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April 10, 2008

'The Lie' — by T. Coraghessan Boyle


It's a new story by a Jedi Master of the form, in the latest (April 14, 2008) issue of the New Yorker.

The link is live for now so you can read it free and even print it out for later.

Do that.

Because a live link can disappear in a heartbeat and then all you'll have is my word for it that this is a superb work, magnificent in how it concentrates the horror — yes, the horror — of work in so few elegantly phrased paragraphs.

Read it and weep.

It brought back awful memories of watching the clock as minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day my life slipped away into nothingness, with no future but more of the same.

Warning: If you're on the verge of quitting and read it, this could be the straw.

You know the one.

It broke the camel's back.

That's why they call it "the last...."

Fair warning.

Excerpts follow.

I’d used up all my sick days and the two personal days they allowed us, but when the alarm went off and the baby started squalling and my wife threw back the covers to totter off to the bathroom in a hobbled two-legged trot, I knew I wasn’t going in to work. It was as if a black shroud had been pulled over my face: my eyes were open but I couldn’t see.

As soon as I hung up, I felt as if I’d been pumped full of helium, giddy with it, rising right out of my seat, but then the slow seepage of guilt, dread, and fear started in, drip by drip, like bile leaking out of a liver gone bad.

I had the whole day in front of me. I could do anything. Go anywhere. An hour ago it was sleep I wanted. Now it was something else. A pulse of excitement, the promise of illicit thrills, started up in my stomach.

I drove down Ventura Boulevard in the opposite direction from the bulk of the commuters. They were stalled at the lights, a single driver in every car, the cars themselves like steel shells they’d extruded to contain their resentments. They were going to work. I wasn’t.

That was the thing about taking a day off, the way the time reconfigured itself and how you couldn’t help comparing any given moment with what you’d be doing at work. At work, I wouldn’t have eaten yet, wouldn’t even have reached the coffee break—Jim, stop! No, no!—and my eyelids would have weighed a hundred tons each.

It was Thursday. Two more days to the weekend. If I could make it to the weekend, I was sure that by Monday, Monday at the latest, whatever was wrong with me, this feeling of anger, hopelessness, turmoil, whatever it was, would be gone. Just a break. I just needed a break, that was all.

I was on my second, or maybe my third, when the place began to fill up and I realized, with a stab of happiness, that this must be an after-work hangout, with a prescribed happy hour and some sort of comestibles served up gratis on a heated tray. I’d been wrapped up in my grief, a grief that was all for myself, for the fact that I was twenty-six years old and going nowhere, with a baby to take care of and a wife in the process of flogging a law degree and changing her name because she wasn’t who she used to be, and now suddenly I’d come awake.

April 10, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Defendius Door Chain — Episode 2: 'Not a joke'


I was so informed last evening by Laura Sweet, who sent me the following email:

    Hey Joe,

    The Defendius Door Chain [above] isn't a joke. It's not available for purchase but it was a design challenge, like the ones that Art.Lebedev Studio often does.

    The people who worked on it are as follows:

    Art director: Artemy Lebedev

    Designer: Oleg Morev

    Industrial designer: Konstantin Chirkov

    Modeler: Alexey Zalata

    Visualizator: Dmitry Dolgih

    Manager: Vera Dorofeyeva


On behalf of myself and Rocketboy, please accept our sincere apologies for mischaracterizing this signature creation in an aside in yesterday's final post.

And do let me know if/when it goes on sale so I can feature it here.

I will try to do better in the future.

April 10, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'Louboutin girls are very determined' — Simon Doonan


Best quote of the month.

Doonan, the creative director of Barney's, made the observation above to Amy Goldwasser, whose "Talk of the Town" item in the latest (April 14, 2008) issue of the New Yorker magazine — about the grit and determination required to put on Christian Louboutin's 28-inch-high suède pull-on Monica boots (top) — is simply delicious.

It follows.

