Gallery of Nostrums

A gallery of early patent medicines featuring FatOff Obesity Cream, Dr. Bonker’s Celebrated Egyptian Oil, Mack Mahon The Rattlesnake Oil King’s Liniment for Rheumatism and Catarrh and more. “Catarrh” is a word you never hear any more. And yet it’s still a common ailment, unlike scurvy or, say, consumption. While we are on the subject names for diseases that belong in 19th century novels, I am proud to say I know not one but two(!) men who refer to their arthritis as “gout.”

Link via The Eyes Have It.

This Condition by Lydia Davis

In this condition:

stirred not only by men but by women, fat and thin, naked and clothed; by teenagers and children in latency; by animals such as horses and dogs; by certain vegetables such as carrots, zucchinis, eggplants, and cucumbers; by fruits such as melons, grapefruits, and kiwis; by certain plant parts such as petals, sepals, stamens, and pistils; by the bare arm of a wooden chair, a round vase holding flowers, a little hot sunlight, a plate of pudding, a person entering a tunnel in the distance, a puddle of water, a hand alighting on a smooth stone, a hand alighting on a bare shoulder, a naked tree limb; by anything curved, bare, and shining, as the limb or bole of a tree; by any touch, as the touch of a stranger handling money; by anything round and freely hanging, as tassels on a curtain, as chestnut burrs on a twig in spring, as a wet teabag on its string; by anything glowing, as a hot coal; anything soft or slow, as a cat rising from a chair; anything smooth and dry, as a stone, or warm and glistening; anything sliding, anything sliding back and forth; anything sliding in and out with an oiled surface, as certain machine parts, anything of a certain shape, like the state of Florida; anything pounding, anything stroking; anything bolt upright, anything horizontal and gaping, as a certain sea anemone; anything warm, anything wet, anything wet and red, anything turning red, as the sun at evening; anything wet and pink, anything long and straight with a blunt end, as a pestle; anything coming out of anything else, as a snail from its shell, as a snail’s horns from its head; anything opening; any stream of water running, any stream running, any stream spurting, any stream spouting; any cry, any soft cry, any grunt; anything going into anything else, as a hand searching in a purse; anything clutching, anything grasping; anything rising, anything tightening or filling, as a sail; anything dripping, anything hardening, anything softening.

Here is an exercise. Write your own “This Condition” about a different condition.

Google management boggles the mind

Yesterday, Google filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to go public. Here is a nice fluff piece to mark the occasion. Oh, those wacky billionaire visionaries and their crazy ideas:

If life before Google is difficult to recall, the next six years promises to be mind-boggling.

Google’s Chief Technology Officer Craig Silverstein spoke last month of a future in which people could have “search pets” that are able to find the answer to tricky questions such as “What did my wife mean when she said that?”

Larry Page [founder] revealed his own vision at a technology conference in February. “On the more exciting front, you can imagine having your brain being augmented by Google. For example you think about something and your cell phone could whisper the answer in your ear.”

Would you like some more meat with your meat?

The James Joyce celebrations this year will include a hideous breakfast from Ulysses.

Organizers… plan to dish up a free breakfast for 10,000 people which will require 25,000 pork sausages, 20,000 pigs’ kidneys and 12,500 bacon rashers.

The fry-up on Dublin’s historic O’Connell Street in June, will also entail 20,000 blood puddings, 15,000 bread rolls, 10,000 tomatoes and 500 kg (1,100 pounds) of butter.

Giant Ralph Lauren ad eats review

I link this New York Times review of Karen Joy Fowler’s latest* only to say Jesus, how are we supposed to read this? Is the review written in the form of a poem or something? Would you get a load of that giant blonde Ralph Lauren lady and her enormous purse or viola or whatever it is.

*I’d link the title of the book but I can’t see it.

(Update: for those of you who are only now reading this and wondering what I’m going on about, apparently the Times has taken down the extremely large advertisement of the giant Ralph Lauren lady and her enormous purse/viola.)

“Some Sounds”

Roy Kesey has a new dispatch from China on McSweeney’s.

As regards things not in my apartment: please attempt to imagine that in the attic of your home, eight large cats are being fed, and caressed, and well loved, and that they are very pleased, and that they attempt to express their pleasure using the loud, near-human sounds that cats sometimes manage to produce. Then, however, all eight cats simultaneously get their tails caught in an escalator. If you are in fact able to imagine all of the sounds involved in this scenario, then in terms of dialogue and singing there are few reasons for you to go to the Beijing Opera.

