Tag Archives: new york times

Jean Shepherd and the Dayak Curse

shep2On April 6, 1966, Jean Shepherd began his radio show by warning listeners that they were about to take part in an experiment of great scientific import in conjunction with a major university. It would be a potentially dangerous experiment, so if any listeners wanted out, they should switch to another radio station immediately.

As soon as his theme song was over, he played a recording of a flute. It sounded like a field recording. You could hear crickets chirping in the background. Once the music ended, Shep told his listeners this was an ancient, mystical flute played by the Dayak tribe of Borneo. This flute was intended to be used only in battle, as it had magical properties that would kill any male under the age of 18. Since the flute’s effects took 72 hours to fully take hold, he encouraged any teenage listeners to send their name to WOR on an index card with the word CURSES written on it, so that the university conducting this experiment could monitor their health.

It’s easy to say, in our more sophisticated age, that this was obviously a hoax. People were considerably more gullible back in 1966, particularly in regard to any sort of media. As you listen to this show, notice that Shep (who was not above laughing at his own jokes) does not crack in the least. He delivers all the details soberly and in as straightfaced a manner as he can. I can only imagine what kind of panic Shep’s “experiment” could have caused, or how many complaints it must have drawn to his radio station. Broadcasters don’t do things like this now, and they certainly didn’t do them in 1966.

Shep performed variations on the Dayak Curse “experiment” several times before and after this one, but the example from 1966 is by far the best version and the best recording. It’s also one of the best examples of exactly what he used to do on the radio. And though Shep rarely took calls on the air, he did so in this show to talk to young listeners, who invariably tell him they “feel kinda funny” in adorably thick Queens/Bronx accents.

If you stick with the whole show, you’ll hear Shep use a few news items on sea monsters, drunk sailors, and car-hating elephants, topped by ad copy for a tranquilizer disguised as a proto-feminist tract, all to comment on what he called The Human Comedy. You’ll also hear what radio commercials sounded like in 1966 for The New York Times (extremely pretentious) and Miller High Life (extremely brassy).

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If You Need Any Clues…

It is an odd bit of coincidence that the whole @TimesPublicEdit thing blew up this time of year, which is when my dad is on my mind the most. He had a love/hate relationship with the New York Times. Or perhaps love/snark is more accurate.

My father read the Times without fail every day, devouring what he could on the train to work and finishing it up on the couch once he returned home. He did the Times crossword with monastic dedication, particularly on Sundays, when he would fill in all the squares with his own strange brand of calligraphy. On weekends, Dad would often copy the puzzles so my mother and him could have competitions to see who could finish them first. (They didn’t waste their time on the Monday-Thursday puzzles; too easy.) Whoever won would throw down the completed puzzle in front of the other, saying “If you need any clues, just let me know…”

I joined in on the puzzling when I was old enough to figure out that finishing Times crossword puzzle has nothing to do with being smart. Through repetition, you’d figure out recurring ploys and frequently used answers. “Baseball family” was always Alou. “Pitcher” or “vessel” was almost always ewer.

Dad would work away at a puzzle for a while, trying to figure it out, then suddenly say, “Oh, stupid…” in this annoyed tone of voice. We knew that meant he’d discovered the “trick” of that week’s puzzle. But for some reason we’d always ask what his groan meant anyway, and he’d in turn always say, “You’ll figure it out.”

When he died, it came as such a shock that there were many details of his funeral we didn’t know how to handle. But we knew one thing for sure: he should be buried with a book of Times crosswords, clutched in his arm like a Bible or a rosary.

As religiously as he read it, the Times annoyed him thoroughly. In my own budget analysis, I think he had the resentment found in many smart people born to relatively humble circumstances (something I would know nothing about…). I think he believed that if he’d just been born in, say, Greenwich, he would’ve had access to the world of class and sophistication (and bucks) found in the pages of the Times. Instead, fate conspired to see him born in crushing poverty in Ireland, then move to Queens as a kid, and grow up the son of a baggage handler. He wasn’t ashamed of any of this, but I think maybe some part of him wondered what if…

He also had pretentions of his own, or did once upon a time. He wrote poetry as a young man. He used to try his hand at gourmet cooking. By the time I was born, he’d abandoned all of this, save for making trays of stuffed mushrooms at holidays. In the Times, I think he saw something he’d either given up on or decided was now worthless to him. A piece of himself, really.

