"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: January 2011

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Reading Between the Lines

Over at Pitchers and Poets, Eric Nusbaum picks up on the conversation started by Chris Jones and furthered in this space yesterday:

Jones, in his blog post, writes that “we are taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight.” I was lucky. I was taught by my father that for this very reason, words are to be dispensed with great care. If you can’t say something succinctly, don’t say it at all. Or as Ted reminds me sometimes when I send him drafts of long essays, “try harder.”

In this vein, we must all be careful not to use economy as a crutch. I know I have a tendency to do this. Instead of pushing an idea further, to the brink of collapse, I fall back on minimalism. The less you say, the less you are responsible for. This has mostly been an appreciation for Belth’s “power and beauty of restraint.” But I hope it can also be a warning to myself and to others: don’t use restraint as a tool for cheating. And don’t use it for gimmickry either.

When I was doing a lot of drawing, I had a linear style that bordered on minimalism. On one hand, I was interested in capturing gesture and feeling by indicating a figure with the fewest amount of lines possible. When it worked, as I think it does in the pictures here, I was pleased with the results. Eventually, though, I knew that I was cheating. I stopped looking at the subject, really looking, and let my hand do all the work. Then I’d get halfway through a drawing and stop. I’d fall in love with what I’d done and didn’t want to push myself, try harder. In other words, I became overly self-conscious, even precious, and the minimalism became an excuse to avoid failure.

I was more concerned with the finished product  than the process, and ultimately, I hit a dead end. Which reminds me of something an old friend once said, “If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right.” At times, a drawing or a sentence will come easily, and that’s fine, but if the process becomes too easy, you are probably cheating.

Million Dollar Movie

Today, the Film Forum gives Fritz Lang’s classic film noir, “The Big Heat.”

Tasty.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink (and could probably find that too)

Some shots from my wife’s favorite store, Pearl River.

Taster's Cherce

Serious Eats gives us the best oatmeal in New York.

Come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever ordered oatmeal at a restaurant, but after checking out this slideshow I might have to give it a go…

Thank you, once again, Serious Eats.

Much Ado…

Good stuff from Joel Sherman today in the Post. First, from his column:

Look, next month is 22 years at The Post for me, so I like a juicy rogue general manager story as much as the next tabloid nut. I just wish the facts — not appearances — corroborated the story du jour that goes like this: Cashman has gone off the pinstriped reservation because he wants to get himself fired or to end up as a small-market GM to prove he can win big without a huge payroll.

Cashman insisted to me he does not want out. His friends insisted to me that he does not want out. A few weeks back, this guy rappelled down the side of a building for his kids. So if the conspiracy theories are now to be believed, that same guy now is willing to pull his kids from school in Connecticut — and his wife away from her beloved twin sister — all in the name of having, what, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ payroll?

And from this exclusive with Baby Boss Hal Steinbrenner:

As for the Soriano matter, Steinbrenner said he listened to Cashman, but decided to authorize the signing because he felt the club needed an “impact” move this offseason. However, he blessed Cashman’s behavior at the press conference.

“I value his opinion and his advice,” Steinbrenner said. “That does not mean I am always going to go with that advice and all of my VPs know that I might go a different way. There are no hard feelings between Cash and I. There never was. Reasonable men can differ in opinions.

“I keep reading about dissension and discord. We are a well-functioning company. The bosses have a decision to make. Sometimes people don’t agree with those decisions. So I told him, ‘You are always honest with the media, be honest now. Tell them what you have to tell them.’ I was already onto the next decision. I told him, ‘You and I are fine. Answer in any way you want.’ We are not always going to be on the same page. It is my job to think what is best for the family, partners and company.”

a/s/l?

Over at Deadspin, Katie Baker has a very good post up about her teenage life online, when she constructed an elaborate fake identity on a Usenet newsgroup as a Harvard-bound 18-year-old: “I Was Teenage Hockey Message Board Jailbait.”

The Flyers newgroup was my favorite by far.

I’m not sure when I started to lie, but it seemed like no big deal. Upholding a cherished tradition among so many high-school-aged girls throughout history, I shrugged and added two years to my age. Fifteen became seventeen. The truth just sounds different.

But the more I lied, the more I lied more, creating extraneous backstories to flesh out the details of my fictional life. I was about to graduate, I blithely allowed, scattering fibs around various posts like so much confetti. I had Rangers season tickets. I had gone to the 1999 NHL Draft party, I reported in one post, and boy,had I been surprised by all the boos for Jamie Lundmark!

