nerdy quarterly book review supplement. I remember being impressed that the Voice writers were organized by the United Auto Workers when hardly any journalists were union members any more. I remember reading the listings in the back every week and feeling like I could become an air courier or move to Brooklyn or actually go on one of those Wildman Steve Brill tours to forage food in Central Park and it would all be all right.

That’s a great newspaper. I can’t believe it’s gone.

[0] Also, the Voice had the best comics. Not just Jules Feiffer and his annual “A Dance to Spring”, which I already knew about because my parents did. It was the golden age of Matt Groening’s pre-Simpsons Life in Hell, Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (“All Dialogue Guaranteed Overheard”). (This is a standalone endnote.)

[1] And its shorter-lived uptown sibling, 7 Days. 7 Days was decried as fluff at the time, but compared with today’s promotion press it was the Whole Earth Review of middle-class Manhattan. Laurie Colwin wrote her cooking column there. Peter Schjeldahl covered art (is “Up the Damn Ramp” a great title for a piece about the Guggenheim or what?). It was Joan Acocella’s first big stage for her dance writing. For a while, New York actually had three strong alternapress weeklies, for there was New York Press as well, which was more of a self-conscious hipster editor-publisher production but did have great front-page essays.

[2] Yes, I know, it continues as a website. That’s like a well-served train line continuing as a “rail replacement” bus. (This too is a standalone endnote.)

finland crash Q&A

4 February 2013

Dale, who asks excellent questions, asked this today:

I was just reading a blog entry that mentioned the Finnish financial crisis of 1991. The horrifying thing is that its effects on the job market were worse than the current US recession. I was wondering if you were in Finland by that time, and if so, what did it look like?

Carried along by nostalgia, I replied at length:

annals of consumerism 2012

25 December 2012

My closest friend from college hosts an annual Christmas party that culminates in a present exchange game known as the Yankee Swap [1]. Players get cards and in order of the cards, choose a gift, unwrap it, and then possibly trade it. The game engineers among us, who run the exchange, look forward to the Yankee Swap so they can design ever more intricate trading rules. Kids of all ages look forward to the Yankee Swap because you get a present that is a surprise but also partially controllable, and you can see who likes and wants the present you’re giving. Anyway, you get a present! I look forward to the Yankee Swap as a consumer barometer. What does my geek peer group and its children aged 7 to 25 consider to be a good generic present with a $20 budget?

This year’s choices:

Food related
– Libbey Nova black wine glasses
– Metal spaghetti serving ladle set
– Cheese board shaped like a wine bottle
– Small slate cheese presentation board with three parers
– Popsicle making set
– Pizza cone set (really forms for cone-shaped calzones)
– Cookie and cupcake decorating set; T-shirt shaped cookie cutter
– Star Trek Next Generation Pez [2]

Geek gear
– HP wireless multimedia keyboard
– Dry erase board with markers
– Weather station
– Bright blue earphones, charging adapter that plugs into a car cigarette lighter [3], mini/micro USB cord, stylus
– 8-gigabyte USB stick shaped like a dragon
– Lantern using 30 LEDs
– 15-in-one combined tool bag and utility sack
– Ultimate Hammer Utility Tool
– L.L.Bean travel alarm clock with LED backlight

Media and playthings
– Two books on preserves, Pickling and Put ‘Em Up
– Vegan recipe book, something about greens,
packaged with The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror
– Book: Cooks Magazine Science of Good Cooking
– Books: Chronicles of the Crusades, People of the Second Crusade, Holy Warriors of the Crusades
– Book: How to Be Canadian
– Book: The Private Eye Annual 2012
– Puzzles: Hexus the color connecting puzzler, Tangrams for one or two players or teams
– Logic puzzle: Find Your Way Gnome
– Jigsaw puzzle: abstract Alaskan art via the Peabody Essex Museum
– Game: Mancala
– Robin Hood tarot deck signed by the artist

– Panda hat
– T-shirt: We Built This City On Rocks And Wheat (ref Settlers of Catan)

The T-shirt was easily the most admired gift, with people going to the Lonely Dinosaur website afterward to check out their other slogans. I brought the Private Eye annual, which isn’t available in the U.S. and I thought would appeal to Onion fans. Nobody had time to read it in the trading and it went home with one of the youngest kids, which may not have been the best match. I took home How to Be Canadian, enlarging my collection of books about nationalism and citizenship while successfully avoiding the cheese platters, as I already have a slate cheese platter from the swap before last.

