Greenpoint, October, 2015

Monday, October 31, 2011

Koel Wielen, Man!

Bad Ass!
So what's it going to take you to put you in the driver's seat of a 2013 BQErgonomics ComfortMove. That's right, since 1988 BQErgonomics in the Netherlands has been rolling out state of the art stools and chairs for medical professionals and others who demand mobility and lumbar support. Founded by Dutch physical therapist, Ernste Haaksma, the company is finally expanding into the US rolly-polly market. They have dealerships in LA and Colorado but astonishingly none in New York City.

The Crazy Lemon?
I haven't been able to figure out how much the stools cost but I'm hoping Sinterklaas leaves one under my tanenbaum. Check out the video on the company's website. It has it all: the history of bad posture, a rogue's gallery of "comfy" and stylish chairs, even a cameo by JFK. (It couldn't be weirder if it was directed by Lars von Trier--he's Danish, I know, I know.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Willowbrook Even
Now is the right time, Lord, Summer is over.
Let the autumn shadows drift upon the sundials,
And let the wind stray loose over the fields.

Summer was abundant. May the last fruits be full
Of its promise. Give them a last few summer days.
Bring everything into completion, Lord,
The last sweetness in the heavy wine.

Who has no house will never have one now;
Who is alone will spend his days alone;
Will wake to read some pages of a book;
Will write long letters; wander unpeacefully
In the late streets, while the leaves stray down.

"Herbsttag" (Autumn Day) by Rainer Maria Rilke, tr. David Ferry

This Is the End

Ghosts of 71st St.
Readers of this blog may remember the astonishing photograph of le rayon vert ("green ray") over the BQE (seen from the 7 train). Equally remarkable, to me, is the white house that seems to float between the BQE and the freight train tracks that diverge from it at that point. It reminds me of the great Czech writer Bogumil Hrabal's story about a pub in Prague located precisely where the tram makes a sharp turn on the street just outside. Each time a tram approaches, patrons flinch a bit wondering if this will be the time the tram doesn't make the turn.
Light traffic

It's at the (temporary) end of 71st St., north of 41st Ave., in Woodside (Winfield?). 71st St. must have been bisected when the BQE was built. It doesn't pick up again until 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights. The house is less impressive, actually rather sad, up close--let's give it some privacy here. But the view of the BQE from its garage is spectacular. 

Once again, the Mekons (once again "Cockermouth"):
You don't have to believe in the end
You have to believe this is the end
(I ramble)
This is the end
(I ramble)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Kleine Welten VIII (Small Worlds), 1922
There's a small but fine show at the New York Public Library's Main Branch called "A Century of Art." Mostly small format photographs and prints from the Library's collection from 1911-2010. The Kandinsky print (right) reminded me somehow of Percival and Paul Goodman's Communitas: Means of Livelihood and Ways of Life. This collaboration between brothers Paul (poet, novelist, playwright, social critic, and on and on) and Percival (architect and urban planner), first published in 1947, is utterly unclassifiable. In one sense, it's a book about rational urban planning, offering, among other ideas, a proposal to sink the traffic lanes of Fifth Avenue from 34th to 59th streets below ground and cover it with a pedestrian mall: Dig the Big Dig!

More than that, it's a poetics of the ways architecture, infrastructure, biology, and psychology meet and compete. Pick up a copy ($1 on, if for no other reason, for the wacky and wonderful illustrations like the one at left.

Paul Goodman considered himself a poet above all. While the book does not include any poems, a couple of quick line breaks make it easy to see the poetry behind the prose:

Citizens of the Thruway
That stretches from coast to coast
Must Go, Go
Not too fast and not to slow
Above all, they must not stop.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Through a Glass, Dimly

"I Brake for Bigots"
Creeping along towards the Kosciuszko Bridge on a rainy night. Nothing new there. Wait. Am I delusional or is that an image of the Confederate flag in the rear window of that pickup? Now I see it, now I don't. Some kind of special glass, I guess.