On and on, each lie more pathologically gratuitous than the last. I explained that I was taking a year off before going to college at, wait for it, Harvard. It remains a great embarrassment to me that I would be so unimaginative with the location of my faux matriculation, but I more than made up for it in conjuring a whole cadre of fake older brothers whom I credited for both my love of sports and, having been knocked around by them for years, my own physical toughness at the hockey rink. I did play hockey, at least. “The Chick with the Hockey Stick,” my signature file read, one of the very few things that was actually true.

It’s a well-written piece, an an interesting story – if not a common one, at least one that I’d expect many of us can relate to. I never had any lie become as elaborate as Bakers’ eventually did, or spill over into my “real life” like hers, but my friends and I messed around on AOL chat rooms all the time, making up different identities. On several occasions a friend and I, when we were maybe 13, signed onto AOL in the guise of an 18-year-old named “sexpot69″ or something equally silly, and giggled to each other while random guys (who, in fact, were quite possibly also 13) asked us into private chat rooms and narrated their masturbation. We thought it was hilarious. We would read for a few minutes, type occasional semi-encouragement or immature jokes, laugh hysterically, then sign off in a rush and delete all traces of sexpot69 from the computer.

I suppose this is exactly what parents are afraid their kids are doing online, but really, it never did us any harm – we were smart enough never to give out any addresses or phone numbers or personal details; the guys (if they even were guys) involved were gross and awkward but never scary. In retrospect, it was a pretty safe way to feed our curiosity. In fact, as in Katie Baker’s story, in the end it may have been harder on the guys involved than on us.

New York Minute

On the BXM1 Express Bus the other day, the PA system crackled to life and this announcement sprang forth, “The next stop is 96th St.” It was one of those recorded robotic voices, very clear and with the characteristic cadence and syntax.

“The next…STOP is…ninety SIXTH… street.”

I thought to myself, “When did they robotize the announcements on this bus line?” By the time I got off on my stop, I realized they hadn’t. The bus driver was just doing his impression of robotic voice. Over and over again.

He has a lot of hours to kill I guess, but I chuckled. I wondered if it would throw him off if I remarked on his ruse. I decided not to say anything. I’d hate to spoil his fun.

[Photo Credit: Viaduckvideo ]

Smoke Break

The Power and Beauty of Restraint

Check out this fine post by Chris Jones at his blog, “Son of Bold Venture” (named after a horse in W.C. Heinz’s classic column, “Death of a Racehorse”).

Here’s Jones:

It’s probably the hardest lesson in writing: learning when you’ve already written enough.

We’re taught to believe that words have a value, a power, a weight. Logically, then, the more words, the better the sentence or paragraph or story. But writing isn’t always a logical exercise. Sometimes—most of the time—it’s about things that are harder to measure.

My editor, Peter—he will hate that I’m about to praise him in public—is one of the best in the business. He’s particularly good at carving the little excesses from a story that might either push it into sentimentality or turn the screw a little too hard. Because I’m often writing about emotional subjects, I’m especially dependent on Peter’s eye and knife. He just seems to know when even the smallest trim will serve the story. Peter understands restraint. He knows the value and power and weight of the words that aren’t there.

The older I get, the more I am drawn to restraint in cooking, moviemaking, music, and writing. It takes courage and discipline, not to mention confidence, to show restraint, to leave things out.

I e-mailed Glenn Stout, editor of the Best American Sports Writing series, about Jones’ post. He replied via e-mail:

Well, I’ve always thought it important to note that “In the beginning was the word…” Not “In the beginning was the words…” Although I wouldn’t necessarily say that more stories are ruined by underwriting rather than overwriting, because I see a lot of work in which the writer appears to have missed an opportunity, I will say that more ambitious stories could probably use more restraint. That’s one of the reasons I think that writers of any stripe should read poetry – it not only teaches tangible things like economy, sound and rhythm, but it also teaches that the negative space in writing – what’s not there, and the heartbeat of recognition that takes place over the empty space at the end of a line or a phrase – is as important as what is on the page. The way we connect with a piece of writing is how our brain fills in the blanks.

It’s like backing away from a painting rather than standing too close.

I understand negative space when it comes to painting, like in Giorgio Morandi’s wonderful still life pictures, but have only recently come to appreciate it in writing as well. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy expressionists, just that I am more drawn to writers like Heinz and Pat Jordan, Elmore Leonard and Pete Dexter.

