Your Car Will Look Cooler in Forty Years, and Other News


On the Shelf

Photo: Langdon Clay, via Hyperallergic


  • I have car in New York now. The alternate-side parking, the potholes, the increasingly dimpled bumpers: it’s all worth it, because my car could be a celebrity in this town. It’s a 2003 Camry, so the odds are against it, I know, but if I could show you how I beam with pride, seeing it sit there on the street, all covered in bird shit and pollen—it just seems like a place where a car is meant to be. And even as it depreciates, its value as an aesthetic object will only rise with age. In the seventies, the photographer Langdon Clay roamed the city by night, taking photos of cars all by their lonesome. Today, his photographs seem like evidence of some lost civilization. “It was photography of the street itself. One car. One background. So simple. Night became its own color,” Clay writes in an essay introducing a new collection of the pictures, Cars: New York City, 1974–1976. Luc Sante adds, “They rule the night, those Pintos and Chargers and Gremlins and Checkers and Galaxie 500s and Fairlanes and Sables and Rivieras and LeSabres and Eldorados … They unashamedly flaunt their dents, their rust spots, their mismatched doors, their liberal applications of Bondo, their repairs effected with masking tape—but then some of them revel in Butch Wax jobs like you don’t see anymore, gleaming like the twilight’s last sigh.”
  • Jason Horowitz is on the scene in Naples, where a frantic casting call for children in underway. The potential gig: HBO’s adaptation of Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend: “Producers are looking for amateur child actors—two sets of girls in eight- and fifteen-year-old iterations, and then a large Annie-esque supporting cast of hard-knock lifers. The result is an open casting call that has already drawn five thousand children, the vast majority of whom have never heard of Elena Ferrante, and injected a mix of hysteria and hope into parts of Naples that are poor in resources but rich in real characters. Enzo Valinotti—a fifty-seven-year-old shoemaker who reminisced about the days, nearly a century ago, when Totò, one of Italy’s most iconic actors, lived in the neighborhood—leaned out his ground-floor window and said of the children flooding the street, ‘They are all so happy.’ … ‘Look at my son. He is so beautiful,’ said Anna Arrivolo, forty-three, who grabbed her child’s pudgy face and stroked his gelled hair. ‘He didn’t want to do it. I wanted him to.’ ”

  • Ellen Friedell remembers the surreal experience of interviewing the Watergate burglars in 1972, when she was a twenty-three-year-old law student and they were just hoping to score bail: “A typical criminal defendant in Washington DC was young and black … The Watergate burglars—there were five of them—weren’t young or black, and hadn’t tested positive for heroin or cocaine. All of that made them unusual but what really made them stand out was that they were wearing suits … I was used to defendants who tried to seem cool, or who would joke with me, but I always thought it was bravado and that they were really quite scared. I felt sorry for them. The Watergate burglars were unusual in this respect, too. One of them, James McCord, wasn’t at all flustered. I liked him. He referred to the D.C. jail as the ‘concrete condominium’ and described himself as some kind of security consultant. My father was in the Foreign Service, and we knew people who worked for the CIA. McCord reminded me of them. I asked if he worked for ‘the Company’. He smiled. The Watergate burglars were all granted bail.”
  • Duncan Kelly embarks on a daunting journey through Michel Foucault’s oeuvre: “Taken as a whole, reading Foucault from start to finish is like reading the major works of Henry James consecutively as self-conscious historical fictions. It is a mildly disconcerting experience, seeing conscious evolutions and experiments in style; baroque, ornate, urgent, dyspeptic; the repetitions and modalities at various points and the stylized categorizations and oppositions—prudes and perverts, monsters and insanity, measures and tests, inquiries and examinations, bodies and boys, punishment, pleasure, asceticism, suicide; the going back over old themes in new ways; how the old becomes new but how the new can never entirely disown the old; the desire for both fidelity in the evocation of moods and worlds, but not necessarily strict historical accuracy, whatever that might in the end be taken to mean; and the desire to write all this up somehow as a history of the present.”
  • Two of the most weaselly words in the English language: I misspoke. A correspondent for The Economist writes, “Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, distinguishes two kinds of speech mistakes: ‘typos’ and ‘thinkos.’ Typos are ubiquitous and listeners hardly notice many of them. Thinkos go deeper; they betray that the speaker might actually not know something. If someone says the capital of Italy is Florence, that’s probably a true thinko, unless the person is an expert in Italy who just happened to be thinking about a forthcoming holiday in Florence. But when people are caught in a thinko, they are often tempted by the ‘misspoke’ explanation—it’s hard to prove them wrong, after all, if they say they knew the right thing but just accidentally said the wrong one. It could happen to anybody.”