"Stars and Bars"
This may be a good moment to remember that the first flag of the Confederacy, nicknamed "the Stars and Bars," looked quite different. Unfortunately, it was hard to distinguish from the Union, I mean, United States, flag on the battlefield--thus the more familiar Confederate Flag. Well, it's hard to distinguish this guy from an out-and-out asshole. And, oh yes, he had New York plates.

(BTW: The incoherent but entertaining 1988 movie, Stars and Bars, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton, Spaulding Gray and others, doesn't appear to be available on Netflix. The book by William Boyd is a great mash-up of New York Art World & the New South.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Land Migratious

Smithson, c. 1970
Yesterday's post referenced Robert Smithson's Floating Island, recreated as the Living Barge in 2005. Smithson designed the piece just before his death in 1974 but was never able to obtain funding for it. It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that decades before Smithson conceived his idea of a movable island, Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O'Brien) had beat him to it--on a much grander scale, of course.

na gCopaleen, c. 1945
Through a system of "land migration, a system based on liquefaction and pumping," Myles proposed Ireland could, as he put it, "leave the so-called Empire in the most devastatingly literal sense." He proposed that Ireland "set up house in the middle of the mild blue Mediterranean." The Irish, thus, would become "hot Latin persons." Myles asked: "Wouldn't the British be just a little sorry?"

Imagine the places Staten Island could go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gangsta Wrapper

The Lady in White
Looks like Christo is at again. This time sheathing the Brooklyn Bridge roadway in white. At least it's not orange.

I dutifully walked through The Gates  in Central Park, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's last NYC project in 2005. Fine. Bit of a tourist trap. It did inspire a great work of guerrilla art, though, when a guy in a Boston Whaler with a replica Christo Gate pursued Robert Smithson's (d. 1974) Living Island being pulled by a tugboat. The captain of the Rachel Marie was not amused. He kept waving him off. At least he didn't have to return fire.
Hey, Park, wait for me!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Crazy Lemon

R.I.P. Bottom Line
Oh, you thought you were done with Joe Ely? Not so fast, partner. I first saw Joe at the Bottom Line in 1984 or 85. As always, he put on a great rockin' show. A then little known girl singer named K.D. Lang opened for him. Within a couple years, he'd be opening for her and, no doubt, loving it. Here's a little more poetry of the road from Joe Ely:

It's true that I stole a Budweiser truck.
I changed my mind, but the truck got stuck
In a muddy ditch so I hitched it back again
The second car that passed had a cherry on top.
Just my luck it was first to stop.
They said with a grin, Looky here it's the Crazy Lemon.

They call me the Crazy Lemon
I'm, for a while
I can't help what they think
I was born that way.
I'll be a little crazy till my dyin' day.
Just a man on the run they call the Crazy Lemon.

("The Crazy Lemon")

Monday, October 24, 2011

Roadhogs on My Mind

Less is less
We don't drive cars anymore, certainly not automobiles. Bigger or smaller, more or less powerful, comfortable, fuel efficient... they all look the same. Even Tom Waits drives a Suburban. Well, he's a family man now. And who am I to talk? I rock the Yaris. Date it from the disappearance of discernible bumpers, or when the Saab 900 turned into a Ford Taurus, our cars have been snatched and replaced by pods.

Well, that ain't no Suburban Tom is backing a young Rickie Lee Jones over on the back cover of Blue Valentine.  Closer to the "Ol' 55" he sings about on Closing Time. But then there are plenty of Waits car songs.

The title of this post, though, comes from the great Joe Ely song, "Got a Road Hog on My Mind" from Musta Notta Gotta Lotta (1981). He's not talking about a Suburban either but a "Cadillac V8 motovatin' down the line."

Courtesy Joe Ely Collection
Cousin Joe has mellowed since his early rocking shows, which inspired the Clash to invite him on tour in 1979 & 80 (below). A onetime hobo himself, he has made a habit of buying (at well above market price) cardboard signs from panhandlers he encounters in his travels. They're collected, along with a nice foreword by Joe and portraits of homeless folks from Austin by Michael O'Brien, in Signs, a book put out in the Pentagram Papers series. You can see it all online here.