Bookforum review of Gary Lutz

The Reading Experience does not care for Emily Barton’s Bookforum review of Gary Lutz’s latest, I Looked Alive. Apparently Emily Barton took a bite out of a great big orange and proclaimed, “This is a very bad apple.”

I wish Four Walls Eight Windows would put a story or two from the collection online. There are three pieces from his Stories in the Worst Way on the 3rd Bed site.

First link via Cup of Chicha.

Sensory Homonculus

This model shows what a man’s body would look like if each part grew in proportion to the area of the cortex of the brain concerned with its sensory perception.

Hmm, I’m surprised by the relative size of the man’s reproductive organs, package, schlong, what-have-you. I’d have thought that area would obscure one’s view of the rest of the body entirely. Not so.

So why is this funny?

James Wood over-explains a joke in this otherwise very interesting excerpt from his book The Irresponsible Self: Humour and the Novel.

One London lunchtime many years ago, the late poet and editor Ian Hamilton was sitting at his usual table in the Soho pub, the Pillars of Hercules. This was where much of the business of Hamilton’s literary journal, The New Review, was conducted. It was sickeningly early – not to be at work, but to be at drink. A haggard poet entered, and Hamilton offered him a chair and a glass of something. “Oh no, I just can’t keep drinking,” said the weakened poet. “I must give it up. It’s doing terrible things to me. It’s not even giving me any pleasure any longer.” But Hamilton, narrowing his eyes, responded to this feebleness in a tone of weary stoicism, and said in a quiet, hard voice: “Well, none of us likes it.”

So why is this funny? There is comedy in the inversion of the usual idea that drinking is fun and voluntary. In Hamilton’s reply, drinking has become unpleasant but unavoidable, one of life’s burdens. The cynical stress on “likes” gives the reply a sense of weary déjà-vu: it sounds as if Hamilton is so obviously citing a truism that it is barely worth saying it aloud. It is always funny when singular novelty is passed off as general wisdom, especially when it is almost the opposite of the truth.

The joke simultaneously plays on the inversion of drinking as good fun while playing off the grim truth of alcoholism, which of course is indeed a state in which drinkers may not much like alcohol but cannot release themselves from it. Against those two worlds – the world of ordinary, pleasant, voluntary drinking, and involuntary alcoholic enslavement – Hamilton’s reply proposes a stoical tragi-comic world, populated by cheerful but stubborn drinkers doing their not very pleasant duty. The joke seems to me to open, in a moment, a picture at once funny and sad.

Link stolen from Rake’s Progress.

Still more time out

So sorry to flake out on you good people this way, but the Fed Ex package hasn’t arrived, it’s busy season at work, my absence earlier this week means I’ll be working late to make my deadlines on Friday, and I have ironclad lunch plans. (A girl has to have her priorities.) For literary news and commentary, go see Rake’s Progress, The Elegant Variation, Bookninja, Laila, Return of the Reluctant, Kitabkhana, Jimmy Beck and Lizzie, and all the other fine sites that aren’t springing to mind at the moment.

The one and only Stephany Aulenback takes over on Friday. I’ll be back Monday. Enjoy the weekend.

“Happy Mother’s Day! Yes, I’m Still Out of Touch with the Lord and Going to Hell!”

Dana points out that there’s a vast, untapped market for dysfunctional Mother’s Day cards and suggests a few slogans, including:

“This Card Is a Testament to All the Wonderful Things About You, Mom, But I’m Sure, Like Everything Else, It Won’t Live Up to Your Impossible Expectations”

“Mom, I’m So Glad We Have These Fifteen Minutes to Spend Together Before My Therapy Session”

“Happy Mother’s Day! No, I Haven’t Gained Weight!”

“Mother, On Your Special Day, Here’s Your Xanax and Chardonnay”

Video of poets, writers, and critics online

The very impressive Guide to Poetry & Literature Streaming Video is a resource for locating streaming video of poets, fiction writers, and critics as they read and discuss their own and each other’s work.

Among the writers represented are Laurie Anderson (if you’ve ever really listened to Bright Red, you’ll understand how she qualifies as a writer), John Banville, James Baldwin, A.S. Byatt, Jim Crace, Robertson Davies, Margaret Drabble, William Gaddis, Anthony Hecht, Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Hijuelos, Jack Kerouac, Jamaica Kincaid, Jhumpa Lahiri, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, Toni Morrison, Tim O’Brien, Grace Paley, Edward Said, David Sedaris, Maurice Sendak, Zadie Smith, and Fay Weldon.