Now begins the quest to find the perfect present for next year’s swap. As the wrapping on one of the gifts said: Have a satisfactory non-denominational capitalist winter gift-giving season.

[1] Traditionally a Yankee Swap is an exchange of junk you’re trying to get rid of. Once someone thought that was what we meant and brought some old baskets; they found an appreciative home but she was slightly embarrassed.

[2] Star Trek Next Generation Pez may or may not have violated of the no-food rule, introduced after the year when half the gifts were chocolate. Relatedly, I once participated in a swap in Finland where the half-dozen gifts included three six-packs (actually twelve-packs) and a set of coasters. There’s usually no alcohol in the big Massachusetts swap, because of the kids and the fact we’re drinking less as we get older.

[3] Why aren’t they calling them something else yet? I’ve never seen them used to light cigarettes, not even when I was a child of smokers.

time and news

22 December 2012

I abused the backdate function of WordPress quite a lot on my old blog and I intend to continue. That is, the date on a post is not necessarily the day I pushed the “send” button, but more likely the day I took the notes for the post or started writing. It’s part of shedding the addiction to speed, which I believe we need to do.

Years ago I wrote a story about the Xavier Society for the Blind in New York City, which produced Catholic books on tape. It also printed a weekly Braille summary of the New York Times for the deaf-blind. The subscribers were reading week-old news, which seems like an oxymoron but isn’t really. Browsing those dot-punched folios for them would have been the equivalent of reading a randomly aged newspaper for me – something I often do for the pleasure of accumulating knowledge or feeling time travel by. Any news that hasn’t been falsified by later events is still current and anything that has is historical data.

At the other extreme, I worked for a wire service that pushes the limits of speed writing, trying to get everything out in seconds or minutes for the the financial markets, perhaps the only sector that can act on any bit of news immediately [1]. Now everyone can play that game with blogs and Twitter, the headline desk of the Internet. Everybody gets to race the clock and there’s no central desk to set a newsworthiness bar or prevent duplication of labor. The editorial function is transferred to the overloaded reader.

Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying explores the consequences of speed mania and channel multiplication for journalism, via tales of hoodwinking topic-hungry bloggers to write about trends fabricated by marketers to boost brands (sometimes through reverse psychology). It’s difficult to bring myself to cite it because he claims authorship of many such hoaxes, constructing himself as the ultimate unreliable source. Yet the rubbish story examples ring true with wild goose chases I’ve watched on the tech blogs. If your skepticism is flagging about what you read on Wikipedia and other brand-name information websites (“Oh what the hell, it’s probably true”), this will restore it.

Holiday is at his most credible when describing the economics of the blog market and the pressure on writers to post, which he compares to the competition of the 19th-century penny press (he calls it “yellow press”) when news became available to mass audiences and writers were paid by volume. Against that noise, the New York Times deliberately carved out a niche for itself in thoroughly reported, verified and thoughtful, if slower, news coverage – meeting this goal better in some decades than others, I can say after surveying its entire print run in my PhD thesis. Nevertheless, that’s the kind of spirit we need now.