Just don't tell me what he drives.
Joes Strummer and Ely horsing around (1979)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

On the Group OWS Bench

The VW Microbus
Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie are joining the Occupy Wall Street protest. Yippee! I gotta admit, Pete is hard to take, but Arlo has been a hero since, let's see, my parents gave me Hobo's Lullaby for Christmas when I was 11 or 12. My first record and still a fave (incidentally, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner are all over it).

I'm sure there'll be some singing of "Alice's Restaurant" down at Zucotti Park, especially with Thanksgiving within sight. And why not, these kids have earned it.  Not sure, though, whether to recommend they stream the Arthur Penn movie of the same name (in which Arlo starred). Oh, it's good all right, but so so sad. All that youthful energy shot through with drugs, power trips, and death. And it was only 1969! Vincent Canby had it right in his Times review when he called it a "very loving movie" whose structural weaknesses "couldn't bother me less."

Where does the BQE come in, you ask? Arlo's drive, in the nefarious VW Microbus, from West Stockbridge, Mass., where he was staying with Ray and Alice in the desanctified church, to see Woody, dying in a Coney Island hospital. He meets Pete Seeger in Woody's hospital room, and they do nice versions of "Pastures of Plenty" and "The Car" ("Let's go riding in the car, car...").  Pretty damned moving. I couldn't figure out how to upload the clip, but you can watch it here.

A word to the wise, OWSers: watch out for the littering; that's how they get you.

(This post goes out to my parents who introduced us to Arlo Guthrie, VW Microbuses, and the idea that a society could be about fairness, justice, and peace. They have only themselves to blame.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Crazy 'bout an Automobile

Ry Cooder has a thing for old cars and other four-wheeled things. By my count, five of his album covers feature a vintage auto, trailer, or test car (plus one with treads). The photo below is the gatefold from Into the Purple Valley, with Ry and wife Susan and a '39 Buick convertible he borrowed from the Warner Brothers film lot next to the recording studio. (No car on Ry's new record, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down, but a nice Depression-era traffic light-street sign combo.)
Ry and Susan in 1972

Of course, there's the great cover of Billy ("the Kid") Emerson's "Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'bout Automobiles)." That song shows up in the film Les Blank made of two shows Ry gave in San Diego in 1988. As always, Ry brought the players: Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Van Dyke Parks (for chrissakes), Terry Evans, Bobby King, Willie Green.  It's called Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Aces, and it may be the best concert film you can't see.  According to Les Blank's website, Ry "prefers the film not be shown in North America." There are rumors you can get it on DVD in Argentina...

Well, Ry giveth and Ry taketh away. About 20 years ago, when Randy Newman had to pull out of a Newport Folk Fest gig at the last minute, Cooder filled in with a beautiful late afternoon solo set (plus couple of duets with old bandmate John Hiatt). There are a few songs from the Moula Banda film on YouTube, including the aforementioned "Every Woman I Know" and this gorgeous "Chain Gang" with Bobby King taking lead vocals:

(In my research for this post, I discovered the tracklist for a Cooder compilation tape I made years ago--before Buena Vista. I called it "Ry Cooder Feeds Us All." The tape has gone the way of all things but I'll provide the tracklist on request.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Like a Roadrunner (Thrice)

Beep, Beep
Until I read the Guardian piece by Laura Barton on Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner," I never gave much thought to the kind of car he was driving past the Stop and Shop. It probably wasn't a Roadrunner, which Plymouth unleashed in 1968 to boost its muscle car profile. No Slant-6, this baby had a 383-cc V8 under the hood, and an extra 700 bucks would get you a hemi like the one in the painting above (from the Damox site).

Chrysler paid Warner Brothers $50,000 for the rights to use the Roadrunner cartoon character. Good deal.

