A Checkered Career

Starting at the End of This Month

I have been working now for just a few months shy of half a century. At the end of this month, the accounting firm for which I have been working will close its doors. At this point I am not sure whether I will continue to seek part-time work. I thought you might find it interesting to follow my work career from beginning to end:

  • 1968 – Work at System Development Corporation in Santa Monica proofreading a digital version of the Merriam-Webster 7th Collegiate Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster New Pocket Dictionary. A film student at UCLA, I was hired to replace a young woman who just so happens to have been murdered by a film student at UCLA (whom I didn’t know, honest!)
  • 1969 – Picked up computer programming on my own and worked as a programmer for Research & Special Projects Statistical Services at System Development Corporation.
  • 1971 – Worked at programming to process the 1970 census tapes at Becker & Hayes, a subsidiary of John Wiley & Sons, Publishers. Programmed the first version of CENSAC, which accessed a full but highly compressed set of 1970 Census tapes.
  • 1973 – My census programming job at Becker & Hayes morphed into Urban Decision Systems (UDS), where I continued to work on demographic data retrieval systems for research and site location. Worked on the ONSITE system, wrote technical documentation for it, and put together a marketing program for the company’s sstems and services.
  • 1991 – UDS folded. I worked to help create a new company called Desktop Marketing Corporation, but it never really went anywhere.
  • 1992 – Worked as an IT specialist for Lewis, Joffe & Company, a tax accounting firm.
  • 2008 – When Lewis, Joffe & Company split into two pieces, I went to work for Brian Lewis & Company doing tax accounting support and IT.
  • 2018 – ?

What with Martine’s desire to leave (she’s still with me for now) and the possible end of my working career, I am facing new challenges. I can promise you one thing, however: I will not put on weird multicolored pants, put on weight, and play golf.

Wish Me Luck!

Substantially True

Polish Writer Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007)

Although he is usually classified as a writer on non-fiction, the late Ryszard Kapuściński has been “outed” by some journalists for embroidering the truth. In this era of fake news and outright official lying, I feel we need to appreciate someone who is 95% true, or even 90% true. Almost no one is 100% true. I keep thinking back to the ancient Greek and Roman historians who put polished speeches into the mouths of Greek heroes such as Pericles and Augustus Caesar. The idea was to give the general idea, and to adjust the truth just enough to show the basics. No matter that the historian spoke more elegantly than Pericles or Augustus ever could. Shall we dump Thucydides, Herodotus, Tacitus, and Livy for such venial sins, which were certainly not considered as sins at the time they were writing?

According to a biography by Artur Domoslawski, friend of Kapuściński, occasionally crossed the boundary between straight reportage and fiction: “Sometimes the literary idea conquered him. In one passage, for example, he writes that the fish in Lake Victoria in Uganda had grown big from feasting on people killed by Idi Amin. It’s a colourful and terrifying metaphor. In fact, the fish got larger after eating smaller fish from the Nile.”

It seems Domoslawski was perhaps less than a real friend of Kapuściński: He also included numerous accounts of the author’s sexual peccadillos and collaborations with Soviet intelligence.

I am reminded of another travel writer whose work I love, Bruce Chatwin, author of In Patagonia and Songlines. Instead of 90% truth, Chatwin aimed at perhaps 70% truth and occasionally fell short of that mark. And there was, with Chatwin, a lot of sex going on with even with his sources. (He died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 49.) I still classify both authors as non-fiction, even though Domoslawski thinks they should be on the shelf with fiction.

After Domoslawski’s book came out, a bunch of other writers jumped on the topic, including such notable historians as Timothy Garton-Ash. I know that, for many years, Ryszard Kapuściński  has been on the short list to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now that he is dead, he does not qualify. More’s the pity.

 

Serendipity: The Existence of Ghosts

My Belief Is: They Exist

The Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax is like a sort of souk for tourists and those L.A. natives who like to sit and reflect while drinking a cup of tea or eating a good lunch. I sat there this morning reading Chris Abani’s The Virgin of Flames, when I ran across this passage:

“Well, yes. Everyone is attended by ghosts,” Iggy said. What matters is whether we begin to attend to them.”

“How do you mean?”

“With some people, the ghosts are transparencies, barely visible as they hover around, sit at the table next to them and so on. They are particularly hard to see in bright sunlight. Sometimes, when memories are revisited, there is a flickering of light and shadow, image and text across them, and for a moment they flare up and then vanish.”

“So are you saying that ghosts are our memories?”

“Ghosts are the things, the shapes we make with our memories,” she said.

“Ah. So if some are light like…”

“Like well-worn lace drapes blowing in the wind.”

Black smiled.

“Yeah, like that. Then what are the other ghosts like? The ones we attend?”

“Like thick black lines drawn in a notebook. They are visible, brooding dark clouds that we drag around with us like reluctant sulky children. We feed them and they grow big and their haunting dominates our lives. We love them and we hate them and we are always measuring them for a coffin, yet we cannot let them die.”

“Why?”

”Madness, my friend. Madness.”

 

 

The Scorpion and the Frog, Circa 2017

There’s a Lesson Here for Voters

The story goes back to Aesop. A frog sitting by the riverbank is approached by a scorpion, who asks him to ferry him across. The frog hesitates: “But you’ll sting me and I’ll die.” The scorpion asks, “Where is the reason in that? If I stung you, we’d both die.” Being a reasonable creature, the frog agrees and lets the scorpion hop on. In the middle of the river, the frog feels a horrible pain as he is injected with the scorpion venom. As he feels his body shutting down, he asks: “Why did you do this thing? Now we’ll both die.” I don’t know if scorpions can shrug, but let us say this one can. His last words are: “I can’t help it: It’s my nature.”

