From the brilliant BBC series of Jeeves and Wooster adaptations, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This moment stands in literary fame along with Johnson meeting Boswell, Holmes meeting Watson, and Ailill meeting Erling.
Actor George Arliss with a monocle. Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress
Lent is a time for confessing sins, and I must confess I have committed a social sin. I bought a monocle. And I use it.
It’s been a long time since the monocle enjoyed any kind of welcome in our culture. It was done in, I suppose, by the combination of snooty intellectuals and movie Nazis. I recently saw a photo of some leader of the alt-Right (I don’t remember his name and don’t care) who’d had himself photographed in dramatic black and white, with a monocle in his eye. Semiotically (that’s a fancy word for the symbolic meanings of everyday stuff. I know this because I’m the kind of guy who wears a monocle) the monocle is a red flag waved at egalitarian society. I can’t actually think of any beloved character, in the real world or any fictional one, who wears a monocle. Except for Lord Peter Wimsey. And he wore it so criminals would think him a fool and underestimate him.
The trouble is, I find my monocle extremely convenient and useful. It comes with a lanyard, which means I don’t have to worry about losing it. I only need vision correction (for reading) in one eye. So the monocle is just what the doctor ordered (Almost literally. When my eye doctor told me, during my last visit, that I might try wearing reading glasses with one lens removed, I asked him about monocles and he laughed. Then I checked to see if I could buy one on Amazon, and behold, they sell them there. It was the work of but a moment for me to get one all my own).
I do have the grace to be discreet about it, though. I don’t walk around wearing it all the time. I pull it out when I need to read small print, and put it away when it’s no longer needed.
Also, I work at an institution of higher learning. I consider it a solemn duty of the staff at any school to try to be as eccentric as possible, in order to create stories and legends to be recalled at class reunions. This is one of the foundations of institutional loyalty. Eccentricity at the universities made England the world’s greatest empire at one time.
I’ll let you know when I acquire a valet to complement my eyewear.
Why is this the best time of year? Because when I’m reading a long book, as I am now, I can share wonderful musical moments like this in lieu of a review. It’s a precious memory from my childhood, from a kid’s show called “Lunch With Casey,” broadcast in the Twin Cities in the 1960s. I’ve shared it before, but I’m doing it again because I know how much it means to you.
I have very few fond memories of the time – decades ago – when I used to watch the 60 Minutes TV program. But one of them is (I think, it might possibly have been a different show) a segment on the Portsmouth Sinfonia, “the worst orchestra in the world.” Atlas Obscura has an article about it:
The original Sinfonia consisted of 13 members, mostly students who had little to no musical experience. The “scratch” orchestra was meant as a one-off joke, part of a larger collection of silly acts. And they didn’t win the contest. Still, their playful irreverence hit a nerve. Spurred on by an outpouring of enthusiasm for their initial performance, the Sinfonia continued to play, growing in size over the next several years. Their policy was that anyone, of any skill level, could join, with the exception being that skilled musicians could not join and simply play poorly on purpose. Another rule was that all members had to show up for practice.
For a while they attracted large crowds, and they even cut a couple albums. People (like me) were charmed by the blatant effrontery of the thing. It was a sort of an embodiment of Chesterton’s maxim, in his essay on amateurism, that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
The concept is fun, but it seems to me there’s a serious side too. The pleasures of bad music, like other pleasures of the flesh, are fleeting. In the end, quality counts. There’s a difference between enthusiasm and virtuosity, and virtuosity has staying power. It’s worth preserving.
Which brings me to this link, from Legal Insurrection, about protests at very liberal Reed College, Portland, Oregon. A number of students are angry that the school’s Humanities 110 course, a core course in the freshman curriculum, concentrates on western civilization.
I’m gonna go ahead and say it. Western civilization is the best civilization the world has ever seen. The very anger of the course’s opponents is a symptom of their cognitive dissonance, a refusal to accept the evidence of history, science, and their own senses.