BTW: Jonathan Richman plays the Bell House in Brooklyn tonight and tomorrow night. 15 bucks. Will he take the BQE to get there?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bad Parking: A Sensual Obsession

You could fit a Fit in there
Like most New Yorkers, I live in a neighborhood with a lot of apartment buildings, a lot of cars, and a limited number of streets. In other words, parking is tough. And it doesn't get easier when people elect to "buffer park," i.e., leave themselves a good half a car's length on either side, as this red Matrix did when he or she pulled in in front of me the other day.

It reminds me of an incident a few months ago, also in my neighborhood. A woman in an SUV pulled into a spot behind me--way behind me. As we both left our cars, I suggested she move hers up to make room for more cars to park behind her. No, she said, she would have to get out. I pointed out that she had more than enough room to do that. She started to walk away. I said, "I just think it's a bit selfish to...." She turned on me, "I'm not selfish, you're selfish." Reader, you can categorize me at that moment in any number of ways--jerk, asshole, fill in the blank, but selfish?

I once had a housemate in Pawtucket, RI, where on-street parking was easy, who got so fed up with the way another neighbor parked that one night he used his truck to physically push the neighbor's car forward a few feet. He spent the night at the ACI (Adult Correctional Institute). I think a better solution might be a bumper sticker we could apply in appropriate situations: "I don't park like shit, I'm just spacially challenged."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Write, She Said

(Photo: Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
There's a chilly portrait of Joan Didion at 76 in the current New York Magazine. Read it or don't, you will be transfixed by this photo of her from 1970.

This is around the time of Didion's novel, Play It As It Lays:

In the first hot month of the fall, in the summer after she left Carter, the summer Carter left her, the summer Carter stopped living at the house in Beverly Hills, a bad season in the city, Maria put seven thousand miles on her Corvette. Sometimes at night the dread would overtake her, bathe her in sweat, flood her mind with sharp flash images of Les Goodwin in New York and Carter out there in the desert with BZ and Helene and the irrevocability of what seemed already to have happened, but she never thought about that on the freeway.

Who are all these people? Who cares. You could spend days taking apart that paragraph and never figure out why it works so well: She writes the way she drives.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

With the Radio On

If you checked out the Reducers' "Roadrunner" from 1981 on yesterday's post, you are probably thinking about Jonathan Richman today. Jonathan recorded his first version of the song in 1972, but it wasn't released until 1976. And it's had a hold on the zeitgeist ever since. A paean to driving, AM radio, Route 128, Stop & Shop. Here's a nice, if obsessive piece, by Laura Barton, a Guardian (UK) writer who spent a lot of time driving 128 and hanging out in Natick--yes, she both drove by and walked by the Stop & Shop--to commune with the song.

Goodbye, Modern World
Jonathan was born in 1951. When he started driving in 1967 or so, 128 was proclaiming itself America's Technology Highway, linking headquarters and plants of Wang, Polaroid, Raytheon, and many others. That's the 128 I knew as a kid. By the time, I was commuting in the 90s, much of that tech had faded. Last I heard, the Polaroid HQ in Waltham will be razed and turned into a mixed-use retail and office space. I never thought much about the building; now it's gone, along with the SX-70 and the Wang OIS, both of which I've used. Here's Jonathan:

I'm in love with modern moonlight
128 when it's dark outside
I'm in love with Massachusetts
I'm in love with the radio on
It helps me from being alone late at night
It helps me from being lonely late at night
I don't feel so bad now in the car
Don't feel so alone, got the radio on
Like the roadrunner
That's right

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New London Ocks

But where's the Polkabration?
Some years history just goes off the leash. Can't remember who said that, but 1981 was definitely one of those years. Reagan elected president, the release of the Iranian hostages, riots in England, the rise of Solidarity and imposition of martial law in Poland....  And the Reducers play a gig at Baba O'Riley's in New London.

30 years later, the sporadic history tour my brother and I conduct for my nephew and niece continues with a windy picnic at Ocean Beach Park in New London (we could hardly take them to the Dutch Tavern). The "R" may have blown away, but those are the traces of the most recent Reducers gig you are looking at: September 3, 2011. Baba O'Riley's is gone, the El n Gee is gone, Carlo's Restaurant is gone, Pizza, Pipes and Pandemonium is definitely gone, but the Reducers rock on.