Or you can hear Orson Welles tell the same tale in his film Mister Arkadin (1955):

Now what’s the moral of this story insofar as you and I are concerned? Let’s say the scorpion has a shock of bright orange hair. He’s been around for a long time, so we have some notion of how he behaves. Knowing that, why have we allowed that scorpion on our backs?

 

Words Words Words

We Are Losing Words All the Time

You can probably tell that I love words. Sometimes I tend to use words are are sesquipedalian (a foot and a half long), even though I risk losing some of my readers. This post is based on a story on the BBC News websie entitled “Twenty-Six Words We Don’t Want to lose.” I won’t throw all twenty-six at you, just the ones I particularly like. The following are from The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones:

  • Beard-second. The approximate length a man’s beard hair grows in one second. The Jones book pegs this at 5 nanometers. As one who would have no beard hair unless I took my testosterone externally (having no pituitary gland), I can’t believe this is a useful measure.
  • Charette. This refers to a period of intense work or creativity to meet a deadline. In French, thy would be working en charette, “in the cart.”
  • Finger-post. In 18th century slang, this referred to parsons, as they pointed out the path of salvation to others without necessarily undertaking the journey themselves.
  • Mountweasel. I particularly like this concept. According to the BBC website:

Fictitious entries added to a book to set a trap for would-be plagiarists are known as ‘nihilartikels’ (literally ‘nothing-articles’) or ‘mountweazels’, the name of an Ohio-born fountain designer and photographer named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel who was listed in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia. Despite her renowned photographs of rural American mailboxes and her tragic death in an explosion while on an assignment for Combustibles magazine, Ms Mountweazel never actually existed.

  • Proditomania. Here is a good word for Trumpf staffers. It refers to the irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor—though, in the Executive Branch that belief might not be so irrational.
  • Wantum. A blend of “want” and “quantum”—a term invented by Samuel Beckett to mean “a quantifiable deficiency or desire.”

The BBC writers also propose the following useful words:

  • Hunchweather. Weather cold enough to make one walk outdoors all hunched up.
  • Scurryfunge. The rushed attempt to clean up one’s dwelling place when company is expected imminently.
  • Frowst. Extra time spent in bed during a Sunday. This is is 19th century schoolboy slang.
  • Shivviness. The uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear (especially when that underwear is made of wool).

Finally, here are three odd words—which I have not found reason to use in my fifty-odd years as an adult:

  • Medioxumous. Of or relating to the middle rank of deities.
  • Septemfluous. Flowing in seven streams, used in certain theological treatises to refer to Christ’s blood.
  • Stercoricolous. Inhabiting dung, usually used of certain beetles. This last was once used by a writer friend to describe my housekeeping.

Now, may your writing henceforth be more picturesque!

 

 

 

Eleven Bogies

Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946)

Today I finally broke down and purchased a DVD of Casablanca (1942), surely one of the greatest American films ever made. It set me on a train of thought about its star, Humphrey Bogart, always one of my favorites. I thought I would give you a list of my eleven favorite Bogie films in the order they were filmed:

  1. High Sierra (1941), directed by Raoul Walsh, one of the greats. Co-starring Ida Lupino in one of her best roles.
  2. The Maltese Falcon (1941), directed by John Huston. With Mary Astor. A classic.
  3. Casablanca (1942), directed by Michael Curtiz. Co-starring Ingrid Bergman. One of the best-loved American films of the 1940s.
  4. To Have and Have Not (1944), directed by Howard Hawks. Co-starring Lauren Bacall. Based on the Hemingway novel.
  5. The Big Sleep (1946), directed by Howard Hawks. To my mind Bogie’s best starring role, with Lauren Bacall. Based on the Raymond Chandler novel.
  6. Dark Passage (1947), directed by Delmer Daves, with Lauren Bacall. Based on a great novel by David Goodis.
  7. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), directed by John Huston.
  8. Key Largo (1948), directed by John Huston. Co-starring Lauren Bacall.
  9. In a Lonely Place (1950), directed by Nicholas Ray. Co-starring Gloria Grahame.
  10. The African Queen (1951), directed by John Huston. Co-starring Katherine Hepburn.
  11. Beat the Devil (1953), directed by John Huston. Co-starring Jennifer Jones. A rare offbeat comedy.

Now I am going to sit down and see Casablanca again … and I will, I am sure, love it again.

 

The Healing Power of Chicken

Chicken, Rice, and Hummus at Sevan Chicken in Glendale

Martine has been feeling depressed for some time now. It has affected her eating, the way she spends her time, and the way she interacts with me. Today, there was some clearing. We usually attend the Three Stooges Festival at the Alex Theater the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Martine actually suggested we go. (Yes, there are some women who love the Stooges.) On the way, we stopped at Sevan Chicken, an Armenian rotisserie chicken restaurant at the corner of Glenoaks and Kensington in Glendale. It was always Martine’s favorite place, and chicken has always been her meat of choice. It did me good to see her tear into it.

Then we went over to the Alex Theater on Brand Avenue, purchased tickets, and waited in line to see six Stooges film—in 35mm studio prints yet—including “A Plumbing We Will Go” (1940), as shown in the photo below.

Curly Trapped in His Plumbing

After the films, it was time for … more chicken! We drove to Elena’s Greek and Armenian Restaurant on Glendale Blvd. and Acacia. I had my favorite lamb kebab, while Martine had chicken kebab. I myself am not a great aficionado of poultry, but it made me happy to see Martine come out of her blue funk for however short a time. It means that, maybe, there’s hope.