Tag Archives: New York Times

Modern his’m

Just when I was getting over the onslaught of online clickbait and the AARP’s advice on how to be a hunka hunka burnin’ geezer, now I’ve gotten a blast of wonderful free advice on the meaning of male. Trust those faithful guardians of truth at the New York Times to come out with 27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.

This actually looks like a half-serious article, at least for a certain subset of Times readers and the men who are trying to get into their pants. I don’t have the space or the fortitude to analyze all 27 of these commandments, so let’s just break down a few. Starting with # 1:

“When the modern man buys shoes for his spouse, he doesn’t have to ask her sister for the size. And he knows which brands run big or small.” Red flag. What modern, postmodern, premodern or prehistoric man with a brain bigger than a cashew nut would even DREAM of buying shoes for a spouse?

This isn’t sexism. This isn’t stereotyping. This is just a fact. I asked my own spouse if she’d like me to shop for shoes for her. She replied, “Only if the next thing you shop for is a divorce.”

“The modern man buys only regular colas, like Coke or Dr Pepper. If you walk into his house looking for a Mountain Dew, he’ll show you the door.” Who says a Dew is any less “regular” than a Pepper? That regrettable but real anti-Southern streak at the Times strikes again. Why, down here in Georgia where we’re jest rednecks, rednecks, who don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground, we’uns don’t drink nothin’ but Dew! Guess that’s why we ain’t got no teeth! Which is good ‘cuz we ain’t got no indoor plumbin’ neither!

“The modern man uses the proper names for things. For example, he’ll say “helicopter,” not “chopper” like some gauche simpleton.” So in a situation that even the most modern of men is likely to face sometimes, where the F-word is called for, his response would be, “Fornicate you”?

“The modern man makes sure the dishes on the rack have dried completely before putting them away.” Fair enough, but does MM also wash the dishes or still leave that to MW, who probably also cooked the food the dishes were used for?

“The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn.” Has he also thought about spending his money on shoes that fit?

“The modern man still ambles half-naked down his driveway each morning to scoop up a crisp newspaper.” O-kay. He’s not only a potential (if accidental) flasher, but he still clings to old ways for no apparent reason. Very modern, that!

Parts of this manifesto do have merit, including “The modern man won’t blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot. He finds a reasonable one and puts his car between the lines.” And definitely “The modern man buys fresh flowers more to surprise his wife than to say he is sorry.” That’s the truth, boys: flowers never hurt a relationship and you don’t need a reason to be nice.

You also don’t need to believe everything you read in that “crisp newspaper.” So for all of our sakes, please ignore #2: “The modern man never lets other people know when his confidence has sunk. He acts as if everything is going swimmingly until it is.” Sounds like a modern man at Lehman Brothers in 2008, or on the bridge of the Titanic.

Uncle Grumpy’s new friend

What do we all want most? (No, not that; this is strictly a G-rated post, “G” for Grumpy.) We want the whole world to agree with us and acknowledge how brilliant we are! So with no humility or irony whatsoever, I present that the fine folks at The New York Times are in flat-out straight-shootin’ snyc with Uncle G on the use and misuse of the King’s English, as shown by this item from Sunday’s doorstop:* “Baffled by Office Buzzwords.”

Yes, buzzwords! These critters aren’t exactly a new problem. There are countless lists, articles, games, classes, books, and probably nuclear death rays devoted to their eradication. But like reality TV shows, new apps, and Republican presidential candidates, no matter how obnoxious, useless, or hilarious they are, they just keep multiplying!

Case in point: The writer of the Times article says her boss told her he’d have to schedule her “bilateral.” Her what? Is he asking her out for a lunch of clams or are those “biavalves”?** Does he mean her bilateral intranodular torsal left lower ligamenture, which can only be repaired by Tommy James surgery, where you stand on the hospital roof in your gown belting out “Mony Mony”?

Sorry, I digress.*** A “bilateral” is simply a one-on-one meeting. Another current b-word for this type of event is “touchpoint,” which, if I were the female employee with a male boss, would send me scurrying to the EEO office. But “meeting,” of course, is far too simple and lacking in syllables.

This use of “bilateral” is also a case of “nounifying” a perfectly good word into a mutated form of its innocent prior self. They’ve already verbified “leverage” and “impact” past the point of recognition. Your favorite words could be next!

Q: Can you use “bilateral” correctly in a sentence?

A: “They had us in third and 37 but ole Billy Bob, he faked ’em out of their Calvin Kleins and got the ball to Bobby Bill bilateral, and Bobby, he done run plumb through ’em like a Weed Whacker through Aunt Sister’s fescue.”

Q: What’s wrong with this sentence, which comes from an ad for a shoe accessory called the ‘Grasswalker’? “Flexible transparent strips that adhere to the bottom of your favorite stiletto’s or thicker high heels to keep them from sinking into the grass!”