Here are they are in 1981 at Baba O'Rileys. Three songs in about six minutes (about average for the Reducers), including a cover of "Roadrunner" by Jonathan Richman:

This post dedicated to all the canvassers from CCAG New London office in the summers of 1981 and 1982. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Le Rayon Vert

Et voila!

Le rayon vert est un phénomène optique rare qui peut être parfois observé juste après le coucher du Soleil ou juste avant son lever et qui prend la forme d'un point vert visible pendant un court moment juste au-dessus du Soleil. Son observation est généralement brève (quelques secondes).

OK, I stole that paragraph from Wikipédia, l’encyclopédie libre (i.e., French Wikipedia), but the photo is mine. The rare optical phenomenon of le rayon vert, or the green ray, captured over the BQE. Rarer still, it forms a perfect circle. Mystérieux et magnifique, n'est-ce pas?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Into the Mystic

Joe Belock's Three Card Monte program on WFMU yesterday morning. I wasn't sure what I was listening to but it was definitely familiar. It turned out to be "airchecks" from the summer of 1970 by the recently departed WOR then WCBS-101 great Bill Brown. As I approached the Verrazano Bridge: "6:13 with Bill Brown on Saturday in the City. I've always wanted to be able to say, we're playing 32 hits in a row on the Bill Brown Show. That's basically what we're doing. You're right in the middle of 101 minutes of music." And he brought up Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic." Wow.

Dr. Johnny Fever
Flash memory: a WKRP in Cincinnati episode from 30-plus years ago. Some emotional shenanigans for DJ Dr. Johnny Fevers, maybe something to do with Loni Anderson's character, not sure. Finally, alone in the studio, he puts the needle on the record, and it's "Into the Mystic." It may be the single most beautiful moment I've ever seen on TV.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where the Sidewalk Doesn't End

Take the skyway
I've blogged before about the vortex of converging onramps where the LIE meets the westbound BQE just before the Kosciuszko Bridge. But I left out one lane, the pedestrian skybridge that begins on Mount Laurel Avenue on the west side of the BQE, skirts Calvary Cemetary, crosses two lanes of traffic coming off the eastbound LIE, does a graceful loop in the triangle between these lanes and the 43rd Street onramp, and finally comes to earth at the sidewalk that passes under the LIE to connect with 51st Avenue (and bewilderingly, Mount Laurel Avenue). You can get an overhead look here.

Dark Star Park, Nancy Holt (1984)
As I sat in traffic waiting to get on the BQE, I wondered why we haven't used this triangle for public art, perhaps following the model of Arlington's Dark Star Park (lot of Deadheads down there). Then I realized, the skybridge was a work of public transportation art, a monument to the survival of the pedestrian in the era of the expressway.

 I've never seen anyone use it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Billions Severed?

A week or so ago, I was coming back from Staten Island on the BQE, approaching the Kosciuszko Bridge, when I sensed something was wrong. Then it hit me, the McDonalds sign was not lit up. And I realized that those iconic (and ironic?) Golden Arches serve as a kind of beacon in the storm of traffic, letting drivers know that they are getting close to the bridge crossing they so desire. Well, the sign is back on. Whoever failed to turn on the switch is probably fired and down on Wall Street, and I have my beacon back.

It has probably been 20 years since I had my last burger at McDonalds. Believe me, I had plenty in my day, especially on my dinner break at Vernon Drug or at the end of a night out with high school friends. I used to pride myself on how I could drive the winding road back from Mystic with an open cup of McDonalds coffee in one hand and not spill a scalding drop.