So while he continued to read the Times to the end of his life, he also loved to point out its ridiculousness. If he found some especially pretentious piece, he would say, in his best Larchmont Lockjaw, “devastating article in the Times” (a line I’m almost positive was cribbed from Woody Allen’s Manhattan, though I haven’t seen it in forever). He loved to mock the recipes in the Sunday magazine with ingredients that were completely unavailable to anyone not within walking distance of Balducci’s. (“Wild boar pancetta?!”) And he loved to read out the bitchiest capsule movie reviews from the TV insert, often trying to find the ones with the least amount of words. Nothing cracked him up more than to see a film summed up simply with “Drivel.”

I didn’t start @TimesPublicEdit with him in mind, but as I continued to write jokes for it, his memory kept popping up. I’d write something about hipsters in Bushwick building tree forts and I’d see his disbelieving smirk at a sophistic essay or his eyes rolling at a trend piece that tried way too hard. Eventually I realized that @TimesPublicEdit was, basically, a high tech version of what he used to do on the couch after work, Times in his lap, brow furrowed.

I never quite articulated this feeling until last week, when my wife voiced it for me. As the Anderson Cooper tweet spiraled beyond my control and “tricked” a few news outlets, she said to me, “I think your dad might be proud of you for this.” And for a moment, I allowed myself to think, “Yeah, he might have been.” I thought the man who exposed me to Monty Python and George Carlin at a criminally young age might have taken some kind of parental pride if he’d been alive to see it.

In order to think this, of course, I’d also have to think that he’d have had any use for social media of any kind, which is highly unlikely. And naturally, within minutes of me allowing myself this hubristic thought, @TimesPublicEdit was shut down.

Last weekend, while the account remained shut down, I found myself back at my mom’s house. On Sunday morning, we divvied up the Times and read it silently around the kitchen table. For a moment it felt like I was back in high school, reading the Book Review and the Metro section, dreaming of escaping to the city.

But that was long ago. Now, my eyes just skimmed over the words. I tried and tried to take them in, but nothing registered. It was like the paper knew I’d been mocking it, and was refusing to be understood in protest. You think you’re funny, huh? Well, guess what: This is gonna be weird for you from now on. Even if you get your little Twitter account back, you’ll never be able to just sit here and read this paper and not feel vaguely guilty and punished. Happy now, smartass?

No, I was not happy. After a few feint stabs at trying to get through the Book Review, I accepted that yes, this would be weird from now on.

Still finished the puzzle in 20 minutes flat, though.

How to Wind Up in Twitter Jail, Starring @TimesPublicEdit

I am @TimesPublicEdit.

I didn’t work all that hard to keep this quiet, but I never formally announced it, mostly because I didn’t think anyone was waiting with baited breath trying to puzzle out the secret. The reason I’m “revealing” this now is because, well, it’s already revealed via a post by Kat Stoeffel at the New York Observer today. That post was written because of the odd events of the last week involving the account, which began with a tweet last Monday.

This tweet was RT’ed and faved to an extent far beyond my wildest imaginings. It was also assumed to be the work of the actual New York Times‘ public editor by some news outlets that failed to perform a few extra seconds of due diligence. A formal complaint against the account (from whom, I don’t know) led to a suspension for being an “imposter” account.

After a week on the shelf, the account is back in action. I’m pretty fortunate in this regard; suspended accounts tend to stay that way indefinitely, or so Google tells me. However, I thought recounting what happened to @TimesPublicEdit might serve as a cautionary tale to other Twitter parodists, or just anybody who wants to build any kind of body of work on Twitter. Because you have to remember that anything you do there can be wiped out without warning, and that this is the risk you take when you scribble on someone else’s real estate.

Continue reading How to Wind Up in Twitter Jail, Starring @TimesPublicEdit

Mad Men and the Excuse of Truth

The Times‘s City Room blog had a post earlier this week that I found fascinating, from a writer’s perspective. It concerned the season debut of Mad Men; specifically, a scene in which ad execs from Young & Rubicam dump water on civil rights protestors. In reaction to this indignity, one of the protestors says, “And they call us savages.”

Many critics found the line clunky, but the words were taken verbatim from the Times report about the real-life 1966 incident that the scene mimics. About this particular line of dialogue, the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, said, “His story was such that I thought it inviolable.”

Now, Weiner has created one of the most critically acclaimed shows of our era, while I have written three as-yet unpublished novels and way too many words about Edgardo Alfonzo. However, I have to raise a slight objection to this line of thinking. Because as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to writing, nothing is “inviolable.”

Continue reading Mad Men and the Excuse of Truth

We Need to Talk, New York Times

New York Times, can you come in here please?

I found this in your contents yesterday. You mind telling me what this is?

Won’t say anything? Fine, I’ll tell you. It’s an article about people who’ve named their dogs Jeter. Does that even remotely seem like news to you? Even for the sports pages?

It does? Really? How, exactly?