It be “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” ye lubbers, and this here be a stub from what’s to my mind the most squared away and Bristol fashion version of Treasure Island ever filmed, the 1990 TV version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, and a young Christian Bale as Jack Hawkins.
You can’t say fairer than that; ye has me affy-davy on it.
Last night was a memorable one in the never-ending, pulse-pounding drama that is my life. I was briefly mistaken for another man.
I had an appointment to get a dental filling replaced. When I came into the office, the receptionist greeted me happily, but – and here’s where the conductor should cue the ominous double note from the horns – she didn’t greet me by name. I said hello and sat down with my Kindle to wait. She said the doctor was running a little behind.
A few minutes later the (very beautiful) dental hygienist came out and said they were ready for me, but again (bum BUUUM) without saying my name. I was a little surprised that she was assisting with a filling, but I went along (frankly, I’d follow her anywhere). I sat down in the Comfy Chair, and she put the bib around my neck. She asked if I’d taken the antibiotics required after my hip replacements. I said my doctor had rescinded that order, and that I’d had them fax an affidavit to that effect to the dentist’s office. The dentist, from the other side of the partition, yelled, “Yes, I got that!” So the hygienist changed the record on the screen suspended just to my left.
“OK,” she said then. “Just a cleaning and check-up tonight, right?” she said.
No, I answered. I came to get a tooth filled.
A few moments of confusion followed, until we established that she’d been expecting a guy whose name sounds kind of like mine. So I retired to the waiting room again. The receptionist laughed (with some embarrassment). Apparently she’d mistaken me for this guy with the similar-sounding name who, she said, had a gray beard like me, looked kind of like me, and wore a hat. And also had had his hips replaced. I told the hygienist she’d probably better change the guy’s record back on the antibiotics thing.
And a few minutes later, in walked a guy who did look kind of like a taller version of me. Limping slightly. And he was wearing a hat. (A cowboy hat, but you get the idea.) In order to explain our laughter, I explained to him that he’d nearly gotten my tooth filling.
So if I disappear suddenly, somebody should check this guy out to see if he faked his death. I know from my mystery reading that that sort of thing happens all the time.
Tonight I am wracked with existential angst. I am contemplating changing my very way of life; of crossing a cultural divide and becoming, after long resistance, One of Them.
I’ve decided to get a smart phone.
Not a really smart phone, of course. An Android, first of all, because I refuse to be roped into the religion of the iPhone. That would be like joining a mainline Protestant church.
OK, not really. It just feels that way, when you’re an old men being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Or the end of the 20th Century, depending on how old a phone version I decide on. Can’t get the latest one. That would be like buying a new car – sudden and irrevocable depreciation being the wages of the sin of purchasing a time share in Vanity Fair (the town in Pilgrim’s Progress, not the magazine). Last year’s model was good enough for last year’s people, and is probably twenty years better than what I need.
What happened was I developed brake problems on Miss Ingebretsen, my PT Cruiser. Knowing I’d be without internal combustion capability tomorrow, I asked someone at work about getting a ride. He graciously agreed to do it, but mentioned Uber and Lyft. I answered, shame-faced, that I have no smart phone, and so am reduced to begging rides, like we used to do in the old days, long before he was born.
“Enough,” I said to myself. “It’s time you got some kind of smart phone. Preferably one that’s slow and prone to locking up. Like your knees.”
I tried calling my (cheap) provider after work tonight, but they said it would be a 15 minute wait, so I hung up. Who do they think they are, making me wait for 15 minutes?
I insist on at least 20. If I wanted convenience and speed, I’d get an iPhone.
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The great Dave Lull sends a link to an interview with Anne Kennedy on The Eric Metaxas Show. Anne is the author of the devotional book Nailed It, which I reviewed here.
And our friend Ori Pomerantz recommends this link to the Federalist, where John Ehrett imagines the “hot takes” (a new term to me, I’ll admit) that might have been published if C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books had been published today.
Reason: “Narnia Doesn’t Need Kings”
In “Prince Caspian,” the Telmarines were on the cusp of transforming Narnia into a successfully modern state that would’ve created job opportunities for everyone. Aslan’s violent return destroyed valuable capital and plunged the regime back into a preindustrial dark age. The GDP losses are incalculable. For shame, Aslan.