And McDonalds is still a part of my life. How many times have I used one of their bathrooms? How many desperation iced coffees have I bought over the years? And so, with apologies to William Blake, here's to McDonalds:

Tyger, tyger burning bright
In the forest of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hydrate on My Parade, Please

A little of that summer rain...
I took this shot late last week on the Gowanus Expressway (aka, the BQE Annex). Beautiful day, blue sky, whence this precipitation? That's "curing" rain from the sprinklers in the construction zone on the left. As every infrastucturista knows, concrete takes about 28 days to cure, i.e., fully harden. During this period it's essential to keep the curing 'crete nice and damp. While there are various methods, including "ponding" (exactly what you think it is!), the DOT's favorite is to use sprinklers and wet burlap bags (how high tech is that?).

So next time you get a little hydration on your windshield, give thanks, you're only a month or so away from a new lane.

This post dedicated to your correspondent's brother. El Comandante of the Infrastructuristas. Happy Birthday Dan!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Swiss Mischief

A young Louis Agassiz?
In an effort to bury Cambridge, MA, Baron von Bloomberg has invited universities to compete for $100M from the city coffers to create a new high tech university. Potential sites include Governors Island, Roosevelt Island, Brooklyn Navy Yards, and the Farm Colony on Staten Island.

Now we discover that, along with Korea (South?), India, Israel, Pittsburgh, and Finland, L'Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) is throwing its chapeau or hut into the ring. The Swiss, you say, a quiet, prompt, neutral, hot chocolate-sipping folk. Think again. Take a look at this announcement of what the EPFL and its nefarious Nanoelectronic Devices Lab of  is up to:

On May 5th, at the FET 11 conference in Budapest, Prof Adrian Ionescu presented “Guardian Angels for a Smarter Life” to the scientific community.

Here is what the Financial Times had to say: "Perhaps the most futuristic proposal is EPFL's Guardian Angels, which will use computing and imaginative energy research to "create the ultimate smart device that will assist humans from infancy to old age". The guardian angel will "scavenge for energy" from its environment, for example by tapping the heat and movements of the human body, said Adrian Ionescu, project leader."

Future site of SMngCITS

Straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel. Where will it end?  This aggression will not stand, man. In response, the Research Bureau is submitting its own 11th hour proposal (you thought it was over? Ah no.): the Sir Myles na gCopaleen Institute for Transportation Studies (SMngCITS, for short). It will be housed in the now decaying Neponset Health Care Center in Rockaway. The easy access to the beach and boardwalk at Jacob Riis National Park will provide (offseason) facilities for its experiments with hydro-steam technology. An early study will explore the feasibility of surf-comuting.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Days of Awe

Looking West over the BQE
For clear days and cool nights
For the return of the "nice smell" on the BQE
For fenugreek
For A-Rod's fourth and final K of Game 5
(For Yankee schadenfreude)
For Sally Timm's dancing (and for all the Mekons!)
For Octoberfests in October
For Bert Jansch: 1943-2011
For Philip Roth--next year in Stokholm?
For Mitt Romney's dog, Seamus
For Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Rick Perry...
For fuck's sake
For fall
It only gets sillier from here.


From The Mean Fiddler in London (n.d.). Warning: Noisy! Great! Not enough Sally! (She's the one with short hair who comes into the bottom of the frame about a minute in.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Touch of Class (Warfare)

I snapped this rose decal on a Celica next to me in the CUNY parking lot. It's missing the "A Touch of Class," always in a feminine script, that accompanied it on so many cars, T-shirts, and tattoos of the 70s. Then, it served as a defiant gesture of dignity for greasers, trailer trash, minimum wage workers--as Myles might put, The Plain People of Plainfield, Taftville, Groton, and everywhere...

So I was pleased to see it on the same day as a rally on the campus to protest tuition hikes. The speakers made the connection, appropriately, to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. If the millionaires and billionaires paid their fair share of taxes, they argued, the state would be able to adequately support public higher education. "CUNY is our only shot," the chant went.