Muumuu = muse?

As if I haven’t imposed on her enough already, I’ve asked CAAF, the quick-witted host around here for the last two days,* to Fed Ex me her tangerine muumuu for inspiration. I’m convinced it’ll be the blogger equivalent of touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Let’s hope the package arrives tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Until then, I’ve got nothing but twenty-five assignments for the day job that all have to be done right this very minute and a new cell phone I don’t know how to work.

This is how I know I’m approaching middle-age: I’ve transformed from a girl versed in all things electronic, from car and home stereos to PCs, into a woman for whom the prospect of programming a phone number into a cell phone induces the DTs three hours earlier than usual. Don’t worry, it’s nothing four or five swigs of Maker’s won’t cure.

For those who’ve asked, the trip to Northampton was great. I slept, for a change, and worked on my novel for the first time in a month and a half. I played with puppies and remembered that there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t revolve around the Internet and doesn’t give a shit about blogging.

I also remembered that there’s a need for cell phone jamming devices on the Northeast Corridor line. Seriously, if anyone wants to do a documentary on the many variations of crass area accents, the train is the perfect research site. The woman in front of me consoled her friend all the way from New Haven to Penn Station about a probable case of pinkeye.

Her “a’s” were so harsh I could feel my neck rattle every time she said the word “overreacting,” which happened approximately 12,000 times.

Upon my return I saw my therapist and filled him in on a dream I’d had about my father. He persuaded me to try to talk to an empty sofa as though my dad were sitting there. I only came up with a stiff sentence or two. I really couldn’t make it feel natural since I didn’t have the right prop — i.e., a concealed weapon.

I guess it’s clear I’m in a bad mood. I’m back in the city and it smells like hell. Last week a woman urinated on the floor next to me in a bodega near West Fourth Street while I was using the ATM.

The cashier ran around the counter. “Which one of you just peed on the floor?” she said.

Process of elimination is a bitch sometimes. Let’s see, was it the woman clad in pants with no discernible evidence of wetness, or the one clutching three bottles of Diet Coke to her chest, wildly pulling at her feces-smeared sweater?

As the heat in the subways intensifies, the smell of urine overpowers everything else, and this morning I thought of the woman and the cashier and wondered if the memory would stay with me all summer.

After the weekend’s festivities, I’ve really worked myself up into a lather about my upcoming 33rd birthday, or as a friend refers to it, “last call.” And, no, I won’t tell you which day. You’ll know because Stephany or CAAF or Pasha will log on to the site and transcribe a farewell postcard sent from a trailer park in Waldo, Florida.

I should be happy. Yesterday Emma called to tell me that I won first prize ($1000) in the short fiction contest at our creative writing program. She saw my name on a list posted outside the graduate English office. I’ve never made a dime from my fiction before, and I’m sure there must be a mistake. But just in case, anybody know of a weeklong writers’ retreat accessible from New York City by train that doesn’t cost more than $1000?

* In case you weren’t paying attention, Carrie A.A. Frye was in charge of this site for the last two days. That’s why it was so entertaining. Stay tuned for the debut of CAAF’s own site, maybe as soon as next week.

Over and out

When you want to wear the tangerine muumuu over your head, it?s time to go see the colorist. So barring J.D. Salinger showing up in my cubby in the next five minutes, pressing his unpublished stories on me to post, that?s where I?ll be. Thanks to Maud for the secret password and the gin, and thanks to everyone who read and emailed. Y?all are so smart!

Maud will be back tomorrow — and, if you?re in NYC and you can?t wait that long, don?t forget you can catch her tonight at Pianos.

For the while, here?s another Evangaline poem by Marlys West (this one in full). Remember, read it slow and drawl, honey, like your last name is Sugarbaby …
Continue reading…

The Town and Salamanca

Allan Seager’s classic short story is up (in two installments) at McSweeney’s.

The story, sez McSweeney’s, first “appeared in the 1935 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by E. J. O’Brien. O’Brien was so taken with the story that he dedicated that year’s volume to Seager, and announced in a later interview that the ‘apostolic succession of the American short story’ ran from Sherwood Anderson to Ernest Hemingway to Allan Seager.”