Stare.
 
1999 Notebook: Interval XXII
 
   

21 July 1999
The Color of Hemingway's Shotgun
Ernest Hemingway would have been a hundred years old today. Or, rather, he might have been had he not blown his brains out with a shotgun in 1961.

In memory of the event--the birthday, not the suicide--Jacqueline cooked me a great dinner tonight: Welsh rabbit. It tasted great! Although Fang would certainly disagree, it was even somewhat morally acceptable, since Jacqueline hunted the rabbit down herself, just as Hemingway would have. It seems somewhat preferable to do your own dirty work instead of farming it out to someone else, which is what I do. (Except for murdering the odd fish, other people kill the critters I eat.)

"So, how do you hunt rabbits?" I asked.

"Well, the blue rabbit we're eating was fairly easy to catch," she replied. "I just went deep into the forest, then started acting like a carrot while remaining perfectly still. Then, when young Fluffy here hopped right up to me, I simply shot her with my blue rabbit gun."

"You use a blue rabbit gun to shoot a blue rabbit?" I queried.

Jacqueline responded with a that's-the-dumbest-question-I've-ever-heard look. (I immediately recognized the particular expression, as I see it all the time.)

"Of course!" she exclaimed. "I bet you don't know how to shoot a yellow rabbit."

"With a yellow rabbit gun?" I replied hesitantly. Ending an answer with a question mark is a big mistake, and we both knew it.

"Of course not," she shot back. "Everyone knows there's no such thing as a yellow rabbit gun. You cover the yellow rabbit's mouth and nose until she turns blue, then you shoot her with a blue rabbit gun!"

Of course.

When I got back to the lab, I looked in my encyclopedia to see if I could find out what color Hemingway's shotgun was. While I was poking around, I discovered that there's no rabbit in Welsh rabbit! No rabbit, no hare, no cony, no bunny, no cottontail, no Fluffy, no long-eared, short-tailed, burrowing mammal of the family Leporidae whatsoever! Jacqueline tricked me!

I should have been suspicious when she said there were no visible pieces of meat because she put Fluffy's boneless body in a blender. It seemed like a plausible explanation at the time, especially after lots of whiskey. (She insisted Hemingway would have wanted us to drink a lot.)

The rarebit revelation has cast doubt on everything else Jacqueline told me. I wonder if she really does have a blue rabbit gun?

22 July 1999
It Didn't Have to Be That Way
A few nights ago I went to a disappointing concert. The musician was quite technically accomplished and made no obvious mistakes playing a composition I enjoy, so it took me a while to figure out why I found the performance unsatisfying.

I concluded that the problem was that the musician was "merely" playing the piece the way he thought it was supposed to be played, not the way he had to play it. The performance was unconvincing because it lacked inevitability.

I wonder how much of my work feels inevitable? That's a question I don't want to answer.

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23 July 1999
Poet / Artist / Composer C. John Taylor
I had to take a sailboat through a force seven storm to Seil Island off the coast of Scotland to discover the world of C. John Taylor, but it was most definitely worth the effort.

After coming ashore, the first thing I saw was the Highland Arts Studios. All the antlers and kilts mounted on and hanging from the building were misleading, for the site is really a monument to one person: "Poet / Artist / Composer C. John Taylor."

I don't really know how to begin describing the phenomenally prodigious Taylor, so I'll take a cue from Taylor's description of himself and talk about his poetry first.

Taylor gave a wonderful description of his poetry in a concisely-written paragraph on the subject he penned on New Year's Eve in 1977:

    Good poetry is a ladder, upon which our thoughts can unhindered ascend, to atmospheres uplifting, inspiring, regenerating: far, very far removed, from the ordinary, often monotonous, frequently demanding, routine of daily experience.

On Seil, I took advantage of one of the great literary bargains of the decade: two copies of 'TEN of the BEST' C. JOHN TAYLOR Poems for the price of one! A sticker attached to the cover informed me that two of the works inside were, "Mother Teresa's POEM" and, "Diana, Princess of Wales POEM."

The Princess Die poem is, well, quite incredible. Since I know of no other way of adequately describing Taylor's innovative approach to poetry in general and capitalization and punctuation in particular, I am, with all due respect, reproducing the second stanza of DIANA THE PRINCESS OF WALES.