One protester's sign, on the inside cover of a pizza box, caught my eye: "What happened to the Free Academy?" Yes, CUNY was founded in 1847 as the Free Academy with a mission to educate graduates of New York City public schools. While the name changed to the City University of New York long ago, CUNY continued to provide free tuition to New York City kids until the financial crisis of 1975. And the tuition has more than kept pace with inflation ever since.
The Pizza Revolution

Myself a graduate of a high school freak academy (I meant "free," but let it stand), where admittedly I nearly flunked out of my "Senior Math" class, I offer a reasonable solution to the funding crisis in higher education, to wit: Once you reach the $1,000,000 annual income level, you pay back (on a reasonable schedule) the educational benefits you received from city, state, and federal sources. So, for example, if you didn't pay tuition at your CUNY college, you make it up by paying now. The same with Pell Grants and a host of other publicly supported educational benefits. This revenue would go into a publicly administered fund to support today's needy college students, who, once they reach the 1M benchmark will pay back the benefits they will have received.

The plan is simple, fair, and, if I do say my so myself, classy.

This post dedicated to your correspondent's sister, Teresa, a fellow educator, who does everything with "a touch of class."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Footplate Topics

On the Van Kull Kill, S.I.
Well, the Nobel Prize in Literature has gone not to Flann O'Brien (or Myles na gCopaleen) but to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. Bag job, if you ask me, but let's move on. Beyond his contributions in letters, O'Brien is rightly celebrated as legendary advocate and analyst of the steam locomotive, in short, a steam man. What he knew about poppet valves, footplates, and 2-4-2 tanks beggars the imagination. 

His innovations, or "modern locomotive therapy" (mostly unrealized due to prohibitive cost), could have saved thousands of lives. Take for example, his proposal (seen below) to outfit slow trains with an ultimate "ramp-car" of his own design. If through "some inexcusable signal-box bungling, a fast passenger train is allowed to overtake a slow local train on the same track," the ramp would prevent a collision by "slow[ing]up the fast train and compel it to roll back again on the tracks." Take note, LIRR.
From The Best of Myles

While resolutely, a steam man, Flann did not ignore your correspondent's hobby-horse, the expressways. His visionary ideas in this quarter would put Robert Moses to shame (were that possible):
We all know by now that we will be the laughing stock of the civilized world unless we can build vast arterial roads. Very well. We are all properly ashamed of our winding undulating country roads and we know too well we are completely without Rest Centres, Rhubarb Dosage Stations, Health Clinics, Dental Hospitals, Vitamin Breweries, Youth Centres--any primitive modern amenity you like to name.

The problem, as Myles analyzed it, was building such vast arterial roads in a country full of hills. The solution, was to employ "some existing level thoroughfare" for the roads. Ireland had two--the canals and the railways. In his plan, railway traffic would be diverted to the canals so that the new roads could occupy the present tracks. While there was sufficient space in the canal beds for trains and boats to ply simultaneously, there was one snag: 
Rough stretches of water often mean that the engine's fire is put out.... The Academy is now investigating the possibilities of having floating trains propelled with the screws of old liners. The advantage here is that the engines could tow barges as well as the adapted coaches and thus make up for the shortage of rolling--or rather floating stock.

And there you have it. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Myles of the Same

(Illustration by David Levine)
In a last-ditch effort to secure the Nobel Prize in Literature for Flann O'Brien, I offer this anecdote from The Best of Myles. I think it proves beyond any doubt that his "death" in 1966 should pose no impediment for awarding the prize:

Sir Myles Na na gCopaleen (the da) who has been buried in the country for some months, was exhumed last week, following a dispute as to the interpretation of a clause of his will, which purported  to leave certain pictures in the National Gallery to the nation. The nation in question was not named, and lawyers held that the bequest was void for uncertainty, though it is no secret that, with Sir Myles, words like 'the nation', 'the Army', 'the services' mean only one thing. The grand old man was alive and well, and looked extremely fit as he stepped from the coffin. 'Never again,' he jested with reporters before being driven away in a closed car.

A closed car, and a closed case, I'd say.

And the Winner Is...