    This Boot is Work

    Boots tend not to be twenty-eight inches high. Twenty-eight-inch-high things are more like: your daughter who’s nearly two, an M.T.A. subway turnstile, the bathroom sink, or a suitable-for-show female Great Dane. The measurement is also the daunting height of the most common size—38—sold in Christian Louboutin’s suède pull-on Monica boot, which has a 120-mm. covered heel, no zipper, and extends past mid-thigh.

    In shoe departments across the city, the trying on of this boot (cost: $1,790) has inspired F.A.Q.s (“How do those work?”) and varied protocols. There are folders, pushers, rollers, and scrunchers. There are ladies who know that you need to show up at the store wearing something with leg access (“Tights are best—they give you a certain level of slip,” one saleswoman said) and ladies who ask to take the boots with them into the boutique rest room, or who are favored enough clients to get a pair sent home with them to squish into in private. If you’re wearing pants, forget it. “You want a little bit of scrunching,” Shawna Rose, Louboutin’s director of communications, advised recently.“I would just say, even distribution.”

    “I’m not going to lie to you,” Michael Nitis, the manager of the Louboutin boutique on Horatio Street, said one afternoon. “It’s going to take a good five minutes to put them on, and a lot of wiggling around.” Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys, observed, “Louboutin girls are very determined. You get the sense if they had an X-Acto knife and some margarine they’d do whatever they could to get that boot on.”

    Indeed, the Monica comes with some very public fears: of fat, of failure, of flashing. (At the uptown store, sales were slow until Season Dolan, a five-foot-two saleswoman, wore the boots in black on a busy Saturday in fall; they sold out within the week. Citywide, the first full-size run was gone by early November. By February, they were almost entirely gone.) Which is why anyone maneuvering into a pair wants to be on the north-facing side of Christian Louboutin’s Madison Avenue store. “There are no mirrors over here,” a saleswoman reassured a leg-splaying client one Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, a lovely but sturdy-enough woman in her twenties settled on the mirrored side and requested the Monica, black, size 41½.

    The saleswoman, Pavleta Alexieva, came out with a pair in red suède. They’re folders, and efficient ones, at the uptown store. (“I just make it into a knee-high boot and step in,” Dolan said.) Alexieva unfolded the boots, doubled over to fit into the standard Louboutin box, and presented them to the customer, who’d managed to hike her jeans up above her knees. She bent over to begin negotiating. The process came to a halt at the jean line.

    “I wish I’d worn a mini,” she said, looking at the exposed joint where rippled blue denim and rippled red suède, like a couple of vacuum-cleaner tubes, almost met. The saleswoman suggested that she come back in a dress.

    Christian Louboutin himself is a proponent of the rolling strategy. “I did see girls trying them on. I help these girls,” he recalled, on the telephone. “You have to reverse it so you see the lining, yes. It becomes like a short boot. Then you dive your foot in it and then after, you return the lining, put it back on your legs. It’s a boot but it’s a stocking, almost like a coat for your legs.”

    Downtown at Jeffrey, on a serious shopping afternoon, the return of a single black pair (36½) didn’t go unnoticed for more than two minutes.

    “The boot’s back!” a salesman exclaimed.

    A woman gestured to him. “Do you have?” was all she asked. She held both hands at high-thigh level, as if wading. The salesman, knowing her size, shook his head and sent her to the Louboutin shop on Horatio, a few blocks away.

    “Every girl looks at this boot and would love to wear it,” Michael Nitis said. “But not everyone wants to go through the hassle.” He added, “You don’t want to send these home with a woman who lives alone. This boot is work, and I am not going to let my client struggle on her own.”


You can try on your very own Monica boots at Christian Louboutin stores everywhere.



April 10, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Kaywa.com: 'Create your own two-dimensional bar code — free'


That's right, a no-strings-attached free two-dimensional bar code generator for you to use to create your very own interconnected world.

"Type in a Web address or up to 250 characters of text and it spits back the corresponding code block, which can be printed or embedded into a Web site," wrote Rob Walker in his March 30, 2008 New York Times magazine "Consumed" column.

We like free.

Forget about embedding into a Web site — I'm having mine (top) tattooed on my forehead.


Get out your scanners, gang.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: Pre-order Walker's new book (below) so he can make a big splash on the best-seller lists when it comes out in June — he needs the money.