    DIANA . . . like MOTHER TERESA . . . lov-ing "Even the LEAST of them",
    Brought, GOD'S Message; DOWN, to Earth again!!!
    HEAVEN'S the abode . . . where . . . sure-ly SHE must be!!
    Joy-fully join-ing . . . DIVINE Harmony, . . . Ever-last-ing-ly!!!

His poems about Mother's Day, Walt Disney, Mother Teresa, et al, are of equal caliber.

Even though I believe the law allows the above citation for a scholarly treatise such as this one, I should note that Taylor has taken every precaution to protect the work, as the notices on the Princess Die page make clear:

    © World copyright reserved

    Public Renderings of Poetry are protected by Acts of Parliament and permission for any such performance must be obtained through the appropriate Publishers concerned.

    The Signature of the Poet / Artist / Composer C. John Taylor is a Registered Trademark No. 1001426.

And then there are the paintings, hundreds of them. Most of them are portraits of one flavor or another. Some of the paintings depict historical or biblical subjects; many show young women with hair styles that were popular in the 1960s. (Taylor sometimes provides the exact day on which a painting was made, but many canvases are undated.)

Finally, there are the musical compositions. They might be described as cheerful words set to jaunty tunes, but that doesn't really do them justice.

Perhaps a photograph on one of his album covers best captures the feeling of his work. C. John Taylor is in the foreground wearing his trademark fisherman's hat, holding a painting easel with a paintbrush in his mouth--another trademark--and, in the background, a dog and a young woman in a bikini sit on a rock surrounded by the sea.

I left Seil Island with a lovely tea towel. It features two kittens, a butterfly, and a brief poem (again, © World copyright reserved).

    Pussy's Prayer

    There's Nothing We Can Give To You; Save Love! Every-Thing We Have, Comes Down; From Heav'n Above!!

I can't recommend a trip to the the Highland Arts Studios highly enough. The world of Poet / Artist / Composer C. John Taylor is indeed, "very far removed, from the ordinary, often monotonous, frequently demanding, routine of daily experience."

24 July 1999
The Rolling of the Tartan Towels
It's a lovely Saturday on Islay, time for the two hundred and forty-second annual Rolling of the Tartan Towels.

The program for the event describes how, on 24 July 1757, Ian Mackenzie climbed two hundred and thirty-two meters to the top of Beinn Tart a'Mhill to have a look around. That Sunday was unusually warm; Mackenzie carried his heavy tartan coat all the way to the summit. (You can't be too careful when it comes to Scottish weather.) Rather than carry it back down again, he decided to roll it back down the small mountain to his cottage in the village of Nereabolls.

Contemporary accounts of the event contradict each other, but scholars generally agree that Mackenzie carefully noted the number of times he rolled the jacket. The coat was so filthy by the time he reached the bottom of Beinn Tart a'Mhill that he kept rolling it a few dozen meters past his house until it fell into a tidal pool. A hole in four hundred and sixty-nine!

Mackenzie bragged about his feat through the autumn and winter, and by July of 1758, a number of his drinking mates had challenged him to a contest. Rather than ruin good jackets, they decided to roll towels instead. And that's how the annual Rolling of the Tartan Towels started.

The record for the shortest number of rolls--two hundred and thirty-nine--was set by Michael McGonigle in 1920. Even today, proud Scots believe the Irishman cheated or bribed the judges in order to record such a low score, but the record still stands.

The Scots didn't fare too well this year, either. Seiji Shidehara, an accountant from the Ryukyu Islands in Japan, won with a score of two hundred and fifty-three. I know this because I watched the entire event, albeit on a large television at the Tooth and Thistle pub.

25 July 1999
How Green Are You?
The Rainier Brewing Company has launched an exciting contest with the provocative query, "How Green Are You?" (In this case, "green" refers to the color of Rainier Ale cans and bottles.) The first prize is a year's supply of Rainier Ale--one thousand forty-ounce bottles!

I simply must win. All I have to do is answer the following question in twenty-five words or less: "Why Do I Love Rainier Ale?"

Easy-peasy! Here's what I originally wrote ...