A: “Flexible transparent” is actually the name of a folk music ensemble. Either that or it’s the new dictionary listing for Bruce / Caitlyn Jenner.

Q: Last but not least, can you comment on this sentence, the last two words in particular? “That night, the emergency was a mother­less minke whale calf, just weeks old, beached off a backwater of Assawoman Bay.”

A: Not a chance.

*A daily newspaper of such length and heft that it could prop open a door, break the unwary reader’s foot if dropped on same, or spill said reader out of his hammock.
**Yes.
***Not a buzzword. Very useful, and more succinct than “I just kind of rambled all over the page.”

The blues and the truth by degrees

As much as I love a good old-fashioned Sunday paper in print, the online version of today’s New York Times has a leg up on the hard copy: a multimedia version of the cover story of the Times Magazine, “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie.” It’s a fascinating account of the search for information about two long-dead blueswomen who recorded a half-dozen historic, very rare songs around 1930, then vanished.

I’ve been a serious blues fan since the ’70s and had never heard this tale or the recordings until now, and am grateful that the Times dug out the story. Unfortunately, the piece veers into myth-making about the man who’s already the most mythologized blues artist of all time, Robert Johnson. His deal with the devil at the crossroads and the uncertainty surrounding his death by poison have obsessed fans and scholars for decades.

Now, the Times quotes one of these types (the author of an unpublished book) as saying the man in the pictures of Robert Johnson might not even be the same one who made the records. More than one person who met Johnson or was present at his recording sessions allegedly looked at the photos and said, “That’s not the guy.” There’s talk of pictures that no one has seen, safely locked away in Mexico.

If the writer had done some heavy investigative reporting in the Times’ own archives, he might’ve noticed that Johnson’s son Claud has lately been fighting for control of the rights to the two known photos. Why would he do that if the image isn’t his father?

Even if the son’s memories are hazy, there’s another source who wasn’t: Johnny Shines, who traveled and played with Johnson in the 1930s, and not incidentally was a great blues musician himself. In a 1989 interview with Living Blues magazine, reproduced here by another blogger, he was given one of the known photos:

      I brought you a gift. [I hand Johnny a framed 5×7 print of the Robert Johnson photo that had been published in Rolling Stone issue  #467.]

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. [Stares intently at it for about 20 seconds.] Yes, sir.

      Did you have a copy of that?

      No, I didn’t. I’m really glad to get this.

      Is that the guy?

      That’s him. That’s him. [Long pause.] Yes, it’s him.

For those tempted to read things into [Long pause], there’s more. My wife, who knew Johnny Shines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in the early 70s, tells me he never would have kept silent if the pictures of his friend and partner then circulating hadn’t been authentic. She also says, “We didn’t ask him questions about Robert Johnson. Johnny had such an interesting life that we wanted to know all about HIM.”

There are a lot of interesting lives, and a hell of a lot of good music, that’s not all bound up in old 78s and endless infighting between people who really don’t even know much. Just dig the music. Get that hellhound on your trail and let that black spider be your man, the sweetest man in town.

By virtue of knowing my wife and her having known Johnny, I am three degrees away from Robert Johnson. But I’m sure happier about being one degree away from her.

“Booming” officially bust

Well, that didn’t take long. The New York Times has announced that its online Booming section, which I wrote about when it first sprouted, is going away.

Say it isn’t so. Can’t you just hear the anguish from the aging multitudes, suddenly and forever deprived of a defining voice, a place to call home in this wild new world?

Me neither. If this was such a hot idea, why not a “Gen X” or “Millennial” site, to say nothing of a “Greatest Generation” site? The closest thing to an explanation from the Times is “While the blog has been popular, eliminating it as a daily report will allow The New York Times to free up resources for other new ventures.” Translation: “Our page views are lower than Congress’s approval ratings. Thank God we still have jobs.”

I hope this doesn’t sound egotistic, but I really think the site fell victim to what I described in my original post: A lot of us are already tired of being “Boomers” and had no use for yet another entity that just reinforced the stereotypes. The whole point of the 60s was to reject the old rules, be our own selves, and not be defined by what others see.

In fairness, some of the site’s features had merit. Joyce Wadler’s columns are usually a real hoot and always worth reading, and the stories about divorce could help those of us who are trying to stay spliced. But the Music Matches, which tried to pair up the classics with like-sounding contemporary artists, exemplified the whole problem with “Booming”: it was a buzzword in search of a rationale. If our music is so special, why must we listen to what are usually pale imitations in order to stay relevant, cool, and young?

A lot of great songs are older than any boomer and will be touching people’s hearts long after we’re all gone. Right now, when the haters and goons are attacking a Coke commercial in which people sing “America the Beautiful” in their own languages, there’s one song that sounds every bit as true, real, brave, and full of love as ever. Maybe you can get through it without crying. I couldn’t.

Peace.