Who knows?


He might even send me a copy.

April 10, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wagner at the Multiplex — The new new thing in opera

Ten days ago I read two articles by opera critics who, though initially skeptical, decided to try out the Metropolitan Opera's live high-definition broadcast in their local movie theaters.

Both are now converts and proselytizers for this new wrinkle in this old, seemingly moribund and circling-the-drain art.

Here's Lorna Dolan's take from the March 29, 2008 Financial Times.

    Wagner and a bucket of popcorn

    Ashford, if you don’t know it, is a small provincial town in Kent. The old centre, destroyed by 1970s urban planning, is now bleak and lifeless, while housing estates and supermarkets have sprung up around the periphery, linked by dual carriageways and roundabouts.

    It is, in short, a place that probably has more in common with many other provincial towns around the world than it does with its own capital city. That is certainly true when it comes to culture. London is just 75 minutes away by train, but light years away in terms of the variety and quality of arts on offer.

    A multiplex cinema just off a motorway junction really is all that is available in Ashford. They know their market: when I first moved to the area with my family from London, I saw "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" to the accompaniment of thudding seats, as a stream of people left.

    Yet a couple of weeks ago, when I was standing in the foyer waiting to take my children to "The Spiderwick Chronicles," "Peter Grimes" came up on the box office matrix display. Britten’s "Peter Grimes," one of my favourite operas, in Ashford? Sure enough, it was being shown, transmitted live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Next week, "Tristan und Isolde" [top] would be showing.

    Wagner is even higher up my list of favourite composers than Britten, but I held back. The tickets were £25. What sort of experience would I be getting for my money? “High definition video”: wasn’t that just posh TV? Would there be a single camera pointed at the stage? Or different shots and close-ups, exposing the singers’ notoriously limited acting skills?

    Then, what would it be like going to an opera at Cineworld? London’s Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and the Met are all beautiful venues that provide a sense of occasion. Arcade machines, Coca-Cola and pick ’n’ mix candy hardly provide the same ambience. Would we really be going from Wagner’s “höchste Liebeslust” to the popcorn counter for our interval refreshments?

    In the end, I decided I had to see for myself. As we took our seats — all 16 of us — on the screen were larger-than-life images of the New York matinée audience settling down in a packed opera house. I felt like a dog waiting for scraps from well-dressed guests at a dinner party.

    Then the opera started and we didn’t feel like dogs any more. We, the humble Ashfordians, were the guests of honour. It is relayed in real time, and that is an essential part of the experience. We had a view that you can’t get, even from the best seats in the house. We saw James Levine conducting as though we were in the orchestra; director Dieter Dorn’s gorgeous colour-saturated stage pictures from the most advantageous angle and Deborah Voigt’s bright blue eyes (right), a stunning contrast to her flowing red wig, widen with sudden, unexpected love.

    The Met seems to have installed cameras everywhere. At times the video director, Barbara Willis Sweete, seemed a little too excited by the possibilities: she could have twiddled the split screen dial rather less. But she was clearly making an intelligent attempt to bridge the different demands of screen and stage. And not all the acting fared as well as Voigt’s under the camera’s scrutiny: Robert Dean Smith, flown in from Berlin to replace a sick Ben Heppner as Tristan, has a face that does little except sing.

    As for the all-important sound quality, there wasn’t the overwhelming rush of energy that comes from being in the same room as an orchestra playing at full power, but it was very good.

    The key moments — the drinking of the love potion and Isolde’s Liebestod – still sent goosebumps shivering up me in a wave.

    This is the second season of live transmissions from the Met – to cinemas across the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe, thanks to funding from the Neubauer family. La Scala in Milan and the San Francisco opera have similar schemes. The UK’s opera houses are catching up. Glyndebourne has put a toe in the water, with cinema transmissions of recorded performances, and the Royal Opera House has recently announced that it is to start cinema showings in the UK. But for the moment these are recordings, not livecasts: the necessary technology is not yet in place.