My pal John Schulian also sent the following e-mail:

The interesting thing about this is that Chris Jones writes with such restraint in the first place. For him to go public with a confession that even he needs an editor to keep his prose from going over the edge is truly remarkable. And instructive. Every writer caves in to his worst instincts sooner or later. Problem is, not every writer has an editor as sharp as Jones’s Peter (I assume he means Peter Griffin, Esquire’s deputy editor). Also, not every editor is working with a writer as wonderful as Chris Jones. Not that the wonderful-ness of a writer would stop some editors from screwing up their prose. But the trims that Peter made were as artful and restrained as what Jones wrote. They eliminated the unnecessary and, just as important, preserved the rhythm of Jones’ prose. Peter heard the music and left no fingerprints, and that, perhaps, is the ultimate proof of his artistry as a line editor. No wonder Jones saluted him.

It is not easy to find a good editor. Jones has it good and seems to know it. Perhaps the most instructive book I’ve read about editing is Susan Bell’s “The Artful Edit.” It’s an essential guide for me and rests next to “The Elements of Style” on my night table. Bell uses the relationship between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor Maxwell Perkins throughout her text.

Dig this one example from “The Great Gatsby.” First, from a rough draft:

They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just blown in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments on the threshold, dazzled by the alabaster light, listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

And then revised for the the final version:

They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall.

Fitzgerald dropped “dazzled by the alabaster light…” a vivid, but ultimately, distracting flourish. Man, you’ve got to be ruthless to murder your darlings. It is nothing short of inspiring when the great talents have the conviction to do just that.

[Painting by Girogio Morandi]

Beat of the Day

Up Jump the Boogie

Over at the Post, Joel Sherman takes a break from his vacation with some thoughts about Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettitte, and the Yankees’ starting rotation. This caught my eye:

The Yankees also feel good that they have so many starting pitching prospects near the majors. The Yankees believe that all five starters they are projecting to begin at Triple-A: Andrew Brackman, D.J. Mitchell, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and Adam Warren are legitimate prospects and that they will have two of the best pitching prospects in the minors at Double-A in lefty Manuel Banuelos and righty Dellin Betances plus two other starters the Yankees view as prospects, lefty Shaeffer Hall and righty Graham Stoneburner. The Yankees think with that many quality arms that one or two from the group – at the least – should help in 2011 either by pitching in the majors or by being used in a trade for a starter.

…What would be truly fascinating is if Banuelos and/or Betances thrived in spring, which is not out of the question considering the advanced word on their skills. Joe Girardi just demonstrated his power within the organization when he was one of the votes in favor of signing Soriano that influenced Hal Steinbrenner to overrule Brian Cashman’s recommendation not to give Soriano a three-year, $35 million deal to be a set-up man. Well, what if Girardi voices the opinion that trying to win in the AL East with, say, Sergio Mitre in your rotation is not sound. What do the Yankees do then?

Under Cashman, the Yankees have treated their best pitching prospects like porcelain dolls and due to limitations last year, Banuelos and Betances will both have caps in the 125 innings range. Neither has had even a full season at Double-A. In other words, Cashman has protected just these kinds of pitchers from too-quick promotion and heavy workloads in recent years.

My guess is that the GM will try to curtail even the spark of having Banuelos or Betances make the team by making them part of the early cuts. But I just wonder what happens if, for example, Betances throws in a way to enliven imaginations and in an early March organizational meeting Girardi voices the desire to see more of the 6-foot-8 righty.

Excellent stuff, Mr. Sherman. Glad you took the time to weigh in.

[Photo Credit: SI.com]

Likwit Crew to the Fullest

I Think it Snowed Last Night…

Couple of flix from the Big Apple, fom the BX to money-makin’ Manhattan.

Who is gunna clean up this mess?

Baseball Player Name of the Week

In honor of the upcoming celebration of ancient Roman martyrs:

Squeaky Valentine.

His real name is Fred Valentine, which is still not too shabby. Born in Mississippi in 1935, he debuted with the Orioles in 1959 and went on to play with the Washington Senators. His only very good year came with them, 1n 1966, when he hit a highly (and uncharacteristically) impressive .351/.455/.806 for an OPS+ of 131. Two years later his OPS+ was 86, and that was his last season.

If I were a GM I would hire any player named “Squeaky Valentine” so fast it’d make your head spin. As an added bonus, he has a 964 similarity score to someone named Coaker Triplett.

Day to Night

Snow in New York today with more expected to dump on our skulls tomorrow…y’all be safe now, y’hear?

Afternoon Art

From a Tintin exhibition:

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Sun]

Million Dollar Movie

Dig this coolness: The Coenfographic.

Beat of the Day

From my pal Jay…

R.I.P. Charlie Louvin.

New York Minute

There is nothing that depresses me like the sight of an empty token booth, like this one on the downtown side of a midtown stop on the IRT. The station has been without a clerk for some time now but the booth remains (and there is a clerk on the uptown side). The place feels haunted to me.  

Colonoscopy

Yanks sign Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver