I have it on the highest authority that summer will never end. It might get cooler, intermittently, but it will never stop being summer. Which is of course wonderful, because summer is a bubble during which life’s ordinary rules are suspended. Summer is when we don’t have to get up in the morning, or even the afternoon. Summer is when we insist on ice-cold beer to chill our body cavity, especially the spleen. Summer is when we go see particularly stupid movies because it would be unseasonal to have to think. Summer is when we get into fights with the neighbors over noise or property lines or because we should live next door as well as at our house. Summer is when nobody ever has to make eye contact. Summer is when nothing ever happened before this moment right now. Summer is when we trash the joint because whatever. Summer is when we fire guns into the air and the bullet never comes down. Read More
- Because life is a waking nightmare in which the grandees of the universe spread their sagging buttocks over our prone bodies, Budweiser has changed its name to America. Ricardo Marques, a Budweiser veep hastening the arrival of the end times, gave an interview to Fast Company: “The tagline for the entire related media campaign is meant to be incredibly sincere, even inspiring message: ‘America is in your hands.’ When I ask Marques, jokingly, if drinking Budweiser now means you’re drinking America, his reply is dead serious. ‘In a way, it is true,’ he says. ‘If you think about Budweiser as the most iconic American brand when it comes to beer, it’s probably not incorrect.’ ”
- But we mustn’t lose faith. Even as corporations coopt the nation-state and install themselves as our new gods, people are restlessly creating, inventing … turning shit into furniture. “Made out of clay and cow excrement, merdacotta—literally, ‘baked shit’ in Italian—can be fashioned into tiles, tableware, flowerpots and, fittingly, toilet bowls. An installation of items made out of merdacotta was one of the most memorable offerings at this year’s Salone del Mobile design extravaganza in Milan. Luca Cipelletti, an architect who helped to devise the exhibition, says that ‘people smile and think it’s funny to talk about caca, but behind it all we are exploring interesting and philosophical ideas about man, art and nature as well as the concept of transformation.’ ”
- Meanwhile, in Russia, the “medical and biological” costs of keeping Vladimir Lenin’s body preserved have reached $197,000 annually. “If carefully monitored and re-embalmed regularly, scientists believe he can last in this state for centuries more,” writes Daria Litvinova for the Guardian. (Note that dangling modifier: if the sentence isn’t corrected, someone might reasonably believe that we must embalm those scientists). “The first idea didn’t involve embalming at all, but deep freezing … In early March 1924, when preparations were gaining momentum, two well-known chemists, Vladimir Vorobyov and Boris Zbarsky, suggested embalming him with a chemical mixture that would prevent the corpse from decomposing, drying up and changing color and shape.”
- The Rich Kids of Instagram offer appalling displays of conspicuous consumption, but take a closer look and you’ll see that they’re not much different than the paintings of wealthy Europeans that preceded them: “The images and the social relations they represent recall earlier depictions of wealth, in particular oil painting popular amongst European elites during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries … Like the photographs shared on Instagram, the oil paintings of this period call attention to the subjects’ prestige and status—and illustrate the role of depiction in asserting and reinforcing social privilege.”
- Finally, a look back at history’s most ironic skeleton calendars: “At the end of the 1800s, one St. Louis company marketed their signature pain-relieving product with a series of macabre calendars featuring skeletons at work and play. Ironically, the very product they were advertising would later be shown to be fatal … Acetanilide, the coal-tar derivative, had the unfortunate side effect of producing cyanosis, meaning it turned extremities blue from a lack of oxygen … The calendars survive as a charming memento of a time when pharmaceutical advertising could be a little less saccharine, it’s hard not to wonder what the victims of Antikamnia might have made of these frolicking skeletons if they had only known what was really being advertised.”
- Today in things you didn’t know you wanted: scenes from Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, reconstructed with Legos. Throw in some gravlax on an IKEA plate and you’d have a veritable orgy of Scandinavian exports.
- Ever wondered what a corporate bookstore in the UK looks like? Well, friend, you needn’t book a flight to London just to check out a Waterstones. Alice Spawls went to one recently, and it wasn’t pretty: “Gifts now seem to take up as much space as books, at least on the tables, where the prettiest paperbacks are distributed among Orla Kiely pots and enamel cups … Something is working, because digital sales are down and those of paper and glue books are up, but the ephemera isn’t only disguising the books, it’s disguising the rise of the non-book book … Books can function as gift objects, lifestyle signifiers, thematic attributes; they can be non-book products too, word-based diversions, color-me distractions, bucket lists, how-tos, extensions of celebrity brands. Putting something between two covers doesn’t make it a book, and putting them on shelves doesn’t make a bookshop.”
- Poor Kafka. Even beer, which many German men have turned to in times of need, proved fraught for him: “His most joyous—and meaningful—memories of beer were of the drinking sessions he shared with his father. But these memories were also inextricably allied with the twin sites of his childhood humiliation … [His father] Hermann was a blustering bully. But the deeper problem was that father and son had such different personalities, they were like slapstick antagonists. Hermann the confident and coarse shopkeeper vs. the timid Franz, who worked in insurance (Hermann derided it as a Brotberuf, or ‘bread job’), wrote weird stories in his room, became a vegetarian, and showed no interest whatsoever in the family dry-goods store … The only time his father had a word of praise for him, wrote Kafka, was when ‘I was able to eat heartily or even drink beer with my meals’ … Beer made everything better.”
