13 April 2008


Wind mechanism daily by application of coffee. Set querulum swinging. Alternation of the querulum between, e. g., the inefficiencies of workplace administration and the tedious qualities of the acquaintance, or the ills of the body and the fidgets of the mind (endpoints may vary between models) regulates the mechanism, ensuring a consistent interval between airings of the cuckoo.

12 April 2008

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Heinrich Böll.

I once met a German woman who, standing in a circle of seven or six people, ventured a sally that fell flat. We knew this because, having emitted an utterance, an utterance wholly incomprehensible, she followed with two small woofs of apologetic laughter and the explanation, "German humor, I guess."

For a long while thereafter, I presumed there was none such, that Germans had merely abstracted from other peoples the idea that humor was a desirable quality, and so assigned the title to some category of phenomenon that ought to have borne an entirely different label.

But on an evening that seemed set to be yet another in a long string of the sort of evenings where all efforts to put together the small traces of people's activities in the world into some order that looked amusing petered out before they got anywhere, I started into reading The Clown. I don't remember how that story went except that it was terribly bleak and awfully funny, and for the time I was reading let me abandon my struggles and have Böll achieve for me the task I had been bent on, that of gazing on the small, sad facts of human existence and making of them a little joke to entertain myself with, crafting a silver lining to a world mostly cloud.

It was at another cloudy time that I happened across The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum for 25 cents in the Salvation Army in Juneau. The subject was a little obscure to me. The book was issued in the year I was born, when, I think, it may still have been possible to know what "honor" was, whereas now it is an armchair notion that can be academically reconstructed but not intuitively understood. So I was not entirely sure what the book was talking about, but it was very consoling, funny but not the least bit lighthearted, and I shall not doubt the existence of German humor again.

11 April 2008

Salaried Employee

I took a small trip, for a reason I had not much faith in. There was a flight one evening and a flight back the next, and in between a night of creaky bed in an ungainly hotel suite just slightly shrunk by the makeshift means of a Mexican radio station and a small crumpled pile of half-dirty clothing. Five low-grade meals, two long car rides slightly lightened by the life histories of uninteresting men. The purpose of the journey, a day with screen and projector in a darkened conference room, passed in the way it was expected to pass. Home four days; do it again.

03 April 2008

Yet Another Conversational Failure

I wanted some lamb, and unfortunately to get the lamb out from behind the glass you actually have to talk to somebody.

--Hi. Could I have a piece of leg of lamb, please?
--Which one?
--I don't care.
--This one?
--Okay. They all look the same to me. Am I supposed to be able to distinguish a difference?
--Well, it's size, mostly. That one in front is probably two pounds heavier.
--The small one is okay.
--And then, lamb is just like ass.
--Some are good-looking, some are not so good-looking.
--But these ones are all good-looking.

Had it been a moment of greater mental acuity, might this exchange have turned out differently? At least I did end up with the lamb (ass-like or no), which is the main thing.