    This is a trend that seems to be growing. I am certainly converted. For those of us stuck in any one of 15 provincial centres in the UK, it is a marvellous opportunity to experience how sublime music can transcend even the most banal of settings.

    Metropolitan Opera is transmitting ‘La Bohème’ on April 5 and ‘La Fille du Régiment’ on April 26. www.metoperafamily.org/metopera. Royal Opera House transmission details from www.royalopera.org.


Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal wrote the following appreciation on March 29, the same day as Dolan.

    The Metropolitan Opera Goes to the Movies

    And a Skeptic Finds Himself Won Over by the Experience

    When Peter Gelb took over the Metropolitan Opera in 2006, one of the first innovations he announced was a series of live closed-circuit opera telecasts to be beamed from New York's Metropolitan Opera House into movie theaters around the world. I promptly noted in this space that such telecasts had already been tried and found wanting, both by the Met itself in 1952 and by other high-culture institutions, and I predicted that the venture would be quietly scuttled after a season or two.

    Wrong. Way, way wrong.

    Nearly 300,000 people turned out for the Met's first season of live Saturday-afternoon simulcasts, and attendance is expected to climb to a million this season. (The next simulcast, Puccini's "La Bohème," is set for April 5, with second-day repeat transmissions in many locations. For more information, visit the company's Web site, www.metoperafamily.org/metopera) They've been so successful, in fact, that they're already spawning imitators: La Scala aired its first movie-house relay in December, and San Francisco Opera launched a series of its own earlier this month.

    Why are these telecasts so popular? To find out, I traveled to Philadelphia on March 15 and viewed the Met's Saturday matinee of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes" at an upscale University City multiplex. It's a new production by John Doyle, the British theater director who is best known in this country for his ingenious small-scale Broadway versions of Stephen Sondheim's "Company" and "Sweeney Todd." I prepared myself by first seeing the production in the 3,800-seat Metropolitan Opera House, where it opened on Feb. 28. That performance left me with the same mixed feelings described by Heidi Waleson in her Wall Street Journal review of "Grimes," in which she criticized Mr. Doyle's staging as abstract, undramatic and confusing. The simulcast, by contrast, was considerably more effective than the live performance I'd seen at the Met two weeks earlier. In fact, it was overwhelming — one of the most memorable experiences I've had in a lifetime of opera-going.

    What made the difference? Watching a well-directed high-definition digital telecast of an opera on a movie-house screen puts you within arm's length of the singers. (One of the cameras is actually mounted on a remote-controlled dolly placed on the lip of the stage.) In a large house like the Met, all but a few seats are far from the stage, meaning that you have to use opera glasses to see the singers' faces. Not so on screen, where Gary Halvorson, the video director, emphasized tight close-ups and shrewdly chosen reaction shots that clarified the dramatic relationships between the various characters. What had been unsatisfyingly vague in the opera house became compellingly specific on the movie screen. Add to this the excellent intermission features, which included on-the-spot backstage interviews with Mr. Doyle, conductor Donald Runnicles and Anthony Dean Griffey and Patricia Racette, the stars of the production, and the result was a show far more involving than the one I saw in the opera house on from my opening-night orchestra seat.

    The audience for the Philadelphia screening of "Peter Grimes" clearly shared my enthusiasm. I sat next to a local opera buff who has never enjoyed watching operas on TV and was skeptical about seeing one in a movie theater. "Grimes" changed her tune. "I've never been close enough to the stage to be able to see that kind of detail," she said. "I can't afford it — I sit in the cheap seats. Watching the singers up close changes the whole effect. It got me right in the throat."

    University City is a college town, and I wondered whether the crowd there was representative, so I called up my father-in-law, Charles Dyson, who saw the second-day replay of "Grimes" at a multiplex in suburban Connecticut, and asked him what it was like. "Everybody in the theater seemed really excited," he told me. "And the simulcasts have been selling out up here — if you don't buy tickets in advance, you can't get in on Saturday."

