Nature morte: the view from the faculty lounge

David Brooks’s New York Times column for May 23, 2017 (print edition page A25) begins with a medley of David’s Greatest Hits, harmonized so beautifully that it brought back a beautiful memory. Reader, stroll with me down Fifth Avenue that summer day in 1996 as my wife and I find ourselves passing the Mother Store of Tiffany’s.

* * *

“I HAVE! to go in here!” cried my wife, and in we went. My wife looked at the jewels in the front of the store and I walked on back and looked at the watches. One in particular caught my eye: a gold watch with a brown leather strap, a little larger than most watches but plain and simple and not at all ostentatious. What it was, though, was beautifully proportioned: a really handsome accessory. The brand was one that, in those days, meant nothing to me: Patek Philippe. So I asked the clerk how much it was.

“Seventy-eight thousand five hundred,” replied the clerk.

And my wife and I left Tiffany’s and continued on down the avenue.

But every once in a while, even now, somebody or something reminds me of M. Philippe and the relationship I never established with his métier. Today, for instance, the somebody was Mr. Brooks and the something was his magnanimously inclusive word we, as in

We have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.

Thank you for that, Mr. Brooks. You’ve made me feel Tiffany-worthy at last. As a token of my gratitude, what you see below is small and not nearly adequate to express what I feel, but here anyway is an authentic view from within the faculty lounge. Think of it as an allegorical still life illustrating the sound old saying “Time is money.” The watch is the one I actually wear when I leave the lounge and go forth to propagate its unsound new views.

Can you make out the brand? Here’s a hint: it’s a brand that a lot of us professors wear. Here’s another hint: it contains the word time and a suffix meaning quondam.

 

 

 

Comic Sans: in loving memory of Edith Evans

Letter to the editor, The Wall Street Journal 24 January 2014:


Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?

Usage note: the phrasal verb “get through to”

1. Get through to denotes communication, but its originating metaphor connotes forcing, piercing, penetrating. To get through to is one way of communicating; to be gotten through to is another. The difference is a bloody matter of the difference between prey and predator.

2. The communication channel of getting through to is fear. In fear of being gotten through to, some people calm their pounding hearts by remembering that they believe in their gun and their Bible. Others choose to mask their susceptibility to communication behind deflecting layers of irony. The warehouse full of Basquiats, check; the Russian passport, check.

3. Getting through to can also be thought of as a speech act like voting or naming: a way of doing things with words. Under the control of speech-act technologists like Frank Luntz and Roger Ailes, language is a symbol system used by the people with the Basquiats to get through to people whose symbols are at pre-ironic stages of development.

R. H. Beck, "Preparing for the trail," Galapagos Islands, 1903. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99472325/. Photoshopped.
R. H. Beck, “Preparing for the trail,” Galapagos Islands, 1903. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/99472325/. Photoshopped.

Sforzando e tremolando

In the drugstore, somebody’s bar code set off an alarm. “We have activated our inventory control,” a recorded voice announced. “Please return to your cashier.”

“Inventory control? Sounds like mind control,” said a voice behind me. The man speaking was middle-aged, white, dressed in Hawaii casual (T-shirt, shorts) but wearing a perhaps age-inappropriate trucker cap and backpack. The neighborhood was Honolulu’s Hawaii Kai: a little bit of southern California transplanted to Polynesia in the 1950s by the visionary businessman Henry J. Kaiser, and as of 2013 the district of the only Republican in the Hawaii state senate. The man had asked his question and mused about its association accordingly: at the volume at which ordinary indoor conversation is conducted in a middle-class neighborhood.

But suddenly his voice went sforzando e tremolando, and in the vocal equivalent of a Tim Burton font he cried,

Near him no one could be seen.

But the spirit of Fox News must have been in the air, hovering over Hawaii Kai with an invisible smile.