[1] Except for public safety, traffic and weather, it’s hard to think of news that the average citizen can use right away. At the same time, publishing a first take as soon as verified is the best practice in order to counter prior restraint and keep the reflexes sharp. That’s true even in a monopoly market and I’m not arguing with it; but I am arguing for taking more time to research, fact-check and contextualize, and letting opinion and features simmer a while longer.

the third act begins

14 December 2006

Leslie Harpold, one of the early Internet colonists I encountered on alt.society.generation-x and its spinoffs, died this past weekend of natural but sudden causes. Most of you kids probably don’t remember what life was like back in the early Clinton Administration, when Al Gore and that guy at CERN were personally dragging the Web out of the Pleistocene of the Arpanet and Gopher. The standard webpage was stone grey with faux-incised division lines and a yellow “Under Construction” sign. Netscape was the browser of choice and Alta Vista was the search engine of choice. People were still arguing about whether it would be right to use the Internet for commerce, and if so how. Spam was a highly uncool food product, often mentioned in the same breath with marshmallow Jell-O molds.

At some point in those years John Scalzi said he was going to start an online diary, and people scoffed. How could anyone come up with stuff of general interest to write about every day? Around the same time Leslie started her first webzine, Smug, and some of us were skeptical about that too. I think it’s fair to say that Leslie (and John) had the last laugh, and kept on innovating.

I never met her, and I wasn’t in the center of the target market (a favorite eyeroll phrase at asg-x) for Smug, but I dearly loved Leslie’s posts and her Compulsion column. Almost ten years later, I am still looking for Ren Dan just because of the way she wrote about it. Many people have posted tributes to her and I hope a lot of that love reached her while she was alive.

5 July 2000

I’ve slept in every office I’ve ever had. I don’t mean I lived there, I mean some night when I was just too tired to go home, I crawled under my desk and took a nap. But never in this one. I was so proud of myself for being grownup and organizing my work so I wouldn’t ever have to crash under the desk. And I did. Until  tonight.

PS 2015: This is no longer true. I did once crash under my desk in Tampere the week I handed in my dissertation, despite the office lights being on all night. However, I never crashed at the wire service. The security would have made it impossible. There would have been alarms rung in London. Klaxons. Remote control Alsatians. There were some nights I got only a few hours’ sleep at home, notably during a round-the-clock crime story. Nor have I crashed in my office at New University.

29 June 2000

“A farewell is oriented not to the termination of the social occasion or sociable moment wherein it takes place but to the sharp decrease that is about to occur in the possibility of such comings-together occurring – at least for a time. And the more lengthy and absolute the separation, the more expansive the ritual. Yet no matter how long and complex the anticipated separation, the fact that the participants are at the moment in easy access situates them favorably for the separation not to occur as planned.

“Farewells, in short, inevitably expose the participants to unexpected recontacting. And should this occur, the performers will find that the ritual already performed is improperly profuse for what has turned out to be a short absence; yet there is no way to take it back.”
– Erving Goffman, Relations in Public


It’s farewell-party season in the foreign student community again.

5 June 2000

Stages of house moving (assuming one has keys to both places for several days): 1. Denial. 2. Moving unobtrusive things. 3. Moving good things. 4. Confronting the junk that’s left. 5. More denial. 6. Oh crap, the old place doesn’t feel like home any more. I need to finish and get everything to the new place as fast as possible.

In this case there was an externally imposed deadline. I finished at 6:30 this morning and the workmen came at 8. And in addition to my own stuff, I had to save everything from the common room that was attractive and small enough to move, since the workmen were going to trash it all anyway. Thus the painting of Prague is now in my hands.

painting of prague

PS 2015: I still have the painting of Prague, a bit worse for intercontinental moving since the canvas is actually an unfolded cardboard box. The flatmates could never remember for sure who painted it but thought it might be Martina Cleary.

26 May 2000

I’m not making it up: Someone wrote a detective novel set on the mean streets of Koskela, “Helsinki’s Bronx” (Alueuutiset). Check out the description of Sjöman & Co. here.

PS 2015: The Nordic mystery boom finally happened but Hannu Vuorio’s work does not seem to have been translated into English. Yet.



15 May 2000

Hmmm. I may need a link to Tranbase at Trantex for a while longer.