Monday, July 28, 2008

beautiful again, & interesting, & modern

Finished watching last night's season two premier of Mad Men (see yesterday's post). Shazam! As if we needed confirmation that it is the most culturally literate show around, the writers included a voice-over reading of the fourth section of Frank O'Hara's poem "Mayakovsky" in the closing scene. Read by the main character, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm), the poem and the scene perfectly encapsulate his day in late-winter, in early mid-life, late mid-century.

Danna just found out that Frank O'Hara's book Meditations in an Emergency (Don Draper sees a sophisticated young man reading a copy in a Midtown lunch spot; and in a later scene we see he has purchased a copy) is one of today's most-Googled items. This is such positive exposure for American poetry readership! For many, reading O'Hara might be an inroad to more experimental poetries, both contemporary and historic.

Here's the fourth section of "Mayakovsky"*:

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

*Mayakovsky was a Russian poet whose poems O'Hara adored. John Ashbery notes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara: "...Mayakovsky, from whom he picked up what James Schuyler has called the 'intimate yell.'"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Art of the Sell

Now recovering from a Mad Men, Season One marathon. 13 Episodes later, we have emerged from the frozen comfort of our one air-conditioned room. Sweaty, bleary-eyed. I am looking around the house for a time machine.

Here are the coordinates I would set:

Date: July 28, 1960.

Place: Madison Avenue, New York, New York.

Here is what I would pack:

A gray suit, a white shirt, Jousting Knight cuff links, a skinny tie, black frame glasses, and I'd walk the avenues uptown, hatless, as was the trend with the stylish young men that year.

And a married man traveling back in time can still let a broad in a sudden red dress catch his eye, can't he? Probably not. That would maybe be a little too fresh. I love my wife so much, I'd experience irrational guilt. I'd then have to set up thrice weekly sits on a psychoanalyst's couch.

Barring time travel, I guess I'll just have to wait for season two.

Mad Men, in case you don't know, is the AMC series about one of the cogs that moved the wheels of post-war consumer culture, the Advertisers who worked on Madison Avenue, New York. The highly-stylized show, set in the summer and fall of 1960, is more than an exercise in period dress, design and diction. The show focuses on the dynamics of an ad agency in that period of American history just after men stopped wearing hats and just prior to when women, at least the daring ones, began wearing pants. Yet socio-political attitudes are still very much those of the previous decades. Everyone smokes and smokes, everywhere, drinks like fish, and eats like razorbacks. The show does a fine job of not romanticizing these excesses while still showing how individuals fell under the sway of being an upper middle class New Yorker in 1960.

It has the surface texture of good post-war suburban/urban malaise fiction such as Richard Yates and John Cheever, while attaining the psycho-cinematic moxie that the Slavoj Zizek crowd enjoys so much. You really need to check out this show if you haven't already. I mean, look at these characters:

You can watch the whole first season here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Luddite for a Day pt. 2

Yesterday, I imagined calling these friends, who I haven't talked to in an unforgivably long time (see yesterday's post). And I heard each of them take in a quick breath of air, exhale in a half-whistle, and say something to this effect: "Hmm, I'm not sure. Lets look it up." Followed by twenty seconds of key strokes, silence and/or small talk until the moment the search terms "dogs + light & sound frequencies" revealed something like the following:

Recall that the frequency range for human hearing is 20 Hz – 20 000 Hz

  • 20 000 Hz can be written as 20 kHz.
  • Electronic systems can be used to produce electrical oscillations with any frequency.
  • These electrical oscillations can be used to produce ultrasonic waves, which have a frequency higher than the upper limit of the hearing range for humans.
  • Some animals such as bats and dolphins emit ultrasonic sounds. Even more animals, such as dogs, can hear them.
My friends would have said something like, "Well, Marcus, this might be your answer. Maybe Eliot is hearing the sound waves emitted from the motion sensor, which sends something like radar through the room to detect motion--." I probably should have called them first. Don't nominate me King Luddite. I don't deserve it after all.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Luddite for a Day

Yesterday, a salesman knocked on our door while I was napping upstairs. When the knock came, Danna was downstairs, reading D-Listed updates, etcetera, summer etcetera. Kinder than I am toward people who cold-knock door-to-door, she locked our temperamental Boston Terrier T.S. Eliot in the bathroom and stepped out to greet him. After the security system salesman explained that there have been two break-ins on our street in the past month, she invited him to sit on the patio chairs and give his spiel. Two hours later, we had a free system installed in exchange for giving his company a square foot of advertising space on the front lawn. One of the best things about having the summers off is this sort of disruption of the routine. I have mixed feelings about routine.

Today, Eliot's morning routine is disrupted, apparently, by
the sudden presence of a motion sensor perched above the living room curtains (he just noticed it fifteen minutes ago). Which means our routine is disrupted, too, because we are puzzled away from our morning reading and talking about our reading, summer etcetera. I'm fascinated. As I type this upstairs in my little study, Eliot sits on the couch goggle-eyed, taking in the sensor and the area around the sensor, and it's as if he can see the waves of light invisible to us. Can dogs see light on this end of the spectrum? I imagine they can but don't know for sure. Curious, I'm going to do a search later to find out. Herein lies my love-hate relationship with the internet. Before this epoch, wouldn't a guy have simply dialed up his most science-minded friends, say, his college friend with a degree in engineering or his other college friend with a degree in physics? From such an inquiry, a conversation would have happened, no doubt--two human voices registering wonder at the world. Would you nominate me King Luddite for a Day if I tell you tomorrow I called these friends first?