In celebration of its 25th birthday, Mall of America is holding a contest to choose that wonderfully creative soul who will spend five days “deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words.”
Dude, is this not a call for a writers riot? Several writers should immerse themselves in this mall, if not one of the many malls across America, to write “impressions” of what they see. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that. Don’t let a good challenge go ignored. Post your short impressions here.
Micah Mattax says, “For some reason, my on-the-fly impressions of malls always come out Ecclesiastes, so I won’t be applying. Still, that $400 food court gift card is pretty tempting.”
You bet it is. What are your impressions of a food court feast? What snatches of conversation do you hear as you walk? Is there a spiritual dimension to riding an escalator? America needs to know.
My love for you is like a slough
of water flowing out
that soaks the town of Kilkey Down
whose folks pray for a drought.
That one’s for you, dear reader, but here’s another bound to enliven a lover’s heart. From Ogden Nash.
A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
Said the fly, “let us flee!”
“Let us fly!” said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.
Isn’t that sweet? Here’s more on Ogden Nash in The Hindu.
Mimi Matthews has a few creative verses for telling someone who may or may not be interested in you to seek other pastures.
Don’t credit the advertisements
In paper or in serial,
You cannot manufacture charms
With ugly raw material.
It’s as if the director had called out, “Cue the snow!” And suddenly winter got dumped on us. I have a vague idea the scenario was much the same last year. A long fall, with relatively mild temperatures. It snowed a couple times, but Mother Nature, in a mellow mood, perhaps from a couple Margaritas too many, forgot about it and let it all melt away. And then, last Saturday, she suddenly remembered she’d dropped behind on her quota. So she dumped several inches all at once. The temperatures dropped like… like my car keys from my insensate fingers on a morning when it’s 20 below. And suddenly it was the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (if you’re Andy Williams. Who is dead. Which is the only thing that would make winter bearable, in my opinion).
Now and then I ask myself, why do I live someplace where I hate the weather at least a third of the year? The obvious answer is that I’m masochistic and self-destructive. Other reasons are that I tried living in the south, and it didn’t work for me. No spring (I love spring). Too many bugs. Too much distance from Norwegian-American culture. No Viking reenactment groups.
The ideal thing would be to be one of those old farts who migrates south during the winter months. Stick it out here till Christmas, then toboggan south to Florida or Arizona, where I can doze in the sun wearing one of those Cuban shirts and Bermuda shorts, maybe with socks and sandals to complete the ensemble. That plan, however, calls for a) retirement, and/or b) lots of money.
Not a good plan, really. We all know that guys who retire die of coronaries within a few months (unless they’re cops who, according to the TV shows, always get shot the week before retirement). Too much comfort and ease will kill you faster than anything. If you live in the subarctic and work until you drop, you can expect to live to 90 or 100. The Siberian Health plan, much admired by Democrats.
You won’t enjoy it, of course. But you’ll be alive. Because if there’s one thing nature abhors, it’s human comfort.
As every Minnesotan knows.
Our friend Ori posted a graphic on Facebook, showing a series of limerick versions of classic poems — “The Raven,” “Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” etc.
I couldn’t find the original source, so I don’t care to republish it here. But I will publish the one I came up with on the spot (well, after a few minutes’ thought). It requires a sloppy but common pronunciation of “Ulysses”:
There once was a Greek named Ulysses,
Who angered a god with his disses.
He paid for his crime,
But got home in time
To wedding-unplan for his missus.
It’s going to snow. I can feel it in the air pressure. In the humidity level. I see it in the grayness of the sky. I smell it in the atmosphere. I sense it in my arthritic old bones.
But mostly I heard it on the radio.
As you plan your Thanksgiving meal, make sure to check out the following “fool-proof” recipe from Joseph’s Machines.
I’ve always liked Rube Goldberg devices.
Because it’s Friday, here’s a machine to turn your newspaper pages for you.
At least once.