Vertical Steam Engine, Cambridgeshire, (c. 1854)
Astonishing news. The Nobel Prize for Literature is to be awarded tomorrow. I have it on the highest (what other?) authority that the recipient will be Flann O'Brien. Well, think of it, man, today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of O'Brien, or, as he sometimes referred to himself, "My Excellency"--novelist, columnist, proto-blogger, drama critic (especially of anything on at the Abbey), hard man on the cliché ("cataclichm"), and above all, steam man.

True, the rules are very clear that the prize can only be awarded to a living person, and O'Brien died in 1966. But those clever Swedes have found a way around this minor deterrent: They will award the prize to Myles na Gopaleen, the name under which Flann O'Brien wrote his daily "Cruiskeen Lawn" column in the Irish Times for some 27 years. After all, there's no evidence he ever died.

Who will accept the prize? Don't be surprised if the old gent's bicycle itself shows up to do the honors. There's still time to contact your bookmaker. (Forward the customary 10% of winnings to: The Research Bureau, C/o Benito's Italian Restaurant, 46/47 Castle Street (Opposite Tramyard), Dalkey, County Dublin, Eire.)

If not for Literature, at the very least for Engineering. In this space, tomorrow, I'll reprise Myles' plan to modernize the Irish roads among other engineering marvels.

Tim Pat Coogan tells of trying to keep O'Brien (born Brian O'Nolan) away from the drink long enough to conduct a reasonably sober radio interview. They failed--the  interview went on but was unairable. We do have an RTE interview with The Brother, yes, Kevin O'Nolan, with stories of his older brother Brian as a child and at work on At Swim Twobirds, intercut with readings from that novel and other works of the master. (There are several other parts on YouTube, all worth listenting to.)

So, here's to Flann, Brian, Myles and his other doppel and tripelgangers. Happy Birthday! Gob, me bus. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

En Passant

I've posted on this blog before about the ubiquitous orange-and-white traffic barrels and cones, like these deflecting cars from the HOV lane on the Gowanus Expressway. And while there's nothing wrong with good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon words like "cone" and "barrel," I do think we could give commuting a bit more elan if we adopted the term chicane from the French. As a noun, it connotes "a movable barrier used in motor racing, sometimes before a dangerous corner to reduce speed as cars pass in a single file." Perfect, non? It has the same root as chicanery, how clutch is that?

Ayrton Senna, 1991
That's Brazilian Formula 1 superstar Ayrton Senna roaring through the chicane at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. In the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, of course, Senna and rival Alain Prost had been entangled (literally) in controversy when Senna recovered from a crash with Prost and came back to win the race. But he was disqualified for returning to the race through the chicane rather than from where he went off the course. This is all told well in the documentary Senna. (Senna died in a crash in 1994.)

I can already hear some of you saying, along with Cynthia in Metropolitan, "Is our language so impoverished that we have to use acronyms* of French phrases to make ourselves understood?" Well, yes and no. The point here is that when a foreign word or phrase offers a term that is more exact--and, let's face it, fun to say--why should we resist? Try it out: "Oh, honey, look out for the chicane..." See what I mean?

(*The acronym Charlie has proposed is, of course, UHP, for Urban Haute Bourgeoise. Nick responds, the "term is brilliant, and long overdue." You can see the relevant clip from Whit Stillman's first film below.)

Monday, October 3, 2011

For Steam Women

Schlesinger Library on the
History of Women in America
Toiling deep in the photo archives of the American Steam Society, in preparation for the Flann O'Brien Centennial Celebration, I discovered this photo of Amelia Earhart. Thought to be from 1935-1937, the last years of her life, we don't know who took it or where. It gives a good idea why she was so beloved--on land or in the sky.

Earhart's disappearance in 1937, a year before the BQE opened, can be seen as a signal moment in American consciousness of travel--from romantic individualism to an increasingly humdrum mass experience.

In "Amelia," one of her most beautiful songs, Joni Mitchell brought the sea, sky, road (alas not rail) together:

A ghost of aviation
Isle of Wight, 1969 (David Hurn)
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea, like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm.