Friday, November 28, 2008

Eternal Refluffenance

One of the San Francisco Chronicle’s two above-the-fold articles today was simple, clear, and predictable: “More Mouths to Feed,” about the increased attendance at food banks and shelters this year due to the worsening economic crisis. (The headline for the online edition is even more to the point: "Lines for free Thanksgiving Meals growing.") “Every time the stock market goes down, Thanksgiving attendance at places like Glide Memorial Church and St. Anthony Dining Room goes up,” reads the second paragraph in its entirety. You can imagine the rest of the article: more people are collecting free meals this year; food donations are down, but the number of volunteers is up. These kinds of stories are templates tweaked every year to accord with current events, adding little that is new. People are in need every year, some years more than others, sometimes for different reasons. Sometimes there is more to give them, sometimes there is less. Today’s paper draws a connection between the current state of the stock market and the increased attendance: “the market went way down, and attendance went way up.” But this connection is fuzzy. Did the people seeking a free meal lose money in the stock market? One would think not. One man says he was a real estate agent in Chicago last year, but “that was last year.” Where will he be next year? We know where the Chronicle will be.

One new element has been introduced this year. A father and his three sons sit at a table in the picture that accompanies the article. The father wears a casual, button-down shirt and sports neatly combed dark hair speckled with gray (his sons are all extremely blond). He has a thinly-trimmed mustache that accentuates the downward turn of his mouth as he gazes at the son to his left. The boy, probably around nine years old, looks darkly across the table at another diner whose hat and hands offer evidence of his presence along the bottom edge of the picture. His expression is difficult to read. He looks scared and unhappy, but that might be a photographic misrepresentation—a face made in an instant that’s captured on film but doesn’t reflect the subject’s true feelings. The man’s other two sons seem engaged with eating. One sits on his lap, stuffing food into his mouth; the other has bits of food in each hand while he stares at the tray in front of him. The father sits in the middle, splitting the difference between these two sides. He is not smiling. But on the table in front of this small family, along with a pumpkin and a potted, flowering plant, is a sign in a small plastic stand with a sign that advises diners “SMILE! THIS TABLE MAY BE FILMED OR PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEDIA.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lonely Seagull Classics: Considerations

The Lonely Seagull is a physical thing and needs to be touched to fully appreciate it. Just reading the words does not do it full justice. There is art and the cover feels like sand. The internets do not allow for this type of interface, but it can approximate it*. So, in that spirit, what follows is the first in a series of excerpts from the the first physical issue of the magazine. Except, this particular piece, a Consideration, was not actually included, so it has an added element of care and specialness: think of it as a deleted scene. One that you'd actually watch.

*Not really, though.

The guy at Mudraker’s
By Benjamin Adorno

The guy who works at—and maybe co-owns—the coffee shop down the street from me really makes the place. He makes the place like particularly comfortable chairs, good coffee, attractive employees or less easily defined qualities make other coffee shops especially pleasant places to be in. I’d say this guy is about forty-five or fifty. He has a pleasant face and a short, neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache. His movements are precise and knowing; the bagel sandwiches he makes are layered, spread and cut with an uncommon care. When he greets me with a blank but vaguely pleasant stare at the counter he looks like he is now, or once was, capable of menace. But he hides the menace somewhere far behind his sad and handsome eyes that bring to mind the imagined chimerical offspring of Omar Sharif and Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Sometimes his son comes in and helps out as best he can. The kid’s shy but he takes orders at the register for his dad to fill. He has his dad’s eyes and you can see in them that, though he’s bored and would probably rather be doing anything else, he is content just to be around his father, watching the sunlight gently burn through the window on a sleepy summer afternoon. So I keep coming back because of this guy and it’s mostly because of him that I’d recommend it. But don’t go there for the coffee because it’s not very good.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

John Leonard, Farewell

John Leonard, with whom I became acquainted through his New Books column in Harper's, died from lung cancer last night at the age of 69. I often had trouble reading his columns because his sentences twisted and turned with long lists and casual references to a staggering variety of things about which I knew nothing: foreign cultures, detailed histories, obscure and well-known writers, complicated philosophies reduced to a phrase, systems of thought, anything and everything. The New York Times' obituary quotes Kurt Vonnegut on reading Leonard: "When I start to read John Leonard, it is as though I, while simply looking for the men's room, blundered into a lecture by the smartest man who ever lived." This description is hard to improve on.

Harper's has made everything he wrote for them freely available on their website.

John Leonard was a fierce liberal, and not just politically. His reviews were always generous and almost devoid of judgment. He supported Obama and, unlike his friend Studs Terkel, lived long enough to cast his vote, though he had to bring a chair to sit on while he waited in line. I hope he was able to appreciate Obama's victory as well.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Obama: Don't Stop!

Look at how Cutty Ranks does it:

Keep it up! George Packer thinks he knows why you looked so haggard in the days before the election:
The reason came to me when I was reading the galleys of H. W. Brands’s new biography of F.D.R., “Traitor to His Class.” On the night of his landslide victory over Hoover, in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, Roosevelt had an intimate conversation with his son James:

“You know, Jimmy,” Franklin said, “all my life I have been afraid of only one thing—fire. Tonight I think I’m afraid of something else.”

“Afraid of what, Pa?”

“I’m just afraid that I may not have the strength to do this job.” He paused reflectively. “After you leave me tonight, Jimmy, I am going to pray. I am going to pray that God will help me, that he will give me the strength and the guidance to do this job and to do it right. I hope that you will pray for me, too, Jimmy.”

Yes, O.K., the whole "Pa/Jimmy" dynamic seems a bit disingenuous and hard to swallow, but not the idea that an earnest person with good intentions would feel the heavy weight of historical expectations upon having inherited such great responsibility. It is in fact reassuring that someone we've just chosen to lead the country would feel humbled and unsure, for that is certainly a better place to start than ignorant arrogance. It is encouraging that one not take this lightly. This is good. It is so rare to read good things in the news. Please: keep it up. Though strange and unfamiliar, they are welcome.

Good luck.

President Obama

The Lonely Seagull is glad that Mr. Obama won the presidency tonight. Congratulations to him, and compliments on his fine acceptance speech.

Happiness prevails right now. The happiness is hard to define, but the videos below go to some length toward that goal, if obtusely.

Elvis Costello, "Radio, Radio"

(A metaphorical narrative: "They're saying things I can hardly believe / They really think we're getting out of control / Radio is the sound salvation / Radio is cleaning up the nation / They don't give you any choice becaue they think that it's treason")

Eric B. & Rakim "Eric B. is President"

(another metaphor: "I make it easy to dance to this")

Jonathan Richman, "I'm a Little Airplane"

(expression of joy: "I'm a little airplane")

Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man"

(it took a long time: "You never wait so long")