Because it’s a trend? C’mon, Times. In this article, you say there are 33 dogs registered in New York City with the name Jeter. What percentage of dogs in all five boroughs do you think that is? And don’t gimme that ‘I don’t know’! I thought we discussed this when you published that article about people hiring bartenders for house parties. Just because a couple of people do something doesn’t make it a trend, or interesting. We’ve been through this!

Look, I know everyone’s trying to ride the Jeter bandwagon. MLB is selling the dirt from under his feet and letting fans fondle his balls, for crying out loud. I know it’s the week after Fourth of July and all your best reporters are still in the Hamptons. But this…this is just unacceptable.

I know you can do better than this, Times. I know you can! I wouldn’t have pushed you to take those advanced classes. You just need to apply yourself is all!

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

Holiday Horrors: Anti-Egg Nog-ery

Continuing the fabled tradition begun all the way back in 2009, Scratchbomb presents Holiday Horrors and Holiday Triumphs: an advent calendar of some of the more hideous aspects of this most stressful time of year–with a few bits of awesomeness sprinkled in.

There’s lots of things I like about The New York Times, and there’s lots of things I don’t like about it. Most of the latter are perfectly encapsulated by their subscription commercials, which portray reading the Times as some sort of exclusive club that they will deign to let you poor slobs join for the low, low price of whatever.

In particular, their Trend Pieces drive me nuts, because they are so disconnected from life as it is truly lived. Nine times out of 10, these articles are based on something done/noticed/overheard by three friends of the 23-year-old fact checker, then reported on as if it is some fantastic new wave sweeping the city. And in their definition, the city exists between Canal and 96th Street, extends into certain parts of Brooklyn, and that’s it.

Not to mention that these pieces usually feature some of the worst, most clueless humans alive. Like the trust fund fucktard who told the Times you shouldn’t bother to have a party if you’re too poor to hire a bartender. (You get three guesses where this asswipe lives and your first clue is “Williamsburg”.)

edub_eggnog.jpgThe piece I’m going to discuss now is only tangentially related to such nonsense, but it is holiday related and it does involve a Totally Fake Trend perceived as real by roughly 12 people on the Upper East Side. Plus, it took a swipe at something near and dear to my holiday heart: egg nog.

First off, know this: I love egg nog. I loved it as a kid, and I still love it. I know it’s horrible for you and I could not give less of a shit about that. If egg nog was illegal, I’d make it in my bathtub. I will consume anything that even pretends to be egg nog-flavored: ice cream, milk shakes, lattes, laxatives. And I not only enjoy the mass-produced, completely fake, store-bought egg nog, I prefer it.

Do I understand why someone would not like egg nog? Of course. I’m an egg nog enthusiast, not an evangelist. To each his or her own. But I would prefer to not be judged for my noggy proclivities, as was done implicitly and explicitly in the Times last week.

The piece in question appeared in last Thursday’s edition, penned by Frank Bruni, and entitled “The Eggnog Resisters’ League.” Solidarity, comrade! Bruni has stormed the ramparts to combat the imperialistic advances of egg nog, a drink that he and only he has the guts to take on! Why does he hate it so?

It’s a dessert in drink drag, a single-cup, multi-egg sleigh ride to feeling overstuffed and overwhelmed right at the start of a party, when an unimaginative host foists it upon you — “we have eggnog!” — in place of a proper cocktail or respectable glass of wine or something, anything, that won’t spoil your appetite and erase three miles on the treadmill in three insanely rich sips.

It’s a calorie extravaganza, a cholesterol jubilee, ruling out any
possibility of pacing by hogging all the nutritional naughtiness that should rightly be spread across the breadth of a cold December evening.

What kind of parties is Bruni going to where the host “foists” anything on you? Is he telling me that there are people who, if you ask for a martini or a beer, will hold you down and pour egg nog down your throat through funnel? This sounds like those totally BS stories about drug pushers. “First one’s free, kid!” You know what you do when you don’t like the drink someone offers you? You ask for something else. If they’re a good host, they’ll give it to you, judgment free. Crazy, I know!

I also love how Bruni equates serving egg nog with a lack of imagination, as if it is only served because of obligation or panic. Later in the article, he blames egg nog’s waning popularity (an assertion for which the evidence is circumstantial at best) with, among other things, “greater culinary sophistication.” So don’t serve egg nog this year, folks, unless you want your guests to mistake you for some shoeless hillbilly.

But because he wants a beverage that still evokes the holidays, Bruni consults some bartending friends who construct for him drinks that evoke egg nog-ery without being egg nog. Which is fine–by all means, experiment, innovate, and all that. Except even from these bartenders, there is an unspoken implication–and in some cases spoken–that these drinks are spiritually and culturally superior to actual egg nog, the holiday swill of philistine idiots.