- Christina Crosby, a professor at Wesleyan, suffered a devastating bike accident that left her paralyzed. Her memoir A Body, Undone eschews the clichés of disability narratives; instead, as Michael Weinstein writes, Crosby lavishes “brutal detail on the pain of her post-accident body—of finding her sphere of movement and sensation contracted down to almost nothing—and on the slow, excruciating process of navigating her quadriplegic body’s new limits. She describes waking to find her frame cobbled together and held in place by a man-made exoskeleton: ‘My mouth was full of metal, arch bars that ran from side to side to keep the roof of my mouth from caving in—somehow the bits of bone that had been my chin were pinned together, as were other bones in my face—and I wore a very high, tight, and rigid cervical collar around my neck. I could not turn my body or sit up. I could not move my legs or feet. I could not lift my arms or use my hands, which were uselessly curled up into loose fists by atrophying muscles and tightening ligaments.’ An entire chapter is devoted to describing Crosby’s bowel program, while half of another chapter discusses her intestinal gas.”
- Jennifer Moxley on poetry, prizes, and poverty: “The poet needs money to live, but the poem needs only a reader. Which is more difficult to secure? In the history of the West, in some perverse way, a poet’s integrity has long been bound up with periodic privation, in love, in luck, in money. Publicare, the Latin root of the English ‘to publish,’ means also ‘to prostitute,’ to make public and ask money for what should remain private, whether your thoughts or your body. Perhaps the whiff of shame in making money from poetry comes from this etymological association, and drives poets to claim penury as their excuse.”
Fact: two hundred years ago today, eight Londoners drowned in a flood of beer.
I don’t know what else to say.
I guess I can tell you a little about it: how it began at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, where an enormous vat ruptured, unleashing more than a hundred thousand imperial gallons of beer; how the force of that gushing beer apparently caused the brewery’s other vats to rupture, thus sending some 1,470,000 liters of beer into the streets; and how that beer washed through a nearby home, killing a mother and daughter as they took tea. The Times reported that “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” And the story goes that that the beer deluged right through a living room where a wake was in progress, killing a few mourners with intoxicating irony.
When I learned of the flood, my first question wasn’t “How many people died?” It was “What kind of beer was it?” And according to no less reputable a source than FunLondonTours.com, the answer is porter. Porters tend to be pretty strong, so anyone who managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls as he or she was enveloped by the beer wave … well, you can see where I’m going with this.
For more on the flood, check out Atlas Obscura.
- Remembering John Berryman, whose centenary is later this month: “Berryman has not been forgotten, but his gnomic revelations have less force than they used to. His drinking and womanizing, his unsoothable anguish, seem less the stuff of heroism than of mutinous neurotransmitters. I can all too easily imagine him today, sitting at a seminar table in Palo Alto or Iowa City, buoyed by a decent dose of Wellbutrin, listening as some regular contributor to the Northwestern Maine Quarterly Review piously instructs impious John to simmer down, center himself, drop the unceasing allusions to Shakespeare, find his voice and tell us how he really feels.”
- “As well as categorizing novels as well or poorly written, popular or unpopular, one could also, and perhaps more usefully, distinguish those that become part of the conversation, and those that do not. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections became part of the national conversation; Lydia Davis’s short stories, for all their brilliance, did not … John Updike’s Terrorist was arguably his least talked-about novel … But how does a book enter the conversation today?”
- A good problem to have: “I am in the slightly embarrassing position where I write poems saying I am about to die and I don’t.”
- An 1894 map by the New York Tenement-House Committee divides the city by nationality. But you won’t find Scotch, English, Welsh, Scandinavian, and Canadian New Yorkers on the map, because they were, according to its creator, “in small numbers and perhaps less foreign than the others.”
- The Orioles are in the playoffs, which means Baltimoreans are swilling profligate amounts of Natty Boh, the greatest bad beer in the world and one of the city’s most cherished brands—it dates back to 1885. (At least one Baltimorean would drink a can right now, even though it’s nine-thirty A.M. and he’s in New York.) The only problem? “National Bohemian hasn’t been locally owned since the nineteen-seventies, and it hasn’t been brewed in Maryland in more than a decade … Last month, it was announced that the brand’s owner, Pabst, is being purchased by the Russian beverage company Oasis.” Say it ain’t Boh.
From James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. Johnson was born on September 18, 1709; Boswell wrote this passage in 1777, on the occasion of Johnson’s sixty-eighth birthday.
Thursday, September 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor’s large room, should be lighted up some time or other. Taylor said, it should be lighted up next night. ‘That will do very well, (said I,) for it is Dr. Johnson’s birth-day.’ When we were in the Isle of Sky, Johnson had desired me not to mention his birth-day. He did not seem pleased at this time that I mentioned it, and said (somewhat sternly,) ‘he would not have the lustre lighted the next day.’
Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his birth-day, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally, by wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birth-day mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.
I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. ‘Sir, (said Johnson,) this is only a disordered imagination taking a different turn.’
He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into a bad style of poetry of late. ‘He puts (said he,) a very common thing in a strange dress till he does not know it himself, and thinks other people do not know it.’ BOSWELL. ‘That is owing to his being so much versant in old English poetry.’ JOHNSON. ‘What is that to the purpose, Sir? If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, Sir, ——— has taken to an odd mode. For example, he’d write thus:
“Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life’s evening gray.”
Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he’d think fine.—Stay;—we’ll make out the stanza:
“Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life’s evening gray;
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
What is bliss? and which the way?”
BOSWELL. ‘But why smite his bosom, Sir?’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, to shew he was in earnest,’ (smiling.)—He at an after period added the following stanza:
‘Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh’d;
—Scarce repress’d the starting tear;—
When the smiling sage reply’d—
—Come, my lad, and drink some beer.’
I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also the three first lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental enquirers. And, perhaps, the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited dissatisfied being:—‘Don’t trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry.’