    So will the Met's movie-house simulcasts create a new audience for opera in America? Maybe — but there's a catch. One of the goals of the Met's various new-media ventures, which also include live broadcasts of selected performances via Sirius Satellite Radio and Web-based streaming audio, is to attract a younger cohort of media-savvy opera-goers. Alas, the audience that saw "Grimes" in Philadelphia consisted mainly of senior citizens, and so, Mr. Dyson told me, did the Connecticut crowd.

    Can the Met persuade under-30 viewers to attend its simulcasts? Is it even trying? Why not launch an ad campaign aimed specifically at college students? I can think of one selling point right off the bat: You'll pay as much as $295 for a premium orchestra seat at the Metropolitan Opera House, with center parterre boxes going for a cool $320 apiece. I paid $22 for my movie-house ticket, not counting popcorn.

    Cheaper tickets for a better show — that's my kind of deal.

April 10, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Throwback Wheelie


Bridge the centuries.

From the website:

    Classic Railway Travel Rolling Leather Suitcase

    This classic leather suitcase evokes a period from the late 19th century when travel by rail or ship for pleasure was a luxurious privilege enjoyed by few.

    Updated with wheels and a telescoping handle, it uses 49 panels of top-grain cowhide vegetable-tanned in Brazil and stitched together with the finest nylon thread over a strong 1/2" wood shell and has reinforced cowhide corners for durability and strength.

    The large interior has one 22" long internal pocket stitched into the case's top; the remaining space is left open, as was common for the traditional suitcases from this period.

    The interior has two leather buckling compression straps and is lined in nylon with a damask pattern.

    Two metal clasps and combination locks finished in antique brass secure the suitcase.

    Two leather handles allow for easy maneuvering and a telescoping handle extends 15" from the top of the case.

    The suitcase rolls on two in-line skate wheels housed in durable polyurethane cowlings, and it stands up on two sturdy polyurethane feet.

    24"H x 15"W x 10"D.


    13 lbs.


April 10, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Borders is dying


It's not just the big stuff, like the fact that publishers are starting to watch the company nervously for signs of insolvency.

No, it's small tip-offs like the fact that last week, when on two successive days I went to a Borders store in Richmond, Virginia to purchase my daily fix of the New York Times and the Washington Post (I was out of town, hence the need for a trip to the bookstore), I found neither paper on the shelves.

The third day, when the same thing happened, I asked one of the sales clerks why they were sold out so early (it was around 11 a.m.; usually they still have copies of both papers until at least the late afternoon).

He told me that the local distributor no longer supplies those papers to Borders.


I mean, they were at the 7-Eleven across from my hotel, so it's not as if Richmond's a newspaper dead zone all of a sudden.

No, the reason Borders no longer carries the the Times and the Post is because it's broke and can't pay its bills.

How long do you think Kroger would last if suddenly it stopped selling bread and milk?


"Circling the drain" isn't just a medical term of art.

You don't have to be Peter Lynch to know that when a stock hits its all-time low at the same time its trading volume hits an all-time high (top), the rats are leaving the ship along with the smart money.

Fair warning.

April 10, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Mole Chaser Windmill


Quite possibly my favorite item so far this year.

Yo, joe — are your eyes closed?


'Cause you must be dreaming if you believe what follows, from the website:

    Mole Chaser™ Windmill

    A windmill can chase pesky moles out of your yard!

    The Mole Chaser Windmill takes even a gentle breeze and creates underground vibrations so intolerable, moles quickly vacate your premises, helping prevent future lawn and garden damage.

    Ball bearings in the hub let the blades turn smoothly, but the rattle inside the shaft creates a merciless vibration underground for about 100' in diameter, "encouraging" unwelcome moles and other small rodents to flee.

    Rustproof zinc-plated steel with hardware and instructions.

    Requires 4'-6' of 1/2" rigid conduit pipe (not included).


What, you don't have "4'-6' of rigid conduit pipe" handy?

What's wrong with you?


On a related note, I wonder how a PowerPlate hooked up to a long extension cord and placed in the middle of your backyard might work as a mole chaser.

I mean, you could do your workout and solve your mole problem at the same time — now that's what I call multitasking.

Just a thought....

Hey, wait a minute — what's that music I'm hearing?

April 10, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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