To give you an idea of the lengths to which these bartenders go to make egg-not, one of the concoctions involves a pine-flavored liqueur. If everyone involved wasn’t so god damn sophisticated, I’d suspect they were all depraved alcoholics reduced to drinking household cleaners. Even Bruni admits that these egg nog alternatives don’t really capture what he’s looking for. But at least he’s not drinking egg nog, the moronic gruel sloughed down the grunting throats of troglodytes.

Is Bruni allowed to dislike egg nog? Of course he is. Just don’t act like you’re more highly evolved than the rest of us schmucks for a matter of pure taste, or that you’re the member of an oppressed minority. And don’t bend over backwards and ask bartenders to make
drinks based on coconut milk, mulled cider, and Pine-Sol just because you don’t feel like drinking it. Just have a chardonnay and shut the fuck up.

To Induce Vomiting, Read These Yankee Quotes

arod_ws.jpgAs I’ve said on many occasions, I don’t hate the Yankees. Really, I don’t. (No really! SHUT UP!). But they perpetuate a certain kind of Mystical Bullshit about themselves that the sports press force feeds to its readers, which makes me want to hate them.

When the Yankees reach the pinnacle of the baseball world, as they did last night, the sportswriter hackery goes into overdrive. Grown men turn a baseball game into Harry Potter fanfic. One of the great thing about baseball is that it turns adults into little kids again. That’s fun when you’re talking about fans. But as we’ve seen before, that feeling shouldn’t be invoked in self-proclaimed journalists.

So let’s take a tour of the NY papers today, shall we? How about the staid New York Times. Surely they will have some sense of restraint, like in this fan piece by Ken Belson:

Elijah McNally started rooting for the Yankees in 2004, when he was 6 years old. Back then, the Yankees were only a year removed from a World Series appearance, and another championship seemed just around the corner.

Since then, Elijah had known nothing but seasons that ended with the Yankees falling short of winning a 27th World Series championship. On Wednesday night, he and his father, Chris, secured two seats in the right-field bleachers to see the Yankees end that dry spell.

“I’ve lived too long hearing that the Yankees got eliminated,” said Elijah, who stood in the bleachers in an Alex Rodriguez jersey trying to get players to toss him a ball during batting practice.

Thanks to this piece, I think I am now legally cleared to smack an 11 year old.

To be fair, the Times also has one of the few pieces that dares to call out fans on their A-Rod flip-floppery, by William C. Rhoden: “With a World Series title, A-Rod will receive richly deserved adulation and praise. The fans who jeered, who called him A-Fraud, who
wanted him run out of town, now toss laurel wreaths his way. Makes you wonder who the real phonies are.”

But if the Times acts like this, you can just imagine how the tabloids are treating the news. Amazingly, the Post is not as ridiculous as you’d think, considering its earlier Photoshop work. There are, of course, talk about an “elusive” 27th title by Joel Sherman, and a piece on A-Rod by Mark Hale that glosses over the whole steroid thing.

No, for true batshittery, you have to go to the Daily News. For it is there that Simon Weichselbaum collects quotes from “psychiatrists” whose advice consists entirely of insults to Philly fans. Matt Gagne relates A.J. Burnett’s postgame “cream pie” adventures. (Glad to see Burnett made himself useful for something in this series.) There’s Filip Bondy’s report from The Bleacher Creatures (biggest bunch of mutants on the planet) and their declarations of “fifteen more years of domination!” (Try one for starters, see how that works out.)

And Joanna Molloy says that NYC “needed” the Yanks to win it all:

Ordinary New Yorkers needed to see the Yankees keep their act together, and hang tough day after day, because that is what people have been doing all over the city, all across this tough, tough year….

New Yorkers have just kept going. Feeding the kids, squeezing onto rush-hour subways, putting in long hours. Just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Ordinary heroes, their character only getting stronger.

And we saw the Yankees do the same. And we identified with these men in pinstripes.

Yes, this ragtag group of misfits are just like us regular New Yorkers! So plucky! Fighting and srapping with nothing but grit and determination! Plus a $200+ million payroll and a brand new state-of-the-art billion dollar stadium! What a testament to our city’s spirit!

And what of Derek Jeter? Oh won’t somebody please think of Derek Jeter! Sean Brennan, tell us how much this means to him!

It had been nine long seasons. Nine campaigns without experiencing baseball’s ultimate victory, without a parade through the Canyon of Heroes, without being the last team
standing at the end of the season.