    Breakfast: it's the most important meal of the day, an event that cries aloud for the brown nectar in the green bottle: Rainier Ale! Yumminess!

I poured over that draft submission for a long time. (And, of course, it was Rainier Ale that I poured.) Although what I'd written was admittedly almost perfect, there were a couple of niggling niggles I couldn't overlook.

First, is the contraction "it's" one word or two? If it's judged to be two words, then my otherwise winning entry might be disqualified by a pesky pedant. And that brought up the second niggle: "yumminess."

Now, "yumminess" is a perfectly fine word, one that practically cried aloud to be invented. (By me, as it happened.) But what if some stick-in-the-lard judge rejected my entry because I used a word with which s/he was not familiar? That's exactly the kind of reactionary behavior I might expect from the same kind of judge who would count "it's" as two words.

It the end, I submitted my entry without the grand "Yumminess!!!" finale. Even though I thought it belonged there, I couldn't allow mere literary concerns to come between me and one thousand forty-ounce bottles of Rainier Ale.

26 July 1999
Ketchup Steak
I just got back from dinner at Vladimir's apartment. We had ketchup steaks and cabbage.

At first, the ketchup steaks tasted wretched. Then, they tasted worse after Vladimir generously gave me the recipe.

    Ketchup Steak (serves two)

    Coat six normal-sized plates with a thick coating of lard, cover with ketchup, let stand for three days.

    After ketchup has turned brown, peel the ketchup "leather" from the plates. Place three of the brown ketchup leathers in a hot skillet filled to a depth of fifteen millimeters with hot bacon grease (or lard).

    Pour ketchup thickened with starch or flour onto the base, then place the remaining three skins on top.

    Fry for five minutes each side, serve with radish or turnip garnish.

Evidently, the brown ketchup on the outside with the red ketchup center was supposed to resemble a beef steak. It neither looked like or tasted like anything that ever mooed; it tasted like deep-fried ketchup.

Were it not for the bottle of vodka I brought for dinner, the miserable concoction would have been inedible.

27 July 1999
Editing by Intimidation
One upon a time I worked on a publication with a woman I'll call "MF." (I'm not sure whether Maia would let me use her name here, and I'm too lazy to ask her.) MF's mother, Ms. Fischler, was an English teacher who taught her daughter quite a bit about English. MF wielded her comprehensive knowledge of grammar like the big stick it was.

Sometimes MF would let me win a protracted editorial discussion. But, when she wanted to have a piece printed her way, she'd use a grammatical torpedo to sink my suggestion. Typical reasons for scuttling what I'd written included:

"You can't have dangling participle outside of a preposition."

"A split infinitive has to be used in pairs unless it's a declaratory paragraph."

"The gerund can't be used with the nominative case."

"Apostrophes must be separated by a comma splice."

And so on.

I had no idea what MF was talking about at the time, and, almost twenty years later, I still know next to nothing about grammar. I am at the mercy of everyone who wields a big grammar stick.

Ouch!

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28 July 1999
Joe Turnbull (snaportrait)
Joe Turnbull is a friend of mine.

29 July 1999
Smells Like Art
Two weeks ago I wrote about the challenge of making art history museums more rewarding places to visit. I've been thinking about the problem since then, and have come up with another idea after reading something I wrote a couple of years ago.

I was on the right olfactory track with the wine and food, but failed to take it far enough. One of the reasons art galleries seem so dead is that they don't smell of life; they don't smell of decay; they barely even smell like dust. A faint whiff of floor wax, maybe.

Art in studios still smells of creative afterbirth. There's turpentine, plaster dust (the first part of the dust to dust equation), photo chemicals, coffee, perhaps something smoked, as well as the previously mentioned wine and food.

The solution seems obvious. Art history museums need to put small amounts of turpentine and photographic fixer in the air filters, then paint and plaster their galleries more than is functionally necessary. (It's so obvious that the exhaust from the espresso machines needs to be pumped into the building's air supply system that such a recommendation only merits a parenthetic mention.)

Finally, if the art history museums institute my recommended policy of free food and drink, they might be places I'd enjoy visiting. If it weren't for the tedious examples of art history, that is.

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©1999 David Glenn Rinehart