After four championship rings in his first five seasons, Derek Jeter had to wonder if the success he enjoyed early in his career would ever come around again.

“With only four World Series rings, piles of money, and tons of beautiful women around him, how could Jeter live with himself unless he won his fifth title?!”

Just 160 days until spring training…

A Sporting Oasis in the Urban Vietnam

I know I’ve said before that I’d watch the Mets in an active volcano if that’s where they played, but I have limits to what I’d risk to see my favorite team in person. For instance, if I don’t think I’d go out to Flushing if there was a chance I’d get my head cut off.

That, apparently, is the risk run by fans of the Indios, a soccer team from Ciudad Juarez, a border town where drug-related gang violence has reached Robocop-levels of insanity. A story in yesterday’s New York Times details how the city’s residents have rallied around the team, despite the insane danger they face simply by leaving the house:

But the lurid headlines, the murder of the deputy police chief and the threats to decapitate the mayor [!] have not deterred soccer fans, at least on game days.

But the players are probably insulated from the such insanities. Hey, they’re celebrities, right? Well…

Andrés Chitiva, a native of Colombia, was released in December,
partly because he played poorly, partly because he was shaken by a menacing phone call, team officials said. “He got scared,” said Francisco Ibarra Molina, the team president. “They wanted money or they would kidnap his kids.”

Needless to say, these conditions make it difficult for the team to attract star players, or get a bigger stadium built. I imagine the mayor’s got bigger issues on his mind than building a new arena, like not getting his head lopped off.

Would you go to any event in a city like this? Would you even live in such a place, if you
had any choice?

And yet, according to the article, the Indios pretty much sell out their games, and no incidents erupt during the games. Of course, once the matches end, it’s back to business as usual–which, in Juarez, means over 2000 murders in the last 14 months.

Think about that the next time you wanna complain about $15 parking fees and $7 beers.

Unfocused Hatred Theatre, NY Times Edition

I want everyone involved with this article to be pitchforked to death. I’m not gonna recount it, just click on that link. If you can read three sentences and not be filled with hate, you’re either Gandhi or dead.

Only the New York Times can not only think it’s a good idea to greenlight an article about the trials and tribulations of millionaire bankers–you know, the greedy assholes who plunged our economy into the pooper to begin with–but also not have the slightest clue about how tone deaf and out-of-touch they look. That is some serious “let them eat cake”-level of cluelessness.

Ugh. Die, all of you. And make sure you do it slowly.

All I Need Is a Case of Literary Diarrhea and the Truth!

The Newspaper, as an industry, is clearly on the ropes. (As opposed to all other industries, which are doing just fine.) Every week, it seems, some paper closes bureaus, scales back its coverage, or folds altogether. Pundits wonder what needs to be done to save newspapers (which supply the precious media real estate that keeps them employed).

I’m not sure newspapers need to be saved. I get all my news online, be it from CNN or Hot Chicks with Douchebags. I don’t need to read the news in a physical form, anymore than I need to watch a movie in a theatre. Newspapers aren’t historic landmarks or endangered species. They’re businesses. Adapt or perish, it’s that simple.

Not that I want newspapers to die off. Although sometimes I do, when I read articles in them like Bono’s op-ed in The New York Times last Friday.

Once upon a couple of weeks ago …

I’m in a crush in a Dublin pub around New Year’s. Glasses clinking clicking, clashing crashing in Gaelic revelry: swinging doors, sweethearts falling in and out of the season’s blessings, family feuds subsumed or resumed. Malt joy and ginger despair are all in the queue to be served on this, the quarter-of-a-millennium mark since Arthur Guinness first put velvety
blackness in a pint glass.

Interesting mood. The new Irish money has been gambled and lost; the Celtic Tiger’s tail is between its legs as builders and bankers laugh uneasy and hard at the last year, and swallow uneasy and hard at the new.

I sense a great disturbance in the English language. It was as if a million full sentences and non-dangling participles cried out, and were then silenced…

Bono just dug out something he wrote for his high school literary magazine, right? Or maybe he was sick and asked one of his kids to write it for him? Because I refuse to believe an adult wrote this.

Remember, this appeared in The New York Times. The paper that spells out every number lower than 100. The paper that adds “Mr.” in front of everyone’s name, no matter how ridiculous it looks. (“Seen here at last year’s Grammys, Mr. Ludicris wowed the crowd with his rendition of ‘What Them Girls Like’.”)

The paper I’ve pitched stuff to on many occasions, always receiving back polite rejection letters in return. I thought maybe somebody else was working on something similar, or my ideas just weren’t good enough. But now I know better. What I really need to do to get in the Times is eat copies of On the Road and Ham on Rye, then throw up on my MacBook.